So I’ve finished watching the Season Two DVDs of Buffy. Overall, I loved them. I thought the shows in this season were a huge leap over season one. There was more emotional depth, wonderfully engaging story arcs with real impact on the characters, great snappy dialogue, and some excellent acting, especially from Sarah Michelle Gellar. Further scattered thoughts below:
1) First off, something I loved in season one but forgot to mention: significant events. TV series can sometimes feel like exercises in departing from and then returning to the status quo. Now, I really don’t have much solid ground to say that from, as I don’t watch a whole lot of TV, but it’s my (possibly flawed) perception that lots of shows don’t really tend to shake things up very much, or if they do, it’s usually in a season finale or something. So I was delighted to see an episode in the middle of the first season where the school principal is killed and eaten. Not that I was happy specifically to see him eaten, mind you, but killing off somebody who was up to that point a fairly significant supporting player felt like a key moment to me. I was put on notice: take nothing for granted. For the same reason, I love that Xander confesses his crush on Buffy during the final episode of season one. A different show might have strung along his unrequitedness for season after season, but not here. In the Buffyverse, things change and develop, and I love that. The trends certainly continue in season two: Willow hooks up with Oz, Xander hooks up with Cordelia, Buffy sleeps with Angel (who then loses his soul), Jenny Calendar dies. None of these events are even in a finale or anything. (And the finale throws twice as many change-ups just to stay big!) This feeling that (almost) anything can happen really helps ratchet up the narrative tension.
2) In the “not so much helping the narrative tension” department: knowing that Angel gets his own show in two seasons. There are plenty of advantages to watching shows on DVD rather than as they are aired — no commercials, no waiting, extras (about which more later.) But knowing that Angel gets his own show deflated a lot of the intensity around his turn to evil halfway into the season. I couldn’t really get invested in worrying about whether Buffy was going to kill him or not, and despite the fact that she finally does, I have a pretty strong feeling he’s probably going to be okay.
3) Speaking of spoilers, I am also officially off DVD extras until I have watched ALL episodes of Buffy and Angel. Stupid spoilery commentaries. That goes for you too, Television Without Pity recaps.
4) Cordelia certainly gets a lot more play this season, and she’s got some nice character moments, but she still seems cartoonier than the other characters. Pretty much everybody else (in the main cast, anyway) feels like a real person, but much of the time she’s still a walking cliche, sometimes gratingly so. For instance: saying that the hospitalized Willow shouldn’t undertake the gypsy ritual because her hair looks really flat? That was just too silly. I just can’t believe that a real person would say that, even a shallow high school girl. It’s as if the writers really relate to Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, and the rest, but can’t get a consistent handle on how to write Cordelia as a human being.
5) I’m still loving the riffs on horror tropes — the mummy, werewolf, Frankenstein monster, aliens, creature from the black lagoon, etc. It’s like a little parlor game to think about how each of these mythos might play out in the Buffyverse. I begin to wonder how much is left in this vein, though.
6) Man, what a great cast, both principals and more minor people. Seth Green is hilarious! I think the only things I ever saw him in were a couple of Austin Powers movies — he was fine there, but kind of a one-noter. His portrayal of Oz is making me a fan, though. Also, Alyson Hannigan is still super-cute, and Willow has pretty much emerged as my favorite character. I just read that Nicholas Brendon is my age, and thus probably graduated high school about 10 years prior to playing a high schooler. Apparently I’m willing to suspend a lot of disbelief about who can portray a high school student.
7) Okay, I’m confused about the second vampire slayer thing. I can accept that in the Buffyverse, once a slayer dies, the next one is called. What does “called” mean, though? Kendra says that her parents sent her away as a very young child to go train with her Watcher, but Buffy only died a few months ago in story time. What gives? I think I’m missing some key piece of lore. Are slayers-to-be somehow notified at an early age of their status? Did Buffy’s notice get lost in the mail or something? Also, what if a slayer lives to a ripe old age? Or middle age, even? Are there potential slayers who train and sacrifice but are never called?
- When She Was Bad: Still my favorite episode of the season, and for that matter my favorite Buffy episode of those I’ve seen so far.
- Ted: This was easily my favorite “little bad” episode of the season. Seeing John Ritter play menacing is a lot of fun, for one thing. Also, when it looks as if Buffy has killed a normal human (albeit a nasty one) with her slayer strength, the episode gets extremely compelling. I know it’s not practical, but I almost wish they had been able to play out the murder thing a little further. Everything seemed like it was going in a completely unexpected and rich direction, and while the “bad guy is a robot” ending made everything much simpler, it also made me a little sad.
- Surprise/Innocence: These episodes worked for me in most of the ways they were supposed to work, but I was a little confused by Buffy and Angel’s choice to get it on when they’ve just barely evaded a bunch of vampires and the Judge. Didn’t anybody follow them? Don’t the vamps know where Angel lives?
- Passion: Jenny’s death made me gasp out loud.
- Becoming: After reading Daredevil and other Marvel comics of the past decade or so, I’ve discovered that I’m very interested in realistic treatments of secret identity issues and how they interact with the people you care about and the world at large. So I loved Buffy’s coming out to her mom, though “Have you tried not being a vampire slayer?” rang a little false.
- School Hard: I got a huge kick out of seeing Buffy take charge and kick ass, and I appreciated that this behavior won her mom’s respect rather than earning the stereotypical parent disapproval.
- Lie To Me: Buffy and Giles’ exchange at the end.
- Phases: I loved Giles’ glee at getting to research werewolves. “It’s one of the classics!”
- Bewitched, Bothered: Xander — “Do you know what’s a good day to break up with somebody? ANY DAY BESIDES VALENTINE’S DAY!”
- I Only Have Eyes For You: Seeing Buffy and Angel play out the lovers’ conversation we’d heard so many times throughout the episode, with the genders reversed, was a wonderful bit of drama. Also, it pointed out that Sarah Michelle Gellar has five times the intensity of any of the other actors who spoke those lines.