When Buffy says, “hey guys, miss me?” at the start of this episode, she might as well be addressing the viewers. We did miss her, but we don’t actually get her back, at least not until the end of the episode. Instead, by her own admission, we get Buffy the Bitch.
The fact that there is some fallout from the events of the last episode, rather than just moving on, is a very good thing. Buffy lost a battle, died, and had to be saved by Xander, without whom she would have stayed dead. Something akin to PTSD makes perfect sense, and shows that this is a series that is not going to ignore the consequences of the big events. There is a problem in the execution of the idea, though. Buffy moves from being “distant”, seeming to be slightly withdrawn, to being a total pain in the butt, almost in the blink of an eye. She gets so far out of character that Cordelia, of all people, advises her to get over herself. As an aside, it’s nice to see Cordelia continuing her journey towards being a real person rather than a character trope.
So the problem here is that it’s actually no fun at all seeing Buffy being a bitch, and that’s what 90% of the episode is about. Starting a new season by making us not like the main character is a brave move, to say the least. Right from the start, we are being shown how other people’s lives would actually be better without her, which is an astonishing thing for a writer to do. We get the clearest indication yet that Xander and Willow would be a couple by now if Buffy hadn’t shown up, making it obvious that her fears that we saw last season of being a third wheel in the friendship are not unfounded. Also, Buffy actually seems to bring the vampires out into the open, with Xander and Willow enjoying an uneventful summer until Buffy gets back.
The uncomfortable suggestion is that Sunnydale might be a happier place without Buffy, and against this backdrop she turns into a heartless individual who messes with Xander’s emotions, surely knowing it will cut Willow deeply, and is mean to just about everyone, including Angel. We eventually see where her hubris gets her, when she tries to be a one-woman army, thinking she doesn’t need her friends, and that decision nearly gets them killed. In the first episode of the new season, it’s a clever reaffirmation of the importance of the team dynamic this series has, and how she does actually need her friends. We are shown her amazing physical prowess, and then we are shown how that’s not going to be enough. So if anyone happens to be tuning in for the first time and is wondering what the point is of all these hangers-on in Buffy’s life, they are left in no doubt that an individual is just an individual, however strong. That can’t compare with the value of a strong team of friends. It’s an important message to kick off the new season.
As always with Buffy, bubbling just under the surface is a true life issue, explored through the medium of this fantasy lens. Reuniting friends can feel awkward and different, not quite the same people who went their separate ways. The awkwardness and difference here is obviously heightened by Buffy’s post-death stress, but the end of the episode is a beautiful expression of how a strong friendship will click back into gear eventually. Buffy walks into that classroom fearing isolation, and instead Willow and Xander immediately make her feel that everything’s going to be fine. Normal life is resumed… well, as normal as Buffy’s life ever gets.
We’re going to need a better villain for her to face though. That kid is starting to get annoying… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
My respect for Joss Whedon is increasing but that whole season 2 “Miss me” opening is a bit cheesy. I think Captain Jack Harkness pulled it off better than Buffy did even though she did it first. Mostly it’s because Jack loves being cheesy, whereas Buffy aims for cute. (And she’s got excellent aim, I might add!) But that opener is pure cheese! Still, I did like all the movie references (Terminator, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars). It establishes that this is a world we know.
Anyway, the thing that I really respected about this is the same thing I started to notice at the end of last season: Whedon is tackling some real life issues. Buffy’s death in the last episode of season 1 did affect her. (I mean, yeah, death tends to do that, especially your own, but a lot of TV shows allow a massively dramatic event to happen to a main character, and pretend it never happened one episode later!) I’m not convinced we’re at Babylon 5 level continuity of character yet but we’re on the right path. I think this is an important step in the development of Buffy’s character because we see her acting out. Her cruelty toward Cordelia was particularly effective. (“Good. I won’t tell anyone you’re a moron!” Ouch!) Cordelia is ditzy but not hard to like, in fact she gets some magnificent lines. But Buffy is 16 and still trying to find her place after a trauma, so maybe we need to cut her some slack. Her arc is made even more meaningful in the end of the episode when her friends accept her back as if nothing happened. (That’s different from ignoring character arcs; it shows that they accept their friend regardless of her quirks and foibles!)
Also surprising was that the Anointed One was still around. It looked like his entire role was to walk Buffy down a flight of stairs. Now, he’s telling other vampires to dig for the Master whom Giles conveniently buried about 3 inches below the surface. (The hole later looks like a proper grave, but the skull required less digging and more a shifting of topsoil for the diggers to locate it.) Actually, talking of the standard ridiculousness of the series, this is the second episode in a row that the library (aka The Storehouse of Gymnastic Fighting Death tools) sustains massive damage. Before school let out last season (the season gap takes place over summer break) the skylight was demolished and an earthquake demolished half the school and then Cordelia drove through the place as a “cherry on top” moment. I almost expected the school to still be undergoing renovations. Now more damage is done and I can’t help but wonder why no one is that concerned. (Principal Quark must be suspecting Buffy after the events at her old school, no?)
The whole episode is just a chance to get us back with the characters and I’m not complaining because they are really enjoyable characters to be around. Giles and Jenny Calendar are a great match too and I’m glad to have them both around for the new season. But besides being great characters, they are really funny. Cordelia once again gets the lion’s share. “Is it possible to have too much character?” She worries about stains after being attacked by the vampires last season but is otherwise rolling with the punches quite nicely. Her desire to be in the cool clique prevents her telling anyone Buffy’s secret. Speaking of her relationship with Buffy, I love that she calls Buffy out on her “Joan Collins-tude!” And about that tude, it does give Buffy a chance to dig into being too politically correct asking if “vampire” is offensive now and Angel has to be called an “undead American”. Xander also gets a few good ones like when Willow spelled out b-i-t-c-h only for Xander to try to sound it out, “a bit-ca?” But my favorite was after Buffy reads a ransom note for Cordelia.
Buffy: ‘Come to the Bronze before it opens, or we make her a meal.’
Xander: They’re gonna cook her dinner?
Although the episode spends way too much time watching Buffy sexy dance with Xander to annoy Angel, she eventually gets her frustrations out on the Master’s skeleton. The battle is typically a little corny to watch as two vampires impale themselves on a staff Buffy wields, but it’s entertaining. Then, like last season, they leave the devastation for someone else to find – good job keeping their work a secret. (Giles’ lessons should include a “leave no trace” class eventually!) Then the “anointed one” returns and I thought he’d pick up a piece of the Master’s remains and say something like, “all I need is a fragment to bring him back, mwahahahahah!” Instead, he looks at the devastation and say “I hate that girl!” I laugh a lot in this show, but that ending was comedy gold. I spent a good 10 minutes laughing about that at the end!
The show is consistently good. Totally goofy in some ways, but enjoyable nonetheless. The cast is great and Whedon’s writing is improving. Maybe it needed a little time to find its footing. These shows are often like toys; they are great fun, but those early seasons frequently have some assembly required. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Some Assembly Required