2.01. When She Was Bad
This episode feels like a finale to season 1 as much as it does as the opener to season 2, dealing with Buffy’s trauma over her death as well as the attempts of the Anointed One and the Sunnydale vampires to resurrect the Master using his bones. Buffy only reaches real closure at the very end of the episode, smashing his bones, and symbolically doing away with his shadow over her life. I didn’t really understand this episode when I first watched it many years ago – I knew that Buffy was acting that way because she was traumatized, but I didn’t really understand her emotional state. Now I can also see that the darkness Buffy shows with in this episode wasn’t a fluke, but the first sign of psychological issues related to her calling, which would be dealt with more in later seasons.
The opening scenes give us the state of affairs in Sunnydale at the start of the new school year. Buffy has been absent, spending the summer with her father in LA. There hasn’t been much of a need for her to be there, since there’s been a lull in vampire and demon activity in Sunnydale as a result of Master’s death. Later we see a group of vampires, with the Anointed One as their figurehead, trying to restore the Master. At this point at really feels like the ritual-obsessed, traditionalist vampires with their over-dramatic speeches and dated language have overstayed their welcome – without a figure with a presence like Master’s, they’re just dull and not terrifying enough.
Giles and Jenny are starting to flirt in this episode, and Xander is beginning to develop some romantic interest in Willow: he nearly kisses her in the opening scene when she gets ice cream on her nose. But then as soon as Buffy comes back, he goes back to ignoring Willow as a possible romantic interest. Yet later in the episode, after he’s gotten fed up with Buffy’s bitchy behavior, and when Willow, Giles, Cordelia and Jenny are kidnapped by the vampires in order to be used in the ritual, Xander tells Buffy: “If they hurt Willow, I’ll kill you”, showing for the first time that Willow is the person he cares about the most. Just what is Xander’s deal? One moment it seems like he has a clue that Willow has some interest in him other than friendly, the next moment he seems completely oblivious or isn’t thinking about her feelings at all. At first I thought he just had no romantic interest in her, but knowing that he’ll get very interested in her later when she’s in a relationship with someone else, I wonder if it’s a case of wanting the unattainable (which he talks about in the next episode) or if there’s a deeper reason why he needed to see Willow as nothing but a sexless best friend. The best explanations I’ve come across in fandom is that she was closely connected to his childhood, or that her he was uncomfortable with her meekness and was drawn to more assertive women because he felt they could stand up to him if he ever turned out the same as his abusive father. (Of course we’ll only learn more about Xander’s family later on.)
The title comes from the Mother Goose nursery rhyme: “There was a little girl… (…) And when she was good, she was very, very good/And when she was bad, she was horrid.” Buffy is really bitchy in this episode, because she’s clearly suffering from PTSD – and while she gets back to normal at the end, and her friends forgive her, her behavior reveals that deep inside she feels resentful and ambivalent about Giles, Xander, Willow and Angel. The first hint is when she calls Xander and Willow “losers”, but they take it as a joke. She’s flinching every time anyone mentions the Master or the events of the last year. From the conversation between Hank and Joyce we learn that Hank felt that Buffy was distant throughout the summer – it must have been difficult for her to carry it all inside without being able to talk to anyone or tell her parents about her temporary death. (This is the last real appearance of Hank Summers in the show – i.e. not counting “Normal Again”. Maybe the reason why he ended up abandoning Buffy completely was that he felt inadequate and unable to understand her and really be her father.)
Buffy’s nightmare in which she casts Giles as the Master is particularly interesting and revealing when it comes to her feelings about her friends that she wouldn’t consciously admit to herself. It starts as an everyday scene with her in school, talking to Xander and Willow (Xander - talking about being a friend but revealing a sexual interest in her: “We’re your bosom friends… The friends to your bosom”; Willow – letting it slip that she dreamed about Xander and then unconvincingly trying to cover it up, which is the first hint it’s not real since Willow is better at hiding her feelings than that, Buffy is the one who’s a bad liar), until Giles casually mentions having killed Buffy once before, and starts strangling her, and when she pulls off his mask it reveals the Master. Meanwhile Xander and Willow are just calmly watching and eating apples. Taken literally, this would of course be very unfair to all of them, since Giles wanted to protect her and fight the Master himself, and Xander went underground and saved her, but these are not rational feelings. On some level Buffy feels that Giles is “killing” her like the Master did, by being the one who’s sending her to fight the monsters, and she feels distant from Willow and Xander because they can’t really understand what she’s been through. It’s the feeling that she’ll admit to Holden in S7 “Conversations with Dead People”, feeling superior to her friends because they don’t know what it’s like to be the Slayer, and then as a result feeling like a horrible person – inferior, ‘beneath’ everyone. Buffy’s bitchiest moment - her sexy, seductive dance with Xander at the Bronze, in front of Willow and Angel – is a deliberate attempt to hurt and punish all three of them; Xander is almost as uncomfortable during that dance as the other two are, and after trying to believe for a moment that she was really attracted to him, he quickly faces up to the reality that Buffy’s unusual behavior must be a sign of something wrong. Another very revealing moment is her comment on the line from the book about people who were “the closest” to the Master (which was actually a mistranslation and misinterpretation of the actual line, people who were “nearest” to him at the time of his death) – that she’s the one who was closest to him, because they killed each other. That’s one of the ongoing themes of the show, that Buffy in some ways feels closer to the monsters she’s fighting because they share her world, and that she fears that she may be monstrous herself.
Buffy’s conflicted feelings about Angel are for a different reason than her ambivalence about her friends. Despite the soul and his good behavior, he’s still a vampire, just like the creature who killed her, he is her natural enemy and on some level she knows she shouldn’t trust him. Of course, we now know her instincts were actually right, and this episode hints that she wasn’t completely blind to his dark side, even if she usually chose not to see it. Maybe Faith wasn’t that off the mark when she suggested in S3 that Buffy’s love for Angel wasn’t that pure and innocent as Buffy liked to think of it, and that was attracted to danger. Maybe a part of her ambivalent feelings about him is that she feels monstrous for being attracted to a vampire. Angel first appears in this episode right after Buffy wakes from her nightmare, asking if he may come in – which implies that he’s been outside watching her sleep and waiting for her to wake up. It’s one of these early Bangel moments that may make some viewers go: “Oh, that’s so sweet” and others: “Wow, that’s so creepy”. (And it is creepier in retrospect, when we know that as Angelus, he’ll also watch her sleep in “Passion”.) She acts hostile to him the way she hasn’t since “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, drives him away and then whispers as emotional “I missed you” when he’s already gone and can’t hear her. Then, after deliberately making him jealous at the Bronze, she tells him she doesn’t trust him (which is just the first of the several times throughout the years Buffy tells Angel she doesn’t trust him), insults him for being a vampire (she got him where it hurts the most, since we later see just how much Angel is bothered by what he is and wants to be human), calls him on his stalking, telling him that, whatever some may think, it’s not a turn-on for girls (…tell that to Stephenie Meyer), and claims that she isn’t interested in him anymore and has moved on “to the living”. (Which is very ironic since she won’t move on from Angel for years, and it’s still debated whether she ever completely emotionally moved on from their relationship – and if she did, it certainly wasn’t to the “living”.) Then she taunts him to attack her, saying he must have thought about it and pointing out that they’re natural enemies as vampire and Slayer – and it feels like a sexual come-on as much as a taint. For a moment we see her conflating sex with violence in the way that foreshadows her relationship with Spike. All this will get forgotten later in the first part of S2 when Buffy and Angel’s relationship gets lovey-dovey, and later when she makes a romantic ideal of it in her memory, but it shows a part of Buffy's nature that was already there although she was very uncomfortable with acknowledging it.
Buffy’s behavior in this episode is also very Faith-like, confirming that Faith in season 3 was a “shadow” character for Buffy: in her behavior at the Bronze, and when she is torturing a vampire for information, which we’re supposed to see as a disturbing moment since Angel and Xander seem uncomfortable about it… Now, I have to say that I found it a bit silly, since Buffy dusts vampires, so what’s wrong if she also tortures them when she really needs information ASAP to save her friends. But I guess Angel and Xander were bothered because Buffy seemed to be taking out her anger on the vampire in the way she doesn’t normally do – usually she just treats Slaying as a job (and she’ll be upset at Faith in S3 for obviously enjoying violence). When Buffy goes alone to fight the vampires and save Cordelia, practically calling her friends useless, it also makes me think of the alone, hardened and cynical Wishverse Buffy.
Snyder ranting to Giles about his hatred of teenagers:
“Somebody's got to keep an eye on them. They're just a bunch of hormonal time bombs. You think they're thinking about learning? Every time a pretty girl walks by every boy turns into a bumbling idiot. I try to teach them the important things in life. Discipline. Respect. Punctuality. I might as well be talking to myself.”… not noticing that Giles has meanwhile turned into a bumbling idiot when Jenny Calendar appeared, that the two of them got too busy flirting, and that they left before he ended his speech.
Buffy: Cordelia, your mouth is open, sound is coming from it, this is never good.
Buffy: You're a vampire. Oh, I'm sorry. Was that an offensive term? Should I say 'undead American'?
Pop culture references:
Xander and Willow seem to be SF/F fans – the movies they’re using in their Guess the movie quote game are The Terminator
, The Planet of the Apes
and Star Wars
. They also reference The Witness
. Cordelia compares Buffy, Xander and Willow to the Three Musketeers, not realizing that she’s paid them a compliment, as they point out to her; Xander says she should have compared them to Three Stooges instead. Cordy calls Buffy on her bitchiness telling her she’s acting like Joan Collins.
Destroying the English language
: When Giles tells Buffy that it’s pointless to punish herself for her behavior, Buffy replies that it’s actually “entirely pointy”. (Actually, that’s not destroying the language, that’s more like building quite useful new words.
) Xander isn’t very good at spelling and when Willow spells “ b-i-t-c-h” he thinks she said Buffy was a ‘bitca”. The Sunnydale vampires don’t have great writing skills, their syntax leaves something to be desired: I guess we can forgive Xander for misunderstanding the sentence “Come to The Bronze before it opens or we make her a meal” to mean they were going to cook Cordy a dinner.
There is a lot of foreshadowing for the season finale. Buffy taunting Angel to fight her foreshadows that they will become mortal enemies after he loses his soul. Snyder says he can smell expulsion for Buffy; he will finally get to expel her from school in “Becoming II”. In the same episode, just like in this one, Buffy goes to fight the vampires while Xander saves Giles/the Scoobies
In addition, as I’ve explained, Buffy’s dark side seen here foreshadows Faith, Wishverse Buffy, as well as a lot of Buffy’s own behavior in later seasons. The indifference that Xander and Willow are showing in her dream makes me think of season 6, when Buffy will feel even more distant from her friends after her second resurrection, and when she’ll have good reasons to resent them for ignoring her pain and trying to pretend everything is all right with her, but unlike in “When She Was Bad”, she’ll try too hard to be as nice to them as possible and keep her resentment inside, until it breaks out in “Normal Again” when she tries to kill them while under the influence of the hallucinogenic venom.