Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 3.04: “Beauty and the Beasts”

Night came on, and a full moon rose high over the trees lighting the land till it lay bathed in ghostly day. And the strain of the primitive remained alive and active. Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and roof were his, yet he retained his wildness and wiliness. And from the depths of the forest, a call still sounded.

I don’t usually do spoiler warnings. In fact, just a few weeks ago I noted that I don’t do spoiler warnings, but we’ve had an influx of a lot of lovely new members recently, so I thought I’d give a brief shorthand on Slay’s Stance on Spoilers: Anything that has aired is fair game to talk about. For a show that’s been off the air almost a decade, that is all of the episodes. If you’re new to Buffy, be forewarned that I will make references to other episodes and plot developments in later seasons. I do not tend to bring up the Season 8 and 9 comics. If this is an issue for you, please proceed with caution.

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the classic-monster episodes of Buffy. “Beauty and the Beasts” features a boss fight between Mr. Hyde and the Wolfman, and while there is no Abbot and Costello cameo, I found myself all giddy watching the two of them go at it. This is pretty much the last of the old school monster riffs, though the argument could be made that “Gingerbread” (coming up in a few weeks), “Hush” and BB Adam fall under that umbrella.

Now that I stated that, feel free to correct me in the comments.

As plots go, this one is a convoluted run around. We have Oz, in the midst of his three-night wolf-out, who may or may not have killed some guy one night. We have recently-returned-from-hell-dimension Angel, who appears to have gone feral and may or may not have killed some guy one night. And we have our monster-of-the-week, Pete, who is mainlining a glowing concoction he’s made himself to become “˜more manly’ and is definitely killing people.

This week’s douche move: Xander, upon reporting for Oz-babysitting duty during a full moon, waits until Willow leaves and then immediately lies down and goes to sleep, despite promising he’ll be on guard until the sun comes up. Why is Xander such a jerk? All the time?

Xander’s beauty sleep opens up several hours of unaccounted for Oz time during which a random man in the woods is murdered by someone we don’t see. It might be Oz, because the window was left open in his cell. Not that there’s any tension to this mystery – Oz only eats people when it’s expedient to the storyline. However, investigating the murder leads Buffy to finding Angel in the woods. He’s feral, aggressive, and yet somehow managed to find pants, even though our screencap last week PROVED he came back from hell naked.

Our girl has just been starting to deal with her feelings in the aftermath of Becoming, so being smacked in the face with her former-lover-turned-psychopath-turned-lover that she had to kill is obviously upsetting. She does the appropriate thing by knocking him out, dragging him back to the mansion, and chaining him the fuck up. As you do.

And then, most importantly, she doesn’t tell anyone she saw him.

I’ve written before about how I dislike criticisms of Buffy that center around how cold and stuck up she seems to be. My argument has always been that she carries a tremendous burden in being the repeated savior of this dimension and there’s never any place she can rest, so to speak. Angel’s return is a really good example of that. Who can she talk to about this? Who can she go to? Her MO has always been to shoulder everyone’s problems, plus her own. No one else really can understand what she goes through by the end of the series, not even Giles, though I think he understands her best.  So it should be no surprise to you that I found the scene where Buffy goes to her guidance counselor and finally confides in someone that she had no idea what to do and her life is really messed up and she needs someone’s help, only to find that he’d been murdered by Pete earlier in the day, just completely heart wrenching.

After this, there are very few times Buffy ever gets that emotionally open again. I can think of two off the top of my head – once, with Giles in season 4 when her Slayer instincts kick into overdrive, and again in season 6 with Tara, where she lays her head in Tara’s lap and cries for forgiveness. That is a long time to go without confession.

Back to the main plot: Pete is dating Debbie, who is a band friend of Oz’s. Pete suspects Debbie is going to dump him, brews up his own testosterone potion, and becomes Super Pete, if the Super version of Pete is a messed up looking jackass with a hair-trigger temper who beats his girlfriend and murders guys he thinks are into her. This includes Dude in the Woods, the guidance counselor, an attempt on Oz, which turns into the aforementioned Boss Fight, before he finally kills Debbie, tries to kill Buffy, and gets his neck snapped by Angel.

Um. Now that I typed that all out, this was a really dark episode. Pete kills a lot of people. The close-to-home high school domestic violence storyline is among one the most disturbing “˜real life’ plots the show attempts. (See also: “Earshot” and “I Only Have Eyes For You”)

BtVS is famous for its heralding of feminist issues and its overtly-feminist heroines. What’s not as recognized is the amount of time that Whedon and company spend deconstructing the danger of hyper-masculinity. It comes up a lot, usually in subtext where traditionally “˜masculine’ ideas or approaches to problems cause more problems than they solve. The Watcher’s Counsel and its oppressive patriarchy is only one example.

“Beauty and the Beasts” is an episode where that subtext leaps into the forefront of the story in a not-exactly subtle way. Everything Pete does, all his motivations, is deeply rooted in his desire to be “more manly.” That is what he thinks will win him the girl, and what’ll keep the girl is his ability to be the Alpha Male by literally destroying every competitor to the title he sees. This single-mindedness, the Dick Supreme, approach ruins everything he touches. Non-Hyde Pete seems like a nice guy – he’s loving to his girlfriend, nice to her friends, brings her flowers and showers her with compliments. Hyde Pete is a lethal asshole. Early in the episode, Faith comments that all men are just beasts deep down in side. Pete is her proof. The lesson isn’t a particularly subtle one.

There are days when I can’t believe people try to argue that this isn’t a feminist show. This is one of them.

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

43 thoughts on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 3.04: “Beauty and the Beasts””

  1. May I say – as someone who is halfway through season six in probably the sixth rewatching of the entire Buffy series in the last three years – I really love your recaps, Slay Belle. In the real world I have no-one to talk these things out with, so I really appreciate seeing everyone’s thoughts here.

    1. Thank you so much. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing them for my own indulgence, so it’s nice to know other people appreciate them?

      How do you feel about season 6? I wasn’t fond of it at the time it aired, but upon some distance and multiple rewatches, I think its one of the strongest. Very dark, but full of complexity.

  2. Grrr. I had a really long, well-thought out post that I wrote last night, but when I went to hit reply my browser froze and I lost it. A lot of it involved Xander, but I’ll save that for later.

    One thing I will add: Feral Angel served as a huge plot device in this episode. He was the only one that could have killed Pete. Buffy and gang would not have killed him, because he was still human. (They mentioned “taking him somewhere” in the conversation with Debbie in the locker room, and Buffy tried to use the tranq gun on him in the library.) Oz couldn’t kill him because, even though Pete was bad, it would undermine the distress he went through in the first half of the episode, thinking that he killed a human. That left only feral Angel. He was out of his mind enough to not care that he was killing a human, but Pete was also evil enough that we wouldn’t hold it against him.

    This was a really dark episode. Not only did it deal with domestic violence, but it also had a human killing multiple humans, something that is rare and very serious on this show.

    1. Welcome to the life eating club! I tell Slay she is my internet soul-mate because everything she loves, I love, and then she writes about it in such an awesome way that I just can’t get enough. Yes, Slay causes me to gush.

      So glad to have another Buffy lover in the house!

  3. With episodes like these I can still remember what teenage freck thought. That there was a more primal, less-educated knowledge of ‘Oh this is So Wrong’. Maybe if I will re-watch this episode, I will be a bit like ‘O My Gosh, in my face why don’t you’ but that doesn’t matter because the people who need this lesson, need it to be yelled (is this sentence ending? Yep, here we are).

    And poor thing Buffy just didn’t catch a freaking break. The man didn’t bring love, the absence of man didn’t bring love. Teenage freck desperately wanted Angel to snap out of it, make himself human and be there for her, even though I knew Buffy just wasn’t ..destined for that.

    It will probably never fail to bring up this cascade of thoughts out of me.

  4. Slay Belle, another great recap! I also think that the juxtaposition of Pete with Angel and Oz in terms of masculinity is not an accident. Pete attempts to gain control in his life by adopting hyper masculinity, but is ultimately beaten by Angel, and to a certain extent Oz, who are both trying to find a way to gain control over their hyper masculinity.

    Angel’s journey back from the hell dimension has always stood out to me in terms of discussing masculinity, because Angel’s previous alpha male-ness was attributed to his lack of soul, whereas this feral creature he becomes after escaping the hell dimension is due to the damage it did to his soul. Not quite sure how to flesh that idea out further, but the whole no soul vs damaged soul thing pops up in this show constantly.

    1. That’s a really cool way of looking it. It always amazes me how nuanced people’s readings are of this show and how intentional so much of the writing was. When I watched them as a kid I didn’t pick up on any of that stuff (at least not intellectually) and it’s pretty fun to go back in and think about it from a more literary or psychoanalytic perspective. It’s the show that just keeps on giving!

      1. I know! I’m currently rewatching the series with my husband, a first-time viewer, and I just find the entire series that much more poignant. Like, for instance, I always identified with Willow from the very beginning, and her struggling with her sexuality in later seasons was SO. HELPFUL. when I was coming to terms with my own bisexuality. At the time it first aired, though, I was so entrenched in my culture (went to a Christian academy, surrounded by people of the WASP society, etc.), so I didn’t really appreciate it as much until YEARS later.

        God, I love this show.

    2. Thank you, Messy! After I submitted this last night I realized I hadn’t really discussed Angel or Oz in the context of the masculinity paradigm, because they’re obviously the contrast to what’s going on with Pete. Thank you for bringing it up in discussion.

      I believe that the most ‘successful’ men in the show are the ones who can embrace the ‘feminine’ (for lack of a better descriptor). The New Men, who don’t get wrapped up in these old fashioned ideals  of what being a man means. Giles is the most successful at this — he’s caring, sensitive, paternal, and loving, while also having that streak of The Ripper in him. He’s in a traditionally feminine job (librarian) while working for a highly patriarchal institution (The Watchers). Spike is another great example — his ability to feel and love (to the point of fighting for his soul back) is continually noted as unique among vampires, and we can even argue, among the male characters.

      Conversely, this is why I think Xander is such a d-bag. He is so wrapped up in being a manly man and unable to accept that he’s second tier to his female friends, and it gets him into trouble again and again. (His speech at the end of the 6th season is probably the turning point for him.)

      As you can see, I have a lot of thoughts.

      1. I love your thoughts! Yes, I’ve always attributed Xander’s issues in part of his inability to come to terms with his own sense of masculinity. He was the dweeby kid who ends up being best friends with super powerful women, and he gets so wrapped up in his ingrained ideas that he, as the man, needs to be way more “heroic.” Meanwhile, when he embraces his Xander-ness, he is most successful. I also think that it’s incredibly interesting that he chose to go into carpentry, a very traditionally male profession. Even more interesting – he ended up being good at it! The comics continue with this theme of Xander’s relationship to his masculinity. He gets a little Saul Tigh in the comics, complete with eye patch.

        With Spike, I was at first a bit bothered by the whole “I got my soul back for love” thing they did, but when rewatching the series, I found that they were going that direction anyway. He was a mother-obsessed poet as a human, and his early days of vampire-dom were difficult for him. It wasn’t until he meets up with Drusilla and Angel, and he finally throws himself into the evil lifestyle. With him, even though he is technically soulless at the time, it falls into more of the “damaged soul” category than the “no soul” category. Even as a vampire, cruelty is a learned behavior for Spike. Perhaps he becomes so incredibly cruel because it is largely performative for him.

        Yeah, I have thoughts too :)

    1. I could never really pinpoint what I didn’t like about Xander until Slaybelle started the recaps. And BAM! It put everything into light. He never really answers for the shit he pulls because he’s “basically a nice guy.”

      But what I DO like about the character is that he, a white male, is put in a position to where everyone else that’s important in his life is female and powerful. He sums himself up best when he’s talking to Dawn in Season 7, telling her that she’s extraordinary: she handles that lack of power with the dignity that he never had. (That’s the point I realized he’d actually grown up.)

    2. Xander is not a character that aged well. Joss says in one of the DVD commentaries that Xander is his stand-in in the show, the kind of guy he was in high school. He’s supposed to be the one the audience identifies with as the girls get more and more powerful.

      The problem (one of) is that he doesn’t grow a lot and that he screws up so many times without paying for it, that in retrospect the pile of ‘sins’ is quite large. Everyone always points to Spike’s attempted rape in “Seeing Red”, but Xander tries to rape Buffy in season one (“The Pack”). The show glosses over it horribly, but for me, that’s the beginning of the whole WTF Xander arc.

      “The Zeppo” is coming up in a few weeks though, which I have to admit is a favorite of mine.

  5. Preface: I love this show and Joss Whedon with all my heart and soul.  That said, Buffy is unquestionably problematic on some levels (race and bisexual invisibility spring immediately to mind.)  But I don’t understand people who think the show isn’t feminist.  I mean, I think there’s always room for more, but this show changed the television landscape for women and shows featuring women, and fifteen years after it first aired, is still one of the best, most feminist shows I’ve ever seen, with some of the best characters TV has ever known.

      1. Buffy’s race issues just get larger and larger with passing time, unfortunately. I do think Firefly is a step in the right direction, with the glaring issue of where the hell all the Chinese people are. The entire universe speaks Mandarin (right?), so where the hell are the Mandarin native speakers? Its a very odd oversight.

        Personally, I view Willow as a gay girl who happened to love to men in her life. The comment she makes in the upcoming episode ‘Doppleganger” I think is intentionally foreshadowing. (“I think I’m kind of gay.”)

      2. I think Firefly shows evolution, but is still problematic (in a Chinese/American hybrid culture, why are there no Chinese, or even Asian, characters?)

        I do interpret Willow as bisexual, but Joss and characters on the show (including Willow herself) do not.  That’s my big beef – bisexuality is never even mentioned or discussed on the show, which completely undermines Willow’s whole relationship with Oz (which I think of as a real and valid relationship – again, I interpret Willow as bisexual.)  The only characters who seem more comfortable with bisexuality/fluid sexuality in the Buffyverse (at least the shows – I haven’t read the comics, but I gather there are some developments with Buffy’s sexuality) are vampires, and only when they are de-souled.  It drives me crazy.

        But again – this is a show that includes numerous women, all strong in their own way, showcased a loving and long-term lesbian relationship, and is generally speaking absolutely fantastic.  I have no problem criticizing that which I love, and no amount of criticism will take away from my Buffy love.

        1. I agree – you can love the hell out of something and still note the problems with it. (I’m a Supernatural fan, so…yeah.)

          And agreed about Firefly too. I appreciated the more multiculti cast, and Inara’s explicit sexual fluidity, so I feel it’s more evolved. But they curse in Chinese, for heaven’s sake. The weirdest thing is that Simon and River aren’t Asian. Isn’t Tam a Chinese name?! A variation of Tan? Makes no sense. Those actors were lovely in their roles…and I can appreciate that and still point out that it was just weird.

  6. I don’t find Buffy cold.  She has to make the hard decisions no one else has to make.  She has to carry the darkness. When other characters complain about her being cut off, I find them to be whiny crybabies. hehe.

    I also hated that the guidance counselor got killed right as she started to open up.  It seems like every adult that wants to look out for her (including that one woman teacher that was suffocated) dies, with the exception of Giles.

    1. You’re totally right. Buffy isn’t cold, at the worst moments in her life she’s distant, but she’s never cold. Even when she ran away in “Ann,” she still cared and was susceptible to her own nature- protecting and helping people who can’t do it themselves.

            1. Exactly. She’s such a BAMF. She always gets up, dusts herself off, and moves on to the next challenge. So what if she needed a episode to mope and deal? Wouldn’t you after so much change in your life? I know I would. This is why she’s one of my favorite women of television of all time. Despite the lack of diversity in Sunnydale.

    2. You’re right about the guidance counselor. I remember seeing that episode for the first time, and realizing, when they did that whole chair and cigarette scene that he was dead and going “noooo, Buffy needs somebody!”

      I also never found Buffy to be cold. She was just really determined to do her job as best she could.

    3. When we did the Badass Bracket a few months ago, that was a common complaint from readers who didn’t like her — that she seemed very stuck up, cold, and full of herself. The show comments on it during her romance with Riley, but I think that its a very natural reaction to what she goes through over the course of the series.

Leave a Reply