Monday, 24 February 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, "The Harsh Light Of Day" Review (4x03)

Brief Synopsis: “Spike returns to Sunnydale with his new girlfriend, Harmony, who is now a vampire. Spike is searching for the Gem of Amara, which will make him un-killable while he’s wearing it. Meanwhile, Buffy is making headway with Parker and the two eventually sleep together, while Anya propositions Xander.”

"Living Conditions" (4x02) quick link here                                                                                                                    "Fear Itself" (4x04) quick link here

Three quick notes before we get started...

1) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
2) If you enjoy my reviews, please subscribe to the blog! Over on the right-hand side there's a little box that says "Follow Shangel's Reviews by Email!". If you put your Email address in there and click "Submit", then confirm your subscription, you will get each review sent straight to your inbox! I can promise you that I won't send you junk mail or any of that rubbish! It will literally just be my reviews as they're uploaded here. You'll never miss a single one! Also, please bookmark the blog and check back every couple of days! I update every 1-3 days without fail!
3) If you're going to be using Amazon (UK/USA) or eBay (pretty much anywhere) soon, please do so through my blog. It'll take you just a couple of extra mouse clicks, but they will pay me a small percentage of the money you spend, helping me find more time to write these reviews. Most importantly, it costs you nothing at all extra. Details of how to do this are located here (it'll take less than a minute to read!). Thank you very, very much!

With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?

“The Harsh Light Of Day” is a fitting title for this episode, as it encompasses both aspects of the story. Buffy, Anya, and Harmony face the harsh light of day that sleeping with a guy doesn’t necessarily bring you closer together and Spike literally gets to be outside in the light of day. This episode is one of those rare, unusual ones that is primarily standalone (Spike searching for the Gem of Amara), yet is loaded with character development and plot points that will be relevant for a long time to come. It’s for this reason that “The Harsh Light of Day” is so hard to place amongst my favourite to least favourite episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. On the one hand, all of the character  development and drama between Buffy, Parker, Anya, Xander, and Harmony is wonderful, plus it’s awesome having Spike back in the Buffyverse. Yet, on the other hand, the actual episode plot of Spike searching for the Gem of Amara doesn’t hold my interest a great deal (ironically, I love the Gem of Amara plot in the next “Angel” episode, “In The Dark”).

The Gem of Amara aspect of this episode is just a means to an end. It’s a reason to bring Spike and Harmony back, and it’s a reason for “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” to have its first crossover story. Is it me or does “Angel” get the better half of every crossover story this season? The primary point of this episode is the exploration of relationships and sex. It’s broken down into three couples, so I will look at each of them individually...

Spike, Harmony, and the Gem of Amara

Harmony shows up outside The Bronze after a “Dingoes Ate My Baby” gig. For those of you that were really paying attention during “Graduation Day Part Two”, you should have realised that this is weird, as Harmony was bitten by a vampire during the melee of students vs. vampires. Harmony soon bites Willow and we discover that Harmony now has a boyfriend...or a blondie-bear. Harmony bit Willow! After all those compliments in “Graduation Day”! How rude. Harmony as a vampire is interesting for a  number of reasons. Firstly, she’s one of the most shallow, self-involved, vain people that we’ve been introduced to so far, so the choice to make her a vampire was interesting. Buffy was right, she must be dying without a reflection. Why was she sired in the first place?! Are you trying to tell me that in the midst of all that chaos and battle at “Graduation Day” a vampire took the time to sire someone? Was he not worried about being decapitated while forcing Harmony to drink his blood? Logic, let me introduce you to Harmony. I digress...another reason why Harmony being a vampire is interesting is that she’s exactly the same person that she was when she was human. The same wit, the same shallowness, the same annoying voice (definitely the winner of ‘the most annoying voice in the Buffyverse’ award), the same whiny attitude...Harmony enforces the fact that vampires and the person that was there before the siring aren’t mutually exclusive. The vampire version keeps some of the characteristics of the human host. This is contrary to what Giles tells the rest of the Scoobies in season one’s “The Harvest”, but it makes a certain amount of sense as Spike has also showed that soulless vampires aren’t necessarily evil.

It turns out that Harmony’s new boyfriend is Spike. Spike is back in the Buffyverse! All is right in the world! Spike has only been in one...that’s not emphatic enough, allow me to try again...ONE(!!) of the past twenty five episodes! Even though season three is arguably the strongest season of the show, it quickly becomes apparent just how much this show has missed Spike. While I’m not one of those devoted worshippers of Spike that defends everything he does and has a shrine to him in my house (I did have a huge poster of him on my wall in my teens...), he is one of my favourite Buffyverse characters, so having him back is nice. I will admit it, I like Spike and Harmony together. I know I shouldn’t, I know that the relationship is built on Spike using Harmony, but they do have a certain chemistry together. It’s nowhere near as fascinating or interesting as Spike and Drusilla, yet it does have a certain appeal. Interestingly, there’s a 17-year age difference between James Marsters and Mercedes McNab. You can’t tell by looking at them. Mercedes looks a little older than 20 here and James looks younger than 37.

Spike is with Harmony because he’s bored and lonely. That’s it. He misses Drusilla and he’s picked up the first bimbo that would have him. She’s nothing more than a way to pass the time. Even without a soul he shows Harmony none of the warmth and love that he showed Drusilla. On the flipside of that, Harmony has genuine feelings for Spike. She’s desperate to get his attention and get some affection from him. Harmony decides that if she gives Spike whatever he wants (in this case sex), it will lead to a stronger connection with Spike and he will be more loving towards her. This is a recurring theme with the females of this show in this episode, as Buffy and Anya do the exact same thing. The bedroom scene is the perfect example of this, even if it is just an excuse to have Spike topless and have Harmony in a slinky nightdress. Harmony seduces Spike and has sex with Spike, but as soon as they’re finished, Spike’s off to search for the Gem of Amara again. He shows Harmony no more love than he did before.

Harmony: “You love that tunnel more than me.”
Spike: “I love syphilis more than you.”

Ouch. Let’s not forget that even though Harmony is a vampire, she’s still an 18 or 19-year-old. She’s still relatively immature and doesn’t have a wealth of experience in understanding men. It’s not unnatural or unrealistic for her to resort to sex for trying to improve her relationship.

Spike: “Love hurts baby.”

That is the point of this entire episode. Buffy and Parker, Anya and Xander, and Spike and Harmony all end horribly in this episode. This episode does a fantastic job of exploring sex as a weapon in relationships. While Parker represents the issue of women being sexually used perfectly,  Spike also represents it in a different way. Spike is abusing Harmony in much more than just a physical way. He insults Harmony, he ruins her self-esteem, and he makes her feel like the blame is all on her. It’s so realistic to some relationships in real life that it makes me empathise with Harmony. I feel so sorry for Harmony in this episode. If this episode was played slightly differently, the Spike-Harmony aspect could have been very humourous. I’m glad that it was played seriously, as the issue isn’t funny.

All of this abuse ends with Spike staking Harmony. I didn’t see that coming. Luckily (or disappointingly, depending on your perspective of Harmony) she was wearing the Gem of Amara, so she wasn’t transfigured into a big pile of dust, but the act itself shouldn’t go unnoticed because of this. Spike leaves Harmony a shell of her former self. It’s the embodiment of an abusive relationship.

Spike steps out into the sunlight for the first time in over a hundred years. It becomes apparent rather quickly that he needs a tan.

The Buffy vs. Spike fight was superb. The fight itself was choreographed terrifically, but even more impressive and important than that was the conversation that they were having during the fight. The great thing about Spike (like Angelus) is that everything he says is true. Buffy has been feeling like the blame for the one-night-stand lies directly at her door since it happened. Of course, it’s not her fault! Parker manipulated and used Buffy, but Buffy still feels like it was all her fault. It’s not about the truth right now, it’s about how Buffy feels. Oh, were doing so well in the fight, why did you mention Angel? You just went and pissed her off. After two years (to the episode) since his debut, Buffy finally gets around to staking Spike, but he’s wearing the Gem of Amara so it has no effect. Buffy removes the ring, Spike gets singey, and everything is right in the world again. Hugs and puppies for all!

It makes perfect sense for Buffy to want to give the Gem of Amara to Angel. Just because the two of them broke up at the end of the last season, it doesn’t mean that either of them stopped having feelings for the other one. With Angel now being far enough away that Buffy can’t keep an eye on him, she wants to protect him in other ways. She wants to know that he’s safe and taken care of in her absence.

Buffy & Parker

Buffy and Parker is the primary focus of this episode, which it should be. Even though Harmony and Spike’s relationship and Anya and Xander’s relationship get a decent amount of time, Buffy and her subsequent mental state are what makes this episode great.

The episode opens with Buffy staring at Parker through a mirror at The Bronze. I think that this is key to understanding Buffy’s decision to have sex with Parker in this episode. Buffy knows that Parker is human. He represents everything that Angel wasn’t...human, young, able to take her into the sunlight, and able to have sex with her without losing his soul. Angel told Buffy that he was leaving her because he wanted her to have the chance at a normal life. Buffy thinks that Parker is the answer to this. She wants the opportunity at a normal life as well. Ever since arriving in Sunnydale, Buffy has wanted to be ‘normal’. She had retired from slaying and she wanted nothing more than to be a regular teenage girl. Buffy has accepted that she’s stuck with being the Slayer by this point, which makes her want a stable relationship with a normal guy even more than before. She wants something normal that can keep her grounded. Combine this with Parker’s excellent skills of persuasion, manipulation, and lying, and you have a recipe for a heartbroken Buffy.

Bif Naked being on the show was perfection. I love Bif Naked and the two songs that they play during this episode were really well chosen. “Moment Of Weakness” is an apt title because that is what Buffy has just after it is played. She takes a chance with Parker after a moment of weakness. Parker tells Buffy a sob story and that he doesn’t wait for things anymore. He seizes opportunities in life whenever he can. Buffy does the same thing. “Lucky Ones” is also perfect because that is how Buffy feels in that moment just before they have sex. She feels like she’s hit the jackpot! Parker has convinced her that he’s a fantastic guy!

Buffy has sex for the second time in her life and for the second time in a row the guy isn’t there when she wakes up the next morning. That is not the type of tradition that you want to have. Ironically, the post-sex conversation the next morning between Buffy and Parker goes well, whereas the post-sex conversation between Xander and Anya goes terribly. Buffy and Parker are never together again, yet Xander and Anya go on to have a long, deep relationship. That just shows you, kiddies, you don’t have to have a perfect post-sex conversation to end up together! That’s comforting, right?

Parker tells Buffy that he’ll call her later, but he never does. While searching for Spike and the Gem of Amara, Buffy is constantly distracted. She’s checking her voicemail every chance she gets and her head is definitely not in the game. She eventually tracks Parker down as he’s using the same lines on a girl that he used on her the night before. His “it was fun, didn’t you have fun?” is appalling and sickening. It’s gut-wrenching to see Buffy apologising to Parker and feeling like it was her fault because it certainly wasn’t. Buffy is the Slayer. We rarely get to see her so emotionally or physically vulnerable as we do during this episode. While I despise Parker with every fibre of my being, I love that his character was introduced! It’s so realistic! There are people like Parker everywhere in life, especially during the college/university years. Buffy learned a valuable lesson in this episode.

There are few things in life that suck and hurt as much as realising that you’ve just been used. The cloud of confusion, disappointment, and despair that follows Buffy around for the remainder of this episode is so realistic to how people feel after a breakup (of sorts) that it gets a little too real at times. Pretty much everyone in the world that is watching this episode knows what Buffy is feeling. Whether it’s being dumped, sexually used, or manipulated, everyone can relate. What makes this worse for Buffy is that she already has a history of bad sexual experiences. Before this, Buffy has only had sex once. She slept with Angel and he lost his soul, killed one of her friends, and made her life miserable for months and months. All of this resulted in Buffy stabbing him and sending him to Hell. That’s bound to make anyone weary of sex. Buffy finally lets someone in again (keep your minds out of the gutter, you pervs!) and the same thing happens, only this time it’s metaphorical. Like Angel, Parker’s behaviour and actions change vastly after he’s had what he wants from Buffy. Parker didn’t just use Buffy, he manipulated her into thinking he was a nice guy that was looking for a relationship. He was so convincing that even after his true colours became apparent, Buffy still wanted to be with him. She blames herself entirely for what happened. Historically speaking, Buffy would probably have been smart enough to figure out what was going on, but because of the whole Angel history, I think she wants to believe that Parker is being sincere. Where is Giles when you need him?! Giles gave Buffy that wonderful speech after Angel lost his soul! Where is he now?!

As mentioned above, what Spike does after all of this is confirm Buffy’s fears that it was all her fault. Why so many feels in this episode?! Were you not content with one heartbreak in this episode? Or two?!

Xander & Anya

Finally, we have Xander and Anya. Whereas Spike uses Harmony and Parker uses Buffy, Xander doesn’t use Anya...or certainly not intentionally if he does. Anya returns to Sunnydale looking for Xander. It’s so weird to see Anya as a brunette. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch seasons three or four, it still looks alien. She looks a lot better blonde.

Anya arrives in Xander’s room (which has a mirror ball in it! I can die happy) very confused about her feelings and what it meant that her and Xander went to the prom together. She’s 1120-years-old and has spent most of that time exacting vengeance on men who have wronged their girlfriends and wives. She doesn’t understand the beginning of relationships; she only understands the end and the vengeance and hate that usually accompany the people that she’s met. She doesn’t know anything about stable, loving relationships. It’s for this reason that she’s so confused. She’s reluctant to enter a relationship because as far as she’s concerned they all end in heartbreak and misery. Yet, she’s attracted to Xander, so she wants to know what happens next.

Anya hits on Xander in the same blunt, hilarious way that she talks. She just randomly gets naked. I love the metaphorical squirting of the apple juice that Xander does after he sees Anya naked. Oh my God, so hilarious.

Something that fascinates me about Xander in this episode is that Xander has always objectified women. He fancied Buffy, Cordelia, Natalie French, and a whole host of others. He talks about sex a lot and quickly sees women’s physical appeal, as opposed to their personality. However, when Anya willingly wants sex with him and a relationship with him, he is terrified! After all of the talk over the past few seasons, it appears that Xander is nothing more than an insecure person when it comes to sex. A similar thing happened in the last season when Faith made sexual advances towards him. I like that the show went there! Most teenage males are exactly like Xander is! They act all confident sexually, but really they are terrified of doing something wrong and a lot of teenage males have trouble even talking to females. With Spike, Oz, Angel...even Giles on the show, it makes a nice change of pace to see a male character so insecure and normal, as it makes him relatable to most of the male audience of the show. Xander tries to explain to Anya that sex is about more than physically feeling good. It’s a complicated mix of emotion, feelings, and commitment to each other. I think our little Xander is growing up finally! Of course, Anya counteracts this rousing speech with a speech of her own, which is in the “Quote Of The Episode” section.

The parallels between Xander’s speech and the way that Parker acts in this episode are apparent. Xander talks about sex being about more than just physically feeling good, yet that is all sex is to Parker. Buffy sees sex in the same way that Xander does. She sees the emotions, feelings, and commitment, yet Parker brushes all that aside to get what he wants. I never thought that Xander would be the moral voice of reason in relation to sex, yet here he is trying to do the right thing.

Of course, after the sex, Anya and Xander are more confused than they were before. Anya thought that sleeping with Xander would mean that she was over him. Wrong. The opposite happened. They have a highly awkward post-sex talk that confirms Anya’s fears. I said before that she was reluctant to enter a relationship because as far as she was concerned they all end in heartbreak and misery, yet here she is at the end of the episode heartbroken and miserable anyway. Human emotions and feelings are new to Anya and she has no idea how to deal with them.

The episode fades to black on an incredibly sad note, with Buffy, Anya, and Harmony all depressed over their tragic love lives. They all used sex to feel closer to their respective love interests, yet they are all left feeling emotionally numb and mentally isolated. The great thing about this episode is that it explored three very different stories, but all three characters ended up feeling the same way: lost and neglected. Sex isn’t the key to a happy relationship. This is a wonderful little addition to Buffy’s speech to Jonathan in “Earshot”. Every single person is always battling problems of their own, even if they seem like the strongest, most confident person in the world.

Some other thoughts on “The Harsh Light of Day”...

Dingoes Ate My Baby are playing at The Bronze again. I’m glad that the Scoobies go to a college close enough that they can still go to The Bronze. I’m sad that the amount of Dingoes gigs left is a very small number, due to Oz skipping town very soon. Oh God, this is the last episode with Devon in! I love Devon! If I close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and screaming “la-la-la!”, Oz won’t leave, right?
Xander: “I don’t get your crazy system.”
   Giles: “System? It’s called the alphabet.”
   Xander: “Huh…would you look at that.”

I love that Giles and Xander develop a much closer relationship in this season than they had previously. They both feel left out as they’re not at college and they therefore spend a lot of time together, which has hilarious results. They’re like an old married couple. I don’t think that Giles and Xander are ever close. I think that Giles views Xander as an annoyance most of the time, but there’s no denying that they get a bit closer in this season.

Oz: “Yeah…we came to warn you about the angry puppy.”
That entire scene was so incredibly awkward.
I wish to take a moment to mention that Giles looks so much cooler in seasons three and four than he did in seasons one and two. His fashion sense is cooler, his glasses are cooler, he sings and plays guitar, he occasionally frolics, and he somehow looks younger. We discover in this episode that Giles has a television (I love that the Scoobies are genuinely distraught over that revelation), so I like to think that Giles looks younger because he’s doing pilates and aerobic workout DVDs. He is unemployed after all. I can see it now...Giles doing press-ups with his legs on the sofa, Giles doing stair lifts while listening to classical music, Giles reading a nice old book while doing butt clenches in preparation for Olivia’s next visit. That is now canon in my head.
Oz: “Okay, either I’m borrowing all your albums or I’m moving in.”
   Giles: “Oz, there are more important things than albums right now.”
   Oz: “More important than this one?”
   Giles: “Well, I suppose an argument could be made…”

Quote Of The Episode

Anya: “I think it’s the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively, I’m thinking face-to-face for the event itself.”

Xander: “Ahh, right. It’s just that we hardly know each other. I mean, I like you, and you have a certain directness that I admire, but sexual inte…what you’re talking about, and I’m actually turning into a woman as I say this, but, it’s about expressing something, and accepting consequences.”

Anya: “Oh, I have condoms. Some of them are black.”

Xander: “That’s…that’s very considerate of you.”

Anya: “I like you. You’re funny and you’re nicely shaped, and it’s ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not…interlock. Please remove your clothing now.”

Xander: “And the amazing thing, still more romantic than Faith.”

I love that whole exchange! It’s funny, yet somehow romantic, and, dare I say it…sexy!


What are your thoughts on "The Harsh Light Of Day"? Did you enjoy this episode? Dislike it? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments section below!

If you've enjoyed this review, please use the conveniently placed buttons just below to share it on Blogger, Google+, Twitter, Facebook, or email it to a friend! It is greatly appreciated!


  1. This is curious, I never got to watch BTVS and Angel in chronological order, so now that I'm doing that and now that you're reviewing it that way I realized that both "The Harsh Day of Light" and "In the Dark" have a lot of similarities, besides the titles, both have The Ring of Amarra as the linking item and both have the same theme, but I realized about it just reading your review: Love hurts and it's sometimes abusive. As you stated, this theme is a serious one and it's really really curious how both shows uses it. I will read your next review and you probably are gonna explain this non-coincidence much better than me :P I looooooooooooooove your reviews, keep it up Shangel! You're the best! <3

  2. "I can see it now...Giles doing press-ups with his legs on the sofa, Giles doing stair lifts while listening to classical music, Giles reading a nice old book while doing butt clenches in preparation for Olivia’s next visit. That is now canon in my head." ahahahaah I'm still laughing

    Great review Shangel! :D I really like this episode, I think my favourite part is indeed Anya's speech, so well written and performed, looove it.

  3. Okay, seeing as I shortened all my other comments I will try and do this one entirely. Much of my comments sometimes are my inner ramblings as I read your review so sometimes I should miss them out or else I’ll end up sounding like a basket case.

    I really enjoy this episode. The concept of the Gem of Amara is a fascinating one. Also SPIKE!!!!! I do like the idea of the ring going to Angel because at this point he is doing good with his unlife unlike Spike. I am reading a fanfic at the moment where Spike found the Gem a long time before Sunnydale and he implanted it into his own leg.

    I love that Vamp Harm is the same as Human Harm, personality wise. I do like her better as a vampire though, even though they are pretty much the same. Every time I see or hear of unicorns, I think of Harmony! Poor girl getting staked though, that’s gotta be harsh. Especially because we know Spike is capable of love yet he loves syphilis more than he loves Harmony. Poor girl.

    I think I cry every time Xander squeezes the apple juice. It gives me the giggles.

    Yep, that alphabet thing is a crazy system!

    QOTE: absolutely awesome “and not… interlock…” hahahahahaha!