Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | November 12, 2012

Robin’s Review: S5, E08 – Shadow

Synopsis: Joyce has a brain tumour and the biopsy results aren’t good. Buffy holds herself together and asks the Scoobies if a spell could save her. They think it unlikely and have bigger fish to fry when they realise that Glory popped by to buy some dangerous items. She transmogrifies a cobra that will be able to find the key. The snake finds Dawn and rushes back to tell Glory but Buffy chases after it and kills it. Riley is feeling increasingly out of the loop and lets Vampire Sandy bite him to see what it’s like.

The Good: Sarah Michelle Gellar did her usual excellent job as the news comes out about Joyce’s brain tumour. Joyce herself was very good and the discussions with the doctor were suitably sad and serious. I liked that Buffy went to the gang to ask about potential spells and was shut down. She had to ask given how she solves most major problems in her life but if Joyce’s illness is a serious human drama then magic shouldn’t be involved.

The Bad: It’s not easy making realistic looking monsters in 2012 and sadly it was no easier in the year 2000. The cobra creature looked fine standing still but pretty much everything else it did looked horrible. The CGI slithering across Sunnydale wasn’t convincing and neither was its standing position when its eyes would glow different colours. Worse was to come though when Buffy actually killed it and we had to deal with CGI Buffy being shaken around and then real Buffy mounting an animatronic creature and pounding away at its lifeless carcass. At one point the director just gave up and showed us the creatures’ tail flapping and falling to avoid us having to see anymore inadequate effects. It was one of the show’s lowest moments when it comes to this kind of thing and of course it takes you out of the story being told.

The Unknown: The Glory story was very basic and didn’t do much for me. It was a similar idea to the attack by the Lei-Ach demons (506) but was far less interesting. The snake just went slinking around, found Dawn and ran away. I was also tired of the minion’s stream of compliments about half way through their first scene. There is something about the idea of her being a hugely powerful creature that made his remarks about how smooth, shiny and clean she was seem irrelevant. I suppose her vanity has now transferred to her mortal body but it feels like it’s meant to be funny and I didn’t see the comedy. Was it a coincidence that her demon helper (Dregg) was dressed like a monk?

I don’t know how I was supposed to feel about Riley here. I ended up feeling sorry for him. Buffy clearly doesn’t think about him in a crisis and the way he was left to “hold the baby” so to speak but then not invited in for a family moment was pretty harsh. I know that Joyce means the world to Buffy but the way she ignored him didn’t make me sympathetic to her. His desire to taste some of the darkness that she apparently craves was a strong moment. Before that though the writing was heavy handed in ramming home his situation. First Spike literally spells out Buffy’s desire for darkness and then Dawn randomly brings up Angel and rubs his face in how passionate their relationship was. I thought Xander was being unusually prescient in seeing Riley’s solo attack on the vamp nest (from 507) as a cry for help but then I guess he’s the only one who knows how Riley truly feels (503).

After last episodes stellar helping of serious Spike it was a shame to see him turn back into a clown. But I guess having him sniff her panties was a suitably amusing and creepy way of getting him into the episode.

Intern Ben popped in for another really inappropriate attempt to be a part of Buffy’s life. He correctly identifies that she is in shock and calls away Joyce’s doctor. But instead of leaving her to absorb the news he sits down and begins chattering away and handing out life advice. Until they introduce him properly his role feels entirely contrived.

Best Moment: The final scene was well acted with Buffy choked by emotions but being strong for her mum and Riley left outside feeling awful.

The Bottom Line: I found it hard to get emotionally invested in Joyce’s illness. I think part of that is the lack of shock. A lot of the emotions Buffy felt were based around being taken by surprise and yet we as viewers have spent most of the season waiting to hear what was wrong with Joyce. I also think the tone was tricky because the Joyce story is straight out of a hospital drama and we aren’t used to dwelling on serious issues in quite this way.




  1. I couldn’t remember if I put it in my voice mail or not, but I felt exactly like y’all about the lack of impact we feel from the news. The 2/3 people die from it should have been a real gut punch. We see Buffy’s reaction, but it just wasn’t felt. I don’t think it’s just Rewatch-itis either. There’s just too much about this episode that isn’t conveyed well to the audience.

  2. OMG. Robin and Cordia, I just got back to being able to write in again. I guess I am making up for lost time… Edit away! This is rediculously long!

    I agree that knowing where the story is going has an impact on my emotional involvement with the Joyce story in this episode, but really I can’t connect to the emotion because of Dawn. I actually have no real dislike of her character, her annoyingness seems appropriate and I really grow to like her. In the context of this episode I find it difficult to empathize with this brand new Buffy because in some ways Dawn has made Buffy a brand new character. I like the character, and I think this growth for Buffy is important. I even think the Dawn storyline here and Buffy’s new focus on family is important for the series and Buffy’s emotional journey. There are other factors influencing Buffy’s character development, that aren’t about Dawn as well. But this Buffy has a more down to earth, less self-centered presentation, and is very different from the girl who talked to Willow about Percy calling her a geek while also dealing with the end of the world. So right now in the series, I resent Dawn. I resent the sudden change of a character I love so much – though my perspective on this is more accepting outside the context of Joyce being ill.
    I also resent that the dynamic between Joyce and Buffy has changed so dramatically. All of a sudden Joyce is interacting with Buffy as a strong, independent equal. All of a sudden Buffy is more reliable and dependable when less than twelve episodes ago she was Joyce’s only little girl. I have not developed a connection to this dynamic, I haven’t seen enough of it to value it, and it makes their emotional state feel distant because the relationship feels alien. Instead of feeling like I got gut punched, I feel more like I got robbed of seeing Buffy and her mom deal with this really big thing. Instead I see a different Buffy deal with it, in a different way, with a sister who now has the kind of relationship with Joyce that Buffy was always trying to have. Dawn has suddenly made it foreign and altered the experience. So I don’t connect to this episode on that level.
    In addition to your comments on the stories in this episode not really working together well, I have to agree, and for me I suspect some of it is because up until now Joyce being ill has been a B story line, Riley has been a B storyline, and in some ways even though Dawn as the key has been building, Glory is also not quite an A story line yet either. So to me this episode is a conglomeration of 3 B storylines that functions to simultaneously move all three forward without providing an A story at all. That’s just my take on it.
    I really like season 5 Riley and the story being told, and this seems like the episode to really talk about why. The end scene of this episode, when Riley is left behind seems like the best place to start my Riley love. I don’t think Buffy is mistreating him at this moment, or for most of their relationship. I do think it’s a little insensitive; but totally appropriate for the moment. And I don’t think Riley is really self pitying about this one moment. I think this is one moment in a line of many moments where Riley feels like there are parts of Buffy and his life he will never be included in. I do not think at this point his issue is all about his ego, or his macho, or even taking care of Buffy. I think as Buffy begins this journey of exploring her slayer-ness and her darkness Riley becomes more acutely aware of the rift he told Xander about in “The Replacement” (when he says she doesn’t love him).The title of this episode really fits the Riley story well though- Riley is living in Buffy’s shadow instead of his own limelight, his version of being the good guy now has a shadow cast over it, and I love the way Season 5 explores how Riley feels like a shadow of the man Buffy needs. The idea that Buffy needs a little monster in her man is not new, and its’ not wrong. We have seen that the “normal boyfriend guy” feels out of the loop before, with Scott, and this is just a more grown up version of the story. Riley wants to know that darkness so he can know Buffy the way Angel did, or the way Spike does, and still know Buffy in the way he believes Spike is unable to.
    I do empathize for Riley in this season and in this scene, but because I see it as a cumulative reaction, not to this single moment. I think the more Buffy gets in touch with “slayer” Buffy the more emotionally isolated she becomes and he is feeling less and less relevant to her, her life, and her mission even though he truly loves all of those parts of her. I don’t think Buffy is ever intentionally hurtful or thoughtless, though as a character she can be thoughtless. I think he wants the thing that makes what they have a genuine relationship. He wants there to be parts of Buffy only he gets to see, and only he knows. He doesn’t have this. Buffy doesn’t share any more of herself with Riley than she does with Xander or Willow, and even in her big moments of sharing (like when she told him about Angel) she leaves things out (ahem… oh yeah, by the way I am not going to tell you that I slept with him and that turned him evil and I have always felt guilty…). In “Fool for Love” Spike expresses something about her she is reluctant to acknowledge, and she flips out, causing part of that revulsion and disgust she expresses at the end of their dance. But he really does know that part of her. Angel knew the light part of her, the slayer, and he understood darkness even if he always held Buffy in the light. Riley just doesn’t have it. There is no monster in him and so he doesn’t truly understand really what she is fighting OR who she is. Angel understood what she was fighting completely, even if he didn’t really see the darkness in her. Spike understands the darkness in her, though I don’t think on the flip side he understands the light Angel did at this point. Knowing her slayer-ness allowed both of them emotional access to Buffy that NO ONE ELSE HAS. That is what made Angel a relationship that Buffy and the viewers were invested in. That is what Riley knows he doesn’t have from Buffy, and though I think he knows he will never have it, he can’t help but try to understand it. I think Buffy believes she loves Riley, because she really likes him and wants to love him. I have no indication that she is even aware of what a distance he is kept at – but that doesn’t close the gap – she just doesn’t know that “normal” relationships can be more than what she and Riley have. Riley just understands a mission – the thing she does. I love this story line, and I love Riley’s descent to darkness, and how to him darkness seems to correlate to self-destruction. I love that the more out of control Riley feels the more he tries to exert control over other vampires (Buffy’s mission) and Spike in particular (the one who really knows that part that Riley can’t reach). PS this season is part of what makes me think Marc Blucas’ acting wasn’t the problem in season 4…. Speaking of which; I can’t address the awesomeness of season 5 Riley without the segway to why season 4 Riley SUCKS. And I mean, like, total suckage. But since this is like, pages long, I will do it next week.

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