Sunday, September 11, 2011

Classics: BtVS 5:21 - The Weight of the World

Overall Rating: 9.5

This is a disturbing and fascinating exploration of Buffy's (and Ben's) conscience and the price one must pay to be virtuous...the price the other foolishly eschews.

Plot Synopsis:

The (badly formatted - sorry) description of this episode may be found here, courtesy of

The Skinny:

I'm certain I'm not the only person who has reviewed this episode and chosen to understand it as a direct comparison between a well-meaning person who is nonetheless selfish and thus chooses evil over good and a well-meaning person who acts selfishly for a time and then chooses to be an agent for good, no matter the personal cost.  With some episodes, there aren't a whole bunch of novel ways to achieve personal understanding.  That is obviously what the writers were intending here - to compare Ben with Buffy and make a statement about self-involvement and its great capacity toward evil.  There is an entire branch of modern psychology that preaches navel-gazing and internal analysis - the self is placed at the top of the priority list when one is unwell (under the theory that you can't succeed in the wider world without loving yourself first).  I think it's fair to say that Joss Whedon and company reject this notion and embrace, instead, the Christian (yes I said Christian) idea that healing comes when we focus on the world at large and direct our energies toward making a positive contribution.  That we begin to love ourselves when we love others.

Buffy begins the episode trapped inside her own mind - forever reliving a moment in which she believes she failed, bringing about the death of her sister.  While this is a natural reaction to the pain of failure and of personal loss, it is doubtlessly selfish.  It's a lot easier to pity oneself - to cry "woe is me!  I am worth nothing!" - than to actually work to change that impression.  Willow experiences a terrifying loop in which Buffy murders her sister over and over again - all leading to the conclusion that, as she so colorfully puts it, Buffy must "snap out of it."  "Hello!  Dawn...not dead yet!"  The reality is that the whole of season five is about Buffy's losses and we can all understand why those mounting losses would take their toll on her psyche.  But wallowing in self-pity or self-loathing won't make it better...and Willow - being Buffy's best friend - does the right thing and forces Buffy to deal with the pain and to move on.

On the other hand, Ben is all too easily swayed to a evil act with promises that acting for good will cause him great loss (he will cease to exist), whereas acting in an evil manner will bring him eternal life and comfort.  He takes what is presented to him as the easy path - he'll wind up hating himself for it in the end, and paying for his mistakes with his life.  Glory's pontification regarding the mass of men leading lives of loud and destructive desperation is the very way of thinking that powers Bohemian (read: selfish laziness and promiscuity as a lifestyle) culture, the hippie movement, Marxism (read Karl Marx' writing...he hates people more than almost anyone else in literary history...including himself), Wahhabi Islam and just about anything else you can imagine that has led to untold suffering and death.  And Ben - though he is a nice guy on the surface, falls for it.  You see...if the world is full of pain and suffering, then the only virtue is personal fulfillment and joy.  Because what good does it do you or anyone else to try to work for some greater good when it doesn't exist?

And of course...what Glory says isn't even true.  When she dares Dawn to think of one person who loves their life and will endure suffering to keep on living, Dawn calmly and without hesitation names her sister.  At the time, Buffy is struggling, but Dawn is absolutely right.  Buffy sees the good in the world and loves with all of her heart...and even after everything she's been through this year, she can still find the desire in her soul to keep on fighting for the greater good.  And she is hardly alone.

Writing: 9.5

I thought the argument between Ben and Glory was a little rushed.  He went from claiming not to believe anything Glory said to simply saying "I believe you..." when Glory promised she would keep him alive in her hellish dimension and set him up really a matter of seconds.  Apart from that bit of hand-waving, the script is without major flaws.

Acting: 9.0

I'm sorry to say...the guy playing Ben just does not carry it very well...yet again.  I'm so glad he didn't turn into a love interest for would have been Marc Blucas all over again.

Message: 10.0

It's all discussed above...and I think it's a winning combination of plots to tell the story needed.


SPIKE: Now, uh, don't turn me into a horned toad for asking, but ... what if we come across Ben? (shot of the others listening)
WILLOW: I-I don't think a doctor's what Buffy needs right now.
SPIKE: Well, yeah, especially not one who also happens to be Glory. (Everyone looks confused)
GILES: What do you mean?
SPIKE: You know. Ben is Glory.
WILLOW: (frowns) You mean ... Ben's with Glory?
XANDER: "With" in what sense?
ANYA: They're working together?
SPIKE: No. No. Ben is Glory. Glory's Ben. They're one and the same.
Beat. Everyone looks completely confused (except Tara who still looks blank).
ANYA: When did all this happen?
SPIKE: Not one hour ago! Right here, before your very eyes! Ben came, he turned into Glory, snatched the kid, and pfft! Vanished, remember?
They continue to stare at him.
SPIKE: (uncertainly) You do remember...? (squints at them) Is everyone here very stoned? (getting annoyed) Ben! Glory! He's a doctor, she's the beast. Two entirely separate entities sharing one body. Like a bloody sitcom. Surely you remember.
XANDER: So you're saying ... Ben and Glory...
ANYA: Have a connection.
GILES: Yes, obviously, but what kind?
SPIKE: (laughs sarcastically) Oh, I get it. That's very crafty. (nods) Glory's worked the kind of mojo where anyone who sees her little presto-change-o instantly forgets. And yours truly, being somewhat other than human ... stands immune.
WILLOW: (frowning) So ... Ben and Glory ... are-are the same person?
XANDER: (slowly, like a revelation) Glory can turn into Ben, and Ben turns back into Glory.
ANYA: And anyone who sees it instantly forgets.
SPIKE: (sighs in relief) Kewpie doll for the lady. (He puts one finger on his nose and points the other hand at Anya)
GILES: Excellent. (looks around at them) Now. Do we suspect there may be some kind of connection between Ben and Glory?

GLORY: Pillow? (looks around) I don't know if this thing gets cable. Doubtful.
DAWN: (crying) Please. Stop.
GLORY: You nervous?
DAWN: (crying) Yes.
GLORY: (smiles, gets down to sit on the chair seat) I know how you feel. It is your last night. As, you know ... a human. (picks up Dawn's hand by the wrist and shakes it around) This body ... it's just a rental, Dawnie. Being human? It's like a costume for girls like you and me. Being something else, *that's* what we are.
DAWN: (firmly) Don't.
GLORY: (smiling) What?
DAWN: Don't call me Dawnie. (oh snap!)

YOUNG BUFFY: Doesn't she look funny? Like a wrinkly old grandpa. (Young Buffy turns back to Joyce. Joyce gently puts the baby in Young Buffy's arms.)
JOYCE: Like this ... okay, support the head ... there you go! We're calling her Dawn.
WILLOW: (softly) Dawn.
YOUNG BUFFY: (smiling) I ... I could be the one to look after her sometimes ... if you need a helper. (Joyce smiling at the baby) Mom? Can I take care of her?
JOYCE: (smiling, stroking Young Buffy's hair) Yes, Buffy, you can take care of her.

SPIKE: Found Ben's room at Glory's. Didn't learn much.
XANDER: Wait, wait, wait. Ben? At Glory's? (Spike rolls his eyes) You're saying all this time he's been subletting from her?
SPIKE: This ... is gonna be worth it. (Spike bitch-slaps Xander upside the head.)
Cut to the front again. They both stumble, use each other to regain their balance, and continue walking.
SPIKE: Last time. From the top.

GLORY: I mean really. Is this what the poets go on about, this? (thumps her chest, shakes her head, sighs) Call me crazy, but as hard-core drugs go, human emotion is just useless! People are puppets! Everyone getting jerked around by what they're feelin'. Am I wrong? (looks at Dawn) Really, I want to know.
Shot of Dawn leaning against the pillar, looking at the floor.
GLORY: Gonna bleed you either way.
DAWN: (opens her eyes, looks at Glory) Depends on the person.
GLORY: So you're saying some people like this.
DAWN: (defensively) Some.
GLORY: Funny. 'Cause I look around at this world you're so eager to be a part of ... and all I see is six billion lunatics looking for the fastest ride out. (smiles) Who's not crazy? Look around. Everyone's drinking, smoking, shooting up ... shooting each other, or just plain screwing their brains out 'cause they don't want 'em anymore. (looks at Dawn) *I'm* crazy? Honey, I'm the original one-eyed chicklet in the kingdom of the blind. (sighs) 'Cause at least I admit the world makes me nuts.  Name one person who can take it here. That's all I'm asking. (in Dawn's face) Name one.
DAWN: (firmly) Buffy.

BUFFY #2: It's what I do. (Shot of Dawn lying on the bed. She breathes slowly and seems to be crying.) I mean, come on, you've known me ... for how long? It's what I'm here for. It's all I am.
  - Buffy turns to look at Dawn again. Then she picks up a pillow from beside Dawn and puts it over Dawn's face. Dawn begins to struggle, with muffled noises of protest.
WILLOW: Buffy, stop! No!
  - Buffy looks very calm as she holds the pillow in place. Dawn's arms and legs wave in the air ineffectively.
WILLOW: God, no!
BUFFY #2: (turns to Willow, still holding the pillow down) What? (Dawn's struggling slows) I keep telling you, Will. I-I figured it out. Death is my gift. (Dawn stops struggling. Her arms and legs fall limply onto the bed. Willow stares in horror.) - (DUDE!!)

WILLOW: What happened here?
Shot of Buffy #2 watching.
BUFFY #1: (not turning) This was when I quit, Will.
Shot of Willow standing beside Buffy #2, both staring at Buffy #1.
WILLOW: You did?
BUFFY #2: Just for a second.
Shot of Willow and Buffy sitting in the darkened bedroom.
Cut back to the magic shop.
BUFFY #1: (facing Willow) I was in the magic shop.
BUFFY #2: I put a book back for Giles.
BUFFY #1: Nothing special about it. And then it hit me.
WILLOW: What hit you?
BUFFY #2: I can't beat Glory.
BUFFY #1: Glory's going to win.
WILLOW: (turns to Buffy #2) You can't know that.
BUFFY #2: (turns to Willow) I didn't just know it.
BUFFY #1: (staring at nothing) I felt it. Glory will beat me.
BUFFY #2: (looks away) And in that second of knowing it, Will...
BUFFY #1: I wanted it to happen.
BUFFY #1: I wanted it over. This is ... all of this ... it's too much for me.
BUFFY #2: (staring at nothing) I just wanted it over.
BUFFY #1: If Glory wins ... then Dawn dies.
BUFFY #2: And I would grieve. People would feel sorry for me. (looks at Willow) But it would be over. (looks away) And I imagined what a relief it would be.
BUFFY #2: I killed Dawn.
Willow frowns, looks at Buffy #2.
WILLOW: Is that what you think?
Shot of the "real" Buffy sitting blankly in the bedroom.
BUFFY VOICEOVER: My thinking it made it happen.
  - Cut back to the magic shop.
BUFFY #1: Some part of me wanted it. And in the moment Glory took Dawn...
BUFFY #2: I know I could have done something better. But I didn't. I was off by some fraction of a second.
BUFFY #1: And this is why...
BUFFY #2: ...I killed my sister.
WILLOW: I think Spike was right back at the gas station. (loudly) Snap out of it!
Buffy #2 looks at Willow in surprise. Buffy #1 whirls away from the bookcase.
BUFFY #1: What?
BUFFY #2: What?
WILLOW: All this ... it has a name. It's called guilt. (the two Buffys exchange a look) It's a feeling, and it's important. (to Buffy #2) But it's not more than that, Buffy. (glances at Buffy #1) Buffys.
WILLOW: You've carried the weight of the world on your shoulders since high school. And I, I know you didn't ask for this, but ... you do it every day. And so, you wanted out for one second. So what?
BUFFY #2: (pensive) I got Dawn killed.
WILLOW: Hello! Your sister, not dead yet! But she will be if you stay locked inside here and never come back to us.
BUFFY #2: (looking at Buffy #1) But what if I can't?
WILLOW: Then I guess you're right. And you did kill your sister.
 - Willow turns and starts walking toward the magic shop entrance. Buffy #2 turns to her in alarm.
BUFFY #2: Wait!
 - Shot of Willow and Buffy sitting in the bedroom.
BUFFY VOICEOVER: Where are you going?
 - Cut back to magic shop. Willow turns back.
WILLOW: Where you're needed. Are you coming? 

No comments:

Post a Comment