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Old June 12 2011, 10:51 PM   #48
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Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

It's been so long since I've updated this thread. Real life got in the way. (Real life is evil. That's a fact. It was a villain on Buffy once!) I hope I'll find the time to do new reviews at least every two days from now on.

2.03. School Hard

This is pretty good episode about Buffy having to juggle her Slayer duty, family and school life, which becomes really hard when Principal Snyder forces her and another problematic student, Sheila, to work on the preparation of the “parent-teacher” night, while at the same time she has to deal with the new vampire threat in town; these three aspects of her life come together when vampires attack school on the parent-teacher night, and it all works out for Buffy when her mother ends up helping her fend of the attack…

Oh, who am I kidding? We all know the reason why this episode is memorable: Spike.

This feels, in a way, as the real start of the season – the introduction of Spike and Drusilla as the new vampire villains for this season, and the death of the Anointed One, marks a refreshing change from the traditional, religion-obsessed vampires with their rituals and obsolete speech, to unconventional villains, with conversational speech, working class British accents and Sid-and-Nancy vibe, and Spike’s punk persona and utter disregard for rules. The vampires and other major villains of season 1 were, for the most part, very inhuman, very much the traditional horror figures, and, with some exceptions (Darla), monstrously ugly. The Master as the Big Bad of season 1 was the epitome of this, and most of the vampires in S1 were never out of vampface. “School Hard” announced in a big way that the show is now going to have villains who are attractive and sexy and fun and who can be charming and relatable. This goes hand in hand with the themes of the season: season 1 was about Buffy’s struggle to accept her calling, about tradition and destiny and the relationship with the father, and the Master represented the dark side of that. The villains in season 2 embody the things that Buffy’s life is centered on in this season: sexuality, romance, lust and youthful breaking of taboos.

The introduction scenes of Spike and Drusilla are really memorable and get across almost everything important about their personalities and their relationship. Spike’s first appearance in the teaser is full of cliché “bad boy” signs – black boots, black leather jacket, rock music in the background, he knocks the Sunnydale sun over with his car, and of course, he smokes. But the real introduction is the scene of his first meeting with the Anointed One and his minions, where we see Spike as a tough rebellious punk vampire, bragging about having killed two Slayers, who turns into a devoted, tender lover the moment Drusilla enters the room, just as his vampface morphs into his gorgeous human face, and they get completely absorbed in each other, almost ignoring the Sunnydale vampires. Drusilla’s entrance is accompanied by creepy lullaby music, so appropriate for her insanity and her personality of apparently helpless little girl who’s at the same time manipulative and really scary and in love with death, pain and destruction.

Spike was initially meant to be only in a few episodes and then get killed so Angelus would take over as the Big Bad, before his popularity made Whedon decide to keep him on the show but put him in a wheelchair so the original plan could work. But it’s amazing just how much if his personality is outlined in this episode. We get to see so many different sides of him: that he’s rebellious and pragmatic; that he enjoys violence and killing for fun (snapping the middle-aged guy's neck without even feeding on him); he loves a challenge and is especially interested in killing Slayers. At the same time he is very much in love with his girlfriend and is very sweet and caring with her, but doesn't give a damn about anyone else, not even any other vampires (he sets up one of Sunnydale vamps to be killed by Buffy just so he could observe her fighting technique). He also has a a strong sexually predatory vibe – particularly in the scene at the Bronze when he is watching Buffy dance, maybe because of the way Marsters played the scene, but also because we gets hints that he prefers younger victims, especially young women (“I’m a veal guy. He’s too old to eat - but not too old to kill", "Fi, fo, fum, I smell the blood of a nice, ripe girl"). We also see Spike using his charms to lure away one easy victim, Sheila, to bring her to Dru. Sheila was portrayed as a reckless ‘bad girl’ and she ended up just like it might happen in real life if you hook up with an attractive stranger who might just turn out to be a serial killer. (Except that she got sired by Dru – and she’s one of the few vampires whose fate remained open. So, in a way, Spike’s promise to her that she’ll be getting something “much better” than sex with the two tattod guys she had been with, turned out to be true, only it wasn’t what she expected.)

One fan has described Spike in season 2, with or without Drusilla, as “Lust personified”. His vampire name, which we learn he got because he used to torture his victims with railroad spikes, doesn’t just suggest violence in general, but it’s also very phallic. The tough vampire persona he adopted includes crude sexual banter during his first fight with Buffy (the same kind of mind games and trash-talking he used with Nikki Wood as we see in the flashbacks in “Lies My Parents Told Me”) and the funny remarks about weapons making him feel “all manly”. But we also got to see he can be charming and seductive with Sheila, flattering her and making her feel special, and romantic and sensual with Drusilla. Spike/Dru with their romantic seemed to mirror Buffy/ Angel in S2. I’m guessing that Spike was meant to be a parallel/dark mirror to Angel at first – as an “evil vampire” to Angel’s “good vampire”, before the show pulls a twist on us and has Angel become an even eviler vampire; while Dru seemed to mirror and contrast Buffy in some ways: Buffy has prophetic dreams while Dru has psychic visions, and later in the season Angelus tries to break Buffy the same way he did Dru. But I don’t know if a parallel between Spike and Buffy was originally intended – they are similar in the way they snark and banter, and their disregard for tradition and tendency to do things their own way.

Spike is able to get under Buffy's skin right from the start: it gets very personal for her right away, rather than being just a job as it normally is for her. After he brags about killing her, the next time they meet in the school, she takes up the game immediately: "Do we really need weapons for this?" Not unless she wants to kill him, which she can't do without a weapon of some sort. She’s more interested in fight itself and trash-talking than in dusting him, which should be her main goal when it comes to an evil vampire. This sets up an interesting dynamic of “best enemies” that goes on for the next few seasons, with the two of them at times acting like two kids picking on each other on the playground.

The big theme of the episode is the importance of Buffy’s ties to the world. She spends most of the episode trying to keep the different sides of her life apart – school, family, Slaying, but things only work out for her when all those areas of her life come together. Early on Giles repeats the Watcher’s motto that “The Slayer must fight alone” – but this is proven wrong: Xander hands her a stake from her purse to fight the vampire in front of the Bronze, and later Joyce saves Buffy’s life from Spike, hitting him with an axe, with the legendary: “Get the hell away from my daughter!” Spike remarks at the end of the episode:“A Slayer with friends and family” wasn’t in the brochure, which is one of the main things that make Buffy a special Slayer, and that allowed her to survive for so long. She would have died in “Prophecy Girl” if it wasn’t for Xander, and she would’ve died in “School Hard” if it wasn’t for her mother, who gets to for once praise Buffy for her courage and resourcefulness, and takes her side against Snyder.

Buffy’s friends also do quite well during the fight in the school, showing courage and do quite well for people without superpowers. But Cordelia still sucks at fighting and acts like a damsel in distress, while Willow, on the other hand, shows that she’s tougher than she seems and saves her and drags her to the closet.

The first scene between Spike and Angel – when Angel is pretending to still be evil – is very friendly before Spike sees through his act. They seem like old pals and Spike calls Angel his sire (see: Inconsistencies) and mentor (“Yoda”).

The fight scenes are among the weaker parts of the episode. They’re relatively good for early season 2 standards, but the B/S fight looks tame compared to their later fights. Spike doesn’t manage to beat Buffy in their weaponless fight so he immediately resorts to an improvised weapon – but since he was about to kill her before Joyce intervened, we can count this as Spike:Buffy – 1:0, but Spike:Joyce – 0:1.

Despite having seen vampires in vampface up close (although, to be fair, it was rather dark in the school), Joyce and the others still don’t realize they aren’t human, which shows how much people are able rationalize strange things they see with their own eyes. We find out that Snyder was in on it all the time and is involved in the cover-ups, which makes him all the more hateful and his attitude to Buffy even harder to understand.

On the relationship front, after the attack on the school, Giles expected Jenny to start avoiding him because being with a Watcher might be too dangerous, but she reassures him that she wants to continue dating him. But a few episodes later, in “Dark Age”, she will change her mind when she finds out about his ‘Ripper’ past.

There’s a moment when Willow unintentionally reminds Buffy of something negative about dating a 240-year old vampire, when she mentions how many dates he must have had over all those years. Ironically, she was wrong – Angel was “dating” Darla all the time he was soulless, not that either of them put much stock in fidelity, and it’s probably not a coincidence that this remark is an episode that introduces another vampire that he has, err, “dated” once upon a time, Drusilla, and he probably didn’t “date” since he was cursed. And as for his human victims from the soulless years, that would fall under “rape”, “torture” and “kill” rather than “date”. Which is something Buffy should be more worried about than how much Angel had dated, and the fact that she isn’t shows that she still has a very naïve teenage girl mentality.

A few remarks on the fashion: Buffy has stopped wearing her season 1 super-short skirts, and instead wears more regular clothes you’d expect someone to wear every day. Willow is still dressing super-nerdy, and Xander is still the king of shirts with weird designs. Sheila is introduced as a bad girl who’s always partying and going out with all sorts of problematic guys (which means that the first guy we see her with wears long hair and dirty clothes, while the two guys she hooks up at the Bronze have lots of tattoos), and she’s been smoking since the 5th grade – and smoking in Buffyverse is a sure sign of being either evil, bad news, or doomed. Of course, it’s also one of the first signs that Spike is Trouble, together with his clothes. hair and punk image. Drusilla, on the other hand, at first sight looks like a frail Victorian girl, in her long white dress (somewhat similar to the one Buffy wore in “Prophecy Girl”) and with her dolls.

Best scenes:
Anything with Spike and Drusilla together – particularly their introduction to the Anointed One, and the scene where Spike brings her Sheila to “eat”. It’s both romantic and eerie, as there’s a girl tied up to the wall, waiting to be drained of her blood, in the room while they’re caressing and exchanging terms of endearment as if there’s nobody there.

Another favorite moment is when Spike tells one of the vampires who can’t open a door in school to use his head, then grabs the vampire and uses his head to break the door.

Best lines:
Spike: Oh, please! If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock.
Big Ugly: I ought to rip your throat out!
Spike: I was actually at Woodstock. That was a weird gig. I fed off a flower person, and I spent the next six hours watchin' my hand move.

Recurring characters introduced:
Spike & Dru.

Character death: The Anointed One. When Spike killed him, my reaction was: finally! The 'Annoying One' only had the authority because of his title, he didn’t have any kind of power of his own, so all it took for it to be exposed was one vampire who wasn’t impressed by empty titles.

Inconsistencies: Much has been made out of the fact that Spike calls Angel his sire, but later in “Fool for Love” we learn that Drusilla was the one who actually sired him. Whedon’s explanation was that it can refer to the fact that Angel is Spike’s grand-sire.
A bigger inconsistency is when Big Ugly says “let the soul that kills her wear the mantle” (?!)
One thing that isn’t really an inconsistency is Spike’s claim that the last Slayer he killed begged for her life – which we later learn was a lie when we see flashbacks of Nikki Wood. Spike was simply bragging.

Vampire mythology: Vampire religion even has its own “saints” and holidays which mirror human ones – St. Vigeous who lead a “crusade” in the Middle Ages, presumably against humans. They also seem to think of crucifixion as an important event.
This is the first time we learn that vampires can be affected by drugs. They apparently can also smoke, even though they don’t breathe. Or maybe they just don’t need to breathe, but they can? They can apparently also feel cold, like Drusilla does in this episode.
In “Passion” we’ll get an answer why vampires were able to enter the school.

Angel/Angelus: There’s still no indication that either Buffy and the Scoobies think of Angel’s souled and soulless selfas separate beings or personalities.Willow talks about the 240 years of his life as, rather than his human life and his souled life (just 100 years). Angel is also remarkably good at pretending to still be soulless, as we’ll also see in “What’s My Line”.

Buffy bad liar: She shows again that she can’t come up with a convincing lie to save her life:awkwardly trying to convince Snyder that someone else burned down the gym at her old school and accusing mice… that smoke (!)

Pop culture references: Die Hard - with Buffy as Bruce Willis. Spike mocks Anne Rice’s books and their portrayal of vampires. Star Wars: Spike apparently is familiar with them enough to know who Yoda is, but (as we see in season 6), not enough to recognize Boba Fett (in other words, he’s just as familiar with SW as I am).

Ooh, kinky: In their first scene together, Drusilla slashes Spike’s cheek with her long fingernail and tastes his blood, which he seems to enjoy, before they kiss – another instance of vampires connecting blood with sex. (Incidentally, some fans think that Spike and Dru weren’t having sex while she was sick; personally I find it completely unbelievable, judging by their scenes together in this and other episodes – they seem to be just about to have sex in the scene with Sheila tied to the wall.) Spike’s remark that he smells the blood of a “nice, ripe girl” refers to being of age when she’s sexually “ripe”, since Buffy is menstruating. (This must be very attractive to a vampire…)

Spike Badass-o-Meter: There’s a popular school of thought in fandom that Spike was incredibly “badass” in the beginning, and then he later underwent “badass decay”– either when he stopped being a villain, or when he fell in love with Buffy. I think that’s a load of bull and a result of people confusing “badass” with “likes to kill people”, and, if anything, he only got more badass since season 5. But,I’m going to start following just how badass Spike was in each episode, in order to see if my impressions are right.

In this episode, Spike is mostly very badass. part. On the plus side: there’s the way he treats the Sunnydale vampires, ignoring each one of their attempts to intimidate him, and disregarding their rules. Killing the Annoying One is his most significant act up until “Becoming II” – and while it’s not brave in the sense that the kid was able to put up a fight, it shows that he wasn’t concerned at all about the possible reactions of his minions. (Or maybe he correctly assumed they were sheep who would be too scared to confront him and would simply accept the new leadership.) Angel, who definitely knows Spike well, considers him worse than a regular vampire, and so dangerous that Angel would warn Buffy to stay away from him. Spike challenges Buffy and goes to fight her alone, does well in the fight and perhaps technically beats her, since he was in the position to kill her. However…

… then he runs away from Joyce with her axe. JOYCE?!?! This is almost enough to erase half of his + points.

Foreshadowing (?): As far as intentional foreshadowing goes, Snyder’s promise to expel either Buffy or Sheila will come true in the season finale. Xander’s doubts about Angel in this episodes are unfounded (he wrongly assumed Angel was really evil when foreshadows the time when he will really be evil.

But it’s the (probably) completely unintentional foreshadowing that’s really interesting. And there’s loads of that.

Angel’s description of Spike “Once he starts something, he doesn’t stop (…)” (or if Xander would say, “he’s thorough, goal-oriented”) describes him perfectly, but this character trait will show in ways other than killing sprees that Angel was referring to.

Spike calling Angel Uncle Tom and claiming that demons don’t change has to be one of the most ironic-in-hindsight moments in the show.

The words with which he's seducing Sheila:
"Who are you?"
"Who do you want me to be?"

The song that the band plays when Spike is stalking Buffy at the Bronze (“Stupid Thing” by Nickel) sounds so much more fitting in retrospect.

Not to mention these quips during their fight:
Spike: I'll tell you what. As a personal favor from me to you I'll make it quick. It won't hurt a bit.
Buffy: No, Spike, it’s gonna hurt a lot.

And then there’s his remark to Buffy that she doesn’t strike him as a begging kind… He was, of course, dead right that she would never beg an enemy for her life, but I can’t help thinking of an infamous season 6 scene between them where she did actually beg, for the only time ever.

Rating: 4
Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

my Buffy/Angel rewatch
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