A good ep, you can already see that Buffy is beginning to shake off the less sophisticated aspects of season 1 and evolving into the show we love.
Unfortunately, the next episode is not as sophisticated...
2.02. Some Assembly Required
Just two episodes into the season and I’m already reminded of how inconsistent season 2 is. From an excellent episode like “When She Was Bad”… to this.
The main plot of this is one of the worst MOW stories in the show, a lame retelling of “Bride of Frankenstein”… And while I don’t expect the show’s mythology to be completely consistent, this plot really doesn’t make sense. There will be other episodes dealing with the theme of reanimating/resurrecting people, and throughout the show it’s made clear that reanimating people who have died a natural death always leads to disastrous results – you get either mindless zombies (“Dead Man’s Party”, and it’s implied that this was what reanimated Joyce in “Forever” was), or living corpses whose flesh is rotting (“The Zeppo”). But here, the problems with Darryl are just that he doesn’t look great and that he has to hide in the house so he’s gone a bit crazy – but he has somehow retained his mind and is the same guy? There is no explanation how his brother Chris managed to do that – the implication is that it’s through science, since Chris is a scientifically-gifted student, not a magic user… so I’m not sure that even the “but they’re on the Hellmouth!” explanation works. Logic is sacrificed to the attempt to parallel the story of Frankenstein
. The plot of creating a mate for Darryl out of parts of dead girls works much better metaphorically – cue thoughts about objectification of women and the ‘ideal’ beauty standards and so on – but taken literally it’s quite stupid. Though if we decide to take the story seriously, an interesting question would be whether Eric and Chris are combining parts of different girls because they want to make her “perfect”, or to make her monstrous enough to be a willing mate for Darryl (as suggested by Darryl’s disbelief when Cordelia tries to convince him not to chop her head and put her on the patched-up body, because she would be with him anyway).
There is some emotional resonance in the story of the family that can’t move on from the favorite son’s death, especially the scene with the mother who is not leaving home and is obsessively watching videos of her dead son’s football games. But it doesn’t help that the actors playing Chris and Darryl don’t manage to make them sympathetic or compelling. And Darryl looks more like a 37-year old than a 17-year old (I don’t think it’s just the zombie makeup that does it).
The episode is mostly memorable as the one where Giles and Jenny Calendar start dating. (This is, BTW, the episode where we learn her first name.) Their cute and fun scenes are one of the saving graces of the episode. The parts of the episode that deal with Scoobies’ relationships are generally better than the MOW story, but I have some problems with those as well. When Buffy, Xander and Willow mockingly advise Giles how to ask Jenny on a date, this is probably supposed to be a cute scene that plays on the reversal of the adult/teenager roles, but IMO they come off as annoyingly condescending to Giles. I’m not sure if Giles being shy and socially awkward to that degree (though he does loosen up a little while on the date) is consistent with what we later learn of his Ripper past – people can certainly go from shy and awkward to wild, but I don’t know about the opposite.
The Buffy/Angel scenes are a contrast to Giles/Jenny not just because one couple is meeting at night in the graveyard while the other is having a date in broad daylight in the football stadium full of people, but also because the B/A scenes emphasize the problems in their relationship, unlike the sunny early happiness of G/J. Bangel is often talked about as a romantic ideal in the fandom, the public, and even in-universe after the end of the actual relationship, but in these early season 2 episodes it mostly consists of tension and awkward conversations. In this case it’s to be expected since it’s their first meeting after the events of “When She Was Bad”. Jealous!Angel is amusing to watch (since he remains poker-faced and doesn’t show it in such a blunt way as Xander), especially when he’s claiming not to be jealous but then immediately showing that he is. But he makes a slip when he calls Xander a kid (just like he did in “Prophecy Girl”), unintentionally drawing attention to the age difference between himself and Buffy, then tries to leave after Buffy angrily asks him if he thinks of her as kid, too. This continues the trend of Angel’s appearances so far: show up out of the blue or follow Buffy, act mysterious, disappear. (Which is sure to get Buffy’s interest; Xander may have a point when he says in this episode that people like the unattainable.) This time however it annoys Buffy, and when she’s shouting at him that he can’t walk away and one can’t get rid of her that easily, I can’t help thinking of Buffy-possessed-by-James in “I Only Have Eyes For You” shouting something similar, and I think of the end of their relationship in S3, when he does walk away from her. In the last scene in the episode, they finally talk openly and honestly about their feelings – Angel admits he is jealous, Buffy reassures him that she doesn’t love Xander, and Angel explains that the reason is because as a vampire he can’t be a part of Buffy’s life the way Xander can.
This episode also marks the first time we see Angel talking to Cordelia, and he actually smiles
– an extremely rare thing to see at this point for his character! It seems he was always more relaxed around her - which sets up their later friendship - maybe because he isn’t in awe of her the way he is of Buffy.
Cordelia is a damsel in distress once again (how many times is that now? “The Harvest”, “Witch”, “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”, “When She Was Bad” and this episode). She keeps hanging out with the Scoobies, probably because she figures that, with all the awful things happening to her, it’s better to stick close to Buffy, who can protect her. At one point when she’s flirting with Angel and trying to make Buffy jealous, she does it by overplaying the role of the damsel in need of protection from a big strong manly man (asking Angel to “take” her home – even though it’s her car and she’s driving), which underlines that Cordelia at this point is embracing the traditional gender roles, or at least pretending to because that’s what girls are supposed to do, in contrast to Buffy who is directly subverting them (in the last scene she offers to take Angel home). Giles/Jenny relationship also has gender-reversed dynamics - Jenny takes the traditional masculine role by asking Giles on the first and then on the second date.
At the same time, we learn that no amount of danger will stop Cordy from giving up her cheerleader duties. It turns out that Cordelia had a crush on Darryl, but he ignored her at the time, which is the first time we learn that Cordy is not on the top of the “food chain” of popularity in the school.
There are also a couple of little hints about the future relationship between Cordelia and Xander. He mentions at one point that he finds it a turn-on when someone calls him an idiot – we’ll see soon learn this is true: his relationship with Cordy will mostly consist of the two of them insulting each other. Maybe those two aren’t that different as they’d like to think: Xander is always mocking Cordy’s self-centered ways, but he can be as self-absorbed as anyone: we’ve seen in “Prophecy Girl” and again in this episode, when he’s telling Buffy that people like the unattainable rather than what’s right there in front of them, obviously alluding to Buffy’s feelings for Angel – while oblivious to the fact that the same could be said of him, and not noticing Willow’s discomfort. Later he’s so wrapped up in complaining to Willow that he’s the only one who can’t find a date, that he rudely tells Cordelia to leave them alone when she tries to thank him for saving her life.
I was thinking of giving the episode a 1.5, but I’ve decided that it has more going for it than “Teacher’s Pet” (so far the only one with such a low score). Even the main MOW story has the saving grace that it’s used to comment on the lives of the Scoobies: Cordelia asks “Why is it that every conversation you people have has the word 'corpse' in it?”, Xander makes an interesting mental connection between “love” and “reanimation of dead tissue”, and Willow’s remark (later repeated by Buffy): “Love makes you do the wacky” – could be one of the mottos of the series. Angel is sort of a reanimated dead person too, and Darryl’s desperate and ruthless desire to get himself a woman to love can be seen as a parallel and contrast to Angel’s worries that he is too much of a monster for Buffy and her human world. But Darryl is also like Buffy, once popular and now alone and a “freak”. I wonder if we were intended to see a Willow/Buffy parallel with ginger Chris, talented student-scientist (and a friend of Willow’s) living in the shadow of his blond, athletic elder brother but also being so devoted to him to “do the wacky”.
Xander wondering why he can’t find a date, while ignoring two potential girlfriends right in front of him (Willow and Cordy).
Giles (on American football): I just think it's rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.
Is it 'cause I danced with him?
'Danced with' is a pretty loose term. 'Mated with' might be a little closer.
Xander: And speaking of love…
Willow: We were talking about the reanimation of dead tissue.
Xander: Hey, do I deconstruct your segues?
The reason I’m putting the question mark is because there’s some foreshadowing that’s intentional, and some that probably wasn’t (not that I can always tell the difference). On the intentional side, Xander’s association of love with reanimation of dead tissue foreshadows his romance with a living Inca mummy that will happen in just a couple of episodes. The references to corpses in an episode where Giles and Jenny have their first date sound ominous when you know how their romance would end. Twice in the episode, there’s a sinister music when first Buffy, then later Cordelia, notice someone in the dark, and both times the girls are relieved when it turns out to be Angel; in the second part of the season, they will have good reasons to be scared of him. Cordelia invites Angel to her car – she’ll have to disinvite him after he becomes Angelus.
When it comes to unintentional foreshadowing – Cordelia’s line “Why do these terrible things always happen to me?” feels so much truer when you know what her final fate would be.
And finally – one that might have been unintentional (or not?): Willow’s remark “Love makes you do the wacky” was about Chris’ love for his brother. Since Chris/Darryl has some similarities with Willow/Buffy, I can’t help thinking of Willow resurrecting Buffy in S6.
Next episode ("School Hard") is Spike's introduction - I'm looking forward to rewatching that one!