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Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the WB network in March 1997 as a mid-season replacement, and while its short half-season hinted at future greatness, the second season is where the show really finds its footing. The main cast of season one returns: Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), a high school girl whose mission it is to slay vampires; the school librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), who is actually Buffy's Watcher, entrusted with teaching her the skills she needs to fight the baddies; and Buffy's buddies, the incredibly smart, somewhat nerdy, always adorable Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) and the awkward but lovable wisecracking Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon). B!tchy Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) and mysterious good vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) also return and will play bigger parts this season.
A major theme of season two is, as Willow says, "Love makes you do the wacky." The characters’ romantic relationships are developed this season, with Buffy’s attraction to vampire Angel a major plot device. Willow is still crushing on Xander big time, but, for now at least, her feelings are not being returned, leading to a relationship with Oz (Seth Green). He’s smart, he’s quietly funny, he’s in a band, and he also happens to be a werewolf. Xander, meanwhile, ends up with the snooty Cordelia, thanks to a series of life-or-death situations which apparently heighten the hormones. Stuffy Giles finally acts on his feelings for Jenny Calendar. Even the season’s villains are motivated by this decidedly human emotion, the crazy-in-love (or maybe just crazy) vampires Spike and Drusilla (James Marsters and Juliet Landau). Marsters especially conveys the complexities of his character, switching from scary bada$s vamp to gentle concerned lover.
The Episodes (feel free to skim this section)
When She Was Bad
Buffy returns to Sunnydale and is having major trouble dealing with her brief death at the hands of the Master at the end of last season. Her issues cause her to engage in a sensuous slow dance with Xander, which makes both Angel and Willow jealous, and is just cruel to Xander, whom she has no romantic interest in. When it’s discovered that a group of vampires are planning to resurrect the Master, will Buffy accept her friends’ help in the fight? At this rate, will she even have any friends left? The episode has its moments – the dance, an almost-kiss between Xander and Willow, Cordelia’s advice to Buffy ("Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it. 'Cause pretty soon you’re not even gonna have the loser friends you’ve got now. ") – but as a whole it’s not one of the season’s best offerings.
Snyder: There are some things I can just smell. It’s like a sixth sense.
Giles: No, actually, that would be one of the five.
Some Assembly Required
Someone has been digging up the graves of pretty girls and harvesting their parts to create some kind of zombie. But soon enough, dead girls aren’t doing it for them, and it’s time to move on to the living, or parts of them at least. This one makes the season opener look positively brilliant, but it’s somewhat redeemable thanks to some truly funny moments, in particular the scene with Giles practicing his pick-up lines on a library chair and the dating advice he receives from Buffy and Xander.
Giles: Grave-robbing? That’s new. Interesting.
Buffy: I know you meant to say gross and disturbing.
Giles: Yes, yes, of course, terrible thing. Must put a stop to it. Dammit.
Buffy is recruited by Principal Snyder to organize Parent-Teacher Night. Of course, the event just so happens to fall on the Night of St. Vigeous, the night when vampires’ powers are at their peak. To complicate matters further, two fearsome new vamps have arrived in town in the form of Billy Idol lookalike Spike and his sickly lady love Drusilla. These two will be major players later in the season. The episode also offers some backstory on Angel and even gives Mrs. Summers a chance to get in on some vampire-hunting action.
Snyder: A lot of educators tell students, think of your principal as your pal. I say, think of me as your judge, jury, and executioner.
Inca Mummy Girl
Buffy’s family is hosting a foreign exchange student named Ampata, and as if the invasion of Buffy’s privacy weren’t enough to worry about, it turns out an ancient mummy princess has killed and taken the place of Ampata. Unfortunately, the mummy survives by sucking the life out of people through her kiss of death, and she’s set her sights on Xander. This is another rocky episode, with the writers unsubtly driving home the point that the mummy and Buffy aren’t all that different.
Giles: You have responsibilities.
Buffy: Oh, I know this one! Slaying entails certain sacrifices, blah blah bitty blah, I’m so stuffy. Give me a scone.
Giles: It’s as if you know me.
Buffy makes a bad decision, hanging out with Cordelia and some college guys. Turns out these are not just any college guys; they belong to a fraternity whose members must offer human sacrifices to the monster they worship. The DVD includes the episode script and an optional commentary with writer/director David Greenwalt.
Willow: Oh! Sorry, the reflection thing that you don't have. Angel, how do you shave?
One of the most fun episodes of the season, this introduces Ethan Rayne, a troublemaker from Giles’ past. Ethan Rayne, the proprietor of a costume shop, works his magic to turn everyone into whatever they’re dressed up as. Xander becomes a soldier, Willow a ghost, Buffy a helpless maiden. The only person who’s not affected is Cordelia, who bought her costume at the town’s other, more expensive store.
Buffy (after being asked to chaperone a group of trick-or-treaters): Gosh, I’d love to sign up, but I’ve recently developed carpal tunnel syndrome and can tragically no longer hold a flashlight.
Lie to Me
Buffy’s childhood friend Ford comes to Sunnydale. But his visit is more than a friendly one, as he’s seeking to cure his terminal illness by becoming a vampire. This is one of the season’s strongest episodes thus far, with Drusilla’s creepy hunting of a young boy at the playground and Giles’ comforting, fatherly talk with Buffy at episode’s end standout moments of not just the episode, but the season.
Xander: Angel was in your bedroom?
Willow: Ours is a forbidden love.
The Dark Age
A nervous-looking man shows up at Sunnydale High looking for Giles but is killed by a zombie-looking woman who then dissolves into a puddle of goo. This all has something to do with Giles’ past, and it may negatively affect his burgeoning relationship with Jenny. The episode sheds some light on Giles’ relationship with the shady Ethan Rayne, a delightfully sinister character who we haven’t heard the last of.
Jenny: Did anyone ever tell you you're kind of a fuddy-duddy?
Giles: Nobody ever seems to tell me anything else.
Jenny: Did anyone ever tell you you're kind of a sexy fuddy-duddy?
Giles: Well, no. Actually that, that part usually gets left out somehow.
What’s My Line, Part 1
It’s career week at Sunnydale High, and Buffy’s down in the dumps about her lack of a future. She’s thinking merely careerwise, but it may be worse than that, as Spike has hired the Order of Taraka, a group of trained assassins, to track Buffy down and kill her. This one exists mainly to set up the second part, but the second part is so good we can forgive it. The DVD includes the episode script and an audio commentary with co-writer Marti Noxon.
Buffy: I wish we could be regular kids.
Angel: Yeah. I'll never be a kid.
Buffy: Okay, then a regular kid and her cradle robbing, creature-of-the-night boyfriend.
What’s My Line, Part 2
Buffy finds out Kendra, the chick she came face-to-face with at the end of the first half, is not from the Order of Taraka. She is in fact a second Slayer, who was called during Buffy’s brief period of death. Kendra has been trained differently than Buffy has; she’s even read the Slayer Handbook, which Buffy didn’t know existed. The two must overcome their differences and work together to stop Spike’s plot to restore Drusilla to health. This episode pairs off Xander and Willow, but not with each other; Xander and Cordelia share a passionate kiss accompanied by sappy rising music, while Oz takes a bullet for Willow and later engages in an absolutely adorable bit of flirting with her. The DVD includes the episode script and an audio commentary with writer Marti Noxon.
Willow: Don't worry, Buffy, we'll save Angel.
Kendra: Angel? But our priority is to stop Drusilla!
Xander: Hey, Angel's our friend! Except I don't like him.
Buffy’s mother’s new boyfriend Ted is seemingly perfect. He’s wowed Mrs. Summers, Xander, and Willow, everyone except Buffy, who thinks there’s something more to the guy. A somewhat weak episode, but John Ritter is a delight as the almost too perfect Ted.
Buffy and her classmates have to take care of some eggs for a school project. As the title suggests, there’s something different about these eggs. Two painfully unfunny redneck vampires make this episode even more terrible.
A huge turning point for the show, this episode finds the passions between Buffy and Angel reaching their boiling point. The two finally succumb to desire, with disastrous results. This episode begins the series’ tradition of having the most awful things happen on Buffy’s birthday.
Buffy: You think he's too old 'cause he's a senior? Please. My boyfriend had a bicentennial.
Angel has changed, and not for the better. It turns out the gypsy curse that re-ensouled him came with some fine print: if Angel experiences a moment of true happiness, he will revert back to the evil vampire Angelus. Gellar does some of her best acting here as the heartbroken Buffy, and Boreanaz is delightfully over-the-top as Angelus. This was before Angel got his own show where he would turn in to Angelus every season during sweeps week, leading his friends to search for some new method to turn him back to Angel before the season finale. Why they couldn't simply use whatever worked last time and why, after hundreds of years of remaining en-souled, Angel started turning into Angelus every year, is beyond me. Still, even though "Innocence" laid the groundwork for these unfortunate proceedings, that doesn't change the fact that this is one of Buffy's strongest episodes in terms of characterization, acting, story, and just about everything. The DVD includes the episode’s script and a commentary with writer/director/series creator Joss Whedon.
Oz: So, do you guys steal weapons from the Army a lot?
Willow: Well, we don't have cable, so we have to make our own fun.
Like Buffy, Willow’s dealing with her own relationship issues, as she discovers Oz is a werewolf. The episode is actually rather light-hearted and is a break from the Buffy-Angel drama. Oz and Willow have an undeniable chemistry, and Xander gets an absolutely hilarious scene with jock Larry, whom he at first suspects to be the werewolf; the two would share an equally funny scene in season three’s "Earshot."
Willow: I like you. You’re nice, and you’re funny, and you don’t smoke. Yeah, okay, werewolf, but that’s not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month, I’m not much fun to be around either.
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Xander is in the spotlight for this immensely entertaining episode. After being dumped by Cordelia, Xander attempts a love spell which will make Cordelia fall in love with him so he can turn the tables on her and dump her. Something goes wrong, however, and the spell works on everyone but Cordelia, making all the women of Sunnydale – including Joyce Summers, Jenny Calendar, and Drusilla – attracted to Xander. Pure fun.
Xander: I have a plan. We use me as bait.
Buffy: You mean make Angel come after you?
Xander: No, I mean chop me into little pieces and stick me on hooks for fish to nibble at ‘cause it would be more fun than my life.
One of the darkest Buffys ever, "Passion" shows just how evil and sadistic Angelus truly is. Jenny Calendar discovers how to cure Angel, but before she can share the news with the rest of the gang, Angel stalks and kills her, leaving her body in Giles’ bed. The terrifying chase scene, the cruel trick Angel plays on Giles, making it appear as if Jenny has set up a romantic evening, the look on Giles’ face when he discovers what is actually going on, all are among the best, most unforgettable moments of the series.
Angelus: Well, maybe next time I'll bring you with me, Spike. Might be handy to have you around if I ever need a really good parking space.
Killed By Death
This can best be described as A Nightmare on Elm Street-lite. A dreamstalking demon is killing sick kids, and Buffy has to stop it. An already less-than-average episode made even worse by its placement in the series; after the heart-stopping events of "Passion," this is a letdown.
Giles: Cordelia, have you actually ever heard of tact?
Cordelia: Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass.
I Only Have Eyes for You
A Buffy ghost story involving a guy who killed his girlfriend back in the 1950’s. Haunted by the events, he’s forcing living people to reenact the events in hopes of reaching a better conclusion. This seems to be a fan favorite, but the Angel-Buffy reenactment of the tragedy is the only real moment of note to me.
Xander: Something weird is going on. Isn't that our school motto?
The Sunnydale High swim team could be number one, if only the team wasn’t being turned into fish monsters. More silly monster-of-the-week fare.
Xander: And what about that nutty "all men are created equal" thing?
Cordelia: Propaganda spouted out by the ugly and less deserving.
Xander: I think that was Lincoln.
Cordelia: Disgusting mole and stupid hat.
Willow: Actually, it was Jefferson.
Cordelia: Kept slaves. Remember?
Becoming, Part 1
The explosive first part of the season finale. Angel’s planning to bring forth Acathla, a demon who will suck the world into hell, Slayer Kendra returns to help the gang, and Willow finally finds the ritual Jenny had unearthed to cure Angel. The episode makes good use of flashbacks which detail Angel’s past and ends with a devastating cliffhanger.
Spike: It's a big rock. I can't wait to tell my friends. They don't have a rock this big.
Becoming, Part 2
This is terrific stuff. Buffy, having discovered her friends near death (or, in Kendra’s case, dead), sets out to foil Angel’s plan and send him to hell. Help comes in the unlikely form of Spike, who’s tired of Angel moving in on Drusilla. The episode has some funny moments – Buffy introducing Spike to her mother, the resulting awkward conversation between Spike and Joyce, who last met when Joyce hit him with an axe – but most of it is brutal, sad, and emotionally draining. The break between this and season three is almost needed to catch a breath.
Giles: You're not real.
Xander: Sure, I'm real.
Giles: It's a trick. They get inside my head, make me see things I want.
Xander: Then why would they make you see me?
Giles: You're right. Let's go.
About the DVDs
This set contains the season's twenty-two episodes on six discs. The picture is of better quality than the first season, but still slightly grainy and not as clear as the third season. Audio options include English and French, with optional English or Spanish subtitles. The DVD menu is a bit frustrating, with each push of a button on the remote leading to a cinematic pan through a graveyard. It looks like a bad computer game, and it can get annoying when you have to watch it every time you insert the DVD. As for special features, there are episode commentaries for only four of the season’s twenty-two episodes; "Innocence" and both parts of "What’s My Line" are good choices, but "Reptile Boy"? Not so much. The DVDs include the short intros to the six episodes which appeared on the VHS releases, namely "Surprise," "Innocence," "Passion," "I Only Have Eyes for You," and both halves of "Becoming." Interesting that the first episode deemed worthy of a VHS release was the thirteenth of the season. A handful of featurettes are also included, including "Designing Buffy" (a look at the series’ production design), "Beauty and the Beasts" (makeup effects), and "A Buffy Bestiary" (a gallery of the baddies Buffy’s faced).
Season two of Buffy is surely a step up from season one. The season has quite a few weak episodes, but when it’s good, it’s mind-blowingly so. The returning actors seem more comfortable in their roles, making the character-driven episodes a joy to watch. Season one had "The Pack" and "I Robot, You Jane;" season two has "The Dark Age," "Phases," "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," and "Passion." The season introduces some new characters who would go on to play major roles in the series. James Marsters and Juliet Landau as the twisted Spike and Dru make for fascinating villains, while Seth Green as Oz adds a whole other degree of awesomeness to the show. Compared to season one, season two better balances the light and the dark, offering some true laugh-out-loud moments while also being relentlessly brutal and heartbreaking. This season takes the show in whole new directions, laying the groundwork for the seasons to follow.
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