Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Buffy Rewatch (Season 2b)

This post is inspired by the ongoing Buffy Re-watch being conducted over at Nik at Night. Check them out for a better, more detailed look at each episode every Tuesday.

<--Season 2a  Season 3a-->

The major theme running through the second half of this season is guilt. Everyone makes choices in life. Sometimes these choices are pure instinct, or less choice and more pleasure fulfillment or pain avoidance. Sometimes people try to follow an ethic; try to choose good over bad. In our limited and even broken state, we all fail to choose well much of the time. When we make the wrong choices we have to live with the consequences. We have to experiences the effects. Even worse, when we give into our fallen nature and actively chose what we know to be wrong (and we all do this) we have to live with the knowledge that we have made the world worse and likely hurt other people. Guilt is what we feel and guilty is what we are. Everyone struggles with this issue even though most try to ignore it.

13. 14. Surprise/ Innocence

In spite of the overly melodramatic (read soapy) aspects of this pair of episodes, they do feature the most impactful single moment in the series. The second part of this two-er is the highest rated episode of the series. The whole series has been leading up to the moment where Buffy and Angel will decide to “go all the way.” In reality, the decision had been made already. Buffy had been repeatedly warned by everyone in her life (including Angel) that her relationship with him was wrong and would only lead to pain and suffering. In classic Buffyverse imagery, this warning turns out to be literally true. Sex between Buffy and Angel leads to him becoming pure evil again. This is a not so subtle metaphor for all the potential problems and dangers associated with sex outside of a committed marital relationship. In true Buffy fashion this one decision will not only affect the rest of the season but much of the series to follow.

15. Phases

Oz is perhaps the best loved secondary character in the Buffyverse. He is a surprisingly mature and mellow high school student/rocker. Introduced earlier in season two, he is slowly brought into the foreground and into a relationship with Willow. (This pattern is one that the show tried to follow as much as it could after the first season. Instead of introducing random extras for single episodes, it tried to give all of its characters a life in the show.)

In this episode, we once again get some timely social commentary in the guise of horror. In this case it is violence against women (and cultural attitudes towards women in general) through werewolf imagery. Perhaps the only major misstep is the show’s first step into addressing the topic of Homosexuality. The basic idea here is that the local high school bully and misogynist is (of course) gay. The laughable idea is that once he comes to terms with this (not exactly “coming out” but admitting it to one person) he is instantly the nicest guy in the school! The show will continue to break ground for this subject in 90s television, but not in the best way.

The fact that Oz is turned into a werewolf through no action of his own is an important step in the show’s exploration of guilt. Oz now has a side of his nature that he does not have full control of and he will have to take extraordinary steps to avoid doing wrong in the future.

16. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

When Cordelia breaks up with Xander rather than face social ridicule, Xander turns to magic to get revenge. We have already seen that magic is something in the Buffyverse that is questionable at best and downright wrong in most cases—especially where revenge is concerned. He attempts to curse Cordelia with a love curse in order to break up with her, but instead gets every woman in town, save Cordy, to become murderously in love with him. Hilarity ensues. In spite of the fun, the serious message against objectifying women is delivered and Cordy grows as a character when she decides to follow her heart rather than the popular crowd.

17. Passion

This episode is all about passion. (Read “that which you love,” “what you most value,” or “what you worship.”) Evil Angel begins to mount his psychological campaign against Buffy and company. Once again, the show transcends normal TV land stakes and tells a story that will have impact for years to come. If there were any doubts that Angel had really gone evil as a result of his moment of passion with Buffy, they are allayed.

The “Life Goes On” Trilogy
18. Killed by Death, 19. I Only Have Eyes For You, and 20. Go Fish

In between the first salvos of Passion and the denouement of Becoming, there was a hiatus and three MOTW episodes that added up to more than the sum of their parts.

Killed was a clunky episode, but with better intentions than what ended up on screen. The idea of child death should have been further explored and could have been handled seriously in the Buffyverse. In the end this “made up” monster didn’t have the impact that an established archetype could have had.

Eyes was another clunky episode but widely loved and praised for the emotional development of the characters. The story itself is beyond melodrama, and the idea of Buffy and Angel playing the possessed roles reversed was a little too obvious and a bit of a stunt. Only a show with this quality of writing and acting could pull it off so well.

Fish is the weakest episode of the season. It has a first season feel, and barely fits into the theme of season two. There is a good amount of Xander humor, however, and Cordy continues to grow as a character, so not all is wasted.

21. 22. Becoming Parts 1&2

This episode has a more epic feel than the series had achieved thus far, with flashbacks into Angel’s history and an apocalypse with a more global feel to it. The opening with the archeological find grounds the episode more than the previous season’s Master stuck in a fault line and some nebulous prophecy. That being said, as a viewer one detects (a good) hint of classic Doctor Who here still.

The set up in this pair of episodes is perfect. Buffy has been preparing to face the responsibility her poor choice has led her to and kill the monster that was Angel. Coincidentally, the opportunity has arisen to re-curse Angel making him a “good” vampire once more. Xander emerges at this point as the voice of tough reason—a role he will continue to assume in the series. He points out that vacillating where Angel is concerned has led to all the problems they are facing, and perhaps it is time to face the truth. Buffy doesn’t like it, but she knows he is right.

Something she has not learned yet, however, is that she succeeds when she works with her community and not on her own. This mistake has serious consequences as allies are killed, kidnapped and hurt. All as Buffy is implicated in a murder she did not commit. The second time around, the group work together on multiple fronts and things go much better. (Since the series continues, one could assume they would.)

Two things are left to point out. First, Willow begins her journey down the path towards being a witch. You would think that everything this series has taught the viewers would have also rubbed off on the characters, but—as in life—we are often too blinded by circumstances to really learn what is best for us. Secondly, the repercussions of Buffy’s poor choices get even worse, when she doesn’t get to simply kill a monster, but has to kill Angel after his soul is returned to him. As usual, this is not the end of the story, just the season…

Here is a trailer that someone put together for the season. It is pretty well done and hopefully the people who own the material that was used will see it as a good promotion of their story. If not, it will be removed.

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