The following review is for Another Year Older. The eighth episode of season one:
Story by: CN Winters and Susan Carr
Written by: CN Winters and Susan Carr
Directed by: CN Winters and Susan Carr
Produced by: CN Winters and Susan Carr
Edited by: Kate
Sound Department: Steff
Art Director: Chris Cook
Artists: Chris Cook, David Zahir, Chantal, Mytryk, Cynthia Taz, CN Winters
To the WaTchers staff members – Thanks guys for having faith!
Teaser: We start this episode in December in Cleveland at dawn, and in a vampire's lair. Not just any vampire, however, but apparently the "Master" of Cleveland. Having been lying low (as per the Presidium's instructions, we find) he's feeling antsy and bored. He wants a party and when he's reminded that the Council may threaten his fun, he has but this to say: "Do I look like I care about a bunch of humans?" he hissed. And what is the answer to this largely rhetorical question, "Because this is my town. I made it my own when the French were still trading furs to the Hurons. I was here when the last of the Eries buried their dead and the Moravians moved in. I was here when the courthouse was built and that nimrod Elliot Ness was run out of town. So don't stand there and tell me that just because some do-gooders have come to my town that all of a sudden I can't have a party."
I'm sensing a serious ass-kicking coming for him, but we'll see....
Elsewhere, Kenn and Willow wake up in bed later that morning. Will is not at all happy to see frost on the window. Icy winters and California girls do not mix in her estimation. It's also Willow's birthday and we spend time in domesticity with her and Kenn. There's some discussion of what to do for her b-day, and talk about the spitfire that is Marsha (the young Slayer that has been assigned to Will). All of this domestic fun is interrupted by Andrew, who tells them that Willow is needed in Giles' office. There, sitting looking scruffy, but still very cute-as-all-hell, is Xander.
Xander... back from the wild and looking delicious (Nicholas Brendan).
Act One: The first part of this act is everyone welcoming Xander with open arms, especially the emotional Willow, but here's the important part: (Xander): "Remember that time Jesse stole the Bailey's and we injected it into the Twinkies?"
OMG! I completely forgot about that from the first time I'd read this story... I so have got to try that! Of course, it would totally blow the diet, but maybe after I'm done.
Once Andrew has left with Xander to show him to a guest room, Willow informs Giles that she believes Anya was right (during her visitation in Samhain) and that Xan is in trouble. There's something going on here, because Willow and Giles discuss her, as Priestess of the Coven, performing a blessing on Xan to give him back something. They've both discussed how Xan seems to have lost the spirit he'd displayed in Sunnydale. And we can understand why that might be. He's lost his eye, he's lost Anya before they could really talk about 'them' and he's lost his entire town... now he appears to have lost his 'heart' as well. Willow feels she can return at least one of these through a ritual, but she has to talk to Xander first. Here's the strange bit... she also needs to talk to Kennedy, first. Why?
They don't keep us in suspense: Willow wants to restore Xander's lost eye, but to do it requires a healing ritual that depends on sexual energy... sex magic, as Will put's it. That's why she has to talk to Kenn, first. She's going to have to have sex with Xan in order to heal the eye. Would it surprise you to learn that Kenn is not ready to hear, or agree, to this? The argument between her and Will is intense and entirely understandable. From Willow's point, this isn't about the sex... it's about helping a friend who she feels is being lost to despondancy, partly because he can't practice the thing that made him happy and valuable (in his eyes), his construction work. For Kennedy though, with this being dropped on her like this, it IS about the sex... not to mention that they are already so close... how could this not be about that intimacy this ritual requires. The argument really degenerates fast as this sample will show you:
(Kenn): "Then let Xander see a shrink and work out his problems. Or let Giles sleep with him," Kennedy sneered. "Taking you to bed isn't going to be the saving grace for him, Willow."
(Willow): "If I wanted to sleep with Xander for kicks, I would and there wouldn't be a damn thing you could do about it," Willow hissed as her face flushed red. Finally she threw her arms up and began to walk back to the doorway. "I don't know why I even bothered mentioning this," she muttered.
I'm afraid things don't get any better before the act closes....
Act Two: And the badness keeps coming: Xander and Willow are having a nice lunch in her suite, but she notes that Xander is unusually reticent and not so much with the merriment. She asks him a few questions, but gets uncommitant answers and he also seems far more interested in gulping down glasses of wine than in eating. Then he drops a rather large bomb by letting Willow know that he wants her to bring Anya back from the dead!
In the cafeteria, Faith and Kennedy do more bonding as Kenn tells Faith about Willow's plans. Faith, actually showing some maturity here, tries to get Kenn to understand that she'll be a witch doing a spell... not a woman making love to a man; but, oops... Kennedy didn't know about that little Oz/Willow/Xander thing back during the Mayor days. Fortunately, she convinces her to stay and talk and Faith makes her admit that even the two of them can see that Xander isn't the same man he was in Sunnydale... and the changes haven't been for the better. Faith and Kennedy are great together and it really brings out some of the best writing from the staff... this scene shows that. Great work.
Meanwhile, back in Willow's suite:
(Xander to Willow re: she can't bring Anya back): "You mean you won't!" he said bitterly. He shot to his feet and paced around the kitchen. "What? You failed to bring back your own lover so no one else gets a shot? Is that it, Willow?"
Whoa, hey... ouch!
I'm not going to say any more about the Willow/Xander scene because it is heart-rendingly written. Easily my favorite scene just for the "so good, but so painful" way. Anyone that loves Xan and Willow and more importantly their relationship will be moved near tears for his heartache, here. Just read.
Now, here's the point where Willow gets to describe to Xan just how she wants to go about giving him his eye back. And yeah, he's about as enthused as Kennedy about sex with his best friend. But, again, Willow argues... this isn't 'sex', it's a Wicca healing ritual.
It's time for Xan to seek advice on what to do from everyone's 'father-figure' Giles. But in the meantime, Willow asks our newcomer to the Council to help her out with the upcoming ritual:
Willow asks Ro for a little bit of help.
In another part of town, the vampires from the teaser are on the prowl and run into Bonnie, the Presidium contact. We get a bit of information here... but its not much. Apparently, the Presidium's plans are being headed up by someone referred to as "The Engineer". And the Presidium has enough clout to keep a Master Vampire acting tame and cooperative, at least for the moment. But we still don't know who the Presidium is or what they want. It's obvious though that there are plans being enacted and our Council is completely in the dark.
Our baddies... and yes, I'm including that bitca, Bonnie.
Act Three: Giles and Xander visit a pub and Xander (and us) get a lesson in Wicca. He also fills Xander in on who Willow is now and where she's trying to get to. Finally, he has some reassuring to do as Xan's mind is on how this 'sexual magic' might ruin the friendship he already has with Wills (as if that could happen).
While this is happening, Kenn is hanging out at a local lesbian club thinking hard about her, Willow and this Xander-twist that has dropped in. She's not alone for long however, as Faith is there to hear out her troubles and doubts. And being Faith, she puts things in persepective in her own, blunt way:
(Faith to Kenn): "...what happens between you two is up to you. But before you decide to throw away your relationship with her, remember this…I was there that night Xander got hurt. He stuck around to save your ass. If he hadn't, he'd still have an eye. And where would you be right now?"
We learned earlier that Andrew wanted to join Willow's coven. I'm not sure if we ever learned before what her answer was to the proposition, but in this Act it's made clear he is a coven member. And she's teaching him what she knows. But its more than that... she's left Andrew to prepare the coven room and the altar for the healing ritual. It's subtle, but I think it speaks for the trust that Andy has earned since the last battle of Sunnydale. And it takes a night of Kenn sleeping in the Slayer Dorm, but I'm proud to report that she comes around to support Will before the actual ritual begins.
While the ritual is going on, our other friends, the vampires decide to defy the Presidium. Tonight... they have fun. Hmmm... I really think an ass-kicking is coming here....
Act Four: The beginning of the act concerns the aftermath of the healing ritual. Did it work? How does Kenn react? What will happen to Xander now? If you want to know... go read.
After this, comes a night on the town. I really want to mention this part of the story because we meet another very important secondary character in Becca, a guitar player. I refuse to divulge this soon where she fits into the WaTchers mythos, but I will say she's one of my favorite characters along with Kenn, Xander and Faith.
I'll also mention that just because Buffy isn't a part of our series in Cleveland in no way makes her neglected. Xander mentions that he called her and Dawn to let them know that he's alright. I love that they very much remain a part of Giles', Willow's and Xander's lives, even though they aren't main characters (and in Dawn's place, she was only a guest star). In the meanwhile, there's dancing and drinking to be done for Will's birthday and that whole meeting Becca thing. And what's this: Dawn asked about Jeff (who she says has dreamy eyes, but I don't see it)... it appears that Dawn isn't as far over on the gay side of the fence as it appeared when she visited. And Jeff made a lasting impression on her as well... hmm..., will Dawn be back in a bigger role then? I won't say.
Of course, if WaTchers REALLY wants to be a Buffyverse series, they cannot allow this partying to go on without some sort of demon attack... ah, and here they are: Our Vampires!
Despite the seriousness of a mass vampire attack on a club full of people, I have to say there's some really funny Ro dialog here. Clearly she is bombed.
Xander said. "Let's get as many folks out before these guys get hungry."
"And knowing vamps, that's not going to take long," Rowena pointed out waving her finger. "I'm a Watcher. I know these things."
"Riiiiiight," Xander patronized. "And a drunk one at that," he added softly under his breath.
It's a free-for-all vampire fight in the club. I'll let you see how that all shakes out.
Jumping to the last part of the last act... Xander leaves again, which surprised me. Kennedy and Willow, clearly, still have a problem between them.
The Good: The whole thing! This one was wonderfully written with surprising depths by Faith, heartbreak by Xander, comedy goodness by Ro, sex handled in an adult way, powerful magic, a vampire attack on drunken heroes and relationship angst. All of it was solid, and all of it keeping sight on the essential relationships from BTVS and giving some exposure for our newbies (especially a comical moment with little Slayer, Marsha). We get another tidbit of the Presidium working quietly behind the scenes and we see that Bonnie is strongly self-assured while she goes about her business on behalf of her demonic bosses. She's a great character, too that reminds me a lot of Lila on AtS.
The Bad: Nothing. I loved every bit of this one from start to finish.
The Verdict: This one is even better than I remember. This is especially true in Acts 2 and 3. I have no problem giving this one a perfect 5.