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Thread: BtVS rewatch : SEASON 2

  1. #161
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    Not a lot to say about this episode. It's probably one of the few episodes of BtVS that I don't have strong feelings about one way or another. As Stoney says, it's a bit of a mixed bag with some really cheesy scenes but also some good moments to.

    I'm not sure I like the inclusion of Cecily or the fact she was killed by the demon. For one thing, that's awfully coincidental that Buffy came across this demon as a child and that it happened to kill her cousin. I'm also just not sure I believe that Buffy never mentioned to anyone that she saw her cousin die in pretty terrible circumstances right in front of her. I agree with Dipstick that it's meant to convey Buffy's guilt over her failure to stop Angel and save Jenny but I don't think it was necessary.

    I do like that this episode makes it clear how serious Buffy was at the end of Passion when she says she's ready to kill Angel. She can barley stand and her friends, even Xander, are pleading with her to take a break, but she's adamant she needs to be out hunting for Angel before he can hurt anyone else. I also like that Buffy seems so guilt-ridden and upset by Jenny's death that it's implied it pretty much made her sick. Both of these things rarely get discussed when breaking down the Buffy/Angel(us) arc in S2.

    I do like the Angelus/Xander scene but probably not as much as I'm meant to because, well, I'm not sure if I buy it. Do I think Angelus could get past Xander, the guard and the orderlies? Well, yeah. From everything we've seen that wouldn't pose much a problem for him so I'm pretty skeptical that Xander shook him in any real way. The only fanwank I have is that it really wasn't Angelus' intention nor his style to have to fight his way through a bunch of people and that it wouldn't really fit the creepy, whistling, flower-bringing aesthetic he was going for so he bailed. It's a good scene for Xander, a nice cap-off to the simmering tension that's been building between Angel/Xander since S1, and it does foreshadow maybe less than noble motives for Xander's Big Lie later in the season ("you're gonna die and I'm going to be there when it happens"), but the scene is tempered for me by the fact that I just don't quite believe it. I do love the way NB plays Xander's fear once Angelus leaves and the brave facade he put on pretty much crumbles into relief/terror.

    I also want to say how much I love ASH and the way he portrays Giles' grief throughout this episode. It's very subtle but there's something... different about Giles.

    Hm, not a lot else to say. I do love the Buffy/Xander/Willow/Joyce scene at the end. Although no matter how comfortable I got with my friend's parents I could never talk to them like Willow and especially Xander does in that scene But it really does drive home how Joyce became a surrogate mother to all of them and why her death hits them so hard in S5.
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  2. #162
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    Season 2 mostly precedes the revision of Angel into Lightning Ragnarok Shining Majesty Vampire Demi-God, soul or no soul. For the most part, at that stage, what he is is a particularly skilled vampire whose viciousness and malice are what set him apart.

    By Season 2 or 3 of his own show, we're pretty much invited to assume that Angel could Edward Cullen his way through the entire floor snapping necks in an eyeblink before anybody had known he started, yes... but in Season 2 of "Buffy", even a vampire as vicious as Angelus would have to concede that he could be zerg-rushed/mobbed down by heavy human resistance. There are at least fingerprints of this later on the fact that in "Fool For Love" he's at least still referring (in flashback) to angry mobs as a legitimate danger... but even in something as simple as Dru having the discretion to give a wide-berth to the angry Horde of Xander obsessed distaff in 2.16.

    I love that scene so much. This is actually one of my favorite Xander episodes throughout, between him bursting through the hospital door with Buffy, the hallway scene with Cordy, and the pièce de résistance with Angel there. Oh, and catching Fever!Buffy after she killed the thing.

    More evidence of our permanent and intractable impasse about the lie and its motives -- "you're going to die and I'm gonna watch" is just... something one says to the worst monster there is under the bed, isn't it? Let's not forget the context here, it's not like there is any illusion on any of their parts that this story can end any way other than Angelus as dust as of this episode; it won't enter the discussion until my next episode, at which point it will still be a total flier on a mystical theory and not "fact".

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    I don't want to derail the discussion but I think Xander's motives were both numerous and complex. I think people are absolutely wrong when they say he was motivated purely by vengeance but I also think you'd have to have rose-tinted glasses to act as if it was an act of pure nobility. It's made perfectly clear in Becoming I that Xander wanted Angel dead for what happened to Jenny and was against the idea of cursing him again and, in his eyes, essentially letting Angel off the hook ("all is forgiven?" I can't believe you people"). If it had been Willow or Anya Xander wouldn't have lied. We know this (Grave & Selfless) but because it's Angel, a guy he despised before he lost his soul, a guy he wanted to see dead after he lost his soul, he was able to do so. IMO all this episode does is foreshadow Xander's rage when the gang want to try re-cursing Angel instead of discarding the spell and just kill him. I do believe he thought he was acting in the best interests of the world but I also believe his personal feelings about Angel helped aid in that decision, absolutely.
    Last edited by vampmogs; 04-07-14 at 02:29 PM.
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  6. #164
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    I'm behind again...

    Stoney and Dipstick, nice reviews. And, great contributions, everybody!

    I don't think I have much to add about Passion , except that I realized that I haven't appreciated the structure of the episode before. Angel as a first person narrator is creepy but sort of poetic and utterly dark. I have to praise that.

    Killed by Death is maybe not the most relevant episode, but there are a couple of things that, IMHO, contribute to the establishment of some points that are important contributions to the series.

    One is, as it has been discussed here, Xander standing up to Angel by himself. This was probably my favorite part of the episode. I get people would disagree in what his motivations were at that point, but the fact is that he showed great courage. I think I didn't really understand why people say he's the "heart of the Scoobies" before, now I get it.

    The other thing was Buffy finding out and facing the fact that, one of the mayor traumas of her childhood, wasn't caused by "natural things", but it was part of the world of evilness that she fights every day...

    Man! Because of real life stuff (that I won't mention here, this is not the place), I'm really having trouble writing about this things... It just hits too close to home, you see.

    Anyway, just wanted to give a couple of thoughts before the next episodes are discussed.

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    There are lots of things I want to comment about the previous episodes, but I'll leave that for later. First, my review of I Only Have Eyes For You.



    I Only Have Eyes For You has always been one of my favorite episodes of season 2, and it is in my top 10 Buffy episodes of all time. It’s also one of the episodes that bring tears to my eyes every time I watch them (even though this episodes does not contain any major character deaths).

    The season 2 „Angel losing his soul“ arc has some incredibly moving, dark and haunting episodes. This is one of them. It also has some filler episodes. While Phases and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered are very clearly standalone episodes, they also successfully deal with the ongoing arc, managing to maintain its tension; but Killed by Death doesn’t bring much in the way of the arc and, although it has a strong character moment for Xander in his confrontation with Angel, it significantly weakens the sense of danger Angel poses, and doesn’t feel like a good follow-up to Passion (that honor belongs to IOHEFY); and Go Fish is the worst offender here, awkwardly sandwitched between IOHEFY and the two-part season finale.

    Although it is technically a standalone episode, focused on a poltergeist in the school and its cause, the 1950s tragic romance between Sunnydale high school student James (played by a young Christopher Gorham) and his teacher Grace, which ended in a murder and suicide, IOHEFY is much more strongly integrated into the so-called ’Angelus’ arc and feels like an arc episode more similar to Innocence, Passion and Becoming than to BBB or Killed By Death, or even Phases. This is mostly because of the way the central story resonates and plays out with the Buffy/Angel story in an unexpected way. There is also a poignant moment that shows Giles’ feelings about Jenny’s death, and a very significant revelation about Spike that sets up the twist in the upcoming season finale.

    If there is something I would criticize about this episode, it’s the various strange and monstrous occurrences in the school (snakes, bees) that accompany the poltergeist but feel rather random and unconnected to the central ghost story. But I can easily overlook that because of the quality of the rest, especially the powerful climactic scene with Buffy and Angel re-enacting the tragic scene between James and Grace from four decades before, which is more than a typical „possession“ plot, because of the ways that it starts to resonate with their relationship. It is interesting to see the same scene played out multiple times, played by four different sets of actors, each time more revealing: initially, as we see it partially teen couple, it seems like a classic violent/abusive boyfriend case, until we learn that they were possessed; with the teacher and the janitor (guest star John Hawkes – it’s fun to see all the actors who had small roles on BtVS and that I didn’t know when I first watched the show) who barely even knew each other, it is completely clear that something else is going on there. The episode plays with the expectations that James will always need to possess a man while the murder victim will be a woman - which the Scoobies persist in even when it becomes clear that Buffy’s anger at James does not come from anger issues with violent men or bad boyfriends, but from her own feelings of guilt and anger at herself, which she may not have even been conscious until that point. The gender flip was, in a way, foreshadowed by the many mentions of the Sadie Hawkins Dance (traditional event in which traditional gender roles are reversed and women are the ones to ask men out to the dance).

    There is really no „villain“ in IOHIFY, because it seems that James’ ghost is not intentionally causing mayhem or willingly forcing people to kill – it’s more about the uncontrollable forces of his intense, confused feelings, and his inability to stop going back to that fateful moment when he killed his lover and then shot himself in the music room while listening to „I Only Have Eyes For You“. Writer of this episode, Marti Noxon, has said that the ghosts were really a metaphor for repentance and second chances. James is condemned to be a „ghost“, act out and replay the horrible moment of murder-suicide and never find peace, because he is unable to undo what he has done, to get that second chance and make sense of this personal tragedy. (As to why this starts happening at this exact moment: it seems that it was because James found something in Buffy’s feelings to identify with, as she herself notes.) In the resolution to this story, this finally becomes possible, and the tortured relationship between Buffy and Angel allows another tortured and tragic relationship to resolve itself and for James and Grace to both find peace. (This is one of these times, as in The Dark Age, when the fact that Angel is a vampire has unexpected positive consequences.

    Forgiveness is a big theme in the episode. In his argument with Buffy, Giles points out: „To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.“ This is an interesting point. If we are thinking about whether a person deserves to be forgiven, we are talking about the other person achieving redemption, or having mitigating circumstances that make them less guilty, or doing something to make up for what they’ve done – but it can be argued that none of that is really about forgiving. I guess it all comes down to the difference between the concepts of ’justice’ and ’mercy’. The name „Grace“ was certainly picked for its symbolic meaning.

    Of course, the biggest character revelation is that the reason Buffy is harsh and unforgiving of James because she’s identifying with him. She relates to him because she feels tremendous guilt for „destroying“ the person she loves, costing him his soul. This is the first time we see Buffy’s tendency to blame herself for everything she may have indirectly caused that hurt those she loves, and to be especially hard on herself, and on people she can see herself, and her own mistakes, in. Of course, rationally and objectively speaking, Buffy isn’t guilty of anything and her action of sleeping with Angel is no way comparable to what James did. She had no way of knowing about his curse; Angel is an adult who made the decision to sleep with Buffy, and if anyone should have researched the curse, it was him during those 100 years he spent wondering around. But none of this matters to Buffy, all it matters is how she feels about it deep inside. And I imagine that it’s hard to try to share a blame when she feels that the man she knew is „dead“, that, in a way, she „killed“ him by turning him into someone else, a monster who is now killing her friends and doing horrible things.

    But there is another reason why the parallel makes sense: James/Grace and Buffy/Angel were both „forbidden“, transgressive relationships that were inappropriate in the eyes of the world, between a teenager and a much older person; in the former case she was his teacher, someone in a position of authority, and in the latter, Angel is a 240-old vampire. And this is what makes the story of James and Grace a bit more complicated from the moral standpoint: even though none of the characters ever comment on it, he was the murderer, but he was also a teenage boy, in a relationship with a teacher; and it’s not just the society in the 1950s that would have had a problem with their relationship. Buffy, naturally, doesn’t see it that way – she is 17 herself and considers herself mature enough to be in a relationship with a much older „man“ – and neither do other Scoobies, but Giles isn’t judgmental either. The only person who had a problem with the age difference (ironically, while thinking that Angel was a man in his 20s) was Joyce. It’s interesting that the show never took an overt judgmental stance about either of these relationships. (Which, BTW, stands in sharp contrast to a recent Angel & Faith comic issue in which a rock star is treated as child abuser for his relationship with a 17-year old girl, who is written as if she is no older than 12. I wonder if this is a result of a change in popular consciousness in USA, or just a matter of different opinions of specific writers, or if it is a consequence of the series’ protagonists and target audience changing from teenagers to adults. One could argue that the infantilisation of teenage characters started with Dawn – a being the heroine’s baby sister is a whole different kettle of fish than being the heroine at the same age – but that was partly caused by the fact that Dawn was originally meant to be a much younger character.)

    On the other hand, the age difference between Angel and Buffy was still emphasized lots of times, especially the times when he would assume the role of a „wise experienced older men“ and patronize Buffy (Reptile Boy, Lie to Me, The Prom). In that context, it’s interesting to note that the moment when James was blinded by rage and actually shot Grace (it’s not clear if he actually intended to do that before – it seems he was just threatening, with a gun as an expression and attempt to make up for despair and helplessness to change her mind) was not when she is walking away and he tells her „Don’t walk away from me, bitch!“ or when he tells her „Love is forever“, but when he thought she was being condescending to him: „Don’t do that! Don’t talk to me like I’m some stupid...“ Kid?

    The title of the episode comes from an old love song that James and Grace dance to in one of the flashbacks and that James plays in the music room just before he kills himself. (Originally, the song is from 1934, but this version, by the Flamingos, was released in 1959 – which makes its use in the episode anachronistic.) It is one of those oldies whose lyrics may sound beautiful and romantic, but at the same time sad disturbing, and something in the sound of particular version makes it sound particularly haunting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63nlhoda2MY The song is about obsessive love: "My love must be some kind of blind love, I can't see anything but you". A powerful infatuation/romantic obsession that makes you blind to the reality. This is often what teenagers are like when they fall intensely in love for the first time, even if most of them don’t take it as far as James did: at that age, you cannot imagine they will ever fall out of love with that person or in love with someone else, you believe that the love you’re feeling is One True Love that is going to last forever (James’s words moments before he shoots Grace: „Love is forever!“). Which does not mean that obsessive, blind love doesn’t happen later in life, too. James and Buffy were both teenagers falling in love for the first time. Grace and Angel were older and more mature people who were aware that their relationship with a teenager was inappropriate, maybe they should have known better, but they still couldn't help falling as hard. But in the end, Grace is the one who thinks about the realities of the situation and decides that they mustn’t be together because the society wouldn’t understand or allow it (note: she does not think their relationship is wrong, just that it can’t work out because of the society). But starting a relationship with him and then changing her mind was just about the worst thing she did, because her reasons didn’t make any sense to James: for him, it was all about whether they loved each other; the only reason she could have for breaking up with him would be if she stopped loving him.

    The issue of adolescence and relative maturity of adolescents is complicated, especially with people developing at different levels. (As seen in the fact that laws across the world do not agree on such things as the age of maturity, age of consent, or the extent of criminal liability at certain ages.) Personally, from my experience, it is really wrong to regard teenagers as children – but they are also not adults. And the main difference is that, no matter how precocious, intellectually and physically teenagers may be, they still tend to be volatile and to feel everything too intensely, to see everything in life-and-death terms. It’s not just about hormones, it’s about a certain inability and unwillingness to compromise, which is also why so many adolescents can easily be recruited as passionate, maybe even violent, supporters for all kinds of political and social causes. It is also why I cut James a lot more slack than I would an adult man in his situation who did the same thing.

    One can also see a parallel is a parallel because he is fighting against feeling that love (but for completely different reasons from those that make him feel it's wrong while he's souled) - at the end of the episode, he feels really disturbed for having felt love when Grace's ghost possessed him. And I think this is what precipitates his decision to destroy humanity, something that he never seemed keen on doing on all his 100+ years as an evil soulless vampire. I don’t the problem is just that he felt Grace's love, but that he remembers what he was like when he had a soul and loved her, and without a soul he still can't let go of his obsession for Buffy, only now it's turned to hate exactly because he hates that he used to love her so much and that she made him feel human. But no matter how much he tried to hurt Buffy in various ways, in the end he can't really get rid of that feeling completely and be free of her unless he destroys humanity completely.

    The acting was great all-around, and I was especially impressed by SMG’s acting as James. I agree that it is satisfying in a funny way to see Buffy (even if she is not really Buffy in that moment) yelling at Angel: „(Don’t walk away from me), BITCH!" But this scene is full of lines that get a new meaning in the context of B/A, as when James/Buffy exclaims: "A person doesn't just wake up and stop loving somebody!" And there is also an a enormous amount of foreshadowing, not just of Becoming II (where Buffy does „kill“ Angel, but Angel will also come back after being sent to hell, which will allow Buffy to start forgiving herself) but also Angel breaking up with Buffy in The Prom. The things that Grace (through Angel) says to James (Buffy) as to why she ended their relationship are exactly the reasons why Angel leaves Buffy at the end of S3: "I just want you to be able to have some sort of normal life. We can never have that, don't you see?" James yells "I don't give a damn about normal life!" which is pretty much the same conversation Angel and Buffy will have in The Prom. James demands of Grace to tell him she doesn’t love him, which she manages to do even though she’s lying; Buffy will ask the same of Angel in Lovers Walk but he won’t be able to do it; in The Prom, she asks him to tell her he doesn’t want to be with her, and he does.

    However, while the parallels between souled Angel and Grace regarding their relationships with Buffy/James easily jump at you, one can also see a certain parallel with the ’Angelus’ version of Angel, because he is fighting (much more literally) against that love (although for completely different reasons from those that make him feel it's wrong while he's souled). At the end of the episode, he feels really disturbed for having felt love when Grace's ghost possessed him. I think this could be an explanation why he makes such a turnaround in Becoming and decides to destroy the world, something that he never seemed keen on doing on all his 150+ years as an evil soulless vampire. Maybe the problem is not just that he felt Grace's love, but that he remembers what he was like when he had a soul and loved Buffy. Without a soul he still can't let go of his obsession for Buffy (as Willow pointed out, she’s still all he thinks about), only now it's turned into a twisted mix of sadism and hatred - because he hates that he used to love her so much and that she made him feel human. One could argue that, after trying to solve this by hurting Buffy in various ways, in the end none of this proved satisfactory, so he decided to destroy humanity completely.

    IOHEFY also sets up Becoming I/II much more directly, with the revelation that Spike now can walk and intends to somehow spoil Angel’s plans. The Angel/Dru/Spike triangle is escalating – Dru is now openly flirting with Angel and enjoying the way he’s touching her, right in front of Spike, while Angel is enjoying every opportunity to rub Spike’s disability in his face. This has been developing from Innocence, with Angel gradually winning their rivalry over Dru. Dru is like a self-centered child, preoccupied with her needs and whims, and living in a world of her own; she’s still calling Spike to come to hunt with them: „Are you coming, pet“ but doesn’t seem to notice or care that Spike’s face shows that he’s really hurt by her behavior. Spike, on his part, doesn’t seem to think of Dru as an adult who can be blamed for her actions. Drusilla’s behavior isn’t something Spike is going to have a talk about with her, he just seems to have a beef with Angel over it (and as we’ll see in Becoming, his solution is to remove his rival and collect Dru, however she may feel about it). I wonder how long has Spike been able to walk? It’s interesting that he never impulsively reacted, even though his disability has been a major reason why he has been losing the Dru contest to Angel, who seems to taken over his place in the little vampire group. (BTW, where are the minions? We haven’t seen any of them since Surprise.) Instead, he plays the long game. This certainly doesn’t fit with Spike’s „impulsive fool who can never stick to a plan“ characterization from later seasons.

    Romantic despair and pain is a theme in this episode, and we see it also with Giles. He isn’t someone who is open about his feelings, so when his grief comes out, it’s especially poignant. He is clearly missing Jenny and having a hard time accepting the fact that she is gone, to the point that he’s desperately trying to believe that the poltergeist is her ghost, despite all the disturbing things it’s causing, until he finally accepts the fact that it can’t be her after Willow points it out to him.

    Finally, a few comments about other things worth mentioning in the episode. We see that Willow is happy in love (and she points out that love does not have to be tragic) and doing really well as a substitute teacher; she is relaxed and feels „cool“ enough to make jokes that the students are laughing at – and not only that, but she is also getting interested in other things Jenny was into, like techno paganism and magic. Xander and Cordy don’t play big roles in the episode, but serve as a welcome comic relief. (Xander: „Something weird is happening? Isn’t that our school moto?“) Some funny moments are also provided by Snyder, who returns after the absence of several episodes (I think he had last been seen in What’s My Line): I'm a truth seeker. I've got a missing gun and two confused kids on my hands; pieces of the puzzle. And I'm gonna look at all the pieces carefully and rationally, and I'm gonna keep looking until I know exactly how this is all your fault.“ This is also the first time the Mayor is mentioned in the show – we learn that Snyder’s job is specifically to cover up all supernatural occurrences in the school, with the orders coming from the Mayor.

    In conclusion, this is a powerful and poignant episode that, in addition to telling a compelling and tragic standalone story, reveals a lot about Buffy's character and others; and it is a real shame that Go Fish is the next episode, as IOHEFY would have been the perfect lead-in into Becoming I/II.
    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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  10. #166
    Well Spiked Stoney's Avatar
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    I find this episode just full of hits and misses. I like how it touches on how Buffy feels towards herself for what happened even if it isn't justified to blame herself like that it works well in her processing it all. I also like how many links there are, some you point out that I hadn't picked up on previously, but especially the ones going forward to S3. The title also always reminds me of Buffy saying when she looked into the future all she saw was Angel because it entirely plays to that intense teenage first love drama and is part of why she is struggling so much with what has happened. Why she feels she will never date again. And that intense 'forever love' pedestaling and preservation can also be seen in Buffy's continued complete separation of Angel souled/unsouled "the demon that wears his face is killing my friends". That would be the demon that was always part of the mix.

    But I don't personally connect to that kind of intense romantic vibe and it stops me finding the episode at all moving even though I see all the links. I actually find the reenactment by Buffy/Angel, particularly compared to the others who reenact it and the 'real' flashback of it, really hammy and overacted. SMG just piles it on way too much. Plus, the whole continuous supernatural phenomena throughout is plain stupid, nonsensical and distracting. Hits and misses, but just too many misses for me for it to be an episode that I love.

    IOHEFY does lead well into Becoming and Go Fish is pretty distracting/bad, but I think if Becoming had followed this directly it would have made the ending in the finale seem too much of a clichéd repeat.

    I wonder how long has Spike been able to walk? It’s interesting that he never impulsively reacted, even though his disability has been a major reason why he has been losing the Dru contest to Angel, who seems to taken over his place in the little vampire group.
    Spike is incredibly hurt by Dru by now and as you say she is clearly not noticing or not caring anyway. But Spike does direct the blame at Angel and I think that is because he is the factor that has been added and what has changed their dynamic. We found out in Destiny that Spike hadn't expected that he and Dru would have an open relationship in the way Angel made abundantly clear to him would be happening regardless of how Spike felt. As much as they have their history and familial connection, Dru and Spike have been their own unit for near to a century without Angel. But Dru took no pause and had no qualms in rekindling her sexual relationship with Angel with no regard for Spike. So I don't think he plays his hand and shows that he is no longer crippled because he doesn't think it would change the situation to something palatable to him, Dru would not leave Angel or stop sleeping with him. She has her happy home/family. So Spike is using his feigned disability as his advantage to remove Angel because that way avoids dealing with Dru not wanting things to change.


    EDIT: I think JM did a great job on his reveal moment and really showed the building fury he has been feeling after we had been clearly seeing the hurt in the episode. It was the first time I think that we have seen his face significantly healed so that just emphasises how little attention they are paying him and his whole demeanour and the way they shot it showed how withdrawn/separate he is now. The make up they use on Angel/Spike at this stage does bug me a little, the paler skin isn't bad but the lipstick looks daft.
    Last edited by Stoney; 11-07-14 at 08:55 AM.

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  12. #167
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    Great review, TimeTravellingBunny. I love it when other people find the same episodes as me, significant. I often feel like IOHEFY is underrated. I guess episodes just touch different people in different ways.

    You've covered all the important stuff. This episode was one of the first ones I saw(I didn't see the first couple of seasons in order the first time) that really moved me and fleshed Buffy out so much. I loved SMG's work in it, even if there were over the top moments. I love her reflecting on the emotions she shared with James at the end. "He was so sad" and "Part of me doesn't understand why she would forgive him." Always breaks my heart. She is so hard on herself.

    Plus, I cannot resist that song!

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    S2E20: Go Fish:

    - Go Fish is considered one of the weakest episodes for its unfortunate placement – right before the finale – it's not an intense episode like Passion and I Only Have Eyes For You, which is what viewers except now that we're close to the finale, and then there's the unsatisfying, comedic way it deals with important issues like sexual assault, victim-blaming and gang rape.

    - The episode talks about "pressure" – they say the word like 10 times in the episode - and it comes from different angles and hurts different people. Pressure on a successful team to keep winning, pressure on teachers to make sure important students get a passing grade, pressure on average boys to be aggressive and manly, pressure on girls from boys to put out, pressure on girls to keep their reputation untainted by dressing modestly and making sure they don't "do it with the entire swim team."

    - I just love how small town Sunnydale keeps getting bigger. This is so not a one Starbucks town.

    - I've never really thought about the fact that swim teams aren't considered as cool as football/baseball teams. Maybe it's just Xander being jealous.

    - Buffy does have a habit of being fooled by phonies. A couple of lines that reflect depth and maturity and you win her over. She would fall for that again with Parker in S4.

    - As I said earlier, the episode mildly discusses the pressure on boys "to be men" and that if they're not manly enough in the eyes of society then it is okay to make fun of them and bully them. Johnathan and Xander are not considered "manly," which makes them an easy target for the swim team and Cordelia to bully them. The bullying and ridicule they face daily fills them with bitterness and resentment that create episodes like BB&B and Superstar. It's interesting that both Xander and Johnathan chided Buffy for saving their life – having a girl save a boy from beating or humiliation makes that boy a more glaring target for extra bullying and mockery. Something Xander and Johnathan would desperately like to avoid.

    - I've never really had a classmate subbing as a teacher before, but those kids are so well behaved in Willow's class. I personally can't buy it. Teachers already face hell from unruly students, especially in high school, so how is it that Willow is met with nothing but respect – leaving Gage aside, he wasn't exactly that rude with Willow. In my first year teaching fourth graders, I've dealt with far worse than that.

    - When Willow tells Xander and Cordelia about her encounter with Snyder, Xander starts voicing the common while Cordelia takes the opinion of the privileged. Xander, coming from a poor household and known as the school's clown loser, obviously resents the special treatment the swim team is showered with. Cordelia, on the other hand, is from a wealthy family and the most popular cheerleader who always had it easy, which is why she's siding with the "winners."

    - Now Buffy is getting bored with "depth" as Cameron rambles on and on about the ocean. And then she discovered that all that stuff about "no pressure" was nothing but bullshit. Cameron uses lines like "No pressure" and "Just talking" to, as Ross Geller puts, "I assume we're looking for an answer more sophisticated than 'to get you into bed'."

    - Buffy is blamed for her own sexual assault because of the way she dresses. I like that the episode's tone condemns the slut shaming in a subtle way without making a big scene about it – which would have made it less realistic. Though it would have been awesome if the nurse came to Buffy's defense with a witty one liner.

    - While the swim team dudes are jerks, their situation saddens me not only because Snyder and their coach care more about winning than their wellbeing, but because they've been experimented on and turned into monsters without their consent. Just for a stupid cup! And this is more of the show criticism than the episode, but what about the boys' parents? I know the show doesn't seem to acknowledge that those students have parents, except for Buffy, but it's just unrealistic how it glosses over the parents' issue.

    - I'm actually surprised Xander isn't joining Buffy on her rant against the swim team. He was desperate to have her backing him up with his own rant earlier.

    - I've seen a lot of fans complain about the Scoobies lack of a reaction to Buffy's story, and while it's a valid complaint, I guess researching the demon eating the insides of people is more important a task than listening to another "Buffy saved herself" story. Perhaps because Buffy is stronger than any guy in school it makes their attacks unthreatening in the eyes of the Scoobies, unlike if a guy tried to rape "Willow" who lacks Buffy's physical strength and speed. It's like Xander complaining about a girl sexually assaulting him which I guarantee will be met with laughter and twinkling eyes.

    - I'll always love Willow's Oreo analogy and Xander's "the skin is the best part" argument.

    - For a loser who gets beaten and bullied, Xander doesn't shy away from throwing comebacks. Maybe because Cameron isn't that threatening. But Xander didn't fear Larry as well and we know that Larry used to beat up Xander a lot. Then why suddenly Xander shivers and trembles in front of Jack in The Zeppo?

    - I've noticed Cordelia being used to sketch the demons in this episode and an earlier one. I wish the show acknowledged that she has a talent in drawing and it could have been her thing.

    - I love that small moment between Buffy and Giles when she says "from whence it came"

    - "You ran like a woman." "Practice running like a man." When you have men and women preaching boys to be aggressive manly men associating strength and bravery to men and belittling women, of course, you'll get insecure boys like Xander and Johnathan.

    - Willow interrogating Johnathan was comedy gold! I just love her strong "didn't you?" followed later by an unsure "didn't you?" And those eyes when she comes close to Johnathan are fear-provoking and a sign that inside the shell of sweetness and insecurity there's a stronger Willow waiting to be out – did I just make a pun? If so, it wasn't intended.

    - Snyder is a creepy, creepy man, isn't he? I don't know if we know his whole story. He seems to be on the Mayor's side, knows about what lurks in the night, and is simply evil. I just wish there was an episode dedicated to him just so that I'll know what his deal is.

    - The most important scene in the episode, or at least the most remembered scene in the episode, is Xander in Speedo's. It baffles me how someone as buff and fit as Xander is nothing but a loser – but Joss explains it in the commentary of Welcome to the Hellmouth, the network wants hot people. So, overweight Willow is out as well as an unattractive actor to play Xander.

    - The whole scene is very enjoyable and not just because of Hot Xander in Speedo's: we get Gage being Buffy's groupie, the girls working over the mystery of the week together as equals and friends, Cordelia putting down Xander only to be smitten by his athlete body as he walks in, Willow being as smitten as Cordelia, Buffy's "not under much" and adorable giggles, and Xander swimming in Jonathan's urine.

    - I knew that Gage was the guy from Prison Break, but I completely forgot they also got the lead from A Walk to Remember! The episode is packed with well-known faces.

    - I love how NB's shocked eyes are of a greenish color when Xander learns that the steroids are in the steam.

    - I always hated the fate of the nurse. It's gruesome.

    - Giles' face when Xander freaks out about turning into a fish is priceless! I love how offended NB's tone of voice gets when he says to Cordelia, "And thank you SO much for your support."

    - That coach is basically inhuman. He turns his team into monsters, kills a nurse and throws a girl into the sewers to be raped. All for a freaking cup! I don't really feel upset about his death.

    - This might be an unpopular opinion, but I don't think I ever bought Cordelia's speech to fake Fish Xander. It's cute and sweet, but… it's not Cordelia. It's too sweet for Cordelia to say. At least at this stage of her development. This girl spent the entire episode making fun of Xander and putting him down and now suddenly she doesn't mind dating his fish version? I can see Anya giving this speech, but not Cordelia.

    - I don't really get the show's love for open-ended endings. This episode is probably the last to show us that. What's the point of them? Marcie, the eggs from Teacher's Pet and the Fish Guys will never return to threaten the Scoobies again. So, why?
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    Great review TTB. And great review Sosa Lola! I’m behind, and I have way more to say about IOHEFY anyway, so, um, a few additional notes on that:

    In her review of IOHEFY, SpringSummers pointed out that the central adult/child dynamic wherein the adult fails the child (all reflecting on Buffy/Angel, with James/Grace the primary mirror -- in which Grace's moral failure of having an affair with a child is pointed out) is also reflected in Giles/Willow, where Willow, "wise beyond her years," consoles Giles over the loss of Jenny by giving him the rose-quartz that Jenny "would want" him to have, and Giles' obsession with contacting Jenny From The Beyond nearly leads to Willow's death before he eventually saves her. The secret of this plot is that when Giles actually gets over himself, he's much more competent than Willow is, but that's not obvious initially -- because Willow seems to know what she's doing, has got it planned out, has figured out how to use sulfur to create scapulas which we're given to understand is "clever" and a creative solution to a known problem, etc. But that is all surface stuff -- Giles is selfishly indulging in his grief and letting a bunch of kids running around way over their head without any guidance. I'm trying to think what *that* reminds me of . That a grief-stricken Giles abandons, fails and then ultimately saves Willow just as she's on the verge of being sucked into an abyss resonates pretty strongly with season six.

    In a lot of ways, this episode is about Jenny's death even more centrally than Passion, and the central players in that are Buffy/Angel most of all and secondarily Giles and Willow. It's interesting to me that Giles does not fail *Buffy* over Jenny's death, but Willow, who happens to be following in Jenny's path. I think some of it is just a matter of episode structuring -- the Giles/Willow thread is part of the main plot but is also somewhat adjacent to it in a way that it couldn't be if Giles' obsession threatened Buffy. As with (to a degree) James/Grace, where the *primary* metaphor is that James is Buffy but there is some value to Buffy being Grace as well, I think that both Giles and Willow map onto Buffy here. Buffy's grief over the "death" of Angel (as in the soul loss), the death of Jenny (for which Buffy blames herself), and the actual death of Angel(us) as being (which hasn't happened yet but Buffy is planning) blinds her to the necessity of forgiving James for her own peace of mind and leads to her not being able to "solve" the central dilemma for most of the episode's running time, like Giles. Like Willow, Buffy is largely abandoned by the adults in her life -- Giles for the first 2/3 of the episode, Angel definitely -- and is forced to figure out an intractable problem, in Willow's case a more technical issue and in Buffy's case the emotional/moral issue, by herself.

    I do think the fact that Angel is the "perfect" guy to be possessed because the pattern can be altered by Angel's relative imperviousness to bullets is pretty fantastic and a lovely metaphor, as well as saying something about the course of Buffy's relationships: Buffy has this big trauma, and it's on some level irresolvable with other humans, who (to quote Olaf) are ludicrous and far too breakable. The loneliness of Buffy's condition really shows up when she and Angel are the only people in the school, Buffy because she's very deliberately invited by James (seeing a kindred spirit of sorts), and Angel(us) who can get in because he's undead and thus immune to wasp stings. Angel's superhero status combines with the fact that in some respects he's not even a real person -- the wasps ignore him because he's not living, and the fact that he's not living allows him to be shot and killed without actually "dying." There is something beautiful about the way Angel(us) functions as shadow for Buffy, a thread that will be picked up with Spike later on. The episode's spookiness comes from its recognition that there are these patterns of behaviour that humans repeat all their lives, both individually, and as societies (people make the same mistakes in their private lives, and it keeps happening that different individuals from each other make the same mistakes). That Angel is not quite a real person makes it possible, for a moment, to act out and resolve these issues without any people who, you know, die from bullet wounds getting caught in the crossfire -- and in the process Buffy helps to heal, or start to heal, not just her own pain but the pain of James & Grace, and maybe even a long-running pain of, like, society, man, all in one. And inside all of this is the fact that Buffy knows, and feels guilt about, the fact that she is going to have to kill Angel -- but more than that, even more devastatingly, she knows she is going to *want* to kill Angel, because of how he already hurt her. It's guilt both over what she did and what she is going to do, and living through it, and it turning out "okay," gives her a chance at coming to some kind of peace before resolving to genuinely do it.

    This is, in some senses, what art is about, and a big part of the mysteries of season two have to do with the question of how much of the Angel we see is "real" and how much is Buffy's secret desires and secret fears written onto a blank slate. If it sounds like I'm going wild and off-track, I think it's justified in-universe: Angel (with a soul) is a master seducer who puts Buffy on a pedestal and figures out how to be human and "good" by intuiting and then acting out what Buffy wants him to be -- which is a strong, moral man of mystery, deep convictions, *apparently* selfless love, etc. And then Angelus, without a soul, wants to destroy Buffy and uses his seducer/destroyer habits to pinpoint exactly what Buffy fears the most and act it out. No wonder the season is so devastating for Buffy, in a kind of primal way.

    To go back to Willow, I think Willow's excitement about her success at teaching and her discovery of witchcraft function both as Willow wanting more ways to contribute to the gang, and a way of sublimating her grief. It's how Willow deals with losing Buffy, too (especially in the summer after Becoming in which the loss is non-fatal, but also in the summer after The Gift) -- she staves off *missing* Jenny by *becoming* Jenny, integrating the woman she admires and cares for into her own self, and to some extent hoping to disappear in the process. There's the implication that she carries on a type of "conversation" with Jenny past her death, by reading Jenny's files and learning from her even though she's gone. This is another mirror of Buffy/Angel, where Buffy continues to have an internal relationship with Angel post-soul loss, epitomized by Angel's presence here, and even post-"death", as in his appearances in her dreams. We cling to what is gone. I think that this is a relatively healthy coping mechanism for Willow -- but I think it is also part of the reason for her (eventual) zeal to do the gypsy curse in the finale, especially after she goes into a coma and maybe glimpses death herself -- Willow is proud of being able to "resurrect" Jenny just a bit, make her death meaningful, by executing the thing Jenny died trying to do -- which, of course, ends up going badly, both because this is the Buffyverse, and for lots of other reasons I won't get into here. I don't think it's intentional, but it's pretty neat that there is another repeated pattern, in that The Killer in Me has Willow, like Buffy, brandishing a gun, shouting "BITCH!", repeating or coming up to the edge of repeating the senseless act of violence of a man who died alone and unforgiven; that episode also uses Willow's "becoming" a murderous man as a way of approaching both Willow's status as a killer (like Buffy's guilt over the fact that she "killed" Angel by "making" him lose his soul, and *will* kill Angel) and the violent loss of her loved one, with whom we find out Willow has maintained a kind of internal relationship away from the social world (from memory: "she was with me, and I let her be dead...I killed her"). There are also repeated patterns between this and AtS' Waiting in the Wings. All three episodes, "possession"-based in some way or another, are about the difficulty, near-impossibility, of escaping the past and breaking old patterns enough to be open to the positive things life has to offer, in all three cases framed at least partly as openness to consider new relationships (that's the teaser here); in the BtVS cases, in particular, the central reason is the guilt of the protagonist, to different degrees of legitimacy.

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  18. #170
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    Hey Max, great Willow/Jenny points and articulation around Angel’s vampiric state functioning in IOHEFY.

    Great review Sosa, I was kind of taken aback by how much there was to say on Go Fish tbh. I find it such an odd episode and I think a lot of that is about duff notes in trying to mix a light feel/comedy amongst quite dark topics.

    Great point about the cheesy talk from Cameron and it was good to see Buffy’s tolerance hit rock bottom on it. That perhaps would suggest that she isn’t as taken in by these clear manipulative approaches and is just being pleasant, but the whole Parker debacle contradicts that thought somewhat. I do also find the Willow teaching scenes daft. And you would just never find a student given that position even semi-permanently over here, it seems entirely inappropriate to me. The Cordelia sweet talk side I found less jarring but only because I think they were using it to try to show that she is developing stronger/deeper feelings for Xander. But it wasn’t great scripting/characterisation I’d agree. Xander in speedos does zero for me but I like his embarrassment in the scene even though he has put himself in that situation. It is endearing and seems ‘right’, consistent, when you think back to his underwear exposing fear in Nightmares.

    The societal commentaries I just don’t think are covered well in this episode. If I am totally honest I think that Buffy does dress a little, erm, what I would categorise as ‘trashy’ a good portion of the time, just a small touch more so than her peers. BUT *she underlines adamantly* that obviously doesn’t (and good god shouldn’t) translate into justification to assault her! The whole ‘asking for it’ vibe is beyond gross. At the same time we do use cues/stereotyping to categorise the world around us. Willow dresses like a geek, Cordelia like a spoilt/rich girl etc etc. They can be helpful/important in assessing situations, safety, how we 'fit' and also dangerous in causing narrow mindedness, misjudgments and feeding prejudice. So this is an absolute mindfield of a topic because we naturally/automatically categorise but any degree of underlying truth isn’t valid justification here (even without Buffy’s very clear and openly stated disinterest) and the episode fails to cover any of this well for me.

    There are some interesting points such as Cordelia suggesting to Xander to go practice running like a man, the ogling and observation to Xander being undercover or ‘not under much’ against Gage asking to be walked home with basically no hesitation and Xander’s desire to be within the perceived elite group and then his save of Buffy. Obviously it sits alongside the victim blame, seeing women as sexual objects and social stereotyping/expectations and the abuse of the swim team, pressures and elitism. But I am not sure that they even know what they are trying to say with them all. Perhaps it is just me but there is just tooo much going on, too many social points and with the quippiness around it all it breaks any serious thread around them all for me and I am just not 'with' them.

    The dismissal of the attempt to assault Buffy by the gang is unpleasant, I am one who really doesn’t like it because it ignores her emotionally even if she wasn’t physically hurt or in real danger. But it is equally as irksome to me as Buffy quipping about her reputation whilst waiting for the attack from the fished out swim team members and then saying that they really love their coach when the tables are turned. Some things just aren’t comedy.

    The one aspect I do like around this is the symbolism that the swim team were just soaking in the drugs. It fits well as a point about the affect our environments can have and for Xander being specifically drawn into it makes me think of his home life, the 'nurture' element in his environmental mix. I have to say it was a good ‘go to’ episode for him and I felt a touch sorry for him when he got little concern over his exposure. Perhaps we are just to see this and the reaction to Buffy’s tale about Cameron as evidence that they are becoming somewhat numb to threats?

    I really like Jonathan’s appearance, as always. The thing I love about him the most is the coherence in his story start to finish and this is yet another jigsaw piece. We have seen his lack of confidence mixed with where he sits in the social hierarchy and his wish to be accepted (Inca Mummy Girl, Reptile Boy). Here we see his status as the victim/outcast more specifically but also the resentment and the hint of fire to want to hit back but in an indirect way. His frustrations will build of course. It really is a good example of how the gang can’t ‘beat’ high school in every sense because they are witness to the tragedy of Jonathan’s adolescent development. They possibly could have helped him more but they can’t do/foresee everything all the time. This works well before Earshot of course and I have to wonder as a later notion, could Willow’s question over whether he used the black arts for revenge have planted a seed for him and exposed her own inclination??! And on that note *cough* naked ladies on the cards eh Willow…

    There was plenty of teamwork talk throughout which works nicely as an emphasis to draw us to against the upcoming finale and how the scoobies function together throughout it all. There isn’t much ‘Angel’ to the episode although it amuses me that he inadvertently helps them solve the mystery and it again relates to hidden monsters and contrary to Buffy’s pov with Angel she put forward again only last episode, here she is stating that the monsters that burst forth are the swim team members.
    Last edited by Stoney; 19-07-14 at 10:24 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stoney View Post
    There are some interesting points such as Cordelia suggesting to Xander to go practice running like a man, the ogling and observation to Xander being undercover or ‘not under much’ against Gage asking to be walked home with basically no hesitation and Xander’s desire to be within the perceived elite group and then his save of Buffy. Obviously it sits alongside the victim blame, seeing women as sexual objects and social stereotyping/expectations and the abuse of the swim team, pressures and elitism. But I am not sure that they even know what they are trying to say with them all. Perhaps it is just me but there is just tooo much going on, too many social points and with the quippiness around it all it breaks any serious thread around them all for me and I am just not 'with' them.
    I agree. The episode is all over the place. Though I do think Xander's story in this episode is coherent: the episode starts with him wanting the attention the Swim Team has and resenting them for having it coupled with Cordelia praising them and mocking him for being nothing as well as a coward. Xander was able to join the team and prove that he's brave by going against the coach and saving Buffy. It's a typical Spider Man scenario. What to take from it however is somewhat problematic, because it says that "taking action" is a macho quality and that a coward Xander was associated with a woman.

    Xander's story does contrasts Gage, who started out as a cool badboy and ended up Buffy's damsel and groupie.
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    "Becoming, Part I" review in progress, should be up in a few hours

    - - - Updated - - -

    "Becoming, Part I"

    (reviewer's note -- this will be in still mostly chronological order but with much more commentary than my previous two reviews)

    Naturally, any good review of the penultimate episode of the sophomore (and probably greatest) season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" needs to begin with a brief discussion of the movie Speed.

    Joss Whedon is a big fan of the word "becoming", particular in a very abstract, philosophical context. Let's begin with the good people at dictionary.com --

    4. Aristotelianism. any change involving realization of potentialities, as a movement from the lower level of potentiality to the higher level of actuality.
    If you don't believe me, ask Dennis Hopper's Howard Payne in this 20th anniversary of Joss' almost complete rewrite of the film Speed --

    You still don't get it. Do you, Jack? Huh? The beauty of it. A bomb is made to explode. That's its meaning, its purpose. Your life is empty because you spend it trying to stop the bomb from becoming. And for who? For what? Do you know what a bomb is, Jack, that doesn't explode? It is a cheap gold watch, buddy.
    There, even one of Joss' most memorable villains has it write in his wheelhouse, the idea that to become, to realize potential is the ascension to which all things aspire. One could also call it telos, the purpose to which things and people are ordered. As an aside, there's a helluva philosophical topic to dig into about Howard Payne's point, namely that an existence spent trying to interfere with this becoming in something else, a bomb, a person, is a hollow and vain existence -- that could land on all sorts of grounds of human interaction from family to romance to government. But that's well outside our purposes here. What matters is that becoming is a theme that is a Big Freakin' Deal to Joss Whedon and his approach to... really any story he's put his energy into.

    "Becoming, Part I" is a study in the becoming of multiple characters, and some, we see it iterate multiple times, the way they've become one thing and then become another. With Angel we see it twice and it overhangs the story at least three times over the course of the two parter (but I won't step on the toes of that review). We see it with Buffy, we see it with Drusilla, and before part II is over we'll definitely see it with Willow and arguably with Xander (of course, not all of the changed beings really share the same narrative commitment later on, but what can we do?) -- we see the characters become some large part of what they'll be from then on.

    To bring that into focus, we have the framing device of Whistler's voiceover -- [i]There's moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you're gonna be. Sometimes they're little, subtle moments. Sometimes... they're not. I'll show you what I mean."

    Teaser

    The first becoming we see, of course, belongs to Angel -- or properly, Liam. This teaser is one of the best Joss puts together, I think, the flashback and then the transition. Despite the accent by David Boreanaz (oy vey), it's well and endearingly acted, this upstart, pompous, but entirely green young man being completely taken in by a Darla we never even got a glimpse of in her previous appearance. Also wins points for probably the sexiest vamping we get in the series. But the Beck score as well as the performance really gives the context of not only his live changing but the whole world with it, all those that will die, and all the worlds that will move under the feet of the vampire with a soul eventually.

    The transition from that moment of becoming to what he became is brilliant in its own right, that calculating smile as Angel watces Buffy fight from a distance, always plotting, the Darth Vader monster of the series.

    I do enjoy quite a bit Season 1 and 2 for kinda giving us this tacit notion of Buffy and Xander as the "buddy cop" patrol buddies, almost the "one of them, one of us" tandem idea. She points out, gently, that he doesn't need to do it, but she certainly does and has benefited from his company more than once, and he's always depicted as being more than game and not entirely useless even if he's in over his head. Giving this moment of quiet camaraderie after Buffy takes out Angel's pawn is probably a nice way to set up the argument later (one in which even relationships can become, because it does set off a more or less permanent shift in their dynamic).

    Act I

    Enter the MacGuffin! Acathla, like the Judge before him, is a pretty transparent threat that exists solely to drive the emotional terms of the plot, but like the Judge, manages to still be pretty intimidating. It's a nice moment of insight into Giles, though, the way he so thoughtfully concedes that "as a rule" he doesn't like to be surprised. Sort of retro-becoming the Ripper days change to the man we know.

    The cafeteria scene is pure charm, an iconic Scooby gathering. As is often the case in S2 and S3, the couples are paired up and Buffy is sort of 5th wheel, but all is pretty comfortable. I really find myself enjoying the Cordy/Xander relationship in this rewatch, how they have a comfortable routine of ribbing each other intermingled with lots of affection. One thing I've always had trouble with, though, is Snyder's Buffy vendetta. Even if, as we might infer from Season 3, he's intentionally after her on behalf of the Mayor, it's so damn personal, and we're never shown and even rarely told about how her antics are something that would give him the impression she is the ultimate problem student for his school. But it's so well-acted it's hard not to enjoy.

    The next becoming we see is Drusilla. Although her process is much more involved and horrible and will be revealed in greater detail elsewhere, it makes sense that we see it here through the lens of philosophy -- Drusilla beseeching what she thinks is her priest for absolution and guidance toward the good, but instead being goaded toward evil, even told that it is her purpose, her nature, her telos by Angel. It's really the first time we get to see Drusilla as an object of deserved sympathy and Juliet Landau plays her spiritual anguish well. As an aside, I find it fascinating that Angel relents and gives her "absolution" -- probably because he knows how to manipulate hope to cruel effect.

    And it's followed by almost the exact same device as we had in the teaser -- the Drusilla as she has become, in smiling glory as a monster. It's very effective coming out of almost all the flashbacks, to juxtapose the people that once were with the people that now are.

    The scene of Willow and Buffy studying in her/Jenny's classroom is one I enjoy because I love Willow's growing assertiveness, and what's more that it's coming at the expense of Buffy's pity party (even though the sound SMG makes to open the scene is adorable). And sometimes the events of life can become as well, I think -- the way that Buffy's deja vu leads her to that disk seems providential. Providence by what or whom is certainly up for debate, certainly even moreso when you look back in the contexts of Season 8/9, but it's definitely something that changes the script, for her and Willow to find that spell.

    Act II

    And we're RUNNING! Well, Angel is -- toward the future, toward another becoming. This time he'll become something even more essential to the mythology than merely a vampire, he'll become the Vampire With A Soul. Some of showing this is plot-driven, since we'll need to have seen how this works and its effect on Angel in order to be ready for the season finale, but it's also thematic -- this is one of the big moments that change everything, the kind you can't be ready for.

    The scene in the library is one of the most important (to me) in the whole Scooby dynamic, and one of the biggest reasons I chose this episode to review. It's so vital, so real, the characters all shine, IMO. Now, I come to this moment as a big Xander fan so I'm very into his POV here. Yes, he is angry and emotional and even mean (although I'd defend that, despite his emotional delivery, he's making the more rational/pragmatic argument between the sides here). But I have a lot more patience with what brings him to his perspective than most. In fact, an insight I gleaned on the multiple viewings necessary here is that I think some of his internal process actually changes right at the beginning. See, I would maintain that Xander has never seen Angel and Angelus as different people the way that Buffy too easily does and the way the rest seem to at least be inclined to humor her by. Certainly Xander sees Angel much more like Angel sees himself most of the time in his own series. That's why on this viewing, I noticed that in Xander's quite (and expository) way of reflecting that Angel killed Jenny because she was working on the spell, it actually makes him more upset than when she was just a symbolic murder to torment Buffy and Giles and the rest with. Why? Because to him, that's a signal that Angel is culpable in his own soullessness at that point, that he's actively disinterested in being the softer side of sears of himself. Making him even lessdeserving of their mercy or compassion in his mind.

    It's cool to me, that Cordelia is the most mature of the people in this argument, Giles included. Perhaps that is part of her own becoming, at least if we look far forward. She doesn't get to add much to the discussion, but both her inputs are controlled, measured, and on-task in a way that nobody else is managing at all.

    I love how Giles explodes at Xander and is even scripted to be near as dammit to punching him out, because I don't know why, I love it when the gang is nearly flying apart at the seams.

    Buffy's interest in all this is obviously emotionally compromised, whether she'd ever admit it or not, whether anyone (but Xander and maybe Cordy) would ever be harsh enough to admit it. I do love SMG's reading of "I care", though, it really does lay bare how fragile she is under the weight of losing Angel this way in the first place and the merest possibility of having him back.

    There's a moment that I desperately wish was actually filmed, though, as its in the shooting script but not in the episode -- after Xander drops the "you just want your boyfriend back" bomb on Buffy, not only is Cordelia scripted to rebuke it as being insensitive (which it was), but Xander answers Willow's glare by demanding of her -- "am I wrong?". The script doesn't contextualize what would be Willow's non-response, though, and I'd have been very curious to see whether she'd have been directed to just continue to gape reproachfully in apparent disagreement, or if something in her face would concede the distinct possibility that it really is like that, Buffy papering over all Angel's done to have her boyfriend back.

    I think the thing I enjoy most of the vampires taking Acathla is Drusilla -- I think the makeup and performance when she whirls her head off Perren's neck at Angel's call is one of my favorite "vampire" moments in the series, so feral and vicious.

    I'd love to hear Willow's end of this phone call with Buffy -- part of me thinks it answers back to the (unfilmed) bit of script from the library, where (I think) Willow was meant to have her resolve shaken a bit by the Armor Piercing Question by Xander. Despite her obvious name-calling at Xander, for Buffy to answer "I don't know. I don't know what I want... to do... (distracted by claddagh ring)" gives the impression she is, albeit much more gently, challenging Buffy's real motives here with the curse, even though Willow is more than willing. Hell, it's worth challenging when it's Willow who will take a lot of the risk.

    Kendra does seem such an obvious lamb to the slaughter the second she appears, doesn't she? Not much to say about that scene.

    Spike gets pressed into exposition duty a little in this episode, doesn't he? It's kind of a shame, although redeemed by knowledge of his secret recovery and the tension it creates. Angel gets off a nice villain line about making "history end", though, which even unto itself speaks of becoming, i.e. the world itself having come to its fruition and completion.

    Act III

    Another library meeting, with Xander and Cordy notably absent. I find it worth noting that Kendra also jumps straight, but gently, to the pragmatic answer about killing Angel. And now, Buffy seems to be mentally cataloging "recursing" as a back up plan -- or at least to not get into an argument with Kendra over it? There is a typically comic zest to Giles having the Phlebotenum as a paperweight, but they'll be spending a lot of time buying that back later because... after all, this has to be a rare, near impossible option.

    Spike pacing about seems mostly a plot convenience to remind us he can. Most anvilicious thing in the whole episode is Angel actually saying he'll "become" (and ascend... interesting, since we may have to discuss what, if any, subtle differences there are in Theme Words of Season 2 and Season 3).

    Another flashback to which we see Angel in yet another becoming, of sorts. What he is becoming and how he is becoming it is something that sort of shifts in the breeze here, again, especially with the benefit of hindsight. But Whistler's intervention to push him in the direction of the most heroic version of himself is another spin in the wheel of ka for the guy.

    But of course, Angel can't become again until Buffy herself does. This scene... man, Joss must have struggled with how and when to revisit her origin story since he was otherwise left with the movie and squinting at the differences. Not that I don't adore Kristy Swanson's work in that film, I think it might be as much the Sutherland factor as anything else that made it certain he had to go back to this. But this is an iconic moment for her, or series of moments. The Watcher coming to her, her missing the heart (just the once), the immediate effect this change has on her home life -- she has become that which will define her ever more. And of course we see that this pushes Angel in the direction he needs to be pushed for various reasons ("I want to become someone").

    And again, it transitions right to Angel as he has turned out, quite off the mark. Even, metatextually, lamenting that he has strayed...

    Act IV

    ... and of course, Spike gets the quotable quip of the episode with his singsong (but still basically expository!) "someone wasn't worthy" (that's why it didn't work, audience!). As an aside, and I'm never one to give Spike more credit than is called for, I almost wonder from his little smirk at Angel's frustration if he already has at least some idea what the problem is. It plays even if he does, since he has no interest in this working, he'd still let things play out at the pace they are. He might just be enjoying Angel's frustration, but it looks like the face of someone who has something over him.

    The vampire immolation is kinda cheesy and over the top for me. It doesn't really... do, what the AV room scene in "Prophecy Girl" did, to ratchet up the peril. It just strains the illusion that all these things happen and nobody reacts, really.

    Glad to see the whole gang together for the plan to go in motion, Xander included (and his conciliatory words of caution). And of course, Buffy never reads the part that says "PS this is a trap". It's amazing to me, when we get to the "When She Was Bad" bookends (not least of which is "c'mon, kick my ass), we have Angel using the same exact trap on Buffy that the survivors of the Order did on her precisely because she's such a sucker for it. It's like calling Marty McFly chicken, to lure Buffy away from the real objective.

    And it can't go without mentioning that part of why it works so well is all Buffy sees is the ritual and its eventual outcome, being there to witness it and be sure (rather than, as for instance, turtling up and doing the ritual in the blind and trying to ascertain later if it worked, ignoring his threats altogether).

    The battle in the library is one I'm fond of. It's good Xander content, for one thing, him fighting his guts out, trying to protect the others (kind of a "you take these guys, I'll take these guys" work with Kendra) before he's finally overtaken. Major plot armor all around that Xander, Willow, and Cordy aren't also hunted down and killed. It's garish and sinister how Kendra dies, with no control over herself, not even any apparent awareness of herself. Dru cheats

    Buffy's long desperate slow-motioned run back to the library plays well under the voiceover, the futility of it all, the blindness, and the cost realized -- Bottom line is even if you see 'em 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, 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.

    My one complaint in that last moment, with the cop drawing down on Buffy, is how consequence free that will eventually be. Shouldn't this have been a moment like the ones Whistler is talking about, for it to be earned? Even on rewatching, it's like everything has finally fallen in around Buffy, all her aspirations and illusions, all the careful work she has done to still be part of the normal everyday human world, has all collapsed utterly and intractably, because now she's a presumed murderer. But that never takes hold and ultimately the cliffhanger hear feels like a cheap stunt more than one of the "big moments".

    I'm a big fan of second-to-last episodes, and this is one of the best overall, though. 5 out of 5.

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  24. #173
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    Brilliant review King.

    Some random bits first. I actually like Kendra’s entrance scene because it follows nicely from how her/Buffy parted. They are both something intended to be unique and share this 'something special' with the other. So I find it endearing that Kendra sees Buffy and a part of her wants to compete/play/tease and see if she can sneak up on her straight away. I also have to disagree that Dru cheats in taking out Kendra. The thrall is simply another weapon at her disposal. It is no different to using smarts to set a trap to me. And that race around the corner slow-mo shot is a major iconic BtVS image for me. Random prop comment… although I think there were some cultures that were making lighter swords in the times of knights the chances of an original knights sword being that light weight that Kendra and Giles can just pass it so carelessly/easily one handed between them is highly improbable.

    I think the library scene when they are discussing the curse is one of the best scoobie scenes across the series. It really does draw to a head the aspect that has been shown throughout the season of the demon within and Buffy separating the two too much as King notes. It works well alongside seeing flashbacks of souled Angel watching Buffy from afar and through the windows as we have seen him do both souled and unsouled. The whole lollipop wielding Buffy just emphasises the disparity that was there from the absolute get-go in their wider views and experience but plays it alongside his starting path and uncertainty. It would be easy to dismiss Xander’s pov as being jealousy based but, as much as I think it plays its part and does so too in the lie, I really do think at this point it is primarily driven by anger. His fury at Angel ‘getting away’ with murder is palpable but it isn’t a different situation to what it ever was. Sure Buffy separates Angel souled from his unsouled self too much but there is a distinction there and he had murdered many, many people before and yet they had worked with him. The unreliability/instability of the curse is the logical issue and that is I think where the jealousy mixes with the anger to bypass reasoned arguments. Buffy’s confusion coloured with a tentative hope is quite moving in the scene and Willow and Cordelia play great buffers between Buffy and Xander in very in character and realistic ways. And yes, that Giles/Xander argument moment is exceptionally well done. But heck, this whole episode is great and where it is weak I hardly notice and pretty much don’t give a damn even when I do.

    I have seen people talk about it being out of character for Angel to want to send the world to hell, but what they are talking about with Acathla Giles outlines as sucking the world into a demon dimension where non-demons will suffer. That is different and fits fine for him to want to do I think without it taking an odd demonic depression to befall him for! It also works then alongside Spike’s reasons to seek an alliance, that he wants to preserve things that exist within the world as it is. He also of course is seeking primarily the opportunity to take Dru away from Angel knowing she wouldn’t go willingly. So then the reason he walks away from the fight leaving Buffy and the chance of Acathla succeeding also works in that it wouldn’t destroy him or Dru. It just wouldn’t be his preference.

    But, in line with the talk of ‘becoming’ and the start of things, in hindsight this episode becomes a significant point for Spike’s story too. The whole Acathla plan brought forward the opportunity/drive to seek the alliance and that was the first starting step towards the sequence of events on Spike’s series wide path.

    It also has a couple of my favourite Spike lines. One King already noted and the other, you may have heard me say before, I get amusement from every damn day when I open the curtains and look out at my neighbour’s choice of garden ornamentation…

    Spike: It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big.
    Last edited by Stoney; 25-07-14 at 01:53 AM.

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    I also love the library scene. This scene does dispel any notion for me that whilst Buffy is emotionally-driven Xander comes into this being level-headed and rational. It’s an all too common fanon that is contradictory not only to S2 but, really, Xander’s place in the group (“the heart”). And I don’t know if it stems from some subconscious gender-bias or just that some fans tend to agree with Xander (typically the anti-vampire crowd) but the character is as equally driven by his emotions as Buffy is, they’re simply at two different ends of the spectrum. Leaving aside for a moment what Angel does or doesn’t deserve, it doesn’t make much sense to dismiss the curse all together when it’s another weapon at their disposal to try and put a stop to Angel’s apocalyptic plans. I’m actually far more inclined to understand Giles’ reluctance because it’s born out of concern for Willow’s well-being. I also think Cordy’s reaction is interesting because her first impulse is to be happy about the news (“This is good. It means we can curse him again”) before being swayed by Xander’s emotional reaction. I think Xander is being unfair to say Buffy wants to “forget all about Ms Calender’s murder so she can get her boyfriend back” because it paints Buffy as a far more selfish and, frankly, heartless, than she actually is. I *do* think she is motivated by personal feelings (which Buffy pretty much concedes – “I care”) but they’re far more complex than the picture Xander paints. She’s at least partially motivated by the guilt she has felt all season over “destroying” Angel and the role she played in him losing his soul. She’s also motivated greatly by the love she has for him and how he didn’t choose to become a monster or lose his soul. That’s not necessarily the same thing as her wanting to reap the benefits of having her boyfriend back and it’s actually a fairly understandable position to take. There’s a good argument for why there’s only so much culpability Angel (or Spike) has for the actions they committed without a soul. Denying Angel a chance at getting his humanity back, when he didn’t intentionally lose it in the first place, isn’t necessarily a ‘just’ position.

    Xander’s anger is understandable. Angel has spent months murdering their classmates and he killed Jenny and was unbelievably cruel to Giles. There’s absolutely no reason not to despise him at this point. But whilst Buffy is guilty of separating Angel/Angelus too much Xander is equally guilty of making no distinction whatsoever. Before he lost his soul Angel had saved all their lives at one point or another and he was working alongside them. But this scene is total setup for Xander’s Big Lie next episode. I do believe he had the world’s interest at heart but framing it as a completely ‘Big Picture’, rational decision when only one day earlier the guy was blowing his fuse in the library, attacking Buffy, almost coming to blows with Giles, screaming at Cordy when she was coming to his defense, and being adamant that Angel deserves to die, is just not believable. There was real personal and ulterior motives mixed in with that decision as well. And Joss sets up that conflict brilliantly here.

    I agree with Stoney that Angel's actions aren't OOC in this episode. His entire goal is to suck every human being into earth to suffer eternal torture. That's on a somewhat larger scale than Angel is known for but it's really right up his alley.
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    Xander is as emotionally driven by his argument as Buffy, what drives Buffy's argument is hope while Xander's rage. I think Xander is simply fed up after months of restraining himself from any Angel-bashing statement, Jenny's death was the last straw and he just snapped. He can't hide his anger anymore. I don't think jealousy plays a big part here; hate and fury overshadow it by miles. I honestly don't think "Big Picture" is Xander's motivation for the lie - he is an emotional character, his emotions drive him to act, not rationality. This is the boy who just learnt about vampires and instead of dwelling on it like Willow, and any normal person that is, he rushed to follow Buffy in order to save Jesse. The same Xander who didn't care one bit about how strong and scary the Master and the Judge are and his one thought was to save Buffy. IMO Xander lied because of strong feelings of hate and anger and the injustice of it all. Angel should pay for all the deaths he had caused, all the terror he had invoked, and not to forget for trying to kill Xander himself in BB&B.
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    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.

    And, again, the fairness or not of Xander's accusation that Buffy is willing to just forget about Jenny's death to get boyfriend-mode back, would have benefited substantially from the rest of the scene in the shooting script being filmed, and how it's filmed, vis a vis how Willow reacts to Xander demanding her opinion on if he's wrong about that. Per Buffy's side of their phonecall, doesn't seem like Willow was completely immune to the possibility that Buffy's priorities are not where they should be, even if she thought Xander was being a (colorful metaphor).

    I'll chime in after the part II review to discuss my take on the title theme, because it's in part II that we get becoming in real time for Buffy, Willow, and Xander all.

    *Not to mention that the identity philosophy issue hangs over the first library argument, the cross-purposes Buffy and Xander are talking -- like what happened to Angel not being Angel's fault (Buffy's total segregation of souled/unsouled as discrete moral agents) and Xander's... not doing that; what happened to Ms. Calender is. Angel's fault, because there really is just the one vampire to him, and he is off the wagon. This even answers back to "Phases", when he is, per his expression, obviously lying to console Buffy when he tells her (Angelus) is "not the guy you knew".

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    Quote Originally Posted by KingofCretins View Post
    And, again, the fairness or not of Xander's accusation that Buffy is willing to just forget about Jenny's death to get boyfriend-mode back, would have benefited substantially from the rest of the scene in the shooting script being filmed, and how it's filmed, vis a vis how Willow reacts to Xander demanding her opinion on if he's wrong about that.
    If it was omitted it was omitted for a reason. I tend to be grateful that line was cut because in my eyes it makes Xander look like a total jerk.

    And I don't think Buffy's moral POV is really dependent on there being a complete separation of Angel/Angelus. You don't have to see Angel and Angelus as two completely distinct individuals to still regard them as essentially being "not the same person", if you will. With a soul Angel loved Buffy, fought by her side, saved her life, saved her friend's lives, and didn't kill innocent people. Without a soul Angel wanted to torment Buffy, fought against her, tried to kill her friends, and did kill innocent people. There's certain characteristics and traits that bleed into one another but the soul makes a HUGE difference. And unlike, say, Anya, who Xander wanted to save, Angel didn't choose to give up his humanity. It would be categorically false and unfair to claim that Angel would have slept with Buffy if he knew it would have cost him his soul so Buffy isn't wrong to say that what happened to him wasn't his fault. It was an unforeseeable consequence.

    Wanting Angel to pay for Jenny's murder is a completely understandable but also knee-jerk reaction to have. But it doesn't take into account the whole situation or the debate about Angel's culpability in his soulless crimes. They're certainly his crimes, absolutely, but it's not the same as if Angel had killed Jenny with a soul. If Kathy had succeeded in completely removing Buffy's soul and then Buffy had killed someone as a soulless being, would Xander want to deny her the opportunity of getting her soul back because "she deserves to die?" Or would he recongise that Buffy's soul was taken from her against her will and that the Buffy he knew would never have done that? I have no doubt that he would not be campaigning for her death just like he didn't with Anya, or Willow, or anyone else who he loves.
    Last edited by vampmogs; 26-07-14 at 06:23 AM.
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    The thing that I think they have done incredibly well for Xander in coming to this point and going forward into his lie next episode is the very complex mix that is in play for him. I think the immediate threat of Acathla does play its part as King says. I felt in Ted that Xander showed that he could state harder truths to Buffy at times. Her life and the world are at immediate risk and would be possibly more so if her emotions were running higher with the potential of the resouling. There is a practical truth (which does bear out) that Buffy will be trying to stop Angel opening Acathla regardless, so if Angel manages to do it it would have been beyond Buffy's control. Whether Angel gets his soul returned to him or not is also beyond Buffy's control. Buffy can react to either of those situations if they occur, but the risk means she needs to get on with it regardless. But his personal feelings towards Angel makes, or at least aids, him in being able to do that clinically. As much as there is emotional risk in Buffy knowing there is also the chance that she could block everything happening defensively and buy time for the ensouling to take place, not take a killing blow to stop Angel. But Xander doesn't care about that.

    As vamps says, if he gave a damn about Angel himself he wouldn't be so ready for him to die. Passion's "Faster pusscat! Kill! Kill!" was born of anger. His continued stance once they are discussing the possibility of resouling Angel comes from not wanting Angel back. He didn't want him in the group in the first place and some of that was a general distrust to vampires but a lot came from resentment fuelled by jealousy and also by guilt. He treated Angel negatively from the get-go. Angel with his soul will be the comrade they had again who, as vamps says, worked with them and saved them. Heck he even saved Jenny's life in The Dark Age. But now he would also have Jenny's murder, the lives of all the other people he has taken and how he has terrorised and hurt them all as something else he is having to live with too. 'Getting away with it' isn't a totally straight forward notion. Angel souled would not have done those things but the soulless vampire is taken as the worst of the person and Angel certainly does see them as his crimes. So there is a distinction but there is also the link. And that part is a big problem for Xander because his anger over Jenny's death is there but the distinction doesn't matter to him personally. So along with his anger, his jealousy is a factor and also the resentment and guilt from the comparative Jesse of it all.
    Last edited by Stoney; 26-07-14 at 09:56 AM.

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    I completely agree Stoney. And when people talk about 'jealousy' I don't think it's a case of Xander literally thinking to himself – "Now's my chance to get Angel out of the way and have Buffy all to myself!" – at least not in the library scene, I think that's totally what he was thinking back in Angel, but it's just too interwoven with his hatred of Angel to be parsed out from his motivations. It's all in the mix.

    The guy has despised Angel since he met him. Heck, he disliked Angel *before* they even uttered a word to each other. He disliked Angel before he knew he was a vampire. He admits in Passion that he “hated Angel long before the rest of them jumped on the bandwagon” and feels he’s in a position to say “I told you so” despite never anticipating that Angel would lose his soul; he always just thought Angel would turn on them anyway. How does that not play a key role in why Xander’s so insistent that Angel must die? We *know* Xander is capable of greater empathy and compassion if it’s someone he loves so it’s a fair assessment to say that Xander’s dislike of Angel is a big factor in why is so vengeful.
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  37. #180
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    Oooookay, great discussion so far guys. I really like what King says about the telos of becoming, and how that resonates through Whedon's work. In terms of Buffy herself, I think it's worth noting as an aside she uses the word "becoming" in the big cookie dough speech to Angel in Chosen -- "not finished BECOMING whatever the hell it is I'm gonna turn out to be."

    This episode has flashbacks to Angel's, Buffy's and Drusilla's pre-transformation lives. It is not the only episode to do so, but there is something subtly different about this from any other BtVS episodes -- at least until Selfless. Even FFL is framed by Spike's narrative of his own development -- even if the verbal narrative Spike gives seems to be different from the actual flashbacks themselves. Buffy's brief flashback in Killed by Death is a memory; the flashback to her childhood in Weight of the World is Buffy and Willow running through Buffy's brain for clues, somewhere between memory or dream. Angel admits in Not Fade Away that he doesn't even remember being human, and while I don't think we need to take that entirely literally -- he knows his own history, I think -- I think, too, that the flashbacks aren't actually Angel's memory. They're Whistler's framing of events, for the audience to understand the context of what's happening; to see who Angel and Buffy (and to a lesser extent Drusilla) were before all this. Whistler, who is barely even a character and never again appears in the non-comics Buffyverse after this two-parter, is something like a trickster demigod character, letting we in the audience see what the characters cannot: the characters' own history.

    With Angel, in particular, this is especially necessary because in certain ways, Angel up to this point is actually something of a frustrating blank. Now, don't get me wrong: we know a lot about him, and we have seen quite a few shadings of him in his interactions with other characters. But even if we focus only on souled Angel, there is something weirdly different about the Angel who interacts with Darla and the one who interacts with Drusilla and the one who interacts with Xander and the one who interacts with Buffy -- and again for Spike and Willow and Giles and Cordelia and so on. I talked when we passed Angel (the episode) that there is something weird about Angel's barely able to restrain himself from feeding on Joyce when Darla makes him the offer, and I think some of it is that Angel is almost a different person when Darla is his audience, as opposed to when Buffy is his audience -- and it's only in the latter case that Angel is able to "come alive" and slay Darla. There are slight variations in the way he presents himself with different people, attuning himself to their expectations -- he bonds with Giles over old guys with knowledge, he appeals to Willow's desire to be paid attention to by a handsome hunk of the night when he sneaks into her bedroom, he flirts with Cordy like a football star, he lets Xander flop around thinking he would kill him in School Hard. He is able to play into Buffy's virginal fantasies while also turning on the kinky subtext to exploit his vampire family in a, well, not a heartbeat obviously, but in the vampire equivalent, in What's My Line.

    The point of this is not to accuse Angel of artificiality exactly; I think Angel is artificial, and is presenting different sides of himself to different people consciously, but I think everyone does that to some degree and Angel has more reason than most to do some very careful image control. Much of the time this is used for a good cause as well, as when he's trying to goad Spike into killing him in WML -- that's pretty seriously impressive sacrifice right there, and heroic. But the question actually becomes, on some level, who is the real Angel? More so than the rest of the main cast, IMO, Angel has very few scenes in which we are privy to his POV in the first season and a half; there are exceptions, like the moment in The Harvest in which he mutters "I'll be damned." But what is going on in Angel's head remains mysterious for a long, long time, partly for purely plot-based reasons -- we have to keep guessing about who this guy is and what skeletons lay in his closet.

    This episode throws the doors open on who Angel is, and we learn that in a lot of respects, Angel really is a guy with very little centre, bouncing around from one external influence to another. It might not just be a lack of clear definition of Angel that leads to these differing versions of the same guy depending on who he interacts with, but something about the way Angel responds to the external world: Angel is a puppet of the fates, whose struggles to define himself on his own terms are very frequently in vain. We see him encountering Darla in the alley as Liam, a recognizable lech and drunkard but not, it seems, a fundamentally bad person; he has no idea what Darla has in store for him. We see him using his power over Drusilla -- but Dru got her sight from above, and even while he's manipulating Drusilla he does so by taking on an entirely new identity (as a priest). We see him transformed by the gypsies for the first time. We see him living outside the world of society, defined by what he eats (rats), and is taken in and transformed, first by Whistler and then by Buffy. Angel talks, to Whistler, about wanting to Become somebody, and in this there is the recognition that Angel wants to be something more than a reaction to external forces, something more than an instrument for the cruel hand of fate.

    So, in that case, this dialogue is pretty interesting:

    Angelus: Oh, hush, child. The Lord has a plan for all creatures. Even a
    Devil child like you.

    Drusilla: (taken aback) A Devil?

    Angelus: Yes! You're a spawn of Satan. All the Hail Marys in the world
    aren't going to help. The Lord will use you and smite you down. He's
    like that.

    Drusilla: (frightened) What can I do?

    Angelus: Fulfill his plan, child. Be evil. Just give in.

    Drusilla: No! (sobs) I want to be good. (sobs) I want to be pure.

    Angelus: We all do, at first. The world doesn't work that way.
    Angel, without a soul, is a little hard to pin down. I mean, he is actually really easy, in some ways -- he's evil incarnate, not a trace of humanity in him, he just wants to hurt people! But, you know, Spike is out there loving Man U, and Darla loves the finest silks, and the Master wants to really live up to a historical-quasi-religious ideal. Most vamps just want to eat. For most vamps, it's just tough guy talk. What is it that drives Angel(us) to these levels of destruction? Most vampires, fundamentally, don't want to end the world. And on the flip side, look, most souled beings don't decide to build themselves up into heroes, either. Angel(us)'s big speech, here, is intercut with scenes of Whistler showing Angel Buffy and giving him a new mission:

    Whistler: (follows) Again, you're annoying me. You're lucky we need you on our side.

    Cut to Angelus' mansion, 1998. He approaches Acathla, still vamped out.

    Angelus: I have strayed, I have been lost. But Acathla redeems me. With this act, we will be free.
    "Strayed," as in, Angel(us) strayed during the time when he had a soul, when he wandered about being a do-gooder and being attached to Buffy instead of being "redeemed" by Acathla. And so Acathla, in a sense, can be added to the long list of external forces which pass through Angel's life. We note that Angel isn't all that intrinsically interested in world destruction; he was pretty on the fence about the Judge's usefulness, and while he seemed to think it was probably an okay idea, and relished the mall attack, his focus was definitely the slayer at the time. In the interim, his campaign to take down Buffy has failed, in particular in I Only Have Eyes For You in which the stink of love turned out to still cling to him (and he was again possessed by beings outside his control), and so now he's opting for world destruction as the ultimate way to get back at Buffy and to prove that he doesn't care about Buffy at all. He strayed, as in, he was focusing on Buffy when he should have been focusing on his divine purpose, which is to make history end.

    But c'mon, dude! You know this script. Angelus, I guess, was full of it when he was telling Drusilla that the Lord was going to use her and smite her down, or, rather, Angel recognized that he was going to be doing that to Drusilla, and knew that it would be all the more painful to do to her if he laced it all in with her religious beliefs. But Angel is a man who fundamentally wants beings from On High to give him a purpose. Angel talks, later on, in Somnambulist, about the "pope killer" thing as being about mocking God, and there is certainly some of that in there. But he also seems to think that he is genuinely fulfilling divine purpose in causing destruction and in destroying everything via Acathla, which he is doing because...uh, because Acathla wants him to? Because being a divine instrument, even if it's a divine instrument of destruction (well, especially!), is the ultimate way of fulfilling one's goal in life? But the thing is, Angel, if you really are evil because someone up there wants you to be evil, there is another thing to consider, which is that other thing you mentioned to Dru: you'll be used and smitten down.

    Joss Whedon, television writer, needs Angel to be evil at this moment, in order to further Buffy's story. In order for Buffy to become, Buffy has to kill Angel and send him to hell -- which means that Angel has to have all manner of external influences, evil mother figures, gypsies, fates, Big Rocks, swirly Freudian holes enter and pass through in order to position Angel right in front of the sword, to be the narrative sacrifice that transforms Buffy. There is a cruel god manipulating Angel, and Angelus, when he does his absolute best to awaken Acathla, is fulfilling that god's needs. Is the height of Angel's purpose to be what he is supposed to be, even if that is evil, and even if that leads to his complete destruction? I don't want to get too wrapped up in meta at this stage in the game, because I don't think that the role of fate, free will, etc. is really just Whedon running through circles on his own creative process, though it's not entirely not that. But there is something fundamental in this: if defeating evil is required in order to be good, and to "become" good, does that mean that evil has to exist? Certainly, in a narrative sense it does, but does that mean that it means something like that in real life, too?

    A lot of people have written about the fate-free will spectrum occupied by Angel, Buffy and Spike. Spike is a wildcard, who gets no flashbacks in this two-parter and whose actions in the second part were unplanned when the season was originally conceived, as we all largely know. Angel is just a pinball to be manipulated by Fate, and yet he also has a genuine desire, at the bottom of it, to be the kind of person who has value; he wants to accept his calling, whether that's for good or evil, but without being able to find "himself" at the bottom of it. We see Buffy being called in an episode which lets us into Angel's head for, if not the first time, at least something like the longest time we've yet had, and that calling basically means that she is going to have to sacrifice something central. There is a hint, in the way Angel creepily observes Buffy, that he could be the guy who helps her adapt to her calling, who knows what it's like to be lonely, to be somewhere between human and monster and yet make the right choice, but that gets corrupted because he's a slave to his biological imperative and, in a sense, to Buffy's desire for him. It's how it goes, I guess. That Angel fulfills some of Buffy's need for a strong man in her life in the wake of her parents' divorce is reinforced by the way we see her parents fighting immediately after Buffy is called, even while Angel watches on.

    I think that the flashbacks serve the purpose, too, of this: this is the moment when Buffy and Angel's lives change forever!, but it's also, in another sense, one of many moments. To Buffy and Angel, at the moment, there is nothing that could possibly define them more than the "Close your eyes" in part two. And it certainly is one of the big moments for both of them, one that will always be a part of them and always define them. But in another sense, from the longer view, it's just one among many. Buffy is younger, and so there are fewer such defining moments, and the only two from pre-series are really her calling and her parents' divorce, which Buffy melds into one. (Maybe her cousin's death is another one, and maybe, too, her being put in a mental hospital, but I'd place that as part of the same event as her calling.) Angel has lived longer and has gone through, and likely will go through, more periods of tumultuous change. I think that it was possible that this episode was intended as a genuine end to Angel, in which case there is a sense of summation of his life. But there is something oddly comforting about the flashbacks, once we recognize that Angel's going to hell is one major life event among many -- a big moment, but not the sole big moment.

    That Scooby debate scene is just awesome. Really wonderful stuff. I do have a lot of thoughts about Xander there -- and, for that matter, everyone. But I think that is enough writing for now. Quick Willow aside before I go: it's notable how uncertain she is of doing the spell. I think it is not accidental that she gains in confidence from now to part two, when the primary event that takes place in between is a traumatic head injury, coma, and near death. What could that mean? Well, hopefully I'll get a chance to talk about part two....

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