I Only Have Eyes for You
My favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has, for years, been the eleventh of the first season, Out of Mind, Out of Sight. I’m fond of the fundamental notion that people can be rendered invisible by the oxymoron of concentrated social negligence and focussed indifference, and then there’s Cordelia’s brief, casual, touching soliloquy in which she details the isolation from which she cowers, deep in the cover of her own cruel popularity. Also the intriguing link between Sandollar Televison’s Marcy Ross and the bigbad Marcie Ross at the heart of this episode, which reminds me that Joss did (Toy Story) time at PIXAR long before Violet Parr appeared/disappeared in The Incredibles and the words in Marcie’s text at the end of the story require a pause-button to read John Lennon’s lyric. This stuff was designed for broadcast, but was always meant to be revisited multiplatform.
So there’s plenty to like in Out of Mind, Out of Sight. It remains my favorite sode, but close on its heels is I Only Have Eyes for You, which comes near the end of the second season to foreshadow the season finale showdown between Angel and Buffy by turning them into gender-role-reversed dolls playing out an unresolved script enacted by mismatched lovers forty years earlier (40 centuries?). What appears to be a discrete, episodic, 43minute short story really isn’t, because it so greatly enriches, cures and flavors the contradictions that culminate in the season’s very-serial, un-reconcilable conclusion. Meredith Salinger and John Hawkes bring impressive chops, and I always liked James Whitmore, Jr. (even when he’s only directing), and Marti Noxon’s some kind of branding touchstone for me. (“Irreconcilable” is the wrong word.)
There’s also a thing involving the 50s that accentuates Mutant Enemy themes that always heighten the recognizable paradoxes of choice & consequence, appearance & reality, vengeance & redemption — as though those things we had “yesterday” (standards) lend judgmental dimension to everything that plays out contemporaneously at the end of the 20th Century. The Angel episode, Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been…wields that discrepency brilliantly, like an inescapable weapon. By Out of Gas on Firefly, the scathing edge of backstory was so finely honed it isolated vital organs (of the riveted) absolutely imperceptibly…but the effect is nearly identical to the noir presentiment of inevitable surrender to an utterly distasteful fate; used car dealer(s) pimping junk, wooing Jayne into betrayal of his previous crew, Zoe’s contempt for Mal’s flying car, Wash contemplating modifications, Kaylee caught starkers in the backseat while she toils beneath the hood. (I think that everybody in the 50s strove to appear adult and middle aged, which looked especially strange on us kids.)
Recruising Buffy is a wonderful treat. It’s like gazing through a telescope backward and looking for thematic similarities to show themselves in the context of DollhouseHorribleDriveWonderfallsFireflyAngelBuffyToystoryWaterworldSpeed and information gleaned from interviews. It’s fun to keep revisiting a body of masterworks-in-progress. Aspects that once seemed set-in-stone transform like treasured, moth-eaten butterflies because I bring a different set of stones on each successive pilgrimage. (Veiled cathedral reference with a hint of gallows humor [masquerading as windows humor; because I don’t do gallows.]) I also don’t do emoticons with punctuation symbols; well, not here.
Interestingly, Mutant Enemy products are always about real life in ways that LOST and Heroes are not. In fact, the entertainment values (that woo the crap out of an audience) often disguise the bedrock aptness of salient points, and only upon revisiting these stories do specific diagnoses and potential paths to remedy for universal human conditions become clearly visible behind the joys of clever language, layers of wit, knowing winks, cheesecake/beefcake, abundant humor and cool flobotnam. They’re stories about people in remarkably familiar situations. Not cinematic manipulations, not superpowers, not idiosyncracy and formulaic media-enabled nonsense. Okay, less rote and manipulative than most popular shows built for more popular networks, but lots less locked into bait-making…with frequent revisits, the moves grow less novel, but the moments emerge like amendments to the viewer’s constitution…chief among which is the right to be wrong in every previous assessment.
If Hansel and Gretel are society, the breadcrumbs that lead them to permanent gifts of culture come from bakeries with familiar names that build strong imaginations 12 ways. Mutant Enemy’s one of these. They’re rare. That’s all I’m saying.
Oh yeah, the downside: I’d download all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if I could afford to do so, to fix what’s wrong with the DVDs:
- Slow down the vitally-important credits so I can fucking read them.
- Drop the volume of the music that runs under credits.
- Make the volume of commentaries independantly variable.
- Always engage subtitles because the language in performance is often underarticulated, and at least as important to me as the extra-verbal interpretations of the actor(s).
- Edit out the terribly redundant “Into each generation…” speech that intrudes on the top of early episodes and usually leads directly into the same too-damned-loud credits-music that runs under titles.
Point 4 deserves the additional note that Joss Whedon’s adventures in graphic novelty (X-Men, BtVS, Angel, SereniFly) have always suffered (in my opinion) from a devastating lack of continuity from panel-to-panel, as though the actors in his television shows were absolutely necessary to communicate the flow of context between moments that are storyboarded into a hell dimension devoid of coherence. It’s WAY too easy to blame the illustrator/penciler, because this enthusiasm for Whedon-narrative led me to the graphic novels of Brian Kellar Vaughn, whose stories are wonderfully fluid when rendered by a handful of splendid collaborators. So Point 4 is partly a criticism of young actors who generally speak/mumble their lines too quickly for my taste, and it’s a reminder that the success of a television showrunner doesn’t necessarily signify unqualified genius in every medium. I won’t part with the bucks necessary for experimental editing of the intellectual property owned by 19th Century Fox Home Entertainment…yet. There’s plenty of stuff I can fail to accomplish in the meanwhile.
I think our most valuable cultural endproducts reflect the contributions of collaborators more than we’re disposed to believe. Auteurs, studios and expensive logos may be lightning rods for attention, but under-hyped people below the line-of-sight are probably more indicative of quality in the endproduct than the famous names that garner most of the attention. So I want to see credits clearly and follow people like (for example) Jose Molina,whose work with Mutant Enemy led me to Castle, which also involves Nathan Fillion, but the lightning rod was Molina. So I’m inclined to believe that modern storytelling (transmedia or whatever) is and has always been far more rooted in the complex relationships, skills and dedications of the armies of people who make them than the reputations of branded auteurs, studios and networks. You follow the money. I’m following the people.
I’m saying this entertainment stuff is
- of people,
- by people and
- for people
…a whole lot more than it’s about business plans, MBAs, egomania and box office receipts. And probably shall not perish from the earth when things (like the fortunes of media moguls) change. Things do.