This week on the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story: The Dark Age (Season 2 Episode 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer):
This episode covers (1) external conflict that causes Buffy and Giles to grow; (2) whether The Dark Age is a Coming of Age story; and (3) what makes a character the protagonist.
As always, the discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).
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Last Week: Lie to Me S2 E7
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Episode Transcript for The Dark Age
Hello and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story Season Two. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories – or just taking them apart to see how they work – you’re in the right place.
I am Lisa M Lilly, author of the Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.
This Monday we're talking about The Dark Age, Season Two episode Eight.
- external conflict that tells the personal story between Buffy and Giles;
- whether this is a coming-of-age story; and
- what goes into a protagonist, because we have key stories happening for both Buffy and Giles.
As always, there will be no Spoilers except at the end to talk about foreshadowing, but I'll give you plenty of warning.
Okay, let's dive into the Hellmouth.
The Dark Age was written by Rob des Hotel and Dean Batali and directed by Bruce Seth Green.
Opening Conflict In The Dark Age
We start, as we should, with conflict. A man in a suit hurries across the darkened schoolyard. He asks a custodian where to find Rupert Giles. The custodian tells the man that Giles is the librarian and directs him to the library.
This is a nice way to establish through conflict for new audience members who Giles is.
Why do I see it as being through conflict? Because the man is clearly distressed as he is hurrying across the schoolyard. He's very anxious to reach Giles.
A woman appears and shuffles toward the man. Her eyes flash and her face is decaying and he says, “Diedre?” And she says, “Philip.” This, too, is a good way to get names in through conflict.
Philip bangs on the door as Diedre moves closer.
Loud Music Blocks A Cry For Help
But inside the library, music is blasting. Buffy, in workout clothes, is doing step aerobics. Something as best I recall was fairly popular at the time. I have to agree with Giles, who is holding his ears, that the music is just noise. Specifically, he says it's not music because it has no notes.
Buffy says she needs a beat to aerobicize.
Outside, Diedre reaches Philip and starts to strangle him. He falls to the ground. And her body sort of melts to the ground and turns into this shadow that oozes out toward him. That is at 2 minutes 41 seconds in.
It's a great hook and we go to the credits.
The Story Spark
So usually our Story Spark or Inciting Incident, the event that sets off the story, comes about 10% into an episode book or movie. Usually in Buffy that's around 4.5 minutes in, as most episodes are about 43 minutes.
Here, though, I think the moment of Diedre choking Philip before he could reach Giles, and then this shadow reaching Philip, all of that I think was the Inciting Incident. Because it sets off our main plot.
After the credits we see flashes of symbols and tattoos and long-haired guys with tinted glasses. And we hear screaming. Giles awakens.
This could also be the Story Spark because it tells Giles that the demon (we will learn later is called Eyghon) has returned. But I see that more as simply giving Giles information.
As I'll talk about later on, this is primarily Buffy's story. So, what sets this off is that plot development with Eyghon being passed from Diedre to Philip. Though technically I suppose the Story Spark started before this episode began with whatever it is that brought Eyghon back in the first place.
Anywhere But Here
Willow and Buffy are at the school in the sun. They are playing Anywhere But Here again, where they tell each other stories about where they would rather be. Xander appears and joins the game and the three joke about whether Giles ever played this game. Xander is certain the answer is no and that Giles is still bitter about there being only twelve grades in school.
Buffy says Giles probably sat in math class thinking that there should be more math.
Giles joins them. He tells her about a delivery of blood to the hospital. Buffy says, “Vamp Meals on Wheels.” Giles seems concerned she's not taking it seriously enough, and Buffy says, “Have I ever let you down?”
Giles says, “Do you want me to answer that or should I just glare?”
This is a great quick back-and-forth that emphasizes the nature of their relationship. He is the adult, the parent, telling Buffy what needs to be done and pointing out that she needs to take it seriously. And yes, she has on occasion let him down. Though they are joking. So we know that this is overall a good relationship.
Jenny And Giles
Jenny joins them. She says she's holding a class reviewing computer basics on Saturday and Willow is assisting her. Xander makes fun of the students who have to attend until he finds out he's one of them, and Cordelia is the other.
When Jenny and Giles are alone, Giles asks if she wants to go out that weekend. And she says no, she'd like to stay in. They kiss as the bell rings.
The Police In The Library
In the library, having had a nice moment with Jenny, Giles now faces a serious obstacle: police. They are in the library, and they tell him there was a homicide on campus the night before. The victim had Giles name and address on a piece of paper in his pocket.
These days, I suppose it would be on the guy’s phone.
Cordelia comes in through the doors and says, “Evil just compounds evil, doesn't it?” But she is not talking about a homicide, which she knows nothing about. She's talking about having to go to the computer class tomorrow and on top of it to get a book for it. And she says, “There are books on computers? Isn't the point of computers to replace books?”
She sees the police. Giles is quite irritated with her when she tries to get one of them to fix a “bogus” ticket. And he says, “Cordelia!” And she says why does everyone always say her name like that? “I can take a hint. What's the hint?”
He tells her the hint is to come back later.
At the morgue Giles identifies Philip's body and admits that he knows him. He says they hadn't spoken in twenty years. That they were friends back in London. But he claims he doesn't know anything about the unusual tattoo on Philip’s arm though that is one of the symbols that we saw in Giles’ dream.
No Show Giles
At 10 minutes 16 seconds in Buffy waits outside the hospital. Giles is no-show. She sees the vampires who meet the van bringing in the blood. She fights them.
Angel appears from nowhere to help her. When she asks how he knew he says everyone knows about delivery day. She tasks him with getting the blood to safety because she's worried about Giles, who was late.
At first Angel downplays her worries about Giles. But she points out Giles is never late for anything.
Reminding The Audience
This Angel appearance serves two purposes. One, it gives a reason for us to see Angel, to remind us that he is around. And he is important.
Also, I see it as a way to get Buffy's worries about Giles out there and to make clear how unusual this is for Giles. If you’re regular watcher, you would know that already. But with network TV at the time, people often jumped in and out of the season. Or they might just start watching in the middle. So this is a good way to inform new audience members.
It also tells us Buffy's thoughts in a way that you can't otherwise do on television. In a novel you could simply show Buffy's thoughts. However, in one of the writing classes I took, the instructor (and I wish I could recall who it was) said cut out all the scenes where a character sits and thinks. There's just not enough happening there.
So even in the novel, having this other character there to create a small amount of conflict, to disagree with the protagonist or strongly disagree, is a good way to bring out a character’s thoughts. One caveat: In a novel, I wouldn't bring in a brand-new character to just walk on and do that. Because adding more characters gives your reader more to remember and think about.
But if you have a character like Angel who is ongoing, who the reader or the audience member already knows, that can be a good character to do that with.
The One-Quarter Twist In The Dark Age
So we are now moving toward our first major plot turn. It usually comes about a quarter of the way through a book or movie, which is why I think of it as the One-Quarter Twist. In TV it sometimes comes a bit later. Here it is about 12 minutes 47 seconds in.
Giles answers the door looking rumpled when Buffy goes to see him. And something we have never ever seen before – his tie is loose. With anyone else, no big deal. With Giles, very disturbing. He forgot about the hospital, which is even more disturbing. And he's very vague about what he's doing now.
He asks Buffy if she was hurt. When he’s sure she's not, he tells her he'll see her Monday and basically slams the door in her face. That shutting of the door on her I see as the One-Quarter plot turn.
From this moment on, Buffy will move forward in a new direction. This came from outside of her. Usually that first plot turn should come from outside the protagonist and spin her in a new direction.
Here, that direction is the figuring out what is wrong with Giles.
Giles Crosses Off Names
Before we follow Buffy, though, we see Giles on the phone. He looks very distraught. He apologizes to the person who answered, saying he knows it's 5 AM there. But he's looking for Diedre and learns that she died. He tells the person they were friends when they were young.
Now he crosses off Diedre's name on a handwritten list of five people. Only two are left. Ethan Rayne, who we saw in Halloween, and Giles.
Giles rolls up his sleeve and looks at his tattoo, a match for the one we saw on Philip. And he looks in the mirror and says to his reflection, “So you're back.”
At the morgue, Phillip opens his eyes and takes the sheet off himself. His eyes flash. He will attack the morgue attendant the next time we see him.
On Saturday morning, Jenny is opening up the computer lab. She's wearing a sweater and pants. I am pretty sure we’ve never seen her wearing anything but a skirt before. And I don't think we'll ever see her wear pants again. I think this is most likely to accommodate the stunt person later. Because there will be stunts.
Also that person is larger than Jenny, and it adds to this unsettling feeling when this demon takes over because the demon looks a bit like Jenny and is wearing Jenny's clothes.
Buffy interrupts the computer tutorial to talk to Jenny. She is worried about Giles. So this is what I mean about Buffy going in this new direction. She's trying to find out what's wrong with Giles.
She tells Jenny about the night before and adds that Giles was drinking alone. And everyone more or less gasps. Personally, I'm more worried about his tie, but clearly not very Giles-like.
Buffy asks if anyone else noticed anything strange about Giles, Cordelia says no, he seemed normal when he was talking to the police. After a few more questions she says oh, she thinks it was about a homicide.
Everyone is a bit irked at her, to say the least that she didn't think to mention this before.
Buffy Corners Ethan Rayne
Buffy goes to the library to call Giles. But someone is lurking in the stacks. It's Ethan Rayne. He tries to push a bookcase down on her.
She corners him and recognizes him as the person who sold her the dress and almost got everyone killed on Halloween, and she punches him. Buffy threatens to call the police for him trespassing. But he tells her that Rupert will need to answer so many questions.
He also says he and Giles go way back and asks if she knows where Giles is.
There's a cut.
We see these disturbing dreams again, and a ringing phone wakes Giles up. He has his head down on his desk. So he apparently passed out there.
(I love this phone. It's an old-fashioned dial phone that is sitting there on the desk. I’m pretty sure at that point only my parents still had dial phones, although theirs were even more classic. They were wall-mounted. Of course Giles would still have this type of phone.)
It is Buffy calling him. He tries to tell her he'll see her Monday but she says what's the mark of Eyghon? When he realizes Ethan is there, Giles tells her she has to get away. She’s in grave danger.
At 21 minutes in, Phillip bursts into the library. Either of these two things could be that reversal that we often see at the Midpoint of a well-structured story, Buffy finding out she's in great danger because of something connected to Giles, and Philip coming in at that moment. Both could be a sort of reversal for her. But Buffy fights these types of – or all types of – monsters all the time. I think the real reversal comes just a little bit later.
Fighting In The Library
Buffy fights Philip and kicks him into the book cage and locks him in.
Xander, Willow, Jenny, and Cordelia have come into the library. Buffy yells at them not to let Ethan get away and they stop him. Willow says Philip looks dead though he is walking and moving. Ethan confirms that yes, Philip is dead.
Giles arrives and says, “It can't be.” Ethan says, “Hello Ripper.”
Then we have a nice moment that very quickly gives us a little back story. Cordelia says, “Why did he call him Ripper?” just as Giles grabs Ethan by the back of the head, lifts him out of the chair, and says he told him to leave town. And Cordelia says, “Oh.”
Ethan tells Giles that he's having the dreams and they both know what's coming.
The Midpoint Reversal In The Dark Age
Here we are getting to what I see as the Midpoint Reversal. At 22 minutes 45 seconds in, Philip breaks out of the cage. Buffy kicks him. He falls, and his body sort of melts the way Diedre’s did. That shadow oozes towards Jenny, who was knocked out in the fight and is lying on the floor.
This is a significant reversal despite that we don't know it when it happens. Jenny has now been infected just as Philip was. Ethan gets away during the chaos. Jenny wakes up she seems out of it. She and Giles hug, and he comforts her.
Her eyes flash but no one else sees. This tells the audience that the reversal happened.
This is another example of dramatic irony, which we saw in previous Buffy episodes. That is where the audience knows something that the characters don't. And here we know Jenny is now in danger. And is a danger to Buffy and everyone around her. Particularly to Giles, who is taking Jenny home.
Buffy wants to know what's happening, but Giles says it's private and it's his battle, not hers.
At the Midpoint, we often see either this type of reversal for the protagonist, or the protagonist fully committing to the quest. Sometimes we see both.
A Post-Midpoint Commitment
Here, we see Buffy commits in full to helping Giles. This comes slightly after that reversal, and in some ways is triggered by it. Though Buffy was already on this path, she is now determined. It's 24 minutes 51 seconds in. She’s determined to help Giles despite him telling her it's not her battle.
She tells Willow to research in the books. Find out what the mark of Eyghon is. She tells Xander to go through Giles’ personal files and look for anything that would shed some light on this .Cordelia then that gives her a hopeful look. And Buffy kind of stares at her.
Cordelia says, “What about me? I care about Giles.”
I love this. I see this as even more evidence that Cordelia truly is part of the group now.
The old Cordelia, or maybe not old Cordelia, but initially Cordelia would've just left at this time. Or she wouldn't have stuck around in the first place. But she really wants to help. Except that Buffy tells her to work with Xander. She hesitates, but Buffy says, “You want to help or not?” So she does it.
At Giles’ apartment, he gives Jenny a drink and apologizes. She more or less tells him it's okay. The two of them are involved, and she's part of his world. He says that he's not safe to be around right now. And Jenny says, “Nothing is safe in this world, Rupert.”
At the library, Willow found information about Eyghon, a demon known as the sleepwalker. He can exist only in a dead body or an unconscious person. But the dead body can't handle it and will decompose. Which is what we've seen. Also, if Eyghon stays in an unconscious person too long, the demon takes over for good.
At first the three say it's okay because there was no one dead when Philip disintegrated. But Buffy says, “No one dead, but someone unconscious.”
Jenny disconnects the phone from the wall. Giles brings her tea, not knowing what she's done. She wants to stay the night and she kisses him. He's hesitant. He doesn't want to take advantage.
Now Jenny starts to behave differently. She says he just never changes. And she mimics him. “It's not right. It's not proper.” And she tells Giles, “You never had the strength for me. You don't deserve me, but you've got me under your skin.”
As she is saying this, she’s embracing Giles but also morphing, looking a little bit more and a little bit more like a demon. Her voice changes and becomes very low. On that “under your skin” it sounds really frightening. I found it very disturbing.
Obviously more disturbing for Giles. He fights her off and Eyghon says, “I'll rip out your stomach.”
Buffy Saves Giles
Buffy kicks in the door. She came in person because she couldn't reach him on the phone. She's able to repel Jenny, or I should say Eyghon, because it's not really Jenny anymore. Eyghon kind of shrugs, says, “Two to go, and leaves.
This is 30 minutes 27 seconds in. Giles says he's sorry to Buffy. And Buffy says, in what I find to be an amazing line, “Don't be sorry, be Giles.” She tries to reassure him that this is what they do, they fight monsters. Giles says it's different because he created this demon.
At the library, Xander has found in Giles’ personal files a photo of a long-haired young-looking. Giles, holding an electric guitar.
The Three-Quarter Turn In The Dark Age
These two back-to-back scenes I see as the next major plot point, which is usually at the three-quarter mark. It spins the story in yet another direction and it should grow out of our Midpoint.
Here, it comes from both Jenny being possessed, which we saw at that Midpoint Reversal, and Buffy committing to help Giles. It's a new direction because now Buffy learns at last what's wrong with Giles. And she will move forward to stop it and protect him.
So we have shifted from figuring out what's wrong to protecting Giles and also saving Jenny.
How Giles Created A Demon
Giles tells Buffy that when he was studying in Oxford he felt all of this pressure of his destiny to be a Watcher. He dropped out and fell in with the worst people who would take him. They practiced magics. At first he says it was small things, and it was pleasurable. Then he and Ethan discovered Eyghon. Their group would do these rituals. One went into a deep sleep and the others summoned Eyghon. Giles says it was an extraordinary high, but they were so stupid.
One of their members died when they tried to exorcise the demon from him.
Giles thought they were through with Eyghon after that. But now Eyghon is back. Giles wants to go with Buffy to try to help Jenny. To try to fight. But she says she has to go alone. He's barely mobile right now and he’ll slow her down.
Giles, looking so broken, says he doesn't know what to do, how to stop Eyghon without killing Jenny. Buffy tells him that everyone is working on a way to save Jenny.
Ethan Tricks Buffy
Buffy then goes to the costume shop and tells Ethan she is there to help him. It's not for him. It's for Giles.
Ethan pretends to be relieved and to be grateful, but he maneuvers himself behind Buffy and knocks her out. When she wakes up, she is face down on what looks like a massage table. (Maybe Ethan just keeps one in the back of the costume shop.) He tattoos the symbol on her, telling her it's nothing personal. He likes he,r but it's him or her and he likes himself better.
He uses acid to burn his own tattoo off.
Willow Takes Charge
In the library, Cordelia and Xander are bickering. Willow yells at them. She tells them there's no time for this. They’re friends are in trouble. And she orders them out of her library if they can't cut it out.
This reminds me of that scene with Angel and Giles when Willow yells at them that Buffy needs them.
I have to think part of why Willow asserts herself the most in this space is that the library is where she feels most confident. This is where she knows her stuff. And also, as we seen before, Willow is far more apt to intervene forcefully when her friends are in danger than any other time.
Cordelia and Xander look sheepish and apologize.
Research Reveals A Chance
Based on the research, Xander says if only they could get another dead body for Eyghon to go into. Willow says that wouldn't kill the demon just give it a change of scenery. But then she has an idea.
Again, we see these flashes or visions Giles is having. He sees Buffy with the tattoo, the mark of Eyghon. And he knows what Ethan has done.
(Quick aside before we get to the Climax: When I do my notes to prepare, I dictate them onto my iPhone. It has a great deal of trouble with the mark of Eyghon. It has transcribed it as I gone, AIG (like the insurance company), I can, Ikon (I guess like the company), icon in small letters (like a religious icon). Also, as I can. Also, for some reason it has trouble with Buffy and wants to call her Duffy all the time. I do a lot of writing using Dragon NaturallySpeaking which learns as you dictate, so it now knows Buffy. It knows all the character names. But the iPhone remains puzzled by some of these.)
The Climax Of The Dark Age
So we are at the climax. Eyghon breaks into the shop. Now he is looking as tall or taller than Ethan. Broad shoulders, still looking faintly like Jenny and in her clothes, which makes it all the more disturbing. Eyghon goes after Ethan but turns to Buffy at the last second, sensing the tattoo.
At that same moment, Buffy finally breaks her bonds and is able to get off of that table. She fights Eyghon.
Giles bursts in and says, “Take me instead.” Buffy tries to stop Eyghon, but Eyghon sends her flying without even touching her. Eyghon stands over Giles. He is lying on the floor.
Angel bursts through the door, Willow and Xander are with him. Angel starts choking Jenny.
Giles is distraught, but Willow tells Buffy and Giles to trust her, it will work. The demon, in peril as Jenny is being choked, jumps into Angel.
Angel's face distorts, he's thrown all over from the inside. It's very dramatic. Eventually Angel passes out. When he opens his eyes. All is calm, and the demon is gone for now.
Falling Action In The Dark Age
At 40 minutes 13 seconds in we’re into the Falling Action stage of the story. The Climax resolved our main plot. The demon was defeated. Jenny and Giles were both saved. This section, the Falling Action will resolve the loose ends and explain what happened.
So Jenny is herself again. Buffy is talking to Willow and says, “Oh you knew that if the demon were in trouble it would jump to the nearest dead person. Which would be Angel.” And Angel says he's had a demon inside him for over a hundred years just waiting for a good fight.
We've heard before that when someone becomes a vampire, the demon takes over the person's body, but that person is gone. Angel, though, had his soul restored. So both apparently coexist within him. So we have this idea that demon inside Angel, when he says it has been wanting a fight, the implication is maybe it has been fighting Angel. Or fighting Angel's soul or that the soul is somehow suppressing it. It's just been wanting to get out and fight, so he figured throw the demon, Eyghon, in there. And Angel’s demon would be able to prevail over it.
Ethan has managed to disappear again. We talked about before how he is the trickster. He creates chaos. And here he did not intentionally create this chaos, at least not now. There isn't any suggestion that Ethan did something to set this off. He seemed as worried and taken aback as Giles, although he is willing to sacrifice other people to save himself.
But being the trickster, it fits that he gets away. This is so Ethan's character. He didn't hang around to see what happened, he got out.
At school the next day Buffy tells Willow how she was saving money for some very important shoes and now she has to spend it on tattoo removal. Xander tells Willow she was brilliant.
Jenny’s Actions Show Her Distancing From Giles
Jenny and Giles are inside talking near the stairs. He asks if she's okay. Says he tried to call her. She left the phone off the hook. She tells him she needs a lot of sleep lately. Though she reassures him she's fine, she sounds very muted. And she says, “Not running with the wind in your hair the hills are alive with the sound of music fine” but okay.
Giles wants to help. He suggests they get together sometime. She says yes, sometime, and steps up the stairs away from him as she says it.
This is a nice moment where the character’s actions and her tone show what Jenny really means when she says okay, sometime. That she needs space from him.
It's also almost the same conversation Jenny and Giles had at the end of Some Assembly Required. Giles had said he would understand if she didn't want to be around him anymore. Then, she reassured Giles. Now she is distancing herself.
Buffy And Giles Bond
Buffy sees her walk away and asks Giles how Jenny is. And Giles says the hills are not alive. Buffy says, “I'm sorry to hear that.” I think he says that maybe Jenny shouldn't forgive him, but Buffy tells him he should forgive himself.
She admits it was scary seeing him that way. She's so used to him being the grown-up, “and then I find out you're a person. Who knew?” Buffy also tells him that it was a little scary learning that he made mistakes and used bad judgment too. But they have that in common, and she feels all right about learning that.
Then she says they should be training. Giles says yes, and she tells him she has the perfect music. And we have this really nice exchange:
Buffy: Go ahead, say it. You know you want to.
Giles: It's not music. It's just meaningless sound.
Buffy: Feel better?
Giles: Yes, thank you.
And that is how the episode closes. I want to still talk about who is the protagonist, Buffy or Giles, whether this is a coming-of-age story, and a little bit about Spoilers for the next episode, What’s My Line. Before that, though, I have two quick announcements.
Announcements: New Music And Free Book
You might have noticed that I've been phasing in some new music. So thank you very much to Robert Newcastle, my friend, composer and musician extraordinaire.
Also, at the time I'm recording this, Illinois, where I live, has shelter in place, lock down orders due to the efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Knowing that a lot of people are stuck at home and also many libraries are closing, I decided to put the e-book edition of the first book in my Awakening series free.
So you can get that wherever you like to download books for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, AppleBooks. It is the first in a four-book series. The series is complete. You can also get it on audio. And if you get the Kindle version free, if you downloaded it, Amazon generally heavily discounts the audio. So that is a good way to get the audiobook.
Reader's call it a Dan Brown Da Vinci Code meets Rosemary's Baby. It is about Tara, a college student who becomes pregnant and can't explain it. She has to face a powerful cult that's convinced that she and her future child will trigger an apocalypse.
Oh, and I said two announcements. I have one more – good news for patrons. If you are a fan of Jessica Jones or would you like to hear me do the story structure analysis of the pilot episode, that was just posted on Patreon. If you are not already a patron you can join for just a dollar a month. You can hear that discussion.
The Title Of The Dark Age
Back to The Dark Age. I have not commented on the title. I like it so much because it has more than one level. It seems like a reference to The Dark Ages in human history. In fact, I kept thinking it was called The Dark Ages, not The Dark Age.
It also can refer to Giles’ age at the time that he and his friends summoned Eyghon.
Which is a nice segue to: Is this episode a coming-of-age story?
What Is A Coming-Of-Age Story?
Basically a coming-of-age story chronicles the emotional or mental leap from childhood to adulthood. It is usually emotion-based and not action-based.
So I would say yes and no (as to this episode). We have Buffy learning that Giles, is in her words, a person. So not just a grown up. Not just an authority figure. Or more to the point, learning that authority figures and parents (as Giles has a very parent-like role in her life) are also people. They are human beings. So you could see that as a mental or emotional leap to adulthood.
But Buffy has already for the most part made that leap. She is been pushed into adulthood and responsibility throughout the series to date. Also, this idea of the parent or authority figure as a person – I don't know that that always happens. Many people struggle to grasp that about their parents well into their own adulthood. And some people never reach that point.
So while certainly that can be part of a coming-of-age story, I don't know that that is really what we’re saying about Buffy here.
Emotion Or Action?
Finally, coming-of-age usually is emotion-based. It's about the character evolution, and it's not action-based.
Here, as is almost always the case in Buffy, the main plot is action-based. It often is a metaphor for telling an emotional story, for some kind of character arc or theme, but the plot is about the action with only one exception that I can think of.
So given all that, I see this story as overlapping with coming-of-age stories and overlapping that genre, but I do not see it as primarily a coming-of-age story. However, it is about Buffy protecting Giles. And learning that Giles is a person, and has a past where he was not always perfect, and that informs the question of who the protagonist is.
Who Is The Protagonist?
Here, unlike in Season One where I felt confused about who the protagonist was supposed to be in Teacher's Pet (the praying mantis episode), here, it seems clear to me that Buffy is the protagonist.
And this is a great example of how you can still have a significant storyline for another character and see parts of the story through that character's eyes, yet that person is not the protagonist.
Our protagonist should have a strong goal that the protagonist actively pursues, and the protagonist should be the viewpoint character and have the most at stake.
The Viewpoint Characters
So let's look at how that fits here, The viewpoint character is mainly Buffy. We do get a lot of Giles, but primarily we see this through Buffy's eyes. Through her concerns – actually first her kind of jokes about Giles. How she sees him as someone who was always the way he is now. Very stable and very focused. Never daydreaming, or letting his mind wander, or not wanting to be in math class.
Then to her fears about Giles and the need to protect him.
So while we do get other scenes from Giles point of view – his visions, him identifying the body, his time with Jenny – primarily we are seeing this from Buffy's view.
Goals – Active Or Reactive?
Buffy's goal here is to, first, find out what's wrong with Giles. Then that evolves into protecting Giles. This is the main goal that we follow through the story.
Giles, too, is trying to figure out what's going on. But he is also dealing with his own distress. He is less active in pursuing that goal than Buffy is.
Buffy is asking questions. She's pushing him for answers. She's doing research and setting the team to research and organizing them to do it. And she is actively fighting.
Giles is more in reaction mode throughout. Yes, he's making phone calls to get information. But we see him passing out. We see him troubled by these dreams. Afraid. He doesn't know how to help Jenny.
Normally he'd be right in the library directing everyone. But in part he has withdrawn. He’s himself because he feels so terrible about endangering those around them. And I think that he feels ashamed and embarrassed for his past actions.
Those can all be feelings a protagonist can have. Here, though, it keeps Giles from actively pursuing his goal.
Who has the most at stake?
This is a really interesting question for this episode because Giles, he's the one with the risk, at least through most of the story, of being taken over by Eyghon. Once Ethan transfers that mark to Buffy, certainly she now has her life at stake as well. But Giles is at risk through the entire episode.
So in some ways he has the most at stake.
This is where I go back to what is the story about? The story is about Buffy switching roles with Giles. Being the one to be concerned for him, to figure things out for him, to protect him instead of how it is often the other way around.
So in that sense, Buffy has the most at stake. Because she is in danger of losing that one person that she can always count on. That she relies on and trusts. Her trust in Giles is undermined. At least her trust that he will always be there and will always be the one in the position to protect her.
What Buffy Loses
In that sense, in a way Buffy loses a lot in this episode. She loses that view from back when you’re a kid, if you’re fortunate enough to have parents who did what they should and took care of you, that view of your parent as all-powerful. As being able to take care of anything and fix anything. And it is such a difficult thing when kids realize that is not true. And so very hard for parents as well when there's something that they cannot fix for their child.
So here, in a way, Buffy has lost that. She has lost this sense of Giles as having all the answers. But she has gained something more important, which is a greater understanding of who Giles is. A feeling that he is not perfect, and that perhaps she can understand him better. And she can grasp that maybe he does understand her more than she thinks. Because he has struggled with some of the same things that she does and has made bad choices and used poor judgment.
In some ways this is reassuring. And it opens and further develops their relationship into that partnership that I talked about in Reptile Boy, where more and more they are working together. As opposed to Giles being one who knows everything and tells her what to do.
That is all other than Spoilers. If you are not sticking around for Spoilers, thank you so much for listening. I hope you will come back next Monday for What’s My Line Part One.
Just a couple Spoilers here.
One I absolutely never noticed before – Xander and Cordelia bickering, I noticed the bickering, but I know I did not pick up the first time around on the chemistry between them as they are yelling at each other. They are stepping closer and closer together until they are face-to-face. Perhaps inches apart.
This is so similar to the scene we will get in What’s My Line. Not sure if it's Part One or Two when they have the same type of argument, and they finally kiss. So this foreshadows that.
The reason I'm sure that I didn't pick up on it on first watch is that I remember being completely taken by surprise when that happened in What’s My Line. My defense is I was not watching these episodes back to back. I don't remember how long it was it was between the airtime from this episode to What’s My Line.
All of these episodes were stretched out. Sometimes there were breaks in between when other things were on TV or the show was taking a break. So that that's my excuse for not picking up on this here it. It really stood out to me.
Also, this whole episode really foreshadows the themes in What’s My Line. When Buffy will see her friends taking part in this what’s my line, taking these assessments, to see what kind of work they might be good at. And for her it all feels moot because she has this destiny as the Slayer.
And she really struggles with that having been imposed on her. Giles tries to help her deal with it. As I remember it, he doesn't do a terrific job. He really tries, but it is a real challenge for her.
The Dark Age foreshadows that in that we find out how Giles struggled with that and the terrible consequences. Maybe in some ways knowing this about Giles (though I don't believe it's ever explicit in the text, we’ll find out next week), understanding this about Giles, helps Buffy in some way. Helps her avoid going down quite as dark a path as Giles did. Because she sees how the consequences of that were still happening so many years later.
That is all for this week.
I hope you will join me next Monday for What’s My Line Part One. When in addition to the what’s my line we’ll see Spike and Dru step up their plot to heal Dru, which starts with trying to get Buffy out of the way by using some very dangerous assassins. And we will meet a significant new character. Kendra.
The podcast Buffy and the Art of Story is a production of Spiny Woman LLC copyright 2020. Thank you so much for listening and I hope to see you next Monday.