Season Two isn’t perfect by any means, but when it’s on point, it delivers some of the finest episodes of the entire series. The Monster of the Week format was largely abandoned in favor of serialized storytelling and it was mostly the former that proved to be the season’s weakest offerings. Season Two brought us some of the fiercest foes Buffy would ever face, certainly the most personal. The relationship between Buffy and Angel deepened and became one of the greatest romances ever to grace your TV screen. Backstories were fleshed out and every character was given an engaging storyline. There are definitely some pitfalls along the way, but once the season kicks into overdrive during its second half, they are all but forgotten. Aside from that, Season Two proved that no one was safe and that Joss Whedon knows how to deliver a proper gut punch.
Let’s take a moment here to discuss composer Christophe Beck because his score created a backdrop that elevated the show. The music in Season One wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t noticeable either. Beck provided the score for Seasons Two through Four but still made important contributions afterward. His score took on a life of its own, giving us the Buffy/Angel Love Theme (which can still bring me to tears) and lending just the right amount of gravitas to the dramatic scenes while keeping the rest of the tone in just the right place. The addition of Beck’s music added a whole other dimension to BtVS. Film score geek over here, I know.
1998 was the year that I first tuned in to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a teenager, there wasn’t much on television that I could relate to, but meeting the Scooby Gang changed all that. High School was a tumultuous time for me, so I felt a sort of camaraderie with this band of misfits. They were not only fighting for their lives but also fighting their way through their teens and everything that comes along with that. Of course, the show resonates with me on an entirely different level as an adult. For one thing, its genius is much more apparent, as well as its cultural impact, which is still felt so strongly twenty years later. At the time though, it became an integral part of my survival.
At this point, I’ve watched these episodes so many times that it is basically a sickness. This show has become a sort of home to me. One could even extrapolate my moods based on what season I was rewatching at the time. Season Two has always been my favorite, but watching it with a more critical eye has been a vastly different experience. It has caused me to reexamine my feelings over certain episodes and also, to remember my original reactions. Let’s face it, after seeing them so many times, I have a love for all of them (except for “I, Robot…You Jane”, really don’t like that one). I feel very differently about many installments now than I did initially and it has been an interesting exercise for me to attempt to put my bias aside enough to see these episodes clearly. This is something that I noticed here, much more than with Season One, most likely because I didn’t see that until it was released on DVD, at which point I was already very well acquainted with these characters. I believe those DVDs came out sometime during Season Six.
While Season Two still has at least three of my top ten episodes in it, as a whole it just isn’t as cohesive as say, Season Three. There are some rough installments to get through. However, the major arc of the season was absolutely perfect. It was so good, that it made many of the Monster of the Week episodes difficult to sit through because I was so anxious to get back to the main story. Remember though, BtVS was only in its second year! Yes, the show would get better and yes, episodes like “Bad Eggs” and “Killed by Death” don’t add much to the season, but episodes like “Innocence” and “Becoming” brought the show to new heights, the latter being my favorite of the whole series.
S2E1: “When She Was Bad”
(Writer: Joss Whedon/ Director: Joss Whedon)
“Prophecy Girl” tied up Season One so well and “When She Was Bad” does an excellent job emphasizing the consequences of those events, as well as setting up Season Two. Thus begins what would become a longstanding characteristic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: progress must be earned. For fuck’s sake, Buffy died during last season’s finale! She’s not just going to be fine now. That’s in large part what separated BtVS from its contemporaries because on another show, she would have been. Any damage done would’ve been glossed over or forgotten, any impact erased. However, that’s not how Joss Whedon tells a story.
The Season Two opener begins with an adorable scene of Willow and Xander making a fun game of guessing movie quotes and almost kissing. That is until they are rudely interrupted by a vampire. Enter Buffy (back from spending the summer in LA with her dad) sporting a killer new haircut and attitude to match. She shows up just in time to kick a little vampire ass and remind her friends (and the rest of us) just how awesome she is. Impressive though she may be, something is different about the Chosen One since her return to Sunnydale.
Xander and Willow weren’t the only non-couple to share a delightful scene. The Watcher finds himself flustered by the return of Jenny Calendar, who is similarly stoked to see him. Robia LaMorte fits right in with the core cast and the chemistry between the computer science teacher and the librarian is palpable. Buffy, however, is not excited to see Giles. She is plagued by visions of the Master, both in waking life and in dreams. During one in particular, she peels off Giles’s face to reveal the Master’s underneath and he strangles her while her friends watch, unaffected. This dream speaks volumes not only about her fear of death but also about how terribly isolated she feels. Buffy has spent the summer living by herself with this trauma, so alone in her anguish, that she has forgotten that this exile is self-imposed.
Angel has the unfortunate timing of visiting her immediately after this nightmare. He warns her about the Anointed One and she is needlessly cruel. Despite this, he cannot help but mention how much he missed her. By the time she responds in kind, he is gone. This scene is indicative of how their relationship will play out in the first quarter of the season. Theirs is a rapport rife with longing, a painful piercing of the chest that both of them keep pent up as long as possible until unbidden sentiments can no longer be held back. Both know that missing one another is wrong, that they agreed not to pursue a relationship. They also both know that a relationship is inevitable.
Meanwhile, the Anointed One is having his minions dig up the Master’s bones to raise him, which is supposed to be impossible, but it’s actually looking pretty easy. While her enemies are plotting, Buffy is at the Bronze, acting decidedly unlike herself. Her first order of business is a major dressing down of Angel, who made the mistake of speaking to her. “I’ve moved on…to the living,” she tells him pointedly. The unfortunate cherry on top of her bitchy sundae alienates all her friends in one expert move. Well, several moves really, because it’s a dance. Buffy shares the dance floor with poor Xander just long enough to leave him baffled, Willow crushed and Angel jealous. “Did I ever thank you for saving my life?” she asks Xander while channeling her inner Shakira. “Don’t you wish I would?” The moment is probably most difficult for Willow. She came so close to finally kissing the guy of her dreams and then has to watch her best friend grind up all over him. On a musical note, props to BtVS for getting Cibbo Matto to play the Bronze because it was awesome!
Another stellar addition to the Scoobies, reluctant though she may be, is Cordelia, who follows Buffy outside to give her the best advice of the episode. “Get over it. Whatever is causing the Joan Collins ‘tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain. Spank your inner moppet, but get over it.” Unfortunately, Cordelia’s reward for these words of wisdom is getting dragged away by vampires and tossed underground with an unconscious Jenny Calendar. The fact that Cordelia went after Buffy at all signifies just how much she has changed from the girl we met at the beginning of last season. She may not want to be a member of the gang, but after everything she’s witnessed, she can no longer choose to remain just another ignorant member of the populace either.
The next day, Buffy’s friends are sure that she’s possessed, but Giles isn’t convinced.
“I mean, why else would she’s be acting like such a B I T C H?” Willow asks. A bitcah?” Xander guesses, immediately after Giles tells Willow that they are too old to be spelling things out. The Watcher is the one to see the truth of it, that Buffy hasn’t dealt with her death at the Master’s hands and that it’s causing her to act out. Discovering that the Master is no longer rotting in what should be his eternal resting place, pushes Buffy right over the edge. Refusing to take the time to properly research the raising ritual, she abandons her friends and walks right into what she knows to be a trap. However, the trap wasn’t actually for her. In her absence, the vamps abduct Willow and Giles (the other two people closest to the Master when he died).
By the time Buffy comes to the rescue, her rage has become so acute that she manages to take out an entire room of vamps all by herself. Sure, Angel and Xander are there, but they don’t do much aside from freeing the hostages. Buffy kicks every undead ass in the room and then smashes the Master’s bones to pieces, finally breaking down in Angel’s arms and dealing with issues she has spent the whole summer avoiding. When next she sees her friends, Buffy is both ashamed and afraid, thinking they will never forgive her. Of course, the bonds between Buffy, Willow and Xander are not so easily severed and they welcome her back, immediately discussing their future plans. Xander quips, “Well, we could grind our enemies to talcum powder with a sledgehammer, but gosh, we did that last night.”
I do not love this episode. In fact, I would liken it to the Season One installment, “The Puppet Show.” The two are only similar in the way that they resonate with me. Both have snappy dialogue and B-storylines that feature great character development. I love the interactions here both between Giles and Jenny, as well as Buffy and Angel. Buffy’s dance with Xander in the previous episode, managed to elicit emotions Angel didn’t realize he had, namely jealousy. Giles on the other hand, is struggling just to get up the balls to ask Jenny on a date and is adorably practicing on a chair when Buffy and Xander walk in on him. I love all of that. My problem with this episode (much like with “The Puppet Show”) lies in the Monster of the Week. “Some Assembly Required” is Frankenstein à la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while I love seeing my favorite show tackle the classics (“Buffy vs. Dracula” is particularly good) this one just doesn’t come together for me.
There is an interesting twist, as in, we’re not dealing with Frankenstein’s monster, but rather, his bride. Also, Dr. Frankenstein is less mad scientist and more science geek that manages to bring his brother Darryl back from the dead. Chris has succeeded in resurrecting his brother, but his focus now is on creating him a mate, so he won’t be alone. So, Chris (not a creeper) and Eric (total creeper) are piecing this girl together from various dead chicks. The problem is that the body is complete, but in order to properly animate this corpse bride, they’re going to need the head of a live girl. Unbeknownst to Chris, Eric has already chosen three candidates, which happen to be Cordelia, Willow, and Buffy. I’m not sure what doesn’t click with me, but the performances fail to garner my sympathy. Nothing here makes me care about these characters and yeah, it’s just a Monster of the Week, but that doesn’t mean the subplots should outshine the main event.
Speaking of subplots, one of the best moments of the episode (aside from the Scoobies walking in on Giles asking out a chair) is when he fails, not only to leave out the word “indecorous” while doing so but also to ask Jenny out at all. That’s cool though because she does it for him. Sure, a high school football game wouldn’t be Giles’s first choice for a date, but it’s better than the nothing that he accomplished on his own. Giles isn’t the only one trying to score a date though. Darryl is looking to make a love connection and he’s putting a whole lot of pressure on Chris to do something about that. Chris isn’t trying to kill anyone, even for his brother. Eric on the other hand (told you he was a creeper) doesn’t even need a push. That dude was just a serial killer waiting to happen. The lucky lady: Cordelia.
The Scoobies follow a trail of missing bodies and found body parts, which leads straight to Chris. After doing some recon, Buffy realizes Cordelia is in danger. She’s got some pieces but hasn’t quite put the puzzle together yet. After a conversation with Chris fills in the blanks, Buffy has to rescue her frenemy, before she becomes the bride of FrankenDarryl. Chris does redeem himself, by sacrificing his brother to save Cordelia. In a moment that I wish was more emotional, Darryl throws himself on top of the unfinished body of his would-be love, and together they burn in a fire that was started during his fight with Buffy. One aspect of the show that had noticeably improved by this point is the fight choreography. Last season, the fights were little more than trading a couple of blows. Season Two had already raised the bar and the fight scenes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer are one thing that continuously improved. Seriously, the fights got more awesome with each passing year. Notably, it is actually Xander that gets Cordelia to safety, thus perhaps beginning the connection between them. Although, he does totally blow off her acknowledgement of his heroics, all the while bemoaning his lack of a social life.
In another key scene, Angel admits to Buffy his jealousy over Xander, which actually extends beyond the mating dance she did with him in the previous episode. Xander gets to spend time with Buffy in a way that Angel never will. At two hundred and forty-something, he wants to be above such emotions, but his feelings for the Slayer already run too deep. Despite the pair’s initial plans to stay away from each other, they walk home hand in hand. The biggest takeaway from this episode is definitely, “Love makes you do the wacky.”
S2E3: “School Hard”
(Story: Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt/ Teleplay: David Greenwalt / Director: John T Kretchmer)
This is such a great episode. It introduces us to two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s most iconic characters in Spike and Drusilla. The residents of Sunnydale get their very own vampire Sid and Nancy and the show is all the better for it. Spike (James Marsters) and Dru (Juliet Landau) are the first true spark of a Big Bad we see this season, although Buffy will have to confront far worse before its end. I know, I know, we’ve got the Anointed or as Spike calls him the Annoying One, but that kid is instilling fear in no one. This vampire couple takes the idea of having a likable villain to an entirely different level than we saw with the Master. Yeah, we liked him. He was a good villain, but no one wept when Buffy kebabbed him. These two though? They were never meant to be around as long as they were, but everyone loved them, which gave them not only a stay of execution but later gave Spike a permanent place on the show. Although, he earned that spot on account of James Marsters being amazing. Also, the chemistry between the two is just so good!
Up until now, Principal Snyder has been an annoyance to Buffy, but “School Hard” promotes him from pest to problem. He pairs Buffy with generic bad girl Sheila because clearly, Buffy is equivalent to the chick that stabbed a teacher with pruning shears. Their punishment is to ready the school for parent-teacher night. Failure to do so will result in expulsion, a fate that only Buffy seems interested in preventing. No biggie though, as Xander foolishly states, “As long as nothing really bad happens between now and then, you’ll be fine.” Silly Xander, this is BtVS, so of course, something really bad is going to happen, especially now that you’ve jinxed it! Lucky for us, really bad translates to really good where this show is concerned. Enter Spike: crashing into both the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign and our hearts.
From the moment we meet Spike, he’s all stomp and swagger. He rudely crashes the Anointed One’s gathering of would-be badasses and proves himself an actual badass. That is, until Drusilla walks in. His demon visage melts away as his concern for his weakened paramour’s safety takes precedent. Drusilla is obviously missing a few key pieces from her brain, basically all the sane parts. The obvious affection shared by these two from their first moments on screen made it nearly impossible to look away from them. We’ve seen plenty of evil fiends thus far, but never two soulless creatures in love. Landau plays Drusilla as vulnerable, but it’s a nuanced performance. Underneath her veneer of insanity, there is definitely a quality of danger. Speaking of layers, Marsters brought unimaginable depth to Spike, but more on that later.
Parent-teacher night doesn’t go great and not just because Buffy didn’t realize that you’re supposed to add sugar when making lemonade. Willow is doing her best to run interference between Joyce Summers and Principal Snyder, but he finds her eventually. Further complicating the event is Spike’s impatience. He leads a group of vampires in an attack on the school. One of my issues with “School Hard” is this entire sequence. I mean, Buffy takes charge and winds up crawling through the vents for fuck’s sake! Joyce may not see anything concrete, but she sees enough to infer something, anything really. I suppose denial runs deep. Everyone is only too willing to believe Snyder’s cover story about a gang on PCP, which by episode’s end we discover that he knows to be false.
Angel sneaks in to help, using Xander as an ersatz hostage. Angel plays at being Angelus, offering him as a shared meal. It turns out the two vampires know each other. “People still fall for that Anne Rice routine?” Spike says in response to Angel’s excuses for not killing the slayer. He’s not falling for Angel’s routine though. “You were my sire, man! You were my Yoda!” Hurling both a punch and an “Uncle Tom” insult, he continues on after Buffy. Spike, having already killed two slayers in his lifetime, is a formidable opponent and he manages to get Buffy on the ropes. Surprisingly, it is Joyce who rescues her. Refusing to leave after being herded to safety, she arrives just in time to miss her daughter fighting for her life and see her only as a helpless victim. “You get the hell away from my daughter,” she says hitting Spike over the head with an ax. It’s the first cool thing Joyce has ever done and she follows it up with a nice speech about how proud of Buffy she is. Wrapping up the episode is Spike, wrapping up the Anointed One. Rather than offering his life in penance for his failure, he grabs the kid, throws him in a cage and pulls it into the sunlight. “From now on, we’re going to have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here.” Indeed.
Ok, so I like this episode about as much as I like “Some Assembly Required,” as in, it’s all right. It marks the first appearance of Oz (Seth Green), which is cool and Willow makes an adorable Inuit, but all in all, it’s a bit lackluster. The parallels drawn between Ampata and Buffy are clumsy at best. Yeah, yeah, they each bore the burden of being the chosen one or whatever, but the similarities end there. Aside from that, while it is nice to see Xander mooning over someone besides Buffy, Ampata doesn’t leave much of an impression. Let’s not forget this installment is also the first appearance of Jonathan (Danny Strong) and while he doesn’t leave much of an impression either, he will become a background fixture of the series and eventually be in the spotlight (although not necessarily a good light).
So, some dummy wakes the Incan Mummy chick, who rises as young and beautiful as she was when she died. The catch is, she has to drain the life from others in order to maintain that youthful glow. She murders Buffy’s would-be exchange student and takes his place in the Summers home. Xander is falling all over himself to impress Ampata and remains ignorant of Willow’s feelings for him. For once though, the girl he digs actually digs him too. Unfortunately, she happens to be a mummy. Her bodyguard, the guy who’s meant to be watching over the tomb, is trying to return her to it. What, was he on a smoke break when some idiot disturbed her in the first place?
While the gang is trying to solve the mystery of the freeze-dried people they keep finding, they’re also getting ready for the World Culture Dance. Willow, realizing that obsessing over Xander is a dead end, suggests he ask Ampata. She agrees to attend and then makes quick work of murdering her bodyguard. Everything comes to a head at the dance, with the first appearance of Oz’s band, Dingoes Ate My Baby (music by Four Star Mary) providing the soundtrack. Xander only has eyes for Ampata, but Oz catches a glimpse of Willow from the stage. In stark contrast to his shallow band mate Devon, Oz isn’t checking out the sexy foreign exchange student. He wants to know about the girl dressed like an Eskimo.
Meanwhile, Ampata’s façade is slipping and Jonathan is about to pay the ultimate price until Xander walks in and winds up almost paying that price instead. She kisses him and leaves him injured, but alive, then rushes off to stop Buffy and Giles from reassembling the seal that would put her back to rest. Xander shows up just in time to save Willow, who was about to become her next victim. Buffy feels for Ampata because they were dealt a similar hand but as Xander points out, she did the right thing and gave her life. “I had you to bring me back,” she tells him.