2.21 Becoming I
, this episode begins and ends with a voiceover, this time by Whistler – all about the big moments that change your life and that come whether you want them or not.
Most of the episode is focused on Angel, as we see his life through a series of flashbacks (I think this is the first episode of the verse with flashbacks), which also reveal how Dru and Buffy ‘became’ what they are.
- Galway, Ireland, 1753: Angel becoming a vampire. The one thing that doesn’t work in this flashback is DB’s awful “Irish” accent. But it’s great to have Darla back – and here in her full glory, as a n 18th century femme fatale; the Catholic schoolgirl outfit and bad haircut from season 1 really wasn’t doing her any favors. Our first glimpse of human Angel (at this point his name, Liam, still wasn’t revealed) shows that he wasn’t a brooding, cultured guy, but a cocky, reckless womanizing drunkard wasting his hours away at a tavern. He also makes an unfavorable reference to his father (telling his even drunker buddy they could steal some of his father’s silver, because ‘the pig’ eats with his hands anyway). We’ll learn the full story about Angel’s relationship with his father and about his vamping in AtS season 1 The Prodigal, but here we already learn a few things: that his family is well off but not that cultured, that he really dislikes his father, that he despises “an honest day’s work” and that he’s eager to get away from his town and see the world. He was ripe for the picking for Darla, to offer him to take him away and show him the world, with its exciting and frightening things, which she does after he’s followed her into the alley, drawn by her beauty and elegance. I think this is also the first time we see the full process of siring: Darla tells him “Close your eyes” before she vamps out and kills him by biting his neck, while he isn’t aware what is going on. Then she scratches her chest pulls his head on her chest so he would drink from her, and the image is both erotic and reminiscent of a child sucking on his mother’s breast, which is fittings since Darla is both Angel’s lover and his “mother”.
- London, England, 1860: Drusilla about to become insane and a vampire. This is out first look at the innocent, deeply religious girl that Dru (or whatever her human name was) was as a human. In Dear Boy we’ll learn that Angel and Darla had noticed her and picked her up while her family was walking in the street, which would mean that Angel had killed the priest with the intention of messing with Dru’s mind, rather that he just happened to be there by accident when Dru came for confession. Dru speaks with her cockney-ish accent, which means that, unlike Spike’s, it was authentic. Her family was a rather religious and superstitious one, and she always had her gift of premonition, which bothered her because her mother thought that she was “cursed”. It is darkly ironic to see Dru call Angel “Father” thinking that he’s the priest, and Angel feeding Dru’s fears and that she’s a “devil child” and should just give in and be evil and that God’s “plan” for her is to be evil. Quite telling are his words that God will smite her down because he’s cruel “like that” (Angel’s reactions to his own Catholic upbringing) and and even more telling his words that “we all want to, at first (to be good), but the world doesn’t work that way”. Classic Angel fatalism.
- Romanian woods, 1898: Angel becoming a souled vampire – as an elderly Gypsy woman is putting a curse on him for the revenge of their ‘princess’ (we see her dead body, and she looks a bit like Dru). Angel either knew what was going on, or the process was already underway and he was feeling it, as we see him running in fear towards the Gypsy camp to try to stop it. Finally we get to see the process of ensoulment: excruciating pain, glowing eyes and a temporary memory loss, setting up what happens at the crucial moment in Becoming II. The Kalderash elder (later seen in Darla flashbacks) isn’t surprised by Angel not knowing where he is and what is going on, and tells him it’s just temporary and that it will all soon start coming back to him, and that he’ll be tormented by memories of all the people he killed and all the terrible things he did. It seems that he already is starting to remember, as he starts crying out in despair. (Now, I’d say the Gypsies took a risk there – there are quite a few humans who have no conscience despite having a soul...)
- Manhattan, New York, USA, 1996: Angel prompted by Whistler to “become a person, someone to be counted on”. Another surprise, as we see that, before meeting Buffy, Angel was a useless bum living on the streets and ‘eating’ rats. (Though AtS will later show that he wasn’t always that, he wasn’t homeless for all 100 years and he did do some good occasionally.) Enter Whistler, the first representative of a ‘higher power’ we’ve met in the verse, telling Angel that he can “go two ways”: by this, he doesn’t mean “good or evil” but “even more useless than you are now – or you can become a person”, which for Whistler means someone who matters. To this end, he shows him Buffy:
- Los Angeles, USA, 1996: Buffy becoming a Slayer. The first time I watched the episode, this was the biggest shock of all flashbacks: even though I knew all the time that pre-Slayer Buffy used to be a shallow valley girl like Cordy or Harmony, it was a still a shock to actually see the Hemery High Buffy, gossiping with her airheaded friends, before her first Watcher, Merrick, approached her to tell her she was a Slayer (followed by Buffy’s “Huh?”). It’s interesting that her being called wasn’t portrayed in the same way as this event was portrayed in Chosen or in season 8 The Chain, where the girl felt it instantaneously.These flashbacks were taken directly from Whedon’s original script for the movie, and pretty much the same scenes can be found in The Origin, except that in this case we see that Angel was secretly watching her. (One thing that doesn’t quite fit is that here it seems that Buffy’s main love interest at the time was someone called Tyler, while in The Origin and the movie she had a boyfriend called Jeffrey, though The Origin kept the line about Tyler but made it seem like he was just some ex she wasn’t going to give a chance.) Buffy is sucking on a lollypop in that first scene, which makes her look all the more Lolitesque (that would be Kubrick’s Lolita, rather than Nabokov’s Lolita, who was a pre-pubescent 12-year old) and adds a creepy vibe to Angel’s instant infatuation with her. It’s only when we see Buffy’s other side – as she first fights with vampires in the graveyard, and then comes home and silently cries in front of the mirror while her parents are fighting in the other room – that she starts to look like the girl we know. It’s not hard to see why Angel fell in love with her: he had nothing and no one, and then Whistler told him that this girl was his purpose in life; she kinda looked like Darla, and the moment he saw her in tears in her room, he probably saw in her a kindred spirit, tortured and ‘different’ like he was. And Whistler sure pushed all Angel’s buttons when he told him that the Slayer will have a hard time and needs his help (“she is just a kid” – weren’t they all?), because Angel loves to save damsels.
These flashbacks are juxtaposed with present day scenes of the same people: flashback #1 followed by evil soulless vampire Angel stalking Buffy in the graveyard, flashback 2 followed by soulless vampire Dru, evil and happy to be evil. All those moments were either forced or initiated by someone else, with the people in question having little choice in the matter. Darla made Angel a vampire while he didn’t even know what was happening to him; Angel drove Dru insane and made her a vampire; the Gypsies forced a soul on Angel; Whistler and the Powers that Be chose Angel (although he did have choice to follow or not); Buffy was chosen
, like every other Slayer. Angel did choose to “become someone”, though it was a choice to follow the destiny that someone else had chosen for him – which is the beginning of the history of Angel following the directives from the PTB or struggling with manipulation by higher powers. In the present, evil Angel also wants to “become someone” , to be important, only in this case, he wants to become more demonic and to suck the world into hell. “Watch me as I ascend; as I become
”. “Everything that I am, everything that I have done, has lead me here” he says as he’s trying - unsuccessfully - to pull the sword out of Acathla and send the world to hell. It seems that this is what has been driving Angel his entire life: trying to be important and make a difference, whether for good or for evil, depending on whether he is souled or soulless, good or evil at the moment. In The Prodigal
, we’ll see where this urge comes from, and that he was happy to tell his father that he had finally “made something of myself” when he became an evil vampire.
There is a cute scene in the cafeteria early in the episode, which shows Xander/Cordy and Willow/Oz at their happiest, and all five of the teenage Scoobies getting along better than ever, and mocking Snyder when he comes to be his annoying self and harass them for acting ‘inappropriately’ with their ‘public displays of affection’. But other than that, this is one of the show’s darkest episodes.
Buffy finally accidentally finds Jenny’s disc with the instructions how to perform the curse and restore Angel’s soul, which leads to a big Scooby argument in the library, when Xander argues that he doesn’t care about Angel’s soul, Angel should simply die for what he’s done. It’s not the last heated argument of that kind that Xander and Buffy will have (Revelations
in season 3).There are no clear good and bad guys there: Xander ‘s stance is understandable, and he probably speaks for many fans who felt the same about Angel after the horrible things he did in season 2. But Xander is prone to black and white thinking and is ignoring the soul-no soul issue (as Buffy says, it is more complicated than that) and he’s also as biased as Buffy here, since he always hated Angel. He is very harsh (“You want to forget all about Ms Calendar’s murder so you could have your boyfriend back”) and comes off as insensitive, not just to Buffy but also when he brings up Jenny’s murder in front of Giles, who is trying to maintain perspective as well as honor Jenny’s wish to restore Angel’s soul (and who gets rightfully angry when Xander mocks him for his attempts at impartiality). It’s interesting compare thids scene to Selfless
in season 7, when Xander will be on the other side of the debate. Buffy in Becoming
makes the point to Xander that Angel didn’t choose what happened to him (which is true both fof Angel becoming a vampire and for losing his soul in season 2), and that in Selfless
she makes the same argument about Spike, contrasting it with Anya who did choose to become a vengeance demon, twice.
But while Xander’s argument that Angel is still responsible for his actions and unforgivable does have merit (as does Buffy’s argument), one thing that doesn’t make sense to me in this scene is that everyone is forgetting to point out the pragmatic value of restoring Angel’s soul. There’s no guarantee that Buffy can beat him, so how would it not be a good thing to restore his soul if it stops him from killing people and trying to end the world?
Buffy does make that point later on, calling Willow their last hope if she doesn’t manage to stop Angel from ending the world, and she and Xander make up as he wishes her luck. But she decides it while looking at the Claddagh ring in her room, which suggests she did make this decision mostly because she wants the old Angel back. Willow decides to do the spell, which is the beginning of her magic practice.
Kendra (less ridiculously dressed this time, but still with too much makeup for someone who supposedly isn’t into socializing and ‘girly’ stuff) comes back to help stop the apocalypse; her friendly goodbye with Buffy (giving her her stake for good luck) in hindsight seems like setting up her death.
Oh hi, vampire minions! Where have you been so long? Funny how they were conveniently absent in all those scenes with Angel, Spike and Dru in the previous episodes. I was already wondering if those three have any minions left. This time we see them bringing Angel a human to sacrifice to Acathla, we see a few of them fighting in the library later, and an anonymous female vampire (dubbed “immolationogram” by Buffy) comes to the school in broad daylight, covered by a veil, just to deliver a message to Buffy that she must meet Angel at the graveyard that evening or more people will die (which is really a set-up to draw Buffy away from the library) – and lets herself burn in front of the whole class! Too bad we never got to actually dwell on the characters of those minor vamps. Not all vampires are very concerned about self-preservation, apparently – this one was ready to sacrifice herself for the common evil!
Several huge things are introduced in this episode:an ancient artefact, which turns out to be the demon Acathla (who is pretty much Judge 2.0, except that he never gets to talk or do anything) who would suck the world into hell the moment he awakens, and another prophecy that needs to be interpreted, about the ways to awaken him. The first mention of other dimensions, and of a hell dimension (though at this point we didn’t know that there are many of them). Another big weapon – this time a sword that Kendra brings with her and that Buffy will use to fight Angel in part 2.
Whistler, the first non-evil demon we meet, and the first representative of the Powers that Be – though he doesn’t mention them at this point. I’m saying “not-evil”, because there was never really any evidence of Whistler being good;
he says he’s not a bad guy and that he isn’t dedicated to destruction of all life, but he never claims to be on the side of good. He makes it clear in parts 1 and 2 that his task is to restore balance between good and evil. So, when evil is stronger, as in Becoming
, he helps the good; but when the good gets too strong… he helps evil? This is good to keep in mind when trying to understand his appearances in BtVS comics. He’s certainly meant to be mysterious: “Nobody understands me – that’s my curse”.
Recurring characters introduced:
The Kalderash Elder qualifies as such, since he’s going to be in AtS season 2 in a flashback as well. So does Whistler, due to his appearance in season 8 and Angel & Faith
Kendra, killed by Dru in a very memorable scene that manages to make it feel really sad, even though the character has been in just 3 episodes.
The final scenes are really memorable and well-done, as Buffy falls for the same trap she fell for in When She Was Bad
(which Angel mocks her for: “And you fall for it every single time”), going to fight Angel in the graveyard (while Willow is trying to perform the curse in the library), when the real goal was to draw her out so Dru and the minions would kidnap Giles, their source of info about awakening Acathla. Willow gets badly injured and knocked unconscious by a shelf that falls on her, Giles does his best to fight until he’s knocked unconscious (again!), Xander fights really well for a non-superpowered human, until he gets injured; he shows concern for Cordelia, telling her to leave, and she is scared and runs away; Kendra is, of course, the only fighter who really has a chance. The fight scene is pretty good, but the really memorable moments are the entrance of Dru – while Buffy is desperately running back to the library to help her friends - and the way she hypnotizes Kendra and renders her helpless, before slashing her neck with her long fingernails. This is the first time we learn that Dru has the power of hypnotism (similar to Lothos in the movie/The Origin
) and the first time we see just how scary she can be.
But the most effective moment is the very ending, with the slow-motion of Buffy running into the library too late and finding Kendra’s dead body. With her slaying partner dead, Willow with a life-threatening injury, and Giles kidnapped, things look incredibly bleak for Buffy, and then on top of it the police arrive and are about to arrest her for murder. Over this, Whistler’s voice over sets up Becoming part 2
, which is all about how Buffy deals with this desperate situation:
“Bottom line is, even if you see them coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.
So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are. You'll see what I mean.”
As a Whedon-penned episode, this one has lots of great dialogue. In addition to Whistler’s voice over quoted above, there are a bunch of funny lines:
Cordelia (summing up Snyder): How about because you're a tiny, impotent Nazi with a bug up his butt the size of an emu?
Dru: I met an old man. I didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.
Spike has several great moments as he’s making fun of Angel and his big apocalyptic gestures. His reaction to Acathla is classic: “It’s a big rock. I can’t wait tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.” (Much funnier with James Marsters’ deadpan delivery.) Another classic is his taunting “Someone wasn’t wooor-thy” when Angel doesn’t manage to pull the sword from the Acathla, which a “worthy” person is supposed to do, according to the prophecy.
The Gypsies plan would make no sense if (they at least don’t believe that) souled and soulless Angel aren’t the same person. They cursed the killer of their favorite daughter to suffer remembering his crimes. Why would they curse some poor guy to suffer for another one’s crimes, if “Angelus” (though nobody is calling him that in this episode, either) is the one responsible but isn’t even suffering?
Xander also believes that Angel is the same person either way, and Buffy, Willow and Giles must believe that, too, or else they would have countered his argument with “But Angel isn’t responsible since this evil guy is someone else!”
Angel’s year of birth and vamping is different from what we learned in Halloween
. Willow said that Giles’ Watcher books said that Angel was 18 in 1775, which would make his human birth date 1757.
The immolationogram vampire burns immediately in indirect sunlight. Later on we see Spike able to withstand a few seconds of direct sunlight, and neither he nor Angel, Dru or Darla have that much of a problem with indirect sunlight. So either the vampires of name have Plot Armor
, or maybe older vampires have a higher resilience to the sun.
Kendra calls her stake “Mr. Pointy”. Also interesting to mention is that Angel sarcastically calls Buffy "lover" and (to himself, when she's not listening) "my love".
Buffy: “I was making with the funny”.
Pop culture references:
Buffy calls Acathla “Al Franken”.
Mostly for part 2: apart from Whisler’s ending speech, Snyder threatens to expel Buffy if he just finds a reason.
– not just a great setup for part 2, but a brilliant episode in its own right.