I knew this would happen. Nobody can be wound as straight and narrow as Giles without a dark side erupting. My Uncle Rory was the stodgiest taxidermist you’ve ever met – by day. By night it was booze, whores and fur flying. Were there whores?
I hate to speak ill of my beloved Buffy, but I have to say, “The Dark Age” is a pretty thin entry in the general awesomeness of season 2. Despite further exploration of Giles’s background, which is both the premise and redeeming feature of the episode, it’s poorly acted and has plot holes that my thirteen-year-old saw from a mile away. I’m not even being sarcastic about that last part. I considered doing this write-up as only the criticisms she was shouting about from the couch.
Two episodes ago, Ethan Rayne breezed into town to cause a little chaos. That’s Ethan’s shtick ““ he’s a devotee of Chaos, capital “˜C’. Sunnydale, being a Hellmouth and all, is prime chaos-generating grounds, but it also has the added bonus of being the residence of one Rupert Giles, British ex-pat and tweedy Watcher. Ethan and Giles have a shared background together that is only hinted about in “Halloween.” It seems a dangerous and violent past ““ Ethan is visibly afraid of our librarian when they finally confront each other. He even calls him “Ripper.”
“The Dark Age” picks up a few weeks later. Ethan seems to have skipped town just in time to miss the return of some of Giles’s other friends, some of whom are demon possessed zombies. While trying to find Giles at the school, Phillip is stalked and murdered by a woman he calls by name ““ a woman who happens to be a demon possessed zombie. I’m not sure how demon zombies make the trek from England to California and I’ve spent entirely too much time pondering it. After choking Phillip to death, both zombie and man fall to the ground, where the zombie melts into a puddle of CGI goo.
TNMAS, Giles and Jenny Calendar are still feinting at their relationship. Jenny’s ready to move past their monster truck dates to adult sleepovers because she seems to be the only person on the show to recognize what is readily apparent; Rupert Giles is a stone cold fox. I mean, the man had an entire advertising campaign built around how sexy he is. Dates are made for Saturday night plans, but first, Jenny is going to host a special computer tutorial for the worst computer students in school ““ Cordelia and Xander. Look, just let it go. Sometimes you just need to accept that these things they say are true so that everyone can be together on campus on a Saturday morning.
The police show up at school to investigate Phillip’s death, noting that the only identification the body had on it was Giles’s name and address scrawled on a piece of paper. He accompanies the detective to the city morgue to identify the body as Phillip, a friend he hadn’t seen in over twenty years. Phillip has a strange tattoo that Giles seems to recognize, but he denies it when questioned.
Later that night, he misses a rendezvous with Buffy. Giles never misses anything ““ as Buffy points out, Giles thinks that tardiness is the 8th deadly sin. She finds her Watcher safe in his apartment and stinking of liquor. He refuses to tell her what’s going on and shuts the door in her face. Good parenting there, Giles.
When Buffy finds Ethan skulking around in the library stacks the next morning, she’s quick to put together two and two, which equals a punch to Ethan’s smug face. He’s looking for Giles ““ he’s not who you think he is, Ethan crows. Whatever mystery this is, it involves something called “the mark of Eyghon,” and Giles is left speechless when Buffy calls him about it. Not that they would have had time for a long talk anyway ““ Phillip’s demon possessed corpse breaks into the library to have at Ethan.
Ethan, in keeping with his weasely demeanor, instantly jumps behind Buffy. Buffy easily traps the zombie in the handy book cage, while Cordelia et al keep Ethan from fleeing the scene. Easy peasy.
Giles drags his scotch breath into the library long enough to get some exposition going. Ethan’s presence infuriates him and the gang finally sees the violence that Giles has carefully kept hidden when he goes for Ethan. It’s obviously upsetting for Buffy to see her tweedy, solid Watcher erupting ““ kids always have a hard time seeing their parents outside their caretaker roles. Before either man has a chance to explain what’s going on, Zombie Phillip busts out of his cage, knocks Jenny unconscious, and transforms into a melty puddle after one good kick from the Slayer. The puddle just happens to ooze towards Jenny, but no one seems to notice.
Ethan escapes during the confusion. Giles is too concerned about Jenny to be any help and leaves the Scoobies hanging. Everyone’s roles are reversed. The gang has to do Giles’s job, using Giles’s books, and Xander gets to creep through his personal files. It takes some time but two important things are dug up.
1 ““ Giles used to be some sort of punk rock hoodlum. Photographic evidence is presented to prove this ““ and the nerd in me would like to point out that Anthony Head’s face has been photoshopped onto Sid Vicious’s body. I don’t know how meta we’re supposed to take this, but I refuse to believe that Rupert Giles would ever stab his girlfriend in the stomach and leave her to bleed to death under a sink, no matter how bad he was supposed to be.
2 ““ Giles and his friends used to summon demons for fun. The orgy kind of fun. Everyone is grossed out by this. They all have the mark of Eyghon tattooed on them, and the demon is hopping from host to host. It can only pass into dead or unconscious bodies and if not properly driven out, will eventually be reborn in its host.
Hey, who was unconscious? Jenny was! Who is alone with Jenny? Giles! Does this all go poorly? Yes!
Buffy arrives too late to capture Demon Jenny. Giles is shaken that his teenage indiscretions have literally been embodied in his girlfriend. That’s the problem with supernatural universes. Your sins will actually come back to haunt you. The Watcher and Slayer share a couple of quite moments together, where Giles explains he understands what Buffy has been dealing with better than she suspected. He, too, bristled at his destiny and rebelled against the responsibilities thrust on him at a young age. Unlike Buffy, who keeps shouldering her burdens, Giles dropped out, screwed around, “fell in with the worst crowd who would have me,” which is just so freaking British I laughed out loud. They would summon the demon to get high off the power and didn’t stop until one of the circle was accidentally killed during a ritual. They thought the demon was gone after that, but here it is, hunting them down.
He doesn’t know how to stop Eyghon without killing Jenny.
Buffy goes out to find Ethan, who is hiding at the costume store. Somehow, a single bump to the noggin knocks Buffy out cold. When she comes to, tied up, Ethan is preparing to give her a tattoo. See, once he gives her the mark and burns his own off with acid, then the demon will think Buffy was part of the circle and go after her instead. Sure, why not?
Demon Jenny shows up in a bit of green light and dramatic music. The plan seems to work ““ she tosses Ethan aside like a sack of grain and goes right for Buffy, who has managed to sever her restraints. She might have some reservations about pummeling her possessed teacher, but Demon Jenny couldn’t care less. It’s looking like dustville for Jenny until Angel unexpectedly bursts in. Once they’re brawling, the demon seems to sense a certain corpse-like nature in Angel and leaps into the “empty” vessel. As dead as he may be, Angel already has a demon hanging out in him “waiting for a fight.” The two battle it out under Angel’s skin. Eyghon is nothing but a sad memory now that Angelus has a hold of him.
Sunnydale hasn’t been very kind to Jenny Calendar. She’s having a hard time getting over being possessed by a demon and almost killed just because she wanted to smooch on Giles ““ their relationship moves back into a holding pattern. Giles heads back to the library as Buffy tries to distract him with her terrible taste in music and weapons training ““ it works about as well as Giles’s fairy tale at the end of “Lie to Me.”
Bonus: Persephone reader Michelle shared a link to a Buffy fan video and original song she and her friends made. It’s well worth the watch. Thanks, Michelle!
6 replies on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S2, E8 “The Dark Age””
Ah Ethan. He was a vastly under-used character in the show I think. Always talking to himself and revealing his notorious plans, the perfect bad guy caricature. Which only works because he’s British. Too bad about his role in Season 8 though.
Truth about Giles. Especially Season 4. He even wears an earring when he sings. Badass.
The whole ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ sequence made me squeal like a baby. And I liked his singing investigation in the last episode of season 4.
Ethan is a major character in the video game ‘Buffy: Chaos Bleeds’. Its a fun game! You would have thought he might have shown up in season 7 when everything was going to shit. Something like the First Evil would be right up his alley.
Oooh I love Ripper though. I can forgive this episode just because it introduces Ripper. <3
The Ripper stuff is pretty fantastic. I think it gives a real heft and weight to Giles’s backstory — and that’s about all the backstory we really get on him. He’s really quite a mystery.
It’s just such a poorly executed episode. Demon Jenny tempting/terrorizing Giles in his apartment is some of the worst acting on the show so far.
Yes, love! If I recall, this was one of the first episodes where an adult character is developed outside of the parent/teacher/enemy lens. We learn more about Giles, and we start to care about him as a full participant in the world rather than a mere contrast to the teens.
We get a glimpse of adult-story in Halloween, but this is the first full focused episode on a non-teenager. I really liked how it made Giles more real to everyone — he wasn’t just a Watcher anymore.
I realized when writing this recap that there aren’t really any other Giles-centered episodes in the series. Everything we learn about him, all the fleshing out is pretty much accomplished through side stories and Head’s fantastic acting. Even ‘Band Candy’, though theoretically about the adults, is really about teenagers.
Which makes me really mourn for the aborted ‘Ripper’ series Joss never got off the ground. I would have really loved to know more about Giles and Head is clearly capable of carrying his own show.