In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone is seriously, so bloated from pie right 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.
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.
Buffy wakes in the night to get a glass of water, and this happens.
For a minute it’s like, “Whoa, wait, what are you doing in here, and why is there blood on your face when Joyce doesn’t die until season five?” Then Buffy opens the door to her room and:
Now that Buffy’s room has turned into The Bronze, she can do all sorts of fun stuff. Like hang out with Willow while she speaks French to a monkey. And be criticized by her mother, who asks her if she’s really ready for something. Not that she’d have to be asleep for that to happen. Across the dance floor, Buffy sees Angel. He puts his hand out to her, but Drusilla steps up behind him and stakes him. He disintegrates into ash before Buffy’s very eyes, and Drusilla wishes Buffy a happy birthday, and Buffy jolts awake just before the opening credits. Thus begins a long and storied tradition of shit going haywire on Buffy’s birthday, all the time, every time.
Buffy goes to Angel’s apartment to make sure he’s not, you know, dead. He answers the door shirtless, and can I just say something here? I’m so pleased that he’s not bulging with huge muscles or something. It fits the character, as we later find out he was a lazy wastrel in his human time. There’s a lot of are you okay/yes I’m okay in this scene, with Buffy warning Angel that her dreams are sometimes prophetic, and Angel reassuring her that everything is fine. WET SMACKING SOUNDS. For literally a minute. A full minute.
Buffy tells Angel that she likes seeing him in the morning and at bedtime (titter, giggle, whisper behind hand, tee hee they’re talking about sex), and she’s half-mortified when relating the tale to Willow. But come on, that’s the kind of thing we all loved to have happen in our high school days. “My crush didn’t projectile vomit at the thought of having sex with me! Score!” Little did we all know, we could have been banging everybody if any of us had had a little self esteem.
Willow tells Buffy that Angel isn’t the kind of guy who would push her into anything, and they have an entire conversation about teen sex without ever mentioning teen sex. This is going to happen a lot in this episode and the next, and I’ll tell you my theory at some point later on. But for now let’s concentrate on the positive here: even though they never explicitly say that Buffy is considering having sex with her boyfriend, this is a scene where two female characters are talking as frankly as teen television drama will allow in 1997. This is a powerful image to the teen girls watching this show then and now. If Buffy can take control of her sexuality on her own terms, then they can, too.
Buffy decides that what the hell, she’s going to bone Angel. As she and Willow marvel at how awesome it is that they both know someone who’s going to get laid, Buffy spots Oz playing guitar in the courtyard. Buffy asks Willow what she thinks of him, and Willow says:
Willow: “I like his hands.”
Buffy says that Willow noticing this “insignificant detail” is proof that Willow has a crush on Oz and excuse me, but when I’m looking at pictures of Craig Ferguson, I notice the hell out of his strong-yet-elegant looking hands, and it’s not like I have a crush on him, even though I can and do readily imagine those hands giving me what would certainly be the most orgasmic foot rub of all time.
But I digress.
Willow is afraid to approach Oz, but with some coaxing from Buffy, Willow goes over and turns on the charm. She doesn’t really know what to talk about, and she’s awkward, but that’s okay because Oz is awkward, too. He’s just way more direct about it.
Oz: “I’m gonna ask you to go out with me tomorrow night. And I’m kind of nervous about it, actually. It’s interesting.”
Willow: “Oh. Well, if it helps at all, I’m gonna say yes.”
Oz: “Yeah, it helps. It creates a comfort zone. Do you wanna go out with me tomorrow night?”
Willow: “Oh! I can’t!”
Oz: “Well, see, I like that you’re unpredictable.”
If you don’t think they’re the cutest couple that has ever been on television, you’re wrong.
Willow explains that she’s going to Buffy’s surprise birthday party tomorrow night, but she suggests that Oz go as her date. And he agrees, and they both get all flustered and adorable.
At Cordelia’s locker, Xander is trying to convince Cordy to just go public with the fact that they’re dating. Cordelia doesn’t agree; she’s ashamed to be seeing him, and they haven’t really been dating so much as making out with each other constantly. I feel like Cordelia maybe doesn’t have an understanding of high school dating, because I don’t remember much besides the making out. Xander gives up, and runs into Giles, who seems super psyched to be throwing a surprise party. He expresses his enthusiasm by being even more frazzled than usual.
The party convo is disrupted when Buffy and Ms. Calendar join them. Buffy tells Giles about her freaking Drusilla dream, but she’s worried that she’s making a big deal over nothing. Giles suggests that since Buffy’s dreams tell the future, they should probably keep an eye on that shit.
Cut to vampire Radar O’Reilly–hey! He’s back!–carrying a box for Spike, who’s rocking a hot new set of wheelchair. He’s also got some gnarly burn scars on his face. You know, I think Buffy is the only vampire mythology I can think of where the vampires need extended time to heal from stuff.
Spike is not happy with Drusilla for picking Sunnydale for a party venue–wait, I hadn’t noticed this before. Do Drusilla and Buffy share a birthday? Why didn’t I put two and two together?
Drusilla is taking care of Spike, and she seems a lot more rational and less vampire-crazy than she was before. Oh, wait, scratch that. Scratch it like the flower arrangement she starts frantically scratching to pieces while crying. Spike soothes her by letting her open one of her presents early. We don’t see what it is, but Dru assures us that it reeks of death. Oh, Spike. You know how to treat a lady.
So, now that Drusilla is back, be prepared for the vague crazy that marks pretty much all of her characterization. Yay. #14.
Back at the Summers house, Joyce tries to get Buffy psyched up for a mall shopping trip as a birthday present, but Buffy is more interested in revisiting the subject of her getting her driver’s license. Spoiler alert, this never happens. Buffy coasts right on into her twenties without ever getting a driver’s license, which is bullshit, because she’s the Slayer. She could cover way more ground if she had a sick ass vehicle with like, a cow-catcher on the front for mowing down demons and a roof-mounted fifty cal full of wooden projectiles.
Anyway, Joyce doesn’t think Buffy is ready. In fact, she says as much… exactly the way she said it in Buffy’s dream.
In Jenny Calendar’s classroom, a sinister dude who was in the really scary cave episode of Punky Brewster comes in. You may also remember him as “GET OFF MY TRAIN!” ghost from Ghost and the creepy organ grinder from Batman Returns, which, incidentally, is the best Batman movie of all time, and Michael Keaton is the best Batman of all time, so put that in your pipe and smoke it, Nolan fans.
Where was I? Oh, right. Sinister dude’s presence doesn’t alarm Jenny at all. She tells him she’s sorry she hasn’t been writing, and he scolds her for neglecting her duty to her people. They argue about a curse, and how it’s wearing off or whatever, in really vague terms, until Jenny says:
Jenny: “I promise you, Angel still suffers!”
Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Back up the frick train. This whole time, Jenny has been in Sunnydale to thwart Angel? This is a shocking development, dear reader. Angel apparently killed the “most beloved” person in Jenny’s “tribe.” Let me just preface the whole lot of racism that comes hard and fast for the rest of this show: Jenny is TV Romani. That’s just what we’re gonna call it. They call these characters and their “tribe” the g-word.
Now, here’s where I’m going to pause, less I look like a total a-hole hypocrite, and admit that I wrote a fantasy series in which a side story involved a group of magic using humans who lived in vardos and had all sorts of superstitions, and I used the g-word. A lot. Here’s where it gets worse: I had no idea that the g-word people from fiction were a stereotype of actual people who still exist. I thought this particular ethnic and cultural group was a fairytale construct that never existed. And among all the eyes that fell on that manuscript before it hit the shelves, no one else seemed to know the truth, either. To this day, I’ve never received a single email or comment about the offensive way I portrayed Romani people, which leads me to believe that there are a lot of people out there who might be in the same situation. Television, movies, books, even music, have all created an ethnic stereotype of the sneaky, curse-dropping, wagon-living g-word, to such an extent that people literally do not know that Romani people exist. If you’re reading this and going, “Oh my god, are you kidding? This is an actual thing?” then I suggest you do some mad googling so as not to be as ultra, high-intensity racist as I was.
But an explanation of a cultural phenomenon isn’t an excuse. I was being hella racist, and this element of BtVS is hella racist, as well. So, #12.
So, Jenny Calendar isn’t even Jenny’s name, and she’s not just a teacher and technopagan, she’s an agent of vengeance sent to stop Angel from having even a single moment of happiness. She tells her uncle that she’ll get right to work on breaking up Buffy and Angel.
In the library, Buffy is explaining to Giles how the stuff in her dream just came true, and he’s right in the middle of brushing her off when Willow and Xander come in all excited for Buffy’s birthday. Giles, still uncharacteristically not-interested in Buffy’s dreams (there are a bunch of times in the series where Buffy has a dream and Giles is all, “that’s a prophetic dream”) tells her that since she dreamed that the Master would rise and he didn’t because she stopped it from happening, this Angel thing isn’t going to happen either.
But guess what, Giles. Buffy did dream that Master would rise and he didn’t, but she also dreamed that the Master would kill her and he did. So, what’s more likely? Drusilla is alive and out to get Angel, or Willow is going to start speaking fluent French?
Wait, that’s not a good comparison. Willow could totally become fluent in French like, over the weekend or something.
Giles tells Buffy that he’ll research Drusilla, and she should just go on with life as normal until they have more information. This visibly bums Buffy out, and when she leaves, Xander and Willow bemoan the fact that their party is probably not going to go over as intended. But Giles is not having it:
Giles: “One thing I’ve learned in my tenure here on the Hellmouth is that there is no good time to relax, and Buffy’s turning seventeen just this once, and she deserves a party.”
Willow points out that Angel is coming to the party, anyway, so Buffy won’t have to worry that he’s out there being staked.
Buffy arrives at the school that night to meet Giles and find out all about Drusilla, but Jenny is there instead. She tells Buffy that Giles needed a book from home, and that he’s going to meet her “somewhere near his house.” And then Jenny offers to give Buffy a ride, and the audience is like, waaaaaait a minute. Jenny is supposed to make sure Angel will never be happy, so is she going to like, kill Buffy, or what?
Jenny pulls into a seedy looking alley, and Buffy asks if they’re going to The Bronze. Jenny tells her she just has an address that Giles gave her. Buffy sees some guys loading stuff into a truck, and she decides that it’s fishy. She jumps out of the car and sees vampire Radar O’Reilly carrying a box. Inside The Bronze, the gang waits, wondering where Buffy is. So, I’m guessing that the “ambushed by vampires” thing wasn’t just a way to get her to the party? That’s good, because I was worried for a second that her friends were horrifically terrible at planning parties.
Buffy wrestles a vampire through a window, and they tumble into The Bronze. She stakes the vampire with a drumstick, and everyone just stands there in shocked silence. Except Cordelia:
Buffy is genuinely touched by the surprise party. She says it’s sweet, but as she’s saying it, she’s directly facing Angel. What the fuck, Buffy. You think Angel did this? Angel did nothing (I assume, since it’s been Willow and Xander and Cordelia putting the whole thing together as far as we’ve seen), but he doesn’t go, “It was really them that did it.”
Come to think of it, what has Angel ever really done for Buffy? Besides show up with bad news or rush into fights with absolutely zero effect, or get into trouble and need to be rescued? Nothing. He’s done nothing, and he’s a bad boyfriend. #9
Even though the rest of the group takes the whole vampire thing in stride, Oz is new here:
Willow: “Are you okay?”
Oz: “Yeah. Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?”
Xander tells Oz that vampires are real and that Willow can fill him in on the rest.
Willow: “I know it’s hard to accept at first–”
Oz: “Actually, it explains a lot.”
This is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series, because of the way Oz just rolls with it.
Jenny Calendar comes in with the box the vampires were trying to steal. They open it, and inside they find a severed arm that immediately attacks Buffy.
And Oz is still totally fine with all this.
Angel tells them the arm could belong to a demon called The Judge, who destroys anyone who has any humanity. They figure out fast that Drusilla is trying to reassemble the judge and end the world. Angel is going to have to travel around the world for months, hiding the arm. Oh, and he has to leave that night. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUFFY!
Drusilla is pissed off, and ready to gouge out Radar O’Reilly’s eyes, but Spike points out that he’s probably the only person who can find the arm. My favorite part of this scene is that Drusilla goes from this:
in just a few seconds. Which might fall under #14 what with the “oooh spooky crazypants,” but it’s still weirdly adorable.
At the docks, Buffy and Angel are saying goodbye. Angel is all, I’ll be back soon, and Buffy is all, you can’t possibly know that, also, everyone is trying to kill you, dummy. Angel gives her a claddagh ring, spurring like five years of those things being everywhere all over the place. He tells her:
Angel: “Wear it with the heart pointing toward you. That means you belong to somebody.”
Hey pal. She doesn’t belong to you unless she says she belongs to you. (#6, #9)
Their tender 18th century courtship moment is interrupted when Radar O’Reilly attacks them. He’s gonna get that arm and save his eyes. During the fight, Buffy falls off the pier and Angel jumps in after her, fulfilling his quota of being useless in at least one fight per episode.
1. Do you really think the Slayer isn’t going to be able to swim? She’s like a billion times stronger than you, Angel.
2. You’re letting Radar get away.
Back at the library, Giles is worried that Buffy isn’t back yet, and Willow is bummed that bad things are happening to Buffy on her birthday. Xander’s totally psyched about his friend’s emotional pain, though:
Xander: “It’s sad, granted, but let’s look at the upside for a moment. I mean, what kind of a future would she have really had with him? She’s got two jobs–Denny’s waitress by day, Slayer by night–and Angel’s always in front of the TV with a big blood belly. And he’s dreamin’ of the glory days when Buffy still thought this whole ‘creature of the night’ routine was a big turn on.”
Willow: “You’ve thought way too much about this.”
Xander: “No no, that’s just the beginning. Have I told you the part where I fly into town in my private jet and take Buffy out for prime rib–”
Xander: “–and she cries–”
I think my feelings about this can be summed up with an annoyed Giles pic:
Okay, maybe not entire summed up. What the fuck is this, Xander? One of your best friends just got the news that her boyfriend is leaving for months, without any notice, to go on a dangerous mission he might not survive. Oh, and it’s happening on her birthday. And instead of being like, “this sucks, I’m sorry you’re hurting,” you lose yourself in some horrible fantasy in which you hope your friend has a miserable life just so you might have a chance to bang her when you’re both in your forties. That’s shitty, Xander. You’re a really shitty guy. (#5)
Xander’s jerk off fantasy wherein he wishes Buffy nothing but misery until she’ll open her vagina for him is interrupted when Buffy comes in to announce that they’d been ambushed. Giles asks where Jenny is, and Buffy tells him she’s with Angel. DUN DUN DUUUUUUUHHHN viewer who have never seen the rest of the series. Angel is with Ms. Calendar, who just swore she’d stop him from ever having a moment of happiness.
Wait, knowing what we know about how this all goes down at the end of the episode… why didn’t Ms. Calendar just cut Angel’s dick off? Would it grow back? Do vampires grow back parts that get cut off? I’m thinking not, because I’m almost certain we see a vampire get something cut off and not grow back in this series. But anyway. Geld Angel. I won’t mind.
But whatever, that throw-away line creates more tension, and is a prime example of awesome writing.
Giles has done research on The Judge, who burns the humanity out of anyone he touches. Only the truly evil are spared the fiery fate; no humans have ever survived. The good news is just beginning, because Giles goes on to explain that “no weapon forged” can kill The Judge.
Willow, Xander, and Buffy call their parents and lie about where they’re going to be for the night, so they have time to figure out how to stop Drusilla from assembling The Judge. At around 2 a.m., Giles asks Angel if he’s found out anything, but then he sees this:
and realizes he’s potentially woken his Slayer, so he motions Angel away. Angel makes a face like, “Dude is clearly in love with her,” and follows Giles to another part of the library.
Giles: “Seems Buffy needed some rest.”
Angel: “Yeah, she hasn’t been sleeping well, tossing and turning.”
You guys know that I do not buy the “father’s love” bullshit from season three, so I’m labelling Giles’s fleeting look of “WTF?!” one of those rare early season moments of truth for #2.
Angel clarifies that this is second-hand knowledge from when Buffy told him about her recent nightmares. In one of the show’s less subtle moments, we cut to Buffy having one of those very nightmares. And it is suuuuper literal; Buffy is walking through the factory, all dressed in white. We see what appears to be Ms. Calendar walking there, too, then the boxes containing The Judge, right before Drusilla cuts Angel’s throat. Buffy wakes up and yells for Angel, and he’s right there to hug her and reassure her, because that’s easy and that’s basically the level of effort he’s willing to put in here.
Wow, I can’t believe how much I loved Buffy and Angel’s relationship the first time I watched this. Now I can’t stand it. But same with Spike and Xander in season four. I shipped them brutally. Now, I’m like, “I don’t ship either of you with anyone, because you’re both horrible guys.”
Okay. The next scene, just a few seconds of it, is one of the scenes that will forever stick with me about this show. At Drusilla’s party, she dances to “Transylvanian Concubine” by Rasputina. That’s it. It adds nothing to the story. But it’s one of the first things I think of when I think of the show.
Spike gives Dru a box, the last piece of The Judge, AKA a big ole box full of monster head. Their minions put the boxes together and out comes The Judge, like a demonic Transformer.
Here’s a really interesting thing, and I’ve added it to our list at #21: The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing. You like how I added it to the list during this recap, so when I copy/paste into the next recap I won’t be all, “WTF, did I forget one?” That’s called character growth, friends.
Anyway, the really interesting thing is that when The Judge comes out of his satanic Voltron, Spike looks for real scared. And then The Judge tells him and Drusilla:
The Judge: “You two stink of humanity.”
Spoiler alert, later in the series, after he’s robbed of his ability to kill, Spike becomes at least somewhat more human. Then, after he acts with surprising humanity–in a bad way–in the season six episode “Seeing Red,” he repents and has his soul restored of his own free will. Spike is human as fuck, but we don’t get to see that fully until the last season of the show. I used to think this show got too much credit for foreshadowing, but then I worked on a couple television proposals myself (neither of which have seen the light of day yet, but fingers crossed) and I learned that it isn’t enough to have an idea and a single season and throw it out there. These shows are actually plotted like five seasons in advance. So, at the end of season five, you see Spike’s character arc, which would have been written into the following seasons when he returned as a series regular, and when the show moved to CW, the characters had to continue on arcs that were kind of already wrapped up when the fifth season seemed like the last.
The more you know.
Hey, now that I’ve been thinking about “Seeing Red,” why doesn’t The Judge love humanity? It’s one of the most violent states of consciousness.
They decide to test out The Judge on Vampire Radar O’Reilly, and The Judge explains that he has to be physically touching someone to actually melt the humanity out of them. When he’s at full power, he’ll be able to just point and shoot. Anyway, he touches Radar and burns him up using the latest in Photoshop technology, and Drusilla jumps up and down like a delighted child. So long, Radar.
Back at the library, Buffy tells Giles about her prophetic dream and says she knows where Spike and Drusilla are. She and Angel go out to find them, leaving the rest of the gang to try and figure out where the pieces of The Judge are coming from. They’re all hoping to stop him from being assembled. Toooooo late.
Buffy and Angel stroll right into Dru’s birthday party like they have an invite, only to see The Judge wandering around. He spots them, and everyone is alerted to their presence. They’re captured, and Spike totally thwarts every attempt Angel makes at being heroic and noble:
Angel: “Leave her alone!”
Spike: “Yeah, that’ll work. Now say ‘pretty please.'”
Angel: “Take me!
Angel: “Take me instead of her.”
Spike: “Uh, you’re not clear on the concept, pal. There is no ‘instead.’ Just first and second.”
Spike and Drusilla are going to let The Judge kill Buffy and Angel, but just as The Judge reaches for her, Buffy does a lightning fast move and kicks him in the chest, knocking him back. Angel pulls a chain thingy and drops a whole bunch of televisions on him–what the hell did they make in the factory, anyway? Music videos?–and they break a hole into the floor. Buffy and Angel escape through the hole, into the sewers, but first, #6! There is a totally ridiculous moment when, after The Judge gets knocked down, Buffy races to Angel’s side to cling to him momentarily before leading him off in a different direction.
So, let’s talk about this shit for a second. I get that she’s relieved that they escaped that danger, but they’re still in danger. Is it really the time to throw yourself into the protection of your undead boyfriend’s body? No, it’s not, and Buffy would know this. Buffy is a freaking warrior.
But anyway, they dash through the sewers and escape into the pouring rain. In order to get off the streets and into the sheets, the script sends them to the first logical hideout, Angel’s weird subterranean apartment. Angel gives Buffy some dry clothes and stands literally two feet from her with his back turned while she changes. Because there’s no place else in the apartment he can go? Buffy got cut during the fight or the flight, and Angel asks to see it.
I would be like, no. You’re a vampire. I am not going to show you the convenient access point to my delicious blood. And how dare you ask, by the way.
So, then Buffy is all freaked out about Angel almost dying, which in hindsight wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the dreams made it out to be. He was basically going to die the same way Buffy was going to die, so they were in parallel danger the whole time. All of this leads to Angel telling Buffy that he loves her, and they start making out and fall gently out of frame.
Cut to later, as seventeen year old Buffy and her boyfriend with a 200+ year age gap sleep in the glow of their statutory bliss. Lightning flashes. Angel bolts from the bed. He runs dramatically outside, screaming, “BUFFY!” and collapses in a pile of rain-soaked trash.
TO BE CONTINUED…
I think this episode, and this story arc, is where the show really finds its feet. While I love the first season and the beginning of this season, Surprise feels like the beginning of a new season, a season 2.5, in which series assumes the conventions and format that we all love.
So… I heart this episode. A lot.