Thursday, 22 December 2011

Vegetarian Christmas

As a veggie*, I've been served quite a wide variety of things as substitutes for Christmas dinner. If you're having veggie (or vegan) guests to dinner this year, why not follow my handy guide to a meat-free festive dining experience? Also includes the best gravy ever - developed with a friend of mine. 

Let's cook!

You will need:
1 roasting tin, at least 2 inches** deep
1 steamer with two tubs, or 2 medium pans
1 baking tray
1 medium frying pan
1 large pan
1 medium pan
1 small pan
Wooden spoon

Potatoes - 2 medium or 1 large per person, or more depending on your portion preference
Carrots - about 2 per person
Parsnips - 2 per person
Cabbage - 1 will serve 4-6
Brussels sprouts - 4 or 5 per person
Yorkshire puddings - 2 per person. I think making the freaking dinner is enough without making these from scratch, so I buy frozen
1 medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic
Vegetarian stuffing mix
Quorn streaky strips - veggie version of bacon, known as facon (FAKE-un, rhymes with bacon) in my circle. You'll need about 1 strip per person
Veggie redcurrant jelly
Veggie gravy granules
Quorn family roast - 1 will serve about 4, depending on how many slices people want
Red wine
Vegetable oil
Margarine (check this is vegan-friendly if you're cooking for a vegan!)

How do I know it's vegetarian/vegan?
A quick note before we begin: a lot of people get confused about what is and is not vegan or vegetarian. A handy way to check - if it doesn't specifically say it's suitable for vegetarians or vegans on the packet, then it probably isn't. Don't risk it. I'm a stickler for only having veggie cheese*** and vegans in particular tend to be committed to only eating vegan-friendly products. Veggie/vegan wine can be bought from sites like Veggie Wines; products like Quorn or own-brand vegetarian lines will state whether they are suitable for vegans as well as veggies; and it should say on the packet whether the food you're buying is vegan or veggie. Honey is never vegan - don't include this if you're cooking for a vegan. If in doubt, ask your veggie/vegan guest! Most of us have an encyclopaedic knowledge of what is and is not veggie/vegan friendly and we can always help you check.

Preparation is the key! It helps to have everything peeled, sliced and diced before you begin to cook. Peel the carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Cut the parsnips into strips; chop the carrots into rough circles; and chop the potatoes into quarters. Take the top couple leaves off the Brussels sprouts, wash them, cut off the stalk section and carve a little cross into the bottom with a sharp knife. Peel and finely chop the garlic; peel and roughly dice the onion. If cooking for two, save half the onion to use another day.

Put the potatoes into the medium pan, cover them with water, add a pinch of salt and boil them. While the potatoes are coming to the boil, set your oven to 220 degrees. Take the roasting tin and pour in the oil to a depth of about half an inch. If you're feeling generous, olive oil tastes great but vegetable or sunflower oil will do too. Carefully put the roasting tin of oil in the oven to heat.

While the potatoes are boiling, put the carrots in the steamer or boil them in one of the medium pans. You want them soft, so they can be left on the boil for a while.

After about 10-15 minutes, check the potatoes. You want them par-boiled, so you should be able to easily stick a fork in them no more than halfway before hitting resistance. When they're par-boiled, drain the water into a medium pan and use the fork to mess up the edges of the potatoes, so they look a bit fluffy. Carefully take the tray of hot oil out of the oven - I cannot stress this enough, the oil will be hot so you need to exercise a lot of caution. Put the potatoes into the oil - it will probably spit, so careful. Seriously. Put the roasting tin of potatoes in oil back in the oven on a middle shelf. Put the Quorn family roast on the baking tray and put that on the top shelf.

Leave for 5 minutes, then put the cabbage and Brussels sprouts into the top of the steamer, or boil them together in another medium pan. Steam/boil the cabbage and sprouts for 5-10 minutes, depending on how soft you want them.

Take the baking tray out of the over and put the parsnip slices on along with the roast. Drizzle honey over the parsnips. If you're cooking for a vegan, drizzle them some olive oil over them instead. Alternately, cut the parsnips into circles and boil them up with the carrots! If you are roasting the parsnips, pop them into the oven at this point.

Turn the potatoes in the oil - carefully.

Heat up some oil in the frying pan. Cut the facon into rough squares. Take the sprouts and cabbage off the heat - drain them if you've boiled them, again saving the water - add it to the water you've already got from draining the potatoes. Separate the sprouts and put the cabbage somewhere to keep warm. Add the sprouts, facon and garlic to the frying pan. Keep the mixture moving as much as possible; cook on a medium flame until the facon and garlic being to brown and the sprouts start crisping up. 

In the small pan, heat some more oil and fry up the chopped onion over a medium/high flame. Once the onion starts to brown, add it to the water you've saved from cooking the veg. Put the pan on a low to medium flame and heat. Drop in a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly, add a generous splash of red wine (about 1 pub measure for enough gravy for 2-4 people) and add the gravy granules - mix in a tablespoonful at a time until you get the desired thickness, then stir occasionally.

Mix the stuffing according to the packet - I follow the microwave option and it still tastes great! You'll need to cook the Yorkshire puddings about now, too; they generally take about 4 minutes to cook. You can pop them on the same tray as the veggie roast and parsnips.

Take the carrots out of the steamer/off the boil and put them in the pan you fried the onions in. Add a knob of margarine and mash them up. If you chose to boil the parsnips, you can mash them in with the carrots. Use a hand blender, masher or even a fork and smash 'em up until you're happy with the result. Add a small pinch of salt.

Turn off the oven, take the roast out and set it aside for a few minutes whilst you plate up everything else. Carve the roast last. All told, the roast takes 45-50 minutes to cook, the potatoes will need about 45 minutes in the oven, parsnips have 20 minutes in the oven, carrots take 20-30 minutes to boil soft, cabbage boiled for 5-10 minutes with the sprouts, then the sprouts should be fried for around 5-10 minutes, gravy takes 5 minutes, Yorkshires about 4 and stuffing usually 5 minutes standing, 2 minutes in the microwave.


My masterpiece.

*I'm actually pescetarian, which means I eat fish, but as no one ever knows what that is until I launch into a lengthy explanation I tend to just say "veggie" for brevity's sake.

**I don't often go metric.

**You read right - a lot of cheese isn't vegetarian. It's hardened with rennet, which is made from animal stomach. Parmesan cheese in particular is made from rennet and is literally never vegetarian, which has led to my on-going battle with restaurants that list Caesar salad as vegetarian - a dish covered in Parmesan cheese and featuring a sauce that includes anchovies, a fish. Sometimes I despair of people.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

"We're working on plans for world domination. The key element? Coffee makers that think."

As promised in my last Buffy post, this time around Flowri and I focused on one particular episode - season four's 'Restless'. Rather than go through the good, the bad and the ugly, we'll go through the details of the episode.

'Restless' - First Aired 2000

This episode goes straight into the titles then has some general end-of-season filler at the start, so there aren't any credits over the dream-scenes. The dreams begin with Willow, immediately after the break where the first ad would have been in its original television airing.

Both Flowri and I noted the greatness of the music in this episode - it really is stand-out fantastic, adding such a powerful extra dimension to the episode as a whole. 


Willow's dream opens with her writing in ink onto Tara's naked back. It's Greek and is from Sappho. I'm going to go ahead and presume you don't need me to elaborate on the meaning of that. They talk about their cat and how she doesn't have a name yet - naming and identity are issues that crop up multiple times in this episode. Willow says that the cat isn't grown, that she'll tell them her name in time - in other words, you need to mature to know who you really are. This is something Buffy tells Angel in season seven, that she's not finished becoming the woman she's going to be; the gang are still in college at this point and just beginning to establish their adult identities. Tara says that Willow doesn't "know everything about [her]", which we thought could be Willow's subconscious prompting her that Tara is hiding something. Neat season, we discover that Tara has believed herself to be part demon and this has lead her to interfere with some of the spells Willow has been trying, in an attempt to hide this from Willow. 

Outside their room is a desert scene, with "something" out there - Willow sees this as a threatening landscape, something to worry about. The scene is very wild, echoes the savannah - it's the same landscape used in season seven, to show where the Slayer was first made and it's where Buffy goes in season five to find her spirit guide and connect with the First Slayer. That Willow is worried by this landscape is important, as we'll explain later.

Her dream moves on and Willow is trying to find her way to drama class. There's something very universal about this - who hasn't had a dream where they're late or lost? It's a pretty standard human anxiety. Willow runs into Xander and Oz in the halls of the college, which shows that Oz is still on her mind, in her thoughts. Oz says "I've been here forever"; him and their relationship has shaped Willow and will always be a part of her. Everyone keeps commenting that Willow is "in costume already"; as I touched on in my season four write up, Willow has been trying on a new identity in college, trying to put her dorky high school persona behind her. The nature of her dream clearly shows the depth of Willow's anxiety about this; she's trying to be cool but fears that people see it as an act, a costume, that beneath it all she's still the same. There's also the echo of 'Nightmares' in season one, in which Willow's worst nightmare is based on stage fright. 

Riley is "Cowboy Guy", which reflects how Willow's subconscious sees him - he's a "corn-fed Iowa boy", an old-fashioned hero and good guy.

There's repeated reference to Willow hiding, lying, being "in character already" - she's not confident in herself and her new identity. She then moves to what we referred to as the "vagina corridor" - it's a long corridor of red curtains. I think that kind of speaks for itself.

Flowri wondered if Tara is a bit of a spirit guide for the gang in these dreams; she's seen as spiritual, ethereal; the subconscious interpretation of a goddess/voice of the gods. Willow asks "is there something after me?" and Tara warns her that there is. Willow is also warned that the others will see her "real" self - Willow is afraid of being seen as a nerd, but is eventually exposed as an addict.

Willow is then attacked by the "something" that is hunting her and is rescued by Buffy. Buffy is very predatory here, stalking along. She leads Willow into one of their old high school classrooms and then tells Willow to "take [her] costume off"; Willow says that she "needs it" - she's reliant on the clothes to show the cool new college identity she's trying to portray. Later in the show it will be magic that Willow becomes dependent on; but for now, it's mostly the clothes that she's hiding behind. Buffy then rips the clothes off her - exposing Willow as we first met her in season one.

I have shared this fear.
Willow starts trying to read her book report, whilst Xander, Anya, Oz, Tara and Buffy look on and laugh at her. ANya says that "it's exactly like a Greek tragedy", which is a bit of an echo of season one, 'The Puppet Show', where Willow, Buffy and Xander act a scene from Oedipus. Tara and Oz are getting very flirty and close, revealing Willow's deeper insecurity - Oz left her for another woman, so perhaps Tara will cheat on her, too. Suddenly, she is attacked by the thing that has been stalking her - back in the reality of Buffy's living room, Willow starts choking for breath. We then cut to Xander's dream.


Xander's dream begins with watching Apocalypse Now, except his dream version is slightly different from the real film - again, this is very real-world dreamy, where familiar things become changed. Xander is all about the soldier theme; it's something that crops up repeatedly through the show as a whole. Sex is also a bit of a theme through Xander's dream, which is hardly surprising - although saying to Joyce "I'd like you" is actually pretty sweet.

Xander leaves the others watching the dream-version-Apocalypse-Now and goes upstairs to use the bathroom. He runs into Joyce, Buffy's mum, upstairs - she's wearing a silky red nightgown and is very flirty. Joyce warns Xander "don't get lost" - like Willow, he's also struggling with his identity and who he is, not knowing which way to turn in life. There's a fantastic moment of Xander going to use the bathroom and then realising he's being watched by scientists - the bathroom-issue being another universal dream theme.

Whilst Willow's nightmare was stage fright and exposure, Xander's real fear is his own home life - his basement room is a dark, threatening place with something threatening rattling at the door at the top of the stairs. Xander looks up at the door and says "that's not the way out" - he subconsciously knows that the way for him to escape his basement existence is not by becoming his parents. Xander leaves his basement through the downstairs door and walks into the park.

Giles and Spike are there, on the swings. They're dressed identically, in the traditional Watcher-garb that Giles wore in season one. This both foreshadows the outfit Spike wears in 'Tabula Rasa', season six, whilst also showing that Xander still sees Giles as a Watcher, a stuffy Englishman. There's also a reference to a shark on land, which is done in 'Tabula Rasa'. Giles is now teaching Spike how to be a Watcher; Xander says that he "used to be into that", as in he used to see Giles as a role model, but now he has his "own stuff going on" - he's trying to be his own man, but he doesn't really know how to be a man as he doesn't have the strongest examples - there's his father, Giles and Spike. Spike is a total juvenile, shown by his childlike-role with Giles in this scene; Xander's father is "not the way out"; and he's trying to move on from using Giles as his father-figure, getting his "own stuff".

Xander then sees Buffy playing in a sandpit and there's a beautiful shot where the camera pivots and the scene changes from sandbox to wild desert savannah. Xander is afraid of Buffy playing in there - like Willow, he is scared by this scene, but Buffy is happy there. Xander sees Buffy primal wildness, her Slayer-ness; there's also a lovely moment where Buffy calls him "big brother", which we think is Xander's subconscious finally getting that Buffy will only ever see him as a friend, never as a boyfriend. It also echoes the role Xander will take on when Dawn arrives in season five.

Xander looks up from Buffy and sees himself, serving ice cream from a van. The perspective changes to this Xander, who gets in the front, where Anya is driving. She asks him "do you know where you're going" - Xander's theme is the fear of being directionless, a fear of the future and not knowing what to do with himself and how to grow up. Anya also says that she's thinking of getting back into vengeance, which she will in season six. This, of course, is Xander's subconscious at work and we thought it showed that he still sees her as a demon and worries about her turning on him. 

We then get an hilarious snap-shot of Willow and Tara dressed sexy, inviting Xander to come in the back of the van with them.

One for the fellas. And ladies.
They begin to make out and the camera focuses on Xander's reaction, which manages to turn it from gratuitous to hilarious. Xander tries to go and join them, but on the way to the back the van changes to a tunnel he has to crawl through and then ends up back in his basement - he can never get where he's trying to go. There's also something very subtle: as Xander is crawling, on the wall behind him yo can see the word "sheep". For those of you not as scarily observant as me, this is twofold: one is obvious, Xander feels that he's just a sheep, a follower, not setting his own path but just blithely following the others; second is much less obvious. In 'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered' in season two, we see Xander's bedroom and the word "sheep" (same colour, same font) on his walls. There's the sense from this that Xander is stuck in his teenage identity, not moving on.

Trying again to escape from his basement, Xander finds himself on the college campus. His version of this is a very scary place; the colours are warped and threatening and it is literally foreign, with Giles and Anya beginning to speak French. Xander can't understand them; they start to pull him along and some commandos join in to help, carrying Xander between them into a scene from Apocalypse Now, where he finds Principal Snyder in the Brando role. Snyder asks him where he's from and Xander says "the basement, mostly" - try as he might, he can't get away from this. Snyder says he's "shepherded", reinforcing Xander's sense of being a sheep. He doesn't know where he's really heading and, in the dream at least, he's just following his sex urges, "trying to get away".

All roads lead Xander back to the basement and this time the door bursts open, to reveal that it's his father that has been such a scary threat, banging on the door. Xander looks so whipped here, dropping his eyes, clearly intimidated. Suddenly he, too, is attacked by the thing from Willow's dream - Xander has his heart ripped out. Cut to Giles.


Giles' dream begins with him and Buffy in Giles' empty apartment - he has no possessions, Buffy is the focus of his life. He's dressed in his tweed Watcher suit and tells her that "his is how men and women have behaved since the beginning", which hints at the origins of the Slayer we will learn more about in season seven. 

Then Giles and a pregnant Olivia are at the fair, taking a very childish Buffy on an outing. Olivia is pushing an empty pram. It's night and the fair is all vampire-themed. Giles is in a very fatherly role here, much more as he was during season three (and as he will be in season five), acting as Buffy's mentor and teacher but also in a very paternal way that is totally endearing. There's a brief cut of Giles getting Buffy to focus on his watch, echoing events of 'Helpless', season three. Giles says that this is his "business"; it's a job, a role that has taken him over, a family he did not choose. Giles also refers to the "sacrificial lamb" which foreshadows the finale of season five. We see a flash of Buffy with her face covered in clay; Giles says "I know you".

The group enter Spike's crypt; we see Olivia crying over the pram, which was fallen over - this is the life Giles could have had, with a wife and family; the life he gave up to devote himself to being a Watcher. Giles looks at her, but is distracted by Spike - vampires, demons and his duties as a Watcher always tear him away from trying to have a life and family of his own. Spike meanwhile is posing for a group of photographers; we wondered if this meant Spike was just a joke to Giles now, a harmless caricature of his old self. Giles asks what he's supposed to do with all this and Spike tells him to "make up his mind"; he needs to choose what life he wants. Tellingly, Giles walks away from Olivia and we don't see her again.

Giles walks into the Bronze, where Xander and Willow are waiting, injured from the attacks in their dream. Here Giles is dressed in casual clothing and the group call him "Rupert" - this is how Giles sees himself. Willow tells Giles that some primal, animal force is after them - these are Giles' words in their mouths, different facets of his subconscious. Even in a dream, Giles is able to figure out what's stalking them. He takes to the stage and begins singing his words, which foreshadows 'Once More, With Feeling'. Giles begins to literally follow the leads as he works it out, going backstage and finding his watch in the tangle. The watch is both a motif of Giles as Watcher and the tool he used with Buffy. The primal thing finds him and Giles says "you never had a Watcher" before she slices open his head.


Buffy is in her bed in college, with Anya whispering at her to wake up - Buffy subconscious is trying to prompt her to wake up. Buffy looks up to find the primal thing over her bed; she jerks awake and is in her bed at home. Then she's in the doorway looking at her unmade bed. "Faith and I just made that", she says, referring to her dream at the end of season three and revealing that Faith is still on her mind. This is also a reference to Dawn, who will appear in the next season; the bed has been made ready for her arrival. Tara is with Buffy in the dream and tells Buffy she needs to find the others. The clock reads 7.30 but Tara tells her it's "completely wrong" - in the dream during 'Graduation Day part 2', Faith says "counting down from seven three oh", which was a reference to the number of days left before Buffy's death (in two years. at the end of season five). As a whole year in Buffy-time has passed since then, the 7.30 is now "wrong" and it's only 365 days to go.

Tara offers Buffy the Tarot card she used during the spell to link her with Giles, Willow and Xander - Manus, the hand. Buffy refuses it; she doesn't want to be just physical, just a weapon. Tara tells her "You think you know; what you are, what's to come. You haven't event begun." Dracula will say these exact lines in the first episode of season five. Buffy says she has to find her friends and goes to leave; Tara warns her to "be back before d(D)awn", which is pretty obvious in retrospect. 

Buffy goes looking for her friends and can't catch up with them; her fear is her struggle with her identity and the Slayer part of herself, her fear that the better a Slayer she is, the less human she'll be and thus less of a friend. Buffy sees her mother, Joyce, living inside the walls of the college with "mice playing with [her] knees" - we suspected this could be a hint at Joyce's death during the next season. Buffy follows Xander up the stairs and finds herself in a very Initiative room, where Riley is sat with a totally-human Adam, a gun on the table between them. Riley calls her "killer" - this is a common theme with the show, Buffy's emphasis that a Slayer is not a killer. Adam says "Aggression is a natural human tendency. Though you and I come by it another way". Buffy insists she's not a demon and Adam challenges her - her own subconscious has suspicions about the origins of her power. Buffy asks Adam what his name was - again, the importance of naming and identity. He can't remember; Adam cannot remember his pre-demon identity, his true name, and has thus lost his humanity. Riley tells Buffy she's "on [her] own", echoing her fears.

Alarms begin to sound. Buffy tries to shout that she has weapons, but can only whisper - a common dream element. The bag is very similar to the Slayer bag that Principal Wood gives Buffy in season seven, the bag that belonged to his mother, a Slayer. The bag here is full of clay and Buffy begins to wipe it over her face. Her true weapon is to give in to the primal element of herself - we see a polarised shot of Buffy, which Giles also saw - the Slayer element is the polar opposite of her personality. Buffy walks down the corridor, which changes to the desert. She says she "won't find her friends here" and Tara appears, telling her "Of course you won't. That's why you came". Buffy's friends won't be here because this is the place they're scared of - in their dreams, the desert was a frightening thing. This is where the primal force lives and Buffy is at home here, while they were scared - which means that they fear a part of Buffy herself and she subconsciously knows it, which is why she knows she will end up alone.

Totally not a desert outside L.A.

Tara is speaking here for the primal thing that has hurt the others in their dreams; Buffy wants her to speak for herself. The creature, a girl with white clay on her face and wearing rags, speaks through Tara and says she has "no name" - she has no other identity, she lives "in the action of death" and is "alone". At this point, Buffy recognises what she is - the First Slayer. Buffy says "I walk. I talk. I shop. I sneeze" - she has an identity beyond being the Slayer, she has modernity and tries to balance having friends and living in "the action of death". They start to fight; Buffy stands up and tells her it's "over". The First Slayer tackles her again but Buffy yells "Enough!" and wakes up on her living room floor. The First Slayer then re-appears, stabbing her arms - but Buffy ignores her and stands up, giving her sassy tips on hair care before waking up for real. Buffy refuses to be drawn into battle and can break out of it where the others can't, largely because she isn't afraid of something that is so closely part of her. Buffy insists "you're not the source of me" - and she's right. The First Slayer may be the source of the power Buffy weilds, but Buffy knows her name, her identity, and balances that power within herself.

The final shot is of the made bed, with Tara's words echoing in Buffy's head: "You think you know; what you are, what's to come. You haven't even begun."

Monday, 7 November 2011

The BCCare Ball ; or, What I've Learned from Organising a Charity Fundraiser

I’m lucky enough to have some pretty inspirational friends – one of whom is battling breast cancer. For the second time. And she’s only thirty. Talking to her and hearing about all the support she’s had from Breast Cancer Care made me really want to do my part to raise money for this fantastic charity. I asked a friend with experience of fundraising for some advice and thought to myself, “Throwing a charity gig – how hard can that be?”

The answer is, very hard.

The support I’ve got from friends and family has been really heart-warming, but the going has been tough and there have been a lot of set-backs. I’ve learned some great lessons from my experience, though, so if you’re thinking of raising money for charity yourself I’ve got some great tips for you. Before I get to that, though, a plug for my event!

The BCCare Ball is on Friday 18th November, upstairs in O’Neills, St Mary Street, Cardiff. Doors open 7pm, tickets are £10 and that includes the buffet, raffle entry, a set from DJ Tom Loud and a live music from The Big What?! Band. Everyone over 18 is welcome to attend! To get tickets just email me - if you can't attend, you can still donate via Just Giving. Dress code is smart, with something pink!

Plug done, I’ll get back to tips for hosting a fundraising of your own. Organising my Ball has been a challenge. The best piece of advice I got was, no matter how much time you think you’ll need to organise a charity event, give yourself more time. Putting together your own event takes a lot of work, a lot of organisation and a lot of planning.  If you’re thinking of raising money for charity here are the lessons I’ve learned.

Firstly, pick a charity that’s close to your heart. The more you believe in the charity the more work you’ll be willing to put in to raise money for their cause and the easier you’ll find it to convince people to donate their money and time as well. If you’re really behind a charity then you’ll be totally committed to raising money for them. Organising an event of your own is a real challenge and you will need to keep reminding yourself how much it means to the people your charity helps, in order to keep pushing on and stay dedicated to putting on the best event you can. Make sure you register with your chosen charity, too! Go to their website, give them a call and register yourself and your event. The charity can then send you letters of authenticity to show people that your event is legitimate, which will reassure people that any money or gifts they’re giving you will go to the charity.

Secondly, pick the right way to raise money. Ask your family, ask your friends, start a Facebook poll, post questions on forums – you may think that a banjo gig is the best thing ever, but if no one else agrees with you then you won’t get anyone turning up to your event and you won’t get many donations. Pick something that you want to do, something that you are happy to put effort into throwing, but make sure that it’s also something other people are interested in, too. Pick your timing as well; if there’s another big event on in the same town on the same day, chances are that your fundraiser will lose out to it. Ask your friends when they’ve got a free night, check that you’re not trying to host a party on Christmas Eve or something and go from there. Remember, too, that big seasonal events can be an advantage – maybe try holding a romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day, or a bake-off on Pancake Day. Just make sure that you think about the time of year and the type of event you want to organise and get the two to match up as best you can.

Thirdly, be prepared for rejection. Asking for donations, asking for venues to let you use their space for free, asking for raffle prize donations – you will come up against a lot of people saying “no”. Get used to it. Try not to take it personally, either; it’s not a rejection of you, or the charity you’re representing. Companies get asked a lot for donations, they can’t say “yes” to all the requests. You’ll have to put in a lot of leg work and make a lot of phone calls. Try calling the head offices and getting in touch with local branches of larger companies.

Fourthly, don’t be afraid to ask for favours. Ask your friends, ask your family, and ask them to ask their friends and family. Know someone in a band? Ask them if they could play a set. Know someone with a talent for art or design? Ask them if they can do a poster or flyer for you. Ask local shops if they can put up your poster; ask people if they can donate their time, a raffle prize, their talent or their money to your cause. After a lot of work getting in touch with different venues in Cardiff, O’Neills were kind enough to offer their upstairs room for free. After much pleading, the band offered do to their set for free because they are lovely people who want to help raise money for this great cause; and as I work with a guy who is also a DJ, I managed to pull a favour there and he’s offered to spin the decks gratis. Swallow your pride and pull every favour you can. I got the lovely Ana Catris to do a poster for me!

 Lastly, don’t forget the power of the Net! Create a Facebook page for your event, set up a Just Giving page so people know they can donate securely to your cause, set up a Twitter account for your event or get a hash tag going so people can tweet about your event and link to it easily. Ask for retweets, share your Facebook page and Just Giving link, go to websites like What’s On In Cardiff and get your event listed – make sure that your event is out there and that as many people as possible know about it. Tell your friends and family and get them to tell everyone they know, too; word of mouth can really boost your event! Make sure you get all the support you can from the charity you’re fundraising for – after all, they want to help you make as much money as possible so they’ll be happy to help in any way they can.

It will be an uphill struggle, no mistake. You might not sell as many tickets as you hoped, you might not be able to raise as much money as you wanted, you might not be able to get as many raffle prizes as you thought. It will definitely be challenging – so why do it? Well, aside from helping a charity in these incredibly tough financial times, there’s a lot you can get out of it, too. It will really move you, how many people are willing to donate their time and their skills to help you; how many people are willing to chip in, to give you money and to help out in any way they can. Organising an event for charity can also help you, too. In today’s world it’s tougher than ever to get a job and throwing a fundraising event shows that you have determination, creativity, perseverance, organisational skills and shows off your social awareness. All of these are the kind of skills that can really make your CV stand out from the crowd and it’s the kind of experience that you can draw on in the workplace. Once you’ve persuaded the manager of a busy pub to let you use their venue for free, facing negotiations in the workplace won’t seem so scary.

So my final advice, if you’re thinking of raising money for charity? Do it. Be prepared for a struggle, but if it’s a charity that really means something to you then you know how important it is that they have enough money to keep up their good work.

To buy tickets for my event go to - hash tag #CharityBall on Twitter.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

"'Hey everybody, it's Giles! With a chainsaw!'"

From the highs of season three, to the lows of season four. I won't lie to you guys, four is my least favourite season of Buffy. It has some fantastic episodes, but the weakest overall arc. Let's crack on with with whys and wherefores of the good, bad and ugly of season four...

SEASON FOUR: Originally Aired 1999-2000

The Good:

The only really good thing about this season is a few stand-out episodes. There are other strong elements - I like that we see alternatives to going to college, that there are no judgements about what the characters are choosing to do with their lives. It feels very real, that Xander is trying to find a job he likes and establish his own post-high-school identity; that Buffy initially struggles to fit in with the world of college whilst Willow was made for it; the way the group dynamic wobbles and suffers whilst the Scoobies adjust to these major life changes. It's something the viewers can identify with and it's handled well.

This season also shows Willow's growing fixation on magic and hints at elements of her personality that will make this a problem. After Oz leaves, Willow runs into someone from high school and all her old insecurities come flooding back. She had been leaning on the "I have a boyfriend in a band" thing to grant her a cache of coolness. Without that, Willow is left feeling vulnerable, like the same, dorky Willow saw was when we first met her. She wants to be seen as cool, powerful, different - a need that is probably exacerbated by her friendship with the Slayer. In 'Fear, Itself' Willow says to Buffy, "I'm not your side-kick" - but of course she is. Living in the Slayer's shadow can't be easy: it's something that Xander will discuss with Dawn in season seven, but in the continuity of the show this is something that Willow is just beginning to struggle with. She wants to become her own person, to start developing her adult identity. That, after all, is one of the things that college or university is about, establishing yourself as your own person, exploring yourself, trying out new things and finding out who you are. Willow starts strong: she's great in class and this is an environment where intelligence and hard work is rewarded rather than mocked and she has Oz to give her a bit of the cool factor. Once Oz leaves, however, Willow's new identity begins to crumble, just as Buffy is finding her feet in the world of college. Willow is obviously very insecure about this and feels that magic helps with that. Willow begins to use magic as a crutch: her new identity is "kick-ass powerful witch" and this increasing reliance will store up problems for the future, which come to a head in season six. I'll be discussing the problems with where it ends up in my season six review, but for now it's nicely handled and very subtle. 

To talk specifically about strong episodes, we have 'The Harsh Light of Day', 'Fear, Itself', 'Wild At Heart', 'Something Blue', 'Hush', 'A New Man', 'This Year's Girl', 'Who Are You', 'Superstar' and 'Restless'. Now, 'Restless' is so great and so complex that I am going to go ahead and give it a blog entry of its very own, so watch this space. As for the others, most of them are just great comedy episodes. 'The Harsh Light of Day' is both good and bad: most of what I enjoy about it is the return of Spike, but the episode suffers for just dealing literally with what season two dealt with figuratively, that being a man changing after sleeping with Buffy. 

'Fear, Itself' is much stronger: not only is it flat-out hilarious, but it deals with some great issues. There's the friction between Willow and Buffy that I've already mentioned; Xander's struggling to come to terms with the changes in their lives and how he feels left behind and left out since the others went to college; also Oz's fears about being a werewolf, something that hasn't much been touched on in the rest of the show. This will be important later.
Also there's Giles with a chainsaw
Also, there's Giles. With a chainsaw.
'Wild At Heart' continues dealing with the werewolf thing. It was hinted at during season three's 'Beauty And The Beasts', in which Oz is for a time suspected of killing a person, but it's always been largely swept under the carpet. In 'Wild At Heart' we get to see Oz's animal attraction to a female werewolf and the consequences of giving in to the animal id that the wolf side represents. 

'Something Blue' and 'A New Man' are, again, mostly comic relief, but 'Hush' is just stand out magnificent. It's the only Buffy episode to be nominated for an award and why it did not get the Emmy is beyond me. For a start, the villains of the piece are genuinely terrifying.

Serious nightmare material.
Everything about the episode is just excellent: there are moments of laugh-out-loud comedy (Giles' projector presentation being a highlight) balanced by horror, all with the most perfect musical score. It's a brilliant exploration of just how much we can say through body language and Lowri and I are fond of discussing just how much is said in this episode, without speaking a word. Willow finds out that Tara is a witch, whilst an attraction develops between them; Riley finds out that Buffy is more than human and Buffy discovers that Riley is part of the Initiative; and Anya realises that Xander does truly care for her. Everyone is listening to each other and it makes a great counter-balance to 'Once More, With Feeling' in season six, during which everyone is baring their hearts through song but no one actually pays attention to anyone else. We'll come back to that episode in a later post. 

Back to season four, there's the great two-part 'This Year's Girl' and 'Who Are You'. I'm sure you know by now how much I love Faith so to see her back in the series is a joy. It's also a very strong two-parter: the video message the Mayor left for Faith is genuinely poignant, whilst the body-swap twist is a great take on an old theme. Sarah Michelle Gellar acts her socks off here: seeing Faith-as-Buffy is very, very creepy and allows for some great insight into Faith's self-loathing and her desire to be Buffy whilst also wanting to defeat Buffy. Eliza Dushku does a solid Buffy impression, too. 

Finally, 'Superstar' - great because it is absolutely hysterical viewing and also because it manages to drive the plot forward in some vital ways. It's through Jonathan that we learn of Adam's only potential weak spot; and through Jonathan that Buffy and Riley managing to move past Riley's mis-step of sleeping with Faith-as-Buffy. It makes for some awesome television.

The Bad:
The most outstanding badness of this season is the Initiative and the whole damned season four story arc. Up until know, the show's internal logic has made sense: the Hellmouth has been allowed to flourish and get so many demonic problems because the Mayor wanted it that way and was using his power and influence to cover up the weird goings-on in Sunnydale. The rest of the world had few enough problems with demons and vampires that one Slayer at a time, supported by the work of the Council and the Watchers, was enough to prevent the world sliding into darkness. By suddenly saying that the US government know about demons and vampires, it undermines the logic of the show. If the police and the army know, why is there a need for a Slayer at all? The show struggles with depicting guns and weapons: you just can't have a show aimed at teenagers that is saying guns are great. I get that. However, why hunt vamps with a wooden stick when you could go out hunting with a flame-thrower? If the government know about the supernatural then they'd have the police out fighting the forces of darkness - with serious weaponry. Nest of vamps? No problem, drop a grenade. Hellmouth opening? No problem, drop lots of grenades. Yet that doesn't happen in the show: the Initiative go out patrolling with freaking tasers and nets, with the poor rationalisation that this is an experimental team trying to capture and experiment on demons.

Having the government as the bad guys is very old hat, too, and there's nothing fresh about this take on it. Men In Black handled it way better. Mixing in a bit of Frankenstein's monster just raises more glaring flaws - like how has Adam been created and built by just two scientists, without anyone else in the base finding out? In 'A New Man', Ethan Rayne tells Giles that demons have been talking, mentioning a "314" and being scared. If the Initiative aren't letting their captives go, how do any other demons know what's going on? And how do the demons, who have either never been to the base or only been there as captives in cages, know about room 314 whilst Riley, who works there, doesn't notice it until Buffy asks him about it? Oh and speaking of the base, why have it under the college? Why not at the pre-existing army base? Or another, totally separate, location? Why spend a fortune making something covert and creating a fake college dorm, getting your soldiers in as fake students, when you could just have a base that was restricted access? It's stupid.

There's also Spike. Now, I love Spike - but it's total fan service having him in this series. Joss loved writing the character, James Marsters loved playing the character and the fans loved watching the character, so they found a way to wedge him in as a regular. And much as I want it to, it just does not work. Watching this season with Boyfriend really brought home just how badly it's done; Boyfriend was slating Spike's role in this season and I was trying to defend it...but couldn't. Putting a chip in Spike's head is ridiculous, I won't lie to you. For a start: how did the Initiative sneak up on him in the first place? Spike is over a hundred years old; a hundred years of being a vampire, a predator, a hunter - and a group of soldiers can surprise him? It totally demeans the character. As does him turning to the Scooby Gang for help after his escape - why does he do that? And why would they help him?! I get that Buffy wouldn't stake him, because killing someone who is now helpless isn't something she would do - but why would they take him in? Why would they get blood for him? Why can't he figure out how to buy blood from the butchers himself?! 

How much Spike can and can't hurt people also varies wildly: during his escape from the Initiative base, Spike his able to punch people and throw them around; later in the series, he can't event think of hurting people without his chip going off. On which note: how is the chip meant to work in the first place? How does it distinguish between demon and human? How does it know when Spike is intending violence? And as the brain lacks nerves, how does it even cause him pain? The whole concept is just stupid and, much as I love having Spike's sarcasm and sneering contempt as a regular feature of the show, it doesn't work. Boyfriend says he lost all respect for the character and he's not wrong to do so.

Also, in 'The Harsh Light of Day', why the big bad bloody hell does Spike tell Buffy what the Gem of Amarra is and thereby reveal how he can be defeated?! Idiot.

There are also some fundamental problems with Faith's reappearance. She's been in a coma since graduation day - yet when she awakens she has no problems with muscle wastage, no brain damage, nothing. She can just get right up and start throwing punches. Now I get that within the time constraints of the show it would be difficult to realistically depict recovery from a coma, but even allowing for Slayer healing, having zero negative consequences is a bridge too far.

Not your average recovery time.
There are also some terrible episodes to balance out the good ones. I'll talk more about the worst of the bunch, but dishonourable mention goes to 'Pangs', thanks to the whole Native American Indian angle. Clearly the show doesn't know whether to just cold have Indians as the bad guys, or whether to make them sympathetic. The script dithers over this and the plot of this already weak episode suffers further for it. Also, Xander gets syphilis - syphilis - and "all the diseases" that European settlers brought to the Native Indians, which must surely include small pox, yet instead of causing an epidemic this is apparently meant to be high comedy that just sort of goes away.

Giles gets a tough ride in this season, too. He's unemployed and totally lacking in direction and it does demean him. It's as though the writers had no idea what to do with the character this season. It does lead to some great lines like, "She called me an absent male role model" ('A New Man') but overall it just doesn't work.

Boyfriend also criticises 'Superstar' for having Buffy be feeble and ineffective when Jonathan is awesome - but considering this is the result of a magic spell which means Jonathan starred in The Matrix, I'm willing to let it slide. Boyfriend's right, though; there's no reason why Jonathan being super-awesome would mean no one would take Buffy seriously.

The Ugly:
Watch out, kids! There's something on campus worse than vampires - the horror of that demon drink! In 'Beer Bad' we see the terrible, terrible consequences of that most awful of sins - drinking beer. Buffy and a bunch of frat boys turn into Neanderthals thanks to some cursed beer or something. It's bullshit and insulting to the audience - I understand that you don't want to show the characters regularly necking vodka with no ill effects, because younger viewers could get the wrong idea from that. But to go with a preachy episode like 'Beer Bad' is ridiculous, especially considering that in the very next season the characters are all drinking and it's fine. Then we have the travesty that is 'Where The Wild Things Are', which shows the total horror of enjoying sex with your consenting partner. It seems like the episode wants to explore, through analogy, how people can lose themselves in a new relationship and allow that initial lust and sexual desire to block out everything else in your life - but it just comes across as stupid. It's pretty much the only episode of Buffy I feel embarrassed to watch.

For me, though, the most awful thing about this season is the way the Scoobies, including Giles, react to Oz leaving Willow. Willow goes through utter horror: her boyfriend cheats on her, finding another woman more sexually magnetic than Willow; the woman that Oz cheated with then tries to kill Willow, only for Oz to tear her throat out - and then Oz, having fully changed into a wolf, nearly kills Willow as well. And how do Willow's friends support her during this difficult time? They get angry with her.

Yep, the same gang that has to listen to Buffy's endless whining about her doomed affair with Angel can't bear to listen to Willow's suffering. In 'Something Blue' we get another "drinking is evil!" moral diatribe because Willow is trying to have a few beers and dance at the Bronze to get over her pain; and throughout the episode, no one seems to have time for her. Yes, Willow is wallowing in her pain - but my god does she ever have a right to. Instead of consoling her, making time for her, or at least telling Willow "I hear your pain, let me just go patrolling then I'll come back and spend time with you", Buffy just wants her to shut up and get over it. Instead of the endless sympathy Buffy gets, we get the following exchange about Willow: 

Xander: Something about Willow and her grief-y poor-me mood swings. So, so tired of it.

ANYA: You mean I don't have to be nice to her anymore?

BUFFY: We're all tired of it [...]

It's awful. 

There's also Sarah Michelle Gellar, who I'm putting into the "ugly" category because of her physique. She is starved thin and looks totally unhealthy.

Also an horrifically clear example of slim vs anorexic.
I know that the producers of the show aren't exactly in control of how their actors look, but damn. The change is so profound and so noticeably awful that I felt it really needed a mention.

Overall I'd say this is more of a "bad" season than an "ugly" one, but that's the best I can say of it. Next time, an in depth analysis of 'Restless'!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Ultimate Buffy Drinking Game

As I'm nearly halfway through my Good, Bad and Ugly of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, thought I'd bring you this quick interlude from me, Flowri and PJ Montgomery:

The Ultimate Buffy Drinking Game!

1. Credit Shot - down one shot of alcohol. 
You know all the clips from episodes that feature in the opening credits of every episode? Any time you see the scene those clips are actually taken from, have a drink.

2. Every time you see a character's bra strap - take one shot if it's a female character, two for a male character*.

3. Every time you see a vampire go game-face - have a drink.

4. Every time a vampire gets dusted - have a drink.

5. Every time a non-stake is used to dust a vampire - have a drink. 
Pencils, table-legs, cymbals - anything and everything that is used to slay vamps, if you see it on-screen, you take a shot.

6. Every bad accent! 
Angel's bad fake-Irish, Kendra's awful...I want to say Jamiacan? Basically, if there's an actor on-screen trying (and failing) to deliver an accent not their own, take a drink. One shot per accent, don't try and drink for the whole time they're speaking. This is a game, not a kamikaze challenge.

7. Whedon crossover actors - one shot per show they've been in, first on-screen appearance only. 
Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion...those actors who have appeared in Joss-written shows other than Buffy.

8. Every time non-English is spoken - one shot per language. 
If a character is speaking a demon language, the flashback scenes where Anya/Aud is speaking (fake) Swedish...If it ain't English, take a drink.

9. Giles cleans his glasses - take a shot every time this happens.

10. The British are coming! 
Bit of an obscure way to explain it, but we just loved this line. What this means is, any time characters get away with swearing on-screen by using British slang ("wanker" and "bollocks" being popular choices) then you take a shot.

And that's it! Designed for playing whilst watching several episodes in a row - we thought of including a rule where any time Buffy is dressed like a total slut, you take a drink, but then we realised we didn't want to drink ourselves into a coma after one episode. Enjoy!

* Yep, you do see male characters wearing bras in certain episodes...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

'Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic.'

Welcome, one and all, to my love-letter to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season three. It should come as no surprise to you by now that a lot of thought has gone into this post. Not only did Flowri re-join me for this, but PJ Montgomery was told invited to join us. Our triple-geek-powers have also been combined to bring you the Ultimate Buffy Drinking Game*, but that’s a story for another day. For now, let’s crack on with season three!

SEASON THREE: Originally Aired 1998-99

The Good:

This is probably the season that all three of us love best. It’s not perfect, but it is bloody fantastic. There’s an incredibly strong story-arc to it: we finally get to see the Mayor of Sunnydale, who has been built up as a villain for the past two years of the show; there are some stand-out brilliant episodes; future plot arcs are neatly hinted at, whilst past ones wrapped up; and then there’s Faith.

Ah, Faith. So sexy even hetero females like Flowri and I would totally go gay for her. PJ had his own thoughts about Faith. Private thoughts. What he would divulge was that women with medieval weaponry are totally hot.

This one is for PJ

Live and learn, ladies.

But all commentary on Eliza Dushku’s insane levels of sexiness aside, Faith is a brilliant character – she’s so good that she even makes up for how godawful Kendra was last season.

One thing that Kendra was good for, was showing the alternative to Buffy’s version of the Slayer. Flowri and I have spoken (at length) about how Kendra represents the regular-model Slayer: she’s cracked the books, obeyed her Watcher from her earliest memories, is all focus and discipline, no distractions allowed, whilst Buffy has friends, family, and an attempt at a social life. Spike makes an excellent point about the consequence of this in season five’s ‘Fool For Love’, that Buffy’s friends and family are what tie her to this world so she doesn’t get lost in the Slayer identity – but we’ll come to that in a later review. Shifting focus back to season three and we have Faith – the Slayer who has lost herself in the slaying. She revels in the hunt, the fight, the kill; it’s all there is to her. Faith doesn’t go to school, she doesn’t have a job, the only time we see her off-duty is when she’s trying to unwind after a hunt by cruising for guys, and she thinks she’s above the law and that normal human rules don’t apply to her. In Kendra we get the goody-two-shoes and in Faith we have your typical bad girl. Buffy represents more of a middle ground; every season of the show deals, to greater or lesser extent, with Buffy coming to terms with herself: being the Slayer, a daughter, a friend, a lover, a student, an employee – trying to find balance between different aspects of her identity.

Whilst Buffy was an influence on Kendra in the previous season, helping Kendra tap into and utilise her emotions and, well, lighten up a little, in contrast it is Faith who is the more powerful influence on Buffy – at least at first. Although initially jealous of Faith, jealous of having to share the identity of The Slayer, as the season progresses Buffy is increasingly tempted by Faith’s modus operandi and by ‘Bad Girls’ Buffy fully embraces Faith’s philosophy of “Want. Take. Have.” However, Faith crosses a line that Buffy isn’t prepared to follow her over: Faith kills a human. Whilst it is accidental, Faith’s lack of remorse is not: instead of turning to Buffy and/or Giles for help and atoning for her crime, Faith shrugs it off and embraces the dark side. Faith enters the employ of Mayor Richard Wilkins III himself – one of the greatest characters ever.

The Mayor as Big Bad was alluded to during the past two seasons and damn does it pay off. Played to perfection by Harry Groener, the Mayor is charming, genial; like a 1950s grandfather, all twinkles in the eye and offers of cookies – but beneath that veneer is a soulless monster. He’s a magnificent bad guy and serves as a wonderful parallel to Giles. Despite Giles being appointed by the Council to serve was Watcher to both Buffy and Faith (‘Faith, Hope and Trick’) we’re never in any doubt as to who is Giles’ favourite. With Buffy’s deadbeat dad less and less in the picture, Giles is clearly her surrogate father and a lovely father-figure to the Scooby Gang as a whole. Faith, however, is always a bit of an outsider to the group: she’s not invited to every meeting, she’s on her own a lot of the time, she doesn’t appear in every episode – she’s the side-kick and Buffy is the hero. And it pisses Faith off big time. A lot of her rivalry with Buffy comes from this tension: the fact that there are two Slayers when there’s only supposed to be one per generation, and Buffy got there first. Even when Wesley arrives on the scene, after Giles gets fired (‘Helpless’), it’s Buffy who gets most of his attention – although a large part of that is because Faith has already committed to her Bad Girl role and so can’t stick around to hear instructions the way Buffy can – so it’s little wonder that Faith falls so hard for the fatherly spiel the Mayor feeds her.

It’s never confirmed in the show whether the Mayor is just using Faith or not. In the Season 8 comics Faith says that others have told her she was being used by him, but all she ever felt was loved. It’s also a common theme with Buffy villains that, however evil their motives, they tend to speak the truth. Sometimes hard, horrible truths that the good guys don’t want to hear, but truths nonetheless. So it is very possible that Mayor Wilkins does love Faith as a surrogate daughter: it certainly looks that way, especially considering the evidence. Buffy manages to use this against the Mayor in ‘Graduation Day: Part Two’; she shows him the knife she used to stab Faith with and it hurts him, this reminder of Faith’s near-death status. He also visits Faith in the hospital (before he turns into a giant snake, obv) and is distressed to see her injured; and as we see in season four, he puts systems in place to try and take care of Faith in the event she survives and he doesn’t. Wilkins is to Faith what Giles is to Buffy; they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s also awesome to see the Mayor being, well, a mayor, in episodes like ‘Gingerbread’ – and his ‘To Do’ list in ‘Bad Girls’ is just priceless.

Now this is meant to be a write-up of season three, not just totally devoted to Faith, so I’ll say one last thing and then move on: The fight. Between Buffy and Faith. ‘Graduation Day: Part One’. Best. Fight scene. Ever. Oh, man, I could watch that scene on repeat for the rest of time. FANTASTIC.

Right, so, the rest of the season.

Angel is much stronger in this season – as PJ pointed out, you can really see him start to do things on his own, stepping up and doing the whole private investigator thing that will be his gig in the spin-off series Angel that started after this. There are some great scenes with Angel, too; Flowri noted how in ‘Enemies’, when Angel has to pretend to have lost his soul, it becomes clear that Angelus isn’t the separate entity that Angel wishes him to be. Angel is always talking about Angelus as a different being, removed from soul-having Angel; he doesn’t talk much about what he remembers doing when he’s soulless and everything from his mannerisms to his use of nicknames for people changes depending on whether he’s in possession of a soul or not. However, in ‘Enemies’ he fakes being Angelus far too well – he knows exactly how to play it, which he wouldn’t do if being Angelus was this vague, fuzzy, “I can barely remember it” experience. Angel tries to pass off being soulless as kind of like being profoundly drunk and not being able to fully remember your words or actions the next day – instead, it becomes obvious here that the same mind, the same consciousness and memory, is at work in both Angel and Angelus: the soul just gives him a moral compass that Angelus lacks.

Willow’s use of magic is also developed in this season; in ‘Faith, Hope and Trick’ Giles is pretending he needs to do a spell, as a pretext for getting Buffy to talk about her experience of sending Angel to hell, and when Willow offers to help it’s clear that Giles is uncomfortable about her continued exploration of witchcraft. Willow’s own abilities are her downfall: she has great power and the kind of studious, focused mind that enable her to progress quickly through magic – but as she’s moving so fast, she isn’t learning the responsibility that should come with it. It’s like Ian Malcolm says:

“…it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done, and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could”
Jurassic Park

We’ll talk more about this in the season six review, but for now it’s a great little insight into how the plots are developing through the show.

Xander really improves in this season, too. After being mostly the comic relief in the previous two seasons, in ‘The Zeppo’ in particular he really comes into his own and becomes a character that Flowri and I do not loathe. He has moments of total-jerk-ness, which I’ll cover in The Bad and The Ugly (quelle surprise), but there are times when he’s great – stand-out Good Guy moment being buying the dress for Cordelia. Heart: melted.

On a similar note, I love how we’re already getting hints about Dawn’s arrival, like Faith telling Buffy she’s “all dressed up in big sister’s clothes” (‘Graduation Day: Part One’) and the references to Dawn in the dream-sequence in ‘Graduation Day: Part Two’.

I am also a massive fan of ‘Lover’s Walk’, for obvious reasons.

Spike and hilarity, all I ask for from a TV show
‘Beauty and the Beasts’ has a great plot, too: whilst it may be a touch heavy-handed, I love how the bad guy in this episode isn’t an actual demon, it’s just a normal guy**. It’s a great way to cover the issue of domestic violence through the veil of monsters that the show employs. This is also the season of lighter episodes like ‘Band Candy’ and ‘Earshot’, which I can pretty much watch on repeat. “Someplace that’s else” has permanently entered my vocabulary thanks to ‘Band Candy’ – and every single time I watch Buffy delivery the line “Unless you’re too busy having sex with my mother” I laugh and laugh and laugh. Plus: naughty teen Giles.

The more I blog, the more I realise just how big a crush I have on Giles

Yeah you would

You are welcome.
Basically, the three of us pretty much established that season three is all killer, no filler. There are some less-than-great episodes, which I’ll come to next, but overall it’s damn near perfect.

The Bad:

Most of the bad in this season hinges on Xander. Again. There is also awesome-Xander, as I said, but there’s a lot of horrible-Xander, too. We were all irritated by the Willow-and-Xander romance subplot. For a start, it is so damn frustrating that every TV show ever is apparently convinced that boys and girls can’t be friends – despite the real-life evidence and experience of me and most of my friends and most of our friends’ friends. Pretty much everyone I know has friends of the opposite sex and it’s disappointing that Joss falls into the stereotype-trap and has Willow and Xander not only get into a romantic relationship, but cheat on their respective partners to do so. It’s a real slap in the face to Oz (lovely lovely Oz) and to Cordelia – especially given how Cordelia is speaking about Xander in ‘Homecoming’. She seemed to be really growing as a person and falling in love with Xander, and his cheating just knocks Cordy back into being this catty, bitchy Mean Girl again.

Boyfriend hates how Cordy is portrayed in this series and thinks it’s bad writing, that she becomes a total unreasoning, unlikeable bitch: Flowri and I see it differently. Cordy has tried being (a bit) nicer, tried playing along with this group of social outcasts, and she gets deeply wounded for her efforts. Xander and Willow are obviously to blame for their cheating; but Cordelia also sees Buffy as being partially to blame (‘The Wish’) because her hanging with Xander made him “marginally cooler” and also put him and Cordy together in all these tense, high-drama situations that made him more sexually appealing. His cheating, his rejection of her, pushes Cordelia back into being her old self – she’s tried on a different identity by being one of the Scooby Gang, and it didn’t work out, so she’s goes back to the identity she knew best.

Aside from all of this, the Willow/Xander plot doesn’t feel very real; it’s not as though the actors have this searing sexual chemistry that sells the unbelievable plot, either. It all feels half-arsed which, combined with said lack of chemistry, means it doesn’t sell the idea that Willow would cheat on Oz (lovely lovely Oz) or that Xander would give up this great relationship that he’d been building with Cordelia. The worst plot of the season, really.

There are some bad episodes, too: ‘Anne’, ‘Dead Man’s Party’, ‘Amends’ and ‘The Prom’. All do drive the plot forward (seriously: no filler) but not in especially great ways. ‘Anne’ is mediocre; ‘Dead Man’s Party’ may have one of the single greatest Giles-lines on Earth*** but overall has the characters generally behaving as unlikeable dicks; ‘Amends’ has The First, who is just stupid (I try and defend it as a villain when Boyfriend started criticizing the idea, but deep down I know that [for once] he is right and The First is nonsensical); and ‘The Prom’ is a bit twee. But so help me I get moved despite myself when Jonathan presents Buffy with the Class Protector award.

Moving swiftly on…

There are also some gaping logic fails: the one that stands out being when Willow uses a tranquilizer dart on VampWillow in ‘Dopplegangland’. Seriously? A tranquilizer? On a vampire?!
How the hell would the drug work? How would it circulate through something that has no circulation?!! It’s like Spike suffocating Drusilla in ‘Becoming: Part Two’ – it makes no damn sense within the internal logic of the show and is really something that should have been picked up on and edited out.

There’s also the first few appearances of Angel. For contractual he-has-to-appear-in-every-episode-because-he’s-a-credited-character reasons, Angel is featured in episodes from the beginning of the season. The problem is that Angel is in a hell-dimension until ‘Beauty and the Beasts’, so can’t exactly feature as per usual. It’s clear that he was just wedged in for the sake of it, with dream-sequences aplenty, and it feels like lazy writing. Although there are a few good episodes of Angel and some great appearances of the character in this season, overall I think it would have been way better if Angel had stayed dead after Buffy sent him to hell at the end of season two. I think the writers agree with me, too: Buffy whinging “I killed Angel” is a recurring motif of the show, conveniently overlooking the fact that he came back. It’s a little bit more traumatic and dramatic if he’d actually stayed killed, after all.

The Ugly:

We genuinely struggled to think of any Ugly from this series, but as ever we fall back on that ol’ favourite: Xander.

He has highs and lows in this season: the low being sending Faith to kill Angel when Xander discovers that Angel is back from Hell (‘Revelations’). Again, this is Xander acting out of purely selfish, nasty reasons: he still has a thing for Buffy, is still jealous of Angel, and so he tries to have someone executed. It’s also a pretty shitty way to treat Faith – Xander sends her out like his own personal attack-dog. Yes, he goes with her, but he’s not fooling anyone: there’s sod-all Xander can do against Angel and he knows it. He knows it’s Faith who will be in the firing-line and if he genuinely believes that it’s soulless Angelus who is back, then he’s sending Faith to face possible death just so he can have his rival taken permanently out of the picture.

Plus, after the fall-out from being caught cheating with Willow, whilst Willow shows genuine remorse and makes extreme efforts to prove to Oz that she’s sorry, has changed, and is worth taking the chance on rebuilding trust with, Xander seems reluctant to accept any blame. It’s Cordelia who gets shoved out of the Scooby Gang (which we’ll see again with Anya in season six – seriously, Xander, shitty guy) – no damn wonder she gets her vengeance on in ‘The Wish’ – whilst Xander seems to get away scot-free. He even continues dishing out the verbal barbs to Cordy every time they meet, all because she wouldn’t accept his apology. He comes across, as ever, as mean, petty and low.

So that’s a wrap for season three, folks! Next time, the dizzy highs and crushing lows of season four.

Gasp! as Buffy drinks beer!

Tremble! as the government are involved in a conspiracy!

Thrill! as Faith reappears on scene…!

* I’ll link it here as soon as it’s written up.

**‘Great. Now I’m going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day.’
***‘ “Look at my mask! Isn’t it pretty! It raises the dead!” Americans.’