In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
As I’ve stated several times in this column, the second season of Buffy has been a considerable improvement over the first season, especially in the way it has developed its overarching plot and fleshed out its main and supporting characters. The two episodes reviewed this week mostly deal with what is arguably the most important aspect of this season, the relationship between Buffy and her cursed vampire beau Angel, and give us a truly shocking twist that completely changes the course of the season. Just when the “will they or won’t they” teasing was starting to get a little tiresome, Joss Whedon and his team of writers manage to completely uproot their relationship in unexpected fashion.
The first part of this storyline, entitled “Surprise,” opens with Buffy waking from a horrible nightmare in which she witnesses Angel getting murdered by Drusilla. She visits Angel at his apartment and is reassured by him that the events of her dream will never happen. At school, Xander and the Scoobies are planning a surprise party for Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, while Buffy shares with Willow her concerns about whether she should take her relationship with Angel to the next level. Later on, we are taken to Spike and Drusilla’s lair, where another party of sorts is being planned. Back at the school, Jenny Calendar is visited by a mysterious middle-aged gypsy (played by veteran character actor Vincent Schiavelli), who is revealed to be her Uncle Enyos. Their conversation reveals that Jenny’s real name is Janna and that she belongs to the same group of gypsies that cursed Angel two centuries ago. Enyos tells Jenny that it is her job to keep Angel and Buffy apart in order for the curse to continue.
Buffy is still weirded out about her dream, especially after a conversation with Joyce results in her mother accidentally dropping a plate after saying the words “Do you really think you’re ready, Buffy?”, which occurred in her dream right before Drusilla killed Angel. She tells Giles and Jenny about her dream, and Giles tells her to meet back at the Library that night, which will actually be Buffy’s surprise party. That night, Jenny meets up with Buffy and tells her that the location of the meeting has changed, and she leads her to The Bronze, where they both spot three vampires lurking. She manages to stake one of them and engages in battle with another while the smallest one, a bespectacled vampire named Dalton, escapes. In the ensuing battle, Buffy and her bloodsucking foe crash through the wall of the Bronze, where her friends are waiting to surprise her. Included in attendance is Oz, who after witnessing Buffy kill the vampire is officially brought into the loop of the Scooby gang. Jenny arrives with a large crate that the vampires were lugging around, and within it they find a dismembered arm which promptly attempts to strangle Buffy before being forced back into its crate. Giles laments that Spike and Drusilla are attempting to assemble the pieces of The Judge, a demon bent on ridding the world of humanity and cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Giles states that if Spike and Drusilla successfully reassemble The Judge, they could bring about the end of the world. Angel agrees to take the arm to the docks and make sure it gets as far away as possible, and Buffy accompanies him in order to see him off.
After Jenny drives them to the docks, Angel gives Buffy a ring and they share a brief moment of tenderness before they are attacked by a group of vampires. Buffy is thrown into the harbor and as Angel dives in to rescue her, Dalton makes off with the crate that contains the arm. Buffy and Angel return to the library, where Buffy tries to rest but has yet another disturbing dream that ends with Angel’s death. Meanwhile, Spike and Drusilla successfully bring the Judge to life, and the demon almost immediately kills Dalton, who apparently still retained a shred of humanity. Buffy leads Angel to the location of Spike and Angel’s hideout based on the details of her dream, and when they arrive, they are captured and brought before the Judge. They manage to fight their way out and escape through the sewers, taking shelter from the rain in Angel’s apartment, where Angel tells Buffy that he loves her and the couple have sex. Afterwards, lying in bed, Angel suddenly awakes in a panic and runs outside, screaming Buffy’s name in agony.
The next episode, entitled “Innocence,” deals with the tragic fallout of Angel’s deflowering of Buffy, which as we find out resulted in Angel losing his soul and reverting back to his predatory, blood-sucking ways. We learn later on that the curse that the gypsies placed on Angel was meant to torture him with guilt and that it would be broken if he ever achieved true happiness, which I guess in Angel’s case involves taking a seventeen-year old girl’s virginity. Angel shows up at Spike and Drusilla’s hideout, where the Judge reveals that his soul is gone and that he’s back to his evil ways. Spike invites Angel to join them in their plan to kill the Slayer, but Angel tells them to hold off for a while because he wants to make her suffer, stating that she made him feel like a human, which is not something he’s willing to forgive.
Back at the library, while waiting for Buffy and Angel to return, Willow catches Xander and Cordy kissing and lashes out at Xander, asking her why he’d rather be with someone he hates than to date her. Buffy arrives at Angel’s place asking why he left her the previous night and is shocked at his uncharacteristically aloof behavior towards her. Her fear that Angel has changed is confirmed when he attacks Xander and Willow. Buffy arrives in time to save them, and Angel departs, promising Buffy that things are about to get “interesting.” Buffy is left heartbroken by Angel’s betrayal, and the group begins to realize that his transformation was inadvertently triggered by their night of passion. Buffy returns home and collapses on her bed in tears. Meanwhile, Xander uses his residual memories from his time as a soldier in “Halloween” by breaking into the local Army base and steal a weapon that he believes will help them against the Judge. After having yet another revealing dream, Buffy confronts Jenny and gets her to reveal her true identity. Jenny leads Buffy and Giles to where Enyos is staying, only to find him dead, murdered by Angel, with the message “Was It Good For You, Too?” written in blood on the wall. It’s at this point that Buffy realizes that Angel is beyond redemption and that she will have to kill him.
In order to try to gain the upper hand against Angel and The Judge, Xander uses his leftover military knowledge from his brief time spent as an actual soldier in “Halloween” to sneak into the local Army base and boost a weapon for Buffy to use. The gang tracks the villains to the Sunnydale Mall and arrive just in time to find The Judge attempting to wipe out all the shoppers. To their shock, and The Judge’s curiosity, Buffy pulls out the weapon that Xander boosted for her – a rocket launcher – and blasts the demon to smithereens. Angel and Drusilla make a run for it, and Buffy runs after her former beau, telling the others to pick up the scattered pieces of The Judge and keep them separate. When Buffy catches up to Angel, he taunts her by stating that he only pretended to love her. Buffy tells him that he is not he man he fell in love with and pulls out a stake, but she is unable to kill him, so she kicks him in the groin and walks away, telling him that in time she’ll muster up the nerve to put the stake through his heart. Driving her back home, Giles expresses his sympathy for what Buffy is going through and reassures her by stating that he is not ashamed of her for what she did. The episode ends with Buffy celebrating her birthday with her mother, and when Joyce asks her what she got for her birthday, she tells her “I got older.”
Within this key two-part story, the show effectively taps into both the common horror trope of sex leading to bad things and the real-life fear of a relationship being ruined once it gets physical. By having Buffy lose her virginity to a vampire and having that be the cause of him losing his soul and turning evil again, Whedon provides an original spin on the old TV plot device of a character’s first sexual experience being a particularly traumatic or otherwise unpleasant ordeal, and it signals a loss of innocence in our main character on several levels. After realizing what happened to Angel and finding out what caused it, Buffy all but eschews her usual wide-eyed perkiness and adopts a cold, stern, more determined expression for the remainder of the episode that effortlessly communicates to the audience what her m.o. is going to be for the rest of the season.
These two episodes are chock full of great moments. I especially loved how Giles spoke to Buffy less as a teacher but as a concerned parent at the end of this story, and the look on her face as he tells her that he is not ashamed of her is truly heartbreaking. Of course, there are several moments of humor as well, my personal favorites being The Judge’s final line before being blown up and Xander’s attempt to talk his way out of getting caught at the base by an MP. These moments and several others helped to lighten up two of the darkest and most emotional episodes of Buffy that I’ve seen so far. Both “Surprise” and “Innocence” earn 5 out of 5 Not-So-Happy Birthdays.