Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Becoming (Parts 1 and 2)

Joyce is a terrible mother, and not for the first time (see also Ted). Buffy quite rightly challenges her for failing to notice what has been going on:

“How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing and you still haven’t figured it out?”

The truth is probably that Joyce didn’t want to figure it out. We’ve seen plenty of indications that she does actually understand, deep down, but she has preferred to live the lie. Then she says the words nobody should ever say to a child unless they really mean them:

“You walk out of this house don’t even think about coming back.”

Even at Buffy’s age, this is bound to be taken literally. Rule one of parenting: don’t say anything you don’t actually mean. Whilst Joyce’s reaction paints her in a bad light, I don’t think it lacks realism. Joyce is shocked, bewildered and helpless. The most important function of a parent is to keep their child safe, and that role is completely reversed. Buffy is the protector with the big, grown up responsibilities external to her family life. Joyce has been kept in the dark about the harsh realities of life, to keep her safe. It’s the exact opposite of the usual mother/daughter relationship. And Joyce’s big bust up with Buffy is one step on the road to removing almost all of the foundations of her life.

Another step along that road is her expulsion from school, which again follows on from a complete reversal of the usual teacher/student relationship. Buffy, not Snyder, is the protector of the school (or so she thinks), and he does not command even an iota of her respect.

“You stupid little troll, you have no idea.”

Ironically, he does understand her world, but she doesn’t know that, and his shady motivations provide a tantalising hook for the next season.

“Tell the Mayor I have good news.”

In an episode where almost everything is taken away from Buffy, perhaps the most important thing is her ability to decide Angel’s fate. The season arc has been about Buffy reaching a place where she could kill the boyfriend she adored, but in the end that decision is taken out of her hands, with the restoration of his soul also an irrelevance, beyond a chance to see the man she loves one last time and have her heart truly ripped apart. In the end, there is no choice. She has to save the world. When everything that surrounds her is stripped away, daughter, student and lover, only one thing remains: the Slayer.

It’s the end of the season, and I’ve just watched one of the best written, paced and acted double-episode finales to anything, ever, so I’ll be a little self-indulgent and end with a list of some amazing things about these episodes. If you’ve watched them then you’ll already know they are great, but there is so much I want to mention that this is the only way to do that without writing an article so long that you’ll still be reading it this time tomorrow. So if you’ll allow me to crave a boon, here are some of the things that make these episodes so sublime:

  • The flashbacks. I’m not normally a big fan, because I tend to be impatient for them to get on with the story, but these are great, especially when you realise that Buffy was basically Cordelia before she became the Slayer.
  • Willow the super witch. We’ve been tiptoeing along with this massive story arc for a while, and here we have the first moment when it’s clear how powerful she can be. We also have a warning: “Channelling such potent magic through yourself, it could open a door that you may not be able to close.”
  • The blistering row between Xander, Giles and Buffy: emotions running high, and harsh words spoken. “You want to forget all about Ms Calendar’s murder so you can get your boyfriend back.”
  • That first episode ending. Just when you think Kendra will deal with the bad guys, Drusilla turns up and she’s not got a hope. What a way to leave us hanging for a week: Kendra dead, Giles taken by Dru, Xander injured, Willow… who knows, and Buffy about to be arrested for murder.
  • The way Willow wakes up from her coma, with Xander telling her he loves her and Willow calling out for Oz instead. The very definition of bittersweet.
  • Dru tricking Giles into believing she’s Jenny. Much more cruel than Angel’s torture, and hard to watch, but what a moment.
  • The look of shock on Drusilla’s face when Spike attacks Angel.
  • Spike vs Drusilla: “I don’t want to hurt you baby… Doesn’t mean I won’t.”
  • The look on Buffy’s face when the vortex opens and she knows what she is going to have to do.

…but above all: Spike. The amazing twist when he turns up to do a deal with Buffy, his perfectly logical desire to actually save the world, the awkwardness of that scene in the house with Joyce, and above all else how funny and how damned cool he is after weeks of playing a watered down version of his character. We end with Buffy leaving Sunnydale, but we know she’ll be back, so instead I would like to direct the words on the sign towards the most entertaining character this series has ever given us. Spike, come back soon.   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

What has the series become with the season 2 finale, Becoming? For one thing, noticeably more cinematic. Maybe that was the result of changing my viewing routine from the computer room to the 55″ TV screen but the entire atmosphere of the show was more cinematic so I don’t attribute that strictly to the TV I was watching it on. Maybe it was that this time, Joss Whedon did a lot with the material. We started off with a flashback to the 1700’s in Galway when Angel was made into a vampire. A short time later, a visit to 1800’s London shows us the origin of Dru. Still later, we see the curse that was put on Angel so that he would have a soul and feel each of the lives he took. With just a few flashbacks, the show took on a new tone; this was bigger than a standard episode.

By the time the story jumps to 1996, when the mysterious Whistler takes Angel to meet Buffy, the episode feels like it’s back on track with more of what we expect from the show. Yet even then, the show surprises me. It brings back Kendra, the other Slayer from What’s My Line so that she and Buffy can team up again. But all of this is the small potatoes; oh they’re tasty enough morsels, but the things that impress me with a series is usually down to character interaction and that’s the meat of the episode. You can have a silly episode that perfectly captures the characters. Of course it’s better when the episode has real depth to it, like this one does.

Part one hits me with a number of truly well-written moments that serve to both advance the story, and make a point. Buffy, upset that she’s isn’t learning, refers to herself pejoratively. Willow says, “You’re not stupid, you just have a lot on your mind.” How many young people were watching Buffy when this aired and how many needed that sort of thing stated clearly. More impressively, we have the discussion about “the big moments” that come in a person’s life and the reminder that how you respond to those events is your defining trait. I’ve often said that genre television is at its best when there are important messages being shared with the audience. This was handled marvelously. But perhaps the most story-advancing discussion is the debate between Xander and Buffy about Angel. There’s an ethics debate here: what happens when the criminal is not in the body of the criminal anymore? Like Babylon 5‘s telepaths with hidden personalities, or Torchwood‘s sleeper agents, the Angel that committed the murders could be purged leaving the good Angel in his place. Does this version deserve to be punished? Admittedly this is largely a moot point as it serves no place in reality, but it is a fun thought experiment and the show tackles it well. Especially by the time the second half rolls around.

In part two, we have Willow in the hospital, not sure if she’ll be ok. Xander has a broken arm. Buffy is expelled from school. And Buffy has to spell out for her mom that the weird occurrences are a part of her life as her mom witnesses the murder of a vampire… and takes it entirely too calmly. Sorry, throwing a glass isn’t enough; you just saw your daughter stab someone who then watched that person vanished in a cloud of dust and you say “what’s going on”? Where’s the freak out moment? Even her yelling at Buffy that if she walks out the door feels weak and lacks conviction. And in that way, Buffy still suffers as a product of its time. Whether it’s an entire classroom watching a girl burst into flames and go up on a cloud of smoke while everyone plays statue or mom reacting nonchalantly to a vampire murder, the director doesn’t quite nail a realistic reaction. And I’m not sure a cop would shoot at a 16 year old especially in a school. Speaking of cops, was that chalk outline really in the right place??

Ah, that brings me to the elephant in the room. When they wrote Jenny out just a few episodes ago, I was stunned. To watch them kill off Kendra was another moment out of left field and I couldn’t anticipate it. But when our thought experiment ends with Angel being saved only to be killed anyway, I could only gasp. This show is only 34 episodes into the series and I’ve been shocked at least twice. I’m becoming very excited to see where we go from here. And there are hints that things are building. That “tiny impotent Nazi”, Snyder, calls the mayor to share good news, but we are given nothing more about it, so that’s a plot thread left for the future. The fact that Buffy’s mom is aware of the truth is impressive enough, but on top of that, Spike has been invited into Buffy’s home; surely that doesn’t bode well for the future. (I love when Joyce and Spike are talking and she asks if they’ve met: “you hit me with an ax one time.” And surely the fact that Willow has been studying the black arts will amount to something as well because, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since season one, it’s that nothing is actually disconnected.

Which brings me to praise this series and I can only hope this continues. I started this show because I was given a few Babylon 5 comparisons. The shows are drastically different thematically, but where they are very similar is a strong cast and a lot of world building. Early in my reviews, I made a comment about this show that someone was bound to be in one episode and never seen or thought of again. Yet over 34 episodes, I have seen an amazing amount of world building and continuity. Whether that was Oz looking at a cheerleader trophy to comment on the eyes that follow you (something that referred back to episode 3, Witch), or something as small as a disc falling to the ground and being remembered later, I have seen the world building in action and can only hope it will get stronger. 90’s TV may have had some limitations but with writers like Joss Whedon and J. Michael Straczynski behind these shows, they still can outperform a lot of modern shows. I’m definitely along for the ride with this one and I’m really looking forward to another neat new episode.   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Anne

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Becoming (Parts 1 and 2)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Buffy and Babylon 5 were indeed different thematically. But they both shared a gift in dramatizing how dark conflicts defined their main characters. As I’ve said on the Junkyard before, the 90s were a most pivotal decade for TV shows of that kind and certainly for sci-fi & fantasy. Sadly it was after the second season finale that I began phasing out of Buffy, though occasionally some episodes were still drawing me in, one in particular whose review on the Junkyard I’m looking forward to. Thank you both.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. alexandria adair. says:

    As usual, I love the respect being given for Buffy here ☺️ I just want to add — I was surprised to learn in my adulthood that Buffy has a huge queer following, but a re-watch of these episodes drove it in for me. Buffy being rejected and kicked out of her home for an identity that she did not choose for herself, but has chosen to live up to — powerful!

    Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Far deeper than I realized. Doctor Who has a similar following. I don’t care one way or the other. I think more shows should be inclusive. I think typically Who and Buffy do it well. It’s there but not forced. Buffy started off as such a cheese-fest for me, but I look forward to watching it now more than almost any of the other shows I watch! Quite a change of heart as this show has gone on. Thanks again for joining us and sharing. I enjoy your insights. ML

      Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s