An important episode that significantly develops the show’s mythology, the character of Angel, starts the Buffy/Angel romance, and introduces the Angel(us)/Darla relationship that would be explored on AtS. It was written by David Greenwalt, who would later become the show-runner when Angel gets his own show.
Up to this episode the B/A relationship was just a flirtation/attraction to a mysterious, handsome older guy (although we will later learn in “Becoming” flashbacks that Angel was obsessed with her since he first saw her, after learning from her about Whistler), but Buffy said she didn’t see him as someone she could have a relationship with because he only ever showed up from time to time to give her cryptic advice about slaying. In this episode, they start getting more serious when Angel helps her fight off “The Three”, a trio of badass vampires sent by the Master to kill her – which is the first time she, or we the audience, see him fight, and she is impressed with his fighting skills – and then they end up spending a platonic night together in her room, with him sleeping on the floor. A few episodes earlier, Buffy realized that a relationship with a "normal" boy would not really work; now we see what she really wants in a relationship, to be with someone who knows what she is and accepts her and that she wouldn’t have to keep secrets from, but who is also strong enough to be there for her and fight by her side without her being worried that she would get him killed. Ironically, the reason why Angel fits that bill is because he is a vampire (since there are no male Slayers, that’s Buffy’s best bet at finding a man who is more or less her equal in fight). She might also be drawn to him because he is lonely and an outcast even more than she feels she is; we already knew that he had no friends (“The Harvest”) and he now reveals (after she starts asking him personal questions) that his family is dead and that he hasn’t had a lover in a very long time.
The reveal of Angel being a vampire was well done. When you already know what he is, you can spot little clues, e.g. his strength when fighting the vampires which hinted he wasn’t a regular human, the fact we’ve never seen him in daylight, or that Buffy yelled at him to come with her into her house, right before he explained to her that the vampires won’t be able to come in because they need an invitation; even his remark that it would be inappropriate for them to get involved because he’s older than her gains a new meaning when you learn the age difference is over 220 years. He technically doesn’t tell any lies in his answers – saying that his family was killed by vampires, which makes Buffy assume that he’s a demon-hunter bent on revenge. (Ironically she will be later be in a relationship with a human demon hunter she first mistakes for a normal college boy. She basically mistook Angel for someone like Holtz, or Wood). The reason why Angel goes into vamp face during their first kiss is probably because of the link between the vampire's demon and their sexuality - he has gone long without either having any sexual intimacy of any kind, or having fed on humans, and the kiss must have awakened his bloodlust. Later on when Darla offers him to drink from unconscious Joyce, it’s obvious that his vampire impulses are a very strong temptation he has to fight.
It’s interesting that, despite her initial shock, Buffy remains open-minded about Angel and, despite Giles’s information about his dark past, doesn’t think he should be dusted without a proof that he is dangerous/evil: up to that point he has only been helpful, she hasn’t seen him do anything wrong, he helped her fight the Three and got wounded, and he spent the night sleeping on the floor of her room without trying anything (Buffy was at first impressed that he was a ‘gentleman’ and didn’t try anything sexual – but after learning what he is, suddenly it becomes all the more impressive that he didn’t try to kill her/drink from her). Willow remains a Bangel shipper (and will remain so for the next few years) and finds it all very romantic (and maybe she’s also happy to see Buffy with someone other than Xander), while Xander represents the view that Angel should be dusted because he’s a vampire - which is the ideological stance that Giles taught him, but Xander is far more passionate in this view than the relatively detached Giles. Xander’s black and white view of vampires must be influenced a lot by what happened with Jesse – he was told that he had to kill his friend, and that there was no hope for Jesse once he was turned, even though he still wanted to save him, before he ended accidentally staking him. But it’s probably also influenced by his jealousy and dislike of Angel that was obvious long before he learned Angel was a vampire, and it’s a big question (still hotly debated in fandom) how much one or the other out of these psychological motivations played a role in Xander’s behavior over the next couple of seasons. It’s only after Buffy comes to wrongly believe that Angel has tried to kill her mother that she decides to go after him and kill him, despite admitting that she has feelings for him and might have fallen in love/be falling in love with him. Buffy’s slaying is normally not driven by personal reasons – she sees it as her job – but the sure way to make it personal and make her more determined is to hurt or threaten someone she loves, which happens with Darla’s scheme. And in this case it’s also personal because she had feelings for and trusted Angel and he seemed to betray her trust; which is why tells Angel: “I've killed many vampires, but I’ve never hated one.” (Which is, BTW, the first time Buffy tells anyone in the show that she hates them. Another interesting fact is that the second time she will tell a vampire that she hates him, it will be to Spike, in “Becoming part II”).
I think this is the first time we see Buffy with a crossbow, and other medieval weapons she carries to her fight with Angel. Darla on the other hand is using guns, which vampires normally don’t do, even though it would work well against Slayers. But Darla is too determined to kill Buffy, while not risking Angel’s life, to be concerned with what vampires usually consider proper. Angel, on his part, might be having a death wish – he asks Buffy to not go soft on him. The fight scene is Western-style showdown between the two women, with Darla firing two guns at Buffy. Buffy fails to kill Darla, missing her heart, but Angel does not – which has a metaphorical meaning, since Darla is emotionally attached to Angel and obviously shocked when she realizes that he’s killed her, something she didn’t expect.
It is confirmed that a vampire can’t enter a building without an invite (a common belief in vampire lore) and the mythology about vampire's "soul" and "demon" is established. Buffy is still wearing the cross Angel gave her for protection against vampires, and in the last scene the cross burns into his flesh while they kiss. Apparently in Buffyverse crosses aren’t a source of incredible fear for vampires as in some other vampire fiction, they are more akin to what a hot iron would be to a human.
We learn about Angel’s age, his curse by the Gypsies, as well as his background (that he was born in Ireland and killed his family after he was sired) and his relationship with Darla. In Giles’ books it is assumed that he got his vampire name because he was handsome (“angelic face”) – but the real story, which we will only learn in season 1 of AtS, is far more chilling. The soul is clearly described as moral conscience, while the demon seems to be what drives vampires to bloodlust, violence and sadism. Giles repeats the Watcher’s Council’s stance that a vampire is not a person
, and Angel says about himself: “I can walk like a man
, but I’m not one”, but the choice of words is questionable since vampires (not just Angel, but also the other, soulless vampires) clearly have a mind, feelings and will of their own. Early in the episode, before Buffy learns he’s a vampire, Angel explains that vampires are made when a demon invades a dead person’s body – but I don’t think it’s just the body, but rather their spirit, if Angel’s subsequent behavior is anything to go by. I don’t think he was implying that the dead person – their spirit, personality, memories – is gone, and if he did, he soon contradicts it in the rest of the episode, which brings me to:
This dichotomy is still a subject of so much debate, and has been treated in very contradictory ways on the show, that I think I need to keep the score of how it was presented in each episode where the issues comes up. This episode suggests that they’re one and the same, and that Angel is the same entity as he was as a human as well: he keeps talking about his past crimes in 1st person singular, rather than something done by a demon who is not him, and also says he
family (rather than the family of some dead human guy who has nothing to do with him). Darla also treats him as the same guy she had a relationship with in the past (which remains the same in all her appearances on AtS).
Vampires and love:
Another controversial subject – can soulless vampires love. Different vampires will later be shown to have very different opinions on the subject. Darla in this episode clearly thinks they can and believes that she and Angelus loved each other and says that she still loves him – she says the saddest thing in the world is “to love someone who used to love you”. Oddly enough, later in season 2 Angelus claims that he cannot stand love, and on AtS Angel and Darla can’t seem to agree if they used to love each other or not. In season 2 of AtS Angel says he wasn’t able to love Darla because he was soulless, and in "Lullaby" Darla agrees with him that she “never loved anything” and thinks she wouldn’t be able to love her baby once she gives birth, because she doesn’t have a soul and the only thing that allows her to love her son is that she is influenced by his soul. (Spike, Dru, Harmony, and James and Elizabeth from “Heartthrob” wouldn’t agree.) But maybe the inconsistency can be explained as a matter of semantics: how one defines the word “love”, and whether the selfish, possessive kind of love is considered “love” or desire/passion/obsession etc. while “love” is taken to be synonymous with “good” love.
Darla is a much stronger character in this episode, and her characterization is much closer to what we later see on AtS. She isn’t trembling in fear in front of the Master as she did in “The Harvest”; she’s more determined and proactive (because she has a personal reason to want Buffy dead) and her dynamic with him is more equal, so much that the Master remarks at one point that it almost looks like she’s giving him the orders now – but he’s not angry about it. She is also more obviously cruel, and enjoys taking the lives of vampires rather than just humans. We first learn how close Darla and the Master were ("she was my favorite"). The Master is being more emotional and approachable than usual – he is being almost fatherly to Darla as well as to the Anointed One (whom he calls “Colin”), who is his protégé and even gets asked for an advice. Later he cries over Darla's death and gets to be comforted by the Anointed One. The Anointed One and the Master (and to an extent Darla/Master) are mirroring the mentor/student relationship of Buffy and Giles. Once again we see how strict the hierarchy of the Sunnydale vampires is (very different from the more self-centered and rebellious vampires we'll meet later). These vamps are not amoral, they have their own morality, tradition and even religion of sorts, which is the inversion of human morality/religion. The Three offer their lives for failing in their mission, and get executed by Darla. The Master tells Colin that taking a life (which he usually does to his minions when they fail him) is always a serious matter, but of course only when the lives of vampires are concerned, rather than not puny and irrelevant humans – which is the mirror image of the Watchers ideology that Buffy lives by (with the distinction between killing a human vs dusting/slaying a vampire). The Master says about Angelus: "He was to have sat by my right hand”, which is another example of vampire tradition as an inversion/parody of Christian religion (together with things like the prophecies, rituals and the title of Anointed One), with the Master in the role of God the Father (“The Master” is similar to “Lord”, after all).
We learn that Darla is 400 years old and that the last time Angel saw her she wore a kimono – but the latter doesn’t really fit with the flashbacks we’ll later see on AtS: the last time he saw her, they were in China and she was wearing Western clothes. This episode makes it seem like Angel was the one who rejected Darla, but later we see that she rejected him for having a soul, that he tried to go back to her and couldn’t convince her he was still evil enough for her taste. Angel says that he never fed on a living human after he was souled, but the flashbacks will contradict that as well: he did feed on criminals while he was still with Darla. Darla blames Angel for becoming “one of them” because, among other things, he lives above the ground – but later we see that Darla used to live with him above the ground for hundreds of years, before their relationship ended and she went back to the Master and the traditional ways. The Master seems to have a lot of respect for Angelus and says he wanted him to be his right hand, but we later see that they never got along because Angelus rebelled against the Master immediately. But maybe the Master was impressed with his evil deeds, and expected him to eventually come back to the fold, like Darla did?
Other things worth mentioning:
- This episode features the first meeting of Joyce and Giles, who are going to have a very interesting and rocky relationship;
- First hints of Xander/Cordelia tension;
- In school, Buffy has particular trouble with history (which is really the subject that would be most useful in her calling); Giles says that the reason is that Buffy lives very much ‘in the now’ and doesn’t care about the past.
- We see Angel’s tattoo for the first time – it’s a griffin, a mythical hybrid animal, which hints at Angel’s own hybrid nature (man/monster).
Willow (being told by Buffy that she should speak up to Xander about her feelings for him): No, no, no! No speaking up! That way leads to madness, and sweaty palms.
2nd place: The Master gets to be funny:
The Master: I am weary, and their deaths will bring me little joy.
(Darla executes the Three.)
The Master: Of course, sometimes a little is enough.
Darla (shooting at Buffy): Come on, Buffy, take it like a man. (?)
Darla. But she’ll get better
. You’d think that dusting a vamp means is the end of them, but people in Buffyverse tend to come back.
Darla says “You’re hurting me… That's good, too” – the first time we get a hint of someone being into BDSM - which we later see many vampires in Buffyverse are (and not only vampires). She’s dressed in a schoolgirl outfit (which is ironic as she’s feigning youth and innocence, the opposite of what she really is) and mocks Angel for being into schoolgirls now.
Buffy protesting too much/Buffy bad liar:
her very desperate attempt to convince Angel that she wasn’t writing about him in her journal: “Hunk can mean a lot of things, bad things even…” –all the more amusing since it turns out Angel didn’t even read her diary.
Shirtless scene (the first one in the show):
Pop culture references:
The Master, mentoring the Anointed One, uses the line: “With power comes responsibility” – Spiderman’s motto, which could also be Buffy’s.
Xander quotes a line from the song “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”: “Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly”, but he probably forgot what the song was about, since he uses that quote to mean that it’s natural for Buffy as the Slayer to kill Angel since he’s a vampire, but in the context of the song that line meant that love is something that comes naturally and doesn’t depend on reason and decisions. Ironically, he almost sounds like a B/A supporter there while the supportive Willow ends up listing the problems of the Buffy/Angel relationship known up to this point: the fact that unlike her he’ll never age or die a natural death, and that they can’t have children (which will be echoed by the Mayor in season 3).
In this episode, Buffy wrongly believes that Angel has tried to kill someone she loves; in the future, the nightmare scenario will come true and he will hurt people close to her, more than once.
Willow tells Buffy that you can’t change your feelings for someone by killing them, and Buffy replies “It’s a start”. Buffy will kill Angel in the season 2 finale, but this won’t change her feelings for him. Angel kills Darla in this episode – but when she comes back on AtS, it will become obvious that he still very much has feelings for her.
Darla rhetorically asks Angel if he thinks Buffy would ever kiss him while he’s in vampface. Ironically, Buffy will do exactly that in "What’s My Line”.
At one point, it seems that Cordelia has a shocked reaction was because she heard Xander asking Buffy how she can be in love with a vampire – fortunately she was talking about something else, but there’s additional irony since Cordelia will also fall in love with a vampire (the same one, actually).
Giles’ description of Buffy as someone who "she lives in the now" is in sharp contrast with season 8 Buffy, who is described as being “stuck in the past".
This is the best episode so far – it feels like a season 2 episode. There’s a noticeable rise in quality in the second part of season 1 which starts with “The Pack” and “Angel”.