I feel pretty safe calling “Where the Wild Things Are” a failure; I’m just not sure if it qualifies as a noble one. The episode is thoroughly watchable, but its efforts to deal with the issues of child abuse and sexual repression come off as more confused than nuanced. We have the standard mystical metaphor as the abuse suffered by the children of the Lowell Home manifests as a blend of sexual urges and shame… and plants. Obviously, the first two go together, particularly in cases of child abuse, but I’m unclear on whether the vines are meant be Eden imagery or a Sendak nod and, either way, they don’t really bring much the themes of the episode. Adding to the confusion, we have Buffy and Riley’s sex drive being what sets off the whole crisis and Xander and Anya getting beyond the physical is what resolves it. Sooo… sexual repression is bad… but so is sex?
I’ve complained before about Buffy’s portrayal of sex. It was brilliant back in season 2, but the series really needed to adopt a more mature attitude as its heroine grew up. “Where the Wild Things Are” seemed to be making efforts to do that, showing the negative consequences of “sex is dirty.” The abuse the children suffered doesn’t curb their sexual desires, it only cause everything in Lowell House to take on increased sexual significance, and that significance only perpetuates the cycle of shame. Julie’s making out with Xander is the best example of this as it goes well past the childish bounds of spin the bottle and then has her “going all Felicity” on her hair. Beyond that we’ve got Tara’s “disgust” at Willow’s touch and Spike’s struggles with the bondage chair. It’s a superb indictment of Mrs. Landingham’s fundamentalist BS… if only the episode had focused on that.
The portrayal of our two couples undercuts pretty much everything the rest of the episode has to say about sex. The fact that Buffy & Riley’s sexcapades are what “powers” the haunting figures them uncomfortably close to the disturbed presence in the house, despite the fact that their pre-magic sex is pretty normal for a young couple their age. If sexual repression is bad, why is sex making bad things happen? Xander and Anya deliver a similarly mixed message as they “break up” over missing a night a sex and find that their relationship’s about more than that over the course of saving the day.
“Don’t obsess over sex” is a fine message, but Buffy& Riley and Xander & Anya’s experience is incommensurate with the obsessions of a group of abused children. I’m honestly baffled as to how these threads are supposed to go together. It’s as the team at ME couldn’t just give us a straight up of attack on the puritan attitudes they’d previously espoused. What may have been conceived of as nuance just ends up sowing confusion.
While it may be a jumbled mess, this episode does feature Giles singing “Behind Blue Eyes.” That more than makes up for the other 42 minutes.
Anya and Xander are pretty fantastic here, and I did appreciate digging a bit deeper into their relationship, I just wish that it had a better A-story surrounding it.
Anya and Spike are also pretty fanstasic here.
Hey, Adam’s bringing the different demon species together, so he still exists.