Season 2 Review
Review by Mikelangelo "MikeJer" Marinaro
Posted by MikeJer on November 3, 2005 (Updated: August 28, 2012)
This is a retrospective review and may contain spoilers from anywhere in the series. Read at your own peril.
What a significant improvement over S1! This season sports tremendously better fight scenes, monumentally better music, better all-around acting, much better plots, better pacing, better humor, and better drama. That's a whole lot of 'betters' and I can safely say that I love this season. The first half of the season is filled with a bunch of hit or miss episodes, all of which are at least mildly entertaining or add some useful character development. The second half of the season (post-"Surprise" [2x13]) is consistently explosive, though, with three P's and a lot of A's in the mix. Because of the emotional latter half episodes, this season is one of my favorites and quite possibly is my favorite (it is not the best season though).
Although all of the main (and a lot of secondary) characters got some great character development, the focus of this season is right on Buffy. The focus tends to be spread more evenly in S3 and S4. That is not to say that this focus hurts the season. On the contrary, I think it was a smart move by the writing team and gave the first full season direction by really exploring our hero. A lot of new relationships form and one ends up changing forever. There are a lot of great episodes here, but the best ones tend to focus on the primary plot, and this is where the season truly shines. Spike and Drusilla crash into town in "School Hard" (2x03) looking to be the new big bad. Spike excites with his kick-ass attitude and dangerous methods. But then something unexpected happens and we're thrown a curveball. In "What's My Line? Pt. 2" (2x10), Spike becomes the cripple and Drusilla becomes the dominant one in town.
New territory is really explored, though, when in "Innocence" (2x14) everyone discovers that Buffy inadvertantly caused Angel to lose his soul when she made love with him. This turns the entire season upside down. Angel's now working for the other side, Drusilla is still completely mad, and Spike is regaining strength. The second half of the season is almost completely focused on Buffy and Angelus. He begins to slowly increase his level of mental torture until he decides to stop doing small stuff. He kills Jenny Calendar in "Passion" (2x17) and shows not only the Scoobies, but also the viewers, that anyone on this show can be killed off. That sets up the landscape for the explosive two-part season finale, "Becoming Pt. 1" (2x21) and "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22), where Buffy loses everything but herself and leaves Sunnydale.
By the time "Innocence" (2x14) rolled along the writers had finally found their direction and style. The three perfect episodes in this season are some of the best episodes ever made for television, including my favorite of all television, "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22). So that's what happened plot-wise, now lets take a look at what happened to our beloved characters.
Just to get this out of the way, why did Buffy keep getting knocked out by nobodies all season long? Even Cordelia knocks her unconscious in "Bad Eggs" (2x12)! If she'd had been like this in S5, Glory would have knocked her out after the first punch. At least that's my only complaint with her character development over the season.
Now on to the important stuff. When this season began Buffy was still having a hard time over her near-death experience with the Master. She took out her bottled up fears and shock on her friends, who proved here that they are there for Buffy emotionally, no matter what happens. After this things stay relatively quiet (Spike unfortunately doesn't do much outside of his introduction episode) until "What's My Line? Pt. 2" (2x10), where we find out a second Slayer has been called because of Buffy's temporary death in "Prophecy Girl" (1x12). Buffy is able to take comfort in the fact that she's now "not the only freak."
Then comes along "Ted" (2x11), where Buffy thinks she killed a man but quickly gets off the hook because Ted turns out to be a crazy robot. This episode was almost a huge turning point for Buffy but instead was watered down and made pretty much irrelevant. She at least got a taste of what being a criminal in the natural world is like, and while it lasted it was absolutely riveting to watch. The next big episode more than makes up for the mistakes of the robot. The two-parter "Surprise" (2x13) and "Innocence" (2x14) mark a big turning point for Buffy. These episodes force her to take the first baby steps into adulthood, and boy is it difficult on her. She, in a very romantic and sensitive scene, loses her virginity to Angel on the night of her seventeenth birthday. This event gives Angel a moment of perfect happiness which triggers something neither of them knew was part of his curse, and causes him to lose his soul and become the truly evil Angelus again.
What Angelus puts her through is really cutting into her emotionally and she comes away from the experience much stronger inside. She can't quite kill Angelus when she has the chance, but she knows in time she'll get there. One of the great things about this series is that all actions have consequences. Buffy sparing Angelus in "Innocence" (2x14) costed Jenny Calendar her life in "Passion" (2x17). Buffy feels she's responsible for all the horrible things that are happening all because she gave into her impulses and had sex with Angel. Not being able to forgive herself for her actions and move on is the entire theme of "I Only Have Eyes for You" (2x19), where a ghost who wants forgiveness for accidentally shooting his lover in a burst of anger ends up possessing Buffy because she can't forgive herself for what she's done either. These two souls end up forgiving each other: the ghost is able to move on, and Buffy is able to move forward.
All throughout the season we have seen instances of her having to get stronger through dealing with traumatic circumstances. An important example of this is Buffy's tremendously adult selfless act in "Passion" (2x17) when she tells Jenny that Giles misses her, and that she doesn't want anyone to be alone. I believe all of this development is slow and deliberate preparation for her first big dose of adulthood, which she is forced into taking in "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22). It is in this episode where Buffy loses everything she has: her friends, her family, her school, and her lover.
Through this devastating experience Buffy learns a valuable lesson about not only being the Slayer, but about being a person. That is you always have yourself. When things are down you'll eventually be okay because if you know and are content with yourself, nothing can defeat you. This is exactly why Buffy defeats Angelus here and ends up dying in "The Gift" (5x22). "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22) is the episode where she finds out who she is, deep down inside her, while "The Gift" (5x22) is the episode where the opposite happens. She says, "I sacrificed Angel to save the world. I loved him so much... but I knew. What was right. I don't have that any more. I don't understand. I don't know how to live in this world, if these are the choices, if everything just gets stripped away. I don't see the point." All of this just proves the point that the most important thing in life is to be content with who you are. Only then can you hope to establish meaningful relationships with other people.
For now, though, Buffy does know herself and (when she gets over her current pain) is able to have a relatively happy few years before the events of S5 begin to change everything for her again. One thing is for certain though: Buffy is not a child anymore.
Willow got a whole lot more character development this season than last. The season begins with her still wanting to move her relationship with Xander beyond friendship, but he keeps recoiling and chasing hopelessly after Buffy. Even though Willow had some small confidence boosts in S1, it's really not until "Halloween" (2x06) when she really evolves as a person. This is a huge episode for her as she is forced into a situation where she must take charge and figure out how to return things to normal. We are able to visually see her boost in confidence at the end of the episode when she decides not to hide her body underneath the ghost costume. Not only that, but in several episodes throughout the season Willow noticeably stands up and speaks her mind.
Aside from the confidence level increases, Willow's relationship with Oz has made a big impact on her life. He's the first guy she's even dated and they're an extremely cute couple. Her experience in "Halloween" (2x06) is also the biggest reason why she even has the guts to walk up to Oz and ask him to come to Buffy's birthday party with her in "Surprise" (2x13). This gets things started, but it's not until Oz's "freeze frame" speech in "Innocence" (2x14) about waiting for Willow to kiss him, does she fully respect and actually want to date him.
In "Phases" (2x15) Willow finally spontaneously kisses Oz, and this is right after she found out he's a werewolf! She doesn't care because she knows where Oz's values lie and she has that extra confidence now. All of these new aspects of Willow's personality culminate in "Becoming Pt. 1" (2x21) then she attemps to perform the Spell of Restoration on Angelus. This begins her serious exploration of witchcraft which will slowly develop through the seasons until it consumes her in S6.
It's important to distinguish the two different aspects of her growth because one is healthy and the other is not. Willow's development in "Halloween" (2x06) is natural and basic human growth. Her confidence and power gained through witchcraft is not human nor is it natural. In S3 and S4 Willow slowly begins to rely more and more on magic to make her feel important and powerful instead of seeking the natural kind of leadership she showed a taste for back in "Halloween" (2x06). I bring all of this up now because when Buffy returns to Sunnydale in "Dead Man's Party" (3x02) we discover that Willow has been really diving into black magic while Buffy's been away. It's ultimately tragic that Willow likes the taste of what black magic can do and how powerful it makes her feel, because by S6 this lust for importance and power will destroy her and those around her.
There's a decent amount of development for Xander this season too! In "When She Was Bad" (2x01) we find out he still is massively attracted to Buffy even though he knows she doesn't share his feelings for her (confirmed in "Prophecy Girl" [1x12]). Unfortunately his attempts to move beyond thinking about Buffy all the time keep getting stifled, such is evident by his demon date in "Inca Mummy Girl" (2x04). Once again, though, the highlight character episode of the season, "Halloween" (2x06), gives Xander that needed extra bit of manliness to finally begin to get over Buffy and search elsewhere. When he gets turned into an army guy he is able to kick ass like no one had ever seen him do before. We get to see what he's capable of if only he'd develop that confident part of himself (this is directly addressed in "The Replacement" [5x03]). When in army-mode he unwaiveringly gives Cordelia his jacket when she says she's cold. You can tell this impresses her and is probably the first time she really began becoming attracted to him.
Cordelia's budding attraction to Xander along with his tendancy to react sexually under pressure cause the two of them to kiss while in imminent danger in Buffy's basement in "What's My Line? Pt. 2" (2x10). This begins their odd yet suitably fitting "opposites attract" relationship. They surprisingly continue this relationship even after it is exposed in "Innocence" (2x14). Cordelia can't take the embarassment from her old friends for long, though, and dumps Xander on Valentine's Day in "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" (2x16). In response, Xander shows he has a bit of a vengeance problem (and how fitting is it that he ends up nearly marrying a former vengeance demon in S6), so he tries to use witchcraft to make Cordelia love him again just so he can break up with her. A big realization from Cordelia, however, makes all of this irrelevant and they get back together. It's also worth noting that Xander is a decent guy and rejects the opportunity to take advantage of Buffy while she's under the backfired spell.
Xander comes out and shocks everyone, including me, when he angrily barks at Buffy in "Becoming Pt. 1" (2x21) and says, "You can paint this any way you want. But the way I see it is that you wanna forget all about Ms. Calendar's murder so you can get your boyfriend back." Xander has made it clear, and here once again makes it clear, that he hates Angel, in any form. It seems to me that at this point he is trying desparately to keep Buffy and Angel separated, and not just because of the Angelus issues. Xander's lie in "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22) is very controversial, and as I said in my review of that episode, I really have to question, and disagree with, Xander's motives. I've got to give it to him, though, this is first time he's shown real guts and stood up for his beliefs. It goes to show that he's also come a long way from the naive stutter-boy he was back in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" (1x01). It's also by this time, thanks to his relationship with Cordelia and his disagreement with many of Buffy's decisions, that Xander is finally 'over' Buffy. He pretty much stays that way through the end of the series.
There are three major things going on with Giles this season. The first is his relationship with Jenny Calendar. This represents his first attempt at having a life and relationship outside of his duties of being Buffy's Watcher. Unfortunately those duties and his relationship can never seem to keep themselves separated during the course of the season. This is why him and Jenny are dating in "Some Assembly Required" (2x02), not dating after "The Dark Age" (2x08), and then admitting love for each other in "Passion" (2x17), all right before Angelus snaps Jenny's neck along with Giles' tie to a normal life of his own. He doesn't begin to recover from this experience until "Real Me" (5x02) when he buys the local magic shop.
The second big development with Giles is that we learn a good amount of detail about his past. This happens in "The Dark Age" (2x08), when some mischief him and Ethan Rayne caused as reckless teens, comes back to try to kill them. That episode, while somewhat mediocre, did gives Giles some important texture and background. It's good to know that he had a rebellious phase and it gives him and Buffy something to relate to (not that Buffy ever did anything that crazy).
Finally, and most importantly, Giles' relationship with Buffy is firmly put into place. Buffy knows exactly where Giles stands when it comes to personal issues and his duties to her not only as her Watcher, but also as her father figure. This fact is most prominently displayed after Jenny reveals she hid the truth of her heritage in "Innocence" (2x14), so in response Giles turns his back on her and stands firmly by Buffy.
At the end of the same episode Giles also displays a beautiful father-like love to Buffy in his car. She's breaking down and blaming herself for everything that happened and Giles tells her, "No. I don't believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. A-and I can. I know that you loved him. And... he... has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months a-are gonna, are gonna be hard... I, I suspect on all of us, but... if it's guilt you're looking for, Buffy, I'm, I'm not your man. All you will get from me is, is my support. And my respect." Buffy is this man's life and his pledge, and I can only further say that I really respect this man.
Still retaining most of her abrasive qualities, Cordelia ends up softening quite a bit this season. It all begins with her kind comment to Xander in "Some Assembly Required" (2x02). That lead to Xander giving her his coat in "Halloween" (2x06) for warmth, and that lead to their first ridiculous kiss in "What's My Line? Pt. 2" (2x10). Once their relationship was out in the open it became decision time for Cordelia. Either she ditches Xander in favor of her friends or she forgets her dumb friends and sticks with Xander. The entire episode, "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" (2x16), deals with this issue. In the end she does in fact ditch her old 'friends' and for the first time becomes nearly exclusively reliant on the Scooby Gang for company.
Hanging out with the gang through all the tough times leading up the season finale obviously made an impact her. In "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22) she shows that she actually, for the first time, genuinely cares about Xander and Willow. This is a big change from where she was at the beginning of the season. Cordelia is slowly getting depth added to her each season leading up to her co-starring role on Angel where her character will be fully fleshed out. This season (and next) still provide excellent backstory and depth for her character before she moves over to Angel.
A character who began the season as a fun love interest for Giles quickly got developed into quite a bit more. In "Some Assembly Required" (2x02) she instigates the date machine with Giles and begins to help him have a life outside of his duties as Buffy's Watcher. Circumstances kept interfering with her want to just love Giles and really further their relationship.
Jenny gained a lot more depth and importance in "Surprise" (2x13) when we find out that she was actually sent to Sunnydale to keep an eye on Angel; to make sure he still suffers for what he did. It turns out she comes from the same Gypsy clan that originally cursed Angel. When her uncle comes to town and discovers that the reason Angel's suffering is lessening is because of Buffy, he instructs Jenny to take Angel away from her. She agrees, but in the end doesn't have any luck. After Angel loses his soul she feels horrible for not revealing her identity. The group feels understandably betrayed, because if she'd come clean then they might have been able to dig up the 'catch' in the curse and prevent Angel from losing his soul.
She feels terrible about her part in all of this so she valiantly attempts to recover the original curse. She succeeds, but not before Angelus snaps her neck and leaves her body as a gag gift in Giles' bed in "Passion" (2x17). I really liked Jenny Calendar and got excited at the thought of her and Giles moving their relationship forward in the beginning of "Passion" (2x17). Her death was shocking and cruel, but it was necessary to set up Giles' interesting "mid-life crisis" in S4.
The perfect example of how to introduce a new main character on your show is right here: Oz. He first makes an appearance in "Inca Mummy Girl" (2x04) and adores Willow in her Eskimo costume. The real unique thing, though, is that he never interacts with any of the main characters. This slowly happens, one by one, over the first half of the season. This is simply brilliant and felt so incredibly natural.
We then find out in "What's My Line? Pt. 2" (2x10) that he's got an awesome personality which is made evident by his reaction to getting shot and his "monkey pants" speech. In "Surprise" (2x13) he is introduced to the rest of the group (although Cordelia has already met him because she was dating a guy in his band) and is not at all surprised that vampires exist. It's in "Innocence" (2x14), though, where both the audience and Willow fall in love with his character. He shows restraint and intelligence in the van when Willow asks him if they can make out. He tells her, "Well, to the casual observer, it would appear that you're trying to make your friend Xander jealous or even the score or something. And that's on the empty side. See, in my fantasy when I'm kissing you, you're kissing me. It's okay. I can wait." This goes to prove that Oz is a really respectful guy and is perfect for Willow.
The other interesting development we get is that he's a werewolf! I've got to admit I thought this came out of left field and wasn't necessary, but it did bring up some interesting similarities and differences between men and women. The beast is in him and he's going to continually struggle to keep it fully under control. These issues are fully explored in "Wild at Heart" (4x06) and "New Moon Rising" (4x19).
Angel's development took more of a linear route, until of course he lost his soul. Still, it's important to notice how nice of a guy Angel's become. He wants to do right not just because he's in love with Buffy, but because he's repenting for a century's worth of crimes. In "When She Was Bad" (2x01) we see that Angel has the capacity for seeing someone's pain even when they're not admitting it to themselves and others. He can tell right away that something's seriously bothering Buffy and is right there for her when she needs him. This will become an important characteristic when he moves to L.A. and onto his own show. I also want to mention how smart and sweet of him it was to want to take Buffy ice skating in "What's My Line? Pt. 1" (2x09).
In "Lie to Me" (2x07), some creepy connections with Drusilla come to light and begin setting up his character arc for the second half of the season. When "Innocence" (2x14) comes along, everything changes. Angelus really is the complete opposite of Angel, and I must give a lot of praise to David Boreanaz for making this happen. He goes from being completely in love with Buffy to obsessively wanting to torture and murder her. His murder of Jenny Calendar in "Passion" (2x17) proves that he is capable of carrying it out too. In "Becoming Pt. 1" (2x21), though, his character comes across as inconsistent. He stupidly wants all his food sucked into hell? Yet in the same episode, he plays Buffy perfectly by drawing her away from her friends so he can capture Giles. Nevertheless, Angelus was a first rate villain because he used mental torture as his primary method of attack, and that's a whole lot scarier than any kind of physical attack.
Simply put, Drusilla is a creepy set piece. It's established right away that she's completely insane and nothing really changes that all season long. All that happens is that she gets stronger and ends up running the bad guy camp until Angelus comes along. The amazing thing is, I don't really care that we don't get more character development from her. She works just fine as the creepy vampire who has visions. Her interplay with Spike makes her amusing to watch as well.
Spike, on the other hand, is a fantastically complex villain and the most interesting new character introduced this season. This guy is so damned fun to watch, no matter what he's doing. In fact, I think the biggest problem with the first half of the season was the general lack of Spike. If he'd been allowed to do some damage early on it would have rounded out this season to literal perfection. Alas though, that was one of this series' few missed opportunities (it didn't miss very many others). Spike is a fun and complex character. He can be incredibly brutal, is incredibly dangeous, and yet he still has a poet's love for Drusilla (and a wicked sense of humor).
The only other development we get with him comes in "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22) when he's had enough of Angelus ridiculing him endlessly, so he helps Buffy stop him. This temporary alliance unconciously sparks Spike's interest in Buffy. We find out that after he takes off with Drusilla to South America she tells him (we see this in S5's "Fool for Love" [5x07]), "But you're lying! I can still see her floating all around you, laughing. Why? Why won't you push her away? You can't blame the ghoul, Spike. You're all covered with her. I look at you... all I see is the Slayer." She then breaks up with him which is the catalyst to many seasons worth of fantastic and subtle character development. Spike will be fully fleshed out in later seasons.
All in all this season is fantastic. Not only is it a monumental improvement over S1, but it also contains some of the best episodes in the entire series. Unfortunately, the first half of the season has a few too many mediocre episodes which could have really been fixed with more Spike. Ultimately, though, when you take the season as a whole it is a resounding success. After "Surprise" (2x13) the season takes off and is genuinely powerful television. The episodes "Innocence" (2x14), "Passion" (2x17), "I Only Have Eyes for You" (2x19), and "Becoming Pt. 2" (2x22 and Pt. 1) constitute the most personally epic and emotional television I've ever witnessed. This group single-handedly washes away some of the mediocre stand-alones and make this season A-range material. The whole is much greater than simply the sum of its parts.
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