Buffy has many formative episodes for me, but in all honesty this is probably one of the first. I am totally cool with saying that I still cry through large portions of it. This is one of the first episodes to look at the wrenching and horrible pain of growing up and finding out that life is full of choices that you don’t want to make, that maybe you should never have to make, and having to make them anyway. There are a lot of wonderful things about growing up, and I’d never go back. But those adolescent years in particular of realizing just how complex and painful life was actually going to be… it was not a fun time.
Not that this episode has no fun in it! Because it totally does. But that is maybe not the key point. We start out with a playground. Because Joss is not shy about hitting home symbolism and to start with a playground and end with a graveyard is pretty damn symbolic, I suspect. In this playground is a little boy whose parents clearly hate him or are incapacitated by severe addiction problems. Seriously, who leaves their small child alone at night in Sunnydale? Like I am not a fan of helicopter parenting, but people drop like flies in this town.
He is approached by Druscilla. She is appropriately creepy and delightful. She tells him about how her mother used to sing to her and wonders what song his mother will sing over his dead body. I love how he responds to that by saying “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” which would have been a completely reasonable response earlier in the conversation, but at the point where the crazy lady is talking about your dead body may not quite be high enough on the panic level.
But just before he is about to be turned into a meal, Angel jumps in to save him. He tells him to “run home” which did not necessarily seem to be the way to go to me? Like I get that he has saved him from immediate danger but we know there are plenty of beasties and monsters on the streets of Sunnydale, and who knows how far his home is! Although… more on that later.
In the meantime, Angel has a weird and intimate conversation with Dru, seemingly just so that Buffy can see them from the rooftop and get hurt and jealous and upset and not ask him about it directly because that is a thing that a grown-up person
would do and Buffy has just not quite made it there yet. I feel like the way David Boreanez plays this scene is really weird because it’s almost played as sexual tension? Which makes less sense for Angel to have with Dru. Like I know at one point he did have… something with her and that when he reverts to Angelus he seems to be all down with that, but as Angel I would think his primary feelings would be more of guilt. It makes sense that Spike is so crazy attracted to her because he seems to be attracted to her crazy. But Angel would not be, and without that, she really is just kind-of bonkers. Like I love her with all of my heart but she is really not all there. Anyway. Whatever. Dru tells him he’s in love with Buffy and whispers sweet nothings, while Buffy feels betrayed on a rooftop into the credits.
When we jump back in, we are at school and Jeny is tormenting Giles with the date she won’t tell him about. This date will later prove to be monster trucks. I love that this happened but I refuse to believe that Jeny, who is clearly a very intelligent woman, could ever have believed that Giles might have been into monster trucks. So I choose to think she just enjoyed the idea of seeing him all freaked out about it. Which, to be fair, does sound like a lot of fun. I will also say as a sidenote that the only times I can remember seeing this storyline in the past, of someone refusing to tell the other person where they were going on a date, the person worrying, even asking what they would wear either seriously or a way to get an answer, the genders were always swapped. I don’t know if that has always been true but I feel like generally the man is assumed to be taking the woman somewhere so I certainly think it is often true. So that’s just a note.
Buffy is mopey and sad and generally not super responsive. Which, to his credit, Giles notices. I don’t know if this is supposed to be him trying harder to look out for her since Reptile Boy but maybe? Either way, he says maybe she should take the night off and maybe she should go spend time with Angel. It is weird to me to remember that at some point Giles encouraged their relationship. But Buffy gets even more mopey about that and wanders away.
Note passing between Willow and Buffy about all of the lowdown, while Cordelia explains her deep and amazing thoughts on Marie Antoinette. I am always fascinated by the passing notes in a class where maybe you will get caught and in trouble thing. Incidentally, if that is a risk, maybe they shouldn’t be writing “vampire?” on one of them. But either way. I have only ever passed notes in church or in college classes, when it is more writing in notebooks and sliding them back and forth. No real danger.
As they wander out of class and Xander is stupid and they make plans for that night, here is Ford! I love Ford. I love his little 90’s gold hoop earring. Buffy talks about her schoolgirl crush on him (it is easy to see that he was probably a very cute kid) and how she used to listen to “I Touch Myself” while thinking about him in fifth grade. Before getting very awkward. I definitely did not know that song as a kid but this whole thing amused me, especially Willow only just figuring out what it was about. It’s a silly thing but I actually remember moments like that in high school (and sometimes later)? Of like… suddenly realizing something was dirty and being like OMG!
In The Bronze, Buffy asks Angel kind of but not really what he was up to last night and he lies and says nothing much, just reading and brooding silently and alone like always. Buffy is so overwhelmed by this that she basically drags Ford out the door in front of him so they can go for a walk. Willow adorably tries to get Angel to socialize, unsuccessfully, obviously.
As they’re walking, Buffy hears noise and asks Ford to go get her purse. He does not and instead goes around the corner to see her killing a vampire at which point he tells her that surprise! He’s totally known she was the Slayer all along, he figured it out right before she left L.A. but never had a chance to tell her. I’m interested in how he would have figured that out, like were there mystical texts he found or something? I mean, I get how he could have found out there were vampires, Slayer just seems more specific.
Buffy is relieved to have a person to talk to, they proceed to apparently walk all over Sunnydale in one night. The geography is Sunnydale is always in flux. Later I think they’ll say that there are 7 cemeteries, right now there is just the one. There is a college that I think just manifests when Buffy needs to go there. So right now it is a super tiny town that maybe just grows really fast? So maybe that little boy really could have just run home really quickly. Anyway.
Also Angel shows up at Willow’s house to ask her to use her magic webbernet skills
to research Ford. He is wearing a lot of make-up in this scene. Like a lot. He goes on a little bit about how he didn’t used to get jealous, he just used to sit around and brood all the time and then there was Buffy and that made everything different but also he totally has a sixth sense about people and he knows Ford is bad news. He is not in the school system so that seems probable.
And in point of fact he is bad news, because he is part of a vampire cult. I love the vampire cult. They all dress in ridiculous costumes and have silly movies playing presumably 24/7 and also Chantarelle is there. Chantarelle has a very small part in this but she will come back. She has one more cult in her future and after that she is going to become amazing. She was never in Angel enough. Still, it was exciting to see her. It is clear Ford is up to devious things.
Willow is extremely nervous about not telling Buffy that she is researching Ford. She acts exactly as she has every single other time she has ever lied about anything. Still, this does not seem to tip off Buffy. Which is a bit confusing. Perhaps she is distracted by Ford.
Ford, using a vampire’s directions, is able to find Spike’s lair. Spike is not thrilled to see him. Ford begs him to speak in movie-talk. That is all Ford wants, really. He has a very specific concept of himself and his story in his head and it seems important to him that it play out in that way, because even being a villain has rules. Some villains are better than others. It’s interesting, I’ve always liked Neil Gaiman’s line about how “no one is a villain in their own story.” I think that is typically true. But I also think that what Ford does here is a way to feel better about his actions by making that his place. If he IS a villain, than he is not making this really pretty awful choice, it’s just who he is. It’s just his place in a story. We can all tell ourselves pretty amazing stories when we need to.
Buffy is devastated when she sees Druscilla’s picture in a book and realizes that’s who she saw with Angel. I am not convinced she could recognize Dru from that distance but sure, whatever. Also Ford is lying to her, because the vampire he said was dead has stolen a book from the library. Buffy’s problems with trust are always pretty out there in the open. This hits her where it hurts.
And so that night, when Angel comes to see her, immediately opens badly with it being about Ford and about how Willow and Xander were also in on this whole thing, she is betrayed and hurt and angry. I love the way they film her in this scene. They’ve been filming her very soft and very innocent this season and the shots here really heighten that. Dressed in white, mostly her face, she looks helpless and hurt and vulnerable. She looks like she’s going to be crushed.
Angel talks about the idea that some lies are necessary, that learning that is part of living long enough. He asks her if she loves him, and she finally says she does love him but she is not sure if she trusts him. I hated that line when I was younger, I thought it was not possible to love someone without trusting them. I have a more holistic view of relationships now. Certainly it doesn’t seem healthy to do that, but I wouldn’t say impossible. So he tells her about Druscilla and she is broken up, another horrific thing to forgive and get past. Everything she trusted seems to be falling apart. But it’s going to get worse.
When she sees Ford the next morning, she once again looks very beautiful but she is wearing black. When she goes down into the basement, she’ll be wearing a white coat over her black shirt. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but in an episode that highlights the idea of black hats and white hats, I have to assume it’s possible.
It’s that afternoon that she finds his hideout and he locks them all into the basement. She begs them to come to their senses. Chantarelle is the only one who really stands out here. She’s so far from where she’ll be. She’s so genuine and so anxious. Who knows what she came from that made her think she needed this, but chances are it is the same thing that will lead her into Reverend Sunshine’s cult next. She has some things to work through.
And then there is Buffy’s conversation with Ford. The rest of the people really should be able to hear them but we’ll ignore that. Ford tells Buffy what he’s really been waiting to reveal all along. That he has cancer, that he’s dying. He says he does not need to justify himself to her but that is all he’s trying to do. Buffy is heartbroken, you can see her take it almost as a physical hit. But she gathers and says the True Thing. “You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice.”
He will not make the right choice. In the end Buffy will threaten Dru, realizing that’s who matters to Spike. She locks them all in. Everyone escapes but Ford. They do actually give him what he wanted, but they leave him in the basement so they must have known what would happen to him. I guess Spike is a man of his word… kind-of. I will say I always wondered what happened with Ford’s family. Where did they think he went? How did they think he died? Did Giles pay for his gravestone?
Finally we just have Buffy and Giles, standing by a grave. She doesn’t know what to say.
“It’d be simpler if I could just hate him. I think he wanted me to. It was easier for him to be the villain of the piece. But really he was just scared.”
And that is one of the worst parts about growing up, if also one of the most important. Realizing that the monsters aren’t monsters, learning to empathize with the people who have done horrible things, even though you do not condone the horrible things. She stakes Ford when he rises and she begs Giles to tell her that maybe this gets easier, that she won’t have to keep doing this. He doesn’t know what to say either. So she takes Angel’s advice —
Lie to me.
And Giles tells her what we would all like to hear and believe, even when we know it is not true. You will always be able to tell who is good and who is evil. No one ever dies. We will all live happily ever after.
It’s one of the first, hardest, and best stories about growing up that Buffy ever told me.