Review by Mikelangelo "MikeJer" Marinaro
Posted by MikeJer on May 25, 2009 @ 10:56pm PDTWriter: Jane Espenson
Director: Marita Grabiak
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
"Storyteller," like other classic comedy episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, manages to be extremely funny while also having rousing character development and a heart. I'm the first to admit that, until now, Andrew has been little more than comic relief -- great comic relief, but otherwise just a two-dimensional character. Season 6 gave him a little bit of depth and insight, but nothing particularly mind-blowing as both the established Jonathan and Warren got a lot more attention. "Storyteller" manages to frankly do the impossible: give a character that successfully traverses the incredibly fine line between funny and stupid some real depth and end up turning him into a three-dimensional character. How does Buffy continue -- right to its very end -- to pierce the emotional core of these people? I don't know how the writers do it, but it's one of the largest factors that make the series so unique even among other quality shows.
Before I jump into the focus of the episode, I'd like to make a few comments about some of the ancillary material along with the plot. Andrew interviews Anya and Xander one year to the day he left her at the altar -- and how about that, it really is exactly one year since "Hell's Bells" [6x16]. With one year to think everything through, Xander still feels he made the right decision in not marrying Anya at that time. It's nice to see them both admit their continued love for each other, even though they both know they'll never be officially together again. I also loved the epilogue to their little story, with both of them having sex for "one last time" that clearly isn't one last time. The uncertainty at the end of the scene really sums up how complex and fragile relationships can be and how careful we need to be about the choices we make surrounding them.
If there's one complaint I have with "Storyteller" -- but more largely with the season as a whole -- it's that everything surrounding the Seal of Danzalthar is very confusing. It's never adequately explained why it's acting up right now as opposed to any other time. There certainly hasn't been enough build-up to the outburst it's exhibiting here. It's also never fully explained what the heck it even is. Apparently this thing existed under the old high school too, and that it used to be under the library. I can sort of piece together the mythology surrounding this thing in my head, but I would have really appreciated some more concrete facts about it, what it can do, and why a giant cavern is underneath it. The writers are molding the Seal to be able to do whatever the plot demands, and that reeks of sloppy plotting. Because of the lack of coherence here, "Storyteller" suffers a tiny bit by being associated with it.
There's really very little else to dislike about "Storyteller" though. Early on there's a hilarious scene where Andrew is filming the girls at breakfast fantasizing a slow-motion everything-is-happy montage. He says that Buffy is "beautiful, with a lion's heart and the face of an angel. She's never afraid 'cause she knows her side will always win. Buffy and Spike have some kind of history. You can feel the heat between them. Although, technically, as a vampire, he's room temperature," and that Anya is "a feisty waif with a firey temper and a vulnerable heart that she hides, even from herself." Andrew's "film" is all about side-lining the gritty details of these peoples' lives for the shiny idealized -- yet partially true -- image he sees them as.
Buffy ends up getting frustrated over Andrew's camera work which mutates into a whole new long speech. The episode wisely pans back from her speech, even poking fun at it with Andrew leaving the room saying, "honestly, gentle viewers, these motivational speeches of hers tend to get a little long." Note that, up to this episode at least, I've never really had a problem with any of Buffy's speeches. It's at this time where Andrew takes the time to explain how he wants to present himself to us, the real viewers. Much like the slow-motion Wheaties (sorry, "Wheat-flakes") montage a moment before, he completely roses up his past and who he is today. He says, "You see, I am a man with a burden. A man with a dark past. You see, I was once a super villain." We even begin to see him make huge alterations to past events to make him come out in a better -- victimized or just -- light.
A little further into the episode, when Buffy drags Andrew into trying to shut the Seal down, he makes a comment that further cements the role he wants to play: "I'm not a part of this. I document, I don't participate. I'm a detached journalist, recording with a neutral eye." Andrew eventually alludes to the idea of redemption for himself. Even though he clearly still has a comic book level of sophistication on what redemption is, it's still a hint to the fact that deep down there is something going on in him -- otherwise he wouldn't even bring it up.
When Buffy threatens to spill his blood on the Seal, a powerful scene emerges where Andrew's emotional barriers -- blocked by layers of comedy -- are finally broken down. Kudos to Tom Lenk for pulling out his emotional acting chops here. Jane Espenson does a phenomenal job at taking a character that was perceived almost entirely for laughs, and making him emotionally real and bringing him up to the same level as some of the other secondary characters throughout the series. With Andrew, we suddenly now have the beginnings of a fleshed out character. Impressive work.
Andrew learns a lot when he believes his life is at risk, and I was particularly moved by his genuine cheering of Buffy's leadership so far ("No, you're doing great. Really. Kudos."). When Buffy asks him if her sacrifice of him will "redeem" him, he honestly cries out, "No! Because I killed him. Because I listened to Warren, and I pretended I thought it was him, but I knew it wasn't. And I killed Jonathan. And now you're gonna kill me. And I'm scared, and I'm going to die. And this is what Jonathan felt." That last part, about feeling what he put Jonathan through, gives him a new layer of maturity and self reflection that he never possessed before. I also liked the dark nod implying that if Andrew's tears didn't close the Seal, Buffy may have actually tried to spill his blood. This further cements the fact that Andrew is still in no way Buffy's friend or close ally, despite her intent not to kill him. He still has a long way to go before he earns that kind of respect from Buffy, but he makes a great start through his actions here.
The final scene of the episode, with Andrew recording himself speaking, is quite moving. Here we have someone who is now completely honest with himself and his sins, and is genuinely wanting to atone for them -- not in the easy-way-out comic book way of before. He says, "Here's the thing. I killed my best friend. There's a big fight coming, and I don't know what's going to happen. I don't even think I'm going to live through it. That's, uh, probably the way it should be."
"Storyteller" gives Andrew his chance to shine and become a memorable part of the Buffy canon that's not just simply comic relief anymore. It's also the last comedy-heavy episode in the entire series. Jane Espenson clearly relishes the opportunity on both counts and runs with it. Between the hilarious comedy, solid character material, and emotional resonance in the last person you'd expect to find it, we have a real winner here. Now... how 'bout that Cheese Man!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
QuotesANYA:For God's sake, Andrew! You've been in here for 30 minutes. What are you doing?
ANDREW:Entertaining and educating.
ANYA:Why can't you just masturbate like the rest of us?
ANDREW:But the story needs to be told.
ANYA:Birds need to fly, and girls need to use the toilet, and why were you video taping yourself, anyway? Sounds like kinky business to me.
WARREN:What'll it do to Buffy?
ANDREW:Make her super magnetic!
JONATHAN:Wow, she won't be able to get out of her car.
WARREN:And knives and other sharp things will fly at her.
ANDREW:We could walk right by her, and she wouldn't be able to stop us.
WARREN:Unless we were wearing metal belt buckles, then we would stick to her.
ANDREW:In my plan, we are beltless!
ANDREW:Dawn is a typical American teenager. Bubbly and sweet with a hunger for fun and a smile that lights up the room.
ANDREW:Dawn used to be a key. I don't really know what that means.
BUFFY:My guess? It's that seal thing in the basement. It's like all the hellmouth's energy is trying to escape in that one little spot, and it's getting all-
BUFFY:Careful. You're starting to speak like me now.
WOOD:You have visions?
WOOD:Oh. Well, how do you know that they're not just dreams?
BUFFY:You're running to catch the bus naked? That's a dream. Army of vicious vampire creatures? That's a vision. Also, I was awake.
WOOD:A bus to where? I mean an army of how many?
ANDREW:Is that true, Xander? Do you still love her?
ANYA:You keep dodging the question.
XANDER:I don't mean to. It's just... you know how I feel, right? And you were the one who didn't want to keep seeing each other.
ANYA:And here's where we hop on the merry-go-round of rotating knives. I blame you, and you blame me, and we both end up all cut to shreds. Please just tell: do you still love me?
WOOD:Tell us about the Seal.
ANDREW:But it tickles, and I'm all tense. Can't I have a cool, refreshing Zima!?
SPIKE:Shut your face about the Zima. Just talk.
ANDREW:Pretty knife, except the, uh, the stabbing. I don't think I can do it. Jonathan has been a good friend to me here in Meh-hee-co. He said he'll buy me a burro!
BUFFY:Kennedy, search his stuff. Find the knife.
ANDREW:It's not in my stuff. It's in the kitchen, in the cutlery drawer. You didn't have any steak knives.
WILLOW:You put your old murder weapon in with our utensils!?
ANDREW:I washed it...
BUFFY:Be quiet! I don't want a biographer, especially a murderer.
ANDREW:Yeah, well, see, about that... we just keep tossing that word around, but that's not really what happened.
BUFFY:What? You stabbed Jonathan to death! What were you trying to do? Scratch his back from the front!?
ANDREW:(Narrating) She's like a woman fighting for more than life. She fights like fighting is her life. It's like the air she breathes, and she knows she will win because there is no alternative.
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