Aug 12, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 2

Summer is over, and Buffy and her friends start their Junior year in High School. But all is not well in Sunnydale, and the Hellmouth attracts two of the most dangerous vampires alive - the irreverent bad boy Spike and his demented lover - the seer Drusila. And even that threat pales in comparison to what awaits Buffy. An enemy much older and much more sinister... and also much closer to her heart.

Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is perhaps the most defining one in the whole show. It introduces so much of what makes the Buffyverse great, I don't even know where to begin. Many fan-favorites make their first appearance here. Let's start with Spike. Everybody loves Spike. Originally meant to be a one-episode villain, James Marsters' performance of the British vampire who shows little respect for propriety and the Ancient Traditions Of Evilness, but a lot of love for good old-fashioned human fun, was so evocative that Whedon decided to keep him as the season's baddie and even beyond. And knowing how that character develops through the seasons, I think everyone should be deeply grateful for that decision. Although not nearly as important a character (she makes another appearance in Angel), Drusila is no less memorable than her boyfriend, and Juliet Landau's powerful depiction of the completely crazy and twisted psychic - in turns vulnerable and innocent, and depraved and deeply erotic - is absolutely superb. Other new addition to the cast is Seth Green's adorable Oz - Willow's new monosyllabic love interest who has a couple of secrets of his own.

But the highlight of the season is, undoubtedly, the return of Angelus. Sure, we already know that Angel's souless alter-ego was a sadistic monster that put most other vampires to shame, but it is not until Angelus emerges from within the tortured do-gooder that we realize how horrific - and insanely charming - he really is. The mindfrak he proceeds to inflict upon Buffy is nothing short of brilliant, and the most powerful theme in the season, as it shows that Buffy the Vampire Slayer can do adult drama just as well as smart comedy. Tragedy strikes more than once - real tragedy, measurable in real-world pain - and it is in Season 2 that we realize this is not going to be a show of easy victories and cloudless skies. Characters suffer horribly, and they grow or are broken by this suffering. Even when the day is saved, you are left wondering whether the sacrifice was worth it. Adult themes are used freely, and in more than one instance the problems that characters have to deal with, are less than comfortable and quite real to the teen-age audience of the show.

Of course, this beautiful television achievement would be impossible without the superb performances of the cast. Sarah Michelle Gellar is amazing in her depiction of the Slayer's drama - she is surrounded by friends as no other Slayer has been before, and it gives her great strength, but it is also a weakness, and in the end, she is always alone. Anthony Head is also spot-on in his role of Giles, Buffy's Watcher. Season 2 shows a lot more of Giles' past and his personality, and - as is always the case with Whedon - we find that appearances can and usually are deceiving. James Marsters doesn't do a lot of character development, as in Whedonspeak "lack of soul" equals not only "lack of conscience" (for that is what it all boils down to, this soul business), but also the inability to evolve. Yet, what he has to work with, is bloody brilliant, mate! His faux Brit-accent (Marsters is California-born) is hilarious and he exudes so much sex appeal and raw coolness that no heart is safe from him. David Boreanaz is by far the weakest link when it comes to acting (at least for now), but Angel/Angelus' role is so cool that he couldn't possibly botch it.

A lot of relationships - romantic and otherwise - develop and change throughout the season, and another new concept is introduced through them: that every action matters and has lasting repercussions. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not a show with one-episode problems. Even the "monster of the weeek" episodes feature character development, and that is the main reason why you can never really know why so many people love the Buffyverse from just watching random episodes of it. It is also the reason why the show had a hard time acquiring new fans. You have to see the whole thing. You have to follow the characters from their fledgling beginnings in Season 1, and let them grow before your eyes. I am yet to see a TV show that comes even remotely close to the character-building that the Buffyverse has.

Still, Season 2 is hardly perfect. The rhythm is all over the place as - after the strong beginning of When She Was Bad and School Hard - we have the outrageously bad stand-alones Inca Mummy Girl and Reptile Boy, while at the end, after the horrifying tragedy of Angelus-driven Passion and the disquietingly adult themes of the ghost story I Only Have Eyes For You, the show opts for another filler - the admittedly awesome Go Fish - before finally reaching the two-episode finale Becoming.

Yet, with an overall quality as high as Buffy's, it is but a minor bump in a ride that leaves you so much in love with the show, it is sometimes hard to bear. Even knowing all the plot-twists, I found myself sniffling and trying to swallow through the lump in my throat in quite a few instances. And Season 2 is nowhere near the best seasons in the show. What it is, is the true beginning of Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the season that showed what the Buffyverse was capable of, and built the foundations for what would turn out to be one of the greatest TV shows ever made.


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