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Old December 23 2011, 11:56 PM   #100
DevilEyes
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Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

Season 2 overview

This was the season where the show become great rather than just good, and it’s stood the test of time. I’d even say it seems even better now that it did the first time I watched it. I always appreciated the great episodes and the Angel-goes-bad arc, but now I can see how even the standalones that apparently have nothing to do with the arc reflect on the main themes. It’s certainly one of the best seasons of the show.

Not that it’s perfect: there are still some cheesy MOW episodes that remind me of the weaker episodes of season 1, and there is some poor structuring (like interrupting the momentum of the arc with a standalone episode like Go Fish).

The theme of the season is growing up, and romance and sex as a part of that process. Spike and Dru as villains represent that, before Buffy’s own boyfriend becomes the real Big Bad. The Slayer mythology is expanded, with the appearance of another Slayer – Kendra – who was called as a result of Buffy’s temporary „death“ in season 1.

Another part of growing up is a lot more moral ambiguity and complexity compared to season 1’s mostly clear demarcation of good and evil. Season 2 first does that early on when it makes a spectacular introduction of new, unconventional and complex villains with Spike and Dru. Lie to Me feels like a statement, with its closing speech that denounces the black-and-white storytelling as comforting lies. Then we see just what the show is prepared to do when a main cast member and heroine’s love interest becomes the season’s Big Bad. This arc signifies a big rise in quality, and it’s still one of the most compelling arcs of the show.

The vampires are still the main antagonists, but the vampires of season 2 are far from the traditional, ritual-obsessed vamps of season 1; they can be incredibly evil but also funny, charming, romantic and recognizably human. Who would have thought during season 1 that we’d get to see a punk vampire, or cowboy vampires.

A number of characters are portrayed as both victims and monsters, at the same time: Dru, Angel, “Ampata” the Inca Mummy Girl, Daryl Epps from Some Assembly Required, Ford, James from IOHEFY, Gage, Cameron and Dodd from Go Fish. Some of the particularly nasty villains are human (the frat boys from Reptile Boy, coach Marin from Go Fish, the original Ted) as are some very annoying/nasty antagonists (Snyder, Cain from Phases, Harmony and the other Cordettes). OTOH, there are several completely inhuman (literally) monsters that usually serve only as plot devices (the Bezoar from Bad Eggs, the reptile from Reptile Boy, the Bug Man from What’s My Line, the Judge, Kindestod, Acathla) and in most cases are secondary to the main villains, because villains with recognizable human traits (good or bad) are far more interesting to watch.

The recurring theme is point people are not what they seem. The theme of alter egos, “evil twins” pops up everywhere: Giles and “Ripper”, Oz and Wolf!Oz, and of course Angel and “Angelus”. In addition, villainous characters are used as shadows for the “good guys”: Ethan is Giles’s shadow character who reminds him of his past and dark side. Spike parallels Angel in a similar way in the first part of the season; at first Spike is the evil sexy vampire to Angel’s good sexy vampire, until the show pulls the rug from our feet and makes Angel, not Spike, the real Big Bad of the season. Spike/Dru with their overblown romanticism parallel Buffy/Angel. There are some obvious parallel drawn between Buffy and Dru, despite them being two very different women (both have precognitive abilities, and both were “pure, innocent” virginal girls that Angel was obsessed with, and they both get tormented by him in a similar way). There’s also a strong parallel and contrast between Buffy and Spike (particularly in What’s My Line and Becoming II).

A part of this are the surprising changes in relationships and alliances. It’s not just that Angel and Buffy turn enemies, or Spike and Buffy turn allies. The same happens with high-school relationships and alliances: in season 1 Willow was pining over Xander while Xander was pining over Buffy and Cordelia was the antagonist; in season 2, Xander and Cordelia start dating, Cordy becomes a Scooby, Willow starts dating Oz, who is cool not just because he’s a guitarist in a band.

Characters:

Buffy - Even though she still wants to have a life that normal girls do (boyfriend, friends, shopping…), she starts accepting her role as a Slayer, as we see in What’s My Line part 2. She is a different Slayer, who forges her strength from her ties to the world, and who thinks of her emotions as “total assets”. For a while it seems that she’s found a way to reconcile Slaying and (sort of) normal life, having friends who are helping her as much as they can, a good relationship with her Watcher that is half father/daughter relationship, half a friendship of equals, and a vampire boyfriend who can relate to her outsider situation of not belonging to either world. Until it all goes wrong, and she learns how much her emotions can also be a vulnerability and a liability. Bad relationships happen to everyone, but most people don’t have to deal with deaths and apocalypse as a result of love gone wrong. As the show becomes much darker and more serious, Buffy also changes a lot from the bubbly, light-hearted girl we met at the start of season 1. She’s still quippy and full of spirit, but life is really dealing her terrible blows. The season starts and ends with Buffy in a very dark mood; the former as a result from the trauma of her own death from the last season, the latter because of the trauma of killing Angel; in both cases she had to put her duty above personal feelings and proved heroic but at a high personal cost.

Angel – for the first part of the season, he is just the elusive love interest, and then the boyfriend of the protagonist, and it feels like there isn’t really much for him to do on the show. The only early episodes where we really learn something about him are School Hard and Lie to Me, in which he interacts with vampires from his past, Dru and Spike. For the most part, his role up till Surprise seems to be a the classic brooding mysterious older man with a dark past that just makes him even more appealing as a romantic hero. Until he loses his soul, and turns from the „brooding mysterious love interest“ into „abusive psycho ex-boyfriend“ and becomes the Big Bad. This is Buffy’s story, but the latter part of the season manages to flesh out Angel and make him one of the most complex characters in the verse, especially with the flashbacks in Becoming I.

One thing I discovered in this rewatch is that the popular Angel/Angelus dychotomy was almost non-existent in season 2, and that the use of the name „Angelus“ for Angel’s soulless alter ego is of a later date. I never thought 'Angel' and 'Angelus' were two different people, but I used to differentiate between Angel and his evil soulless alter ego much more than I do now. I saw as two very different personas, with totally different personality traits. But now, after having seen all of AtS, I can see many of the same personality traits in "Angel" and "Angelus". Now I see "Angel" as less of a nice guy and more flawed/messed up than I did them, but also more interesting as a character. In connection with that: I used to have a visceral hate for "Angelus"; not that I don't hate him now, but now I can much better understand his motives and analyze his behavior.

Buffy/Angel in season 2 is a great, epic story that I still enjoy – because I can ignore the fanon about „soulmates“, „one true love forever“ and other cheesy stuff that shippers and the media are responsible for. B/A is sad, tragic, ambiguous story about the trauma of first love gone wrong, which can be seen as both romantic or subversive. They didn’t even know each other that well, but for her, it was first love and she was at the time in her life when people still have a lot of romantic idealism and believe in one true love. On his side, he had absolutely nothing in his life for the past 100 years - no friends, no family, no job, no purpose, so he saw her as an ideal and purpose for living. They did have some good, sweet moments with each other, but it didn’t last long before it all went wrong. But that doesn’t change the intensity of their feelings and the pain it brought about, which is why the story moves me, because I remember being a teenager in love – which justifies why B/A is often so melodramatic, because Buffy is a teenager (and Angel is emotionally a teenager in many ways). This is why B/A works wonderfully as a teenage love story, and doesn’t work at all (or only works as a parody of itself) whenever the writers tried to revive it in later seasons without giving it a more adult dynamic.

Giles – this is the best season for the character and one where he plays the biggest role. And in Whedon’s show, that usually means suffering a lot. Giles is fleshed out this season and we learn that he isn’t just a stuffy librarian; we learn about his wild youth and dark past and his experience with magic. He also falls in love and suffers a truly tragic loss. Since Giles is such a rational, controlled character, seeing him overcome with rage and pain in Passion and attacking an evil vampire who could easily kill him, was all the more moving. He also shows how tough a librarian can be under torture, and his relationship with Buffy in the second part of season 2 is really beautiful.

Xander – I think this is a really good season for him, too. It’s funny how different I see things since my attitude towards the character has changed. I couldn’t stand him when I first watched seasons 1-3. He seemed to be everything I hated in boys my age and younger – immature, OTT jealous of anyone that Buffy likes (though he growing out of it around the time he started dating Cordy), too judgmental and with a Nice Guy ™ sense of entitlement regarding Buffy, and at the same time insensitive to Willow’s feelings. Which is all true. The difference is that I now think he was meant to be a flawed character, that the show calls him on stupid behavior. He’s an insecure confused boy from a dysfunctional family, struggling with his own masculine identity and is affected by gender expectations that he's been taught. But on the other hand, he’s brave, loyal, proactive when needed, pretty good fighter for a non-superpowered human, and smarter than he gives himself the credit for, and he grows quite a bit during the season (even if he’s still torn on the romantic front by feelings for 3 girls).

Willow – she undergoes quite a change this season – starting as a shy, insecure girl with a hopeless crush on Xander, gaining more confidence both in her abilities (e.g as a substitute teacher) and as a person. She showed resolution on several occasions, started to date and fell in love with someone who’s in love with her. Her relationship with Oz seemed to be a catalyst for that change. And we should keep in mind that, whatever Willow told herself in later seasons, she had gained a lot of confidence long before she started doing magic, which she only does at the very end of the season.

Cordelia – She starts off just hanging out with the Scoobies because they know how to deal with the weird goings-on, and gradually becomes an integral part of the Scooby gang, especially when she starts dating Xander. Xander/Cordy is a really fun relationship to watch, very different from the sweetness of Willow/Oz and the epicness of Buffy/Angel. They never stop being antagonistic and snarky even while they’re dating, but over time they start realizing that this thing that has caught them both by surprise might not be just teenage lust and that they might have real feelings for each other. A major moment for her is when she rejects her fair weather friends and her status in school for the right to date whoever she wants. She starts being used by the writers as the person who says it as it is, though she’s also often still in her old role as a spokesperson for all the wrong views, but it often seems like it’s a role she thinks she should stick with, and by the end of the season it seems like she wants to be heroic rather than play the damsel.

Spike – a great character from the start and brought so much excitement to the show, it’s not surprise that the original plan to kill him off halfway through the season (to make room for Angel to become the Big Bad) was changed and he was put in a wheelchair instead, and even survived the finale. Despite him being evil in S2, his personality traits are consistent with his later developments: his devotion to those he loves, sarcasm, love of violence and boasting, obsessiveness, lack of patience for traditions and rituals, unpredictability. What I find funny is that, despite the myth that Spike was a great villain who underwent the so-called ‘Badass Decay’, his stint as a Big Bad lasted just half of a season and he didn’t get to do much, and his most important action in the finale was as an ambiguous ally; and overall, he was far less ‘badass’ as a villain than he would be as a good guy.

Drusilla – I didn’t like her the first time, but this rewatch has made me realize what a fascinating character she is, full of contradictions: childlike and scary, a lot like a self-involved child preoccupied with her needs, only in her case what makes her the happiest is death and destruction. She tends to play the traditional helpless feminine role but then show her powerful and dangerous she is. As a human she was a tortured victim, but as a vampire, she’s having a good time. I’ve come to reevaluate her insanity: there’s a method in her madness. She can function, make rational decisions (for an evil vampire), communicate and take care of herself. She just occasionally says things that seem really weird to others but make sense to her – and she does have the visions which aren’t delusions, which may be why it feels like she’s often in her own world.

Oz was a great character from the start, with his non-plussed reactions, open mind and straightforwardness when it comes to feelings and relationship. He’s a guy that’s really nice and cool rather than trying to be nuce or cool. His werewolfness was meant to be all the more of a surprise since he’s the last person you’d expect to be “a beast inside”, and it of a was portrayed as something that doesn’t affect him except on the days when he turns into a wolf (but we’ll see it’s not exactly true in season 4).

Like Oz, Jenny was introduced to be a love interest for a Scooby – and her dynamic with Giles was great, with her direct attitude and contemporary tastes as a contrast to his – but she turned out to be connected to the plot more than we could’ve guessed. She managed to remain likeable even after the unlikely Gypsy curse reveal and became the first recurring character we had an emotional attachment to that got killed.

Joyce was a well-meaning but flawed mother: sometimes she seemed to be a great mom who was there for Buffy despite not understanding what really was going on (Innocence), other times she failed as a parent (Becoming II).

Kendra was great as a concept, which worked to an extent, but the character was botched due to not-so-great acting and particularly the fact that with her clothes and makeup she could rival Cordy or S1 Buffy, which made no sense for someone who was completely devoted to her duty and without interest in social life or dating.

Other recurring character worth a mention include Snyder, a really love-to-hate annoying antagonist; Giles’ frenemy Ethan; and among high school students, perpetual victim Jonathan, the new Mean Girl - Harmony, and Larry, who had a brilliant mini-arc for a minor character.

This rewatch reminded me how much the main characters were still affected by gender roles and expectations, and not just Cordelia, who is a spokesperson for anti-feminism at this point. It’s things like Buffy wanting to be an old-fashioned lady so Angel would like her more (Halloween), Willow worrying that she’s the only girl without a boyfriend, and then worrying that she’d be a „slut“ if she kisses Oz first (Phases); Xander’s ridiculous fantasies of being the savior who comes in his private jet and rescues Buffy from a bad relationship (Surprise), Xander, Willow and Buffy using slurs like „slut“ and „trashy“ to insult Cordy. But this all makes the characters far more realistic than if they were some idealized, politically correct beings.

The show generally fails big time when it comes to ethnic diversity (i.e. it mostly doesn’t exist). The biggest example of Ethnicity Fail is without a doubt the stereotypical portrayal of the Roma people, what with „Gypsy curse“ and all, not to mention the stereotypical Uncle Enyos character with his vaguely Eastern European (?) accent. Though at least Jenny doesn’t fit the stereotype. And as it usually happens with Hollywood „Gipsies“, the actors are all white.

I can’t finish this without mentioning the fashion. I often wanted to comment on how the characters were dressed in specific episodes, but it would have taken too much space. So, instead, here’s the seasonal fashion overview. Since BtVS is an example of Unlimited Wardrobe, main characters have worn lots of different outfits. Except for Spike and his iconic black leather duster, or Angel with his long black coat, and during his evil stint, the leather pants of evil. Clothes are used as an element of characterization (except with Kendra, where it doesn’t fit the character at all). Willow still wears one nerdy sweater after another, preferably with a very childish image in it, and Xander also wears some very funny shirts. On the other hand, Cordy is always very dressed-up and elegant, but really not vulgar or „trashy“. Those three didn’t change their style much from season 1. Buffy’s style, on the other hand, has quite changed – she’s still dressing sexy and fashionable, but less over-the-top than she did in season 1. A lot of the stuff she wears at school and in everyday life can now reasonably be seen as something a person would wear to school or in everyday life. She tends to wear simple and comfortable things when she goes Slaying (thankfully it’s not one of the shows where women go to fight bad guys in high heels). Buffy’s wardrobe has been the most versatile this year, and sometimes seems to match her mood, such as the very unusual black dress from Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (talking to Giles in the library about what Angel might do to her on Valentine’s Day) that made her look more mature and darker. She’s even worn overalls, twice. I’m not sure why this particular outfit choice, which goes against her regular style. And the vampires have favorite colors – black and red, which was mocked in Lie to Me, when Angel and a wannabe vampire had the same outfit. Spike seems to really like the red shirt worn with black duster. Dru wore white nightgowns while she was sick, an image of Victorian femininity and innocence/helplessness, until she was restored to her strength, at which point she started wearing sexier clothes, usually red-and-black dresses. Spike and Dru with their punk/goth style also love black fingernail polish – something they share with Oz, who’s also the only person who’s died his hair in different colors this year, even though his natural ginger suits him best.
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my Buffy/Angel rewatch

Last edited by DevilEyes; December 24 2011 at 04:42 AM.
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