The Rewatch: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 2

One of the reasons I'm doing a full rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that I noticed that when I went back to the show, I was always watching the same four or five episodes over and over. That's too limiting, so I wanted to immerse myself in the entire show, and not just my perceived high points. I worried that subjecting myself to episodes I didn't care for (or about) the first time I saw them would cause me to disengage, and spoil my fondness for the show as a whole. There have certainly been a couple of times that I noticed the upcoming episode title and thought "Ugh, this one." Season 2 is widely regarded as one of the strongest seasons, though, and I was anxious to see if it still lives up to its reputation. The opening credits now include David Boreanaz, and that poor, nameless voiceover guy has been booted in favor of Giles reciting the "In every generation..." introduction. I never liked that introduction. Maybe it'd have been okay for the first few episodes in the first season, but we don't need an omniscient narrator to tell us who Buffy is at the beginning of every episode. Those who have been watching all along already know the background information, and those watching for the first time wouldn't be sufficiently filled in anyway. Just something that mildly irked me. Anyhow, let's dig down into the individual episodes. Those wary of spoilers should wander away now, and go do something productive.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 2
Big Bad: Spike/Drusilla/Angel

Episode 1: "When She Was Bad"

Even though Buffy dispensed with the Master in Season 1, let's not forget that he did bite her and she did die. You know, briefly. There are naturally going to be repercussions from that, and Season 2 makes the smart choice of opening with Buffy's attempts to deal with her residual fear and hate. Her attempts mostly involve her acting like a complete bitch, to the point that even Cordelia tells her to simmer down. Not that her concerns about the Master are totally unfounded, because the Anointed One has his vamps dig up the Master's skeleton for a plan to resurrect him. Buffy's friends and Miss Calendar are kidnapped for a blood sacrifice for this ritual, so Buffy gets to work out her issues by wreaking violent revenge on the vampire den and bashing the Master's skeleton to dust. This episode was also the closest Xander and Willow ever get to actually kissing, which was strange to watch. It's also an episode I'd generally tell a rewatcher to skip by, because while it makes sense in the overall story arc, it's not super-fun to watch Buffy be sour and mean for half an hour.

Episode 2: "Some Assembly Required"

Standalone episodes are starting to distinguish themselves as both my favorites and my least favorites of the rewatch. While this episode certainly wasn't bad, it is one of those that inspired one of those "Ugh, this one" comments when I saw it coming up. The bodies of Sunnydale High girls killed in a car accident are getting dug up, then hacked up, which points to something other than vampires. It turns out that a couple of advanced science students are building a zombiette with those spare parts - one of the science geeks has reanimated his dead brother, and said brother desperately wants a girlfriend. All they need is a fresh head, and Cordelia is kidnapped to provide it. The rest of the gang saves her, and both zombies go up in flames. Romance also begins to bloom in this episode. Giles and Miss Calendar are getting close, and we get our first glimpse of Cordelia's interest in Xander, as she attempts to thank him for saving her from decapitation. Not that he picks up on it. There's also a little side-plot in which Angel is jealous of the attention Buffy gives other guys, but that's pretty dull. It's a fairly entertaining episode, but pales in comparison to what this show routinely accomplishes in others.

Episode 3: "School Hard"

Introduces: Spike, Drusilla

Like this one! Spike's character certainly goes through its ups and downs over the course of the show, but this is one hell of an introduction. Him and Drusilla blowing into town is what finally kicks Season 2 into gear. Vampires are at the peak of their power on the Night of St. Vigeous, which happens to be the night after Sunnydale High's parent-teacher conferences. Buffy tries to juggle the pressures of school and and slayage, and isn't helped when Spike (who has killed two Slayers in the past) attacks the school a day early. Buffy is almost outmatched, as she's too distracted protecting Joyce and the other civilians to put up much of a fight. Spike didn't count on a Slayer having a support system of friends and family, though, and just as he's about to strike, Joyce wails him in the head with an axe, and he's forced to retreat. We learn that Angel was the one that sired Spike (well, grand-sired through Drusilla), and that Principal Snyder and the police department know everything about the supernatural goings-on in Sunnydale, but cover it all up. And in the best bit, the dour, ritualistic den of vampires is thoroughly shaken up by Spike and Drusilla. They want nothing more than to enjoy themselves, and so Spike kills the Anointed One (or "the Annoying One", as he calls him) and takes over. This episode manages to advance the seasonal arc, develop the backstory about the authority figures in Sunnydale, and still be a load of fun. Definitely a highlight.

Episode 4: "Inca Mummy Girl"

Introduces: Oz, Jonathan Levinson

On a field trip to the local museum, the seal of protection on a mummified Incan princess is broken and she awakens, rejuvenating herself by sucking the life out of others. She poses as an exchange student, and is soon smitten with Xander, as he is with her. Unlike a lot of the "bad guys" on this show, the mummy (Ampata) is more pitiable than evil. Her life was sacrificed as a teenager, a position Buffy is all too familiar with. All Ampata wants is the freedom to live like a normal girl, but she's stuck with the whole needing-to-suck-life-out-of-others method of survival. At the Bronze, we're introduced to Oz, who immediately notices Willow, who's sad about Xander's infatuation with Ampata, who's about to suck the life out of Jonathan (in his first appearance). Ah, teenage life on the Hellmouth! Eventually, the gang discovers Ampata's true nature, and stops her from sucking Willow's life out. Ampata crumbles back to dust, but it's a hollow victory; everyone realizes that she really got a raw deal. It's episodes like this that make the rewatch worth the time. I recalled this episode as being kind of blah, but in retrospect, it's not only more important than I remember, it's more entertaining. Also, for those who keep track of such things, this is the fifth of eight series episodes not to show a single vampire.

Episode 5: "Reptile Boy"

I never noticed the episode name symmetry between this and "Inca Mummy Girl". Clever! Unfortunately, that's about the only clever thing about this episode. Buffy, fed up with the pressure from Giles about her duty and Angel's maddening habit of keeping his distance (since he's a vampire, and oh yeah, about 230 years older than her), sneaks off to a fraternity party with Cordelia. But because this is Sunnydale, it's not just a normal frat house full of boozy date rapists. Nope, this one is full of boozy date rapists who also happen to worship a giant snake demon that lives in the basement. The demon provides wealth and power to the frat guys' families in exchange for sacrificing nubile young ladies. Xander's trademark jealousy makes an unwelcome appearance, and Willow finally stands up for herself (well, her friend), as she tears into Giles and Angel for giving Buffy such a hard time. Buffy and Cordelia are drugged and taken to the sacrificial chamber (along with a before-she-was-sort-of-famous Jordana Spiro), but naturally, Buffy is able to break her chains and kill the snake demon. The frat guys are arrested, their families lose their clout, and both Giles and Angel promise to ease up on Buffy. And that's about it. While none of the episodes in Season 2 are out-and-out bad, this one is the very essence of skippable.

Episode 6: "Halloween"

Introduces: Ethan Rayne, Larry Blaisdell

I'm a guy who loves a well-executed gimmick. "Halloween" runs along similar lines as "Nightmares" did in Season 1, and is just as awesome. Principal Snyder forces Buffy, Xander, and Willow to volunteer to take kids trick-or-treating, so they all stock up at a costume shop run by the charming Ethan Rayne. Trouble lurks beneath that charm, though. Ethan worships chaos, and has imbued his costumes with a magical property that will turn the wearer into the actual costume persona. Xander turns into a special forces military grunt. Willow covers up some sultry clothes that actually flatter her with a ghost sheet, and drops dead, emerging as a phantom. And Buffy, upset that Angel has had a century's worth of old-fashioned ladylike types to pick from, has dressed up in a hoopskirt and petticoat, and morphs into a simpering, idiotic noblewoman.

Naturally, the town goes nuts, cause there are bunch of kids that have suddenly turned into demons. Spike is delighted by all this madness, not least of which because Buffy is now entirely helpless. Giles goes to confront Ethan, who he used to pal around with (Ethan refers to Giles as "Ripper", hinting at their mysterious past together). Giles manages to break the spell in time for Buffy to recover and kick Spike's ass, and here's where I'd usually say everything goes back to normal. But it doesn't. Cordelia learns that Angel is a vampire. Angel tells Buffy that he never liked those insipid 19th century women, and the two of them kiss, their romance blossoming anew. Willow gains self-confidence from effectively leading the gang through this latest crisis, and Oz's interest in her climbs even higher. We're also introduced to Larry, who is just a garden-variety lout and bully in this episode, but who would be put to better use later in the series. An outstanding episode from beginning to end.

Episode 7: "Lie to Me"

Where "Halloween" indulges in a lot of jokey fun, "Lie to Me" is a lot more serious. Buffy sees Angel talking with Drusilla, and learns about how he mentally tortured her into insanity before siring her. She also reconnects with Ford, a student she knew back in her Los Angeles days. Angel immediately smells a rat, and though Willow tries to convince him he's just jealous of Buffy spending time with a human boy, she reluctantly agrees to check him out. There is a lot kind of off about Ford, especially since he tells Buffy he knows she's the Slayer, and the second her back is turned, spares a vampire in exchange for information. It seems Ford belongs to a group of vampire admirers who wish to be turned. Most of them are run-of-the-mill morons, and Ford has agreed to sacrifice them to Spike and his cronies in exchange for immortality. He's rapidly dying of cancer, and vampirism is his ticket out. Buffy discovers this plan, and is unable to dissuade him from it. When the vampires attack the wannabe club, she threatens to stake Drusilla unless Spike lets everyone go. Ford stays behind, and insists that Spike hold up his end of the deal. At the episode's conclusion, Buffy and Giles have a sober discussion of morality, and how it's often difficult to tell the difference between heroes and villains. Ford's intentions may be understandable, but he's still a vampire now, and Buffy stakes him the minute he rises from the grave. Although this is the episode that Angel and Buffy declare that they are, in fact, in love, nobody walks away from this week's adventure happy.

Episode 8: "The Dark Age"

Remember Giles' mysterious backstory that was alluded to in "Halloween"? Here's where it erupts. Back when he was "Ripper", Giles and his gang of pals used to dabble in the dark arts, playing around with a demon named Eyghon who possesses dead or unconscious hosts. Now Eyghon is back, and is systematically killing members of Giles' old crew by possessing the body of the victim to murder the next one. A scuffle with one of these possessed corpses knocks out Miss Calendar, and the demon leaps into her body. Ethan Rayne is next on the demon's to-kill list, so Ethan attempts to escape notice by burning off his demon mark tattoo with acid, and by serving up Buffy as bait. When the demonic Miss Calendar attacks, Angel saves the day by choking her until the demon moves to the next dead/unconscious person in the room - Angel himself. His vampire essence and the demon essence battle it out within him, and the vampire emerges victorious. Ethan escapes into the night again, and while Miss Calendar is saved, her relationship with Giles is severely damaged. It's a fairly good episode, and a handy lesson for Buffy, who has viewed Giles as stuffily perfect up to this point. Now she must confront the fact that he's human, and just as capable of making dangerous mistakes as anyone else. While the plot-driven standalone episodes can go for broke on pure entertainment, it's these well-developed character beats that really make Buffy such a well-regarded show, and this episode is a perfect example of that.

Episode 9: "What's My Line? - Part 1"

Introduces: Kendra Young, Willy the Snitch

Mark it! This episode is the first time that Buffy and her crew are referred to as the Scooby Gang. I've been studiously avoiding that terminology up until now, and it's so freeing to be able to finally deploy it. And you know some serious shit is about to go down in a Buffy episode if there's a "Part 1" attached to the name. And not just because this episode is where Willow and Oz officially meet for the first time. Career Day comes to Sunnydale High, so of course Buffy is bummed that she doesn't have more choices in her life, and that her destiny is already laid out before her. Part of that destiny is dealing with an order of assassins that Spike contracts with to deal with Buffy while he works on a cure for Drusilla's illness. These killers can be anyone, from human to vampire to demon, and Buffy gets beset by wildly different assailants. A mysterious girl that we assume to be one of the assassins witnesses Buffy and Angel kissing, and attacks Angel when he goes to get info out of Willy the Snitch. She locks him in a cage that will soon be bathed in sunlight, and goes to attack Buffy as well. The two fight for a while, and just when we expect to learn more about the assassin group's methods or motives, we find out that the girl trying to bring Buffy down is Kendra... The Vampire Slayer.

Episode 10: "What's My Line? - Part 2"

What, what, what? But it's been drilled into both the audience and the characters that there can be only one Slayer in all the world (a supposition that carries its own issues, but whatever). How can Kendra be a Slayer? Well, she was called when Buffy briefly died in "Prophecy Girl". OK, then why did she attack Buffy? It's because she saw her kiss Angel in his vampire form and assumed Buffy was an enemy, too. OK, then why is she in Sunnydale at all? Because a dark power is about to rise. OK, then what now? Oh. That whole Angel-about-to-be-dusted-by-sunlight thing. Angel has actually been saved by Willy the Snitch, then immediately delivered to Spike so he can be killed in a ritual that will restore Drusilla's health. Not enough of an exposition dump? OK, one of the assassins (whose body is made up of a seething mass of worms - ick) has cornered Xander and Cordelia, and in their imperiled position, they kiss for the first time. Oz saves Willow from being shot by another assassin. Kendra and Giles bond, and Buffy considers giving up the slaying gig and letting Kendra take over full time. It all culminates in the restoration ritual, in which Kendra and Buffy save Angel and kick Spike's ass so hard that he's essentially crippled, but enough of the ritual has been completed that Drusilla returns to full strength. With Spike disabled and the worm assassin ground to paste, the assassin contract is canceled, and Kendra is free to return to her watcher. Though the Scooby Gang has been working well as a group for a while now, this remarkable pair of episodes is what really solidifies them into a team, and teaches Buffy that despite what the Slayer Lore has been up to this point, she is not alone.

Episode 11: "Ted"

Any standalone episode coming after the one-two punch of "What's My Line?" is going to suffer by comparison. Spike and Drusilla are thought to be defeated, the order of assassins has been called off, and everything seems to be as normal as it ever gets. John Ritter guest stars as the titular new man in Joyce's life, and immediately rubs Buffy the wrong way. He's outwardly pleasant and generous, but he's got a rigid code of rules, and when Buffy breaks them, he slaps her across the face. Buffy wants her mother to be happy, so she attempts to make nice with Ted. It isn't long before the conflict flares up again, and Buffy winds up causing Ted to fall down the stairs, where he is pronounced dead. Buffy must then deal with both the guilt of using her super-strength against a normal person, and the utter devastation she's brought down on Joyce. No worries, though. Ted turns out to be a robot who serially marries women, then kills them when they don't conform to his programmed ideal of a Leave it to Beaver type of family. There are a couple of things to admire about this episode. It's one of the few that involves very few supernatural elements, and drives home the idea of what it must be like for a Slayer to deal with banal things like routine police investigations and unwelcome stepfather candidates. Joyce has often been treated like background, but this episode gives us a sense of what it must be like to live with Buffy and not know about her double life. Aside from that, though, it's not a terribly engaging episode. Ritter does a fine job, but doesn't distinguish himself on the level Clea DuVall did in "Out of Mind, Out of Sight". Ah, well. At least Joyce's hair looks way better now.

Episode 12: "Bad Eggs"

Introduces: Lyle Gorch

Xander and Cordy continue their secret relationship, while Buffy gets lectures on responsibility from Joyce. Further responsibility is loaded onto her shoulders when the school's Health class gives all the students eggs to take care of as surrogate children (my school did this too, with stuffed animals). Because this is the Buffyverse, these are no harmless chicken eggs. They belong to a Bezoar, and the hatchlings burrow into a host, taking over their brains. Joyce, Giles, Willow, Cordelia, Jonathan, and a bunch of others are enslaved, and toil in the basement, pulling eggs out of the Mother Bezoar and preparing them for shipment all over the world. Buffy, who has been distracted by fighting a pair of cowboy brother vampires named Lyle and Tector Gorch, works with Xander to fake their way to the Bezoar lair in the school's basement. The Gorches attack, but what are vampire/human squabbles when there's a monster nearby that's happy to kill anyone not under her thrall? Tector is eaten, and Buffy is pulled to the monster's maw, but is able to kill it with a pickaxe she grabs along the way. With the Mother Bezoar dead, the affected people come to their senses, as does Lyle, who figures picking a fight with the Slayer is a bad idea, and runs away. A reawakened Joyce grounds Buffy for not having enough of a sense of responsibility (irony!), but Angel still manages to get smooches through Buffy's bedroom window. This is another of those episodes that I rarely choose to revisit, but was far better than I expected it to be on the rewatch.

Episode 13: "Surprise"

And, we're back into the serious season arc advancement. Speaking of surprises, it's strange that we'd get another two-episode storyline so soon after "What's My Line?", but "Surprise" and "Innocence" are executed so well that nobody seemed to mind. These episodes pop up on a lot of Best Of Buffy lists, and while I enjoy them a lot, I'm not as into them this time around. In "Surprise", Buffy has a dream in which a fully-recovered Drusilla kills Angel. She worries that it's prophetic, but at least she has a heads-up that Spike and Drusilla are still alive (though Spike is confined to a wheelchair - let's just not worry about how vampiric paralysis works). Indeed, the evil couple is hard at work on assembling the pieces of a monstrous Judge, a demon who the lore describes as invincible to any weapons forged by man. Meanwhile, Oz and Willow arrange their first date to be Buffy's birthday party, Miss Calendar's uncle stops by to reveal that she's part of the Gypsy clan tasked with making sure Angel stays miserable, and Angel gives Buffy a claddagh ring as a token of his love. Oz witnesses Buffy dust a vampire, and is accepted as part of the Scooby Gang with minimal fuss. Although Miss Calendar does her best to send Angel away on a quest to keep a vital piece of the Judge safe, the mission fails, and Buffy and Angel are captured by Spike and Drusilla. They manage to escape before the reanimated Judge can kill them, and seek refuge in Angel's lair, where they have sex for the first time. Buffy falls asleep, and in a crash of thunder and lightning, Angel runs out into a storm, screaming her name. Uh, oh. Something bad is afoot. This was an extremely important episode in terms of series significance, and it's very well done (I particularly like how nonchalant Oz is about the whole world of supernatural forces suddenly being apparent to him). It would definitely be a requisite episode for any discussion of Buffy as a whole, but in terms of pure entertainment value in a rewatch, it doesn't have as much punch.

Episode 14: "Innocence"

"Innocence" has the distinction of being the highest-rated Buffy episode of the entire series. It's not difficult to see why, as it's clearly the turning point of the season. Sleeping with Buffy has brought Angel a moment of "true happiness", which according to the curse he's been given, causes his reclaimed soul to once again depart his body. His humanity gone, Angel is now back to being Angelus, a full-fledged evil vampire. And he is not happy with the memory of being Buffy's compliant boyfriend. In the interstitial plotline, Willow discovers the relationship between Xander and Cordelia, and is devastated that Xander would rather date someone he professes to despise over Willow, who has been obviously in love with him since childhood. But back to the main thread. The newly-evil Angelus, in addition to killing prostitutes and other fun activities to show he's truly bad now, takes the Judge to the nearest mall with Drusilla in order to start wreaking a little havoc. Fortunately, though, the Scooby Gang has two tricks up their sleeves. One is that everyone still remembers everything they went through on Halloween, so Xander retains his military knowledge. And two, that whole Judge-can't-be-killed-by-any-weapon-forged-by-man rule was written before things like...oh, say...rocket-propelled grenade launchers were invented. The "Oh, shit!" faces that dawn on Angelus and Drusilla two seconds before Buffy blows the Judge to smithereens is a thing of beauty. Buffy is having understandable trouble letting go of her idea of who Angel is now, and can't bring herself to kill him yet. That doesn't preclude her from giving him a good kick in the balls, though. As with "Surprise", it's a masterfully-crafted episode, and as with "Surprise", it's more important as canon than entertainment.

Episode 15: "Phases"

As I said in "The Pack", Buffy often used supernatural stories as an allegory to examine social issues, and this one is a good exploration of gender politics. A werewolf is terrorizing Sunnydale, and though it hasn't killed any people yet, it's obviously a concern. And unlike being able to dust vampires with a clear conscience, the gang doesn't want to kill a monster that is a normal person 27 days out of the month. That is not a moral quandary that troubles a werewolf hunter that has come to town, so Buffy is in the odd position of having to both capture and protect the beast. Meanwhile, Willow is dropping heavy hints to Oz that she wants their relationship to progress, Larry sexually harasses the female student body, and Angel stalks and murders Theresa, a helpless classmate of Buffy's. All of these seemingly disparate storylines are woven together - everyone assumes Larry is the werewolf and that he killed Theresa, but both of those misconceptions are cleared up when Theresa rises as a vampire and Oz morphs into the werewolf. Larry's big secret is not that he's a lycanthrope, but that he's gay and deeply closeted. His relief upon coming out to Xander (who he suspects is a fellow dude-admirer) helps him make the change to becoming a better person. Willow accepts Oz for his wolfish leanings, ribbing him that she's no fun a few days out of the month, either. Both his and Larry's self-acceptance, along with the werewolf hunter's insistence that tracking wolves is no business for a pert little blonde like Buffy makes for interesting interactions about what it means to be a man or a woman, and also makes for a pretty fun episode.

Episode 16: "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"

Up there in "Some Assembly Required", I said that standalone episodes are fast becoming both my favorites and my least favorites of the rewatch. "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" is a textbook example of that, but unlike "Some Assembly Required", this one is on the great end of the spectrum. I adore this episode. Cordelia dumps Xander because she finds herself suddenly unpopular for dating a loser. Xander displays his trademark overreaction and jealousy by blackmailing Amy (who's taken up the witchcraft mantle from her mother) into whipping up a love spell that will make Cordelia fall helplessly in love with him. There's just one tiny problem. The spell actually affects every female in town except Cordelia. That includes Amy, Buffy, Joyce, Willow, Miss Calendar... You name it. Girls being crazy in love with you sounds fun, until you focus on that "crazy" part. Buffy punches Amy. Amy turns Buffy into a rat. Harmony attacks Cordelia. Willow grabs an axe. In a fantastic scene, a murderous Angel snags Xander, and just when it's looking bleakest, Xander is saved by a love-struck Drusilla. Giles is able to break the spell with a reluctant Amy's help, and though everyone else is furious with Xander, Cordelia appreciates his protection during the hysteria, and she announces to her social-climbing friends that she'll date whoever she damn well pleases, no matter how lame he is. Episodes that allow the cast to stretch their wings by acting in ways that are polar opposite to their usual characteristics can be grand fun, and if I'm ever in the mood to watch a single Buffy episode, this one always makes the short list.

Episode 17: "Passion"

Sure, Angel killed Theresa and that one hooker, but Joss Whedon had the not-unreasonable concern that viewers still considered him to just be kind of grouchy, instead of a soulless monster. "Passion" sure takes care of that. But first, we learn all sorts of interesting things. For instance, there's a spell that revokes any existing vampire invitation, so now Angel can't stroll into Buffy's house anymore. Whew. Also, Miss Calendar is able to fill in the gaps of the ancient ritual used to restore the soul to a vampire's body. She downloads the completed ritual onto a computer disk, but Angel is onto her, and he attacks her before she can leave the school. Sure, we've seen that Buffy has real stakes (no pun intended), but when Angel snaps Miss Calendar's neck, it still comes as a genuine shock, even if you know it's coming. Angel arranges Miss Calendar's body in Giles' bed, so that he will discover it in the most horrific way imaginable, and watches with pleasure as Buffy and Willow receive the news. A shattered Giles marches off to get some ill-conceived revenge, and though Buffy is able to rescue him, she loses her opportunity to dispose of Angel. She's now more than ready to do what must be done, though, and as Willow takes over Miss Calendar's classes, the forgotten computer disk that contains the secret to restoring Angel's soul falls off the desk into a narrow crevice. It's an incredibly tense, thrilling episode, and cements once and for all how far this show was willing to go.

Episode 18: "Killed by Death"

Well, they can't all be gems. So far, I've been pleasantly surprised by the standalone episodes I wasn't particularly looking forward to, but "Killed By Death" lived down to its reputation. Buffy lands in the hospital with a serious case of flu, and begins dreaming of a demon that sucks the life out of ill children. Despite facing death and pain on a daily basis as the Slayer, the writers contrive to have Buffy be averse to hospitals, because she witnessed her favorite cousin die in one as a child. Angel drops by to be menacing, but it's pretty useless. It turns out the dream demon is all too real, but is only visible to the sick. A recovering Buffy realizes that this must be the entity that killed her cousin, and intentionally makes herself weak again so she can confront it. She kills it, the sick children are happy, and... That's it. Even "Reptile Boy", which wasn't a terrific episode, managed to have some suspense and humor. This episode just lands with a thud.

Episode 19: "I Only Have Eyes For You"

This one's concept had the potential to land with an equally dull thud, but some thoughtful writing and plotting make it very enjoyable. The annual Sadie Hawkins dance at Sunnydale High stirs up the ghosts of a teacher and student who had an affair in 1955. Despite loving the student, the teacher attempted to call off the affair, and the devastated teen winds up shooting her, then committing suicide. In the present, the two spirits begins possessing others, and reliving their doomed final night, with violent results for the hosts. Buffy, confident that she can handle an attack by an emotional civilian, goes to the school. Angel finds her there, but before he can attack, they're both possessed. In a clever twist, the violent male student takes Buffy's body, while the distraught teacher enters Angel. When Buffy shoots Angel, he survives (bullets don't do the job against vampires), and so the two spirits are able to talk out their feelings, and finally achieve closure. They depart for good, and a freaked-out Angel momentarily loses his killing mojo, running away to find comfort in Drusilla. He and Drusilla go out to cleanse their palates with a good kill, and we close out on a reveal that Spike is all healed now, and is in the mood for a little revenge against Angel snaking his woman (and let's face it, being kind of a dick to Spike in general lately). There are a couple of other interesting notes about this one. The guest star casting is pretty remarkable, with Christopher Gorham (Ugly Betty, Harper's Island) as the murderous student and Oscar-nominee John Hawkes as a janitor that gets possessed by him. Also, this episode marks the first mention of "The Mayor", a name that causes a lot of uncomfortable shifting for Principal Snyder and the police department. That was some nice, subtle foreshadowing. This isn't an episode that springs to my mind a lot, but it should. It's a good example of how great Buffy was at presenting self-contained stories without going overboard on the supernatural elements.

Episode 20: "Go Fish"

Hey, this one had some notable guests, too! Wentworth Miller (Prison Break) is a snotty member of Sunnydale's swim team, and Hey-It's-That-Guy Conchata Ferrell is the conspiratorial school nurse. This was another of the "Ugh, this one," episodes that turned out to be better than I remember. It's got some good banter to it. Sunnydale's swim team are the celebrities du jour, and though they're riding high on a wave of admiration and power, a monster appears to be attacking and eating them - all but the skin (Xander: "The skin's the best part!"). Angel manages to corner one of the swimmers as well, but can't stomach his blood. All signs point to something being introduced into their systems, so Xander goes undercover as a member of the team. It turns out that the coach and nurse have stumbled across Soviet DNA experiments that are turning the swimmers into fishy monsters the coach keeps in the sewer to serve as a championship-winning team. Oh, THAT old saw. The nurse gets eaten, and the insane coach throws Buffy to the monsters as a mate. Ew. Xander saves her, and the coach is killed by his own creations before they find their way out to the open ocean where they can live (happily?) ever after. Though this episode was better than I expected on the rewatch, it doesn't stack up very well against the rest of the season as a whole. It's still skippable, but thankfully, not awful.

Episode 21: "Becoming - Part 1"

Having multiple two-episode arcs in a single season is risky, but it's understandable why "Becoming" needed more than a single episode to wrap up the season, because this finale packs a wallop. Part 1 shifts back and forth in time to explore how the characters got to this point, "this point" being a fresh new apocalypse to worry about. Scenes in the past include Darla siring Angel (Ireland - 1753), Angel tormenting and siring Drusilla (England - 1860), Angel getting his soul restored (Romania - 1898), Angel meeting Whistler, a neutral demon who is tasked with maintaining balance between good and evil (New York - 1996), and Buffy being informed that she is the new Slayer (Los Angeles - 1996). In the present, a stone block is taken to the museum. The block is the solidified form of the demon Acathla, who will swallow the world into Hell if awakened. And guess what Angel wants to do? More? You want more? Sure! Buffy and Willow find the disk with the ritual that will restore Angel's soul. Kendra comes back to Sunnydale with a weapon that should be effective against Acathla, hopefully. Angel and Drusilla acquire Acathla, and then Angel lures Buffy away from the school so that Drusilla can attack. Giles is kidnapped, Willow is knocked out before she can complete the soul-restoration ritual, and Drusilla kills Kendra. And then Buffy gets back, is seen by the police standing over Kendra's corpse, and must run away before she gets arrested. Aside from David Boreanaz's laughable attempt at an Irish accent, it's an incredible episode, and puts me on the edge of my seat every time I watch it. And that's only half of the story!

Episode 22: "Becoming - Part 2"

The police are hunting Buffy (oh, and Principal Snyder expels her), Willow is in a coma, and Angel is torturing Giles for information about how to wake Acathla, so our heroes don't begin this week in a promising situation. After a brief chat with Whistler, Buffy is nearly captured by the police, but is saved by Spike, of all people. He makes the apt argument that just because he's a blood-sucking vampire, it doesn't mean he wants the world to end. He rather likes the world, what with all those tasty people walking around. The two of them strike up a tenuous alliance, with Spike agreeing to help stop Acathla if he and Drusilla are allowed to leave town. They head back to Buffy's house, where Joyce arrives just in time to see Buffy dust a vamp. Yup, the secret's out, and Buffy spills as much info about her role as the chosen one as she has time for - that is to say, not much. Joyce is understandably confused and upset, but even her panic and threats isn't enough to stop Buffy from leaving to go face Angel. Willow wakes up and wants to reattempt the soul-restoration curse, sending Xander to tell Buffy to stall until she can get it done. Xander, however, doesn't want Angel to survive, and lies in order to encourage Buffy to kill him. Drusilla tricks Giles into giving up the secret to waking Acathla, who begins to stir just as Buffy arrives. She and Spike square off against Angel and Drusilla, and after some initial setbacks, Buffy gets the upper hand. Having made good on his promise, Spike knocks Drusilla out and carries her off. Just as Buffy is about to strike the killing blow, Willow's curse kicks in, and Angel's soul is restored. Buffy recognizes this, but it's too late, as Acathla's mouth opens and a whirling vortex emerges. The only way to save the world is by skewering Angel into Acathla with the sword, and after telling him she loves him and giving him a final kiss, she stabs him and sends him to Hell. The apocalypse is averted, but after everything Buffy has been through, she doesn't feel like she can resume her normal life. She boards a bus out of town, and we end the season on Sunnydale losing its Slayer.


Once I was done rewatching Season 2, it was easy to see why it's considered so highly, because it is, in a word, awesome. The cast has fully gelled into a terrific ensemble, and the vast majority of episodes work on either a level of cleverness, emotion, or both. There's a seasonal arc, but the show doesn't crawl up its own ass in terms of mythology. There's plenty of levity, there's plenty of pathos, and neither one ever outweighs the other too much. Season 3 was also considered a series highlight, so I'm looking forward to seeing how it compares to my memory on the rewatch. In the meantime, let's do some ranking for Season 2:

Best Episode: Oof. This is a really tough choice. There are plenty of episodes that could arguably be my top choice on any given day. In trying to balance good storytelling, a smart blend of comedy and drama, and pure fun, I think I'm going to go with the two-episode arc of "What's My Line?"

Worst Episode: "Killed By Death"

Must-Watch: "School Hard", "Inca Mummy Girl", "Halloween", "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", "Passion", "Becoming" (These are "Musts" from a rewatch perspective - they may not fill newbies in on the plot, but they're the most enjoyable.)

Free-to-Skip: "When She Was Bad", "Some Assembly Required", "Reptile Boy", "Ted", "Go Fish" (Converse here. Skippable episodes may be very important from a story perspective, but struck me as weak, entertainment-wise.)


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