Well, here we are; the last great episode of Buffy. There are still some good episodes left in the season, maybe even a very good one, but this is the last time that the series would truly challenge itself and break new narrative ground. I’ll admit that my love of “Storyteller” probably has a lot to do with my love of meta-storytelling but, as meta-stories go, this one’s ingenious. We get the distorted view of Buffy’s world through both Andrew’s shaky cinematography and his melodramatic (and hilarious) imaginings and while the ostensible point is that we shouldn’t lose ourselves in a fantasy, Andrew’s fiction only ends through one on Buffy’s part. Running through all of this is a summation for the series up until this point. Buffy declares itself a fictional construct in the same breath that it questions the value of such things. It’s beautifully layered bit of narrative and by far the best episode of the season
Andrew explains his documentary filmmaking to Anya as “entertaining and educating” but his efforts fall far short of Aristotle’s ideal. Weird angles, whip pans, and shaky zooms are the hallmarks of gritty realism but they only serve to distance us from a world that’s already been well established on screen. As if this distortion weren’t enough, we also get to see Buffy’s world through Andrew’s eyes and it’s one of soft focus, heightened action, and laughable melodrama. Missing the mark so badly in both the story he’s telling and the one he’s trying to tell doesn’t just highlight just how far removed from the “real” world Andrew is, it serves to put us out there with him as we’re never allowed to get comfortable with the perspective this show normally brings.
My favourite scene amongst the many great ones in this episode offers has got to be Andrew expositing in front of his white board. Having already pushed us out the Buffy narrative he now looks right into the camera and deconstructs it in an utterly hilarious fashion. His focus is on recapping recent events (a crutch of serialized television that comes alive here) but he also gives us the low down on the entire series, reducing it to a series of childish Expo scribblings. What’s so brilliant about this recap (besides Andrew’s use of the remote zoom) is that it’s not the only one in the episode, merely the most explicit. The flobotnam this week has the seal on the Hellmouth giving us a runthrough of the series’ greatest hits. Buffy even comes right out and sums up the series’ operating premise for Wood, “There’s this thing that happens here… Where the way a thing feels – it kind of starts being that way… for real.” Cut back to Andrew, smugly tapping his whiteboard, before Buffy and Wood continue their analysis.
This brief insertion of Andrew does more than deliver a big laugh, it pushes us as far out of the narrative as we can get. All of the other perspective transitions in this episode are organic; Andrew constructs a story for us in his mind, and tries to do so with his camera, and is frequently interrupted by other characters calling him back to reality. Detached as he may be, he still exists within the world of the show. But that can’t account for the home video footage being inserted into a scene he isn’t even in and couldn’t possibly be aware of. Buffy’s conversation with Wood cannot be edited together by Andrew… but it can be by someone else; Sunnydale is fictional. We knew this, of course, but it’s the traditional job of narrative to make us forget. Inserting Andrew in this way does the opposite and, coming where it does, pushes out of not just this episode, but the series as a whole.
Acknowledging its fictional status would be bold enough, but this episode does so while questioning the value of fiction. The Trio was always a stand in for the worst fan boy stereotypes, so wrapped up in their favourite fictions that they have little understanding of how the real world operates. Andrew continues that tradition here, as the way he perceives the world not only breaks with reality, but robs it of all meaning as everyone becomes a caricature of themselves. No one gets more distorted than Andrew himself as his past failures become triumphs and his villainy becomes personal tragedy. It’s these lies that keep Andrew from dealing with what he’s done and perpetuate the damage the seal is doing. The self-destructive nature of Andrew’s fantasy would seem, like last season’s superb “Normal Again,” to side with the most shallow of genre-critics; fantasy = escapism and is inferior to reality. But, much like “Normal Again,” the truth isn’t that simple.
Buffy saves this world with a lie. She’s offering up her own distorted version of reality when she tells Andrew that he needs to die in order to save the world and the result? Catharsis. It’s no coincidence that this episode begins and ends with Aristotle. The aim here not an indictment of fiction in general, but rather of self-indulgent fiction in particular. Despite his claims, Andrew really is just masturbating, telling stories purely to indulge his own ego and escape ugly truths. But that’s not the only use for fantasy. Fictions can help us deal with truths too difficult to face directly. Buffy’s clearly aligning itself with the latter category and it goes all in one the importance of such stories. Fiction as a means to truth doesn’t just help Andrew deal with his issues, it saves the world. Buffy does that a lot.
Pretty much the entire cast is refreshingly awesome whenever Andrew’s camera is pointed at them.
What’s the one thing better than watching Xander and Anya’s reconciliation? Watching Andrew watching it while reciting Anya’s lines.
Nice dig at the Potentials when Andrew tells Amanda not to bother with the introductions.
Love Spike’s rehearsed outrage at being filmed.
I also loved seeing The Trio reunite one last time, even if was only in Andrew’s distorted memory.
Xander really did do a great job on that widow. He’s amazing.