It’s time for “The Dark Age”! I’ll admit that on this rewatch, I found that this episode dragged a little. I mean, I have watched this season a LOT, so it makes sense that some of the episodes may not thrill me to pieces. However, as you can see, I wrote quite a bit for this episode, and that’s because it’s so important. We finally learn more about Giles’ past and how he came to be the stuffy, rule-following Watcher that he is, and Buffy grows closer to him because of it, and my love for Daddy Giles could move mountains. So let’s get started.
“The Dark Age” opens with a man we’ve never seen before (if you’re playing “Dead or Evil” at home, yup, he’s about to
be really dead). He’s looking for Giles, helped along by a cranky janitor. BUT! Before he can reach the library door, zombie! Is it a sign of 2015 that the sight of a zombie creature from 1998 instills no fear in me? Especially one that says “Philip…” all menacing-like. Philip helpfully falls down in fear, and then bangs on the library door for help, but Buffy is aerobicizing so loudly (LOL) inside that she and Giles can’t hear him. So yeah, predictably, zombie chokes him to death and then (maybe less predictably) dissolves into a pretty aquamarine gel next to his dead body.
In the very next scene, Giles awakens from a dream about a Kid Rock castoff yelling and strange tattoos. Weird, but we’ll get to that.
Buffy and Willow are at school that same morning, playing “Anywhere But Here,” which is a truly adorable moment.
The gang wonders if Giles has ever played such a game; Buffy and Xander think not, that Giles probably lived for school. It’s interesting to me that Willow is the only one who thinks Giles probably got restless as a kid–reflective of her own restlessness, perhaps, and eventual rebellion from her current “good girl” self.
Giles tells Buffy that they must stop a gang of vampires from mugging a medical transport for blood this evening, because those vamps sure are pesky. Giles is clearly distracted in this scene, something that goes unnoticed by the Scoobies. Jenny appears, all cute-like, and we learn that Willow will be helping her out on Saturday tutor some kids who have fallen behind in her class (Xander and Cordelia).
Giles and Jenny then have a more private conversation–this episode is, after all, primarily about Giles. Jenny pretends to have destroyed a book she borrowed from him just to tease him and get him worked up. It works. Part of what’s great about this episode is how it contrasts who Giles was as a young man to who he is now. His past, which is about to be revealed to us, shines light on why he is a no-nonsense rule follower now. His unshakable desire to do the right thing (study hard, train Buffy, keep a schedule, take care of his possessions) is obviously because of how reckless he used to be. People got hurt (and are continuing to get hurt, RIP Philip) because of his past actions. He never wants that to happen again, so he went as far as possible in the opposite direction. Luckily, Buffy’s influence will eventually help him relax a little on authoritative rules and instead do what’s right according to his own moral code, but he’s not quite there yet. At this point, I don’t think he trusts his own moral code.
Anyway, Jenny calls him a “sexy fuddy-duddy” in this scene, which will always be bizarre. Whatever, they’re cute. Then she tells him she wants to “stay in” this weekend to “make him squirm.” OKAY YOU GUYS THERE ARE CHILDREN MILLING ABOUT.
Giles enters the library to find police officers waiting. They tell him there was a homicide outside of the library last night, with nothing on the body except for a slip of paper with Giles’ name and address on it. (I’m assuming they mean the school’s address? Weird. He doesn’t live there, police officers!) Also, in any other universe, school would be closed pending a homicide investigation on campus, but this is Sunnydale, after all. Cordelia comes into the library, needing a book, totally and hilariously oblivious to Giles’ awkward situation. I like this scene because it’s clearly a nightmare for Giles: a direct confrontation of his old life (homicide) with his new (helping silly high-schoolers find books).
Giles identifies Philip’s body at the morgue. The camera zooms in on Philip’s weird tattoo, accompanied by ominous music.
Then we cut to Buffy at nighttime, alone near the hospital, effectively ditched by Giles and forced to intercept the blood-stealing vampires alone. It turns out some vamps have disguised themselves as doctors–how they managed that successfully, I have no clue. Little scamps. Angel appears out of the darkness to help her, which is good since she is very outnumbered. When she asks, “How did you know about this?” and he says, “It’s delivery day, everybody knows about this,” I can’t help but laugh. Are we forgetting the time in S1 that Angel had bags of human blood in his fridge? He knows about it because he used to maybe participate in it, ha! I don’t know if the writers are purposely alluding to that–probably not. I think it’s just a continuity error, but it’s funny to me anyway.
Buffy goes to Giles’ house to confront him about ditching her. He’s even more noticeably distracted (and unshaven and messy and drunk–poor Daddy Giles). Buffy definitely notices his weird behavior now. Giles sends her away, and inside, he’s making phone calls, basically going through a list of names and crossing them out as he finds out they’ve died. Then he rolls up his sleeve and we see that he has the same strange tattoo that Philip had–never seen at all before or after this episode, by the way.
And then Philip’s body is reanimated in the morgue and he stuffs the morgue employee into the…dead-people drawer. This kind of thing must happen a lot in morgues near Sunnydale, it’s not a job I would want. This also begs the question: are all of Giles’ old friends currently in America? It seems unlikely, though not impossible, I suppose. But if not, did a reanimated corpse (either Diedre’s or the other guy on the list) book an international flight and come to California? I HOPE SO because that’s amazing.
The next day is Saturday, and Willow, Xander, and Cordelia are at school with Jenny for the computer
class. I think it’s weird that Jenny’s holding a Saturday class, with an assistant, just for two students. But what do I know? Buffy appears, which leads to the wonderful line:
JENNY: The first thing we’re gonna do is–Buffy.
XANDER: Huh? Did I fall asleep already?
Buffy explains that Giles is being weird. She looks very beautiful in this scene, by the way. I love how FREAKED OUT everyone gets by the notion of an adult man drinking alone inside his home on a Friday night. It’s like, surely in the whole scheme of things Giles could have been doing, that’s pretty tame, right? Regardless, Cordelia reveals that Giles had been talking to the police the day before about a homicide, and Buffy rushes off to contact him. I suppose she goes to the library in order to…use the phone? Surely there are other phones on campus? Anyway, she finds Ethan Rayne in the library, sneaking around as he tends to do. (WHY do none of these people try to find Giles at his actual home? He doesn’t live in the library, guys.) Buffy recognizes him and, just as quickly, punches him in the face, which seems a bit premature to me but hey, I’m not a Slayer.
Ethan explains that he and Giles go way back, and it cuts to Giles being woken up from a nap on his desk (poor thing) by Buffy’s phone call. She asks him about the Mark of Eyghon. When Giles finds out she’s with Ethan, he freaks–and just then, Dead Philip bursts in through a window and Buffy starts fighting him. These zombie types sure have a keen sense of direction.
The Scoobies and Jenny come into the library, and Cordelia manages to keep Ethan from getting away when Xander fails to, which is funny. Buffy locks Philip in the book cage, which is one of many times it’ll come in handy. Giles arrives. He and Ethan have a very tense discussion; Giles tells Ethan that he’s put people he cares about in danger by staying in Sunnydale, and Ethan points out that Giles should have left town, too. He makes a good point: Giles’ choice to stay in Sunnydale and try to figure things out by himself was probably not the wises move. However, it comes down to the fact that Giles is in denial about his past coming to get him. As I said, his past and present are colliding and he’s not coping with it well. Leaving town would be admitting, in a way, that his past finally caught up to him and he can’t maintain his current life, which is not something he’s willing to do.
Just then, Philip quite easily breaks out of the cage–weird, since they will eventually keep a werewolf in that cage once a month for nearly two years without such an incident, though I suppose they might reinforce the lock before that. Buffy knocks him down and he dissolves into the same blue goo as before. It touches Jenny, and then she gets all flashy-eyed and possessed, though no one notices.
Ethan gets away, and Buffy argues with Giles, wanting to know what’s going on. Giles tells her it’s not her battle. He gets all beady-eyed with anger in this scene. The dude is panicking. He pulls the “I’m your Watcher” card, telling her to stay out of his private situation, then leaves with Jenny, who’s nursing a head injury from the cage door and a demonic possession from the goo. Buffy, of course, doesn’t listen and gives the Scoobies jobs to do. I love how Willow tells Buffy that “mark of Eyghon” probably won’t be on the internet and instead they should consult books. Oh, the 90s, you were such a different time. I also love how Buffy doesn’t initially give a job to Cordelia, who protests, “I care about Giles!” Cordy, you big softy, you.
Back at Giles’ house, Jenny goes all homicidal because of the zombie goo…look, the mysticism behind this particular brand of zombies is very hazy and confusing, all right? The Scoobies do find out more about the demon Eyghon: it can only possess an “unconscious host,” which includes dead people, but disintegrates dead people after a while and must jump to the next unconscious or dead person. I guess it worked out pretty conveniently, then, this whole episode. I still have about a hundred more questions about this, but I’ll leave it for now.
Meanwhile, Jenny is cutting the phone line, which Buffy discovers by calling an operator. Different and delightful times, remember? Giles is refusing to sex Jenny up because he feels he would be taking advantage–again, highlighting how focused he is on doing the right thing. Eyghon-Jenny calls him out on this, mocking him for being too weak to handle…it. Meaning Eyghon. Then Jenny’s face gets all creepy and her voice is manly and she beats Giles up. Buffy arrives in the nick of time and they fight. Eyghon-Jenny bursts through a window (Eyghon really likes doing that, doesn’t he?) and Giles. Is. A. Wreck. Ugh, he makes my heart hurt in this scene. He’s basically babbling and useless. Buffy tells him to “be Giles!” After all, this is what they do, they fight monsters and they win. Giles reveals that it’s different this time because he created this monster while he studied history and the occult at Oxford. I love that he studied history and the occult at Oxford.
We also find out that Baby Giles rebelled, in part, because he caved to the “overwhelming pressure of his destiny.” I’ve always enjoyed this connection to Buffy and took this scene to mean that Giles knew he’d be a Watcher and was trained for it, much like Buffy trains as the Slayer. Giles tells her that he and his friends used to summon Eyghon to get high, until one of their friends got killed during the process. This, then, was Giles’ turning point from rejecting his destiny and running from responsibility to following every rule.
Buffy goes off, alone, to handle the problem and before she goes, Giles apologizes to her. Noooo Daddy Giles! His face! It’s so sad! This–the girl he’s supposed to protect and teach, being forced to clean up after his past–is pretty hard for him to endure. His girlfriend is in immediate danger and might die, his protegee is disappointed in him, things are looking pretty glum in Giles Land.
Buffy finds Ethan in the costume shop. This scene is pretty whatever. He tattoos the mark of Eyghon onto her
back (again, which we never see again after this episode, though at the end of this she does mention needing to get it removed) in order to trick Eyghon into going after her instead of him because the mark’s like a homing beacon. (Why did none of the others simply get the mark removed, then? Weird.) Blah, blah, we know Buffy’s gonna kick ass somehow. I do like this exchange, though (emphasis mine):
ETHAN: How does Ripper inspire such goodness?
BUFFY: Because he’s Giles.
Here, Buffy outright rejects Giles’ old identity in favor of the identity she knows, the one that’s good and responsible and moral. She might be disappointed to learn about Giles’ past, but she still has faith in his goodness. Ahh my little heart can’t take it.
Back at the library, Willow yells at Xander and Cordy to stop bickering, which I love because she’s so cute. Then Willow figures out that they can lure the demon into Angel, who can then–fight it off? I don’t know, this seems like a HUGE shot in the dark that could have easily backfired, but whatever.
Eyghon-Jenny attacks Buffy in the costume shop. Giles arrives and offers himself to Eyghon, which is such a quick
moment, but really means that Giles is willing to die to save Jenny and the others (Daddy Giiilllleeesss!). Angel bursts in, chokes Eyghon-Jenny until Eyghon freaks and leaps out of her body and into his. The plan works, and Angel defeats Eyghon somehow, because, as he explains, “I’ve had a demon inside me for a couple hundred years, just waiting for a good fight.” Look, none of this makes much sense to me at all, okay, but let’s go with it.
At the end of the episode, Giles and Jenny sort of break up. Jenny’s freaked out. I get it, but this has always kind of annoyed me, based on Jenny’s secret “I know things about Angel that I’m not telling” plan. Like, I don’t know. You’re involved in dangerous shit, you’re aware of it, so why do you have to act all holier than thou about it? Meh.
Anyway, just before this scene, the Scoobies are talking on campus again, but this time, about how much pressure
Giles is under. Willow says, “I don’t know how Giles does it,” and Buffy responds, “I don’t think he has a choice.” Again, connecting his path to hers. Even if he wasn’t destined by his familial line to be a Watcher (which is ambiguous), his actions now will always be a result of his actions in the past. He can never escape what he’s done; he can only make amends. Buffy and the gang recognize this and, I think, have a new appreciation of Giles because of it. Buffy certainly does, as illustrated by her lovely chat with Giles in the last scene. She sees him as a well-rounded person now who shares something important in common with her. So while this episode is kind of…whatever. It’s not my favorite, it’s not terrible. But it is super important for the storyline, for Buffy and Giles’ relationship, and for the series as a whole. It’s the first time Buffy has had to deal with one of Giles’ mistakes. It humanizes him, and it makes their bond grow even deeper.