We are seven episodes into the series, but this is the one that really defines the nature of the show and the direction it is going to take. Writer David Greenwalt hints at a secret past for Angel for the first 15 minutes of the episode, teasing Darla’s “personal interest”, which prevents the Master from sending her after Buffy, and then we get this very cagey exchange between Angel and Buffy:
“What does your family think of your career choice?”
“Was it vampires?”
It’s easy to forget what an impact the twist moment had originally, when Angel is revealed as a vampire. The writers so far have taken the time to steadily develop an attraction between Angel and Buffy, which Greenwalt brings to a point where they seem to be about to become a couple, with Sarah Michelle Gellar doing a great job of giving David Boreanaz some smouldering and longing looks. But in the world of Buffy, desire is dangerous, and here is the beginning of our strongest example of that, with Buffy’s own home invaded and her mother endangered. It also makes us realise what a false sense of security that old rule is, that says a vampire has to be invited in. When a vampire can look like a human, it’s not difficult to get an invitation.
Greenwalt packs a huge amount of information into the last half hour of this episode, and it never once feels like exposition or an overload of backstory. We find out all the basics: Darla “made” Angel; Angel’s decades as a “vicious creature”, making him out as something that was considered very special and different even by the Master; Angel killed his own family; the gypsy curse, and the way he has been living since then. Just when Darla’s importance is revealed, she gets dusted, which feels like a potential misstep at this stage. Her status as the vampire who sired Angel makes her potentially a much more interesting character than even the Master, and her dusting at Angel’s hands comes at the end of more than two centuries of history between them, so the writer’s disposal of the character in such a rushed manner, so early in the run, seems a bit odd. Julie Benz has been magnificent as Darla, particularly in this episode where she has been such a manipulative and cunning character, that it’s a shame to lose her after just seven episodes. One can only hope the removal of such a good character this early is an indication that the writers are more than capable of following that tough act.
I think the aspect of this series that has impressed me the most at this early stage is how dangerous everything feels. That’s important, at the beginning of a show that is basically about a superhero. Buffy has powers that are only possessed by one human on the planet, and that could easily have been written as invulnerability by a lesser set of writers. Instead, she has been shown to be fallible, with normal teenage emotions allowing danger not just to arrive at her doorstep, but to walk right over it. We have already seen the deaths of Xander’s best buddy and the headmaster, while both of Buffy’s parent figures (Joyce and Giles) have been attacked and injured in her absence. Just look how Greenwalt subverts the normal rules of fantasy here, with a vampire pulling out a couple of guns and starting to shoot at everyone. And while all this is going on, the writers never lose that balance between drama and humour, the light and shade that makes the series function so well. Even within this packed episode, we have several funny lines from the Master, continuing to set him apart from the ancient-vampire-cliché he might have been, and a gloriously confused meeting between Joyce and Giles in the hospital.
Of course, the greatest subversion of expectations here is not the vampire with guns or the perfunctory dusting of the most interesting foe. It’s the crashing together of two worlds that should never co-exist. Buffy’s home and work lives have collided and nothing feels safe any more. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Well I got my wish; this episode (of which I confess, I had low expectations) might have been heaven sent after all. For the first time this season, I feel like we’re building something big. Not sure I’d call it epic yet, but we are shown that the characters have a past. Darla created Angel and Angel was the “most vicious creature” the Master had ever seen. There are references to his past in Budapest at the “turn of the century” (though what century isn’t made clear) and in Ireland, where he was called Angelus. And there’s the mysterious “Three” which sound like a really strong group of vampires who get dispatched by Darla for failing at their objective… well, that part was a bit silly.
I can’t say the series has really impressed me yet no matter how much I do still look forward to each episode. That said, this episode was a strong one again dealing mostly with Buffy learning what we, the audience, already suspected; that Angel is a vampire. I was not surprised by this, but I was surprised at how the writing put the two characters against one another. I love when two warring parties come together and it’s especially fun when they are as diametrically opposed as a Vampire and a Vampire Slayer. Buffy having to come to terms with the situation is at the heart of the episode and I give it credit because just two episodes ago, the writing treated Buffy as a silly teen. This episode showed her growing. Look, Harry Potter took entire 3 hour movies to grow; Buffy is doing it over 7 episodes. Let’s hope it can last; it’s very well done.
What’s less impressive is the whole training aspect and the tongue in cheek nature of what Buffy has to learn. Willow actually asked the very thing I started to make a note of: why does Giles always know what’s going on? “Oh, three vampires attacked you? They’re creatively called ‘the three’! And they are Scorpios and enjoy dancing, soft music and fast cars.” (No, that’s not a quote but it might as well have been!) Giles can look up anything in what must surely be the biggest arcane library since Arkham Massachusetts hired Professor Armitage! “Ah, a green growth on the guys body turning his blood into vegetable soup, you say? Well, color me TARDIS blue, he’s a Krynoid!” Does the school have non-arcane books, I wonder? Supposedly, they are learning about history, so surely there must be other books, but that library is not big. Surely there’s no forbidden section like Arkham, right? Plus, really? They have an armory??? Maybe all high schools should! (Having written a few articles about violence in video games, I can’t help but wonder how many people blamed Buffy for violence in society! For the love of Vlad, they showed a school that carried all sorts of weapons and treated death very lightly!) Still, nothing beats teaching 16 year old boys (who one episode ago, Giles called morons) how to shoot a crossbow. Let’s also address the elephant that someone invited into the room: if vampires can’t come in unless invited, who invited them into the funeral home 2 episodes back? Or is that just a household rule? Can the rule apply to any domicile? Does it work for townhouses? What if you’re renting? “Oh, sorry old chappy, wot! You don’t own this house so I can come and go as I please, hahahahah!” Or does it actually work in the renters favor? “Crap, you invited me in but I can’t get through the door. You don’t by any chance rent, do you? Oh hells bells, I can’t come in unless the home owner allows it!” Having said all that, I was still totally unprepared for Darla’s appearance outside the house when Buffy’s mom was home alone. What a frightening moment! Also, I didn’t see it coming that mom would be attacked. I hope this isn’t one of those plot threads that goes nowhere though.
I need to remind people of what got me to watch Buffy; I was told it was a lot like Babylon 5. As one of my favorite shows of all time, that was a sterling endorsement. And I have seen certain similarities. Unfortunately, the one from this week is one I wish I didn’t see! I refer of course to the epic oversight wherein the writers fail to use the tools at their disposal; the very things they setup in the series. In Babylon 5, we have telepaths who fight with weapons instead of their minds. Many episodes go by showing us how powerful they are and how superior to humans they believe themselves to be, but when push comes to shove, they fight just like the “mundanes”. How does that relate here? Darla is a vampire. Rumor is they have speed, transformative powers, and drink blood. We’ve seen many of these very traits in this show. Yet what does Darla do when confronting Buffy? She pulls two guns out of her… Who knows where she had those guns actually, but now she’s playing the role of Lamont Cranston aka The Shadow as she dual wields two hand cannons. “Who how? What now?” What happened to being a creepy bloodsucker? Afraid of messing up your hair? And Buffy, who can touch wood to a vampire and have them explore in a cloud of dust, shoots an arrow into Darla’s chest, and nothing happens.
I sigh morosely. I feel like we’re getting close to something but it’s all very formulaic. We’re going through the motions of being a vampire series, ticking off the boxes indicating that we showed specific things, but it’s all very robotic. Maybe the next one will have more blood pumping through its veins! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I, Robot… You, Jane