[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Ty King | Director: Michael Gershman | Aired: 02/24/1998]
“Passion. It lies in all of us… sleeping… waiting. And though unwanted… unbidden… it will stir… open its jaws, and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?” – Angelus
Wow. What an episode! “Passion” is a masterful work that effectively ‘seals the deal’ on the changes to the series promised by “Innocence” [2×14]. It expertly uses the setup that came before it and then follows through on it to glorious results. It also marks the first time Buffy really puts on display that none of the characters are safe from being offed, even important ones. “Passion” pulls out all the stops, including a highly tense and unique musical score, sharp directing, and impeccable writing. Although the writing duties are officially credited to Ty King, Joss Whedon’s fingerprints are all over this — I’d be shocked if Whedon didn’t have a heavy influence on this script.
The dark and atmospheric opening scene of “Passion” fabulously sets the tone for what’s to come. Christophe Beck’s score here is some of his best work, what with its thumping beats and crackling thunder. A creepy aura immediately surrounds the episode as Angelus stalks Buffy dancing at the Bronze and continues to leave a trail of bodies behind her. As Angelus’ body count rises, so does the weight on Buffy’s shoulders — both in her decision-making before Angel turned and in her failure to kill him when she had the opportunity to in “Innocence” [2×14].
Buffy unknowingly sums up what has been the biggest problem with her relationship to Angel when she talks to Willow mid-episode: “It’s weird, whenever something like this happens, my biggest instinct is still to run to Angel.” Rather than having confidence in herself and her role as the Slayer to solve the problem, she’s instead holed up in her house desiring Angel to keep her safe. As has been previously brought up, Buffy has given away too much of her identity to Angel, and the result of that has weakened her, putting everyone at risk. Buffy desperately needs to take it back from him, which is where Season 2 is ultimately headed (“Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22]). Willow is also keen in her observation of Angelus: Buffy is “still the only thing he thinks about.” The theme of the last episode — love twisted into obsession — is definitely making its presence felt here in “Passion”, and that’s no more apparent than in that disturbing opening scene.
The focal point of “Passion” is evident in its title, and there are several interesting themes that branch off of this. In his opening voiceover, Angelus suggests that passion “rules us all,” thus implying that we have little choice in the matter. Angelus’ outlook on passion is naturally going to come from a very dark place — he can only view it as an unstoppable force through his obsessive vantage point. And why wouldn’t he see it this way? Angelus is a soulless creative with no conscience whatsoever. This is precisely why we see him make so many disturbed sexual overtures throughout the episode, from getting on top of Buffy in her bed as she sleeps to telling Jenny “this is where you get off” (my emphasis) to subsequently using the dead body of Jenny to orchestrate a tragically faux romantic evening for Giles at his home. Angelus represents the dark, uncontrolled side of passion (and ‘getting off’), but he thankfully isn’t the final say on the topic (more on that later).
For the rest of us it becomes apparent that ‘choice’ must be a vital player in passion. During the impressionable phase of adolescence, in particular, the choices we make can have a huge impact in defining the course of our lives. One of the most important of these choices is who to invite into our lives, and who to exclude from them; another is who to trust, and who to keep a distance from; another is who to start a relationship with, and who to say no to. All of this, of course, relates back to the choices Buffy has made thus far regarding Angel.
Invitation and exclusion are also big themes in “Passion”, and they can be very much felt as Angelus follows Buffy back to her house in that opening scene. When Angelus peers into her bedroom window while she sleeps before creepily rolling out of frame — an extremely effective horror movie technique — it strikes me that what we’re seeing is a dark reflection of Angel during his first appearance in the season: “When She Was Bad” [2×01] (“Mind if I come in?”, Angel asks, sitting at her bedroom window). Now he enters her bedroom without permission or warning and casts a pitch black shadow on top of her while she sleeps, showing “affection” in the most disturbing way possible — an image that might just be the scariest in all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer thanks to its intimate origins.
That opening scene isn’t the only one playing off of this theme — in fact, “Passion” is littered with them. At first it may seem like Cordelia reminding the audience about vampire invitation rules is a bit insulting, but now we know that it’s serving a larger purpose. As Giles rebuts, “yes, but once you’ve invited them in, they’re always welcome.” Isn’t that true about all relationships? Once you’ve invited someone into your life, it can often be very difficult to cast them out, and even when you do that interaction will always be a part of you — it can’t be washed away.
Xander makes a comment about inviting strange men into your bedroom and Cordelia frets that she invited Angel into her car once. Even Jonathan gets in on the action when he enters the library unexpectedly and interrupts the Scooby meeting — they seem almost offended that students entered without warning or permission. It’s a funny moment, because nobody ever seems to be in the library but them, but it also ties into these themes. Other examples include Spike’s frustration with Angelus starting to feel like an intrusive presence in his un-life, Angelus toying with the school’s invitation to all knowledge seekers, Buffy and the Scoobies disregarding the yellow crime tape to enter Giles’ home, Spike preventing Drusilla from attacking Giles unless invited to, etc.
The centerpiece of “Passion” is Angelus’ murder of Jenny Calendar. This is a masterful sequence and a prime example of television at its best. The lighting, framing, music, writing, and performances all come together in a symphony of horror. When Angelus says “the teacher makes three,” it seems like such a toothless threat thanks to weariness gained from countless other shows that never follow through on similar threats. The tension, stakes, and horror in this scene only fully work because Angelus actually goes through with it. This not only provides the scene immortal tension, but it also instructs the viewer to be on notice that the characters we love are not safe here, thus offering a lot of future scenes tension they otherwise would have never had. This is a pivotal moment in the show’s overall growth.
Angelus’ final line to Jenny before he brutally snaps her neck, “this is where you get off,” is conveyed with definite sexual overtones. This is particularly resonant considering where Jenny was headed next — Giles’ home with the possibility of a romantic evening — had she not been killed. It seems the only one getting off on all of this, all season really, is Angelus. As observed in “Phases” [2×15], he’s running wild without conscience or constraint, continuing to highlight the danger of letting passion blind you to its consequences and failing to control your urges, sexually or otherwise.
(Side note: To follow Jenny’s murder with a brief comedic scene is actually incredibly gutsy. It works here because the comedy, per usual on Buffy, is steeped in character, and this little moment between Willow and Giles at Buffy’s house is no exception. It’s also one of the things the series does best: injecting these moments of subtle levity in the most harrowing and heartbreaking of situations. Impressive.)
Doorways, hallways, and windows are prominent symbolic fixtures throughout “Passion”. For examples, think of the opening scene, the Scoobies’ conversation about how to deal with Angelus, Buffy excluding Angel from her home, Drusilla at the magic shop, Jenny’s death scene, the Scoobies at Giles’ place, etc., which all nicely tie back into the themes of invitation and exclusion. When Jenny is trying to flee from Angelus she runs around the halls of Sunnydale High and into all kinds of doors: some locked, some stuck, and some open, but the only open doors and hallways seem to be a pathway leading to death. This is, of course, an allegory for our choices in life, and the choices the characters have made that have led them to this pivotal moment.
Each important decision we make, particularly concerning love, can open and close certain doors to our future. With some decisions, there’s no going back; with others, there’s no getting out. If Jenny had been up front with Buffy and Giles from the start, the loss of Angel’s soul might have been avoided and she might still be alive after “Passion”. Jenny made a choice and finds that the doors that lead to safety are now all closed. It’s vital we do our best to make smart choices in life, because the consequences just aren’t worth a moment of blind passion, whether in love or in vengeance, no matter how much the Angelus’ of the world might try to convince us otherwise.
I’m really going to miss Jenny, I have to say. While not the most complex character, I appreciated just how well she meshed with and played off of Giles. In the end, Jenny was doing her best to make up for her mistakes to Buffy and Giles, which sets a good example for Buffy to follow. The reconciliation scene between Jenny and Giles where she lets it spill that she loves him is nicely played by both actors. Even after Jenny’s admission, Giles still places Buffy ahead of his own desires and keeps his distance from Jenny. When she asks how to make it right with him, Giles kindly (and correctly) states that he understands where she’s coming from but that it’s not him she needs to make it right with: it’s Buffy. To Jenny’s credit, that’s precisely what she’s doing by translating the curse that was originally forced onto Angelus. Also, good on her for creating a backup of the translation! Always create a backup of important information, kids. 😉
Before Jenny even gets the chance to remedy the situation, Buffy approaches her and pays Giles back for the sacrifices he’s made regarding Jenny. At first Buffy can’t quite bring herself to let go of what happened, telling Jenny to “keep it up” re feeling bad — a suitably adolescent thing to say — but she quickly catches herself being selfish. Buffy may not be warm and fuzzy towards Jenny still, but she cares about Giles too much to selfishly let her anger and hurt stop him from a shot at companionship, so she gives Jenny enough forgiveness to open the path of reconnection with Giles. This side of Buffy — one of the best — will be badly needed in the coming episodes. If anything, Buffy forgiving Jenny for her involvement in Angel’s transformation may just be the very growth that keeps her alive in “I Only Have Eyes for You” [2×19].
The selfless behavior on display here is one of the aspects I love most about the characters of Buffy. Within the span of about ten minutes of screen time we see Giles sacrifice companionship for his charge, Jenny sacrifice time and the loyalty to her people for Buffy, and Buffy sacrifice anger, pain, and resentment for the benefit of Giles. Even when we fail to live up to our potential and make poor choices in life, forgiveness and sacrifice are always available to begin the process of healing those wounds. This should be expected from the adults, but it’s a huge step of maturation for Buffy, and I’m thrilled to see it! Underneath all their flaws, these characters are ultimately really good people.
I have to take a moment to discuss just how effective the horror movie staging is throughout “Passion”. The episode starts off on edge, sure, but it manages to continue to accrue tension and fear as it progresses. I’ve already discussed the brilliant opening scene, but take the scene where Willow is in her room talking to Buffy over the phone. In that conversation Willow says that she agrees with the ‘ignore the problem’ approach regarding Angelus that Giles suggested earlier. Well… until she finds all of her fish dead in an envelope left by Angelus! Take note of how the camera slowly pans around behind the fish tank as Willow opens the envelope. When the camera settles, the frame has us looking through an empty tank, thus signifying what has happened right before Willow realizes it by pulling out all the stringed fish. This refrain will be repeated to devastating effect when Giles returns home later in the episode.
The Angelus/Joyce scene in front of Buffy’s house is also incredibly creepy. What makes the entire scene work so well are the little things, such as how Angelus’ words seem to speed up with an increased urgency the more he talks and the way in which he manically tries to pick up Joyce’s spilled fruit but totally fails at getting them back in the grocery bag. Angelus is going through the motions of helping, but really doesn’t care, just like he was feigning comfort to a sleeping Buffy at the beginning of the episode. All that tension and concern we have is then used by Angelus to crudely drop the bombshell of his night of passion with Buffy right onto Joyce. Angelus’ rant about how he “needs” Buffy may be a bit theatrical, but it’s actually not very far off from how he actually feels; Angelus is now both running wild and completely obsessed with Buffy.
The ensuing scene between Buffy and Joyce about ‘the sex’ is interesting. Joyce, being her usual self, is in reaction mode to a situation that’s already happened. I understand Joyce’s frustration that Buffy didn’t mention she had a boyfriend, but it’s up to her to stay involved in Buffy’s life. Considering Buffy’s strange hours and odd behavior patterns, Joyce has all the clues she needs to know that something isn’t quite right here. Buffy’s comment in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” [2×16] about Joyce’s ability to repress things is incredibly accurate.
Everything Joyce says to Buffy about showing better judgment and making mistakes sounds right, but how can Buffy show better judgment when her parents haven’t displayed what that even looks like in their own relationship and lives? Children need their parents to be consistent role models growing up. Without a positive example being set within the household, mistakes like this are almost certainly going to happen. I honestly feel that Joyce shares some of the blame for this whole situation. Joyce does care about Buffy, I just don’t think she cares as much as other parts of her life, like the gallery.
To swing back to Angelus, I think it’s clear that his intent (thus far) is not to kill Buffy. He wants to do to her what he did to Drusilla — drive her to insanity. Also like Drusilla, only then would he either turn her into a vampire or kill her. Buffy even brings up Drusilla when talking about Angelus’ attack tactics. Giles tries to offer comfort, but all he ends up doing is jinxing himself in the worst way imaginable by telling Buffy, “I know how hard this is for you… alright, I don’t! But as the Slayer you don’t the luxury of being a slave to your passions. You mustn’t let Angel get to you, no matter how provocative his behavior may become.” It turns out Buffy’s response is spot on: that’s easy for him to say (so far)! Poor Giles is about to be tested by his own advice.
“Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief.” – Angelus
Angelus’ passion for psychological destruction is truly unmatched. As shocking and unexpected as Jenny’s murder is, “Passion” almost immediately tops itself with another crackerjack scene: Giles finding Jenny’s dead body laid out on his bed. Within the span of just one episode we get one of the creepiest scenes in TV history (the opening scene in Buffy’s bedroom) and one of the most torturous/painful ones, at least as far as I’m concerned. Everything is staged so despairingly perfect by Angelus to deliver the heaviest possible blow to Giles.
The opera music Angelus sets up in the background — Puccini’s romantic “La Bohème”, a story of a couple’s, Rodolfo and Mimi, innocent passion and first love — is masterfully timed to Giles’ emotional beats throughout this powerhouse scene. The fact that Giles even has this in his collection gives us some added insight into who he is; he clearly has a very passionate, romantic side to him, even if it’s often intellectualized and concealed. I think this is quite consistent with what we’ve learned about Giles so far.
When Giles first approaches his door he pauses to notice the rose attached to it, hearing the music faintly playing on the other side. Immediately he is set up to believe this will be a doorway to a beautiful evening with Jenny, and perhaps a new start to a beautiful future, but sometimes — even if we choose well — life throws us a twist that is entirely out of our control. The warm smile that passes through Giles as he smells the rose — remember that Angelus gave Buffy a box of roses for Valentine’s Day with a note saying “soon” — has the opposite reaction to the viewer: a growing sorrow in our gut.
When Giles enters his home, he sees a note alongside a chilled bottle of wine. The opera in the background translates to Mimi saying, “I dare not say what I’d like,” to which Rodolfo responds, “Tell me.” Giles then opens the note: “Upstairs”, it reads. Chilling. The music then suddenly swells into the ultra-romantic, thus leading Giles up the rose littered stairs towards his bedroom. Rodolfo’s singing in the background, “Oh lovely girl, oh sweet face / Bathed in the soft moonlight / I see you in a dream / I’d dream forever!” The music builds as Giles reaches his bedroom to find Jenny laying there, waiting for him… but dead. The opera segment reaches its climax at the precise moment of maximum pain. “Ah! Love, you rule alone!,” Mimi sings. Angelus may be incredibly sadistic and deadly, but he’s creative in equal measure. Incredible.
It should be noted that this opera has numerous parallels to the Buffy/Angel relationship, yet Angelus ensures that the connections run even deeper: “La Bohème” ends with Mimi’s death! Per a synopsis of the final act: “Rodolfo falls across Mimi’s lifeless body with despairing cries and sobs of grief.” The Buffy/Angel relationship ended because the Angel she knew had effectively “died”, Giles/Jenny has now ended because Jenny has been killed, and I’m sure Angelus plans the final act of all of this to be the death of Buffy herself, likely as a vampire (remember one of Buffy’s “Nightmares” [1×10]?). This is simply brilliant storytelling here, and everything comes together: writing, directing, editing, music, acting… the works.
This situation is awful enough for Giles to deal with, yet it’s even worse because of his earlier words to Buffy about not letting Angelus provoke them into being a slave to their passions. (And remember his words in “Innocence” [2×14]? “The coming months are going to be hard, I suspect on all of us.”) In a time of extreme anger and pain, even Giles becomes susceptible to a passionate rage in response to this level of cruelty, which was about the only thing Angelus could do that would make him abandon his commitment to Buffy.
By going after Angelus alone Giles puts everything he’s worked for — all that prior restraint and sacrifice — at risk over a moment of white hot, passionate vengeance. All it takes is one mistake to get someone (or yourself) hurt or killed in the Buffyverse, which is simply a more extreme parallel to our world. This is also an important lesson: consequences don’t care if you’ve shown control in the past. A mistake is a mistake, and it’s a constant battle to stay disciplined and make the right choice, particularly during harrowing circumstances. “There’s only one problem with Giles in a revenge scenario,” Buffy says. “It’s gonna get him killed.” Buffy will rightfully tell him that “You can’t leave me! I can’t do this alone.” At this point in her life, she most certainly cannot — she’s not an adult yet.
Seeing Angelus in pure ecstasy as he watches Buffy and Willow crushed by the news of Jenny’s death instills this torturous mixture of deep pain, enormous sorrow, and furious anger in me — I certainly empathize with Giles’ rage. If everyone, both viewer and characters alike, weren’t sure before, this is a definitive ‘Angelus Must Die’ moment. The pounding beats from the beginning of the episode begin to intertwine with the Giles and Jenny theme song in this scene, thus bringing Buffy, Giles, and Angelus together into a cruel symphonic marriage. This is absolutely sublime work from Christophe Beck that twists my heart up in all kinds of knots.
Remember back in “Lie to Me” [2×07] when the camera was positioned outside of Buffy’s house as Buffy and Angel had an important conversation? Remember how it was about handling the truth and the fact that Angel had lied to her about his whereabouts and his past? The window had a transparent curtain in between it and the camera, which partially obscured the people inside the house, thus emphasizing how the lines between good and evil were beginning to become fuzzier to Buffy in adolescence. Well that curtain — in a very similar camera shot — returns during this scene, only now Angel is outside the house looking in, taking pleasure at Buffy’s suffering. That scene in “Lie to Me” [2×07] suddenly feels a lot more important now. There were so many warning signs regarding Angel that Buffy could have heeded. But like all the locked doors blocking Jenny from escape, what’s done is done — there’s no going back.
“It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.” – Angelus
Inviting new people into our lives makes us very vulnerable, and the closer we get to them the more vulnerable we become. There is never a guarantee that our relationships will end well, no matter how careful the choices we make are. At the end of the day it’s worth bringing people into our lives, because they can enrich them as much as they can devastate them. It’s all about being careful who to trust. “I love you. I don’t know if I trust you,” Buffy tells Angel in “Lie to Me” [2×07]. Angel’s response has become haunting: “Maybe you shouldn’t do either.”
Angelus was right about one thing: without passion, we’d be truly dead, just like he is. Ultimately, death — whether literal or figurative — is the only guaranteed protection from the risks of living with passion, and that’s obviously not a healthy option. A life without passion, in its myriad of forms, while theoretically safer, isn’t much of a life at all. That doesn’t mean we can’t protect ourselves by minimizing risk though, and that’s where trust comes in — trust in others and in ourselves; with trust, passion can be a truly beautiful thing, but without trust, it can equally overwhelm us and burn down everything we’ve worked so hard to build. As the spirit guide will tell Buffy in Season 5, “Love, give, forgive. Risk the pain, it is your nature.” It is in all our natures. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be smart about it by expressing our passion with eyes, and mind, wide open.
The lessons of “Phases” [2×15] (maintaining control) and “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” [2×16] (not allowing love to turn into obsession) seem all that much more powerful now, wouldn’t you say? Season 2 is incredible at times, particularly in the way it continues to build on the themes established in prior episodes. “Passion” is the ultimate reminder of why I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer so very much, and is perhaps its very best episode — I’m eager to entertain that conversation.
“Passion” goes beyond doing everything “right” and instead achieves a kind of operatic status in its own right, which is particularly fitting in this romantic, intimate, and operatic second season. It is one of those perfect examples of the kind of television that Critically Touched covets by developing characters, being extremely well-written, having impressive depth, packing an emotional wallop, and working hard to earn every single moment of its incredibly dark tone. Amazingly, Season 2 isn’t even close to finished yet with the sparkling “I Only Have Eyes for You” [2×19] and character defining finale “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] and “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] right around the corner.
Buffy says, “I’m sorry I couldn’t kill him for you… for her… when I had the chance. I wasn’t ready. But I think I finally am. I can’t hold on to the past anymore.” We’ll find out soon.
“I’ll say it, replay it, and try tomorrow / I’ll say it, replay it, and live with sorrow … You’d think I learn by now / There’s never an easy way / I get through somehow / I’m on my knees to pray … I’ll admit I’m wrong / But I’m getting on track / I’ve been here too long / I’m under attack.” – “Never an Easy Way” (Morcheeba) kicks off “Passion” by contributing some very resonant Buffy insight at the Bronze
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ The way Angelus intensely looks at Buffy in the crowd at the Bronze is quite reminiscent to the look on Spike’s face when he first laid eyes on her in “School Hard” [2×03]. 😉
+ Angelus appears to still be wearing his Claddagh ring.
+ Buffy’s confused and almost perturbed expression when Jonathan enters the library to actually check out a book.
+ Joyce telling Buffy she’s read “all the parenting books.” Maybe too many, it seems. Joyce should be spending less time reading parenting books and more time actually talking to her about important issues before they happen.
+ Drusilla names her new puppy Sunshine. Haha.
+ The escalation of Spike and Angelus’ hostilities. This is wonderful background development.
+ It’s very fitting that Jenny ends up using a computer program to translate an ancient text. It just thematically meshes with the show and the Buffy character so well.
+ Willow referencing Xander’s Snoopy Dance, which we’ll get to see in “The Replacement” [5×03]. 🙂
+ Excellent lighting and framing in the scene where Drusilla visits the magic shop owner. Drusilla looks like an apparition standing in that doorway with the moonlight pouring in from behind her. Chilling.
+ Xander wanting “credit” for saying that Angel was a bad seed numerous times before. This is just such a selfish — yet very Xander — thing to say. The timing is particularly horrid. Moments like these show the worst side of Xander.
+ Spike realizing he’d prefer to have soulful Angel back now — Angelus is simply too unstable and obsessive toward Buffy. Spike then lets Giles get his licks in on Angelus, which is just great.
+ Even the villains can’t escape a jinx by saying, “Don’t worry, roller boy, I’ve got everything under control,” right before Giles lights up the place with fire. Haha.
+ Fabulous fight choreography between Buffy and Angelus; stunning and seamless directing in one of the best fight sequences they ever did.
– My only quibble with “Passion” is when Buffy punches Giles and hugs him outside the factory. That moment was cut away from way too soon, which began dispersing some powerful emotions that I wasn’t ready to let go of yet.
* The magic shop owner mentioning he sold the Orb of Thesula as “new age paperweights last year.” In “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] we find out that Giles was the buyer!