Cultural Catchup Project: “Becoming” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

“Becoming”

May 4th, 2010

You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.

Every good drama series boils down to character development, and I started my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season talking about how Joss Whedon was willing to create clear consequences from the end of the first season within Buffy as a character. This wasn’t a show that was going to forget where it came from, where the events of the past were going to simple fade away. As we’ve discussed, there are occasionally episodes which offer a palette cleanser, a way to sort of wind down from particularly important episodes, but the show neither forgets nor forgives.

“Becoming,” the show’s two-part second season finale, is ultimately evidence of the importance of character to the show, but it’s an episode which feels like it’s doing a lot more heavy lifting than we’re used to. This is not to say that the show isn’t building on what has been done in the past, or that any of the character development in the episode feels unearned in any way, but the introduction of flashbacks and the ability for magic to undo substantial character development are nonetheless kinks in the series’ structure. It doesn’t revolutionize the show, but it very clearly reminds us that the rules can change at any moment, and that characters are sometimes slaves to fate or magical intervention in ways which threaten their happiness, their health, and their proper development as human beings.

It’s a non-linear, unpredictable sort of character development which offers a nice conclusion to a non-linear, unpredictable sort of season.

No, David Boreanaz can’t hold onto an Irish accent to save his life, but the flashbacks are nonetheless an important part of “Becoming.” We met Angel as a figure of complete mystery, and since then we met a monstrous version of the same character in his soulless form. There’s a really interesting lack of linearity here, as the flashbacks go from an innocent Angel being turned into a vampire (by Darla, no less), then a villainous Angel turning Drusilla into a vampire, then the Gypsy curse which restores Angel’s soul, and then Angel struggling to find his purpose in life on the streets of Manhattan before Whistler sets him straight and introduces him to a teenage girl who is going to need his help. In the span of those scenes, the show is building both the Angel we once knew and the Angel currently threatening to destroy all of humanity by unleashing Acathla, making for a rather chaotic series of emotions for the audience.

At first this seemed somewhat strange, as the rest of the episode placed Angel as the clear villain, and even rescued Spike from that fate by having him approach Buffy in an effort to stop Angel’s plan (and win back Drusilla). The show immediately established in “Innocence” that Angel’s behaviour places him on the side of evil, but even in an episode like “Passion” Angel’s behaviour is shocking primarily because of the fact that we’re still holding on to some sense of the “real” Angel, the one who Buffy fell in love with earlier in the season. By the time we reach “Becoming,” though, I don’t necessarily know if we are really holding onto that anymore, as Angel kidnaps Giles and threatens to destroy all of humanity, and the episode clearly builds to the fact that Buffy is finally ready to kill him, finally prepared to forget the past and move on.

However, nothing is that easy in this particular world, as the show discovers when Buffy finds the disc with the restoration spell on it and the potential for the Angel we met at the start of the series to return. While characters like Cordelia and Spike evolve within the structures of the show, remaining pretty much the same characters while becoming more recognizably human (or human-like) through their interactions with our core group, Angel’s character is at the whims of magical intervention more than anything he wants or desires. When the other characters find something approaching love or forge an unlikely alliance, they don’t suddenly turn into a completely different character, which makes Angel’s position in the series dangerously liminal. This is especially true for Buffy, who has to respond to the hope of his restoration while still preparing herself for the possibility that she might have to murder him.

As soon as Xander chooses to refrain from telling Buffy about Willow’s plan, you pretty much know where things are headed: while it may be unpredictable for Buffy that “her” Angel would suddenly appear right as she needs to kill him in order to keep her world being being sucked into hell, it’s not unpredictable for us. However, it’s as tragic as the show knows it is, and it comes after a satisfying action conclusion: the poetry of the moment is not lost by the fact that you can see it coming from a mile away, as Buffy and Angel’s shock at their roles within the conflict is so nicely played by both Gellar and Boreanaz that it makes up for any lack of surprise. The scene forces Buffy to shift gears without a clutch (which is one of my favourite metaphors for this sort of “sudden” conclusion, so forgive me overusing it slightly as of late), and that throws the character into a sort of psychological peril that eventually sends her running away wherever a Greyhound bus will take her.

However, the episode is smart about not having that be the only point of turmoil for the character. Sure, Kendra’s return brings back her terrible accent (perhaps to make Angel’s look less terrible) and she isn’t actually given anything to do, but her death and Willow injury give Buffy plenty of reasons to feel guilty, and when you throw in her mother learning about her position as Slayer (and being none too happy about it) you have a character who feels like she has nowhere to go. After the Master’s death (and her own, for that matter), Buffy returned as someone who had changed but also someone who had a support structure and a sense of normalcy which allowed her to return to her normal self, relatively speaking. Here, however, she placed that support structure in danger, and the weight of that responsibility combined with the weight of murdering the man she loved while he gave her puppy dog eyes is understandably too much for Buffy to be able to handle.

There’s all sorts of instances where characters reach their breaking point in “Becoming,” and a few who are able to move past certain limitations. In the latter category, Xander is able to finally tell (a comatose) Willow how he feels about her (not romantically speaking, but in terms of classifying their friendship as something more than “best buds forever!”), while Willow is able to even in her post-comatose state conjure the spell which restores Angel’s soul at the worst possible (but more dramatically convenient) time. These don’t feel like huge, life-altering moments like Buffy’s final stand with Angel, but they are nonetheless compelling characters moments that speak to their characters’ respective journeys to this point.

Meanwhile, Giles’ breaking point is quite literally tested by Angel as he tortures him for information regarding the Acathla ceremony, and “Becoming” offers another tragic saga in the death of Jenny Calendar. Some commenters took me to task for acting so nonchalant about her death, which they posited was the result of having seen Whedon kill off so many other characters in his other series (and, of course, the double-uppercut that is Serenity). However, I think it’s also the fact that we presume Giles can weather the storm somewhere better than Buffy could – yes, he does something rash and dangerous, but he’s going to remain strong for Buffy’s sake, and it won’t be the same psychological torment that it was for the young Slayer.

However, considering me less nonchalant about Drusilla breaking Giles by using some form of hypnosis and becoming an embodiment of Jenny Calendar. While Buffy had to keep seeing Angel after his transformation, Giles has been trying to move on from Jenny, so to see him in a delirious state reconnecting with the woman he loved and so wanting it to be real that he gives up the truth about the statue is almost as tragic as the episode’s climax. In the end, of course, Angel isn’t able to open the portal and the world is saved, but for Giles’s sense of closure and grief to be used against him is the sort of poignant cruelty that the show should bring out more often.

“Becoming” isn’t really all that shocking a finale: the flashbacks don’t reveal anything that we find all that surprising, Spike’s transformation from fun villain you love to hate and fun villain you love has been ongoing since he started playing second fiddle to Angel, and the audience (if not the characters) could see the ending coming from a mile away. However, too often “shocking” is used in place of something dramatically satisfying, and while there’s plenty of tragedy going around “Becoming” feels like a logical conclusion to the season in that it doesn’t feel like it becomes defined by that tragedy. To be clear, it creates plenty of uncertainty to carry into the third season (as we’re supposed to believe that Buffy’s mind has entered a state of peril), but it does so in such a way that feels like a gradual unraveling as opposed to a sudden destruction, allowing the events in the finale to feel like long-expected aftershocks from earlier tragedies rather than a new intervention. Whedon may be fond of non-linear character arcs and the magical insinuating itself in unexpected ways which disrupt characters as they try to grieve or come to terms with their situation, but he always has a sense of where these characters have come from in the process, a quality which brings this finale to life.

Cultural Observations

  • One thing: was Drusilla actually named Drusilla before she became a vampire? It’s such a stereotypically vampiric name that I refuse to believe this is the case, but I’m too wary of wading into Wikipedia and the like out of fear of spoilers.
  • I have another bone to pick with the series in season three when it comes to credit casting spoilers, but for now I’ll stick with this: putting Robia Lamorte in the credits for “Becoming Part Two” was just silly. I’ve seen her name go by too many times in too short a span not to notice it, and when the character already died it’s a little bit frustrating to know that she’s coming up at some point. Yes, you don’t know “how” they show up, but it still bugs me.
  • I spent way too long trying to figure out where I recognized Max Perlich from, and why he was labeled a “Special Guest” in the credits – Whistler is an interesting character (that I presume we’re going to see again at some point?), but once I remembered that he was Rune on Gilmore Girls I was a bit distracted.
  • The one part of the episode which feels a bit contrived is Principal Snyder pinning the murder on Buffy – I’ve felt that the character has become more complex in the past few episodes (with the bit with the Mayor, and the like), but here he turned into that old stereotypically evil authority figure who happens to put his energy into getting rid of Buffy at the exact time when she most needs to be able to be focused on the task at hand.
  • The single best thing in these episodes? Spike in Buffy’s living room. James Marsters has always been pretty fantastic, but sitting there quietly with Joyce and discussing the last time they met had me in stitches. While Angel being a vampire created some interesting one-liners for Xander, he rarely got to be funny himself, so Spike’s actual humour was so fun in those scenes that I look forward to his continued presence in the series.
  • One last thing, that I had wanted to talk about but got bumped from the above: it’s interesting to see Buffy’s actual “origin story” two seasons after you’d expect to see it. I wrote in my analysis of the pilot that we joined Buffy in media res, so to speak, so it’s fitting that both Angel and Buffy would get some retroactive character development here. It’s very strange to see Sarah Michelle Gellar playing so young again, and the sheer innocence of those scenes is nicely played by Whedon’s script (which was apparently lifted from his original script for the movie).
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50 Comments

Filed under Cultural Catchup Project

50 responses to “Cultural Catchup Project: “Becoming” (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

  1. rosengje

    One of my favorite moments in the whole series is when Angelus is threatening Buffy with the sword. When he asks her “What’s left?” and she replies with that perfect “Me.” it gets me every time. I also think that it neatly captures the dialectic between Buffy’s unique status as a slayer with a strong support system and her ultimate isolation as the only slayer. That tension played a big role in “When She Was Bad” and continues throughout the series. Loved the write-up!

    • Mel

      that moment was actually my introduction to the series–I had heard about it and was kind of horrified that they were turning a movie 11 year old me loved but 16 year old me pretended didn’t exist into a tv show seemed so unnecessary and then I happened to turn the tv on too early for Dawsons Creek (I said I was 16 then, right?) and was hooked forever.

  2. Ricky B

    You’re totally right about James Marsters’ pitch-perfect depiction of Spike, but let’s also give it up for Anthony Stewart Head’s fine work in season 2. He does a great job reconciling the British stereotype of season 1 with the more mysterious and tragic facets of Giles’ character that are revealed in season 2.

    On the Drusilla question: as far as I know that is the only name we are ever given for her.

    Not really a spoiler, but to answer your Whistler question: his character was indeed intended to return, but it didn’t work out (not sure if it was scheduling problems with Max Perlich, or what).

    I’m really looking forward to your take on season 3, which is definitely my favorite.

  3. roastygoodness

    “Whistler is an interesting character (that I presume we’re going to see again at some point?)”

    Not 100% sure you actually want this answered, but I will anyway. Whistler was originally written into the pilot of Angel the series, but was replaced by a similar character, with a different history (and actor).

    • Yeah, no worries – I’m not concerned with spoilers like that. For example, if someone had told me Kendra would come back “at some point,” I would have been totally fine. However, if they had told me that Kendra would come back “just to get killed,” then a talking to might be in order.

      Thanks for the heads up.

  4. Hey great review (Observation). I’m really happy with the speed these things go up. When I get on the internet the first thing I do is make the rounds and check all my usual sites, this being one of them, and when a new post is up I’m always like; “Huh”…In a very Oz-esque way in fact.

    Becoming is a great finalé (In my opinion), particularly part II which just brings the pain down so hard. However, for the most part, the finalé’s get better (And then begin to equal out) as the series goes along.

    I’m not sure if you’ll answer this but, out of the first two seasons, what is your favourite episode so far?

  5. Susan

    ” . . . was Drusilla actually named Drusilla before she became a vampire?”

    Since Angel, Spike, and Darla all have names different from their given human names (I don’t think this is spoiler, but we these things out as both series progress), I imagine that Drusilla is a vampire name.

  6. Susan

    Excellent analysis, Myles. Great fun to read. Even though the finale is so chaotic–and Kendra’s reappearance, as well as the whole Acathla thing generally feels to me a bit contrived, I think “Becoming” is a terrific finale to an emotionally complex and devastating season. I absolutely cry like a wee babe every time I watch Buffy say goodbye to Angel. Cripes, what a crappy life she has.

    BTW: you didn’t mention it, so I’m not sure you noticed–the last thing Angel hears both time he’s killed by tiny blonde women is “Close your eyes.”

    And the casting credits are TERRIBLE about spoilers. Best to assume a flashback whenever an actor whose character has died shows up as a guest star–though there are spoilers in the featured credits, too, sometimes.

    • Jack-Kay

      I’m guessing Myles may be referring to David Boreanaz still being in the main (shiny & new) season 3 title sequence.
      Even though obviously he knows that Angel will get his own show in not very long… Which come to think of it softens the blow of Angel’s ‘murder’ in Becoming a great deal doesn’t it. Did you feel that Myles??
      Or possibly the arrival if a certain fairly-famous-within-the-whedonverse someone in the 3rd ep of the 3rd season being pre-empted by a credit.
      I’d also quite enjoy knowing what your favourite episode(s) so far have been Myles,
      once again cheers for the write ups!

      • Becker

        It is very difficult to get all the clearances to not list an important actor in the opening credits as you have to clear it with not only the actor, but with the studio and SAG. SAG and the agents want their people properly credited. The studios usually want to promote the special guests. So it is very rare when they get to keep the name to the end credits.

        The night Becoming 2 aired, right after the show, the news was on and they announced the upcoming spin-off. They could have at least waited a tiny little bit first, especially since it was a long way off from happening.

        To Myles, the show will occasionally complete rewrite what you have thought was history of a character for an episode and it ruined at least one character for me. I won’t say who, though it happened to a couple of characters, one was altered so much as to be a major problem for me.

        • Aeryl

          Whedon got better with the credit spoilers with Angel, but he had a better rapport with the actors who did crossovers.

          These might be spoilery, but it pertains to the death of Kendra and Snyder’s actions.

          While I get the objections about Kendra’s death, this storyline isn’t done yet. Whedon isn’t so fond of mythology, that he puts pieces in his stories without plans to further revisit them.

          And Snyder has many motivations, but he truly views Buffy as a disruption to order, and he isn’t as aware of other’s motivations as he seems, but he is definitely willing to work towards their ends.

  7. greg

    You know what I really love about these two episodes (character-wise)? Angelus COULD have succeeded, if his heart (so to speak) had just been in it. All he had to do was run out into the sun and dust himself after awakening Acathla and there would have been nothing Buffy could have done to stop the apocalypse, but he just HAD to swordfight with her instead. Not to spoil the show too much, but there is a character that, later in the series, DOES make the leap that Angelus didn’t even consider – make the sacrifice to accomplish the goal, and it makes perfect sense there, just as it makes perfect sense here that Angelus didn’t. Also, it’s like totally cool that the first episode of the season had Buffy ask Angel is he thought he could fight her and that, of course, if how the season had to end. I love symmetry.

    Now, can ANYONE explain to me how Spike was able to knock Drusilla out?

    • Eldritch

      “All he had to do was run out into the sun and dust himself after awakening Acathla and there would have been nothing Buffy could have done to stop the apocalypse, but he just HAD to swordfight with her instead.”

      Not only was it consistent with his character to want to kill Buffy personally, I rather imagine he wanted to survive the destruction of the world.

      Though watching the episode again just now, I found myself wondering what would happen to the vampires and demons of this world after the vortex sucked us all into that hell-dimension. Would they get sucked in too? Would they enjoy it?

      “Now, can ANYONE explain to me how Spike was able to knock Drusilla out?”

      Having just rewatched that scene just so I could answer your question, I can tell you that Spike got a choke hold on her and cut off her air supply until she passed out. Then he just carried her away.

      You can do with that what you will. Me? I’m just going with the flow. 😉 I seem to recall another episode somewhere in which you could see Angel’s breath on a cold winter’s night. Me, again? With the flow, baby.

      • Susan

        “I seem to recall another episode somewhere in which you could see Angel’s breath on a cold winter’s night.”

        I can go with that flow, too–vampires don’t *have* to breathe, but they can and often do (helps to reconcile all the panting and huffing when they’re turned on or angry or whatever, as well). But Drusilla actually passing out? Come on!

        There’s also a certain drowning/torture scene in a much later season that similarly makes me go, “Grrr! Arrrgh!”

      • Gill

        I can tell you that Spike got a choke hold on her and cut off her air supply until she passed out. Then he just carried her away.

        You can do with that what you will.

        I work on the assumption that he actually uses a Vulcan Death Grip to incapacitate her, since vampires don’t need to breathe to continue to exist. However, they do breathe, because they need to talk, smoke and other activities which involve inhaling and exhaling. It is possible that this is upper-lung breath only, which is why Angel lacked breath to revive Buffy in Prophecy Girl, and it is also possible that the shock of it being stopped temporarily incapacitates a vampire not expecting it – as shoving a vampire’s head under water might also do, plucking an example at random.

        Yes, with enough hard work, it is possible to explain away virtually anything in the Buffyverse!

        • greg

          Yeah, Angel not being able to perform CPR on Buffy at the end of last season seemed kinda odd to me, too. Especially seeing as how a vampire’s exhaled breath would have MORE oxygen than a human’s, no?

          And also ’cause Boreanaz was panting so heavily whilst he was reminding Xander that he didn’t breathe. Either he needed to spend more time at the gym and less on the couch or that was far from the first take of that scene.

          • Gill

            I suspect the latter.

            My personal, over-elaborate, explaining away is that vampires need to breathe in order to speak, and thus the musculature of the ribs (inter-costal muscles) does not atrophy. However, they have no need to fill the lungs up completely and thus the diaphragm muscles do atrophy, so there is very significantly less lung capacity than would be needed to perform CPR. In reality it is hard to find actors who have no need to breathe at all, and thus we need to cut them a little slack on this one. (Just as when there are occasional reflections in windows, glass doors etc.)

        • Jennifer

          Also, as Joss himself pointed out, it’s hard to find actors who can stop breathing.

          That said, choking Drusilla as a way to stop her…shouldn’t be an issue for a vampire so much.

    • Susan

      I know! She doesn’t breathe, so what’s with the choke hold? Blood flow? Bugs the hell outta me.

  8. Gill

    Good review, Myles, yet again. You don’t mention if a manly tear threatened to impede your sight at all, but my bet is that you found the ending moving at least.

    The real ending, of course, returns to the central metaphor, that the world of demons and vampires simply makes the hell of adolescence “real” – in the end Buffy’s final straw is the conflict with her mother, very similar to one in S1 when her mother tried to stop her leaving because at 16 you think missing something is the end of the world, utterly unaware that in Buffy’s case it literally is so. Here we have her mother telling her that if she leaves she should not bother to come back again, hardly unusual words in the interaction of parent and teenager, but again made literal here. Note also the ending shows the “Leaving Sunnydale” sign, a parallel to the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign Spike destroyed on his initial arrival in School Hard. Of such details is this show made.

    Many fans, particularly those heavily invested in the Buffy/Angel relationship, consider S2 to be the best season. Myself, I feel the best is yet to come. And quite a few surprises. As you point out, in this show there is no reset button, and events of one season have consequences not just in the next but in all the other later seasons. I look forward to reading your responses to them.

  9. Eldritch

    ” …in the end Buffy’s final straw is the conflict with her mother…”

    I think it’s more than just that. In a commentary or interview, Whedon said that, in this episode, he was exploring the question of what’s left when everything’s stripped away. And by episode end, she’s lost everything important to her.

    She’s expelled from school; she’s a wanted criminal; her fellow slayer has been slain herself; her boyfriend has betrayed her; the attack on Giles and Willow has ended the hope of restoring Angel’s soul; Xander (and Willow according to him) have united against her in wanting her boyfriend dead (not to mention the actual need to kill him of he opens the vortex); and of course, her mom has banished her from their home. Then at a crucial point in her sword fight, she’s disarmed, so she’s even weaponless.

    She’s officially lost everything. She has no home, no safe place, no friends. Which takes us to the scene in which, after disarming her, Angel thrusts his sword at her, asking, “What do you have left?”

    “Me,” she answers. And that’s what she had left when all else was stripped away, her self. Whedon’s answer, presumably.

  10. Eldritch

    Just an architectural note.

    That shot of Hemry High looked an awful lot like the court house in “Back to the Future.” It’s in the same studio town square lot that “Ghost Whisperer” uses now, isn’t it?

    Also, Angel’s mansion is actually the exterior of a famous home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, built in 1924.

    http://www.ennishouse.org/htmls/photo_page.htm

  11. Texadan

    “As soon as Xander chooses to refrain from telling Buffy about Willow’s plan, you pretty much know where things are headed….”

    There are some who still haven’t forgiven Xander for THE LIE.

    (Yes, upper case is required. It was a cause for a lot of discussion on the Bronze Beta posting board.)

    • Texadan

      Sorry. I said “Bronze Beta” out of habit, I guess. At the end of season 2 the original Bronze at buffy.com was still going strong.

    • Becker

      What some call The Lie, I call “That other time Xander saved Buffy’s life” as, if she were expecting him to come back, she wouldn’t have fought as hard and died. Angel knew it the last time she was holding back. But I’m tired of The Lie by now. 😉

  12. tjbw

    kendra’s death was my first wash moment, and it almost made me stop watching the original airings of btvs. i managed to hang around a little longer, (as i stated before, i’ll let you know when i abandoned ship) but i am still ticked off about it.

    you said: “…but even in an episode like ‘Passion’ Angel’s behaviour is shocking primarily because of the fact that we’re still holding on to some sense of the ‘real’ Angel, the one who Buffy fell in love with earlier in the season.”

    i, for one, was not holding on. i was so ready for buffy to kill angel and move on. also, i am glad that you put ‘real’ in quotes here, because one of the more interesting things about the character of angel is the debate about whether or not angel is angelus and angelus is angel. are they one in the same? is the one buffy falls in love with really separate from the one who tries to destroy the world? (this is an issue that follows angel to ats.) angel is not my favorite buffyverse character, but this aspect of his story is something that i’ve always enjoyed.

    oh, and p.s. liam ≠ innocent.

    one more thing, principal snyder’s actions aren’t as
    contrived as you may think.

    that is all.

    • Eldritch

      “kendra’s death was my first wash moment, and it almost made me stop watching …but i am still ticked off about it.”

      I don’t understand. Why were you so ticked?

    • Susan

      IMO, we can call Liam (that is, Angel as human) innocent–especially in the way we think of the term “innocent bystander.” He’s a slacker and a player, but not an outrageously bad guy. Certainly not evil, even in human terms.

  13. Austin

    Okay, I too have issues with the credits giving away too much about the episode, however, Whedon and Co. learn to take advantage of this situation and use it to their benefit, also they do manage to get the drop on you a few times, once in particular with one of the best OMG! character appearances ever, accompanied by one of the best lines ever.

    Also, as it has been referred to by other commenters: The Lie is actually one of the best examples of the “no reset button” policy in the show. Look for a reference to it all the way in Season 7.

  14. Tausif Khan

    her running away wherever a Greyhound bus will take her.

    I was surprised at how much buses and the bus station plays such a role in introducing villains and bring out emotional story arcs.

    Guest star credits

    I mostly get excited when I see Whedon character’s come back from the dead. It is also a Whedon trend they sometimes get more work after they are dead (vampire’s excluded). It adds to the philosophical musings Whedon is making about death spirits and influence on the living. Plus fans get to see their favorite characters return.

    Spike

    I really liked this scene because it beginnings to bring evil closer to Buffy and her enemies more personal. But this gets back to the issue of non-souled being able to do nothing but evil. Spike’s actions are characterized by his love for Drusilla. But what would allow him to feel such things? This is important to the mythos of the show and how we are supposed to understand the relationships between good and evil and it just ends up being a macguffin (or flobotum in Buffyverse).

  15. Another great review of an intense, gut-wrenching finale!

    I for one learnt to “ignore” the “guest starring” credits so as to avoid being spoiled on that front… kind of like I manage to not see subtitles when I’m watching a subtitled film in a language I already understand…

    Angel. Liam. Definitely not an innocent. And Angelus is so twisted -as you can see from what he did to Drusilla before he turned her- and Drusilla so crazy, that ending the world doesn’t seem like it would have any negative side effects… the ones Spike objects to (which I really loved! He likes this world, wants to keep “living” in it with his walking meals etc…). Buffy’s teaming up with Spike here is probably the first time (I think) Whedon starts muffling the line between good and evil, between balck and white… and starts letting us (via Buffy) enter the shades of grey. The fact that there are “lesser” evils (or demons, Clem anyone?) that can be left alone while others must be eliminated. A philosophy that is in stark contrast to what a true military leader might believe (for whom it would be “us vs them”).
    After this the “Big Bads” continue to be pretty straight forward… but some lesser bads might get a hall pass…

    I’m looking forward to your review of “Anne” now and kicking off the amazing Season 3!!! :o)

    • Susan

      Okay, that’s two votes now for not-innocent Liam. I’ll admit I’m Team Angel, so maybe I have a blind spot, but why do you perceive him to be less than innocent? Because he was kind of a jerk, human-wise? Or because he was quickly in Darla’s thrall and not exactly putting up a fight?

      In either case, IMO, he’s still “innocent” in that he’s flawed only in human terms, and he has done nothing, that we know of, that would be considered outlandishly bad. He’s innocent, too, of he consequences of Darla’s seduction.

      Or am I missing something else? I’m assuming, BTW, a construction in the mythos of “innocent” as “not evil.” There are evil humans, to be sure, but those humans are acting in more direct ways to harm others, and are often in league with (or in control of) demons and the like. I don’t think regular ol’ jerks necessarily lose their “innocence” in that construction.

      There’s a moment in the ‘verse at which Spike and Angel have a conversation on this point; they both agree that they were innocent. FWIW.

      • Eldritch

        I’ll cast my vote for “innocent.”

        He was a rich man’s son, who’d fallen victim to “rich son” syndrome. He was a wastrel and a scoundrel. But his crimes/sins were of a minor sort. Pilfering his father’s silver for drinks and whores. He wasn’t innocent in the Christian sense that he’d committed sex before marriage.

        But in a world in which demons, vampires, and often worse things roamed, he was not evil or corrupt. In this world, he was certainly an innocent. His drinking and sexual dalliances were typical of many young men and not meant to be harmful. I imagine Liam was in his late teens at the time of his encounter with Darla (which would explain in part why Buffy finds him attractive). He may look older, but that’s just because he’s being played by the same actor who was hired to play a 241 year old vampire.

        • Melanie

          “I imagine Liam was in his late teens at the time of his encounter with Darla (which would explain in part why Buffy finds him attractive). ”

          According to his tombstone, he was 26.

  16. Susan

    Myles–Just a note on last night’s spoiler tweet–it *is* a pretty big deal to have that spoiled, so work really hard to forget it. You have some time.

  17. Tyler

    “One thing: was Drusilla actually named Drusilla before she became a vampire? It’s such a stereotypically vampiric name that I refuse to believe this is the case, but I’m too wary of wading into Wikipedia and the like out of fear of spoilers.”

    Just out of curiousity (and doubtless, too, ignorance): where else has Drusilla been the name of a vampire? In fact… where else has the name Drusilla been used (especially before BtVS)?

    Since Myles called it “stereotypically vampiric,” I imagine that there must be examples, so if anyone can point some out that would be cool. Otherwise, I think the only other time I really have heard of a Drusilla was as a Roman name (maybe when reading/watching I, Claudius, which incidentally is highly, highly, highly recommended)…

    • Susan

      I don’t know that it’s been the name of another vampire, but it *is* stereotypical, I think, in its construction. The “illa,” for instance (like “ella), has lots of history in names of evil/supernatural women. “Carmilla” (J.S. Le Fanu, 1872), for example, is a vampire of English gothic literature that predates Dracula by a goodly margin.

      Then, with a bit of a stretch, you have the rhyme-ish “Cruella de Ville,” of course.

      Anyway, I think Myles is right in that “Drusilla” just *sounds* like a vampire name.

      • Tyler

        Hmm… I suppose that might be what he meant. On that account, I’m not sure that there’d been enough famous female vampires (or evil/supernatural women) for any construction to really be labelled “stereotypical.” There being one predecessor with a rhyming name (and even Carmilla, though I’ve heard of it before, isn’t really all that pervasive culturally) doesn’t qualify as setting a “stereotype” to me.

        I also suppose I’d cut “Drusilla” some more slack given that it’s an actual name, though a rare one. This discussion prompted me to look at the Wiki page on the name, and I find that the famous historical antecedent was Caligula’s sister… and that, far more than rhyming with Carmilla (or Cruella da Ville ;), makes the name seem fitting and cool, to me, for a vampire.

        So for my money, if “Drusilla” sounds like a vampire’s name, it’s less a case of it being “stereotypical” and more a case of it being “apt.”

  18. Jessica

    Down the years for some reason I have never be able to forgot Whistler. I don’t know why, I just love that character so much.

    I’m glad I can actually start to comment on this whole project, as I couldn’t give a crap about most of Seasons 1 or 2.

  19. Jac

    i think what people are referring to with Liam not being wholy innocent is what he says to central characters after Doppelganglands – (paraphrasing)

    Character – ” don’t worry vampires are nothing like their former human selves”

    Angel – ” well … , actually …”

  20. Nairn

    I think the difficulty may rest in how one defines “innocent”.
    If we mean “good”, then Liam isn’t that — he’s not really someone most of us would care to spend much time with, especially once the ale and/or wine runs out. It’s not a spoiler (I hope) to say that part of Angel’s work is to grow up, to grow out of being Liam, who, at best, is a lout: selfish, ignorant, arrogant, wilful, casually, carelessly cruel, likely a coward. He’s more naive than innocent, I think.

    Even Angelus carries some of that mess, but with the demon’s razor claws added.

      • Anna

        Am I the only one who feels that we don’t actually know Liam so well that we can make much assumptions about him? Only things we know are that he has daddy issues, he likes women, fighting and alcohol and to his sister he was an angel (or at least she thought he could be one). We only saw him during his last few days and as a ‘teenager’. The rest of the impressions about him come from interpreting Angel(us)’s behavior, and I’m not sure how well that works considering you add many, many years and a demon into the mix.

        Although, I personally see him as an innocent who had a crappy relationship with father and didn’t handly it well, using sex and alcohol. Besides, blaming him for falling into Darla’s trap to me sounds a bit too much considering he was most likely looking to get laid not killed.

        • Becker

          As a straight single guy, I totally understand falling into Darla’s trap. It would have been far more shocking for him to have not. 😉

  21. Mel

    Re: Boreanaz not getting to be funny, he gets to develop that particular trait a lot in Angel. (though, how can you not laugh at “I lurk” in What’s My Line?)

  22. drush76

    This episode had a major plothole . . . namely Xander’s failure to inform the police that Buffy had nothing to do with the death’s inside the high school library. I found this stupid, and Buffy’s evasion of the police very unnecessary.

    • Becker

      How exactly was Xander supposed to explain that Buffy had nothing to do with it? A vampire did it? He’d be a suspect instead. And at the very least arrested for leaving the scene of a crime, even though he had to go to the hospital for the broken arm or wrist. It’s not really a plot hole. She was found with the dead body and she may have been on the radar due to prior events with Snyder, etc., including Homecoming.

  23. Bob Kat

    Joyce’s saying “If you leave this hosue don’t think about coming back” is a typical trheat many people use. Problem is,t hey often use them to people like Buffy or myself who take the words at face value.
    What also annoys me is Whistler’s metaphysical w ay of talking; he never flat out says that Angel has to be kept away from the statue which would be n easy thign to say. So, Buffy just goes in and fights ev erybody not as obstacles between her and Angel but just as equal opponnents.
    Given that, I can’t say what would have changed or not. if Xander hadn’t told THE LIE.
    And given so many real people talk like Joyce and Whistler, it’s no wonder I’ve given up on the so-called human race.

    Drusilla is a name from the New Testament as well so it’s plausible a girl from a devout family would be called that. Several vampires do keep their human names.

    My personal prejudice is to call Liam and also a certain white-blonde girl evil as humans.

    As to choking Dursilla, vamps don’t breath,a nd don’t have heartbeats but the blood does circulate so it could be cut off.

    A soul is appraently needed for a conscience or for true empathy, but not for love.

    Re succeeding; I don’t know if Angleus knew they way to reverse the spell was to pin him to the statue.

    It does show a principle which will come back in Season 5. Reversign a major spell does not require mere reversing of a ritual, but a greater offering.

    As to “I have no breath,” that just has to mean something else than the literal.

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