Well, here we are at last, kids. Time to start up season 2. I’m excited. Season 1 is fun in a lot of ways but it’s all uphill from there! We jump straight in with When She Was Bad, an episode I love because it really deals with the fact that these kind of experiences don’t just disappear and it’s not all fun and games.
We open on Willow and Xander, wandering through the streets by the cemetery, quoting movie lines at each other. It amuses me a little bit that Xander is so disgusted by Willow’s Star Wars reference because honestly none of the lines they use are from anything but incredibly obvious movies. Also, no matter how slow of a summer it has been as far as the vampires go, I feel like I would not be wandering around in the middle of the night and I would definitely at least be carrying a cross and such. They flirt and joke and suddenly Xander is overtaken by the moonlight to almost kiss Willow before being interrupted by a curious vampire, who seems to be wondering what they might be doing. Buffy (semi-magically) finds them just in time to save the day and give her only slightly not right greetings.
We are then treated to a brief scene between her parents (hello, absent father) as he confirms what we may have already suspected – something is off about Buffy this year. She’s been distant, she’s been having nightmares, she’s been traumatized. Her poor parents (well, at least poor Joyce. I really have no sympathy for her dad) are stuck wondering what in the world is going on and how to get through to her. Her father compensates by buying lots of shoes.
Cordelia is back from her summer and more spectacular than ever. No one has suffered as she has suffered and is it possible to have too much character? Giles has an awesome chat with Principal Snyder in which he compares all the students to locusts. Then he gibbers over Miss Calendar for a while. And who could blame him? She looks beautiful and she’s smart and fun with her flirting. The kids run up to say hello. Buffy looks really soft and girly and pretty in this scene. Still, her words are basically all barbed and she’s clearly not interested in talking. Xander wins money from Willow for it being “8 minutes till Giles consults his books.” Except, unless they’re counting from when they got to school, it hasn’t been anywhere near 8 minutes.
I think the training scene is where we really start to see the toll all this is taking on Buffy. She’s brutal and strong in her training but it’s just pure terror. She is having flashbacks and nightmares and this experience hasn’t left and she’s trying to be strong enough that she won’t have to be so scared ever again and it isn’t working. Giles watches and worries but can’t get through. There’s a lot of not getting through to Buffy in this episode.
Then we move to the bad guys. The Anointed has found a preacher to be charismatic for him, presumably because he’s completely incapable of being charismatic himself. Seriously, out of all of the Buffy villains, I can’t think of any more dull than The Anointed. I know his time is pretty seriously limited but frankly it still seems too long. I’m fond of the preacher though. I like the crazy prophecy and doom stuff with the vampires. A lot of them don’t seem to buy in but you always get these basically religious sects of them that are big fans and I find it enjoyable.
Then into Buffy’s nightmare. This is such a really heartbreaking nightmare. I mean, it’s all in here. Her terror of the Master coming back and her mortality but more than that, lingering resentment for Giles not protecting her, her friends not noticing or acknowledging that she’s dying. No one to help her and her inability to fight back. So upsetting. Then Angel comes in. Sneaking through her bedroom window like a creepy, creepy creeper. STOP DOING THAT, ANGEL. She’s a bitch to him and he’s really emotionally immature and baffled by why she’d be doing this. If he hadn’t creepily snuck in her window, I’d feel bad for him but he did and I don’t because he’s just so damn annoying to me. I do feel bad for Buffy though, who is trying so hard to push everyone away from her and be hard and unbreakable and she’s just crumbling. She also has something of a point about the fact that Angel never ever seems to come to just talk to her about anything but grave danger. Also apparently in this season they just decide to totally set aside that whole part where they weren’t going to date? I mean, not yet but soon.
He of course disappears creepily before he hears her say that she missed him too. She’s on her way to school and poor Joyce is trying so desperately to get through to her or have her talk to her somehow. Obviously something is up, she’s depressed, she’s withdrawn. Scary stuff for a parent. Teenagers really are insufferable. It must suck to parent them. She steels herself, goes into school and is a raging bitch to Cordelia and pretty much whoever else crosses her path.
Then of course the infamous dance at The Bronze. I love this. I love this a lot. I mean, it’s terrible to watch, of course. Angel is heartbroken, Willow is heartbroken, Xander is clearly feeling incredibly used and uncomfortable in the situation, even before she makes her little parting jab. I think just because I was a teenager really prone to sort-of weaponizing my sexuality and believing that it protected me on some level, I over-identify with Buffy in this episode. Full disclosure: my over-identifying with Buffy will probably be a noticeable pattern as the show goes on.
I adore that Cordelia comes out and tries to get involved. I mean, even aside from the fact that she tells her to spank her inner moppet (which is one of my favorite lines ever), she’s going to put herself out there because she has an idea of what she’s talking about and she DOES care, even if she’s not really admitting it yet. All before she gets dragged away right behind Buffy, whose PTSD issues are apparently dulling out her Slayer senses as well. I enjoy that this is an episode that deals with PTSD in a somewhat real way. At least it acknowledges it. I feel like there are so many movies and shows that I watch where the characters come out of certain experiences alive but all I can ever think is “Great, but now that you’re scarred for life and in need of therapy forever….” I like to see the trauma at least acknowledged.
The Anointed has everyone come on a field trip to dig up the Master’s bones. I’m not totally clear why in some ways. I mean, why does he want him back so badly anyway? Also, wouldn’t it really make sense to have all the vampires bring shovels, instead of making some of them dig with their hands through the consecrated ground? I mean, I guess it’s to show they obey him no matter what or whatever but still. Also, would it have killed Giles to bury the body a LITTLE further down? I mean, at that depth, I would think even a curious dog might be an issue. How old does a vampire have to be before their bones don’t disintegrate anyway? I’m assuming it’s an age thing.
Buffy sees the empty grave. Her worst fears are coming true. As Xander and Willow discuss with Giles how Buffy is turning into a bitca, they are assaulted by a very angry Buffy here to lash out at Giles. How could he not tell her? How could he not prepare her? Push, push, push. I like that Buffy’s response to all this is to be mean, to be honest. It’s not a subtle reaction but that’s fair. High schoolers aren’t subtle.
Vamps throw a rock through the library window (man, that library) with Cordelia’s bracelet. I like that Buffy recognizes it immediately AS Cordelia’s bracelet. I don’t think I would have and it seems like a bit of a leap for them to assume she will but whatever. She does. Against the obviously good advice of everyone, she marches off into danger. Angel trails along behind her, when she yells at him he delivers a line which is terrible even for him. “Why you riding me?” Which is not only a terrible line but is delivered soooo badly. Makes me wince every time. Giggling vampire girl not the bait. Everyone’s going to be captured except Xander. I really don’t understand why they don’t just kill Xander? I mean, I get they’re in a hurry or whatever but breaking necks or taking a bite out of people does not take long. Why leave him alive?
However, leave him alive they do and when Buffy comes to get him, Xander does for the first time one of the primary things that Xander is good at – he calls Buffy out on her bullshit. He’s not always as harsh about it as he is here. This is one of the first times it happens and I think as the show progresses he gets better at it and gentler with it. But obviously this is an extreme situation. Off she goes to torture the vampiress to get some answers. She does this by ripping her cross necklace off (second time she’s done this in 2 episodes) and, when the answers are had, she clips it right back on. How does that happen? Is it a magic necklace?
Off they go to the dramatic little ceremony. Vampires and their flair for the dramatic. I wonder if it was actually necessary to have them alive to slit their throats above his bones. I always feel like it might send them all into a feeding frenzy or something? I guess I picture them like sharks or something. Buffy has a big fight scene with them. The fight choreography and the dustings are definitely still really elemental but they are definitely a step up from season 1. It’s a pretty fun fight scene. Buffy is kicking ass and working through her shit. There’s something really cathartic about the idea of having something physical to beat and kill and destroy. Like something that you can actually touch and literally work your way through? I don’t know. Seems like more fun than just mental issues. The preacher vampire comes in and tells her that he will “grind her bones into a sticky paste before he smashes in her face.” I feel like he’s a little confused about how all that would work. Not that it ends up mattering. I like that Xander knows that it’s not over, can still see that she’s got another step or two to go here.
There are periodic times in Buffy where I feel like, because it’s a teenage show, they have Angel do things that I think Giles should do. I actually would have preferred that it be Giles who came to comfort her, rather than Angel. I think this is more of a daddy thing. Oh well. We’ll leave her crying into Angel’s shoulder.
She’s understandably pretty nervous about talking to her friends again. Hard to just apologize for having almost gotten them brutally murdered. Comforting or not, Giles is right. It’s not the worst mistake she’ll ever make by far and I suspect there are a few times coming where she’d like to go back to the simplicity of this one. In she goes to the classroom where her friends handle it wonderfully. BOTH OF THEM, JOELLE. I honestly think that this is an episode where you see Xander take one of his first tiny steps towards growing up. It’s not a huge one and he still has a long way to go but he handles this perfectly. They throw out the jokes and then he makes the exact RIGHT joke that says things are okay and that they forgive her. It’s hard to accept forgiveness, harder the greater the offense but it’s one of the things that makes a friendship stronger. It’s good for her, she needs it.
And then of course we have a mandatory final scene of the Anointed being annoyed and who gives a shit. So over him.