Buffyversed #15: “School Hard” Spikes Things Up Considerably

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Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp. 

Things are shaken up wonderfully this week with the infamous “School Hard”, as Whedon and co. hit reset on the villain, and the trajectory of season 2 in general.

Yes, ladies and gents, this is the premiere of our punk rock-loving, cockney accent-speaking, leather trench coat-wearing, and general all-around bad-ass, Spike. I mean, from a thematic standpoint, he even smashes down the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign on his way into town. Talk about a left turn.

But hey, what the hell is he doing here? Well, Spike has heard the commotion about the Hellmouth, and he figures he may just be able to solve the problem that the undead population has been having with the slayer ruining their whole bloody party and whatnot. Having taken out two slayers of his own, Spike offers to make it a hat trick, in exchange for a rise in the ranks of The Anointed One.

This scene alone is prime Spike fuel, as another vampire boasts that “This will be the biggest event since the crucifixion… and I should no, I was there.” On top of his many other talents, Spike is also a walking bullshit detector. “If every vampire who says he was at the crucifixion were actually there, it would have looked like bloody Woodstock!” he mocks.

What a guy.

Each put into their most dire situation yet, we get a nice glimpse into the characters, when we see how they cope with this seemingly no-win scenario.

I suppose I’m going to have to restrain myself though, as Spike, glorious creation that he is, does not comprise the whole of this episode. So let’s get caught up with the Scoobies!

Buffy has found herself on Snyder’s shit list once again (you might be noticing a recurring theme here). With that in mind, she’s been assigned with some other “bad girl” named Sheila (portrayed by some nameless lady who has hopefully given up on acting forever) to set up the festivities for parent-teacher night.

Buffy, of course, is worried that Snyder will tell her mom all manner of ill shit about her, because, of course, he will. Luckily (?) all of that gets immediately derailed when Spike crashes the party with a gang of vampires, and begins killing folks left and right.

What’s more interesting than the plot itself, though, are the connotations it yields. Snyder tells everyone that it must be a gang on PCP, which the parents immediately eat up, as people will look for any explanation that makes sense in a situation that absolutely does not (make sense, that is).

Why is this interesting? Well because we get the first hint that the authorities know more about what’s going on in Sunnydale than we thought. At the end of the episode, a police officer approaches Snyder and asks if they should tell “the usual story.” “What did you have in mind?” Snyder mocks, “the truth?” This is a very, very early set-up for where things will go in season 3 but it’s also a much more believable version of this universe, as it makes a hell of a lot more sense that the authorities are keeping the supernatural shenanigans under a condition of *wink-wink* status quo, than the notion that only Buffy and her friends notice all of the shady shit that is going on in this town.

To get back to the A-Game, Buffy and the other survivors block themselves off in different rooms, before Buffy begins to take the fight to “the gang.” Snyder objects, and Joyce lets her go, once she is sure her daughter has a plan, and can handle herself. This is pretty interesting in its own right, as Joyce was just about to give Buffy the mother of all lectures after talking to Snyder, but follows her gut and backs Buffy when the situation becomes dire.

When Angel tries to save the day with a fake-out, Spike sees through his “Anne Rice routine.”

This plays out in another nice moment at the end of “School Hard” when Joyce, again, backs Buffy, even as Snyder doubles down on her defiance of authority. It’s a nice moment, and one that really cements their relationship, while giving Joyce a great moment in her own right, when she saves Buffy from Sheila’s vampiric trickery with some non-fatal ax-tion.

Yet, with that wrapping the episode there is still more to unpack here. First, Angel used to know Spike, and even turned him to the dark side, so to speak. “You were my sire man!” Spike rages when he realizes that Angel is on Buffy’s side.

Next, we haven’t even mentioned Dru, Spike’s manic-pixie-dream-girl from hell, and how she is clearly the only one with any kind of hold on the impassioned, impulsive vampire. Both of these factors will become important later, which is why we have to mention them here.

Okay, with those last caveats out of the way, let’s talk about that glorious ending. Spike has to return to The Anointed One with his tail between his legs (I hope you see what I did there) and ask for absolution… and he does, sort of. Unfortunately Spike is more bite than bark, and when The Anointed One and his ilk threaten him, he takes the whole gang to task.

In a shocking turn that turns the season premiere on its head, Spike executes The Anointed One in front of his gang, and takes control of the whole operation.

God damn do I love this episode.

Like any good lioness, Joyce protects the shit out of her cubs.

Cristina Says:

“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiance makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but she’s a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities. 

“Who’s Spike?” (Cristina wonders what the hell I’m talking about when I say “This one has Spike in it!” Oh my sweet, delicate flower, get ready for the coolest character in this entire show/any show ever.)

“So is this when her mom finds out she’s a vampire slayer?” (Nope, not yet, but rest assured that day will come.)

“Nice!” (As a mother herself, Cristina takes great joy in seeing Joyce come to Buffy’s rescue.)

“Holy shit! Is he dead?” (He sure is! So long ya little shit!)

(later) “So the kid’s just dead?!” (Still reeling from shock, moments later.)

James Marsters, as Spike, nails it right out of the gates. It still blows my mind that he’s an American actor, and that his accent is learned.

Notable Whedonisms:

Whedonisms are a sort of term for (Buffy creator) Joss Whedon’s style of dialogue, and something we’re using as a catch-all for particularly fun or witty lines.

“Look, I don’t like to brag but I’ve killed a couple of slayers in my time… What am I saying, of course I love to brag!” (Spike brags about his kill list.)

“I’ll whittle stakes!”
“And I can help her train!”
“And I’ll be whistling a jaunty tune while I whittle!” (Xander and Willow offer their assorted help.)

“Okay, that’s it, I’m putting a collar with a little bell on that guy.” (Xander is tired of Angel Batmanning his way out of the room.)

“People still fall for that Anne Rice routine? What a world!” (Spike laughs gleefully at the tortured romantic vampire trope.)

“From now on, we’ll have a little less ritual around here… and a little more fun!” (Spike takes care of the anointed, and there’s one less shit child actor on this show.)

Next week we’re back into somewhat unfortunate territory, with Inca Mummy Girl, and another reason why Xander should never date anyone. 

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about games. Through some miracle he’s still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there’s hope for him, there’s hope for everyone. He’s the Features editor for Goomba Stomp, and can be found weekly on the Random Encounters podcast.