The start of the tradition of Buffy’s disastrous birthdays, and the first part of the game-changing two-parter, this episode works great as a setup for Innocence
, but in itself it’s a mixed bag. There are some great moments in it, but the problem I’m having with it is that the Buffy/Angel romance, which is dominating the episode, is here crossing the line into really schmaltzy, while Angel is more than ever acting like a cardboard romantic hero. Watching him I was at moments relieved that he’s going to lose his soul by the end of the episode.
The opening scene is really memorable – Buffy’s dream, in which she's at a party full full of people dancing. There she finds Willow sitting at the table with a small organ grinder's monkey with pants and a hat, and Willow smiles and waves to her and says „The hippo stole his pants“ in French. This is a reference to Willow's conversation with Oz in What's My Line II
. Whether Willow told Buffy about the conversation, or it somehow found its way into Buffy's dream – in any case it’s linked to the fact that Buffy's best friend is also crossing an important threshold between childhood to adulthood, just starting her first romantic relationship. Joyce is also there with a cup and a saucer, which falls and breaks after she asks Buffy: „Do you really think you are ready, Buffy?“ (which later happens for real and freaks Buffy out). An obvious reference to Buffy losing her virginity at the end of the episode (and to growing up in general), just like the song that plays in the background, „Anything“ by Clement and Murray, an atmospheric trip hop melody which gives the scene a really haunting, dreamlike feel, with a childlike female vocal singing the lyrics describing desire, in its teenage romantic version:
Take me over / I'm lying down, giving in to you / I'm a hurricane / I can't describe this feeling/ Now that I've found this love /I'll do anything for you
I'm a fire / Burning like a house on flame / I am motionless / I cannot move, only see you fly...
Fire and hurricane as symbols of passion, and the feeling of wanting to be overwhelmed by it and lose control. We see some of that when Buffy comes to see Angel at his place in the morning to tell him about her dream and her fears that Dru is still alive, but instead they start making out. She almost forgets what she was talking about and reminds herself who she is – one of these moments that may be seen as a bit disturbing. There’s an unspoken understanding that they are getting closer to having sex for the first time, or at least Buffy gets that impression and then discusses it with Willow. Willow tells her to “Carpe Diem” – “seize the day”, just like Buffy advised her to in WTTH. Maybe they’ve both forgotten that that didn’t go so well for Willow – she went with a vampire and almost got killed.
In Buffy’s dream, Angel is reaching out to her when Drusilla suddenly appears and dusts him, wishing Buffy happy birthday. Buffy and Dru are paralleled throughout the episode. Dru is also celebrating her birthday – but is it her human birthday or the day she was sired? As different as the two women are, they both share precognitive abilities – with Buffy, it is just her prophetic dreams, but she sometimes has trouble figuring out what they mean: she is worried – correctly – that Dru is still alive, but she worries that Dru will kill Angel. The dream does foreshadow something, but nowhere as literally. Buffy will soon learn that she shares something else with Dru – when Angel after losing his soul starts tormenting her the way he did Dru and trying to break her. Buffy later has another dream, this time she sees herself in a white dress walking through Dru’s and Spike’s place where Dru in a white dress holds a helpless Angel and puts a knife to his throat (which makes no sense, you can’t kill a vampire like that, so what’s that all about?) warning Buffy not to get her hands on her presents. Later we learn that Dru also had a dream that Buffy would come, another weird connection between them.
This is our first glimpse of Spike and Dru since What’s My Line
. They’ve managed to retain their power over the Sunnydale vampires, despite Spike’s injury, which means that Dru isn’t helpless and can get the job done when she needs to (as we’ll see in Becoming I
)… or maybe it’s just because the Sunnydale vamps are sheep. Spike had burns on his face and is in wheelchair (I guess harsher injuries don’t heal that rapidly even in vamps), and Dru is strong and out of her white gowns and wearing sexy red and black clothes and dancing to “Transylvanian Concubine” by Rasputina
– but despite that, their dynamic hasn’t changed much. She is still acting like a little girl, he is still doing things to please her – this time with a birthday present, the Judge, scary old demon who’s supposed to separate the righteous from the wicked and burn the righteous (another case of vampire anti-religion we haven’t seen much of since season 1). And he’s still acting as co-leader or leader; people often say that Spike was completely under Dru’s thumb, but that’s an exaggeration. She listens to his advice just as he did to hers – and he often shows himself the voice of reason, such as when he tells her she should spare Dalton, not because he cares about him but because Dalton is smart unlike most of their other minions and can still be useful. Dru is really twisted and scary, as when she wants to pluck Dalton’s eyes to punish him for losing her present, or when she takes childlike pleasure from watching the Judge burn Dalton, and asking him to do it to someone else as well: “Do it again! Do it again!”
Judge’s definition of humanity seems a bit arbitrary: I see why he says Dalton is "full of feeling", but he also says he reads too much, but Angelus likes ballet – and since when is reading books a sign of goodness? Judge also thinks Dru and Spike “stink of humanity” for their shared love and jealousy, but those feelings often lead people to evil.
After the Scoobies find the Judge’s arm and Angel decides to go away for a couple of months to carry it away (because, for some reason, he accepts Jenny’s idea that he’s the only one who could do that, and he has to go by both and not by plane), Buffy can’t accept him going away, and they have a couple of tearful scenes. Angel gives Buffy a birthday present – a traditional Irish Claddagh ring, and explains its meaning: crown means loyalty, hands mean friendship, heart means love, and if you wear it with the heart pointing towards you, it means “you belong to someone”. (That is indeed true, the writers did do the research, at least to a point, but the show screwed it up, because we see Angel wearing it on his right hand, which actually means just considering someone romantically, and in closeups of his and Buffy’s hands in Innocence,
they’re actually wearing the rings pointing outwards, which means you’re free of any attachment. See here
.) He shows her the ring on his hand and asks her to put her rings on hers – and I’m not sure I’m liking the whole thing with him telling Buffy to wear it, practically asking her to swear commitment to him, already assuming she’ll agree. And all that before he’s even managed to tell her “I love you” in return for eliciting hers in Lie to Me
. Then Dalton and the other minions of Spike and Dru attack them and they end up losing Judge’s arm, when Angel jumps in the water to save Buffy (even though I’m not sure she even needs saving) instead of guarding it.
I lost patience with B/A during the episode. I've mostly liked the portrayal of their relationship from Halloween
to Bad Eggs
, when it was quieter and they were finally having a functional relationship after all the awkward graveyard conversations in the first part of the season, especially in What's My Line
. But in Surprise,
they are constantly making dramatic romantic statements, having tearful goodbyes in between making out, Buffy is crying... Don't get me wrong, I love the Bangel pain and drama, when the circumstances warrant it - I love the S2 arc that starts with Innocence
- but it works where things really get endoftheworldy. Here they’re getting emotional over having to say goodbye each day - for an entire day (?!), then they're acting like it's the end of the world when he's just leaving for a couple of months. I get that there is subversion there, and it’s all a part of the setup for Innocence
– making it all oh so romantic and emotional, and Angel the prince charming from the romance novel, so Angelus would be a more shocking blow to both Buffy and the viewers. But I still don’t like watching it.
Another thing I’m not so crazy about are the Gypsies. I have no problem with the revelation of Jenny having lead a double life, but the idea that she was supposed to keep Buffy and Angel apart comes from nowhere – she never even seemed to try. Jenny’s uncle played by Vincent Schiavelli comes off a bit too stereotypical (well, the entire Gypsy curse storyline is a big stereotype). And why do Roma people always look white in Hollywood movies and in TV shows?!
On the other hand, I like all the Xander/Cordy and Willow/Oz scenes. It’s clear that B/A was meant to be the epic over-the-top doomed romance, W/O a sweet and understated high-school love, and X/C an comical antagonistic relationship full of snark, but with hints of deeper feelings that neither of them are quite aware yet. Cordy will later seem to be more invested in the relationship, but here it’s Xander who first wants to treat their relationship as real and make it public. Cordy’s answer shows that she still hasn’t changed that much – status is still the most important thing for her, and she’s ashamed of admitting that she’s dating Xander, while in her opinion, he has nothing to be ashamed of. (She’s wrong, judging by Willow’s reaction in the next episode.) Naturally that makes Xander regret he even asked (“It must’ve been my multiple personality guy talking. I call him Idiot Jed, glutton for punishment”) and decide to think that their relationship is just physical.
He still isn’t over Buffy, as seen in his speech about Buffy and Angel’s bad future. It’s interesting that the vision he comes up with – Angel as a lazy husband with ‘blood belly’ sitting in front of TV and remembering his glory days, while unsatisfied wife Buffy is doing two jobs – is a lot like his vision of his own bad future with Anya in Hell’s Bells
. (Inspired by his parents?) And while he has a point that we really don’t know what the B/A relationship would be like if it was ever tested as a real everyday relationship – and that it might end up being not all that romantic or great, for all we know – Xander is really being annoying with his ongoing jealousy, especially when he starts describing his fantasy of swooping in with his private jet and rescuing the weeping damsel Buffy from her bad marriage. Ugh. Every now and then I get reminded why I used to hate Xander in the high school seasons when I first watched the show.
Willow and Oz have their first date going to Buffy’s party, and when Oz finds out that vampires are real and Buffy it's a Slayer is classic Oz moment, calm and matter-of-fact when anyone else would be going crazy – instead, his only comment is that it explains a lot.
So, Buffy and Angel crash Dru’s party, looking for the Judge, and get caught. Angel again just wants to protect Buffy, offering his life to the Judge instead, which is a nice gesture straight from any classic romantic hero’s repertoire, but completely meaningless, as Spike logically points out (see Best lines). The following fight is pretty funny – Angel warns Buffy not to touch the Judge, and she sucker punches him, and a bunch of TV sets fall on him. Not quite the classic way to incapacitate an ancient monster, but that’s the beauty of it.
As a rule, Buffy gets most romantic after epic fights and in life and death situations. When she and Angel escape and get to this place, soaked wet from the rain, it leads to another over-emotional scene, which culminates when Angel finally says “I love you”. Buffy seems surprised to finally hear him say those words she must have longed to hear for a long time, even though Angel has been acting for a long time like their love is a given, and even though everyone has been assuming for ages that he was in love with her; Giles and Xander told him that to his face and he didn’t deny it, but he never actually said the words to this point. For a guy that many fans see as extremely confident, Angel seems very reluctant and scared of putting his heart on the line. He has to have all sorts of confirmations that the object of his love loves him back and won’t reject him, before he’ll make a declaration of love. This is the impression I get after watching his behavior with Cordy in AtS S3 and S4 (“Were we in love?” as if he needs her to tell him if he was in love with her), and now I see his relationship with Buffy in a new light and notice a bunch of things I didn’t the first time – such as that he got her to tell him ILY (and that when he was about to tell her about his horrible past, as if securing himself in advance against her rejection) and to swear to a mutual commitment before he actually said ILY himself. That’s not to say that he was intentionally manipulative, though his air of mystery and hot-and-cold behavior worked perfectly to make Buffy fall for him (as Joss said once, she wants what she can’t have). I believe him fully when he says he tried to stop loving Buffy many times and couldn’t – he really does fear it’s wrong, and his instincts aren’t off. Buffy replies that she tried, too, but I don’t think she really did – except for a short time in When She Was Bad
, and in Reptile Boy
when she tried to date Tom, but the latter was because Angel didn’t seem to want to date her. She is still far away from the Buffy who’ll be reluctant to risk pain and heartbreak and who will have trouble opening up. At this point she still wants passionate, consuming love and is throwing herself right into it. When they start kissing, she shuts Angel up when he stops for a moment and says “Maybe we shouldn’t…” This may be why she later felt that she was to blame for destroying him, making him lose his soul. But Angel is an adult, unlike Buffy, in fact he’s several times more adult that she is, and he had been obsessed with her, stalking her and following her around since he first saw her when she was 15. And he also had a hundred years to try to find out more about his curse. Funny how people say that Buffy is the one who goes after what she wants and initiates sex, which seems so empowering and all and I guess I should hail it for that reason, but I can’t help noticing the fact that, every single time, it was with someone who had been interested in her for much longer than she was (or longer that she even knew he existed, literally, in Angel’s case), and who at least in two cases stalked her for a while (and in Parker’s case at least it was deliberate manipulation, “play a sensitive lad to get you to ‘seduce’ him”), so if Buffy is the hunter when it comes to romantic relationships, then it’s a case of “hunter getting captured by the game”.
A word about the moment of true happiness. Everybody seemed to assume that it was about the sex, but Angel didn’t lose his soul in the moment of orgasm, he lost it afterwards when he was sleeping peacefully next to Buffy. IMO it wasn’t about bells ringing, it was about the peace and contentment. My theory is, it was not just about being with the girl he loves and who loves him, but about feeling worthy of love. Buffy was not just an innocent girl, and the person his life was revolving around (he had no friends, family or job, unlike on AtS, where it took a lot more things to fall into place in his fantasy so he could be perfectly happy, not just sleeping with the woman he was in love with), she was also the Slayer, the one who was called to pass judgment on him, and her love felt to him like forgiveness for his sins. But it was an illusion - nobody is really in position to give someone else redemption, and in particular, Buffy didn’t even know Angel that well and, while she knew of his dark past on the intellectual level, she didn’t really process it. When that past comes back, she’ll be in shock and disbelief.
Goodbye, Dalton. For the short time we knew you, you were bullied and punched by Spike, threatened to have your eyes gorged by Drusilla, and finally got burned to death by the Judge.
Once he's in the wheelchair, since he can't be reacting to everything with kicks and punches, we get to hear a lot more of his wit, and to be reminded that the guy is smart and pragmatic. And I think that the most 'badass' moment Spike had in all S2 was his first scene with the Judge - and generally, the way he's totally nonplussed and not the least bit intimidated by the Judge and makes fun of him. We've seen that irreverence for legendary figures with the Anointed One, but he was just a child without powers of his own, while the Judge is a big scary guy who can easily burn vampires as well as humans. Made all the more badass since Spike's in a wheelchair.
The Judge steps out of his box. He has difficulty keeping his balance.
He points at Drusilla.
Spike: (rolls over to him in Dru's defense)
Ho, ho, ho. What's that, mate?
Judge: You two stink of humanity. You share affection and jealousy.
Spike: Yeah. What of it? (taps his armor)
Do I have to remind you that we're the ones who brought you here?
Angel (getting between the Judge and Buffy
): Take me instead of her!
Spike (raises hand
): Uh, you’re not clear on the concept, pal. There’s no “instead”. Just first and second.
Angel when Buffy comes to see him in the morning, and in the last scene as he gets up from the bed.
Buffy: “I like seeing you at bedtime”.
Xander asks Buffy if she’s ready for a “pre-birthday spanking”. I’m sure he meant it innocently… not.
The song “Anything” is about sex and sexual desire which, in its teenage romantic way, sounds quite submissive: “giving in” and asking the other person to “take me over” (which reminds me of Conversations with Dead People
and Buffy’s description of her relationship with Spike in S6: “…but at the same time I let him completely take me over”).
Angel is afraid to fly in a plane because there is no protection from sunlight, but that’s not a problem in season 5 of AtS.
Some funny foreshadowing within the same episode – Jenny asks someone to give her a hand so she can open the box, and seconds later they find Judge’s arm in the box, or rather it finds Buffy’s neck.
And some ominous foreshadowing in Buffy’s dreams. When Dru kills Angel, maybe it’s really about Angel’s dark past, represented by Drusilla, coming back, which means the end of Angel as Buffy knew him? Does it hint that Angel’s death would in fact be a gift to Buffy – Dru doesn’t look sarcastic or mean at all when she looks at Buffy and says ‘Happy birthday, Buffy?” Or does it foreshadow Buffy “killing” Angel in Becoming II? When Dru warns Buffy to get her hands off her presents, does she mean the Judge? Or the return of the soulless evil Angelus, which is the best birthday present for Dru?