In the third episode of the fourth episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, HOLY SHIT TOO MUCH JUST HAPPENED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I just love this season already, okay? First of all, Bif Naked was in it AND I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT LOVELY BAND AND HUMAN BEING. Oh my god, Buffy is making me feel so terribly old and I kind of adore it, strangely.
But that’s not why “The Harsh Light of Day” is such a fantastic episode. It was entertaining enough to see both Harmony and Spike come back. It was even more entertaining to see why they were back on the show. It was just as entertaining to have Anya in the narrative, and it was brilliant to see just how Buffy was going to crossover with Angel.
However, it’s the story that gets to me. It always is! NO ONE SHOULD BE SURPRISED. A story about three women learning about how men disappoint them sexually and emotionally? A plot about how upsetting it is to be on the receiving end of a one-night stand you didn’t know was a one night stand? Finding out that Giles owns a television? THIS EPISODE WAS WRITTEN FOR ME FOREVER. OH MY GOD.
I mean, for real, the second that Harmony reveals that she is a vampire was just so incredible. I thought it was a bit weird that she just showed up out of nowhere, but the idea never crossed my mind that she was a goddamn vampire. OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL. It’s actually kind of cool because she is THE FUNNIEST VAMPIRE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SHOW. I know she’s supposed to be irritating, but I love the idea that her characterization over the first three seasons doesn’t go away. She’s almost exactly the same person, and it’s kind of perfect.
But “The Harsh Light of Day” really is about how three relationships fall apart. Oh god, I know I just gayed it up in yesterday’s post, but everything is gay and nothing hurts. Of all three of the parallel plots, Buffy’s experience with Parker was so horrifically accurate that it felt like my life had been stolen. HOW DID YOU DO THIS, JANE ESPENSON. There are few things more damaging and depressing than finding out you just had a one-night stand that you didn’t want to have. Obviously, this is also a thousand times worse for Buffy because of her history with sex, and I couldn’t ignore how much the scene where she woke up in Parker’s room mirrored the post-sex scene with Angel. It’s a horrifying thing to realize because there’s so much doubt and pain that comes along with it. Buffy’s dialogue with Willow throughout “The Harsh Light of Day” exemplifies that! Sure, it’s spelled out, but I think it needed to be. Buffy needed to vocalize the way she felt about that kind of situation.
It was something I had to learn how to cope with early on as a gay man. I feel uncomfortable with the stereotype that gay men are so much more promiscuous than any other group because I think it ignores the fact that straight sexual relationships are clearly the norm in our society and just odds-wise, I don’t think it’s an accurate portrayal. Plus, I’m bored and uninterested in any real talk of promiscuity because I’m sick of people putting forth the idea that there is an acceptable amount of and way to have sex. YAWN NO THANK YOU. But as someone who had to wait to start experimenting with my sexuality, I didn’t ever consider what a one-night stand really was. I obviously knew they existed, but I was always a romantic, emotional person, one who desired deeper, intimate connections before sexual activity. I don’t think I’m anywhere near that strict with myself, but I find that I crave emotional intimacy far more than sexual intimacy. But when I first started having sex, I very much remember how awful it was when I thought I’d made a connection with a guy, and discovered post-sex that I was just there for the sex. Which, I might add, wasn’t particularly that good anyway. I’m sure there are others here in this community who have gone through this experience, and I’m interested to know if you felt the same way as Buffy did here. I really did feel like I’d done something wrong, even though hindsight tells me that this was an absurd thing to believe. It really wasn’t fair to myself to think that. The guy wanted something out of our interaction, and clearly I could provide that, so it’s not like I was utterly useless. Still, I believed some pretty awful things about sex anyway, and I blame that solely on my strict Christian/Catholic upbringing. I was taught to believe sex was inherently shameful, so I reasoned that if it meant something, I wasn’t shaming myself.
LOL WHAT AN AWFUL IDEA. But how was I supposed to know that slut-shaming myself was a thing that could even happen? It took years to deprogram all the awful hang-ups I had around sex, and that was complicated even more by my first relationship, where I was manipulated by the promise of sex. I HAVE A LOT OF ISSUES, OKAY? I’m working on them!
It’s fascinating to see how that works for Xander. Okay, first of all his line about “turning into a woman” is really gross and can we stop with this biological essentialism and shit? Anyway, Xander has a certain bravado to his character, but he often quite reluctant to act on it. “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” gave Xander his fantasy, and he saw the horrifying effects of it. Here, Xander’s frank sexual drive is essentially put to the test. He objectifies women often, yet when presented with a consenting woman, he shrinks away in fear. THIS IS GENUINELY INTRIGUING TO ME. Why does he do this? It’s twice now that this has happened, and both times he has resisted sexual advances that he should want. For Xander, sex is much more complicated than he ever thought it would be, and he’s been slowly realizing that. (And I do mean slowly.) At the same time, we see how Anya is recognizing this as well, especially since she’s never had to deal with the emotional complexity of human sexuality either. Sex has no easy answer to it, and it’s not an easy solution in and of itself, either.
Even the exploration of Harmony’s vampirism touches on this idea of being disappointed with reality. Like the other two women in this episode, Harmony believes that sex will give her a deeper satisfaction than she’s had before, but she’s ultimately let down by what happens. Her life with Spike is not a fantasy. It’s not a vacation. And even though it’s meant for us to initially be annoyed by Harmony’s behavior, I actually found myself sympathizing with her. Why the fuck should she have to obey Spike? Okay, I get it. He’s looking for a gem that will make him invincible. This is important! But Harmony is now a vampire, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to hang around in a damp cave for days, wasting her time. However, Spike doesn’t appreciate this, and he refuses to. It’s why he tries to stake her and kill her; he can’t understand that Harmony is fucking bored.
And so we are given a story where these three women, unbeknownst to one another, all end up feeling empty and unwanted. I know it’s cheesy, but that final image of the three of them at UC Sunnydale is just so awful. What do you think you are doing to my emotions, Whedon? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?
It’s awesome to see that this episode crosses over with Angel in a way that makes it like a two-parter. (Well, at least I hope that’s what is about to happen. WHAT IF OZ DOESN’T GO GIVE THE RING TO ANGEL IN THE NEXT ANGEL EPISODE? What if the Gem of Amarra is actually THE ONE TRUE RING? Oh god, DON’T PUT THE RING ON.) I’m glad Anya, Spike, and Harmony are all now part of season four of Buffy, and I can’t wait to see how they’re used in the future.
Also, for real, I would love to have Willow as a best friend. She is the best comfort-giver ever.