**Spoilers for season 2 of Buffy if you haven’t watched it.**
#19: “Go Fish”: ugh. It’s so bad. It’s probably the worst episode of Buffy – or anything – ever (except for maybe “Where The Wild Things Are”). I mean…fish rape????? Uuuuuuuugh. For such a good season, it’s such a turd. It’s totally skippable, if y0u’re not OCD about seeing every episode.
#18: “Killed By Death”: this episode is just unnecessarily gross. Der Kindestod is even more horrifying than certain grinning, suit wearing floaty monsters from season 4. And the child acting is a little too convincing. Plus, Buffy’s fear of hospitals just seems to have been made up for the sake of the plot (although, if you’re reading ahead, say, in season 6, it makes a little more sense). It’s pretty mediocre; it only stands out because of the horrifying monster of the week. The two shining moments are Cordelia, as usual, hitting the nail on the head about Buffy “needing a monster to fight so she doesn’t feel so helpless” (Cordelia is so understatedly brilliant), because tact is just not saying true stuff, and a defenseless Xander standing up to Angelus to defend Buffy. Yes, it was another faux-white knight moment for the Xan-Man, but remember, this was more than just Xander’s racism/jealousy at play here. Angelus had just killed Jenny Calendar in the previous episode. No doubt the rest of the gang was still mourning her and feeling a bit bloodthirsty. I get so pissed off with Xander sometimes, especially in season 3, but I have to remind myself, going back over the high school seasons, that Xander grows as a character and won’t always be that awful, mean high school boy.
#17: “Some Assembly Required”: this episode and the next one are the episodes I consider straight up filler. It’s an interesting idea, obviously a play on the Frankenstein monster and his bride, but it was just such a cheesy episode. It would have belonged in season 1 better, I think.
#16: “The Dark Age”: this one is just like SAR above; an interesting premise, poor execution. It is nice to get some insight into Giles’ life as “Ripper”, but this episode just didn’t do it for me. Probably a matter of taste.
#15: “Ted”: now we’re getting into the episodes that are bad but in a funny way. Let me put it out there right now: Joyce’s new boyfriend, old Jack Tripper…is a robot. There. That’s the twist. And if you’re older than seven, you probably saw it coming from a mile away. However, it does touch on a topic that will be revisited in all seriousness in season 3: what if a Slayer, a supernaturally enhanced superhuman, killed a normal human being? What would be the repercussions? Buffy, being a moral individual, immediately feels regret for what she’s done and confesses to the police. Now, granted, Buffy probably didn’t intend to murder anyone, she just wanted to rough Ted up a bit. And to be fair, he was a grown man getting physical with a sixteen year old girl. If Buffy wasn’t the Slayer, she might not be able to defend herself. But Buffy, having the advantage (Ted being a robot aside for the moment), doesn’t have the right to manhandle a normal person like she did. Luckily, Ted wasn’t really dead – or human – and Buffy gets a pass. This time.
#14: “Bad Eggs”: if the plot of this episode seems familiar, it’s because it’s basically a fusion of Alien and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. I like this episode. It’s amusing, and a little bit suspenseful. And the Gorch brothers are fun idiot villains. By the way, if the running theme of sex for this season wasn’t clear before, it should be fairly blatant in this episode. Buffy misses Sex Ed and the lecture on the consequences of teen sex, for one, and the monsters of the week take the form of eggs, the symbol of human fertility, and the big mama is basically a giant vagina with teeth that swallows a man whole. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel are getting cozier and cozier. They make out against a headstone reading “In Loving Memory” that the camera lingers on. Yikes.
#13: “Reptile Boy”: this episode is fluffy and light and just a bit of fun. Cordy and Buff invade a college frat party, Xander get dressed up in drag, and Buffy kills a giant snake monster. Again, the sex theme is heavy here. Buffy and Cordy getting drugged and chained up in the basement for the Makita demon to eat by the frat boys is an obvious parable about date rape. Not to mention that the Makita (named after a brand of tool, aptly) is a giant penis that Buffy, er…circumcises. But rape undertones aside, it’s a fairly fluff episode. Also, it goes to show that whenever Buffy acts like Cordelia (representative of her past “normal” life before Slayerdom – metaphorically speaking, like a child), bad things happen.
#12: “When She Was Bad”: after watching Passion of The Nerd’s review of this episode and then reading Mark Field’s in-depth guide, Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Myth, Metaphor, and Morality, I understood the point of the episode I’d missed the first time through I watched. Buffy returns from a summer away from Sunnydale and is inexplicably acting like a bitch to her friends. She’d been killed by the Master in the last episode of the first season, and had gone through trauma she needs to confront. But remember, Buffy’s self-sacrifice is symbolic of her committing to her destiny: Slayerdom. Growing up. Xander and Willow are still in their “kid” phase and Buffy sees them, and Angel (because remember, Angel, being a vampire, can never “grow up”), as not understanding what she’s going through, which is why she tries to push them away. Meanwhile, Giles (her mind) is what Buffy sees as having pushed her into her destiny before she was ready to accept it. And the one who forces Buffy to face her issues is none other than Cordelia, her mirror, the symbol of her old life. So now I get the point. This episode still isn’t as resonant with me (even though I’m a 20 year old college student), but I ranked it higher on the list because I feel like me not getting it is my bad, not the writers.
#11: “Inca Mummy Girl”: Oz! Hooray! IMG, like “Reptile Boy”, is another fluff piece which I enjoy. I gotta say, Xander gets some of the best centric episodes, as you’ll see when you get to my number five item. It’s fun, it’s a little heart wrenching, and Buffy saves the day in the end. Nuff said.
#10: “Passion”: I’m surprised Passion ended up so low on my list. I feel like it should be higher up because it’s so important, but this is due to my own preferences, so whatever. Anyway, so it’s just after Valentine’s Day (when Angelus is notorious for wreaking especially sadistic havoc), and Angelus decides to toy with Buffy and her friends. The whole drawing people as they’re sleeping thing is super creepy, but I think what officially wigged me out was Angelus’s assault on Willow’s fish. I’d like to mention: I like fun villains. And Angelus is fun. He enjoys being evil; he gets off on it. And in the end, he kills Jenny Calendar – doesn’t even drink her, just heartlessly snaps her neck – and arranges her in Giles’s bed as the final offense. I feel like I should have been sadder about Jenny, but the fact is, she was an underdeveloped character. I didn’t care when Spike roasted the Annoying One, and I didn’t really care about Jenny. She was cool, but she was little more than a plot device. I only mourned her because Giles did. The significance of her death only makes Angel a corporeal killer in the eyes of the viewer. There will be no coming back from this. By the end of the episode, Buffy declares that she thinks she’s ready to do what she has to do.
#9: “What’s My Line”, Part 1 and 2: these episodes, once again, explore the idea of Buffy’s identity as the Slayer, a topic we will revisit over and over (buckle in). WML contains a lot of golden moments: Willow and Oz finally meeting, Xander and Cordy making out in Buffy’s basement, Buffy kissing Angel in vamp face (which Darla said she would never do); I even kind of liked the scene with Dru torturing Angel. Not that I want Angel to suffer, obviously, but you think about it from Dru’s perspective: this is the man who killed her entire family and tortured her until she became a creature of pure evil like himself, and now he’s good and fighting against her and Spike. Of course she’s pissed. And then, of course: “I om Kendrah. Te Vampeer Sleeyir.” (Okay, I’m sorry, but that accent is so fake. I mean…”cheek fie-eet”!) It brings up an interesting idea: Kendra is here now, and is obviously more dedicated to the cause than Buffy, so why couldn’t she take over and be the Slayer and let Buffy live a normal life? Well, it’s like Kendra says just before she leaves: “You act like Slayin’s a job. It’s not – it’s yah life.” And it’s true. Buffy can’t escape her destiny, no matter what. Growing up isn’t optional. The only thing we can do is accept it or we become objects in the universe. Accepting unchangeable facts of life isn’t weakness. It’s what we do to deal with those facts is what makes us truly strong. There’s two really great quotes about choice in this season that you should pay attention to: Buffy’s speech in “Lie To Me”: “You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice“; and a line from the demon Whistler’s line that I’m posting at the end of the post under “Becoming”, Parts 1 and 2.
#8: “School Hard”: this is a FUN episode, in which we get the introduction of Spike and Druscilla. The whole episode is just brilliant. It’s good pacing, action packed, and obviously an homage to the movie Die Hard. I can’t pick what I like more: Spike’s swagger, his and Dru’s creepy yet tender affection, Angel pretending to be Angelus and offering up Xander to Spike as a snack, Buffy and Spike’s “will we need weapons” scene, Joyce finally standing up for Buffy…but I think my favorite part was Spike throwing a caged Annoying One into the sunlight. I actually cheered at that part.
#7: “Lie To Me”: this is such an important episode in the whole series. Like I mentioned above, it sort of sets one of the mission statements for the show: “You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice but you have a choice.” Buffy’s friend Ford is an important avatar for Angel and his character arc later in the season, but the words Buffy tells him will come back and resonate in a pivotal moment for her. Plus, it’s a Spike and Drusilla heavy episode, which are always fun. Okay, so the vampire wannabe cult is a little bit lame, but for me, it’s a enjoyable episode over all. I crack up every time at the scene where Angel is dissing the groupies, then one dressed exactly like him walks past. And Chanterelle, the blonde girl from the wannabe gang, will be a sort of important character later on, in the first episode of Buffy season 3, “Anne”, and later on Angel: The Series.
#6: “Phases”: I love Oz-centric episodes, and they’re few and far between. Oz is such an intriguing character. He’s the most relaxed of the Scoobies, but inside him he’s got this raging monster. Some people think this one falls flat after the emotional circus that was the “Surprise”/”Innocence” two-parter, but it’s one of the ones I look forward to personally. Kane the werewolf hunter is pretty lame with his stock character sexism, but otherwise this is a great episode. And the last scene between Willow and Oz is so adorable.
#5: “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”: like I said with IMG, Xander has the best one-offs (with the exception of “Teacher’s Pet”). This is definitely one of them (it’s a close contest between this and “The Zeppo” in season 3 to be totally honest). I always love the love spell trope (as long as no one gets used against their will and the spell caster learns their lesson, of course). Amy from “Witch” is back, and Cordy continues to reveal her hidden depths. The only complaint I have is that, according to Giles, Angelus is his most sadistic and destructive on Valentine’s Day, but Angelus doesn’t actually really…do anything? Yeah, he tries to kill Xander, which would have been really cruel to Buffy, but he originally went to the Summers’ house with the intention to kill Buffy. So what’s so special about that, exactly? It’s not the great act of pure evil I expected from Angelus. One would think some torture would be involved first, like the stalking he does in “Passion”. I think they were scared about making our pal Angel too evil, only giving him a few sparse moments like when he snapped Jenny’s neck, or crushed Buffy’s heart in “Innocence”, or tortured Giles just for fun. Angelus is supposed to be all big and bad, and I would have liked to have seen more of that.
#4: “Halloween”: this is one of the most iconic Buffy episodes, and for good reason – it’s awesome. It’s on most people’s lists for “favorite episodes”, mine included. It’s just pure fun. Soldier!Xander, ingenue!Buffy, ghost!Willow, Oz making another cameo, and of course, Cordelia in her cat suit. I don’t have much to write about this one, but it’s just really good.
#3: “I Only Have Eyes For You”: since this is a list being made according to my personal preference, and I’m a sappy romantic at heart, IOHEfY naturally ranks high on the list, and in my opinion is one of the best one-offs of the whole series. It’s one that I’d gladly go back and watch just for the hell of it. It probably doesn’t hurt that it’s bookended by the two clunkers of the season, “Go Fish” and “Killed By Death”. The metaphor for the episode, the ghost lovers being mirrors for Buffy and Angel, can be a little in your face, but not in a bad way. It’s totally logical, and you don’t really understand the poetry of it until the culminating scene taking place in the school with the possessed Buffy and Angel. The only complaint I have really is the parameters of James’s supernatural powers. Telekinesis and possession are par for the course for ghosts and poltergeists, but where did James get the power to summon the bees? Or transmogrify the students’ lunches into snakes? In this sense, it seems like James has whatever superpower the writer gives him so that it’s convenient for the story. But I’m willing to overlook some silliness or plot holes if the episode is overall good, and this episode overall is very good.
#2: “Surprise”/”Innocence”: now we’re finally getting the meat of the season. The arc of season 2 is Buffy sleeping with Angel, Angel losing his soul, and Buffy being forced to essentially take down the man she loves. Now, I don’t think Joss is trying to send any negative messages about having sex, or even having underage sex (because technically Buffy is only 17, and Angel is an immortal 20-something). I think he was trying to make commentary about losing yourself in your passions and losing focus on what is truly important. Take the arguably two most iconic teen romance stories, Romeo and Juliet, and Twilight. In both stories, the teenage lovers completely lose themselves in each other and their relationship. Being in love is fine, but when being in love with someone is your only character trait (*cough, cough* Molly Hooper *cough*), you as an individual disappear. Instead of taking agency and trying to resolve the conflict between their families, Romeo and Juliet are so wrapped up in their tragic love for each other, that it ultimately leads to their self-brought demise. William Shakespeare says it in the very beginning of the play: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;/Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.” The whole point of R+J is that teenage love is hormone-fuelled idiocy. And similarly, Buffy loses herself in her passion for Angel. The back half of the season is about Buffy having to rebuild herself now that she no longer has her boyfriend. This isn’t to say that Buffy is weak when she’s with Angel – a woman loving a man isn’t inherently weak. But she neglects her responsibilities (“Bad Eggs”) because she is too absorbed by him. Season 3 is more about Buffy finding herself again, but everything post “Innocence” gives her the building blocks for that reclamation, culminating in her ultimate sacrifice in “Becoming, Part 2”.
And the episodes are both so well done, “Innocence” more than “Surprise”. The scene where Buffy finally finds Angel(us) again after sleeping with him feels like a gut punch, the way Angelus slyly uses every tool at his disposal to utterly destroy Buffy. Angelus is my favorite Big Bad of the entire Buffy pantheon because he’s so diabolical and all the time while wearing the mask of our beloved Angel. It’s the third greatest landmark of the whole series, in my opinion, apart from the end of season 5 and the next item on the list…
#1: “Becoming”, Parts 1 and 2: season 2 contains two emotional wallomps (three if you cared about Jenny Calendar), and this is the one that totally breaks me every time. I’m of course talking about Buffy being forced to murder her true love. Having to kill Angelus would already been traumatic for her, but having to kill Angel is just so much more brutal. So much more in fact, that she runs away from Sunnydale, since she’s been thrown out by her mother, kicked out of school, and it seems to her that her friends are rooting for her to murder Angel. Admittedly, I don’t much care about the vampires’ evil plan, but as always, the greatness lies in the characters: Angel’s backstory, Angelus torturing Giles, Spike and Buffy’s reluctant collaboration, Willow’s creepy sudden possession by magic, Buffy “coming out” to Joyce as the Slayer and her monologue about how she’d prefer a normal life but that’s simply not in the cards, Xander’s Lie, and of course the heartbreaking scene of Buffy having to kill a newly-resouled Angel. Also, one of the most adorable and unusual friendships in all of Buffy, Spike and Joyce.
There are two things that always stand out for me in this two parter – the part during Buffy and Angelus’s epic duel where Angelus seemingly has Buffy defeated, with his sword to her face.
Angelus: No weapon. No friends. No hope. Take all that away, what’s left? *pauses, then makes to stab Buffy*
Buffy: *calmly grabs the sword and looks Angelus in the eye* …me. *butts Angelus in the face with the pommel of the sword*
(God, I just want to stand up and cheer at that scene.)
And then, Whistler’s voiceover, which I mentioned above:
Whistler: Here’s the thing: there’s moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you’re gonna be. Sometimes they’re little, subtle moments. Sometimes they’re not. Bottom line is, even if you see ’em comin’, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So, what are we, helpless? Puppets? Nah. The big moments are gonna come, you can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are.