For some people, Christmas might be a time for making amends for mistakes in the past, and perhaps making things right with friends or family. It’s a time for healing, not recriminations. Lots of that happens in this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The isolated Faith is welcomed into Buffy’s home for Christmas, and she manages to get past her initial instinct to refuse the invitation. Willow tries to prove something to Oz by offering… well, let’s just say she uses the obvious cliché, and Barry White music is playing when he arrives, but he doesn’t want the next phase of their relationship to be about making amends, so he proves once again that he’s an all-round good guy by refusing her advances.
Most importantly, it feels like the core of Buffy’s group of friends is back together emotionally, because the tension surrounded the return of Angel is pretty much laid to rest. Xander has always been jealous of him, and heaven knows Giles has good reason to resent his relationship with Buffy, but both of them end up helping out when Buffy need her friends to rally round and help, because Angel is losing his mind. In particular, when Xander turns up to help with the research it feels like a big moment, and it’s a moment of friends coming together and putting the past behind them. ‘Tis the season.
Christmas can also be a time when people might feel a bit lost. It can be a time to reflect on the path that brought you to where you are now, and if somebody is alone then Christmas is the time they will probably feel at their loneliest. Angel is forced by the First (“absolute evil, older than man and demons”) to confront his past, and he is pushed into the assumption that he is defined by the person he used to be. Importantly, he’s not just regretting his actions as Angelus, because those could be said to be the deeds of a demon inside him, rather than Angel himself, but he also believes that he was not a good person even before he became a vampire. Buffy tries to make him realise that it’s the person he is now that matters, not his moustachioed 1838 self who seemed to be going through a Tom Selleck phase, and her words strongly reflect Christian beliefs concerning the human condition:
“You’re weak? Everybody is. Everybody fails.”
… but despite that we have to try our best:
“Strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful and it’s everyday.”
And her words are not enough. She fails. It’s too late, anyway. Angel is outside, far away from any shelter, and the sun is about to come up. This feels like goodbye, and then the impossible happens: it starts to snow in “Sweatydale”. The world doesn’t want Angel dead, or maybe somebody else doesn’t; after all, if there’s a “First” evil, then there must surely be a balancing force, a “First” good. Considering what happens at the end of the episode, “balancing” probably isn’t even the right word. Stronger, maybe. That definitely seems to be one of the key messages of Buffy as a body of work. It’s a show that constantly shows us the struggle between good and evil, and that’s quite clearly stated. This isn’t sci-fi, with aliens fighting each other. Sunnydale is quite literally a place where good people battle against things that come out of a “hellmouth”. It’s good vs evil, and once again, good wins. That’s because good and evil are far from being equal forces in the world of Buffy. Evil hides in the darkness. It can’t defeat the sunlight, and when the sunlight isn’t needed then the snow falls.
“I think right now the best plan is to deck the halls with boughs of holly.”
Happy Christmas from the Junkyard. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
It’s a funny thing to consider that I initially started Buffy The Vampire Slayer as little more than a guilty pleasure; one I would be a little embarrassed to tell people I was watching at all, because now I watch it with excitement and can’t wait for the next one. I actually find myself annoyed that I have other things to do, in fact! I like looking for the secret life lesson in each episode too. I want to know what’s going to happen with the gang after recent events. I want Angel to be accepted again, even though I know what he did would be unforgiveable to most people. I want Oz and Willow to make up. I want Xander and Cordelia back. In short, I want to know what’s going to happen next in the life of the inhabitants of Sunnydale.
When I look up the episodes, I pay attention to the titles. Alas, they are never displayed on screen and I think that’s a mistake but they are easy enough to find online. So it was no leap to realize that Amends would have the gang make up with each other for what happened between them. But when the episode opens in Dublin of the 1800’s and Angel is being tormented by ghosts of his past kills, I realized the title might have been misleading. This could be an Angel story where he is looking to atone for his sins. What we actually get is a mix of slow drama that held my interest and eerie horror that… well, also held my interest but on a different level. The horror element is that these eyeless creatures are finding a way to torture Angel. They are deeply disturbing looking and it’s no wonder the camera never lingers on them for long. (This could be to prevent bad special effects from being too obvious as well, but I tend to think it has to do with the disturbing nature of their faces.) They are called Harbingers of the First, as in the first evil. Rather weak name, but they use the body of Jenny as their spokesperson. Yeah, I was happy to see Jenny back, but let’s face it, she’s never really coming back so we can’t truly appreciate her return. Buffy dispatches these creatures when she works out where they are hiding. The idea is left that they are still out there and we’ve not seen the last of them.
Good, well, that’s over and now we get to the character stuff. Oh, look, Oz forgave Willow. It’s unsurprising as he is older than her and maybe just a bit more mature, realizing that she made a mistake and wants to make amends. They decide to take it easy but to get back together. Maybe this is going to be a feel good episode. It certainly was funny when Oz stood up only to tell Willow that maybe they should sit down. Unfortunately, Xander isn’t so fortunate but it’s only so much you can stuff into 44 minutes! That said, there’s the story with Faith. Buffy invites her over for Christmas and she comes so it looks like they are making amends too. As far as Angel goes, he did torture Giles and kill Jenny – not much chance of wanting to help him, but that’s what happens because that’s what heroes do. Xander walks in with a “where do we start” and even Giles gets in the spirit and that speaks volumes about the characters and frankly the writer! I felt so good: this was going to be the episode to bring the gang back and address those important things like: forgiveness is tricky, but heroic. That is a message people need to be reminded of. But then came the deeper message that I didn’t see coming…
Angel is willing to die, ready to commit suicide rather than fight any more and risk hurting someone, especially Buffy. But Buffy has a news flash for him: everybody is weak and fails sometimes, but staying alive is the real challenge and it’s worth it. The idea that suicide is the answer is a mistake and Buffy makes it clear that giving in is not noble; it fails to acknowledge the impact that person has on those around them. It fails to see that tomorrow could be brighter, better. And when Buffy and Angel walk off hand in hand through the snow, it’s a really lovely moment. This episode manages to tackle two big concepts: forgiveness and suicide. It’s a powerhouse from a series that is managing to pack a punch in many of the stories!
It’s also paying homage to countless other horror tropes at the same time and making us laugh along the way. Not an easy feat but the writers are doing a truly amazing job with that. The whole “Dead by sunrise” was right out of The Evil Dead with “dead by dawn”. Hey, if you’re going to imitate something, pays to go for the greats! And when Xander tries to be intimidating to the barkeeper, I love Willy’s response, “You did great. I was very intimidated by you!” I can’t think of anything in this episode that stood out to me as wrong; where are the nits for me to pick?? Well, the snow looked like cotton, and Buffy’s hair looked like she had an offscreen fight with a lawnmower, but those are two small things in an otherwise fantastic episode. Now I just worry that they’ve had so many successes in a row, it’s just a matter of time before someone comes along with a story that doesn’t work as well and the whole thing crumbles like a gingerbread house… ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gingerbread
Christmas can be a time for facing a lot of very difficult things as I was reminded this past week. It can be good and healthy if it can simply mean forgiving and finally letting go of it all. Certainly for a universe like Buffy’s for all its intense conflicts. As I was reminded this Christmas morning, signs that we are meant for something better than our troubled pasts may come to us at the most special moments. Amen to that. Thank you both for your reviews and Merry Christmas to all. 🎄
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