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April 12 2008

The hottest women not on TV : Canadian female screenwriters. Includes a brief interview with Tracey Forbes, writer of BtVS episodes "Something Blue", "Beer Bad" and "Where the Wild Things Are".

Strange how someone can write something so awful as Beer Bad one week and then write something very enjoyable 4 weeks later.

[ edited by aylward on 2008-04-12 14:17 ]
Yep, it's an oddity for sure. For me, "Beer Bad" is the least great of all the BtVS episodes, it just got saddled with too much metaphor for its own good. Drinking turns you into a Cro-Magnon. None too subtle, that. Although, even though it is the nearest thing BtVS has to a bad episode, I still find it enjoyable, chiefly for the nice Willow moment where she busts Parker. Ironically, I find the watchability of "Beer Bad" goes up markedly after a few beers, possibly a comment in its own right.
Have never understood the antipathy for Beer Bad. I think it's hilarious.

It wasn't drinking per se that turns you caveman, it's drinking hexed beer, served by an aggrieved publican, duh.

For my money, the worst metaphor in all of Buffy was in "Now You See Her"...it was nearly an after school special about how we all need to get along and respect one another. Of course, it did have Xander's hilarious speculation that the (apparently) flying baseball bat might be a...vampire bat...

"She" in Angel was another example of where the subtext rapidly became the text.

I'm straining at gnats here, I know, but I thought Beer Bad was a great 2nd shelf Buffy episode.
Chris inVirginia, I agree with you about "Beer Bad", which is why I carefully said 'least great' as opposed to 'worst' and 'nearest thing to bad' as opposed to plain 'bad'. And sure, the beer in question was hexed, but I was referring to the metaphor rather than the actual mechanics of the plot, that drinking alcohol brings out our primitive traits, aggression, stupidity and such. As metaphors go it is solid, just not particularly subtle compared to some of the work on other episodes.
While I don't think "Beer Bad" quite worked, I don't think it is all that bad. It gets bashed for the obvious metaphor, but the writing (and the title and all the characters) are all aware of how obvious the obvious metaphor is. Self-awareness means it is several steps up from AfterSchoolSpecials.

Not to mention, this was an excellent episode for dialogue. And it has one of the all-time greats (masterful reading by Brendon)...
Xander: Nothing can defeat the penis! Too loud, very unseemly.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2008-04-12 16:18 ]
Ah, scripts from the land of Bob & Doug MacKenzie, 'eh?
"Beer Bad" will never be as bad as "Gone." Never.
"Beer Bad" was stupid, but at least it was funny.

"Gone" was so bad that it's gone from my memory. Which one was that again? Was that the one where Buffy cut her hair and then turned invisible?
You don't like stuff going invisible, Invisible Green?

Sorry about that, couldn't resist :P

I think there were constraints on the shooting of "Gone", chiefly that Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn't available to film the episode (wasn't she off getting married?). Given that she wasn't present, they did a pretty good episode. I liked "Gone".
I loved Gone as the farthest edge of Buffy's disconnectedness from life. Talk about an unsubtle metaphor . . . but the subtlety or otherwise of metaphors, to me, is beside the point. It's always in the execution. I thought the musical montage in Anne was a low-point, although it wasn't a metaphor (which may have been the problem).

I rewatched Beer Bad just two nights ago - the Buffy fantasy opening paired with Prof. Walsh talking about the id is terrific. It bogs down a bit thereafter, but Buffy bonking thumping Parker on the head at the end is still brilliant. (In fact, my least fav part is having the arrogant college kid use the expression sociopolitical twice in the space of a few minutes, I suppose to illustrate his smarts, although any real person using that word in a college bar would be mocked for the buffoon he was. At least, where I went to college . . .)
Wait, Buffy cut her hair ?
For me, Beer Bad's worst crime is not having enough jokes to sustain its duration. The episode I most dislike, I think, is "Where the Wild Things Are", which is kind of unfortunate as far as this thread goes.
Gone contained the only line of dialogue in the 7 seasons of Buffy that made me physically cringe ("So long, copper!")
Can't agree more SNT! Thumping Parker makes the episode for me. Other than that, I like the episode because it takes up a lot of the really idiotic things that can be part of the college experience. And overly erudite snots got mocked at my college as well. Either that, or we just hung their stuffed animals from the dormroom lamp. Just as effective.
My least favourite Buffy episode is Beer Bad, too (although I Robot You Jane, Reptile Boy and Gone are up there). The first half of the episode is decent, and the second half does contain some stand-out moments (Willow busting Parker and the last scene), but other than that, I find the humor too blatant and in-your-face for my taste. The Cro-Magnons top my "Scenes I Wouldn't Want to be Caught Watching" list, that's for sure.

That said, Something Blue on its own makes me think fondly of Tracey Forbes.
There are a number of other episodes that have taken fire for the heavy-handedness of their metaphors: Beauty and the Beasts, Wrecked, Gingerbread, even Innocence, among them. Joss said once, speaking of Innocence. that it was important to remember that Buffy was a horror show. This meant that the most nightmarish thing that could happen would happen. It didn't mean that the show was warning teenagers not to sleep with anybody until they were married.

But when you're talking about the horrible things that can happen in a given situation you're perilously close to After-School-Special Land, country of the moralizers. That's why those episodes pinged some peoples' b.s. detectors. They think there's fearmongering and over-simplification going on, simply because that's usually the case.

So you get scornful posts about how anvilly it all is. Please, boyfriends treating you like crap after you sleep with them? Drinking alcohol turns you into a neanderthal? Sneaking off to a frat-party gets you roofied? Concern about crime leads inexorably to witch-hunts? Trying a drug once leads straight to car-crashes and addiction? Why, it's all so much more complicated than that!

Well, yeah, it is. And if Buffy weren't a horror show, maybe things could be done from the get-go in a more nuanced way. But the concern of the show is to get the characters pushed against the wall emotionally, so we can see how they react, not parse all the subtleties of a social issue. In Beer Bad, for instance, CaveBuffy is supposedly reduced to Maggie Walsh's want-take-have id, just like the intellectual posers. What does she do (at least when she isn't sniffing Xander)? She saves the people trapped in the fire and sees through Parker.

Focusing on how they got Buffy, or Willow, or whoever to that emotional crisis-point is often going to lead to accusations of ham-handedness. If someone is bothered by that, that's perfectly valid. But to infer that the show is trying to make some point that, for example, drinking, pre-marital sex and drugs are Bad Things, boys and girls? Just as much of an over-simplification.
So this article talks about the progress women have made in the writing room, and how great writing is great writing no matter the gender of the writer and women can writer great action scenes and men can write heartbreaking dialogue.

But then they come out with "So if these are strong female leads, then they need strong females in the room to write the material they need," and how they need more women writers to write shows that attract women viewers. Anyone else see the wrongness here?
And overly erudite snots got mocked at my college as well.

Yeah, one thing you don't want at an institute of learning is people that're too clever.

(where I went we used to hit the top 10 percent on the head until they regressed to the mean ;-)

I like 'Beer Bad', it's pretty funny. The arrogant college kids are just pseudy enough to be annoying while not being drawn as actually bad, Xander has some good lines and Giles' mime of cave Buffy may be worth the price of admission alone. Also, crinkly haired Buffy = schaaawinggg ;).

As shambleau says, you almost never had to look very hard to find the metaphor of a particular Buffy episode, depending on where your line is that could come across as heavy-handed. To me though, the point was never "hide the metaphor" or "look how subtle Joss is", it was to play all the standard high-school/college/young adult tropes (and plenty more besides) but in a heightened, figurative reality. It's partly how easy it is to see your own experiences reflected that makes the show so powerful IMO. And as OneTev very astutely points out IMO, you could make a case that 'Beer Bad' is aware of its own over-simplifications and is even mocking that sort of obvious preachy moralising.

(but then I also liked 'Gone' and thought 'So long, copper' was delivered with exactly the right amount of irony to be just brilliant so everyone's mileage etc. ;)
Obviously everyone's tastes differ, but, for me, "Beer Bad" is the least great of the BtVS episodes for the reasons I gave above. But I re-emphasize the phrase 'least great' once again, since I do enjoy the episode a lot. It was Tracey Forbes' first BtVS script I believe, and it certainly had plenty of crackling dialogue: the scene where Willow busts Parker after the mislead that she too has fallen for his charms is just brilliant. And "Something Blue" is an absolute classic. Even the least enjoyable episode of BtVS is arguably better than 95% of other TV, so it's a high standard to maintain, I guess.
I loved "Beer Bad" and still do, Tracey!
Buffy: Want beer. Like beer. Beer good.
Xander: Beer bad. Bad, bad beer. What the hell am I saying?

Xander: And was there a lesson in all this? Huh? What did we learn about beer?
Buffy: Foamy!
Xander: Good. Just as long as that's clear.


We've gotten so caught up in "Beer Bad", does anyone know if the journalist asked Tracey why she always writes these strong male characters? :-)
I really enjoyed the slapstick in "Beer Bad" and thought that for the most part, it was a decent episode. The only one that ever went too far overboard on metaphor for me was "Wrecked", mostly because the script was so unoriginal and after-school-special. Now the aptly named "Bad Eggs" is the only one I'd like to forget, but for that very reason its one I remember well :)
Xander was the only redeeming quality of Beer Bad. For me, I think the worst part about the episode was the confrontation between Willow and Parker. This was a scene that should have been a big deal at that point in the season, but the characters were portrayed as stereotypes of themselves and the scene felt like something out of a National Lampoon film for feminists.
[T]he only line of dialogue in the 7 seasons of Buffy that made me physically cringe ("So long, copper!")

How about this one from Sleeper (Season 7): "Is that all I was to you--a one bite stand?" Ouch.
Has anyone else heard the story that Beer Bad was written as a direct result of Fox's (or the WB's) cooperation with a US government agency to present episodes on their many teenage oriented programs that showed under age drinking, premarital sex and drug use as really "uncool"? That Joss Whedon decided to respond to this absurd request from the corporate suits with Beer Bad/Foamy then seems a lot wittier.

Whether or not that's true, I think Beer Bad has an absolutely hilarious performance by Sarah and a brilliant teaser!

[ edited by Capt. Logic on 2008-04-13 01:19 ]
I absolutely loved 'Beer Bad' and still do. Thought it was really really foamy! I mean funny. Definitely a classic. I was going through something exactly the same and it really hit the nail on the head for me.

I never for a moment thought of it as an after school special although since it's about 'beer being bad' that would be an obvious conclusion if you automatically equate the two. I wouldn't say it was an anti-school special, but it was somewhere between the two.

So yeah I'd go as far as to say it's one of the better episodes of Buffy for me. Just pure silly fun, my favourite kind.
Yeah, the "beer turns you into Neanderthals!" was part of the episode, but wasn't the point. The point, which I didn't really only get until a recently rewatch, was more so about ego (superego?) vs. id. Buffy is too consumed with her thoughts about her past history and her expectations about romance to admit what Parker really is, a problem that a pared-down Cave-Buffy doesn't have. (Buffy's pain over Parker's abandonment was, I think, 10% because she couldn't have a cool guy who she liked, and 90% fear of abandonment, memories of Angel, self-loathing, guilt about having one-night stand, fairy tale ideas of perfect college romance being broken, etc.) And that ties in with why the college kids Buffy hangs with were meant to be fairly nice guys but very much pretentious intellectuals; their early conversation ("There will be no Thomas Aquinas at this table!") is really not all that different from their later conversation ("YOU stupid!"). Which means that the bad beer cuts both ways: it reduces the intellect and renders them useless, but it also frees them from their superego-style hangups.

I also don't see what the problem is with the Willow/Parker conversation. It wasn't anything brilliant, but it seemed in character for both of them, and Willow playing along only in order to vent to Parker her Oz-jealousy and anger (as well as, naturally, actually being hurt for Buffy) worked for me.

Also, on "Where the Wild Things Are": honestly, the biggest problem with this episode is not the script, but the lack of sexual chemistry between SMG and Marc Blucas. (Does anyone else think he had much more chemistry with Aly in "The Initiative"?) The episode has quite a few great lines.

And of course "Something Blue" is pretty much a comic masterpiece.

"Wrecked" is definitely the episode that pushed the metaphor too far, I think; I mean, a car crash? Seriously? I wonder sometimes if that episode was an act of deliberate sabotage on the Willow plotline, one which wasn't really recovered from until the season's end. "Gone" has a decent metaphor, but is kind of generally a bad show, "So long copper!" and that whole lifeless "I'm free and messing with people!" sequence especially. I love season six, but it really stumbled after "Smashed," "Dead Things" excepted.
Yeah, most Buffy seasons tend to slow and stumble a bit in their middle part. For Season 6, that started with Wrecked and ended with... As You Were, I'd say (Dead Things excepted, like you pointed out).

As for Beer Bad: it's true that there's plenty of juice and meaning to be found at its core (after all, as Joss said, "whatever it is, however silly or mundane, there's not a single episode that didn't touch on something that the audience could say 'That's me. That's me, only as a superhero'"). My objection is that, in that episode's case, I have to squint and tear at some not-so-pretty wrapping (in my opinion) to get to the good stuff inside. :) Needless to say I'm judging by the ridiculously high Buffyverse standards, though.

[ edited by Enisy on 2008-04-13 02:25 ]
Beer Bad had some moments, but I would rather shove hot pokers through my eyes than have to sit through 'Where the Wild Things Are' again. (Except for the part where Giles is singing. THAT bit I could watch over and over again.)

I do think Tracy had a tendency to push the metaphor down your throat. Then she'd make you regurgitate it and have you bend over while she shoved...err, yeh.

She did a good job in 'Something Blue' with her use of satire, plus, she was considerably aided by the fact that Buffy and Spike 'together' was something quite a lot of viewers had wanted to try on for size.

But it seems her legacy to the show is not one that is overly valued by fans. Perhaps that's because so many utterly brilliant writers DID make clever/funny/moving contributions to the overall tale.

Poor Tracy, it's really hard to compete with an Espenson, a Fury or... a Whedon.
Capt. Logic: "Has anyone else heard the story that Beer Bad was written as a direct result of Fox's (or the WB's) cooperation with a US government agency to present episodes on their many teenage oriented programs that showed under age drinking, premarital sex and drug use as really 'uncool'? That Joss Whedon decided to respond to this absurd request from the corporate suits with Beer Bad/Foamy then seems a lot wittier."

Though unless one was on the inside - as I am emphatically not - one could not know whether Joss teamed up with Tracey Forbes and produced "Beer Bad" in direct response to a request from executives to insert anti-drug/anti-drinking messages in an episode, or if "Beer Bad" was already written, and then run through the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) mill to see if it passed muster to win some of that anti-drug ad (essentially) money that was being handed out at the time. Personally, I'm inclined to doubt that it was an intentional response on Joss' part, and I, of course, highly doubt that he was involved in trying to get it to qualify for the loot.

Such a governmental program did exist at the ONDCP - discussed here in a June, 2000 post at freerepublic.com in 2000 and explored more thoroughly earlier in a January, 2000 Salon.com article by Daniel Forbes. It was a portion of their anti-drug message related to psa ad time, in which the participating networks had to match & donate ad time to the ONDCP for minutes purchased by the government - if their shows "qualified" and were approved as being-with-the-program, they could replace the (lucrative) time the studio would have had to donate.

Both articles state that "Beer Bad" did not qualify as sufficiently "on-message" to garner any of that anti-drug payola. From freerepublic (quoting coverage by Jim Edwards in an APBNews.com story):

"Another memo provides a status report on all the television shows that the ONDCP looked at with the words 'approved' or 'not approved' in a column, indicating whether the shows' scripts were acceptable to be counted as paid advertising time matches.

The list is extensive. Shows that were approved included: Moesha, Saved by the Bell, ER, and Law and Order. Listed as not approved were Buffy the Vampire Slayer (for a show titled "Beer Bad") and Beverly Hills 90210."


The Salon article:

"At least one show, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' was rejected after it showed itself to be immune to the drug office's worldview. 'Drugs were an issue, but it wasn't on-strategy. It was otherworldly nonsense, very abstract and not like real-life kids taking drugs. Viewers wouldn't make the link to our message,' says someone in the drug-policy office camp who read and helped reject it."

There's so much I could say about this program, but will refrain. Suffice to say, this many years later, I am still delighted that "Beer Bad" was rejected for this purpose.

And BTW, "Beer Bad" has been one of those controversial episodes that have been discussed and dissed and supported ad infinitum over the years on whedonesque; here is just a sample:

March 18, 2004

August 13, 2004

August 10 2005

September 27, 2007 (this one has the most comments, plus my comment is there. Woo and hoo.

(This might possibly be my longest post ever, although I do recall going on a bit in "Mercedes takes her clothes off" or whateverthehellitwascalled.)
Wrecked always gets slammed for the car wreck, but since I was actually in a car wreck with someone who was driving while high, it's hard for me to scorn it for that. Plus with the having friends and acquaintances killed or injured by drunk and/or stoned drivers....

In your teens and twenties, it's one of the primary ways you can get hurt. It's also one of the ways you can hurt others. Since Buffy was a horror show, and S6 was about the ways when you're young and on your own, you can be your own worst enemy, they were going to show examples of that. I'm really not sure that it was any more extreme than say, Willow and Buffy being burned at the stake because people were upset about crime. Sometimes I think it bugs people more because it's specifically about drugs. They're reacting more negatively because of the anti-drug propaganda they revile rather than because it's somehow more anvilly than other episodes. A generalization, I admit.

I'm gonna defend Where The Wild Things Are since I'm being all protective of scorned episodes (Gone however can fend for itself. Yuck). People tend to reject it because of the lack of chemistry between SMG and MB, because they didn't like Riley, and so, in a weird echo of the repressed anti-sex spinster, they're grossed out by the B/R sex scenes. Fine. I don't completely agree, but that's a YMMV deal. But, most of the episode isn't about them. They're in less than 15 minutes of the ep. It's actually about Xander and Anya.

In the ep, you see how powerful the sex urge is. Sex can burn you. Some people react with shame and repression, others drown in it or are controlled by it. Xander's and Anya's sex-life seems to have been healthy, but they have been trapped in the lust-bunny phase that Riley and Buffy have just entered. They have to figure out a basis for continuing as a couple that isn't based just on the physical, and by the end, they've done it. They're working together as a team. They save each other. It's far deeper than their kissing and boinking in Hush. Once they've done that, they can rescue Buffy and Riley, their symbolic counterparts, from the vines that are trapping them - a nice inventive use of Sleeping Beauty tropes re-fashioned to explore the place of sex in a relationship.

To me, all that would have trumped any disgust I felt at Buffy and Riley boinking. If I had actually felt any, that is.

[ edited by shambleau on 2008-04-13 07:37 ]

[ edited by shambleau on 2008-04-13 07:38 ]
Viewers wouldn't make the link to our message...
That's pretty funny. One person's obvious is another person's, um, not-so-obvious.
It's amazing how one person's worst episode list can translate into the next person's top ten best. We are quirky that way, I guess.

shambleau, I also enjoyed "Where The Wild Things Are" but I doubt I can better your brilliant take on it, so I'm just going to agree with everything you said. Although, just to add, I think I remember reading somewhere that they were up against some serious budget constraints on that episode (probably saving their pennies for the battle scenes in the Initiative that were upcoming), so they really couldn't do the script full justice, effects wise. Still a fine episode nonetheless.

I had no idea "Wrecked" and "Gone" were so disliked. I love both those episodes, mainly the big emotional turning points for both Buffy and Willow's storylines. The low ebb of Willow's abuse of magic in "Wrecked" and the beginnings of her struggle to cope without it in "Gone" are brilliantly written and moreover superbly acted, Alyson Hannigan is on top form in those scenes and I find it profoundly affecting to see her take Willow to such depths of distress.

I also think "Gone" was able to introduce some humorous Buffy moments back into season 6, which had been largely absent up until that episode, post-ressurrection.
I always defend Beer Bad, I thought it was really funny. For once I thought the up-front comedy was more interesting than the metaphor. And people still seem to keep missing the fact that the beer in question was all magic potion-y, which totally undercuts the interpretation that the metaphor was about normal beer being "bad".
What I loved most about the ep was SMG's knock-out comedic timing.

I don't think Where The Wild Things Are worked on any level, and I'm not a Riley hater. Although I do think that the most painfully forced part about the weakness of the ep is the total lack of that particular kind of sexual chemistry between Buffy and Riley.

I'm probably in an extreme minority, thinking that Something Blue was over-rated. It had it's moments but it also had more than it's share of that slapstick, OTT general tone for which I have no love.

I have mixed feelings about both Gone and Wrecked, they were both so uneven. But the good parts were really good.
Will now quit while I'm ahead. ;-)
I liked Beer Bad. I love Something Blue, and I don't know if I would have watched Buffy if I hadn't wandered into the room when it was on (oh, that Marsters/Gellar chemistry hooked me in).

Tracey worked on Regenesis, a fantastic Canadian show.
Shey, I don't think people are missing the fact that the beer had been tampered with, it is an integral part of the metaphor. Drinking hexed beer turns the civilised man into a Cro-Magnon caveman equates to excessive drinking of alcohol turns the sober man into an uninhibited buffoon. A fun metaphor, solid, but not too subtle.

The main problem with discussing "Beer Bad", "Wrecked" and "Gone" is that it is making me want to watch seasons 4 and 6 again, not a bad thing in itself but intensive on the time. Oh the perils of being a fan.
Agree, Furball -- all this episode talk makes me want to go back there again, but after obsessing in '02-'06 on first runs, reruns and discs I made myself a promise to leave them alone for at least five years. Three more years to go.

[ edited by doghouse on 2008-04-13 15:36 ]
Canadian TV Writer Denis McGrath has a very interesting response to this article: XX or XY, They're All Writers To Me.

It sounds as if the gender balance in Canadian TV may be a bit different from what it is in Hollywood.
Slapstick gets a bad wrap, but it is an art form. I mean, seriously, Buster Keaton.

Was there really that much slapstick in SB? I think I remember Giles falling down once, but that's it. (Which I found funny. Although favourite Giles slapstick ever is clearly the end of "Earshot." Walking into a tree has never been funnier.) Most of it was more screwball.

My problem with "Wrecked" is, among other things, how out-of-nowhere it seemed. Take the car crash: while a serious problem for young people, Willow had never even driven a car in the series before. There was no buildup to the scene. And the episode itself suggests that Willow's magic has been a problem all along for its addictive properties, and not because Willow has had severe moral lapses. Going from wiping Tara's memory to using and driving was not a good direction for the plotline.

And "Gone" tried to insert humour, but I mostly didn't find it funny, except maybe the Spike/Invisi-Buffy scene.
Fast forward to "flooded". See Willow now?
Since Quoter Gal has considerately linked to the thread where I got (very) long-winded about Beer Bad and my other personal "not-as-excellent" BtVS eps (the Sept '07 one), I won't restate everything here. I'll just say that, for me, the problem with Beer Bad isn't anything about the metaphor - it's that most of the humor just clunks. IMHO. Well, and that I don't buy the depictions of college students, or the bar, to some degree... And that it seems odd that Riley's flattening of Parker later in the season feels like more of a "YES!" moment to me than when Buffy herself does it here. (Maybe because she's not entirely in her right mind?)

I do greatly enjoy Something Blue, and feel the humor is both more intelligent and more successful there. I like Where the Wild Things Are - Anya, Spike, and Xander at the party, Giles singing... And - other than Susan Ruttan's first scene - I also enjoy Gone - the arcade scene alone is worth it, IMHO. And "I'm... nobody you know!" :)

As it's come up, as far as my personal "where season six sags somewhat" - Doublemeat Palace starts it, then some upswing for Dead Things (especially) and Older, and Far Away before the (somewhat) slump really kicks in, until Entropy arrives, feeling like the first really good ep in quite a while, beginning a strong stretch run. (All IMHO, of course, and with an acknowledgement of good stuff in every ep in-between - Hell's Bells maybe the strongest, if also unpleasant; and a repeat of my note that there are no bad Buffy episodes, just a few not as great ones.)
WilliamTheB said

My problem with "Wrecked" is, among other things, how out-of-nowhere it seemed. Take the car crash: while a serious problem for young people, Willow had never even driven a car in the series before. There was no buildup to the scene.


I take the point that Willow had never driven a car before onscreen. There is a scene in "Band Candy" where Buffy is driving and Willow is in the passenger seat, and Willow makes the comments "You know you've got the parking brake on?" and "Eyes on the road!". Slight, perhaps, but a possible indication that she had had some tuition in driving at that point, three years prior to the events in "Wrecked". And she is clearly seen driving Faith back from L.A. at the opening of "Dirty Girls", although admittedly that was a year later - although given the timeline of that year (Dark Willow, rehabilitation in England, etc.) it's doubtful she would have been learning to drive then. So I think it's safe to assume she could drive at the time of "Wrecked" (not very well, as it transpired), although again I take the point completely that it was not addressed prior to the story.

WilliamTheB said

And the episode itself suggests that Willow's magic has been a problem all along for its addictive properties, and not because Willow has had severe moral lapses.


The euphoric, addictive qualities of magic were alluded to long before. In the season 2 episode "The Dark Age" with Giles description of his 'Ripper' years and Eyghon:

"So I dropped out. I went to London, fell in with the worst crowd that would have me. We practiced magicks. Small stuff, for pleasure or gain. And then Ethan and I discovered something a little bigger [...} We put one of us into a deep sleep and the others would summon him. It was an extraordinary high."

And instances of Giles warning Willow of the perils of magic are numerous throughout season 3 right up to season 6 and his "rank amateur" remarks.

As for Willow's moral lapses, I always saw those as perfectly fitting her character, a primary cause of which her abuses of magic were a result. Right from her introduction, she had been presented as someone who was clearly not troubled by using illegitimate strategies to solve her problems, notably her hacking, in which she was fully fluent from the very beginning. Her terrible violations of Tara's mind ran analogous to her hacking, for me, as she showed as little regard in trespassing into Tara's memory to delete the source of her problems as she would breaking into an encrypted network to gain information.

Add to that the fact that Willow had always used magic as a crutch in moments of personal crisis ("Something Blue" being an excellent example of that), and her break-up with Tara becomes the spur to her reckless descent. From that, ultimately we arrive at "Wrecked", where her addiction to and reliance upon magic, her personal insecurities and her guilt collide in the most devastating way.

I don't see "Wrecked" as a bad episode, but you probably guessed that already. To me, it's a classic.
Interesting points though I think it's fair to say they all did stupid things as a result of personal crises (sometimes even with magic - looking at you Xander, Tara, Dawn, arguably Anya ;) and before 'Something Blue' we see Willow ultimately not using magic maliciously in 'Wild at Heart' - despite having the ability and despite her pain she still makes the moral choice, it's a nice bit of "small heroics" I reckon. Her use of magic becomes much more casual as time goes on, it's definitely not an attitude she had all along IMO (and obviously summoning Buffy back from the dead is when she gets Rubicon all over her magic shoes ;).

I like the hacking/memory wipe analogy though, even if they're not even vaguely in the same league WRT severity or outcome. Hacking the way Willow does it is definitely illegal but I think you'd have a hard time arguing it's particularly immoral or a "moral lapse" (certainly not in the same way erasing someone's memory is) and IIRC she's a bit dubious about doing it early on (albeit maybe more because she's worried about getting caught than from any moral qualms).
I agree Willow seemingly made the moral choice in 'Wild at Heart", but I remember at the time being somewhat shocked at just how far she went. She was calling on Beelzebub, for Pete's sake. And later, in 'Something Blue', she's lamenting that she didn't have the guts to go through with it, which kind of puts into question just how heroic her decision was. She didn't seem to have seen her pulling back from cursing Oz and Veruca in moral terms any more than she did bringing back Joyce or hacking.

This was all of a piece with other hints about Willow's darker side we got in S3 and S4. VampWillow's torturing of Angel being echoed in casual, seemingly innocuous comments about how Parker should be tortured with spider bites or how she'd like to get Faith alone in a room. You get on Willow's bad side, she owes you pain, as we saw later.

[ edited by shambleau on 2008-04-13 21:23 ]
Well, vamp-Xander is also shown to be cruel and into the torturey thang and to me, the Parker (and definitely Faith) comments weren't meant to indicate genuine badness lurking beneath the surface (Faith-Buffy certainly doesn't take them seriously). Don't get me wrong, there's certainly an element of vengefulness to Willow but no more than there is to e.g. Xander or even Giles IMO, it's just that she had more ability than the former and less wisdom/experience than the latter - when Willow lashed out, you knew you'd been lashed ;). Also, though she arguably had to be pressed to it slightly, don't forget it was Cordelia's wish made out of bitterness and anger that almost wrecked the whole of reality and showed us vamp-Willow in the first place.

I still maintain hacking a la Willow isn't particularly immoral (so she had no reason to avoid it for moral reasons) and Buffy was as much pro-hacking as anyone, even "pushing" Willow into it to a certain extent. Reckon in 'Something Blue' she's just seeing absolutely everything in the worst possible light, so her making the moral choice in 'Wild at Heart' becomes not having the courage to do what needs to be done (i.e. to make the pain go away). It does all foreshadow season 6 though in showing us that she's unwilling just to suffer when she can fix it (or even numb it - doesn't she get pissed before trying magic ?).

Her unwillingness to accept the status quo is actually the mark of a hero BUT her willingness to change the world to suit her own needs has a lot of the villain about it too (for all the parallels drawn between Dark Willow and the Dark Phoenix saga from the X-Men, there's also quite a lot of Spider-man in there too - "with great power comes great responsibility" could be the tagline for Willow's arc throughout the series). And of course, like all the best villains, her motives in S6 are entirely human and understandable, even if her methods are (to say the least ;) questionable.
Whether you think hacking is inherently immoral or not is by the by, it is certainly illegal, and to my mind indulging in illegality is without doubt a moral lapse. If Willow had gotten caught doing a fraction of the stuff she did, breaking into the Coroner's Office computer, City Hall files, School records and so on, she would have left high school with a lengthy criminal record rather than a diploma. And I've mentioned this before, but her hacking skills were fully developed before she ever met Buffy. Where did she learn them, and for what reason? Certainly after becoming a Scooby she used her talent for good to aid in solving the problem of the week, and her ability was useful and needed, but what prompted her to acquire those skills before that time? I have never bought the nonsense that she just knew how to hack because she was handy with computers: that's like saying someone who recently passed their driving test is automatically a champion racing driver. For me, her interest in hacking offers us a glimpse of a fundamental flaw in her character, her urge to push too far too fast without regard for the legality/morality of her actions, and her almost pathological need for a quick fix to the problems that this inevitably created for her.

I agree that hacking isn't in the same league as mental violation, I'd argue rather that it was a product of the same cause, that flaw in Willow's character that causes her to seek a quick fix by any means rather than do the right thing and tough it out. Her 'moral lapses' merely increased in magnitude in correlation to her increasing supernatural power. Point being, once she started down that path of breaking the rules, legal or moral, what was there to stop her progressing, by slow and sure degrees, from hacking, to cursing an unfaithful lover, to altering someone's memory, to flaying someone alive? Willow was on that slippery slope from the outset, and her tragedy is that she couldn't turn aside from it any more than she could just stop being Willow. She tried, quite often, and often succeeded to pull herself back from the brink. But it was her own personal demon, and it was always going to catch her at some point. It caught her in "Tabula Rasa" when, after being confronted, she tried to erase Tara's memory yet again, surely knowing on some level that this was going to lead to disaster. It caught her in "Wrecked" when she was foolish enough to believe that getting out of her head on dark magic would make all of her problems vanish. And again, with terrible consequences, in "Seeing Red"/"Villains".

When Warren attacked with the handgun, two incidents happen simultaneously. Down in the garden Buffy is mortally wounded and collapses at Xander's feet. Upstairs, Tara is mortally wounded and collapses at Willow's feet. And how do they each react, Xander and Willow, given these parallel circumstances? Xander calls 911. Willow calls Osiris.

Ok, granted Xander has no magical training, so he can't call on Osiris. However, Willow is meant to be on the wagon and off the magic, and regardless, her first instinct is to go for the quick magical fix rather than do what is right, phone for an ambulance, which might possibly, just possibly, have saved Tara's life. So at the start of "Villains" we get the scenes cutting quickly and dramatically between these two contrasted tragedies, from Xander standing powerless as the paramedics strive to save Buffy's life, back to Willow's futile argument with Osiris's demonic apparition. Xander, the ordinary guy, who has done the right thing, and Willow, the superpowered witch, who has failed to do the right thing. It is Xander and Willow, contrasted and opposed, just as it will be Xander and Willow standing opposite each other at the finale, when Willow decides on her ultimate 'quick fix' for human suffering, the destruction of the world.

Phew :)

Anyway, this is why I like "Wrecked" as much as I do. To me it is an essential piece of Willow's larger story. The car wreck metaphor evidently appears clumsy to many, but for me, given my take on Willow's character, that accident had been waiting to happen for a long time, and when it finally arrived it was powerful, dramatic, and yep even distressing to watch. Which is as good TV should be, I guess.
I've tried to hold off commenting again, since it is pretty far off topic (Tracey Forbes), but I have to comment on my I think "Wrecked" is one of the worst episodes. Not just because the "drugs = bad" metaphor was so obvious, but because it was the wrong metaphor (which came out of left field). The drawback to magic in the Buffy series was always the unintended consequences, not due to it being euphoric or adictive. (Even when Giles was experimenting as a youngster, the problem was the extended demon possession, not the good feelings.)

Willow was unwilling to consider that something might go wrong with the spells, that the side effects would not be worth the gain. Which is why Giles called her a "rank amateur". In every episode up to "Wrecked", Willow only considered one outcome to her actions, which left her blindsided when it turned out differently. (Which is a wonderful metaphor for the administration and the war in Iraq, but I digress...) The writers should have stuck with that metaphor, of needless risk for marginal benefits. Willow getting power from Rack should have permitted him to do something truly monstrous later. When Willow and Dawn were late for the movies, Willow could have opened a portal, which would have explained the demon that attacked them. When driving away, Willow could have joked to Dawn that the cruise-control spell is safer than a human driver, just as the car plows through a detour sign and into the brick wall.

In season 7 "Same Time, Same Place", Willow's unintentional invisibility spell doesn't cause her to feel seduced by the dark side. It had unforeseen effects which caused more problems.

Willow shouldn't have been afraid of "liking" magic too much. She should've been afraid of nuking the neighborhood, whenever she uses magic instead of something like a post-holer.
Oh yeah, she's definitely immature and she's definitely keen to employ a quick fix rather than "tough it out" or think consequences through and those are definite character flaws, I agree (though i'd say to some extent they're "privileges of youth", much like Giles' actions as Ripper or the bad choices the rest of them make). I've wondered before if Willow's arc was partly a sort of veiled criticism of science and its history - in the 20th century at least - of rushing in without fully considering the consequences since she was always the sciencey, logical one, even when she started doing magic. Or maybe it's just good old "power corrupts ...".

Whether you think hacking is inherently immoral or not is by the by, it is certainly illegal, and to my mind indulging in illegality is without doubt a moral lapse.

Yeah well, I don't see it that way Furball ;). Most laws (in a democracy) are moral but there's no requirement for them to be so and to my mind breaking an immoral law isn't in any way a moral lapse.

And that's not even going into the grey area of doing one "wrong" thing to prevent a greater one (quotes because i'd ask is it then wrong ?). As I say, Buffy is only too happy to have Willow break into systems left and right when it suits her purposes and seems to view it as just "research" rather than being immoral (between them the gang barely go an episode without breaking the law in the course of doing good, even if it's "only" trespassing - physically trespassing I mean ;).

She could, BTW, have come about her hacking skills entirely legally though I agree, it's not the kind of thing you'd "just know", no matter how good you are with computers (given the stuff she can do, Willow's more than "handy" ;). However, if you're clever, curious and already know a lot about computers (i.e. if you're Willow ;) then hacking is, in many ways, a logical next step and doesn't necessarily require crossing a moral line to learn about because it's not necessarily in any way destructive.

Ok, granted Xander has no magical training, so he can't call on Osiris. However, Willow is meant to be on the wagon and off the magic, and regardless, her first instinct is to go for the quick magical fix rather than do what is right, phone for an ambulance, which might possibly, just possibly, have saved Tara's life.

Nah, that dog won't hunt as the cousins are fond of saying ;). We can't know of course but i'd bet my last pound that Xander would've done the same in Willow's situation if he'd had the ability - love makes you do the wacky and i'd challenge anyone to just stand by the recently dead body of a loved one they've witnessed being suddenly and horrifically murdered if they thought there was any way to save them (whichever wagon they're meant to be on ;). And Tara was beyond ambulances, she was dead (we can assume Willow knew this because when she summons Osiris or lackey of same, the first thing she asks isn't "Heal her" or "Help her" it's "Bring her back").
Saje, we'll have to agree to disagree on the hacking/morality point, I guess. We know from later episodes of the first season that Willow had a computer and internet connection in her bedroom. What were her parents thinking!* Also that she frequented chatrooms, and wrote poetry and fanfic:

"Look, all I'm saying is this is normal teen stuff. You join chat rooms, you write poems, you post Doogie Howser fan fic. It's normal. Right?"
Willow, from "Help"

The picture of her online life is highly nuanced, far more subtle than the surface representation of a shy, bookish geek. Her dabblings with hacking are part of that, and in my opinion it is deeply murky territory for a 16 year old to be venturing into. I'm not at all saying that she was immoral or evil, far from it, but it is a very early indication that she is clearly not troubled by using illegitimate strategies to acheive her goals, that she lacks the very thing that defines Buffy, a strong moral centre. Mileage, variability, and all that, of course.

Saje said
Tara was beyond ambulances, she was dead

I agree, but that kind of isn't the point I'm trying to make, the point is that Willow's first instinct is to pick up the magic rather than the phone, that that mode of thinking is ingrained into the very essence of her being. Her very own hamartia, if you will.

Saje said
I've wondered before if Willow's arc was partly a sort of veiled criticism of science and its history - in the 20th century at least - of rushing in without fully considering the consequences since she was always the sciencey, logical one, even when she started doing magic.

I really like that angle. Some great food for thought there. I think the magic versus science/technology theme is very strong in BtVS, and is embodied in Willow to a certain extent. I'm going to ponder that one, I think.

But we are way off topic now, as OneTeV has mentioned. Although I for one have enjoyed all the parallels between "Beer Bad" and "Wrecked", never thought there would be so many connections between those two episodes.

*Before I draw any ire, my 15 year old daughter also has a computer and internet connection in her bedroom, although I am fairly certain she doesn't hack, or write Doogie Howser fanfic.
Some really great stuff on this thread. Willow is without a doubt one of the most fascinating characters ever created. With the passing of time and the many DVD set re-watchings, I've come to the conclusion that in the entire jossverse, she is second only to Spike on my "characters I love most" list.

Re Villains and moral ambiguity .... Will may have been unable to save Tara, but it's easy to forget that once she turned the dark corner, she saved Buffy's life when it appeared certain she was dying. Yet again, she brings Buffy back from if not quite "the dead", then certainly the brink.
I find that especially interesting in light of her reaction to Buffy in Two To Go (the showdown in The Magic Box) when her deep seated, long standing "Buffy envy" came to the fore.

The final resolution of this rivalry didn't take place until the end of season 7, along with what appeared to be the final resolution of Willow's choice of white magic over dark, and played right into the "power sharing" theme of activating the Potentials.

Buffy broke free of the demonic forces that had activated the power of the original slayer, Willow broke free of the forces of darkness that had taken over her use of magic, and so the reconciliation was complete.
Shey said

Willow is without a doubt one of the most fascinating characters ever created.


No argument there. She really truly is. The fact that Willow finally comes out on top is such a wonderful fulfilment of her TV arc, although there is just the niggling feeling that, while she has come to terms with their consequences, she hasn't really tackled the root of her issues. But maybe that is separate point, maybe character flaws aren't mutable, and the best we can hope is to have the self-knowledge to recognise them and prevent them from clouding our judgement. And if not, well, it just leaves her some stuff to work through in Season 8. That, and the frog fear.
Not just because the "drugs = bad" metaphor was so obvious, but because it was the wrong metaphor (which came out of left field).

I don't agree. As noted above, Giles was warning Willow about the dangerous qualities of magic in Season 3. Just as early, Oz expressed his concerns about her willingness to use it to causally.

And there were many other incidents in Seasons 4 and 5, and the
Buffy resurrection, which began with the murder/sacrifice of the fawn, clearly portended nothing good.

"Wrecked" was several seasons in the making, not "out of left field."
*Before I draw any ire, my 15 year old daughter also has a computer and internet connection in her bedroom, although I am fairly certain she doesn't hack, or write Doogie Howser fanfic.

You think she's more into Vinnie ? ;-)

The picture of her online life is highly nuanced, far more subtle than the surface representation of a shy, bookish geek. Her dabblings with hacking are part of that, and in my opinion it is deeply murky territory for a 16 year old to be venturing into. I'm not at all saying that she was immoral or evil, far from it, but it is a very early indication that she is clearly not troubled by using illegitimate strategies to acheive her goals ...

Oh agreed, but that's true of so many shy, geeky types that it's almost a cliché isn't it ? I mean, the idea that she comes out of her shell online because that's where she's in her element, where she can control things much more than the real world ?

Happy to agree to disagree re: hacking but FWIW, if you're going to do it, IMO you're going to do it when you're 16 and i'd say it's actually murkier territory for a 26 yo to be venturing into (because they should have a better grasp of the potential consequences). Might just be a techy thing but to me it's harmless, even laudable, in the vast majority of cases and i'd liken it to smoking a bit of pot at university - most are gonna try it and grow out of it, a few will try it and stick with it recreationally and for a tiny minority it's going to be a gateway to much more serious stuff (for instance organised criminals have started employing hackers to steal identities).

(and it's just my impression but it never seemed as if Willow really had "goals" for her early, pre-Buffy hacking, I don't think she was doing it for personal gain but more likely for the truest, most hackerish reason of all i.e. out of curiosity and for the intellectual challenge - for the sport basically)

But maybe that is separate point, maybe character flaws aren't mutable ...

I think this is almost certainly Joss' point of view, not just at the level of the individual either but even at the species level (as seen in 'Firefly'). I've a feeling, in other words, that he might well answer "Cavemen" ;).
Re: ChrisinVirginia... I was very specific that I had no problems with the overall events of Wrecked, just with the "magic makes you high" metaphor. It was the metaphor, not the events, that were out of left field.

Let me make a metaphor for this metaphor. Willow is a heavyweight boxer. She gets strong and skilled very quickly, and enjoys pummeling people in the ring. Giles gets on her case, telling her that she should go for the quick win rather than a continued beating of her opponent, but Willow doesn't see a problem with getting longer workouts. Then she accidently kills someone in the ring, and spends season seven worried that if she ever boxes again she might kill someone else... Except that in the episode "Wrecked", the story writers decide that Willow is concerned about enjoying killing someone, rather than be concerned about it happening by accident. (Does that make sense? Willow's tragic flaw was not that magic made her high, it was that she insisted nothing would go wrong with her spells, whenever Tara, Giles, or Xander asked what could go wrong.)
Saje wrote
You think she's more into Vinnie?

Alas no, her fatal flaw is "World of Warcraft".

Saje wrote
that's true of so many shy, geeky types that it's almost a cliché isn't it?

Agreed it is clichéd now, but not so sure it was in 1997. The characterisation of Willow probably did a lot to contribute to the formation of that particular cliché over Buffy's first three seasons, so I don't think we can level that as a criticism per se.

OneTeV said
I was very specific that I had no problems with the overall events of Wrecked, just with the "magic makes you high" metaphor. It was the metaphor, not the events, that were out of left field.

Again I would refer you to Giles's comments in "The Dark Age" where he said that they practised possession by Eyghon because of the 'extraordinary high' it gave them. And the supernatural in general was portrayed as euphoric/addictive in a few episodes, Veruca mentions that becoming a werewolf makes her feel 'buzzed' and then there are Riley's nightime excursions to the vampire drug den in "Into the Woods":

ANYA
It's been going on for centuries. Humans hire vampires to feed
off them. They get off on the rush.

GILES
And the danger. Traveling in the underworld can become addictive
for these people.


So, I'm not sure it was as out of left field as all that.

OneTeV said
Willow's tragic flaw was not that magic made her high, it was that she insisted nothing would go wrong with her spells.

But Willow was fully aware of her limitations as a witch, as she said herself in "Hush":

"I don't have much in the way of power, really, I mean most of my potions come out... soup. Also spells going awry, friends in danger -- I'm definitely nothing special."

Her flaw isn't that magic makes her high, or that she is arrogant that her spells will never backfire, it's that her moral compass leads her astray, she opts time and again for the easiest option without regard to whatever Rubicon she is crossing. The difference is, if Amy had taken Buffy to see Rack, Buffy, seeing him for the villain he was, would have probably put an axe through his chest. Willow just saw Rack's particular breed of hallucinogenic magic as another 'quick fix' (pun intended) to her problems.

(BTW, apologies for the messy post)
The characterisation of Willow probably did a lot to contribute to the formation of that particular cliché over Buffy's first three seasons, so I don't think we can level that as a criticism per se.

Ah sorry, I may have been unclear there Furball ;). I didn't mean portrayals I meant real shy, geeky people - i.e. that it's surely pretty much common knowledge that shy people aren't shy in every context. To be honest though, i've never seen "shy and bookish" being deliberately portrayed as merely surface characteristics either (in, for instance, the way the "jock" or "wild child" characterisation is often shown as just a surface layer that actually hides the heart of a sensitive poet or whatever). To me it's always just been a TV/film given that shy, bookish people already have depths, subtleties, passions etc. and they just need the opportunity, motivation or context to show it.

"Bookish" is basically film/TV "code" for "inner life" or "unseen depths" and combine that with the other cliché of red hair and I don't think we were ever meant to be in doubt that beneath Willow's meek exterior lurked a rebel's heart (and, in fairness, you're right that "hacker" is another indicator of that - immoral or not, it's definitely "code" for "outlaw", especially if viewers are aware of the cyberpunkish baggage, and even if they're not i'd bet Joss was).

I didn't mean it as a criticism of Joss/BtVS either BTW, just an observation that it's a) true in real life and b) is therefore practically written into the DNA of how shy, bookish folk are portrayed (I don't think i've ever seen a shy, bookish character that's not brought out of their shell or shown to have "hidden" depths or to be a swan when he/she appeared to be the ugly duckling etc. and that's going back way before Willow to e.g. 'The Breakfast Club' or other John Hughes films and probably before that though I can't think of anything off the top. 'Wargames' maybe ? To tie shy, bookish and hacker into a nice neat bundle ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-04-14 16:47 ]
QuoterGal, a belated Thank You for your long and informative post. It's hard to imagine such ham fisted thought control emanated from the Clinton White House and it makes you wonder what's brewing under the current tenant! Also, I appreciated the links to earlier discussions. I think fans declaring their affection for Whedony craft and art and humor and character is the best part of Whedonesque and I love threads like those and this very thread we're reading now.

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