CW: Intimate partner violence
In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone tore something in her upper arm and can’t lift a cup of coffee now. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- 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)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick.
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
- Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
- Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
- Science and technology are not to be trusted.
- Mental illness is stigmatized.
- Only Willow can use a computer.
- Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
- Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
- Oz is the Anti-Xander
- Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
- Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
- The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
- Smoking is evil.
- Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
- Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
- Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
- Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
- Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
- The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
- This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.
- Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
- Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments. Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.
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.
The episode begins with a voice over of Buffy reading Call Of The Wild. The voice over fades into Willow reading the book to Oz, who is chained up in the cage in the library. Just as she thinks maybe it’s not the best idea to read books about rabbits to a caged werewolf, Xander shows up for a shift. You know, I give Xander a lot of shit, but this is actually a really good group of friends. I think you can tell if a friendship is strong based on if your friends will do basically anything for you, like, “Oh, you turn into a werewolf? No problem, man, I’ll hang out and make sure you don’t kill anybody.”
Like, okay, for example, I have this friend who will do anything for his friends. Anything. It doesn’t matter if you see him every day, or once every ten years. He is genuinely a good guy and wants to help out his friends. To test this theory, Mr. Jen once tested the theory by calling him up and saying, “Hey, I was thinking I might want to jerk off with a noose around my neck, but I’m afraid of hanging myself. Can you come spot me?” and no shit, this guy, who is absolute zero on the Kinsey Scale, goes, “Sure, when do you want to do it?” No questions asked. He was just going to come over and watch Mr. Jen jerk off–with no expectation of sexual interaction–because he’s a good friend and wanted to help out another friend in a high risk masturbation situation. Even after Mr. Jen told him it wasn’t a serious request, this friend reasserted that if it wasn’t a joke, he would gladly do this favor. I honestly get the feeling that Xander would be like that.
Willow: “After sunrise, if he forgets where his clothes are, they’re on top of the file cabinet inside his cage. I put those towels up for privacy.”
Xander: “Oh, no worries. I can handle the Oz full monty. I mean, not handle handle, like hands to flesh. Handle.”
Okay, maybe not quite like that, then. Xander’s aggressive heterosexuality is a running punchline in the show, which is a big factor in #23. I’ve heard that Joss Whedon had originally planned for Xander to come out, but opted to make Willow a lesbian instead (I would argue that it would have been perfectly acceptable to make Willow bisexual, rather than buy into the stereotype of the woman done wrong who swears off men for all time, but whatever, we’ll deal with that next season). So that’s probably why there are so many instances of Xander telling anyone who will listen how straight he is.
Willow tells Xander that it should be an easy night, because it’s not the actual full moon yet, but she leaves a tranq gun with him, just in case. Here’s an interesting thing I noticed for the first time: when she gives Xander the gun, he kind of waves it around dangerously, pointing it at her by accident. But as late as season four he’s still retained the military knowledge he gained as a result of his Halloween costume in season two. So that’s kind of inconsistent there.
After assuring Willow that he’s going to stay up all night watching Oz, Xander climbs on the table and goes to sleep like two seconds after she’s gone. Okay, so, Xander will do things for you as a friend, but they’re going to be half-assed and probably dangerous.
Out in the cemetery, Faith and Buffy are patrolling. And the very first thing Faith says is sex related. In fact, the entire conversation they have is sex related. Because Faith. She tells Buffy that all men are animals, even Scott the nice dude from school.
Faith: “They’re all in it for the chase.”
Cut to a guy literally being chased. He’s pulled to the ground, screaming, by something off screen.
After the credits, Buffy, Oz, and Willow are walking around school. They run into Debbie, a student Oz knows, and her boyfriend, Pete.
Debbie: “Hi, Oz. Hey, you’re not doing jazz band this year?”
Oz: “Ooh, can’t take the pressure. It’s not the music that’s hard, it’s the marching.”
Buffy: “We have a marching jazz band?”
Oz: “Yeah, but, you know, since the best jazz is improvisational, we’d be going off in all directions, banging into floats. Scary.”
So, Scott is also there with them, and when Debbie says that the flowers she’s carrying are from Pete, Scott quickly informs them that he and Buffy aren’t at the flower giving stage yet. Buffy says she has to run, because she has to meet with Mr. Platt, the guidance counsellor. Debbie bemoans the fact that she has to see him, too, but it’s only because she’s failing biology. Oz did really well in biology, so he offers to give her his notes. They all disperse, and Buffy gives Scott a kiss before she goes. So, they might not be at the giving flowers stage, but they are at the kissing stage.
In the library, Giles and Xander are freaking out. When Willow and Oz come in, they definitely notice:
Giles: “Right. Yes, good to see you. No need to panic.”
Smooth, Giles. He tells them that a student was mauled to death in the night. They try to assure Oz that it probably wasn’t him, though they find that the window inside the cage is open. Why the fuck would they have not checked that pre-wolf containment? Xander tells them that Oz never left, and that he was there in the morning when he woke up. So because Xander is a Scumbag Steve instead of a Good Guy Greg, someone has died, and Oz is tortured by the thought that he was the one who did it.
I rescind my earlier assertion. Don’t trust Xander to spot you while you’re jerking off and asphyxiating yourself.
Buffy, unaware of this other shit, goes to see the school counsellor, who is a rare subversion of #22. He’s also a wonderful throwback to the days when the teachers would do a health unit on the dangers of smoking and why you should never, ever do it, but every time the teachers’ lounge door opened the immediate area smelled like a bus station ashtray. Buffy tells Mr. Platt that she doesn’t want to share or open up or be his friend, and he tells her he’s not interested in being her friend, either. He’s there to be her counsellor. They have a little chat about her mental health and why she ran away. She tells him about Angel, but obviously in very vague terms.
Buffy: “He was my first… I loved him. And then he…”
Mr. Platt: “Changed.”
Mr. Platt: “He got mean.”
Mr. Platt: “And you didn’t stop loving him.”
Hold onto this for a second. Well, for more than a second. We’re going to talk about this as we go along.
Mr. Platt tells Buffy that yeah, love is great and all, but you can’t let it rule you. But Buffy’s outlook on that is pretty bleak. She reports to the library, to find everyone super grim and solemn.
Except for Cordelia:
Cordelia: “Oz ate someone last night.”
Xander comes to his defense by explaining graphically that Oz doesn’t eat people, he just murders them for fun. Giles, in an unbroken three season streak of being totally exasperated with Xander, explains that Oz may have gotten out, or there might be another werewolf. Buffy says they should work together to figure everything out, and in the meantime, Faith can watch Oz. He’s pissed off at the idea of his friends entrusting his life to a Slayer they don’t even know. He tries to storm off, but Willow points out that he can’t, because it’s so close to sundown. This guy can’t catch a break.
Later that night, Buffy is patrolling the woods, and this happens:
After these messages, Angel attacks Buffy, and she manages to knock him out.
Since it’s a day ending in Y for our gang, Willow, Cordelia, and Xander are breaking into the morgue to check out the dead student’s body, which is apparently pretty gruesome. Willow goes full CSI, totally calm in the face of the gore while Xander and Cordelia freak out. The moment she’s got everything she needs, Willow hits the floor like a ton of bricks.
Instead of killing Angel, Buffy takes him back to the mansion where she killed him in the first place, and chains him up. She goes to the library, where she startles Faith and gets punched in the face for it. Buffy says she’ll watch Oz instead, since she couldn’t sleep. Faith leaves, and Buffy starts rifling through the card catalogue. Which makes me wonder…has Giles actually organized arcane knowledge according to Dewey? And just put it all in there for the students to wander across?
The next morning, Giles comes in to find Oz, fully human and really naked, and Giles casually sips his coffee and unlocks the door. So, there’s something we need to talk about. What if a janitor came in? What if a student came in early? And they found out that their librarian–whose entire social life consists of hanging out with this group of teenagers–keeps a naked student locked in a cage? The thing is, nothing would probably happen. Because this is Sunnydale, and #8. In fact, I’m willing to bet that someone does know about the naked student locked up in the library, and they just ignore it and go on their way, secure in their comfortable delusion.
Buffy has fallen asleep–oh, so it’s okay when Buffy falls asleep on Oz watch–and when Giles picks up a book that’s fallen on the floor near her, she wakes with this dreamy little, “Hey,” and Giles says “Hello” back, and literally the way he says “hello” in this scene is what made me start to go, “Wait…I think maybe he could be into her.” Granted, I came into this head canon after I’d already seen his mantrum over Buffy’s new boyfriend in “A New Man”, but this scene was where I was like, “Wait, I kind of think this could be a ship.” If you’ve ever been involved in any sort of fandom, you know that ships have sailed on shallower waters than these. There’s a Giles/Oz ship, for Christ’s sake. I just happen to find Buffy/Giles the most obvious of all M/F ships involving Buffy, even if the paternal role Giles fills makes the ship ooky.
But I write about twenty-somethings boning fifty-somethings, so I’m hardly an impartial judge here.
So, where was I?
Giles sees that Buffy has been reading up on Acathla, and she tells him she had a dream about Angel coming back. Giles says he didn’t know Buffy could use a card index, so he absolutely fucking does have shit about demons indexed in the general card file that anybody can just use. Students have presumably been coming into the library, looking up stuff, found shit about demons, and just ignored it. #8, you guys. #8.
Buffy tells Giles that her dream seemed really, really real, and she asks Giles if there’s a chance Angel could come back. Giles doesn’t like this line of questioning. Probably because he, you know, got tortured and also his girlfriend was murdered by Angel. But Buffy wants to know what Angel would be like if he came back, and Giles doesn’t know, because there’s no record of anyone coming back from the demon dimension. He also tells her that time is different in the demon dimension, and Buffy is like, “I remember.” Because she went there when she was in L.A.. So…someone did come back from the demon dimension. Also, all those people Buffy saw who had come back. Unless we’re talking about a different dimension.
Anyhow, Giles tells Buffy that Angel would have suffered hundreds of years of torment, and that no one could survive that amount of suffering and not become a monster. Which is interesting, when you consider that Giles was recently tortured. I know I’m a huge Tony Head fangirl, but I think it’s a mark of how good his acting is, that he doesn’t just impart that information about Angel, but also keenly reminds the viewer that Giles is probably going through an internal struggle of his own in which he, too, is wondering if what happened to him has changed him. And this is really the theme of the episode, that anyone can become a monster, no matter how they appear on the outside.
Willow comes in with donuts and accidentally calls Oz a cold-blooded jelly donut. She tells Buffy that the tests on the body were inconclusive. What tests? Did Willow break into a medical lab? Some of the stuff the viewer is asked to accept is a stretch too far. Buffy is super intense about making sure it wasn’t a vampire, because she’s obviously worried that Angel is killing people.
At lunch, Buffy sits with Scott (who criticizes her food choice in the most patronizing and unnecessary to the script way possible), as well as Debbie and Pete. Buffy and Debbie have a brief conversation about their impression of Mr. Platt, with Debbie firmly on the dislike side, and Buffy on the I-kind-of-like-him-but-don’t-want-to-disagree-with-you side. Scott tells Buffy that she looks amazing, and she gets weird about it and leaves.
Pete: “Check out Scotty, liking the manic-depressive chick.”
This comment, coupled with snide comments about Scott’s mother being crazy and going to therapy, makes me call #14. Because after Pete’s comment, Scott looks like his opinion of Buffy has definitely been bruised.
Pete and Debbie go to the school basement to make out, but Debbie really doesn’t want to go down there, playfully suggesting multiple times that they should stay in one area or she has to go meet a friend. It’s only when Pete sees a nearly empty jar of glowing liquid that we realize she’s trying to hide something from him. He asks her if she drank it, and she promises she didn’t. So they both know what the glowing stuff is.
Buffy goes to Mr. Platt’s office. He’s facing the window, and she tells him not to turn around or say anything before she launches into a confession about what’s going on. She’s prepared to spill the entire story of vampires and demons and Slayers to him, but then she notices this:
I mean, we all know that the only people who have an ash like that on their cigarette is an ancient old lady sitting at a slot machine, smoking through her tracheotomy stoma. This is also a really cool visual clue that his hand has remained literally deathly still; not only did the cigarette burn all the way down and go out when it reached the filter, but the ashes never fell the way they would if you were moving it around and you didn’t have 80+ years of practice smoking.
However, this is what Mr. Platt looks like from the front:
To me, it seems like if something did that to your face, you wouldn’t remain still and just let it happen. That also doesn’t appear to be a fatal wound. Painful, yes, obviously in need of medical attention, but not something so incapacitating that you would drop dead in an instant.
In the basement, Pete interrogates Debbie as to what she was doing with the glowing stuff. She tells him she poured it out so she could help him, and he says that the stuff doesn’t make him the way he “gets”. And then he “gets” that way. He tells her that the reason he becomes violent is because of her behavior and then becomes a full on vein machine.
Pete accuses Debbie of cheating on him and punches her several times, before the vein monster thing wears off and he begs her forgiveness. He tells her that she shouldn’t make him mad, and she comforts him.
The coroner has ruled that Mr. Platt died shortly before Buffy discovered him. Since he died during the day, he couldn’t have been killed by Oz. While this is good news, Giles points out that it’s almost sundown, and Oz isn’t getting ready for the main event. He’s in the courtyard, waiting for Debbie so that he can give her the biology notes he promised. He notices Debbie’s beat up face and asks her if everything is all right. She gives him the old chestnut about being clumsy, and he asks her if she needs to talk. She laughs it all off and leaves, but Pete is watching from a distance.
In the library, the Scoobies are on the case when Oz arrives.
Giles: “Our task now is to determine what sort of killer we are dealing with. Clearly, we’re looking for a depraved, sadistic animal.”
Willow tells Oz that he can’t be responsible for the murders, since one of them took place during the day. Oz realizes that there’s a link between the dead student and the dead guidance counselor. And that link is Debbie. He says that Debbie and the student were in jazz band together, and they used to goof off. Of course, Faith takes this as meaning that they were screwing; there has been one scene in the episode so far where Faith is present and does not talk about sex. (#32)
Buffy mentions that Debbie didn’t like Mr. Platt, and Oz mentions Debbie’s black eye. Willow suggests that Debbie killed Mr. Platt, but Buffy shoots that down. Whatever killed him did so without any fight from Mr. Platt. Their suspicion turns to Pete, so they rush off to find both him and Debbie.
Buffy and Willow find Debbie in the locker room, putting on makeup
Buffy: ” It’s tricky, covering a fresh shiner like that. You know what works?
Buffy: “Don’t get hit.
That’s a good tip, Buffy. And so understanding, coming from the girl who who was regularly involved in hand-to-hand combat with her ex last season. Debbie pretends not to know what’s going on, but Buffy won’t relent. Debbie says it’s not Pete’s fault, it’s hers, for making him get so angry. She tells Buffy and Willow that she never asked for their help, but Will points out that if Debbie waits until Pete kills her, it’ll be too late.
I’ve never cared for this scene. It’s really gross to have Buffy insinuating that Debbie has some responsibility as to whether or not Pete hits her. I realize Buffy is a teenager and therefore might not understand that “don’t get hit” isn’t a common sense thing. She also probably doesn’t understand that when someone is as dangerous as Pete, the Debbies of the world can’t just walk away without consequence. But you know who should know this? The writer and director of the episode. Whether or not it’s true to the character or gives us a look inside her inner turmoil, Buffy telling a victim of romantic partner violence that the onus is on her to not get hit reinforces the myth of victim culpability. It also perpetuates the notion that it’s simple for an abused partner to leave the abusive relationship without consequence. (#6)
We cut to Angel in the mansion, struggling against his chains, before coming back to Buffy, Willow and Debbie in the bathroom. So, a parallel is being drawn here. Good thing, too; when Debbie says she couldn’t turn Pete in, Buffy says:
Buffy: “Great. So while you two live out your grim fairytale, two people are dead.”
How many people did Angel kill while he was evil and you couldn’t bring yourself to do anything about it, Buffy? And you spent the whole time telling anyone who would listen that it wasn’t Angel’s fault, it was the demon wearing his face, that there had to be some way to change him.
Oh, shit, it’s almost exactly like Pete and Debbie’s relationship, right? It’s pretty clear, based on her earlier conversation about Angel with Mr. Platt, that this is an intentional thing. It’s Buffy who can’t see how hypocritical she’s being.
Pete goes to the library and confronts Oz, who’s already locked in the cage. Wait, how did Pete find Oz? Is it common knowledge that he hangs out locked in a cage in the library? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about this?!
Oz warns Pete to get away:
Oz: “I’m serious. Something’s going to happen that you probably won’t believe.”
[Pete turns into a vein monster]
Oz: “Or you might.”
Veiny Pete (that would be a weird name for an old timey prospector) rips the door off the cage and hauls Oz out. Buffy takes off to find Pete, who is tossing still-human Oz around the library like a rag doll. But the sun goes down, and Oz changes. Now it’s two monsters grappling in the library. Willow, Buffy, Debbie and Giles run in, and Giles throws Buffy the tranquilizer gun. She’s about to shoot, when Debbie, fearing for Pete, shoves her, and Buffy shoots the dart into Giles, instead.
Buffy: “Oh! sorry!”
Giles: “Oh, right. Bloody priceless.”
Giles staggers and falls over, and Buffy throws the gun to Faith, telling her to go after Oz, who is escaping. Buffy takes off after Pete, who runs into the hall and climbs through a window. Debbie has gone to the basement to wait for Pete. She tells him he has to leave Sunnydale, because Buffy knows about him. Pete accuses Debbie of telling Buffy about him, and beats her to the ground. Faith and Willow chase after Oz, but he attacks Faith and knocks the gun from her hands. Willow tries to pull Oz off Faith, and succeeds in drawing his attention away long enough that Faith can shoot him. He falls unconscious with a yelp.
When Buffy finds Pete, Debbie is already dead. As Pete beats the crap out of Buffy, who should appear but Feral Angel. He has broken free and uses his chains as a weapon against Pete, breaking his neck and killing him. Angel regains his senses and recognizes Buffy. He falls to his knees, weeping as Buffy stares tearfully at the two dead students.
The next day at school, rumors are swirling around campus about what happened to Pete and Debbie. The glowing stuff from the beginning of the episode was a concoction he’d made to enhance his toxic masculinity, thus making him more attractive to Debbie. His abusive tendencies, however, were all his own.
Cordelia: “Great. Now I’m going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day.”
Buffy sees Scott sitting off all alone, sad because his friends are dead. He says that nobody ever really knows someone, even if you really care about them. The scene cuts to Buffy watching Angel sleep on the floor of the mansion, under another voice over from Call Of The Wild, that suggests Buffy is aware that at any moment, Angel could become a monster again, and that she now sees how easily she could have wound up in Debbie’s position. That is, in the morgue.
This episode has some of my favorite Oz lines, and I have always loved seeing Giles get shot with a tranquilizer dart, because it’s like at this point in the series they’re trying to find bigger and better ways to knock him the fuck out. But this episode bothers me, too. Just last season we had “Ted,” which I thought covered the experience of intimate partner violence really well, even though the violence wasn’t directed at Joyce. She was still violently manipulated (though I still maintain that a lot of the communication issues between Joyce and Buffy existed long before Ted came on the scene) by someone who harmed her daughter. So why did this episode go off the tracks?
I would suggest that it’s Debbie’s death that causes the episode to go south overall. Debbie’s death comes moments after we hear the heroine of the show telling her that it’s her fault she’s getting hit, that she’s a broken person, and assuming a superior attitude in which it’s made clear that Buffy believes Debbie is equally culpable in her own abuse. So in the narrative structure, Debbie–who wasn’t responsible for Pete’s dabbling with dangerous substances in the first place–has been justly punished for her sins. It’s a cautionary tale: stand up for yourself, leave him, if you don’t, it’s your fault. This is wildly out of sync with how the abuse was handled in “Ted”. At not point did Joyce being in danger seem like a situation of her own making, because the script took great pains to demonstrate that Ted was able to charm everyone; the writer wanted you to know that Joyce was in no way at fault. She was deceived.
Debbie, however, doesn’t get the luxury of that benefit of the doubt. Rather than showing her as a scared girl who’s afraid to reach out for help, she’s made into the stupid girl who knows she needs help but doesn’t respect herself enough, or who foolishly still loves the boy who’s bad for her. And while I understand that this story was meant to parallel Buffy’s complicated feelings for Angel, why isn’t Debbie allowed those complicated feelings, as well as a life post-Pete? We get only the superficial portrayal of an abused partner, in which everyone knows that if it were them in the situation, they would certainly recognize what was happening and make far better choices. By creating Debbie that way and using her as a mirror for Buffy to have a good, hard look at herself, the show is telling us that Buffy was responsible for her part in Angel being evil, and that what happened to her was her fault for not being stronger. This totally contradicts everything we were told to feel for her in season two.
There was a pretty simple solution to this that could have gotten a better message across than just, “Wow, good thing Buffy realizes that her relationship with Angel wasn’t good for her or the people around her.” What if Debbie hadn’t died, and instead of the brief examination of Scott’s pain at the end of the episode, Buffy checks on her to make sure she’s okay? Buffy could then apologize to Debbie for being so harsh, and explain that it was her own experience with her abusive boyfriend that caused her to be so defensive, because she didn’t want to believe that the person she loved could also be a person capable of behaving that way. We would see Buffy grow, and the harmful message accidentally being portrayed (death is the proper punishment for victimhood) would be instantly struck down. Why couldn’t it have been that way?
Because if Buffy admits that Angel was still responsible for his actions when he was evil, she would be willingly walking back into a potentially violent relationship when she romantically reunites with him. And that would destroy the tragic love story tone the show is trying to set for us. Debbie believed Pete could change, so she stayed with him, and was punished for her foolishness. Buffy believes Angel has changed, so she gets back together with him, and theirs is a tortured love for the ages. There is definitely a parallel, but I don’t think it depicted what the writers wanted it to depict.
Another, smaller issue I had with this episode is how Faith was written. In two of the four scenes where Faith is involved, she only talks about sex. In the other two, she’s either fighting or excited about getting a chance to fight, and Faith’s attitude toward violence has already been established as sexual in nature. While I understand the point of view that there’s nothing wrong with Faith owning her sexuality, that sexuality is rarely depicted as an empowering force, but a single, defining characteristic that reinforces the bad girl trope.