Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp.
Well gang, we’re here. We’ve made it at last! Lemme tell ya, there were some touch and go moments for me to get my unbelieving significant other to this point (“Bad Eggs” and “What’s My Line, Pt. 1” are two relatively recent examples) but we finally made it over the hump.
Of course, we all knew that something was up after the cryptic ending of last weeks “Surprise” but I don’t think anyone knew exactly what to expect from “Innocence”, particularly back in the early days of 1998. A twist this big is the kind of game-changer that you can build a whole laundry list of story developments on (and make no mistake, this is gonna go all kinds of crazy places before season 2 wraps up) but this week we’ve gotta start by just unpacking what the hell happened.
So, as you’ll recall, last week Buffy and Angel consummated their love for the first time (which is a fancy way of saying they did the sexy thing), and as the hour came to a close, Angel awoke in a panic and ran outside into the pouring rain, where he collapsed.
“Innocence” fills us in, in ways we never imagined, on what that all means: Angel has officially lost his soul. Now, a brief primer on vampires, and Angel’s condition, in the Buffyverse, for the forgetful and the uninitiated: in this world, when a vampire is created, a demon takes the place of the human soul. Angel, having tormented a young Romani girl, and killed dozens of her kind, was cursed to feel the weight of all the horrible things he had done in his un-life by the girl’s tribe, the Kalderash.
And what hefty toll did they set upon him in order to exact this vengeance? Well, they gave him his soul back. This much we originally learned all the way back in “Angel”. However, we learn this week that his curse had another, more sinister, side to it as well: should Angel ever achieve happiness, his soul and humanity would be stripped away from him once again, returning him to the monster he once was.
It’s a real vengeance-over-logic kind of curse, as presumably the brutal, returning Angel, could go back and massacre untold Kalderash Romani once he loses his soul, but hell, like Jenny Calendar’s uncle (RIP) says: “This isn’t about right or wrong, only vengeance.” Talk about holding a grudge, huh?
It’s to David Boreanaz’s credit that the switch from Angel to Angelus works almost immediately for the audience, as Boreanaz is essentially forced to play an entirely new character with the same name, relationships and past. Excellent as he is, it’s tough to watch as he kills in cold blood, threatens the lives of main cast members, and annihilates Buffy emotionally.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon himself, it’s no surprise that “Innocence” brings it on so hard and heavy, but the pure, raw feeling at the heart of the episode is still very effective all of these years later.
But, to get back to the nitty gritty of it all, Angel re-joins Spike and Dru, and aims to help them kill off droves of humanity with their new personal obliteration tool, The Judge.
Luckily, as a tortured Buffy reels with trauma, Xander steps up to the plate with a major plot revelation and one hell of a plan. It turns out, as I hinted at back in “Halloween”, that Xander has retained the memories of the military man that he became during Ethan Rayne’s costume/personality exchange.
This leveling up of his character, and his potential, is the first of several that Buffy will do with its roster, with another actually happening next week, and a third beginning by the end of season 2. But what does this mean for Xander? Well, as we see in “Innocence” he’s got a ton of new knowledge to draw from, including the ability to break into a local military base, and steal a motherfucking rocket launcher!
This leads to the satisfying climax of the episode in which Buffy fires a goddamn missile into The Judge and blows him into dozens of tiny little pieces. Of course, this is followed by the real fight, that of Buffy and Angel, and to a certain extent, between Buffy and herself. Though she is unable to go for the killing blow when she gains the upper hand, she leaves with a threat/promise to Angel: “Give me time.”
Oh, and we’d definitely be remiss if we didn’t stop to appreciate the satisfying slayer kick she gives Angel’s nuts before she leaves. It’s rare for a shot to the groin to be so visceral and satisfying as it is here without being played for laughs.
After Buffy’s devastating emotional journey to that physical catharsis of striking back at her former lover, and new enemy, “Innocence” pays the hour off with a one-two punch of emotional sincerity. The first of these comes when Buffy apologizes to Giles for sleeping with Angel and setting this chain of events into motion. As her only real father figure, Giles understands the meaning of the situation and handles it beautifully, giving Buffy the love and support her father is not there to give, and truly cementing this as one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s most vital and important relationships.
Finally, the hour closes with Joyce nursing Buffy’s broken heart with a hastily made birthday cupcake, a late night movie, and some motherly snuggles. It’s a bittersweet ending that reassures the viewer that a downed Buffy is never out of the game completely, not with such a loyal and loving group of friends and family at her back.
“Cristina Says,” is based on observations my fiancèe makes. This is my 4th time through the series, but Cristina is a first-time watcher with modern TV sensibilities.
“So obviously they had sex, but what else?” (Cristina struggles to put the pieces together as to what has caused Angel to change so dramatically.)
“Ouch!” (Cristina reacts to Angel’s brutal dressing-down of Buffy after their first sexual encounter.)
“Ohhhh, Willow knows what happened!” (In response to the way Willow quickly tells Giles to “Shut up” once she realizes what caused the change in Angel’s demeanor.)
“I would kill you if you turned into a vampire, just so you know.” (This one really came out of the blue, and I told her I would be sure to ask her to elaborate later on. PS: If I turn up dead in a Dracula costume, it’s a Halloween gone terribly wrong for us.)
“Crazy!” (A shocked Cristina deals with the emotional fallout of the hour as the episode goes to credits.)
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.
“No one said you had to come. If the vampires need grooming tips, we’ll call you.” (Xander assures Cordelia that her participation in life-endangering missions is strictly voluntary.)
“What can I say, I was going through a phase.” (Angel coolly deflects Spike’s teasing of his more sensitive days as a vampire with a soul.)
“What about the We Hate Cordelia Club, of which, I might remind you, you are the treasurer!” (Willow confronts Xander on his hidden relationship with Cordelia.)
“So you guys steal weapons from the army a lot?”
“We don’t have cable so we have to make our own fun.” (Oz and Willow make small talk as Xander infiltrates a freaking army base.)
“Best present ever.” (Buffy thanks Xander for her rocket launching birthday present.)
Well next week is still kind of a big episode, even if it’s not quite up to the kind of narrative power of something like “Innocence”. Pop back in 7 to watch the gang go through some “Phases”.