Saturday, December 10, 2011

Band Candy

Season #3, Episode #6: Band Candy

"WOAHH Summers, you drive like a spaz!"


Of the many fellow Buffy fans I've met since starting this blog, many consider Band Candy to be one of the very best episodes of the series. Certainly one of the funniest. And while I hold in high esteem, I have to open this review with some bashing.

This episode is the Buffy debut of writer Jane Espenson. You will either love or hate Jane Espenson. She has a distinctively obnoxious style of dialogue that you will either find delightful and whimsical or akin to nails on a chalkboard. She's primarily known for writing what you will either call comedic reprieves or attempts to hijack the show.

I think Buffy fans tend to rally around her episodes--except for Doublemeat Palace, my personal favorite that everyone else hates. But you may divine that I'm not exactly the president of the Jane Espenson fan club. She is the Buffy writer most likely to force a character to say, "But Gii-iiiles! I don't wanna go all slay-y on prom night! It gives me the wiggins! Big time wiggins-giving! It's wiggins-y! I just want big smoochies with my honey!" You get the idea. With Espenson, it's over-the-top and out-of-character all the time. She's the one at the dinner table making sure everyone hears her interminably shouting knock-knock jokes. Her episodes typically come clunking into the middle of an arc, loud and in desperate need of your attention. Not always a bad thing, but when it's bad, it begs for resentment. This is all to say that I don't think Jane Espenson had a lot of friends growing up.

The episode opens in the graveyard where Buffy and Giles hold an SAT study session periodically interrupted by vampires in need of slaying. This is only the beginning of the show's attempt to undermine the first couple seasons, in which vampires were an actual threat to Sunnydale's safety, thru incessant retcon.

We then head to the Mayor's office, who has enlisted the assistance of Mr. Trick. The Mayor has a file cabinet full of creepy doodads and mystical whatsits and gadgets and gizmos aplenty, which he explains are used to pay tribute to the many demons who helped him assume power in Sunnydale. They allude to a bad guy from times past whom they have recruited to assist them in this tribute. My money's on those hyena kids from The Pack.



At Sunnydale High, Principal Snyder wrangles the Scoobies into selling candy bars to raise money for the marching band. Joyce agrees to buy twenty candy bars, while Giles agrees to buy the other twenty. But this isn't enough for Buffy, who is so bummed out that Joyce and Giles monopolize all her free time and she has noooo social life and she just wants to be a normal teenager! Sorry Espenson, we kinda covered this two seasons ago.

If we've just seen Buffy revert to a Season 1, pre-Angelus bratty teen, we jump right back into the melodramatic current when we find Angel in the courtyard of his lair doing interpretive dance in the buff.

For a really, really, uncomfortably long amount of time.




The two have another loaded conversation full of double entendre about how they want to bone but oh no Angelus will happen and but isn't he so dreamy and they totally don't even want to be together, and it goes on this long, really, and is just as banal.

Turns out, in order to have this secret rendezvous with Angel, she lied to both Joyce and Giles, making them into her alibis. They confront her at the Summers home and accuse her of playing hooky to go act like a delinquent at The Bronze. "What were you doing there!" Joyce asks, to which Buffy responds in classic Espenson fashion, "Bronze things! Things of bronze!"

There's a clever shot of Joyce and Giles sharing a bar of band candy while the ominous score creeps in, cutting to the factory where the band candy is being manufactured, supervised by...Ethan Rayne!

The behavior of the adults at Sunnydale High the next day may indicate that the secret ingredient in the band candy isn't just milk chocolate and lots of smiles. Giles never shows up to monitor study hall, leading Principal Snyder to tell a substitute, "The big pinhead librarian didn't show up, and I don't wanna do it. You do it!!" The substitute tells the kids to run free. Xander and Willow may or may not play footsie in this scene.

Buffy heads over to Giles' place to see if he's been mauled or enchanted, but finds him with Joyce. The two are acting a bit Twilight Zone, like, maybe pod parents, and you at home may be wondering if Buffy had nearly walked in on the two in the act. They inform her that they've been drawing up a study and training schedule for her, really solidifying that whole Giles-as-Buffy's-surrogate-father thing. But as soon as Buffy leaves, they splay themselves out on the floor, smoke cigarettes, and do air-drumrolls to Cream.



The Scoobies head to The Bronze to ("do things of bronze lollll!!!") see Dingoes Ate My Baby, only to find the place overrun by ADULTS! Nutso Substitute Teacher turns up with the munchies and calls Willow "Little Tree," whereas Principal Snyder is a nervous 'lil ball of energy bounding up and down with delight that he's the principal and has so much power, yippee!!

The rest of this episode is more or less a montage of adults doing ~*~hilariously~*~ out-of-character things. Giles and Joyce go out on the town, where Ripper Giles smashes a storefront with a trash can and steals a terrible hat.

Then Giles beats the crap out of a cop. Then they have sex on the top of a cop car. (ETA: With Joyce, not the cop. Though I'm sure the latter situation has occurred in many a fanfic.) And I mean don't get me wrong, I find all of this delightful, but Joyce seems a bit too Olivia Newton-John. And I always got the idea that Teenage Giles was more brooding and sitting in creepy factories pledging his soul to the Dark Prince listening to Throbbing Gristle than doing his best James Dean. But that may just be wishful thinking.



Buffy happens upon Joyce and Giles in a compromising situation, and tells them, "No more candy!" while they stamp their feet. Eventually, they break into the factory and chase down Ethan Rayne, who tells them that Trick and the Mayor needed all of the adults of Sunnydale to be out of it so that they could collect a tribute for a demon.

The tribute? Babies, obviously.

While Joyce is sent into paroxysms of sorrow at the idea of babies in jeopardy, never fear. Buffy finds the babies in the sewers, disposes of the evil demon, pisses off The Mayor, gets Mr. Trick in trouble, bland plot stuff.

But at least this allows for some truly special effects.

All in all, this is a very popular episode with appeal that I have never been able to totally understand. Thematically, the episode seems to exist to LOL at the Scoobies' immaturity and inability to take things seriously. When Willow's doctor takes his shirt off and stage dives at The Bronze, and Joyce repeatedly coos over the "poor babies!!!", characters repeatedly make comments about this being an unflattering mirror and isn't it so funny how they suddenly have to start acting like adults?? Only this doesn't jive with where we are in the series--Buffy left her desire to be a normal teenager back in Season 2, and even then, she never carried on like an idiot. By Season 3, this already seems vintage. So the insinuation is a bit insulting to the younger generation.

But it would be disingenuous to get up in arms over this, because the "role reversal" only exists to allow Tony Head and Kristine Sutherland to show us what they've got, and that's what makes this episode hilarious. By Season 3, we've grown to know and love all the non-Xander characters, and watching them have this much fun is, well, fun. Does it advance anyone's arc? Outside of giving Buffy's mother and surrogate father the opportunity to get it on, no. Does this episode give me many things to pontificate on? Outside of ending my sentences with prepositions, no. But do I care?

Minus a few missteps, one of the best Espensons. But it's no Doublemeat Palace.

Favorite moment: Band Candy's entire appeal lies in the little moments between Giles, Joyce, and Snyder. Favorites include danger junkie Giles, who is all to eager for Buffy to kick the crap out of Ethan Rayne.



Snyder, trying to scoot a 'lil closer to a disapproving Joyce.


And when the group learn of Trick and the Mayor's baby kidnapping:

"Something's going to eat those babies?"

"I think that is so wrong!"

"Let's find the demon and kick the crap out of it!"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Homecoming

Season #3, Episode #5: Homecoming

"You've awakened the prom queen within."



I know what you're thinking as you look at this picture. Well, first you're probably stunned by the array of awful skirts (or skorts?). Or maybe you're now scouring your hidden away CD collection for every Collective Soul album you own because the 90s. But eventually, you will probably wonder what Cordelia is doing in this picture with Buffy and Willow, and why are they so happy together? Why, according to Rose's blog, it's almost as if Cordelia doesn't exist.

Oh, but she does exist, reader. Cordelia is as delightful as ever, only the writers delegate her role to making boneheaded comments every few scenes and acting oblivious. Basically Oz-status, but even Oz occasionally gets his own episode.

Finally, in Homecoming, Cordy gets her dues.

The Scoobies couple up at The Bronze to discuss Homecoming dance logistics--limo or Oz's van?--before a sullen Buffy, who hasn't yet been asked to the dance by puppy dog Scott. One might assume he's a little down with love after his two BFFs just got killed by an after school special on love, but I digress.

Or is it Scott that's got her down in the dumps? Eventually he turns up and says he will go to the dance I guess, but he's not the only man in her life anymore.

Buffy runs off to deliver Angel some blood and some cold hard truth. Since the last episode, Angel has managed to master a shirt in addition to pants, though buttoning said shirt remains a challenge. He also seems to have mastered the English language, as he and Buffy carry on a full-fledged conversation in which Buffy reveals that she is moving on with her life and has a new, non-demon boyfriend whom she can count on.

Cut to Scott telling Buffy that they shouldn't see each other anymore. As if this wasn't stressful enough, we see a stakeout van spying upon Buffy getting dumped and transmitting it to some moody Germans who then transmit it to Mr. Trick and an old guy. Then, opening credits. Whew, y'all! Four minutes in and you better fasten your seatbelt!

When we return, a nervous lackey brings a report on the moody Germans and their current whereabouts to a wakcy guy who smells the report and then chastises the lackey for not properly washing his hands. This is the Mayor, the man we've heard tell of for seasons from the likes of Principal Snyder and the Sunnydale police. Ominous music plays as the Mayor lectures on cleanliness and tells his lackey (who we learn is Deputy Mayor Alan) to let him know of any other unsavory creatures in Sunnydale. At this point, we still don't know what side of the good vs. evil fight the Mayor falls on.


On yearbook picture day, Cordelia scopes out her competition for Homecoming Queen. Buffy and Faith aren't in attendance at picture day, however, because they're busy letting their aggression out training. Faith says, "F MEN!" and suggests that she and Buffy go to the dance together, find some clueless guys, and use and discard them. And it is but the beginning of the great big homoeroticism between the Slayers.

Everything seems to be going wrong for Rebound Buffy. She approaches her favorite teacher to ask her to write a recommendation letter per Snyder's request, but the teacher doesn't even remember her. And on top of being dumped, Cordelia forgets to tell Buffy that she needs to get her school picture taken, so she won't even appear in the yearbook. A couple more miles down this path and she'll be turning invisible and wielding revenge via a knife to Cordy's face and eerie clarinet playing.

But Buffy won't go down without a fight, and sets her sights on the ultimate prize: a crown. It's Buffy vs. Cordelia for Homecoming Queen.

Back at the Trick mansion, we learn why the Germans (and various other icky demons) are in town--for Slayerfest '98.

No, I am not kidding. Seriously, Slayerfest.
In attendance: Gorch, the cowboy vamp from Bad Eggs and his wife, a spiney yellow thing, moody Germans, and an old dude. Their mission: to destroy not one, but both Slayers, for a handsome cash prize.

Up next is a plot point that I so badly want to skip. I so badly want to spare everyone the horrible memories. And if this plot point didn't prove itself to be a facet of many episodes to come, I probably would. Hopefully, if you're like me, your brain will do all the blocking out for you.

But when Xander and Willow get dressed for the Homecoming dance and reminisce about how far they've come as friends, and Willow emerges wearing a super ugly dress, they experience a surge of terrible, evil hormones and...

They make out :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :( :(

Why does this happen? Who fell asleep at the writing desk? WHO ALLOWED THIS???

Moving on. Buffy goes all work and no play, creating huge graphs and charts documenting the best strategy for Operation Cordelia Sux and Buffy Rulez. She tries to enlist the rest of the Scoobies, only they betray her to help Cordelia out of guilt for...making out :( :( :( :(

As penance for the horrible visual of Willow and Xander's lips meeting that will haunt your dreams for years to come, we get a throwback montage of Cordelia and Buffy on the campaign trail set to Fastball. Buffy hands out muffins, while Cordelia gives out muffin baskets. Cordelia puts up campaign posters, and Buffy puts up...bigger posters.

Faith and Buffy planned to take a limo to Homecoming together, but Xander and Willow decide to con Buffy and Cordelia into sharing a limo instead so that they will work out their differences. And let me tell you, there will be bonding.

Remember Slayerfest?

Slayerfest participants redirect the limo into the woods, where they will hunt Buffy and Cordelia, whom they think is Faith. Mr. Trick relays the objective of Slayerfest to them through a videotape, kind of like proto-Saw.

What ensues is a classic case of a chase through the woods Most Dangerous Game style, mistaken identity, and wily survival skills. The fun is in watching it, so I won't bore you with the details. And Buffy and Cordelia do sort out their differences while holed up in a cabin hiding from Germans--Buffy tells Cordelia that all she wants is to be a Normal Teenager, and Cordelia reveals in a panic that she thinks she loves Xander, which for some god forsaken reason endears her to Buffy. They hug, they summon their Girl Power, and they go to kick the crap out of some Slayerfesters.

Buffy and Cordelia repair to Sunnydale High where they hope to collect some weapons, kill off their hunters, and freshen up in time for the Homecoming crowning. A few mishaps and one hostage Giles later, they rush to the Bronze, beaten and bloody, ready to claim the crown. And surprise surprise, there's an unprecedented tie for Queen?

A tie between Buffy and Cordelia's competitors.

All in all, vintage Buffy. Lots of laughs, classic misdirection, goofy villains, well-choreographed fight scenes. People tend to rank Homecoming as one of the top episodes of the series, but I wouldn't go that far. Cordelia gets a chance to shine, but she won't really be paid her dues until Angel. An entertaining episode, highlighted by our introduction to the Mayor. Later in the episode, he chastises Mr. Trick for bringing a rebellious element into Sunnydale. The Mayor's MO: to keep control over the supernatural forces at work in Sunnydale, whether that entails joining up with them or not. Means to an end: eliminating the Slayers.

This will be the only thing worth remembering in later episodes. And Homecoming gives us a whole lot that's worth forgetting.


Favorite moment: Gorch and his wife wait for the Slayers in the Sunnydale High library, where Buffy quickly stakes the latter. Just when Gorch is about to do away with Cordelia, she gets in his face and taunts him, saying, "I haven't even broken a sweat. In the end, Buffy is just the runner-up. I'm the queen. You get me mad, What do you think I'm going to do to you?"

Don't mess.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Beauty and the Beasts

Season #3, Episode #4: Beauty and the Beasts

"Oz ate someone last night."


No, I am not going to mention again how totally inept I've become at updating this blog. I'm not going to promise to be better and then wait for another month to pass before reviewing another delightfully absurd episode just waiting for my derision. I am so not even going to get into it.

Instead I will preface this entry with a word on Marti Noxon. Marti Noxon, a Buffy writer who became a producer in this season, has a tendency to write terrible episodes full of schmaltzy nonsense and clunky metaphors that make even Clint Eastwood cringe. (I've heard that in Buffy fandom, these are called "Martiphors.") A typical Marti Noxon episode features nothin' but ~true love~ between Buffy and Angel and reads like an after school special roundup in which the cast warns us about the dangers of peer pressure. Beauty and the Beasts is, I believe, the quintessential Marti Noxon episode.

(I can't dump on Noxon too much, as she is known to sometimes write things that aren't horrible, and in fact wrote I Only Have Eyes For You, one of my favorite episodes. But this woman was also responsible for Wild at Heart and Into the Woods, which I will contend are the two worst Buffy episodes should I ever get to them.)

Get ready for something awful.

The episode opens with the silliest possible camera tricks all thrown into one scene--a flash of the full moon (so that we will know to expect Oz) while a blurry predator cam snakes through the woods, scored by an echoed voiceover from Willow telling a story about wild animals, all set to the sweet tunes of my Monster Mash compilation CD. Once you know Marti, a couple more lines of dialogue will be all you need to divine exactly what will happen in Beauty and the Beasts.

Turns out Willow is reading this bedtime story to Werewolf Oz while keeping watch over him. Xander comes to take over her babysitting shift, leaving one to wonder why anyone would ever trust Xander to do anything ever. She tells him 600 times in a row why it's soooo amazingly important that Xander watch over Oz and what specific things he must do and watch out for and "EVERYONE WILL DIE IF OZ GETS OUT!!!" and then as soon as she leaves, he goes to sleep.

Meanwhile, Buffy and Faith patrol the cemetery. Eliza Dushku shows all her cards here trying her hardest to make any of Faith's dialogue sound like it belongs on this TV show or anywhere on planet earth, but when she asks Buffy if she and Scott are "doing the ditty" and says that he gives her that "good low down tingle" and that "he's a muffin. Blueberry!", you will be left confused and vaguely in need of a shower. Buffy, ever the good girl, is just happy to be dating someone who isn't a hell beast for a change. "All men are beasts," Faith tells us. If you know Marti...say no more.

Predator cam leads us to a defenseless teen, who is dragged away and probably eaten. Men!

After the credits, we jump smack into the middle of Willow and Buffy's passing period conversation and hear Willow say, "I don't think it's true that all men are beasts!" Which leaves one to imagine Buffy coming to school that morning and saying, "Hey Willow! Faith told me that all men are beasts!" But I digress. The group are joined by Scott and his random two friends who we have never seen before and, spoilers! will never see again.

They're Pete and Debbie, who are such a cute couple!!

Giles reams Xander out for being such an unfathomable douche and leaving Oz to his own devices--they've discovered the mauled body of defenseless teen and fear Oz is responsible.

But Buffy has her own duties, namely seeing the school psychologist Mr. Pratt. He proves himself to be one of those cool, understanding hip adults who can relate with the kids and earn their trust, and isn't that just what Buffy needs! Mr. Pratt has to run off to his fishing trip, which I imagine is the only possible explanation for this outfit.

Back in the library, the Scoobies strategize and try their best to exonerate Oz. Oz is a 'lil shaken up and tries to run off dramatically, but Willow reminds him that he's about to turn into a werewolf and needs to go into his cage. "Stop, don't come near me!" he tells Willow. "I'm about to change, get away from me!" I've rambled about the icky way the show tries to present Oz's werewolf self as his unbridled masculinity that might lash out against the nearest innocent bystander if they don't GTFO of his way, but really, Buffy writers? This is the exact tack Stephanie Meyer took with werewolves, and that's gross.

But you'll get a whole lot of that in this episode, what with meaningful predator cam voiceovers, monologues from Mr. Pratt, and confusing babble from Faith, all of which go down one path: men are beasts, love takes over people and makes them crazy, and get away from me, woman, I'm about to get masculine. And just wait til you see the icky conclusion.

Speaking of abusive predator boyfriends, Buffy goes patrolling in the woods and comes upon feral Angel, who has somehow managed to contemplate and understand pants.

They brawl, but Buffy overpowers him and ties him up with chains. Kinky.

Angel is completely "wild," can't talk, can't recognize Buffy, can't function. Buffy is too busy being like, "HOW???" She stays up all night in the library researching "demons that get sent to a hell dimension and inexplicably appear because I put my claddagh ring on the floor." Her search futile, she turns to Giles and asks about a "dream" she had that Angel came back. Giles tells her that if Angel managed to come back from his eternity of brutal torment, he'd either be the kind of monster wants to be redeemed, and or the kind that is "void of humanity and cannot respond to reason or love."

Buffy's mission--to determine what kind of monster Angel is.

She goes to his love dungeon and asks if he understands or recognizes her, but he starts grunting and gnawing on his own flesh, which is never really a good sign. She rushes to Mr. Pratt to vent, and yells, "Don't turn around, and don't say anything! Just listen! Because (A) yeah, that's a thing people do!, or (B) I'm about to profess my undying love to you!, or (C) you are dead and you can't turn around or say anything!" If you have not completely given up and turned off your TV by now, you'll see a very mauled Mr. Pratt, cigarette in hand.

So I guess he didn't hear Buffy's proclamation of love.

Pete and Debbie run off to make out in a janitor's closet because they are soooo in love. But things take a turn when Pete finds some empty Mason jars that appear to have once contained Gack, which he is not too happy about. Debbie says she got rid of it to help him, because "you know how you get when you drink that stuff!" He starts flexing his muscles and yelling that it isn't the Gack that makes him that way, it's stupid harlot Debbie!!!

Then he turns into a monster. If you haven't thrown your remote at your TV right now, maybe it's time you do, because he starts to repeatedly hit Debbie across the face, accusing her of turning him into this, telling her she's a slut, and admitting that he murdered Mr. Pratt so she wouldn't be able to talk to him anymore. When he calms down, he whimpers and apologizes and appeals, "You know you shouldn't make me mad! You know what happens!"

Ugh, I can't even get into this. More on the prevailing ickiness at the end.

Oz notices that there's something wrong with Debbie when he sees her black eye, and tells her that he's always around if she wants to talk. Unfortunately for everyone, especially you, Pete notices.

Some piece of evidence exonerates Oz, so the Scoobies turn their attention to finding the real killer. They deduce that Debbie is the common denominator, and Buffy and Willow go to reason with her in the ladies room. Okay, I'm just warning you--if you haven't turned off your TV yet...

This scene is so awful in every conceivable way that I can do little else but just quote it verbatim. Buffy says, "It's hard covering up a shiner like that. Do you know what works? Don't get hit." When Debbie refuses to give Pete up ("It's not his fault! It's me! He does what he does because he loves me too much!"), Buffy makes it quite clear how ridiculous and weak she is and how she better just get over it because people are dying! I want to give the show the benefit of the doubt and say that this scene shows Buffy's imperfection, that as the episodes continue she becomes all business and has no patience for people getting in her way. And that's true--the show will take her character to that extreme. But not here. Not now. Not when the episode is making the crassest statement on domestic violence possible with all the nuance of a jackhammer and trying to play it straight, and the protagonist berates Debbie for not exercising power that she does not have to begin with.

We interrupt this reaaaal deep commentary on domestic violence for a fight between Monster Pete and Werewolf Oz, with an Angel Escapes from his Chains interim. The fight culminates in the janitor's closet where Pete comes upon a hiding Debbie. He blames her for the fact that Buffy now knows he's the killer, and while Buffy tries to rush to the rescue, she is too late to stop Pete from...killing Debbie.

Yes, Pete actually kills Debbie. Well, Buffy warned her that this would happen if she didn't just stop being weak.

While I'm always shocked when any kind of mainstream media chooses to show the violent and extreme outcomes of relationships that, in the real world, are abusive, I'm usually shocked in a positive way. Later in the series, the writers will let another abusive relationship unfold in a way that I think is pretty amazing and nuanced and challenges some of our assumptions about love and domestic violence. But there's no ambiguity about whether Pete is abusive toward Debbie--because Marti Noxon has never heard of the word ambiguity--and so the episode sets itself up to end violently.

Not a single moment of this episode earns the right to honestly and thoughtfully address domestic violence, let alone the murder of one partner by another. It's disgusting and everybody involved should be ashamed. It falls into the trap the show made for itself from the first episode--that monsters are not real, but domestic violence is. That you can't equate a guy unwillingly turning into a werewolf/vampire/Mr. Hyde with an abusive partner. That you can't attribute this violence to the "beast within" every male, like every guy in the world is just waiting to get too angry before he snaps and becomes abusive. So you better watch out.

HOWEVER. I have mixed feelings about what happens next. Just as it looks like Buffy won't win this fight, Feral Angel turns up and strangles Pete. Searching for redemption, or void of humanity?

He falls on his knees and says, "Buffy?"

The first time I saw this episode, I thought this was one of the most striking moments of the series so far. In bringing Angel back, they have to deal with the fact of Angelus in a way that is a little more than, "Well he has a soul again!" I want to believe that this moment acknowledges that even if Angel is searching for redemption, the violence between Angel and Buffy hasn't disappeared, and that thread will always come up in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For all of Buffy's strength, her abusive relationship isn't abusive all the time, and not in obvious ways that are easy to identify. It could have been--and at one point very nearly was--Buffy and not Debbie.

The shot of Angel at Buffy's feet with Debbie's body lying in the foreground says just that...and only a class act like Marti Noxon would use the dead girlfriend as a device to prop up Plot A.


Well, she did learn from the master.

Favorite moment: When it's over.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Faith, Hope and Trick

Season #3, Episode #3: Faith, Hope and Trick

"He said he lived for kissing toast. Taquitos?"


Hello, reader! I know at least one of you is out there, as I received a blogger e-mail today from someone I've never met asking me if I intended to continue on with my blog! As it turns out, flattery is awfully motivational. So this one's for you, blogger guy!

And anyway, October has got to be the official month of Buffy, no? In honor of this month--the best month--I will do my darndest to review many episodes. Maybe even two in one go! And what better way to start than with the introduction of a New Major Character!

Two shady characters in a black limo roll up to the McDonald's drive-thru, and suddenly you remember that the last "big bad" skipped out of town with his ~*~crazy~*~ girlfriend, and that the real "big bad" was "put down like a dog," as Cordelia astutely describes. Sure enough, these two seem like big bad material, saying of the Slayer: "I'm going to rip her spine from her body, and I'm going to eat her heart and suck the marrow from her bones!" Could they be the major new characters??

Principal Snyder agrees to let Buffy back into school so long as she gets a teacher to write her a letter of recommendation and sees the school psychiatrist. Could the kindly psychiatrist be the new major character??

The Scoobies rejoice that Buffy is back, and that they are cool seniors with open lunch status, which for some reason is an actual thing that people in the real world care about. Giles, on the other hand, is all business, asking Buffy to give him all the nitty gritty details about Angel's demise so he can prepare some Aramaic doodad to prevent Acathla from coming back, blah blah. Who cares because...

Hey, did you hear that Darling Violetta are playing at The Bronze tonight?

Oh, The Bronze, how I've missed you. I recognize this band as having done the theme song to Angel, which technically I shouldn't know exists yet. They provide an adequately angsty backdrop to Buffy turning down Scott, a harmless teen boy fighting for her affections. New major character?

Buffy is distracted by a girl Cordelia charmingly calls "Slutorama" who is seduced out of The Bronze by a vampire. The Scoobies run out to save her just in time to see her kick the crap out of the vampire and introduce herself as Faith. As Oz notes, "I think there's a new Slayer in town." If you're like me watching this for the first time, your reaction will be, "Eliza Dushku is in this show??"

Faith is the new major character. She is the Slayer called forth after Drusilla killed Kendra, who is meant to be the working class response to bougie Buffy. She's crass, fun-loving, and says slaying makes her "hungry and horny."

Buffy responds: "Sometimes I crave a low-fat yogurt?"

Faith is a bad girl who wants to live large. She'll become a pal, a foil, and a source of sexual tension for Buffy, and do all of this while wearing lots of eyeliner and press-on tattoos, using cheeky phrases like "five by five," and living in a seedy motel.

In theory, Faith sounds awesome and she should totally be right up my alley, but it is no secret that she is one of my all-time least favorite characters. (Riley, Drusilla, and Faith--the unholy trifecta.) Where do we go wrong? I'm excited to get through this season again, as I do love Faith as a concept, and her arc is intellectually satisfying. But execution-wise? We'll see.

The two big bads from the beginning of the episode turn out to be Mr. Trick and this guy who looks like he wandered of the Star Trek set. The latter is super pissed that the Slayer gave him a big scar on his face, or maybe gouged out his eye?

But, as always, interpersonal drama permeates all. Faith warms herself immediately to the Scoobies with her tales of naked alligator wrestling (Xander), calling Giles young and cute (Giles), and charming dinner table banter (Joyce). The only one who remains unconvinced is Buffy, who resents Faith for trespassing on her turf. She doesn't begrudge Faith for stealing the spotlight, but for mirroring her life exactly, down to hitting on Scott, the inoffensive fella from The Bronze. Remember the mirroring!

Buffy and Faith go on their first co-slaying adventure together, and we see the sinister side of Faith's wily charms. Faith leaves Buffy pinned by a vampire while she repeatedly punches another in the face with a big old grin. Hungry and horny, likely. Buffy warns Giles that Faith seems to enjoy the slaying thing a little too much.

Giles discovers that rather than being at a Watcher convention in the Cotswolds, Faith's slayer was actually killed by Star Trek guy, who is actually an ancient vampire named Kokistos. Revelations! Faith is on the lam, and her tough-as-nails facade wears when he comes knocking on her door. But actually, they dispense of him rather anti-climatically. I thought this guy was gonna be the new big bad?

But they bond, and share post-slayage cheese fries. Faith confronts her fear. And she will remain in Sunnydale indefinitely.

I've neglected to mention that per David Boreanaz's contract, Buffy visits Angel in her dreams each episode, sometimes on a beach at sunset, dancing slow at The Bronze, whisperin' sweet nothings.

One wonders--will we have to endure this for the rest of the season?

Fear not, reader.
Buffy finally accepts Scott's offer to go out on a date, but balks when he presents her with a claddagh ring, as Angel gave her the same ring back in Surprise. But after a heart-to-heart with The Scoobies (to be described later), she decides she's ready for closure and asks Scott for another chance. She then goes to leave the claddagh at the site where she stabbed Angel in Season 2. So sweet!

And then who should burst forth but...sweaty naked David Boreanaz?? Oh, to be a fangirl watching this in its original broadcast...


So let's take stock. We have Faith the bad girl Slayer. We have Mr. Trick, the new vamp in town. We have puppy dog Scott. Angel emerges from the depths of hell. But...who's Hope?

Favorite moment: At the very end of the episode, Buffy reveals to the Scoobies that Angel's soul was restored when she killed him. You know, in case it helps with Giles's Aramaic spell. Everyone gets teary-eyed, Sad Theme #4 twinkles, and Giles reveals, "There was no spell."

Oh Giles, you card!