Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Harsh Light of Day   Rewatch 
August 5, 2015 9:48 PM - Season 4, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Buffy's relationship with Parker deepens, then implodes. Anya returns to town with Xander on the mind. Spike is back, having been dumped by Drusilla again and picked up a newly vamped Harmony as a rebound. They're searching for the presumed mythical Gem of Amarra, a stone that makes vampires invulnerable.
posted by yellowbinder (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Spike and Harmony are such a terrible couple. I don't understand how he deals with her, or why she puts up with him. It's pretty gross, but good for some laughs, and gives Harmony new life, so to speak. Who would have thought she would be one of two characters in the first and last episodes of the Bufffyverse?

So much Bif Naked in this episode. Was she even a thing Stateside? I know she was a big thing here in Canada for a few years.
posted by yellowbinder at 10:15 PM on August 5, 2015


On one level Harm is a classic rebound girl. Having his ego trashed by Drusilla, he picks up Harm because she's not going to leave him and she feeds he's ego. For Harm, she's a young vampire who has lost pretty much her entire life and her old friends. She's incredibly vulnerable when she hooks up with Spike. Spike is not only a seasoned vampire who can protect her, but he has a reputation. He has, after all, killed two slayers. Harm was status seeking as a human and that part of her still exists. So basically, even though they don't seem to actually like each other, there's a lot drawing them together as a dysfunctional couple.

On another level, Spike unconsciously wants Buffy so he finds another blonde girl from Sunnydale to serve as a stand-in (later he has her do this literally by role playing as Buffy).
posted by miss-lapin at 5:14 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was just about to post this comment when I saw miss-lapin's, which has shamed me with its much more penetrating take on the characters. She sees motivations for Harmony in particular that I missed, and they make sense to me now that I hear them.

But, here's my comment anyhow:

Well, she's not the most fleshed-out character... she's kind of written as a bimbo, she's superficial, pretty dumb and she likes hot guys. Spike's hot. I don't think her motivations are much more complicated than that. Spike's got a much more twisted thing going. He's using her as a Buffy surrogate, although at this point he hasn't admitted it to himself. Harmony's hot and she's kind of an exaggeration of how Spike might see Buffy in some ways, at this point in the show.

He seems genuinely contemptuous of Harmony, and his other relationships on the show were very different. He was a very romantic fellow in his own way, and made a fool of himself for Drusilla and Buffy. Harmony and Spike are just awful together, but it's briefly giving them both what they want, or think they want.

At this point the season still just felt off to me. When a show is really going right everything feels natural and kind of inevitable, but at this point the show felt very... evitable. It felt like the people making it just didn't know what to do next, and you could hear the gears grind.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:21 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


This episode has my absolute favorite line of the whole show: "Like you're too good to use a clasp."
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:37 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, love clearly brings out the best in Spike, but his need for love being thwarted, whether in a terrible placeholder relationship, or the woman not returning his affections, definitely brings out his worst. Oh, Blondie Bear.

I like the scene with Willow and Harmony as a bookend to the scene where they sign each others' yearbooks, and Willow waxes nostalgic, even though she hates Harmony. Sure, Harmony has changed since high school, but not really. She's still a bully, but she's small potatoes in the new crowd she runs with (like many high school bullies).

People keep referring to Angel as a puppy.

I hate stupid Parker, but, speaking of Angel, he's worth it for the line: "I mean, don't you just hate guys that are all 'I'm dark and brooding so give me love?'" Then he asks her if she and Spike used to date, so he just gets the whole continuum there. Of course, Buffy waking up to find him gone refers back to her last disaster. Her relief that he comes back is sad in light of what happens next. It's a little like the show took the metaphor about what happened in the Buffy-Angel relationship and decided to take away the metaphor part (which gives ammunition to the people who think S4 is dodgy).

Nice callback to Xander's history of being used for sex by forceful women with "still more romantic than Faith." He has a good line about the importance of what sex represents, but spoils it by saying that he's turning into a woman as he says it. Still, baby steps.

Oz (to Giles): "Okay, either I'm borrowing all your albums or I'm moving in." SPIN OFF SERIES SPIN OFF SERIES or at least just a deleted scene DVD extra, come on.

"Watching television isn't going to help us right now." TV is turned on, immediately points them directly to where they need to go. Well, if they're going to use the trope of the news immediately being on what you need when you turn on the television, they might as well lampshade it like that.

I don't know if it's foreshadowing to the doomed end of Xander and Anya's relationship (misunderstanding, taking words at face value) that it's lumped in here with Buffy/Parker (shallowness, greed, manipulation) and Spike/Harmony (outright cruelty).
posted by ilana at 9:12 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the ending triangle is about naivete and realization hence the title "The harsh light of day." Buffy bought Parker's act in the same way that Harmony bought Spike saying he would take her to France (she comments that he promised her this). Anya is the only character who isn't consciously misled (one can argue that Xander exploits Anya's rationalization for sleeping with him). It's nice to see all three characters mirroring each other including Harm as it gives her some depth. I mean sure she's a bully and mean, but in this episode we see a lot of her fragility ("I don't know why I let you be so mean to me" and Willow talking about how she used to lie about having a boyfriend). We see what's driving her is her raging insecurity and that despite everything she's actually pretty vulnerable. Actually all three characters are women who are incredibly intimidating made vulnerable by love.

The episode itself is about vulnerability. Spike, who is also nursing a broken heart, seeks the gem of amarra to make him invincible. In theory he does this in order to kill the slayer, but unconsciously he does this to woo the slayer (succeeding where Angel failed) and as a way of healing himself from the pain Drusilla inflicted. All of these characters are deeply emotionally wounded.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


All of these characters are deeply emotionally wounded.

It's such a key part of the series that I think gets glossed over in memory. So parts of rewatching seem like oh, it's so dour and slow, I want quippy and fights and monsters and super scooby friends, but those are the bright moments that stand out through the years. It's easy to forget at a distance how much about pain and angst this show really is. Everyone is strong, but terrified and vulnerable and constantly aching at all times. The world is authored to cause them pain, often from the ones they love most.

It's a huge part of what made the show great, because everyone can identify with those feelings. But when it lays it on too thick, or the subtext rapidly becomes text as with these early season 4 episodes or most of season 6, the audience rejects it as too dark/slow etc. We need our veneer of monster metaphor or things get too real.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:22 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


So much Bif Naked in this episode. Was she even a thing Stateside? I know she was a big thing here in Canada for a few years.

Not at all. She was one of those "Hey, you gotta check this band out"s for a little while, but most of the times I heard of her, it was less "Great songwriter and performer" and more "Haw, what a dumb name."
posted by Etrigan at 11:33 AM on August 6, 2015


I just want to take this moment to say how awesome the fight choreography is in this show. For some reason this particular fight between Spike and Buffy stands out. I think because she makes such use of the space to get traction to kick his ass. One thing I've always wanted is for someone to put together a Buffy workout because I would the hell out of that.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a wonderful fight! The use of the environment is great. The public, daytime setting is a huge reversal from what we normally see, so there's huge tension there. And Spike actually fights well. Back in Season 2 on this rewatch I was shocked to see how he rarely actually stood his own in a fight with Buffy. After his first appearance he was easily beaten, or distracted, or sidelined by the wheelchair, or on her side, or drunk...

Here he's out in broad daylight, invulnerable, and maybe even more so than the actual invulnerability is that it gives him the confidence that he can actually beat Buffy. And he definitely gives her a run for it. It's odd that someone who's killed two slayers, and someone with the bravado of Spike, would have confidence issues with Buffy but I really think he does. Maybe it's just that we've been talking vulnerability and wounds.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:54 AM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that Spike has killed two slayers and Angel hasn't, but Angel has the more severe reputation. One wonders how much of Spike's confidence was linked to having a "supportive" vampire family.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:06 PM on August 6, 2015


It's interesting that Spike has killed two slayers and Angel hasn't, but Angel has the more severe reputation.

I think it has something to do with Angelus being more organized, sadistic and actively evil. He was the kind of guy who really liked to torture, who would burn down a village for fun. (And probably did.) The whole thing where he killed Jenny Calendar and then left her corpse in Giles' bed, that is so not Spike's style.

While Spike seems quite evil in the School Hard days, we soon get the idea that he has a heart under all that bad guy bravado. He will certainly kill humans for food, and he'll let Drusilla toy with them because she likes that, but he likes humans and pop culture and he seems to regard killing as something to get out of the way. He might take pride in a spectacular kill, but it's the boasting about it he'd enjoy, not the murdering part. Angelus wanted to raise the Judge and destroy the world, for reasons unknown (what was he supposed to get out of that?) while Spike wanted no part of that plan. Spike is a loner and sometimes even a bit of a hapless loser, not a ringleader or a bad guy bent on world conquest.

When Spike killed slayers, I think he was trying to prove something. He wanted something to brag about, he wanted to show how badass he was. He was badder than Angelus, because he'd killed slayers! It came from a place of insecurity, and didn't fit his general MO of lying low, eating humans as he needed to and having a good time going to concerts, getting drunk and eating Blooming Onions and stuff.

I can't quite recall if they suggested he'd been a lot more sadistic in his days with Angelus' gang... but if so, I'd see it as him getting used to his vampire side and trying to impress the others. By the time he starts hanging around with the Scoobs he's still got a sleazy dark side, but he's basically a serial killer with a heart of gold, as contradictory as that sounds. He starts as a monster with a good side, and gradually becomes a good guy with a monster side. Angelus was just all monster, all the time.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:37 PM on August 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's interesting that Spike has killed two slayers and Angel hasn't, but Angel has the more severe reputation.

Roger Clemens never threw a no-hitter, but he had 24 seasons of ferocious domination that got him into the Hall of Fame. Bill Stoneman threw two no-nos and will never be in Cooperstown.
posted by Etrigan at 5:39 PM on August 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Buffy-Spike fight underscores how irritating Sunday (from the first episode) was. Where the hell did she get off being such a great fighter? Spike also gets Buffy at a point of emotional vulnerability but she holds her own much better. As she should!

I remember Harmony's later attempt to be the Big Bad that I'd forgotten she shows up vamped this early. Which is silly, because she's amongst my favourite non-verbal moments of Restless.

yellowbinder, you're right about the vulnerability being a constant, ongoing theme in the show. How it relates with relying on your friends is pretty important too - it's because you have vulnerabilities and are human that you need to ask people for help and rely on other people than just yourself.

Because I have been thinking a lot about Emotional Labour due to the mammoth thread on the blue, I'm also thinking how great this show is in demonstrating emotional labour. It's incredibly obvious in the relationship between Willow and Buffy, but Xander (as befits his soon-to-be-revealed role as the "heart" of the group) actually does a surprising amount too. (Surprising given his S1/2 emotional cluelessness.) Anya is interesting because of how she subverts all of those associations with women supposedly being naturally better (or socialised) to do emotional labour, because she doesn't. Faith was pretty bad at it too, but in a completely different way. And to do Faith justice, none of the group really offered her much in the way of emotional labour. Angel was brilliant at it with Buffy, usually much better than she was, and we also see when he turns evil how that level of preoccupation with what pleases people and makes people feel good can quickly be used to hurt, manipulate and torture people as well.

Speaking of using emotional intelligence for evil, Parker is also very good at that. This is the whole reason why Buffy is sucked in by him - he's saying all the right things, making all the right noises, showing himself to be vulnerable and sensitive but also aware of others' vulnerability. It's why she trusts him, because so far the Scoobies have shown her that vulnerability can actually be a strength if its shared. Sadly, his isn't genuine and she gets used and discarded. The shit of it is, when he dismisses her unspoken expectation that it was more meaningful than it was (for him, anyway), he's actually right on one level. They never spoke of what it meant and she assumed that it meant the same thing for him as it did for her. Where he turns into a Bad Man is that he knows she didn't feel the same way about it as he did.

Anyhow. My other favourite moment in this episode (apart from the clasp line, which is indeed brilliant) is when Xander is helping Giles organise his books and Giles reveals his fiendish organisational system known as The Alphabet, followed by Anya's arrival and her not-so-subtle hints that she would like to speak to Xander alone, glares at Giles to try to get him to leave his own house and instead huffily drags Xander outside when Giles proves impervious. Hee.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:36 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Back to the bronze this week! The show will flip and flop on how it gathers all it's cast members together. Here it just uses an old set (to be fair to it, the bronze will almost cease to exist for the whole of season 4). I mostly like this episode, but it does in a way feel like a pale reflection of Lovers Walk, in that Spike comes into town and after he's left there's a lot of emotional turn over in people's relationships.

I actually kind of wish Harmony had got killed at this point, as she's actually at her most realised here. She's an idiot, sure, but an idiot now lost in a world she doesn't really understand. So she does what she's always done: attach herself to the toughest jock going. Why does Spike put up with her? Well Harmony's used to placating jocks with her more physical aspects. But as she finds out here, this is no substitute for a real relationship, and she actually has a moment of genuine pain here. After this appearance, she's pretty much uniformly a caricature, and I could probably live without her. Also when she appears on Angel it becomes even more utterly stupid no-one kills her.

The whole Parker subplot bugs me a little. While the effect on Buffy makes sense: the second time she has sex, yet again she's abandoned, but isn't that kind of the point? Haven't we had this plot arc already, much more effectively in Season 2? Also, Parker seems to go to a looooot of trouble to have casual hook ups. He spends a considerable amount of time with Buffy before one night, and then isn't interested anymore. I guess people like that do exist, it just strikes me as massively unfulfilling.

Meanwhile Anya tries to seduce Xander. This is mostly quite sweet (Xanders "and I'm turning into a woman while I say this" aside. God 90s men/women amirite dialogue makes me so sad) and their relationship will be the most stable thing on the show for a long time.

-"Either I'm borrowing your albums or I'm moving in". Oz being impressed by Giles
-"I love syphillis more than you"
-Poor Giles is reading while everyone is hooking up. He clearly needs to give Olivia another call
-Parker is incredibly faux deep
-"Is Antonio Banderas a vampire?"
-Another party with a live band. I clearly go to all the wrong parties.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:56 PM on August 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I got curious if my take on Spike squared with the show (it's been a while since I watched) and I looked him up on the Buffy Wiki. I was way off on his biography. It sounds like during his days with Angelus' gang Spike was into wanton destruction and Angelus had to keep reining him in. I'd forgotten the thing about how he got his name from torturing people with railroad spikes. (Although it sounds like there's some ambiguity about whether that was just hype.)

I still think Angelus was the more dangerous of the two, that he planned things out and his evil was methodical, while Spike was more just into random violence and risk. Spike also clearly had some sort of good side even from the beginning, and I get the impression he spent entire decades just kind of hanging around and keeping a low profile. Angelus was far more ambitious and twisted.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:13 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still think Angelus was the more dangerous of the two, that he planned things out and his evil was methodical, while Spike was more just into random violence and risk.

Basically, yes. When Spike turned up in town, he immediately tried to kill the slayer. When angel went evil, he spent weeks tormenting her before making a move. I said so at the time, but that's why I think Spike was successful against the slayers: he was unpredictable, and went for an initial brutal attack. That's kind of what he does. Whenever Spike actually schemes it tends to go really badly.

Spike will happily torture and kill, but in a short, satisfying way.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:33 AM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


The whole Parker subplot bugs me a little. While the effect on Buffy makes sense: the second time she has sex, yet again she's abandoned, but isn't that kind of the point? Haven't we had this plot arc already, much more effectively in Season 2? Also, Parker seems to go to a looooot of trouble to have casual hook ups. He spends a considerable amount of time with Buffy before one night, and then isn't interested anymore. I guess people like that do exist, it just strikes me as massively unfulfilling.

I think the writers tended to try to make Buffy sympathetic by having tons of terrible stuff (that wasn't her fault) happen to her, and sometimes that imperative got in the way of satisfying storylines. There was also a tendency to go for big surprises, and sometimes big surprises don't really hold up to scrutiny on a second watch.

I also don't understand what Buffy thought the endgame was going to be when she thought Parker was a nice guy who was developing feelings for her. Like, she was going to wait until he had serious feelings for her, and then one day, she'd have this conversation:

BUFFY: By the way, I have a sacred destiny that takes up a huge portion of my spare time and will probably kill me (again) before I reach my twenties. Also, because of said destiny, bad guys are constantly trying to kidnap, torture, and kill the people closest to me, with varying degrees of success. You're cool with that, right?

PARKER: Sure, none of that is distressing to me at all, and I have no objections to you hiding such a huge secret from me until I was seriously invested in this relationship. Also, I am completely unperturbed by the notion that my life was at risk and I had no idea and thus could not take any extra safety precautions.
posted by creepygirl at 5:47 PM on August 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, Parker seems to go to a looooot of trouble to have casual hook ups. He spends a considerable amount of time with Buffy before one night, and then isn't interested anymore.

Oh, yeah, that's a very real thing. I've never understood it either, but that kind of thing is way too common. Especially with dudes around Parker's age. The whole thing with Angel turning evil after they had sex was basically a supernatural take on this real-world thing. A lot of women have woken up next to a guy who seemed like a whole different person the night before.

Like, she was going to wait until he had serious feelings for her, and then one day, she'd have this conversation

In fairness to Buffy, I think her behavior regarding this issue was totally realistic and understandable. Really, is she supposed to have that conversation with guys before they get to know her well? They'd just think she was insane. Taking them out on patrol or something to prove her story could get these guys killed. So with "civilians" she's got to keep that secret until she becomes pretty close to a guy, knowing that there is a very real risk that once she tells him he may freak out and never want to see her again. I imagine it would have become less of an issue for her once she grew up and got out there into the world and met human guys in the wider monster-slayer community. But as an 18-year-old girl at Sunnydale University, her dating options were very limited. As dullish as Riley was, he was kind of her dream guy at that point! (Good-looking, good-hearted, down to fight monsters, human...)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:29 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like I'm missing someone obvious, but was anyone ever killed (or tortured, or whatever) just for being Buffy's non-steady boyfriend? Like, she knows that people close to her are in danger, but did anyone ever come under fire for being just sorta Buffy-adjacent?
posted by Etrigan at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2015


In fairness to Buffy, I think her behavior regarding this issue was totally realistic and understandable.
It can be both understandable and a shitty thing to do to another person. Telling the truth is difficult sometimes. That doesn't mean that lying to a potential partner is perfectly ok and should be expected to have absolutely no consequences on the other person.

I feel like I'm missing someone obvious, but was anyone ever killed (or tortured, or whatever) just for being Buffy's non-steady boyfriend?

From the perspective of a potential boyfriend of Buffy's, I'm not sure I would trust the bad guys to always make the correct distinction about whether I was a steady boyfriend if they wanted to get to Buffy. And the fact that Faith tried to kill a steady boyfriend to distract Buffy is kind of relevant information for a guy considering whether he wants to be a steady boyfriend of Buffy's.

While the show is mostly concerned with the Chosen One, and focuses a lot on her feelings and perspective, people other than Buffy have needs and feelings that matter. Acting like you're the protagonist in a drama and everyone else is just your supporting cast can be kind of rough on a relationship.
posted by creepygirl at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


That doesn't mean that lying to a potential partner is perfectly ok and should be expected to have absolutely no consequences on the other person.

Well, no, it's not "perfectly OK". But, what WAS she supposed to do? For the reasons I described earlier, telling guys about her being the slayer would probably end any potential relationships before they began. It could also get her a rep as a crazy girl (and Sunnydale is a small town) and it could put the word out there that she's identifying as the slayer, which could be dangerous. (Although that last one's a little shaky, because IIRC she never made a really big deal about keeping her name secret from vampires and other monsters.) It's a really peculiar, difficult situation, and while she was dating "civilians" in a small town I think the way she handled it made sense.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:30 PM on August 8, 2015


While the average guy might not believe in vampires, it's perfectly possible Parker would be way more receptive to the concept of the slayer as an upperclassman at Hellmouth U. However, whether it's understandable or not, this is Buffy's first romantic relationship with a normal human boy after becoming a slayer. Even if she was wrong in terms of not telling him about the slayer thing, I can forgive her because it's not like Giles gave her Dating for Slayers 101. It's a difficult situation to navigate and one has to expect there would be a learning curve in terms of how she broaches this subject within a romantic relationship. (Plus all the stuff Ursula Hitler said.)
posted by miss-lapin at 1:40 AM on August 9, 2015


Oh and this link has highlights of the best dialogue including Anya's "Frankly it's ridiculous to have these interlocking bodies and not....interlock."

One thing that bothers me about this is that Parker and Buffy's sex scene seems very romantic. Guys who are chasing after sex, I would figure wouldn't be into soft caresses and so forth. Also later Parker refers to Buffy's endurance. Nothing about that sex scene seems like it would require much so I think either we're being shown how Buffy thought about it or you know essentially the scene is intentionally misleading in order to keep up the Parker is awesome charade for as long as possible. In this way the viewer is being being duped just like Parker dupes Buffy. We also think this is going to be a romantic interest for her (not to mention viewers probably identify with Parker for the whole hating on broody men thing), but in fact Parker is, as Willow says, a big poopyhead.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:02 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Damn it I forgot the link
posted by miss-lapin at 1:05 AM on August 10, 2015


I feel like I'm missing someone obvious, but was anyone ever killed (or tortured, or whatever) just for being Buffy's non-steady boyfriend?

I mean, there was Owen from Never Kill A Boy On The First Date...
posted by ilana at 9:27 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Owen serves as much as a counterpoint to the idea that Buffy needs to tell potential boyfriends up front -- as soon as he found out, he became a liability, but he wasn't before then.
posted by Etrigan at 9:32 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


So much Bif Naked in this episode. Was she even a thing Stateside? I know she was a big thing here in Canada for a few years.

Having had that song stuck in my head for a couple of days now, I attempted to exorcise it by listening to it a couple of times and seeing if she'd done anything else, since she really wasn't a thing in Australia. I discovered that "Lucky" is probably the only half-decent song she did (well, in my opinion) but she sounds like a very cool person. She even did the voice for the flaky bi art student who tries to hook up with Jane Lane in the Daria movie "Is it College Yet?" Awesome.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:38 PM on August 13, 2015


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