itsnotmymind: (buffy/faith kiss)
[personal profile] itsnotmymind
I've been re-reading the comments on [livejournal.com profile] gabrielleabelle's episode polls for season three, and stumbled on a tumblr post about the season, and that's got me thinking about why Buffy S3 is tied with S7 for my least favorite of the full-length seasons. On an episode by episode basis, I would say S3 is stronger (I LOVE Earshot), but S3 is the season where I temporarily lost my emotional investment in the show, and here's why:

Nothing happens.

Buffy/Angel is the worst example of this. Now, I have the disadvantage of despising the relationship and thinking they have no chemistry (though I do like their dynamic as exes, but unfortunately they were not really exes in S3), but: In S2 the schmoopiness was set-up for a beautiful subversion (that was undermined when Angel immediately appeared in S3 credits and returned after only a few episodes). In S3, their relationship went precisely nowhere. It was just killing time until Angel left for his own show. The eventual breakup had been coming the entire season and was supremely anti-climactic. For that matter, it was frequently very confusing as to whether they were actually together or not. Buffy calls it quits in Lover's Walk, and then Amends happens, and then...at some point they're back together. [livejournal.com profile] gabrielleabelle's poll takers had different opinions as to when, exactly, this happens. There's a similar issue with Buffy's relationship with Faith, but I'll get to that later.

Enemies raises the possibility of raising questions about Angel's ability to play Angelus so well, but this is quickly transmuted into Buffy's jealousy of Faith. In S2, Willow bluntly points out that both souled and soulless Angel think only of Buffy, an undeniable connection between the two. S3 shoves that rabbit back in the hat of subtext, and it is hinted at but isn't explored, leaving the Buffy/Angel relationship bland.

As for Angel himself: Amends and his attempt to reach out to Faith are apparently intended to prepare him for his own show. However while these events do show us Angel's perspective in a way we didn't see before (with the possible exception of the Becoming flashbacks), they don't really advance Angel's character or show us anything new. We know Angel feels guilty and tortured by his past. We know he's seeking redemption. It doesn't change anything.

As for Buffy: There's a reason Anne is one of my favorite (if not my absolute favorite) episodes of the season. She actually has character development. But after coming back, Buffy's mostly in a holding pattern, too. She's mostly dealing with the balance of being the slayer and being a normal girl, which has been her story since S1. Her relationship with Faith is the most dynamic part of her arc, but unfortunately the way that ends demonstrates the pointlessness of S3. Buffy tries to kill Faith, stabs Faith, puts her in a coma for months...and it has no effect on Buffy whatsoever. Buffy's decision to kill Faith is barely even mentioned again. Buffy isn't wanted by the police. No one in her circle seems to care. And any guilt she feels is a non-issue after the S3 finale. Any feelings she has about it all at all seem to be a non-issue after the S3 finale.

In the meantime, Xander and Cordelia break up not for any reason organic to their relationship, but because Xander randomly cheats on her with Willow. Cordelia spends the rest of the season in the awkward position of being a regular who is estranged from the gang. Xander for his part has the Zeppo, a revelation of confidence that doesn't really stick ([livejournal.com profile] gabrielleabelle's pollsters point out that he's back to sniping at Cordy the very next episode), and his relationship with Faith. It's telling that both Buffy and Xander's arcs are at their most dynamic when it involves Faith. I will get to Faith.

But in terms of Faith/Xander: Even after she sexually assaults him and tries to strangle him (leaving noticeable bruises on his neck, something many fans forget), the one night stand becomes a joke (including a particularly insensitive crack from Faith herself in S7). In contrast to Spike and Buffy in later seasons, the effects of Faith's assault on Xander are not explored.

As for Willow: In some ways she has the best arc of the core four, as she gradually develops into someone more confident, both socially and magically. The Willow/Xander affair is nothing more than a hiccup in her relationship with Oz, and the sex in Graduation Day isn't particular interesting except in the context of Willow seeing herself as becoming more grownup and more cool. Doppelgängland is a key episode for Willow and her changing self. During my first watch of S3 Willow's arc was too subtle and had too little pay-off, but the pay-off comes in the later seasons.

There are, of course, some arcs this season: Giles and Wesley and the council are important, although the obvious badness of the council make Buffy's decision to quit feel too delayed - and her reason for finally quitting, a reversion to early S2's "nobody messes with my boyfriend" is unsatisfying. The Mayor is one of those villains who I feel like I ought to like more than I do.

Then there is Faith.

Faith is undoubtedly one of the best things about S3, and few characters are more dynamic. However, much as I love Faith, there's a reason I find her redemption arc considerably more compelling than her fall to darkness. Faith's fall is fragmented and confusing. Before she goes dark, her relationship with Buffy is even more inconsistent than Buffy/Angel, with them going from not talking or making eye contact (beginning of Amends) to best buddies with Faith influencing Buffy to engage in illegal behavior with only a scene or two to bridge the gap. Faith's fall from grace begins when she accidentally kills a human being, an echo of Buffy's apparent manslaughter in Ted. But while Buffy, our heroine, is given an out (it was a robot!) secondary character Faith is not. Yeah, that's not a cop-out. Faith is, of course, 100% responsible for her subsequent turn to the dark - but her lack of connection to the Scooby gang means that no one seems to care too much, outside of key episodes like Consequences and Enemies. Faith's status as a reoccurring character and not a regular hurts her storyline and her connection to the Scoobies.

In contrast to S3, one of the things I love about S4 is that SO MUCH changes. All three of the younger core Scoobies get involved in new relationships, and in contrast to the Xander/Cordy break-up, Willow and Oz's break-up (and subsequent decision not to get back together in New Moon Rising) is organic to their relationship. Even Giles has a sexual partner we haven't met before. The Scoobies start college, completely changing the game. Spike gets a chip, another game changer, while Faith starts her redemption arc.

Date: 2017-03-29 05:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
I like s3, but I hear you. I have some similar problems. I think that I sort of s3 as almost more a collection of short stories, with translucent connecting tissue, rather than the same kind of story as other seasons. The funny thing is that s4 is often described this way, but I find the character development much easier to track and more explicit and the one-offs do seem to be much more on theme (college, experimentation, the Initiative's model of authority). I think that the connective tissue between the episodes is there, but I'm not sure how much it's intended.

A few theories on some of the character gaps: I want to emphasize that these are theories / my interpretations, because I don't want to sound argumentative or dismissive of your criticisms of the season, or even sound like I'm saying I'm positive about these.

It's kind of unpopular, I like the Xander/Willow fluke. I think it makes sense from Willow's side. I know she's supposed to be over Xander, but she had feelings for him for so long. And she's also afraid of where she and Oz are going. The episode before Homecoming was Beauty and the Beasts, in which Oz may well have been a killer (even if he turned out not to be the one), and we also gather that things may be progressing quickly to a sexual place. ("I can barely handle half- [monty].") So I think some nervousness as well as some fear of losing Xander completely are on the table, as well as some latent frustration/jealousy that he did go for Cordelia ("Remember? The 'We Hate Cordelia' Club? Of which you are the treasurer!") not so much because she's angry at Cordelia still but of what it says about how Xander sees her. I think that the rest of the season bears this out -- she makes a real effort to put a distance between her and Xander so she won't backslide, but she still gives Xander a big emotional hug with an "I love you Xander" and then he sleeps with Faith the same night, the news of which sends Willow to cry privately in the bathroom stall. It's difficult because she *does* love Oz, of course, but she never really got a chance to get over Xander's disinterest in her as well as the recognition that they are somewhat drifting apart. For Xander, I think we get a lot of indications throughout season two (and some in s1) that he really doesn't like Willow being interested in someone else, even though he doesn't actually want something with Willow solo, and he even wanted almost kissed her in WSWB when Buffy was away. I think that some of the attraction to Cordelia was a sublimation of his attraction to Buffy, and he ends up kissing Willow at a time when he's alienated from and still kind of angry with Buffy. Plus, again, he picks a time when Willow and Oz seem to be getting more serious. I think that Xander really is hurt that Willow says "Oz" to his "Who am I going to call every night, and talk about what we did all day?" line in Becoming. We could say that he could have made a move on Willow over the summer, but I think that Buffy and Cordy's absence somehow makes it easier for him to stay in a kind of stasis. Xander/Willow's couplehood in the Wishverse further emphasizes how their togetherness is, for Xander, partly a function of how much he accepts/rejects Buffy's presence in his life. This isn't to say he doesn't have big feelings for Cordelia, which he does, but it's complicated, and I think he always on some level wanted to go after the cool girls while also keeping Willow totally fixated on him, which sounds like I'm criticizing Xander but I think it's pretty human (and he's pretty socially isolated and love-starved).

...

Date: 2017-03-29 05:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
My read on Buffy's arc: I think Buffy's arc is hard to parse directly, but I mostly think it's about how she has to stay in Sunnydale -- setting up for her realization of such in "Choices." Anne is partly about that -- about recommitting to her life in Sunnydale -- and then DMP is about how difficult reintegration is socially, with her mom and her friends, and ultimately ends with the decision that it's still worth staying. Part of Faith's character introduction and purpose is to comment on Buffy -- Faith is another runaway, like Buffy was in Anne, and also there is some fight over territory ("This was supposed to be my town!" as Faith proclaims). A lot of the season focuses on problems Buffy has with people and institutions within the town, as if she's still on some level got one foot out of town, and has to figure out what it is that might make life in Sunnydale worthwhile. "Really, Buffy, what is keeping you here?" as Joyce asks. In Lovers Walk, the editing seems to indicate that Angel is Buffy's reason for staying, but she rules it out at the end of the ep. The Wish is partly about how Sunnydale suffers without her. Then with Angel out of the picture as The Reason, there's a few episodes that show the failure of different figures in town who can make life meaningful for her -- Joyce in Gingerbread, Giles in Helpless -- so that her relationships with them aren't ruined, but it does show that there are limits to how much she can trust them and base her life around them. I think that's what spurs her onto being so totally in Faith's orbit in Bad Girls -- she's still a little alienated from the Scoobies over the early eps, and her parent figures are revealed as imperfect and even dangerous, given the right trigger. Choices has Buffy decide she wants to leave town, and while it's a bit subtle I think that we can read Buffy's big plan of stealing the Box of Gavrok as a bit of a foolhardy attempt to Solve All The Problems to make way for her to escape her Hellmouth responsibilities, which is part of why she is so absolute on the need to save Willow -- she feels responsible for Willow being in that situation -- and also why she decides she has to stay in town at the end, and then the consolation is that Willow decides to join her. The Mayor has an alternate plan for Sunnydale than Buffy. And I think the reason that the town matters is because, well, it *is* the Hellmouth, and is as a result the site of this existential/personal battle that Buffy can't turn her back on, even as she wants to.

Anyway, good post. Life is still busy, I do hope to get back to our great PM conversation.

Date: 2017-03-29 10:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsnotmymind.livejournal.com
Argumentative is totally allowed. I think I am going to be argumentative because that is my nature. No insult to you intended because I find you interesting and do agree with much of what you are saying here.

I actually don't mind the clothing fluke as much as a lot of fans seem to - even though I prefer Willow and Xander PLATONIC. The fact is they do have complicated feelings for each other, including attraction (I agree with your thoughts and points about their relationship), so I bought it for what it is, and I buy your justifications - but it still seems a little random. Like, I can buy it, but I could just as easily buy it not happening, or buy it happening at another point in their lives. It doesn't hugely change things, except the Xander/Cory break-up. And while I love that Cordy sticks to her guns and doesn't take Xander back, it still feels like they broke up because of something that wasn't organic to their relationship.

Buffy in Choices is in the same place she was back in S1/S2: Stuck in Sunnydale because she's needed there. So while season three does comment on the issue in some interesting ways...nothing changes.

Life is still busy, I do hope to get back to our great PM conversation.

Am looking forward. I hope your life is busy in a fun way!

Date: 2017-03-29 10:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] local-max.livejournal.com
I didn't think that "argumentative" would be a problem, but I've been having trouble gauging my tone lately for whatever reason so I just wanted to be sure!

Yeah, I hear you about the randomness of it. Like, as I said, I think Willow's side largely works because I think that she'd have a hard time turning off her feelings for Xander when they're actually reciprocated. But Xander going for it is a little weird. I dunno. I think that the other long-term consequence is that Willow/Xander are a little more alienated. It's hard to put precisely why it reads to me like Willow is a little more distant from Xander from this than she could have been from 'just' the s2 plotline and all that happens there (BBB already hits the "Willow feels latent Xander feelings again and it messes everything up" point, even), but I think it does -- it's just a little more painful all around with the fluke in than without. I'm not really a big fan of Homecoming anyway; by contrast, I love all the W/X material in Lovers Walk (and The Wish, which sort of builds on it), a lot, even though I too like them more as friends.

For Buffy, it's a little like season 3 is about things not changing from season 2...and things just going underground. Like there's the possibility of her really moving on from Angel, and maybe figuring out more about who she is as the slayer along with Faith and accepting herself, and the way things end she shuts down both of those processes. That in a lot of ways is a great spot to open for her with season four, and to suggest why she wants to throw herself into college and the relationship with Riley (and very briefly the Initiative), partly because Riley is a chance to start over with someone completely ignorant of the Angel and Faith backstory. It's like s3 is a transition between s2 and s4. Which is fine as far as that goes, but it does mean it's got a less exciting arc.

Mostly good busy! A few bad-busy points a while back.

Date: 2017-03-30 12:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsnotmymind.livejournal.com
It can be hard to gauge tone in online communication. Emoticons only help so much.

I wish there had been better follow-up to Buffy stabbing Faith - it would have made the season feel more real for her arc. I actually have a lot of sympathy to Buffy stabbing Faith (if someone who the police can't handle is running around killing people and then sentences your boyfriend to a slow and painful death for which her blood just happens to be the cure...), but it was a questionable thing to do, and it's a big deal that Buffy makes that decision (there was a reason she'd held off on killing Faith up until that point) and then it just turns into nothing. And the first time I watched it, I knew as soon as Buffy decided to kill her that it would turn into nothing. So I didn't care.

I agree that Riley is for Buffy a way of starting fresh, free from her relationships with Angel and Faith, with someone who won't hurt her the way they did. Except then he did hurt her, because he was STUPID. But not the way they did, fortunately.

Date: 2017-03-29 07:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rebcake.livejournal.com
Huh. I always knew that I was bored by the Bangel drama in this season, but you make a great point that nothing much seems to stick, especially to Buffy. The lack of fallout for Buffy stabbing Faith is the most egregious example of this. Compare it to what happens when she DOESN'T kill Kendra in the previous season.

I don't hate this season, and full-on love about a third of the episodes, but Buffy doesn't really go much of anywhere, except ploddingly and without joy into the next stage of life. As Max points out above, it makes sense that this would be the case. Buffy has committed to staying, and staying is never the most exciting choice, even when it's the right one. It's especially tough when lovers are leaving and all your friends seem to be making progress. Even Willow choosing to stay is a positive choice of her own, in a way that Buffy's dutiful one isn't. The Chosen One doesn't get a lot of choice.

Like you, I find S4 much more satisfying.
Edited Date: 2017-03-29 07:08 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-03-29 10:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsnotmymind.livejournal.com
I think either doing something interesting with Buffy/Angel or having Angel leave earlier in the season would have helped a lot. Also having Faith as a regular. I think they could have let Buffy change as a character while still accepting that she has to stay in Sunnydale. Or maybe give Buffy a really strong reason to want to leave? Not just, "I want choices and I hate being stuck here" but something outside of Sunnydale that she actually wants (Or someone? Maybe Angel has to leave and she chooses not to follow him?). As it is it was just a retread for me.

Date: 2017-03-30 04:39 pm (UTC)
kikimay: (Buffy and Willow)
From: [personal profile] kikimay
You perfectly pointed it out: it's a season where nothing happens! I mean, apart from the accidental murder and the shift that it creates into the team, with Faith officially becoming an "enemy", I've always felt like it was a pretty "MEH" season. Not bad, but not that good. Certainly NOT the best season for this show.

The always criticized S4 has strongest single episodes overall (Hush, Restless, Something Blue, the two-part episode with Faith ...) and those are very iconic moments for the show itself. So, IMO S4 >>>>> S3

Also, my favorite S3 episode is Doppelgangland, which is a "funny" episode but doesn't change a thing in the main plot.

Date: 2017-03-30 10:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itsnotmymind.livejournal.com
I know a lot of people don't like the main plot of S4 - and Adam is kind of a blah villain - but S4's strength isn't in the main villain (Hence, I think, why the final episode is not Primeval but Restless). S4 isn't my favorite season (that would be S5 or S6), but there's a lot of fabulous episodes and a LOT going on. It's the season of transitions, and it's lots of fun in its own right. S3 was just more high school, after the high school setting had been done and done. I mean, as I said, I like Earshot, but for the most part I felt like the show didn't have anything new to say about high school, or the Scoobies as high school students. The show was ready for a change of scene!

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