To a large extent this episode is 42 minutes of classic horror. We have a haunting that has to be resolved by helping the spirit to achieve forgiveness and move on; we have dancing corpses, Willow eaten by the floor, Cordelia’s skin going red raw, and plagues of snakes and wasps. The main characters all have to be separated to perform their spell (which doesn’t work) and face their fears individually. Like many horror movies, this crosses over into the realms of unintended comedy on a couple of occasions by taking things a bit too far: the snakes for dinner are silly, but the big laugh where there shouldn’t be one is the arm that emerges from a locker and grabs Xander.
None of this would have much impact beyond momentary scares, if it weren’t all tied in with the ongoing story arc and the emotions the main characters are going through already. So we have Giles losing his head for a while and engaging in a lot of wishful thinking about the possibility that Jenny could be the ghost. He is so desperate to see Jenny again that he ignores the facts of the case (e.g. the gun), which is very un-Giles-like and shows how much he is suffering. The way Willow quietly brings him back to reality is incredibly sad and beautifully understated:
“Jenny could never be this mean.”
The big moment is of course the staged romance between Angel and Buffy, taking on the roles of the dead lovers, another doomed relationship. The ghost needs forgiveness, which he can never achieve by restaging the murder and killing more people, but Angel and Buffy allow him to get what he wants and move on, because Angel can be shot and still be possessed by the victim so she can offer her forgiveness and words of love. The whole thing is a very strong parallel with the Angel and Buffy situation:
“A person doesn’t just wake up and stop loving somebody.”
Angel did… or did he? It’s twisted, but he has failed to kill Buffy more often than Buffy has failed to kill him. A couple of weeks ago he was in her bedroom drawing a sketch of her, when he could have been ending the Slayer’s life, and it does seem to go beyond wanting to play with his victim first. Note his reaction here when he recovers his senses: Buffy is vulnerable and what has happened should mean nothing to him other than the opportunity it presents to finish her off while she’s disoriented, but instead he runs away, horrified by the emotions he just experienced.
This episode doesn’t just reflect on the status quo, there are also some strong story arc developments. The most obvious comes right at the end, but first we have Willow following in Jenny’s footsteps in more ways than one, discovering her “paganism and magic and stuff” and finding it “really interesting”. Then we have the big revelation that Snyder is fully aware of the hellmouth, and is working behind the scenes to cover up the strange goings-on at the school, so that should go some way towards silencing critics who have assumed up to now that the real-world implications of all these deaths etc. were being ignored (not naming any names, Mike). There is also mention of the Mayor, of whom Snyder seems afraid, and he doesn’t seem the kind to be scared of authority. But the big moment of course is Spike kicking away his wheelchair, to the cheers of the viewers. He was already a hugely fun character, but pitched against Angel, who is being a downright meanie to him, he has somehow become an unlikely hero. He says he’ll have fun, and when Spike is having fun the viewers only have eyes for him… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
“You just went OJ on your girlfriend!” Well there’s a statement that’s bound to raise some hackles. Or perhaps the gun in the school mightn’t go over well. Or the student/teacher love affair. Or the idea that Willow was made a teacher for her class since Jenny died. Ok, that last one might be in a different class, but surely these other things are a bit uncomfortable to watch. Of course, that is the point, isn’t it? This series has decided to tackle some real life issues under the guise of a fantasy series and it’s really surprising me by doing a genuinely good job with it. And as much as we might want to deny that such a thing happens, the truth is: such things do happen. The series does look at the immaturity of youth when the student pulls a gun on his teacher and kills her. In many ways that is the ultimate expression of how wrong that sort of thing is: a child, even in his/her late teens, is still immature and can’t handle situations like an adult. It’s uncomfortable because it’s supposed to be. It’s all acted very believably. And then we add a ghost…
The ghostly element of it has a pathos to it; a lost soul who cannot forgive himself so he manifests the whole situation over and over again with repeated messages, snakes, zombie faces and locker monsters. “Loch Ness Monster?” And the crazy bit is, the episode gives us some genuinely frightening images. The snakes are real and they are seen by everyone; Cordelia even gets bitten by one. The Zombie face is very disturbing in all the best ways. And the “loch ness monster”, that Giles mishears, is rather funny – although what attacked Xander may not have been! It’s a good story, with real scares. Now as if that’s not enough, we go one step further with an unexpected role reversal, putting Buffy in the role of the male and Angel on the role of the female and then examining the nature of forgiveness. Why forgive? Because people need it. Forgiving is not an easy act and Buffy has had to confront that with the ghost having now relived a part of his life, but that also forces her to examine it with Angel. Whether this series will address that or not remains to be seen, but I’m beginning to think it has the stamina to do just that. We’ve seen a really goofy first season but it’s very clear to me that by season two, the series was developing into something more! Could I be onto something really great? “The quality of mercy is not Buffy!” Well, people do change and if one thing is becoming apparent, this series is willing to take on some big ideas and a story arc where Buffy examines the nature of the relationship that has developed with Angel is bound to be interesting.
Let’s not get too far down the road of praise though. It doesn’t mean I have lost my ability to pick some nits even with a good one like this. I couldn’t help but wonder where Willow’s family is when they go to her house, although people are allowed to go out, so that’s not a major concern. More of a concern is how the door Buffy kicks open to escape the bees is repaired when she goes back a few hours later. Californians must have 24 hour building repair shops. (Oh, wait! Carpenter bees!) But the real question that popped up in my mind was around Giles. He’s been at the center of a number of issues over the last few episodes, including the death of Jenny. The police are all over this case as well, and there’s supposedly a missing gun. Do the police not start to think that maybe Giles should be observed? I mean if I were a cop, I’d be looking at him!
Or maybe it can be explained. Principle Snyder makes a comment: he says that all of these events are because they are on a hellmouth. I’ll tell you honestly, the gender reversal I didn’t see coming and I thought that was amazing. When Snyder said that about the hellmouth to another adult, I got whiplash. This was a real surprise! How many people know about this? Is that why the chief of police doesn’t investigate Giles? They know what he is and the role he plays? Is that why Snyder is really keeping such a close eye on Buffy? How does that explain the event in the school in the episode School Hard? Otherwise, if there were one man at the center of as many things as Giles has been at the heart of, I’d think he’d have to be investigated. But that’s just me I guess. Still, I can’t wait to find out more about this, and I may not have long to wait.
“Ok, over-identify much?” At least the humor stays intact and the characters continue to be awesome. I have rarely seen a show with so many great characters that I really enjoy being around. Many shows have a character or two that you just don’t like, and I guess Snyder would fill that role if he featured in the episodes for longer periods of time. Since we spend so much of the time with the kids, it really doesn’t matter. Spike is a bit irksome, but I suspect from the way this episode ended, we’re going to get more of him being menacing. I can’t help but wonder how long he’s been in that wheelchair without needing it. He and Angel have been playing a dangerous game and I think we’re going to see that come to a head very soon. Dangerous games are fun to watch… like sword fighting, jousting or even go fish… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Go Fish
I loved how this episode ended with the boy and the teacher finding mutual forgiveness and peace, with Buffy and Angel playing the most interesting roles they could have in their own conflicts with each other. Even for the most intense dramas in a show like Buffy, we can be assured that it’s easy to see characters as souls in need of something that’s quite understandable. It was a good time for audiences to be reassured that the humanization of the horror genre could be revitalized and that actors like Sarah and David can have a lot than usual to impress us with. Thank you both for your reviews.
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Every time I watch this episode, I find more to appreciate about it.
The sad truth about the gun in the school is that this episode predates Columbine, so a gun in a school back then didn’t elicit the reaction it does now (hard to believe). There’s an episode coming up in season 3 that involves a student with a rifle– the day it was supposed to air was when Columbine happened. So that episode ended up being shelved for a while.
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That’s disappointing to learn. I am surprised that it took an actual shooting for that to be seen as a terrible idea, but I guess no one would have believed it had it not happened. Truth is often stranger than fiction anyway, isn’t it? ML
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It was a different world back then. Some things were just too inconceivable to think possible.
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