Monday, 6 February 2012

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Go Fish

“I’ll do whatever I can to make your life better- whether little bath toys or whatever.”

OK, this isn’t exactly the best episode ever. In fact, it’s the worst episode we’ve had a while. But a relatively lacklustre episode of Buffy is better than the best episodes of lesser shows, and this episode has a surprising amount to say about misogyny, rape, and corruption in the world of sport.

Oh, and the monsters look just like the thing from The Creature from the Black Lagoon. I don’t think this is any more than a visual reference, in spite of the more overt homages to Universal movies we’ve seen in the past, but it’s a nice touch. It, er, doesn’t mean the costumes look any less embarrassing, though.

We see a lot of evidence of corruption in Sunnydale High School, as Willow (a student of seventeen taking a class, especially for all this time, is rather dodgy- is she getting paid?) is heavily leant on by Principal Snyder to allow a failing student to pass simply because he’s a successful member of a sports team. Worse, another member of the swimming team attempts to rape Buffy, implying that successful performers in competitive sport have privileged status and are allowed to get away with some extreme stuff, all in the name of “school spirit”. Is this really what happens in American high school, to some degree? To this foreigner it looks a little far fetched, and I say that as someone with very little interest in spectator sports and zero interest in macho culture. This seems to go a lot further than the “jock” trope.

And all that talk about Buffy “leading on” her potential rapist, and the way she dresses… it’s rather clear what’s being said here. I doubt this is the first time this bloke has tried it on, and most girls are not as physically strong as Buffy. It’s not a pleasant thought. And neither is the almost-rape of Buffy by the fish boys near the end.

Oh, and it’s rather alarming to see Jonathan being waterboarded by said jocks. Frankly, I’m glad he peed in the pool. It’s interesting that he’s starting to become an actual character. I’m also enjoying the rather, er, arousing sight of Willow as interrogator, complete with lamp to be shone in eyes.

The other subtext, of course, is steroids, and the need to succeed in sport at all costs. This seems absurd to people like me who don’t follow sports- after all, it’s only a game, an artificial contest with no meaning outside of itself. But the status it confers is real, especially in a hierarchical society such as that of a high school. We rather cleverly get shown these pressures at work in the funny dialogue between Cordelia and Xander.

Still… the whole thing is more than a little clichéd, and the comeuppance of the coach as he gets eaten (just like a principal) is so very uber-predictable. And isn't the premise more B-movie sci-fi than horror? It doesn't quite seem to fit the aesthetic of the show. There’s not much going on arc-wise, either, aside from one of those contractually mandated cameos from Angel. That’s a rather awkward thing about the length of these seasons: Angel has spent rather too many episodes just sitting on his arse for someone who’s supposed to be the big bad. Still, two-part series finale, here we come…

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