What’s it about: Buffy’s back in Sunnydale after the summer away and she’s not in a good mood…
The Chosen One: A brief but unpleasant glimpse at the season six Buffy, something is definitely off about her as soon as she returns from LA in a rotten mood. She can barely connect with her best friends and goes cold at the mere mention of the Master. Her dad compensated for her distance whilst she was visiting by buying her copious amounts of shoes. Giles is deeply worried when she pummels her training equipment to death. Clearly he near death experience last year has disturbed her greatly. What is frustrating is Buffy’s silence. If only she would open up to her friends and family about how she is feeling a lot of the pain she spreads could have been avoided. The way Whedon maintains her bad attitude throughout the episode is commendable in itself but makes her practically irredeemable come the climax. Once she has gotten over herself Buffy sums up her behaviour in this episode as ‘I was a moron.’ Its hard not to agree with her.
Witchy Willow: We get a glimpse into just how exciting Willow and Xander’s summer has been with an exciting round of The Quote Game (Willow opts for ‘use the Force, Luke…’). I love it when we get to see Willow’s anger and she finally gets fed up of Buffy’s abuse and gives her a tongue lashing! The final scene where she and Xander welcome Buffy back into the fold is very, very lovely.
Gorgeous Geek: There is a heated moment between Xander and Willow where they almost kiss. Its like with Buffy away he can see her there for the first time. Xander is smart enough to know that Buffy hasn’t had a change of heart regarding her feelings toward him.
Caustic Cordy: Cordelia ponders if it is at all possible to have too much character (mind she’s only saying that because she has been deprived for a beach for a month and a half whilst holidaying in Tuscany with her folks) and if she is the result then I would say no. She proves that her moment of extreme depth in Out of Mind, Out of Sight wasn’t a fluke by giving Buffy the best advice she will ever hear – to get over herself.
Puppy Dog Eyes: I know she is experiencing issues but some of Buffy’s angry accusations at Angel do make sense. When he showed up in her bedroom mournfully watching her from the shadows I groaned. Why can’t he just use the front door like everybody else? His ‘brooding in the shadows’ look seems to have inspired the Twilight trilogy and for that his character should be condemned to the pits of Hell. But I’m cheered by the fact that I might get my wish by the end of the season. David Boreanaz seems to be having a bit of trouble playing angry and chews his dialogue up with a strange, growling tone that fails to convince.
Mr Snidey: Its great to see more of Snyder from the off and his pep talk to Giles where he explains how all children are hormonal time bombs that turn into gibbering idiots every time a pretty girl walks by is hilarious (especially when Giles’ head spins as soon as Ms Calendar walks past!). He sees a great future ahead for Buffy that includes expulsion and jail!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Cordelia your mouth is open. Sound is coming from it. This is never a good thing…’
‘You haven’t been talking about our little adventure all summer, have you?’ ‘Are you nuts? You think I would tell people that I spent a whole evening with you?’
‘Embrace the pain. Spank your inner moppet. Get over it. Because pretty soon you’re not even going to have the loser friends you’ve got now’ – more pearls of wisdom from Cordelia.
‘Why else would she be acting like such a B-I-T-C-H?’ ‘Willow, I think we’re a little too old to be spelling things out’ ‘A Bit-ka?’
‘There are some things I can just smell. Its like a sixth sense’ ‘No actually that would be one of the five.’
‘I hate that girl…’
The Good: Love the ‘hi guys, miss me?’ straight out the fourth wall. Joss Whedon has decided to toss away a lot of the pretence that was prevalent in season one and acknowledge that romance is possible between Xander and Willow and Giles and Ms Calendar. Buffy’s dream of Giles trying to kill her had me completely fooled (Whedon frames the scene with a slow close up on Buffy that completely tricks you into thinking this is reality). My favourite moment comes when Buffy realises how stupid she has been by heading off without backup – its always nice when idiots get their comeuppance. Xander tells her he doesn’t care what her problems are and that she is responsible for Willow and Giles’ kidnap and I could have kissed him. Except he had blood running from his nose. Buffy smashing up the Master’s bones is a great moment – this is definitely a technique that psychologists use to help their patients get over traumatic experiences when all their hate is bottled up inside (except they usually favour a cushion than the bones of the living dead). Finally as she breaks down in Angel’s arms we can feel some sympathy for her.
The Bad: Forget The Trio, Kevin is by far the least impressive ‘villain’ that this show ever coughed up out of the Hellmouth. Quite apart from the fact that Andrew J. Ferchland has no presence whatsoever but he lacks the mixture of humour and horror that makes all the other bad guys so effective and we never learn a single thing about his background. He’s just a pathetic leftover of the Master’s plot that needs to be tidied up. Glimpses of the Master remind us of how good a villain he was. The twist that the spell requires those who were nearest to the Master when he died is not the sort of intelligent detail I have come to expect from Joss Whedon’s scripts. Buffy features some spells with pretty some pretty lame ingredients. Unbelievably Kevin survives the events of this episode.
Moment to Watch Out For: In a moment that proves what a total bitch (Willow’s description, not mine) Buffy can be when she wants to be she offers herself to Xander in a sexy dance to wind up both Willow and Angel. This is a nasty streak we have never seen in her before and its deeply unlikable. Because she is hurting she wants to spread a little of that around to those closest too her (the look on Willow’s face is devastating). Ultimately it is Xander that she is hurting the most by leading him on when she has no intention of fulfilling that promise.
Fashion Statement: Cordelia’s feathered fringe doesn’t suit her and Willow’s ‘my mum whipped it up out of curtains’ dress has to be seen to be believed. The only person who escaped the summer with any taste it would seem, is Buffy.
Result: A strange episode for Buffy to opening its sophomore year on because it seems to be out to spread the message ‘we’re back and more depressing than ever!’ Buffy is a generally very sunny show and there is something disappointing about watching these characters fighting each other for the daftest of reasons. The shows titular character seems to have matured by losing her sense of humour and turning on those who care about her and it is not a look that suits her. Yes Buffy died at the end of the last season (and at least it doesn’t take her an entire season to get over it here) but some people would walk away from that experience with a renewed sense that life is worth living. Not our Buffy whose anger reminds me more of Faith in this episode. I fail to understand how Whedon manages to get his season finales so right but when it comes to his openers he really stutters and seems unaware of what he is trying to say. When She Was Bad is more about tying up the plotlines from season one rather than getting on with the new year and I would rather have forgotten all about Kevin than brought him back for a final appearance. There are compensations however including some fine, witty dialogue, lovely Giles/Willow/Xander interaction and a generally more polished look for the show. To make your lead character so deeply unlikable is a frustrating experiment that I hope they don’t repeat again…a wish I know wont come true. School Hard would have been a far more encouraging opener: 5/10
Some Assembly Required written by Ty King and directed by Bruce Seth Green
What’s it about: Girls are being dug up to create the undead girlfriend of a zombie football star. Did I just write that sentence?
The Chosen One: I love the way that last year it was Buffy that desperately wanted to go on a date rather than get bogged down in Slayer stuff and Giles was lecturing her disapprovingly and now they have switched roles and he is the lovesick child and she is the head shaking parent! It’s a role reversal entirely in both characters favour.
Ripper: A great Giles episode (aren’t they all?) and another chance for Anthony Stewart Head to charm your socks off. How can you not love Giles who with his back to the door practices asking out Ms Calendar to an empty chair? Since she is the only woman that has ever spoken to him and she already knows he is a librarian and that he fights the forces of darkness in his spare time Buffy and Xander correctly guess the computer sciences teacher of Giles’ affections. When he hears that a grave has been dug up he is practically foaming at the mouth to get started! Jenny knows exactly what Giles is trying to ask her and enjoys watching him flounder for a little while before coming to his rescue and asking him on a date. These two are so adorable, I could have watched this relationship develop for the whole seven seasons.
Gorgeous Geek: Xander is especially horrible to Cordelia in this episode (but being the tough bitch that she is it doesn’t even register for the most part) and it should have been obvious that these two were destined for smooch city. At the time I thought they would be the best of enemies forever but looking back their defensive backstabbing comments are clearly hiding a whole lot of desire. He’s especially rude to her when she tries to thank him at the climax (a rare event for Cordelia!) and then he ponders why girls aren’t interested in him. What a lovable goon. He makes one of his sporadic deep and meaningful comments here about people desiring what they can’t have – I don’t think I have ever hear lust described quite so succinctly.
Caustic Cordy: ‘Why is it every conversation you people have has the word corpse in it?’ Cordelia finds that mandatory participation in the school science fair is abominable and so decides to go for something she can finish in a hurry – the tomato, fruit or vegetable? She is hanging out with the Scoobies by choice these days (or under some vague excuse that barely holds water) and the writers need to give her a reason to tag along with this social leper group other than just because. Fortunately that reason is just around the corner. I’m glad that nobody was around to see her dive into a dumpster when she thinks she is being pursued!
Puppy Dog Eyes: Buffy and Angel get to have the ‘you mated with Xander on the dance floor’ talk after When She Was Bad. Angel is a wounded puppy that needs his pride nursed back to life and Buffy (now she has gotten over herself) is ready to oblige. However to give her a taste of her own medicine he turns up at the library with Cordelia on his arm. These two are clearly made for each other if they are willing to go to such childish lengths in order to wind each other up!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Speak English! Not what they speak in…’ ‘England?’
The Good: In a really lovely moment of sexual politics Buffy and Willow sit by a grave and talk about boys whilst Giles and Xander do the physical work of digging up a grave. Its nice to see everything is back to normal with these guys after the lengths the opener went to fracture their friendships. The shot of them all staring down as Buffy opens the grave gave me the warm fuzzy feelings I only get when all the Scoobies are working together to solve a mystery. Mrs Epps sitting in front of the TV smoking is a melancholic image of a mother that has lost her reason to exist after her son died. Giles makes exactly the same comment that I have always made about American Football that it seems absurd that a country that prides itself on its natural virility should strap itself up in so much protection to play a game of rugby! There’s a moment where Daryl stares out longingly at his friends playing football and basking in the cheer of girls which could have been the starting point for a much darker, more subtle episode.
The Bad: The team figuring out what Chris’ endgame is by discovering the pieced together Frankenstein’s bride collage of various women in glossy magazines has to be seen to be believed! This show skips over every other shows point of ridiculous self-parody and then does another couple of hurdles for good measure. Don’t get me wrong, its that confidence that got the show noticed in the first place but sometimes, like here, it can really make your heart sink with the lack of restraint. The characterisation of Chris is a bit all over the place. For somebody who has put together bits of girls to create a girlfriend for his dead brother he seems remarkably squeamish and unexcited by the prospect of finishing his work. And why on Earth is Eric involved? Is he simply a psychopathic misogynist who enjoys abducting women for the purposes of hacking them up? The Buffy stunt double gets her mug in shot on quite a few occasions here! I’m not sure about the ending that seems to want to suggest that Daryl walked into the flames to die with his beloved (who never quite made it off the ground) but the direction shies away from the burning him alive and for all we know he could have survived.
Moment to Watch Out For: Xander performing the James Bond stunt of pushing the trolley through the wall of flame (with Cordelia screaming and tied to it!) is way cool.
Result: Some Assembly Required feels like a leftover season one episode (especially in the sense of its fruitloop premise) but fortunately with its witty dialogue and engaging characterisation of the regulars it is a really fun season one hangover. The emphasis is on this being an ensemble piece but my two favourite characters (Giles and Cordelia) are given plenty of great material and there’s some movement on the Buffy/Angel romance too. The plot is absurd but that’s hardly an original observation about a Buffy episode and it certainly tackles its mock-Frankenstein theme with some confidence and relish. Perhaps a little too much confidence actually and some restraint might have made this a lot creepier and subtle. It’s a generally sunny, silly early Buffy episode that isn’t trying to be great television and is happy to entertain for 45 minutes and have some fun with the shows characters. It succeeds at that admirably, just don’t think about the logic of any of this because your head will explode: 6/10
School Hard written by David Greenwalt and directed by John T. Kretchmer
What’s it about: Big Bad’s in town…
The Chosen One: Buffy is caught between an mother and school Principal with her entire future both social and scholarly hanging in the balance. You really feel for her here because it seems that she cannot please anybody no matter which way she jumps. Joyce pulls out the big guns by saying that she doesn’t want to be disappointed by Buffy again – when it comes to parenting that is the one thing they can say that you can’t answer back to. She’s being pulled in so many directions at once. Giles wants her to fight Vampires, her friends want her to party, her mum wants her to study and her Principal wants her to organise parents day! Buffy tries desperately to keep her mother and Snyder apart but their rendezvous is inevitable and his appraisal of her is as sparkling as you would imagine. For a while it looks like Buffy is for the chop until a gang of slavering vampires attack the school and she gets the chance to show off what she’s really good at. She takes control of the situation, remains level headed when Snyder falls to pieces, shows off her impressive strength and protects her mother. Joyce is just out of eye line as Buffy stakes a vampire and I genuinely thought for a moment that her mother was going to see everything. Buffy has proven that she can look after herself and Joyce is going to sleep better at night knowing that.
Witchy Willow: Willow lets her mouth do the talking without engaging her brain and mutters that if Angel has been dating for 200 years then if he only had two dates a year that would be over 400 women…and then realises that Buffy is staring and shuts up! Buffy’s non-sugar lemonade nearly makes Willow heave.
Gorgeous Geek: Xander puts the curse of ‘what’s the worst thing can happen?’ on Buffy’s parents evening much to the horror of his two friends. I love these guys together. He almost winds up being pre-Slayer nibbles for Angel and Spike!
Undead Brit: ‘Me and Dru…we’re moving in.’ With the arrival of Spike Buffy feels as though it has finally reached its stride. There is something so outrageously over confident about the introduction of this character almost as if the creators knew that they had a massive hit on their hands that makes School Hard a joy to watch. The way he comes crashing through the Sunnydale sign to heavy metal electric guitar chords and lights up a cigarette with his leather jacket kicking around his feet practically redefines the method of introducing a new character in as cool a way as possible. This is a man who has killed a couple of Slayers in his time and loves to brag about it! Two Slayers in one century is quite a record and he’s turned up in Sunnydale to score his Hatrick. Its also the one and only time Spike can prowl around Buffy without her knowing who he is and the scenes of him hunting through the crowd at the Bronze have a real edge to them. He’s the sort of man who wont eat a lackey that’s failed him but enjoys killing him all the same. Spike walks the empty school corridors (empty because undead gang has terrified everybody away) calling out ‘here kitty kitty…’ for the Slayer! In a moment that makes me want to break down and cry at how perfect this show is Spike supplicates before the Annoying One (sorry, Anointed One) before shoving the little brat in a cage, exposing him to sunlight and turning him into a crispy pile of dust! And they say there is no justice in the world!
Mad Hatter: ‘You see Miss Edith if you’d been good you could have watched with the rest…’ God bless Juliet Landau who embodies the role of Drusilla so completely you be wondering if the actress is a complete fruitloop too! She manages to walk a fine line between creepy, unpredictable madness (her lines are out of this world) and sensual sexuality that she exudes with every caress and gaze. Her collection of gagged, bound and dolls with their eyes gouged out say a lot about Drusilla’s character.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Ensuring that there is history between Angel and Spike gives the thus far vacuous character a reason to contribute to the episode. Their shared experiences together would be revealed a piece at a time and make up quite a vivid picture ultimately. There’s a tasty homoerotic rivalry between the two characters that looks like it will be a joy to explore.
Mr Snidey: A wealth of Snyder scenes is just the icing on the cake of this brilliant episode and he gets to be nastier than ever. He considers Buffy and a girl who stabbed a teacher with pruning shears (!!!) to be the worst behaved students at his school and they have a competition to save themselves from expulsion by organising the parent/teacher night! He affects a disapproving tone when relaying this information to them but he is practically frothing at the mouth with delight to see them (or at least Buffy) fearing for her future with the school. Whenever Snyder is around Slayer talk has to somehow be twisted into something normal to great comic effect (‘You’re the Slay…slaves to the television!’). Snyder watches Buffy being dragged out by Joyce with a smug look on his face and you really want him to slip on a banana skin or something. He shows his true colours when the school is attacked and he and Joyce are locked in a classroom together – he’s accusatory, cowardly and lashes out. Unbelievably after practically shoving a teacher to his death Snyder lies through his teeth when the explanations are required and says he tried to convince him otherwise. He really is beyond redemption.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘If every Vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there it would have been like Woodstock!’
‘Even slaves get minimum wage!’ – Cordy, obviously.
‘Use your head…’ says Spike ramming his lackey’s head into the fire glass!
‘Do people still fall for that Anne Rice routine? What a world!’
‘And if you get me out of this I swear I’ll never be mean to anyone ever again unless they really deserve it or its that time of the month in which case I don’t think you or anyone else can hold me responsible…’
‘From now on we’re going to have a little less ritual and little more fun around here!’
The Good: Xander rooting through Buffy’s bag to find a stake and pulling out a sanitary towel is one of the best gags the show ever devised. It made me howl with laughter (especially his reaction!). The visual gag of everybody preparing their weapons and Buffy holding up the fattest sword known to man…only to chop a cucumber with it works a treat too. Greenwalt is really on fire with this script. Spike and his cohorts crashing through the window in slow motion sees him step into Buffy’s world in a very public way. Its odd because we have seen Buffy take on all manner of vampires already but this time it feels really deadly. The director is totally in tune with the script and ensures that these sequences are drenched in darkness and atmospherically lit to enhance the thrilling siege. The teacher who is savaged by vampires with his legs flailing through a window manages to be both very funny and very scary at the same time, a testament to the command of its tone this episode has.
The Bad: Buffy’s partner in crime Sheila is a tad irritating (plus has daft lines like ‘I’m crazy about a Cad!’) but she gets killed horribly throughout the course of the episode and then dusted once she becomes a vampire so alls well with the world. She probably wouldn’t have amounted to much anyway.
Moment to Watch Out For: ‘You get the hell away from my daughter!’ Joyce to the rescue bashing Spike over the head with a fire axe is a real punch the air moment.
Fashion Statement: James Masters with his dyed blond hair and leather jacket is practically sex on legs. Imminently shaggable. And in a creepy, gothy kind of way Drusilla has a smouldering look about her two. To say they are a hotter couple than Buffy and Angel is like saying that the day follows night. For a start both Spike and Dru have personalities whereas only one half of the Buffy/Angel relationship is blessed with one. When Dru cuts Spike’s cheek and licks up the blood and then kisses him with her mouth still teasing with it I was somewhere between repulsed and turned on. These two are going to be incredible fun to watch.
Notes: Spike mentions a Slayer he killed during the Boxer rebellion that we would get to witness in the superb season five episode Fool For Love. Spike says the last Slayer he killed begged for her life. We see that death in Lies My Parents Told Me and Nikki does no such thing. Let’s chalk this down to Spike trying to intimidate Buffy.
Foreboding: In a clever move that sees Snyder’s involvement in the show step a gear he talks to the police afterwards and reveals that he knows all about vampires…
Result: Witty, dark, sexy and effortlessly cool; School Hard is the first classic episode of Buffy and is the first episode where absolutely everything locks into place and the show begins to sing. The introduction of Spike and Drusilla takes the show to a new level of awesome and they leave a glorious trail of devastation in their wake. David Greenwalt has written a script that is brimming with superb gags and witty ripostes but remembers that the heart of this show is in its characters and watching Buffy struggle under the weight of responsibilities piling up on her gives us real insight into her life. Spike reducing the so-naff-he-stunk Kevin to dust is my favourite moment in the series so far and has secured my love for his character from now until his last appearance. The last third of the episode with the school under siege by Spike sees Buffy touch on horror and humour better than any other episode of the series so far. Everybody gets a great moment, Joyce and Snyder feature prominently and it looks as if our new sexy villains are here to stay. You could run out of superlatives for an episode this good. Electrifying viewing: 10/10
Inca Mummy Girl written by Matt Kleine & Joe Reinkemeyer and directed by Ellen S. Pressman
What’s it about: Xander’s got himself a girlfriend but as usual there is a catch. A 500 year old curse catch…
The Chosen One: Buffy is most definitely not looking forward to the school exchange programme. She is an only child (at least at this point in her life) and isn’t used to sharing. Buffy is used to talking with her fists but Willow proves that the non-violent approach can be just as effective. The regulars are starting to recognise how absurd their lives are and when Buffy laughs of the idea of the Mummy Princess coming to life and being a deadly danger to them all they suddenly stop smiling because that is exactly the sort of thing that happens week in, week out on this show!
Ripper: ‘Oh! I know this one! Slaying entails certain sacrifices, blah-blah-biddy-blah…I’m so stuffy, give me a scone!’ Giles thinks it is uncanny that Buffy could sum him up so succinctly!
Witchy Willow: Who hasn’t had that moment when you walk in at precisely the wrong moment? Buffy and Xander discuss the possibilities of a romance between him and Willow and she smiles at his admission of love and then looks dismayed when he says the thought has never crossed his mind. Ouch. Oz makes his first appearance here at exactly the point where Willow’s mooning over Xander is getting a bit stale. Perfect timing. She decides that she has a choice; to wait for Xander to go out with every other girl in the world until he notices her or she can get on with her life. She proves what a lovely friend she is by telling Xander to go to the dance with Ampata even though she wishes it was her. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Willow in that Eskimo costume? She looks adorable!
Gorgeous Geek: Xander needs a vacuous beauty (hey Cordelia!) to fall in love with quickly because his resistance to Buffy coming in the vicinity of another boy is getting increasingly tiresome. I want there to be more to this character than simply going doe-eyed over Buffy. I remember when Simon finally got over the absurd name of this show (it completely bypassed him because he refused to watch a series that sounded so utterly goofy) and watched the entire run. He loved the early seasons but he hated Xander and often got angry every time he jumped in with a not-so-witty one liner every time Buffy was attracted to somebody else. When Ampata revealed herself in all her feminine beauty and the camera practically did that Original Star Trek misty lens effect with Xander I knew I was in for a long hour. Cue Willow jealousy, Xander acting like a goon and Buffy preventing the whole thing from going anywhere when his love turns out to be some long lost even from the past. Its like we learnt nothing from Teacher’s Pet. For some bizarre reason Xander talks to Ampata as though she is retarded – I have never quite understood why people talk to foreigners like they are inbred simpletons. I have often found that clear, concise English works a lot better than slurring your speech and adopting a child friendly voice. At least he warns Ampata not to learn from his example! Girls always tell Xander he is strange before they run away and maybe it has something to do with the fact that he stuffs entire twinkies into his gob and keeps talking. He tells Buffy to be careful as he heads off to the dance with a 500 year old, life sucking Inca princess. How dense can you get?
The Good: The director is working overtime to make the climax at least look good and the atmospheric lighting and silhouetting as Xander and Ampata kiss (plus the excellent music) is very evocative. Its really fun to watch just Buffy and Giles working together. She takes the piss out of him in all the best ways. More please.
The Bad: Why is there such a wealth of crazed students at Sunnydale High? Why isn’t there some kind of structured counselling programme? Remember that nut job Marcie Ross? Or fruitloop Eric in Some Assembly Required who wanted to make a Frankenstein’s monster woman out of parts of perfectly ordinary women for no reason whatsoever? This week its bad boy Rodney (can you really be a bad boy with a name like Rodney?) who breaks into the museum (is that the coolest place he could think of?) and kick starts the whole Inca Mummy Curse nonsense that fuels this episode. This is one of those episodes where we are fifteen steps ahead of the regulars (The X-Files has been known to be guilty of this rather a lot too) and are waiting for them to catch up and realise just what Ampata is all about. Its especially galling here because the Scoobies mention about five minutes in precisely what the plot is all about and then promptly forget about it so we can watch them figure it all out again. The ninja warrior (of which nobody seems to react to despite the fact that he attacks Xander in public) points at Ampata and cries ‘its you!’ and he still doesn’t quite cotton on that she is at the centre of things. Then Ampata starts going off on a wistful trip down memory lane about the Inca Princess to Buffy as if talking from personal experience. How much more do they need? Considering she is over 500 years old Ampata seems to fit into modern day American life with ease – shouldn’t we see her reaction to modern technology/customs/behaviour? Ampata has the biggest suitcase (sorry, trunk) known to mankind and inside is a shrunken, desiccated corpse which is what finally leads Giles and Buffy to the conclusion that she is the Inca princess. Subtle much? A quick fight, a smashed tablet and the episode is over. They weren’t even trying this week, were they?
Moment to Watch Out For: ‘Who is that girl?’ says Oz to Willow in her Eskimo outfit. Yes that’s really as good as it gets.
Fashion Statement: Willow’s amazing collection hats continues to dazzle and she is a cute as ever in each and every one. The one aspect of this story I can entirely agree with is Xander’s appreciation of Ampata – Ara Celi is an extremely beautiful young lady.
Result: If School Hard showed the direction that Buffy should be going in Inca Mummy Girl is a massive step backwards into the season one ‘light entertainment’ mould and its not a move in its favour. I have absolute no interest in Inca curses and after what I have seen in this episode it hasn’t piqued my curiosity to find out more either. It’s a half baked mystery with no surprises and regulars behaving in a really clueless way when they aren’t discussing their love triangle which has long since lost its ability to entertain. Soon Willow will have Oz, Xander will have Cordelia (God help him!) and Buffy can pursue Angel without complaint (mostly) and all three developments cannot come fast enough. I don’t really know what to say about an episode like Inca Mummy Girl since it seems so misjudged in its intentions and fails to work as either a romance or as a historical/supernatural thriller. It feels like Buffy going through the motions with the odd witty quip and moment of inspired direction to keep me interested. Its hard to invest in a love affair that we know is doomed to failiure (at least with Buffy and Angel there was a chance it could work out) and one where Brendon and Celi lack even basic chemistry (he talks to her like she’s dumb and dumber). The best thing on offer here are the first appearances of Oz and Jonathan: 4/10
Reptile Boy written and directed by David Greenwalt
What’s it about: Cordelia is going after college boys and they are looking to feed her to a giant snake…
The Chosen One: The best thing on offer in this entire episode (the same was true of Inca Mummy Girl) is the wonderful chemistry between Buffy, Willow and Xander as exemplified by the three of them sitting in Buffy’s bedroom watching an inexplicable Bollywood musical. Buffy is charmed by possibly the least attractive college senior in history with some of the lamest chat up lines I have ever heard. Is everybody taking stupid pills this week? I genuinely thought that the sequence where Buffy and Angel were discussing their feelings in the most dramatic of fashions in the graveyard was a dream sequence. The dialogue was melodramatic enough but when he grabbed her so tight and looked painfully into her eyes I felt as though there was a punchline on the way that never came. That was all for real? How did Gellar and Boreanaz get through that without laughing? Its strange because what with her experience with college boys here you would think that Buffy would have been more than prepared to handle a loser like Parker who preys on her at university but she makes the same mistakes all over again. We manage to reach the conclusion that Buffy and Angel will have coffee at some point in the future. That was worth waiting 45 minutes for.
Ripper: Giles lecturing Buffy here feels rather tired because its exactly the sort of sermon he has given her for a year and a half and besides he’s been behaving like a lovesick teenager himself at points this year. There’s nothing new to any of this material, it just feels like Giles giving Buffy a hard time simply because that is what he does. David Greenwalt is a bad man for wasting such a great character in this way. When he waited outside the school watching her being chatted up by boys and tapping his watch angrily I thought the character was more of a parody of himself! What happened to that delightful lovesick Brit from Some Assembly Required? He decides that almost being eaten by a giant snake is punishment enough and he is going to be less hard on her in the future. It feels as though Giles has been this tough on her throughout Reptile Boy just so he can reach this conclusion rendering the whole project worthless. The idea of him giving her a little more leeway is nice in theory, let’s see if it works in practice.
Witchy Willow: Willow is very quietly becoming the dominant character in this show by simply being the warmest and her glorious mad rant at Giles and Angel is a real highlight. It works so well here that they choose to repeat its success to even more effect in Phases.
Gorgeous Geek: Xander is still chasing around after Buffy disapproving of every man that she bats her eyelids at. Somebody get this character out of this hole. He needs something else to do, stat.
Caustic Cordy: Desperate to make more contact with boys (really?) Cordelia is learning that in order to keep his attention you have to set the female rights movement back about 50 years. Personally I don’t think its worth it. When she does laugh outrageously in the face of her college boy boyfriend Cordelia comes across as somebody who doesn’t have a clue and I don’t like that. She’s smart and sassy and shouldn’t be treated as a socially impeded comic relief. When she scores a date with the hottest college senior who happens to come from a really wealthy background Cordelia starts thinking about all the poor people she could help with all that money at her disposal! I prefer it when Cordy is show to have moments of depth rather than simply living up to her vacuous exterior as she does here. She’s so vile to Buffy in their pre-party chat and even more horrid at the party itself – if I were Buffy I would go out of my way to make her look like an idiot. In the climax Cordelia is reduced to a shrieking, screaming Violet who contributes noting (not even a line or two of scathing wit). Unthinkable.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You could ask him for coffee some night. It’s the non relationship drink of choice. Its not a date, it’s a caffinated beverage! Okay so its hot and bitter like a relationship…’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Let her go Wormy!’ – yeah that’s as witty as this gets!
The Bad: The party scenes fell completely flat for me. They aren’t injected with enough energy and humour to convince and I hate the way Xander is made to look like such an idiot and Buffy a loner. Shoving Xander in a blonde wig and bra and publicly humiliating him is not my idea of fun. Where did the reptile monster come from? Why are the college boys feeding it high school girls? Like Inca Mummy Girl it looks like the last amount of effort has been put into trying to explain away why the ‘weird shit of the week’ is going on. I’m just not used to writing this lazy in Buffy. Also the giant snake on offer here is pretty embarrassing (not Hellmouth creature embarrassing but I doubt anybody would mistake this for the real thing) and the production really should have remembered this when it came to series five and Glory’s pet snake.
Fashion Statement: Both Buffy and Cordelia look gorgeous when they try and dress up for the college boys so I guess there are moments when this episode is at least aesthetically pleasing.
Result: The opening salvo of episodes in season two strikes me as a show in crisis. We’ve had an episode where the series lead completely alienates everybody around her in a pointless way, a nuts’n’bolts Frankenstein parody that lacked cohesion, a dreadful romance tale about Inca Mummy and now a stultifyingly awkward coming of age story for Buffy and Cordelia featuring a giant ravenous worm. School Hard was in there as well somewhere proving to be the exception to the rule but on the whole the show has felt brainless and completely without direction or class. And don’t give me any of this guff about episodes being so bad they’re good because no show should ever set out to produce a run of episodes that feels this tired. Buffy needs a clean sweep and fast. It needs to grow up. Fortunately that is exactly what is coming around the corner so I wont give up hope. Its not just that the central storyline of this episode is predictable and makes the characters look like idiots (again) but the show seems to be taking the easiest route possible by having all of its characters (especially Giles and Cordelia) and making them behave in a predictable, functional way. This is Buffy at its most obvious with nobody given the chance to be especially funny or surprising which is unthinkable with this ensemble. There’s no plot for the first half of the episode but when it does show up and Buffy and Cordelia are at the mercy of a giant b-movie monster at the sorority house you’ll wish that they hadn’t bothered. Reptile Boy feels like a bad 80s teen movie for much of its duration which is some feat considering that it was made a decade later and with all the benefit of hindsight: 3/10
Halloween written by Carl Ellsworth and directed by Bruce Seth Green
What’s it about: Halloween costumes taking over their owners and turning them into monsters? Who ever said Halloween was the quietest night of the year?
The Chosen One: If Buffy herself stops thinking that she can have a normal life then it definitely isn’t going to happen. Somebody needs to shake that girl and tell her to stop feeling sorry for herself and to get out there and have some fun! Perfectly timed then, Gellar gets to play some prime comedy as she has to try and keep Giles looking one way whilst Willow sneaks about behind his back and her ‘Ms Calendar said you’re a babe!’ made me laugh out loud. The last resort of the desperate! Buffy looks back at the sort of women that Angel used to like and finds the idea of the indulgent lifestyle of the upper classes in the past a wonderful dream to luxuriate in. Fabulous gowns, balls, servants…more fabulous gowns. And no rough and tumble my hair has foliage in it slaying! Its so weird seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar playing the girl strapped on the railroad tracks after her empowered Buffy has blazed across the screens for over a season. It’s a hard adjustment to make but she sure gives it her all, screaming and fainting and the like. When Buffy returns (‘hi honey, I’m home!’) its worth a mental high five because I wouldn’t have her any other way. Its nice to have her reminded by Angel that she is perfect just the way she is.
Ripper: ‘They have no idea where you come from…’ As disgusting as Buffy finds the contemplation of adults indulging in smooches she gives Giles the advice to go for it with Jenny. Amen! There’s a wonderful, wonderful moment where Ethan and Giles meet and the shopkeeper reveals that the doddery old librarian routine might be nothing more than an act to hide what Giles is really capable of. There’s talk of a sordid past that might one day soon come back to haunt him. Ooh…the sooner the better. When Giles lamps his old friend he looks truly dangerous. More of this please.
Witchy Willow: ‘Who is that girl?’ Willow continues to bewitch as she convinces Buffy to sneak into the library and steal the Watcher diaries so they can read up on Angel’s past. The shot of the two of them framed in the library doorway about to get up to some prime mischief is adorable. Willow basically shoves Buffy through the door and when Giles catches the Slayer she will not be coaxed in to grab the booty whilst Giles is distracted! Halloween is the perfect chance to come as you aren’t and get sexy and wild with no repercussions. Unfortunately sexy and wild aren’t Willow’s strong points and needs a little coaxing from Buffy to get her to indulge. The only way to make Willow even cuter than she already is decked out in a ridiculous ghost costume is to have her bump into Oz in the corridor. These two are just made for each other. Mind you I’m not sure if my TV can take the dose of sweetness if they ever get together – my reaction will be pretty much the same as whenever I see a fluffy duckling taking his first waddle or penguin protecting his young. D’awwww!
Gorgeous Geek: It’s the first Xander/Larry scene where the school bully asks him if he is going out with Buffy. Xander thinks this is because Larry has the hots for Buffy. Oh if only he knew… If Buffy had saved me from a pummelling by a rock solid beast like Larry I would be eternally grateful and not throw it back in her face like Xander does here. Maybe I’m just too old to understand teenagers anymore! His eye rolling forgiveness scene almost makes up for his extreme overreaction – I can’t stay mad at this guy for long. Xander is the perfect person to go trick or treating with because a) he is a big kid himself and b) he knows all the little tricks to get extra candy!
Caustic Cordy: Whilst it turns out to be a salient plot point I thought the joke was going to be that Cordelia didn’t change because she already has all the characteristics of a cat. A lazy, self obsessed egomaniac who controls all who are around her! Xander spells out that she is never going to get between Angel and Buffy ad he speaks from experience. They look at each other and part company. When are you guys going to realise?
Undead Brit: As if he has the Midas touch that turns everything into gold Spike returns to the series and suddenly it is back at the top of its game. I’m not necessarily saying the two things are connected but it is a remarkable co-incidence. He sends his minions out to record Buffy in action so he can anticipate her moves, it’s a lovely modern take on spying on the enemy. Of course Spike adores all the chaos that Ethan’s scheme causes and he takes full advantage of it to get his revenge on the Slayer.
Mad Hatter: Drusilla proves to be more than a nut job dolly bird when she prophecies the Halloween costume switches. Beyond her obvious aesthetic qualities you can see why Spike keeps her around with that kind of intel at her fingertips.
Puppy Dog Eyes: ‘Like a Care Bear with fangs?’ When Cordelia described Angel as such (plus her extreme non reaction to him being a vampire) I was laughing my head off! That is such an apt description for such a bland character!
Mr Snidey: Buffy, Xander and Willow were never going to sign up for the ‘look after a pack of sugar hyped runts’ scheme so it’s a good thing there is Snyder there to make their lives as hellish as possible and force them to do it. Where would we be without him?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When it comes to dating, I’m the Slayer.’
‘She couldn’t have dressed up like Xena?’
‘We must have some kind of amnesia!’ ‘I don’t know what that is but I’m certain I don’t have it! I bathe quite often!’
‘Its good to be me!’ – this seems to be the moral of the story and with Willow’s sexy march through the streets at the end its one that you cant help but endorse wholeheartedly.
The Good: The ‘For Every Generation…’ intro has been axed! Hooray! I guess they figured if you aren’t a fan this far into the show then you don’t have any right to have the series premise spelt out to you every week! I love the cut to Buffy being video recorded in black and white because it offers a fresh look at what has become a familiar sight (plus video looks so much more dramatic when switched to like this). Robin Sachs proves to be a great choice to play Ethan because he understands both the dramatic and comic potential of the character. All the best Buffy villains (the Master, Spike, Glory) have the ability to make you laugh whilst also making you sit up and pay attention when they indulge in the arcane. So whilst he’s an over the top character with more verbal swordplay than your average costume shop owner (although a lot of that comes later in the episodes The Dark Age, Band Candy and A New Man) you still take him seriously when he performs a ritual positively dripping with sweat. I’m not sure what’s more fun; the idea of turning kids into monsters (and a more apt metaphor I don’t think Buffy ever indulged in!) or the chance to see the regulars play very different characters (which almost beyond exception is a terrific laugh). Watching the kiddie monster choke the old woman to death is bloody funny! Rather than going for the obvious (Buffy could have so easily have been Boudica and Willow a witch or something similar to their characters) we got some lovely role reversals with Buffy the shrieking monarch, Xander the buff soldier (yes please!) and Willow enjoying the powers of a ghost! The image of Spike roaming through the darkness with all kinds of skullthuggery backing him up made me want to applaud. It reminded me of a similar scene that was shot in the shows premiere with Darla and has exactly the same kind of hip energy. The darkly scored last scene promises that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Ethan Raine. Oh I do hope not.
Moment to Watch Out For: Giles’ index card flying reaction to Willow walking through the wall. I’m still laughing.
Fashion Statement: Is it just me or is the bright pink gown that Buffy chooses absolutely hideous? In fact I really cannot see much difference between this haughty dark haired upper class Buffy and the grunting primate she becomes in Beer Bad. They have very similar haggard hairstyles! Willow looks like spectacular white trash in her skimpy top and tiny skirt but she’s right when she says the look doesn’t suit her. For one night of high jinks its fine but I like my Willow in her silly hats and colourful jumpers. Xander in his army slacks…wow. Mind you he doesn’t quite fill out that tank top but the result is still extremely easy on the eye (if you’re a geek freak like me…).
Foreboding: Please pay attention to Xander’s ‘sexy army training’ (as it later becomes known) because it is referenced many times over the years and used as a method of extraditing them from more than one proverbial pickle in the future!
Result: Packed with witty lines and visual gags, Halloween is a terrifically energetic episode that delights from beginning to end. Like Reptile Boy the plot takes over half the episode to kick in but unlike Reptile Boy the first half is one delightful character moment after another with lots of insight into Buffy and Willow. Then brilliantly things get even better as the episode steps up a notch and turns all the kids in monsters and Buffy, Willow and Xander all take on very different roles to those they are accustomed to. The action is non stop, it’s a perfect chance to fill the screen with ghouls, the jokes are genuinely very funny and it’s a completely unique kind of danger that removes Buffy from the solution in a very imaginative way. If that wasn’t enough Spike is back and revelling in all the havoc and he gets another fine confrontation with Buffy. Willow is wonderfully bossy, Xander’s breaking me out in sweats every time he grips his gun and Cordelia is firing off one great line after another. We even get to explore some Giles’ shady past. This is completely and utterly bonkers and joyful viewing. A spectacular return to form: 9/10
Lie to Me written and directed by Joss Whedon
What’s it about: Buffy’s first crush turns up in Sunnydale with a plan to become one of the undead…
The Chosen One: The quality of mercy is definitely not Buffy and she gives Willow and Xander the brush off when she discovers they have been looking into Ford behind her back. To be fair to learn you are the only one not involved in this conspiracy must feel like a betrayal. Sarah Michelle Gellar is always excellent at playing defiant rage and she excels herself here when she rails at the vampire wanabees and demands answers from Ford. Buffy makes an excellent point about being turned into a vampire that is easy for even the audience to forget – once you have turned a demon has set up in your body and it walks and talks like you but it isn’t you. Buffy understands Ford perfectly, she gets that he wants to have a climactic moment of melodrama before the final confrontation and she gives it to him whilst still condemning him. I love her unforgiving nature at the conclusion when she locks Ford in with Spike knowing that he will murder him. It’s a dark side to her character that I hope we see more of.
Ripper: Jenny and Giles have their second date here and ‘just for a change’ she takes him to monster trucks. A shame the budget couldn’t stretch to a little scene with them there because I would have loved to have seen Giles’ reaction to the ‘nitro burning funny cars!’ The clever thing about Joss Whedon is that you don’t realise he is pushing this relationship on for a reason. What seems like a harmless and amusing subplot actually has a lot of relevance because Whedon is ensuring that we can see these two enjoying each others company ready for the fireworks in the next episode. Giles’ defiant ‘it took one of my books!’ made me laugh. He can get so worked up about these things. The closing scene between Buffy and Giles is gorgeous, in a moment of emotional turmoil he is the one person she can totally rely on.
Witchy Willow: Willow invites Angel into her bedroom (which is an act she will come to regret) and is quick to try and hide away her underwear! The second Angel asks Willow to keep their investigations into Ford a secret she is immediately cagey, awkward and tries to run away from Buffy at every opportunity. She is so adorable.
Gorgeous Geek: Ford brings out Xander’s least attractive (and some might say only these days) feature – his jealous streak when it comes to all things Buffy. Although his line ‘doesn’t she know any fat guys?’ did make me chuckle.
Undead Brit: Grumblings of jealousy from Spike about Angel and Drusilla talking. Turns out Spike is as good as his word and does sire Ford even though his plan to kill Buffy goes out of the window. Who would have thought he was an honourable vampire?
Mad Hatter: Drusilla proves to be much scarier than I ever envisaged she could be as she approaches the little boy in the park and slowly advances on him and asks what his mother will say when she finds him dead. Lie to Me hints at a dark, lustful past between Angel and Dru that will be joy to explore further. Angel admits that Drusilla was an obsession of his when he was a vampire. He made her insane, killed everybody she loved and visited every mental torture on her he could devise. And then he turned her into a vampire (on the day she took her holy orders). Cleverly Buffy goes for the one weakness that Spike has – his love of Drusilla. Upon threatening to stake her he orders his minions to stop feasting.
Caustic Cordy: Trust Cordy to relate to Marie Antoinette because she worked really hard to look as good as she did and nobody appreciated it! ‘She cared about them! She was going to let them have cake!’
Puppy Dog Eyes: With his red lips and pasty face, Angel really has a look of Edward Cullen about him in this episode. Which I guess means Edward Cullen stole his look from Angel. Something else we have to thank him for.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve known you for two minutes and I can’t stand you. I don’t really feature you living forever!’ Spike proves to be an excellent judge of character.
‘Angel was in your bedroom?’ ‘Ours is a forbidden love.’
‘My God could you have a dorkier outfit?’
‘You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice but you have a choice.’
‘What do you want me to say?’ ‘Lie to me’ ‘Yes its terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats. And we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and everyone lives happily ever after’ ‘Liar.’
The Good: You can usually tell when Joss Whedon is back in the directors chair because every element of the show is that little bit shinier and watching the pre credits sequence I was struck at how sinister the dialogue, performances and even the lighting were. The episode gets a whole lot more interesting when Buffy is told about Ford’s little secret because suddenly they are playing a game with each other. Each knows something they think the other doesn’t and Whedon uses disorienting handheld camerawork to set the tone. The twist that Ford was leading Buffy into a trap all along comes out of the blue. The music and lighting when Buffy realises she is trapped illicits a feeling of claustrophobia – suddenly things feel really dangerous.
The Bad: Enter Ford, Buffy’s childhood crush from LA newly transferred to Sunnydale High. It’s a lovely idea to bring some of Buffy’s (thus far) murky past into the present but unfortunately Whedon chooses one of the least charismatic actors to fill the role. Jason Behr was by far the dullest thing about (the fairly dull anyway) Roswell and enjoys the Kristen Stewart acting method of conveying every single emotion with a faceless pout. Shoehorned into a new role for Buffy he is practically the same character; dour, expressionless and desperately uninteresting. This is a guy who is dying and wants to turn into a Vampire so he can choose when he dies and stay pretty. How hollow. And in doing so he chooses to involve a bunch of very innocent and easily led losers and turn them into food for the undead. He’s just not very nice, is he? But not in an interesting way. In more of a ‘I write long dreary poetry because I’m beset with angst’ way. He’s a loser who has been watching far too many movies and wants this whole scenario to play out like one. Didn’t we do all of this Buffy has a boyfriend and Angel gets jealous last season in Never Kill a Boy on a First Date? Out of the three – Angel, Owen or Ford – it would be hard to choose who is the dullest. Somehow when Buffy loses Angel she winds up with somebody even duller. Her taste in men sucks…until about season six. I wasn’t sure whether to stick this next comment in section above because I think Whedon is trying to make the wannabe vampires to look as cringeworthy as possible but he succeeds a little too well. The glam nerd with the purple velvet cape on is so embarrassing to watch he makes the Jonathan, Andrew and Warren look like the cast of 90210. The ‘other viewpoints than yours might be valid, you know’ gal sounds like every other internet geek in a row with another internet geek.
Moment to Watch Out For: When Spike enters the lair of the wanabees with his face drenched in shadows he is a genuinely intimidating threat. No gags, just ugly death come to play.
Fashion Statement: To some people Jason Behr is practically edible (my husband is one of those nutters) but he is a little too plain for me. On the plus side Buffy looks hotter as every episode passes.
Result: You might get the impression from reading this review that I didn’t like Lie to Me when I found it one of the better season two episodes so far. My two biggest complaints – that Ford is a deeply uninteresting character and the vampire wannabes are sadness personified – probably shouldn’t be complaints because at least one of those is deliberate (and I would argue that we are supposed to find Ford a bit tedious too). Whedon fails to get to the heart of these characters in the way that he does so well with the regulars and also repeats some of the Angel jealousy nonsense that was tiresome the first time round. Despite those problems there is much to recommend this episode. There’s a probing look at Drusilla that aches to be explored further (watch this space), more cuteness from Jenny and Giles, some terrific dialogue and standout direction (especially at the conclusion). What really stood out though was Sarah Michelle Gellar who has always given 100% but is excellent here, especially in the climax where she confronts Ford. When She Was Bad was okay, Lie to Me is good and when we get to Innocence Joss Whedon’s learning curve is complete and he has worked through the stages to write the perfect Buffy episode. This is within the grasp of greatness but it doesn’t quite make it (mostly it is held up by a soporific performance by Jason Behr) but there are many memorable moments all the same: 7/10
The Dark Age written by Dean Batali & Rob Des Hotel and directed by Bruce Seth Green
What’s it about: Giles’ past come back to haunt him and opens up a little window to his controversial past…
The Chosen One: How interesting to force a role reversal on Buffy and Giles and to have her become his Watcher for an episode. Its foreshadowing for the sullen, more mature Buffy of seasons five, six and seven and surprisingly seems to be a role that suits her rather well. There’s a wonderful little moment when Giles is pouring his heart out to Buffy and she has to turn away from him in disgust. How the mighty have fallen. For once it feels as though Buffy is in actual danger once she has been tattooed with the mark of Eyghon. This is one demon that she cannot fight because it will live under her skin. Buffy understands Giles more as a result of these events, how he doesn’t have a choice in his calling and how similar they are in that respect.
Ripper: ‘Why did he call him Ripper?’ An episode that is entirely centred on Giles – could anything be finer? When he and Ms Calendar walk along the corridor with moon eyes for each other the Scoobies can barely contain their vomit. Nobody ever seems to tell him he is anything else but a fuddy-duddy and Jenny enjoys winding him up by pretending that she has dog eared and marked pages in his most precious books! Finally their relationship is moving up a level and Jenny is making plans to stay a Giles’ for the weekend (hubba hubba!). Giles is one of those people who it is easy to spot if something is wrong because he always lives his life in such a fastidious fashion so when he starts missing appointments and drinking alone there are massive signs that there is a problem. The thought that Giles used to be a tearaway delinquent in his childhood and one that performed all manner of dangerous satanic rites to defy authority is frightening and makes sense of an awful lot of things. Especially why he is so stuffy these days. It also helps that this episode has an actor as strong as Anthony Head to bring its dark ideas to life and when he stares into a mirror and says ‘you’re back’ it is a genuinely ominous moment. What really surprised me was how easily Giles could step back into the bully boy role, grabbing Ethan by the ear and looking for all the world as though he is about to rip it off. He takes his glasses off and with eyes blazing he tells Buffy to mind her own business and you can see that he means it. This new on the edge Giles is an absolutely gripping character and one that I hope we see a lot more of. He hated the tedious grind of study and the overwhelming responsibility of his destiny and so he dropped out and moved to London and fell in with the worst crowd that would have him. They say the course of true love never runs smooth and rarely is that more appropriate than with Giles and Jenny and just as they are about to seal the deal (if we are going to be British about this) she is possessed by a demon from his past and it frightens her away from him. Perhaps nobody in this group is destined to be in a happy relationship simply because of their calling. The hurt puppy look on his face when Jenny utters the words ‘some time…’ at the conclusion might just break your heart. It sure did mine.
Witchy Willow: The very idea of Giles drinking is antithetical to her understanding of his character and she asks in a desperate squeal ‘tea, right?’
Caustic Cordy: Cordelia gets to have a fabulous rant about having to read a book on computers when the whole point of computers is to replace books whilst it the same time completely missing out on the fact that the police have come to escort Giles away. Her self importance knows no bounds and long may it stay that way! I love the idea of Xander needing Buffy to sit between him and Cordelia to demilitarise the area between them! She’s clearly been paying attention to Buffy and lands a perfectly timed high kick at Ethan and stops him from escaping. Clearly this is past the point of no return for Cordelia where she actually volunteers to spend time with the Scoobies to help Giles. Her integration into this group is ongoing and would eventually be addressed amongst her own friends in Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Are you kidding? His diapers were tweed!’
‘The first thing we’re going to do is…Buffy!’ ‘Huh? Did I fall asleep already?’
‘This is what happens when you have school on Saturday…’
The Good: The pre titles sequence seems to be a lot moodier than usual (Lie to Me started this promising new tradition) with a fantastic Christophe Beck score and a particularly grisly looking zombie attacking a friend who is visiting Giles. It looks like the preamble to a dark and distressing episode and fortunately that is exactly what it turns out to be. The nightmarish flashbacks back to Giles childhood and the dangerous ritual that he and friends performed are genuinely freaky and the graded look of them really suggest the seventies. Since this episode I have been known to play ‘anywhere but here.’ Sad, but true. I’ve seen effects and contacts added to peoples eyes to make them look scarier before but the cat-like slit that they employ here really gets under my skin. Robin Sachs was a delight in his first story but it given much more screen time here and despite the fact that he is a rakish rogue who is only out for himself you cannot help but like him (‘I hope you’re not taking this personally Buffy. I actually quite like you…the trouble is I quite like myself a lot more…’). Is this the first time we’ve visited Giles’ house? Its moodily lit here but would go on to be a central hub of the show during series four. Although I am the only who finds that massive window in the kitchen a little weird? Robia LaMorte is too good at playing the possessed, vampish Eyghon and I was quite discomforted during those scenes. The subtly done make up that makes her look like a demon without losing the fact that this is still clearly Jenny seals the deal. Between the writers, the director, the make up artist and the actress this is the most frightening villain yet to appear in Buffy. There are some fantastic window smashing stunts too. Ethan is willing to sacrifice Buffy and burn the mark off his arm with acid in order to get Eyghon off his scent. Wow, that’s nasty. I love the creepy silhouette of Jenny at the fancy dress store door…that’s some bloody scary lighting. Fascinating that Angel should save Jenny’s life here given what he does to her later in the season and its an ingenious solution on Willow’s part to have the two demons fight it out inside of him (the vampire whoops Eyghon’s ass of course).
The Bad: The whole sequence where Buffy prevents the vampires from stealing the transfusion blood is superfluous (although I have to say it is pretty cute watching her and Angel fight side by side). Jenny’s possession is signposted with big red arrows when her hand is dropped into shot as Philip melts away. It might have been nicer if this was one time that we weren’t ahead of the characters are were surprised along with them.
Moment to Watch Out For: My favourite moment was entirely disconnected from the main plot (as good as that is for the most part) but a demonstration of why Buffy is one of the greatest shows on television – its characters and their interaction. Whilst Giles is falling into disrepair and Buffy is about to be tattooed with the mark of Eyghon, Cordelia, Xander and Willow are all in the library chained to the books to try and think of a way out of this. The simmering sexual tension between Cordy and Xander bubbles over and they almost get into a cat fight which gives Willow the chance to have another of her wonderfully bossy rants (‘Get the hell out of my library!’). Its so much fun being around these people even when the chips are down and Alison Hannigan continues to slowly, quietly become the star of this show.
Result: A genuinely spine chilling piece of horror and not at all the cut price Exorcist that it has been referred to. Possession is a hard menace to pull off without sinking the show into melodrama or dragging some appalling performances out of great actors (many great shows have fallen victim to this) but Buffy succeeds with some subtly menacing camerawork, a creepy musical score and some restrained effects. The chance to learn some more about Giles and give Anthony Head some adult material (as opposed to wagging his finger at Buffy sternly) is delightful and I love the fact that they go down the route of him having been a right tearaway in his youth and suffering the consequences for it now. There’s some dramatic developments in Giles’ blossoming relationship with Jenny and Ethan Rayne’s reappearance is an unexpected delight. The Buffy/Giles relationship is proving to be a surprisingly rich one and both Lie to Me and The Dark Age climax on a very touching moment for the pair of them. Season two continues to improve: 8/10
What’s My Line Part I written by Howard Gordon & Marti Noxon and directed by David Solomon
What’s it about: Slayers and assassins and a career choices…
The Chosen One: Buffy sees no point in indulging in Career Week when her whole life has been mapped out before her. Oh if only she knew the changes that the future would bring. Angel is the one freaky thing in her freaky world that makes sense. Frustratingly the one thing she wants but can never have is a normal life. When her parents used to fight all the time Buffy used to like ice skating because it took her away from it all. It’s a shame that this was only mentioned in this episode and dropped again afterwards because it might help in later years when Buffy becomes all about duty to have something fun to fall back on. Her test comes back and assigns her to a week with law enforcement which Buffy balks at but I actually think would be a sound career choice for her given her calling. When it comes to the book learning Buffy totally contributes…she is the snack girl!
Ripper: Giles has been indexing the Watcher Diaries and even he is amazed at how numbingly dull and pompous his predecessors were. When things get serious Giles snaps at Xander to stop making silly remarks.
Witchy Willow: How lovely that Willow and Oz finally get to meet. Get it together already!
Gorgeous Geek: Xander would rather not suck all the spontaneity out of being young and stupid than complete a multiple choice test which is supposed to determine what career you are supposed to have when you are older. When it comes to questions like ‘do you like shrubs?’ you have to wonder what sort of special needs committee assembled this quiz. He states that he will always be stupid which is something that you can always guarantee with Xander with moments of brilliance scattered about.
Undead Brit: There is something violent and sexy about Spike’s relationship with Drusilla that always makes it quite edgy to watch. When he reacts to her mad ramblings I’m never sure whether he is going to hit her or shag her. I seriously wanted Spike to get on and do something rather than hanging about in his lair and bitching on about how much he hates Buffy. He’s starting to sound just like the Master!
Caustic Cordy: From the quiz Cordy’s job suggestions are personal shopper (I can see her loving telling people what to buy) or motivational speaker (in a deranged sort of way). Her and Xander’s bitching has reached its apotheosis and something has got to blow soon. No two people can direct this much bile at each other without wanting to leap into each others arms.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Buffy stroking his face when he is vamped up and telling him that she didn’t even notice is very sweet. Angel is finally taking matters into his own hands and seeking out Spike and Drusilla.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Whatever comes out of your mouth is a meaningless waste of breath. An airbourne toxic event.’
‘Don’t warn the tadpoles!’
The Good: Seriously it is like somebody flicks a switch halfway through the episode and suddenly assassins are on the move (I love the sudden scream that melts into the plane roaring overhead) and a new face in Sunnydale that threatens Buffy’s standing as the Slayer. There’s a very clever cheat suggesting that Kendra is one of the Order here to kill Buffy because she turns up in the episode at exactly the same time as they do. Whilst they (once again) hold back the plot, the ice skating scenes do have a very important function of showing the more romantic side to Angel before his transformation later in the season. David Solomon directs these scenes with a sensitive touch and for once I could really buy into the Buffy/Angel relationship because they were simply enjoying themselves rather than holding onto each other melodramatically and arguing about the latest threat to Sunnydale. Not even a (really ugly) assassin is going to spoil their fun time. I love the creepy salesman that is made out of maggots (that’s a really nasty effect and well achieved) who kills Buffy’s neighbour just so he can keep an eye on her house. After Buffy realises that her card is marked suddenly every sound, every glance, every sudden moment makes her jump. Its unusual to see her this frightened and very effective. Its nice to be completely in the dark for a change and Kendra suddenly attacking Angel generated a real feeling of ‘what the hell is going on?’ which I haven’t felt that much of in season two so far.
The Bad: Whilst none of the material in the first half of the episode isn’t exactly what I would call bad, it isn’t particularly inspiring either. Why does it take some Buffy episodes over half their running time to get the plot kick started? It was a relied in The Dark Age when the plot was apparent during the pre titles sequence. Character scenes have their place but not stacked up against each other and getting in the way of a decent narrative. Giles’ ominous warning of ‘something’s coming…’ should have been in the pre-titles sequence and not 20 minutes into the episode. If Kendra is a Slayer then why doesn’t she just stake Angel instead of locking him up?
Moment to Watch Out For: Buffy is one of the best shows for shoving a ‘OH MY GOD!’ twist in your face and barely giving you time to react and take it in. There were many times during the series’ run where I was left pointing at the screen going ‘but…but…’ When Angel turned into a vampire was one such time. And the cliffhanger to this episode was another. Kendra is a vampire Slayer? Suddenly the show is changing the rules and opening a whole new can of worms. It’s a great moment (although I think my shock at Kendra’s appalling accent contributed to my shock too!).
Notes: There’s a number of firsts in this episode. It’s the first time there is an X-Files/Buffy crossover with the writer of the previous episode that I watched (Firewalker) turning up to make a one off contribution to Buffy. Marti Noxon makes her first appearance and she would go on to become a very important figure for the show in later years and write some very memorable episodes. Director David Solomon is another name we will be hearing a lot of and he will go on to direct the odd episode in the next couple of seasons before becoming a more frequent contributor from series four onwards. To be frank a lot of his episodes are the worst of their respective years (although it is nearly always down to the writing rather than the direction) but there are some gems scattered along the way (The Prom, Wild at Heart, Wrecked).
Result: Despite a stunted first 20 minutes where nothing seems to happen, What’s My Line Part I is excellent when it kicks into life in the second half. You can definitely understand why Marti Noxon went onto to become an important figure in Buffy because she clearly understands these characters. The dialogue is sharper than ever and yet she knows when to stop making wisecracks and to give the show a sense of gravitas. There’s a sense that everything is building here, not just to a conclusion in the next weeks episode but that all the little elements are being slotted into place (especially the scene where Buffy visits Angel’s pad for the first time and the first appearance of Willy) so that the show can explode into life in the second half of the season. Its that sense of anticipation and the genuinely gob smacking conclusion that makes this one of the most exciting episodes of Buffy yet. The assassins are great fun (especially maggot man) and when the ‘to be continued’ sign flashed up at the end of the episode I was desperate to watch the next episode and try and make sense of that bombshell from Kendra. Overall this is good stuff but perhaps its two part nature is the reason it took so long to get going. Let’s see if part two only has half a plot too: 8/10
What’s My Line Part II written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Semel
What’s it about: With two Slayers in town Spike had better watch his back…
The Chosen One: ‘Your life is very different from mine’ ‘You mean the part where I occasionally have one?’ I like how they contrast Buffy’s lifestyle with Kendra’s and because the second Slayer has devoted herself to her calling and lives a life of study and fighting suddenly Buffy’s life looks quite cushy in comparison. For a second Buffy thinks that Kendra might have staked Angel and panic sets in. There’s no doubt that if they had found Angel’s remains then Kendra would have gone the same way. Bringing Kendra into the show allows us to see a very funny jealous streak in Buffy and some priceless line deliveries from Sarah Michelle Gellar (‘What do you mean it would be of no use in my case? What’s wrong with my case?’). Suddenly with a second Slayer on the scene Buffy starts thinking of a future of her own making rather than one that has been mapped out for her (making sense of the careers fair material in the first part that felt like it was wasting time). Like Buffy, we have grown to like Kendra and wouldn’t mind spending more time with her.
Witchy Willow: More great comedy from Willow as she shows appropriate indignation at the thought that Buffy might be accused of kissing a vampire…until she remembers that she does do that. Pairing hyper ambitious Willow up with super laid back Oz works a treat and his assertion that doing well at school leads to jobs (something that he really has no interest in) made me chuckle. He never quite reacts in the way that you expect and smiles at the shock of being shot rather than screaming in pain. I know somebody who is very like Oz in real life and if he showed any serious amount of emotion then I would know that something was very wrong. When all the other characters are like emotional fireworks Oz is just about the perfect refreshment.
Gorgeous Geek: Finally all that tension that has been building between Xander and Cordelia is released in a snog and a half but not before one final almighty bitch fight. The kiss when it comes is accompanied by some awesome overdramatic music but I was too busy laughing my head off at their deadpan reactions to what their lips have just done against their will. Very funny stuff. It could have been a one off moment but their smooches at the climax when they promise to never do it again sets a promising new trend.
Undead Brit: I would have thought that nothing could be sexier than Spike and Drusilla and their twisted relationship but once you add Angel to the mix they make a threesome that is so violent and provocative that Buffy would never quite reach these levels of seduction again. When Angel suffers a change of character in a few episodes time I will be pretty much hot under the collar until the end of the season! In What’s My Line Spike brings Angel as a present for Drusilla and enjoys watching her abusive and salivate over him. Its wonderfully perverse.
Mad Hatter: Now its Drusilla’s turn to torture Angel just as he did to her when he drove her out of her mind before he sired her. She proves quite handy with holy water, making his chest sizzle and burn. She growls at him like a puppy dog too.
Caustic Cordy: Subverting all the clichés that says women should be inveterate screamers simply because of their sex, Cordelia is paired up with the equally cowardly Xander who would give her a run for her money in the ear splitter stakes. When it comes to Cordy being covered in maggots and hosed down by Xander…well I was basking in the glory of a show that felt as though it was finally letting go and having some fun.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel, locked in a room, shivering and close to death…did Marti Noxon read my wish list because this episode couldn’t have started out any better for me! Kendra points out that Angel is a vampire and he should die. If only they had listened to him we could have been spared the death of one of the regulars, his pitiful return in series three and his own show. I suppose that’s not entirely fair – some people do like his show. Just not me.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Back off Pink Ranger!’ and ‘Doesn’t anyone just say hello where you come from?’ – there is great comedy mileage in Kendra’s sledgehammer approach to…well everything.
‘So you’re a Slayer, huh? I like that in a woman.’
‘Don’t feel bad for Angel because he has something you don’t’ ‘What’s that?’ ‘Five minutes.’
‘That’s me favourite shirt! That’s me only shirt!’ – Kendra’s best line!
The Good: I love the idea of there being a second Slayer and Buffy’s death in Prophecy Girl being more than just a dramatic cheat but actually having consequences. Its even better that they waited nearly half a season to drop this bombshell on us. It means that Buffy is thinking long term as a show and that things that we might appear to have been forgotten about might come back to bite us on the butt in the future (it’s a trick that Buffy would pull off time and again and sometimes with devastating results – think ‘Joyce’ and ‘tumour’). Xander and Cordelia being menaced by an assassin that can burst into a shower of maggots and reform in a second is not only spectacularly gross but also very funny. I started to think I had wandered into a Pink Panther movie when the police officer turns out to be another assassin in a perfectly timed shock. The visual of a gun being fired in a High School still gives me the shivers. Willy is so marvellously toady that he manages to betray Buffy just seconds after bigging himself up for helping her out. I hope we get to see him again. And his bar is a great new location. Two Slayers, loads of assassins, vampires and a whole bunch of Scoobies make for an exciting climax in the church as Drusilla is restored to her wretched self. Its worth it see Buffy and Kendra fighting side by side and their side by side ass kicking is a joy to watch. The organ smashing down on Spike is really nasty and a revenge that has been a long time coming. Its just one of many terrific stunts in the final act in show that has just about perfected its action sequences.
The Bad: Kendra’s accent continues to disturb me. As far as Buffy the Vampire Slayer goes the only accent that is this indecipherable is the exquisitely un-cockney Molly in season seven. Its trying to ape Caribbean but the way she accentuates every single syllable makes her sound as though she might have learning difficulties. What the hell is up with the wallpaper in the classroom that Xander and Cordelia avail themselves of at the conclusion? Classrooms have wallpaper? Hell if that is all I can find to have a go at we are doing pretty damn well.
Moment to Watch Out For: Given the flames that are writhing you could well imagine that the destructive climax might have been the last we saw of Spike and Drusilla but its just a trick to make the final scene all the more powerful. Drusilla, stronger than ever, rises from the wreckage holding Spike. Now she is going to take care of him. This is great stuff and promises an interesting future for this pair.
Fashion Statement: Angel is tossed into the soaking wet sewers and his shirt accidentally falls open to reveal his chest glistening wet – Buffy gets sexier by the minute. Willow is sporting red dungarees which should be wrong for anybody over the age of six but somehow manages to make her look cuter than ever. How does she do that? Not sure what’s going on with Kendra’s earrings (she looks like she’s been to visit Pat Butcher on Albert Square) but aside from that she is dressed for business. Oddly in comparison Buffy looks like she is off to the lumber yard for work experience.
Result: One thing that really stood out about the conclusion to this generally superb two parter was how funny the dialogue was. That Marti Noxon was quite a find and she has the characters speech patterns down pat (more than down pat – they have rarely been written for this well thus far in the series even by their creator). The Slayer mythology is turned on its head and paves the way for an even more dramatic development to drive series three and there is more fun to be had with unbelievably hot Spike/Drusilla/Angel combination. Blissful comedy moments abound as Xander and Cordelia fall into each others arms against their better judgement and Oz and Willow continue their cuddlesome romance. The action is pretty much relentless and you’ve got everything from maggots crawling under doors, guns being fired at Sunnydale High and a truly destructive climax that sees a church ruined by a martial arts smack down. Season two has been climbing out of its early episode blues and this has been one of the most confident examples yet things are continually on the up. I think the biggest success of this episode is that it can introduce a character as weird as Kendra and by the end I was longing for her to hang around. For a girl with an accent that strange that is working some serious magic. Overall this has been a triumphant of witty writing and fantastic performances, pushing the series forwards and giving everybody a chance to shine: 9/10
Ted written by David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon and directed by Bruce Seth Green
What’s it about: Buffy has a new stepfather and he’s a real piece of work…
The Chosen One: We learn that when Buffy has a rough day she slaps around the vampires for a while rather than simply staking them. Today she’s in a really bad mood so its an especially bad evening to rise from the grave. The writers keep finding new ways to make Buffy’s life interesting and throwing Ted into the mix is the best example yet because it has nothing at all to do with her role as the Slayer. Who would have thought that she would have so much to lose in her sparse personal life? Speaking as somebody whose father left at a young age and his mother tried out a number of possible replacements (I make that sound way more slutty than it actually was) I went through similar sort of feelings to Buffy when I was growing up and I can empathise with her trying to hold onto the tight the relationship she has with her mother. Is there a guy out there who would ever satisfy Buffy? Only her father, I’m guessing. The moment I found most frightening was when Buffy tells her mother that Ted threatened to hit her and she brushes it off as something that a kid trying to adjust to such a big change would say. How many households work in that way with one parent ruling with an iron fist and the other pretending that it isn’t happening? Sure some kids cry wolf but some don’t. And this really taps into that nightmare. Buffy reminded me of Dexter in that until Ted crossed a line (actually physically striking her) she felt honour bound to put up with his encroaching behaviour. They both have a code that cannot be breached but like Dexter, Buffy lets rip when Ted finally crosses that line. The silence between Joyce and Buffy after Ted has been killed is deafening, it’s the epitome of parental disappointment without saying a word.
Ripper: Jenny is having trouble sleeping after her experiences in The Dark Age and Giles is having trouble trying to make reasonable conversation with her. He’s desperately concerned for her (and Anthony Stewart Head does do adorable puppy dog eyes) and she feels bad for not feeling better about what has happened. Damn, why can’t these silly adults just leap into each others arms whilst they have the chance? What’s so great about making Jenny the victim like this is that our attentions are completely diverted away from the fact that she has a secret of her own. Shooting Giles in the butt is as good a way as any to take her revenge on him and affords him the awesome opportunity of literally pulling it out of his ass and staking the vampire with it. What a guy.
Gorgeous Geek: The Ballad of Xander and Cordelia continues with him trying to compliment her and her going nuts because that is precisely the sort of out of character behaviour that will give their smooching game away!
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t get it. Buffy’s, like, the Slayer. Shouldn’t she have…’ ‘What? A licence to kill?’ ‘Well not for fun. But she’s like Superman. Shouldn’t there be different rules for her?’ ‘Sure in a facist society!’ ‘Right! Why can’t we have one of those?’ – Not only very funny but some great points made too. The episode doesn’t have the time to explore the idea of a rogue Slayer her so I’m pleased that it would feature so prominently in season three.
The Good: As usual Buffy is playing with expectations and whilst it might appear that the forces of darkness have finally caught up with the Slayer domestically it actually turns out to be Joyce and her new boyfriend caught in a clinch on the work surface. Prepare yourself for much mileage about old people making old! John Ritter plays his part perfectly and he has the exact look of a man who could slip almost invisibly into a home and destroy it from within (and oddly looks a lot like Buffy’s real father which pushes the ‘replacement’ feeling even further). Whilst the episode is making Buffy out to be the only one who doesn’t like Ted, it really is excellent because only we are privy to the few (very scary) moments where he turns on her. The way he slowly starts imposing his rules on the Summers household are deeply uncomfortable, especially to Buffy who has been giving quite a bit of freedom until now. Ted’s barely restrained anger when he starts hitting his leg with the golf club and threatening to beat on Buffy takes this episode to a whole new level of discomfort. We’re talking about an abusive man crowbarring his way into Buffy’s house and seducing her family and friends. Forget giant Preying Manti or Invisible Girls, that is a really scary premise. The way Ted manages to be both patronising and appearing to be fatherly at the same time is really quite impressive but its when he finally invades Buffy’s bedroom when the episode gets really dark. Frankly a crappy science fiction twist was needed at this point because things surely couldn’t get much creepier than this. It was either turn Ted in a crazed robot or have him molest Buffy and at this stage of the game the show wouldn’t be prepared to go that far. The idea of a Slayer accidentally murdering a human being is only played for a couple of (very effective) scenes but is such a dramatic idea its wheeled out again next year in the episode Consequences.
The Bad: By making Buffy so savvy about Ted has the adverse effect of making Joyce, Xander and Willow look a bit stupid. If all it takes to seduce them is a pizza and a cookie then the Earth genuinely is doomed. When it comes to Buffy beating the shit out of Ted Joyce is made to look like a right moron. Surely she can see that Ted has stopped fighting her and could physically overpower her daughter if he wanted to? Ted winding up being a robot does rather threaten to undo all the good work that is done earlier in the episode. I say threaten because whilst the twist is absurd (and he suddenly becomes something much less threatening and more comic book) the feelings that Buffy and Joyce have experienced are very real. But there’s no denying that his crappy lines (‘I don’t take orders from women! I’m not wired that way!’) and easy defeat try and sink what has otherwise been a pretty decent episode. Oh and Joyce buying his excuse about being dead for just under six minutes…it might be tasteless to suggest that she needs a lobotomy but Jesus! Until she is let in on the secret her ability for denial and self delusion is incredible. Skeletons in the closet? Really?
Moment to Watch Out For: Imagine how the scenes of Ted menacing the Summers women in their own house would have played out had he just been an abusive man? Brrr… Even when playing the malfunctioning robot version of Ted there is something threatening about Ted.
Fashion Statement: Willow in dungarees in What’s My Line was really cute but Buffy in dungarees is just hot.
Result: Conventional wisdom will tell you that Ted is half an hour of dark drama with ten minutes of ludicrous science fiction tacked on the end. Its not an unfair assessment although I don’t think it goes downhill quite as spectacularly as others. Everything about Ted the character gives me the chills from the way he is written to invasively spread into every aspect of Buffy’s life, how he crosses the line with her so publicly and invisibly and most importantly thanks to John Ritter’s incredible turn as the all American hero that has knocked Joyce off her feet. He’s a great creation and would have been more effective had he not turned out to be a lumbering robot with literal skeletons in his closet (they still haven’t quite got a handle on this restraint malarkey). The episode throws up some interesting questions about Buffy’s violent reaction to things not going her way and her potential danger to the public that would be picked up again in series three. And I really liked how the Xander/Cordelia and Giles/Jenny romances were weaved into this tale because it proves once and for all there is no longer such thing as a standalone on this show. Even a dud will be peppered with likable continuing storylines. Ted turns out to be a robot as so what looks like disturbing developments in the Slayer’s life winds up being an interesting ‘what if?’ episode instead. The Slayer versus robot conclusion was shocking the first time around (I Robot, You Jane) but everything that comes before it worked for me: 7/10
Bad Eggs written by Marti Noxon and directed by David Greenwalt
What’s it about: A school project goes horribly wrong when eggs hatch and possess students at Sunnydale High. Yep, I don’t know how that one made it off the drawing board either.
The Chosen One: The relationship between Buffy and Angel is starting to feel a little kindergarten because all we ever see them get up to is kissing! I realise that this is about to change in a spectacular way and it can’t come soon enough. Buffy tries to murder her young with the biggest iron known to mankind and stabs it death with some scissors. I’m starting to wonder if parenthood isn’t perhaps for her. Joyce is in full on nazi-mode in Bad Eggs and no matter what Buffy says or does she simply lands herself in more hot water. Joyce finds Buffy a terrible burden and far too irresponsible. Boy is she in for a shock when she finds out the truth. This episode is proof that Buffy and Xander need Giles and Willow to do all the book work because once their friends have become possessed they stand in the library looking like lost tourists wondering where to look first for information on the latest nasty.
Gorgeous Geek: ‘This would work a lot better for me if you didn’t talk’ ‘Well it would work much better for me with the lights off!’ How much more fun is Xander since he has gotten over his Buffy obsession and found himself a smooch mate? Even better, that pair of lips belongs to Cordelia and so there’s plenty of amusing consensual hate to go with all the rampant lust. How their friends aren’t aware that these two are at it is beyond me because their bitching has gone through the roof and they pretty much declare all out war in the middle of a class. I cannot believe that Xander boiled his egg. When that guy is funny, he’s really funny. Then when he decides that there’s nothing left to eat so he may as well nosh on his egg (‘sorry, junior’)…I was snorting coffee through my nose for laughing!
Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel gives Buffy ‘the look’ (see the Angel section title about half a sentence back) when he admits that he cannot have children. That’s a massive revelation to drop in the middle of this idiotic episode and well worth exploring in more depth. Buffy says that when she looks into the future all she sees is Angel but that’s easy enough to say at this young age. In the future she might very well want children (or have one dropped in her lap).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Its an egg Buffy. It doesn’t emote.’
The Good: We finally get to visit the mythical Sunnydale mall! I think this one of only a very few times we see this much talked about but rarely visited location!
The Bad: There is something really off about the teaser which sees Buffy forgetting to pick up Joyce’s dress because she is distracted by a rubbish hick vampire. It ends on something of a punchline but it’s the kind that’s made at a party where nobody laughs and everybody coughs to cover the silence. Please tell me the ‘keep an egg for a week’ lesson is just made up? Because I had sex education lessons when I was at school and we never did anything as pre-school as this. Usually it consisted of everybody perving over a video that showed the barest glimpse of naked flesh and shoving a condom on a banana. Imagine if Buffy and Angel were taken out by the Gorge brothers? What an embarrassing end to the series that would be. I’m not saying that Buffy always was at the cutting edge of special effects (especially in its cash starved first couple of years) but the tendrils breaking free of the egg and crawling across the bed looks abysmal. An effect that has been reversed more I never did see! I’ve always thought that Spike and Angelus were really well done villains (I speak in jest – they are) but now I’m starting to wonder if its just because the competition in season two is incredibly lame. The Anointed One, Frankenstein’s football player, the Inca Princess, the vacuous Frat Boys, the drippy one from Roswell, robot Ted and now the Gorge brothers. People shouldn’t be moaning about the standard of villainy in season six – its season two were all the lame asses are hanging out! Why is it that everybody becomes terminally stupid when a possession episode comes along? Willow starts talking monosyllabically and with a monotone and yet nobody twigs that there might be something wrong with her. Where did the creature come from? What did it want? Simply to hatch more eggs? Was it an alien or a demon or what? Did everybody simply forget that they were possessed? The Gorges have no plot function whatsoever and I wonder if they were just added to pad out the flimsy possession plot that was under running? They simply show up at the climax as a distraction, one gets eaten and the other runs off to fight another day. I’m not sure what the point of them was.
Moment to Watch Out For: The little puppteered parasites reminded me of the ones from Star Trek TNG’s Conspiracy. That’s where the comparisons end though because whilst they both ape b movies, one is genuinely creepy and graphic and the other is a vapid mess. Unfortunately Buffy is not the former.
Result: You know that period in the middle of season six where it feels like sod all is happening in Sunnydale and we get throwaway episodes like Gone and Doublemeat Palace back to back…Bad Eggs feels as though it belongs in that period because it shares a similar sense of irrelevance and silliness. Buffy’s snogging Angel, Xander’s snogging Cordelia and a load of whacky eggs are hatching alien body snatchers that want to unleash an epic version of Krang from Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles on the world. And if that sounds like an intellectual treat to you then you might just be a tad disappointed. The Gorge brothers and the possession plots have nothing to do with each other and both are underwritten and lack any kind of dramatic or humorous impact. There are so many unanswered questions about the eggs and their progenitor that I would have happily have cut the odd snogging scene (there are an awful lot of them) to give this plot some context and reason. This isn’t so much a parody of b movies because there is no Buffy post-modern wink at the audience, it simply is a contemporary b movie with little horror, no humour and a complete lack of character development to give it any kind of point. Only the exquisite Alexander Harris makes this worth watching: 3/10
Surprise written by Marti Noxon and directed by Michael Lange
What’s it about: Two star crossed lovers who the fates are about to conspire against in a pretty permanent sort of way…
The Chosen One: Buffy’s dreams have always had a prophetic quality to them and when she dreams about Angel’s death it really shakes her up. Buffy and Angel are being built up as the ultimate modern day Romeo & Juliet, a love that comes at a terrible price not only to themselves but their friends and family. As the season progresses there seems to be constant reminders as to why the Buffy and Angel relationship simply cannot work. His past is full of horrors, she’s sworn an oath to kill all of his kind, he can’t give her kids and even something as simple as her morning glory being his bedtime shows how they cannot function in a normal relationship. Following on from something as daft as Bad Eggs with discussion of Buffy losing her virginity is astonishing, its as mature and sophisticated as the evil mutant eggs was facile. Suddenly all that smooching between Buffy and Angel over the last couple of episodes begins to make sense. They had to show them relaxing into their relationship in order to make their split here as dramatic as possible. This isn’t the sort of melodramatic angst I was complaining about earlier in the season, their split here is played for real. Gellar and Boreanaz invest a lot of emotion into these goodbye scenes and as a result their relationship feels much more mature. Buffy and Angel, freezing and soaked to the skin, finally take their relationship to the next level and it’s a beautifully filmed (especially the shadow of the rain pouring down the window on the wall) and powerfully acted sequence. Watching them here you genuinely believe that Buffy and Angel ache for each other. Anybody who has been that powerfully in love will recognise this.
Witchy Willow: All of the character arcs that have been bubbling under seem to be coming to a head in this mid season two parter and Willow and Oz take their first steps towards becoming a couple. I love the way Oz asks her out for a date and Willows reaction (‘if it helps I’m going to say yes’) made me melt. These two should be as sugary sweet as Naomi Wildman from Star Trek Voyager joining forces with Winnie the Pooh but somehow their not. They manage to be cuddlesome without making me feel sick.
Gorgeous Geek: ‘This thing with us, despite our better judgement, keeps on happening’ Even the Xander/Cordy snogathan is addressed with our favourite nerd wanting to go on an official date with Cordelia to Buffy’s birthday. Unfortunately he forgets who it is that he is locking lips with and she firmly (and without any apology) reminds him that any public recognition of their ‘thing’ would be social suicide for her.
Mad Hatter: I wasn’t sure how they were going to continue Drusilla’s storyline after her spectacular recovery in What’s My Line but I’m pleased that we have returned to her and Spike so soon. It seems that any episode not featuring them in season two is doomed to failiure whereas any that they appear in (whether they have a great role or not – Halloween) seems to work. I love the fact that Drusilla is so dangerously, unpredictably mad. This could have so easily been misjudged but she is simply so loop-de-loop and flies off the handle at the strangest of things (like she does here over the flowers for her party) that I simply cannot guess how she is going to react next. That’s really refreshing in a character. There was a moment where she threatened to pop out the eyes of one of her goons when he failed her and instead she pats him on the head like a puppy dog. She’s truly gaga in all the best ways and she throws one hell of a party (I love that vampires can be seen scooping blood from a punch bowl!). Her present from Spike (who remains very much in the shadows here, trapped in a wheelchair) is the end of humanity. Just what a girl always wanted! Her reaction to Judge burning the life out one of her lackeys (‘Do it again! Do it again!) made me scream with laughter.
The Good: The episode opens on a fantastic dream sequence that proves how far Buffy has come in a year and a half. There was a similar dream sequence at the beginning of the series but it was basically a montage of whatever episodes they had already shot. Surprise’s dream sequence is all new material and has that frightening, discordant, unreality to it that the best examples of this sort of thing have. Drusilla pursues Buffy silently through her hallway and she walks from her house to the Bronze in a moment where Willow is sitting taking tea with a monkey and Angel is murdered. The shot of his hand crumbling as it slowly reaches out for Buffy is exceptional. The truth about Jenny starts to emerge and we learn that everything that we have been told about the character is a fabrication and that she infiltrated the Scooby gang for a purpose – to watch over Angel and ensure that he doesn’t have even one moment of happiness. The fact that this has never even been hinted at should make this development feel forced but it never does, the very fact that Jenny’s past has been left obscure feels deliberate and filling in the gaps in such a surprising way feels very right. Jenny has gone from being a cute love interest for Giles to a victim of his past and now feels like a threat that has quietly invaded the group purposefully. That’s some good development considering her limited screen time. There’s a great bluff here where it looks as though Jenny is walking Buffy into a trap when she is in fact only escorting her to her surprise birthday party…but they are hijacked by vampires anyway and it does turn into a dangerous situation. Suddenly all bets are off as far as Jenny is concerned and that’s another really good feeling. The episode keeps developing its characters and Buffy’s glass shattering entrance to her party means that Oz is in on the supernatural secret on his first date with Willow. Finally we are given a villain worthy of some build up. The Judge is marvellously conceived, a demon that could not be killed and it took an entire army (most of which were wiped out) to dismember him and send him to the four corners of the world. He’s mythologised (‘his touch can burn the humanity out of you’) and spoken about reverently before he makes it to the screen which makes his eventual appearance feel like something big is happening and that a very real threat is coming together. Its nice to see Brian Thompson back (he also played Luke in the first episode of the series and was just about the most menacing vampire the series would ever offer us) and I really wish they could have figured a way for him to become a series regular.
Moment to Watch Out For: The dramatic cliffhanger left me reeling. What could possibly have happened to Angel to make him leap away from Buffy in bed and throw himself out into the rain screaming in pain? This unpredictable episode keeps on offering surprises.
Orchestra: The Buffy/Angel ‘Close Your Eyes’ theme is delicate and beautiful, a triumph on the part of Christophe Beck.
Result: Exceptional drama, Surprise is so far removed from the goofiness of Bad Eggs it astonishes me that they took place in the same series, let alone the same season. And if you had told me that they were written by the same writer after watching them cold I would have laughed in your face. This is Buffy for adults and Marti Noxon has written a beautiful script that juggles all manner of exciting character arcs but rightly places the Buffy and Angel romance at the centre of the action. Not even Joss Whedon has (thus far) written as well for the shows central characters and the resulting episode illicits the best performances yet from Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz. For once I was convinced of their love for each other rather than thinking of their relationship as a causal teen romance. Michael Lange’s direction serves the script very well and he injects a great deal of excitement and sensuality into the piece. I really have no complaints about this one, it just got better as it gathered momentum and closed on a mysterious and dramatic cliffhanger. Part two has a lot to live up to: 9/10
Innocence written and directed by Joss Whedon
What’s it about: Angel has undergone a personality change after his night of passion with Buffy…
The Chosen One: The most heartbreaking portrayal of Buffy to date and if you are moved by the moment when she collapses in bed in a flood of tears then there is probably no hope for your soul. Buffy waking up alone after sleeping with Angel for the first time is a wonderful metaphor for being left high and dry by some douche bag. Joyce says that Buffy looks different but she doesn’t quite know why – as ever mother knows best. Angel as the ‘morning after jerk’ is so well done because he’s so casual about how awful she was in bed. Its painful to watch Buffy crumble under his sarcasm and ask tentatively ‘was I not good?’ If he wanted to hurt her, then criticizing one of the single most important moments in her life whilst pretending to be her Angel is just about the deepest thrust he could have made (‘I’ll call you…’). Buffy is consumed by grief and Sarah Michelle Gellar has never looked so delicate in the role. By hurting everybody around her Angelus is only making it easier for Buffy to kill him. Knock her down and she comes back twice as strong and the sight of tiny Buffy holding up a giant rock launcher is a delight. After everything they have been through together Buffy cannot kill Angel but she does leave him with the parting message of a painful kick in the nuts. What a girl.
Ripper: Jenny is still lingering behind the scenes in the first half of this episode as an unseen menace. I love how Giles is so angry at Buffy for accusing Jenny of being involved and then his shock when he discovers that she is. Suddenly their whole relationship is called into question. Did Jenny ever really love him or was she just after his Slayer? Nobody plays puppy dog hurt like Anthony Head and the moment he ordered Jenny away from Buffy reveals his quiet, restrained anger. Even better is his awkward reaction to the news of Buffy’s love making with Angel setting off this chain of events. He’s just so British. He more than makes up for this in the conclusion when Buffy thinks that he is going to go mad at her for being so reckless and he gently assures that all she will get from him is support and respect. I was reaching for the tissues!
Witchy Willow: Finally the love triangle between Willow, Xander and Buffy is reaping some major dramatic rewards. Its high time that she found out about Xander and Cordy and her mad rant at him for preferring to be with somebody that he hates than being with her really hits home after a season and a half of watching Willow moon over him. So many parts of this episode see Joss Whedon showing his hand after playing a long game moving these characters into the right positions. Willow thinks that Xander has ‘gross emotion problems’ and wants him to know that things are not okay between them. Alison Hannigan plays these scenes with such a righteous anger that its impossible not to be completely in love with her. Oz comes along to make it all right by telling her that sometimes he fantasies about kissing her in class (because thinking about class is something he would never do) but he wont do it for real just to get back at Xander. When he kisses her in his fantasies, she’s kissing him back. Willow looks rightfully impressed.
Mad Hatter: The advent of evil Angel means Drusilla isn’t as relevant as she was in Surprise but regardless she still gets a number of dreamy, insane moments. I love her counting the stars during the day and her wobbly after the Judge is taken out is worth the admission price of the episode alone.
Caustic Cordy: She seems to have slipped invisibly into the Scooby gang permanently, hasn’t she? I’m not complaining, her dialogue rocks.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Suddenly, unexpectedly, David Boreanaz is alive. He’s no longer sleepwalking through his not particularly challenging role of Angel but instead ramps up the tension by making Angelus as nasty, violent and sarcastic as possible. Turning Angel into a psychotic killing machine is the best move the series has made yet and proves that Joss Whedon isn’t afraid to change things radically to create good drama. Angelus sucking the tobacco from his first victims neck and releasing it in one great puff after she falls to the ground might just be the coolest thing I have ever seen a bad guy do on television. Now Spike, Drusilla and Angel are a family of blood, feeding and playing. The three of them together against Buffy is probably as nasty and horny as his show ever got. He enjoys winding up Spike and flirting with Dru but he isn’t aversed to kissing him either. Angelus doesn’t want to do anything as crass and as obvious as destroying the world, he wants to hurt Buffy simply because she made him feel. There’s a terrific moment where he lures Willow into his clutches and tries to crush her neck, playing on the fact that all of Buffy’s friends trust Angel.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When do we destroy the world already?’
‘No more of this I’ve got a soul crap?’ ‘What can I say? I was going through a phase…’
Cordelia: ‘This is great. There’s an unkillable demon in town, Angel’s joined his team, the Slayer’s a basket case…I’d say we’ve hit bottom’ Xander: ‘I have a plan’ Cordelia: ‘Oh no, here’s a lower place!’
‘Where something trashy…er.’
‘To kill this girl, you have to love her…’
‘I’m seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me want to have sex.’
The Good: Joss Whedon I has come of age and knocks out one memorable character moment after another. One of the finest comes when Buffy realises that it was her first sexual encounter that turned Angel bad, Giles insensitively doesn’t pick up on that and Willow is the only person who can. Its all so expertly done it makes you wonder why he wasted his time with angst ridden evil Buffy from the season opener. He clearly understands these characters to the core. Uncle Enios’ death is superbly handled too, Angel’s visit to him is well timed to surprise and it means that Jenny has lost something personal to this fight too. Whedon isn’t afraid to put continuity from previous episodes to good use such as Xander’s ‘sexy army training’ here. Things move so fast in this episode and Angelus behaves so violently that you might believe that this is the end for his character. Buffy with the rocket launcher blowing up the Judge might be Buffy at its least restrained (and did nobody report this terrorising incident to the authorities?) but its still the shiniest nugget of pure cool I have ever seen. Filmed in slow motion with Angelus and Drusilla diving out of the way, I was mimicking Dru from the previous episode (‘Do it again! Do it again!’). Enios was the easy way that Whedon could have turned Angel back again and so to avoid that and continue this nightmare of Buffy’s is all the more impressive.
The Bad: Considering the sex scenes between Buffy and Riley and Buffy and Spike are so marvellously indecent, the dream sequence/flashback of Buffy and Angel writhing between crisp, clean sheets seems almost tame in comparison. Perhaps that’s just how she remembers it. The downside of making Angel the bad guy is that it leaves Brian Thompson’s Judge on the sidelines for too long and as soon as he decides to do something he is killed. It feels as though he was hardly worth all the build up for such an easy defeat. Plus who attacks one shopping mall? I suppose you have to start somewhere!
Moment to Watch Out For: Its Sarah Michelle Gellar’s most challenging episode yet and she makes every scene count.
Orchestra: Massive kudos for Christophe Beck’s unforgettable music for this episode. He has really come into his own here and pulls out everything from the delicate ‘Close Your Eyes’ theme to the epic and momentous score when the Judge is taken down.
Foreboding: Oz and Willow are about to decide the future of their relationship in Phases, Xander and Cordy theirs in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered and Giles and Jenny theirs in Passion. Buffy and Angelus’ rivalry will continue on throughout the rest of the season.
Result: Welcome Joss Whedon, king of dramatic storytelling and breaker of hearts. Innocence is one of my favourite episodes of Buffy because it has such a momentous feel to its events and takes all of its characters to some dark places only to empower them again by the climax. Buffy and Angel are wrenched apart, Xander and Cordelia are exposed, Giles questions his relationship with Jenny and Oz reveals how he feels to Willow. In the last episode Buffy and Angel were clinging onto each other as if their very lives depended on it and in this one they are kicking the shit out of each other fully intent on murder one another. It proves how quickly and realistically Buffy can develop that this transition feels dramatically satisfying and seamless. Angelus is simply the best villain this show has ever offered us and he goes straight for the hurt in some agonising scenes. Suddenly the show has shifted focus and it feels much more exciting and adult as a result. The fact that Angelus hasn’t transformed back at the end of the episode proves that this show is willing to sustain its shocks and upset the audience to provide them with what they need. There are too many memorable moments to mention and the cast are all at the top of their game. I don’t even care that the Judge subplot is spectacularly fudge because everything on offer here is so damn assured. Phenomenal stuff: 10/10
Phases written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali and directed by Bruce Seth Green
What’s it about: Oz is bitten and undergoes a transformation and Willow wants to define their relationship…
The Chosen One: There are quite a few times in this shows run where Buffy is put through the emotional ringer and they have to follow up her hurt with something a lot lighter to get the character back on track. Into the Woods is followed by Triangle. The Body & Forever are followed by Intervention. After Life is followed by Life Serial. This is the first instance and they get the balance just about right by giving the character something murderous to chase after whilst still showing her handling the aftermath of her night of passion with Angel. If in doubt, pair Buffy up with Giles because they are comedy gold together. There is a very weird moment between Buffy and Xander where it looks like they might kiss when he comforts her after Angel’s ‘gift.’ These kids need to get their hormones under control! Aren’t their lives complicated enough?
Ripper: Giles doesn’t seem to be letting his split from Jenny affect him too much this week because he is thrilled to be investigating werewolves. Finally one of the classics! Something is slightly off about him though since he is laughing at Xander’s jokes which would be unthinkable under normal circumstances (and thankfully next week he is back to disapproving of him). Despite what we learnt in The Dark Age it appears that Giles may have had quite a sheltered upbringing since he doesn’t have a clue what snoggers corner is actually all about and needs Buffy to explain it to him. Plus some gossip.
Witchy Willow: It would appear that no romance on this show can ever run smoothly. I guess that’s what makes them so engaging to watch because we get to see these characters reach such highs and lows. The Oz/Willow relationship was in danger of becoming sugar sweet (they are both so adorable they are practically a massive hug in human form) and so by making her boyfriend a werewolf it prevents them from being too cute. It feels very different from the tragedy that the Buffy/Angel relationship has just suffered and I love the way that it brings Oz and Willow together rather than tearing them apart. Oz has a spectacular non reaction to discovering that he is the werewolf and only shows concern when he thinks that he may have hurt this friends. After trying to understand why Oz keeps making such delicate gestures of affection and pulling away from actually seizing a relationship with her Willow bursts into his house and has a wonderful rant. How does Alison Hannigan make these moments so lovely? Coming from anybody else’s mouth this would be a tedious lecture! ‘No godammit we’ll talk about it now!’ Proving that she is no slouch in the action department Willow is quite adept with both a trash can and a tranquilliser gun! I don’t think Oz will be trying to nibble her any more after this treatment. The last scene between them where they finally put the shaggy dog issue aside and define their relationship is pure sunshine. When we pause on Oz thinking that Willow is the most wonderful girl on the planet (‘a werewolf in love’) it is a joyful pause in what is generally a depressing (but gripping) second half of series two. The biggest difference between Buffy and Angel and Willow and Oz is that I find the former far more effective when they are ripped apart at the seams but I am always rooting for the latter. Should they ever split I might just give up television.
Gorgeous Geek: It seems the only way that Xander and Cordelia can communicate is either through tongues or insults. She definitely has a point that he obsesses about his friends too much, though. He should take note or he might just lose the hottest girl he has ever had a clinch with. I really enjoyed the sequence with the pair of them in the car being attacked by the werewolf. Its aping all those dreadful (and when I say dreadful I of course mean wonderful) teen wolf flicks where the jock and his girlfriend are getting jiggy on Lovers Lane and the wolf tears off the roof and slaughters them. Hilariously Xander channels the hyena that possessed him in The Pack whilst staring Oz right in the face…and pins the blame on Larry! Very insightful Mr Harris!
Caustic Cordy: How brilliant to see Cordy and Willow hanging out and slagging off the men in their life. How far have these characters come since the pilot when she was angry with Willow for simply existing?
Puppy Dog Eyes: Its terrifying to see Angelus posing as Angel and luring innocent girls to their deaths.
Mr Snidey: Has Snyder been killed? I’ve really missed the little troll. Obviously DS9 was keeping Armin Shimmerman busy at this stage.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That’s great Larry. You’ve really mastered the single entendre.’
‘What’s his number? Oh yeah – 1800 I’m dating a skanky ho!’
‘Angel sends his love…’
‘He said he was going through all these changes and then he went through all these changes…’
‘I spoke to Giles. He said I’ll be okay, ‘’ll just have to lock myself up around the full moon. Only he used more words than that. And a globe.’
‘Three days out of the month I’m not that fun to be around either’ – that’s a phenomenal line!
The Good: There’s an awful lot of continuity used in this episode which is something that I thought Buffy had always done in order to make the show feel like one long running saga but I haven’t really noticed it until now. Oz mentions how the cheerleading trophy’s eyes follows you about (The Witch), Xander mentions Willow’s robotic love affair (I Robot, You Jane) and how he nearly lost his head (Teachers Pet). Perhaps not the best episodes to remind us of but I appreciate the gesture. Larry is so utterly chauvinistic he was either going to turn out to be the werewolf or a closet gay. I’m really glad that it was the latter because it is much funnier and gives the show a contemporary (for the time) edge. They really run with the theme by making some of the male characters behaving especially animalistic (especially Larry and Cain) so we suspect them and diverting our attention away from the real culprit. Having Angelus send Buffy a dead friend with a message is a pleasing reminder that he is still a threat and will continue to be so. I have seen an awful lot of shows where men stand around and bitch about not understanding their womenfolk. Its hugely refreshing to find a series that plays that in reverse – the women are the characters that make sense and it’s the men and their hot and cold attitude that drives them crazy. I genuinely think that Buffy did the genre a world of good for the ladies.
The Bad: The werewolf costume is truly, truly shocking. Given their budget they didn’t have much of an option then to try and make a costume but what baffles me is how they didn’t edit this much quicker and keep him in the shadows more. What’s especially irritating is that the mid stage make up between Oz and the werewolf is actually very effective and would have been more than enough to convince me.
Moment to Watch Out For: Xander outing Larry is one of the most hilarious moments of season two and made all the funnier for us reacting to the shock in exactly the same way Xander does and watching him squirm in the most awkward of circumstances. The running gag of Larry thinking that Xander is gay (‘you bring it out of me’) is hilarious but this mostly works because whilst it is making us laugh it is also very touching.
Foreboding: Turning Oz into a werewolf was another smart move because its another issue that the show can return to sporadically. Almost invisibly the writers have built up a number of characters the show can return to on a conveyor system and perpetuate the series (Spike, Drusilla, Angelus, Oz, Cordelia).
Result: Phases is a wonderfully engaging take on your typical teen werewolf tale in exactly the same way that Bad Eggs was a terrible parody of a b-movie. Had it just been about Buffy and Giles hunting down a wolf then it might have bombed but once you add the sensational Willow/Oz romance into the mix and it becomes much more surprising and heartfelt. Thank goodness the script sparkles because there was no way of making that werewolf costume a genuine threat without some serious darkness and editing. The story moves at a great pace and there are some very fun (especially Xander and Larry and Buffy’s hilarious gossiping with Giles) and frightening (Angel on the move) moments along the way. The show seems to have really found its voice since What’s My Line and switches mood with incredible confidence these days. It’s a testament to Alison Hannigan and Seth Green that this episode turns out as gorgeous as it does. This has been a slow burn relationship and it now has an added complication but there isn’t a single moment where you aren’t rooting for these two wonderful characters to be happy. Let’s hope they improve that dodgy costume though, Oz’s condition is here to stay and it opens up a whole new avenue of storytelling for the series: 8/10
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered written by Marti Noxon and directed by James A. Contner
What’s it about: Xander is this weeks loser in love and he decides to turn to the black arts to do something about it…
The Chosen One: Buffy is having a little time off this week so Gellar can head off and make a movie and I have to admit her stand in is so professional and eye catching that you barely notice that she is gone. Before the rat takes her place Buffy walks into the library completely nude except for a very revealing rain coat (‘aren’t you going to open your present?’). Dirty mare. They have great fun finding silly dangers for the Buffy rat to face including a hungry cat and a juicy lump of cheese sat on the edge of a mouse trap. Oo-er!
Ripper: ‘Its obsession! Selfish, banal obsession!’ Giles I showing solidarity and loyalty to Buffy but he clearly still cares deeply for Jenny. His anger is much needed to restore some sanity to events but it has the adverse effect of making you feel even more sorry for the hapless Xander.
Witchy Willow: Can I be the first on record to say that sex kitten Willow is just wrong. This characters raison d’etre is that she is the human interpretation of a fuzzy jumper on a cold winters day and watching her try and devour Xander’s ear is absolutely gross (‘I want you, Xander, to be my first’).
The Ballad of the Gorgeous Geek and Caustic Cordy: I actually don’t think that Nicholas Brendon is the worlds greatest actor. He can be obvious at how he approaches material and sometimes a little irritating when the character isn’t characterised that way. However he is mostly a charming and charismatic screen presence and given the chance to bring comedy to life nine times out of ten he positively dazzles. He’s extremely likable and that counts for a lot (ask John Barrowman, he’s built his acting career around the fact). How can any episode that focuses on the exquisite (and probably my favourite of all the Scooby dalliances) Xander/Cordelia romance? Born from mutual loathing and lust, in which both participants have tried to prevent themselves from indulging in and declared ‘a gross emotional problem’ by one of Xander’s closest friends, it’s the romance that has blossomed despite adversity. Everybody is under the impression that Xander could do better than Cordelia which is strange because Cordelia thinks that she can do better than Xander. Nobody does a comedy double take like Xander and his sissy fall to the ground when I vampire emerges really made me chuckle. The day has finally come when Cordelia is ostracised by her friends as news of her taste in men reaches goes public and reaches her friends. What is her thoughtful and considered reaction? To dump him on Valentines Day! Only somebody who has seen Supergirl too many times and lacks any kind of maturity would even consider putting a love spell on somebody and fortunately Xander is blessed (I suspect) with both these qualities. I loved the moment where Cordy pretended that his necklace was in her locker when she had been keeping it close to her hear all along – throughout this episode you can see that she genuinely likes him very much but feels bullied into making him feel otherwise. Why is it this pair always wind up down a basement in mortal danger? Somehow their feelings focus when they have a million other more important things to focus on! Cordelia’s defiant gesture in Xander’s favour is the perfect ending, especially because she regrets it as soon as her defence of her feelings comes out of her mouth! Its not easy to be the one whose different and be proud of it but Cordy has a hide thick enough to pull it off. It might have taken her some time and she may have hurt him terribly during the process but she is now proudly dating Alexander Harris. Bravo!
Puppy Dog Eyes: There is something so menacing about Angelus sending brutal messages of love on Valentines Day for those he is obsessed with hurting. The image of the red heart, dripping with blood that was torn out of a girl and giving to Drusilla as a present is quite disgusting. It also makes Spike’s present of a necklace look shockingly mundane.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Slaying is a tad more dangerous than dating’ ‘Well then you’re obviously not dating Cordelia…’
‘Do you know what’s a good day to break up with somebody? Any day besides Valentines Day! I mean, what? Were you running low on dramatic irony?’
‘We have to catch the Buffy rat!’ is one of the best lines ever. This show is gleefully insane with self-assurance at this point.
‘And keep your mum aged mitts off my boyfriend. Former!’
The Good: Where on Earth has Marti Noxon come from? Seemingly unattached to the show in the first year, she burst onto the scene with the memorable What’s My Line two parter, the scorching drama Surprise and now this comic gem. Okay she wrote Bad Eggs too but nobody is perfect. It cannot be a complete co-incidence that as soon as this woman writers five scripts for Buffy suddenly its fortunes are apparently irrevocably reversed and it is delivering one knockout episode after another. It is seen as little more than a fun trick here but this is a nice reminder of Amy and her witchy past which would become vital to Willow’s character arc in season six. Harmony is another pleasing recurring character who will go on to bigger and better things in the series. She’s such a class A bitch here and so stupid that she is ripe for humiliation despite thinking she is the one who is dishing it out. Why is it when you are dumped everybody else seems to be either ‘the hills are alive’ happy or laughing at you? Had the episode began with everybody clawing at Xander it might have felt a little overdone but the momentum gathers slowly but surely, each of the girls trying to subtly draw his attention before turning to more dramatic methods when that fails. It means the episode can build to the image of enemies and friends all coming together en masse to ravage Xander without it ever seeming absurd. Xander’s slow motion walk along the school corridor with the entire female population (and despite his best efforts some blokes too) giving him the eye is hilarious. Joyce is American Pie style MILF is so gross you might just be squirming and laughing at the same time. When it comes to Angel dragging Xander out of his bedroom window to have his neck ripped out and being saved by Drusilla (‘how do you feel about eternal life?) I had stopped trying to predict where this was going and just enjoyed the ride. Has there ever been anything more terrifying than the stampede of axe, knife and rolling pin wielding scorned women? Cordelia’s description of school bullies as ‘sheep’ is exquisite and something that I have used myself from time to time. Watch as Harmony flinches in the face of Cordy’s defiance, that’s because she knows what she is saying is true.
The Bad: I think they missed a trick by only featuring the ladies coming onto Xander, especially in the wake of Phases and his awkward outing of Larry. It would have been uproarious to have watched him try and escape the claws of this newly de-closeted only gay in the High School. Mind you the upside of this is that Giles isn’t affected. That I would have found too much to take (Joyce is bad enough!).
Moment to Watch Out For: If it wasn’t an obscenely early hour then I would have been clapping loudly at Cordy’s rant at Harmony at the climax. As a gift to the guy that she has hurt so badly early in the episode, it couldn’t be a finer gesture.
Fashion Statement: I’m wondering if both Buffy and Cordelia have gone insane because the hang glider collar shirt that Xander wears when he is dumped is a throwback to the worst excesses of the 70s! Has Gellar been away on holiday or something? She’s looking more bronzed than ever (compare her skin tone to Hannigan’s) and when Buffy comes onto Xander she looks practically edible.
Orchestra: More outstanding music from Beck who proves as adept at writing for comedy as he is at the more dramatic stuff. The flighty violin score as Xander tries to escape his pursuers is especially memorable and the score when Oz searches for the Buffy rat really got my feet moving.
Result: The very idea of every single woman in Sunnydale falling for Xander is so priceless and taking that to violent extremes sees this series ripping out the comic jugular. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is another episode where the actually plot doesn’t kick in until halfway through the episode (its something of a Marti Noxon trait) but for once it doesn’t matter because every scene before that is an absolute gem. James A. Contner’s direction is sumptuous, full of vibrant colours, fun imagery and highlighting the beauty of the cast. Appropriately for an episode about love its full of lustful images. There are few things in life that are more entertaining than two women going at it over a man and so to stage one on this scale is absolute television gold. For Nicky Brendon, being pawed at by so many beautiful women, surely it doesn’t get any better than this? The confidence with which this farce plays out is quite breathtaking, this show is riding high on its newfound poise and its intoxicating to bask in its success. The characters on Buffy started out in pretty decent shape but with some careful nurturing they have gelled into one of the most impressive and likable casts in television history. This is another phenomenal episode and a comic gem that manages to be really funny whilst having a great deal to say about its characters: 10/10
Passion written by Ty King and directed by Micheal Gershman
What’s it about: Angelus steps up his terrorism of Buffy and her friends…
The Chosen One: Buffy has a very real concern about her mother since Angelus has access to her house at all times and she might not always be there to protect her. She wants to tell her something to make her aware of the dangers ahead. Joyce finding out that Buffy and Angel have slept together is a revelation that requires much discussion. Joyce thought that Buffy would have shown better judgement and wants to know if she used protection. Again this is Buffy stripping away the fantasy elements and exploring something that is very real for every teenager. It’s a beautifully performed scene and a wonderfully awkward mother/daughter moment. Buffy telling Giles that she needs him at the climax breaks my heart every time I watch it. His anger at Buffy for stepping in and preventing him from killing Angelus is vicious and she punches him and bursts into tears for putting his life in danger. Jenny’s death has the adverse effect of bringing Slayer and Watcher closer together than ever before. Buffy is done with all this hurt, she is finally ready to kill Angel. Can’t wait.
Ripper: There is something dreadfully mundane about Giles’ ‘lets hope Angel gets bored and goes away’ approach early in the episode. Talk about tempting fate. Jenny came to Sunnydale with one purpose in mind and she had no intention of falling in love but now that the cat is out of the bag she wants nothing more than to make things right with Giles. Buffy offers her a gesture to Jenny despite the secrets she has kept from them, telling her that Giles misses her and that its okay for them to rekindle their passion. She doesn’t want her Watcher to be lonely. Jenny wants to return Angel’s soul to him but does it secretly so she can please everybody with her work. If she had told Giles then he might have been able to have arranged some protection for her whilst she worked. You want to scream at Giles not to go up the stairs where Jenny’s body is waiting for him on his bed. Anthony Head is just about this casts strongest performer and so giving him material that is this strong is dramatic gold. The irony of his reconciliation with Jenny just prior to her death shows a playful writing team who are prepared to play nasty games with their audience (and characters) to make this show as dramatically satisfying as it can be. Giles’ violent anger is impressive and it is impossible not to cheer this guy on as he attempts to slaughter Buffy’s ex-lover.
Witchy Willow: Its Alison Hannigan that gives this episode some of its best emotional highs. Her haunted reaction when she discovers her fish stapled together in an envelope mirrors our own. It is Willow’s devastated reaction to Jenny’s death that got me the most and the fact that this is shot through a window where we cannot hear what is being said is inspired.
Gorgeous Geek: Giles is astonished at Xander’s ability to boil down a complex thought to its simplest form. And so am I but he does make me laugh with it. In a moment of spectacular honesty Xander says I told you so about Angel. He’s right of course but that doesn’t stop it feeling really petty. I like that the heroes can behave that way in this show, it keeps them real.
Undead Brit: Angelus has been winding up Spike for so long now that when Giles turns up to give him a right beating he holds Drusilla back and watches with glee.
Mad Hatter: She’s a liability, this one. If she hadn’t informed Angelus of Jenny’s scheme to return this soul then none of this could have played out as it did. Buffy she take out Angelus’ early warning system before anything.
Caustic Cordy: Bless Cordelia (I seem to say that quite a lot but then its hard not to pity somebody quite this vacuous at times), she is cursed to give Angelus a lift in her car (which she has invited him into) whenever he wants one! Shockingly she convinced her grandmother to switch cars with her so clearly that is not one of her favourite relatives.
Puppy Dog Eyes: This is the one. This is the episode where Angelus goes from being (in the words of Joss Whedon) ‘not just grouchy but a cold blooded killer.’ Angelus is just as obsessed over Buffy as his Slayer-whipped soul version was but this time it is to hurt her as much as he possibly can. He’s stalking her in the evenings, watching her and her friends have fun whilst murdering people just out of sight and leaving her gifts of sketches of her sleeping peacefully. Cordelia makes a good point about why Angelus doesn’t just slit Buffy’s throat rather than leaving her threatening gifts all the time and the purpose of this episode is to transform the shows new villain from a gloat into a real threat. I love the scene where Angelus harasses Joyce because it makes such a great play of the ex boyfriend who can’t quite let go (which is precisely what Joyce thinks he is). Its beautifully played by Boreanaz and Sutherland with a rising tension as Joyce tries to escape him into the sanctuary of the house. To set up such an elaborate romantic gesture at Giles’ house to make his reaction to her death as painful as possible reveals that Angelus really has regained his sense of dark whimsy. How sick and voyeuristic is the scene where Angel watches Buffy and Willow get the phone call from Giles about Jenny’s death and watches their pain just for kicks?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘This is a school library, Xander’ ‘Since when?’ – I’m really glad somebody brought up the general dearth of students that frequent the library!
‘I’ll die without Buffy. She’ll die without me.’
The Good: I love all the foreshadowing in this episode which doesn’t take on any significance until after Jenny’s death. Willow is so excited to look after her class for a few minutes when Jenny is going to be late until she has to take it over completely after she is taking out of action. The sketches seem like a dramatic ploy to suggest that Angelus enjoys putting the fear of God into Buffy until Giles discovers one after Jenny has been killed as a parting gift from Angel. Whilst the murder itself might be heavily foreshadowed this is a really tight script that uses all of its elements beautifully to have double meanings. Passion features the first appearance of the Magic Shop in Buffy, a terrific location that would take on greater significance as the series progresses. I really liked the theatrical owner who adopts a dreadful accent for tourists and drops it as soon as he realises that Jenny is in the trade (‘lose those New Agers, they put my youngest through college’). A shame he doesn’t make it past this episode and Drusilla’s lustful teeth. All the rules of television say that Jenny cannot die because she is a core player in this show which is why it is so astonishing when they make the decision to remove her so dramatically. The image of Jenny staring sightlessly from Giles’ boudoir is not one that is easily forgotten.
Moment to Watch Out For: Jenny’s death and Angel stalking her through the school is one of the best scenes of the entire series. Its claustrophobic (the school suddenly feels like trap closing in on Jenny), dark (Angel running through the shadows as he pursues her) and tragic (you really think she has got away when Angelus turns up out of nowhere and snaps her neck). Its astonishingly well directed and turns the school into such an oppressive environment. What’s sick is how much Angelus enjoys toying with her before he goes in for the kill. He wants to work up an appetite.
Orchestra: There’s a gorgeous score for Angelus as he stalks Buffy and her friends that sounds for all the world like there is a storm coming. Very prophetic.
Foreboding: The disc falling to the floor and Jenny’s translation of the curse are just waiting to be found. It might be the show stalling the final confrontation between Buffy and Angelus but it does at least give a reason why and whet the appetite.
Result: This is such a blissfully written episode its hard to believe it doesn’t come from the pen of Joss Whedon. Everything about Passion screams of his style from the poetry, the mounting tension and the shocking arc developments. Massive kudos to Ty King then for pulling off this most Whedonesque of episodes with such passion (hoho). Whilst Jenny’s death is foreshadowed in the first half of the episode it doesn’t stop it being any less gutting when the time comes. Turning Angel into a villain was the finest move Whedon could have made because the whole show feels darker and more threatening as a result. Removing Jenny in such a painful way is a logical extension of that development and makes you question if everybody else is going to make it out of this season alive. This is a show that has come on in leaps and bounds dramatically and having to of the main cast trying to kill each other at the climax is about as serious as it gets. Buffy breaks all the rules of televised drama and is all the more riveting for it. I’m making this sound so mechanical when Passion is also packed with wonderful dialogue, injected with real anger and beauty and is given a terrific polish by the director. There isn’t one part of this that isn’t firing on all cylinders. It’s the second of two back to back classics that show off the many facets to this ever evolving show: 10/10
Killed By Death written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali and directed by Deran Serafian
What’s it about: Buffy is admitted to hospital where it seems even there she cannot escape the demons…
The Chosen One: Of all the times for Buffy to succumb to the flu, she gets it when Angelus is stepping up his terror attacks on the Scoobies! Her fear of hospitals was well played and completely understandable since her cousin Celia died in one in front of Buffy when she was eight. Judging by the flashbacks to her childhood it looks Buffy always fancied being something of a superhero (‘Power Girl to the rescue!’). Buffy is starting to feel responsible for every living person on Sunnydale whether she is in a position to stop it or not. This persecution complex is only going to get more powerful as the series continues. Its no wonder that Celia’s death stayed with Buffy and gave her such a phobia of hospitals. Clawing and screaming at an invisible monster that is sucking the life out of her is something that would stay with me too! Finally Buffy can make sense of her fear and put the demon to rest. Another strength of this series is Buffy for all her heroism and strength can also be seen to be something of a total airhead at times. Such as here where she is about to swig down a glass of full of 100% pure flu virus.
Ripper: There is a gorgeous, gentle moment between Giles and Joyce where they discuss the recent loss of Jenny and you can see the potential for future development between them.
Witchy Willow: Willow is exactly the sort of friend you need in this kind of crisis. Forget your balloons and your grapes, she’ll do all your assignments for you (‘chocolate means nothing to me…’) and all that is required is a signature.
Gorgeous Geek: In a memorable sequence Angelus attempts to belittle Xander who is holding vigil outside of Buffy’s room (‘It must just eat you up that I got there first’). He calls him Buffy’s White Knight and outs the fact that Xander still loves her. Xander’s response (‘you’re gonna die and I’m gonna be there’) is all the more impressive for its restraint. We learn that Willow and Xander used to play Doctors and Nurses together but not in a kinky way.
Undead Brit: Giles thinks that Buffy might be making up a monster to fight because sickness is the one thing that she cannot battle like she does demons. Remember how well that ‘let’s pretend Angel isn’t a problem and hopefully he will go away’ plan worked out last week, Rupert? I’m starting wonder if he understands his Slayer at all, especially when he asks if the childs drawing is Buffy’s work (although her deadpan reaction is very funny). Even more hilarious is Giles’ marvellous reaction to being lumbered with Cordy (‘lets go tact guy…’). I could watch this pair investigating demons until the cows come home because they are so funny together.
Caustic Cordy: Its acknowledged that Cordelia has never heard of tact which I think is a good thing because she manages to get to the point far quicker than most who skirt around the real problem (ie the rest of the team). They had to replace her character with somebody when she skipped over to Angel because everybody else is always too busy being nice to actually get the nub of the problem on a weekly basis. Mind you she does need to work on her flirting (‘you have the most perfect nose that I have seen…’). Cordy and Xander are snippier than ever in this episode but it does come with the very sweet punchline when she apologises with Krispy Crème donuts and coffee. Her continued presence on this show is a massive bonus as she brings such a whirlwind of confidence and humour with her.
Puppy Dog Eyes: After the riveting action of Passion Angelus goes back to being a mild annoyance rather than an dangerous threat – there are about five instances during the graveyard fight where he could have easily have snapped Buffy’s neck but fails to make use of the opportunity. I can see why this has been done, the show will start to feel a little repetitive if every episode concerned itself with Angelus tearing a field of bloody corpses on his way to finish off the Slayer but it does rather ponder the question of what he is doing between now and Becoming. Still it could be worse, they could have just ignored him completely between now and then and that would have been even worse.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Boy there’s a demon for everything!’ Cordy exclaims, putting into words what we will come to discover over the series’ seven year life span. Particularly memorable are demons who steal your voice (Hush) and on the other end of the scale a demon who makes you sing (Once More With Feeling) and even a demon who makes you think that you’re nuts (Normal Again). Killed By Death features a demon that you can only see when you are sick, close to death and not able to fight back. That’s novel, but then most of the monsters in this show are. His long fingernails and sucker eyes make for some uncomfortably icky scenes.
The Good: Its always lovely when we move away from the established settings of a particular seasons. In latter years Buffy would choose a main setting, be it a university campus, the Magic Shop of simply Buffy’s front room and rarely move beyond it to tell its stories. Season two seems to buck the trend in that respect and this hospital bound drama is a great example. Death walking past Buffy’s hospital door suddenly is a great shock moment and despite ripping off Freddie Kruger visually it is still a great design. A demon dressed as an undertaker would be addressed again and even more effectively in Hush. How stylish is the camerawork in this episode? Buffy’s seems to be attracting all the best directors towards the end of its second season.
The Bad: Brian Markham is one of those actors that turns up in every cult show going and especially memorable in The Goldberg Variation in The X-Files. This is probably the most thankless role I have seen him give though, as the over excitable security guard that Cordelia flirts with.
Moment to Watch Out For: The death of Dr Backer is especially chilling because it is witnessed by a terrified child (although the bloody slash marks are pretty grim too) and I love the way that he is dragged away to be devoured by his invisible assailant. This sequence is very A Nightmare on Elm Street or at least as far as the show could go and still get past the censors.
Result: Killed By Death is slightly reminiscent of Nightmares from season one but it just goes to show how the series has improved exponentially since then. Unusually for this period of Buffy it is a very plot driven story with no emotional stakes in it for anybody but even that is refreshing after a run of (admittedly excellent) episodes that have dealt with the love lives of the Scoobies. Every episode comes packed with terrific dialogue these days and having everybody come together to fight a monster in this fashion is very season one but all the more engaging for it. Refreshingly Der Kindestod is a nasty piece of work that isn’t loaded with wisecracks, he’s a vicious monster that wants to kill little children. A monster of the week episode boosted considerably by season two’s confidence and style and packed to the gills with entertaining character moments, chills and witty lines. This is a massively enjoyable throwback of the sort that we would lose in later years. Rather than bury it for not trying to be anything too deep, just enjoy it for its sheer unpretentiousness: 8/10
I Only Have Eyes For You written by Marti Noxon and directed by James Whitmore, Jr
What’s it about: Why is a vengeful spirit haunting Sunnydale High?
The Chosen One: ‘The quality of mercy is not Buffy!’ It looks like Ben who asks Buffy to the Sadie Hawkins dance was the one that got away. Lucky for him considering the downward spiral her life is about to go on as we progress through the series! Poor Buffy is going stag at the Bronze whilst all her friends are enjoying time with their significant others and admits that she’s not in date mode and doesn’t want to be impulsive Buffy anymore. Not after what happened last time. Her prophetic dreams are getting more powerful all the time. Buffy is determined to pin the blame on James regardless of what the scenario is trying to tell her about his guilt. We discover that James is haunting the school because he wants forgiveness and is doomed to kill the woman he loves over and over again in his own form of purgatory. Buffy is going through something similar at the moment, having made an unfortunate mistake that she has to live with and is now trying to hold back from murdering the man she loves. The episode makes these parallels very clear but makes Buffy shockingly unlikable as a result of her identification (it’s a strong reminder of her behaviour in When She Was Bad). As Giles says: ‘forgiveness is an act of compassion Buffy. Its not given because they deserve it but because they need it’ but her reaction is a flat ‘he’s just going to have to live with it.’ Buffy’s going through a hard time at the moment so we’ll let this one pass but there will be many times later in the series where she gets a little too introspective and one track minded. Or as Cordy puts it ‘is she trying to be a big loner hero or something?’ For once you can believe that Buffy’s life is genuinely in danger as she is possessed and walks into the school to shoot herself.
Ripper: Head could make practically any scene work and the moment where Willow gives Giles Jenny’s rose quartz was really moving because of his wonderfully subdued reaction. Once again Giles is excited to be researching one of the classics. He needs to get out more. Actually no he doesn’t – the last time he got close to somebody she was murdered horribly. He’s in a pretty unstable place because of Jenny’s recent death and thinks that the haunting must be her because she died violently in the school but its an irrational hope that isn’t supported by the facts. Giles is too intelligent to hold on to this notion for long and I’m pleased they didn’t push the idea as the dramatic backbone of the episode. Instead it’s a rather touching side issue that sees the man trying to cope with her passing.
Witchy Willow: This is where it all begins for Willow. She has discovered sites on paganism and witchcraft on Ms Calendar’s computer and finds it fascinating. I had no idea her magic leanings stretched back this far but from this point it is one hell of a journey as Willow learns all the joys and the pain of indulging in the dark arts.
Gorgeous Geek: ‘Something weird’s going on…isn’t that our school motto?’ Xander is so flippant sometimes that he needs a reality check and I cannot be the only person who was applauding when he was dragged into his locker by a demon hand?
Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel confesses that he bored of playing games with Buffy and he is ready to finally take her on for good. He’s continually winding up Spike by flirting with Drusilla and you can feel the arc cogs moving into place as we work our way towards the finale. What a shame that Go Fish is rather crow barred in the way. For Angelus being forced into a romantic confrontation with Buffy is just about the worst torture that he can imagine, being made to feel again. For Buffy being able to hold him again is a dream come true so when they break away from the kiss as their normal selves the way he tosses to the ground so savagely is heartbreaking.
Mr Snidey: ‘What would Sunnydale without you to incite chaos, mayhem and disorder?’ It feels like an age since we last got to spend any time with Snyder so I cheered when he turned up at the beginning of this episode to make Buffy’s life hell. It doesn’t matter what delinquent behaviour occurs he always wants to be Buffy’s fault somehow. I get the impression that she is exactly the sort of unattainable babe that he couldn’t get a date with in High School and wouldn’t give him a second look and now he is in a position of power he can take all of his frustrations out on the next generation. There’s another quiet moment where Snyder reveals that he knows far more about the supernatural occurrences of Sunnydale than we have previously been led to believe (‘Things are getting out of hand’).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Exorcism’ ‘Are you kidding me? I saw that movie! Even the Priest died!’
‘Love is forever…’
The Good: An illicit affair between a pupil and a teacher in the 50s is the catalyst for the ghostly happenings in this episode and that is a very adult starting point for a show that was offering Frankenstein 90210 at the beginning of the season. I have a massive phobia of snakes so the shock moment where they fill the school canteen and one takes a lump of Cordelia’s face scared the crap out of me. I love the atmosphere of the scenes where Buffy, Willow, Xander and Cordy try and take out the ghost in the school at night. Once the show grows up and leaves High School the feeling of closeness between the four characters will start to dissipate so I really enjoy this period when they were all so close. When I think of the first three seasons of Buffy its images like the four of them clutching onto candles and wandering through the schools corridors that make me smile. All the horrors that try and spook the kids away are fantastically scary, especially the shots of Willow being sucked into a muddy grave and Cordelia’s face being consumed by her snake bite. Its all topped off with the glorious visual of a plague of locusts driving them all from the school. To intercut between four different characters and the horrors they are facing and building them up to create an atmosphere of tension requires some very tight editing so kudos on that score. We realise with some horror that the gun went off by accident and that James never intended to kill Miss Newman. The last scene sneaks up on you unawares where Spike gets up from his wheelchair reveals that he is completely healed and waiting for his moment to strike back at Angelus. Please can’t we skip Go Fish?
The Bad: Marti Noxon has scripted a nice angst-ridden ‘don’t walk away from me bitch!’ set piece for the audience recognise when the ghostly scenario is playing over again but it needs the work of skilled actors to bring it to life and pretty much everybody except Gellar and Boreanaz sink these scenes because they are little more than bit players. Guns are being waved around in high school again. I’m not so much of a priss that I think that images like that provoke it to happen in real life but we’ve seen rather a wealth of firearms in Sunnydale High of late.
Moment to Watch Out For: The finale set piece of Buffy and Angel playing out the James/Miss Newman scenario is wonderful for so many reasons. Buffy gets to identify with James in a very intimate way and finally understand the forgiveness he seeks. It’s a marvellous reminder of the melodramatic confrontations between Buffy and Angel we had to suffer in every episode at the beginning of the season – the show has grown so much now that it takes the pair of them being possessed to make it happen these days! Look how far we’ve come! Putting Buffy in the role of the man and Angel in the role of the woman is a very neat device and allows both Gellar (who adopts a very harsh, masculine voice) and Boreanaz (who is frightening convincing as a woman) to play about with their roles. All this plus it is a very neat way to resolve the problem of the recurring haunting by using Angel’s vampiric powers in a very imaginative way (reminding me of The Dark Age).
Orchestra: Beck’s music fits every tone that this episode is indulging in be it horror, romance or drama. The score during the final confrontation is especially stirring.
Foreboding: Buffy is already setting up its third season with a marvellously ominous mention of the Mayor…
Notes: Fans of Doctor Who should pay close attention to scenes of the Scoobies investigating the school at night and then running out and slamming the main doors shut. These scenes are played out almost identically in the series two episode School Reunion (which oddly features Anthony Stewart Head as the demon headmaster). RTD always said he wanted a Buffy feel to the series where the dialogue and contemporary references are concerned and he certainly achieved it in Sarah Jane Smith’s triumphant return to the show.
Result: A smashing script that is gorgeously directed and acted to the hilt, I Only Have Eyes For You is another top notch Buffy episode from the latter half of season two. This was an easy episode to review because there was so much to talk about. On a visceral level there was the grisly horror of the snakes, Willow being pulled into a watery grave and a zombie dancing with a teacher. On an emotional level there is Giles still trying to cope with the death of Jenny, Buffy’s empathising violently with James and Angelus being forced to experience love again. As a piece of storytelling it is tightly written and satisfying with oodles of fun interaction and fun dialogue. And as a performance piece you’ve got all the actors at their best, especially Gellar and Boreanaz who get to indulge in multiple roles with real aplomb. This is past the point of Buffy having found its niche now – the show is delivering consistent gems that show many other genre shows up for the static, cliché ridden bores that they are. When this show drags you in and makes you care about its characters there is nothing finer and I Only Have Eyes For You is another great example: 9/10
Go Fish written by David Fury & Elin Hampton and directed by David Semel
What’s it about: The swim team and their empathy with the water…
The Chosen One: You would think that by the time Buffy reaches university she would realise that she always picks the wrong guy but no she keeps making the same mistakes over and over. Cameron Walker is a swim team champion who talks poetically about the sea and locks young girls into his car so he can have his wicked way with them. Again female empowerment is the order of the day because in any other show this would be the cue for the woman to scream for help or try and smash the window but Buffy simply grabs his head and smashes his nose open over the dashboard. Like Cordy in Killed By Death, Buffy desperately needs to work on her flirting (‘there’s something about the smell of chlorine – oh baby!’).
Witchy Willow: Willow the inquisitor made me chuckle (‘i’ll crack him like an egg…’) because she takes no prisoners when questioning Jonathan and recoils in such a cute way when she learns that he has peed in the pool.
Caustic Cordy: Cordy believes that winners are entitled to special privileges and that’s just how the world works. She believes that even more when her geeky boyfriend turns out to look shit hot in Speedos and gets a place on the swim team. She is finally proud to be Xander’s girlfriend which is rather lovely in a shallow kind of way.
Mr Snidey: More Snyder makes me beam and this time he reveals that he is a assignment scoring cheat too as he tries to manipulate Willow into giving the swim team a free ride in computer sciences. He really is irredeemable, isn’t he? Just how I like him.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m undercover!’ ‘Not under much.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Dude! What is that foulness?’ Wentworth Miller must look back at his star turn on Buffy and cringe, especially with dialogue like this that not even the finest Shakespearean actor could make sound plausible.
The Good: I always knew that Sunnydale was in California but I figured it must be some weird alternative universe California where it doesn’t have a stretch of beach because it has always been conspicuous by its absence. Bugger me then when the beach turns up at the beginning of this episode and turns out to be another visually fresh location. We keep seeing more and more of Jonathan which pleases me. It was good of the show to recognise the potential of this character and for inviting him back for season three and beyond (its even better when he gets an episode of his very own and then gets to be a villain for a year). Go Fish gets away with more graphic horror than the average Buffy episode with the bloody remains of a corpse left on the beach and a grisly sequence where the fish arm tears through Gage’s hand. The fish creatures are appallingly realised but the magic of this show is once again in evidence as we cut to Xander giving a very funny description of the, and you realise that Buffy can practically get away with anything just through its sheer confidence.
The Bad: Poor Wentworth Miller. Doomed to be remembered for his bit part in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he becomes famous for Prison Break. I have to be honest though and say that he doesn’t give a very convincing performance here – there is no sign of the intensity and intelligence that he would bring to Micheal Schofield. The conceit that the victims have been gutted when the truth is they have been transformed should have been more prominent but is lost in a muddy script. I hate the assertion that women are leading men on by dressing to kill – that’s such a misogynistic point of view that leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. It assumes that women can’t want to look good for themselves. I get what the episode is trying to say about athletes taking steroids but it isn’t like Buffy to get on its moralistic high horse like this and rather fudges the issue by making the effect of drug abuse being transformed into a rubber monster. The fish creatures could have been made to work (later seasons of Buffy perfect prosthetics to a very high quality) but they are far too static and cumbersome to look anything other than men in wet suits going ‘raaaaaah!’ The fat nurse being dumped in the sewer at the mercy of the fish monsters is pure b movie (and a real pity to lose the character because the actress was rather good). Why does the coach throw her down there? Why is he turning his boys into fish when they cannot act as part of the team in that guise? The script says he just wants his boys to win but the episode seems to suggest that the transformations are being done deliberately. The whole issue is shockingly glossed over. There’s another gun at the High School – come on Buffy, you are much cleverer than this. Buffy is sent down into the depths to act as a breeder for the fish monsters (even Gellar sounds embarrassed saying the line ‘you’re just going to feed me to them?’). Can you think of Buffy being placed a more anomalous danger than this? Unbelievably a comedy moment with Cordelia misses the mark by a country mile and that is something I thought this show was incapable of. There is something about the way the scene where she thinks Xander has been turned into a fish swimming in the school pool that fails to hit the spot (the overdone music doesn’t help either). The coach being eaten by his ‘boys’ does have a certain poetic justice to it but it prevents him having to account for his actions. Is this just a another case of missing kids in Sunnydale then considering the last we see of Gage and his mates is them attempting to return to sea? Why would parents ever move to this town?
Moment to Watch Out For: Xander in Speedos. Bestill my beating heart. Oh and that truly dreadful shot of the fish people swimming off to sea at the end.
Fashion Statement: ‘Its officially nippy! So say my nips!’ There is a scene in Go Fish where David Boreanaz sinks his teeth into the neck of Wentworth Miller. Has somebody been reading my Christmas wish list? Later there is a long, seductive pan up Xander’s body dripping with water clutched in nothing but a pair of tight Speedos. Somebody has been reading my Christmas wish list!
Notes: For other examples of David Fury’s work check out Terra Nova (if you dare…) and Fringe.
Result: Go Fish has a number of impressive resources including a beach location, impressive sewer sets filled with water and Xander’s privates on display but ultimately it isn’t a particularly engaging story to watch. The central mystery is dull and surprisingly moralistic (Buffy uses avoids lecturing its audience) and there’s nothing emotionally involving going on (unless you were genuinely afraid that Xander might turn into a fish). The whole steroids in the steam room angle isn’t as clever as it thinks it is and before the end of the episode we have veered dangerously into b movie territory with hideous monster costumes leering up from the depths, people being put in the jeopardy of the most peculiar kind and the central villain lacking any kind of reasonable motivation that might have made sense of all this. The biggest problem with Go Fish is that it doesn’t feel as though it is about anything relevant (which is the opposite effect of what it is trying to achieve) and it spoils the run up to the finale which has been building momentum since the middle of the season with this tiresome relapse to the worst excesses of the first season crowbarred in the way. Like all the best shows Buffy proves that even when it is riding high on its own success it can still produce a stinker: 3/10
Becoming Part One written and directed by Joss Whedon
What’s it about: This is the story of a man called Angel who fell in love with the Slayer and lost his soul…and found himself baying for her blood.
The Chosen One: Buffy is going to go on such an incredible journey over the course of these episodes so it is fascinating to flashback to a time where she had no idea what her calling would be and all she had to care about was fashion, boys and sweets. She is pure Clueless (‘call me!’) and wonderfully shallow (practically Cordelia) and greets the news of her destiny with an almighty ‘huh?’ Witnessing her first staking where she completely misses the heart is a comic gem. Joyce and Hank can be heard arguing off screen in a little glimpse to their self destructing marriage and how Buffy has a detrimental effect on it. Buffy doubts herself scholastically but proves time and again (especially when she heads to university) that she is much brighter than she thinks she is. Buffy mentions the word ‘patrolling’ for the first time but by the end of the series it is practically uttered in every episode. Angel uses Buffy’s latest complex that every death at his hands is her fault to lure her to the graveyard so he can put his plan into motion. He understands his adversary a little too well.
Witchy Willow: Willow has really caught the teaching bug and it’s a shame that nothing came of this because it has been mentioned so many times over the last handful of episodes you might be forgiven for thinking that this was going somewhere. Its summarily dumped at the beginning of season three in favour of the witchcraft angle. Willow has been researching the black arts ‘for fun’ and thinks that she can handle the restoration spell. It’s a massive asks for such an inexperienced Wicca and it’s a taste of just how powerful magic can be. No wonder she was completely bewitched by the art. She is completely uncomfortable with being Buffy’s last chance but she winds up fulfilling that role time (Primeval) and again (Chosen).
Gorgeous Geek: I’m really glad that somebody asked the question of ‘who cares?’ about restoring Angel’s soul given how much suffering his blood sucking alter ego has caused. Predictably it had to be Xander who has never been a fan of the guy even when he was Buffy’s cuddle monkey. It’s a great scene for all the actors involved, especially Giles who lashes out vicious when Xander points out in no uncertain terms that Jenny is dead and pretending that Angel didn’t kill her defiles her memory. Xander’s (very nasty) suggestion that Buffy wants to forget all about Angelus’ murder of Ms Calendar just so she can get her boyfriend back is well worth the murderous looks that both she and Willow give him. What makes this drama so gripping is that what Xander is saying is right.
Mad Hatter: ‘I met an old man. I didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.’ Since we are about to wave adieu to Drusilla now seems a vital time to see where she came from and how she ended up quite as mad as she did. She was a gentle, unassuming sort of girl who was terrified of her ‘gift’ (the visions) and just happens to visit confession at the wrong time (whilst Angelus is slaughtering the priest). He sees this delicate flower and decides that she will be his next project, killing all her family and friends, telling her she is a devil child and determined to turn her into an evil thing. It is his personal mission to make her life on Earth a personal Hell and then to introduce her to it. The episode blissfully cuts to our Drusilla in the future so we can witness the result of his handiwork; a psychopathic, dreamy and unpredictable killer. Juliet Landau has perfected Drusilla’s ethereal madness at this point and is simply a joy to watch. Drusilla has never felt like a forbidding presence than when she walks through the carnage in the library and slashes Kendra’s throat with her razor sharp fingernails. Its so quick and graphic it takes you entirely by surprise.
Caustic Cordy: Kendra proves to be a bit rubbish at protecting Buffy’s friends but both Xander and Cordelia (who proves deadly with a bookshelf) acquit themselves well.
Puppy Dog Eyes: I will say one thing negative about Boreanaz’s otherwise stellar performance and that is his Irish accent needs some more work and is barely comprehensible at times (although this isn’t entirely untrue of Irish enunciation). Otherwise he gives the performance of a lifetime in an episode that is devoted to his character. I have been taken on a massive journey with Angel this year because for the first year and a half I was unconvinced that he had anything to add to the show beyond teenage angst but since Surprise his character has constantly, well, surprised me and so has Boreanaz. He has proven that he can play many aspects of the character from love struck vampire to vicious killer and has indulged in all the nuances in between. We get to witness Angel’s siring at the hands of Darla (or should that be the breasts of Darla?) and cutting from him turning into a vampire to several hundred years later where he has been cursed with a soul and then turned evil again it gives the show a real epic sense of scale. For Angel this episode is all about the various transformations he has suffered through the years and as well as seeing his bewitching conversion into a blood sucking killer we also witness the moment the gypsies curse him with a soul. Having to act out a man who has suddenly turned good and remembers 100 years of killing in an instant is a big ask of any actor and Boreanaz looks physically weighed down by the horror that overwhelms him. A hundred years after he had his soul returned Angel is living the life of a sewer rat in Los Angeles (when he returns there at the end of season three of Buffy it is under very different circumstances) and is given a new lease of life by a personable demon called Whistler (a great new character who unfortunately doesn’t get seen again after this story). It was never explained why Angel was following Buffy in Welcome to the Hellmouth or why he was so obsessed about her and here Whedon gets to fill in all the blanks, having him see her for the first time in Los Angeles and making her protection his new mission in life. It adds so much to their romance it’s a shame that it should only be revealed here at its conclusion.
Mr Snidey: Snyder is just looking for a reason to expel Buffy. Any reason. And I think he might be able to get his wish some time very soon.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There are moments in your life that make you. That set the course of who you’re going to be…’
‘This isn’t an orgy people, it’s a classroom’ ‘Yeah, where they teach lunch.’
‘The big moments are going to come, you can’t help that. Its what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.’
The Good: As far as I understand the production team filmed outside of the usual confines of their warehouses and were given a completely new studio to film the flashback sequences. This would seem to be an imminently sensible idea because this turns out to be one of the most visually stunning and cinematic of all the Buffy episodes. It takes us to the wet cobbles of an Irish street outside a cosy little tavern to the litter strewn mist swathed streets of New York taking in both England and Los Angeles on the way. All of these locations are blissfully realised and help to sell the flashbacks as important moments in these characters lives. How awesome is it to see Darla again after so long? That’s one thing you can definitely say about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it maintains the respect of its performers who often turn up in the most exquisite of cameos long after they have left the series. Flashing backwards and forwards through Angel’s life is very reminiscent of Highlander and proves to be just as evocative as that show at its best. You can see why this narrative tool was adopted so much in Angel’s own show although I felt it was occasionally overdone on that show so it lost its novelty. Here though it feels like such a useful tool to fill in so many of the gaps that have been alluded to this year and it provide some dramatic counterpointing to the action in the present day. Although the pencil dropping antics feels a little contrived the build up to discovering Jenny’s restoration spell has been such a long time coming and so appetite whettingly build up that it feels exciting regardless. The return of Kendra (who I had completely forgotten about if I’m honest) is very welcome and adds to the feeling of the entire season converging to create one humdinger of a finale. There is mention of a demon universe where all these creatures that we have met in the series have come from (with the Hellmouth as a kind of gateway). Can we visit there someday please? I love the idea of Joss Whedon being able to go back and fill in the blanks of all these characters long after we first met them. It’s a great indication of how rich their backstories have been. We learn that not all demons are dedicated to the destruction of life on Earth and we would get to meet a number of charming ones later in the series (Anya, Halfrek, Clem). Intercutting the fight between Buffy and Angel and the raid on the library gives the closing scenes a real injection of energy and tension.
The Bad: What is it with these massive game changing two parters of Joss Whedon’s that everything else is so good but the actual threat to the characters (the demon) is so underwhelming. Like The Judge in Surprise, Akafla is given a massive build up but winds up being a very unimpressive looking statue. A world swallowing demon sounds very ambitious but we see very little of that in either episode. The staging of the vampire walking into class with a message from Angel and bursting into flames is extremely well done but surely this is a little too public for the show? Or are we accepting that the entire population of Sunnydale knows about vampires now? Oddly after such a mesmerising episode the actual cliffhanger (of which there were much better moments where the episode could have paused) is shockingly forgettable.
Moment to Watch Out For: Why are the moments when characters realise that they have walked into a trap so damn exciting? Or at least they are when they are done this well. Buffy rushing back to the school and dashing down the corridor in slow motion is a really memorable conclusion to the episode. Giles kidnapped, Xander beaten and Kendra dead…Buffy is going to be flogging herself for years over this epic failiure.
Fashion Statement: Buffy’s awful padded orange jacket for her LA sequences is horrible.
Orchestra: The ‘Massacre’ suite for the final fight and Buffy discovering Kendra’s corpse is unforgettable. Check it out on YouTube.
Result: It’s a closely contested fight but Becoming (Part One) just about edges it as the best episode of the season. There is so much richness to this story it is impossible to know which superlative to pull out of the bag first. Rarely has a title been so accurate as we get to witness Angel becoming a vampire and inflicted with a soul and Buffy becoming his lover and nemesis. There is so much clever intercutting of the past and the present, using the history of these characters to make sense of what is currently going on in their lives. The script is a work of art, juggling riveting flashbacks with present day action and ensuring that not one character is forgotten in this coming together of all the elements of the season. Production wise Buffy has rarely looked as cinematic with a globe trotting visit to England, Ireland, Romania, Manhattan and Los Angeles before bringing everything together in California. Angel is given a fascinating character study that allows us to explore the most momentous moments in his life and we finally get to understand why Buffy is so important to him. The action is gripping, Christophe Beck’s score mesmerising and the build up to the finale almost unbearably tense. Just take a look at where all these characters began this season and where they have ended up – the development on this show over a single season is more than some show manage across their entire series (although I wont mention the usual suspects). This is simply breathtaking television and still holds up impressively today: 10/10
Becoming Part Two written and directed by Joss Whedon
What’s it about: All bets are off. Either Buffy or Angel has to die. But things might not go down the way you think…
The Chosen One: After hiding the truth from Joyce for so long Buffy has to dust a vampire right in front of her. Its such a great moment because it comes after giving her mother the least convincing explanation for her criminal behaviour yet (that she is in a band with Spike) and the audience collectively sighs as Joyce buys it (as usual). The last thing you ever expect to happen then is for a vampire to appear and undo all that so naturally that is exactly what occurs. Kristine Sutherland plays the bemused Joyce superbly but also gets to show off the characters anger as Buffy tries to brush her off so casually after dumping something this momentous in her lap. ‘I am your mother and you will make time to explain yourself!’ Let’s be honest Buffy’s trace record since they moved to Sunnydale hasn’t exactly been golden and although this bombshell goes someway towards explaining her actions its still a lot to get your head around. The trouble is Buffy doesn’t have the time to hold her mothers hand through this. In a fabulous moment where Buffy talks directly to the audience she accuses her mother of being spectacularly thick for not figuring all of this out sooner. Buffy still longs for a normal life but has found herself trying to save the world. Again. Let’s not forget that Joyce gave Buffy an ultimatum and told her not to come back before we start dishing out blame in season three. This is an amazingly well performed scene that sees Joyce at her wits end and Buffy unable to cope with her mothers questions. I love it. Angel taunts Buffy at the climax with the fact that she no longer has any weapons, friends or hope but that doesn’t stop her believing in herself and kicking the crap out of him. At the climax Buffy cannot go home (because her mother told her not to), she can’t go to the school (because she has been expelled) and she can’t face her friends (after everything she has put them through) and so she decides to skip town. It’s the wrong decision on so many levels (and she’ll have to address that in season three) but you can completely understand why she simply has to get away.
Ripper: What astonishing inner strength Giles shows by resisting showing signs of weakness in the face of Angel’s torture. He keeps his poker face on at all times despite the fact that he is practically sweating blood. How astonishingly cruel is it using Jenny to extract the information about the ritual from Giles? Offering what he most seeks on a plate whilst he is too weak to resist. I would have had less respect for the man had he not given them what they wanted.
Witchy Willow: Willow is determined to carry out the restoration spell and despite Xander’s objections (her ‘resolve face’ is very funny) Oz understands that she knows her limitations.
Gorgeous Geek: I have been less than complimentary about Nicholas Brendon as a credible actor but he has gone and proven me wrong in the second half of season two where he has been as convincing indulging in the serious stuff as he has making me laugh my head off. He certainly aces the scene at Willow’s bedside where he admits that he loves her and this is another small moment of set up for the explosive romantic events of season three. Xander fails to give Buffy Willow’s message about trying the spell again which feels like it should be addressed next year but in fact doesn’t get brought up again until season seven!
Undead Brit: You’ve got to love how this show revels in making its characters do what nobody expects them to do. Who would ever credit that Spike would wind up saving Buffy from police custody? Spike gets a fabulous speech about how lame these plans to end the world are because he likes things exactly as they are with people walking across the surface like Happy Meals with legs. Even Buffy is shocked that he should defect from his own side because of something as shallow as lust (‘you want my help because your girlfriend’s a big ho?’). Its amazing to think how far these two will journey by the end of the series because at this point Buffy freely admits that she hates Spike. When the actors say that performing with James Marsters is a joy and Whedon says that he makes them up their game you can really see that in Becoming. He’s insanely funny but there isn’t one point where his character doesn’t convince entirely. Any scene with Joyce and Spike is automatically a winner because the actors share such adorable chemistry (‘Have we met?’ ‘You hit me with an axe one time. Remember “get the hell away from my daughter!”). Spike is delighted that Drusilla has bagged herself a Slayer but in this company it might not have been the smartest thing to say.
Mad Hatter: Drusilla gets completely lost in the moment of trying to seduce Giles and winds up snogging the face off him! She has no idea of the betrayal Spike is planning and is still treating him like a sick child.
Puppy Dog Eyes: Angelus used to love torturing people and its been a long time since he has had the chance to indulge and now he has Giles in his clutches he hopes that he doesn’t co-operate so he can take the opportunity to really hurt someone. You get the feeling that Angelus has really reached the end of his patience now and is capable of anything. Whistler admits that even he never saw Angel falling in love with Buffy coming and that he was supposed to stop Akafla rather than help to bring him forth.
Mr Snidey: ‘You never, ever got a single date in High School, did you?’ ‘Your point being?’ Snyder practically salivates when he finally gets his wish to expel Buffy and I love the moment of fear he experiences as she draws her sword and walks past him. We learn here that his hatred of Buffy might not simply be because of her school record but because he is trying to please this unseen background menace, the Mayor. Lots more healthy set up for season three. This is a show that really thinks ahead.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘In order to be worthy you must perform the ritual in a tutu. Pillock.’
‘I don’t fancy spending the next month getting librarian out of the carpet!’
The Good: So much has happened in season two that defies belief and so many dramatic conventions have been turned on their head (the good guys are on a downward spiral of lose, nice people are being killed whilst the baddies get more powerful and the heroine most definitely does not get the guy) that having Buffy on the run from the police (which should feel massive) simply feels like a continuation of the unpredictable nature of her life of late. You genuinely feel like all bets are off here, that everybody’s life is in danger and that anything could happen. Suddenly everything is very serious whilst Willow is on deaths door, nobody is wise cracking or talking like a smart arse. I love moment where Spike finally makes his move and attacks Angel because this leads to the equally insane act of Drusilla attacking him – after they have been such a tight unit of evil throughout the year this is the last place they should have ended up! Gellar and Boreanaz taking fencing lessons certainly paid off because their final fight looks very impressive. They clash swords in a very fluidic, energetic and vicious way.
The Bad: Spike and Drusilla simply exiting stage right during the finale might feel a little underwhelming after the journey we have been on with them this season but these are characters that are simply too good to kill off. Doesn’t Akafla take a long time to swallow the Earth? He waits out the entire fight between Buffy and Angelus!
Moment to Watch Out For: Am I the only person who wasn’t cheering once Angel had his soul returned or wondered why Buffy didn’t think this was one last desperate trick? Still you cannot fault the performances on display and how expertly Joss Whedon has moved his chess pieces to put Buffy in such a devastating position of having to choose to kill the man she loves in order to save the world. In an entirely selfless act she plunges the sword unsuspectingly into his chest and seals up Akafla’s gob for good. The fact that the puppy dog Angel that she fell in love with has just been returned to her makes the moment so much more powerful. Whedon is a bad, bad man but he makes dramatically sound decisions and this finale is unforgettable.
Fashion Statement: Buffy’s ‘on the run’ outfit is to zip herself up in a black bomber jacket and matching bobble hat. She’s the cutest fugitive of all time.
Orchestra: Christophe Beck’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ is rightfully celebrated and it delicately adds even more emotion to the already powerful decision that Buffy has to make. Sarah McLachlan’s Full of Grace has become the seminal closing number of a Buffy season and I cannot hear this song without thinking of this devastating finale.
Foreboding: Who is the Mayor? How will Buffy get back into Sunnydale High? How do Xander and Willow feel about each other? Where has Buffy gone? What happens next for Spike and Drusilla? See you in season three to find out!
Result: Its probably Buffy’s most remembered finale (in exactly the same way Doomsday is Doctor Who’s most remembered finale – because of its raw emotional content in the last ten minutes) and yet the second part (for all its wealth of great scenes) is nowhere near as accomplished as the opening instalment. We’re used to bad things happening to good people at this point but Whedon takes it to extremes here with Willow bruised in a hospital bed, Giles physically tortured and Buffy forced into making a decision that tears her heart out. As a result this is gripping viewing but allows very little relief for our heroes. Joyce finding out about Buffy’s calling is spectacularly handled and coaxes unforgettable performances from Sutherland and Gellar and Spike defecting to the other side affords some terrific moments for his character. All eyes are on Buffy and Angel during the climax and its clear that they can’t both escape this episode alive and the title of the series might give you a big clue as to which of them is going to buy the farm. That doesn’t stop the moment being any less powerful (especially in the hands of Beck’s phenomenal score) or game changing. Its very brave to leave your central character in such a dark place at the end of such a triumphant season but brave has been the watchword for this remarkable year of television. There is so much to wrap up in season three and overall this is a uneven finale that is punctuated with gob smacking scenes: 8/10