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Old December 15 2011, 07:27 AM   #88
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Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

God, it's been a long time, with that pesky real life getting into the way! The good news is that starting with Tuesday, I'll have a lot more time. Maybe I'll get to post a few episodes per week, rather than the other way round!

This review is another long one that has to be broken in two parts.

2.22 Becoming II

When I was about to watch this episode, I wondered if I can still be affected by it, since I’ve seen it several times. Of course, this is one of the most important and iconic episodes of the show, but can it still move me when I almost know it by heart? And…it didn’t exactly make me cry this time, but it’s still an awesome episode you could watch over and over,.

As a season finale, it’s one of the best. It perfectly resolves so many storylines from season 2: Buffy’ s strained relationship with her mother, Snyder’s attempts to find a reason to expel Buffy, Willow’s relationships with Xander and Oz, the Spike/Dru/Angel triangle, the B/A romance and the “Angel loses his soul” story; and in the best tradition of bittersweet Whedon finales, it manages to have Buffy defeat the Big Bad and stop an apocalypse, but leaves her emotionally devastated.

Throughout the episode, things just keep going wrong for Buffy, with just an occasional break. First cops want to arrest her for Kendra’s murder and she has to run away, then she finds out that Willow is in hospital with a serious head injury, and that Giles is kidnapped; Snyder uses the opportunity to expel her from school, and later her mother tells her not to come back home, all while she has an apocalypse to stop. If episodes like Prophecy Girl and School Hard were about Buffy surviving because of her connections to family and friends, this one is about coming to the point when you only have yourself to rely on. As foreshadowed by Whistler’s voiceover in part 1, this is where she finds out who she is. And that’s someone who never gives up and keeps fighting, even in the most desperate situation:

Whistler: In the end, you’re all you’ve got.

Buffy: I have nothing left to lose.
Whisler: Wrong, kid. You’ve got one more thing.

Angel(us): No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what is left?
Buffy (stopping his sword with her bare hand): Me.

To make things all the harder for her, she’s put in the position where she has to kill the man she loves to save the world (well, sort of, since Angel gets sucked into hell, but doesn’t actually die). But the emotional cost is too high, and the season 2 finale ends in both triumph and despair, as Buffy runs away from her life, trying to become someone else.

For an episode with so much pain and drama, it also has an amazing amount of humor, sometimes even at the same time. There are two scenes (Buffy and Spike coming up with the lie that they’re in a band, and Joyce and Spike trying to make small talk) that I would rank among the funniest in the show. There’s self-mocking humor even in show’s ending credits this time, as the Mutant Enemy monster doesn’t growl “URGH-ARGH” but whines “Ooh I need a hug!”

I won’t even try to choose the best scene, since there are way too many great ones. I’ll just list all the great scenes and major moments chronologically.

As Buffy visits her friends in the hospital where Willow is still lying unconscious, we see just how serious the situation is, when Xander isn’t able to laugh and joke with Buffy. Cordelia, who has a very small role in the episode, feels bad about running away from the library – the first sign that she wants to be strong and heroic like the rest of the Scoobies, but Buffy reassures her that running away was the best thing she could have done. Those two have come a long way in their relationship.

Xander/Willow/Oz: The first of two big somewhat ambiguous Xander moments in the episode: Xander pours his heart out to the unconscious Willow, telling her how much she means to him, that she is his best friend, and finally “Willow, I love you” only for her to finally wake up and still half-conscious, call out for Oz.

Did Xander mean it 100% as a friend, or with a romantic overtone? The scene certainly plays with the latter, or else the significance of this scene in the Xander/Willow/Oz storyline wouldn’t work. But on the other hand, for Xander to suddenly realize he’s in love with Willow would have been a big revelation that would have probably surprised even him, and it seem to be the case – and he doesn’t seem at all crushed with Willow and Oz’s sweet reunion. My guess is that Xander himself isn’t quite sure – he’s reacting to almost losing Willow and perhaps realizing just how strong his feelings for her are, and he’s confused teenage boy who can’t quite sort out his feelings for 3 important girls in his life. He probably started seeing Willow in romantic light only when she found a boyfriend, and he a) came to see her a sexual being, and 2) was jealous because he wasn’t the main man in her life anymore (as Buffy pointed out back in I, Robot, You Jane). I think the entire Xander/Willow early seasons relationship is largely about childhood friends growing up and not being sure if a girl and a boy can be friends or if they are supposed to be more than that because they’re a girl and a boy. I don’t see Xander’s feelings here as classic romantic jealousy, more like realizing that someone else is now the main object of Willow’s affection.

I always thought this was a perfect resolution to the Xander/Willow/Oz storyline, showing that Willow was really over Xander and in love with someone else – who was really in love with her and was a much better romantic match for her – with the irony that hearing Xander say “I love you” which once would have been all she wanted, now wouldn’t have meant much to her. (Or would have been the perfect resolution – if only the unnecessary Xander/Willow fling in season 3 hadn’t happened, which I’m really not a fan of.)

Snyder expels Buffy: a pay-off to yet another season-long tension – Snyder finally gets to do what he wanted to do for such a long time and promised a few times already. Afterwards whe calls the Mayor to tell him the good news, but while this confirms that he’s been working at Mayor’s orders, he also really hates Buffy and makes it clear he’s enjoying the opportinity (and even givea an ironic speech about the moments you want to savor and relieve,which is oddly similar toWhistler’s “big moments” speech). But it comes at the time when Buffy doesn’t care as much as she normally would have, since she’s got an apocalypse to stop – the good news it that for once she can openly treat him with the contempt he deserves, after more than a year of torment she had to endure. “You never got a single date in high school, did you?” is a good retort but doesn’t upset Snyder the way it would a normal human being, but an even better retort is Buffy simply pulling out her sword that she’ll use to stop Acathla, walking away from the clerly scared Snyder. Another memorable line is Snyder’s Lampshade Hanging comment “In case you haven’t noticed, the police in Sunnydale are deeply stupid.”

Spike and Buffy. And finally we see what Spike’s plan is, which cements the Spike/Angel switch – first the good guy went bad and Buffy’s sweetheart became the Big Bad, and now the former Big Bad goes… a little less bad, and becomes Buffy’s unexpected ally. Unlike part 1, part 2 is about people making choices, and whule Angel is the poster boy for destiny, Spike is one for free will – that’s one of the things that are consistent with his character despite all the changes. He’s the one who does the unexpected, breaks rules, a wild card or “loose canon”. Of course, Spike is still nowhere near being “good” at this point, just the lesser evil at the moment, and his motives for offering an alliance against Angel are dubious and mostly selfish, but it’s still an unexpected lucky break for Buffy, who needs all the help she can get. He is pragmatic and irreverent and more grounded, and he does like the world as he explains in his unforgettable speech, and would rather not have it sucked into hell, but getting Drusilla all to himself is still his main motivation, as we see later when he walks away at the crucial moment of the fight, as soon as he got Dru to himself. (He won’t keep the other promise, either – never to come back to Sunnydale.)

The Spike/Buffy scenes are so enjoyable and the chemistry between them is amazing, whether they’re arguing and negotiating and punching each other, or when they’re fighting together for the first time against Angel’s henchman and immediately working perfectly in synch (something that we’ll see so many times in later seasons, it’s one thing that always works well for them) or when they’re lying to her mom about being in a band – they seem oddly familiar, like people who’ve gone to school together or something, rather than Slayer and a vampire whose conversations before this were always happening while they fought each other. (I remember I used to think when I first watched season 2 how odd it is that I thought Buffy had more chemisty with the guy who was trying to kill her than with her boyfriend – even though I never expected anything to come out of it, and didn’t even entertain an idea at the time.) I love their matter-of-fact, snarky interactions (so much different from the sugarcoated romanticism they showed with their respective lovers, Angel and Dru) and this one is great. When Spike tells her that he wants an alliance to get Dru back, he gets a bit carried away talking about his problems, like he’s using the chance that there’s someone finally there to listen to him talk about his relationship problems – since he can’t make himself try to talk these things through with Dru herself. I love how Buffy points out, not mincing words, how pathetic he is for caring more about jealousy over his fickle girlfriend, than the fate of the world. It recalls Xander’s accusation from part 1, that Buffy wants to forget about Jenny’s murder so she could have her boyfriend back. There are definitely parallels between Buffy and Spike in season 2, in the big fight in this episode they both end up fighting against people they’re in love with; and the contrast, as Buffy puts the fate of the world above wanting her lover back, and Spike doesn’t.

I always think back to these scenes as one of the obvious proofs that the idea that Buffy really thought of soulless Spike as a “thing” is utter BS. Even when he was the enemy, she treated him as this annoying guy she knows, not some anonymous vampire “thing” – all their interactions were very personal. You wouldn’t criticize the character flaws of a “thing”. It’s funny that she snarkily asks him if he forgot that he’s a vampire, but she’s kinda doing that when she calls him pathetic for being selfish and unconcerned about the fate of the world – as if one could expect better from a soulless vampire? She also tells him “I hate you”, which is only the second time she’s said that to a vampire (the first one was Angel in Angel, when Buffy believed he had attacked her mom and made a point that she kills vampires but never hated one before him). The Scoobies always treated the vampires they actually knew as individuals, as people, even if they people they disliked or hated (we’ll see a lot of that with Harmony as well).

It’s also funny and feels a bit foreshadowy when Spike says he just needs to kill the cop, and then checks himself after Buffy’s disapproving cough and he remembers she wouldn’t be pleased if he did that. Or when he later can’t help himself feeling proud that Dru killed a Slayer, but then, faced with Buffy’s glare, quickly adds “Though not from your perspective, I suppose”. So many memorable lines from the B/S scenes – another one is Buffy’s “We’re mortal enemies, we don’t get time-outs”. Don’t say that twice…

The pretending-to-be-in-a-band scene is just hilarious, as is the Joyce/Spike ‘small talk’. Love the reference to School Hard. “You hit me once with an axe, ‘Get the hell away from my daughter’” (a lot of it is in JM’s deadpan delivery). These two will have an interesting relationship. Continuity detail: Spike gets his first invitation to the Summers house, which he’ll use in season 3.

That leads to a very serious scene between Buffy and Joyce after Buffy ‘comes out’. Fitting term, since the metaphor of a teenager coming out to their parents couldn’t be more obvious in this scene: Joyce asking Buffy if she could try not being gay, err a Slayer; “This is all because you didn’t have a strong father figure”; Buffy sayingshe didn’t chose to be this way, and telling her mother that she should have figured it out ages ago, but she just didn’t want to know. Joyce was never portrayed as a perfect mother, just someone who tried hard but was flawed as a parent – and while learning her daughter was a Slayer must have been a big shock, she really comes off as an awful parent in this episode, refusing to accept that her daughter isn’t a ‘normal’ girl and throwing Buffy out of the house.

Meanwhile, Giles gets a great badass moment when, while he’s being tortured, tells Angel that he’s going to tell him how to awaken Acathla: “To be worthy, you have to perform the ritual…in a tutu. Pillock!” It’s fun to see Angel really pissed off, but poor Giles barely escaped losing limbs, when Spike had a better idea to use Drusilla’s skills (Spike’s real motive is to save Giles’s life because he has to fulfill his end of the bargain with Buffy). The inversion of the Spike/Angel roles this seasons gets summed up when Angel remarks on Spike surprisingly becoming level-headed, and Spike’s retort that it was right around the time when Angel became pig-headed. Funny that Angel felt happy for having Spike “watch his back, like old times” – it’s a bit late to be all chummy with Spike, buddy, did you really think he’d be eager to help you after the way you’ve treated him?

Dru doesn’t just have the skill of hypnotism, but also of reading people’s minds, apparently – at least to the extent of knowing what’s on their minds. When she appears to Giles as Jenny to manipulate him into revealing the info about Acathla, it becomes one of the most heartbreaking scenes of a season that’s full of them. It does make a lot of difference when a character who died stayed dead: we get those epic, heartbreaking death scenes in Becoming II, The Gift and Chosen, but they don’t feel as tragic anymore when you know that the character will come back. But when poor Giles is happy to see ‘Jenny’ again, telling her he though he lost her, and when he is seeing who he thinks is Jenny, telling him that they will be together at last, get to have and feel everything they never got to feel (it seems that they never even had sex?), it remains every bit as tragic – even more tragic, knowing that Giles will never find love again.

At the same time, Willow is trying to curse Angel with soul again, despite having just come out of a coma. This is the first time that magic plays a big role for Willow, and a sign of how determined and dedicated she can be. Even though I can’t see any difference between her “resolve face” and her regular face. It seems that, when the spell was starting to work, she became temporarily possessed by the Gypsy woman’s spirit.

Xander’s lie: one of big controversies of the season, maybe even the show. From what I’ve heard, debates about his motives went on that summer until Joss decided to put things straight and explain that it wasn’t out of jealousy/hate for Angel, but for tactical reasons. But his main reason was clearly because he thought Buffy might stall and not fight her best if she thought Angel might get his soul back, I’m sure that the fact that he didn’t care for the guy and wasn’t eager to get him back played its role.

It’s maybe more interesting to think, how did the lie affect the course of events? I’m not sure it made much difference to the fight itself, since the harshest part of it happened after Angel(us) pulled the sword out from Acathla, starting the process of awakening him (and boy, does Acathla need a long time to wake or what), at which point there was no coming back for Angel, soul or no soul. Maybe Buffy would have been less surprised by Angel getting his soul back. But in the end, I think the biggest difference it made might have been for Buffy’s decision to leave Sunnydale. Thinking that Willow, who’s always been the most supportive one of her relationship with Angel, thought that it wasn’t worth trying and just sent her a message to “Kick his ass”, probably contributed to Buffy’s feeling that none of her friends would understand how hard it was for her to kill Angel.
Treason, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

my Buffy/Angel rewatch
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