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Here we go: almost to the end of the first season.

For now we just have the "original" audio file up, but if you have any trouble with it, just give us a shout and we'll post the alternative.

Podcast 5

As usual, click to listen in streaming mode, or right-click (command-click) to download.

Also as usual, feel free to let us know if you disagree, agree, think we should cut back on the wine on World Domination nights, wish we would talk about topic X, wish we would avoid topic Y, or have anything else at all to say. As Dr. Horrible proves, even evil masterminds have a softer side.

A(n Un)Natural History of Demons

Non-vampire demons in seasons one and two of BtVS are very classical representations, lone creatures of no apparent origin meant to be the walking, talking embodiment of the most powerful of human emotions: the corrupting or downright dangerous lure of desire (Moloch, Machida, Eyghon), the scapegoats of our very Earthly fears (the "Brotherhood of Seven Demons", the Lucky 19 monster, the Order of Taraka, the Judge, der Kinderstod). At the Hellmouth, these things are real, and they can find and destroy the unwary.

It is only very slowly that this starts to change, Read more...Collapse )
Yes, the project for world domination has taken yet another step forward. We are moving towards the end of season one, and this time tackle a couple of standalone episodes. Does the fact that they're not arc-heavy (or even arc-light: they're pretty much arc-zero) episodes keep us from babbling on about how they fit into the larger Buffyverse picture? Of course not. Our (okay, my) babbling skillz are legion.

Here's the podcast, in the "basic" format. This means it's the same kind of file I've been doing since the beginning. Hopefully you should be able to click and listen in streaming mode, or right-click (command-click) and download for your later enjoyment or annoyance.

However, since some people had trouble last time, we've also uploaded an alternative version that should, at least in theory, work where the above does not. Here it is. Please do let us know if you have any trouble with either file. We may not be able to do much about it, but at least we'll be able to wring our hands and sympathize and at least try to figure out the problem.

Sometimes, even coffeemakers that think encounter technology glitches. Which, you know, is even kind of thematically appropriate this week.


In case you were completely stymied by my last post, I've gone back and added some explanations of the diagrams.

I can't actually guarantee it will be any clearer, but at least you can now be confused by my words as well as by my diagrams.

Networks galore - revised

I have a surprising amount of stuff to say about these two episodes (1.06 The Pack and 1.07 Angel), but I suddenly find myself with a lot of other things that need doing. So I will say some of it here, and hopefully find time this weekend to say some more.

I'm going to start with a couple of diagrams of the type you've already seen, and then show you something new. First, 1.06 The Pack:

Semantic network for The PackCollapse )
The Scoobies are firmly established as a group, and school has assumed its rightful place as the center of their Sunnydale universe (red boxes: highest influence). The yellow boxes (high influence) focus on the players and themes of this episode, especially the zookeeper and his hyena spirits. Now, I ran this analysis after we did the podcast, but issues of masculinity really do figure prominently: guy is right up there among the high influence terms, and fairly central (with several ties to other terms). Since we talked about how this episode emphasizes both guy-ness and the nature of predators, it's interesting to note that guy is linked to primal, but not predatory. The latter is farther down, and I'm especially intrigued by the connections to animal and talk: while the hyena-students certainly go well beyond talk in their predatory behavior, by devouring poor Herbert and even poor Principal Flutie, these events are primarily visual. (Especially, say, in the cut from the principal's office to the documentary scene of hyenas devouring a carcass. Shudder.) But there is also a lot of predatory verbal expression, especially towards Willow and Lance.

Moving on to 1.07 Angel:
Semantic network for AngelCollapse )

Here, Giles isn't much in the picture, downgraded from a red box to a yellow one, his place taken by Angel. We finally learn what's the dealio with this mystery dude. Darla, too, finally breaks out (mostly) from her breathy, girlish role and starts to become the Darla Angelus knew and loved (so to speak). We're back to dealing with vampire(s), and especially the question of whether it's possible to have a good one. (Ah, the black-and-white of the early seasons: here, a vampire must be either good or evil; in season 5, we start talking about ones that are "okay.") It amuses me that life is an isolate (with no ties to other terms): if that isn't a metaphor for Angel, I don't know what is. Also, note that despite their best efforts, Angel and Buffy are strongly linked--not just by their direct, personal (love) connection, but via good. Buffy and Willow are joined by talking about a guy... which actually is a nice lead-in to this next part.

Now, for something a little different. The semantic network software I use, Crawdad, also has the capability of comparing two files to identify shared influential relationships and words. Since we discussed some of the comparisons between these two episodes in our podcast (and if I get a chance, I'd like to write about them as well), I thought it would be interesting to run the comparison and see where the two episodes overlap, in semantic network terms.

Here's what I found:
Comparator, activate!Collapse )

Seriously: Willow is the one person Buffy can connect to about Angel, and that triangle appears in both episodes. (Interesting, since off the top of my head I only remember Xander mentioning Angel in The Pack, not Willow. But I haven't gone back to check.) Animal is another theme connecting the two episodes: Xander becomes possessed by an animal spirit; in the next episode, Angel says "I'm an animal." (Which Buffy refuses to accept, on the grounds that "animals I like.") Somewhat less seriously, but not without merit: Buffy is plagued by bad thing(s) in both episodes (and the rest of the series, really); poor Xander is relegated to the guy friend zone along with Giles, even when he becomes a predator and despite not being threatened or even needing to watch Angel and Buffy together.

That's it for now. Feel free to to offer interpretations, ask questions, suggest patterns. Even if it looks like a bunch of boxes and squiggles to you--and don't worry, it's not a kind of diagram familiar to most people, even in my field--you may notice that some squiggles draw your attention, and they connect words and boxes that suggest some kind of meaning to you. Go for it. Conversation is a lot more fun than just spouting off my own ideas.

Of Vampires and Souls

Way back when this show first started, I was disappointed with BtVS vampire mythology, because BtVS canon, at least as it was presented in season one, was that a vampire wasn't,
"...a person at all. It may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but it's still a demon at the core, there is no halfway."

Consider what this meant. Essentially, it meant that a human's soul, their essence, their mind and spirit, left the body upon death as it normally does, but instead of the body rotting away, some sort of demon spirit took up residence there. This demon was an entirely different individual who had access to their predecessor's memories, and walked around in their body, and talked through their vocal cords, but wasn't that person at all.

It also meant that there could be no Louis de Pointe du Lac, no Nicholas Knight, no use of the vampire mythos as a metaphor for how each of us struggle with our own dark sides and darker urges and triumph or fail. Vampires were to be two-dimensional bad guys that Buffy could snuff without any pesky moral ambiguities getting in the way.

The reveal that (apparently) good-guy Angel was a vampire did nothing to change this mythology. Essentially what had happened in his case is the gypsy curse caused Liam's spirit to return to his own dead body after 150 years and "possess" it, sharing occupancy with the demon.

There could be no honest "guilt" in a scenario like this, and all of Angel's moping made no sense--he wasn't there when all those people were killed by the actions of his body. The demon did all that.

Well, of course, this explanation for what a vampire is was way too limiting for a story of the kind of depth that Joss and company wanted to tell, and they had essentially tied their own hands by setting it up this way. But lest we think they "really didn't mean it that way," even as late as season five, one of the Mutant Enemy writers wrote,

We feel like there's a ghost of the person you once were inside them -- a philosophical ghost, not an actual spirit. It is, in fact, a demon, but the demon is infused with some of the characteristics of the people that they possess (David Fury, Zap2it.com, Feb 9, 2001).

"Some of their characteristics," but again, not the same person at all.

Guys, I love ya, you got emotionally real, gut-wrenching story-telling down pat, but metaphysical geniuses you are not. This may be what you said, but it's not what you showed, nor what you intended to show. Not by a long shot. We have gotten to know a lot of vampires over the years, gotten to know their "human predecessors", and if that's not the same person, then I'm taking down my philosopher shingle for good: Liam, William, Willow, Darla, Harmony, these are clearest examples. We saw slightly less of the human life of Drusilla, and slightly less of the vampire self of Xander, Ford, or Alonna.

But even more compelling, for story line reasons, we were meant to believe that Angel, Darla, and Spike's struggles with remorse were real struggles because they were culpable for the unsouled vampire's deeds, and there could be no culpability if the unsouled vampire were not the same person as the human or the souled vampire.

And the metaphysical problem was so easily solved by equating the word "soul" with "conscience" instead of "mind/personality/essence." So that is what most fans did. The conscience is what leaves the body upon death, and the only thing that moves in is a change in physiology that requires blood as nutrition. Everything else is in tact. The writers' party line then becomes the Watchers' party line, the story they told Slayers to get them to slay without angsting over it.

How would you behave with blood lust and no conscience?

Podcastery - Episode 3

Here it is: our third podcast. In which we finally learn how to (mostly) stay on topic and even make some points! Very exciting.

This particular session discusses 1.06 The Pack and 1.07 Angel. We're moving right along...

As usual, click to listen in streaming mode, right-click or control-click to download for your later listening pleasure. Or derision. Whichever.

Note: If you're having trouble getting the above file to play, then
a) please let us know, and
b) try this one, which seems to work.

I'm not sure why this file seems to cause trouble, since I didn't do anything new, but meanwhile at least there's an alternative. Because really, who would want to miss an episode? Heh.
I've been faithfully cleaning up and running the text of the transcripts for each episode, but haven't really found anything worth posting. It's all pretty much what you'd expect: The Witch had a lot of Buffy, Cordelia, Amy, and Catherine (the Great), cheerleading, and not a lot of vampire action. Teacher's Pet brought in praying mantises, virgins, and a certain substitute teacher, while Never Kill A Boy On the First Date was Owen, more Owen, and the return of the vampires.

Actually, I take back what I said: NKABotFD is actually kind of interesting to look at. here's the diagram:
More pretty picturesCollapse )

Anyway, I originally came here to post the following diagram, which is the aggregate of the first five episodes. Sure, it would be more logical to wait until after the next episode, The Pack, which is technically the midpoint of this short season. But why stand on such formality? This is all for fun, after all.

Still more fun with diagramsCollapse )

So, that's where we stand. If you spot any intriguing connections that you want to discuss, or have any questions, feel free to chime in!

Vampires and the clarity of evil

The birth of a vampire is a painful and disorienting experience for the vampire. But it does not take long for the confusion to give way to a clarity about their nature, an assuredness that seems to come from a connection to something greater than themselves. Some vampires rise from the grave with this clarity, others require the taste of human blood before they achieve it. And each vampire understands this clarity in ways that are unique to the person they were:

In WttH/The Harvest, Xander's friend Jesse is vamped rather than killed in order to bait the Slayer. For the Master, this change is merely a means to an end. But it means a great deal more to Jesse himself:

Jesse: "Sorry? I feel good, Xander! I feel strong! I'm connected, man, to everything! I can hear the worms in the earth!"

Andrew Borba, a clearly unstable human, becomes a clearly unstable vampire after his airport van is attacked by vampires in Never Kill a Boy on the First Date. He says, "they told me about you when I was sleeping," to Buffy just after he rises in the funeral home. He also talks about messages he is receiving from an unnamed "he":

Andrew Borba: "He is risen in me! He fills my head with song! You're the chaff, unblessed. I'll suck the blood from your hearts, he says I may!"

While "he" could indicate a possible psychic connection to someone who is telling him to go after the gang (perhaps the Master?), or could merely be the loony personification of Andrew Borba's own vampire appetite, it could also be that connection to a mysterious something he is experiencing for the first time.

Other examples:

• Gunn's sister, Alonna, tells him, after she is turned by a local vampire street gang, "Don't be sad. I'm not...on this side there is no guilt, no grief...I got the greatest guilt cure ever. I can free you!"

• The bespacled, bookish romantic William not only sheds that skin and cuts loose when he becomes a vampire, he is encouraged to do so by something much more internal than the mere encouragement of his new vampire family.

"Becoming a vampire is a profound and powerful experience. I could feel this new strength coursing through me. Getting killed made me feel alive for the very first time. I was through living by society's rules. Decided to make a few of my own."

• In Some Assembly Required, Angel calls his birth as a vampire "weird" and "disorienting". But after only a moment, his confusion was gone. He feeds on a human, and everything has changed. He and his sire have this vague and ominous exchange:

Darla: "It all makes sense now, doesn't it?"

Angelus: "Perfect sense."

• In Conversations with Dead People, Buffy runs into an old classmate just as he rises from the grave.

: Oh, so I'm a vampire. How weird is that?
No, no. Feels great. Strong. Like I'm connected to a powerful all-consuming evil that's gonna suck the world into a fiery oblivion. How 'bout you?

What is this thing they are connected to? This remains unclear. Transformations, not just of body, but of intrinsic psychology, are not just true of vampires, but other creatures in the Buffyverse as well. Buffyverse humans who are physically transformed into other kinds of creatures (e.g., the sea monsters, Anya[nka], Fyarl-Giles, demonForest, Olaf the Troll, etc) tend to take on the psychological characteristics of that species of creature, even if they also retain aspects of their human personality and identity.

This implies that the moral nature of a particular kind of creature is predisposed in a certain direction. Individuals who mutate from humans into such creatures go through a psychological transformation in which they gradually become comfortable and even happy with those "evil" personality characteristics no matter how repugnant they would have found them as a human.

If the human did not choose to become that sort of creature, can they be held morally responsible for their successor's subsequent behavior? Judging other creatures by human moral standards is tricky. To assume humans or individuals of any other species have absolute free will to choose in any instance what they will or will not do is a naive position that ignores the physical and psychological constraints on our ability to make choices.

For vampires in the Buffyverse, however, this transformation goes beyond mere psychology. It is much more profound transformation of "spiritual" awareness as well. And the effect it has on the vampire is clarity itself:

The vampire ...is not frightened of its condition. It has become something to fear, rather than something that fears. Without a human soul, it is now "connected to a powerful all-consuming evil that's gonna suck the world into a fiery oblivion." Most humans go through life completely unconnected and alone, so to suddenly be embraced by this powerful entity which is wired mystically to so many others, it must be incredibly seductive and alluring, not to mention secure and welcoming, especially for a psyche that just endured the trauma of certain death and yet still retains some resemblance of self-consciousness. ...After a bit of disorientation, a newly sired vampire soon grasps its place in the world on an intrinsic level (ZachsMind, 11/15/02).

Plin and the Masqy of Doom

Be happy you're not getting our dating stories. Srsly.

Podcast for The Witch, Teacher's Pet, and Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (sort of).


I SO don't get this Italian keyboard, Plin!!1!!!

Click to listen in streaming mode, right click (control-click) to download.

ETA: One of the things Plin and I want to pay attention to as we go through the show is the development, not just of the flesh-and-blood characters, but of the town of Sunnydale as well. Sunnydale is represented by Xander as a "One-Starbuck's town", which seems pretty darned small. But notoriously, we later we learn it actually has a university, an airport, a hospital, etc. Not so small after all. Those silly writers, always changing things to suit their story-telling needs.

Except we see evidence of the university in early season two (Reptile Boy), long before season four, and we see evidence of the airport in Never Kill a Boy on the First Date. If you look closely at the van that crashes, you'll see that not only was it an airport van, it was a "Sunnydale Airport" van.