My Favorite Patrols: “Seeing Red”

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Sometimes, Buffy episodes are nonsensical dream sequences with repeat appearances from an unexplained Cheese Man. Sometimes they are thinly veiled metaphors for teen hormones wherein the spirit of a hyena demon infects a gang of high school boys, who proceed to eat their principal alive. Other times, though, the show does away with humor and absurdity altogether, and takes 45 minutes to talk about difficult, painful, important issues. “Seeing Red” is one of these episodes. Depression, toxic masculinity and gun violence are the main plot drivers. Victimhood, grief and recovery are their outcomes. Continue reading

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My Favorite Patrols: “Restless”

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I know I’m going to ruffle the feathers of a few Buffy snobs when I choose to write about an episode in Season 4 that is not “Hush,” but this series is called “My Favorite Patrols,” not “The Objectively Best Patrols,” so sit down.

This season is one of the best of the series. The transition from a high school setting to a college one doesn’t always work with a hitherto static cast of characters — especially in a show that relies so much on comedy — but in Buffy‘s case the Scoobies’ graduation probably saved the show from stagnation. The characters had long since outgrown the storytelling confines of primary education, and freeing them up to larger portions of the real world allowed them to grow and morph in delightful, disappointing, and even terrifying ways.

But what really sets this season apart, what makes it first in my affections, is a finale that makes absolutely no sense in context with pretty much the rest of the series. It marks a change from traditional season setups, where the finales are usually reserved for the height of action and drama. Instead, “Restless” serves as something of a debrief, space for the characters to relax from the last episode’s hijinks and for the writers to set up major themes to come in Season 5. (Game of Thrones has, notably, picked up on this format.) Continue reading

My Favorite Patrols: “Passion”

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For the past week, the web has been awash in thinkpieces about Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, the series that debuted 20 years ago and changed the course of American television forever. That is not an exaggeration.

Buffy was one of the first shows to commit to season-long story arcs, with every episode containing its own adventure while being housed within a larger succession of chapters that led to stunning season finales. It was also a pioneer in its exploration of genre. Buffy Summers was a fabled fighter of dark, supernatural forces, but she was also a teenager. Her show was just as full of awkward romances and memorable witticisms as it was with stabby-stabby action sequences. And, of course, Buffy as a show was uniquely feminist, launching a tradition of badass warrior women that continues to dominate entertainment to this day.

Being a little before my time, Buffy didn’t really enter my cultural consciousness until my freshman year of college, when my best friend forced me to watch an episode with her. The following summer, I blazed through the entire series in a number of weeks, and have probably watched all seven seasons at least three times through. I am not proud, but I’m also not super ashamed, either.

So for the next week, to celebrate 20 years of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Critical Mess is going to join the worldwide party of Buffy appreciation. Plenty of people are talking about the episodes that boosted the show’s acclaim. The Season 2 finale “Becoming,” “Hush,” “Once More With Feeling” — these are all the best episodes, but they are not my favorite episodes. Every 42-minute segment is as deserving of critical attention as the popular ones (except for, perhaps, most of Season 1, when the show was still trying on a bunch of weird outfits). Continue reading

The Nice Guy™ Songs in Ed Sheeran’s DIVIDE

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It’s not very often that one listen to a new song has me typing in a furious, feminist rage by the middle of the second chorus. But the eighth song of Ed Sheeran’s Divide, released Thursday, got me there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving this album. Rather than sticking to whatever formula got the most radio play on Multiply and beating it to death (lookin’ at you, Jason Mraz), he’s continued to explore the several distinct but connected sounds that make him so satisfying to listen to. Songs like “Shape of You” indulge fully in his clear affection for hip-hop, while “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan” spin Irish reel–inspired melodies that have you stomping your feet and smiling compulsively.

But while his sound has continued to grow and mature, Sheeran’s content seems mired in the same teenage angst that made him famous with Add, and then some. “Eraser,” the album’s opening track, finds Ed complaining once again about how hard it is to be rich, famous, and living the dream. “Castle on the Hill” is the slightly better version of that, though his vignettes of friends’ everyday English lives are unremarkable and clumsily worded.

Continue reading