I've been humming and hawwing about how to approach the next couple of episodes for the third series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The issue that I sometimes encounter is that although some episodes aren't advertised as two or even three part stories, they still can be viewed as such. Bad Girls and Consequences are two such episodes that form a loose two-parter, and since they revolve around the same plot points and themes, I guessed it would make more sense to tackle these as one big review rather than two in which I repeat myself a lot.
Bad Girls/Consequences marks the turning point of the third season with regards to the ongoing season arc. We get to see the true nature of Mayor Wilkins, and more importantly, we also get to see the true Faith.
A new order's being laid down here. While Faith's darker side has been hinted at in Revelations, it's in these two episodes that it really takes root. The two-parter looks at both sides of the story from Buffy's eyes. In Bad Girls, she's seduced by Faith's simple “Want. Take. Have” attitude to slaying, but after a brutal wake-up call, she's brought crashing back to Earth in Consequences.
If Gingerbread looked at a problem from a real world point of view, Bad Girls/Consequences extends this notion to look at what happens when an innocent gets caught in the crossfire. That innocent happens to be the Mayor's shy, stumbling number two, Finch. Having been involved in heavy duty slayage, Faith's whirlwind technique of killing vampires results in her accidentally stabbing Finch through the heart with a stake. All of a sudden, we're not in fantasy land any more, we're in the real world.
What's especially bleak about this is Faith's attitude. Despite showing the odd flicker of remorse (such as when Buffy and Faith go rooting through Finch's office), Faith doesn't care about what she did. She says as much at the end of the Bad Girls episode to a disbelieving Buffy, and worse still, even tries to implicate Buffy as a culprit.
The difference between Buffy and Faith is that while Buffy has a moral compass, Faith is left lost in the woods. She's had no stable parental figure to keep her on the wayside and no real friends, so she simply lives her life by her “Want. Take. Have” mantra. Whatever Faith wants, she gets. She wants to avoid jail – she puts Buffy in the frame. She wants a bit of nookie to let off steam – she picks on the hapless Xander. And if she wants power, she chooses to swap allegiances by paying a visit to the Mayor in the final “Who saw that coming?” scene.
In a way, it's a shadowy reversal of the Buffy/Kendra dynamic. Kendra played by the rulebook to a fault, whereas Buffy used her instinct and emotions to get the job done. This time around, it's Buffy quoting from the moral rulebook, while Faith's out of control instinct has led to a line being crossed. If there's one risk that a Slayer runs, it's that all power can corrupt. “We're Slayers, girlfriend,” she proclaims to Buffy. “Chosen two!” As Buffy finds though, loving your calling a bit too much isn't the way to go. Not only does she alienate her friends or land on the wrong side of the law, she simply leaves a classroom test without so much as a raised eyebrow.
Incidentally, what's up with that teacher? She gets huffy when Buffy loudly whispers about last night's Slayage to a bored Willow, but says zilch when Buffy climbs through the window to join Faith. Incredibly, there's not even a hint of detention – given that this would be an ideal opportunity for Snyder to give Buffy a hard time, it's odd that the loathsome principal doesn't act on this.
A Slayer Gone Wrong storyline was one that was waiting to be explored, and Bad Girls/Consequences kicks this into gear. There's a notable bit of good direction that sums up Faith's over-impulsive character in the rapid cut from toasted vampires in a barn to Buffy and Faith dancing in The Bronze to what sounds like a jack-in-the-box trapped in a washing machine. It's fast paced and disorientating, what with the fast flashing lights and the trippy house music.
Events are clearly heading for a cruel twist of the knife, and Finch's accidental stabbing is the catalyst for Faith's turn to the dark side. It's ironic that she's nearly saved from all this by Angel, who quietly discusses her future with her in his great big lonely house. Angel is the ideal choice for guidance counsellor, given that he's taken countless lives in the past. As he notes, Faith's got a taste of that dark power, given that she's just taken a life. But as Angel tells her: “I found out that there are other types of people. People who genuinely wanted to do right. And they make mistakes. And they fall down. You know, but they keep caring. Keep trying. If you can trust us, Faith, this can all change. You don't have to disappear into the darkness.” The key word is trust – Faith's been let down in the past (notably by a bogus Watcher), so her new-found taste for power is a way of rebelling against the world.
It's too bad that she's promptly captured by a small band of goonish representatives from The Watcher's Council – who naturally make a meal of the whole job, leaving Faith more disillusioned than ever. Although she saves Buffy from the teeth of Mr Trick, it's clear that there's more than one agenda at work here – one that's confirmed when Faith invites herself into the vacant position of the Mayor's sidekick.
The mention of the bungled Watcher's Council raid reminds me that there's much going on in this loose two-parter. One such event is the début of the new Watcher, Wesley Wyndham-Price. Wesley would go on to become one of the long-serving (and arguably, one of the most popular) mainstays of the Angel spin-off. Knowing where he ultimately ends up, personality-wise, it's interesting to see his faltering, bumbling steps into the big, bad Whedon World.
The Wesley of Buffy's third season is virtually unrecognisable, compared to his considerable character growth in Angel. He's treated as a stereotypically foppish, clueless Brit, all Hugh Grant-esque stammers and a line in pompous patter that wouldn't be out of place in a party political broadcast: “A good Slayer is a cautious Slayer!” or “Remember the three key words for any Slayer: preparation, preparation, preparation.”
Wesley follows the Watcher Rulebook to the letter, even taking action after overhearing about Faith's activities by telling tales to the Council. But following a rulebook to the letter leaves little room to improvise – such as What happens when a Slayer breaks free of her bonds and threatens to crush a man's head like a grape? Wesley's limited experience and bookish nature mean that this won't be an easy ride – neither for Buffy or for Giles.
Giles, in particular, isn't in the best of moods. While Buffy can come and go as she pleases at school, Giles is stuck with Wesley, who's burbling on about his various faults and unflattering diary entries. If Wesley's character growth is still yet to come, at least here, we can see that the Giles of this season is a different proposition to the stuffy librarian from the first batch of episodes. This is a far more confident and relaxed Giles, who's more than capable of handling himself in a scrap with Balthazar's minions and is more than willing to reassure Buffy that Finch's death isn't the first and the last example of accidental casualties.
The character growth of Giles is just one example of the superb characterisation that Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel offer. Be patient – Wesley will get there in time. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with his gawky blundering. Fantastic performance from Alexis Denisof though – his British accent fooled me completely.
A drawback with this two-parter though is that the other regulars are largely sidelined. Possibly, in some cases, this is to do with the actors working on other projects (Alyson Hannigan was working on the first American Pie while Seth Green was working on the second Austin Powers movie). As a result, Oz is nowhere to be seen in Consequences, Willow doesn't get much to do but get a little jealous over Buffy and Faith's friendship and to break down in tears in the loo after finding out about Faith's and Xander's intimate encounter. Xander himself doesn't get a great deal to do either, although there's an uncomfortable scene in which Faith pins him down to her bed and starts choking him in some weird, quasi-kinky fashion.
Cordelia is also being relegated to the sidelines – she hasn't really had a great deal to do since The Wish. Given that there's no real place for her in the Scooby Gang any more, she now gets a few token bitchy lines and that's it. Which is a bit of a shame, although it's amusing seeing her make cow eyes at Wesley.
It's also a shame that Mr Trick is given the boot. For a character that started off with much promise, he's been kept to the shadows since Band Candy. He isn't given a great deal to do in his last two episodes either. “Oh no, this is no good at all,” he mutters before evaporating into skeleton dust, and he's right – maybe Mr Trick could have been brought back in the future. He certainly would have livened up the dreary Initiative/Adam subplot the following season.
The plus side of this is that we're starting to get a bit more insight into Mayor Wilkins. We find out that there's more to him than meets the eye. He's still very much the likeable cove, chortling away about stray dogs and the merits of Family Circus, but there's an extra dark edge now coming into play. He's now unkillable after reciting a mystical incantation. Balthazar's acolyte Vincent has been kept in a cage, and instead of destroying him instantly, the Mayor simply has him let loose. Crazy? Well, not so much, given that after Vincent splits his head in two with a huge sword, the Mayor's bonce just slithers back into place – no band aids or bandages required here!
He's an unstoppable fiend now, but what makes this villain work so well is that he doesn't behave like your average bad guy. He laments Finch's death, since he can't “scold” him for his possible betrayal. He keeps a notebook with a note to become invincible casually lounging between calling the temp agency and meeting with the PTA. He even invites Trick for a celebratory root beer after becoming invincible. He's the most normal, unassuming guy in Sunnydale, but that's what makes the Mayor stand out from the crowd. Finally, Harry Groener's being given something substantial to do, and his infectiously watchable turn as Wilkins is one of the plus points, both of this set of episodes and of the season.
With all of these many happenings taking place, let's not forget some of the other sub-plots. Or maybe you have, that's the problem. Balthazar, for instance. He is one of the grossest looking monsters to appear in Buffy – a great big overgrown monster slumped in a huge wooden wash tub. Despite some quality rage from CSI Miami actor Christian Clemenson, the problem with Balthazar is that there's not much to him apart from his bleurgh condition and lots of impotent shouting about his lost amulet.
The other problem with this two-parter is that curiously, for an event-filled 90 minutes, there's the feeling that the story's jogging on the spot rather than moving forward. The Consequences episode, in particular, is filled with too many slow, pompous speeches that wouldn't be out of place in the third season of Star Trek. It's all a bit too heavy-handed at times, and slows the action down to a Balthazar's pace. Seriously, can you imagine that guy competing in the next Olympic Games 100m sprint?
Perhaps that's why, for me, it lacks the wow factor of episodes such as The Wish or Gingerbread. The two-parter's more interested in advancing the plot rather than telling a self-contained story. That's not to say that it's badly made or told – far from it. The scripts (bar the boring sermon speeches) and the direction are as fresh and exciting as ever. The chilling dream opening to Consequences in which a drowning Buffy is caught between the undead corpse of Finch and a vengeful Faith is particularly good. The main thing to take away from this two-parter is that things are changing, and it's changes that will have long-term consequences for all.