Any review of Passion is obviously going to be dominated by one thing, but let’s at least look a the build-up to the shock moment in this episode first. Right from the start, Buffy’s world feels more dangerous than it ever has before, because nobody can get a break from the fear. Both Willow and Buffy have previously invited Angel into their homes, and he’s taking full advantage of the access to their lives that affords him. Interestingly, we see him in Buffy’s bedroom, stroking her hair. He could easily have killed her, there and then, but this is no simple battle of mortal enemies. Angel is obsessed. He might be undead, but he still has passion.
There is a strong theme of invasion of personal space throughout the episode. The sketches of Buffy, Willow and Joyce sleeping are a violation, but the theme extends to all aspects of the episode, even Spike’s “home”, where he is being bullied and undermined by his “guest”. We also have another great cameo appearance from Jonathan, which feels like another invasion to Xander, despite his search for a book being exactly what the library is for. It’s a clever writer who integrates the lighter moments with the overarching theme.
With Giles’ help, Buffy finds a way to stop Angel’s nightly visits, and for a while it looks like the good guys are winning through and there is light at the end of this tunnel. Jenny is making progress finding a way to restore Angel’s soul, and she is on the path to reconciliation with Buffy’s friends, if not quite with Buffy yet. Willow is respectful of Jenny once more, and her love confession and blessing from Buffy means her relationship with Giles can get back on track.
… and then Angel snaps her neck.
It’s a brutal moment, worse somehow than a bite. Jenny runs first, and we expect her to escape, because she’s one of our heroes, and they always live to fight another day, right? Angel doesn’t just kill her, he presents her body to Giles in the cruellest way possible, making a mockery of their passion, and then he watches the trauma he’s caused and smiles. Thanks to the amazing acting of Alyson Hannigan, Willow’s reaction to the news is the gut punch that finally floors us, and for most viewers the tears will be flowing at that point, if they weren’t already.
It’s obvious, of course, that Giles will want revenge, but Angel leaves a sketch of Jenny’s dead body just to make sure his provocation couldn’t possibly fail. And then Buffy arrives on the scene and this should be the moment she kills Angel. That should be unavoidable without a huge lapse of logic, and would have been an insurmountable problem, but for the genius of the writing, with Buffy presented with a choice between killing Angel or saving Giles’ life.
“Are you going to let your old man just burn?”
It might seem like there are more important things to mention, but I have to praise the music that accompanies the emotion-shredding final moments of this episode. This is an episode were every element comes together perfectly to create one of the most moving episodes of a television series ever made. Passion is also an episode that reinforces the danger in Buffy’s world, which was important as time goes on, we love the characters we are watching every week, and the whole series feels more and more fun to watch. But with the snap of a neck, suddenly nobody is safe. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Like a CCR song, it’s been coming for some time. I knew the reputation had to be based on something but I didn’t think it would get here so soon. The bulk of the show up until now has been so cheesy, who could have expected it? Oh, I should have guessed what was coming. The tropes were there: reconciliation on the horizon, angry teen saying hurtful things, a woman trying to redeem herself. But when I gasped, I sucked all the oxygen out of the room like an open airlock on a starship. Look, I may be getting ahead of myself here, but I don’t think I’ve gasped that strongly since the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones. No, wait, that wasn’t the worst of it. It was Oberon’s demise that actually did it. That was the one that I gasped so powerfully that my family passed out due to lack of oxygen. Now, I’m forced to watch my shows in a closed room so I don’t take their breathing air. And it’s a good thing too, because this episode shocked me. Badly. I think I clutched my chest like Redd Foxx in Sanford and Son!
There’s too much going for this episode that picking nits seems petty, and I really only saw one flaw which I am willing to, not just accept but explain away logically. That’s the moment Giles leaves his home in search of Angel only for the kids to arrive later to see the police line across the doorway. I acknowledge that as the homeowner, the police would have had to give Giles a chance to collect some personals, so the barrier may have been put up after the fact. One wonders what impact this will have later, but that’s of little consequence now. So with that out of the way we can discuss an episode about the scariness of having a stalker and the harm one can do to a person’s life. Or perhaps a more complex story is the difficulty of being a parent and having to cope with the shocking realization that your child is growing up and making decisions that could affect his or her entire life. This episode is a powerhouse. Beautifully filmed with some truly stunning moments, it’s one that won’t be easily forgotten. The writing is excellent as well, with Angel’s monologue speaking of passion counterpointed by Giles telling Buffy that as the slayer, she cannot be controlled by passion. The dramatic irony is almost lost in the maelstrom of emotions this episode generates. Buffy’s struggle with Jenny, to let go of the betrayal, is believable; she wants to let it go for Giles’ sake, if nothing more, but she’s still hurt by what Jenny did. Not to mention, she has no idea what Jenny is planning. So when the big event happens, and Angel kills Jenny, I was mad at myself for not seeing it coming. I think I was just caught up with the idea that there was reconciliation on the horizon. I always liked Jenny (and found her very pretty too), so I wanted nothing more than for her to get back in with the gang. I felt she made a great partner for Giles. And the story had been slowing bringing them back together with a sense of realism over several episodes; this did not feel like a rushed job just to put her back on the team. To find her brutally murdered by Angel was the last thing I expected. But it was the right thing to do to establish the show’s credentials; they were not playing a kids’ game now. This episode just bumped the series up a notch.
On top of that, the cast has been outstanding this whole time, but they utterly shine during this story. When Buffy has to knock Giles down with a right hook, the pain they are both feeling over the events can be felt by the viewer. This is something beyond what we’ve seen before. This time the stalker struck too close to home and the hurt is palpable. As Angel sketches his way through his targets, we are actually introduced to a scary predator. The show again manages to tackle a very real issue masked in the genre trope of vampires, but it’s no less frightening for the fiction it’s wrapped in. This episode fires on all thrusters.
To add to the feelings this episode expertly conjures, it’s not just the horror and shock that one might expect. The cast still manages to sneak in some great comedic moments. Cordelia trading cars with her grandmother to avoid being attacked by Angel was laugh-out-loud funny. More subdued is Willow asking Giles what he would say to Joyce about Buffy’s romantic encounter with Angel. Willow merely opens the door to see him out, aware that he has no words to help. And Xander enjoys a bit of sarcasm in reference to Buffy’s visit by the pointed-tooth fairy. (And I confess I did laugh when the kids came into the library looking for books, but it’s about time that someone else entered that room!)
Still, no amount of funny can take away from the horror of what we’ve seen. This was no easy situation wrapped in silly storytelling. This was a very real story told within the trappings of science fiction, fantasy and horror, but addressing an all too real situation that never has a positive outcome. Giles has seen the rain coming down on a sunny day indeed. He has lost a love interest and the kids have lost a friend. But there’s hope; the writers left a seed when that disc fell, unseen, to the floor. I have a feeling this story has yet to wrap up. Alas, I am still too horrified at the loss of a character that had so much potential to contemplate when that will be.
Even I think it might be too soon to make a pun about the coming episode after Jenny was killed by death incarnate. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Killed by Death