[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Howard Gordon and Marti Noxon | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 11/17/1997]
With Buffy’s world about to be in complete upheaval, “What’s My Line” takes a step back to broadly reflect on Buffy’s journey thus far while also offering hints as to what her future may hold. Despite a focus on Buffy and the presence of Spike and Drusilla — generally positive things — these two episodes have never been among my favorites. It’s hard to put my finger on why, because they’re both somewhat competent outings. I think most of the problems boil down to a tone gone awry. The music (score) is flat and tacky while the Order of Taraka is unthreatening and flat-out silly.
“What’s My Line Pt. 1” tries hard to ramp up the tension by utilizing synthesized gloomy music and sound effects — for example: a man walks by Buffy in a school hallway to comb his hair to the sound of a sword striking — yet the actual threat posed by the assassins is underwhelming. If Kendra is the scariest thing chasing Buffy, there’s a real problem. At least Spike’s plan to use assassins as a distraction for his spell to restore Drusilla back to full health makes sense. The assassins, as written, aren’t so hapless, but it’s in the effects where they fail. The non-visual, bloodless death of the first assassin is unconvincing, the bug man is cheesy and impotent, and the gun lady doesn’t make her move until “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” [2×10], all of which sets the stage for my lack of investment in the threat they represent.
While “What’s My Line Pt. 1” doesn’t completely come together, that’s not to say it’s of no value. On the contrary, actually, it’s quite packed with things to talk about. Of particular interest is a ton of Buffy and Angel foreboding and a closer look at Buffy’s options in life. “What’s My Line Pt. 1” focuses on the roadblocks that Buffy faces both now and in the near future, whereas “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” [2×10] offers hints at how Buffy can begin to break those roadblocks down.
One of the roadblocks is exemplified by Career Day at the high school, which both of these episodes circle around. Buffy feels trapped by her circumstances in life due to the Slayer gig, saying to Willow, “do the words ‘sealed in fate’ mean anything to you, Will? Why go there?” This reaction from Buffy is a new variation from what we saw in Season 1 where she was, at worst, trying to run away from her duties as the Slayer and, at best, trying to be both the Slayer and a “normal” teenager — i.e. ‘having it all’. Here in Season 2, though, it’s clear she has fully accepted that being the Slayer is going to be a duty she can’t run away from. Yet, Buffy still views this duty as a job, or a career (hence the focus on Career Day) — something she’ll essentially admit to Kendra in “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” [2×10].
So, naturally, Buffy is frustrated by a life that appears on the surface to be quite restricting. This is represented by the career evaluation at school on one side and the institution/rules of the Watchers Council — as administered by Giles — on the other. What makes these current frustrations so interesting is witnessing Buffy’s burgeoning realization that she need not be shackled by them — on the contrary, Buffy will eventually change the game entirely, in all facets of her life. (Note: the evaluation, while limiting, isn’t wrong. It suggests that Buffy is a good candidate for Law Enforcement, which lines up nicely with her budding notions of duty, justice, and sacrifice.)
“What’s My Line Pt. 1” offers buckets of foreshadowing (as has the season at large thus far) of what’s going to happen to Angel and their relationship soon. Buffy literally says, “Angel comes with bad news, what a surprise.” If only she could recognize that this statement is far more broadly relevant than she thinks. There’s a quick moment during the same scene where Buffy looks into the mirror and only sees her reflection, despite Angel sitting next to her. This is, of course, highlighting that he can’t really be there for her.
Buffy has a massive blind spot for Angel because she has tremendously powerful feelings for him — or, at least, the idea of him that she’s created within her own head. Buffy even says that she’s in “full see-no-evil mode”, which includes the risk Angel poses to her role as the Slayer and what that represents (i.e. maturing into an adult). What’s Buffy’s ‘line’? Well, it really shouldn’t be Buffy kissing Angel with his demonic face on next to a corpse.
Where Buffy is blind because she’s too emotionally invested in Angel (along with the raging hormones), Kendra is actually equally blind to Angel, but in a very different way. Kendra only sees Angel for what he outwardly appears to be: a dangerous vampire. The truth about Angel, of course, lies in between both of these girls’ perceptions of who Angel is, which is a bit of an unknown at this point… even to Angel! This is, ultimately, why their relationship is destined to fail. When there are two people who don’t know themselves very well yet, it’s literally impossible for them to get to know each other.
You know things are bad when the place Buffy feels the safest outside of her home is Angel’s loft. Notice the tense music playing when she knocks on his door and walks in to find him absent? This is, again, totally hinting at and building up to the big moment in “Surprise” [2×13]. To make this connection firmer, what does a Buffy sleeping in Angel’s bed wake up to? An axe in her face! This place, and Angel’s bed, isn’t safe at all! Instead of having confidence in herself, Buffy is losing herself in Angel. Remember Eyghon in “The Dark Age” [2×08]? Eyghon isn’t Buffy’s “drug”, of course, but her juvenile notion of “love” is. When Buffy tells Kendra, “thanks for the wake-up, but I’ll stick with my clock radio,” what she’s really saying is “thanks for trying to wake me up about Angel, but I think I’m just fine.”
“What’s My Line Pt. 1” establishes what the thematic stakes are for Buffy and ends things on a genuinely exciting cliffhanger (two Slayers!? OMG!), but it’s a bit of a snoozer before it gets there. This suggests that there wasn’t quite enough material here to fill two episodes. “What’s My Line Pt. 1” does at least offer a nice mix of humor and depth that helps soften its weaknesses. “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” [2×10] thankfully has the benefit — accent aside — of Kendra’s introduction to Buffy’s world and what that means to her, both tangibly and symbolically. On to Part 2!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy climbs through her bedroom window even though her mom’s out of town. Her explanation is perfect: “habit”.
+ Spike picking up Drusilla and dancing around the room. These two have such an enchanting chemistry together.
+ Buffy’s reaction to finding out she’s got an aptitude for Law Enforcement. Ha.
+ I love Buffy’s habit of asking where common phrases like ‘whole nine yards’ and ‘hand over fist’ (“No Place Like Home” [5×05]) come from, and what exactly they’re supposed to mean. It’s quite endearing.
+ I love the scene where Buffy responds to Giles’ claims of immaturity by saying, “you’re right. I’m a teen, I’ve yet to mature.” It’s a brief self-aware moment that really speaks to the core of the next several seasons.
+ First time the group is called the Scooby Gang! Yay!
+ I also love the ice skating scene. It’s just a rare moment when Buffy gets to let all the struggles in her life drop away and just be a happy kid again. On the other hand, it’s a reminder of Buffy’s imitation of another person as a child, which will not help her on the path to self knowledge now.
+ Buffy walks right by the third assassin without knowing it.
+ Buffy meets Oz by throwing him against a locker. Haha!
+ Angel being so harsh with Willy feels vaguely Angelus-like.
+ Kendra not being what we think her to be is yet another continuation of the themes introduced in “Halloween” [2×06] and “Lie to Me” [2×07].
– Angel not being able to bust open the tiny padlock on the cage.
– It almost goes without saying, but Kendra’s accent is… a travesty.
* Xander tells Snyder that he hopes one day he’ll be in a position to be honest with him about how he feels. Well, that finally happens in “Restless” [4×22]…
* The first assassin has a scar over his right eyebrow, similar to Spike. This symbolically ties them together as villains. After Buffy’s kills this assassin we see that Angel now has a deep cut in the exact same place, thus hinting that Angel will soon be a villain as well.