FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - A New Man
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The group have all been dealing with their own respected adjustments after the destruction of Sunnydale High, some better than others. Willow has made friends with a fellow witch named Tara, Giles is unemployed whilst Spike has discovered that he can still hurt demons, just not humans.
It's Buffy's 19th birthday and Giles isn't coping with it very well feeling a little out of the loop. So badly in fact that he turns into a demon. Though that turns out to be more or less because Ethan Rayne showed back up, got Ripper blind drunk and cast a spell on him. Prior to that, he introduces himself to Maggie Walsh which doesn't go particularly well as she accuses him of not being a suitable male role model for. We all know that's absolute crap. I'm kinda glad she gets skewered.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Whilst Giles is coming to terms with Buffy growing up, dating one of the Initiative commandos and you know, being a demon, Buffy and the gang assume that the demon running round has kidnapped Giles, not realising that it's actually Giles himself until it's nearly too late. We also learn that the demon underworld is a'rumbling with the news of the Initiative and something called 314...
A New Man is one of those episodes that seems to get richer over time, particularly with the knowledge of where everything's going, not only in terms of the fourth season, but beyond too. Focusing in on it first, Giles turning into a demon is a very simple metaphor for his alienation from the group, manifested in some stunning make-up work allowing Anthony Head to give a great comic physical performance. His first few scenes as he gets used to his demonic visage are laugh-out-loud hysterical and later on too, chasing after Professor Walsh, growling at her and running after her down Main Street before getting back into the car with Spike as if nothing had happened.
I had forgotten how funny Ethan's re-introduction is and indeed, all of the scenes between Ripper and Ethan, a masterclass in comic timing from both the sadly late Robin Sachs and Anthony Head. Ethan's one of Buffy's great antagonist, more memorable in four appearances than most foes get to be over several. Sadly, this is his final moment in the show, but it's an excellent episode to go out on. The drunken scene between him and Head is just brilliant: "Whilst you were in the restroom, I slipped a poison pellet in your drink. You'll be dead in an hour... Just kidding."
Jane Espenson wrote this episode, so obviously it's great and packed full of quotable lines (which makes picking one to highlight with you all an absolute nightmare). Expanding out to the episode's richness beyond just this story, there's a lot of thematic work going on here and plenty of foreshadowing too. Buffy and Giles' relationship will take some bigger knocks in later seasons, but here it proves to be pretty strong, Buffy knowing intuitively that it's him.
There are also a lot of fault-lines weaving through this episode, mainly through the Scoobies themselves. Willow's lying about her burgeoning relationship with Tara, Buffy's swanning off with Riley all the time, Xander's dating Anya which no-one particularly cares for and Giles is still feeling out of the loop, all of which are ready to be exploited by Spike later on in the season. These ones I remembered. The one I didn't spot? Riley already feeling his masculinity impugned by Buffy's greater strength, skill and authority. It's all there very early on in their relationship, we (and they) just didn't spot it.
Another little cracker of an episode with hilarity, wit and pathos in spades, A New Man is an excellent slice of Buffy doing what Buffy does best, messing with our own knowledge of the characters to further their development. Plus, we don't often get Giles-centric episodes so they're always a joy when they come along, whether it's exploring his Ripper-based past or watching him try and come to terms with change, Anthony Head is marvellous without a doubt.
Quote of the Week:
Maggie Walsh: So, the Slayer?
Buffy: Yep, that's me.
Maggie Walsh: We thought you were a myth.
Buffy: ...Well you were myth-taken.
Inventive Kill: Slight variation on this week as there isn't any killing, but Riley proudly boasts to her of his 17 hostile takedowns. Some nice person over on the Buffy Wikia page for this episode worked out that Buffy has, as a modest estimate, taken down over 100 hostiles up to this point in the series. 106 to be exact, only counting those seen onscreen.
Let's Get Trivial: Anthony Head's previous experience playing Dr Frank N Further in The Rocky Horror Show proved to be invaluable when he had to perform the scene in which he ran after Maggie Walsh because he's extremely comfortable in high heels as a result.
You can catch Becky's look at previous episode, Doomed, here.