Episode Review – Buffy Between the Lines Episodes 3 & 4

Listen to the Episode Here.
Download the PDF of the Script Here.
Read Present Memory’s Review Here.

Listen to the Episode Here.
Download the PDF of the Script Here.
Read Present Memory’s Review Here.

I’m writing up two episodes in one go here which I know is just wrong, but I listened to episode three at once, I’m falling behind and don’t have time to re-listen because I’m getting desperate to race on ahead and listen to the next ones (and listen to all the extra twiddly bits like the feedback and special commentary episodes I just discovered existed!).

The praise I’m going to start lavishing on this show is going to start looking pretty sycophantic fairly shortly, I’m almost hoping that these guys put out a few clunkers so that I get the chance to shower on them some of my trademark abuse. But I can’t just yet. As much as I loved episode 2 I’d secretly been expecting the show to tail off a bit, maybe present a quality monster of the week, some good dialogue and funny scenes etc but ultimately not to nail the characterization angle as deftly as Joss Whedon did or to pull of anything major; after all, it’s pretty damn thing to do and frankly if you achieve something like that, you’re probably a writer of note.

It looks like Gwendolyn Jensen-Woodard (episode 3), Emma Rawlin and Tabitha Grace Smith (episode 4) are writer’s of note then, as they’ve managed to, not just achieve the unthinkable and bring real character depth and pathos to their work on Buffy, but they’ve managed to do it, yet again, using characters and in ways that are were completed unexpected. Finding ideas and angles that no-one could have predicted were coming. At this point if it were to be announced that these guys had won them selves a writing gig on Buffy Season 8 or a related project I’m sure there’d be much skepticism amongst non-listeners of this show but I’m fully convinced that they’d be more than up to the task; far more than, say, established but uninspired comic writers like Brian K Vaughan whose character writing simply goes through the motions.

Episode 3, “Never go Up Against a Sorcerer When Death is on the Line” is a character episode of the finest order. An Ethan Rayne story (introduced at just the right time in just the right way and played expertly with all the ticks and mannerisms in place by Alex Gilmour) with all the hallmarks of the finest Ethan stories as Ethan’s trouble making brings out the personal insecurities and troubles of the character he happens to be harrassing. Giles, unable to cope with Buffy’s death, slips into alcoholism and Ethan only makes it worse by sending him on a trip into his own unconscious, bringing his worst demons and fears to the surface. This episode plays like a trip with different characters and scenes from Giles life being played over in truly scary fashion with the people he’s failed like Jenny Calendar and Buffy coming back to mock him. Brian Brown as Giles has a lot to carry here and I’m glad to say that despite my reservations about his appropriateness in the first episode, he does a terrific job of making us believe in and feel for Giles pain.

In good Buffy tradition, you always get a little bit more than the main storyline and here we are, amongst other things, treated to a look at how the trio came to meet up. Now I’m an unashamed fan of these guys who are a huge part of the reason why Season 6 is my favorite Buffy series, so it was a real treat to get this scene. It so easily could have been a huge disaster, but… how perfect that the three should meet at a role-playing game organized by Ethan who doesn’t show and featuring comments like “I’ve got this great dungeon I made in 10th grade (or something….shifty) , you guys are gonna love it” had me rolling on the floor

Episode 4, the wonderfully titled “Ctrl-Alt-Del” proves that I was completely wrong in my assessment of Kim Butler before. In an audio drama, no matter how good the script, if the central performer isn’t up to it, it’ll be a disaster. Kim Butler is up to the role of the BuffyBot and then some, creating a fully fleshed character out of what could be cynically seen as just a hilarious extended joke in the series. BuffyBot in this episode is almost reminiscent of a Data from Star Trek without the massive intelligence or self knowledge, trying to find her place in a world that she knows she doesn’t quite belong to. It’s another episode lacking a weekly monster but that doesn’t mean that it lacks the requisite dramatic impetus. Alongside Buffybot’s rise to self awareness we are treated to some story surrounding our series Big Bad, Javert (or one of? Who is this mysterious “Air?”). I haven’t mentioned how much I like Javert as a character yet as it’s really only in this episode that he gets some decent airtime. He’s a really smooth, suave leader of a vampire gang but unlike, say the Spike of S2 he’s not quite so self-assured as his image would have others believe and has these niggling uncertainties that he actually has any control over his minions. He’s a wonderful villain, perhaps not as large as life as some of Whedon’s best, but certainly more intriguing and with more depth than Adam or Glory. This extended time we’re getting with him is really making me anticipate the eventual end of season showdown. The neat twist to this episode is that we are treated to a showdown of sorts, between Javert and Buffybot that ends in the perfect anticlimax as Buffybot runs out of battery and Javert leaves thinking he’s killed the Slayer.

(there’s also a great cameo by yet another great soundalike, Andrew Ball as D’Hoffryn)

Both these episodes are Buffy writing of high magnitude indeed. Added to this, the cast are becoming more relaxed and confident in their roles to the point that there’s hardly a weak link amongst them and the production values are also steadily improving. Does this sound too sycophantic? Just wait until I get dissing on the Thanksgiving Minisode, OK?

[Make sure to check out Juss’ New Time Radio Blog for more reviews of new audio dramas over at Playtime Magazine]

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A fan audio drama that tells what happens between the seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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