‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: "Triangle"

30Mar09

Jane Espenson and I have a complex relationship. On the one hand, she wrote “Band Candy,” “Earshot,” and “Superstar.” On the other hand, there’s “Doublemeat Palace.”

And “Triangle” joins “Him” on the Just Godawful list. I mean, this episode offends me.

“Triangle” attempts to soften Anya around the edges a little, but in order to make Anya sympathetic, Willow has to act like a callous shrew. Granted, Willow is not at her most likable during the first part of season five, but I find her behavior in this episode wildly uncharacteristic. She has expressed antagonism toward Anya in the past but never to this extent. And stealing ingredients from Giles? First, I have a very hard time believing Willow would do that, and second, I think that Anya would have had ample time to observe whether Giles occasionally lets Willow use inventory for free, so their argument over the ingredients seems contrived.

Emma Caulfield and Alyson Hannigan are — or at least were — good friends, and it’s obvious that they are having a lot of fun working together. And while both of them do some nice comedic acting, Willow and Anya’s bickering wears thin very quickly. But I do actually kind of like the suggested root of Willow and Anya’s antagonism toward each other, namely that Willow fears Anya might hurt Xander and Anya feels a little threatened by Xander and Willow’s history. That final argument about Xander does drag on a bit, but it feels like more old-school Buffy with a potentially sentimental moment undercut by the fact that Willow and Anya are yelling at each other and just as they reach an understanding a troll breaks down a door. However, if the writers were going to reach back to season three for the Willow/Xander stuff, couldn’t they have pulled out some “Doppelgangland” baggage too? I mean, Willow does punch Anya for using her and joining forces with her evil alter ego to try to kill people in that episode.

I also cringe at Olaf’s ultimatum to Xander. In an episode when, for the first time ever, Xander feels like he has to choose sides between his best friend and his girlfriend, he’s actually asked to pick between the two women? Boring, obvious, and derivative.

While Willow and Anya’s quibbling annoys instead of amuses, the episode’s failure is only compounded by Buffy’s “I have to keep Anya and Xander together because my needy, insecure boyfriend just left me” subplot. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a pretty decent actress most of the time, but she cannot funny cry or fake laugh. Her attempts here to weep humorously are agonizing, killing any entertainment potential that story might have contained. And though I didn’t really take offense at first, subsequent viewings have made me increasingly offended by this subplot’s conclusion. Buffy blubbers about seeing Xander and Anya “good and alive and together” while completely ignoring Willow and Tara, who are also good and alive and together and standing right next to them. I know that Buffy has focused on Xander and Anya throughout the episode because she thought that they might be breaking up. But seeing as though their relationship was never in real jeopardy, her not recognizing Willow and Tara’s good, alive togetherness suggests that Buffy (and the show) doesn’t see the same sex couple as a real couple.

Spike trying to prove himself to Buffy is the only consistently amusing piece of this episode that’s trying really hard to be a hour-long sitcom. I love his hopeful approach to Buffy when she arrives at The Bronze and his inability to understand why not feeding off accident victims doesn’t win him any points with her. “What does it take?” And Anya does get some good lines when she is taunting Olaf. “Your roar is less than full-throated!”

I have trouble laughing at Olaf’s dialogue that suggests the devouring of infants and raping of women. I’m just too much of a humorless feminist, I guess. The gratuitous destruction does not enamor me of this episode either. As I said before, excessive wreckage makes me twitchy.

I do like that Tara interacts with members of the group who aren’t Willow on more of an individual basis. She has two whole scenes alone with Buffy, and I always smile when Xander amends his “two favorite girls” comment to include Tara. But Willow and Tara’s dynamic frustrates me. Tara’s “I said ‘quirky'” bit nicely hints at intimacy, but Buffy and Xander get more play from Tara and Willow respectively than the women give each other. Their “reunion” at The Bronze feels particularly awkward. Sure, Willow didn’t know that Tara was worried about her, but she barely acknowledges Tara when she arrives with Buffy. So Tara is left staring at her girlfriend as if she wants to say something or to touch her but cannot because she has been inexplicably forbidden. It’s ridiculous and uncomfortable and wouldn’t have happened if they were a straight couple.

To compensate for Willow and Tara’s lack of touching, Espenson includes two “Willow is gay” comments. The “Hello, gay now” statement annoys me because it oversimplifies gay identity, which the show never dealt with very well when Willow first came out. Also I hope that Willow wouldn’t break up Xander and Anya because, you know, she is committed to her relationship with Tara and learned from past experiences. I know that Espenson is going for a joke, but like most of Willow’s remarks in this episode the “gay now” comment comes across as too glib and facile. The second “Willow is gay” comment delivered by Anya puzzles me a bit. I like Alyson Hannigan’s nod and accompanying “Yep, it’s really true because they keep having me say it” look, but I can’t decipher the meaning of Xander’s reaction. He looks almost depressed by her confirmation of her gayness. Maybe it’s just the broken hand.

As a retrospective nitpick, how is it that Xander is hit repeatedly with Olaf’s hammer and suffers only the broken hand while Buffy uses the hammer to pummel Glory in “The Gift”? Also, the blond curl sticking out from the nun’s veil in the teaser looks absolutely ridiculous. If they really wanted to go for that extremely pointless mislead, the costume department should have used a postulant’s wimple (think Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music), which doesn’t cover as much of the head as the veil does. And Buffy looks like an idiot when she hastily throws away her stake after killing the vampire in the nunnery. The nun just saw a man turn to dust and explode and Buffy thinks a piece of wood is incriminating?

Unlike “Him” I cannot entirely dismiss this story concept, which could have been entertaining if the bickering had been characterized differently and no one had made SMG try to funny cry. Oh, wait. They made that episode already.

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