In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone burned her hand very badly on a Pop Tart and is busting through the lidocaine spray so furiously that she might actually develop an addiction. 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- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?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.
- Slut shame!
- The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
- Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
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.
I’m not super enthusiastic of this one, but only because I’m not super enthusiastic about Angel. At least, in Buffy. He’s too complex a character to be shoehorned into someone else’s story, and his compressed characterization (especially in one-off episodes like this) make him come off as a big ole bummer. He’s so much better in his own thing.
The episode begins in Dublin in 1893. A guy with impressive sideburns appears to be fleeing something in the snow. It’s Angel, with unfortunate facial hair:
Look at that. It’s like if Danny Trejo and Burt Reynolds had an ugly baby and it grew up to make poor grooming choices.
The guy apparently owes Angel money, so Angel kills him. Then we cut to Angel waking up from a dream, doing the shivery breathing thing he Always. Fucking. Does. Honestly, if I had noticed it sooner, I would have made a number for it, but he’s going to be gone at the end of the season, anyway.
It’s Christmas in Sunnydale, and Angel is out for a walk. He passes a store window where a television news broadcast is predicting a sunny, hot holiday. Angel runs into Buffy, who has tragically short bangs:
That is such a ’90s move. That hair could only be more ’90s if it were The Rachel.
In the middle of their awkward post-breakup encounter, Angel hallucinates the dead guy from his dream standing in the street. Then the opening credits happen, and it’s a good time for me to ask: is the entirety of Sunnydale a pedestrian fucking mall? Buffy and Angel are downtown, during Christmas shopping season, and traffic is so light that they can just stand in the middle of the street chatting?
At school, Buffy tells Xander and Willow that Angel was acting weird.
Xander: “Angel? Weird? What are the odds?”
Shut up, Xander. You were a hyena once.
Willow suggests that Buffy talk to Giles about it.
Buffy: “No. I don’t wanna bug Giles. He’s still kind of twitchy when it comes to the subject of Angel.”
Xander: “Oh, it must be that whole ‘Angel killed his girlfriend and tortured him’ thing. And Giles is pretty petty when it comes to stuff like that.”
Buffy: “Xander, enough, okay?”
On second thought, Xander, keep going. Because I feel like this is a point that is generally treated as unreasonable by the storyline. Xander is one of the only people who ever consistently brings it up, so it’s easy for the viewer to be like, “Ugh, Xander is just saying that because he doesn’t like Angel.” And yeah, he doesn’t like Angel, but sometimes we have valid criticisms of people we don’t like. And sometimes, we can forgive a lot when we care about someone, and then that valid criticism sounds like just plain old being mean. I would have loved for Willow to, at some point, step in and be like, you know, Angel killed someone I cared about, and it’s okay for me to feel angry about that. Instead, this very valid point is treated like a symptom of Xander’s jealousy. Buffy doesn’t want to bring Angel stuff up to Giles? That’s fine, and it’s sensitive of Giles’s feelings. Buffy doesn’t want anyone to bring up the fact that Angel very recently murdered and tortured their friends? That’s not.
Willow suggests that Angel might just be suffering some holiday depression. The subject changes to Christmas plans:
Buffy: “What are you doing for Christmas?”
Willow: “Being Jewish. Remember, people? Not everybody worships Santa.”
I really like this part, because I like to see characters call out erasure of their identities. It’s an amazing tool in fandom arguments, and gives people an example of how it’s not the end of the world if your friends call you out.
Xander accidentally makes eye contact with Cordelia, and quickly tries to avoid any more. He tells Willow and Buffy that he’s going to be camping out on Christmas because he likes nature, and Cordelia fires one right through the mast:
Cordelia: “I thought you slept outside to avoid your family’s drunken Christmas fights.”
Xander: “Yes. And was a confidence I was hoping that you would share with everyone.”
I hate how often Xander’s truly sad experiences in what sounds like a neglectful, if not openly abusive, home are played up for laughs. If you really sit down and think about it, his always-on personality and his inability to forgive people probably stem from being raised in that home environment, but that’s never really explored. Missed opportunity, there.
Maybe that’s what makes me so frustrated with this episode. It highlights all the places where more could have been done to give these characters added dimension. All we really needed was one vulnerable human moment from Xander, about Xander, and he would have been a totally different (and less irritating) character.
Cordelia gloats about going on vacation to Aspen for Christmas break, and taunts Buffy and Willow and Xander about being poor. When she leaves, Buffy remarks that Cordy is back to her old self, and Willow points out that Cordy has a legitimate reason to dislike them. She also gets another chance to scold her friends for dismissing her identity as a Jewish person, so go, Willow!
Oz warily approaches like the adorable little mouse he is and asks Willow if they can go somewhere and talk. So cut to a totally empty classroom in the middle of the school day, where they have this long conversation undisturbed.
You know, now that I think about it, that’s happened before. Giles and Ms. Calendar had a sexually charged conversation about books in a classroom that wasn’t either of theirs, and nobody walked in or thought it was odd.
Anyway, while Willow insists that everything with Xander is over and begs Oz to believe her, it becomes pretty clear that whether he believes her or forgives her doesn’t matter:
Oz: “This is what I do know. I miss you. Like, every second. I mean, it’s like I lost an arm, or worse, a torso. So, I think I’d be willing to give it a shot.”
Then they make-up hug and the horrible knot in my chest can finally loosen.
Later that night, Joyce and Buffy are shopping for a Christmas tree. Because why not enjoy the outdoors in Sunnydale after dark? Joyce suggests that they invite Faith over for Christmas, and Buffy tells her mom that she and Faith aren’t really talking to each other anymore. But Joyce is concerned about a teenager spending Christmas alone in a dirty motel, and Buffy agrees to ask her. Then Buffy asks about inviting Giles, and Joyce is like, absolutely no way.
Cue the spooky music! Buffy walks through the mini-forest of Christmas trees and finds a whole bunch of dead ones. The Christmas tree guy tells her that the trees died suddenly, and offers her a deal on a dead one. You know, normally I would find this odd, but it is Sunnydale. Maybe this is like, the one guy in town who actually gives a damn that vampires and demons are around, and he’s like, “Might as well sell one a Christmas tree.”
Meanwhile, Angel is having another nightmare, and we get a glimpse of what will later become a pretty important villain:
That handsome fella right there is a Bringer, and they show up again in season seven. Now, according to this divination book I have (because I actually have a pretty extensive collection of divination oracles like tarot, runes, stones, etc. and I bet you didn’t know that about me until right now), those runes carved into dude’s face are protection from evil (on the left) and fertility (on the right). I’m certain that’s a bunch of New Age fiddle-faddle, but it’s still kind of funny to me, because this show usually pays pretty good attention to New Age fiddle-faddle, and likely this was picked because it looked spooky and arcane.
This is all in another one of Angel’s nightmares, from which he wakes, gasping for air. (#20). So, now Angel has had a dream about killing a dude who owed him money, and one about scary no-eyes cut-up face dudes doing some kind of ritual with bones.
Buffy goes to Faith’s motel to invite her to dinner, but Faith claims to have been invited to a big party. It’s clearly a lie, but Buffy leaves the invite open, anyway. She also compliments Faith’s Christmas lights.
Cut to Giles’s house. Where he is cooking dinner. With the top buttons of his shirt unbuttoned. And he licks his fingers. And I write like sixteen short fanfics about exactly this scene. My actual work is suffering. I need to talk to my doctor to see if there’s any sort of treatment program for unreasonable attraction to a fictional character.
There’s a knock at the door, and Giles is in a super good mood until he opens it and sees Angel there.
Angel: “I’m sorry to bother you.”
Giles: “Sorry, coming from you, that phrase strikes me as rather funny. Sorry to bother me.”
Angel. “I need your help.”
Giles: “And the funny keeps coming.”
One thing I like about this show is that the characters who spend a lot of time together start to talk like each other. You could argue that it’s actually a bad thing, and a sign that the writers couldn’t give the characters their own voices, but that’s not what’s happening. “And the funny keeps coming” is easily something you could hear Xander or Buffy say, but not Joyce or Snyder or Angel. It’s interesting to me how the core group has their own little language pieced together from each other’s speech patterns. I wonder if that was a conscious thing on the writers’ parts, or if happened organically.
Giles agrees to help Angel, and walks away from the door. Angel reminds him that vampires can’t enter a home unless they’re invited, and Giles is like:
He does invite Angel in, though. Angel tells him about the dreams he’s been having about the past. He says that he can’t understand why he’s back on Earth when he should be in a hell dimension. Then Jenny Calendar appears behind Giles, wearing the same clothes she died in. Angel freaks out, but Giles can’t see Jenny. So Angel ends up running out. He goes back to the Mansion, and into another dream sequence. He’s in London, with the same terrible hair, at a Christmas party. He manhandles a serving woman and eats her, right there under a staircase while people are like, ten feet away. And nobody seems to notice? Like, seriously? Also, he bites her and she shrieks, then she’s like, immediately dead. From just the quickest, tiniest bite. She can’t call out for anyone? She doesn’t scream?
I know this is a dream sequence, but Angel tells Giles that he’s having dreams of the past that are very vivid, so these are more like flashbacks, right? Why did nobody notice? And why is even a brief vampire bite fatal? He just bites her and throws her down, and she’s dead. What’s going on with that?
You know what, that happens enough in the Buffyverse that I think it needs a number. #35: Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal. Which doesn’t make any sense, because people get bitten in this series and don’t die. What is making these people instantly die? Weak constitutions?
When Angel looks up, he sees Buffy standing there, watching him in horror. He wakes up, breathing heavily (#20), and we cut to Buffy, also waking up, because they were having the same dream. Which, by the way, actually happens to people, and if it’s never happened to you, I hope it doesn’t because it’s eerie as fuck. Anyway, when Buffy wakes up, she isn’t gasping for air. So, the human being isn’t out of breath, but the vampire who doesn’t breathe is. I just find it awfully convenient that Angel doesn’t breathe when the plot when requires it (there’s a gas leak, Buffy needs CPR, etc.), but the rest of the time he’s huffing and puffing like a three-pack-a-day smoker running a 10k they haven’t trained for.
Angel gets out of bed and is confronted by a really angry Ms. Calendar:
Angel: “What do you want?”
Jenny: “I wanna die in bed surrounded by fat grandchildren, but I guess that’s off the menu.”
Sidebar: Can you just imagine how adorable Jenny and Giles’s children would have been? I’m picturing a little dark-haired, pedantic girl in pigtail braids and glasses like Molly, the American Girl doll, but capable of withering sarcasm, and a little boy who has to have his screen time drastically limited because he’s just so into computers and doesn’t like to read at all and it drives his father crazy, the way his father drove his father crazy by wanting to be a fighter pilot.
YOU HAVE ROBBED ME OF THIS, ANGEL. YOU HAVE ROBBED US ALL OF THIS BEAUTIFUL FUTURE.
Anyway, Jenny torments Angel, then turns into the dude he killed for money back in Ireland. He tells Angel that he’s not trying to hurt him, he just wants to show him who he really is.
Buffy tells Giles about her dream, or specifically, about being inside Angel’s dream, and Giles reluctantly admits that he’s already spoken to Angel and is working on the case. Buffy wants to help. She tells Giles it’s going to be difficult to get over Angel if she’s constantly hanging out in his dreams, so Giles agrees. Xander steps in out of nowhere and volunteers to help, as well, citing “the Hanukkah spirit” as his reasoning. Giles gives them books and tells them to start researching. Buffy asks Xander if he really wants to spend his Christmas break working on demon stuff, and he tells her that it’s really all that he’s got going on, and asks who else has such a pathetic social life? Enter Willow, who gets there just in time for a montage of researching and eating pizza.
When Xander and Giles are out of the room, Buffy and Willow have a talk about Oz. Willow doesn’t know how to make Oz trust her again. Buffy says that Xander has a piece of Willow Oz can never have, so building that trust is what’s important. They reach a dead end in their research, which isn’t very convenient, since Angel is still being tortured by his past.
His current tormenter is reminding Angel how he arranged the man’s children like they were sleeping after he killed them. Angel is surrounded on all sides by people he’s killed. They tell him that he’s nothing but a sadistic killer, and that when he was a man he was a worthless drunk who disappointed his parents. Jenny keeps telling him that she doesn’t want to hurt him, she just wants to make him realize that the only thing he’s good at is being a murderer.
In the library, everyone is falling asleep researching. And I never noticed this detail before, but it’s adorable:
We only see it blurry like this, in passing, but it’s a sweet touch. And I’m 100% certain it came from Willow.
Buffy is asleep on the floor in the stacks, and Angel is asleep on his coffee table. Buffy wakes in her bed, with Angel over her. They start getting frisky in the dream, so basically Buffy is having a wet dream in the library. Awwwwwkward. A Bringer appears in the dream room, and Angel gets vamp face and bites Buffy. They both wake from the dream, and Angel is once again visited by Jenny, who tells him he should just give in and become evil again. She tells him that he has to kill Buffy. That’s why he was brought back.
At the library, Giles has found information about the Bringers and The First, as in, the very first evil. Buffy says she saw a Bringer in her dream, and Giles is all like, what else happened in your dream? and Buffy changes the subject real quick. He explains that the Bringers are probably haunting Angel, and that there’s no way to fight The First, because it’s not a physical being. She decides she’s going to track down the Bringers and kill them, instead.
Buffy goes to the demon bar where Willy the slimeball works. After Xander ineffectually threatens him, Willy tells them that something is scaring the monsters out of Sunnydale. Which is bad, because monsters aren’t usually scared. Because they’re monsters.
Willy: “Hey, you did great by the way. I was very intimidated by you.”
Xander: “Really? Thanks!”
As they leave the bar, I notice that there’s an actual sign above the door. This is a bar that’s basically only catering to demons. When you walk in, it’s all demons, and vampires in full vamp face. And this bar is located near what sounds like a busy street. This is not a secret bar. People in Sunnydale know about vampires. Why are they all not wearing garlic and not carrying stakes? (#8)
Back at Willow’s house, her parents are out of town. Oz comes over to watch videos, but he finds Willow dressed all sexy, with candles lit and a romantic fire started and Barry White playing.
Oz: “You ever have that dream where you’re in a play, and it’s the middle of the play and you really don’t know your lines, and you kind of don’t know the plot?”
Willow: “Well, we’re alone and…we’re together. I just wanted it to be special.”
Oz: “How special are we talking?”
Willow tells Oz that she’s ready to have sex, but he is clearly not. He lets her down gently, telling her that he’s not ready to have sex with her. He’s had sex before, but he wants to wait until Willow isn’t trying to prove anything to him.
Hey, guess what this is? It’s amazing. I mean, it’s also an example of #18, because you know Xander wouldn’t take such a nuanced approach here. But what gets me about this scene is that it’s showing young guys that they can say no. It runs counter to the expectation that all guys should be out there striving to get laid. It also shows young women that if a guy rejects them, it’s not because they did something wrong. Willow tries to initiate sex, and it doesn’t work out. Now she (and by extension, the audience) knows that it’s not true that guys are just sex crazed and willing to get it on at any time, and that a man declining sex isn’t a rejection of them as a person. This is a great and important scene in the series.
At Buffy’s house, Joyce has started a fire in the fireplace and is about to turn on the air conditioning, because it’s super hot in Sunnydale. So when Faith shows up, obviously she’s wearing a jacket. Did the costume people even read the script? Because later, Buffy is wearing a full-on winter coat. Anyway, Buffy goes upstairs to get presents, but Angel is there waiting for her. Jenny appears behind her and tries to goad him into having sex with Buffy. Or eat her. Or both. He dives out of the window instead.
Faith stays to protect Joyce while Buffy goes out to find the Bringers. She goes to Giles and begs him for help, and he tells her that if Angel actually does get dark-sided, she’s going to have to kill him again.
Back at the mansion, Jenny is still trying to get Angel to kill Buffy. He decides instead to go outside and wait for sunrise. And at this point, it’s pretty clear that Jenny is not actually Jenny. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief because it would be pretty fucking horrible if she was looking for vengeance from beyond the grave after all that talk about vengeance not being cool while she was alive.
Giles and Buffy are still researching the Bringers, but they’re not getting far, because they’ve been so aggrandized in arcane literature:
Giles: “Yes, but more posturing, I’m afraid. ‘For they are the harbingers of death, nothing shall grow above or below them, no seed shall flower neither in man nor,’ uh… they’re rebels and they’ll never, ever be any good.”
But Buffy recognizes something in the text. The dead Christmas trees are her clue to where the Bringers are. So goes to the Christmas tree lot and hacks her way into their lair. They’re gathered around their altar, droning in Latin.
Buffy: “All right, ten more minutes of chanting and then you guys have to go to bed.”
The Bringers flee, and Buffy destroys their altar. The First appears as Jenny and warns Buffy that fighting is futile:
The First: “You think you can fight me? I’m not a demon, little girl, I am something that you cannot even conceive. The first evil. Beyond sin. Beyond death. I am the thing that darkness fears. You’ll never see me, but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate–”
Buffy: “All right, I get it, you’re evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?”
But Buffy isn’t as cocky when The First tells her that Angel is going to die, then transforms into a huge crab looking thing before disappearing. Buffy goes to the mansion to find him. He’s standing on a bluff overlooking Sunnydale. He tells her that The First brought him back to kill again. She argues with him that it’s foolish to listen to some random evil thing, but he doesn’t care about that so much as what the thing wanted him to do.
Angel: “It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again.”
Buffy: “I know what it told you. What does it matter–”
Angel: “Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly. I want to take comfort in you, and I know it will cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn’t care.”
He tells Buffy that he’s weak, and it’s not him as a vampire who needs to die, but him as a person. She pleads with him to go back inside, and says that if he dies, all he’ll ever have been is a monster. She tries to drag him away, and he pushes her. She hits him, and he punches her, knocking her down. As she cries, he shakes her and tells her that the world wants him to go. She asks him if she doesn’t count, because she wants him around. She says that even killing him didn’t make her stop loving him. She tells him that she hates how hard it is to be around him and how much he hurts her. Also, that she doesn’t need to know everything he did in his past, because he did a bunch of that stuff to her.
Back up the abuse train. Remember back in season two, when the guy was abusing his girlfriend and Buffy was like, criticizing her for not leaving? We just literally saw Angel punch Buffy and shake her. We know he murdered someone he cared about, and both physically and psychologically tortured her friends. And all of this is being presented as part of their tragic love story, with Buffy telling Angel how he has to stay with her and they’ll get through all of the pain and tragedy together. This is gross, and straight up #6. It’s also one of the reasons I’ll never understand why this is considered a great love story, or why everyone felt Buffy should have wound up with Angel. He’s not evil now, and he’s still willing to hit her. Even if your girlfriend is the super-tough Slayer, that’s not okay.
A cold front has apparently moved in, and that’s good, because Buffy is already conveniently wearing a winter coat. Gentle snowflakes start drifting down, ending their argument as they look at each other in wonder at the Christmas miracle. Quick, everybody, forgive that unresolved fight! Pretend we never saw it! We see everyone experiencing the snowfall. Oz and Willow cuddling in Willow’s room, Joyce and Faith coming outside to stand on the porch, poor Giles all alone in his house, and worst of all, Xander, carrying out his sad childhood tradition of sleeping on his fucking lawn because his family is so terrible, and now he’s covered in snow.
You know what I think would have been cool for this episode? If Giles knew about Xander’s horrible home life and invited him to spend Christmas at his house. I mean, Xander annoys the fuck out of Giles, but I can’t imagine that he would just let the poor kid sleep on the ground outdoors on Christmas Eve. It’s the first time there’s ever been snow in Sunnydale, and there’s a lot of it. Also, the sun isn’t going to come out, apparently. That leaves Buffy and Angel free to walk hand in hand down the snow-covered street as the episode ends.
Honestly, this episode would be one I could enjoy, if it didn’t end the way it did. There was no reason at all that Angel needed to punch Buffy in the face. There was no reason he had to shake her and shout at her while she cried. And there’s definitely no reason that the scene was supposed to be passionate and proof of their true love. The “love hurts” theme in our entertainment media confuses all of us, I think. It’s not even a matter of “think of the children.” It happens with adults, too. Look at some of the great love stories we’ve seen in books lately, and who the audience for those stories was. As a fan of this show, as someone who loves almost everything about it, the amount of violence equated to love in the scripts disappoints me.
The only things I really like about this episode are the scenes with Willow and Oz, and the fact that it kicks off Angels character arc for the show Angel. He’s consumed with knowing his purpose now, and that leads into him going to L.A. and becoming a vigilante. We’ve finally reached the point in his arc where he’s not feeling obligated to fight the forces of evil to atone for his sins, but because he wants to fulfill his destiny.
Oh, and also, Giles is ridiculously hot with a crossbow.