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Thread: BtVS rewatch : SEASON 2

  1. #181
    Slayer TimeTravellingBunny's Avatar
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    Great points, everyone. Max, that's a great analysis of Angel. Contrary to what people often say about Angel on BtVS, I think Becoming I is a great character episode for him where we get a rather good insight into his personality. The first flashback is one of my favorites in the entire verse (even with DB's accent ) and the first time we see Darla in all her glory. This episode, in addition to season 3's Amends, sets up Angel the Series very well.

    We don't find out his human name this time - I think it is only first revealed in The Prodigal - but we already get a hint at his lifestyle, resentment against his father, and his family's social status: his father has expensive silverware but eats with his hands; therefore, he seems to be a well-off merchant, probably new money, with no family tradition or high status (which puts a bit of a different spin of Angel's [problematic for so many reasons] statement that he despised the noblewomen of his time; the noblewomen of his time must have felt similar about him and his family, even though he may have perhaps had a chance to marry some impoverished ones, who would've nevertheless seen it as a step down). (Note: I'm not saying that the writers had a consistent background planned for him from the beginning or at least middle of the season 2, or that they had given it much thought while writing Halloween; they even changed his year of birth by a couple of decades). It is also indicated that Liam hates work (and presumably his father's work ethic) but wants to see the world and to be more cultured, at least in the sense of imitating the higher classes manners (and we see that vampire Angel enjoys collecting beautiful things and has a very tastefully arranged apartment; though it is amusing to think how he managed to come by all those things - stealing seems like the obvious answer).

    We will later, in AtS, learn about his resentment of his father's religious views; Spin the Bottle shows a younger, teenage Liam who had a lot of Catholic guilt and was scared of going to hell due to his father's warnings. In that context, his speech to Drusilla as the priest in the (also brilliant) second flashback sounds like it could be reflective of the things he struggled with as a human. His words to his father, when he came as a vampire to kill him, were the sarcastic "here, Father, I have finally made something of myself". His darkly ironic adoption of the nickname "Angel" (because his beloved little sister thought he was one when he came to kill her) and his enjoyment in corrupting a highly religious, god-fearing and innocent girl like Drusilla - and making her a vampire after she had become a nun! - also add a lot to the picture of Angel's relationship with religion.

    Quote Originally Posted by KingofCretins View Post
    I'd point out that Xander is emotionally delivering the argument that is still the pragmatic/rational point, that killing Angel is the most all-purposes-accomplished strategy they can follow. He is also very angry (again, on rewatching, I think he's actually gaining steam at the thought that Angel murdered Jenny to prevent being rendered relatively safe and fluffy, that that is getting his neck up more than it just having been a malicious thrill-killing). Honestly, the only person in the room who is taking all in and behaving like a grown-up about it all is Cordelia, Giles included. His anger doesn't negate that what he is selling is, in fact, the broader view with Angel. It would be misleading to firmly marry his position in the library to the steps he'll take in "Becoming, Part II", because in between the stakes change completely. In the first library scene, the only stakes are "Angel is still a sadistic killing machine that needs to be dealt with", and Xander is pretty much the voice of retributivist theory of justice*. Acathla changes all of that, because then all Angel calculus is directly related to the immediate and cataclysmic threat. It's just disingenuous to give Xander the benefit of not doubt at all once that is inserted.
    But it was not. Xander was not being rational or pragmatic there. It's not like they had Angel caged up in the library or tied up in the basement and were just discussing what to do with him. Angel was on the loose, soulless, evil and killing people, and there was no guarantee that Buffy would succeed in taking him out; there's never a guarantee, no matter how great a fighter she is. (She is the Slayer, yes, but if Slayers were guaranteed to kill every vampire they go after, they wouldn't all be dying so young.) Cursing him again would mean they gain another ally against Drusilla, Spike and other vampires, or at least (if Angel is too screwed up mentally after having his soul returned), take out a dangerous enemy without even have to risk their lives and kill him, not to mention that he doesn't kill all the people he's going to continue killing while he's soulless. Refusing to curse him and make him souled again just because you're scared that he would get away with his previous crimes, is not rational or pragmatic at all; it's putting revenge and hatred/anger/resentment against the guy above the pragmatic need to stop him ASAP. The one problem I have with the episode is that nobody thinks of bringing up that point - though they do make it after they know about Acathla. Yes, that's a much bigger threat, but it's not like Angel continuing to kill people and a possibility to make him stop means nothing? I agree with Vampmogs' and Sosa's views on the matter, Xander was just as emotionally compromised as Buffy, only in the opposite direction.

    I do think he was more rational when he made his decision to lie to Buffy in part 2, but his decision was still strongly influenced by his dislike and resentment of Angel, just as Willow's determination to resoul him was influenced by the desire to bring him back and make Buffy happy. This is something that I'll talk about in my review when we come to the Lie.

    Review of Becoming, part 2 will be posted a little later today/tonight.
    Last edited by TimeTravellingBunny; 10-08-14 at 06:05 PM.
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  3. #182
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    Sorry for posting it a day later than I said I would! These reviews always turn out longer than I thought they would be.

    Becoming, part II

    I think Becoming is one of the best season finales of any TV show ever; both parts together feel like a really good feature film. It is cinematic and epic in the true sense of the word, with brilliant writing throughout, excellent production values, acting and music, and watching it, you wonder why Hollywood didn’t get Joss to direct any blockbuster movies sooner.

    Becoming part 2 perfectly resolves all major storylines this season, including Buffy’s strained relationship with her mother, Snyder’s attempts to find a reason to expel Buffy, Willow’s relationships with Xander and Oz, the Spike/Dru/Angel triangle, and of course the Bangel romance and the “Angel loses his soul” story. In the best tradition of bittersweet Whedon finales, it manages to have Buffy defeat the Big Bad and stop an apocalypse, but leaves her emotionally devastated. For an episode in which the hero technically triumphs over the forces of evil, it has a really sad and depressing ending. However, for an episode with so much drama and poignancy, it also doesn’t lack some of the best comic scenes and one-liners of the season.

    There is an overarching theme of Destiny vs Free will running through this two-parter. As the title says, it is all about transformation, about becoming someone/something (else); but while part 1 is dominated by flashbacks that show people becoming something new due to fate and circumstances they had no control over, to something that someone else did to them, or to an intervention of higher powers, or at best, accepting the call proposed by someone else; part 2 is about people making their own choices, choosing how to deal with the situation they’ve been put in.

    At the end of part 1, the Scooby Gang was left in quite a desperate situation. With her slaying partner dead, Willow with a life-threatening injury, and Giles kidnapped, things looked incredibly bleak for Buffy, and then on top of it the police arrive and are about to arrest her for murder. Over this, Whistler’s voiceover set up Becoming part 2:

    “Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.

    So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are. You'll see what I mean.”


    And here in part 2, things start going even worse for Buffy. First cops want to arrest her for Kendra’s murder and she has to run away, then she finds out that Willow is in hospital with a serious head injury, and that Giles is kidnapped; Snyder uses the opportunity to expel her from school, and later her mother tells her not to come back home, all while she has an apocalypse to stop. She does get an occasional break though, including a completely unexpected one in the form of her former enemy and new ally Spike, even though he will (not so unexpectedly) be less than helpful at a crucial moment.

    The Scooby Gang
    As Buffy visits her friends in the hospital where Willow is lying unconscious, we can see just how serious her condition is, when Xander, usually the one to use humor, isn’t able to laugh at Buffy’s joke. Cordelia, who has a very small role in the episode, feels bad about running away from the library, which is a sign how much she has changed; she wants to be strong and heroic. Buffy reassures her that running away was the best thing she could have done, and it shows that the two have come a long way in their relationship.

    Xander/Willow/Oz

    Xander pours his heart out to the unconscious Willow, telling her how much she means to him, that she is his best friend, and finally “Willow, I love you” only for her to finally wake up and still half-conscious, call out for Oz.

    It is ambiguous and debatable in what sense exactly he meant his declaration. It may still be completely about love for a best friend, but one could interpret it as having a romantic overtone, as well. The scene certainly plays with the latter, teasing the possibility of a romantic moment to the audience before Willow whispers Oz’ name, an indication that she has stopped pining for Xander and fallen in love with Oz, which can be seen as an ironic turn of events, Willow being over Xander just as he is starting to realize the depth of his feelings for her. However, for Xander to suddenly realize he’s in love with Willow would have been a big revelation that would have probably surprised even him– and I don’t get the impression that Xander thinks he is in love with Willow, and he doesn’t seem crushed to see Willow’s and Oz’s sweet reunion. My best guess is that Xander himself isn’t quite sure – he’s reacting to almost losing Willow, which indeed makes him understand how strong his feelings for her are; he certainly loves her more than Cordelia and probably more than anyone, but I don’t know how much of his feelings for Willow are romantic, and I’m not sure if he yet has any sexual feelings for her, while his relationship with Cordelia is full of sexual chemistry. This season, Xander has been a confused teenage boy who can’t quite sort out his feelings for 3 important girls in his life. I think Xander isn’t sure how to think of Willow now, because he is confronted with the reality of not being the "main man“ in her life anymore. I think the entire Xander/Willow early seasons relationship is largely about childhood friends growing up and not being sure if a girl and a boy can be friends or if they are supposed to be more than that because they’re a girl and a boy.

    Personally, I thought this scene was a great resolution to the story of the unrequited romantic interest Willow used to have for Xander; some will disagree, but I was never a fan of the Xander/Willow fling in season 3.

    Principal Snyder
    Another season-long tension – Snyder finally gets to do what he wanted to do for such a long time and promised a few times already: expel Buffy. When he calls the Mayor afterwards, it is confirmed that he has been working on the orders of the Mayor. I don’t know how much Snyder knows about Mayor, but it doesn’t matter – he is by nature an authoritarian who is sycophantic to authority figures, while torturing those beneath him. We don’t why exactly he hates Buffy so much; maybe because he sees her a a rebel. The good thing is that for once she can openly treat him with the contempt he deserves, after more than a year of torment she had to endure. There is a funny moment when Buffy says: „You never got a single date in high school, did you?” but Snyder isn’t upset and simply replies: „Your point being?“, not making the connection between his teenage resentments and his current enjoyment in torturing teenagers and relishing his power over them.

    Spike
    This is one of Spike’s best episodes and certainly the best in season 2. If Angel – whose characterization and background was explored in Becoming part 1 – is the poster boy for destiny, Spike is a wild card, a poster boy for free will. The two vampires have switched places – formerly good Angel is now evil and Buffy’s main enemy, and Spike is her ally and, well, not anywhere near being good at this point, but the lesser evil. His motives for offering an alliance against Angel are rational and pragmatic (he loves the world as it is and doesn’t want all humans sucked into hell) but also dubious and selfish (getting Drusilla back and removing Angel as a rival, which is actually his main motivation - as we see later when he walks away at the crucial moment of the fight, as soon as he has Dru all to himself.

    I could say so much about the scenes between Spike and Buffy. They are enjoyable and really funny, and the two have amazing chemistry whether they’re arguing/negotiating in a snarky, matter-of-fact way and punching each other, or fighting together for the first time and immediately working perfectly in synch, or when they’re lying to her mom about being in a band. For a moment, it’s like watching a sitcom starring two characters who are colleagues, neighbors or go to the same school and have a tense „frenemy“ relationship where they argue often - rather than a vampire and a Slayer who should be mortal enemies. Watching scenes like these, it’s easy to see why the Spuffy shipping became popular in fandom and why Joss & the other writers thought „Hm, maybe we could do something with this…“ It’s interesting, for instance, when Spike tells Buffy that he wants an alliance to get Dru back, he gets a bit carried away talking about his problems, like he’s using the chance that there’s someone finally there to listen to him talk about his relationship problems – since he can’t make himself try to talk these things through with Dru herself. I love how Buffy points out, not mincing words, how pathetic he is for caring more about jealousy over his fickle girlfriend, than the fate of the world. It recalls Xander’s accusation from part 1, that Buffy wants to forget about Jenny’s murder so she could have her boyfriend back. There are definitely parallels between Buffy and Spike in season 2, in the big fight in this episode they both end up fighting against people they’re in love with, but what they eventually do is completely the opposite.

    It’s interesting to compare the officially professed Slayer/Watcher views about vampires, and the way they treat random vampires they don’t know, to those vamps they have gotten to know, even as enemies. Buffy talks to Spike as a person – as this annoying guy she has a bad history with, whose character flaws she criticizes in this conversation, and says that she hates him (the only other vampire she’s said to has been Angel in Angel; random vampires she kills are not important enough to hate). It’s also funny that she sarcastically asks him if he forgot that he’s a vampire, but she’s kind of doing that when she calls him pathetic for being selfish and unconcerned about the fate of the world – as if one could expect better from a soulless vampire? Their uneasy alliance also results in Spike checking himself twice in the face of Buffy’s disapproval, realizing that he she wouldn’t be in favor of him killing the policeman, or his pride in Dru’s murder of a Slayer. There’s also a bit of completely unintentional foreshadowing (can it be considered foreshadowing if the thing it foreshadows was not planned at all at the time?) when Spike not-utterly-sincerely says „I want to save the world“.

    Their first scene in this episode also contains Spike’s memorable speech about enjoying the world with Manchester United in it, and his presence in the Summers house provides the two funniest scenes of this finale – Buffy and Spike pretending to be in a band together when Buffy has to come up with a quick lie to explain what is going on (Joyce must have had enough of Buffy bringing strange older men home!), and the super-awkward Joyce/Spike attempt at ‘small talk’ („Have me met?“ “You hit me once with an axe, ‘Get the hell away from my daughter' “. „Oh. So, do you live here in town?“) The latter is the start of another interesting relationship. A continuity detail worth a mention is that Spike here gets his first invitation to the Summers house, which he’ll use in season 3.

    Buffy „comes out“ to her mother
    Joyce finally learns the truth, which leads to a tense scene between mother and daughter, in which the metaphor of a teenager coming out to their parents couldn’t be more obvious. Joyce asks Buffy if she is sure she is what she says she is and if she could try not being gay, err I mean, a Slayer, tells Buffy: “This is all because you didn’t have a strong father figure”; Buffy says she didn’t chose to be this way, and tells her mother that she should have figured it out ages ago, but she just didn’t want to know. Joyce was never portrayed as a perfect mother, just someone who tried hard but was flawed as a parent –but while learning her daughter was a Slayer must have been a big shock, and it’s obvious that she needs time to handle the truth, she really comes off as a bad parent in this episode, refusing to accept that her daughter isn’t a ‘normal’ girl and throwing Buffy out of the house.

    Giles
    This is also a great episode for Giles, even though he spends almost all of it tied up to a chair, tortured and hypnotized. I love the moment when, after hours of torture, he acts as if he is going to tell the secret of opening the Acathla to Angel, only to mock him (“To be worthy, you have to perform the ritual…in a tutu. Pillock!”) Spike comes up with a better plan how to extract the info from Giles - just in time to stop Angel from killing or mutilating Giles (which would prevent Spike from fulfilling his part of the bargain with Buffy). Spike and Angel have switched places in more than one way – Angel is acting really impulsive and angry and giving in to his urges (such as his love of torture), while Spike is calmly putting his plan into action (suggesting the alternative plan how to extract info from Giles ). The two of them even comment on this („When did you become so level-headed?“ „Right around the time you became so pig-headed.“) I have to say that Angel comes off as really naive when he tells Spike he’s happy for having him „watch his back, like old times”, without realizing that Spike may not really be so eager to help him after the way he’s treated him.

    We see more of Drusilla’s strange mental powers: apparently, she not only has visions and present and future and the skill of hypnotism, but she can even, to an extent, read people’s minds after she hypnotises them. And with Giles, she reads his love for and grief over Jenny. Drusilla making herself appear as Jenny to manipulate Giles into revealing the info about Acathla is a truly heartbreaking scene. And unlike the great scenes of death and loss in Becoming II, The Gift and Chosen, it still remains truly tragic, because Jenny has stayed dead.

    The moment when Drusilla smiles an evil girlish grin and says "I was in the moment" as she gets a bit too carried away kissing Giles is both darkly funny and disturbing (...just like Dru generally is). It is pretty funny to see Spike and Angel both looking at her and going: "Um, Dru? Honey? It's enough..." (a reminder of Drusilla’s „mercurial nature“ as Marti Noxon put it in the WML2 DVD commentary, though Buffy had a less fancy word for it: „big ho“) but on the other hand, poor Giles. It's non-consensual on his part since he was tricked, and how awful it must be for him to hope that Jenny is back and then realize the truth - not to mention that he realizes that he's probably just doomed the world by telling Drusilla how to awaken Acathla!

    Willow
    This is also a crucial moment in Willow’s development: it is the first time that magic plays a big role for her, and a sign of how determined and dedicated she can be, trying to curse Angel with soul again, despite having just come out of a coma. When the spell started to work, it seems that she became temporarily possessed by the spirit of the Gypsy woman who originally devised and cast the curse.

    The Lie

    And here we come to one of big controversies of the season, maybe even the show. Opinions of Xander’s lie to Buffy range from the idea that he was acting in a completely rational, objective manner for a pragmatic reason, to the idea that he was completely driven by jealousy and hatred of Angel. The truth usually tends to be „a bit of both“. In this case, unlike in the argument in the library in part 1, I do think that Xander was mostly rational and thinking of what would be the best course of action – thinking that Buffy might stall and not fight her best if she thought Angel might get his soul back. However, I also think that the fact that he never liked Angel, an unpleasant and tension-filled history with him, and didn’t like the idea of Angel rejoining the group after everything he’s done, played its role. Just like Willow, although she thought her resouling of Angel could be necessary to save Buffy and the world, was probably also partially motivated by wanting Buffy to have her boyfriend back and be happy.

    An interesting question to think about is, how did the lie affect the course of events? Of course, it made a crucial difference to how the final Buffy/Angel scene went down; if Buffy knew Angel’s soul could have been returned, she wouldn’t have been so surprised, and the scene would have been far less dramatic. But in terms of outcome? I’m not sure it made much difference to the fight itself, since the harshest part of it happened after Angel pulled the sword out from Acathla, starting the (long) process of awakening him, at which point there was no coming back for Angel, soul or no soul: he had to be sucked into hell with Acathla, or with Acathla and the entire world. It may have, however, affected Buffy’s decision to leave Sunnydale. Thinking that Willow, who’s always been the most supportive one of her relationship with Angel, thought that it wasn’t worth trying and just sent her a message to “Kick his ass”, probably contributed to Buffy’s feeling that none of her friends would understand how hard it was for her to kill Angel.

    The fight
    I find it funny that it was never explained why exactly swords were the weapons needed in this situation – apart from the show having a cool sword fight between Buffy and Angel. It’s also funny to see the vampire minions coming back in Becoming part 1 and 2 after having been absent for so long – since Innocence, it seemed like the minions had disappeared and it was just Angel, Dru and Spike all the time.

    It’s interesting to see Spike getting some overdue satisfaction in hitting Angel over the head and enjoying in giving him pain, instead of trying to kill him. Apart from the obvious plot reasons, this makes sense given their complicated „competitive siblings“ relationship. Dru’s anger at Spike for betraying them is one of the rare moments when we see her really angry – she is obviously really invested in the apocalypse. Incidentally, Spike’s line: “I don’t wanna hurt you baby… (after she attacks him) Doesn’t mean I won’t (punches her)” were recycled in season 6 when Buffy told the same to Dark Willow, minus the “baby” part. Spike is always trying to be a tender boyfriend to his princess, he never blames her or tells her that he dislikes the way she behaves with Angel - and doesn’t treat her as an adult responsible for her own actions. He is upset by how Drusilla acts around Angel, but he sees the problem in Angel, not Drusilla, and his solution is to get rid of his rival, grab the unconscious Dru and carry her off away from Sunnydale (it’s pretty much „grab her by the hair and drag her into your cave“), not caring about what she wants.

    The climax of the fight is one of the most iconic moments in the show, when Buffy, apparently in a hopeless situation - deprived of her weapon, with nobody to help as her ally just walked out, with the villain about to kill her. If episodes like Prophecy Girl and School Hard were about Buffy surviving because of her connections to family and friends, this one is about coming to the point when you only have yourself to rely on.

    Whistler: In the end, you’re all you’ve got.

    Buffy: I have nothing left to lose.
    Whistler: Wrong, kid. You’ve got one more thing.

    Angel: No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what is left?
    Buffy (stopping his sword with her bare hands, before she goes on to kick his ass): Me.

    Everything in the plot of the episode, including the timing of Angel’s resouling, was clearly written to lead to this moment, when Buffy rises above a seemingly desperate situation, beats the evil Angel, gets him on his knees in front of Acathla and is about to send him to hell to save the world… just for Willow’s spell to work at that exact moment, bringing souled Angel, her beloved, back to Buffy, only for her to be forced to send him to hell nevertheless. The entire season, in fact, was written with the goal of bringing Buffy to the moment when she must „kill“ the man she loves to save the world.

    And to make this moment all the more difficult for Buffy, more tragic and heartbreaking, Angel had to be unaware of what was going on. A souled Angel who was aware of everything would have agreed to be sent to hell so the whole world wouldn’t be (and if the world had been sucked into hell, Angel would still have been sucked with it, which would have been a nice prospect for the evil demon, but not for a souled being), the scene would have lost a lot of its drama, and the emphasis would have shifted to Angel, rather than on Buffy and her heroism and her tragic moment. Which is the obvious reason for the plot device „Angel does not remember anything since he lost his soul“. This was set up in part 1, in the flashback of Angel being cursed for the first time; the Gypsy Elder told him „You don’t remember…but in time, you will“, which seems to suggest that it was something akin to a temporary amnesia. However, I think that this moment may be largely responsible for a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, and the theory that souled vampire „Angel“ and the soulless vampire „Angelus“ are literally two different people, which I don’t think was ever actually suggested on BtVS. I’m therefore going to add something about my views of the show’s treatment of Angel’s dichotomy.

    Angel/Angelus
    I have chosen not to use the name „Angelus“ for the soulless Angel in BtVS season 2, because that name was actually not accepted as the specific name of Soulless!Angel at the time; I believe that the habit of referring to soulless Angel specifically and exclusively as „Angelus“ started with season 3 episode Enemies. In seasons 1 and 2, Angel was almost always referred to as „Angel“, whether he had a soul or not, by almost everyone – the Scoobies, Drusilla, Spike, himself; the name „Angelus“ for soulless Angel was used only a few times (by Jenny and Kendra in season 2), and the impression I get is that „Angelus“ was simply the name he was known by in the records written by the Watchers. Spike muddies the water further by once referring to souled Angel as „Angelus“ („I preferred the earlier, Slayer-whipped Angelus“). The shooting scripts for season 2 also constantly referred to the character played by David Boreanaz as „Angel“.

    I think that another thing that has confused the viewers was the metaphorical talk about the souled and the soulless Angel as two different people; but I don’t think that Buffy, or Giles, or any of the Scoobies, or Spike and Drusilla, or Angel himself, ever meant that he was literally two different people, any more than anyone thought Dark Willow was literally a different person from Willow (she also used third person to once refer to her former self). In fact, everything they said and did the entire season, and in season 1 as well, shows that they think of Angel as the same being throughout, who, however, went through some huge changes and dramatic transformations that resulted in two completely different personas.

    A few words about the mythology
    Acathla: This is the first but certainly not the last time that the other dimensions, and the idea of blood of specific people used for opening and closing portals to other dimensions., is a big plot point. When I watched the show the first time, I thought that the hell that Acathla was going to suck the world in was the Hell – that there’s just one as in Christianity – which made Angel being sent to hell seem much graver and less reversible. I think we all, just like Buffy, thought of it as “killing” Angel, but technically, he didn’t die in Becoming II, even though it seemed like the character was being “killed off”. But now we know that there are lots of hell dimensions, and that people can come back from them. This particular hell seemed to be one that evil demons enjoy (or else I suppose he and Dru wouldn’t have been so eager to end up there, and Spike would’ve been more concerned about ending up in there) but that’s presumably awful for humans or good souled vampires (based on how feral and tortured Angel seemed when he came back in season 3).
    Whistler: At this point, he was a very ambiguous figure, but even without knowing his character’s role in the comics, I found him rather annoying in this episode. His motivations for sending Angel to Buffy were either not what he claimed they would be (and more in line with what we find out about him in seasons 8 and 9), or he and TPTB made a huge mistake. I do like the idea that messengers of higher powers can screw up things by basing their actions on misinterpreted prophecies. Whistler tells Buffy that he believed that Angel was supposed to stop Acathla, and that „nobody saw you coming“; as we saw in the flashback, he had told Angel that Buffy was just a kid and would have a hard time being a Slayer, so Angel had to help her. It sounds like the higher powers severely underestimated Buffy, betting on the manpire to be the hero who helps the little teenage girl, not realizing that she is the one who is going to be the hero. It seems like it’s Joss’ commentary on the preconceptions about the type of people who are heroes.

    The ending
    Buffy’s reunion with Angel and her sending him to hell is one of the most iconic, dramatic and tragic scenes of the show. However, I do have to say that its impact is lessened now by the fact that we know Angel comes back in season 3; and while Angel being tortured in a hell dimension for 100 years must have been awful, we never really saw the psychological consequences, as opposed to, for instance, the way we saw them with Connor.

    It’s still a great scene, though: the acting is amazing, particularly by SMG; Buffy telling Angel „Close your eyes“ and kissing him before she runs a sword through him bookends the two-parter with its parallel to Darla telling Liam „Close your eyes“ before she turns him into a vampire. In the most crucial moments of his life, his big transformations, Angel is passive, unaware, acted upon instead of acting. And I am still emotionally affected by it all, mostly because of Buffy’s heartbreak, and because this is the moment that shapes so much of her personality in the future. She won’t be emotionally the same – because it was one of the biggest formative traumas of her life, and she learned the hardest possible way how dangerous it is to give your heart, especially when one has the responsibility of the Slayer. It is a major reason why she will become more emotionally closed down, why she would feel the burden of being the Slayer and the sacrifices she has to make are too much. It is not just about the loss, it is also about the guilt she feels even though she knows she had to do it. Of course, it’s not like Angel himself would be better off if the world had been sucked into hell, since „he is also in the world“ as Spike would put it. But this doesn’t make the emotional implications of „would you kill a person to save the entire world“ dilemma any lighter, especially when it is a person you love. In addition to Buffy’s feelings of guilt over Angel losing his soul, at least a part of her must be wondering „What kind of person have I become if I am able to do that to someone I love“.

    The finale is both a triumph and despair for Buffy – she saves the world, but the emotional cost is too high for her. Whistler told Buffy earlier that she has one more thing to lose. When she was cornered by the villain in a seemingly hopeless situation, she found out that she still had one thing – herself. If she had sent the evil, soulless monster who had been terrorizing her and her friends to hell, the ending would IMO have been very different. Angel getting his soul back actually lead to everything being much more devastating for Buffy. After she had kissed the man she loved, told him „I love you“, asked him to close his eyes and sent him to hell why he had no idea what was going on, Buffy is at the point where she doesn’t want to be the Slayer anymore, she doesn’t want to be Buffy Summers anymore. She runs away from her life, trying to become someone else. One could say that she did, at this moment, lose that one most important thing – herself, and that she only regains it at the end of Anne.

    The closing scene has the first (but not the last!) brilliant use of a Sarah McLachlan song for a BtVS season finale. It is the plaintive “Full of Grace”, which reflects Buffy’s feelings as she leaves her mother a note and decides to leave everyone and walk away from her old life, feeling unable to go on being who she is. She is watching her mother and her friends from afar but can’t go and talk to anyone. Although sending Angel to hell was what pushed Buffy to this decision, I think that she wouldn’t have made this decision if Joyce hadn’t thrown her out. At this point, Buffy is thrown out of the house, expelled from school, still wanted for murder, and she is starting to feel isolated from her friends, feeling that none of them could understand what she is going through. I expect some debate on whether Buffy was being irresponsible and insensitive by simply leaving, but I think we can cut her some slack. The above mentioned song is perfect fit for the finale and perhaps explains Buffy’s state of mind better than anything: it is about a depressed person feelings that she is unable to give love to people in her life in the state she is. It could be a soundtrack for season 6 as well; I think that Buffy is starting to suffer from depression at the end of Becoming II and that she was depressed in LA until meeting Lily. I could see Buffy feeling that, just like during her PTSD phase in When She Was Bad, and later in season 6, she wouldn’t be able to a friend and daughter to the people she loves but feels increasingly isolated from.

    I never thought I could feel so low
    Oh darkness, I feel like letting go

    If all of the strength and all of the courage
    Come and lift me from this place,
    I know I could love you much better than this

    It’s better this way.
    Last edited by TimeTravellingBunny; 11-08-14 at 11:54 PM.
    You keep waiting for the dust to settle and then you realize it; the dust is your life going on. If happy comes along - that weird unbearable delight that's actual happy - I think you have to grab it while you can. You take what you can get, 'cause it's here, and then...gone.

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    Great review TTB. This is a fantastic season end and, as you say, wraps up many storylines. For Buffy it really is a defining point in how she handles so many upcoming relationships/situations.

    Quote Originally Posted by TimeTravellingBunny View Post
    Buffy reassures her that running away was the best thing she could have done, and it shows that the two have come a long way in their relationship.
    I also think this sets up some of what is going on for Buffy by the end of the episode. Cordelia questions her fleeing as a sign of cowardice and Buffy’s acceptance that this is sometimes the right thing to do flows against her worry of reaction from the others, their ability to understand what she has gone through and her ability to deal with her guilt. Buffy genuinely feels that sometimes to flee is ‘right’ in protecting yourself. As you say, it is a loss of herself as The Slayer, an attempt to pull away from that and what it asks of her. It is also a step away from dealing with her mother’s rejection/disapproval, her expulsion from school and, as far as she knows, her most ardent supporter in Willow wanting her to kill Angel and her potential resentment/anger that this is what then happened. Having found Kendra dead waves the average slayer life expectancy at her again and destroys another connection between the different aspects of her life. This is an overwhelmingly traumatic time for her and she simply can't process it all at once.

    Personally, I thought this scene was a great resolution to the story of the unrequired romantic interest Willow used to have for Xander; some will disagree, but I was never a fan of the Xander/Willow fling in season 3.
    I totally agree. I think it drew a line well enough and I really didn't like the fling in S3 either.

    When he calls the Mayor afterwards, it is confirmed that he has been working on the orders of the Mayor.
    The thing I found strange about this was why her expulsion was ‘good news’ to tell from the Mayor’s pov. I presume they were hoping that, like Hemery, her mother would take her away so she couldn't interfere in what was to come.

    There are definitely parallels between Buffy and Spike in season 2, in the big fight in this episode they both end up fighting against people they’re in love with, but what they eventually do is completely the opposite.
    Whistler saying that nobody saw Buffy coming also works here against Spike. Dru didn’t foresee Spike’s defection. His unpredictability, going against expectations, will repeatedly play in all his major points going forward. Successfully finding the gem believed to be a myth, turning to the scoobies for help when chipped, then seeking his soul and eventually sacrificing himself. Spike’s contradiction is in being impulsive and unpredictable and also focused and unwavering. It all depends on how he feels about the matter in hand. The actions/choices he takes in this episode illustrate this well.

    Joyce was never portrayed as a perfect mother, just someone who tried hard but was flawed as a parent –but while learning her daughter was a Slayer must have been a big shock, and it’s obvious that she needs time to handle the truth, she really comes off as a bad parent in this episode, refusing to accept that her daughter isn’t a ‘normal’ girl and throwing Buffy out of the house.
    I am a major critic of Joyce’s parenting at different points in S2 and have felt throughout the season that she fails Buffy by not being an active parental figure. But I have to say I recognise the desperation of the ultimatum. Parental power only comes from an acceptance of authority from the child. The moment they learn that they can turn around and challenge you everything is up for question. Joyce’s very realistic and genuine fear for her child in what she is being told, her disbelief despite the evidence she sees, all pushes her to try and gain control and she doesn’t have cards left to play so she tries a power control. Unfortunately in telling Buffy that she will take away her very security she does push her towards her escape to LA. All of this definitely doesn't work well against Normal Again though.

    I have to say that Angel comes off as really naive when he tells Spike he’s happy for having him „watch his back, like old times”, without realizing that Spike may not really be so eager to help him after the way he’s treated him.
    They have their sibling rivalry/taunting despite not really being around each other for a century and ‘knowing’ each other well. But this point of ‘old times’ sits well against A Hole In The World where their past is referenced when getting into the deeper well. Their issues unsouled can pull them apart and their history souled can be used to make them a stronger unit. It is na´ve of Angel knowing Spike to not really predict his anger over Dru but it isn’t totally off for him to think their history gives them a supportive understanding of each other.

    It is pretty funny to see Spike and Angel both looking at her and going: "Um, Dru? Honey?
    I think this really emphasises too how much the Angel of it all is the issue for Spike. He isn’t showing any signs of jealousy in this situation. What bothers him with Dru/Angel is that it means more to Dru and because of that, as well as separate to it for his own feelings, it means more to him too.

    When the spell started to work, it seems that she became temporarily possessed by the spirit of the Gypsy woman who originally devised and cast the curse.
    I always just assumed that her natural magically ability tapped in and took over. I saw it as an indication that her magical ability is natural. As well as, in hindsight, that it can exceed her own control.

    An interesting question to think about is, how did the lie affect the course of events?
    Hard to say. Buffy trying to distract Angel rather than gearing herself to kill him might have had things play out differently. Too many variables.

    He is upset by how Drusilla acts around Angel, but he sees the problem in Angel, not Drusilla, and his solution is to get rid of his rival, grab the unconscious Dru and carry her off away from Sunnydale (it’s pretty much „grab her by the hair and drag her into your cave“), not caring about what she wants.
    I would argue that one of the reasons he is so upset is because he knows the problem is Dru. The relationship he wanted from the get-go wasn’t what Dru was offering and Dru/Angel callously made that abundantly clear as we find out in Destiny. So I would say that he takes the easier solution of removing his rival because he doesn’t want to fully face that he isn’t enough for Dru and all she wants. It is preferable to remove the threat/competition than deal with his own dissatisfaction with his relationship and how Dru sees (or doesn't see) him.

    The entire season, in fact, was written with the goal of bringing Buffy to the moment when she must „kill“ the man she loves to save the world.
    In that way it sits nicely against other finales. First Buffy had to face her own destiny/mortality in S1. Then she has to sacrifice love for the world. Later she chooses to sacrifice herself to save the world and specifically protect the one she loves in S5 and then, at the end of the series, a loved one inspired by her dies to save her and the world.

    However, I think that this moment may be largely responsible for a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, and the theory that souled vampire „Angel“ and the soulless vampire „Angelus“ are literally two different people, which I don’t think was ever actually suggested on BtVS. I’m therefore going to add something about my views of the show’s treatment of Angel’s dichotomy.

    I think that another thing that has confused the viewers was the metaphorical talk about the souled and the soulless Angel as two different people; but I don’t think that Buffy, or Giles, or any of the Scoobies, or Spike and Drusilla, or Angel himself, ever meant that he was literally two different people, any more than anyone thought Dark Willow was literally a different person from Willow (she also used third person to once refer to her former self). In fact, everything they said and did the entire season, and in season 1 as well, shows that they think of Angel as the same being throughout, who, however, went through some huge changes and dramatic transformations that resulted in two completely different personas.
    I think Buffy tries to see them differently. I don’t think anyone else, or Angel himself, does, but Buffy I think very specifically tries to separate Angel/Angelus. It has been a repeated part of the season, the idea of whether she ‘sees’ the demon underneath. In Dopplegangland she will cut off Angel from saying that a vampire's personality links to the person they were and in IOHEFY she says he is the demon wearing her boyfriend's face. The fact that Buffy knows souled!Angel wouldn't act this way makes it hard for her to link his soulless actions with the souled version of Angel.

    Next season will try to press the reality of the demon that stays a part of the souled vampire. As little as is made of Angel’s time in hell, the statement in this episode from Buffy that she will never get Angel back the way he was is very true. Neither of them will be as carefree/innocent again.
    Last edited by Stoney; 12-08-14 at 09:54 AM.

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  7. #184
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    Great review TimeTravellingBunny! This really is a fantastic episode full of memorable and iconic moments.

    I don't blame Buffy whatsoever for her decision to leave. Obviously it's not the best solution but it's totally understandable given how traumatic Becoming must have been for her. Her relationship with Joyce had completely fallen apart, she had been expelled from school, Kendra was dead, the police wanted to arrest her for a crime she didn't commit, and she had to kill Angel. The life Buffy had tried so hard to build for herself was ruined and on top of everything she had to kill Angel after his soul was returned, leaving her with enormous guilt. And Becoming doesn't exist in a vacuum either. Buffy was already dealing with the pain of losing Angel, her guilt over Jenny's death, and the mental torture Angelus had put her through for months. It's no surprise that the fallout from this episode was too much for her to deal with and she ran away.

    And I don't really blame Buffy for feeling like the gang would be unapproachable when it came to the guilt and grief she was feeling. After everything Angel had done to them, just in this episode alone, it'd be extremely had to broach the topic with any of them when they'd mainly just be feeling immense relief that Angel is finally dead. Giles had just been tortured by Angel, Joyce had demonstrated that she wasn't in any space to understand Buffy's life much less the complexities of her relationship with Angel, Xander had made his feelings about Angel perfectly clear as well as expressed some resentment towards Buffy herself, and she was never close to Oz or Cordelia.

    I do think Xander's lie had unintended repercussions particularly for the Buffy/Willow relationship going forward. I've always felt Buffy's, almost, resentful, "you wouldn't understand", towards Willow in Dead Man's Party stems from Willow supposedly telling her to "kick his ass." Had Willow really said that I do think she would have completely misread Buffy's feelings on Angel and what she needed to hear. And that insensitivity, I think, plays a large part in why Buffy felt Willow couldn't be approached about the sadness and guilt she felt over having to kill Angel. At the very least it would have cemented in Buffy's mind that Angel has hurt the gang too much for them to be in any frame of mind to sympathize with her grief over having lost him. Buffy's complex feelings about Angel really do isolate her from the others which we'll see explored more in Beauty and the Beasts ("I can't talk to anybody. Not Willow. Not Giles. If they found out they'd freak, or do something...") and I think it's particularly sad that this miscommunication drives a wedge between both girls and it wasn't even true.

    I do think there's a degree of selfishness in running away. Not just because of her duties in Sunnydale (though they're honestly the least of my concerns) but because of the people she left behind. Buffy does leave Joyce a note which at the very least assures her friends that she made it out of the battle alive but they're still obviously going to be very concerned about her. But sometimes people are allowed to be a little bit selfish, ya know? It's impossible to expect someone, especially at such a young age, to deal with such traumatic events and still act selflessly and altruistically in spite of it all and in spite of the sacrifices she's already made. I understand why he friends will be angry at her (though I think Joyce gets it totally wrong when she accuses Buffy of doing this to "punish her") but I just cannot expect anything more from Buffy at this point. A lot of people would never have recovered from what she had to do when she killed Angel and that's on top of everything else Buffy had already lost. And as I said, abandoning her duties is probably what I am least critical of Buffy for because my reading is always that the burden is incredibly unjust and unfair and that Buffy's emotional well-being, at times, simply has to take precedent over her duties -- especially when it's those duties that are costing her so much. Does that mean Sunnydale is Slayerless? Yes. Does that mean people might die? Possibly. And it'd be very easy to blame Buffy for that but, again, she didn't choose she was chosen. And I'll give major props to Giles next season for not holding that against her in a Watcher's capacity and for the personal time the gang will afford Buffy in S5 when she's dealing with Joyce's illness.

    Buffy is of course the hero of the story and gets one of her most iconic moments in the series ("No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away and what's left?" "Me") but I do have to give special mention to Willow and Xander in this episode. Though I do question the morality of Xander's lie I do think it's incredibly brave of him to accompany Buffy to the mansion, even if he's just a "frightened guy with a rock." This isn't the first time Xander has followed Buffy into battle but he was just hospitalized after a brutal attack on the library where the very same vampires injured him badly, killed a Slayer, and almost killed him. It takes a lot of courage to face something like that and throw yourself right back into the midst of things. And Willow? The girl was in a coma after suffering major head trauma and instead of resting and taking things easy she wants to perform an incredibly powerful spell that Giles already warned her about for being dangerous to "help Buffy." Not only that but by performing the ritual again she could just be inviting another attack upon them and this time she'd be even more defenseless in the hospital and totally Slayer-less. They both display a lot of bravery and heroism in this episode.

    Giles is also superb. The strength it takes to endure Angel's torture is impressive and I love his snarkiness as he faces Angel down ("You must perform the ritual in a tutu. Pelic."). Drusilla's mind control was also incredibly cruel and I imagined it opened a lot of wounds for Giles and made his grieving undoubtedly harder. It's almost like he lost Jenny all over again.

    I do think Xander meant that he loved Willow in a romantic sense when he was by her bedside because it's very Jossian for Xander to finally say that only to have Willow call out Oz's name instead. The scene doesn't work as well if he meant "love" in a platonic sense. And I would say he looks somewhat upset about it, just for a moment, before his relief over Willow waking up takes over. I agree that it would be a nice end to the Willow/Xander story line that they've been playing with over S1-S2 and I could take or leave the Willow/Xander story line in S3. I also think it really signifies the transition from Xander having romantic feelings for Buffy as his story really begins to focus more on his complex relationship with Willow and Cordy moving forward.

    The Buffy/Joyce scene is hard for me. I agree with TimeTravellingBunny that the scene is clearly a metaphor for 'coming out' (probably why I identify with Buffy's character more so than I really ever did Willow/Tara oddly enough. Buffy's speech really hits all my emotional buttons -- "Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is? How dangerous?" in a way Willow's coming out never really did) and in the light Joyce looks like a fairly terrible parent. It's hard not to see her reaction as a total rejection of her daughter's identity and it does remind me somewhat of her apparent discomfort over Willow/Tara ("I told mum I want them to teach what they do together sometime and then she got really quiet and made me go to my room. I guess her generation isn't cool with witchcraft...") but it is just a metaphor. The actual reality of Buffy's story is that she just told her mother she's a Slayer of vampires, is on the run from the police, and has to go save the world by murdering her ex boyfriend. It's a lot to process and I have to be pretty lenient on Joyce for not reacting perfectly, which she'll admit in Dead Man's Party. Buuuuttt there's a real element of truth that Joyce spent a lot of time not wanting to know and willfully turning a blind eye to what was going on and it breaks my heart seeing Buffy's resentment about that coming to the forefront ("all that time washing blood out of my clothing and you still haven't figured it out!?"). Buffy did hide it from Joyce but I think a part of her really wanted Joyce to figure it out. I think she tested the waters back in Bad Eggs when she tried to jokingly tell Joyce about being the Slayer. And this is made a lot worse by the Normal Again retcon where apparently Joyce institutionalized Buffy ("Buffy you need help" "I'm not crazy!") which she's pretty much tried to forget about. I have a lot of love for Joyce but she's far from perfect and I'd say I'm most conflicted about her in this episode and her behaviour in Dead Man's Party. It is absolutely one of my favourite scenes of the entire series though. It resonates with me in a way few show's can ever do and it's a perfect example of Whedon at his very best

    The Buffy/Synder scene is superb. I think both of them just revel in the ability to be brutally honest with each other and, really, just drop the facade that Buffy is in anyway normal and that they're both fully aware of it. Buffy doesn't try and hide that she's come back for the sword, in fact she very pointedly aims it at his face as she walks past him (I love that small moment), and Snyder doesn't act at all surprised. It's an interesting moment because in S3 they have to try and work back into some semblance of a principal/student relationship but here Buffy is fed up hiding herself and I think deep down she knows Snyder knows who/what she is. And I love the setup for S3 ("tell the Mayor I have good news"). I don't think they ever really capitalize on this scene in S3 in a way that they could have but it's a great scene nonetheless.

    I don't have a lot to say about Spike in this episode other than that it really is soulless Spike in a nutshell. I believe that he enjoys the world and it's quirks as we'll see how in indulges in them throughout the show (his obsession and appreciation for The Bronze's onion blossoms, for example) and I don't think leaving it to be sucked into hell is necessarily a contradiction of that. It's just that he cares about Drusilla a lot more. And that's really how soulless Spike operates throughout most of the series where he's capable of doing acts of 'good' but there's always -- or almost always -- a selfish motive behind them, and it's almost always revolving around the woman he loves. And it's part of what makes him a good candidate for the evolution he'll undergo but also what makes him dangerous as well. He'll work alongside you but he'll just as easily sell you out. I do believe Spike will evolve to the point that he is capable of genuine altruism (withstanding Glory's torture for Dawn and working alongside the Scoobies after Buffy's death) but as a soulless vampire he's almost always selfishly motivated. I do think this is the episode that really kicks off his series arc though, from working alongside Buffy as an effective duo, battling for 'good', nobody seeing him coming as Stoney points, and even this incredibly great line that foreshadows the final episode -- "I want to save the world." Hee It's also the episode that sets up a lot of Spike's more memorable relationships and character traits such as his moments with Joyce or his relateble humanity.

    I've already shared my opinions about Xander's lie. I don't think it was some sinister planned-out plot as Xander is clearly about to tell Buffy what Willow really said until he stops and changes his mind. But I do think that whilst Xander thought he was making the right decision for the world and for Buffy it was clearly influenced by his personal dislike of Angel as well. Whether or not I think Xander was justified to lack faith in Buffy? Not sure. I mean, on the one hand, I get why he doesn't have faith in her because she couldn't bring herself to stop Angel before he ended up killing one of them. That was a real cost and it's totally understandable it would shake Xander's belief in Buffy that she had it in her to put others first. But he also witnessed a very sick Buffy stumbling through the cemetery and almost getting herself killed because she was so resolved to prevent Angel from hurting anybody else. And ultimately Buffy proves she does have what it takes to sacrifice Angel to save the world when she not only killed him to stop the apocalypse but she did so after his soul was returned to him. So I don't think there's any real question that Xander was wrong to doubt Buffy's inner strength but it's just a question of whether or not he could have reasonably foreseen that. Like I said, I'm not sure. But I do think he was wrong to break Willow's trust by sending a false message, and knowing what's to come in S3 (when he never comes clean about the lie but acts very self righteous) and in S7 (when he'll do anything in his power to prevent Buffy from killing Anya) I'm not a huge fan of it. I don't hold it against him as an unforgivable moment the way some fans do but I do think ultimately I would classify it as a bad decision on his part.

    A really great end to a great season. The final moments are heartbreaking and I think SMG nails it. Her expression when she sees the portal open up behind Angel gets me every. single. time. Easily one of the best episodes of the series

    Favourite lines:

    ANGEL
    So that's everything. No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away and what's left?
    BUFFY
    Me.


    BUFFY
    (to Snyder) You never ever got a single date in high school, did you?


    ANGEL
    I wanna torture you. I used to love it, and it's been a *long*
    time. I mean, the last time I tortured somebody, they didn't even *have*
    chainsaws.


    BUFFY
    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 figured it out?
    JOYCE
    Well, it stops now!
    BUFFY
    No, it doesn't stop! It *never* stops!
    Do-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.


    GILES
    It's a trick. They get inside my head, make me see things I
    want.
    XANDER
    Then why would they make you see me?
    GILES
    You're right. Let's go.
    Last edited by vampmogs; 12-08-14 at 02:14 PM.
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    It's hard to remember nowadays, especially with all that has happened since then, but this was the episode that well and truly established that Joss would "bring the pain" if he felt it was what the story needed, never mind what the audience wanted. Sure, previous episodes had brought the pain -- Jenny's death, the loss of Angel's soul, Willow finding out about Xander and Cordelia, Buffy dying at the Master's hands, and more -- but this was the season finale of only the second season. This was the episode that would establish the template that would follow, that sometimes the battle would be won, the world would be saved, but there could be a heavy cost for that, personally, physically, and emotionally, both for the characters in-story and in terms of the audience's expectations.

    That last part is important, because this was a time in the show's history when most of the audience overwhelmingly still hoped for, and expected, the story to end with an overall happy ending, both for the characters and for the audience's emotional investments. Seasons three through seven, all five seasons of AtS, Season 8, Angel: After the Fall, Season 9, Season 10 -- none of it had happened yet. What are now standard complaints in fandom -- Joss never lets any couple stay happy just for the sake of being happy, countless shipping arguments of who should Buffy be with, how powerful should Willow be and is she dark or light, is Xander a flawed but essentially good person or the embodiment of Male Evil?, and more -- had not yet started to take root. There was still a (perhaps na´ve) hope, no, an expectation, that the emotional stakes would be threatened but would eventually remain status quo, and that things that various parts of the audience viewed as being "built into the show's DNA" would eventually be allowed to reach fruition. And in many ways, this is the episode that not only threatened that, but laid the groundwork for many things the audience took for granted to have a stake driven through its heart (my apologies for the pun).

    For instance, the ending of the Buffy Vs. Angel plot. The way I remember things, for so much of the audience, the stakes of the last two episodes weren't whether or not Buffy would save the world from being sucked into hell by Acathla (of course she would!), or whether Buffy would truly have to sacrifice who she was in love with to do it, or whether or not Angel's soul would be restored to him -- it was whether or not Angel's soul would be restored in time so that Buffy wouldn't have to sacrifice him and so that they would be reunited and all the pain Buffy had gone through as a result of Angel losing his soul would be allowed catharsis by having her boyfriend restored to her in the end. In short, the stakes were seen as being whether Buffy would get her happy ending in the end. (Yes, I'm probably oversimplifying things in some people's eyes. Sorry.)

    I don't remember if a significant part of the audience suspected that Joss would actually Go There -- by yes, having Buffy save the world by actually having to sacrifice who she was in love with, right when he was restored to her -- but in hindsight, no matter how much praise Joss got for the story, the feeling, the drama, the funny parts, the character insight and development, the epic sweep of it, it was still a shock to the audience that he would not just bring the pain, but twist the knife for maximum character hurt and also subvert the audience's expectations in the process. The audience was still willing to put their faith in Joss, though; unlike today, when so much of the audience has fractured and will freely react to any development, plot or character, with not just eye-rolling derision but contempt for Joss himself unless it is in lockstep with each audience's members own preferences, biases, and agenda.

    In hindsight, I think part of why so much of the audience turned so vehemently against Xander for The Lie, whether they were aware of it or not, was because at some level, conscious or not, they felt betrayed by that subversion of their expectations. I'm not saying that the audience's many other, more professed, reasons for hating Xander for telling The Lie were just a smokecreen for something else, but this was an audience that, at the time, was not yet ready to react to character and story developments that they didn't like by making angry or bitter indictments on Joss's character, professialism, or worth as a man/feminist/writer/liberal/human being. The kind we would see by the Kittens in response to Tara's death, for example. Xander telling the Lie gave many people the means to respond viscerally to where the story went without getting personally angry at Joss.

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    Great thoughts, everyone.

    I have a lot to say about this ep, and not all that much time. I guess I'll talk about it in parts?

    I'll start with something "easy" -- the Willow/Xander/Oz thing. I see what people are saying about this being an appropriate ending for the triangle, and the clothes fluke being superfluous. I agree that from a perspective of narrative satisfaction, I would have been happy enough if this really marked the end of the possibility of Willow/Xander, at least for a while. However, I like the way things played out even better, for the sake of PAIN and TRAGEDY.

    Here's the thing: Xander's previous declarations of love for Willow are at moments like IRYJ ("I love you, but bye!") and Inca Mummy Girl ("I love Willow. And she's my best friend. Which makes her not the kind of girl who I think about her lips that much."), which all come down to, "I love Willow, but...", with but clauses that undermine the declaration of love, or, at least, do to Willow's ears -- I love you, but I don't find you attractive; I love you, but I don't want to spend time doing things you're interested in that bore me. This is not one of those declarations. Whether it is romantic or not (and I think there is a tinge of romance to it, but I think it's...complicated), this is genuinely a I love you and want to be around you, I love you and value you, I love you and treasure you. Xander says this, which he has mostly held back on for two years, I think because he sort of knows that if he loves Willow enough then he'll be trapped by that love -- either in a romantic relationship he doesn't want, or on the bottom of the social ladder, or have his other options stripped away. But when it comes to losing Willow, he gives his all. And Willow does wake up from it, but whispers "Oz."

    I get no indication that Willow consciously hears Xander's declaration of love, the one that comes without any but clauses. I suspect that the declaration of love does trigger Willow's waking up on some level, because Willow's central issues swirl around her feeling of unlovability, and her feeling of unlovability related to her weakness and failure. But she says "Oz" upon waking up, indicating that it's Oz who occupies the more central position in her heart. But that's Willow's unconscious that calls out to Oz; she's between awake and asleep, just coming out of a coma. Her conscious mind doesn't choose which guy she loves the most, her unconscious does. And her unconscious really does choose Oz, because that's who she really loves romantically, as a close companion, the most. But Willow doesn't actually know that, and when she's conscious again, all the baggage surrounding Xander and their history and his rejections is still there. From Lovers Walk:

    For the longest time, I didn't know what I wanted. I wanted everything. And now... I just... I just want [Oz] to talk to me again.
    Willow doesn't know what she wants. She wants Oz, most of all, but she also wants everything, and she is too unused to having options open to be able to think critically about what it is she actually wants. Actually, even in the clothes fluke period, Willow really wants to only want Oz, and even takes the arguably immoral step to the de-lusting spell to realign herself (and Xander) with what should be, but I think Willow has a hard time knowing whether that's what she actually wants, deep down, or whether that's just the urge to be a good girl asserting it and not really her deeper self. When push comes to shove, she absolutely wants Oz to talk to her again, and even takes steps, in The Wish, to sever some of her emotional connections with Xander in order to make it more possible for her and Oz to come together and to stay together. And this, in turn, causes Xander to feel even more alone after his breakup with Cordy and his feelings of being a failure, which is part of what lands him in bed with Faith, which ends up hurting Willow an incredible amount in Consequences.

    I think the tragedy is that Xander does want to keep Willow by his side and on some subconscious level realizes that the only way to do that is romantically, but he realizes it only when she has already chosen Oz in her heart but doesn't know herself well enough to trust that, which ends up poisoning the close friendship that Xander and Willow has since it then becomes necessary for Willow to pull away from him because she no longer *can* trust herself around him, and so on. Willow's attempts to keep away from Xander, because her feelings for him threaten to ruin the other good things in her life, end up leading to more pain, and further isolation from Xander even after she loses Oz. The Willow/Xander isolation is a subtle story after season three, but I think it's actually really quite well done.

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  13. #187
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    Great episode though their are a few things that bother me. I feel that the actors who played the cops are really bad. It also bugs me when one of the cops shoots at Buffy when she's fleeing from the school since cops aren't allowed to shoot suspects who are trying to get away.

    Also the fact that the stunt doubles are rather obvious during the big Buffy vs Angelus swordfight kind of takes away from some of the epicness of the battle.

    My heart really goes out to Angel during the end of the episode. He doesn't know what's going on or remember what he's done as Angelus.

    Fanon theory: I like to think that judging by the look on Angel's face when Buffy stabbed him with the sword that that was the moment when he got his memories of what he did as Angelus back.

    I give this episode a 9 out of 10.
    Last edited by Lostsoul666; 14-08-14 at 11:10 AM.

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    OK, so since norwie is going on to talk about season 3 soon I want to hurry up and say what I want to say.

    So warning: this is actually some dark readings of the major characters -- of Willow, Xander and Buffy. However, these are not the full story, at all. Rather, I think the tragedy of Becoming is effective because they are all actually being genuinely heroic -- but there are little flaws nibbling at the edges of these characters, which end up magnifying each other to produce real pain.

    So, incompletely:

    * Willow again: Why is Willow more certain about her desire and ability to perform the spell after nearly having her head caved in, while weakened and in the hospital, than before? I think this question contains its own answer. Willow, in Becoming, Part I is afraid that the spell might go wrong, and, perhaps, that the spell's nonspecific danger will hurt her -- but in Part II, she's glimpsed death, and this makes her bold. There is something a little similar to Prophesy Girl, in that Willow has a mini-death/resurrection (like Buffy's more extreme and literal one), but it's subtly different because Willow didn't quite choose her death. I think ultimately Willow fears weakness and uselessness more than she fears death, but it takes actually nearly dying to fully get to that point. Doing the spell is a way of making the world better for Buffy and in general, of doing Jenny's wish, and it's a way of proving her strength now that she's almost been killed.

    There is another level to all this, which is that it's a revenge spell. I want to be clear here, I think Willow's conscious and most of her unconscious motivations are good ones. She wants to help Buffy, and prove to Buffy that she can help; she wants to execute Jenny's last wish; she wants to make the world a better place; and she even likes Angel enough to want to save him. But at the same time, in the moment of doing the spell, as TTB mentioned, she seems to be possessed of gypsies past. There's an interesting argument by someone named yhlee, who at one point had an lj that I read things on (but I haven't been able to find it lately), and I disagreed with many of her takes, but one thing she said is that Willow is coded as a gypsy in season two, and I sort of agree with that: Willow ends up doing the spell, identifying with Jenny, and Angel's quick assault on Willow as being so cute and helpless, back in Innocence, was the same type of assault that Angel made on the gypsy girl. Buffy is strong; Willow is weak. Willow identifies with the oppressed peoples, because she has no physical strength to fight off the assaults on her, and is the person who comes closest, I think, to being actually killed by force among the main cast. (Kendra, of course, is the most literally almost killed.) And in the moment of doing the spell she ends up accessing oppressed peoples past, and offering their vengeance. And in the process she hurts Angel, souled Angel, and causes pain to him...and to Buffy, as well.

    The pain she causes Buffy is on some level revenge on Buffy herself. Willow loves Buffy with all her conscious heart, and much of her unconscious, but every day that Buffy spent not killing Angel was a day in which the non-Buffy Scoobies lived in fear that Angel was going to kill them in order to make Buffy suffer. I don't think Willow can really access this knowledge consciously, but there are hints that she does recognize it. In Passion, Willow loses her fish and her teacher/mentor, and she is very clear on why this happens: Buffy is still the only thing Angel thinks about, and everything Angel does to hurt those around Buffy is about Buffy. Willow's desire to see Buffy happy and reunited with Angel runs up against her subconscious recognition that the Buffy/Angel relationship, Angel's continuing obsession over Buffy, and Buffy's difficulty letting go of her feelings for Angel even while he's turned against her and all of them, are hurting them and just recently led to her nearly being killed. So the spell serves both masters: both Willow's desire to see Buffy happy, and, on some level, it ends up accidentally, through no conscious will of her own at all, hurting Buffy and Angel for the pain that their relationship inflicts on her.

    * In WSWB, Xander said, "If they hurt Willow, I'll kill you." Now, at the end of the season, the same trick is pulled, by Angel rather than the vamps at large, and Willow gets hurt, nearly killed. When Willow nearly dies, Xander re-accesses his love for her and declares it, and then she wakes up, but not to him. I really do think that this is part of the mixture of emotions at play when he improperly relays Willow's message, modifies it to "Kick his ass." I don't mean that Xander consciously is trying to hurt Buffy. There are rational reasons for his decision -- more of which in a moment. But still, the promise at the beginning of the season looms over everything. And Xander's response to losing Willow there was to want to hurt Buffy for making it happen. Complicated guy, this Xander. His feelings of powerlessness over his best friend drifting away from him make his desire to get his way when it comes to Buffy and Angel loom larger. And I think that Xander's hatred of Angel is related to his anger at Buffy -- for similar reasons to Willow. Buffy's "soft spot" for Angel hurts them all...but more than that, Xander's love for Buffy has an element of his attraction to demons, which is reflected in Buffy's affection for Angel. I think Xander gets Buffy/Angel more than he lets on, and he dislikes his attachment to demons enough to want to punish Buffy and even hurt her for her attraction to vampires. Not consciously, but....

    The thing is, though, Xander also has rational reasons, that go beyond his feelings of emotional powerlessness, his feeling at odds in the Willow/Xander/Buffy triangle. The fundamental thing is, the world is at stake. The whole world. They could all die. Six billion people could die. That's too big for any man, and Xander has reason to suspect Buffy would hesitate. She has done it before. It's a personal betrayal for him to lie to Buffy here, and it's a really significant one, but what if Buffy really is going to stay her hand in attacking Angel because of her feelings for him? Is it worth risking six billion lives in order to have faith in Buffy? Of course, one can just as easily turn this around, and say that Buffy feeling isolated makes her less likely to fight well, or to know what she's fighting for. This is the problem at the heart of this moment, where Xander is trying to manipulate Buffy into fighting well, partly because Giles is in absentia and Xander admires Giles' Watcher-ness. ("I was into that for a while," as he says in Restless.)

    * On the big Buffy/Angel scene at the end: Why does Buffy say "Close your eyes?" And "don't worry about it"?

    Look, it's clear why Buffy does it for herself -- she wants a moment with Angel, a pure moment of bliss, a moment to savour the love and connection which she is going to lose forever. That's understandable, and it's part of what makes it so devastating.

    But she could tell Angel what is happening. In an episode full of people deceiving each other, in ways big and small -- Xander lying to Buffy, Spike's big play on Angel(us) and Drusilla, Drusilla's manipulation of Giles into seeing Jenny -- it's not incidental that Buffy is lying to Angel, or, at least, effectively lying. "Don't worry about it," Buffy? There is no stopping that Buffy has to send Angel to hell, but she doesn't have to send him to hell in such a way as that his last instant is one of shock and betrayal. Maybe Angel would hold it against Buffy if she stabbed him and sent him to hell, but on some level he would definitely get that she doesn't have a choice -- if it's between everyone going to hell and just him, well, you know. He would get it. But Buffy doesn't explain it to him, or even let his eyes be open when she stabs him.

    The parallel with Darla's "Close your eyes" makes this moment even harder, in a sense. Once again, Angel is killed by a woman who tells him to close his eyes. Spring Summers suggested that the Freudian imagery of the swirling vortex means that Angel is seduced by lust, in a way, just as he was with Darla. Yeah, I think so, though lust doesn't quite cover it (and I don't think Spring meant it as purely lust, either). But in any case, Buffy is the one who has the power in this situation, like Darla, and she chooses to send Angel to hell with eyes closed, confusion reigning, and when he opens his eyes again after Buffy stabs him, she backs away from him, even as he reaches out to her. Instinctually, Buffy knows that she needs to pull away from Angel in order to survive -- in order to avoid being pulled into hell, too.

    Angel is not some dewy-eyed innocent. He is responsible for his predicament, or, at least, more responsible than Buffy is. And yet. Look, maybe it's good for Angel to spend what seems to be his last moments that aren't incredible torture and pain in the bliss of love with Buffy, in a beautiful kiss, a last beautiful moment before everything ends. Maybe it isn't. Does Buffy get to decide this? Are there any other decisions Buffy can make? I think in this moment, Buffy ultimately makes a call that she really wants the moment of connection with Angel, and it's a moment in which she knows, but he doesn't, that it's about to end, that she's about to kill and even betray him, to save the world. And she knows that she's going to send him to hell and still be in the world herself. Take everything away, and what's left? Me.

    I think this is a huge part of Buffy's guilt next season. She wants to believe that she's the type of person who will sacrifice all for her love, but she actually won't. Buffy pulls away rather than dying with Angel, which she should. And she chose how to spend Angel's last moments of freedom from hell. She didn't ask Angel if he had any last words to say to the world, or gave him a chance to understand what was happening to him. She took the kiss that she needed and killed him. She could hardly do otherwise, because she needed that kiss, and she needed to kill him, and the emotional strain of killing him was too much without adding the strain of telling Angel, in a few seconds, what she was doing and why. She doesn't respond to his anguished, confused reaching for her because it's too painful to act, let alone explain why she's acting.

    In some ways, that Buffy chooses to use Angel's last moments to kiss her comes down to the belief that Buffy/Angel is the most important thing in both their lives, and that is, in some senses, inarguable at this point in the story. Of course Angel would want to kiss Buffy and be told she loves him, and this overwhelms all other concerns. And if it weren't for the Becoming I flashbacks, I think it would be easy to say this is basically true of Angel globally; as Willow says in Passion, Buffy's all Angel thinks about, and Buffy certainly believes that everything Angel does is about her. In some senses, Angel(us) is a shadow for Buffy, her deepest fears and desires, and in that sense it makes sense that Angel's final moment is all centred around Buffy's needs, desires, fears, and pain: that Angel's death is all about Buffy's story. Just as, in a sense, Angel's assault on Buffy's loved ones was all about Buffy, all these months, which (again) is part of what drives Willow and Xander and Giles, subconsciously, the recognition that they are all just collateral damage of someone who is responding to Buffy's subconscious, and they are utterly powerless until Buffy is able to conquer that part of herself.

    But we also know that Angel is someone without centre, bouncing from one person and ideology to another as external things are imposed onto him. He is a real person -- just a real person whose real person...ness blends into everything else. And from that perspective, Angel's death furthers Buffy's story, and he's on some level betrayed by Buffy.

    Pointy, who is a commenter on Whedonesque, also mentioned that Buffy killing Angel has some element of revenge fantasy in it. And I think that is true, even though it's just an element. Buffy is heroic here, but at the same time, Buffy is also given something like exactly what she wants. The man who hurt her so terribly in the breakup now

    a) loves her fully again, and kisses her;
    b) is wholly under her power, able to be hurt by her rather than hurting her; and
    c) now will suffer and suffer -- for what he did to her.

    On the level that Angel is the bad boyfriend metaphor, the dynamic is reversed -- Angel is now the naif with less knowledge and strength than Buffy, and Buffy takes what she wants/needs from him (through kissing him) before violently sending him to be tortured in hell. She cannot do otherwise -- which is part of what makes it a fantasy. She gets exactly what a part of her wants, in the worst way, and she has to do it, which makes her feel incredible guilt which is hard to pin down.

    * What is the difference, if any, between Buffy killing Angel and the possibility of Buffy killing Dawn, in The Gift?

    Certainly, if Angel is responsible for Angelus' actions, then it's easy enough. Angel is the one who brought Acathla forth, so it's not sacrificing an innocent for him to die; it's a matter of Angel reaping what he himself sowed.

    And you know, I do think that Angel and Angelus are the same guy, but they're also, on some level, not. Angel didn't choose to lose his soul -- not to Darla back in the day, not to Buffy recently. He also didn't choose to get it back, either from the gypsy tribe or from Willow. To some extent, Angel made choices -- he chose to accept his mission of being a Big Evil Guy after Darla turned him, and chose to devote himself to Buffy after Whistler showed Buffy to him. But Angel was also just kind of going along with the external things he was shown.

    In a metaphoric way, I still suspect that Angel is not entirely a person in seasons one and two; that so much of him is a construct built up to be what Buffy wants (when he has a soul) and fears (when he doesn't), and in that sense he's sort of just a part of Buffy -- a part which she needs to kill and conquer, at great pain to herself. In that sense, Buffy is not sacrificing a person at all, at the end of Becoming, but a part of herself -- the part, I suppose, that pulls away from other people and into herself. The way early season three, especially, plays out with Buffy spending her dreams with Angel, devoting a part of her life (and, for a time, the only emotionally/spiritually active part of her life) to just living with the ghost of Angel in her dreams. In that sense, Buffy has to choose between what is good for her inner self and what is good for the outer world in Becoming, and heroically chooses the outer world, even though it seems, at least at the moment, to have no place for her. That is an incredible sacrifice -- but if it's truly a metaphor, it also follows weeks of Buffy's inner life going around trying to kill her friends (and her) and her being unable to stop it. It also makes it ambiguous whether or not her love for Angel can really be called "love," if Angel is not truly a real person but a part of her instead.

    Once again, I think that Angel fits himself into being what Buffy wants him to be (or, what she wants him not to be) -- latches onto these things external to himself and obsesses. So this is why Angel can be both a person and a metaphor, because he's trying hard to be Buffy's anima, because playing seducer (and then, once that mission is accomplished, betrayer/destroyer) is about all he knows, his own human self having died long ago. That Angel, with a soul, has to suffer for the sins he committed without a soul makes a certain tragic sense if his flaw is not being evil -- because Angel, with a soul, is not evil in the fundamental way he is without a soul -- but for losing himself to whatever new external force comes along, totally.

    This makes him the ultimate foe Buffy has to vanquish. In the end, Buffy can say that what is left when all else is stripped away is, "Me." Angel, when the big moments come, does whatever the external forces "want" him to do, or seem to want him. Angel fills the grand plan. Buffy has some self under it all, and while it's battered it will come through.

    * Spike! Joyce! Giles! But no, I'm done for now.

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