The Honey remains on the island, but I'm stuck in Ferndale for the time being. There is talk that the ferry may be down all week as ice cutters off Northern Michigan continue to make paths for freighters. Now, usually this far into winter there wouldn't be any freighter traffic on the St. Clair River and environs, but with the mild winter we've been having, the shipping companies pressed their luck. I sure do hope they're paying the Coast Guard back for this extra work....
Story by Susan Carr, CN Winters, DragonWriter17, Chris Cook and David Zahir
Written by CN Winters and Chris Cook (additional writing by Susan Carr)
Directed by CN Winters and Chris Cook
Produced by CN Winters and Chris Cook
Edited by Angie Wilson
Sound by CSR
Art Direction by Chris Cook
Artists: Chris Cook, David Zahir, Libbi, Rob, CN Winters
Starring: Norika Fujiwara as Mia, Felicia Day as Vi, Carly Schroeder as Marsha, Laura Prepon as Lori, and Lindsay Felton as Skye
Guest Starring: Claire Forlani as Cynthia, Alyssa-Jane Cook as Gil, Robert Picardo as Dr. Miller and Bianca Chiminello as Jena
Scene 01: We open during the late evening in the Slayer Rec Room, Council HQ. Together are Mia, Kenn & Faith. Through dialog we're informed that the bulk of the Slayers have gone home for the holidays. There's some mild banter and Kenn and Faith end up wagering over who can stay up the longest.
Scene 02: Willow has kept Marsha from going home (we've learned that her home life is abusive in a past episode) and they're having a sleepover.
Ro has forgotten and she stops by Willow's, but backtracks when she realizes her mistake. Giving Willow a cover story about stopping by to discuss indexing, she quickly makes her exit.
Marsha is a smart kid and she isn't fooled for a moment. Willow, explaining that she doesn't want to violate the sacred Slayer/Watcher trust, takes Marsha into her confidence, but swears her to secrecy.
Marsha asks a few questions, some of them embarrassing, but she swears she won't gossip. She thanks Willow for allowing her to stay over the break.
Scene 03: At the same time, in the Great Hall of the Presidium, The Assassin requests the chance to gain 'blood debt' against the Slayers for killing members of his family in prior encounters. The Lover dislikes the 'indulgence' and, truth be told, she doesn't much like The Assassin, either. But she allows him his opportunity by summoning a mystical arena and putting valuable magic toward summoning the Slayers to participate. You can see how she wouldn't be all warm and fuzzy toward someone named 'The Assassin', but he's also played by a Ring-Wraith which doesn't help.
Scene 04: In the Rec Room, Kennedy switches off the tv only to find Faith and Mia sleeping. She brags that they're wimps and then sticks a Post-It on Faith's forehead to let her know she lost a week's wages (and without much of a challenge) and leaves the resting Slayers... now, go back and read the episode title and tell me what will happen next....
Scene 05: We follow Kenn into the kitchen, where we learn that it's now approaching dawn and she tells the arriving Andy that she's going to do a short patrol and watch the sunrise come over the lake.
Scene 06: In an underground cell, Faith snaps awake to find herself and other Slayers, some unknown to her imprisoned. Among the captured are Vi, Mia and little Marsha. The Assassin informs them that they've been summoned to the Arena and that none of them will be leaving alive.
Commentary: What really makes these scenes is the pictures. The backgrounds are oppressively dark and hard. I don't know where the source material came from, but these were really well chosen to represent the Presidium's demonic world.
Scene 07: With the girls beginning to revive, Imbethit makes his appearance gliding through the bars of Faith's cell as if they were immaterial. He makes his introductions and informs them of why they are there and why they are to die.
Faith, of course, refuses to cooperate, but she's quickly rendered immobile and bent backward until her back nearly breaks - letting the other Slayers know that they're in serious trouble. After The Assassin leaves, Faith tries to organize the girls and makes sure that Marsha starts passing along to the new arrivals (the non-found Slayers) what is happening and what they're now up against.
Commentary: This was a well designed scene in that it makes sure that we as an audience get the fact that there isn't a lot of choices to be had, here. The Slayers cannot overpower just the Assassin, let alone the rest of the Presidium that they'll see surrounding them shortly. That's important because of the way the Arena is going to work....
Scene 08: Back in the Council, Willow has snuck over to Ro's room and lets herself in. Rowena is on the phone with her mother and makes an off-hand comment to a question that she isn't dating anyone. She explains that there is just too much work for her to get away and come visit.
Obviously, Willow is hurt once again by this refusal of Ro to be open about their current status. Ro tries to tell her that she just doesn't want to break the news over the phone, but you can see Willow's point when Ro doesn't even want to tell anyone at the Council... due to Will's continued hurt, Ro marches back to the phone.
Calling her mother back, she informs her that she'll be there for New Year's and that she's going to bring a fellow Watcher with her. She insists that Willow will be more than comfortable sharing her bed, with a wink at Willow.
Once she hangs up, Will tries to convince her that they'll be alright, no matter what the reaction is ultimately but Ro is scared, as you'd expect. Still, the deadline is set, so that's progress.
Scene 09: Back in Willow's apartment, she's returned to find Marsha still sleeping. Calling out she's making waffles, she goes to the kitchen, not suspecting anything wrong yet.
Scene 10: While back in the cells, Faith tries to ascertain how many Slayers there are... turns out to be several hundred including what appears to be all of the Council's contingent. A lackey-demon informs Faith that the only choices open to her are to fight in the arena, or to simply be killed....
Scene 11: In the rec room - Robin tries to wake Faith up for a Tuesday meeting, but she won't respond. When he finds that Mia, still lying next to her also won't wake up, the alarm bells start to ring.
Scene 12: In Willow's suite, she's finding the same thing - Marsha also won't respond to her attempts to rouse her. She goes back to Ro's apartment and informs her that something is wrong with Marsha.
Scene 13: Back in Vor, the Presidium's dimension, the Slayers are putting the pieces together.
Commentary: I like the callouts to 'Dream Warriors' influences here including: Wes Craven (duh), ST: TOS (The Gamesters of Triskelion) and Freud (one of the possibilities mentioned is that Faith is dreaming and everyone else isn't actually there which has been a plot twist in many stories including Scully's viewpoint of 'One Breath' and DS9's 'Distant Voices'.)
I also like Faith's response to the idea she's alone in a dream, "Hands up all those who think they're real people... Good enough for me."
Scene 14: Faith and her cellmates are escorted from their cells. She leaves Heli in charge, who we will come to know in future episodes... and I'm not going to do the obvious and give information about what's to come with her, but let's just say she'll be one of our major Slayers.
Faith remains defiant, as is her character, but you can sort of get the sense that she's at a loss as to what to do with the situation. (For instance, she chooses not to engage the guards because of their possession ability - see 'True Colors')
Scene 15: As The Lover looks on through her device, the mages of the Presidium have gathered in the Arena's seats and are busily chanting in deep magical concentration.
Commentary: I'm glad this descriptive scene was included. It was important that the episode make clear that this entire affair is very taxing to the Presidium's resources, otherwise you'd have to wonder how they haven't won yet. They do have limits on their abilities to interact with Earth, and its clear here that summoning all of the Slayers who were asleep everywhere in the world is taking up most, if not all, of their mage's combined powers....
Scene 16: The Slayers are led into the Arena to battle for their lives. The stands erupt in hissing and booing in the girls' direction as their demonic opponents rush in to engage them.
Commentary: The quick descriptor of the scene in no way does justice to these scenes. The writing is really sharp here, leaving the reader with a claustrophobic feeling that the Slayers are really screwed.
Scene 17: In the Council, Giles is informed by Robson in London that their Slayers won't awaken as first Robin and then Willow and Ro come rushing in with their news. Giles asks Robson to check in on the 'Asian branch' to see if they're affected as well. In the meanwhile, Robson is also going to check with Althenea and her coven to investigate any possible magical attacks.
Commentary: There are so many small details that I like about this scene, one of which is Giles taking charge of the situation. We also get the shout out to Althenea, the Slayers who've gone home on holiday, Buffy and Bonnie (who, in my opinion, has spent too long being in the far background considering her prominent role in the prior Presidium business).
Scene 18: In the arena, battle is raging between the combatants. We get focus on Faith and Marsha with shout outs to Vi and Lori (who we met way back in S1, E17). The Slayers appear to be holding their own, but more waves of demons are released into the arena as the Slayers begin to win.
Scene 19: At the Council, Andrew intercepts Kennedy as she returns with the 'midnight shift' of patrolling Slayers. He blurts out that they've got a situation and when finding out the sleeping Slayers won't wake, she dashes off to check on Mia in the Rec room....
Scene 20: But Mia, or at least her consciousness, is busy in the dream arena fighting for her life. Faith also continues to battle as the latest wave of attacks subsides. When the crowd in the arena grows silent (in shock or disappointment) only the Slayers remain standing... not without injury.
Scene 21: The Lover watches through her screen as the Slayers are herded back to their holding cells. The crowd of spectators are still until one Slayer is found dead. As the cell guards pick up the fallen's body for display, they erupt in cheers angering the remaining Slayers, and it appears, annoying The Lover.
Commentary: The Lover's reaction in this scene is interesting because it hints that there is more to her than the usual 'crush, kill, destroy' mentality of the 'flunkies'. And this is just a small hint toward the ultimate resolution to the Presidium arc. It was very nicely done how throughout the arc we've been given very small hints that there is something much more going on in this dimension than warfare for its own sake. This form of sly hints to point toward a major plot twist will be used to even greater effect in another story arc.... For this arc it makes her character far more complex than the Engineer was in the S1 arc.
Scene 22: From the Rec room, Robin supervises the moving of Faith and Mia to the infirmary....
Scene 23: In the cellblock, Vi is being carried into her cell with Slayers who've just been put through the same treatment as Faith (including Vi!) was earlier. The London branch Slayer speaking to Faith introduces herself as Cynthia and reports that they've lost a girl named Hannah. Shortly after, news that another of the Slayers - one not trained - has died.
Faith grimly orders her clothing be removed for make-shift bandaging before the demons retrieve her remains.
Attention turns to sounds in the Arena as the crowd celebrates, obviously another Slayer has been killed. This makes Mia confront Faith about what the plan is going to be. At first, she feels that this fighting is pointless and is frustrated that they're dealing with an enemy who doesn't seem to care about how many demons they're killing off.
Faith informs her that she thinks (based on the dying muttering of one of her foes) that the other demons they're fighting may be slaves just like them. The sympathy in her voice worries Mia, who tells her that it doesn't matter. Fighting is what they have to do until the Watchers can find and rescue them. She pleads with Faith not to get soft, as the Slayers who haven't been part of their organization needs to see a strong Slayer committed to keeping them going and alive.
The confrontation is tense between them, but Faith assures Mia that she understands the situation and that if killing these other demons keeps them alive, she'll do it, but she can't help comparing them to Clem or Brell and is feeling guilty over it just the same.
Vi revives around here and Faith and her banter a bit through the bars of their respective cages, when she and Cynthia are chosen to go to the arena next, alone.
With Vi hurt already, Faith angrily confronts one of the guards about sending two Slayers against a demon army alone, but he informs her it won't be Vi and Cynthia against a horde of demons...
This time it is a Slayer vs Slayer fight to the death!
Commentary: It's not that I'm not thrilled to see Vi get more screen time, but damn! She's fighting with Faith, she's fighting with the team that goes out after Faith's, and now she gets called to fight another Slayer - did the demons really hate her red hair, or something? I'd be interested in knowing if there was a deliberate focus on giving Vi a far larger part here in order to set her up as a more major character for future use. Until now, she's been a very background character despite being one of the original Slayers in the Council since S1, E1.
Scene 24: We join Vi and Cynthia in the arena and as if things weren't grim enough, they're informed by Inbethit that he wants to see them fight to the death. When they refuse, he simply notes that refusal has consequences.
To Vi's horror, barbed chains come up from the arena's sand and hooks into Cynthia dragging her under. Vi tries to pull her to safety, but the chains have embedded themselves in the other Slayer and blood splashes the ground and Vi as the young woman is pulled under. Moments later and blood oozes up through the sand, leaving Vi stunned.
Commentary: Add Hellraiser to the influences. But what I really want to commend is the grim and hopeless feeling that the Watchers writers and artists have made sure pervades since we arrived in Vor. This may be the grimmest (and is certainly the bloodiest and most sadistic) episode of WATCHERS to this point. You're almost afraid to go onto the next act by the time you reach this point, presumably the reaction the staff wanted, so good show....
Scene 25: Remember that comment about the Lover being complex: Well, here she shows it by infering clearly that she was the one to impose on The Assassin that Slayer should have to fight Slayer. She tells The Flayer, "You see, this way is far more enlightening."
Scene 26: In the medical facility, Xander is helping out Dr. Miller with hooking up EKGs or whatnot. He lingers over Vi's bedside and gives her a lingering kiss on the forehead....
Commentary: Which adds to the feeling that Vi was shoved front and center more in this episode so that she would have a bit more exposure and prominance before a Xander/Vi coupledom. If that was the particular reason that she is all over this episode, it was a bit ham-handed and not strictly necessary. On the other hand, as I've said, it is good to see her getting more scene-time....
Scene 27: In the Coven room, Willow receives a call from London informing her that the one of the Slayers killed in Vor (though they don't know that exactly, yet) has suddenly lost all brainwave activity. She's being kept alive artificially but for all intents and purposes she's gone. Dawn reacts by worrying because no one's heard from Buffy yet, but Willow directs them back to research on what could be causing all of this....
Commentary: I also like this scene particularly because a) Buffy isn't forgotten when it's logical that her friends should be worrying about her, but moreso because b) This really shows how much Willow has matured into a leader in her own right in the last few years... instead of worrying about Buffy all of the time, she's more focused on the 'big picture' in a way that I don't think BTVS: S5, S6 or S7 Willow could've been.
Scene 28: In the arena, Faith and Mia are brought in to face two other Slayers, who Mia recognizes. They're Slayers who stayed in Julia's 'gang'. The Assassin orders them to fight one another, but one of the girls reacts by confronting him instead - she's instantly wrapped up in the chains and dragged to her doom.
With only one Slayer on the opposing side now, Mia is left to face her while Faith is forced to leave the arena and return to her cell.
Scene 29: Back on Earth, Giles visits Bonnie in her 'guest quarters'....
Scene 30: In the Coven room, another call comes through, but this time it's Buffy reporting that she's fine....
Scene 31: In Bonnie's room, Giles learns of rumors of the Arena from Bonnie....
Scene 32: In Vor, Mia is escorted cut up back to her cell. She informs Faith that she 'won'. She also tells her that they took back the knife when the fight was done, and Faith sees a slash mark in her wrist.
Mia is nearly overcome with despair, but Faith reminds her the Watchers are working the problem and they have to survive until help arrives.
Commentary: I like how Mia never states she tried to commit suicide after killing the other Slayer - it makes it far more emotional for the conclusion to sit there for us to reach on our own. I also like that there isn't a lot of talk over the other Slayer being killed by Mia - in fact, Faith tells her they don't need to talk about it. While there is the temptation for a big dramatic scene here, I'm glad that it was skipped over because the setting just isn't the place for it - the situation is too desperate for long arguments about the morality of Slayer on Slayer homicide, especially when the alternative is to stand there and die by your foe or those awful chains. This really is a no-win situation that all of them are facing and I appreciate that the writers kept Faith, Vi and the others reacting with that knowledge foremost in their minds. But, I also appreciate that they didn't force Mia to make the first move - it was the Slayer Jena who went for the blade to save herself at Mia's expense....
Scene 33: Act Three ends in the library with Ro and Kennedy sharing a scene, when Willow informs them of the London Slayer's death. She worries for Marsha.
Scene 34: Robin discovers enough of an answer for the Council to formulate a risky plan. Willow intends to have herself and Kennedy drugged into sleep and use her to 'piggyback' into the dream-arena that the Presidium has mystically built. She isn't sure what she's going to do once there, but feels their only shot is to 'blow it up' from within.
Scene 35: Things go from sadistic to... well, I don't know what word I'd use. In Vor, Vi (again? Wow, the Assassin really hates her), Faith, Mia and Marsha are marched into the arena. They're informed that this time two must die for the other two to live.
Faith, fully expecting the chains of death, defies him, challenging the jeering crowd. She tells them all she'll put the dagger that has been provided through their heads. But Imbethit informs her that the choice of who dies is not her decision and sends the chains to drag little Marsha down, slicing up her calves as she begins to be dragged under the sands.
The Assassin further tells them that if they fight, Marsha will continue to have a chance to live....
Scene 36: Willow and Kennedy begin their trip to Vor, while in the arena, Faith orders Mia to fight her. She instructs Mia that they'll try to drag things out while Vi works on 'rescuing' Marsha....
Commentary: Although 'rescue' is relative - just where are they going to go? How will that keep Vi from having to kill Marsha afterward or the other way around to stop one of them from being executed. I don't know, I think I'd role into a ball or make a desperate suicidal leap for the Assassin by now - but then, I'm not a hero....
Scene 37: Just as things look really hopeless for a member of our 'named' cast, Willow and Kenn arrive. Willow, realizing that this isn't a physical place, also realizes that it doesn't follow normal rules. Referencing Nightmare on Elm Street Part III (though she confuses it with IV) she tells the others that she can manipulate the environment and she begins a jailbreak among the Slayers.
Commentary: The Nightmare III vs IV dialog scene was some well placed gallows humor that was appreciated by me, here as the bulk of the episode has been so unrelentingly dark.
Scene 38: The Flayer and The Lover are aware of Willow's actions, and he asks her exasperated if she's going to allow this to occur. The Lover, rather smugly, informs him that Imbethit received what he asked for - the dream Arena - and if he cannot control it, then that is his problem.
Commentary: The entire tone of this scene is amusing, as The Lover is very clearly enjoying the fact that The Assassin is about to lose control of everything. The text describes a 'small smile' but I can't help but imagine that it's more of a smirk.
Scene 39: The freed Slayers swarm into the Arena, taking the Assassin completely off guard. Willow immediately targets him as the one who needs to be brought down for everyone to make it back home. In the meantime, Marsha is panicking as Vi tries to get her free... she's now waist deep in the sand.
Willow hesitates when she sees her Slayer in immediate danger, but puts the mission first and goes to Inbethit. Meanwhile, Mia has lost it and is really attacking Faith with all she has. Kennedy wrestles Mia to the ground before the distraut Slayer realizes that rescue is at hand... she collapses to the ground in sobs.
Scene 40: Magic fight: Willow vs. Inbethit, Part I....
Commentary: I'll just say that this was excitingly written, especially the description of The Assassin's powers.
Scene 41: "Faith, bruised and battered, joined Vi in trying to get Marsha free of her sandy prison, when the whole Arena seemed to lurch. With an anguished cry Marsha sank deeper into the sand, which itself was draining away, revealing patches of oily, writhing chains beneath it. Slayers and guards alike lost their footing as the true face of the Arena was revealed, jagged metal, barbed chains, slick with blood, tatters of flesh still hanging from them. In seconds the battle was reduced to humans and demons alike struggling to stay upright, to keep themselves from falling into the writhing mass of iron."
Commentary: Fantastic writing.
Scene 42: Meanwhile, Willow is pushing the Assassin back with her magic and the periphery of the arena begins collapsing.
Scene 43: Faith spies the silver dagger that had been thrown to the Slayers to kill each other with, but turns it on The Assassin with a well placed throw, allowing his defeat.
Willow and the Slayers suddenly awaken wherever they were... but just before, Marsha had been completely engulfed in the razor chains! It doesn't look like she could have made it....
Commentary: As the youngest Slayer, you just can't believe the Watchers would have killed her off, and yet - her final scene in Vor was pretty hideous....
Scene 44: In the Council infirmary, Dr. Miller and the medical staff are attempting to revive Marsha as the others awake on their own. Where they were wounded in the Vor-dream-space, the Slayers find themselves without injury in the real world. Marsha however has a flatline (brain activity)....
Scene 45: In Vor, The Flayer commands The Assassin to rise, which he very painfully does - his armor beginning to uncrumple itself. The Flayer tells him that his chance at vengeance has now expired.
Scene 46: Willow comes into the library to inform Rowena that Marsha did die, after all.
Commentary: Stunned. I was just stunned that they really killed her.
Scene 47: The last scene is a Quicktime video of Marsha's funeral....
Commentary: Need I even tell you to be sure to watch it? It was very well done and really Marsha's death is heartbreaking especially the way that the writers didn't shy away from having her die in such an awful fashion... just like all Slayers face. Well done guys, well done indeed.
Bonus Picture of the Assassin:
The Good: I want to just say the whole thing here. The writing was excellent throughout, the plot was simple but horrifying and the meat grinder the Slayers were put through was intense and gut-wrenching.
Most of the artwork was absolutely great.
The video-scene for Marsha's funeral was not only appropriate, but the song chosen made the whole thing beautiful.
Finally, I like the pace of the episode - especially every time I thought the Slayers were done, only to have the writers reveal that things can still get just a little bit worse.
The Bad: I want to say nothing was badly done, but there are two things that shouldn't have been included. The very first two pictures just didn't work at all. In the first, Mia is the problem - she looks horrible and nearly deformed. In the second picture, the problem is Marsha's, in that she looks like a mannequin trying to be seated. And, neither one of these images really adds anything to their respective scenes.
Other Thoughts: I laughed at the Post-It on Faith image, but that note is really, really big....
In Act Three - image 6 wasn't really needed and doesn't look quite right. It could have been left out as well. Image 12 of Act Four doesn't really work because of Mia's positioning. I appreciate the addition to the scenes, but I guess what I'm saying is that there could have been some 'tough love' during editing about including some of the photowork.
And, I just have to know - what was the sudden dumping of Vi into every action scene about?
The Score: This was a fantastic episode: bleak, claustrophobic, tense and constantly leaving the reader worried about where it was going next. I was shocked at Marsha's death and really appreciated the funeral video to honor her. I don't really have much to say because everything just worked well in the story to create a nearly unrelenting horror show.
4.75 out of 5, guys.