Where’s my VCR, my stereo, my TV show?

Last night, our old VCR finally gave up the ghost. This was a drag, but not altogether surprising. It was quite old, and had been slowly breaking down. Too bad about the SNL tape that is irretrievably stuck in there — guess Laura won’t get to see that. I lay all blame at the feet of Sarah Palin — it must have been the experience of recording her that finally killed the thing.

So anyway, after I discovered this problem last night, and made it worse by trying to fix it, I decided to just head to my friendly neighborhood Best Buy and get a new VCR. Only I discovered that the outside world has changed on me, dagnabit. It took a subsequent Circuit City trip to convince me of this, but apparently retail stores no longer sell VCRs, only VCR/DVD combos. So okay, fair enough, I’m not entirely crazy about our current DVD player, and there was a Sony combo there for only $99, so I went ahead and got it.

BUT:

There are some fatal flaws to this new arrangement. The new combos (at least, the ones costing less than $250) apparently lack a tuner, so they can only do “dumb” recording from a line in. Now, the box made this pretty clear, and I thought maybe I could work around it using an extra VCR I had around that doesn’t record properly but does tune into the cable signal just fine. However, I failed to account for the fact that doing this makes automatic recording so annoying as to be infeasible. Whereas before I could just set a bunch of presets to record TV shows on whatever channel at whatever time, now I can set a timer to start recording from the line in, but I have to make sure the VCR is set to the right channel. Hey, if I have to set something manually, I have just lost the benefit of automatic recording.

Perhaps you are thinking this: he needs a DVR! Maybe I do, but what I also need is portability of recordings. See, in our VCR world, the VCR in our living room would tape our various shows, then Laura could pop out the tape and watch them in the kitchen (where we have a combo TV/VCR which lacks a timer but does playback just fine) while she takes care of Dante. I do not know how to accomplish this with a DVR.

So here is my question: how do other people deal with this? My requirements are that I want to automatically (with no manual intervention) record TV shows, and have those recordings available in multiple rooms. I would also love it if I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to achieve this goal. Should I just head over to the VCR section of eBay, or what? Is there some cool 21st century solution that I’m not thinking of?

Angel Season 4

Season three of Angel had a great arc, and a cliffhanger ending. Season four resolved the cliffhanger well enough and managed a couple of strong episodes, only to descend into a disappointing spiral, full of bewildering choices, shredded continuity, and the same kind of personal disintegration that characterized season 6 of Buffy. As a whole, these episodes had less humor and fewer highs than ever before. The show recovered some ground for the final third of its season, luckily, and wound up in a head-scratcher of an ending that certainly piques my interest in the beginning of season 5.

Turgid, supernatural spoilers within

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 7

Season 6 of Buffy was all about degradation — the characters debased themselves, their relationships disintegrated, and the Big Bad herself was a nightmare version of Buffy’s beloved friend. Season 7, on the other hand, exudes synthesis and uplift. “I have so much strength, I’m giving it away,” says Buffy, and strength is what we see, both within and without her. Friendships mend, and it’s once again the strength of Buffy’s team that allows them to fight the forces arrayed against her. The routine of Good vs. Evil battling it out in Sunnydale has become a bit worn by now, and consequently this season can’t quite reach the peaks of the show’s extraordinary middle period (seasons 2-4.) Nevertheless, I was really happy with season 7. It was a satisfying and well-executed end to a terrific journey.

And now, all the spoilery specifics

The Office Season 3

I liked season 1 a lot, and I liked season 2 even more, but season 3 was where I came to really love The Office. The show does many many things well, and at the front of the line are plotting and characterization. The former takes spectacular advantage of continuity to provide some deeply satisfying moments, while the latter provides hundreds of funny and subtly moving gems. As a bonus, the whole thing also provides some fascinating food for thought about the camera-aware culture of Reality Show America.

Oompah-loompah-doompity-doilers. If you click here, then you will read spoilers.

The Office Season 2

After watching season 1, I expressed the hope that the element of pain and suffering remains in the show as time goes on, saying that “its satire would be pretty toothless if the characters weren’t actually in pain.” Well, in season 2, the characters are still in pain, but much work is done to rehabilitate our feelings towards those who inflict the lion’s share of that pain. By the end of the season’s first episode, it became clear to me that the show was taking a turn away from vicious, biting satire and into a softer, more traditional sitcom feeling, albeit with generous doses of that uncomfortable spirit that is the hallmark of season 1. All of the characters gain more depth; we gain more sympathy towards the “villains”, see flaws in the “heroes”, and get to know a wide range of quirks in the surrounding characters. And yeah, as a result, the satire loses some of its sting.

I worried when I saw this turn taking place. I thought that maybe the show would turn its back on the savage spirit that made it so dark and funny to begin with. That doesn’t happen, really — it just adds some sweetness to the cocktail, morphing from a straight shot of whiskey into more of a Manhattan. The writing stays sharp, the jokes stay funny, and a little grace is thrown into the mix to stop us from ever really hating any of the characters. And here’s the thing: it turns out that I enjoy a good story with ongoing characters and clever jokes even more than I enjoy razor-sharp satire. Thus, to my slight surprise, this season of The Office worked even better for me than did the first. So let the notes begin:

1) Obviously, the biggest share of softening went to Michael. Through several techniques, he goes from an utter incompetent and full-fledged jerk to a well-intentioned boob who, because he’s very good at one thing (sales) has bumbled into something he is very bad at (management). This isn’t as much of a stretch as one might think — even after season 1 I thought of him as well-intentioned and loving, though terrible on the execution. This season deepens our sympathies for him in several ways. First, we see him attacked by people who aren’t under his thumb, like the Chili’s hecklers in The Dundies. Secondly, we see him display moments of competence and even excellence, such as his sales job in The Client. In addition to this, we see him experience moments of real vulnerability, such as his deep distress at having to fire someone in Halloween. We see his feelings of inadequacy compared to Ryan in The Fire. We watch him bullied and humiliated by the friend he idolizes in The Carpet. Finally, in the arc beginning at The Client and ending with Casino Night, we see Jan actually coming to care for Michael as… well, not a girlfriend exactly, but a lot closer to that than we’d ever expect her to become.

2) Jan herself gets a few good vulnerable moments in Casino Night and Valentine’s Day, which help round out her character a bit from being simply the hard-edged businesswoman. Even Dwight finds some redemption, especially in The Injury, where a concussion transforms him into Bizarro Dwight (i.e. caring and considerate.) His normal persona is as grating as ever, of course, but the more time I spend watching him sycophantizing to Michael and receiving mostly poor treatment out of the deal, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him. Of course, the situation is of his own making, but the hints of desperation that occasionally peek through are enough to earn a bit of sympathy from me. Also, his relationship with Angela is highly entertaining. I quite liked the way Angela got developed this season — she became one of my favorite characters, though of course not really one of the characters I like the most, if that makes any sense. Her supercilious primness, her certainty of her own rightness, and her devotion to her religion to the exclusion of all else (think of the books she chose in the “Desert Island” game) perfectly captures a certain workplace type, albeit a comedically exaggerated version thereof.

3) Where we have villains we also have heroes, the main ones of whom are Pam and Jim. I really loved their developments this season, both as individuals and in relationship to each other. The show does a beautiful job of exposing the real misery to their lives without ever storming in with Capital-D Drama. Even the final moment of Casino Night felt like something that could happen to real people, rather than just TV people. I liked the flaws that this season exposed in both of them. Pam, trapped within the choices she’s made to settle for less and bound by her fear of breaking out, comes across very poignantly in Boys And Girls. Jim’s moments of self-doubt, culminating in his application at the Stamford branch, were written and acted with a wonderfully light touch. I was very happy, too, that he finally allowed himself to tell Pam he’s in love with her. At first, I felt a little mixed about it — my default value is to believe that you don’t try to break up somebody’s relationship, no matter how strong your feelings. However, this situation isn’t quite so cut and dried. It’s clear that Jim’s feelings for Pam are requited (though not clear whether she’ll be able to break fear’s grip on her and admit those feelings to herself), and it’s also clear that Roy does not treat her particularly well. I think Jim’s desire for her to hear his feelings, just one time, is quite understandable, and in the end, justifiable. Plus, from the audience point of view, too much more stretching out of that tension without a major turning point would turn from tantalizing to tedious.

4) I’m not sure I understand why B.J. Novak appears in the opening credits. As a character, Ryan seems to be right around the same level with Jan or Angela. It feels like his producer status is getting him a higher billing than he may warrant. Oh well, I didn’t think Charisma Carpenter deserved her billing in the first couple of sesons of Buffy either, and Cordelia certainly grew into a very important character, so perhaps I just need to give it time.

To try to pick out all my favorite moments would be ridiculous — each episode made me laugh many times. Instead, I’ll just go through the characters and randomly point to a moment I really liked.

  • Michael: “It’s for charity, and I consider myself a great philanderer.” (Casino Night) In general, I love Michael getting words wrong, and I also quite enjoy his habit of making a reference and then immediately identifying the reference. “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley. Airplane!”
  • Dwight: “Do you think this is a reference to you boning Jan?” (Performance Review)
  • Jim: The way he immediately turns the tables on Dwight in the drug investigation. (Drug Testing)
  • Pam: “Finally, I want to thank God, because God gave me this Dundie… and I feel God in this Chili’s tonight.” (The Dundies)
  • Ryan: “What am I going to do with my award? Nothing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s the least of my concerns right now.” (The Dundies) In general, I quite like the talking heads where Ryan is really stressed out. Also, I have to show some love to “What line of work you in, Bob?” (Christmas Party)
  • Kevin: The way, in the Desert Island game, he can’t contain his amusement thinking about Weekend At Bernie’s and Weekend At Bernie’s 2. (The Fire)
  • Angela: The moments where she just cracks, such as her talking head about the Christmas party, and her ornament-stomping rampage. (Christmas Party)
  • Phyllis: The way she won’t let Michael off the hook about the fact that they’re the same age. (Sexual Harassment)
  • Meredith: Her jaw-dropping come-on to Michael and the way he takes a beat, then takes a photo. God, that was funny. (Christmas Party) Maybe that’s more of a Michael moment, in which case I’d have to nominate “My name is Meredith and I’m an alc– I’m good at supplier relations.” (Boys And Girls)
  • Stanley: “This here is a run-out-the-clock situation. Just like upstairs.” (Boys And Girls)
  • Kelly: “What about ‘second base’? Like, if Michael said he got to second base with you, does that mean, like, you closed a deal? I mean that’s a baseball term, right?” And then the wink at the camera. I think that was one of the funniest moments of the season. (Boys And Girls)
  • Jan: “Please don’t smell me, Michael.” (Performance Review)
  • Toby: His grin on the line “Guess I shouldn’t have stopped for dinner.” (Booze Cruise)
  • Creed: “Which one is Pam?” (The Secret)
  • Oscar: [Referring to Angela’s poster] “I don’t like looking at it. It’s creepy, and in bad taste, and it’s just offensive to me. It makes me think of the horrible, frigid stage mothers who force the babies into it. It’s kitsch, the opposite of art. It destroys art, it destroys souls. This is so much more offensive to me than hardcore porno.” (Conflict Resolution)
  • Roy: [Pam’s Valentine’s Day gift] “Let’s get you home, and you are going to get the best sex of your life.” What a perfectly ugh-worthy line. (Valentine’s Day)
  • Darryl: “I taught Mike a few phrases to help him with his ‘interracial’ conversations. You know like ‘fleece it out,’ ‘going Mach 5,’ ‘dinkinflicka.’ You know, things us Negroes say.” (Casino Night) I also love him patiently explaining to Michael in this episode why it’s a bad idea to have fire-eaters in a paper warehouse.

The Office Season 1

I’d always heard that the British version of The Office was hilarious, but I never got around to watching it. When the American one premiered, I heard great things about that too, but I didn’t really make the time for it, basically because I already had enough shows to watch. This was to the mild chagrin of my two closest friends at work, who are big fans and would love to share it with me. Well, now that a member of my family is working on the show, I figure it’s time to catch up so that I can fully enjoy season 4. Towards that end, I’ve bought the DVD sets of the first two seasons (no idea yet what I’m going to do about season 3), and I’ve just finished the first one.

I have to say: I really, really like it. I’m shocked at how different it is from what I think of as a sitcom — no laugh track, very naturalistic acting style, mostly handheld camera. It’s so refreshing, so dark, and so funny. I find it heartening that a show like this can actually be a success on network TV. I also kind of can’t believe for Ryan’s sake that he actually gets to work on a show that’s really good. The odds of getting a job as a TV comedy writer seem long, but the odds of getting a job on a good show seem EXTREMELY long. I’m still kind of stunned.

Anyway, here are a few semi-spoilery notes:

I wish every day was Spoiler Day

Buffy/Angel hiatus

The Buffyverse Watching Project is going on hold for a while.

My sister’s boyfriend is a comedy writer (sequitur coming soon…), or at least he’s been an aspiring comedy writer. He graduated from Harvard and worked on the Lampoon there, so he knows a lot of people in the biz, but has been trying unsuccessfully to break in himself for a couple of years. Then, last month, he learned he’d gotten a job as a writer for The Office! This is super exciting, not only because I’m very happy he’s landed a job, but because it seems to be one of the best things on TV right now. I haven’t been watching it, but (and here comes that sequitur I promised) I’m going to start this fall, so my summer project is to get caught up on the seasons I missed. I have several friends who watch it, and I’m looking forward to being able to participate in their conversations.

Angel Season 3

Amid the depressing degeneration that characterized season 6 of Buffy, it was a pleasure to watch season 3 of Angel. It didn’t grip me the way that some previous seasons of Buffy have, but it was solid, enjoyable television, with lots of good surprises and dramatic twisty turns. Strangely, though, it wasn’t the main plot that I found most compelling, but rather the thematic unity that draws together some of the season’s most important events aside from the main plot.

Thinking about this season, one theme really jumps out at me. As Gunn says in That Old Gang Of Mine, “It’s about the mission, bro.” More specifically, it’s about what happens when love and/or loyalty comes into conflict with that mission. This season treats us to a variety of scenarios in which characters are asked to choose between their personal attachments and the “greater good” in some form. We see it from very early on, starting in That Vision Thing, wherein Angel must decide whether to allow Cordelia to be hurt (and possibly killed) or to loose a dangerous entity on the world, under the auspices of Wolfram & Hart. Angel chooses personal attachment. In fact, Angel always chooses personal attachment. It happens again during Birthday, in which he clumsily charges off to confront the Powers and tell them to take the visions from Cordelia, despite the fact that he then wouldn’t have a Mystical Police Scanner anymore, and presumably the attendant helpless would just have to go without his help. The prime example from this season, of course, is his reaction to Connor’s kidnapping. In order to salvage his personal connection, Angel throws overboard any sense of morality or proportion. Suddenly he’s kidnapping, torturing, suspending habeas corpus (sorry, wrong rant) invoking dark magic, and basically doing whatever he wants to and to hell with the consequences, as Gunn points out in The Price. Angel is no stranger to the dark side, but where in the past he’s done it as a result of his curse (Innocence) or to seek vengeance (Redefinition), in this season all his questionable acts are done in the name of preserving his connections. Well, with maybe a little vengeance thrown in there. 🙂 The point is, for somebody who’s supposed to be a champion of the helpless, he’s pretty ready to let them fend for themselves while he fights on behalf of the people he loves.

I don’t say this to condemn him, just to notice that he’s on one end of a continuum. Other characters make different kinds of choices. In That Old Gang of Mine, Gunn leaves behind the only family he has left: Rondell and the rest of the crew. He chooses Angel, but makes it clear in his speech that it isn’t because of friendship — it’s because he wants “that sense of doing good — of waking up in the morning and making the world safer.” He chooses the mission. Of course, in the episode where he speaks those words (Loyalty), he goes on to reassure Fred that if forced to choose between her and the mission, he would choose her. Then again, he’s never really forced to make that choice, except perhaps in The Price, where he leaves the scene of the crisis in order to find a way to save Fred. Even in that scenario, though, I could argue that he’s focused on saving the only people who are in danger — it’s not really a choice between helping Fred and helping (or harming) someone else. In fact, he makes it clear in Loyalty that he wants “the great girl and the great job.” This season allows him to keep both, but not everyone else is so lucky.

Speaking of Fred, her sacrifice for the mission is even greater than Gunn’s. Yes, Gunn leaves Rondell behind, but then again Rondell is up to no good, steeped in prejudice. He may be the closest thing Gunn has to family, but his actions really leave Gunn very little choice. This isn’t the case with Fred’s parents. Despite the clever feinting in Fredless, they are finally shown to be loving and supportive, ideal family members. Nevertheless, she does not accompany them back to Texas, deciding that she belongs in the fight, that the mission is her “true path in life.”

At the zenith of this curve is Cordelia. Perhaps as a result of her vision bombardment in To Shanshu in L.A., Cordelia is completely, one hundred percent dedicated to the mission. She endures incredible pain and the gradual destruction of her body in order to maintain her connection to the Powers, so that the people in her visions can get the help they need. When she is placed into her ultimate wish-fulfillment scenario of fame and fortune, her dedication to the mission breaks through almost immediately — within a few hours of beginning to live her fantasy, she’s tearing out wallpaper to rediscover the mission beneath it. In that same episode (Birthday), she gives up her very humanity for the sake of the mission. Even in the real world, she places the mission over money (oh Cordelia, how you’ve changed!), exhorting Angel in Provider to remember that “first and foremost we work for the Powers, help the helpless.” Finally, she gives up this world altogether and all her attachments within it, including her newly discovered love for Angel. Sight unseen, with only the prompting of Skip as the Powers’ representative, she passes “the last test” by ascending to another plane, to fight evil in some new dimension as a “higher being.” Apparently she won’t get to spend any more time just being a good influence on Angel.

Then there’s the toughest case of all: Wesley. In the first part of the season, he seems firmly in the Cordelia camp, ready to cut anyone loose if he thinks that person is endangering the team or the work. (He makes that crystal clear to Gunn in That Old Gang of Mine.) Indeed, his attempted kidnapping of Connor could be read as the ultimate repudiation of personal connections in favor of defending the helpless. However, what becomes apparent by the end of the season is that he never really expected to lose those connections. As he says to Gunn in The Price, “I needed to live to see my friends again. To explain to the people I trusted… and loved… my side of what happened.” He truly believed that by explaining “his side”, all would be forgiven. However, what seems to be true is that despite his claim, he did not trust his friends enough to share his unsettling discoveries with them, and therefore the connections from their side aren’t as strong as he expects them to be. I think there are reasons he makes this choice, but I’ll revisit those later. For now, it’s enough to say that while Wesley appears to choose the mission over personal connections, in fact he expects to be able to pursue both paths without sacrificing either, and unlike Gunn, he is forced to sacrifice one. Because he wasn’t expecting the sacrifice to happen, and because he didn’t understand the problematic nature of his behavior, he ends up broken and embittered. As he says in another of the season’s key lines, “It’s never easy, the pull of divided loyalties.” Little did he know just how difficult it would become for him.

This internal conflict isn’t new to superhero narratives. One of the most prominent examples is the justly famous Spider-Man #50, in which Peter Parker decides that the hero biz is too destructive to his personal life, and vows to be “Spider-Man no more.” He eventually changes his mind, of course, driven by his overwhelming sense of responsibility, but he continues to struggle with this balance throughout his career, trying unsuccessfully several more times to leave his Spider-Man identity behind. Still, even though it isn’t the most original theme, this season of Angel does a very good job exploring it through various avenues and characters. Speaking of comics, the direct superhero homages seem to be fading away, or at least I’m not noticing them anymore. (Although I did notice that in Benediction Lilah refers to Connor as “the boy wonder.” I’m quite glad Connor didn’t become a Spunky Teen Sidekick for Angel, at least not yet.) The gradual reduction of comicbook references makes sense, really. Just as Buffy finally ran out of steam ringing changes on classic horror stories, so Angel has found its own voice and no longer needs to reach outward for material to adapt.

Well, now that I’ve got that out of my system, how about some of those numbered comments? I found that this time around, my notes fell naturally into a few different categories, so I’ve got three separate numbered lists this time. Besides the usual general notes, I’ve also got some tiny notes and a list of things I thought were problematic in this season.

General Notes

1) I notice that between Angel and Buffy, there seems to be a rising trend of “ordinary” demons, beings who beneath all the crazy skin, horns, and bumps are almost aggressively mundane. There’s Clem, there’s Merl, there’s Sahjhan, there’s Lorne, there’s Skip… all in all, a demon in the Buffyverse these days is just as likely to yak about the Matrix or do a Doritos taste-test as he is to rip somebody’s arms off. This approach works pretty well for me. I enjoy Clem and Lorne a lot, and the moment when Skip first speaks is a hilarious reversal of expectations. Sahjhan’s laid-back California cool, combined with his brutal and evil nature, made him feel like a variation on one of my favorite Buffyverse villains, the Mayor of Sunnydale. Sahjhan is Los Angeles to the Mayor’s Mayberry.

2) Speaking of Sunnydale, this is the first season where there are no crossovers between Angel and Buffy, and I have to say I kind of miss them. Angel is solid enough to stand on its own now, but it was great when somebody or other from Buffy would make an appearance on the show. Also, Buffy itself could have used an infusion of the energy that a visit from Angel or Cordelia might have brought, especially the person Cordelia became during this season. On the other hand, I found myself relieved that the angsty Buffy/Angel reunion happened offstage, especially given the humor with which it was handled on the Angel side. I’m a little burnt out on that relationship, and I sense that the shows are too. In any case, I understand they were on different networks starting this season, so the crossover point is moot, I guess.

3) Let me expound a little more on the “who Cordelia became” point. I love who Cordelia becomes this season. Really, I felt that she was more the hero of the show this year than Angel was. Certainly I found her subplot with the visions and the demonization more compelling than the main Holtz/Darla/Connor plot. I particularly liked her interaction with Lilah in Billy: “Please. I was you, with better shoes.” Recasting her bitchy past as a position of strength, from which she ascended to compassion, resonates nicely with her arc of becoming a “higher being”, culminating in a literal ascension. Birthday was a very nicely done turning point for her, visiting the sites of initial Cordelia-ness (the mall, the money), moving through the dream she established in the Angel pilot and subsequent shows, and landing finally at her decision to discard it all for the sake of the mission. When the idea was introduced that Cordelia is as much of a champion as Angel is, I didn’t really buy it at first, but after seeing that episode, it made perfect sense to me, and therfore seeing their “kye-rumption” thwarted in the final episode packed a strong emotional wallop. I was not a big Cordelia fan at the outset, but she has grown to became my favorite Angel character. The shows where she was gone felt drab and dismal compared to the ones before and and after. I’m definitely not happy to see her leaving, if in fact she is leaving.

4) The fact that Billy Blim’s powers are based around misogyny and hurting women was a well-crafted echo of That Vision Thing, wherein Lilah manages to free him by torturing Cordelia and holding her hostage. The fact that it’s Lilah who puts him down at the end of Billy feels like a repudiation of those tactics, though really it probably isn’t. I imagine if she needed to she’d be more than happy to torture Cordy, Fred, or whoever again. The show is walking a fine line with Lilah, trying not to repeat the Lindsey plot (good idea there) and keep Lilah a villain while still providing her a few moments here and there of vulnerability and sympathy. So far, I think it’s working pretty well.

5) I feel like I should do some analysis of the Holtz/Darla/Connor plot, but I find I don’t have much to say about it. The whole thing was well-done, but seeing Angel give in to his passions and start doing questionable things is becoming tedious. I know that one of the main points of the character is the way he walks the line between good and evil, but how many times can we watch him succumb to the dark side before it’s no longer compelling anymore? I do like that Holtz finally loses his taste for revenge after his years in Quar’Toth, but the fact that this message gets garbled on its way to Connor is frustrating. I hope Justine is dealt with in some final way during season 4. The show’s is much less successful at making her a sympathetic character than it is with Lilah.

6) Speaking of Justine, you know, Gunn and Justine really ought to have a talk. Seems like they have quite a lot in common. Perhaps Justine is partly intended as a dark reflection of Gunn, with a twisted point of view on what “the mission” ought to be.

Tiny Notes

1) Alexis Denisov looks way better with the longer hair.

2) Mark Lutz is quite good as the Groosalugg, especially given that it’s such a relatively small and one-dimensional part.

3) When I get ready to write these reviews, I read transcripts of all the shows from a particular season, and I repeatedly have the experience of finding that the ones I particuarly enjoy are written by Joss Whedon, even though I don’t remember in advance which shows he’s written. I think there are plenty of good writers on Angel and Buffy, but Whedon really is in a class by himself.

4) This may be sort of a left-field comment, but the Connor plot kept reminding me of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It seems like there are quite a few references, starting with the kid’s name. Also there’s the guy who comes from the future to destroy the kid who will grow up to pose a threat to him. Even the scene where Connor fights the drug dealer in a Los Angeles concrete canyon reminded me of the way that film portrayed the city. It doesn’t hurt that Vincent Kartheiser bears a bit of a resemblance to Edward Furlong.

5) What happened to Stephanie Romanov’s face? Weight gain? Surgery? Both? I feel like she looks markedly different from how she did last season.

Problem notes

1) It’s dissatisfying that Wesley double-checks the prophecy (with the Loa in Loyalty), is confirmed to have researched its commentary and scholarship extensively (in Forgiving), trying to find anything that casts doubt on it, and it still turns out to be false. That feels like playing fast and loose with the rules. Also dissatisfying about Loyalty is Angel’s remark at the end. I know it ties into the Wolfram & Hart plot revealed in the next episode, but it feels way too over the top. It’s not something he would say, even in that circumstance.

2) I’m not sure what to make of the ending of Forgiving. I didn’t like it at the time, and it hasn’t improved much on further reflection. I think it partakes of two different problems: it’s both over the top, like the end of Loyalty, and a bit tedious, as I mentioned in general note #5 above. One thing I thought was interesting about it, though, is the fact that in wanting to kill Wesley, Angel basically becomes Holtz. Poor Wes can’t win — no matter who he allies himself with, he finds himself on the wrong end of some guy seeking revenge for the loss of his child. Still, I hope that Holtz’s eventual discovery of compassion allows Angel to find a similar path with Wesley. It’s terrible to see Wes in the state he’s in.

3) The setup for the finale felt a bit sitcommy — too much of a wacky misunderstanding, though I guess it’s supposed to be Justine manipulating Connor. I’m not sure I understand Justine’s motivation, here. I mean, she gets betrayed by Holtz but remains loyal. Okay, fair enough, she’s a cult member. But then she goes against Holtz’s own wishes. Is she just so anti-vampire that despite everything she’s seen, she still wants Angel punished no matter what? Something about that strains plausibility for me, even though I could understand if somebody argued the opposite. I can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is with her, but I think there is one.

4) I’m disappointed that not all of the dialogue from Cordelia’s initial vision of herself in Tomorrow appears in her later scene with Skip. Time-warpy stuff like that is supposed to match up.

5) So why does Wesley keep the prophecy to himself and try to solve the problem of it by stealing Connor? I think there are a few reasons, and they reach deep into the foundation of Wesley’s character. First, it’s been established several times that Wesley’s parents, especially his father, are relentlessly critical, that they “grind [him] down into a tiny self-conscious nub with their constant berating.” This background has left Wesley with a deep need to prove himself, to be the hero. This tendency has manifested itself in the past, such as his brief and unfortunate career as a “rogue demon hunter.” Then there’s the fact that Wesley has suffered some critical failures along the way, most notably his disastrous turn as Faith’s Watcher, and his inability to keep Buffy from turning her back on the Council. These failures further feed his desire to save the day. Finally, there’s the fact that he alone is the resident scholar at Angel Investigations. He has researched this prophecy backwards and forwards (which is the problem I mention in #1 above), and no one understands as well as him its seriousness. Perhaps he feels that the others would tell him to ignore it, and even he seems on the verge of doing so in Loyalty when he sees direct evidence that Angel is willing to harm his child. (That would be the other bit of problem #1). I’m listing Wesley’s motivations in the problems category because the plot events that propel his actions are contrived and illogical. There are definitely some strong, grounded character motivations for him to behave dysfunctionally, but the things that push him over the edge are just a little too much to swallow.

Favorite moments:

  • That Vision Thing – Gunn: “All I know is, you use the word ‘dick’ again and we’re gonna have a problem.”
  • That Vision Thing – The moment when Skip first speaks.
  • That Old Gang Of Mine – I quite liked Wesley in this episode. His “clean kill” speech was quite good, and I also liked him giving Gunn the score at the end.
  • Carpe Noctem – Fred: “You know that awkward kind of quiet?” [Awkward silence ensues.] Wesley: “No, that’s never happened to me.”
  • Fredless – Fred: “Are they gonna get back together? Angel and that girl with the goofy name?” Wesley: “Well, Fred, that’s a difficult question.” And then Wes & Cordy as Angel & Buffy — very funny, and Angel’s “How about you both bite me?” punchline was awesome.
  • Fredless – The sly dig at Joss about Alien Resurrection.
  • Dad – I enjoy the whole concept of the Files And Records department at Wolfram & Hart, and its librarian. I particularly liked the way the joke about Angel’s file was set up.
  • Dad – The ending shot of the five of them walking down the hallway abreast, opening-credits-style… but pushing a stroller.
  • Birthday – The fake opening sequence for Cordy!
  • Provider – The dysfunctional poisoner/zombie couple was a good gag.
  • Provider – Literalizing the cliche, “if you can keep your head while others about you are losing theirs…”
  • Waiting In The Wings – Gunn’s disappointment about the ballet is very funny. “Don’t be usin’ my own phrases when we lost the trust.”
  • Waiting In The Wings – “Well, we could always get our outfits at ‘Cave-girl’s House of Burlap,’ but that’s just so last season.” Great wordplay on “last season.”
  • Waiting In The Wings – Angel to Lorne: “Stop saying that. And stop calling me pastries.”
  • Waiting In The Wings – Gunn: “You know, I was cool before I met you all.” I will stop quoting Gunn lines now and just say that Gunn is great throughout this episode.
  • Couplet – Wesley: “Why can’t you have sex?” Cordy: “I could lose my ‘visionity.'” [beat] Wesley: “…If you wanna play it that way.”
  • Couplet – Cordelia: “I guess we could probably ‘com’ without actually ‘shucking.'”
  • Couplet – I thought the scene between Gunn and Wesley where Wesley acknowledges his feelings for Fred was very well handled.
  • Loyalty – The drive-thru oracle
  • Sleep Tight – The bit where Wesley sings to Connor, then suddenly realizes that Lorne has read him
  • Forgiving – Fred’s horror at the idea of Connor going through a portal
  • Double Or Nothing – I love how Cordelia treats Angel during his grieving, and I quite like the Pylean “Vigil Of The Bereaved” idea.
  • Double Or Nothing – Angel dismantling the crib at the end
  • The Price – (After Groo can’t pronounce “purple”) Angel: “And yet you had no problem pronouncing ‘pomegranate.'” Groo: (completely serious) “It was my mother’s name.”
  • Benediction – Cordelia cleansing Connor
  • Tomorrow – The final moments, the rising and falling

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 6

And now, season six of Buffy, in which the characters I’ve come to know and love begin to morph into weird, unpleasant versions of themselves, or else disappear altogether. This unsettling trend was somewhat remedied by the end of the season, but once that end had come, enough bad things had happened that the Buffyverse appeals to me less than it did when the season began. Still, even if the season was a net loss, there were still plenty of wonderful moments to be had. In particular, there was one shining episode which joins the all-time hall of fame.

The usual spoilery list of details

Heroes season 1 finale

I enjoyed the finale of Heroes very much, but there were a couple of bits in the final scene that didn’t sit quite right with me. (Well, the climactic scene, I mean. Not the actual final one.) They were almost right, but I’m amending them in my head to be better.

With a story this complex, interlocking characters and interacting powers, I found that I wanted the scenes in this finale to click satisfyingly into place, like puzzle solutions that are hard to predict but make perfect sense once you see them. There were definitely some moments like this in the finale. One of my favorites is when DL, Niki, Suresh, Molly, and Micah are escaping Linderman’s building. They’re in a high-rise, which makes perfect sense as a location for Linderman’s office. The elevators have been disabled, which makes perfect sense when the building is under security lockdown. But the kid they’re rescuing happens to have the perfect power to reactivate the elevators. Micah’s power of mechanical persuasion is well-established, and it’s the exact right power to get his family out of the situation they’re in. Click.

The final scene was a bit squirmier, though. A lot was great — Parkman’s fate was very fitting, Hiro did just what he should have, and I loved Niki stepping into the fight, then going back to her family. But, like Sargent, I was annoyed by the fact that Peter just didn’t fly on his own and explode. Why didn’t he do this? What did he need Nathan for? I wanted the show to give me a reason. Like one of these:

1) Several people have suggested that maybe Peter can only use one power at a time. Fair enough, says I, but if so, that should have been definitively established earlier in the season. No points for creating a new rule just for the sake of making your climax work, especially when that rule isn’t even spoken, but left to us to infer.

2) Maybe, because he’s inexperienced with the power, he can’t fly high enough out of the atmosphere. If so, a bit of dialogue like this would have served:

NATHAN: Fly, Peter! Get out of the city!
PETER: You think I haven’t thought of that? I’m not as good at it as you are! I could get high enough to clear the buildings, but the radiation would still poison everyone!
NATHAN: [Realizing how he can at last live up to his idea of himself] Sounds like you could use some leadership. [Extending his hand] Come on.

Then back to the bit about “You saved the cheerleader so that we could save the world.”

3) Maybe his powers are out of control. If so, something like this:

NATHAN: Fly, Peter! Get out of the city!
PETER: I’m trying! I can’t. Nathan, I can’t do it! I can’t use my powers!

Nathan steps in, music swells, etc.

4) Maybe Peter loses consciousness when he explodes, and the fall would overcome even his regenerative abilities. If so, establish this in dialogue, then have Nathan fly to save him.

The problem with this last scenario is that clearly, something needs to be done about Nathan. He fixed an election. The show really can’t let this stand, especially given the way our country’s last couple of presidential elections have gone. I really hope that season 2 clearly demonstrates that the office goes to the person who would actually have won it without Micah’s tampering.

Also, it crossed my mind that maybe Peter should use his self-healing power to stop from exploding. It might have been nice if somebody (Claire? Nathan?) had shouted out that suggestion, only to have Suresh (or Noah) explain that this wouldn’t work because Peter’s body wasn’t hurt — it was doing exactly what it wanted to. This bit isn’t as crucial, but it would have made the ending that much more satisfying. It’s great when a story anticipates your predictions and addresses them. I would have liked a bit more of that in the final scene.