Rewatching Buffy: Season Two

I made a comment on Facebook the other day that people who say the best season of Buffy is season two must have stopped watching after season two.  Because, hey, it's much, much better than season one, but it's still being weighed down by a bunch of just horrible episodes.

Season two is known for its finale, and rightfully so.  Becoming parts 1 and 2 take the show to a new level.  It's scary the jump that the show makes for that two part finale.  It's as if, 32 episodes in, Joss Whedon and the writers realized the potential of Buffy.  It's is unquestionably a stunning change and worthy of all the praise that is heaped upon it.

But there were 20 episodes before it.

This season made the unfortunate mistake of doubling down on bad episodes.  Yes, a stinker here and there was understandable at this still relatively early stage, but during season two they seemed to come in pairs.  "Inca Mummy Girl" and "Reptile Boy" in back to back weeks is brutal.  "Ted" and "Bad Eggs" in back to back weeks is even worse.  I don't think I'd watched some of these episodes more than once before now, which is saying a lot.

The cast really starts to gel in this season.  Each character develops over the course of the season, although the continuation of Xander's infatuation with Buffy is pretty painful, particularly with regards to Angel.  The addition of Oz is great, both because of who he is and how he's introduced.  They do a really nice job of slowly working him into the show.

 The actors really started coming into their own during season 2.

The actors really started coming into their own during season 2.

One of my favorite things about season two is the expansion on Giles' history.  We get a few glimpses into the life of the guy formerly know as Ripper and they add all sorts of depth to the character.  Giles' past also plays nicely off of the rest of the gang, particularly Buffy, who has been working under the assumption that Giles is a stuffy old man.  Giles clearly understands her better than she realizes.

The most glaring flaw in this season, aside from the horrible episodes scattered here and there, is the utter failure that is the curse on Angel.

I'm not against the idea of Angel having a curse on him, but the specifics of it are painfully stupid and completely at odds with ideas the show has gone to great lengths to explain.

From the very first episode, we're told that the vampire and the person whose body they've stolen are two very different people.  Once someone is turned, they're gone.  The curse on Angel actually underscores this, as the spell has to pull Angel's soul back from the ether to put it back into his body.

So Angel and Angelus are two separate people who just happen to share a body.  This is fact.  The gypsies clearly know this, too, given the spell.  They want to punish Angelus for killing their princess.  Okay, sounds good.  They trap him in Angel's body, unable to do anything but watch.  They basically stuck him in a human prison.  I'm on board so far.

Okay, so giving Angel all of Angelus' memories is a shitty thing to do to Angel, who had nothing to do with the things that Angelus did, but, hey, these gypsies are vengeful and they don't care about a little collateral damage.  And, hey, lucky for them, Angel decides he wants to do some good in the world, maybe in part to offset the bad that Angelus did.  So now not only is Angelus trapped, he has to watch as Angel does good deeds.  It's the perfect punishment for Angelus; he'll be tormented non-stop, particularly when Angel falls in love with a Slayer!

I am on board the gypsy curse train!  Aside from pissing all over Angel, this punishment they've created for Angelus seems like a winner.  You know what would be the ultimate torture for Angelus?  If Angel were happy!  That would be brutal.  Oh, it would be even worse if that happiness was because of the Slayer!  Just imagine how nuts Angelus must be going inside Angel.  It would kill him!

So, clearly, when this happens, he should be set free.

Wha-??

Angel having a moment of perfect happiness is the ultimate torture for Angelus, yet for some reason the curse sets him free when this happens. 

It makes no sense, no sense at all.

But, not unlike a lot of concepts on this show, they clearly made it up on the fly, and as the show progressed they had to make due.

Speaking of concepts that changed on the fly, I can't talk about season two without mentioning Spike and Drusilla.  It's hard to believe that they were originally only supposed to appear in a single episode, let alone that they were actually supposed to be from the South of America, not British.  That would suggest to me that they weren't supposed to have a connection to Angel in the beginning, either.  Sure, they botch a later storyline by having Spike call Angel his sire (when it's later revealed to be Dru), but see above: making things up on the fly.

 Why a fence?

Why a fence?

For all the nonsense that surrounds Spike and Dru (Dru can get drama student obnoxious at points, and Spike is in a wheel chair how?), their connection to Angel pays big dividends.  They serve to flesh out who Angelus was, which is useful, given we only see him in the present and we really need to know what he was like for 200 years.

Sadly, Spike becomes problematic in later seasons, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the end, season two is a bridge season for Buffy, a bridge that leads to the show realizing its true potential and becoming something special.

Rewatching Buffy: Season One

In honor of Buffy's 20th anniversary, I'm posting the reviews I did of each season after the last time I binged the entire series, which was four years ago.

Do I need to give a spoiler warning for a show this old?  I suppose this is it.

Anyway, I've started watching Buffy again from the beginning.  I don't know why.  It's the summertime and I'm feeling nostalgic, what do you want from me?

I've been randomly updating my Facebook page with comments about certain episodes because some of them just need public commenting.  Fortunately for me, most of my friends are also big fans of the show, so my comments are not falling on deaf ears.

A little background: I didn't discover Buffy until half way through season 3.  The first episode I ever watched "live" was "The Wish."  I have some dim recollection of seeing a repeat of "The Pack," but Buffy wasn't required viewing for me until "The Wish."

After that, I went to the local video store and discovered the 3 tapes that had been released with earlier episodes.  The tapes contained 2 episodes each, so half of season one.  Thankfully, the WB was good about showing reruns during the summer, so I was able to fill in the blanks the summer after season three (at that point, I was taping every episode).

Looking back, it's kind of surprising that those 3 VHS tapes didn't kill any interest I had in the show.  While they're made up of arguably the better half of the first season (although, being a big Xander fan, I would have preferred "The Pack" over "Angel," but it's easy to see why it was included), they're still of questionable quality.  As I said upon re-watching them, there's a certain Sci-Fi original movie quality to them and the acting is just not particularly good.

There are, in fact, two actors who stand out from the rest of the cast from the very start.  One is fairly obvious -- Anthony Stewart Head was always going to overshadow the teenagers, at least to begin with.  He is Giles from the very first moment he comes on screen.  While the rest of the actors are still struggling to get past that kind of high school drama club performance, Head does exactly what you'd expected a seasoned professional to do.  The supernatural aspect of the show was always going to be harder to sell than the teen aspect and having ASH as the focal point was essential.

Surprisingly enough, the other actor who stands out is Charisma Carpenter.  She is Cordelia.  Everything she says sounds natural, as opposed to the other actors who sound like they're acting.  Now, part of that is the fact that the rest of the characters have yet to be fleshed out at all, so the actors are clearly struggling to figure out who they are.  That's just not a problem for Carpenter or Cordelia.

As much as I enjoyed the Xander-centric "The Pack," it's still not a great episode.  In fact, the vast majority of season one can be considered average, if that.  The Buffy/Angel pairing is as hamfisted as ever, the characters are more archetypes than characters, and the monsters aren't particularly scary.

The first glimpse of what the show can be comes with the 9th episode, "The Puppet Show."  The addition of Principal Snyder to the show is welcome one, giving the core cast a day in and day out foil that has (we assume) nothing to do with the supernatural.  Snyder grounds the show.

The characters have bonded by this point, too.  There's a clear dynamic among Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles, and the scenes are becoming more and more natural.

The upside to "The Puppet Show" is that we get a nice plot twist on top of some of the best character work we've seen from the show.  They fall into a wonderful dynamic in this episode where Willow does research on the computer, Giles hits the books, Buffy investigates the crime scene, and Xander interviews other students.  It plays wonderfully to their strengths.  This episode almost makes up for episodes like "I, Robot...You, Jane" and "Out of Mind, Sight."  Almost.

The show is dragged down by the ongoing crush that Xander has on Buffy.  It's always painful and they drag it on much, much longer than necessary (although one episode was probably too long).  I appreciate that Buffy is the new girl and she's a Slayer and all that, but the events of "The Pack" would have been a perfect way for Xander to move on.

Honestly, I'm surprised that Buffy had the following it did after the first season.  But I suppose teen shows were still a thing back then, and adding a supernatural element to it made it different.  The fact that most of the cast were easy on the eyes probably helped, too.

A Blog Post About Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I wrote this 8 years ago. Still on point.

I came a little late to the Buffy party. In fact, the first original airing of an episode that I watched was on December 8th, 1998 -- and before you think I'm a complete freak, I got that date from IMDB. I do remember the episode, though: "The Wish." It would be an odd episode for me to delve into the show, as it a) took place in an alternate reality and b) was written by a writer whose eventual ascension to show runner would mark a bleak period in Buffy's history.

But anyway...

I was in grad school in 1998. The band I was in at the time had made an ill fated attempt at a tour over our winter break and, once that was over, I was pretty much left with nothing to do. It should also be noted that I was in Ohio at this point, so wrap your brain around the idea of having nothing to do in December in Ohio. The Shining could have taken place there.

The fledgling WB network was showing a bunch of repeats of Buffy during this time, but they were pretty scattered. The local video store, however, had some videos that Fox Studios had released, featuring two episodes each of the first season of Buffy. I think I rented one of them before I went out and bought all three (which have since been replaced by DVDs). By the end of Ohio University's winter break, I was hooked. Actually, I was pretty obsessed.

Why was I obsessed? What was it about this show that sucked me in? At the beginning, I honestly didn't know. I think it had to do with the fact that I was pretty lonely, and the show featured a group of friends, almost all of whom seemed like people I would like to hang out with. I could relate to Xander, the guy who always felt like he didn't really belong, even in that group, as he was the only one with no abilities. It probably helped that my first season of the show also happened to be the first season with Faith, but I'll save my Eliza Dushku digression for another time.

Later, I think the quality of the writing really got to me. While eventually I would begin to notice the patterns that the show would fall into, during those first few years it seemed like they were willing to try anything. There was a certain bravery to the storytelling that I didn't see in other shows. And, hell, I'm a sucker for the supernatural. So, yeah, it's easy to see why I became a bit neurotic about the show.

Sadly, for as much mocking as I took from my friends, they all ended up becoming enablers. Over the course of the next year and a half of grad school, "Buffy Nights" at the house I was living at grew larger and larger. For a misanthrope like myself, it offered me the added bonus of being able to socialize without having to go anywhere. Whereas I was once the guy who kept talking about his band all the time, I soon became the Buffy guy (who only stopped talking about his band because it broke up). And, of course, I became the Angel guy, too.

When I left Ohio, I took my Buffy obsession with me. The only friends I made in Atlanta that I didn't import in from Ohio were others who loved Buffy. Suddenly, a new Buffy night was born, this time in the South. At one point I even went so far as to leave my own apartment to watch the show, although it was just to walk across a parking lot to another apartment. I was also pretty active online and found myself wasting hours and hours of time reviewing, discussing, and debating the in's and out's of every episode.

Next, I moved to Los Angeles, and, as is befitting of Los Angeles, I started watching the final season of Buffy (and the penultimate season of Angel) by myself. The internet became my sole source of interaction when it came to Buffy. The upside, though, was that I was now living in the city where the show was made. I actually got to meet Joss Whedon, Amber Benson, and Michelle Trachtenberg at a signing for the Buffy musical CD. That wasn't something that would have happened in Ohio.

By this point, of course, the show was releasing its earlier seasons on DVD, so I was now stocking up on those. I also bought an Xbox specifically because it was the only system that had the Buffy video game. These are all things that would come in useful when I hosted my very last Buffy night, during the finale.

But Kyle, you're saying, you've said that you watched Buffy all alone in Los Angeles? Well, I did, except for the finale, when three people I had never met before in my entire life flew all the way to Los Angeles to watch Buffy with me. Could there be better icing on the cake of this story? I don't think so.

They were people I'd known for a while online. One of the bonuses of living in Los Angeles is that people are willing to come visit you for the most minor of reasons, because you actually live in an interesting city. So while these three, fine people were coming to watch the end of an era with me, there were some added bonuses. I don't know that they would have flown out to watch the finale with me if I were still living in Ohio.

Two years later, with my Buffy library fully stocked, I began the process of indoctrinating my then girlfriend Nicole. Now, Nicole has always been a nerd, so it wasn't that hard to get her started. It got a bit more difficult when Angel got his own series, because then she had to go back and forth between the two, and suddenly her commitment to catching up doubled. But she was a trooper, and while I doubt she'd consider the show to be her favorite, she did enjoy it. It was also really cool for me to go back and watch it all with someone who'd never seen it before.

One of these days, when I have a job that pays more, I'll finally give in and buy the complete series box set. I think, perhaps, I should have a party then, as it would make a fitting bookend.

Maybe I'll invite Nicholas Brendon. I did rent him an apartment once.

Update: No, really, I did rent him an apartment. He was totally nice. And I bought and eventually sold that box set (and the one for Angel) when I switched from DVD to digital. I hope whoever bought it from the used bin at Amoeba in Hollywood enjoys it.

Also, I wrote two essays for Popmatters.com on Buffy, so you should check those out.