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Day: July 5, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S02E01, “When She Was Bad”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will ignore the “Do Not Consume Raw” warning on the side of the pre-made cookie dough. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

Ah, season two. Season two starts out with a “Last season, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” intro that sums up everything a viewer needs to know to jump on board, and then…

Hold up, does that say “Cray?” It might say “Gray,” but I think it could also say “Cray.” Which is what will no doubt be on my tombstone. That, or my last words, “I can probably climb that.”

Willow and Xander are strolling past one of Sunnydale’s dozen cemeteries. Even though it’s night, and even though they are fully aware of the existence of vampires, witches, and demons who hang out in these places. #8, right off the bat. They’re rattling off movie quotes to each other and guessing which movies the quotes are from, a game they abandon when Willow says it’s dumb:

Xander: “What else do you wanna do? We already played Rock/Paper/Scissors, my hands cramped up.”

Willow: “Well yes, if you’re always scissors, of course your tendons are going to stretch.”

Xander declares the summer the most boring summer ever. There has apparently been a lack of monsters around, as well as a lack of Buffy. Awfully convenient, I think, that nothing supernatural happens on the Hellmouth while the Slayer isn’t there to stop it. Willow accuses Xander of looking forward to the end of summer break because Buffy will be coming back, and Xander insists he’s completely over Buffy. And then he asks when she’s going to be coming back. Because he’s so over her. He boops Willow’s nose with his ice cream cone to act out a scene from Witness, and then they almost kiss, until this dumb vampire totally c-blocks Willow:

Not cool, bro.
Xander bravely puts himself between Willow and the vampire, and even gets a punch in before Buffy shows up out of nowhere, slays the vamp, and asks if they missed her. Judging from the enthusiastic hugs they give her after the opening credits, I would say that the answer was probably yes.
Buffy gives them a mild scolding about being out after dark without anything to protect themselves, and they reiterate that they haven’t seen any vampires since Buffy killed the Master. Again, I say, CONVENIENT! And also, I point my finger.
Xander tells Buffy that the most excitement they had over the summer was burying the Master. CONVENIENTLY they just happen to be walking past the exact spot where he was buried:

Willow: “Giles buried the bones, and we poured holy water and we got to wear robes.”

Xander: “Very intense. You should have been.” 

Willow: “Have you seen Giles?”

Buffy: “Why would I do that? I’ll see him at school.”

Remember, in the last episode of the first season, Buffy is willing to go to the Master and die to stop Giles from… going to the Master and dying, there’s no real good way to keep that sentence from word repping. So, right away, the viewer who watched the first season will know that something isn’t right with Buffy. She’s not this callous toward her friends.

Meanwhile, in Buffy’s room, Joyce and Manly are unpacking Buffy’s suitcases. When I was a kid and I went somewhere, my mom never did that for me. This is some BULLSHIT, mom. Joyce makes a lighthearted but slightly admonishing comment on the number of clothes Almanzo bought Buffy over the summer, and he says he was trying to help with back-to-school shopping. They discuss Buffy’s behavior over the break, and her father says that he noticed she was distant. This is a really awesome scene, because it’s showing two divorced people parenting their child together without animosity. That’s far more realistic, I think, than some of the depictions of divorced parents we’ve seen in media; Buffy’s father admits to “overcompensating” by buying Buffy a lot of stuff, and he doesn’t bristle when Joyce accuses him of doing it. These are people who are actually committed to raising their child together, and who are despairing at being unable to do so effectively.

On the first day of school for Sunnydale High, Cordelia is telling her friends about her many troubles and hardships over the summer:

Cordelia: “It was a nightmare, a total nightmare. I mean, they promised me they’d take me to St. Croix, and then they just decide to go to Tuscany. Art and buildings? I was totally beachless for a month and a half. No one has suffered like I have suffered.”

I’m pretty sure those are lyrics from Kanye’s new album.

Snyder and Giles are strolling through campus while Snyder waxes poetic about how awesome the school is when the kids aren’t there. He also compares the students to locusts, so we’re right on track for the first day. Snyder makes a comment about boys turning into idiots when a pretty girl walks by, and then Giles sees Jenny Calendar and turns into an idiot who can’t get a sentence out. They leave Snyder talking to himself, and Giles asks Jenny how her summer was:

Jenny: “I did Burning Man in Black Rock. Oh, such a great festival. You should have been there. They had drum rituals, mobile sculptures, raves, naked mud dances, you would have just… hated it with a fiery passion.”

Giles: “I can’t imagine finding any redeeming, uh, naked?”

Oooh, librarian gonna get some. Until the kids appear at the top of the stairs and are all super excited to see him. Well, all except Buffy, who hangs back. She gives a pithy answer to Giles’s “how are you?” and then Willow loudly announces that Buffy killed a vampire the night before. Jenny is confused, because she thought the Hellmouth was closed:

Giles: “Well, it’s closed, but not gone. The mystical energy that emanates from it is still concentrated in this area.”

Okay. So… where were they all summer, Mr. Smarty Exposition Pants?

Giles says he needs to consult his books to figure out if there is any reason the vampires are back in Sunnydale, and Xander wins a bet he and Willow had over how long it would take Giles to consult his books. It’s under ten minutes. Giles suggests Buffy could wait a few days to get back into training, but she insists she’s ready. So ready, in fact, that we cut to this:

And variations of that, until she breaks a training dummy. Giles notices something is up, because Buffy is acting like a cokehead at three am, trying to convince everyone to stay awake and keep partying.

As it turns out, it’s a good thing that Buffy is in fighting form, because The Anointed One has amassed a cult following of vampires.

And he’s got a kicky new ‘do!

The next scene opens with Buffy pondering something to music that makes the viewer think they might have accidentally stumbled onto a commercial for a Christian crisis pregnancy center. All that’s missing is the voice over asking, “What do I do now?” and “Where will I turn?” and “Is is a choice, or is it a child?” Luckily, Xander and Willow show up just in time. Buffy tells them she had weird dreams. In Buffyland, weird dreams play an important and vital role, until season five when that canonical concept goes straight down the shitter.
Giles comes to Buffy with urgent news about the vampire activity in Sunnydale, and then out of nowhere, this happens:

I thought this only happened in my fanfic sex scenes.

While her friends watch, totally blasé about the graphic violence they’re witnessing, Buffy reaches up and rips off Giles’s face like a mask, revealing him to be The Master. Then she wakes up.
There are clues in the scene, long before Giles attacks Buffy, that what we’re watching is a dream. The biggest one? When Xander and Willow sit down, Xander takes a candy bar out of his bag, and Willow takes out an apple. Then they trade. We already know that in “real life” (that is, the “real life” in the context of the show and not “real life” in the context that I’ve lost my mind and I think these characters are real people and the events being portrayed are reality) this would never happen. Xander loves candy, and Willow is the responsible, slightly paranoid type who would totally eat the healthy snack.
This show has fucking LAYERS, man.
Hey! You know who we haven’t seen in a while?

Watching you sleep waaaaaay before Edward Cullen.
Buffy is thrilled to see Angel when she realizes he’s only there to warn her about The Anointed One. She plays tough girl, which makes Angel play tough guy, until they’re both just hurting each other’s feelings.

Buffy: “Is that it? Is that everything? You know, ’cause you woke me up from a really good dream.”

I know, right? I wish I would have dreams about Giles choking me. Or The Master. He’s got that creepy, evil vampire hotness about him, even if he does look kind of like a wiener.

Or maybe because he looks kind of like a wiener. *Scribbles note for therapist*

Angel tells Buffy he missed her, and when Buffy decides to return the sentiment, an Allison Krause song starts playing, and Angel is gone. He must really, really not like country.

In the car, Joyce asks Buffy how her classes are going, and then asks Buffy to tell her what’s wrong. People all around Buffy are noticing that something is wrong with her, but they can’t do anything about it.

As Xander invites Buffy and Willow to a Cibo Matto concert at the Bronze (OMG CIBO MATTO!), Cordelia comes up and says:

Cordelia: “Oh look, it’s the Three Musketeers.”

Buffy: “Was that an insult?”

Xander: “Kind of a light punch.”

Willow: “The Three Musketeers were cool.”

Cordelia: “I see your point.” 

Xander: “I would have gone with Stooges.”

But Cordelia wasn’t trying to insult them, just making an observation. She’s genuinely excited to hear about their demon fighting adventures, and she’s not quite understanding that there is a secrecy component to the whole Slayer thing. Luckily, Cordelia hasn’t been talking about demons and vampires to everyone, because she doesn’t want anyone to know that she was hanging out with them in the first place. She tells Buffy that she’ll keep her secret, and Buffy snipes at her. Even Cordelia can see that something bad is going on with Buffy.

Cibo Matto!

At the Bronze, ungrateful bastard children Willow and Xander are not fully appreciating the awesomeness of Cibo Matto and how fucking rad it was to be a teenager in the 90’s. They’re discussing how weird Buffy has been lately, and then Willow tries to force another near-kiss moment.

Oh, honey.
It doesn’t work, and my second-hand embarrassment crushes me.
The Anointed One and his followers dig up The Master’s bones, which Giles helpfully buried about six inches in the ground. REALLY, GILES?! REALLY?!
This is one of my favorite dumb scenes in BtVS. The Anointed One brings five vampires with him, but they bring only two fucking shovels. One of them, Absalom, orders the other two to dig with their hands, but the ground burns them because it’s been consecrated. Which, again, doesn’t really matter because they find The Master’s bones almost before they break the sod. This tells us two things:
  1. Vampires are bad at prepping for yard work, and
  2. a council-trained Watcher’s best plan can be defeated with shovels.
Writers, this was not your strongest work.
Back at the Bronze, Cibo Matto is playing “Sugar Water” and Buffy struts in to banter with Angel. He wants to patch things up between them, but Buffy tells him she’s over him. And to prove it, she asks Xander to dance with her. 

Rated TV-14 for relentless grinding.

Well, not so much “dance” as fully-body dry hump on the dance floor while Angel and Willow look on. Remember, at this point, Buffy knows about Willow’s crush on Xander. And Willow looks like this:

Like a bird with a goddamn broken wing.

Buffy continues to torment Xander to what is likely the most painful and embarrassing public erection of all time, then she asks:

Buffy: “Xander… did I ever thank you for saving my life?”

Xander: “No.”

Buffy: “Don’t you wish I would?” 

And then she’s just gone.

This scene sticks out to me (like Xander’s erection, ZING!) on two levels. One, I’m glad that Buffy doesn’t overtly promise sex to Xander as a reward for saving her life. In fact, she’s kind of addressing the whole Nice Guy issue we had in the first season by pointing out, “I know you think I should fuck you because you saved my life.” But I dislike seeing Buffy trying to make Angel jealous by making Xander an object, I hate the cocktease element, and I hate that her betrayal of Willow is just kind of a side note to the scene. It’s clear that we’re supposed to think of her effect on the two male characters before we even consider what she’s done to Willow, when really, all Buffy has done to Angel and Xander is make it clear that she’s not a bone to fight over. #6.

Buffy leaves the Bronze and a wake of hurt friends behind her, and Cordelia follows her into the alley.

Cordelia: “You’re really campaigning for bitch of the year, aren’t you?”

Buffy: “As defending champion, you nervous?

Cordelia: “I can hold my own. You know, we’ve never really been close, which is nice ’cause I don’t really like you that much, but… you have, on occasion, saved the world and stuff, so I’m gonna do you a favor.”

Buffy: “And this great favor is?”

Cordelia: “I’m gonna give you some advice. Get over it.”

Buffy: “Excuse me?”

Cordelia: “Whatever is causing the Joan Collins ‘tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever. But get over it. ‘Cause pretty soon you’re not gonna even have the loser friends you’ve got now.”

Charisma Carpenter had some kind of awful cold when they filmed this episode. My nose is stuffy just from listening to her.

But back on topic, Cordelia is telling Buffy that she’s too mean to her friends. Buffy tells Cordy to mind her own business and walks off in a huff, and Cordelia tries one last ditch attempt to make Buffy get mad and confront her demons by saying she’s going to ask Angel to dance, but Buffy doesn’t give her a backward glance. Which is super inconvenient for Cordy, as she is immediately carried off by vampires as if to punctuate her sentence.

After a fade out and back in from commercial, we rejoin Cordelia in some kind of abandoned industrial room, where she finds Jenny Calendar unconscious on the floor.

As Buffy walks through the cemetery, she finds The Master’s bones have been dug up. Look how fucking shallow that hole is:

Good work, Giles. Supernatural beings with tireless strength will never be able to dig him up.
Buffy backs away in terror and The Master appears beside her, but then he disappears. The thing Buffy needs to “get over” is her fear of the vampire who killed her. I’m sure there’s probably a therapist in Sunnydale who specializes in that.
At school the next day, Willow and Xander try to convince Giles that Buffy is possessed, and that’s why she’s doing so many mean things. This leads to one of my all-time favorite funny bits:

Willow: “I mean, why else would she be acting like such a B-I-T-C-H?”

Giles: “Willow, I think we’re a little too old to be spelling things out.”

Xander: “A bitka?”

Giles tries to explain to Willow and Xander that Buffy is probably just not coping with the whole “Hey, you were dead for a few minutes” thing, and that she’s not handling it well. But as he’s explaining it, Buffy walks up behind him, and he’s totally clueless as Willow and Xander try to warn him. Buffy, pissed at being talked about behind her back, casually tells them that The Master’s bones are gone, which is basically the biggest conversational mic drop that has ever happened in Sunnydale. She lays into Giles about what a shitty job he did burying The Master and tells him to crack open his wallet and rent a fucking backhoe next time. No, not really. But she does lay into him about not warning her that The Master could possibly be raised from the dead. When Willow tries to smooth things over, Buffy snaps at her that this is private Slayer business, sub-heading: none of yours, and Xander says he’s had enough. So has Snyder, who drops by the table to tell the kids to get to class. He makes a comment about Buffy being a troublemaker, re-establishing that Snyder is taking a personal interest in the Scoobies. In a bad way.

In the library, Giles tells the kids that whoever wants to raise The Master has to also have the blood of a person who was close to The Master, and Buffy is pretty sure that means her, since they killed each other. A rock flies through the library window, with Cordelia’s bracelet and a note wrapped around it. The note says that Buffy has to come to the Bronze, or Cordelia will get eaten. Buffy decides she’s going to go to the Bronze, and it’s like someone rang a bell to signal the beginning of the next round:

Buffy: “I can’t do it anymore. I can’t look after the three of you guys while I’m fighting.”

Willow: “Well, what about the rest of the note?”

Buffy: “The rest of the note?”

Willow: “The part that says ‘P.S. This is a trap!'”

Giles: “You’ll be playing straight into their hands.”

Buffy: “I can handle this.”

Willow: “Stop saying that! God, what’s wrong with you?”

Buffy storms out of the library to go fight and save the day all on her own.

On her way to the Bronze, Angel walks up behind her, and Buffy delivers this zinger:

I had to screencap it, it was so glorious.
Tell that to Stephenie Meyer, sister. Seriously.
Buffy tells Angel that she can’t trust him, because he’s a vampire. She only trusts herself. She accuses Angel of fantasizing about fighting her (the implied is: killing her) and she invites him to beat her up in the most sexually charged way possible. So, you know. “Violence against women is sex, even when it’s not part of a mutually consensual sex act, whee!” #6. Angel reminds Buffy that she’s supposed to be saving her friends, and Buffy tells him to stay out of her way. And she’s visibly hurt by his “rejection” when she told him to kick her ass. Because, again. Violence against women is the same thing as sex. #6

Buffy enters the Bronze, having rejected Angel’s offer of help. Inside, she finds Cordelia… or a vampire wearing Cordelia’s clothes. Angel, ignoring Buffy’s rejection, comes in after her and suggests that this trap is all kind of backwards. A vampire attacks Buffy, and she agrees. It makes no sense that they would send just one vampire after her.
Back at the library, Giles reaches a breakthrough in the case. The vampires don’t need the blood of someone close to The Master in an emotional, philosophical, circle-of-life kind of way. They need the people who were geographically nearest to him when he died. 

Guess who those people are.

Buffy leaves the lady vamp with Angel and runs back to the library, which has been totally ransacked. She finds Xander bleeding and super angry.

Xander: “Vampires. The ones you could handle yourself.”

Buffy: “Where are the others?”

Xander: “I don’t know. I don’t know what your problem is, what your issues are. But as of now, I officially don’t care. If you’d worked with us for five seconds, you could have stopped this.”

Oh snap. Xander also threatens to kill Buffy if the vampires hurt Willow, a line I’ve never been comfortable with. You’ll kill her? Really? The girl you were supposedly in love with? You’re going to literally kill her if she doesn’t deliver and save the girl you keep throwing under the wheels of the heartbreak truck? Because you don’t like the way she handled a situation you have absolutely no experience with or right to criticize? Also, um, SLAYER MUCH? There goes Xander again, thinking he’s so strong and brave and shit when Buffy has proven time and again that she would be able to rip him in half like Marshall ripped the phone book in half after he drank all that Tantrum.

That is a bad line, and Joss Whedon should feel bad about it.

I have to note here that most of the episodes I find really, intensely problematic wind up being the ones written by Joss himself. And that makes me feel awful for everyone else who wrote on the show. Except Marti Noxon, because Spuffy was a fucking train derailment. But for the most part, the episodes that refreshingly turn tropes on their heads aren’t written by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Feminism Messiah. Yet he gets all the credit, while writing episodes that go like this. That makes me surious, which is sad and furious at the same time.

Back at the Bronze, Buffy tortures the lady vamp. Lezzbehonest here. Violence as sex has already been set up in the scene with Angel, and now Buffy is beating on this vamp who purrs and moans through the whole thing like goddamned Julie Newmar. This is more violence-against-women = sex here. Did I mention that Joss Whedon also directed this episode? Just in case it wasn’t clear. #6

Here’s the thing: A lot of people made that connection when the vampire genre exploded back in the day. I know I had a lot of sexually-charged violence toward women in my first series of vampire books (mea culpa). Somehow, it became a convention of the genre: Buffy, Anita Blake, Sookie Stackhouse, it seemed like every heroine who was written to appeal to a female audience was in constant danger of violence, sex, and violent sex from these alpha male vamps who made readers swoon. I wish that back then, I would have thought a little more deeply about why this appealed to readers, and what kind of a world we’re living in that it ever would. It’s almost like some weird, back door (lol) way of getting BDSM into the stories without admitting that was what was going on. Which meant that we were all fully comfortable with violence against women, so long as she wasn’t meant to get off on it.

But I digress.

Back at The Anointed One’s world headquarters, Jenny, Cordelia, Giles, and Willow are all hanging out with The Master.

In that order.

Buffy, Angel, and Xander creep in. Buffy tells Angel and Xander to rescue the others while she murders the vampire cult. Like you do. Angel and Xander accomplish this by reeling them in on their chains at the most painfully slow pace possible, but the vampires are all so busy getting their asses kicked that none of them can interfere too much. Well, except for one, so Angel can put on his vamp face and kick some ass.

At the end of the fight, when all the vamps are dead, Buffy has an emotional breakdown moment. She tearfully smashes The Master’s bones with a hammer, while her friends watch, stunned. Then Angel comes over to put his hand on her shoulder and give her emotional support.

Shhhh…Let the man be strong for you, Buffy.

At school, Cordelia and her terrible cold and Jenny Calendar talk about their shared traumatic experience. Jenny is focused more on the “almost murdered” part of the whole thing, while Cordelia goes for the more subtle “laundry tragedy” angle. She also has MASSIVE camel toe.
Ugh, just pick it! It looks so uncomfortable, just pick it already!

Across the courtyard, Buffy is telling Giles that she can’t face her friends again. She’s too embarrassed by the way she acted and her reckless endangerment of them. Also… what the hell is holding the sleeves of this sweater together?
Pins? Tape? Staples? Witchcraft?

Because he slept through Peptalks 101 at Watcher school, Giles tells Buffy:

Giles: “Buffy, you acted wrongly, I admit that, but believe me, that was hardly the worst mistake you’ll ever make. That wasn’t quite as comforting as it was meant to be.” 

Buffy goes to class, where Xander and Willow pretend nothing ever happened, and they make plans to go to the Bronze.

Xander: “Well, we could grind our enemies into talcum powder with a sledge hammer, but gosh, we did that last night.”

The intro music to a commercial for your local credit union starts, and the scene ends with an unnecessarily long shot of the three making conversation and healing their relationship, before cutting to The Anointed One, who has apparently just come back from the bathroom to find everyone dead.

Awwww man. They were my ride.

Overall, this is a pretty good episode, in that it tries to show us the mental toll of Buffy’s sacred duties. It’s a really bad episode, however, in that it uses only the tired, anti-feminist cliches of the bitch, the tease, the sexually aggressive bad girl and the helpless, not-as-strong-as-I-thought-I-was emotional wreck to display it.

Another issue I have with this episode is the title. When She Was Bad. Not When She Was Different, or When She Wasn’t Really Herself. Are her actions in the episode really bad? She tells Angel to stop stalking her and becomes annoyed when he enters her room uninvited in the middle of the night to watch her sleep. She dances with Xander and doesn’t have sex with him even though she knows he wants to have sex with her. Yes, these actions are all committed while actively trying to push her friends away and be mean to them, but are they bad? Buffy is definitely not being a nice person in this storyline, but there’s a pretty wide range of adjectives between “nice” and “bad.” The title tries to subtly steer us toward our idea of Buffy in this episode as a “bad girl,” a trope that was overdone long before 1997.

I’ve always found this episode a bit of a missed opportunity. Imagine if Buffy really was possessed, and her friends had to save her from it. That would prove to the audience that no Slayer is an island, especially if the possession is revealed gradually, the way her emotional stress was revealed in this script. Or, if there wasn’t any possession at all, and Buffy acted just fine, but her friends noticed something was up and stepped in to help her without all the bad-girl acting-out bullshit.

Just sayin’.