You know what gets me? This is what gets me. Twenty years I’ve been fighting demons. Maggie Walsh and her nancy ninja boys come in; six months later, demons are pissing themselves with fear. They never even noticed me. What am I? I’m an unemployed librarian with a tendency to get knocked on the head.
There are very few Buffy episodes I’ve forgotten. I own the DVDs, I stream the show on Netflix and when FX was still showing it, I watched the series religiously in reruns. I can not begin to tell you how many times I’ve watched “The Body” or “Becoming, Part 2″ or “Innocence.” It’s just a lot. But every now and then, I’m reminded that there’s episodes that have fallen through the cracks, be it because I missed them on air or skip over them in rewatches. “A New Man” is one of those. I remembered that it was the one where Giles turned into a Fyarl demon but I would have been hard pressed to give you the whos, whats, and wheres.
For instance, it’s a Buffy birthday episode! It’s the episode where she tells Professor Walsh she’s the Slayer, and then Walsh calls Giles an absent father figure to his face. Ethan Rayne is in it! Spike starts his assistant-for-money scheme! Buffy kicks Stupid Riley across the room and inserts the seed of Riley’s passive aggressive resentment of her powers! Um, other stuff!
Ok, there is no other stuff. I just gave you all the highlights of the episode. But still! Buffy kicks Stupid Riley across the room!
So, now that we’ve all had a nice gloat at Riley’s expense, let’s talk “New Man.”
Since the school blew up and the Watch Council fired him, Giles hasn’t had a lot to do except hang out at his apartment and shag beautiful women he’s flown in from overseas. I imagine at first it was a liberating experience, not being beholden to the clock and probably getting some unemployment on account of laid-off-by-giant-snake. Buffy probably found the idea of going off to university where no one new her and she had no rules liberating too, but we saw how hard the transition was on her in the first part of the season. Now that Buffy is finding her feet again, saving the world and kissing a new boyfriend, we get to see that growing up is hard on grown ups, too.
With his kids off in the real world, Giles is feeling increasingly left behind. He’s the old man at Buffy’s birthday party, who seems a bit strange because he’s hanging out with a bunch of 20-somethings and he has the world’s worst cover story why (“He’s my former librarian” doesn’t feel as justifiable as “he’s my dad” and more like “weird pervert creeper”). He’s no longer her sole authority on smart-things ““ Maggie Walsh is honing in there. What kinship he might have found with Maggie as two old dogs who know a lot of tricks is immediately pissed on when Maggie dismisses and humiliates him as a weird old man stalking his former student. The demon underworld doesn’t even care that he exists unless he’s accidentally holding on to one of their talismans. Everyone else knows that Riley is one of the campus commandos; Giles finds out when Willow offhandedly mentions it. He can’t even predict a good end of the world anymore ““ the demon prince was totally, absolutely supposed to rise and wreck havoc on the world doesn’t bother to show up when Giles bravely heads out to face it. Middle age sucks and Giles won’t even get his complimentary mid-life crisis car for another season.
Into this morass steps Ethan Rayne, who has no real reason to come bother the Sunnydale gang except that he worships chaos, which makes him a dick, which means he has to come harass people for no real reason. Ethan might be a good sorcerer but he’s shit at subtly, getting immediately caught by Giles during his “evil genius” speech in one of Sunnydale’s finer crypts (soon to be Spike’s home). Instead of giving Ethan the thrashing he desperately deserves, Ethan buys some time with a couple of pints and some insider information. There’s something wrong in the underworld, he tells Giles, something that has all the demons scared. It’s called 314. The former friends get increasingly drunk, trade stories, hit on waitresses, complain about getting older, and do not actually thrash each other at all.
And then Ethan turns Giles into a Fyarl demon.
As you do.
After stumbling around his apartment and accidentally wrecking things with his new oversized, over strong body, Giles manages to stumble to Xander’s for help only to find that not only does he look like a Fyarl demon, he talks like one too. New Giles is chased out of Xander’s basement, screamed at by the women folk, causes tears in small children, and generally treated like a monster. He’s reduced to skulking back in one of the cemeteries, where he runs into demon-fighting Spike (now with action grip!) who just so happens to speak Fyarl and needs pocket money. Spike agrees to help Giles find Buffy and Ethan for the bargain price of 200 bucks.
Meanwhile, the gang has remembered that they have this friend named Giles who lets them host Thanksgiving at his apartment and hides all the cool spell books, so when they finally head over to his place to let him in on important updates re: their lives, the gang discovers a wrecked apartment and a distinct lack of Giles. Stupid Riley shows up too, checking in on 911 calls about fighting and growling because the commandos own a police scanner like everyone else in the world. Fearing the worst, Buffy and Riley head to the magic shop to do some recon. Ethan Rayne buys all his spell making supplies under his real name because he’s just so very stupid, and he registers his hotel room under his name because he apparently never wants to succeed in any plot he ever makes, ever.
Our two groups of heroes prepare to converge on Ethan’s crappy motel room. Along the way, Giles makes a quick pit stop:
But he still manages to reach Ethan before Buffy does and that’s how she finds them, Fyarl Giles beating up Ethan. Hilarity ensues! Ok, not so much. Buffy beats the snot out of Giles for all the times he made her train and patrol instead of going on dates, while Giles receives his beating until she total stabs him with a stake. And luckily does not die, because at that moment, Buffy looks into Giles’s monster eyes and realizes it’s him ““ there’s no one who can look quite as disappointed with her. I had a moment where I imagined a world in which Buffy accidentally killed Giles during this encounter, and the whole of the Buffyverse got a lot darker. I bet someone’s written a fanfiction about that.
Ethan turns Giles back. Riley has Ethan carted off to a special magical prison that most likely won’t give him a lobotomy but we can’t really be sure of. Buffy and Giles reconnect ““ which is great and wonderful, because they love each other. But it’s also the beginning of their difficult relationship over the next couple of seasons, as they grow apart or unhealthily dependent on each other, or cold and distant. I’m not looking forward to that. Growing up sucks.
Images courtesy of BuffyWorld and Goodbye Piccadilly Farewell Leicester Bloody Square and property of 21st Century Fox.
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