In the fourth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, WELL ALL OF THIS IS UNEXPECTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I’m sure you all know this already, but if you happen to be in the tiny minority that reads these posts but does NOT watch the episodes, this episode deals with domestic violence, so it’s inevitable that I have to talk about it. I wanted to provide this just in case you needed a trigger warning!
Some things age with time strangely, and there are parts of “Beauty and the Beasts” that are a tad odd to me. Then I looked at the air date: October 20, 1998. Three days before my fifteenth birthday. There was an episode of a popular television that showed us the perils of domestic violence, a metaphor for alcoholism, and made parallels to a violent system of misogyny that exists in our culture. IN 1998. What the fuck????
I’d always heard that while Buffy slipped up, it was one of the more progressive dramas on television, but I never really engaged that idea beyond rolling my eyes at the idea that a show about vampires could be thoughtful. omg I am a vampire bigot. Actually, vampires are used often as a metaphor for marginalized groups, and it’s one of my least favorite things? Because, like, I can’t count how many times vampirism was a metaphor for homosexuality, and that analogy doesn’t work because I don’t suck the life out of other people. I think there’s something inherently dangerous about vampires that doesn’t exist for people who are gay or queer. [PS: I realize that I just typed a sentence that starts with “I don’t suck…” when talking about being gay. SHUT UP SHUSH.]
The only reason I’m bringing this up is became I came into Buffy with an idea that it was a silly show. It doesn’t help that it aired on the WB, which was sort of known in my time as being never serious and kind of cheesy and LOOK I WAS JUST SO OBSESSED WITH THE X-FILES. Is there anything wrong with a love that pure??? What I’ve discovered over the last thirty-odd episodes or so is that while the show certainly has the capacity to be serious, it’s so much more intelligent and thoughtful than I ever imagined. Personally, I’m obsessed with the idea of being a teenager, and it’s why I’m writing a YA fiction novel. There’s so much potential for ripe storytelling during that time period, and Buffy impresses me time and time again with episodes that deal with that pivotal and transformative period in our lives. Hell, I’m sure there are some of you who are still in the midst of this part of your life and therefore you totally understand me.
Viewing these episodes through the lens of my own experience as a teenager gives them so much more depth. I know it may be weird that I pedantically obsess over small details, character turns, or social stigmas that I come across. I know that, historically, reviewing television only really happened this way in online communities. I mean, I remember when I first got online in the 90s (I AM SO FUCKING OLD WHAT THE FUCK) and discovered The X-Files chatrooms and message boards, found out that people called one another X-Philes, and that they “shipped” Mulder and Scully. I learned what shipping was. What stuck with the most over the years, though, was how a thread on a single episode that aired could go three or four hundred replies long, that there were people discussing the subtext of government paranoia, or perhaps talking about how Scully’s character subverted gender roles along the way, or even folks complaining about a poorly-executed endgame for a particular story.
It’s those sort of communities that have inspired me all these years, and I’d never be doing what I’m doing without them. I love the chance to discuss Buffy not only because HOLY SHIT THIS SHOW IS SO GOOD, but because the show itself facilitates discussion on these issues. I generally end up liking something more if I can appreciate it on multiple levels, and it’s why I’m enjoying Buffy so much as it is.
I definitely think that “Beauty and the Beasts” does its story well, but I must admit that I think this story has one of the most convoluted plots in the series so far, one that confused me a few times because so much was jammed into it. It’s starts off being about Oz and the beast that he has inside him, then it shifts to Angel being a beast after returning from Hell (HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME OH MY GOD), but then it shifts its attention to Debbie and Pete in the last fifteen minutes or so, and then all three plots sort of come together? Truthfully, each one of these three plots could have been given its own episode, so I thought the one thing that made this episode suffer was that it was too full.
At heart, though, this episode is about three men – Oz, Angel, and Pete – who all have to deal with violence that they commit as men. For Oz, the news that a boy was murdered and possibly mauled causes him to reflect on the possibility that he may be doing it himself. Angel’s return from Hell isn’t pleasant either, and even though we get only one tiny moment of the real Angel, there’s still the problem of his frightening rage. Pete, however, provides the most concrete example of how men use their power to harm other people, especially women.
Yet there really is a lot of stuff that happens in between. We see more of Buffy and Scott’s relationship, most of which is kind of horrifically awkward. Wow, this show really knows how to capture the awkwardness of high school, doesn’t it? It’s kind of frightening in its realism. It’s interesting that Buffy is reluctant to continue further with Scott, and this is, of course, made a lot more complicated when Angel shows up. Well, like hopelessly complicated, I mean. How do you keep dating someone when the person you loved (and killed!!!) JUST RETURNED FROM HELL? Oh god, Buffy, I don’t envy you.
Well, actually I do just a little bit. That’s because you got to talk to Mr. Platt. UGH BUFFY WHY DID YOU DO THAT? What a rad character for this show to introduce! There was so much potential in him, a chance for Buffy to develop a relationship with someone where she could be open and honest, to reflect on her own life through him. He was genuinely interested in her, and he understood her. Do you know how crucial that is to Buffy? Or anyone, for that matter? He actively empathized with her, and it made her feel so much. WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED THAT HE DIED? Goddamn it, CAN ONE NICE CHARACTER LAST A LONG TIME? Well, aside from Willow. FUUUU IF YOU KILL OFF WILLOW I SWEAR.
Most of the characters take a backseat in this episode, though, to Oz and Buffy, which is actually a dynamic we haven’t really seen. There are moments where Willow has to cope with her boyfriend possibly being a murderous monster, and those are touching. But I like anything with Willow in it. I’m sort of the same with Cordelia, but I really, really need a Cordy-centric episode soon. I WANT IT. Faith sort of just…walks around? I don’t think she has a very big role in “Beauty and the Beasts.” Xander’s there to make inappropriate jokes and look really fucking good in that gray shirt he was wearing early in the episode. He wore it well, okay? SHUT UP.
The thing I want to discuss most, though, is this episode’s attempt to bring up the issue of domestic violence. As a whole, I’d say that Marti Nixon did a fine job. Pete is clearly in the wrong, and even though he drank a potion that accented his violence, the show explicitly states that this was still Pete’s fault. (Hello there, alcoholism metaphor. I SEE YOU.) We see how brutal domestic violence is, though I admit that the two scenes where he beats her were ridiculously uncomfortable to watch. I didn’t expect the show to actually put those images on the screen. I’m not sure I think it was unnecessary, but I understand that it probably freaked out a lot of people.
We even get to see the other side of it. It’s one of those things that’s hard to watch because I was abused as a kid and a teenager, and my first boyfriend was emotionally abusive and manipulative of me. I acted just like Debbie did. I told my friends that things were fine. I defended the people who hurt me with a vehemence and vitriol that they didn’t deserve. But I didn’t know any better, and I didn’t know how else to cope with it. This show and Danielle Weeks, who plays Debbie, portray this so accurately that I actually had to pause the episode for a second because shit was getting too real for me. omg SHIT GOT REAL.
The only thing that kind of made me feel weird was how aggressive Buffy and Willow were when they confronted Debbie in the bathroom. I don’t know that I’d go so far to say that they were blaming her for it happening, but it felt accusatory rather than sympathetic. I do get that they were on a time crunch because Pete could be killing other people, but coming to terms with being abused is not an easy process.
On a completely unrelated note, Oz in a werewolf suit looks like a gorilla. I laughed really hard. Which is kind of distracting because right after this, everything is so serious and disturbing. I think that’s part of Buffy‘s charm, though, in that it can be silly one moment and downright upsetting the next.
And I AM JUST SO FULL OF EMOTIONS AT THE END OF THIS EPISODE. Sarah Michelle Gellar, your face when Angel says your name…you’re killing me. You are TOO MUCH FOR ME. It’s so heartbreaking and overwhelming. Angel is back, and Buffy has accepted that, but in what capacity has he returned? Has spending all that time in Hell damaged him forever? Will he ever return? WHY ARE YOU READING HIM THE CALL OF THE WILD. My heart is going to burst from feelings one of these days.
Death Count: 4 – Debbie, Pete, boy in woods during cold open, Mr. Platt. Total: 13