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, after wading through a few clunkers (“Inca Mummy Girl”, “Bad Eggs” and “Go Fish” come to mind), and a few classics (“Lie to Me”, “Innocence” and “Passion” for example), we’ve finally come to the end of the line, with the second part of Buffy‘s season 2 finale: “Becoming.”
After last week’s big cliffhanger ending, which saw Buffy being faced with arrest for the murder of her fellow slayer, Kendra, we pick things up right where we left them. Of course, it’s a bit of a non-starter, as Buffy manages to escape the police almost immediately, but the fact that she’s willing to knock out a police officer and defy all authority is a new step for Buffy in her evolution as a character, and as a slayer.
In other “Becoming, Pt. 1” related news, we also deal with the fallout from the vampire attack on Sunnydale High, an attack that sees Willow in a coma, but not for long. Her most stalwart and true friend, Xander, makes a heartfelt plea for her to wake up that ends with him telling Willow he loves her, only for her to awaken, thinking Oz was speaking to her. This is something worth remembering as we head into season 3, where this plotline will begin to gain a bit of weight.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though, as there’s plenty to unpack in “Becoming, Pt. 2” as it is. As I foreshadowed earlier this season in “Phases”, Team Buffy now has a new super-powered member, as Willow has taken her first step toward becoming a full-fledged witch, a journey that we’ll watch the development of more and more as the show goes on, but one that gains its start with her first attempt at an honest-to-goodness bit of magic in her attempt to restore Angel’s soul.
Elsewhere, a frantic Buffy, on the run from the law, stumbles upon a bit of helpful good fortune in the form of… Spike? Yep, as you might have surmised from the ending of “I Only Have Eyes for You”, Spike is taking up arms against Angel, and who better to help him in his task then Angel’s ex-girlfriend, who happens to be a vampire slayer to boot!
The unlikely alliance of Spike and Buffy makes for some of the best moments that “Becoming, Pt. 2” has to offer, especially after Joyce comes into the picture. This is heightened further by the fact that Joyce finally finds out that her daughter is a vampire slayer, as Buffy stakes one of Angel’s attacking goons right in front of her.
This leads to one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s all time greatest comedic moments as Joyce and Spike are forced to make awkward small talk in the living room while Buffy gathers her supplies upstairs. Scenes like this one explain why Joss Whedon has such a devoted and enduring fanbase, as his ability to inject humor into even the most intensely serious situations imaginable is pretty much unrivaled.
Now, as we often talk about here, Buffy commonly uses its premise to tackle real life issues through a supernatural lens. Here we see that utilized very effectively, as being a slayer is treated like a sort of “coming out” for Buffy. The fact that Joyce parrots reactions like “Have you tried not being a slayer?” makes it clear as day what the writers are doing here, but it still works, and it was a hugely important moment in 1998. This is, of course, a theme that will continue to be explored as the series goes on, and one that will be plumbed in depth in season 4, but again, I’m letting my excitement for things to come carry me away. Back to the task at hand!
In a further blow, Buffy is told by Joyce to explain herself, and as the argument grows further heightened, Joyce tells Buffy if she leaves she had better not even think about coming back. Then, as Buffy storms out, Joyce collapses in saddened frustration and we have the second of many things that leads to Buffy’s choice at the end of the episode to leave Sunnydale behind.
On top of being on the run from the law, and kicked out of her house, Buffy stumbles into yet another reason to ditch Sunnydale when she returns to Sunnydale High to get the sword she needs to stop Angel’s ritual. Yes, scheming Snyder appears, and is zealously over-joyed to let Buffy know that she has been expelled, placing her in a position where she truly has nothing left to lose.
However, as Whistler notes, she may have one more thing to yield to the abyss before this emotionally tumultuous hour comes to a close.
As we follow Buffy to the final battle with her ex-lover, Xander emerges from the brush to help, and to deliver the message that Angel will soon be restored… Whoops, I accidentally typed what I wanted to happen, instead of what actually happened.
In all seriousness, though, this is a hugely divisive moment and, to this day, I’m not sure what side I stand on in terms of this intense Scooby debate. Is it wrong that Xander supplants Willow’s message for his own? Almost certainly. However, would Buffy have been able to fight Angel to the best of her ability, had she been holding out hope for him to come back to her?
I still go back and forth on this one, but I generally find myself siding with Xander here, that Buffy would have been compromised by the information that the real Angel, her Angel, might return at any moment. In truth, as we see, once the sword is out of Acathla, whether Angel returns or not, it’s game over, one way or another.
Luckily, once that sword does come out, as we know it must, Buffy has a trump card in her back pocket in the form of Spike. As the two go at it at last, Spike abruptly switches sides and begins beating the ever-loving shit out of Angel with a fire poker before taking a subdued Dru and hitting the road out of Sunnydale.
So, the fight is on, as Buffy and Angel face off in easily the best bit of fight choreography this series has yet to see. Make no mistake, Seven Samurai this is not, but for a budget WB sword fight in a teen drama, lemme tell ya, it still holds up remarkably well.
At last we come down to the final stage of the battle, as the sword fight reaches its climax, and Angel disarms Buffy, we get the very best moment of “Becoming, Pt. 2”. As Angel puts a sword to a downed Buffy, he asks her what’s left after she has lost her friends, her weapons, and even her hope? As he pulls back to plunge the sword into her and finish the job, she reaches up her hands to catch the blade and declares simply: “Me!”
For anyone who has ever truly been at the frayed and tethered end of their own personal rope, this is a very powerful moment, as it echoes the struggle we’ve all come back from at our lowest point. When you’ve lost everything, and even the barest slivers of hope seem to have faded away for good, you only have two choices: give up, or stand up.
Buffy opts for the latter. However, just as she has gained the resolve to put Angel down for good, the unthinkable happens: Willow’s spell succeeds, and the real Angel returns.
It’s an exemplary moment for first-time watchers to remember, as this is a good pacer for things to come with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ever the cruel twister of hearts, show runner Joss Whedon will pull this sort of gut-wrenching shenanigans again and again throughout the remainder of this series, and follow them through on a number of other projects later on in his career. This is just the first taste.
But man, what a taste it is. Bitter, cruel and unyielding, the moment when Angel returns to his love, after saying and doing an unforgettable list of unforgivable things is one tall order. In the end, Angel only truly comes back to find that he has been damned for a second time.
Though Buffy and Angel do have a brief reprieve, and even share a kiss, the heart break of it all is compounded as Buffy tells Angel to close his eyes. Shattered and confused, still not himself completely, he obliges without question, and Buffy plunges her sword into him, closing Acathla’s portal, and sending Angel to hell with him.
What’s left after all of this? The splintered and beaten Scooby team meet in the courtyard at Sunnydale High the very next day to discuss that very thing. Surely Buffy will return, they surmise. She has to… right?
Unfortunately, the final shot of the episode proves that assertion wrong, as what’s left of the traumatized slayer boards a bus out of Sunnydale, leaving behind her friends and family for whatever is over the horizon.
And that’s that for season 2. Wow, it’s been a wild ride huh? Before we go, though, three final fun facts: first off, this is the last time you’ll hear this iteration of the Buffy theme song by Nerf Herder, as the version for the remainder of the series run is a slightly punched up opener that rocks a bit harder, and comes off a touch sharper.
Second, the special effects will get a bigger boost as well from this point on, so look forward to better CG in those vampire kills in season 3.
And finally, series regular, Oz, will grow into a main cast member starting next week, as well, so if you’re an Oz fan, look forward to seeing more of his spiky, ginger head very, very soon.
With all of that said, and this review already growing a little long in the tooth, let us just finish off by saying: thanks for reading Buffyversed, and we hope you’ll follow us into season 3. Until then, take care!
“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 what, the cops are here finally?” (Cristina is critical of the Sunnydale police departments notoriously spotty record.)
“You have no idea!” (After the officer pursuing Buffy calls in an APB that Buffy Summers should be considered “extremely dangerous”.
“Oh, she looks rough huh?” (The make-up team does a bang-up job of making Willow look like she’s been put through the wringer as she lays in her hospital bed in a coma.)
“Well, I guess mom knows!” (After Buffy slays a vampire right in front of Joyce.)
*gasp* “Xander! I mean, I don’t like Angel but… Xander!” (In response to Xander deliberately keeping Willow’s message for Buffy to himself, and instead telling Buffy to “kick his ass!”)
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.
“Okay, so that was like equal parts protecting me and copping a feel right?” (Buffy tries to lighten the mood at the hospital, after Xander hugs her to hide her face from a police officer.)
“We like to talk big, demons. Ending the world! But it’s mostly just a tough guy thing.” (Spike explains that he’s pretty happy with the world just the way it is, if he’s being honest.)
“Hold on I’m just gonna kill this guy.”
“Oh, right.” (Spike is about to kill a police officer, after striking an alliance with Buffy. Then he suddenly remembers who he’s talking to.)
“You’re going to hell.”
“Save me a seat!” (Buffy refuses to be intimidated by Angel anymore, and matches him quip for quip as the final battle rages on.)
“No weapons… no friends… no hope. Take all that away and what’s left?”
“Me.” (It bears repeating how god damn great this line is.)
“But we know the world didn’t end because… check it out.” (Oz points to the normalcy of their surroundings for proof that Buffy succeeded in taking out Angel.)
Well gang, as noted above, that’s it for season 2. But worry not, for we’ll be back next week with the season 3 premiere: “Anne”. Until then!