Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: Edge of Seventeen

Things take a dark turn this week, with "Bad Eggs", "Surprise", and "Innocence".

"So what did you do for your birthday? Did you have fun?"
"I got older."
"You look the same to me."

After rewatching "Bad Eggs", I was going to use it an example of an episode that (if it aired today) might have inspired lots of online hate directed at Joyce. She, like Skyler White on BREAKING BAD, really stands in the protagonist's way in this episode. She also acts - from our perspective at least - unreasonably... though from her perspective her behavior is completely reasonable and warranted. And I might come back to this idea later in the rewatch, but for now all I want to talk about is "Surprise" and "Innocence."

By this point, about two-thirds through the second season, BUFFY had already made the jump from a promising series to a great one. But "Surprise" and "Innocence" elevated the show to another level. It's a two-parter centered on Buffy's 17th birthday. Willow finds out about Cordelia and Xander and continues her courtship with Oz, who now knows about the supernatural evil in Sunnydale. Giles' blossoming relationship with Jenny Calendar hits a major stumbling block. Drusilla has returned to full health and is even bat-shittier crazy than we could have predicted. And Buffy sleeps with Angel and gives him one true moment of happiness, which, thanks to the gypsy curse, destroys his soul. "Surprise" expertly sets up all of these pins, and "Innocence" expertly knocks them all down.

In "Innocence", BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER transforms from a great show to a legendary one.

In the episode commentary on the DVD, Joss Whedon calls "Innocence" the most important episode of the series, and he's right. There are probably a handful of episodes later in the series that I'd say are better, but I'm not sure if any of them (except maybe "The Body") cut as deep. The key scene of the episode is the scene between Buffy and (who she thinks is) Angel (but is actually Angelus), the night after they have sex. Buffy's "Was it me? Was I not good?" - well, she may be an ass-kicking superhero, but she's still a 17-year-old girl whom you just want to protect from pain like that. Gellar, so vulnerable and uncertain, and Boreanaz, so dismissive and wounding, act the hell out of it. It's really hard to watch, and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Gellar is brilliant throughout - the whole cast is, really. Great writing of a great story really brings out the great performances. Xander and Cordy, Willow and Xander, Oz and Willow, Buffy and Giles, Buffy and Joyce: Every scene in "Innocence" is just so perfectly calibrated, emotionally. I want to especially salute Alyson Hannigan. She brings her A+ game, from Willow telling Xander "You'd rather be with someone you hate than be with me," to the radiant look on her face during Oz's justly famous "Willow kissage" speech.

I also wanted to touch briefly on the seemingly sudden development of Jenny actually being a gypsy, sent to Sunnydale to watch Angel. It's a nifty bit of ret-conning that I wish the show could have gone back in time and hint at before "Surprise", but I'll allow it, because it's such a great development. A great show like this leaves as many doors open for character development as possible - and I wouldn't trade that great shot of Buffy and Giles turning their backs on Jenny for anything.

"Bad Eggs": C
"Surprise": A+
"Innocence": A+

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