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April 15, 2008 |

By Stacey Nosek | Guides | April 15, 2008 |

Choosing just one season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” out of seven was not as daunting a task as one might imagine. The first three seasons of the show are generally regarded by fans as the golden years of the series — before the Scooby gang blew up Sunnydale High, Angel and Cordy high-tailed it to Los Angeles, Sarah Michelle Gellar stopped eating and Willow inexplicably turned gay. Although, ironically enough, the best episodes of the series actually came after the Scooby gang left high school. Season Four had “Hush,” the spectacularly creepy and well-written episode that featured almost no dialogue whatsoever — but unfortunately, it also had Stupid Riley. Season Five had “The Body,” which saw the death of Buffy’s mother Joyce, which remains to this day one of the most heart-wrenching and realistic depictions of death on the small screen — but, it also had Stupid Riley and Stupid Dawn. Season Six had “Once More With Feeling,” the musical episode which inspired Rocky Horror-style revues and a cult-like following — but it also had … well, sometimes I just like to pretend the rest of Season Six didn’t even happen.

While those noteworthy episodes definitely deserve mention, the overall cohesive storylines of their respective seasons still don’t hold a candle to those first awesome three. And of those remaining, you can knock out the abbreviated Season One since it was a mid-season replacement and still finding its tone. Season Three was pretty damn great, with fantastic standout episodes like “The Zeppo” and “Dopplegangland.” But when it comes down to it, Season Two is the season that defined the series, and has easily got the best overall season arc. In the beginning of the season, Buffy is dealing with a lot of shit. Granted, Buffy is dealing with a lot of shit at any given point during the series, but she was in a particularly dark place at this point. Still dealing with the reality of being The Chosen One, reeling from her brush with death, haunted by the nightmares of that big white maggot of a vampire, The Master, and fending off his tiny Anointed protégé; it was time for a fresh start. And thankfully, this comes three episodes in with “School Hard,” in which we were introduced to the legendary, Billy Idol-wannabe badass of a vampire, Spike, and his delightfully sinewy, batshit clairvoyant girlfriend Drusilla. Although it may not have been noticeable at first, their incorporation heralded a tonal change to the series. This is probably best summed up by the somewhat meta line Spike delivers as he’s killing the Anointed (“Annoying”) One: “From now on, we’re going to have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here!” And while there’s no denying that Season Two was a hell of a lot of fun, it was the mix of heartbreak and poignancy that made it one of the best seasons of television ever.

The first half of the season consists of mostly lighter fare — mostly standalone episodes, exploring Buffy and Angel’s (as well as Giles and Jenny Calendar’s) budding romances, and several foiled attempts by Spike and Drusilla to kill the Slayer. This all leads up to “What’s My Line,” the first of three two-part episodes. Season Two was all about the dramatic cliffhangers, and “What’s My Line, Part One” was a real humdinger. Spike and Drusilla had sent a trio of deadly assassins called The Order of Taraka after Buffy, and the first part concludes with Xander and Cordelia walking into a trap set by the bug man assassin (providing the set-up for one of the best kisses in “Buffy” history); Angel already stuck in a trap with the clock ticking to daybreak; and Buffy ambushed by Kendra, who reveals herself to be “The Vampire Slayer.” Kendra, of course, was activated after Buffy died at the end of Season One, creating an anomaly in which two slayers existed at the same time. Seriously though, no one would have clued Giles in on this fact? Stupid Watchers’ Council. At any rate, Kendra joins the Scooby gang to rescue Angel (who was kidnapped by Spike before he could be burned alive) from being killed in a ritual to restore Drusilla to full power. The assassins assassinated, Spike and Dru supposedly killed in a church collapse, everyone goes home happy. But of course, this is all a big Whedon-esque tease, because everything is about to go to shit, right? If there’s one thing the Whedon loves, it’s creating a false sense of security before skewering a screwdriver into your gut; gleefully twisting it to and fro. But more on that in a moment.

Moving on to the next two-part episodes, “Surprise” and “Innocence” render a climactic turning point to the season. It’s Buffy’s 17th birthday, and with evil seemingly at a minimum, the gang prepares a surprise party for her. Naturally, all is not well in the universe, as Drusilla is getting ready for a little party of her own, with plans to resurrect a big blue demon called The Judge with the power to potentially wipe out the human race. Additionally, Jenny’s gypsy lineage is finally revealed as well as her uncle’s orders to keep the star-crossed lovers apart. When Buffy’s surprise party goes awry after accidentally thwarting Drusilla’s henchmen (also accidentally bringing Oz into the fold: “Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?” Ha!), Jenny suggests Angel make a run for it with the intercepted “Judge Ingredient” — thereby killing two birds with one stone. But since the two take their sweet goddamn time saying goodbye, Drusilla’s henchmen steal the Judge Ingredient back from them and resurrect The Judge before they can be re-stopped. Essentially, this is a lot of stress and emotional fatigue leading up to Buffy and Angel’s passionate, possibly-end-of-the-world sex, which sets in motion a critical chain of events causing Angel to lose his soul and become the less brooding, but more annoying, evil “Angelus.” So for the last half of the season, not only do the Scoobys have Drusilla and Spike to deal with, but now Evil McChattypants is thrown into the mix. Not to mention Buffy’s crippling emotional crisis, what with her boyfriend turning evil and all.

By the way, I tried to find a clip of The Judge eating it (sadly, because he was actually kind of fun), since it’s a really funny and badass scene, but since the only Buffy clips on the damn YouTube are fanvids over the music of like, Evanescence or some shit, here is the transcript:

Judge: [an arrow comes flying into his chest] Who dares?

Buffy: [Holding up a crossbow] I think I got his attention.

Judge: You’re a fool! No weapon forged can stop me!

Buffy: That was then … [puts the crossbow down and raises a rocket launcher] … this is now.

Judge: What’s that do?

Love it.

“Passion” is one of the finest episodes of Season Two, and it officially marks the first (of many) times that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” made me lose my shit. Angelus’s tormenting reaches an all-time, goldfish-killing, secret-drawing level of exasperation, and the gang decides that an intervention is finally necessary. While Buffy and Willow work on a spell to revoke Angel’s invitation (“Sorry, Angel. Changed the locks.” Oh snap!), Jenny works on a spell to restore Angel’s soul. Meanwhile, Giles and the others tentatively start to forgive Jenny for her apparent betrayal. Now this is what I mean about Whedon twisting the knife, er, screwdriver. I’ve noticed a pattern again and again in his series where he likes to create a rift between his characters so that when they finally get together (or get back together) one of the parties is brutally and unceremoniously eliminated, making the blow that much more agonizing. (For example, and this is totally off topic, but I fucking hated Wesley and Fred. Yet, didn’t I bawl like a baby when her annoying ass died? Come on! That’s just playing dirty.) So naturally with Giles and Jenny finally on the verge of reconciliation, Jenny had to die. And boy, does she ever die. Jenny Calendar’s death scene is one of the most pulse-pounding, heart-wrenching scenes in Buffy history. And just when you think you’ve been through the ringer enough — watching poor Ms. Calendar’s neck get snapped and Giles walking into his bedroom with that expectant look of hope on his face, to find her lying there dead — there’s Angel’s monologue:

Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love … the clarity of hatred … and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. … Without passion, we’d truly be dead.

… As he watches through the window when Buffy gets the phone call, numbly passing the phone to Willow, who starts hysterically wailing. My God, who can make it through that scene without turning into a huge, snotty puddle?

At this point, the season is nearly over. Buffy and Angel tangle only one other time, in the spectacularly creepy “I Only Have Eyes For You,” where the two get possessed by the ghosts of tragic lovers on the night of the Sadie Hawkins Dance. (Cameo alert! John Hawkes guest stars in this one!) By then, the only thing left is the uber-climactic two-part season finale, “Becoming.” In what has got to be the best finale of the series, “Becoming” intercuts between flashback scenes detailing how Buffy and Angel became who they were with the present-tense storyline of Angel and Drusilla’s apocalyptic plan to suck the world into hell. The first part is narrated by a good demon named Whistler, who helped Angel clean up to become an asset to the Slayer (you know, before he un-became an asset), starting off the episode with this voiceover:

There’s moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you’re gonna be. Sometimes they’re little, subtle moments. Sometimes, they’re not. I’ll show you what I mean.

These words ring true both in the past and to the present, as the events that take place over the course of the two episodes ultimately change Buffy forever. After Kendra arrives back in town to help stop “a dark force arising,” Buffy prepares for her final battle with Angel. But little to her knowledge, Angel and Dru have set up a diversion to kidnap Giles, whose help they need to open the gateway to hell. So as Buffy goes to battle it out with Angel, Dru and a gang of vamps descends upon the library, where the others are meanwhile attempting to perform Ms. Calendar’s spell to restore Angel’s soul. Outnumbered and overpowered, the vamps wind up injuring Willow and Xander, kidnapping Giles and Dru murders poor Kendra. However, things go from bad to worse as Buffy arrives just in the nick of time — not to help, but to get pinned for the crime by the local authorities, headed up by the evil Principal Numbnuts. Backed into a wall and on the brink of despair, Buffy finds an ally in the most unusual of places: Spike, who incidentally doesn’t want the world to end, and also wants Angel out of the picture for coming in between himself and Slutzilla. One of my favorite scenes ever is the divine awkwardness as Spike and Mrs. Summers sit in the living room trying to make small talk as Buffy makes plans off-screen. It all culminates in the most heart-wrenchingest ending ever, as Buffy and Angel do final-final battle, in which Angel’s soul is restored just before Buffy is forced to kill him to close the gates of hell: She kisses him, tells him she loves him, than stabs him through the motherloving heart with a big honking sword. Again Whedon, with the tragic irony. You bastard.

The season finally concludes with Buffy on a bus leaving town, set to an oh-so depressing Sarah McLachlan tune. Her boyfriend dead by her own hands, expelled from school, and kicked out of her house; I guess she felt there wasn’t much sticking around for. If you’ve made it this far without so much as shedding a single tear, then congratulations: You’re made of fucking stone.

Aside from the fantastic season arc, there are so many great standalone episodes in Season Two that I can’t leave out. There’s the acclaimed “Halloween” and “The Dark Age,” in which we get our first (unfortunately, of few) tastes of Ethan Rayne; “Ted,” guest-starring John Ritter (R.I.P.) as an evil robot who dates Buffy’s mom; “Phases,” in which Willow figures out that new boyfriend Oz is a werewolf; and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” delving into Cordy and Xander’s relationship by way of witchcraft. (As if there was any other way.) Re-watching these episodes makes it almost impossible to conceive that eventually the turn of events in the Buffyverse will find Angel falling in love with Cordelia, Spike and Buffy becoming eff-buddies, or Willow turning into some kind of ridiculous magic addict. And aside from the latter, which was unfortunately one of the series’ lows, it’s not that the later episodes of “Buffy” (or even “Angel”) were necessarily bad. But they just never managed to fully recapture the magic (no pun intended) of the first few seasons. As I said earlier, it was just the right combination of fun and drama; of humor and heartache; of quips and jolts — not to mention the bang-up writing — which made it the most stellar freaking season in an overall stellar freaking series.

Stacey Nosek is the world’s most articulate idiot, and a television columnist for Pajiba. You can also find her ripping on celebrities at Webster’s Is My Bitch.

Guides | April 15, 2008 |

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