[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 11/03/1997]
“Lie to Me” is a thematically rich and very well-written outing from Joss Whedon. It’s very quotable, has some truly fabulous scenes in it, and is attune to both character and theme. This being the all-important Episode 7 — usually a pivot point in a Buffy season — we can count on it being very relevant to upcoming episodes as well. Unfortunately, it does have a couple notable rough edges that hold it back from being the masterpiece it is trying to be.
Before arriving at any conclusions we need to dive into what “Lie to Me” is trying to accomplish. Let’s begin with the title, which obviously implies there’s some lyin’ afoot. It’s not just lies, though, as we also see occurrences of secrets and betrayals at play too. Take the early scene between Giles and Jenny discussing an upcoming date. Giles wants to know where Jenny intends on taking him, but her response is that “it’s a secret” (and it’s not the only secret she’s keeping).
There’s also Angel keeping his encounter with Drusilla a secret from Buffy and lying about his whereabouts when asked, all in an attempt to protect Buffy from the horrors of his past, and then Buffy lies to Angel by pretending to believe him. Angel pulls Willow into all of this when he asks her to keep their investigation of Ford’s intentions a secret from Buffy, which leads to her feeling betrayed by all of them. A female blond vampire lies to Spike about how Ford found where he lives to save her life. The deluded vampire worshiper group have all willingly bought into a lie because “they’re lonely, miserable or bored.” Finally, there’s Ford himself, who keeps his intentions a secret in what he also thinks is an attempt to save something of his life.
What all of these secrets and lies add up to is what “Lie to Me” is actually about: dealing with people that have complex motives for doing morally ambiguous things. During adolescence, experiences begin to accumulate that show how the world isn’t, and people aren’t, as black and white as it seems through a child’s eyes. Remember Janus from “Halloween” [2×06], which represented a “division of self”? Well, we’re seeing the metaphorical effect of that continue to resonate, and it will for some time.
Take Ford, who may appear to be evil at first, but turns out to instead be a conflicted, scared adolescent (in age only) who wants to stay a child forever. Or how about Angel, who betrays Buffy’s tenuous trust in him to hide a much darker tale. Nothing is as simple as it used to be, which is making Buffy constantly question what’s right, what’s wrong, and everything in between. After several years of this constant questioning, when young adulthood starts to near (Seasons 5), the world begins looking a little bleak. “Lie to Me” ends up being a bit of a thematic primer for the rest of the adolescent years by integrating all of these ideas into the DNA of the show.
There are a few key scenes that play out these themes quite nicely. The first is a fabulously shot conversation between Buffy and Angel in the Summers’ kitchen in what’s probably my favorite scene of the episode. Buffy forces Angel to reveal his history with Drusilla, and it sure isn’t pretty! Psychological torture on an epic scale appears to have been Angelus’ game, which adds to Drusilla’s already delicious mystique. This information is not only creepy and relevant, but it’s helping lay the foundation for what we can expect when Angelus surfaces again later in the season. In learning all of this, Buffy has to come to terms with loving a being who harbors massive guilt over his past and doesn’t seem to value his existence much. Choices have to be made about how close she should get to Angel. Adolescence is about recognizing that you have agency and choice in life, but it doesn’t mean you’ll make the right choices — that’s what being an adult is all about.
Angel tells Buffy that “Some lies are necessary. Sometimes the truth is worse. You live long enough, you find that out.” When Angel directly asks Buffy whether she loves him, her response is smart: “I love you. I don’t know if I trust you.” Angel’s response is disconcerting: “Maybe you shouldn’t do either.” Not the most comforting exchange with a boyfriend. This entire interaction strikes me as a huge red flag from Buffy’s perspective, but she’s simply not mature or careful enough to act on it. Also notice how Joyce is conspicuously absent during this scene? Buffy’s dad left her, and her mom is often aloof to what’s going on in her daughter’s life. Adolescents are more likely to make adult decisions if they have strong role models that have brought them up, which highlights the benefit of having two attentive parents in the house.
The entire scene in the kitchen is quite beautifully shot by Whedon, who has a real knack for bringing out intimacy between characters in an important scene. The acting helps too though, and David Boreanaz turns in one of his most nuanced performances to date. The attention to detail is exquisite here: notice how Drusilla’s musical cue subtly plays in the background when Angel says, “on the day she took her holy orders, I turned her into a demon.” So creepy! The final shot of the scene, with the camera outside the window looking in on them, has a fabulous atmosphere and is very reminiscent of a similarly shot scene in “Passion” [2×17] when Buffy finds out Angelus has killed Jenny Calendar. In both cases, Buffy is absorbing a hard piece of news about someone she cares about.
Another key scene is when Ford reveals his motives for what he’s doing, thus putting Buffy in a really uncomfortable position. Buffy’s response to this is graceful yet resolute: “I’m sorry. I had no idea. But what you’re doing is still very wrong.” Ford says “try going through what I have, and then we can discuss the concepts of right and wrong.” The thing is, Buffy has faced certain death, as recent as “Prophecy Girl” [1×12], and that’s if you don’t count the daily danger she faces. Her words highlight how it’s important to still draw lines and recognize some universal boundaries for right and wrong, even if a lot of complexity lies in the middle. We may be able to understand the motivation behind Ford’s actions, but it doesn’t make it right. This is summed up quite nicely when Buffy says, “You’re opting for mass murder here, and nothing you say is going to make that okay!”
The final scene of “Lie to Me” is also important and strikes an appropriately somber and poetic tone, with Buffy having had to pick up the body of her childhood crush and prepare for when he rises. This is painful, regardless of what he did. What Ford ultimately represented was a version of Buffy that chose not to accept the responsibilities of growing up, a notion Buffy put behind her in “When She Was Bad” [2×01]. By dusting Ford at the end Buffy is slaying her childhood fantasy, and simpler notions of morality along with him. It’s interesting that Willow essentially did this in “Inca Mummy Girl” [2×04] by letting go of Xander. The kids are starting to grow up a bit!
Ford may have been doing something very wrong, but he wasn’t an evil person nor were his motives. This also highlights the difference between humans and vampires: humans have a conscience to weigh in every choice they make whereas vampires are free of this burden — this responsibility. Ford said he wanted to “Die young, and stay pretty”, which is reminiscent of the Anointed One. Guess who killed both of them? Spike, whose role in all of this will be discussed shortly.
Returning to the effect Janus had again reminds us that the transition into a more complex moral landscape has arrived for Buffy and friends. This is articulated by Buffy and Giles at the end: “Nothing’s ever simple anymore. I’m constantly trying to work it out. Who to love or hate. Who to trust. It’s just, like, the more I know, the more confused I get.” Giles aptly replies, “I believe that’s called growing up”, which again reminds us what Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all about.
When Buffy asks Giles if life gets any easier, a part of her — the child — wants him to lie to her as a parent might comfort a frightened child. He tells her, tongue-in-cheek, “Yes, it’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true, the bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies, and everybody lives happily ever after.” Yet Buffy can no longer hide from the truth, and neither can the show (the “no one ever dies” line is a big hint of what’s to come). The screen goes black as Buffy rejects the fantasy Giles knowingly told her about the world. “Liar.”
Spike has an interesting role in “Lie to Me”, serving as a truth-sayer among liars — something he’ll become known for throughout the series. As I pointed out in “School Hard” [2×03], Buffy and Spike are counterparts temporarily fighting on opposite sides. There are some interesting parallels between the two of them drawn in “Lie to Me”, but none more evident than how they both react with a pang of jealousy over Angel and Drusilla’s late-night encounter. Where Spike immediately confronts Drusilla on it, Buffy instead dances around her concern with Angel.
Then again, Buffy and Spike have different histories with these respective vampires to draw from, which informs how they react. Buffy has no prior history with Angel, which makes her tentative in knowing how to proceed with him. Spike, on the other hand, has a lot of history with Drusilla, which is why he is more direct. Knowing what we come to learn in flashbacks in Angel‘s “Destiny” , Spike has plenty of reason to be concerned about Angel and Drusilla getting close again, as it was Angelus that drove Spike to adopt the very persona he has today in an effort to win Drusilla’s affections. Spike’s concern is a moment where past, present, and future crash together in a beautiful symphony of characterization that makes my brain, and heart, sing, and it shows just how fabulously the Buffyverse holds together its long-form characterization.
“Lie to Me” has a tremendous amount of depth and some great characterization to boot, but something is holding me back from fully embracing it. I think a big problem is how uninteresting Ford is from the moment he’s introduced. Spike almost sums up my problem with one quote: “I’ve known you for two minutes and I don’t like you. I don’t figure you living forever.” There’s nothing about Ford that makes me interested in what he’s up to, which makes it difficult for his dramatic reveal to hit home emotionally. Sure he serves his purpose thematically, but I can’t help but feel an episode this melodramatic should make more of an emotional impact on me. Since it doesn’t, the melodrama occasionally comes across as being a little heavy-handed.
Between the failure of Ford to resonate emotionally, the languid pace, and the occasionally unearned melodramatic tone, “Lie to Me” can’t quite pull it all together. It’s very close to being another classic Whedon masterpiece and it certainly has moments that meet that standard, but it’s just not quite there. Regardless, “Lie to Me” is incredibly important for both Buffy and the show going forward, and it’s thematic impact will be felt for long time to come — including the next episode, “The Dark Age” [2×08].
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Drusilla being super creepy in the opening scene. Her comment about finding the kid’s body comes to mind again when Buffy finds Ford’s body at the end of the episode.
+ Buffy and Willow trading notes in class.
+ Ford’s introduction is good at reminding me how awkward being introduced to someone’s friend from past can be.
+ Willow offering to play pool with Angel. That’s actually something I’d like to see.
+ As boring as Ford is, it’s still a fun reveal when he already knows Buffy is the Slayer.
+ Buffy can’t take having both Ford and Angel in the same room together. It gets “too hot”, which reminds us that the season’s sexual undercurrent hasn’t vanished.
+ Buffy filling Willow in on Ford. Just nice to see them communicating so much, something that will become less common after the events of this season.
+ Spike’s initial annoyance at Drusilla’s insanity, but then subsequent softness. Spike may be frustrated by women sometimes, but he also loves them in equal measure.
+ Angel going to see Willow in her bedroom. Willow’s nervousness about having a guy in her room at night is fun to see.
+ Willow being so adorably bad at lying. Unfortunately, she gets a whole lot better later in the series.
+ Angel making fun of the vampire groupies, one of which is dressed exactly like him. Haha!
+ Jenny taking Giles to Monster Trucks. Wow! (I laughed a lot.)
+ Just neat to see “Chanterelle” (a.k.a. Lily, a.k.a. Anne) so lost here, knowing how Buffy will later help her pull herself together and go on to Angel to do a lot of good. So cool.
+ Buffy says she’s “rash and impulsive, it’s a flaw.” Indeed it is, and it’s also one she shares with Spike.
– Buffy appearing conveniently when Angel and Drusilla share a brief conversation at night.
– Why would Buffy suggest that they leave the area because Spike et al will get out? It’s a small door. They could set up a vampire massacre if they load up on crossbows and stakes and kill them when they try to leave. This is just silly.
* The opening scene between Angel and Drusilla is loaded with foreshadowing. Some choice quotes: “It’ll go badly if you stay”, “the girl has no idea what’s in store”, and “Oh no, my pet, this is just the beginning” (cue Janus again).
* The vampires who steal Giles’ book are getting them for Spike. This will become relevant in “What’s My Line? Pt. 1” [2×09] when Spike uses its information to restore Drusilla’s strength.
* Jenny’s keeping a secret from Giles: she intends their next date to be Monster Trucks. As hilarious as this is, it’s a metaphor for a much more monstrous secret she’s keeping regarding why she’s even in Sunnydale (see “Surprise” [2×13]).
* Jenny’s comment “isn’t he supposed to be a good guy”, in reference to Angel, contains a bit of disdain in it. This feels like a little hint that Jenny’s true purpose here is connected to Angel.
* Ford tells Buffy he has a surprise for her, to which Buffy responds — unconvincingly — “I love surprises.” Buffy is quickly learning that surprises are rarely a good thing for her, which will be reinforced in a little episode called “Surprise” [2×13].
* Buffy’s final word to Giles in the episode is “liar.” Considering we learn, in “The Dark Age” [2×08], that Giles isn’t all that he is presenting himself to be, this is a pretty big hint of what’s next.