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What’s My Line?
What makes “What’s My Line?” so special to me is the fact for the first time in the show, we have two slayers fighting side-by-side. This would, of course, be replicated during Season 3 after Kendra Young dies at the…finger… of Drusilla during “Becoming, Part One” with the appearance of Faith. According to the A.V. Club review:
When we love a TV series, we sometimes say that it’s as good as any movie, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. This Buffy two-parter adds up to one nearly 90-minute story, packed with action and comedy, but while it’s as thrilling an amusing as any movie, I don’t think you could just slap it on a big screen and expect to sell a lot of tickets. There’s too much foreknowledge required, and too much left unresolved. (Not unlike Serenity, come to think of it.) But at the same time, what makes an extended episode like “What’s My Line” so terrific as a TV show is that it can take shortcuts that a movie can’t. It’s because we know so much about these characters and their situation already that “What’s My Line” can pack more into 88 minutes than some movies pack into 140.
In fact, I’m not even sure where to begin describing what this episode is about. So I’ll start with the title, which refers to Sunnydale High’s annual Career Fair, in which students take aptitude tests to figure out what kinds of jobs they’d be best suited for, and then meet with representatives from those fields. (“Do I like shrubs?” Willow asks, while taking her test. “That’s between you and your god,” Buffy replies.) This whole process is making Buffy despondent, because she already knows what she’s going to be doing for the rest of her life: slaying vampires. (I mean, it’s right there in the name of the show.)
Meanwhile, Spike is equally bummed about Buffy’s calling because it’s getting in the way of his job: being awesomely evil, and taking care of poor, weak Drusilla. To the latter end, Spike has had one of his minions swipe a volume from Giles’ library that promises a cure for Drusilla, and he learns that to complete the spell, he’ll need to carve up Angel–something he’d be happy to do, if only Angel’s chick weren’t always hanging around. So Spike calls up a chick-removal service: The Order Of Turaka, a band of supernatural mercenaries who keep coming, one after another, until their prey is exterminated. Some look beastly (like the door-to-door cosmetics salesman whose body is made up of wriggly maggots), and some look ordinary (like the female cop at the Career Fair who calls Buffy’s name and then starts shooting at her).
But the most dangerous person who comes after Buffy is someone who’s not a member of The Order. It’s Kendra The Vampire Slayer, who was summoned from the Caribbean after Buffy briefly died at the end of Season One, and arrives just in time to engage in the old superhero cliché of fighting her ally before joining forces. (She’s like the Buffy of Earth-2.) Here’s what I didn’t like about Kendra: Her accent, and the fact that she leaves at the end of the adventure. Here’s what I liked about Kendra: Everything else, including her disco fashion sense, her bookish devotion (which endears her to Giles), and her utter confusion at Buffy’s network of friends and supporters. To Kendra, a slayer needs to be as focused, relentless emotionless as The Order Of Turaka. (And how does that make a slayer any different from a member of The Order? That’s a question an already stressed-out Buffy would rather not contemplate.)
Does all that cover the action of “What’s My Line?” sufficiently? I’ll answer my own question: No, it does not. I left out Xander and Cordelia playing kissyface while under stress (an inevitable turn of events, really), and Oz and Willow finally meeting and hitting it off, and Drusilla torturing Angel, and Buffy chatting forlornly with Angel while staring at his non-reflection in the mirror, and the introduction of weaselly Willy, the human owner of an undead hangout. (I know Willy returns, because he was in one of the few Season Four episodes I watched a couple of years ago.)
I also failed to mention the many great lines in “What’s My Line?,” including: Buffy telling Kendra, “Back off, Pink Ranger!;” Angel explaining how he knows about Career Fair by saying, “I lurk;” Xander making his first reference to Buffy’s crew as “the Scooby gang;” Willow admitting to Giles that “I have frog fear;” Buffy telling a vamped-up Angel that he shouldn’t worry about his appearance because “I didn’t even notice;” and Xander explaining to Cordelia how they’re going to escape the bad guy, saying, “I have a plan. Buffy saves us.” Oh, I also love the Giles/Xander interaction in these two episodes, from Giles snapping at Xander for cracking jokes all the time to Giles’ cluelessly telling Xander that if he can’t get to Buffy’s house on his own he should “get Cordelia to drive you.” (Giles really doesn’t understand teenagers, does he?)
Thematically, “What’s My Line?” is a little obvious, especially with Buffy whining every 10 minutes or so about how depressed she is that she’ll never be normal, even as the dynamic between her and Kendra makes it plain that Buffy’s far more normal than she could be. (Myself, I prefer the notion that Xander tosses out, that he’d rather live in the dark than know what kind of lousiness awaits him. He could just as easily have said, “Lie to me.”) But clunky thematics aside, “What’s My Line” is just a magnificently entertaining hour-and-a-half, all the way up to the final battle royale which ends–in true gothic fashion–with Spike crippled by a collapsing church organ and Angel sprawled out on an altar.
I don’t know if “What’s My Line?” is better than a good movie, but it’s better than 95% of the superhero comics I’ve ever read.
This episode is just so immensely boring that I never really have any interest in it. It’s a real yawner. According to the A.V. Club review:
“Go Fish,” meanwhile, barely touches on Season Two’s meta-narrative, and suffers mightily for it. I can’t fully hate any episode as Xander-riffic as this one, and I like the idea of Xander joining the swim team in order to find out why Sunnydale High’s heroes are all shedding their skins and turning into aquatic beasts. But is it me, or does this episode seem awfully Afterschool Special-y? It turns out that the swim coach has been dosing his team with an inhaled performance-enhancer derived partly from fish, which leads to several clunky conversations about how “winning is great, but steroids are bad.” Which wouldn’t be so crippling to the drama, except that action-wise, Go Fish takes a dive in its second half. Most of the amusing bits come early, with Buffy fending off the advances of one of the swim jerks–leading me to wonder whether she’ll ever get to love again–but aside from the iconic pulp-novel image of a wet, cleavage-y Buffy being surrounded by fish-men, the end of this episode is undone by ridiculous explanations, improbably slow-moving MOWs, and a final image that’s more goofy than haunting.
Even worse, “Go Fish” only has one Angel scene, during which he takes a bite out of one of the swim guys and is repulsed by the taste. (Really kids, if vampires don’t want your blood, steroids must be bad. Stay clean, okay?) Coming so close to the finale–and given the sublime revelations of the episode that precedes “Go Fish”–the lack of forward motion in this installment is a bit of a bummer.