Mo’ Better Buffy

Written May 2004 on Epinions:

Every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is special to me, but over the series’ seven year run, I’d have to say Buffy the Vampire Slayer — The Complete Second Season is the best (insert debate here), with the most cohesive themes and story arc. Season Two takes off from the first season with a running start, continuing the excellent writing and introducing more demons, more Scooby members, more vampires, and even another slayer (apparently there’s a loophole in the “one chosen per generation” clause).

One of the major themes for this season is romantic relationships — junior year in school is typically the year for romance, and so it is with Buffy and her demon-slaying Scooby-gang of pals at Sunnydale High in Season Two. Buffy tentatively explores her relationship with her handsome and brooding vampire-cursed-with-a-soul beau Angel. Her Watcher (basically the vampire slayer version of a gymnastics coach), school-librarian-by-day Rupert Giles, has the most high-schoolish of budding romances with saucy computer science teacher and techno-pagan Jenny Calendar. Geeky gal pal Willow catches the eye of laconic Oz (a new character played by Seth Green with almost no muscle movement), guitarist of the local band Dingoes Ate My Baby. And hapless Xander continues to stumble into surprisingly problematic attractions. Even Buffy’s single mother Joyce is on the dating scene, meeting Mister-almost-Right.

And then there’s the new couple in town, Spike and Drusilla, the Sid and Nancy of the vampire world. Leather-clad head-banging Spike and the demented psychic Drusilla add “a little less ritual and a lot more fun” (School Hard) to the melodramatic nemeses Buffy faced in season one and demonstrate that even soulless demons can have passion for each other, in addition to the built-in sensuality of the vampire bloodlust (note that we only see vampires feeding off those of the opposite sex, and the whole “siring” business adds a hint of incestuousness — Drusilla sired Spike, and it turns out that Angel sired Drusilla. How’s that for a twisted triangle?)

Another theme spanning this season is innocence and the loss of. At twenty-two episodes (compared to the twelve episodes in Season One), the Buffy creators have essentially packed two seasons into one. The first twelve episodes showcase the innocence and naivete of our protagonists. Xander falls for an older (much older) woman (Inca Mummy Girl). Joyce is entranced by a too-perfect salesman played with expert creepiness by John Ritter (Ted). Buffy, smarting from older Angel’s for-your-own-good rebuffs, and Cordelia, out of shallow high-school adoration for rich college boys, find themselves out of their depth at a frat party (Reptile Boy), and by the way, also discover the truth behind some fraternity chapters’ boasts about the corporate success of their members.

The second half of the season is about the loss of that innocence (starting with the aptly-titled episode Innocence) in which Buffy learns the unduly harsh consequences of taking her relationship with Angel too fast. Oz discovers a wild, uncontrollable side in himself (Phases). Xander attempts to heal heartbreak with magic (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered), which regular viewers will know is a reliably bad idea. Giles encounters betrayal and loss of love, and seeks revenge (Passion). And Joyce finally has to face her daughter’s true nature at season’s end. (There’s a coming-out undercurrent — “Have you tried not being a slayer?”)

The Scooby gang is forced to grow up a bit in this season and some characters, particularly the men, are more completely developed. Giles’ bad boy past comes back to haunt him, literally (The Dark Age). Xander shows he can make the swim team (Go Fish). Angel, not much more than a mysterious romance novel hero in Season One, becomes a pivotal character in this season, and we are afforded glimpses of Angel’s human and vampire past, along with the path that led him to Sunnydale (Becoming). The actor David Boreanaz gets to show his stuff this time around, ranging from the good, bad, and ugly to a flair for comedy (which would serve him well in the Angel spin-off series), such as a fashion moment at a vampire wannabe party (Lie to Me).

But again, the female characters are the most compelling. Buffy’s relationship with her mother feels real — Joyce’s disappointment in her daughter’s school performance but fierce protectiveness and pride in her self-reliance (School Hard), the strain between them when a potential stepdad appears (Ted), and when they have “the talk” after Joyce learns Buffy had her most intimate moment with Angel. “And then he changed,” Joyce says knowingly and sympathetically to her daughter, in the understatement of the year. As in Season One, Buffy faces the most difficult choices, and the season-ender is truly heartrending — Buffy must make a decision cruel even beyond the self-sacrifice to duty she encountered in the first season finale.

As with the rest of the show’s production values, Buffy the Vampire Slayer:The Complete Second Season on DVD is a more polished package than the first season DVD set. The embedding of commentary features three menus down is still awkward, but the menu transition sequence with a swooping camera move is slick, and the featurettes on set and monster design are quite interesting.