I finally finished all 22 episodes of Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night and I’m officially hooked on this show. I really, really enjoyed Season 1, but sometime around when Angel snapped Jenny Calendar’s neck, I realized that I was watching something special. Everything I love about the first season of Buffy continued into the second season, and the show proved that it can be silly, funny, dark, scary, and clever, all while grounding itself with believable, complex characters. I wish I had discovered this show sooner, but hey, better late than never.
It’s tough to say just what it is I like best about Buffy. One thing, for sure, is the show’s structure. Like in Season 1, there’s an overarching plot throughout the season that involves all the main characters, but every other episode or so, we get a “one off” type of episode where Buffy & Co. battle the Hellmouth’s demon of the week. It keeps the show fresh and interesting without trying to cram too many things into that overarching plot. Personally, I loved the episode co-starring John Ritter (R.I.P.) as the psychotic robot. The frat boy douchebags who drug high school girls were pretty memorable, too, as was the swim team that turned into fish-people. It’s fun stuff; it’s great to see a show not take itself too seriously.
But that’s not to say that Buffy isn’t good when it’s serious. In fact, I’d say that the best episodes – by a lot – were the more serious, darker ones that focused on Buffy’s relationship with Angel. All the main characters grew and changed this season, a concept that is severely lacking in many television shows. Xander can get annoying from time to time (I’m almost embarrassed when his jokes actually make me laugh), but I still find myself rooting for the guy. Whenever push comes to shove, Xander is there, fighting vampires or getting up in Angel’s face; “You’re gonna die, and I’m going to be there” made me want to applaud. I didn’t totally buy him being with Cordelia at first, but as the show went on, it totally worked – it makes sense that Cordelia would be intrigued by a guy who doesn’t kiss her ass and won’t put up with her bullsh*t, as this distinguishes him from the rest of the crowd.
Spike is, at this point, probably my favorite character on the show. He’s evil, but he’s also reserved and calculated. I love that he actually fears Buffy and perceives her as the threat that she is; it’s this respect for the Slayer that separates him from his mindless vampire cronies. Drusilla is great, too, but Spike pretty much owns any scene he is in. I was pretty reluctant to get nuts over a character named “Spike,” but if “Buffy” taught me one thing in Season 1, it’s to not get too hung up on names.
I’ve always been a big Seth Green fan (he’s the one thing I liked about Entourage), so I was happy to see that he joins the cast in Season 2. I was even happier to learn that he was a werewolf. I certainly didn’t see that coming. And that kind of brings me to the reason I really, really loved this season so much – the unpredictability of it all.
I didn’t expect Angel to lose his soul after finding true happiness with Buffy, but what made it even more surprising was the fact that his torment of Buffy afterward was twisted, sinister, and went places I did not expect the show to go. One of the things I loved about the first three seasons of 24 was that almost anything could happen. Jack didn’t always diffuse the bomb; the good guys didn’t always make it out alive. I feel like that dynamic is in play here, too – I literally jumped off the couch when Angel snapped Jenny’s neck. I couldn’t believe it – a prominent character violently killed by another prominent character, just like that. When Angel accosted Jenny and then let her go to “work up an appetite,” I figured that Buffy would intercept him at the last second and save Jenny. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jenny – but I was ecstatic to have been proven wrong.
Getting back to Angel’s torment: he takes Buffy’s virginity after she falls in love with him and then, when she’s at her most vulnerable, starts f*cking with her in ways that would drive anybody insane. First, it was a picture of her sleeping. Then, her mother. And finally, a picture of Jenny’s corpse, sent to Giles. Sick. If you want a truly evil, sadistic villain, you can’t do much better than Angel. And despite how strong Buffy is – both physically and mentally – even she can’t just move on. It would destroy anyone, and it’s cool to see Buffy portrayed as a real high school girl, not some robotic superhero immune to any sort of pain.
There’s nothing simple about the circumstances in Season 2, which is why I found it so intriguing – almost every character has a difficult choice to make at some point. For Buffy, it’s whether she should try and restore the soul of the man who she loved and took her virginity or to drive a stake through his heart and destroy what has already caused her and her friends unspeakable harm. Giles has to balance his desire to lose control and avenge Jenny’s death with remaining collected and guiding Buffy in her role as Slayer. Willow has to choose between resting up after a vampire attack or channeling dark magic through her body to try and help her friend. And Xander, who hates Angel with every fiber of his being, has to reconcile his hatred toward Angel with his feelings for Buffy and whether he wants to help Buffy kill Angel out of jealousy or righteousness. The relationships between the characters drive the choices they make, and this is by far one of the greatest things about this show. I really can’t say how refreshing this is after watching Claire make dumb decision after dumb decision on Heroes – decisions not based on who she was, but on what was convenient to drive the plot forward.
As a sort of aside, I loved when Xander told Willow and Cordelia that, basically, “I had Angel pinned from day one, and I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.” I probably would have done the same.
Like I wrote after seeing Season 1, I am watching each episode totally spoiler-free and without any clue as to what happens as the show goes on. Obviously Angel is going to be back next season (and I’m guessing Spike, too), but other than that, I have no idea where the show will go. I can’t wait to start up Season 3. I’ll probably start tonight.