Buffy the Vampire Slayer: A New Man   Rewatch 
September 2, 2015 10:09 PM - Season 4, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Buffy meets with Professor Walsh outside of office hours. Giles, feeling out of place at Buffy's surprise birthday party, reconnects with Ethan Rayne, who delivers a warning about the Initiative and then turns him into a demon.
posted by yellowbinder (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This is a good little episode, and will mark the last Giles centric episode the show has (I think, there's maybe one in 5?). A lot of the themes of this series have been exploring the adrift nature everyone feels after high school, and Giles is not alone in that. He's adrift, no longer a watcher or even a librarian, and has apparently no adult friends with Olivia leaving.

The return of Ethan is a clever way to illuminate this, he is always good value and his last appearance is a good one. It's not really clear why he works this particular spell on Giles, I kind of think this one really was just for fun, rather than any stronger motivation. Still, Giles as a demon is really funny, and his petty revenge on Walsh is great.

We've also got other conflicts going on here. We have Willow hiding her relationship with Tara from everyone, keeping her to herself. We have Riley and Buffy arguing about how to fight demons, with Riley wanting to get the Initiative involved.

-First birthday not interrupted by demon!
-"She's absolutely the smartest person I've ever met". Ouch.
-"She's like 40, she's got better things to do than hang out with a bunch of kids." Ooh!
-"What I'm seeing is a reaction to a lack of a strong male role model." Argh!
-"You were myth taken". Top quality pun.
-Giles coming back in while Ethan speechifies
-omg Walsh goes into 314 who saw that coming that's a complete and total surprise!
-"I'm twice the man she is"
-"I'm an unemployed librarian with a tendency to get hit on the head"
-When did Spike learn fnarl?
"If you can't find third gear, don't try for third gear". If you can't find third gear I'm a little worried about you driving a manual car at all.
-"Hey, picked up a tail." "Yes, just a little one". Boom Tish.
-"It's the stay and gloat that gets me every time."
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:55 AM on September 3, 2015


Yeah, a very good one. This season is rocky, but it has a fair share of little classics.

Ethan Rayne does come back in the video game, Chaos Bleeds. I've probably hyped it in these rewatch threads before, but if you're a Buffy fan who likes gaming at all you've really gotta check it out. It's very much in the flavor of the show, and you visit the Initiative and all kinds of fun stuff. At one point you even get to play as Sid the Dummy. (The only major bummer is that you can't save until the end of a level. You will hear the same quips many, many times trying to beat those levels, and no level is awesome enough to still feel awesome after your fifth or sixth attempt to beat it ends in frustration.)

When did Spike learn fnarl?

He'd employed a couple of fnarls before and seemed to know a lot about the species. Maybe he had a copy of Fnrarl For Dummies.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:41 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Always sad they don't bring Ethan back or explain what happens to him once the Initiative falls.
posted by chaiminda at 5:42 AM on September 3, 2015


He does actually appear in the comics. But I really don't count those.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:08 AM on September 3, 2015


Yeah this is the last Giles episode isn't it? I know he's gone for large portions of the last two seasons, but seeing as this is the exact halfway point of the series that's really disappointing to think about.

Anyway yeah, great episode if a bit slight. Buffy recognizing Giles by his eyes even as she's trying to kill him assuming he... killed him will never not be completely touching.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2015


This show, as has been rightly pointed out, is severely lacking in Giles episodes, so I unabashedly love this one. Well, except the early scenes establishing that he’s being overlooked and insulted, but I suppose they’re a necessary evil. Walsh being mean to Giles was basically the last second I even sort of liked her (I can’t even watch that scene, I just want to yell at him to debate better), and his “revenge” on her is amazing. “Though I do hate her quite a lot.”

It’s interesting that Giles is so wound up that essentially every Giles-centric episode features him being in an altered state, losing control, and letting his Id roam free (whether it’s Band Candy or Ehygon). Of course, that’s why we almost always need Ethan Rayne to come to town to get a Giles-centric episode, because Ethan’s who Giles would be if Giles hadn’t developed a moral centre and kept a leash on himself. I guess that makes Ethan Giles’ Id, or something.

“Oh, bugger, I thought you’d gone” always gets me. It’s such a good lampshading of the “villain monologue” trope.

This is probably Buffy’s best birthday, though why people think it’s a good idea to throw a surprise party for an armed Slayer who has had terrible luck with surprise parties in the past is beyond me (as Giles rightly points out). I guess at least her reaction time is better than Faith’s, or we could have had an Allan Finch-ed party guest.

Giles and Spike working together is always a fun well to draw from. (“Did you growl?” “No.”/ “Picked up a tail.” “Yes, just a little one. It jurts when I sit.:) Spike speaks Fyarl just because (well, okay, at least the show tries to explain it was due to having Fyarl employees), like Angel speaks whatever random demon language is important. Paralyzing mucous…

Xander: That’s my radio!
Spike: And you’re what? Shocked and disappointed? I’m evil!

“All exaggeration and blank verse” would be a great name for an autobiography.

“You can't walk around pretending you're less than you are. It wouldn't be right for you to hold back.” Says Willow, holding back.

Hey, look, it’s Buffy showing us what a stupid mistake it is to not tell people about your problems and trying to go it alone, which will inevitably end in your almost-death:
Spike: So what's first? (grinning) I run and tell the Slayer what you've gotten yourself into?
Giles: No. When I find Ethan I can clear all this up without Buffy ever having to find out that anything happened to me at all.

Of course I love the slightly-sappy “your eyes” ending, and Buffy being super upset at Giles’ presumed death. Best Surrogate Dad. It sort of makes up for Buffy saying unintentionally terrible things to him earlier, and not calling him through the ingenious speaking tube.

Bloody humans!
posted by ilana at 12:31 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


We have Willow hiding her relationship with Tara from everyone, keeping her to herself.

The last time Willow tried to express her feelings to her friends, it didn't go well for anyone. I think it's understandable to pull back a bit after overwhelming her friends with her pain from the Oz breakup. Also, if we go by airdates, she's known Tara for all of six weeks right now. That doesn't strike me as a particularly long period of time before introducing a new friend to your circle of friends.

Unpopular opinion time: rewatching while knowing Tara's secret does not make me favorably inclined towards Tara here.

I mean, if I thought I was a demon, and I tried a spell with another girl, and it went badly, I would consider the possibility that it went badly because I was a demon. And I would think long and hard about whether it was fair to continue practicing magic with someone who didn't know that I was a demon.

I get that she might not be ready to tell anyone, ever. And I don't fault her for seeking out Willow for magic in Hush, because The Gentlemen were a real threat. But the floating the rose stuff was completely optional on her part, and she chose to do it anyway.
posted by creepygirl at 7:17 PM on September 3, 2015


Metaphorically speaking, though, the magic is sex, and Tara's secret is that her family convinced her that sex(magic) was evil, and she is evil for wanting/doing it (with a lady, even!)

She has obviously at least partially rejected that judgment, in that she left her family and she doesn't think that doing magic is really evil and bad, but she has internalised it to the extent that she thinks/fears if people know the truth about her magic(sex), they will reject her.

Plus, you know, when a sexy witch(lesbian) want to do rose petal magic with you in your dorm room, you say yes.
posted by misfish at 7:51 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


but she has internalised it to the extent that she thinks/fears if people know the truth about her magic(sex), they will reject her.

Well, I don't think "I didn't tell you about (potential dealbreaker) because I was afraid you would reject me if you knew" is a particularly ethical line of argument.

Willow has the right to decide if she wants to have magic(sex) with a demon. Tara isn't entitled to take that choice away from her by hiding the truth from her.
posted by creepygirl at 8:11 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The last time Willow tried to express her feelings to her friends, it didn't go well for anyone. I think it's understandable to pull back a bit after overwhelming her friends with her pain from the Oz breakup. Also, if we go by airdates, she's known Tara for all of six weeks right now. That doesn't strike me as a particularly long period of time before introducing a new friend to your circle of friends.

Unpopular opinion time: rewatching while knowing Tara's secret does not make me favorably inclined towards Tara here.

I mean, if I thought I was a demon, and I tried a spell with another girl, and it went badly, I would consider the possibility that it went badly because I was a demon. And I would think long and hard about whether it was fair to continue practicing magic with someone who didn't know that I was a demon.


In Family Tara is of the opinion that maybe the curse didn't get her. So I think (pretending she lives in a world where the curse is real) she both lives in utter denial of her "true" nature, and utter fear that someone might find it out. You're absolutely correct that she probably should have told Willow, but I'm willing to forgive her. Of course, she does deliberately screw up a spell in a little while.

Also, re: introduction, you're maybe right, although the reason here isn't just that Tara is a new friend, she's a new lover

[this gets super confusing though, because they don't say anything overtly until Bad Moon Rising, what exactly are they doing? Are they genuinely just doing magic? Seems unlikely, she's spending the night for crying out loud! I appreciate this was all network satiating stuff, but it makes their relationship seem quite... odd. It's a sweet little story, but I think it's fair to say that spending a lot of time with someone of your own gender and doing tingly (ok, orgasm inducing in some cases) spells isn't quite the same as, you know, actual physical intimacy? Or maybe I'm being very hetrononmagiconormative here.]
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:44 PM on September 3, 2015


In Family Tara is of the opinion that maybe the curse didn't get her. So I think (pretending she lives in a world where the curse is real) she both lives in utter denial of her "true" nature, and utter fear that someone might find it out. You're absolutely correct that she probably should have told Willow, but I'm willing to forgive her. Of course, she does deliberately screw up a spell in a little while.
I think if you believe that there's a non-zero possibility that you could be or turn into a demon, that's really something you should tell your partner. Especially when Willow was nearly killed by her last demon lover--I think the possibility that Tara might be a demon is something Willow really deserves to know when deciding to be in a relationship with Tara.

I don't think it's unforgiveable, I'm mostly just frustrated with the show and fandom's unwillingness to acknowledge what a crappy thing that is to do to your partner. I'd be fine if it had been presented as an abused kid treating their partner poorly because of a myriad of self-esteem issues caused by the abuse, and less as "Poor woobie Tara thinks she's a demon! But she's not! Yay! Nothing else to see here, move on."

Tara has so few flaws that it's kind of irritating to have the show kind of gloss over them.

Also, re: introduction, you're maybe right, although the reason here isn't just that Tara is a new friend, she's a new lover

As you said, the way it's written, it's really hard to tell because of the way they had to tell the story. It's sort of maddening that we know when every other couple kissed for the first time and had sex for the first time, but not Willow/Tara. My take is that they haven't become intimate quite yet, but that's just kind of a gut feeling since the textual evidence is so vague.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that they became intimate immediately after Hush. In Season Seven, when Kennedy asks Willow when she figured out she was interested in women, and Willow says, "Three years ago. That's when I knew. And it wasn't women, it was woman. Just one." So Willow has had a maximum of six weeks (and maybe less) to wrestle with a new sexual orientation--that can a deeply emotional thing to deal with for a lot of people. I think expecting her to come out six weeks after she realizes that she's gay and two months after she overwhelmed her friends with her emotions is an awful lot to ask of her. A lot of people I know have taken considerably longer from "first realized they were gay" to "coming out to friends and family."
posted by creepygirl at 6:02 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


So Willow has had a maximum of six weeks (and maybe less) to wrestle with a new sexual orientation--that can a deeply emotional thing to deal with for a lot of people. I think expecting her to come out six weeks after she realizes that she's gay and two months after she overwhelmed her friends with her emotions is an awful lot to ask of her. A lot of people I know have taken considerably longer from "first realized they were gay" to "coming out to friends and family."

Oh to be clear, I'm absolutely not claiming that Willow is acting poorly here at all! She should absolutely take the time to work out what her feelings are before telling here friends. But one of the key parts of the split between Willow and Buffy (such as it is) is that they keep things from each other; for perfectly good reasons, certainly but that necessarily creates barriers.

Yeah I think we're meant to suppose that the first time they have sex is maybe in the Faith arc, as the spell they do "is a level they haven't gone to" or something along those lines, but eh it's all very confusing. By that I mean that in this show (and many others) relationships tend to go from cool to hot very quickly. That is a couple will date for a while, kiss a bit, and then the next step will be sex with no in between steps which might happen. I guess maybe Willow and Oz do some stuff before they go all the way, (and I guess maybe it's implied that Cordelia and Xander do too?). I mean, it's not like I really need to know the details of character's sex lives, it's just a wee bit confusing.

[Also the whole sex or nothing thing is almost necessary to maintain the fiction that Angel and Buffy can't be together. Like, without being indelicate, there are other things you can do, right? Or would they produce a moment of happiness? As I think someone's suggested, just punch him in the face at the point of orgasm to get rid of that moment?]
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2015


I think it's pretty clear from what happens later on with Darla that Angel's moment of perfect happiness wasn't the orgasm, wasn't even the sex. It was the afterglow. It was falling asleep next to his naked lover and feeling totally at peace. That's why he got his soul back while Buffy was sleeping, not mid-thrust.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:16 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was falling asleep next to his naked lover and feeling totally at peace. That's why he got his soul back while Buffy was sleeping, not mid-thrust.

Yeah, so just, you know, don't sleep next to him afterwards? I dunno. Or maybe just buy lots of orbs of thessela and have Willow on call every time you've had really great loving sex? Would, like, other acts be just as fulfilling? I mean it is probably best the show left this unexplored....
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:07 AM on September 4, 2015


I think it would be easier, rather than trying to engineer some solution like this, to instead look at the situation as a metaphor for a critically flawed relationship that it is painful to leave behind but which is better for everyone. Maybe that's not a message that works well for a young audience; it wasn't until I was into my 30s that I realized that it was the almosts that were so much more painful than the ones that weren't right from go.
posted by phearlez at 2:19 PM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think phearlez has it, but I also think that just not sleeping next to each other or that trying to punch him in the face during sex (damn, that's nasty!) probably won't prevent him from turning evil. The point is that consummating the love he feels for Buffy makes him feel totally happy. Even if he ran home right after performing the deed or he got a punch in the face, it's not unlikely that he'd soon be back to being happy that he was with Buffy. He needs to maintain a certain level of broody angst at all times!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:44 PM on September 4, 2015


Going back to Willow/Tara, one of the things that I really like about this episode is magic as a metaphor for sex, as misfish points out. This is part of why it is so extremely irritating when later on in S6 magic becomes a metaphor for drug abuse. I mean, sure, you could do a parallel metaphor with being in love akin to drug-induced euphoria (it can certainly feel that way), but it doesn't seem to be a sexy thing anymore for Willow by that point. And also it just reminds me of my parents, after I came out to them, thinking that somehow because I wasn't straight it meant I was also a drug addict. Do not understand that logic even now.

Anyhow. I do think Tara makes a mistake with the whole insecurity/doubt over whether she is a demon. There. Tara is not perfect! But none of the characters is perfect and Tara's offences are, to me, fairly minor compared to some of the others'.

Given I am now the age Giles is meant to be in this episode, his hurt does rather resonate. And also yes, very confusing. As interesting as the gang is, they are basically teenagers. It may say a lot about my social life but I don't personally even know any teenagers, let along try to hang out with them or feel rejected that they don't want to hang out with me. He really does need some grown-up friends.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:59 AM on September 5, 2015


I think the symbolism of magic in the show evolves over time, even changing episode by episode. At this point magic is pretty clearly a sex metaphor, and that comes up again all the way into season six. (Remember the orgasm-levitation in Once More with Feeling?) But from the beginning Willow's magic isn't just a sex thing. In the very early days of her magic use it's already depicted as a strange, powerful thing that she struggles to control. Over the course of the series magic is drugs, it's sex, it's pleasure, it's power. Sometimes it's all of those things at once!

I suppose you could say that magic is always a drug metaphor in the show, but that in these early days the drug use is positive. It's like Willow and Tara are smoking pot or doing acid and having these amazing, mind-altering trips together. It's a bit risky sometimes, but mostly it's great. Later on the drug use becomes a bad habit, then a dangerous addiction. Willow screws up her life and goes cold turkey for a while, but eventually she decides that she's strong enough to do certain benign drugs and stay away from the bad stuff, no matter how tempting it may be. She's like a hippie who swears off heroin but continues to smoke pot.

That is, if you regard the magic as exclusively symbolizing drugs, which I don't. It makes me wonder if part of the reason people got so upset with the magic addiction storyline later was because they had it in their minds that magic = sex and they felt like the show was shaming Willow for enjoying herself. To me it made perfect sense that you could get addicted to something awesome and empowering and transformative like magic. We can get addicted to anything we enjoy, so a magic addiction could certainly happen.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:14 AM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always found the changing magic metaphor one of the most deeply flawed aspects of the show.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2015


Yeah, so just, you know, don't sleep next to him afterwards?

Angel's "perfect happiness" curse has long struck me as a metaphor for addiction as well -- every addict has had that moment where they think, Yeah, booze/drugs/sex fucked my life up last time, but if I just moderate my intake and do it under precisely controlled conditions, then everything will be great! Flash forward two weeks: Things aren't great.
posted by Etrigan at 2:56 PM on September 6, 2015


I think it would be easier, rather than trying to engineer some solution like this, to instead look at the situation as a metaphor for a critically flawed relationship that it is painful to leave behind but which is better for everyone.

You're not wrong, and in the context of Buffy it was fine, it's just when he gets his own show and the show feels the need to explore it that it starts to be a problem. As I've said before, the show can sometimes struggle under the weight of metaphors made literal, because for story telling viewers need things to have relatively logical consequences so that they can follow the plot.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:55 PM on September 6, 2015


Oh, and on magic, I think magic has always been power and actually in 6 it is mostly power that Willow becomes addicted to, if you ignore the pretty terrible Smashed (or is it Wrecked. One of those) where it just becomes drugs. The Willow in the final three episodes is clearly not drunk on drugs, after all.

The complication is that in 4 of course it becomes a way for the show to let Willow and Tara have a sexual relationship without explicitly saying that they are doing so. But by 5 it's pretty much dropped magic=sex. Still, this cross metaphorring got them into trouble with the conclusion to 6, as some in the gay community were quite upset that apparently the thing that made Willow evil was her being gay. Obviously this wasn't the intention, but it wasn't impossible to read things that way, and some did. This is all from my extended reading on the subject by the way, and I don't want to speak for the gay community here, not being a member myself.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:59 PM on September 6, 2015


DEMON GILES: You can understand me?!
SPIKE: (checking character sheet) Oh lookie there, I know Fyarl!
posted by Navelgazer at 3:18 PM on September 22, 2018


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