Thursday, February 5, 2015

Watching "Darla" before "Fool for Love"

Several readers kept posting on the comments section of my viewing guide that they want me to switch the order of "Darla" and "Fool for Love" back to its originally aired pairing as, with "Fool for Love" first and "Darla" second. As I wrote my final response on the subject, I realized my response would be more at home as an essay than as a comment.

I encourage everyone to use their own preferences when viewing the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. But as for me and my list, "Darla" and "Fool for Love" will eternally be grouped together with "Darla" first and "Fool for Love" second. I have explained my reasons ad nauseum in my viewing guide and in its associated comments section, but I will do it once more for the record here and refer people here to this article from now on.

If I only had one shot at winning someone's love for Buffy and Angel, then these two episodes combined in this way would be what I would choose to show them. First "Darla" and then "Fool for Love." The entire reason why I posted a viewing guide to Buffy and Angel in the first place was in part to showcase this serendipitous discovery.

When I was watching Angel for the first time, I decided to intersperse it with Buffy since I heard that's how they originally aired. Only having the DVDs as my guide at the time, only air dates were provided, not airing times. So I was unsure which show aired first in the evening. So on that initial viewing of Angel, I guessed (incorrectly) that it aired first.

My reasoning was unimportant for this discussion, but this momentary lack of facts and a lack of google in a iPhone, led me to first order Angel and Buffy tgoether that way. And if it was not for this accident, I would not have stumbled on the best pairing of Buffy and Angel I had ever seen: "Darla" then "Fool for Love."

Later when I discovered the episodes actually aired in the reverse order of what I had watched, I was sure on my next rewatch to view them in their correct airing order. And to my surprise, I did not like it as well. Do not get me wrong: they were both still excellent episodes that I loved, but there was just something about them that did not resonate as strongly with me.

So I decided at one point to explore the original way I had the episodes and contrast it with the original airing order. And I discovered a few important things that helped me understand why I probably prefer watching "Darla" first and "Fool for Love" after.

These two episodes feature extensive flashbacks to the shared history of the four central vampire characters on the show: Darla, Angel, Drusilla, and Spike. I discovered that if one looked solely at the flashbacks, then "Darla" is the natural starting point as it begins in 1609 and progresses through to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. "Fool for Love," on the other hand, begins and ends at much later dates, starting in 1880 and progressing through to 1977.

As these episodes do provide a rather complex mixture of past flashbacks contextualizing present day story developments, anything that is done to simplify this process of the audience will aid in viewer comprehension and can be processed mentally a little more efficiently.

Darla and Angel's lives and points of view in "Darla" take place earlier in the story and then crossover with the newer vampires, Drusilla and Spike, whose points of view take up the forefront of the flashbacks in "Fool for Love." The transition into the newer vampires' romance helps showcase a pattern revealed in "Darla" when the Master felt challenged by the up-and-coming Angelus, much the same way Angelus later feels challenged by the up-and-coming Spike later.

Therefore, when the episodes are paired this way, it creates a more subtle and chronological story to follow as we experience the exuberance of youth conflict with the caution and forethought that comes from old age. This lends the episode pairing with a strong beginning, middle, and end that does not present itself quite as easily when viewed in the original airing order.

When viewed in the original airing order, the story formed by the two episodes is basically that of Spike butting heads with his mentor Angelus and carrying on a bitter rivalry with him. Then we the audience later discover that some of this rivalry had more to do with Angelus receiving his mortal soul again, and he was in a desperate attempt to reconcile his vampiric bloodlust with his newly reinstated conscience, all in an attempt to still carry on with Darla

While both approaches to this story material work on a dramatic level, the interplay of youth and maturity as it relates to vampiric immortality was a slightly more interesting way to the view the story than generational miscommunication resulting in misunderstandings.

Now, let us compare the two episodes on a dramatic level and how they contrast with one another differently depending on the viewing order. While Darla and Angel are compelling in "Darla," I will make no qualms about it that Spike's flashbacks in "Fool for Love" are the most inspired flashbacks in either Buffy or Angel.

"Darla" builds up an emotional peak as we see Darla and Angel's former passion and verve for the kill being replaced in modern times with a conscience that makes them feel an odd mixture of revulsion and nostalgia for their soulless state as monsters. The episode delves into the despondency Darla experiences and ends with Darla clearly wanting to forfeit her mortality in favor of returning to her formerly nonconflicted state of being.

In contrast, "Fool for Love" begins with Buffy in a very similar state of despondency, but desiring a way to rediscover her mortality. Buffy has waltzed through much of the show with nearly godlike power, but she almost dies at the hands of a nobody whom she would usually have no problems dispatching. Buffy begins to questions herself and her powers and starts to ask herself tough questions about how the former slayers died.

Did they too just slip into a moment of mediocrity and find themselves on the wrong end of a wooden stake like she did? Buffy does not want this odd despondency to be the end of her, so she searches for to avoid slipping into a complacent death. Spike is the only one in existence who she question who was present at the deaths of former slayers, so she bribes him to help her discover how to get out of her current rut.

The strange confusion Darla feels at the end "Darla" perfectly transitions into Buffy's despondency as she becomes aware of a growing death wish that she too has been building up inside her. And strangely enough, Angel and Spike serve as excellent foils to these women, who they are both in love with (and obsessed with) while trying to counsel their beloved to face hard truths. As we explore Angel and Spike's pasts, we discover enlightening commentary on what Darla and Buffy are suffering from at present.

This story energy continues building up throughout "Fool for Love" more and more as Spike's feelings finally come to the surface in a powerful, explosive moment of revelation that Buffy finds completely incomprehensible. Spike's emotional explosion at Buffy is the culmination of the everything that took place in both episodes, building up to an impassioned climax of hatred and rage that bends to the power of love and devotion.

And in that way, "Fool for Love" helps illuminate everything that was set up earlier in "Darla," too. Hatred and rage that Angel felt for Darla and Spike felt for Buffy just cannot truly stand in the face of their deep feelings of love and devotion they feel for them. As much as they logically despise each other, they feel almost powerlessly drawn towards them in a desire to help and save them.

If you forced me to pick my favorite scene of Buffy and Angel, then it would be the last two minutes of "Fool for Love." It is the most powerfully acted, written, and directed scene from either TV show. To see James Marster's performance as he transforms from murderous rage to consolatory friend in just a few remarkably intense seconds is frankly one of the most remarkable moments captured on film.

When looking at the creative output of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I am astounded at the number of brilliant moments captured on film. But for me, none is stronger than combining "Darla" with "Fool for Love," making the strongest and most cohesive joint dramatic presentation either TV ever pulled off.

From a storytelling point of view, this particular pairing of episodes illuminates the characters in the clearest and most enjoyable way possible. And it also provides the easiest door for a new viewer to open to connect to this show on an emotional level. I feel most viewers experiencing the show for the first time will be set up for greater success when viewing these episodes in this order.

Yanking on the audience's chain to make them wonder if Angel's boxer rebellion stint makes sense chronologically or not is not nearly as illuminating or intriguing to watch as getting a full dose of Spike's emotional tour de force at the climax of this beautiful 85 minute presentation.

The great thing about modern technology, you can watch the episodes in any order you want. I will always choose improved narrative flow and dramatic impact over any other concern when it comes to my viewings of Buffy and Angel. And I invite you to join me watching these episodes my preferred way some time and see if it helps the episodes resonate more deeply with you, too.


6 comments:

  1. Again, it's not one story. It's two stories that share common events, and you can't expect these two episodes to get the uninitiated to start watching because they don't have a lot of context. They can get caught up but that's not the same as watching, so Buffy's emotional breakdown at the end doesn't mean much to anyone who hasn't been there. I see little point in viewing them as a single story. This order is probably only good for someone who has already seen both shows all the way through. You seem to take these out of the context of their respective seasons and are viewing it as one long story, but it's not. The characters in both shows are on very different paths in their respective shows and so the episodes are different. Darla is about Angel and Darla's complex, destructive, and codependent relationship. Fool for Love shows that Spike, despite how much he's changed, is the same guy he was before. I don't see how Darla's climax flows into fool for love at all.

    "In contrast, "Fool for Love" begins with Buffy in a very similar state of despondency, but desiring a way to rediscover her mortality."
    I wouldn't put it like that. Spike had it right, she got so good that she forgot that being a slayer is inherently dangerous. She didn't desire to rediscover her mortality.

    You claim there's a narrative flow, but there isn't. There are shared characters and history, but it doesn't read as one giant story. Ultimately it's arbitrary which why you choose to watch these in.

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    1. People are entitled to their opinions, but you have to admit your tone is insulting and demeaning for zero reason. So let's deal with the facts, point by point, since everything you wrote is arbitrary and everything I wrote is actually correct:

      You state that Buffy and Angel are not one story, but are two distinctly different shows with different character paths that share some common events. In particular, these two episodes in question. Therefore any attempt to harmonize the two shows into one story is futile.

      You are wrong Rob because these two episodes were coordinated to have complementary themes and interconnected emotional payoffs. I just argue that those payoffs work better with "Darla" playing before "Fool for Love" rather than in the reverse. I have exhaustively explained why, and I feel you are short shrifting my conclusion that emotional dramatic tension that builds to a climax and an effective denouement is better in the order I selected. None of your arguments contest my actual conclusion, because if viewed in this order then my conclusion is inescapable.

      One reason why it works better this way is because Darla grips with her mortality in the first scene in Darla, being offered a chance to be immortal (or virtually so) rather than die of syphilis as a prostitute. Throughout Darla's episode she has run away from death, which is a metaphor for vampirism itself, establishing the concept of vampires effectively and setting up Buffy's mother's terminal illness diagnosis and Buffy's fear of losing a loved one to the ravages of mortality.

      And in this moment of Buffy's fear and love and concern, Spike finds himself inextricably linked to Buffy forever. For Spike was also partly motivated by love when he became a vampire and tried to save his own mother from a different terminal illness.

      Spike cannot murder Buffy. His personality and soul are not completely gone, in spite of being a vampire. And what is left of William loves Buffy for being all the things no other women in his life was like, excepting his mother.

      Darla's desire to become a vampire again is a remarkable contrast that earlier sets up Spike's desire to become human again. And that is the pay off of this entire crossover episode, which parallels why people run away from their mortality with why our mortality is precious and must be embraced. And that is the dramatic conclusion. That is the more satisfying cap to this story.

      This is why I said new viewers could be introduced to this show effectively through this dramatic dyad. This emotionally fierce couplet is devastating because it explores the symbolism of the human experience and that pain and love (even unrequited love) are far more valuable than immortality. And that immortality absent heart and humanity is pointless.

      And all the browbeating and condescending arguments I've heard to the contrary have yet to persuade me to think and feel otherwise about "Darla" and "Fool for Love." And if you aren't the least bit touched by how these episodes play with one another, then at least provide me with the common courtesy of not trampling over my own feelings in this debate by pretending the audience's emotional journey with these episodes is irrelevant to you. I don't care. It's sure as hell relevant to me.

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  2. Spike trying to save his mother from a terminal illness was a story that was told two seasons later and I don't think is relevant. I don't think he was motivated by love to become a vampire. He just had his heart broken and a Dru tantalized him. He had no idea what she was doing.

    You keep referring it as a cap to "this story" it's not one story. They were bound to have two different paths because if they both decided to become/stay human, then why tell the same story? What would be its use?

    I don't see these narrative themes being similar at all. To me and i think the episode "Fool for Love" wasn't at all about Spike's immortality. It was about how deep down, he's still the same man. My take on Joss's vampires is that Spike is in some ways an anomaly amongst vampires. The most obvious being that he eventually got his soul back of his own volition. But ultimately I think Joss's vampires are some version of their human selves. Liam was told by his father that he was a layabout, so Angelus was his way of getting back at him. He became great, just great in the most evil vicious way possible. Spike was a good man at heart and a gentleman. Spike was the vampire version of his power fantasy. If he can't get what he wants as a gentleman, fine, he'll be down and dirty. To the point that he changes his accent to a lower class Cockney one. Drusilla is just nuts, and then finally Darla who was a prostitute in life. What we know about her is little but given her death, it's not too much of a stretch to say she didn't have a good mortal life, and in death, she decides to take whatever she wants. Hence why we see her going after the finer things. All of this is inherent in part of Joss's take on vampires and I don't think is specific to these episodes. It's part of any that really explore those characters, so the crossover shares commonalities but I don't think in the way you believe.

    I haven't brow beaten anyone, I haven't called anyone names, and no one is going to persuade anyone. The way they play with each other is mainly having a few similar events and timeframes, but they are distinctly different stories that I don't think complement each other. Both are full experiences in and of themselves and play better in relation to their respective series than they do to each other.

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  3. I am using your list for my current re-watch, and these two episodes are SO MUCH better watched in this order. Thank you!

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  4. Excellent points! I loved watching in this order (for the first time last night). The only thing I might question is the fact that "miscommunication resulting in misunderstandings" is the central underlying theme of Buffy season 5. I didn't feel reversing the order detracted from that too terribly, but I did recall it causing me to wonder if a first-time viewer of these shows might not see that Spike's story fit into the dynamic of the season if they're seeing the relationship between Spike and Angel as vampiric growing pains. I plan to watch again in the Darla-FFL order and try my best to remove all personal bias. Perhaps I'll find that the miscommunication angle still holds strong. Or maybe it's not necessary at all. Thank you for sharing your passion!

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  5. I just watched them in this order because i agreed with the chronology of it, but after watching I decided to switch them back again.
    I remembered it being more fun seeing the extra elements added in angel second. Like how spike was chosen by dru and how angelus was actually ensouled at the boxer rebellion.

    Both orders have their ups and downs to me.

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