If you paid attention to your GCSE science – unlikely, I know – then you may remember all that jazz about magnets. In particular, the weird way in which two like-for-like magnet poles repel each other rather than attach.
Having just flicked through the Ladybird Guide To Science For Five-Year-Olds (I was always rubbish at science), I'm reminded of this notion when reviewing the Buffy and Angel episodes back to back. While Angel has generally gone all dark and broody, lately, quite a few of the episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer have gone the other way. We've had the brain-dead pointlessness of Beer Bad, the half Thanksgiving tutorial/half Buffy's Kitchen antics of Pangs, and now, along comes Something Blue, an episode that threatens to take tweeness to the max.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer's gradual leaning towards frothy storytelling makes sense. It's still a family show at the end of the day, and so, it's deliberately playing towards this as Angel, by and large, aims its stories at a more grown-up audience. By this time, the two shows were running back to back, so the tone of each story tended to vary. When the one weepy Buffy story, Wild At Heart aired, this was followed by a more light-hearted Angel episode, Sense And Sensitivity. This week's Buffy instalment Something Blue was something of a palate cleanser, given that the following Angel episode, Hero, was a dark tear-jerker. Two depressing episodes on the trot aren't really a good method of keeping your viewing audience.
In context, Something Blue's frothy nonsense makes sense. In its defence, writer Tracey Forbes has produced a more agreeable script than her last miserable attempt, Beer Bad. There's more of a storyline in Something Blue, as opposed to aimless caveman wanderings. The plot revolves around Willow's increasing depression after she finds out that Oz has got Devon to move all his stuff out of his dorm. It looks like he's gone for good, and this latest development has hammered another nail into Willow's already broken heart. As a result, Willow's either getting drunk, missing meetings with Giles or criticising her friends' lifestyle changes. The other Scoobies are not impressed, and what's worse is that Willow's quietly growing capabilities as a witch are making a mark.
Basically, Willow's will rules the roost. Whenever she says something, without her realising, the witchy voodoo turns her spoken words into reality. So, Giles becomes blind. Xander becomes a demon magnet. And Buffy becomes engaged to Spike. All of which makes for a more entertaining proposition than Beer Bad.
But it's by no means perfect. One of the most frustrating things about Something Blue is how the Scoobies dismiss Willow's break-up with Oz as an annoying inconvenience. Giles chides Willow for not turning up as a school teacher berates a pupil for not handing in homework on time. Buffy and Xander confess to growing “so, so tired” with Willow's “griefy, poor-me, mood swings”. Only mere episodes after Buffy's relentless self-indulgent moping over a guy that she'd only just met. While Buffy's friends did their best to stick up for Buffy and help her through her post-one-time-coitus trauma, mysteriously, the Scooby Gang can't help their friend who's not coping well with the end of a two-year romance. Poor characterisation, that's totally out of kilter with the strong bonds that have been built up in the last four seasons of the show.
While Something Blue offers up a fair degree of fun, sometimes the humour is about as subtle as a flying mallet. The whole Buffy and Spike sub-plot is more akin to an episode of Sabrina The Teenage Witch. The scene in which Buffy announces her nuptials to an incredulous Riley is the nadir of this, leaving both characters with egg dripping off their faces. It's amazing that Riley even agrees to give Buffy a second shot, given that she's behaved like a prize loony just hours beforehand. While the Buffy Luvs Spike aspect of Something Blue may come to have more foundation in truth than you realise, it doesn't help that it's over-egged to the point of irritation. Curiously, Sarah Michelle Gellar overplays this infatuated version of Buffy with annoying results – maybe a little more subtlety would have been better to temper the sillier excesses of Forbes' script.
A number of other mild irritants drag down Something Blue. While it's nice that Elizabeth Anne Allen agreed to a five-second cameo, it does leave you wondering why she bothered in the first place. The demon pursuit of Xander and Anya never convinces, given that the monsters seem to be awfully slow moving and clumsy. On the subject of clumsiness, Forbes' dialogue occasionally borders on the clunky. The whole “bad boy” chinwag between Buffy and Willow is clichéd and laughable. The Scoobies' lack of concern towards Willow feels contrived and sloppy. And as for Buffy's line: “Anyone remember when Buffy had the fun beer-fest and went one-million years B.C.?” Well, the answer would be no, given that any sane person would have done their best to erase the skull-numbing horror of Beer Bad from their brains.
On a separate subject, what's up with Buffy's recent tendency to describe herself in the third person all the time? Has she been secretly taking Pretentious Speaking classes? John says that this technique gets very annoying, fast.
But despite these problems, Something Blue is still fun and easy to follow. It also craftily catches the downfalls of the characters' lives to a tee. The most notable example of this is poor old Giles, who's left blind and out of the loop by Willow's spell. It's not the first time this season that Giles is left a useless liability. Underlining Giles' lack of direction since Sunnydale High blew up, the blindness subplot reinforces how he's not as useful as he once was. Buffy and the others are now leading their own independent lives, and he's slowly growing out of the father figure role. Even his scolding of Willow shows that his other protégée has other things on her mind as opposed to brainy answers.
Xander, on the other hand, seems to attract his run of bad luck. While the chasing demons reflect Anya's arrival in his life, they are also indicative of how the guy can't catch a break in his life. His other friends have gone off to college, while his list of part-time jobs crashes and burns. Like Giles, Xander will have a lot of soul-searching to do about his place in the world before the season's through. Fortunately, his relationship with Anya's proving more stable – Anya's gradually relaxing into the groove of girlfriend, and has even ditched the weird-looking wig in favour of a snazzy new haircut.
The spell for Spike is the most damning. From a fearsome vampire to a lovestruck puppy, Spike's infatuation with Buffy underlines how impotent he's become. Even pre-spell, he's reduced to being chained in Giles' bathtub with only a break to watch Passions on TV. This is not what the self-proclaimed “Big Bad” had in mind while secretly gloating at the start of Wild At Heart. Spike does get some good lines though, especially his snarky riposte to Buffy about the choice of Wind Beneath My Wings as a leading choice of wedding music.
Other notable nuggets of greatness: D'Hoffryn's always good value for money. Having played the creepy Ronald Meltzer in the Angel episode I Fall To Pieces, Andy Umberger returns as Anya's former boss – this time he's looking to recruit Willow as a brand new member of staff. The great thing about D'Hoffryn is that you never quite know where you are with him. After Willow's declined his offer to sign up as an employee, he quietly mutters “I'm sorry to hear that” in a threatening tone – only to produce a contact talisman in case Willow changes her mind!
Alyson Hannigan's performance is another highpoint of the episode. Hannigan gets to play Willow at her lowest ebb to date, whether she's sobbing over Oz's latest defiant goodbye calling card, getting drunk in The Bronze while bopping along to Blink-182 or forlornly willing a cotton bud (Q-Tip to American readers) to bend. By the end of the story, Willow will have started to work through the healing process. Doling out forgiveness cookies to her friends, she's unaware that she'll be embarking on a new chapter in her life with a kindred spirit very soon.
It has its drawbacks, contains some clunky dialogue and overdone, twee humour, but at least Something Blue is a fun experience. It's the best of Tracey Forbes' three scripts for the show, and makes for an entertaining diversion from some of the heavy-handed Initiative stuff on display this season. While it may be a bit too childish for some tastes, it still made for a light-hearted breather before the trials of Angel's Hero kicked in on original transmission.
Polar opposites maybe, but Something Blue just about comes together in spirited, enjoyable fashion.