It’s been too long since I last visited the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer so I took the first of what will be many trips back there for this week’s Episode Spotlight.
Plot: The Gentleman come to Sunnydale and steal everyone’s voice.
Significance: This episode largely works as a stand-alone episode, but a few things happen in relation to the season arc and a few relationships.
As far as the arc goes, this is the episode Riley and Buffy find out that the other is keeping some fairly significant information from them. They don’t reveal what the secret is until the next episode, but they see that the other isn’t who they thought they were.
This episode also moves things along with all three of the romantic relationships going on. Buffy and Riley share their first kiss, Anya begins to trust in Xander’s feelings for her, and Willow and Tara perform magic together for the first time.
Lasting Impressions: This really is a fantastic episode. I really could just end this post here and you’d have all the information you needed to know. It’s just a really good episode of television that stands up to both time and rewatches.
First, this episode is extremely enjoyable to watch strictly for pleasure. Anya being Anya and horrifying Giles with her bluntness will always make me smile. Willow writing “hi Giles” on her dry erase board and the hug that follows it is heartwarming. Xander and Spike have a wonderfully antagonistic relationship and their bickering is often welcome.
Second, it’s brilliantly constructed. Nearly ⅔ of the episode takes place without any spoken communication but it doesn’t feel like an obtrusive gimmick. Whedon is so known for his dialogue and use of language in this show but even without it, everything about the episode works for me.
In many ways, it reminds me a lot of Once More With Feeling. Both deal with difficulties with communication, whether it is the physically inability to communicate or keeping things bottled up because speaking them aloud would be too difficult. Both are unusually structured episodes without sacrificing plot movement or character development. And both are fan favorites for those reasons, I suspect.
What I noticed the most during this watch was how all three of the romantic couples are having a hard time communicating their feelings for various reasons that were able to be overcome by taking away the ability to speak. Buffy and Riley are each feeling stuck and unable to get past the constant lies they are forced to tell each other, but the kiss allowed their feelings to be clear without the lies and babbling getting in the way. It was also a good choice to not actually have the discussion about their secret lives in this episode, rather allowing their actions while defeating The Gentleman to speak for themselves.
Xander is finding that words are lacking when it comes to expressing his feelings for Anya. She isn’t trusting that he truly cares about her and isn’t just using her for orgasms. By watching Xander jump to her defense and attack Spike when he erroneously thought he had killed her, she was able to see and trust in his true feelings.
Tara is painfully shy and withdrawn early on in her run. She desperately wants to communicate with others but her stutter keeps her quiet. You can see her connection to Willow early on, not only as a person but as a fellow witch. Magic will continue to be a recurring symbol of their romantic relationship as it progresses and their combined power is amazing to watch for the first time. It’s a reminder of simpler times for these two before the magic that brought them together drove them apart.
This is what I enjoy about rewatching an episode once I have the context of the whole series ahead of it. You get to notice things that were just a piece of the story at the time and hard to see how it may fit into the larger puzzle. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on how the lack of speaking was used to tell the story rather than be entranced by the fact that it was happening at all. It made my viewing experience and impressions of the episode even richer and I’m glad I took the time to do it.
In a final and mostly unrelated observation, this is the third time I have seen the episode and The Gentleman only continue to get creepier. Their appearance, especially their unfading smiles, is incredibly unsettling as is the way they float along so smoothly. For some reason that I cannot entirely identify, their lumbering demonic aids got Grim Grinning Ghosts from the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland (and my favorite Disney sing-a-long) stuck in my head which was distracting but somehow seemed to fit.