WATCHERS REVIEW: S 1, Episode 17 -- SCARECROW
Story by Coll, CN Winters and Susan Carr
Written by Coll (with additional writing by CN Winters)
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, CN Winters, Sarah
Nigel Hawthorn as Nigel Corrigan, Derek Fowlds as Humphrey Sellers and Laura Prepon as Lori.
Teaser: When last that we left our WATCHERS characters, we were actually far in the future with their re-incarnations/future relatives. With the future seeing to itself, we’re now in the past of the Original Council. The year is 1975 and we’re in London.
A couple of the low-on-the-totem-pole Watchers are packing up the things of someone who, we’re assured, was a powerful magician. While there is talk that even with the “abuser of magic” dead, there is still the risk that some of his items may hold enchantments that could bite them in the rear, if they’re not properly disposed of. Any guesses on the plot for this episode? Good, then let’s jump forward to Penfield, Ohio in the year 2004.
We are in a thrift shop. A gentleman purchases a ratty, old suit. Now we don’t get much detail, but considering the previous scene where we saw the two Watchers packing up such a described ‘ratty’ suit, I think we can see that its sale is going to cause problems.
Flash to the new Watchers HQ, where Rupert Giles is on the phone. As he speaks to someone on the other side of the line, he says that it’s nice to hear from him. The caller? A man named Nigel. And it just so happens that one of those young Watchers in the first scene was named Nigel Corrigan.
Act One: We are in full research mode with Giles, Willow and Xander (I am so thrilled that WATCHERS made him a regular cast member!) where Giles gets them caught up on the magic abuser-slash-Watcher Gone Bad. Giles is well informed about this former Council star, Hezekiah, because as a Junior Watcher, he helped to collect many of the wizard’s personal items after his death for disposal.
Ahhh, the more things change….
What I mean is that we have a library scene/book researchy thing going on with Giles, Willow and Xander. If only Buffy were here…. And in addition, Giles has to do one of those "tell us the basic plot this week, Anthony!" scenes... it's just like old times :-)
Ah, well. So the scene basically boils down to something unspecific may be happening nearby Cleveland due to some of the dead sorcerer’s stuff having found its way to the U.S. Also of some importance is a discussion between Ro and Willow. Rowena feels that Willow, being one of the most powerful witches in the world, should be able to pick up on something wonky that close to Cleveland, but Will seems to be blocking herself.
You see, there’s some parallels between her (she, dark witch who becomes a Watcher) and good – or evil – ol’ Hezekiah (he, Watcher who becomes a dark witch). These parallels have Willow nervous with the entire situation, causing her to block her sensing powers. She still lives with the scars of what she did back in Sunnydale in BTVS: Villains, Two to Go and Grave. This reminder of how good can quickly become bad when touched by powerful magic is a bit too close to home.
One of the things that helped hook me on WATCHERS is the way that they always mention the BTVS links, as appropriate. The staff is extremely respectful of where our characters came from, even as they develop them in their own ways, being HUGE BTVS fans, themselves. One of the ways they show this is through Willow… this isn’t the first or last time that she will deal with the aftermath of her magic addiction, murder spree, or her trying to destroy the world. Even as she works to make humankind safer, she never forgets that she, herself, always has the potential to be as dangerous as she is helpful.
Now, much later in the series, I’ll admit that there’s a few times where I think they revisit this well a bit too often. But, this early in the new series and taking into account how much trouble she had staying in control while helping battle the first, I think it is appropriate and good character work for her to still be so concerned.
Later that night, Andrew’s review of the coroner’s report on a heart attack victim shows nothing unusual, but Willow sees a police report that shows the man’s family reported he was “chased by a scarecrow” before his heart attack. While they discuss this, Robin and Faith stroll in with a new Slayer… Lori… and the only reason I’m including the picture below is because she gets some major play in the far future (of Seasons 4 and 5) so you might as well meet her the right way here and now:
We have Robin Woods, Lori No-Last-Name, and Faith Lehane. Actually, Lori’s last name will be revealed to be ‘Carew’ and she is also amongst the eldest of the newly called Slayers.
There’s some banter here, but really, it isn’t all that interesting. So we’ll skip forward a few lines to the end of the scene with Andrew and Xander commenting on the autopsy photo of the heart attack victim under discussion before the diversion. As Xander succinctly puts it:
(Xander, re: heart attack victim): "Heart attack or scared to death? Looks like a fine line[.]"
The Act ends the next morning after the gang has decided to investigate the farmer’s death further. Let’s face it… old, cursed apparel is missing… a scarecrow, which could use an old suit is reported to have chased a farmer… farmer now dead of heart attack despite no heart disease and a look on his face that points to being scared to death…, it’s a no-brainer.
The rest of Act One revolves around Willow convincing Kennedy that she can be left in charge, even after her disastrous decisions lately. They refer specifically to her tryst with the manipulative vampire, Valerie, here. And then its bouncing between nerdy times at the Council and Giles, Ro and Will visiting the farm, getting caught in bad weather and being confronted by a 16 year old with a shotgun.
Act Two: While Giles is standing still with a shotgun aimed at him in the house, Ro and Willow have been investigating the property, despite the inclement weather. Willow notices some weird patterns in the field, but since she’s holding a metal poled-umbrella, decides against rushing out to investigate it further. Instead, she and Ro go into one of the animal barns. When Wills mentions possible animal mutilations being involved in all of this, Ro is suddenly uncomfortable. The issue of animal sacrifice is briefly brought up, with Willow again referencing her BTVS: S6 past (this time ‘Bargaining’), which seems to make Rowena suddenly uneasy around Willow’s presence.
Within the barn, Willow does, in fact locate a dead calf with signs of ritualistic sacrifice. However, she fails to feel any real power within whatever was being done or whoever had tried the ritual… she’s left confused, first about why the caster chose such a large animal, rather than say a hen and also why if there’s powerful magic involved (as per Hezekiah’s involvement from beyond the grave through his artifacts) why she feels so little actual mojo.
The moment of quiet contemplation is interrupted by her cell phone, startling both women into jumping. But, when Willow tries to answer, she gets only static.
In the house, Giles is damning fallible technology, as he gives up trying to dial Willow’s cell. In his hands is the shotgun that we are informed he took through a surly 16 year old with a bloody nose glaring at him.
Rupert Giles, more than a match for a boy with a gun.
Meanwhile, the wind is picking up steadily and the storm is getting worse.
With the situation under control in the kitchen of the farm’s family, Giles tries to explain why is there. After a bit of negotiating, he’s able to place the family at ease enough to get some sort of explanation of what had been happening on the farm, lately. The son with the gun knew immediately it was the suit that his father had bought for the scarecrow. Soon after it was placed out in the field, the weirdness started… but I’ll let him tell it:
(Junior to Giles): "Stuff was disappearin' from the barn then showin' up somewhere in the crops. Animals were bein' released with no explanation as to how, and then the real creepy stuff started happening."
"Some animals started to die or…actually get ripped apart. Then, at night, something was knockin' at the windows and the wind was howlin' but not like the wind. It was kinda saying stuff."
"That's when I saw it." The boy paused, his eyes teared up and he looked past Giles and out the kitchen window. "I heard screamin' and I get up and see Pa runnin' out of the barn. He was bein' chased…by the scarecrow with the suit on. At least, that's what I thought I saw. When Pa fell, though, that was all I could focus on."
There’s a few things wrong with this whole scene, alas. First… this kid doesn’t sound like he’s from Ohio, but more Kentucky or something. What’s up with the ‘country bumpkin’ accent? But, also, the audience is much too far ahead of Giles, so that when he blurts out that the suit must have brought the scarecrow to life (complete with exclamation mark), all you as the reader can say is… ‘duh, what else would a magical suit on a scarecrow do… especially after you already have the report of a scarecrow chasing after the farmer before his heart attack’.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch… or you know, the Council HQ, Xander and Andrew bond a bit over some mutual Angel-mistrusting. We get another shout out to the Angel episode, “Damage”. Andrew’s a little put out for the ridiculing he got after Willow had to do some fence mending about his “no one trusts you” while retrieving Dana, the damaged Slayer. Xan’s got nothing but good to say about both Andy’s performance and his instincts though… or that could just be the old Angel-hate shining through.
(Xander’s opinion of Angel hasn’t changed much): "Evil, tainted and Angel's a part of it. I'm shocked," Xander said sarcastically, his eyes dark. "You were right not to trust Angel…hell, I never trusted him from day one. But don't let the gang here bother you. They know you did a good job and that poor girl is getting the help she needs all because of you. Besides anyone that can pull one over on tall, dark and brooding is tops in my book. Okay?"
Alas, there is just a small problem with this scene as well, and I can’t believe the Watcher’s Staff didn’t tap into its potential to answer a simple question. Where is Dana?
Remember the Slayer is out of control due to her psychological injuries due to both her kidnapping by a psycho and the onslaught of Slayer dreams when she was activated with the other Slayers around the world. Andrew was sent to retrieve her… and then…?
(It should be noted that she does make an appearance… but this was the perfect place to knot that dangling thread, and it would have given the whole scene more of a point.)
There’s no more time for Andrew/Xander bonding (and slash-fiction jumping off point, if you're of that sort of mind – which I ALWAYS am, but never mind that now), because back at the Blake farm in Ohio, the storm is worsening.
Willow and Ro are continuing their barn searching and it gives them some time to get to know each other even more. Both of them continue to discuss the past, this time in relation to Althenea Dimmons. She’s the witch we didn’t see in England that was helping Willow through her “dark magic weekend from Hell”.
It’s also Althenea who helped Rowena in the aftermath of losing her Slayer in Istanbul (killed by the Bringers in BTVS: Lessons, I believe). She also gave Ro the spell that would be used to activate the Slayers. The Book with the spell is the Opus Obscurum, which we had mentioned back in Watchers: Foreign Presence.
It’s a good scene to build up a more friendly relationship between these two very important characters to the future of the Watchers Council. As you’ll recall, they had a rocky start and things became rather… heated… in Watchers: Rash Decisions… where we coincidentally first deal with the aftermath of Angel: Damage, as well!
Wow, that was quite a detour… back to our review in progress:
Back in Cleveland, Kennedy has AGAIN done exactly the opposite of Willow’s instructions. She was supposed to show Lori around the compound and get her settled in. Instead, she takes the newest Slayer (though she’s had to fight demons already, so she’s not exactly green) and Vi out on a “short patrol”. And again, she has underestimated the power of the vampires… or overestimated herself, and somebody else suffers for her arrogance.
Don’t worry Lori, every Slayer has to be bitten at least once. It’s like a union rule, or something.
Act Three: In the alley, Kenn and Vi get their butts in gear and are able to save Lori, though she’s lost a lot of blood. Kennedy, especially, is upset about how wrong everything went while Vi is the one who holds them together to get Lori back to the Council.
While the drama plays out in the alley, Ro and Willow are still holding out in a barn in Ohio. Their talking turns to Watcherhood and the differences between Ro/Giles (those classically trained from a young age to carry their burden) and Willow (who naturally fell into it, choosing to see it through for herself – of course Ro doesn’t know that technically Giles also chose it for himself after rejecting his calling at first). Somehow, all of this bonding leads them to discussions of trying to find a lasting relationship while fighting the forces of darkness and its all good dialog, but it feels like filler here. Where’s the damned scarecrow, already!?
(Willow shares insight with Ro): "Maybe," Willow began, "but, it's – it's a wonderful feeling to find someone who finishes your sentences or keeps you warm at night; someone who thinks you still look gorgeous when you've got the flu because they see what's inside more than what's outside. Someone who makes you feel safe no matter if it's in an alley with five vamps or at home, in silence, reading a book. When you find someone like that people think it's a once in a lifetime event but…I had that once with Tara. And even if I can't have her, I want that again. It's rare for lightning to strike twice but I don't think it's impossible. I think the trick is keeping your eyes open."
This all leads to what appears to be Willow developing some sort of romantic interest in an oblivious Rowena Allister.
In the farmhouse kitchen, the surly young man, whose name is Jed Blake drops a bombshell on Giles’ conclusion and my assumptions:
(Jed complicates the mystery): "That's not what happened," "The suit was never put on the scarecrow we had," "I know what did this…Brian."
Well, with this revelation, Giles and I both have the same reaction… “Who is Brian?” Except that I added the word ‘hell’ in there and my sentence ended with an exclamation point.
Out of Jed, to Giles’ prompting, comes the sordid story of the dark, Blake family secret. Apparently, you see, Jed had a brother (the out of the blue, Brian) who had died sometime previously. Giles’ new theory is that the angered spirit of Brian was not at rest and through the power of the suit has been able to animate it for vengeance. The magic allows Brian to have a pseudo-corporeal form within the suit, so that he can take vengeance on the family that shunned him and locked him away (which again… these people live in Ohio? Even rural Ohio just doesn’t strike me as the location of this story).
Giles is finally able to reach Willow’s cell phone, but the reception is so horrible that everything he says is a jumbled mess. While she is trying to make sense of whatever he is trying to urgently tell her (the problem isn’t a scarecrow), Rowena is noticing something a bit more… momentarily urgent!
The ‘Plain States’ aren’t the only ones with a “Tornado Alley”.
As Willow and Ro decide staying in the barn out of the rain is no longer a sane thing to do, they decide on a mad dash for the Blake house. Unfortunately they find themselves now trapped between a twister bearing down toward them, and a magical scarecrow/animated suit blocking the way out of the barn.
As Will and Ro face their dilemma of death by ‘Scarecrow’ or death by ‘Wind’, Vi and Kenn have arrived back at the Council with Lori’s still breathing, but bleeding body. Xander and Andrew immediately take action, but Kennedy can only lean against a wall and stare at the results of her refusal to actually follow instructions (though, except for not taking a full crew out, facing down the vamps was going to happen anyway sooner or later… why would Giles, Ro or Will need to be there for them to patrol?).
Back at the storm ravaged farm, Willow and Ro must confront the menace that brought them all out there:
Howdy folks… I have no face!
As the girls confront their path-blocker, its behavior grows more and more puzzling. In fact, for being a killer Scarecrow/Animated Suit of Evil… it appears to be more pathetic than menacing. Willow decides to take a chance and try to communicate with the animating soul.
As Willow chooses talking over throwing magic, the Scarecrow directs her to open a forgotten and web covered chest. Meanwhile, in the farmhouse itself, Mrs. Blake notices that there’s a huge tornado bearing down on her home and begins herding everyone toward the basement. Giles, seeing Will and Ro seemingly menaced by the dark, humanoid shape with the tornado making its unstoppable way to them, ignores safety and rushes out into the storm.
Act Four: In the barn, the tornado’s tell-tale ‘locomotive’ sound begins roaring throughout the barn as the spirit in Scarecrow-drag encourages Willow to inspect the interior of the chest. Within she finds journals, drawings, and poems. For being a killer-possessed straw-man, the being continues to act almost gentlemanly toward the two women and when Willow asks if she should take the papers and read them, it nods to her. Promising she’ll do as requested she points out that they need to leave the barn or be bulldozed by the oncoming twister… and the suit bows… actually bows from its empty waste. The suit crumples to the ground, empty and inanimate once more.
In the meantime, Giles has made it as far as the barn.
(Giles versus the empty suit of clothes): "I'm…I'm here to, um, save you," he said quietly, shifting his weight uncomfortably.
As Giles encourages the young ladies to get their asses back to the house, Ro screams and is found to be lying on the ground. A broken crate’s pieces lie around her, and she has to be carried by the other two.
While Ro lies stunned, Giles and Willow are making a run for it!
They make it to the house, but run out of time as windows blow inward and the roaring engulfs them.
In minutes it’s over and Ro, Willow and Giles all lie dead! Oh, wait… no, in fact they’re barely injured… just shook up:
(Willow watching the tornado race away from them): "Boy, do I miss earthquakes," Willow sighed in exhaustion as she too began to watch the storm pass with Rowena standing beside her.
With the storm passed and the suit no longer animated, a simple incantation and burning puts to rest any magic that the suit may have still possessed. Later in the car on the journey back to Cleveland, Willow shares what the journals have to say about Brian and his heartbreaking life shunned and chained by his father in the barn with the animals.
Upon arrival back at the Council, they find a distraught Kennedy, feeling guilty over the attack on new recruit, Lori. In addition, Xander is frustrated and angry. His magical eye ‘saw’ the aftermath of the attack on Lori, but only by about ten seconds before the gang came crashing into the lobby. He couldn’t do anything to prevent it, he couldn’t do much to assist once it happened. Ten seconds just isn’t enough warning and he doesn’t understand why Willow’s magical eye replacement gave him this wonky “gift” if it serves no purpose.
Willow can only give vague assurances that there is a reason, in between trying to help Kennedy see that she is a good person, despite her impetuousness. Fortunately, while Lori is gravely injured, her Slayer healing is at work and she’s gotten the transfusion she needed.
The Good: Central to the good is how the plot twists our assumptions (both the readers and the character’s) and into a completely different direction from where we all thought in the last act. That really made this more than just a clichéd ‘animated scarecrow’ story. I’ve added a quarter-star just for that creative decision.
The teaming up of Giles/Willow/Ro works really well, bringing out the positives in their interactions and inter-relationships.
I liked the views of the gang really working to solve a mystery (and really, they didn’t solve it, up until the confrontation with the Scarecrow, they still believed one thing when another was actually true).
With some reservations, I like that we’re seeing Kennedy finally take a good look at herself and her impetuous behavior. It’s fine for when she’s by herself, but her headstrong refusal to follow direction has put others in danger too many times. Finally, we see signs that she is seeing that she needs to change how she approaches life as a squad leader. This is the beginning of her journey toward being a valued second-in-command behind Faith which is some of the best character arc work in Watchers.
The artwork was a real winner on this one… congratulations to the artists!
The Bad: There are some pacing problems with this story… some of it a bit severe. Willow and Ro take far too much “screen” time walking around the farm in a storm and jawing about things that have nothing to do with why they’re actually there. This might have been fine, if what they’d discussed were more potent or defined their characters in a new light. It really doesn’t. They’ll fight less now… which they were already doing.
Adding to the pacing issue was some of the scenes in the “back at the ranch” portion of the story. The Kennedy/Vi/Lori plot just didn’t have the energy it needed, maybe because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Slayers outnumbered, one of them gets bitten and seriously injured, they rally.
The last scene with Andrew was a limp ending… it might have been better to go out on Willow and Xander.
Verdict: What can I say about this one? I was set to give this a 2 1/2 star out of 5 when I started the re-read for this review. It’s… routine… for too large a portion of it, but the last act was a great twist and had some emotional resonance in Brian’s sad tale. Still, the Blake’s were skirting too close to stereotypical ‘country-folk’ (from rural Kentucky or Tennessee) and the episode lacked… energy.
For the way that the mystery is solved and the twist of the threat not being an actual bad guy… I’ll settle for a 2.75 out of 5 stars. The Watchers crew has simply been far better than this sort of lackluster writing (especially Andrew's antics).