Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Buffy Rewatch: My Boyfriend's Back

Season 2 comes to its tragic, operatic conclusion with the two-parts of "Becoming".

"No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what's left?"


Looking back at the show now, after 7 seasons of BUFFY and 5 seasons of ANGEL, it's hard to watch these (or any) episodes of this great series without thinking of where these characters' journeys will take them. We know that, after 144 episodes, the core foursome of BUFFY will continue to be Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles. The events of "Becoming" (especially its first part) give Angel more prominence, but they also show that his usefulness as a character on BUFFY would have a limited shelf-life. (This is a dilemma I expect I'll discuss more throughout season 3.)

"Becoming, Part 1" gives us a series of flashback to key moments in Angel's life: when he's turned into a vampire by Darla, when he torments Drusilla, when he's cursed by the gypsies, and when he sees Buffy for the first time. (And no, I'm not going to get into arguments over timelines.) These serve to elevate the importance of his character beyond just "Buffy's boyfriend", and I'd argue these flashbacks lay the groundwork for Angel's spin-off a season later. (From a mysterious character lurking in the shadows in the pilot - where he wasn't even in the opening credits - to a character worthy of his own series. That's a pretty good two-season arc.)

The timing of these episodes in the BUFFY rewatch was fortuitous: the good folks at previously.tv discussed BUFFY's season 3 episode "Amends" in last week's Extra Hot Great podcast. One of their points was that Angel flashbacks are the WORST. I'm less harsh on these flashbacks than they are on the ones in "Amends" - but that might be just because Boreanaz's struggles with the Irish accent are well-hidden here, because both Julie Benz and Bianca Lawson appear in the episode, and their questionable accents overshadow his.

The thing I love most about "Becoming Part 1" is its cliffhanger. Willow had found the disk on which Jenny had stored her research into the curse to restore Angel's soul, and the gang argues about whether to try the spell. Xander - never an Angel fan - doesn't want to; the older I get, the more Xander sounds like the voice of reason. Eventually, they attempt the spell, but Drusilla attacks them: she kills Kendra (who'd returned because of some warnings) and kidnaps Giles, leaving Xander and Willow unconscious, and Buffy (who'd left for a showdown with Angel) about to be arrested.

All the characters in jeopardy - that's EXACTLY what I want in a cliffhanger.

"Becoming, Part 2" may not quite be the gut-punch that "Innocence" was, but it still cuts pretty deep. One scene we'd been waiting for was Joyce finding out about Buffy, and the scene does not disappoint: "Open your eyes Mom. What do you think has been going on for the past two years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven't  figuring it out? It never stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV, or gossiping about boys, or GOD even studying. But I have to save the world. AGAIN." For some reason, the detail about washing blood out of Buffy's clothes just kills me.

Oh yeah, and Principal Snyder expels Buffy, then she has to kill Angel by sending him to Hell, right after Willow managed to restore his soul. Then, Buffy skips town. *sniff*

And let's not forget Buffy's deal with Spike! Spike's speech about why he doesn't want Angel to end the world is fantastic: "We like to talk big, vampires do. 'I'm going to destroy the world.' It's just tough-guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You've got dog racing. Manchester United. And you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's all right here." And the show will make great use of Spike's foolish, romantic tendencies when he comes back. For now, he may have escaped Sunnydale with Drusilla, but the desperate way he clutches at the unconscious Dru while they're driving out of town shows that he's already lost her, and he knows it.

As much as I love the Buffy/Angel arc of season 2 (and I fricking LOVE it), I think the thing I loved most about rewatching the entire season is getting to enjoy Marsters' and Landau's performances again. They are absolutely electric, together and separate. Especially Juliet Landau. James Marsters found the perfect way to play Spike, and he played him perfectly, but Drusilla (who is, don't forget, literally insane) is much more of a wildcard, and Landau never failed to surprise me, with a line reading, a tilt of the head, or a bit of body language. It's a magnificent performance.

Another thing I love about season 2 of BUFFY is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are a number of fantastic episodes throughout the season - but it's the overall arc of the Buffy/Angel storyline that gives this season its place in the pantheon of great TV seasons. Some of it was still a little clunky (I remember seasons 3 and 5 generally flowing more smoothly), but when the show gives you episodes like "School Hard" and "Innocence" and "Becoming, Part 2", complaints seem almost irrelevant.

"Becoming, Part 1": A
"Becoming, Part 2": A+


  1. I can't be the only one who's bugged that they never go back to Xander's lying to Buffy, not telling her they're going to try and curse Angel again, leaving her to go all out, try to kill him and be completely surprised when he's no longer Angelus and she has to put him down? I mean, Xander basically doesn't give Buffy all the information and kind of causes the whole mess of her leaving town. And yet, he's never called on it in the next five years unless I've missed something.,

    1. That DOES come up again at some point... briefly... in either season 6 or 7. They don't spend a lot of time arguing about it - I don't think it gets beyond Buffy saying "Willow, Xander told me you told him to kick Angel's ass", and Willow replies "I never said that!" But I'm pretty sure it doesn't go on much after that exchange.

      I thought about mentioning that - particularly in the context of stuff that shows should or maybe should not revisit. For example, I didn't really think it was necessary for Breaking Bad to revisit Jane's death or Brock's poisoning, just so we could see Jesse find out. (We KNEW how Jesse would react, so it wasn't REALLY necessary to come back to it.)

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