[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: Marita Grabiak | Aired: 02/25/2003]
“Storyteller,” like other classic comedy episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, manages to be extremely funny while also having rousing character development and a heart. I’m the first to admit that, until now, Andrew has been little more than comic relief — great comic relief, but otherwise just a two-dimensional character. Season 6 gave him a little bit of depth and insight, but nothing particularly mind-blowing as both the established Jonathan and Warren got a lot more attention. “Storyteller” manages to frankly do the impossible: give a character that successfully traverses the incredibly fine line between funny and stupid some real depth and end up turning him into a three-dimensional character. How does Buffy continue — right to its very end — to pierce the emotional core of these people? I don’t know how the writers do it, but it’s one of the largest factors that make the series so unique even among other quality shows.
Before I jump into the focus of the episode, I’d like to make a few comments about some of the ancillary material along with the plot. Andrew interviews Anya and Xander one year to the day he left her at the altar — and how about that, it really is exactly one year since “Hell’s Bells” [6×16]. With one year to think everything through, Xander still feels he made the right decision in not marrying Anya at that time. It’s nice to see them both admit their continued love for each other, even though they both know they’ll never be officially together again. I also loved the epilogue to their little story, with both of them having sex for “one last time” that clearly isn’t one last time. The uncertainty at the end of the scene really sums up how complex and fragile relationships can be and how careful we need to be about the choices we make surrounding them.
If there’s one complaint I have with “Storyteller” — but more largely with the season as a whole — it’s that everything surrounding the Seal of Danzalthar is very confusing. It’s never adequately explained why it’s acting up right now as opposed to any other time. There certainly hasn’t been enough build-up to the outburst it’s exhibiting here. It’s also never fully explained what the heck it even is. Apparently this thing existed under the old high school too, and that it used to be under the library. I can sort of piece together the mythology surrounding this thing in my head, but I would have really appreciated some more concrete facts about it, what it can do, and why a giant cavern is underneath it. The writers are molding the Seal to be able to do whatever the plot demands, and that reeks of sloppy plotting. Because of the lack of coherence here, “Storyteller” suffers a tiny bit by being associated with it.
There’s really very little else to dislike about “Storyteller” though. Early on there’s a hilarious scene where Andrew is filming the girls at breakfast fantasizing a slow-motion everything-is-happy montage. He says that Buffy is “beautiful, with a lion’s heart and the face of an angel. She’s never afraid ’cause she knows her side will always win. Buffy and Spike have some kind of history. You can feel the heat between them. Although, technically, as a vampire, he’s room temperature,” and that Anya is “a feisty waif with a firey temper and a vulnerable heart that she hides, even from herself.” Andrew’s “film” is all about side-lining the gritty details of these peoples’ lives for the shiny idealized — yet partially true — image he sees them as.
Buffy ends up getting frustrated over Andrew’s camera work which mutates into a whole new long speech. The episode wisely pans back from her speech, even poking fun at it with Andrew leaving the room saying, “honestly, gentle viewers, these motivational speeches of hers tend to get a little long.” Note that, up to this episode at least, I’ve never really had a problem with any of Buffy’s speeches. It’s at this time where Andrew takes the time to explain how he wants to present himself to us, the real viewers. Much like the slow-motion Wheaties (sorry, “Wheat-flakes”) montage a moment before, he completely roses up his past and who he is today. He says, “You see, I am a man with a burden. A man with a dark past. You see, I was once a super villain.” We even begin to see him make huge alterations to past events to make him come out in a better — victimized or just — light.
A little further into the episode, when Buffy drags Andrew into trying to shut the Seal down, he makes a comment that further cements the role he wants to play: “I’m not a part of this. I document, I don’t participate. I’m a detached journalist, recording with a neutral eye.” Andrew eventually alludes to the idea of redemption for himself. Even though he clearly still has a comic book level of sophistication on what redemption is, it’s still a hint to the fact that deep down there is something going on in him — otherwise he wouldn’t even bring it up.
When Buffy threatens to spill his blood on the Seal, a powerful scene emerges where Andrew’s emotional barriers — blocked by layers of comedy — are finally broken down. Kudos to Tom Lenk for pulling out his emotional acting chops here. Jane Espenson does a phenomenal job at taking a character that was perceived almost entirely for laughs, and making him emotionally real and bringing him up to the same level as some of the other secondary characters throughout the series. With Andrew, we suddenly now have the beginnings of a fleshed out character. Impressive work.
Andrew learns a lot when he believes his life is at risk, and I was particularly moved by his genuine cheering of Buffy’s leadership so far (“No, you’re doing great. Really. Kudos.”). When Buffy asks him if her sacrifice of him will “redeem” him, he honestly cries out, “No! Because I killed him. Because I listened to Warren, and I pretended I thought it was him, but I knew it wasn’t. And I killed Jonathan. And now you’re gonna kill me. And I’m scared, and I’m going to die. And this is what Jonathan felt.” That last part, about feeling what he put Jonathan through, gives him a new layer of maturity and self reflection that he never possessed before. I also liked the dark nod implying that if Andrew’s tears didn’t close the Seal, Buffy may have actually tried to spill his blood. This further cements the fact that Andrew is still in no way Buffy’s friend or close ally, despite her intent not to kill him. He still has a long way to go before he earns that kind of respect from Buffy, but he makes a great start through his actions here.
The final scene of the episode, with Andrew recording himself speaking, is quite moving. Here we have someone who is now completely honest with himself and his sins, and is genuinely wanting to atone for them — not in the easy-way-out comic book way of before. He says, “Here’s the thing. I killed my best friend. There’s a big fight coming, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t even think I’m going to live through it. That’s, uh, probably the way it should be.”
“Storyteller” gives Andrew his chance to shine and become a memorable part of the Buffy canon that’s not just simply comic relief anymore. It’s also the last comedy-heavy episode in the entire series. Jane Espenson clearly relishes the opportunity on both counts and runs with it. Between the hilarious comedy, solid character material, and emotional resonance in the last person you’d expect to find it, we have a real winner here. Now… how ’bout that Cheese Man!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The opening scene with Andrew sitting in a mansion filled with geek memorabilia.
+ Andrew’s big board and his explanation of the First.
+ The clever editing of Dark Willow from S6 for Andrew’s imagination.
+ The references to early Buffy episodes ranging from the invisible girl (“Out of Mind, Out of Sight” [1×11] ) to swim team monsters (“Go Fish” [2×20] ) to prom dogs (“The Prom” [3×20] ).
+ The quick cut to Andrew’s Big Board during the conversation between Buffy and Wood.
+ Andrew panning his camera right past Willow and Kennedy kissing to check out Xander’s work on fixing Buffy’s oft-destroyed window.
+ The pig Andrew failed to kill in “Never Leave Me” [7×09] running by Wood and Buffy.
+ Spike acting all bad-### on camera just for Andrew’s video.
+ Andrew getting choked up over Xander and Anya’s expressions of love for each other.
+ Seeing how bringers are created.
+ The Cheese Man and his plate of cheese both getting about 1 frame each in the Mexico flashback sequence!
+ The “We Are as Gods” song. Oh… my.
+ All the comments about everyone hating the cheerleaders.
– Why is it that Andrew says, about the knife, “There was a carving on the blade — I thought it was just some pattern,” when just a moment later he knows exactly what language it is on the spot? How does that make any sense?
* Wood tries to take out Spike at his first clear shot. This is clearly indicative of their big confrontation that (thankfully) happens in the next episode, “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17].