In the seventh episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, a friend from Buffy’s past begins to attend Sunnydale High, but what starts off as pleasant ends in disaster. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Oh, there’s just so much to love in this episode, isn’t there? It’s not without a few problems in characterization or a few wince-inducing lines, but “Lie To Me” is seriously a spectacularly written and acted episode of Buffy. At heart, the episode examines the various ways in which one can lie to someone else or to yourself; the differing degrees in which a lie can affect a person are at center stage. I think that if you keep track, there’s not a single character in “Lie To Me” that doesn’t tell a lie, and it’s one of the more clever attributes of this episode. They range from smaller lies (Giles’s opinion on monster truck racing) to the whoppers that threaten lives (Ford’s plan for his vampire-devotee friends).
The main set-up begins when Angel interrupts a feeding attempt by Drusilla. I’m not quite sure how I feel about her character just yet. She does get more depth in this episode, but even that is only told to us by Angel; all we know is that his horrific actions caused her to lose a grip on reality. It does feel weird to me that this is the only aspect to define at this point. She’s strange and awkward, and now we learn it’s all Angel’s fault. Either way, there’s this really bizarre dynamic between the two of them, and I don’t know whether it’s a commentary on Stockholm syndrome, or a really gross attempt to say that Drusilla is in love with the man who tortured her. Either way, at the opening of the episode, Buffy witnesses Drusilla hitting on Angel, and the moment puts her in a weird spot.
I don’t think that this is meant to say that Angel is a cheater, at least not at this point. I think Buffy is grappling with the idea that Angel has a past, and it’s one she has no way to relate to it. I think there’s something there that even I can relate to, and perhaps you can too. I’ve not had the most experience with relationships, but I always feel awkward when I’m getting to know someone that I like because I can sense the chasm between our experiences more than I’d like to. Part of that comes from my atypical upbringing and the fact that so many staples of American life that others have gone through are things I have no familiarity with. Obviously, I’ve never dated a vampire that’s a couple hundred centuries old. (Or have I??? OH GOD WHAT IF.) But I don’t take the writing in this show at face-value because I think so much of it works as this clever commentary on high school life, on growing up, and on trying to navigate your first relationship.
For Buffy, she doesn’t know what she needs to do to capture Angel’s attention. Even if he didn’t actually do anything with Drusilla, it’s attention that she’d rather have on herself. It’s here that “Lie to Me” introduces us to Billy Fordham, someone Buffy went to school with in Los Angeles. It’s never outright confirmed that they were in a relationship, but the two exhibit a closeness that suggests more than a friendship. I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter what they were in Los Angeles. For now, it represents something I am so goddamn bored of seeing: a trigger for Xander’s jealous.
You know, I’ve stopped thinking this has a single thing to do with his character and I almost want to like him just to spite the writers. Are they so lazy that they refuse to give him a layer beyond this? It’s making angry, irrationally so! Nearly every character on this show has managed to get some depth in the script, and Xander’s the same person he was in season one in this episode. Did the writers exhaust their energy reserves or something? Does Xander need to earn more XP to level-up to “Complex Character”? I’m done disliking Xander as a character because it’s so goddamn boring. Writers, please step up your game and do something different. Oh, and if you ever put another line into an episode that suggests that fat people can’t be attractive to pretty girls, I swear I will write you the angriest letter imaginable. I don’t know if you know, but I’m really good at writing letters.
Wait, no, can we talk about that? I’ve slimmed down in recent years, but for about four or five years, I was the “big” dude in my group of gay friends, and that meant I was non-threatening to them. I swear to you, I actually tolerated this for like six years. I don’t know why! Well, I’ve always been desperate for acceptance, but I had a group of gay male friends who would always consider me their wingman because they knew I didn’t have the body to distract their dates or their possible hook-ups with. YEAH, THAT WAS A WHOLE LOT OF FUN. Even when I got into a long-term relationship, I was still that guy. It was one of many reasons why I left Los Angeles after living there for a good portion of my life. I had to cut these toxic people out of my life. So when Xander said that line, I just wanted to throttle Joss Whedon. SHUT UP DUDE.
Anyway, BACK TO THE EPISODE. The inevitable clash happens at the Bronze, when Buffy runs into Angel and is forced to introduce him to Ford. Oh, holy awkward, this is so terrible. I mean….lord. This show really knows how to make me feel uncomfortable in less than ten seconds! I wasn’t surprised that Buffy was all, “YEAH LET’S GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.”
(Also, can I take a moment to say that this episode absolute cements my complete and total love of Willow? Her jokes are not only hilarious in this episode, but Alyson Hannigan nails that horrifically awkward perfection that is her character so beautifully to me. I will never not think that her laugh when Buffy asks her if she’s drinking coffee again is one of the greatest things in the entire show. Oh god, and Angel in her bedroom. Just…I love Willow and Alyson Hannigan so much.)
So, this was all par for the course. The episode was okay, and I wasn’t really sure what the main “plot” would be aside from a brief appearance of Spike and Drusilla and the introduction of Ford. I wasn’t terribly interested in the concept of Buffy having to hide her slaying from Ford as she does in the alley behind the Bronze.
And then he walked around the corner to see her fighting. Oh, cool, that’ll be easy to explain away. OH, WHAT THE FUCK, HE JUST SAW HER SLAY A VAMPIRE?!?!?!?! WAIT WHAT THE FUCK HOW CAN YOU DO THAT. Oh my god, how is Whedon going to explain that in the epis–SWEET SUMMER CHILD HOW DOES FORD KNOW THAT BUFFY IS THE SLAYER SOMEONE PICK UP MY BRAIN.
In just thirty seconds, this episode goes from “casual exploration of high school relationships” to “BY GANDALF’S BEARD I CANNOT BREATHE.” I could barely deal with the idea that Ford had somehow figured out, and then Ford is walking into a goth club, and then I start laughing, and then I realize these people worship vampires in some idealized way, and then I’m not laughing anymore, and then I’m confused, and then I am shouting at my Netflix screen over and over again because this episode has already broken me in ways I did not anticipate. It’s truly a brilliant idea, one I certainly could not have predicted appearing so early into this show’s run. It was both hilarious and chilling to me because I actually know someone who wishes they were a vampire. (I’m not friends with them anymore and I am going to go to Facebook right now to see if they still are like that.) (I’ve returned–they don’t have a Facebook. Drat.)
And really, it’s one of many ways this story addresses lying: these characters are all lying to themselves. At first, they’re oblivious to it, of course. They think they’ve found the answer to a better life, to a higher consciousness. Yet even when the evidence is pretty much handed to them by Buffy near the end, they still deny it as much as they can. The bigger lie, though, is Ford’s. He’s purposely positioned himself as the blast from her past, one that he knows she was attracted to, and he exploits that. UM GROSS. It’s also why, ultimately, I don’t sympathize with him, but we’ll get to that reveal in a bit.
At the same time, Xander, Willow, and Angel also have to participate in a form of lying as well. The context of it is dealt with in a surprisingly refreshing way. Initially, we’re made to believe that Willow and Angel have the best intentions in mind, so we sympathize with them. And it’s true! They really are concerned for Buffy, and they don’t want to hurt her feelings if they end up being wrong about Ford. However, I was impressed with the fact that when this is revealed to Buffy, the story explicitly makes us feel pretty awful that her friends lied to her. Yes, they wanted the best for her, but Buffy very plainly states it to Angel: Shouldn’t she get to decide that for herself? It’s presumptuous of others to assume that their decisions are better than hers.
That being said, there was one thing about her conversation with Angel that was downright confusing to me. Now, let me first state that I’m coming at this differently for a reason. I’ve only been in two serious relationships. One lasted less than six months, and the second lasted over three years. Both times, it was quite some time before I told the guy that I loved him. I’m not quick to those words in a genuine way. (LOL I seriously just noticed that I am much quicker to saying that I love fictional characters than real people. CLEARLY I AM A FLAWLESS HUMAN BEING oh my god forever alone.) It takes a lot to win my trust, and that absolutely has to be there before I can say it.
When Angel asked Buffy if she loved him, I totally thought she’d say no. When she confirmed that she did, I was a bit bewildered. Um…they have kissed maybe twice? Haven’t they had like…ten conversations? They haven’t even spent an uninterrupted twenty-four-hour period together! Does she love him? Really? Then I started thinking that wasn’t really fair. Not everyone was a hopeless loser like me, so why judge others by the same standard. Perhaps different people have different feelings on the word! I can accept that!
But seriously, shouldn’t they….hang out? I mean, we genuinely haven’t seen them spend more than one full night together? IS THIS WEIRD OR IS IT JUST ME BEING ALL TRAGIC AND GAY AND STUFF?
Regardless, I don’t think that really affects how I feel about the story either way. Both Buffy and Angel do begin to suspect something’s a bit off about this story, and that’s how the show tells us that Angel should have been honest with her from the start. If you think about it, Buffy probably would have figured things out anyway. She knew Ford was lying when the vampire he supposedly killed runs out with a book for Spike. How much longer would it have been before she put the pieces together? Though, I can’t really complain; if Angel’s investigation hadn’t happened, we would never have gotten the scene where that guy walks by Angel wearing the same clothes as him. I mean…it is seriously so beautiful I could weep.
Actually, there’s another line that made me want to cry with joy:
“I’ve known you for two minutes and I can’t stand you. I don’t really feature you living forever.”
SPIKE, YOU LOVABLE VAMPIRE. PLEASE KEEP BEING WITTY FOREVER.
At this point, I was just interested in the resolution of this all. Obviously, Buffy would have to confront Ford, but I was taken back that she did it so early. You know, I also think that Sarah Michelle Gellar is at the top of her game once she arrives at the club. Her ability to switch between frantic desperation and quiet sympathy and then to fury is a beautiful thing to watch. Buffy’s also never dealt with people like this: they all refuse to believe her in a way that’s just utterly absurd to her. Normally, she could just say Y’ALL THERE ARE VAMPIRES COMING, GET THE FUCK OUT. But these people want that. She tries to explain that’s it not eternal life, that a demon lives in your body and takes your memories, but even that doesn’t phase Ford.
Then there’s the big reveal: Ford has brain cancer and is orchestrating all of this to preserve his body before it breaks down. On the one hand, you know I love morally ambiguous villains more than I love water and air. I appreciated Whedon giving him that sort of depth, to extinguish Buffy’s rage for a moment when she realized he was just fighting to survive. That genuinely interests me! But I also think I’m just bored at this point in my life with the idea that people who are sick or disabled will go to lengths that are ridiculous and, well, murderous. Of course that’s not the only dynamic to Ford’s decision, so I’m left feel torn between the two emotions. I think I’ll just stay forever in conflict? Honestly, I’m okay with that.
There’s really no way that Ford was going to survive this, but the scene at the very end of “Lie To Me,” which actually contains the very line of the episode title, is a touching way to bring this all together. Everybody lies, and they all lie for different reasons. It’s here that she just wants things to be less ambiguous and confusing. That’s not only a commentary on Ford’s decision, but on her life in general, on her feelings for Angel, on the way her friends treated her in this episode. So she asks Giles to lie to her and tell her it’ll be all right.
But this is something Joss Whedon wrote. Who are we kidding? Nothing’s going to be all right.