Buffyversed is a week by week, episode by episode, re-exploration of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Look for it every Friday on Goomba Stomp.
Up until now, while Buffy the Vampire Slayer has often flirted with death, and even indulged it to a certain extent, we’ve always felt that, regardless of how bad things had gotten, everything would be okay in the end. With the advent of this episode, “Passion”, all of that changes.
Jenny Calendar is the first series regular to die on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and her death sets a new precedent for the series, while also accomplishing a laundry list of other plot necessities, all with a single, quick snap.
“Passion” is truly Buffy at it’s most focused. The goal of the episode is to make Angel feel like a real threat, and it succeeds at that in a number of ways. First off, Angel is portrayed here as a genuine creep with no pretense or excuses. He’s not a bad boy, he’s not a dangerous lover, he’s a god-damned creep who sneaks into girls rooms and draws pictures of them while they sleep.
Of course, his brutal murder of Jenny Calendar, a moment that truly comes out of nowhere during what seems to be a standard Buffy-bad-guy-chase-sequence goes a mile and a half extra to make sure we get there, but damned if we don’t get there with a heart-wrenching, gut punch of an episode.
There’s more though, as “Passion” also makes Ms. Calendar likable and relatable again, right before it ices her for good. This works volumes for the audience, as it also makes Angel a character who is truly worthy of our hatred, and more importantly, Buffy’s.
We all knew where this was going: Buffy and Angel, former allies and lovers, forced to fight to the death. A hero falls from grace and becomes a villain, and how fitting that his name is Angel, to boot. It all fits naturally into a storytelling play book, even this part, the part where we learn that the fallen hero is beyond redemption, but that doesn’t make this hour hurt any less.
Yes, Jenny is dead. However, it isn’t for her that we truly mourn, but for those left behind. When Angel snaps Jenny Calendar’s neck, we only feel a sense of shock and disbelief. When we feel her death for real is when Giles finds her dead body, carefully arranged in his home as a romantic gesture from Angel. We feel it when Giles calls Buffy and Willow to let them know what has happened, and they break down at the news that one of their allies has been killed.
Finally, we truly feel it when Giles goes off on a suicide mission for vengeance and justice. Ripper comes back as Giles lights Angel’s lair on fire, blasts him with a crossbow, and beats him repeatedly with a flaming 2 x 4 until Angel finally gets the better of him. It’s crushing because we know Giles to be a practical, reasonable man. He’s a man of principle who would never run off half-cocked to take on a foe this dangerous… unless he wanted to die, that is.
Buffy says as much after coming to his rescue. “What were you thinking!?” she asks between sobs. “You can’t leave me too!” she finishes, as the two collapse in each other’s arms sobbing.
But what of the soul? What about the reason that Jenny was killed? Ms. Calendar was unable to make her amends in “Passion”, but her work lives on, in spite of everything Angel did to destroy it.
On a floppy disk, of all things, the ancient translation which provides the answer to restoring Angel’s soul is lost in the final shot of the episode, as it falls off the edge of the desk, only to land in the shadows, with the rest of us.
Of course, there’s other things to consider, as Spike is a little too eager to leave Angel to his fate when Buffy comes to call. Also, “Passion” is the first time we see Willow cast a spell, one that keeps Angel out of Buffy’s home for good, and allows her to reclaim her independence from this abusive relationship once and for all.
In summary, “Passion” is the single episode that changes what Buffy is capable of forever. Though, 20 years later, it’s power is dimmed somewhat by the shocking deaths of shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, those castles were built upon the stones that Buffy the Vampire Slayer laid, and “Passion” is proof of that much, if nothing else.
“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.
“Is this the first time there’s ever been other kids in the library?” (It certainly seems like it, as Buffy deliberately pokes fun at itself in a scene where the cast is taken aback by actual high school students seeking actual books for a history project.)
“Oh no, she let him in too!” (Cristina is ahead of the curve, as she predicts that Angel will be paying Willow a nighttime visit as well.)
“Yes! I think that’s my favorite part ever! Slam that door right in his face!” (Cristina reacts to the way that Buffy and Willow shut down Angel’s stalker games with a bit of magic, and the classic line: “Sorry, Angel. Changed the locks.”
So… she’s just dead?” (It’s a testament to the direction by Micheal Gershman that the chase scene, though a bit more tense then your average Buffy climax, feels just like any other moment where someone could burst in at the last second and save the day. The shock begins to settle in when no one does.)
“He looks like Michael Keaton.” (Though this might sound like crazy talk, when Giles removes his glasses and goes upstairs for what he thinks will be a lovely evening, there is a certain Keaton-esque look about him, particularly in his hair, which is very ’90s Michael Keaton.)
“Aw, I feel bad for him.” (The cruel way that Giles is set up for the reveal of Jenny’s body, complete with a soaring operatic score, is the real heart of the episode, and it’s a heart which is subsequently torn out and stomped on repeatedly.)
“Oh, but where’s the disk? Where did she put it?” (My young padawan is learning with startling speed this week. Well done calling out not one, but two, plot points before they even occurred.)
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.
“Isn’t there some way to reverse this? Like a ‘No shoes, no pulse, no service’ kind of deal?” (Buffy really wants to cut to the chase in terms of the whole creepy-dudes-drawing-her-in-her-sleep situation.)
“Maybe I’ll take you with me next time. Might be good for a handy parking spot.” (The writers are really going the extra mile to make Angel look like a piece of shit this week. I mean how can you possibly root for a guy who’s teasing someone for being in a wheelchair, even if it is Spike.)
“We had sort of a slumber party thing but, ya know, with weapons.” (Willow explains the last minute sleepover plans to Xander, after Angel made a sushi-kebab out of her aquarium.)
“Sorry Angel, changed the locks.” (It bears repeating because man, this line is so fucking good. Like the crotch kick in “Innocence”, accompanied by the line: “Give me time”, the way that this moment allows Buffy to take back some of her power and self-respect gives the audience a side of hope to go with the utter devastation of the main course.)
Now that the worst is over, we can get back to more typical Buffy fare with next weeks “Killed by Death.” It’s a real creeper of an episode, and one that really unsettled me as a kid, so I hope you dig it as much as I do. See ya in 7!