"Buffy Vs. Dracula" and Angel's "Judgment"
Halloween is still a month away, but the WB has brought its most popular vampires and slayers back into action for the fall 2000 television season. Both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel went retro in their season premieres: Angel gave a karaoke performance of Barry Manilow's classic "Mandy," while Buffy had a date with Count Dracula. Next week the trend continues, as Angel relives his time in old Hollywood while Buffy belatedly experiences the joy -- not -- of having a little sister. Looks like we'll be starting light on these shows about fighting the forces of darkness.
Buffy vs. Dracula
Buffy, who's still getting over her visions of the First Slayer, can't seem to get rid of all her aggression and keeps getting up at night to smite villains, no matter how much beach football she plays during the day. When Tara refuses to join in because sweatiness leads to stinkiness, Willow observes, "I think we've just put our finger on why we're the sidekicks." But Willow soon learns something no one else knows, that Giles wants to go back to England, since he feels unnecessary...and spends the rest of the episode complimenting him on his brilliance and wit.
Meanwhile, Buffy meets a powerful shapeshifting vampire who claims to be Dracula. "Get out!" Buffy rolls her eyes, telling Fan Boy that she's fought overweight vampires who called themselves Lestat. She's a little more impressed when he disappears as she moves to slay him, popping up beside Willow and Xander, who thinks Drac has a "bad case of Dark Prince envy" and imitates The Count from Sesame Street for added ridicule. Three innocent victims! Bwahahahaha. Dracula gets his revenge by transforming into a bat and messing up Buffy's hair. Riley, Xander and Tara get a little alarmed at how sexy Buffy, Anya and Willow find the famous vamp, but when Dracula offers to make the Zeppo immortal, Xander quickly becomes his minion.
Buffy, too, falls under the spell of the Prince of Darkness when he sneaks into her room in the form of fog and sucks her neck until she swoons, though she pretends to be unimpressed with his "music-video wind" and "hypno-eyes." Only Spike manages to work up honest contempt for the famous vampire, declaring that the bugger owes him money and snapping that by hounding glory, Dracula made public all the ways to kill vampires, thus doing more harm than all the slayers put together. Buffy's disturbed when she wakes and sees the hickey on her neck, not only because it's a dead giveaway if Riley sees it, but because it reminds her of the darkness Dracula saw in her, which he said makes them kindred spirits.
When the Scooby Gang meets, with Buffy wearing a scarf and Xander calling his new boss the "Dark Master...bater," Riley quickly guesses the reasons for his girlfriend's distraction and accuses her of being under thrall of Dark Prince, who always prefers his victims to come to him willingly. Though he's hurt when he sees the bite marks on Buffy's neck, Riley concludes that she's transferred her feelings for Angel to the tall, dark, handsome evil one, though Buffy promises, "I'm your girl and I'm going to stay that way." Xander offers to keep her safe at his place, but ends up locking Anya in a closet so he can take the willing slayer to visit their new crush.
Buffy threatens to stake Dracula, but when he orders her to put the stake down, she responds at once, despite a defiant announcement that she did that because she wanted to. He offers her a taste of his blood, assuring her that she can't become a vampire if she's not close to death, but the taste will help her find her true nature. Licking at his arm erotically, Buffy drinks, but again has images of the First Slayer, and of herself at her most violent. It's not how she likes to see herself. "That was gross," she declares, knocking Dracula across the room. "I really think the thrall has gone out of our relatinship."
Meanwhile, Riley and Giles manage to track Buffy to the castle they never before noticed in Sunnydale, although Giles gets distracted by three hot vampire sisters who rip off his clothes. Buffy stakes Dracula, asking how he likes her dark side now. This snaps Xander out of his own passivity and to the opposite extreme: declaring that he's sick of eating insects, contracting weird STDs, and "being everybody's butt monkey," he says he wants to quit. Riley assures Xander that he's sure Giles understands, after all the time he spent making out with the vampire chicks. While the embarrassed Giles bumbles out, Buffy waits for Dracula to coalesce once more so she can slay him again: "You think I don't watch your movies? You always come back!"
Yes, and he better come back again, because this five-minute confrontation and slayer victory rang awfully hollow. Sure, we know Buffy's good, but so good that she can dispatch with the proto-vampire, the fabled one, the Prince of Darkness, without so much as a scar? Faith could have killed Dracula with one hand tied behind her back and she wouldn't have swooned first! It would have helped if he'd actually been as tall, dark and handsome as his press -- not only is he no Angel, he's no Lestat, not even a miscast Tom Cruise sort.
As Giles prepares to tell Buffy he's leaving for England, she says she needs to talk to him about the fact that he's not being her Watcher. She hasn't been training, she can't come to him for help. But her visions of the First Slayer have made her hungry -- Dracula told her she was on the hunt -- and the power scares her. She wants to know more about where she comes from, the slayers who came before her. Happy at last to feel needed by Buffy, Giles doesn't tell her about his plans to leave because he no longer wants to.
But just when things are looking good for Buffy, she drops in to see her mother...and is told to be nice to her sister. Sister?! "Mom!" both girls exclaim in outrage. Well, Buffy probably needs a new troubled-little-sister figure, with Faith locked away, but how in the world are they going to explain this?
Angel, which takes its demonic history more seriously than Buffy of late, opens with a terrifying horned being singing "I Will Survive." And if you think that's scary, think about an overweight demon lip-synching "I'm So Excited." Angel reveals in this episode that there are three things he will never do -- tan, date, or sing in public -- yet his rendition of "Mandy" could slay a slayer.
Unfortunately, while Cordelia's out taking acting lessons and Wesley's throwing darts to impress the chicks, Angel has to worry about murderous demons in health clubs ("Steroids, not good for you," he explains to a manager who can't figure out the horns) and in ventilation systems. While his sire Darla slowly recovers her senses at Wolfram and Hart, Cordelia has a half-vision following a sneeze, in which a terrifying demon stalks a woman. After the phantom Dennis helps the group track down a drawing of the ancient, violent creature, the trio head to the karaoke bar to see if they can find information about the beast whose name I dare not try to spell.
The king of karaoke isn't overly worried about the thing in the night anyway, as he has other concerns. "How fabulous would I look in that coat?" he asks enviously as an unresponsive Angel saunters away to find a frightened pregnant woman being followed by the huge demon from Cordelia's vision. Angel kills it, and is shocked when the woman breaks down in tears. "What have you done!" she wails. "I had one friend in this world, and you killed him." The demon was her protection from the Tribunal, she explains, though Angel doesn't understand. Remorseful, he tells Wesley what happened. "They hunt, they kill...why should we think it changed into noble protector?" asks Wes, not thinking too clearly about to whom he speaks.
Angel's informant from the karaoke club admits that the daughter of the pregnant woman has been prophesied to be a powerful benevolent force, whom many demons will pay good money to destroy. The vampire tracks down his friend (and new series regular) Charles Gunn to find the demon's lair, where he discovers a metal amulet that he sends with Gunn to Cordelia and Wesley for study. The pregnant woman arrives just afterwards, saying she needs to find a coat of arms so she can present it to the Tribunal, but of course that's the very object Angel just sent away. Despairing, she says she wanted a good job at Costco to provide for baby, but now just wants it to get born -- and not because the child will grow up to be a seer or a leader like Joan of Arc. "She's my daughter, not someone's holy mission."
Angel promises to help her, and tries to take her with him to retrieve the coat of arms to present to the otherworldly court with the power to extend its protection over her and her unborn daughter. But when they become trapped in his old haunt, she says she wants only to get out of town, and flees rather than seeking out Wesley and Cordelia as he asks. Back home, the pair are afraid to open the door when someone knocks and says he has a gun, but it turns out to be Charles Gunn, who gives Wesley the amulet and announces that he saw the ex-Watcher and Cordelia in bed together...in the hospital when Angel's building blew up. Wesley identifies the medieval coat of arms is from an ancient Chair of Judgement, a court to settle grievances through fights to the death. That's why the woman needs a champion.
Arriving home to find that his charge has fled, Angel admits to Cordelia that he thought he was on the road to becoming human -- he got cocky. She says she suspects it will be a long while before he works his way past his curse, but she'll be with him until he does. Because he can only think of one way to find the woman, Angel goes to the bar and performs "Mandy," which impresses his emotional host, who makes a halfhearted pass at him. "Tell me where they are," Angel asks but the green demon has a question of his own first: "Why 'Mandy'?" The vampire admits that he knows the words and he thinks they're pretty. The delighted demon calls him a sap, congratulates him for confessing, and tells him to go to 4th and Spring...
...where the Tribunal has popped up, three judges wearing black robes on elevated thrones. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially not in downtown L.A., though there is a surprising dearth of traffic in the intersection as a demonic knight with a lance approaches on horseback. Begging asylum, the woman says that her champion is dead and she has no coat of arms. The judges rule that her life is forfeit.
Then Angel arrives with the amulet and offers to be her champion. Despite his lack of riding experience, he manages to knock his opponent off his high horse, but when Angel is stabbed, the judges rule that the woman and her child belong to the demon. Injured but not down for the count, Angel moves to appeal, slicing off the demon's head with his sword. Now the woman and her daughter will be protected until the child comes of age.
Cordelia wants to celebrate, but Angel has other plans. He visits Faith, who agrees that the road to redemption is a rocky path. She seems to be doing well, however, since she managed not to kill a fellow prisoner who attacked her that morning. Wryly the two compare prison with their childhood homes.
Angel's Los Angeles is much darker and gloomier than Buffy's Sunnydale; it doesn't make L.A. look tempting in the least, though of course Angel can't go to the beach and reveal the lighter side of the city. Though the producers chose to hone in on the cheap sexual tension between a slayer and an archvillain, one suspects that Dracula would have been a more interesting character on Angel, and the struggle would have been a lot more complex.
Buffy's dialogue crackles in a way that Angel's has not so far; Cordelia's wisecracks can't compare to Xander's bumbling grammar and Buffy's brand of teenspeak. Yet, Angel is often filmed with more sophisticated camera work, and this season premiere was no exception. There were elegant tracking shots, mood-setting exteriors, fight stunts that somehow looked less choreographed yet more deliberate. It's riskier for the spinoff to attempt humor, which has always been an integral part of Buffy's charm. I believe that Angel would resort to karaoke if it were the only way to save a woman's life, but it was humiliating to see him forced into that, much worse than watching him flirt with the outrageous host afterwards. Though Dracula's seduction of Buffy made her look silly, it didn't weaken her or reduce her to self-parody. Angel toes a more dangerous line.
We got teased with the much-hyped return of Darla and arrival of Buffy's sister, yet neither made any real impact in these season premieres, which almost seemed purposefully lightweight. Is this a harbinger of the season to come, or just a distraction before the heavy stuff sets in? We won't know till sweeps month, probably, by which time we'll have discovered whether the previewed love scenes between Angel and his sire have been reprised, and whether Giles' mid-life crisis manifests itself in more complex ways than needing Buffy to crave his pedagogy. Buffy occasionally needs some of Angel's darkness, just as Angel sometimes needs Buffy's wit.
Buffy Credits: Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Anya: Emma Caulfield
Tara: Amber Benson
Dawn: Michelle Trachtenberg
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Angel Credits: Angel: David Boreanaz
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
Wesley: Alexis Denisof
Charles: J. August Richards
Faith: Eliza Dushku