Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sex, Lies, and Inventions!

Because it's a holiday tomorrow, I've released my short story, Sex, Lies, and Inventions, today. That way, if the links or downloads don't work, I'll be around to field those problems. You can find the links to download .mobi, .epub, and .pdf files on my website, in the Pay What You Want library, but  no donation is expected!!!! I just didn't want to make a separate page for free stuff. This is just a taste to introduce you to Feebee and the Professor, who will see their own novel, Raptors of The Great Plains, in December, 2013.

Have a super holiday if you're celebrating, and if you're not, have a good Sunday!

EDIT: If you are on a mobile phone or iPad or Kindle or whatever dagblasted new-fangled technology these crazy kids have today, that link up there won't work. So use these:

Hopefully that will work for you. Ya crazy kids ya.

Drunk of Thrones!

Our final chapter of Drunk of Thrones! is here, just in time for the series premiere tomorrow night. D-Rock and I continued to drink mini bottles of wine, one per episode, as we waded into the murky and confusion plot waters of season two of Game of Thrones. We also filmed a post-game wrap up, where we discussed the misogyny and racism of the series.

Some mild spoilers for A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons, but nothing major. We don't like, ruin season three or anything.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

50 Shades Freed chapter 11 recap, or "That chapter where there was nothing funny to say, because it's too fucking sad."

In case you missed it, this weekend is the The Boss read-a-long at That's What I'm Talking About. After this incredibly depressing recap, maybe stopping by there might lift your spirits a little.

I was in such a good mood when I started recapping this chapter. I was in the middle of a really bad day, pain-wise, so I was good and medicated (I know I have some new followers to the blog, so quick explanation: I'm disabled due to chronic illness and permitted by the state of Michigan to use marijuana as a pain relief method). I was pretty laid back, feeling chill, listening to the new Bowie album, thinking, "Right, I remember this chapter. This is the one where they went back into the Red Room of Pain." Because it's been a while since I've read this chapter, (and honestly, by the time I was finished reading all these books, it was like everything had blended together into this stew of horrible and sad and angry), I was thinking, "This isn't a very bad one, if I remember correctly."

I did not remember correctly.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Drunk of Thrones!

No, it's not Roadhouse. Roadhouse is on break, and season 2 will premiere on April 19th, with an episode about awesome tv shows that got cancelled way too soon.

However! In the meantime, D-Rock and I made a non-Roadhouse project that we like to call Drunk of Thrones. Or, Game of Drunk, depending on how drunk we got as we filmed. Since season three of one of our favorite shows, Game of Thrones, will premiere on March 31st, and there are probably some people who haven't watched the first two seasons, we thought, "Who better than us to help these poor, Game of Thrones-deprived souls fill the gaps in their knowledge. While we drink a mini-bottle of dollar store wine per episode?"

Drunk of Thrones is the result of that selfless experiment.

In glorious new lighting (I changed a lightbulb in my office), featuring a cast of literally two of us, Drunk of Thrones is all the action of Game of Thrones, without any of the masterful storytelling or cognitive coherence you'd get from just watching the dvds.

Drunk of Thrones: Drunk Throneser will be out next week. But they'll be, you know. On the internet forever.

Because this is our legacy.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Boss chapter eight is live.

New chapter of The Boss is live, here!

Two things I yelled in my sleep, and some dreams.

Two things I yelled in my sleep last night:

  1. "The headphones are winning!"
  2. "This isn't Seaquest, bitch!"
Some dreams I had last night:
  • A nightmare caused by I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, in which Mr. Jen refused to let me name our surprise baby Tina Fey Armintrout. Neither would he allow me to name it Tina Poehler Armintrout.
  • I was somehow involved in a Les Miserables style political uprising.
  • The new season of Game of Thrones had an uncomfortably heavy emphasis on vaginal secretions.
  • I got to meet Tom Hanks in person.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hiatus and Story Re-release Announcement! Now with bonus rag doll creep out!

Hey there Troutnation (citizenship optional, a tweep just suggested that and I thought it was hilarious), I just wanted to clue you in on what's happening next week! After I post the next 50 Shades Freed recap on Saturday, March 23rd, I'll be taking a short break from blogging to catch up on projects (such as finishing the last two chapters of The Boss and putting in some serious word count on my upcoming YA from Entangled Teen, Such Sweet Sorrow), as well as working on cleaning up some of the broken links and consolidating the Buffy recaps onto their own page.

On April 1st, I'll be re-releasing my short story, Sex, Lies, and Inventions here on the blog in a few different ebook formats. This one will be a freebie, as it will later be spun into a longer project. And no, that's not an April Fool's day joke, I'm not smart enough to pull those off.

Then, April 2nd, things will be back to operations as normal, and I'll go back through and break all the links I fixed, just so nobody thinks I'm trying to get too classy for my own britches.

In the meanwhile, let me introduce you to someone very special to me.

You're going to want this musical accompaniment while I introduce you:

Okay. Let me introduce you to my first love, John Denver.

Why are you screaming like that? Is it because the dye from her embroidery thread mouth and heart have run over the years and it looks like she's drooling blood? Don't worry. That bothers a lot of people at first. But once you get to know her, you'll see that it's all a part of her charm.

John Denver was sewn for me by a friend of the family when I was about three years old. Because I was three, I named her John Denver. I thought that was the most beautiful name in the whole wide world, for the most beautiful doll in the whole wide world. When I got her, she was about my approximate height. She also had a calico dress, apron, and puffy cap. These items have been lost because I borrowed them for dress up. They were my size, and we shared clothes often when we first met.

Over the years, John Denver has been through a lot, including a three year imprisonment in a garbage bag in my mom's basement when we didn't know where she was. But now she's living with me, much to my husband's chagrin.

Why chagrin? Because my husband, Mr. Jen, is terrified beyond all comprehension of John Denver. He doesn't like her "weird face" or her "weird name." He hates that she is roughly child-sized and always seems to be "accidentally" posed right behind him when he's on the computer or playing a video game. He looks up, sees her from the corner of his eye, and is immediately creeped out.

I don't know who keeps doing that to him.

Maybe it's because she never blinks. Her innocent blue eyes are wide and all seeing. Perhaps he's afraid she'll look into his soul. Or perhaps he's creeped out by the way I will sometimes use her as a puppet, miming the doll slowly drawing its hand across its throat, then pointing ominously at him. Maybe he's just afraid a spider will crawl out of her orange yarn hair, as happened to me once upon a time.

I have still never quite forgiven her.

These days, John Denver spends her days on a chair in my office. Sometimes, she wears a Star Wars shirt. Somedays, she goes au naturel. Sometimes, she holds an instrument like a ukulele or a baritone. Hats get involved.

This year, John Denver and I will be celebrating our thirtieth anniversary of everlasting friendship.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch s01e05 "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date"

In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will misnumber the episodes because what is she, some kind of math whiz? Fuck that. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow's magic is utterly useless (this one won't be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn't as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they're watching along with me, and that's awesome, but I've seen the entire series already and I'll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So... you know, take that under consideration, if you're a person who can't enjoy something if you know future details about it.

"Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" opens with Buffy fighting a vampire in one of Sunnydale's numerous cemeteries (later in the series we learn that there are twelve such cemeteries in the town). She takes out the vampire, delivers a well-timed quip, and then Giles pops up from behind a tombstone to criticize her for not being fast enough at killing. While he's verbally grading her performance, he finds something the vampire dropped. It's a ring. Giles doesn't know what the ring is about, but he's worried it could be connected to something bigger than just a vampire looking for someone to eat. He says he's going to consult his books.

Hey, you know who else has a book? The Master! Remember that guy? The one who isn't from Doctor Who? He has a book and he's holding some kind of vampire church.

Or a Depeche Mode video, I'm not sure.

The verses The Master is reading out of the vampire bible talk about an Anointed One who will come during a time of crisis. The Anointed One will lead the Slayer into hell, after five people die. Then The Master tells his vampire disciples that if they run around getting themselves killed, he's going to be really pissed off. I don't know how effective a threat he can make, considering he's talking about punishing them for dying, but whatever. The point is, he doesn't want them to fail him, because he needs The Anointed One to stop the Slayer and get out of his underground church prison.

Back in the school library, Buffy and Giles discover that the ring's sun and three stars emblem stands for the Order of Aurelius. Then a cute boy comes in, and Buffy immediately turns to mush. Let me just point out that Buffy's line just before Owen comes in was, "Ooh, two points for the Slayer, while the Watcher has yet to score." As Sterling Archer might say, "Phrasing!"

The adorable kid is Owen, and he's looking for Emily Dickinson poems, because they're his security blanket. So, we know right away that Owen is sensitive. Buffy is clearly into this guy, and she tries way too hard:
Buffy: "So, Emily Dickens, huh? She's great."
Owen: "Dickinson."
Buffy: "She's good also." 
That exchange painfully reminds me of this time I went out on a few dates with a really cool guitar player guy, and he said something about liking "The Dead," and I was like, "Me too, 'Casey Jones' is totally my jam," and he was talking about a hipster local band and I was talking about The Grateful Dead and he thought that was massively uncool of me, then we never went out again. Which turned out for the best because who the hell doesn't like The Grateful Dead?

Giles directs Owen to the poetry section, and Buffy follows Owen so they can have this adorable conversation:
Owen: "I didn't think I'd find you here."
Buffy: "Why not?"
Owen: "I didn't mean - I mean... I think you can read."
Buffy: "Thanks." 
Wait, does that book say DEATH BEAR?

Owen does NOT check out Death Bear, which is undoubtedly the most thrilling book of all time, so we know right away that Owen sucks.

Giles checks out Owen's book for him, grudgingly admitting that Emily Dickinson is a good poet for an American. He doesn't make any eye contact with poor Owen, and rolls his eyes when the kid walks away. File this scene under #2, because once we get through this series together, you're totally going to come back, look at this little fiddly shit, and go, "OMG YOU WERE RIGHT!"

As soon as Owen leaves, Giles changes the subject right back to the Order of Aurelius. He tells Buffy that if the order is in town, it's for a good reason. He's even more stern than usual, and clears his throat a lot.
Buffy: "That was Owen."
Giles: "Yes, I remember."
Buffy: "Do you have any more copies of Emily Dickinson? I need one."
 Giles: "Buffy, while the mere fact of you wanting to check out a book would be grounds for a national holiday, I think we should focus on the problem at hand."
Now, some of you will probably argue that Giles is just upset that his Slayer is focused on dating when they have serious end-of-the-world shit to deal with. But throughout the entire series, Giles reacts super badly whenever Buffy is dating anyone, even if they're not trying to prevent a catastrophe from happening. We'll see this especially in the season 4 episode "A New Man," but it happens no matter who Buffy is romantically interested in. He takes an intense and immediate dislike to any guy she's into. I suppose this could be chalked up to the father/daughter nature some people see in their relationship, but... you know what? We'll cover the father/daughter thing and why it isn't a thing in season six. Moving on.

Buffy apologizes and assures him that he's right, they need to contrate on vampires. But she wants to know if her dress makes her look fat.

At least Willow understands the importance of Owen talking to Buffy. He apparently never talks to anyone, and broods for forty minutes at a time, and Willow knows because apparently she times other people doing weird things. They have a seat at a table with Xander, Buffy fills her friends in a little on the new vampire threat, and then Xander snarkily points out Owen sitting alone. Buffy sees this as her opening, and heads over, but Cordelia is making her way to Owen's table, as well, and the two girls collide. Buffy spills her lunch, and as Owen helps her pick it up, she quips:
"Boy, Cordelia's hips are wider than I thought."
Oh, Buffy. I am disappoint. You're supposed to be a strong female character. Sure, everyone has their moments of weakness, but we just saw your insecurity in the last scene, when you asked Giles if he thought you looked fat. I really wish we could have seen Giles's response to that question, because someone needs to be telling these girls that their physical appearance isn't going to make up for their shitty attitudes towards other women. But we, the audience, are supposed to see Buffy's dig as a coup d'etat, an overthrowing of Cordelia, the very symbol of popularity at Sunnydale, in favor of the more gentle and deserving Buffy regime. And the battle ground this mighty war is fought upon is poor Owen. Two girls, fighting over a boy. Get used to this, because Cordelia and Buffy will continually try to c-block each other well into the second season. (#6)

Cordelia tells Owen he should come to The Bronze, because she's going to be there, and Owen asks who else will be there, then specifically asks Buffy if she's going to go. They agree to meet there at eight, and the scene cuts to Buffy and Willow walking through the hall. Buffy doesn't think it's that big a deal that she's going to hang out with Owen, and Willow heartily disagrees, even appealing to Giles, whom they meet outside the library, to tell Buffy how important this is. Giles agrees that things are serious, but he's clearly talking about something else. He asks the girls what they're talking about, and they answer, "Boys!" in indignant unison. Giles informs them that the Order of Aurelius means serious business. They're going to be picking up the Anointed One, and by Giles's calculations it's going to happen that very night.
Willow: "Buffy has a really important date."
Buffy: "Owen!"
Giles: "Alright, I'll just jump in my time machine, go back to the twelfth century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and show."
Buffy argues further, but Giles stands firm, insisting that they have a chance to subvert dark forces, and, "Tonight, we go into battle."

Then the scene cuts to this:

I assume what he meant was, "Tonight, we go into a battle of wills wherein I attempt to keep you from dating anyone, ever. Round one starts now."

Giles admits that okay, maybe he got the night wrong. Buffy points out that there are no fresh graves, so no one is going to rise tonight, anyway, and Giles tells her:
"Very well then. Follow your hormones if you want. But I assume I don't have to warn you about the hazards of becoming personally involved with someone who's unaware of your unique condition."
So, in Giles's expert opinion, she shouldn't date guys who don't know she's the Slayer. This is another one that could go either way. He could be arguing this from the point of view that she's the Slayer and can't have personal entanglements... but he seems pretty okay with Willow and Xander not only knowing that she's the Slayer, but also helping her fight the forces of darkness. Or, he could be doing the "fatherly feelings" thing, not wanting to see her make a stupid choice out of youth and inexperience. But the very bottom line is, he's telling her she should really only date people who already know she's the Slayer. The only other guys who know she's the Slayer are Xander and Angel. We already know how Giles feels about Angel ("I think you have too many guys in your life," from the last episode) and how Buffy feels about Xander (she dismisses the idea of him as a romantic partner in episode three) and we've already seen that Giles can only tolerate about two seconds of Owen, and just barely. He doesn't like dudes being around Buffy. So... just put this on the list under #2.

Buffy leaves, and Giles repeats the prophecy about five dying and the Anointed One rising from the ashes. He comments to himself that he was sure the prophecy would be fulfilled that night. Cut to an airport shuttle with five people on it, including a crazy sounding dude talking about pale horses and riders and people being judged. Then, it's on to The Bronze! Buffy sees Owen and Cordelia on the dance floor, and they look like this:

And then Buffy is all:

In high school dancing is just socially acceptable public sex. If you dance with someone, it's probably because they gave you naughty in the pants feelings. Or, you went to the homecoming dance with another couple, but then your date and the girl in the other couple hooked up, and even though you really, really disliked the kid who was the abandoned half of the other couple, you dance with him anyway and immediately fall hard for him and wind up dating him for nine months, and when you break up you go to your BFF Jill's house and cry while digging a big hole in the road for no reason.

Wait, what was I doing here today?

Anyway, dancing is either a product of tingly in the pants feelings, or a precursor to tingly in the pants feelings, so from Buffy's perspective, it looks like Owen and Cordelia are pretty much a thing, and she missed her chance.

Back on the airport shuttle to nowhere, the pale horse guy is walking up and down the aisle, bothering people with his crazy ravings. A mother is holding her small child close, and everyone is very nervous. The driver is so distracted telling the guy to sit down that he hits a dude standing in the road. When he gets out to check on him, the dude is predictably a vampire, and he's brought his vampire pals along, who proceed to slaughter all FIVE people on the bus.

At school the next morning, Buffy is complaining to Xander about her ill-luck with Owen the night before:
Xander: "So you just went home?"
Buffy: "What was I supposed to do? Say to Owen sorry I was late I was sitting in a cemetery with the librarian waiting for a vampire to rise so I could prevent an evil prophecy from coming to pass?"
Xander: "Or... flat tire?"
Here, I will give credit where credit is due. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy most of the time, but he's actually listening to and giving Buffy advice about guy problems in a sincere, non-agenda-ed way. Good for him. Buffy is totally freaking though, saying she feels like everybody is staring at her because she's so hideously undateable. I hate to point it out, Buffy, but you are wearing a shirt with a target on it, and that tends to draw the eye.
And I'm not saying this because it's on her chest. I just defy anyone not to look at concentric rings. There's a reason they use that shit for hypnosis.

Xander tells Buffy she's overreacting, because she could have any guy in school. She doesn't want any guy, though, she wants Owen. But when Owen shows up she offers him a lame excuse about her watch breaking as an explanation for not meeting him at The Bronze. It's kind of shitty that Buffy knew she wasn't going to be able to make it and she didn't call him or otherwise contact him to say, "Hey, I might not make it tonight, it's nothing personal." Good thing for her, Owen wants to try again, and to Xander's horror, even loans Buffy his super cool pocket watch:

And Xander checks out his watch:

Let's examine Xander's watch for a minute. Xander's character arc in the series is one of a young man trying to navigate from the teen years into adulthood, and struggling with the transition from childhood to being a mature, responsible person. This arc starts the moment he sees Buffy's reaction to Owen's watch. It's this episode where Xander's character arc activates, because he's seeing what Buffy wants - someone mature and deep like Owen. So in season seven, when we get responsible suit and tie Xander, we can look back to this episode and see exactly where he came from. Pretty neat, huh?! WRITING!

Meanwhile, in an Advil commercial:

Maybe your head wouldn't hurt so much if you didn't get knocked unconscious at least once per episode, buddy.

Buffy busts in and subjects Giles to a conversation in which she plays both Slayer and Watcher, excitedly reasoning that she doesn't have to patrol tonight and she will see him tomorrow. After she leaves, Giles uses the line that nearly every single male character who becomes romantically invested in Buffy uses throughout the series. That's right. He calls her a strange girl. Because the writers just have to give me more ammo, don't they?

Back at the Evil Ponderosa, The Master is talking to his minions about how he's imprisoned, he's been imprisoned for so long he can't remember what the surface is like, yadda yadda. Now, I understand that when you're telling a story in serial form, you have to reinforce some important details for the audience, especially when that audience may be joining your story already in progress. This is only the fifth episode, after all, and new viewers are tuning in every week as the show gains popularity. But it's starting to feel a little heavy handed, when every single episode featuring The Master has him brooding out loud about how he's trapped, he can't get out, he needs this prophecy fulfilled, kill the Slayer, so on and so forth. Especially when Giles and Buffy have described the situation in this episode already. So, yeah, clue in new viewers, but we don't need The Master's entire backstory every single time he's on screen or mentioned in an episode.

Anyway, The Master tells his minions that they're to lay down their own lives if necessary to bring him the Anointed One.

In Buffy's bedroom, Xander and Willow are helping Buffy pick an outfit for her date with Owen. Buffy asks:
"Do I want to appear shy, coy, and naive, or unrestrained, insatiable, and agressive?"
Do I want to look like a virgin or a whore, because those are the only two options? Thanks for making #6 easy to prove, I guess.

Furthering our theme of #6, Xander recommends Buffy wear a parka and ski cap on her date, because Owen is probably put off by assertive women. So, not only should Buffy not show too much skin for a man, she shouldn't dress in a way that makes her feel confident and comfortable because her male friend and the object of her affection won't like it. This is played for humor, because of course a jealous man trying to control a woman's clothing choices is super funny.

 I'm making the same face Buffy is right now.

For some reason, Buffy still trusts Xander's judgement. She asks him which lipstick to wear, red or peach, and he says:
"Oh, you mean for kissing you and then telling all his friends how easy you are, so the whole school loses respect for you and then talks behind your back. The red's fine."
Way to slut-shame, Xander. First of all, if Owen did that, it would be Owen's fault, not Buffy's fault for going on a date with him. Second, you just called the girl you're interested in dating "easy" to her face, so that'll probably score you a lot of points. #5.

Buffy decides on the peach, and then she's going to get changed. Xander tells her it won't bother him if she changes in front of him, and when he's banished to go stand on the other side of the room with his back turned, he does this:

Yes. He is adjusting the mirror on Buffy's jewelry box so he can watch her get dressed. Fuck you, Xander. I just gave you credit for being a good friend, and you have to blow it in this scene by being a Nice Guy creepy douchebag. #5. Of course this also played for laughs.

The doorbell rings and Buffy dashes downstairs, only to find it's not Owen waiting for her, but Giles, and he's all, "Good news, everyone!":

Giles tells Buffy that she has to go to the funeral home tonight, because that's where they'll find the Anointed One, who died in the van accident in the paper. I think it's weird that Sunnydale has twelve cemeteries and funerals at night because they have such a high death rate, but they only have one funeral home. Especially considering most of these people are dying in vampire attacks and rising again. The turnover rate for morticians must be unbelievably high.

Owen shows up, and he's super confused as to why the school librarian is at Buffy's house. Xander and Willow take Owen aside while Giles scolds Buffy for dating too much, and Buffy points out that she hasn't been on a date yet because slaying. In the living room, Xander tries to sabotage Buffy's date with Owen by telling him that Buffy doesn't like dancing, kissing, touching, or being looked at. #5 Buffy is still fighting with Giles over why she should be allowed to date, while he tells her that slayers can't really have normal social lives. Ultimately, though, he concedes that his hunch about the five people dying in the airport shuttle might not be significant at all, and Buffy goes on her date, telling her friends they can beep her in case of apocalypse. After she's left, Giles tells Willow and Xander that he's going to go to the funeral home, just to keep an eye on the situation. Willow knows this is a bad idea, and tells Xander they should follow along, but Xander wants to follow Buffy and Owen on their date because he's a Nice Guy and can't leave well enough alone. #5.

At The Bronze, Buffy and Owen are looking super couple-y. They're having a convo about Emily Dickinson, and how awesome Owen finds death and loss and other stuff. So basically, he's goth on the inside. He also complains about how "most" girls are frivolous and only care about dating, when there is more important stuff in life. Hard to take that criticism from a dude who's ON A DATE, Owen. They dance, and Owen tells Buffy she's "weird," because every guy who is romantically interested in Buffy has to mention that she's strange or different in some way. Then Cordelia comes up and makes a play for Owen, which he rebuffs, and cut to Giles's sad little car with the bad transmission pulling up outside the funeral home.

He is immediately attacked by vampires, because what the fuck did he think was going to happen?

After the commercial break, Giles runs into the funeral home/mausoleum that is also in the cemetery. Basically, this business has the monopoly on death in Sunnydale. Inside, he tries a door labelled "flower room" only to find it locked, then finds the embalming room, which is unlocked. That seems like shitty security, locking up the flowers but not the bodies, but hey, I didn't finish mortuary school so what do I know?

Back at The Bronze, Buffy and Owen are still dancing and having a good time, while Giles barricades himself in at the funeral home. Remember when I mentioned before that sometimes, Giles will do something and it'll suddenly seem odd that he can do it? Like when he used a fucking keg to smash in a door at The Bronze? Here, he blocks the door to the embalming room with a full-sized filing cabinet, presumably filled with files. Have you ever tried to lift a filing cabinet? Did you try again after the doctors finished threading your herniated colon back into your body? Giles is super strong, yo. This is the second time we've seen evidence of this. In season 3 we'll see another Watcher demonstrate some super strength of her own, so I guess weight training is a part of Watcher school.

Willow and Xander appear at the window and tell Giles they'll go get Buffy. Time is kind of a factor, because the vampires are trying to get in.

At The Bronze, Buffy and Owen are still enjoying their date, while Cordelia seethes and basically calls Buffy a whore, and then Angel walks in and Cordelia makes what sounds like a reference to semen ("Hello, salty goodness," I mean, really, is that appropriate for prime time television?!) and tells her friend that Angel will need "serious oxygen" when she's done with him. But then he walks over to Buffy and Cordelia freaks out, because it's more male attention going to Buffy instead of her. Ugh, can we just be done with the "girl vs. girl, two bitches enter, one bitch leaves with the guy" trope abuse in this episode? Please? Isn't there already enough conflict? We've got Buffy trying to maintain a normal life, Buffy trying to stop The Master from rising, Buffy needing to rescue her Watcher... at what point did we need yet another thread of conflict? Because this show was considered a "teen" show, and "teens" apparently live for girl-on-girl hate. That doesn't mean they need to get it, though. #6.

Angel tells Buffy she needs to be out patrolling. He'd intended to give her the information about the Order of Aurelius, and he's a little put out that she already knows. Then he's mad because she's on a date, and gives one-word answers in conversation with Owen. Even though his relationship with Buffy has, until this point, been "show up, antagonize, disappear, rinse, repeat," Angel is offended that she's on a date. Because #9.

Willow and Xander crash the date, too, and after some awkward lying, Xander proposes that they all go to the funeral home for fun. Owen wants to tag along, because he's so into death and stuff, and he can't understand why Buffy wants to abandon their date. Caught between her Slayer duties and her desire for a normal life, Buffy tells Owen that part of her has to leave, but part of her is having a great time and doesn't want to go. Then she kisses him, and when she leaves, Owen says, "She's the strangest girl."

Ahem. *Giles already said that earlier* cough cough throat clearing.

Buffy, Xander and Willow arrive at the funeral home, only to find that Owen has followed them. He's super psyched to see a dead body, which is, you know, something I always look forward to on a first date. This kid might be a future serial killer.

Buffy finds the embalming room all wrecked up and the bars over the window peeled like a banana, and she's thinking something horrible has happened to Giles. And I guess horrible is relative, because I would find it pretty horrible to be in a morgue cooler drawer on top of a dead body, but when Giles comes out, he's pretty cheerful about the whole thing:

Getting intimate with corpses is probably just par for the course as a Watcher.

Giles finds out that Buffy brought Owen along and he flips out. Buffy figures she'll just tell Owen to get lost, but Giles points out that there were just vampires hanging out in the vicinity, so it's probably not the best idea to send a delicious human out there for them. They are not a Slayer version of Jimmy John's, after all. Buffy tells Giles to stay put so that Owen won't have more questions than he already does. Xander, Willow and Owen hide in the "observation room." Which I would have called the "viewing room" but whatever. Go observe some corpses, Sunnydale. While Xander and Willow stack furniture in front of the door, Owen, oblivious to danger, opens a curtain to reveal something we can't see, but all three characters react to.

Buffy and Giles search the embalming room for the Anointed One, but he's not in any of the coolers. Which, you know, is where they keep ALL of the dead bodies, right?

Not right. Because the thing Owen and Willow and Xander reacted to? Was a corpse behind a picture window. Owen is waxing all poetic about how awesome death is when the body sits up, and it's the crazy guy from the airport shuttle. He is super psyched to be a vampire, and he breaks the window and goes after the kids. So, he's the Anointed One, right?

Buffy and Giles hear the glass breaking, and Buffy runs to save the others. They tell her where the vampire is, and she orders them to get out. But they can't get out, because the other vampires are waiting at the funeral home doors. Ain't that always the way?

Unaware that her friends are still in danger, Buffy heads back to the embalming room where she gets a stake from Giles's Mary Poppins bag o' vampire killing supplies. She tells him to go help the others to safety, but her back is to the door, so she doesn't see the crazy vampire, who grabs her and flings her like a rag doll into a shelving unit. Giles puts himself between the crazy vampire and Buffy, and manages to hold off CV for minute, but then he gets thrown, as well, right into the controls for the cremation oven.

Good work, Giles.

Having decided that Buffy needs rescuing, Owen charges in and hits CV with an instrument pan and an urn full of someone's loved one (that is going to be hellacious paperwork and a difficult phone call for the mortician in the morning), which promptly gets him killed by the vampire. At least, that's what the vampire says. He smacks Owen's head with the door to one of the morgue drawers and says, "Dead. He was found wanting." So Buffy is super pissed because her date just got murdered by a vampire, and she does the single most unnecessary backflip in all of recorded history before kicking the vampire's ass and throwing him into the cremation oven. Giles recovers from being knocked out (a dubious recovery, considering this is the fifth episode and he's been knocked out how many times already?) and slams the door on the burning vampire, and Buffy sees that Owen isn't dead after all.

Even though he's not dead, Buffy's chances with Owen seem to be. He doesn't even want her to walk him home, but since he's all concussed (and not as practiced at it as Giles apparently is), Willow and Xander take him. Giles tries to offer Buffy some words of comfort, but she tells him "Don't," and wisely he shuts up.

The next day at school, Buffy asks Willow and Xander if Owen said anything about her on the walk home. The answer is no, Buffy's chances are pretty shot. Xander suggests she should date someone who already knows she's the Slayer, but still likes her anyway. I have this crazy feeling he's suggesting himself, because while his friend is in a time of emotional fragility, that's the best time to lay down his game on her. #5

Owen approaches Buffy while a sad song plays intrusively in the background. It takes a while for this series to find its feet with the whole "background music" thing. Owen tells Buffy that he loved all the danger, and he wants to be with her so they can do it again. He wants to pick fights in bars, etc. and Buffy realizes that he doesn't really want to be with her, he wants an adrenaline rush. Buffy suggests they should just be friends, and Owen is not thrilled. Which is cool, because they don't stay friends, anyway. We never see Owen again.

After Owen walks off, Buffy notices that Giles has overheard the entire conversation. He tells her about being ten years old and finding out that his destiny was being a Watcher, not a fighter pilot or a grocer as previously planned. He says his dad gave him a "tiresome speech," so we get the feeling he's not going to do the same thing to Buffy and kick her while she's down. Buffy is wounded by letting Owen go, but she knows she has to:
"You, Xander, Willow, you know the score. You're careful. Two days in my world and Owen really would get himself killed. Or I'd get him killed. Or someone else."
Giles tells Buffy that he went to the funeral home on his own, and she argues that she should have been there. She tells him she dropped the ball, and he reassures her that she's doing fine as the Slayer. This is an important moment for us to see, because it's the first time we're seeing the Slayer and her Watcher working together as a team, rather than antagonists to each other. It's also the first time she's not just grudgingly accepting her destiny, she's making a real effort to accept it. There is so much character development and growth for Buffy in this episode that it's mind blowing. She's not just a funny teen girl with silly super strength and isn't that funny because she's so little and helpless looking, etc. She's a real person now, with inner strength, and she's citing a need to rely on her friends, as well as a responsibility to keep them safe.

There's a big character development moment here for Giles, too, who is starting to see his Slayer as not just an automaton soldier in the fight against evil, but a person he can relate to. And yes, I'll give the "father/daughter" dynamic a nod here, because when Giles tells Buffy that they don't have a manual to navigate their relationship (wait, why isn't there a manual? It seems like that would be the very first thing the Watcher council should have come up with), he's reciting a line I think many, many people have heard from their own parents. And it draws a nice parallel to Joyce's comment about reading parenting books in the first episode. Joyce is willing to read a manual, but not actually pay attention to what's going on in her daughter's life. Giles is willing to listen to Buffy and empathize with her, in a way that Joyce has already admitted to being incapable of doing (episode 3, "Witch).

Giles and Buffy have a little happy moment over the fact that she took out the Anointed One, and then cut to The Master, who is still spouting prophecy about how the Slayer won't recognize the Anointed One when he comes. And OH SNAP, it's the little boy from the airport shuttle.

So, now Buffy has an evil little Omen kid to deal with. So it's good she has her friends.

Several people commented that this episode is worse than "Teacher's Pet" on the problematic feminism/misogyny scale, but I'm not sure it is. The girl vs. girl for a boy stuff is pretty terrible, as is Xander's slut shaming and creepy jewelry box voyeurism, and the episode is filled with scene after scene of the men in Buffy's life trying to steer her course. But at the end, I think it really redeems itself with Buffy accepting her destiny and choosing to be the Slayer, especially when it's clear that she could continue her relationship with Owen if she wanted to. She does what she wants to, makes her own choices, and generally ignores what the men in the episode are telling her to do in favor of those choices.

Oh, and where was Angel when all that stuff at the funeral home was going down? He didn't come help. Because #9.

Monday, March 18, 2013

"I didn't know exactly what rape was."

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post and the article linked in it will contain graphic details of the Steubenville rape case and may be triggering to victims of sexual assault.

EDIT TO ADD: I am so grateful that this post has started up discussion in the comments section, and people are sharing their stories and talking about all of this. However, I have to include an additional trigger warning for some of the comments, and also bow out of the conversation. It isn't that I don't care about your experiences or don't want to keep the conversation going. I do. But in light of some of the victim blaming and misogynist comments this post has received, I have to step away for my own mental health.

When asked to explain why he didn't stop the gang rape of an unconscious sixteen-year-old girl, Evan Westlake said: "Well, it wasn't violent. I didn't know exactly what rape was. I always pictured it as forcing yourself on someone."

A detailed story of how the two rapists, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, weren't forcing themselves on the girl they raped can be found here. The story is very graphic, so again, trigger warning.

I have no doubt in my mind that these young men did not know they were raping that girl. Note: I'm not excusing them from raping her. I'm sure, I'm 100% sure, that they knew they were doing something very, very wrong. Maybe in their heads they thought, "We're taking advantage of this drunk girl," or "She's not saying yes, but she's not saying no, either." But I have no doubt that they didn't realize what they were engaged in was rape.

Because we don't teach young men what rape is; we want to protect their right to rape.

In our culture we teach girls all about rape. We teach them about how to dress, how to carry self defense items, how to scream "fire!" instead of "rape!" because no one will respond otherwise and what the shit does that say about us?! We live in a culture where, until as recently as the 1990's, it was considered impossible for a husband to rape his wife, because as his wife, he owned her, and could do with her whatever he liked. After all, she'd consented at least once, right? Consider the fact that the ridiculously small number of rape cases that actually go to trial end up focusing not on whether or not the rapist raped the victim, but whether or not the victim has masturbated in the past, what sexual partners she's had, and if she orgasmed during the attack.  And god help you if you're a lesbian or a trans woman, because that opens up all new avenues of humiliation for you in reporting and seeking justice for your rape. The prosecution can paint you as a deviant and a sex fiend to scare the jury into deciding that you were probably asking for it or, worse, deserved to be rape because you didn't conform to societal expectations. In rape cases, our justice system puts the victim, not the perpetrator, on trial.

Our media, and our rape apologists, try to narrow rape down to such specific details that there is probably no single case of actual rape that can fit the definitions they've come up with. Is it rape if she's too hammered to say no? No! Because she didn't say no! Is it rape if a woman's husband rapes her? No, because she married him! That's consent! Is it rape if she was on a date with him first? No, because she was alone with him, she should have expected to let him have sex with her!

Smarter people define rape as any act of nonconsensual sex or sexual touching. But there we hit another snag.

We don't teach people what "consent" means. We say, "No means no!" but think about that a second. It means that just not saying "no" is equivalent to a yes. So, by defining "consensual sex" as "sex where a woman has not said 'no,'" we're saying, "All women are open for business, every moment of every day, and you are allowed to stick your fingers in them, grope them on the dance floor, yell sexual comments at them, etc. unless she clearly and forcefully states otherwise after you have already begun doing this." Unless you're walking down the street shouting "No!" at every man you meet, you're consenting. That's what "No means no!" has hammered into our collective consciousness.

Let's say I'm a guy at a party, and I start having sex with a passed out girl. She doesn't wake up to say no, so I'm not raping her, by our cultural gold standard definition. If she wakes up and says no, I'll stop, and that will make me not a rapist. Does stopping somehow remove the three or so minutes I was penetrating her when she hadn't said "yes?" We seem to accept that yes, this makes the rapist not a rapist, just because he stopped when told "no." Somehow, I find this definition of "consent" dubious.

And we don't tell anyone what rape really is. When I was a teenager, I got told all the time not to go into the bad part of town, or I would get raped. I shouldn't walk alone at night by my favorite coffee shop, because there are lots of college guys over there and I would get raped. I actually started to try and list all the scenarios that have been described to me over the years, and I realized how long a list that would be. Too long for this blog post. Suffice it to say, every one of these scenarios involved a stranger coming up to me on the street and dragging me into an alley or a parked car. 

I was also told not to get too drunk, or a man could "take advantage" of me. I shouldn't dress a certain way, because a man "might not be able to help himself." I shouldn't "tease" boys by making out with them if I wasn't prepared to go all the way, because I might find myself in a position where I "had to." Seriously, this is this shit women of my generation were told about rape. And I wish women of the next generation were being told differently, but it's just the same old shit in pseudo-empowered packaging. We're still telling young people "no means no," without ever discussing whether "yes" should be a part of the equation.

Veering into personal storyland a moment, let me tell you about the time I was almost raped. I was at a friend's sister's wedding out of town, and we were staying at a hotel for the whole weekend. At this wedding was a family friend, a man I'll call George. That is not his name, it's just what I'll call him. George was in his early thirties, I was fifteen. I thought it was so fucking cool that George would get drinks from the bar for me, and with his encouragement I got hammered super fast. Then George was like, "I have weed back in my room, do you want to go smoke?" I was fifteen. Of course I wanted to be high and drunk, and yeah, I kind of got the feeling that we were going to fool around. Leaving aside the fact that I was a minor and he should not have been down for that, I was kind of down for it, and I thought, well, why the hell not? I'll go back to this guy's hotel room.

Long story short, I ended up blacking out. Now, what a lot of people might not realize is, you can black out several times in what feels like rapid succession. Your vision goes all hazy, you start to feel like you're falling asleep, and suddenly it's a few minutes later or whatever and you're like, "WTF, did I get abducted by aliens? Because I just lost time." The first time I lost consciousness, George and I were sitting on different beds. When I regained consciousness, he was sitting by me, with his hand on my skirt. He was asking me questions, but I couldn't really answer. I didn't feel good. I think I might have thrown up. But I knew I was in big trouble, with no way of defending myself. I kept slipping out. At one point, when I came back from blackoutsville, he had his hand up my skirt. I tried to push him off me, but I didn't have the coordination required.

The next time I faded off and woke up, I knew things were serious, because he was unbuckling his belt. If I nodded off again, he was going to rape me. But what I wasn't thinking at that moment was, "I'm going to get raped." It was, "If I pass out, he's going to have sex with me." I am incredibly thankful that I was able to pull myself out of my intoxication enough to say, "I'm going to throw up," because that's what got him off of me. I got up, stumbled to the door, and left the room entirely. He tried to follow me a bit to get me to come back, saying I should come back in and sit down until I felt better, but when a hotel employee came off the elevator, he turned right around and left me in the hallway, too fucked up to knew where I was going.

When I told my friend's mom what had happened, she advised me to just stay away from George from now on, and to not get drunk. After all, I wasn't supposed to have been drinking, anyway. I was only fifteen. And I knew better than to go back to some guy's hotel room. But the one thing she didn't do was assign blame to George. In fact, she suggested I not "make a big deal," because it might affect George negatively. And I agreed, because in hindsight I realized I had never actually said "no." I thought I had consented.

For years I walked around thinking that what had happened to me was no big deal, I was just a slut and I messed up and got in a scary situation. Now that I'm older, I realize what bullshit that was that I blamed myself, that my friend and her mom blamed me. And I realize, after hearing that both the rapists, the bystanders, and the victim in Steubenville "didn't know exactly" what rape was, that they probably didn't know. Because no matter how many strides we might make with rape education or awareness, we still pull the same bullshit victim blaming every single time an incident like this happens. We rally around the rapist, we worry about how his actions are going to affect him negatively, and we worry about that first, before we bother to think, "Hey... what about the victim?" Since we've already made him the victim, and there can't be two, we decide that he's the victim of this horrible thing that was done to him by the slutty, nasty girl who got drunk when she shouldn't have, wore clothes that turned him on, and gosh, he just couldn't help himself.

It's not men, by the way, who I consider the worst perpetrators of this behavior. I hear it so often from women, it's not funny, and when women say it, it's almost worse. We're giving men permission to blame us for rape now? Last night on twitter I saw an erotic romance author say over and over that she wasn't victim blaming, but maybe wearing skimpy clothes is the problem. And she argued over and over, with multiple people, that she wasn't blaming the victim, but preaching personal responsibility. Personal responsibility? Over another person's actions? Explain to me how that works, world, because I don't get it. And I definitely had hoped that someone working in an industry that's supposed to be sex-positive would fucking know better than to spout off bullshit like that.

Another problem is the way we talk about rape. For years, we've been saying that rape isn't about sex, it's about violence and power. When those two guys raped the girl in Steubenville, most likely they didn't do it out of a conscious desire to inflict their will on her, or overpower her. That's not to say that they weren't fitting the "it's about power" definition. Let's get real, they were small town football players, they definitely reaped the benefits of male privilege in their community. But what little they've learned about rape has probably been the same thing women learn about rape: that's it's about power, that a man will be violent while raping you, and that if she doesn't actually say "no," then she's consenting.

Some rape is openly intended as an act of violence and power and hatred. There are hundreds of scenarios in which the perpetrator knows, completely, that what he's doing is a willful subjugation of the woman in an attempt to permanently disempower her, hundreds of scenarios that your average person on the street would call "rape." But if a woman isn't beaten within an inch of her life, when the rapist isn't hurling vicious slurs at her, everyone seems to get all confused about what rape really is.

In a reddit thread a few months ago, men shared stories of times they had raped women. Some of them had argued that because they weren't violent, and because they didn't think of it as a means to overpower the woman, it didn't count as rape. "I was just really horny and didn't feel like stopping," was one of the most cited excuses as to why it wasn't rape. Because they didn't hit the women or knock them out, because they didn't roofie them or slap them or intend to do anything other than get their rocks off, they weren't raping. Because rape isn't about sex, it's about power, right?

The Steubenville boys probably didn't think, "We're doing this to permanently disempower her." They probably thought, "We're horny, and she's not saying no." Is there a power component there? Oh, absolutely. That they believed they were entitled to a woman's body without her express permission is a symptom of the male privilege that is keeping women subjugated. But until we can get our culture as a whole to recognize that male privilege exists, then maybe we should be shifting the focus on how we approach rape education and the issue of consent.

From here on out, why not accept that teaching "no means no" and "rape is about power, not sex" are not working? Why not change up our attitudes a bit, and suggest to our young men and women that the absence of refusal isn't the same thing as consent, and that even if you're not violent or you don't intend to get off on the power component of the rape you're committing, it's still rape. That wearing someone down ("ninety-nine 'no's and one 'yes' is still yes!") is still rape. That even if you can't be prosecuted, you're still a rapist, and that's something that is horrible to be.

I'm at a real point of despair here, when I'm seeing women and men defend the male right to rape, and denying that male privilege leads to entitlement over women's bodies, while not realizing what they're doing. If we need to change the way we talk about rape, then let's do that. Let's tell our young women "it's rape if you didn't say yes," instead of, "it's not rape if you don't say no." Let's tell our young men the same thing, and tell them that yes, some rapes are driven by a desire for sexual pleasure. That if they put their penis in an unconscious person's orifices, it's rape whether they wanted to humiliate the person, dominate them, or just get off. It's rape, no matter what their motivation.

I know a lot of feminist disagree with me (and I'm open to disagreement, because disagreement breeds discussion and I've learned a lot from reader comments on this blog), because approaching rape as a sexual crime instead of a crime of power and domination is ultimately denying the male privilege component. But we're living in a culture where men will passionately argue that they're the victims of feminism out of control, rather than blowback from patriarchal oppression. By allowing ourselves to define rape as only a violent crime, only motivated by a sick desire to inflict the rapist's will over their victim, we're giving millions of rapists permission to continue raping, and we're breeding more rapists. Until we can force every man to understand that women are not responsible for the actions of their rapist, we might just have to change how we're teaching them not to rape.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Roadhouse episode 22: "Psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est"

I was trying to take to my sick bed like a 19th century invalid in a novel when I realized HOLY CRAP I NEVER POSTED ROADHOUSE!

This is why we can't have nice things.

This week, we talked about serial killers. This is also why we can't have nice things.

Friday, March 15, 2013

50 Shades Freed recap Chapter 10, MERLIN EDITION

Thank you, everyone, for sending me links and outrage over E.L. James's upcoming writing how-to guide. I'm going to just ignore the whole thing until it blows over, because otherwise I'll drown my inner goddess in a public toilet.

The Boss chapter seven is out, and another super important link.

Good news everyone!

Chapter seven of The Boss is up! It's available here.

Additional news, everyone!

There is a blog called Stories About Prince, in which a first-person narrator delivers handwritten retellings of fictional encounters with the popstar Prince. It is the greatest RPF on the internet. I honestly don't think anyone will ever top it, in terms of sheer amazingness. So, you know, read The Boss today, but also go check out Stories About Prince.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch s01e04, "Teacher's Pet"

In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will chip all her nail polish off instead of using polish remover like a goddamn adult. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow's magic is utterly useless (this one won't be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn't as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they're watching along with me, and that's awesome, but I've seen the entire series already and I'll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So... you know, take that under consideration, if you're a person who can't enjoy something if you know future details about it.

So, before we begin the recap of "Teacher's Pet," we need to talk about something I found on YouTube:

I'm sorry I did this to you, and I hope we can still be friends.

"Teacher's Pet" opens at The Bronze, where Buffy is strangely helpless against a vampire she can't defeat. If this sounds confusing, that's because it's part of Xander's nice guy day dream. He slays the vampire, then leaves Buffy to swoon at his feet as he climbs on stage to play guitar for the admiring crowd.
The fact that he has John Mayer-esque guitar face does nothing to dispel his "Nice Guy" image.

This is going to be a running theme throughout the entire show. None of the men in Buffy's life can deal with the fact that she doesn't need them to save her. Well, none of the men in her life except one, but we'll talk about that later. It's like they can't fathom being in a relationship where their defined role isn't "strong Alpha protector man." It's not enough for Xander to day dream about wowing Buffy with his guitar skills, he has to be able to slay vampires better than she does, too. The only way Xander can imagine a world where he and Buffy can have a romantic relationship is if he fantasizes about a world in which Buffy has no skill at all. She can't fight vampires, she can barely speak in his presence. It's a testament to both Xander's insecurity and culturally conditioned misogyny that Buffy is made more desirable to him if she is weak and dependent. #6

But luckily, this show doesn't take place in his daydream, and Buffy tells him he's drooling.

They're in science class. Not the same science class from the last episode. This seems to be a different science lab. I think you can really tell what classes the writers of this show enjoyed in high school, because these kids seem like they're only ever in English or science classes, and Sunnydale has like a thousand different science labs.

Anyway, the teacher turns off his slideshow about ants and asks Buffy a question. She clearly does not know the answer. She looks to her friends for help:

So, Xander has never been portrayed as a real studious dude. I get that. I wasn't good at school either. But he doesn't even look interested in Buffy's dilema here. Willow is the one who tries to silently communicate the answer to Buffy, while Xander probably goes back to his guitar hero daydream. Here is his chance to actually rescue Buffy, to help her out and make her see him in a different light. But he's not interested. Because it's not exactly how he's envisioned being her hero, so it doesn't fulfill his masculine fantasies of saving her. #5, #6

Then a jock makes a crack about Xander having BO, and class dismisses, but not before the science teacher asks Buffy to stay after. He tells her that Principal Flutie shared Buffy's permanent record. The science teacher? Thinks it's all bullshit. He tells Buffy he's not interested in her excuses because he can tell she's a smart girl who will do great things at Sunnydale. He tells her:
"Don't be sorry. Be smart."
It is literally the most encouragement she's gotten from an adult in the entire series so far, so obviously the teacher is brutally decapitated by a monster the moment Buffy leaves the science lab:

 Public school teachers really don't get paid enough.

The opening credits roll, and then we're at The Bronze. Xander is wandering around. He walks past these two douches, who are bragging about how much sex they've had:

I've never understood why this is such a huge bragging point for guys. "Someone thought I wasn't totally repulsive, and then she let me stick my penis in her! Isn't that amazing?" No, it's not. It's kind of sad, actually. What's even more sad is that while young men apparently define themselves by how many women they've been with, we tell young women to lie about how many men they've been with. Why should women lie about how much sex they've had in the past? So they can get a man, who defines his self worth by how much sex he's had in the past. How does that make any sense?

Xander tries to call the guy in the yellow sweater on his bullshit "I nailed this chick and almost her sister from college, too!" story, but then both guys immediately jump on Xander, demanding proof of his past conquests. And rather than say, "No, you guys are fucking gross," he asks whether they want to know how many times he's gotten laid today rather than overall. Then he spots Buffy and Willow and insinuates he's fucking them.

He's saying this about his friends. HIS ONLY FRIENDS.

Worse, he then goes up to Buffy and Willow and puts his arms around them, saying:
"Work with me here. Blaine had the nerve to question my manliness, I'm just gonna give him a visual."
Then he does this:

So, I know a lot of you are really attached to this show, and you feel like I unfairly shred it in these recaps. Believe me when I say that at the end of the day, Buffy is still one of my top five favorite shows, forever and always. But I started doing these recaps after I challenged other bloggers to write about problematic themes in works that they love. I can't really cheap out and start offering excuses for character behavior, like "well, he's a teenage boy," because that would be a cop out. I wouldn't accept someone making excuses for other problematic themes in stuff they like ("But it's not abuse, Christian Grey really loves her!"), so I can't do that here.

Also, I want to point out that however realistically written the character of Xander might be, he's still a written character. Someone had to sit down and plan all this shit out. And hey, believe me, I know how hard it can be to separate yourself from cultural expectation and institutionalized -isms when you're writing something. After all, I did write a four book series in which the only black character was a butler. WTF was I thinking? I wasn't, and that was the problem. I was writing long-standing, damaging tropes. That's what the writers did here. They wanted to write a believable teenage boy character... but they apparently thought the only way that was possible was to turn him into a sleazy dick monster. And when he delivers the above line, Willow and Buffy go along with him, because obviously, the right thing for a woman to do in this situation is to objectify herself to defend the maligned male's masculinity. (#6)

So before anyone says, "But he's a teenage boy! What did you expect him to do?" I want to just gently suggest that it's not Xander's fault he's #5. It's the writers' fault. There was no reason he couldn't have come up with a snarky jab at the two douchebags' obvious lies and insecurity, and walked away the more mature person and a better example to young men watching the show.

This all kind of gets glossed over, though, at the appearance of Angel. Willow and Xander figure out who he is as Buffy walks over to talk to him. After just one look, Xander is not a fan. He doesn't like that Buffy has never told them Angel is attractive. Now that Xander can see that Angel isn't bad looking, he's threatened, and angry with Buffy for not informing him of the competition. #5

Angel says Buffy looks cold, and gives her his jacket. He doesn't ask if she's cold, he just tells her she is, and gives her the jacket. This reveals a long wound down his arm, and Buffy surmises this was done with a big fork. Angel doesn't exactly deny it, just telling Buffy not to get cornered by the fork wielder. Then he disappears into the night, and we cut to Sunnydale high, the next day, where Buffy is still wearing the jacket and walking to school with that male faculty member she's always hanging around:

She is walking to school, in the company of a male faculty member, wearing an adult man's jacket. Nobody knows about Angel, remember, so for all they know, that's Giles's coat. No one? Not one person is going to think this raises some kind of... no? Okay. Fine, whatever, Sunnydale. #8

Buffy and Giles are talking about Angel's warning:
Buffy: "That's all cryptic guy said, fork guy."
Giles: "I think there are too many guys in your life." 
Then he laughs off his own remark. Because #2.

After Giles complains about how SUNNY it is in SUNNYdale (come on, bro, it's in the name, you had to be somewhat prepared for this), he leaves, and Xander comes up to tell Buffy and Willow that the science teacher is out for the day. Actually, they said he was missing, but Xander admits to being distracted by cheerleaders in short skirts when he heard the whole story. He is totally not concerned with the idea of a missing person in Sunnydale, which he now knows is populated with oogly booglies. Because he grew up in Sunnydale, and #8.

To his credit, Xander does apologize for being so callous when Willow points out that the science teacher is the only member of the Sunnydale high faculty who doesn't think Buffy is a total fuck up. But all that gets somewhat tossed aside when Xander sees the new substitute:

And then he's all:

And then I'm like:

She comes over and asks Xander to help her find the science room. But Blaine the uber-douche from The Bronze swoops in and escorts her, instead, while bragging about his amazing football victories and shit.

Hey, this series has a really dim view of sports, doesn't it? We never see anyone on Buffy competing in a sport in a positive way, do we? We see the witch cheerleader, the Frankenstein football player, bodies fall out of lockers in the locker rooms... HEY! This show is anti-sport! We have a #11!

On her way into the science lab, Buffy finds the old science teacher's broken glasses lying on the floor. Remember now, this is a missing person case. The last place this guy was seen was in this classroom. No one thought to come there to look for him? And when they did, they didn't see these glasses on the floor? They are quite literally two steps inside the door. Are people just not seeing them? Or is this the kind of world we're living in (sixteen years ago), that people won't pick up a pair of glasses someone dropped on the floor? I guess the economy was so good during the Clinton years that eyeglasses were free or some shit.

We're about to get to the part where I tell you why this is one of my least favorite episodes of Buffy. You know how when you're watching something, and the show is making you think that a certain thing is going to happen, or a certain character is evil, and it's so telegraphed that you know for sure that it's a red herring? This is not like that. The big plot "twist" is so obvious that it's infuriating. You know from the moment Miss French arrives that, oh, hey, the new substitute is the villain, and she's probably the big bug monster thing that decapitated the science teacher.

Let's examine the facts about Ms. French:

  • FACT: She is a substitute teacher none of the kids have ever seen before.
  • FACT: She gets super passionate on the subject of mantises.
  • FACT: Her eyeshadow is yellow and green (bug colors), and it is fierce.

So, yeah, Ms. (I am not calling her "miss" again) French goes all religious fervor on the kids on the subject of mantises, then asks them to help her make model egg sacs after school. And no one goes, "Huh. This lady kind of sounds like she might be a mantis." #8.

That's going to be the big surprise twist, people. Ms. French, the substitute who's into bugs in what sounds like an unhealthy way is actually a bug, herself. And no, it's not like the Scoobies arrive at this conclusion and find out they were wrong, it's this totally unrelated thing. No. This is exactly how it's going down. Which might have been okay, were it a more interesting story, but "giant bug person" is pretty much a tapped out subgenre in horror, isn't it?

In the lunch line, Buffy, Willow and Xander are not talking about the fact that their new sub is obviously a bug lady. Xander is too busy trying to figure out what it is about him that makes him so appealing to Ms. Buglady. The fact that she's a giant insect who wants to mate with you and eat your head has nothing to do with it, Xander, no matter how obvious it might be to the casual outside observer.

Buffy and Willow respond, disappointingly, by suggesting that Ms. French has "surgical improvements." (#6) Then D-Blaine comes in and suggests he's going to bone the new teacher before Xander gets a chance to. Then Cordelia finds the old science teacher's body in a lunch room freezer. Just the body, though. Not the head.

Does it sound like I'm bored with the plot of this one? I am, and that's why I like this series so much. Look, on the surface, from any other show, say... The X-Files, this would be a perfectly awesome episode for the first season, right? But on Buffy it's disappointing, because the good episodes are so good, they make so-so episodes seem like the worst thing you've ever seen on television. That's a testament to how good this show is, but also an important thing to remember in writing: you have to  constantly raise the bar against what you've already done. For this to be the fourth episode, after the first three were so good, it's a stumble.

Back at the library, Giles consoles the three shaken Scoobies. Okay, no, he actually only consoles Buffy:

Seriously, Willow is right there, and she looks like she wants that glass of water real, real bad. But Giles's only concern is for Buffy. Yeah, she's his slayer, I get that. But come on. There are two other traumatized kids right there. Giles has manners, y'all, why didn't he think to give the other two some water? BECAUSE #2. And if it's his blossoming fatherly devotion for Buffy, why doesn't it extend to the other two, who have spent arguably as much time with him as Buffy has? The magical slayer-watcher bond? Slayers lose their watchers at a pretty strong rate as the series goes on. Watchers seem to be fairly interchangeable. Certain watchers even fuck up big time and get fired and replaced by the council. So don't give me none of that "watcher bond" bullshit. I think that's a fanon concept.

Giles hypothesizes that the vampire with the fork for a hand might have been the one who attacked the science teacher, but Buffy isn't convinced. Giles makes Buffy promise him that she won't make a move on this whole fork-hand-guy until they have more information. So of course, in the very next scene, there's Buffy, going after fork-hand-vampire. 

At first, it seems like all Buffy is going to find is Drunken Dan The Creepy Rapist Hobo, but then Edward Forkenhand gets the drop on her. They fight, until the local law enforcement show up, and Eddie abandons his fight with the slayer to run. But he can't resist the vulnerable female walking down the sidewalk, who turns out to be Ms. French. The vampire runs up on her. She gives him a benign, assertive gaze, and he runs out of there like he's seen a g-g-g-ghost. And Buffy is like:

So, she knows something is up, right away. But she still doesn't know what. 

At the library the next day, Buffy and Giles fight like a divorcing couple who are too tired of each other to really be angry anymore. Giles is pissed that Buffy lied to him about going out to "hunt" (that word is going to become controversial in season 5, just you wait) but he's immediately remorseful when she tells him she ran into the fork guy. She asks him if he knows who Ms. French is, and he's all:
"Yes, yes, she's lovely. In a common, extremely well-proportioned way."
He's trying to cover up the fact he clearly thinks the sub is hot. That's adorable.

Buffy tells him about the weird thing she saw with Ms. French and the fork hand guy, and they agree something is up with the teacher. But this isn't an exciting moment for us, because we already know the answer to the riddle. It's been super obvious from the beginning. The audience already knows that the hot substitute teacher who is bizarrely enthusiastic about insects is a bug lady. We know this, because we saw her giant, bug-lady hand killing the science teacher. We know this because "the female of the species is more deadly than the male" is one of the most tired tropes in all of fiction. Even sixteen years ago. Now, we're just wondering why these normally smart characters are so oblivious to the giant freaking clues they're being spoonfed by the writers.

On her way to biology, Buffy is intercepted by Principal Flutie, who wants her to see a counselor to cope with the tragedy of seeing the science teacher's decapitated body. He also says something about the school frowning on adults touching the kids, which is hilarious because I don't think the school would even notice. Cordelia is already in with the therapist, coping with her tragedy. She reframes finding a corpse as a good way to lose weight. I guess we all do what we have to do in order to deal with shit on the Hellmouth, Cordy. Shine on you, shallow diamond.

In biology class, the kids are taking a test. And remember how Flutie was all, "no touching" in the scene before? Here's further proof that this shit goes unchecked at Sunnydale high (besides the fact that literally every aspect of Buffy's relationship with Giles should be super inappropriate to an outside observer?):

There are other kids in the class, and they're probably all seeing Ms. French touch Xander, give him the answer to the test, and tell him to meet her after school. I would usually say, "Oh, well, obviously people aren't concerned because she's a female teacher and people assume all boys would be fine with being preyed upon by their hot female teacher," but in this case, it's really just because the people who live in the universe of the show have never heard of sexual molestation.

That would be an awesome universe to live in. Best show ever.

Buffy gets back to class, sees there's a pop quiz, and then, oh yeah, she spots this:

Good for Ms. French everyone else in class is too distracted her head turning around The Exorcist style. That says a lot for academic ethics at Sunnydale (at least, under the reign of Principal Flutie), because it means no one is guiltily keeping an eye on the teacher while they cheat.

Buffy tells Willow and Giles about the buglady teacher's head turning all the way around. Giles mentions there are some insects that can turn their heads that way. Buffy remembers that Blainebag wasn't at school today, after having stayed after to meet with Ms. French. So, let's total this up at home, guys:
  • Teacher is found decapitated, head is never found.
  • Substitute shows up. Wears lots of green.
  • Substitute talks about mantises the way other women talk about Joe Manganiello.
  • Substitute asks for volunteers to help her make mantis egg sacs.
  • Substitute focuses her attention on the young male population of Sunnydale.
  • Young male student is suspiciously absent.
  • Substitute can turn her head all the way around.

Remember how in "Witch" I was like, "make sure your audience can make the connection about the plot point before the characters do? I meant by like, a little bit. A line or two. Maybe a scene. But not the whole freaking episode, people. That's too long!

Xander meets Ms. French after school. She's making a sandwich next to her replica egg sac. That just seems unhygienic. Xander comments that if the egg sac was really the size of the one on her desk, the bugs would be as big as him. Well, he starts the comment, Ms. French finishes it while she makes her sandwich. She puts on a breathy seductress voice and tells him that she's stupidly left all her egg sac supplies at home. Could he come to her house later that night? Of course he can! He practically shouts, "Sign me up for the murder wagon!" right before he jumps on the back. Of the murder wagon.

Shut up, it's the time change.

Anyway, then he leaves, and Ms. French finishes making herself a sandwich of live crickets, which is totally icky because I'm pretty sure she used Miracle Whip instead of Mayo. Gross.

Back at the library, Buffy tries to convince Willow and Giles that Ms. French is a preying mantis. Which, by the way, is a conclusion she arrived to from studying a book on bugs and not all the clues the writers have laid out for her on a long dining table "Be Our Guest"-style or anything. Giles remembers a guy he knew once who specialized in stories of fairytale bug monsters. Remember, Giles is the mentor character here, and he's suggesting the teacher could be a bug monster, but they haven't arrived at any conclusions yet.

Is this maddening enough for you? Well, consider, if you will, the reasons Buffy believes the substitute to be a bug monster:
"Factoid one: only the praying mantis can rotate its head like that. Factoid two: a pretty whacked-out vampire is scared to death of her. Factoid three: her fashion sense screams predator."
First of all, Buffy, I already did the "fact" thing up there. Stop stealing my lines sixteen years ago. Second, those aren't even the most obvious reasons. The most obvious reason she's a mantis is that she's MAKING EGG SACS AND SOMEBODY'S HEAD IS GONE. They find out that Blaine's mom has called the police over his disappearance. Buffy tells Willow to check the coroner's autopsy report on the science teacher. I guess Sunnydale is so used to violent crime that their coroner's office is like an assembly line or something. Not that the science teacher's autopsy would be that difficult. "Cause of death: head is fucking gone."

Giles goes to call his colleague, the bug man, but first he asks the girls if their computer search of the coroner's files is legal. They assure him it is, but he tells them:
"Right. Wasn't here, didn't see it, couldn't have stopped you." 
Now you're getting it, dude.

Buffy hunts down Xander and warns him about Ms. French being a bug lady, but Xander isn't hearing any of it. He accuses Buffy of being jealous because he's not into her anymore. Normally, I would say this is proof of #5, but Buffy explains that Xander is under the influence of pheromones that the buglady is making to mess with him, so I'll give him a pass.

Over at maison du mantis, Ms. French is preparing cocktails and is about to answer the door looking like this:

Has this woman never been around a teenage boy before? Seriously? If she wants to mate with him, she's going to miss her chance the second he sees her cleavage in that dress. He's going to, well... see video I posted previously.

Now, because of the pheromone, and because he's a teen boy and has the ego of a teen boy, Xander doesn't find anything odd about the fact that this teacher is all over him. He just figures he's about to get super lucky when he drains his martini and she starts asking him if he's a virgin. He admits that he is, but then starts talking about how much he loves Buffy. He hears screaming from another part of the house, but Ms. French keeps him distracted by telling him to touch her. When he tries to, she transforms into a giant bug, and he says my favorite line of the entire episode:

"Your hands are really... serrated."

Oh Xander, how you do turn a buglady's head.

Xander decides he's way too drunk and tries to get up, but falls unconscious, probably because Ms. French roofied his drink or whatever. We see her bug hands dragging Xander off, and then there's a commercial break blackout before we rejoin Xander in a cage in bug lady's basement. Bug lady is in full mantis form, but she can still talk, which freaks Xander right out.

At the library, Giles is on the angry phone and Buffy and Willow are illegally accessing the coroner's report on their dead science teacher. All the information they're gathering is confirmation of the bug lady theory that every viewer had worked out from the very beginning of the episode. It's not subtle. It should come as a surprise to no one that this episode was written by David Greenwalt, who cowrote the similarly heavy-handed foreshadowing of season 2's "Ted."

Buffy tells Willow that they know Xander isn't in any immediate danger, since they saw him leave the school. Scene change, back to Ms. French's subterranean sex dungeon. Blaine and Xander are cage neighbors, and Blaine explains that Ms. French is going to mate with them and bite their heads off while she does it. 

Back at the angry phone, Giles hangs up with his friend from a mental hospital, who has told him all about the "she-mantis" or "virgin thief," a mantis creature who has much in common with other mythologies blah blah blah. Buffy says Xander will probably be okay, because it's only after virgins. No one else has her confidence in Xander's game, though, so Giles tells her to hack the substitute teacher apart with a sharp blade. Buffy tells Giles to record bat sonar. Bats eat mantises, and Buffy hopes she can use the recording as a weapon. That's actually pretty smart, and the only unexpected part of the plot so far.

There's also more inappropriate adult/student closeness in this scene, as Buffy and Giles walk with her arm through his. So now they're in the library after hours, walking all snuggly?

In the buglady's basement, Xander pries a cage bar loose to use as a weapon, then we flash back to the library, where Willow has found Ms. French's address. Oh, and also the small detail that she's ninety years old. Nobody thought that was odd when they hired her and she filled out her personel record?

As Ms. French the mantis goes after Xander, the gang pulls up outside of a house. They run up to the door and Buffy is about to kick it in when it opens to reveal the real Ms. French, a kindly old lady who just got her identity stolen. So, the gang is not about arrive to Xander's rescue, and Ms. Mantis is going to straight up eat Xander.

Xander valiantly tries to fight off the mantis lady while Buffy captures the fork-handed vampire and uses him as a buglady detector. They use the fork vampire to get to Ms. French's - the fake Ms. French's - house, where Buffy unleashes her secret weapon:
"Remember Dr. Gregory? You scarfed his head? Yeah, well, he taught me, you do your homework, you learn stuff. Like what happens to your nervous system when you hear this - "
And then she hits the button on the tape recorder and it's Giles's voice babbling about the importance of alphabetical filing. And Buffy is all:

Luckily, it's just that the tape recorder is playing the wrong side. Listen children, and gather all around. Once, a long time ago, there were these things called tape recorders. You put cassettes in them, and depending on which way you put them into the machine, a different recording would play. I know, it sounds super primitive even as I type it, but this was what we had to deal with back then.

The mantis knocks the tape recorder across the room, and Buffy battles the bug lady while Giles grabs the recorder and plays the bat noises. The sound of bats renders the mantis unable to move or defend itself, and Buffy is able to easily hack it into pieces. Which seems like a stupid thing to hang on to, from an evolutionary standpoint. "This creature that eats me is making sound nearby? I better become useless immediately." That seems like a good way for a species to definitely not thrive.

After the mantis is dead, Buffy, Willow and Giles explain to the two guys who were just almost eaten that the "she-mantis" only preys on virgins. Rather than expressing gratitude to Buffy for saving his damn life, Blaine warns the four of them that his dad is a lawyer, and if they tell anyone he's a virgin, he'll sue them. I'm not sure you can sue someone for saying something that's true, Blaine, but whatever. I wish the substitute mantis lady had eaten you.

At The Bronze, Buffy is sitting by herself, wearing Angel's jacket, when Angel shows up and congratulates her on her smooth handling of fork-hand guy. Then he tells her to keep his jacket because it looks better on her. And then he walks away, into the crowd, all mysterious like.

Back at Sunnydale high, the new science teacher is kind of a strict dude, and Buffy is super bummed. She finds the old science teacher's glasses and sadly goes to put them in the pocket of his jacket, which is hanging on the door to the supply closet or whatever. Really? No one thought to remove the guy's personal belongings? Maybe if they had, they would have noticed this:

Which would be exciting if we ever saw the mantis people again. But we don't.

So, I hope I gave you a reasonable sense of why this episode is not my favorite, but before I wrap this one up, let's talk about #1. This episode is one of the biggest examples of sex being the real villain in the Buffy universe. Xander is preyed upon by the "she-mantis" because he hasn't fulfilled his male obligation of heterosexual sex. Ms. French specifically asks him if he's been with a woman before, insinuating that if sex isn't P-in-V, it doesn't count. Then there's the part where sex is what will kill him, but he still should want it. It's sending the clear message that sex will ultimately kill you, folks, and there's no way to avoid it.

Not to mention the fact that it's an attractive, sexually agressive female who will be wielding the death sex. So... #6 there. Guys, fear women. They only use sex to destroy you.