[Review by Ryan Bovay]
[Writer: David Greenwalt and Marti Noxon | Director: David Greenwalt | Aired: 02/08/2000]
Shockingly, this episode was written by series co-creater David Greenwalt, and right-hand-to-Joss-herself Marti Noxon. This shocks me because “She” has problems that writers of their caliber, especially on this show, don’t often cause. The episode itself is an anomaly; an intriguing mix of mysticism, social commentary and could actually have really been a highlight with some better execution implemented. As it stands, it’s probably the poorest episode of the entire season, and likely one of the lesser showings of the series as well. This is a particular disappointment, as the first half of the season has been mostly consistent in its high quality.
The plot’s conception isn’t all that bad either; the main faults lie in the execution. The basic synopsis is one we’ve seen in many sci fi and fantasy shows: A dimensional portal opens up, and trouble comes through. In this case it is in the form Jhiera, a warrior princess from an alternate dimension to ours, on her mission to liberate the women of her home. She and her species, of the dimension of Oden Tal, are all extremely close to human, save for the males who posses ridges on their foreheads, and the females who possess what looks like a skin-covered spine on their back, jutting out from where their spine lays (this extra ‘spine’ being called a ‘Ko’).
We learn that Jhiera is the princess of her dimension, a dimension where all females have their Ko’s forcibly removed to prevent them from involuntarily seducing men, as the Ko generates energy that drives males into lust beyond reason. The only problem being that the removal also strips them of their sexuality and much of their emotional range, making them near androgynous. The men claim necessity on the grounds of maintaining the order of society, the women claim oppression, and we, the audience, claim disinterest. I’d wager that even the synopsis bored you.
As I said, it’s not all that bad an idea, but falls completely apart on the screen. It’s another shocker that David Greenwalt also directed this; he’s usually better. Firstly, the pace is impossibly slow. We don’t even see Jheira until about a quarter of the way through the episode, and are instead given a bunch of pointless misdirection about who killed a few men in a warehouse. The story elements, concerning Jheira’s people, are not even brought in until three quarters of the way through the episode, and even then it’s only given to us to provide context for the battle in the final act, and to give us the full point about the episode’s metaphor. However, this too is done poorly and isn’t all that satisfying; the whole fight scene is anti-climactic.
Then there’s other material that’s just a waste. Angel trying to dial his Investigation’s office number on the crummy cell phone was kind of funny, but took too long. Also, him following Jhiera shouldn’t have taken as long as it did either. And while I enjoyed him pretending to be an art exhibitor, and hinting that Baudelaire’s “Le Vampyr” was influenced by his evil alter-ego Angelus, this was just more filler. It also kind of lends more credit to critics of this show who call it a rip-off of “Forever Knight” (as a popular shtick was to see how Knight was conveniently connected to important historical moments). ‘Knight’ was an older TV show with Anne Rice-style vampire mythology that, too, is about a formerly evil blood-sucker seeking redemption.
But, as long as we’re on the plot, I’ll concede that I did enjoy the teaser scene. Wesley trying to hit on women was absolutely priceless, and Angel’s fantasy of himself trying to dance was downright classic. It’s small, but also provides a decent commentary about Angel’s image. When Cordelia chastises him for ‘sucking the energy’ out of the party, he defends himself and his cool, lurking-in-the-shadows image. Turns out – surprise! – that image doesn’t really impress most people, and Angel’s insecurity about himself and interacting with others is a nice insight; dark, lurky guy may not be so solid and collected after all.
My next major problem with this episode lies within the metaphor. Now, obviously, the entire thing is a metaphor for the barbaric practice of forced female circumcision. This is a practice that still takes place in some very dogmatic countries and other isolated tribes today. The Ko represents the female clitoris, and the mystical effect it has, driving men around the Oden Tal women into involuntary lust, represents the sexual power it can have over men. It’s never so blatant in our world, but the male impulses and drives to attain sex, especially for younger males, is strong.
The Vigories (male denizens of Oden Tal) are representations of the extremist religious and cultural views; societies that see female sexuality as a devil’s tool or a threat, as the power of sexuality over men is massive (you ever seen an ad campaign?). The removal of the Ko and its effects are where the metaphor speaks its piece. A female from Oden Tal who is captured from Jhiera’s rescue attempt is stripped of her Ko in a rather disturbing scene that was played out like a brutal rape; I suppose we’re meant to believe it was. When the Ko is removed, she appears to become an empty, obedient slave to the Vigories’ will.
Like the episode as a whole, I just didn’t appreciate how this concept was carried out. We’re kind of hit over the head with it, rather repeatedly. In particular, all the discussion about males forcing the de-Ko’d women to “do as they wish, marry as they wish” crossed the line into “duh” territory. The males are also portrayed as dumb, mindless evil. That may even be, but their motives are still a little hazy; it was hinted that the Ko’s power was so strong that it actually caused society-wide chaos, and I would’ve loved to have heard more about this kind of thing. Putting the entire conflict into a total gray area, one where the innate nature of the female may actually be truly dangerous would’ve been the perfect route for this show.
It would have also added another dimension to Jhiera’s character; she is a woman driven by her kind’s plight, and clearly feels no remorse for the death of men who come between her people’s salvation, even innocent human men in our dimension. To have her entire quest rendered purely self-serving and ignorant of the greater good in light of truth would’ve fashioned very interesting material, discussion, and fit with her character (she’s remorseless over the human men, and has not a quandary about sacrificing Angel’s friends for her girls, despite their equal innocence). Instead, we get scenes with her flexing her cleavage and making Angel hot and bothered. Yawn. The talented Bai Ling does her best with this role, and is the only saving grace; the poor pacing and sloppy writing allows the character one dimension only.
Take the what the metaphor says as you may; clearly feminist, it’s still not wrong about the horrors inflicted upon certain women in the world, and how it can rob a woman of her dignity and, akin to a rape, can make her feel violated, dominated, and powerless. And Angel, counter pointed by the Vigories, provided an interesting specimen to study. He was, in Jhiera’s presence, seduced, but controlled his urges. The Vigories, clearly incapable of doing any such thing, reacted with fear and hatred for the Ko and the Oden Tal women, eventually descending into violence. It’s my favourite aspect of the metaphor, and makes an interesting point about the responsibility of men to control their urges, and how they make their own fear of female sexuality through their lack of control.
Agree or disagree with the point made, these parts worked. Overall, it’s just too heavy-handed for my liking. The males coldly and lamely referring to any woman as “it,” the talk about forced marriage, and how the women instantly turn into mindless drones without their Ko’s, well, it was all just too obvious to be appreciated.
Add to the fact that we’re given little back story on Oden Tal and it’s people, that what we are given is given to us very late in the game, and that absolutely no consequences come of any events in this episode, we’re left with a useless pile of ‘what-could’ve-been.’ Angel and Jhiera clash over the human men’s death, Angel scares off the Vigories and the women flee. I was almost frustrated watching, seeing Greenwalt and Noxon miss every mark they aimed for.
I did read that Jheira was to be a recurring character, and so maybe more of her story was meant to be told. Too bad it never was, as it could’ve redeemed this poor showing in some aspects, most preferably its stunning uselessness.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Angel’s fantasy of himself dancing.
+ Angel’s comments on Baudelaire; entertaining, if useless.
+ Wesley kicking ###.
+ Cordelia sneering at Jhiera.
– Bumbling Wesley. It was way too overdone.
– The mansion. I find it hard to believe no one’s noticed the presence of so many strange women, or the huge quantity of ice being delivered there.