Previously….hey, wait a minute. There are no previouslies and this is a 2-parter. That's freaking awesome. No recapitations either? Wow, they must have trusted that the audience wasn't brain dead in the 90's. Nowadays they recap stuff that happened 10 minutes ago. However since this episode aired over 15 years ago and you might not remember, let me recap for you. Angel is a vampire cursed by gypsies with a soul (way before every vampire became a soft, cuddly, sparkly boyfriend of the night). Buffy is a vampire slayer. They screwed and in that one moment of happiness, Angel lost his soul and reverted back to Angelus, your typical vampire bent on world destruction and emotional torture. It was a brilliant twist on the typical "I slept with the guy and now he's a douche" trope. Angelus spends the next few episodes torturing Buffy, stalking her friends, and killing a fan favorite character when she found a way to restore his soul. Willow, computer geek and burgeoning witch, tries to do the spell herself but Angel sends his minions to grab Giles, demon expert and Buffy's mentor, and she gets knocked out. Xander, another part of the Scooby Gang, is taken down as well and Kendra, another slayer, is killed. Buffy realizes Angelus lured her out in order to get to her friends so she runs in only to find Kendra's dead body. Oh and Angelus is trying to literally suck the world into hell through a demon called Acathla. There, now you're all caught up. Enjoy the ride!
As Buffy checks on Kendra's dead body, 2 police officers appear to take her in for questioning. Buffy protests her innocence and tries to get to an unconscious Xander, but Principal Snyder tells them she's a troublemaker. Snyder: "If there's trouble, she's behind it." Buffy: "You stupid, little troll. You have no idea." Sadly that's not true. The officer goes to cuff Buffy but she punches him and takes off running as the other officer shoots at her. In the school. Hmm. Undercover in a totally non-suspicious ski cap, Buffy heads to the hospital to check on her friends where she runs into Xander. He exposits his injuries and Willow's before hugging Buffy to keep the cops from noticing her. Buffy: "Okay that was about equal parts protecting me and copping a feel, right?" Nope, Xander isn't flirting because Willow is still unconscious. Cordelia, Xander's girlfriend/ex-mean girl/part of the Scooby team, joins them. Cordelia: "I ran. I think I made it through 3 counties before I realized nobody was chasing me. Not too brave." Buffy: "It was the right thing to do." They finally realize that Giles is missing, which only means one thing - bad Angelus villain dialogue. Seriously. Giles wakes up to hear this, "I want to torture you. I used to love it but it's been a long time. I mean the last time I tortured somebody we didn't even have chainsaws." That dialogue is torture enough, trust me. Angelus took Giles because he thinks he might know how to wake up Acathla, but Giles isn't feeling chatty. I'd talk just to shut Angelus up.
Joyce, on the other hand, wishes the police would shut up as they tell her Buffy is a murder suspect. I have no idea why since Xander would have surely told them Buffy had nothing to do with it. Did they not question him when he came to? The Sunnydale police are not exactly competent. They do snark as they leave though. At Giles' home Buffy encounters Whistler, the demon that inspired Angel to get into the good fight in the previous episode's flashbacks. He snarks too. Generally Buffy and I like that in a person, but not so much here. Buffy: "I have had a really bad day, okay? If you have information worth hearing, then I am grateful for it. If you're going to crack jokes, then I am going to pull out your rib cage and wear it as a hat." Like all supernaturals, Whistler talks in riddles but the bottom line is that he figured Angel would be saving the world from Acathla instead of Angelus starting the apocalypse. He blames Buffy. I think the mystical realm needs a better soothsayer. He asks what Buffy is prepared to do but she's out of patience. "Well why don't you try getting off your immortal a** and fighting evil once and awhile because I'm sick and tired of doing it myself." Amen! Whistler spouts some "in the end you're always alone" nonsense and she storms out.
Just in time to get busted by a cop until…..enter Spike, one of the best villains of any TV show (until season 4 when they completely ruined him by turning him into a good guy.) Buffy is astonished to see him, given everyone thought he was wheelchair bound but he's got a bigger shocker. As Buffy attacks, Spike raises the white flag. Buffy: "Let me clear this up for you. We're mortal enemies. We don't get timeouts." Spike: "You want to go a round, pet, I'll have a gay old time of it. You want to stop Angel, we're going to have to play this a bit differently." Buffy is naturally skeptical, but Spike wants Angel "in the bloody ground" and is willing to make odd alliances to insure it happens. Spike offers info on Giles in good faith and explains that vampires are just big windbags. "We like to talk big, vampires do. 'I'm going to destroy the world.' It's just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is I like this world. You've got dog racing, Manchester United, and you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It's alright here." Happy Meals, ha! Best line of the night! Spike is worried Angel might just end the world. Well that and he wants his girlfriend all to himself again. Buffy and I eye roll together. Buffy: "You're pathetic." Yep, especially after season 3. "The whole earth may be sucked into hell and you want my help because your girlfriend's a big ho? Well let me take this opportunity to not care." You tell him! Spike points out the logistical problems of working alone and in the end, commonsense prevails. Kind of. Partnering with your mortal enemy has a lot of drawbacks. Buffy: "I hate you." Spike: "And I'm all you've got." So sad and yet so true. Spike wants to finish off the policeman but Buffy's not down with that so they head to Buffy's.
We however head to the hospital where Willow is still unconscious. Cordelia goes to get Xander coffee, about as big a character development in a small moment as you can get. As the sad piano plinks, Xander pleads for Willow to wake up. He needs her. Xander: "Look, you don't have a choice here. You've got to wake up. I need you Will. I mean how am I going to pass trig, you know? And who am I going to call every night and talk about everything we did all day? You're my best friend. You've always…I love you." Willow starts to wake and calls out for Oz, who comes in right then. Willow: "My head feels big. Is it big?" Oz: "No, it's head sized." Awww, I like how these two can sell those lines as hokey as these. Willow is going to be fine, hurrah. Giles not so much. A bound and bleeding Giles has to listen to Angelus congratulating him on holding out so long. I'm not exactly sure how Angelus is torturing him because he doesn't look any the worse for wear than all the other times he's been kidnapped by evil. In fact, he's a sight better except his hand, yet there's pain in his voice as he stays resolute at not helping the vampire at all. Meanwhile, a worried Joyce, Buffy, and Spike all end up at her house together and Joyce freaks out over the events of last episode. Spike is more amazed that Joyce doesn't know Buffy's a vampire slayer. Believe me, we all were buddy. Buffy lies again and says that Spike and she are in a band. Spike: "Yeah, she's hell on the old skins, eh." They head inside but are attacked by a vampire. Spike and Buffy take him out and poof. He turns to ash right before Joyce's eyes. "Buffy, what is going on?" Buffy: "Mom, I'm a vampire slayer." As Joyce looks on incredulously, two words pop into my mind. About. Time. It's one of my favorite things about this episode because the secret was stalling Joyce's character and stretched believability.
As Willow assures Buffy that her brain is not mushed and Buffy accepts that Angel is never coming back, Joyce and Spike sit in awkward silence in the living room. Joyce realizes that she has met Spike before in School Hard, where she whacked him with an axe because he attacked Buffy. Ha! Good times. Buffy wraps up the call by telling Xander where Angelus has Giles. Xander: "Do you think Giles is still alive?" Buffy: "I think he is. I just wish he was here to tell me what to do." She heads back to the living room and says no deal on letting Drusilla walk, but Spike insists. Buffy says she killed Kendra and Spike is elated for her. Probably not the best idea when the other slayer is right there. Spike: "Hey good for her. Though not from your perspective I suppose." BWAAHHH!!! This is how I love Spike. Snarky, fun, and plain evil. Joyce however is baffled on why Buffy wants to kill her boyfriend. She's also relieved that Buffy didn't kill Kendra, which offends Buffy that her mom ever thought she did. In all fairness, Buffy has killed a lot of monsters that looked like people so it's a fair observation. Spike has business to settle about Dru, but Joyce keeps interrupting with questions that will not wait any longer. "Honey, are you sure you're a vampire slayer? I mean…have you tried not being a slayer?" Ha! I love that line too. Spike tells Buffy that he'll help her and then take Dru away. Spike: "You'll never hear from us again I bloody well hope." Buffy agrees but on one condition. "If Giles dies, she dies." Spike heads back to Angelus to make sure that doesn't happen.
That leaves Buffy alone with a freaked out Joyce. "It's because you didn't have a strong father figure, isn't it?" Ha! The go-to blame for all America's problems in the 80's and 90's. Not this time. Buffy: "It's just fate, mom. I'm the slayer. Accept it." Joyce wants to call the police but Buffy explains that all it will do is get them killed. Joyce: "Well you're not going to hurt them, are you?" Buffy: "I'm a slayer, not a postal worker." That line really was funny back in the 90's. Buffy hangs up the phone because police as a rule are not equipped to handle vampires, she is. She tries to walk away with a snide comment but Joyce is having none of it. She wants answers. NOW! Joyce: "I am your mother and you will make time to explain yourself." Buffy: "I told you I'm a vampire slayer." Joyce: "Well I just don't accept that." Buffy: "Open your eyes mom. What do you think has been going on for the past 2 years? The fights, the weird occurrences. How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing and you still haven't figured it out?" Joyce: "Well it stops now." Buffy: "No, it doesn't stop. It never stops. Do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or God, even studying, but I have to save the world. Again." Joyce tries to stop Buffy from leaving and so Buffy shoves her away. Joyce: "If you walk out of this house, don't even think about coming back." Buffy just stares at her before walking out, leaving the door wide open. When this episode first aired, a lot of people hated Joyce in this scene and to tell your daughter that she can't come back home is hard to justify even in the heat of the moment. However, in all fairness, she doesn't know what's happening and she's freaked out. If my daughter just told me she was a superhero and about to go into a dangerous situation alone, I would be resistant to the idea too. Buffy needed to give her a short synopsis of events before going off to save the world instead of lashing out at her mom in her anger. Does Buffy have the right to be angry over her fate? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn't mean she can expect Joyce to be on board with things mere minutes after realizing she's been lied to for years.
Things are only slightly less tense at the hospital when Willow decides to try the curse again after they were rudely interrupted last time. Xander points out that she'd being dealing with powerful magic when she isn't well. Cordelia points out Willow's flat hair. Ha! Oh, Cordy. Oz is just confused. Oz: "Okay, I pretty much missed out some stuff, didn't I? Because this is all making the kind of sense that's not." I love Oz, but did no one fill him in on why Willow is in the hospital? Hmm. Willow is resolved because if they can convert Angelus back to Angel, no one will have to save the world again. Angel will destroy Acathla instead of awaken him. That makes sense to me even if Xander still doesn't like it. She sends Oz and Cordy to get her stuff and Xander to Buffy in hopes of stalling Angel, who keeps torturing Giles. Maybe. Still doesn't look like it. Angelus: "Just tell me what I need to know." Giles: "In order to be worthy you must perform the ritual in a tutu, pillock." I laugh; Angelus does not. He wants to use chainsaws but Spike reminds him that a dead watcher tells no tales. Angelus: "Since when did you become so levelheaded?" Spike: "Right about the time you became so pigheaded. You have your way with him, you'll never get to destroy the world and I don't fancy spending the next month trying to get librarian out of the carpet." Ha! Angelus asks what he plans and Spike brings out the big guns. "Drusilla sweetheart, do you want to play a game?" Uh oh. That is never good. Meanwhile Buffy heads back to the school to get the sword to kill Angelus when Snyder shows up too. Snyder: "You do know this is a crime scene, don't you? But then you're a criminal so that pretty much works out." Buffy reminds him that she's innocent and the police will figure it out. Snyder counters, "In case you haven't noticed, the police at Sunnydale are deeply stupid." Sadly, he's right. Besides he's come to gloat. "These are the moments you want to savor. You wish time would stop so that you can live them over and over again. You're expelled." Buffy pulls out the sword. "You never ever got a single date in high school, did you?" She walks out while Snyder calls the Mayor about her.
While Principal Snyder subtly introduces us to next season's Big Bad, Drusilla tries the honey approach to get answers from Giles. She sympathizes and uses her psychic power to not only read his mind but put him in a trance of sorts. Then she makes him see Jenny. So good to have her back, even if she's a hallucination. She presses about the ritual and he spills everything. Angel's blood is the key to opening Acathla. Fake Jenny kisses Giles, while Angelus has a "duh" moment. He wants to kill Giles but Spike convinces him that it would be better to see if the spell works first. Angelus: "You know, I kind of like having you watch my back." Neither of them like watching Dru mack on Giles. I find it repulsive too. Giles though is in complete shock when he realizes what he did. He knows better than this. Buffy, on the other hand, needs knowledge about the sword and heads back to find Whistler, who's making himself at home in Giles' place. Whistler: "You know raiding an Englishman's fridge is like dating a nun. You're never gonna get the good stuff." Buffy has no time for nonsense so Whistler exposits that Angel's blood opens Acathla and it is the only thing that can close him again. If Acathla's mouth opens she'll have to send both Angel and Acathla to hell or the whole world goes there instead. Whistler suggests stopping Angelus before he can even open Acathla. Duh. Whistler: "The faster you kill Angel, the easier it's going to be on you." Buffy: "Don't worry about me." She says she doesn't have anything left to lose and walks out. Whistler whispers, "Wrong kid. You've got one more thing." Talk about foreshadowing. I hereby spend the rest of the episode worrying that one of the Scooby Gang will die, especially Giles, who I cannot lose anymore than Buffy can.
As day breaks over Sunnydale, Buffy arrives at Angelus' hideout only to meet up with Xander there. Xander: "Calvary's here. Calvary's a frightened guy with a rock but it's here." Aww. Buffy hands him a stake instead and tells him to get Giles out. He's not to take on Angelus or the vamps. Buffy unsheathes the sword as they walk down the middle of the road in broad daylight with cops still after her. Maybe not the best plan. Sigh. Buffy calls the sword a present for Angel and Xander is about to tell her about Willow's spell idea but then changes his mind. It might be out of jealousy, hatred, revenge, or even because he doesn't want to give Buffy false hope or distract her. Either way, it's a decision that will come back to haunt them all and affects his future relationship with Buffy. While they talk, Angel begins the ritual and Willow starts the spell. Oz: "Did I mention I didn't take Latin?" Willow: "You don't have to understand it. You just have to say it….I hope." Nice to know they have a good understanding of this potent spell before trying it. Just saying. Right as Angelus cuts his hand, Buffy beheads one of his vamps and the fight for the world begins. Buffy: "Hello lover." Angelus: "I don't have time for you." Buffy: "You don't have a lot of time left." It's cheesetastic in here. Angelus says that the odds are not in her favor, which is Spike's cue to bash Angelus until Dru attacks him. Spike: "I don't want to hurt you baby. Doesn't mean I won't." Spike knocks Dru down while Buffy takes on a random vamp.
Meanwhile Xander grabs Giles. Giles thinks Xander is another Drusilla trick. "They get inside my head. Make me see things I want." Xander: "Then why would they make you see me?" Giles: "Oh right. Let's go." Bwah! I love how Buffy intersperses levity and snark even in the highest action points. Xander gets Giles out, Buffy stakes random vamp, and Spike and Dru continue trading punches. Right until Angelus touches Acathla's sword and everything's bathed in white light. Acathla's awake. Too late, Willow struggles with the spell in the hospital as Spike chokeholds Drusilla unconscious and Buffy and Angelus grab their swords. Angelus: "My boy Acathla's about to wake up. You're going to hell." Buffy: "Save me a seat." Then one of my favorite action sequences in Buffy begins - the Buffy/Angelus sword fight. I love me a great sword fight. Angelus draws first blood but neither gives an inch. Willow continues to struggle with the spell when a spirit takes over her body, speaking the words fluently. Oz: "Is this a good thing?" Let's assume not. The sword battle begins with Angelus definitely winning. In one of my favorite moments of the whole show, Spike carries Dru right by them. "God, he's going to kill her." Then he gives a little head shrug and keeps going. BWAAHHH!!! I never adored Spike more than in that moment. He made such a great, practical villain. Angelus however uses the time to taunt Buffy. "So that's everything, huh? No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away and what's left?" Buffy closes her eyes and catches the sword. "Me." Woo hoo! Feel the girl power explode. She takes back the fight, stronger than ever until Angelus is on his knees.
At that moment, Spike and Dru leave as Willow finishes the spell and the Orb of Thesulah glows. So do Angel's eyes. He's back. And confused as Buffy and Angel's theme plays mournfully in the background (one of the best TV themes ever created). He looks up at her and asks what's going on. At first Buffy is skeptical, but it's really Angel. She slowly puts the sword down as he worries about the cut on her arm that he put there. They hug as months of previous terror are washed away in their tears. Angel: "I feel like I haven't seen you in months." He says all that Buffy needed to hear and for one moment everything is perfect again, but as she opens her eyes Acathla opens his mouth. She realizes what she has to do. She kisses Angel and tells him not to worry as the vortex gets bigger behind him. Buffy: "I love you." Angel: "I love you." Buffy: "Close your eyes." She kisses him again as he does and then stabs him in the chest with the sword while the music swells. He holds his hand out to her and calls her name as he's sucked into hell with Acathla. She just stands there in shock and grief. So do I. And then Buffy and Angel's theme changes to Sarah McLachlan's Full of Grace and I am done. It gets me every time. When I first saw this scene, I actually bawled. I cry very rarely and even less at TV, but this scene totally did me in. In some ways, it still does.
Buffy's face crumbles as she realizes that she did have one more thing to lose and now she's just drained. She's lost everything including her hope and will to keep going. She heads home to pick up some clothes and leaves a note for Joyce, who also breaks down reading it. Sadly we don't get to see what the note says, but Joyce's face tells us the gist. She's lost her daughter and my heart breaks again. Back at school, Giles worries about Willow's health since she's in a wheelchair but she's equally worried about him. Aww. The Scooby Gang recaps and wonders where Buffy is. Oz: "But we know the world didn't end, because…check it out." Giles and Xander confirm. They went back to Angelus' lair and Acathla was still stone. Willow is hopeful that Buffy and Angel are reunited since the spell worked, but Xander knows that didn't happen. "Maybe she had to kill him before the cure could work." Cordelia and Willow say Buffy will show up to clarify, but little do they know that Buffy was expelled and she's watching them from across the street. They turn to go back into Sunnydale High without Buffy, who stays awhile longer before turning. The wind blows as she walks down the street to catch a bus. As Sarah McLachlan sings, "It's better this way," the camera pans on the Now Leaving Sunnydale sign and we fade to black, completely, emotionally wrecked. Thanks Joss Whedon. In fact the theme music during the ending credits are a brutal shock. Even the closing card realizes how exquisitely painful this episode is. Instead of saying, "I made this" like usual, it says, "Oh, I need a hug." Why yes, we do.
Season two of Buffy is one of my favorite TV seasons of all time. There are 1 or 2 duds, but overall the whole season was fantastic and having Angelus as the Big Bad was inspired. It made things personal and rocked Buffy to her core. Then to end it like this. I have never felt such loss for a TV character in my life and it is this powerful acting scene that makes Becoming II my favorite episode of TV. The sheer desolation is a physical force that still moves me even though I know how it ends. I will never forget how visceral this episode was when I first watched. It's the first time TV ever truly moved me, although it wasn't the last, and as such it is seared into my memory. Yes, some things don't stand the test of time and quite frankly I don't think it would be as powerful to anyone who didn't see it in the 90's. Nowadays every supernatural show has sympathetic "monsters" and there is far too much supernatural romance tragedy on for this to make much of a punch. But back then, it was a new thought first made popular by Anne Rice and perfected in the Buffy and Angel saga.
Still the episode goes well beyond a supernatural romance. By systematically stripping Buffy down throughout these episodes, by taking away her school and mom and even her hope, they leave her with nothing but herself to cling to and when she tells Angelus that she still has herself left, it is an enormous stand for girl power. One that I still applaud today. There may be tons of teenage female heroes now but Buffy really began that on TV, leaving a legacy for some of my favorite characters to come. I saw her in Veronica Mars. I see her in Clarke on The 100. I see her in Katniss of The Hunger Games. I even see her in Harry Potter. In fact, I see shades of Buffy everywhere and for that I am grateful. Buffy changed the TV landscape more than I realized at the time and gave us a girl we could believe in that helped us believe in ourselves. She didn't just kick butt. She could be powerful and vulnerable. She could, when necessary, take down evil on her own, but she also needed her friends to help ground her and make that fight worthwhile. She sacrificed nobly but that sacrifice took its toll on her and in the end, her sorrow became ours. That's what makes this episode so powerful.
Best Reason to Watch - everything seems to vague an answer so I will say everything with Buffy
Best Emotional Scene (maybe of all time) - Buffy kills Angel
Second Best Scene - Joyce and Buffy fight over being the slayer
Best Non-Buffy Emotional Scene - Xander pleads for Willow to wake up
Best Moment - Spike sees Angel about to kill Buffy and just shrugs it off
Best Plan - Spike uses Drusilla to get the truth out of Giles
Best Snark - Spike
The "About Time" Award - Joyce finally knows that Buffy is a vampire slayer
Biggest Twist - the Spike and Buffy alliance
Best Action - Buffy and Angel swordfight
The "You Know It's Serious When…" Award - Xander isn't making a funny comment
Best Return - Jenny Calendar, even if she was only a hallucination
Most Awkward - Joyce and Spike talk about the tie she hit him with an axe in School Hard
Worst Liars - Buffy and Spike with their rock band spiel
Best Foreshadowing - Snyder calls the Mayor
Worst Foreshadowing - Whistler says Buffy still has one thing left to lose
Most Likely to Come Back to Haunt You - Xander doesn't tell Buffy that Willow is trying to spell again / Joyce tells Buffy if she leaves she can't come back
Most Tame Torture - Giles barely has a scratch on him except a couple broke fingers. I wonder exactly how the Big Bad Angelus tortured him.
Most Adorably Clueless - Oz
Biggest Truth - Snyder's right, the police in Sunnydale are seriously incompetent
Worst Fashion Statement - Buffy's baggy pants when she leaves are about 3 sizes too big
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