"INNOCENCE." DVD Commentary.
Series | Season | Disc
BtVS | 2 | 4
Commentary By: Joss Whedon
Joss Whedon has stated in multiple interviews that "Innocence" is his favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That sentiment is supported by his DVD commentary for "Innocence," a pivotal second season episode written and directed by Whedon. In his reflections on the "Innocence," recorded during BtVS’s fifth season of production, Whedon sounds like the proudest of fathers, sharing his actors’ milestone achievements and noting many BtVS "bests" found in "Innocence." As he speaks of his creation, viewers also learn significant details about the influences on and technical vision of this man who fathered one of television’s greatest cult programs.
The commentary illustrates the range of film influences on Joss Whedon beginning with a jesting disclaimer that he knows "Innocence" "is not Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is a black and white film about bald guys." The real significance of the Orson Welles film as influence becomes apparent as Whedon discusses the creative need to believe that all work is "incredibly important and genius" even if it is not Citizen Kane. Later in the commentary, viewers discover a different kind of influence as Whedon twice refers to the Western epic. Whedon admits that he is a "very big fan of the epic," and viewers learn that much of his appreciation comes from the Western’s showdown or "stand off" scenes. Whedon first reveals this as he is discussing the stand off scene in "Innocence" when Buffy faces Angel in the hallway of the high school as he holds Willow, threatening to kill her. The second Western style moment Whedon notes is when Buffy, armed with her rocket launcher, faces The Judge, Angelus, and Dru.
Whedon uses the rocket launcher to introduce a key component of his creative vision. Early in the commentary, he speaks of "emotional resonance" as the main element of the show, and points to Party of Five, a television program that ran from 1994-2000, as an example of a show that "often made me cry uncontrollably." But Whedon also humorously notes that Party of Five suffered because it did not have rocket launchers, adding, "The two things that matter the most to me in the work that I do are emotional resonance and rocket launchers." Rocket launchers serve as an example here of how Whedon takes the painful difficulties of real life and inflates them, making reality "just a little bit wonkier."
The "Innocence" commentary makes it clear that Joss Whedon is not afraid to show real pride and affection for his actors or for the show they help him to create. He admits that "Innocence" is different from other episodes of BtVS; it is "harder edged" and "uglier" and required something new from the actors. As his earlier comment about Citizen Kane indicates, Whedon’s highest compliments are framed with humor, and he doesn’t hold back when discussing his actors’ performances: "And while I believe that actors are rabid feral animals who must be put down, I think that these are amongst the finest I am ever doing to work with." Whedon singles out Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz for their abilities to show new levels of performance. The question of whether Boreanaz could reach the level at which he would have to become a real monster was "nerve wracking," but later in the commentary Whedon gives him the ultimate actors’ compliment. "Considering that David is about as nice a person as you could ever hope to work with, he plays a bastard with extraordinary aplomb." Whedon’s discussion of Angel’s transformation provides further insight into Whedon the creator. Writing Boreanaz as a bastard, particularly in the scene where Buffy meets Angel in his apartment after they have had sex and after he has disappeared was both difficult and interesting for Whedon. He admits that it made him feel "like an ugly person," "icky, icky, and kind of powerful that I could make him say these things."
His pride in Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance comes through as Whedon identifies one of the BtVS "bests" that he locates in "Innocence." Commenting on the apartment scene with Buffy and Angel, and admitting Gellar’s ability to evoke in him an intense emotional response, Whedon claims the scene is "possibly the best scene we’ve ever done." Whedon also notes two scenes where Gellar really cries, the first when Buffy is alone in her bedroom after facing Angel in his apartment, and later when Buffy is alone with Giles in his car after fighting The Judge and Angel at the Mall. It is important for the viewer to remember that Whedon is speaking during the filming of BtVS’s fifth season, prior to the airing of "The Gift," and the many emotionally charged episodes that would culminate in the show’s final episode, "The Chosen;" however, this large statement concerning the scene’s ability to break the writer’s heart helps viewers more clearly understand what creatively drives Joss Whedon.
Another "best" Whedon claims for this episode is the fight between Angel and Buffy at the end of "Innocence." Whedon doesn’t attribute the fight scene’s importance to technical details; rather, he locates its meaningfulness in the feminist power the scene displays. Reminding viewers that BtVS was created to be a "very straight on feminist show," Whedon points to the strength Buffy exhibits when, after Angel has so emotionally injured her, she kicks him in his testicles. "For her to be so abused, and for her response to be to kick him in the goolies is very primal, very important. Its kind of important, and I kinda love it."
Something else Whedon likes is filming long, sustained takes, such as the shot that begins with Angel striking a match, then moves to a shot of Drusilla, and finally to Spike. According to Whedon, such techniques are rare in television, but they produce multiple visual benefits. Because Whedon is the writer and producer, he is able to take advantage of such techniques. With typical self-depracating humor, Whedon offers viewers an image of the excited television creator at work: "Of course I spend a lot of time in a dark room watching these films and have very few friends."
In addition to allowing viewers to share his emotional responses to "Innocence," Whedon rewards them with insider information on The DVD commentary. Echoing his public statements of affection and respect for Alyson Hannigan’s performance as Willow, Whedon voices his surprise that people always expect Willow to die in an episode of BtVS. Admitting that he puts Willow in danger when he is unsure about a scene, Whedon promises, "I’m never going to kill her." Viewers now know Whedon’s promise was sincere. The writer not only allowed Willow to live until the end of the series, but gave the character a larger role after "Innocence," often placing her in greater danger.
Another tidbit Whedon reveals in the "Innocence" commentary says much about his own creative range. Whedon claims that he was "too embarrassed" to ask Gellar and Boreanaz to do their own heavy breathing in Buffy/Angel sex scene, so he and sound editor Cindy Rabideau created the heavy breathing.
Viewers of the commentary are left unsure about whether Anthony Head really films many of his scenes without pants, as Whedon twice mentions in the commentary, but they are left convinced as to the importance of "Innocence" to Joss Whedon. Viewers have to learn from interviews that "Innocence" is his favorite episode, but he states clearly in the commentary that it is the most important episode of BtVS, at least among those episodes made by the time of the commentary’s filming. One reason he gives is that the show was moving to a new time slot, but this only tells viewers why, in business terms, the show had to be important. Yet for those creating BtVS, the episode "is and probably always will be the most important episode of Buffy." It holds that position because when Buffy holds her rocket launcher, Whedon "never loved her more," and because the final scene with a still innocent Buffy watching old movies with her mother made Whedon "happier than the rocket launcher scene." And this response proved to the writer and his crew that BtVS had "fulfilled the mission statement we first came up with, the idea of the emotional resonance of horror and the idea of the High School experience."