Buffy, Season 2, Episode 1 (When She Was Bad)

I just started re-watching the Buffy Season 2 DVDs [amazon.com, amazon.co.uk] and I was immediately struck by one point in the first episode, When She Was Bad.  This, fans will recall, is the episode in which Buffy works through her issues left over from the Season 1 finale, in which she fought the Master and [spoiler alert!] was briefly killed before in turn killing him.

In When She Was Bad, Buffy is a bitch, there’s no doubt about it.  She is dismissive of her friends, actively hostile towards other schoolmates, and manipulative of Xander during their subtly distressing dance scene.  It’s obvious that she’s been knocked much further off centre by her experiences in Season 1 than she’s letting on.

This was an interesting story the first time I saw it.  But coming back to it now, having since seen Season 3, it’s terribly obvious what’s going on: she is becoming Faith; or, at least, she is starting down the path that will end with her becoming what Faith became by the end of Season 3.  Later on, in season 5, partly because of having witnessed Faith’s descent, she’s going to ask “Is the slayer just a killer?”  But the answer for her is right back here at the start of Season 2.

The key moment comes near the end, after she has defeated she vampire coven (“Xander: We need you to distract the vampires — what are you going to do?  //  Buffy: I’m going to kill them all”).  She does exactly what she says on the tin, kills them all, then destroys the Master’s bones, erasing any possibility of his future revivication.  Then — only then, when her work is done — she collapses into Angel’s arms and weeps.

And that is what Faith was never able to do.

For Faith, being the slayer meant always being tough: hard, invulnerable, emotionless.  In When She Was Bad, Buffy is starting off down that same road; and that moment of weakness, seemingly unimportant at the time, turns out to be the turning point of her salvation.  It’s the moment when she accepts her humanity alongside her slayerness, recognising that she can still do the one while also accepting the call to do the other.

In retrospect, then, that collapse into Angel’s arms after crushing the Master’s bones is the crux of Buffy — the moment on which the whole seven-season extravaganza turns.  That is when she makes the decision, conscious or otherwise, to live as a human being among other human beings; and that is the decision that makes her who she is, and that keeps her from becoming Faith.

Postscript

Oh, and Daryll Epps from Episode 2 (Some Assembly Required) is, in retrospect, a horribly obvious precursor for Season 4’s Big Bad, Adam.  Except that Daryll is more poignant because of that scene where he watches the American Football match from beneath the bleachers.

7 responses to “Buffy, Season 2, Episode 1 (When She Was Bad)

  1. WSWB is like a one episode preview of a major subplot in season 6.

    I like when we get to see the more ruthless and gray side of the good guys. This is the episode where Buffy tortures a vampire by stuffing a cross in her mouth. Our hero is really out of control for while but she comes back to being herself in the end.

  2. Michael Stanley

    i don’t know if you ever watched the angel series. but in the early angel espisodes especially, they did crossovers with buffy. in one of the crossover sets, faith finally does, with angel’s help, reaches a turning point of salvation (coincedentally crying on angel as well). they did a good job with this one — they followed the “you have to earn it” rule and it came off credibly. i always felt the buffy series was a little incomplete without at least seeing those crossover sets. it fleshes out the detail of why faith became good again.

  3. Hi, Michael. I’ve seen Season One, and the first half-dozen episodes of Season Two, of Angel; so, yes, I’ve seen the parts you’re referring to. I agree that Faith’s reluctant reformation was pretty well earned; and I like that she doesn’t just get to walk away and is now spending time in prison. The groundwork was laid well in the Buffy episode where the slayers switched bodies and we saw Faith-as-Buffy tearing into Buffy-as-Faith with such fury and loathing.

    That said, I’m not yet convinced about Angel as its own series. In Cordelia and Wesley they took two of the most one-dimensional of the supporting characters from Buffy and they just don’t seem to carry enough psychological weight to give us stories with real substance. And Gunn is a similarly cardboard-cutout addition to the cast. I’ll see how the rest of Season 2 works out before passing judgement, though.

  4. Michael Stanley

    the angel series definitely wasn’t as great as the buffy one although it did have some great stories and some great moments at times. did you ever watch joss whedon’s other series: firefly (that later led to the serenity movie?). now that was another great series that I liked as much as buffy. they butchered it a bit on regular tv showing some of the shows out of order and such. again, i don’t think everyone “got” whedon’s concept. but if you haven’t seen those, you should definitely pick them up. well worth the purchase price.

  5. Yes, I know and love Firefly — I’ve watched it three times, and I think it was potentially the best of all Whedon’s work: certainly the one season that got made is better than Season 1 of either Buffy or Angel (though still not as good as Veronica Mars Season 1). Its cancellation was the great TV tragedy of our time.

    I’ll probably blog about Firefly some time; but not until I’ve got a series of good, solid programming posts under my belt!

  6. “That said, I’m not yet convinced about Angel as its own series. In Cordelia and Wesley they took two orf the most one-dimensional of the supporting characters from Buffy and they just don’t seem to carry enough psychological weight to give us stories with real substance. ”

    The essence of Whedon is character development. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in Cordelia and Wesley.

  7. Pingback: Old music WAS better | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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