Right from the days of the cradle, we're told that lies are bad. If you tell a porky pie, you're sent to the back of the class or up to your bedroom without even a crumb of dinner. Not that any of these threats seem to make much of an impression, given that fibbing seems to be a national disease these days. Politicians fib. Executives fib. Even a former executive producer of a long-running sci-fi TV show used to fib and be proud of it. Don't people have moral standards any more?
Not that I'm being St John here, it's just an observation. The latest Buffy offering Lie To Me got me thinking about how easy it is to lie. Certainly, in this episode, a good number of the characters are going all Pinocchio on Buffy, for reasons of their own. Buffy's beaus, in particular, are none too keen on the truth.
Apart from morose gel-head Angel, Buffy's one-time Hemery High crush, Billy Fordham (Ford to his friends) is back in town, matriculating at Sunnydale. Buffy is initially delighted at this, especially since she's witnessed Angel in cahoots with his old target, Drusilla (still in mad as a mongoose mode). However, Ford is not all that he seems either, since he's hell-bent on making a trade with Spike – a trade which is a lot more dangerous than swapping Vampire stickers.
Lie To Me is the first big example of the bad old world breaking through into Buffy's life. Up until now, the series has dealt with all sorts of teenage traumas, but Lie To Me takes its first tottering steps into the real adult world. “It's just like, the more I know, the more confused I get,” concludes Buffy in the Moral Of The Week segment at the end of the episode. “I believe that's called growing up,” shrugs Giles, himself soon to go all shifty on Buffy when confronted by a demon from his past. For the moment, not only is Buffy betrayed by two potential love interests, she's betrayed by her two best friends who have been roped into Angel's investigation into Ford's extra-curricular activities.
In a sense, Lie To Me is a dummy run for Angel's own show in which he gets to investigate murky goings-on. The weird vampire fan club is the sort of freaky locale which will turn up in the spin-off show. It's populated by a small clutch of oddballs, some of whom look like they're heading off to a strange fetish fancy dress party. Diego and Chantarelle, in particular, look like some pervy travelling magic act, much to Ford's amusement. “You look like a big ninny,” he shrugs at one point to the flabbergasted wannabe magician. Ford and his buddies are part of some cult who revere vampires. “We welcome anyone who's interested in the lonely ones,” beams Chantarelle. “They are creatures above us. Exalted.”
Curiously, there doesn't seem to be too much reverence taking place in this grim old basement. There's no chanting or biting workshops to be had. Instead, the place looks like your archetypal night club, but with appropriately doomy music and constant re-runs of vampire movies on big widescreen TVs. Possibly, Ford and his buddies have broken into the domain of the Machida worshippers to steal their swanky state-of-the-art TV sets.
The inhabitants of the club are certainly as deluded. “They're children making up bedtime stories of friendly vampires to comfort themselves in the dark,” huffs Angel, noting that they have no idea of what vampires are about, right down to their dress sense (before a chap wearing identical clothes to Angel walks past!).
While both Angel and Ford tell lies, it's notable that they have different agendas. While Ford is acting on selfish motives, Angel is shielding the truth from Buffy for what he thinks is her own benefit. “Some lies are necessary,” he sighs when confronted by a rightly miffed Buffy. And in a sense, he's right. If he'd have told Buffy about his suspicions over Ford, the old jealousy card would have been played.
The second, and far more sinister lie, isn't something that the average vampire could just casually drop into the middle of a lovey dovey conversation either. The revelation that Angelus stalked and obsessed over Drusilla takes the vampire's former crimes to a new level. In the Angel episode, we'd heard about how he butchered his family, but these new revelations add a psychologically twisted side. The pure, sweet and chaste Drusilla was made insane, bereft of loved ones, and then turned into a demon on the day she took her Holy Orders. It's a sinister prelude to the later shocking twist later this season when Angelus returns with a vengeance. David Boreanaz is given more to do in this one, and he rises to the occasion well. About the only quibble with Angel this episode is the mystery of why he's caked in make-up when chinwagging with Willow in her room as he pouts away in what seems to be too much lipstick and eyeliner.
Ford, on the other hand, wants to trade in Buffy for eternal life. It's easy to sympathise with Ford, given that he's been diagnosed with brain cancer. With only months to live, it's understandable that he'd seek some way to live on, no matter how twisted it is. Given that Ford idolises the vampire way of life, in his mind, becoming a vampire is like the sort of life you'd see in the hokey horror movies – surrounded by buxom undead wenches in a vast Gothic mansion and pints of blood on tap.
But in the end, as Ford's cohorts find out, vampires offer no such fantasy life, just brutal, ugly death. It's ironic that while Ford does get his “reward”, it's literally for 10 seconds. A stake shoved in the black heart of a fantasy that could never have worked out. Curiously, while Buffy reacts with reasonable restraint to her friends' lies, they won't do anything of the sort in Revelations when they find out that Buffy hasn't been telling the truth (mind you, they probably have more cause to fly off the handle).
It's all food for thought in a richly detailed episode. Joss Whedon is back doffing two hats, and he makes a fine job of both writing and directing. It's a notably subtle affair, with less of the bombast and explosions of his series finales, but it's still a top flight episode, which on one level, tells a good story, and on the other, nicely sets things up for the devastating change in gears, mid-season. “Poor little thing,” burbles Drusilla over Buffy. “She has no idea what's in store...” As you'd expect, while there's lots of high drama (the moody opening, Ford pretending to stake a vampire, Spike's attack on the vampire geeks), there are plenty of funny moments: Buffy's indiscreet mention of The Divinyls' classic, 'I Touch Myself' (especially Willow's later reaction to the song's subject matter); Xander's incredulity at Angel in Willow's bedroom (“Ours is a forbidden love,” sighs Willow); and the entire Spike/Ford face-off (“I know who I am too. So what?”) which again highlights the dichotomy between Spike's jokey nature and his deadly serious killing face.
The direction is also something special. The opening moments of the story are expertly handled, with some moody, gliding camera work to enhance the danger of Drusilla moving in on the poor, defenceless kid. That's some way to kick start the episode, and Lie To Me is peppered with clever directorial touches, including the harsh blue lighting in the club and the sequence in which Ford mouths along with the evil vampire guy on TV.
Acting-wise, Jason Behr is OK as Ford, a little stilted at times, but generally it's not a bad performance. James Marsters and Juliet Landau are far better, continuing to impress as the eccentric gruesome twosome from Old London Town. The opening scenes highlight what a dangerous presence Drusilla is, even in her weakened state. It's the regulars who impress the most, however. While Alyson Hannigan and Nicholas Brendon ably provide light relief, Sarah Michelle Gellar turns in a superb performance, running the gamut of emotions from comedy through to quiet devastation at Angel's revelation and righteous anger at Ford's betrayal.
Another step in the right direction for Season Two of Buffy, Lie To Me successfully spins two plates – telling a good, coherent story while laying down the groundwork for future storylines (the throwaway shot of the vampire stealing a book from Giles' library turns out to have more impact in What's My Line; and of course, the return of Angelus). It's a mini Whedon masterpiece that quietly breaks hearts on the one hand, and offers a small glimmer of hope on the other. Top character development and stylish visuals mesh well like two meshy things to provide an underrated gem.
And that's no word of a lie.