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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"It turns out massacres are a lot like sitting through God Father 3, once is enough."
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February 22 2007

The art of mystery story-telling. Joss gets praised for playing the "what is it... what is it really" card in Buffy.

One of my regrets in life is that I didn't watch BtVS until S3. So many great reveals, like the Darla teaser, were spoiled for me. Maybe I can get a knock on the head and get amnesia, then I can watch my Buffy DVDs from the start.

That teaser really set the tone for the entire show.
Heh, I didn't get into Buffy until a couple of years after it had finished! Thankfully it was all out on DVD by then, and I was able to watch it in all its glory, without spoilers from anywhere, and not have to wait a week between episodes. :D

And I managed to time finishing the Angel Season 4 DVDs so I only had a couple of weeks wait before the Season 5 ones were released. :)
Buffy was great to watch 'as it happened', thinking about previous episodes in the week before the next one really intensified the experience IMO but I also think seeing whole seasons relatively quickly on DVD or daily repeats has its advantages too. Watching 'Angel' again on DVD the seasons felt much more cohesive for example.

Yeah, Joss is a past master at "what is it... what is it really" as the blogger mentions, even from the opening scene of the pilot (another early episode 'The Puppet Show' pulled the old switcheroo too). I reckon it's almost a necessity nowadays though, with discerning viewers being so much more savvy about storytelling conventions and devices. Once we, as viewers, know about the man behind the curtain you have to move him or put in an extra curtain or have him pull off a mask to reveal ... a woman underneath. Or an alien, that'd work too ;).

Reading about 'Columbo' though makes me think there was an episode that wasn't 'open' i.e. one (I only remember one) where you didn't know the killer ahead of time. Possibly the original TV pilot 'Prescription: Murder' where some of the formula's elements were still shifting into place. That's gonna bug me now. Help me, Hive-mind-Kenobi, you're my only hope ;).
Just once I would have loved to see an episode of Colombo where he meets the murderer, takes him into a room and beats the crap out of him until he confesses. It would have been a hell of a one off special!
zz9, I get *some* of the "see it all for the first time again" vibe when I watch it with people who've never seen it. It's not exactly the same, but, pretty darn close. Sometimes, too, it's even better, since you know what surprise is waiting around the corner, and can watch it sink in for the new person. When they snap their head towards you seconds after the big reveal, and shout, "That *didn't* just happen! Wow!" Those moments are pretty cool.
K8, I know what you mean. I saw Serenity at a sneak preview in Leicester Square and, like everyone, was shocked by a certain scene. Then I went to another sneak airing in Bluewater and when that came up again I knew what was coming and watched everyones reactions. Fun fun fun.
The preview I saw, at that certain scene, a guy sitting next to me went "Oh Shit !" really loudly into everyone's stunned silence. Says a lot about the scene in question that, whereas normally there might be tension breaking laughter, in that instance there was just more silence.

(can just imagine Colombo in a Jack Bauer moment: "Trust me, you do not wanna go down this road with me. Oh and just one more thing". I hereby donate 'Colombauer' to any comedy sketch show desperate enough to use it ;)
Ah, the old "subverting expectations" thing, that thing that Joss & Co. do so well. But I'll just add that not only do they subvert your expectations, they make the revelations work for more than just shock value. The surprises make sense in the bigger picture sense of the story and that makes each revelation really satisfying. Erm, unless it's that certain scene from you know what.

The mystery artist/song at the end was "Mystery Dance" by Elvis Costello.
The other bit about "That Scene" was the reaction from several people around me when you saw the headstones. Book and Mr Universe were certain but I guess many people hoped that that was it and everyone else was just injured and recovered. The gasps and "Oh no!" I heard when the third headstone appeared...
"I get *some* of the "see it all for the first time again" vibe when I watch it with people who've never seen it."

That is one of the things I am missing as I lend my friend my DVD's for her first viewing of BtVS and Ats. She watches at her house where I cannot stare at her reactions even a little bit. I am constantly asking her to tell me her thoughts, but it is not the same. The other day she had just finished This Year's Girl and she kept laughing about Spike luring Xander and Giles in ot telling him about Faith only to happily turn on them. She is currently trying to catch-up on Ats before she gets any further into the Faith story, and just got to Angel dancing. Though she did not watch the whole episode yet, she said she had to go back and re-watch that scene because it was just so priceless. I would have loved to have been there.
newjc, that is why the SO is not allowed to watch Buffy without me present. Given that we live in different regions and only meet up once a month or so, it's a lonnnng process.
Was it you newjc that mentioned having loaned Angel to a friend and having a guilty conscience after hearing her talk about how much she liked Doyle?
The SO and I are up to mid Season 3 together - last episode watched was Amends. Earlier in the season in the episode of the faithless Watcher when Faith goes out by herself to hunt a demon, my companion remarked "Uh oh, Faith's going out by herself. I guess that means she's going to get killed. Too bad, I liked her." Thus, demonstrating that he's starting to get the message that you have to expect that anything can happen to a character in JossWorld, although not having gotten as far as realizing that the anything you expect won't be the right thing. I just smiled guiltily and said nothing.

If anyone invents that forgetting thing from Sunshine of the Eternal Mind, I want to use it to selectively forget everything about Buffy, so I can watch it all again from the start, in order. On the other hand, the way my brain is going lately, all I have to do is wait a few more years.
"all I have to do is wait a few years"--

That's my strategy. I haven't watched an episode of Buffy for 6 months & I've sworn off until next summer. Then I'll watch it beginning-to-end again. I'm bound to forget some stuff in a year, right? Maybe?
I just have to remember not to tell people that I'm looking forward to summer because I get to watch a bunch of TV...that I've already seen...many times...
Joss's ability to surprise us was one of the big things that got me hooked on to Buffy when I started watching S1 on DVD, the other being the witty humor. And if I were to choose one episode that won me over to Joss's ability to twist things on us, it would be "The Witch" because of the twist in the middle. When Buffy discovered the body switch I thought to myself "This is really cool!"

And later, towards the end, I realized that this wacky fun story was actually about parents forcing their kids to be just like them. That was the third thing that got me hooked to Buffy - that this show was about life lessons for young people being taught in a funny, weird way... lessons that they sometimes wouldn't even realize they're learning them! As the show grew, the problems grew bigger and deeper, and it surprised and disturbed us every time with how personal it could get.

Buffy impressed me more and more as it broke all the rules - rules I didn't even realize were rules until Joss broke them. I had never seen a show change its cast of characters and shift relationships around the way Buffy did. Many other shows did those things to some degree, but it was often because an actor left to do something else or because viewers wanted to see two people get together. On Buffy many of those shifts were planned out, had a logic to them, AND were surprising - from "Oh my god! Cordy and Xander got together!" to "Oh my god! How could Angel do that to Buffy?!!"

And it got all twisted with Angel - a character we had come to like now became twisted and evil. We had conflicted feelings about him, just as Buffy did.

And that was when I became a Buffy fanatic, because of a fourth great quality of Joss's shows - it got me involved. I was emotionally invested with what was going on. I felt pain along with Buffy. I hated Angel(us), while at the same time I wanted his good side to come out. I didn't want Buffy to kill him. In myself I felt the conflicting feelings of many of those who are abused.

And of course, Jenny's death raised the stakes, and it was clear that anything could happen.

Then Joss shocked us in the season finale by breaking all the shows premises: a teenage girl who goes to high school, who hides her identity from her mother, who has friends who are loyal to her and won't lie to her, who can look forward to her friends' help, and who lives in the town of Sunnydale. Each of these premises was destroyed by season's end.

Brilliant, brilliant. Buffy showed that much more was possible in TV writing that many of us imagined. Since Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, I haven't been able to look at other shows without comparing them to Joss's shows in some way.
I have plans for re-watching from the start very soon, to mark the 10th Anniversary, starting with a weekend session to watch S1. It's a long time since I watched S1 (although I only originally watched on telly from part way through S2, so S1 and the start of S2 was a DVD catch up, when the DVDs came out here (in the UK)), so I may get some of the element of surprise back.

Yes, some kind of brain-bleach would be awfully useful.
Book and Mr Universe were certain but I guess many people hoped that that was it and everyone else was just injured and recovered

Wow. Never occurred to me that he might recover from that. Makes me think of Python, "It's just a scratch, i've had worse" ;).

And later, towards the end, I realized that this wacky fun story was actually about parents forcing their kids to be just like them

And did anybody else notice that, much as she tried to avoid it, Amy actually did end up just like her Mum (i.e. an evil witch) ? Sometimes wonder if that was deliberate since it so often seems to be the case in real life.

(but then maybe I over-credit the Boss Fella, it's always tempting to give him the benefit of the doubt with his track record. Here's another: in 'Serenity' when Mal's talking to Inara he says something like "Wind's Northerly, I go North" and I always wondered if that was a quite clever comment on Mal's character. Y'see if the wind's Northerly it's blowing from the North so to go North would be to head into the wind, basically to swim upstream, against the flow i.e. to be a rebel. The other option is that Joss just made a mistake but I prefer my reading ;)
Saje, I've always felt a bit sad about Amy following in her mother's footsteps, because in her original episode she was so happy to be freed from her mother. But then I guess you can see the direction she's going in from "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" when she's using her witchcraft abilities to cheat at school. That early parental influence can be hard to beat.
"Saje, I've always felt a bit sad about Amy following in her mother's footsteps, because in her original episode she was so happy to be freed from her mother. But then I guess you can see the direction she's going in from "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" when she's using her witchcraft abilities to cheat at school. That early parental influence can be hard to beat. "

I always liked the fact thqat they did that because I have known so many people who swore that they would never do what their parents did. Fast forward a couple decades and they are either doing exactly what their parents did or what they see as the total opposite to the point that the result is the same.

"Was it you newjc that mentioned having loaned Angel to a friend and having a guilty conscience after hearing her talk about how much she liked Doyle?"

That was me. She is past that now. I actually broke my rule not to prepare her for things because she was soooo upset after "I Will Remember You" that I was afraid she would stop watching altogether if she was totally unprepared for what was coming next. All I told her was that there was another sad one but then it would lighten up a little. She's savy and realized right away someone was going to die and realized it must be Doyle. She got caught up in watching BtVS and watched a few episaodes in a row. When Faith showed up she stopped, because she figured that Angel's connection to Faith might make it important to get caught up on Angel. As I said, she is savy.

One of the things she likes about both series is the aspect that the article is talking about. She keeps saying that she can almost always tell what is going to happen on other shows and these just keep surprising her. I have to be really cagy when talking to her to make sure I only talk about the show and characters as they existed up to the point she has watched. If I make a slip she is on top of it so fast. It is fun, but I do wish we could watch it together.
Newcj, so a big no-no on mentioning the whole "Dawn" thing then?
"Newcj, so a big no-no on mentioning the whole "Dawn" thing then?
zz9 | February 24, 00:11 CET"


Eh. I thought about mentioning her because, well, there's no real surprise there, right, but I decided against it. ;-)

She has already seen the cover of the S5 DVD's and commented that there was someone she didn't recognize on it. She tries not to look at covers now because she thought I was kidding when I told her that the S3 cover had spoilers. She looked at it when she was still in the middle of S2. She figured out almost immediately that a new slayer was going to be called and that Kendra must therefore die.

As much as she tries to pump me for information, she tries to avoid spoilers from anywhere else. I am beginning to think that trying to get me to say too much has become a game that is more fun than being spoiler free would be...but then she hasn't gotten me to spill anything I wasn't planning on yet.

Aafter watching the Initiative the conversation went something like,
Friend : I really enjoyed that episode. (Lots of talk about particular scenes. Then casually...) So is Spike going to get the chip out?

Me: (incredulous) I'M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU THAT!

Friend: (laughter) What about Dru? Is she coming back?

Me: You never can tell about Dru. She's liable to do anything.

Friend: Faith is coming back. The only reason to put someone in a coma is so they can come back.

Me: (crickets)

Friend: Well she is, right? ...and what is going on with Amy?

Me: Just watch the next episode.

[ edited by newcj on 2007-02-24 02:05 ]
Newcj, I'd just start making stuff up. Failh comes back but she's a zombie. Spike gets a new chip. A V chip. He can kill but not swear. Buffy and Riley get married. He then dies in a mysterious gardening accident. And so on.
Then you'r friend won't believe anything you say. If you do let something slip she won't know if it's true or not.
That is a thought, zz9 but I actually enjoy her musings on what she thinks is going to happen too much. The quieter I become the more she talks. Sometimes she is really close and sometimes totally off the mark. Because she heard that S6 gets darker and Buffy is depressed, she decided that Riley is going to die on Buffy's watch and that is going to cause her depression. After telling me this she waited to see if I would give away how close she is. That is the point when I usually just start talking about something else. For a while she wold regularly say that if Buffy dies in the finale she wanted to stop watching right then because that would be just lousy. She still springs it on me to see my reaction, though since she has heard there is a S8 comic, she figures that Buffy can't die. As I said, fun.

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