Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Becoming   Rewatch 
May 6, 2015 9:49 PM - Season 2, Episode 21 - Subscribe

As Buffy prepares to stop Angel once and for all, he finds Acathla - a petrified demon who will suck the world into Hell. Willow finds Jenny's notes on the restoration spell and hopes to curse Angel again before he figures out how to wake the demon. Old friends come and go, uneasy alliances are formed, and visions of Angel's past are revealed.
posted by yellowbinder (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah? Hi! What?

Nice to get a glimpse of pre-Slayer Buffy. She talks a lot about her time as the Cordelia of Hemery, and Queen B Buffy is fun for a moment. She takes to it quickly though, and we even see her pain in a troubled home.

I'm not usually in the Bangel is creepy camp, it's the story the show invested in and I'll go along for the ride. But dirty Angel spying a high school girl and following her obsessively gets bad quick if you think about it too much.

I didn't mind Whistler's narration as much as Angel's back in Passion, maybe because he was an unfamiliar character showing us key moments of our characters' pasts. Our first flashbacks! They always make me so happy, accents included. Darla! She popped up enough later on, it's easy to forget how few and far between early appearances were. We're so far off but I'm anticipating the flashback double episodes.

Whistler is another preview of things to come on Angel, a non-evil demon working to balance the scales. I was always expected him to show up again somewhere. He hints at a larger world that isn't so black and white. At some point we'll have to talk about how to handle Angel here.

So much awesome otherwise! Fishstick hands! Yellow disks! Immolation-o-grams! Mr. Pointy! "You came at me with an axe, once."
posted by yellowbinder at 10:07 PM on May 6, 2015


If I remember right they wanted Whistler for Angel but the actor wasn't available.
posted by kmz at 10:21 PM on May 6, 2015


My willing suspension of disbelief took a major hit when they start talking about the soul restoration spell:

Giles: Um, well, this, um... certainly points the way, but... the ritual itself requires a greater knowledge of the black arts than I, I, I can claim.

Willow: Well, I've been going through her files and, and researching the black arts, for fun, or educational fun, and I may be able to work this


So Willow, in the weeks after Jenny's death, was
1) Going to her classes and doing homework.
2) Teaching Jenny's class
3) Tutoring Buffy
4) Dating Oz
5) Hanging out with her friends, and
6) In her copious spare time, learning more about the black arts than Giles had learned in all of his years of Watcher training.

Which makes it seem like Giles is either a really lousy Watcher, or Willow has surpassed Mary Sue levels of competence and exists in some exalted realm that Mary Sues can only dream of.

I get that the writers wanted to have Willow do the spell, but there were lots of ways they could have written it without making Giles seem weirdly ignorant or Willow insanely competent. They could have had Giles try the first, aborted attempt at the spell, and Willow have to step up after Giles is kidnapped. Or the spell could require a woman to cast it, or someone with Romany heritage (which Willow happens to have somewhere in her family tree).

My fanwank to explain this is that Giles is lying to the kids about lacking sufficient knowledge of the black arts (it wouldn't be the first or last time he'd lied to them). It's a spell that was created in a spirit of vengeance, and Giles is harboring some repressed rage against Angel, and is terrified about what his rage + dark magic could lead to.
posted by creepygirl at 10:54 PM on May 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


And now that I've gotten my Comic Book Guy moment out of the way, a couple of other impressions of the episode:

I'd forgotten that they spent so much time with Angel, really kind of setting up his departure at the end of Season 3. We see that he doesn't really have an idea of who he is, and while helping Buffy is a good idea, he really needs to leave to figure out who he is.

SMG did a really great job of looking exhausted and haunted throughout this. I just kind of ached for Buffy, long before the really traumatic stuff started happening.

The incidental music is absolutely awful in parts of the episode (thinking mostly of the Willow-in-a-coma scenes). It's schmaltzy and intrusive and unnecessary.

SMG's stunt double is amazing. What an absolutely thrilling fight at the end.

Oz's line to Willow, "I think you'd sweat cute blood" made me smile in an otherwise pretty tense episode.

How I wish this bit from the shooting script (the italicized lines) had made it into the hospital room scene:

WILLOW
I'm okay.
XANDER
You don't look okay. Does she?
CORDELIA
Listen to him. The hair is so flat, and, do you even use base?
XANDER
Try to stay on topic here, honey.
CORDELIA
What?
WILLOW
There's no use arguing with me. Do you see my resolve face? You've seen it before and you know what it means.
(to Cordy)
Just help me cast the spell and you can give me a complete makeover.
CORDELIA
You're not just saying that?

posted by creepygirl at 11:08 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I get that the writers wanted to have Willow do the spell, but there were lots of ways they could have written it without making Giles seem weirdly ignorant or Willow insanely competent. They could have had Giles try the first, aborted attempt at the spell, and Willow have to step up after Giles is kidnapped. Or the spell could require a woman to cast it, or someone with Romany heritage (which Willow happens to have somewhere in her family tree).

My fanwank to explain this is that Giles is lying to the kids about lacking sufficient knowledge of the black arts (it wouldn't be the first or last time he'd lied to them). It's a spell that was created in a spirit of vengeance, and Giles is harboring some repressed rage against Angel, and is terrified about what his rage + dark magic could lead to.


I think the implication might be that Willow has more natural talent for this than Giles. Although it could also be the thing the show does where Willow is smart, and smartness is a shibboleth for being smart at everything!

I really like this two parter. It's really great. It delivers some vital back story to how Angel got to this point, and how it screws up the plan. I feel like Whistler's narration is a bit less on the nose here (and yeah, my understanding is that Doyle essentially took his place on Angel) and just works better. The action is exciting and fairly dynamic, and for once Buffy gets caught out in an ambush that isn't really her fault: after all, she did leave Kendra behind to guard the library, who probably wouldn't have been fine if it wasn't for Drusilla's hypnotism gig. I love Spike going turncoat, I love Willow deciding to do the spell despite almost dying the first time, I love Giles doing his best to resist Angel ("the ritual must be performed... in a tutu".) but most of all, I love that final fight scene.

First of all, the sword fight is dynamic and exciting, but, and most importantly, the conclusion to it is great. The thing action sometimes lacks in Buffy is a clear narrative: sometimes it'll just be a back and forth with no real reason why one person wins: they just do. Here we have Angel getting the upper hand, taunting Buffy, and her reaching deep into herself... and catching that sword. From then on she clearly has the upper hand, and is about to strike. And then Angel turns. Its a brilliant move. Buffy has been so ready to strike and now she has got back what she wants above all else, and can't have it. And Buffy? Well she's a damn hero, so she'll do what she'll have to (note that I'm fine with her killing Angel here, and fine with her refusing to kill Dawn in season 5. I think both choices make sense, as a distinction between romantic and familial love, and also the reason that their death becomes necessary), even if it means she has to look at Angel's face as he is betrayed and sucked into hell with no explanation. Brilliant. The only mild downer on this scene is the CGI is really bad, which makes it look a bit goofy.

Things I didn't like so much: Xander's "Who cares?" speech needed to come from another character, maybe Cordelia or even Giles. He has coloured his action with so much jealously that it comes across as nothing but that here. I think the show has been going for "Xander really hates vampires, who killed one of his best friends", but this has been coloured by "Xander loves Buffy in a creepy way". It's a shame, because this moment needs to happen, but I don't think it works with Xander doing it. This also undermines the later "kick his ass" lie, which I actually think is fine, but comes across as motivated by the wrong reasons thanks to his earlier speech.

I'm not in love with Buffy killing off the first poc on the show, but I can see the necessity of it (they want to introduce a new slayer, and Kendra's arc is essentially over). I also don't love how marginalised Drusilla becomes after killing Kendra, basically standing around smirking until Spike throttles her (how... does that work exactly?) into unconsciousness.

I also think that while the show has done sterling work on a slow burn relationship between Buffy and Angel, it hasn't done so well with Buffy and Joyce. Joyce comes across as quite stupid and ignorant in her final scene with Buffy, and I think that is at least in part due to her complete absence from a lot of episodes this season (in fact, she isn't even in part one of Becoming). This is an important scene, and Joyce does need to be wrong in it, but I think the show could have sold her being wrong for the right reasons rather than coming across as a bit unpleasant here.

Still, this is probably the best episode of Buffy so far, a standard with which to judge the others

-Yeah, so Angel fell in love with a 14 year old girl. Definitely quite creepy.
-"It's a big rock, I can't wait to tell my friends".
-Giles is using the orb as a paperweight. How many of these things are there?
-The library is a really terrible base of operations. Not only can vampires enter it, it has multiple points of entry and is essentially indefensible. This will come back to bite them again and again.
-Xander's habit of dissing women he's with is unpleasant, but at least Cordelia gives as good as she gets.
-Is the police officer in this episode the same one as in Ted?
-Does anyone else have the DVD of this? Mine makes all the cast blue on the terrible menu screen
-Spike and Buffy's band would've been great.
-"You hit me with an axe once"
-I do really like Buffy's speech to Joyce.
-Willow's resolve face!
-"In case you haven't noticed, the police of Sunnydale are deeply stupid."
-Gellar has a lot of heavy lifting to do in acting here, and I think she does a great job.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:49 AM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


or Willow has surpassed Mary Sue levels of competence and exists in some exalted realm that Mary Sues can only dream of.

Or maybe she's taking Annie Edison levels of adderall.

I think it's an interesting coincidence that we happened to hit the S02 finale during the same week that Avengers 2 hit US theaters, because this one (the first two-parter both written and directed by Whedon) could be seen as an early attempt at building something like a feature-length "event" film in the Marvel vein.

(I'll betcha the Vision could've yanked that sword out of Acathla on the first try, no problem.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:33 AM on May 7, 2015


Willow speaks Romanian in this episode! Rromani would have made a little more sense but it's not clear that Joss understands the distinction between "Rroma" and "Romanian."

Love that Spike and Buffy team up. I have very mixed feelings about how their relationship progresses as the show goes on, but their scenes together in this episode are hilarious.

It's ridiculous that they don't revisit Xander lying to Buffy until season seven.
posted by chaiminda at 9:44 AM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's ridiculous that they don't revisit Xander lying to Buffy until season seven.

I love that they did though, and I would buy that it never came up until it had real punch. That episode (Selfless) was Drew Goddard's introduction to a lot of people, and the care he took in drawing from the entire span of the series showed me he was someone to watch. It was great that the lie was brought up, and D'hoffryn's talisman, and the troll and agh that's such a great one.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:44 AM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I saw the dragons in the first Avengers movie, I thought: this is what Joss wished he could do for the season 5 finale.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:51 PM on May 7, 2015


I never made that connection. But that is pretty spot-on. Clearly Joss really likes opening portals to other worlds.
posted by wabbittwax at 2:07 PM on May 7, 2015


It occurred to me this morning, thinking about the Angel/Buffy creep factor, that part of why I am both bothered by it on an intellectual level and yet find it very easy to forget about being bothered by it when I watch is because SMG is not 16 - she would have been 20 or 21 at the time. (David Boreanaz was 29.) This was really brought home to me in the flashback with Angel stalking 14-year-old Buffy. At one point when she's talking to her friends, you see they have cast at least one actor who is still a teenager. Possibly even 14. She looks young in a way that SMG really does not. So even though we consciously know that SMG is an actor portraying a character who is meant to be 14/15/16, the visual information we get and process subconsciously does not support that.

Anyway. Perhaps it is because I am much closer to Giles's age than Buffy's, but I find the scene where Drusilla becomes Jenny and soothes Giles into revealing the missing part of the Acathla-awakening-ritual to be just heartbreaking. The way she even shushes him once he's said it, and then the look on his face when she stops kissing him and he realises. This sort of strange mixture of both oh crap and not caring, because the illusion that Jenny was still alive and with him even for that little bit was worth it. Poor Giles.

I actually really like Dru's actions (about in the same proportion as I abhor her accent), Cannon Fodder. Having read your comment, I watched for what she did and after hypnotising and killing Kendra, she:
- does her mind mojo on Giles
- keeps snogging Giles when the need is past
- after Spike reveals himself to be against Angel, makes a snap decision and starts fighting Spike (okay, not terribly effectively, but she's clearly Malkavian, not Brujah)
- keeps protesting and struggling even after Spike has mostly taken her out of action.

If it weren't for that HORRIBLE ACCENT (I'm sorry, but it's even more grating in the flashback scenes where she's wearing clearly upper-middle-class clothing and has that behaviour and yet opens her mouth to let this nasty pastiche of Dick Van Dyke's pastiche of a Cockney accent come rolling out... anyhow, enough) I have to say I really quite like Drusilla. The only defense I can halfway construct with Spike throttling her unconscious is that he cut off not her air but the blood supply to her brain? Yeah, not terribly plausible.

Cordelia, on the other hand, has several shots in the library fight scene where she is literally standing there looking helpless and doing nothing. I think this is unjust to Cordelia, I can totally see her having tried spraying a vamp with mace or hairspray or something. Kendra seems oddly ineffectual as a Slayer. I guess everyone has their good/bad days, usually dictated by the requirements of the plot. Buffy takes way too long to polish off one of Angel's henchlings, after all, to give Spike and Dru time to battle and Xander to free Giles.

My other favourite part this time round was the bits with Spike and Joyce sitting round the living room awkwardly. First the awkward silence, then Joyce's valiant attempt at small talk. Hilarious! Oh, and the fish finger slaying reconstruction.

In addition to foreshadowing Angel's departure from the show, we also get more foreshadowing of S3 with Principal Snyder on the phone (big bricky mobile phone, even!) to the Mayor. It's nicely done.

Cannon Fodder, I have also been watching on DVD but must have different extra bits (I suspect different region, since I'm in Australia). No blue characters. But I am glad that this season is over because mine have these horribly tedious animations between menus that I think come from one of the Buffy video games. You can't skip past them.

And am I the only person who is not reduced to tears when the Sarah McLachlan song comes up over the ending? Please tell me I'm not.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:58 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Region 1/US DVDs (I have the complete series box set that came out a few years ago) have weird graveyard animations on the menu screens, like something from a '90s arcade game. The worst part is that the menu options for each episode are laid out in a circle, so you have to somehow intuit the correct up/down/left/right motion on the remote to get yourself around from "Language" to "Special Features" to "Play Episode" to "Main Menu" every single time. I know I could watch all of these on Netflix or whatever, but since I have the DVDs I figure I might as well take advantage of the special features and whatnot, so cumbersome menus it is.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:29 PM on May 7, 2015


The DVDs are pretty infuriating. I remember the episodes were laid out in each corner of the screen, and the first episode would be top left, then top right, then bottom left, then bottom right. You had to know the order to figure it out, but fine. But then one season it randomly changed to top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right. Such confusion. I bought the series twice on DVD and I'm Netflixing it.
posted by yellowbinder at 6:54 PM on May 7, 2015


Kendra seems oddly ineffectual as a Slayer. I guess everyone has their good/bad days, usually dictated by the requirements of the plot.

I think it's that, plus she's not the protagonist of the show, and her main purpose is to serve as a sort of mirror for Buffy. For all we know, Kendra's been stopping apocalypses all the time off-screen, but unless that affects Buffy in some way, we're not gonna see it.

And her death is pretty much the same as Buffy's in Prophecy Girl. Fall under a vampire's thrall, get killed pretty easily. If The Master had chosen to drain Buffy, or snap her neck, or if Xander had gotten there too late to revive her, Buffy would have had just as unimpressive an end as Kendra had.

I think the implication might be that Willow has more natural talent for this than Giles. Although it could also be the thing the show does where Willow is smart, and smartness is a shibboleth for being smart at everything!

I'm totally cool with Willow's natural talent being the reason Giles asks her to cast so many spells in later seasons. It's just at this point, she hasn't really had much opportunity to demonstrate her natural talent. There's the uninvite spell, and the scapulas in I Only Have Eyes for you, and that's about it.
posted by creepygirl at 7:32 PM on May 7, 2015


I didn't mind the manner of Kendra's death - that part was okay. It was more how hard it seemed to be for her to dispatch the lesser vampire henchlings. Drusilla, as a Named Character, is clearly going to be harder to kill and - especially because we've seen her get a lot more powerful after the ritual that left Spike in the wheelchair - is a perfectly fine candidate for killing a Slayer. But Kendra should still be able to polish off more of the redshirts!
posted by Athanassiel at 8:12 PM on May 7, 2015


The first time I watched Willow cast the spell, I got a distinct vibe of 'the spell wants to be cast' and it was actively helping her cast itself -- that moment when her head snaps up and she starts chanting just gives me the willies every time. It's like there's something else in there.
posted by Mogur at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Ohh, I can hear that DVD menu background music right now, having woken up to it droning on so many many mornings in my college years...

Really wish Netflix had the commentaries available.
posted by shepard at 11:23 AM on May 8, 2015


Thoughts! (On my first re-watch since binging two years ago):

-That swordfight! Holy shit that's a well-done swordfight.
-I'd forgotten that they started teasing the Mayor in season 2. (I know they did so before this episode, but still, I'd forgotten.)
-I wish we'd seen more of Kendra all season, really. My own hand-wave of her relative trouble fighting the vamps is simply that she's less experienced in it. She's been a Slayer for less than half the time Buffy has been, and even if we take that she was better-trained (which can be assumed based on her demeanor) it also appears that her training was highly... academic. She knows how to fight against humans and she knows the "rules" backwards and forwards, but her experience actually slaying is lacking. Still, considering what we saw of her "stake first ask questions later" vibe back in "What's My Line?," it's strange that Dru could get close enough to pull off her trick.
-I'm sometimes a Xander apologist, and I'll go halfway-there with his lie here. I mean, yes, he hates Angel as well as Angelus, and that's there, but my read is that he feels like telling Buffy, "Hey, Willow thinks she might re-ensoul him, just do's ya know," while they're on a suicide mission to save Giles and then the world, wouldn't be the best pre-battle advice. Still a total dick move, though.
-I really like Mogur's view on Willow's magic. The more I think about it, the more it makes Willow's series arc make sense, including the magic crack den stuff, which worked really well for me on the first watch but I know everybody else hates.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:49 PM on October 7, 2015


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