[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 05/19/1998]
ANGELUS: No weapons… no friends… no hope. Take all that away… and what’s left?
“Becoming Pt. 2” has just about everything a person could want in an episode of television. It’s got stakes; it’s got drama; it’s got depth; it’s got heart; it’s hilarious; it’s got massive character growth. The few flaws at work here — Whistler being an overly obvious exposition machine and the slightly over-the-top plot — are minor footnotes in the presence of everything the episode gets right. Beyond just being wonderfully balanced, this ends up being one of the most pivotal events in Buffy’s youth — one that has lasting effects on her friendships and relationships for years to come.
Where “Becoming Pt. 1” was mostly focused on Angel’s backstory, “Becoming Pt. 2” — right from the start — shifts our focus back to Buffy, with the entire episode barely ever cutting away from her point of view. Unlike Angel, who’s story of ‘becoming’ has mostly already happened, we’re witnessing Buffy’s story unfolding right now. In fact, this is what “Becoming Pt. 2” is all about. Branching off its namesake, “Becoming Pt. 2” examines the foundation of Buffy’s struggles with loneliness and isolation, bringing things full circle from “When She Was Bad” [2×01]. It also looks at Buffy’s relationships with Joyce, Spike, Angelus, and — in a subtle setup to Season 3 — authority.
“In the end, you’re always by yourself, you’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.” – Whistler
“Becoming Pt. 2” is built to confirm this statement from Whistler. I mean, Buffy is kicked out of her house, kicked out of school, and emotionally kicked out of town! Angelus even taunts her about having everything stripped away. So, is this is final say on the subject? Can you really only rely on or trust yourself in life? From a literal standpoint, I suppose this is probably true, but it presupposes a life of — you guessed it — isolation and loneliness, which is precisely what Buffy will increasingly struggle with over the next several seasons. It is possible though, in practice, to develop relationships that can be counted on.
In adolescence it’s perhaps more important to develop a solid understanding and appreciation of yourself than investing too much in others. After all, how can you share yourself with people, whether in relationships or in the community, if you don’t even know who you are? Any attempt at a deep connection under those circumstances will be superficial at best. That’s precisely the trap Buffy fell into when allowing her idea of who Angel was to consume all of her thoughts, feelings, and aspirations in life. It’s also what led to tragedy and consequences, and is a lesson that Buffy has spent the latter half of Season 2 coming to terms with. This is where having great friendships is extremely valuable.
“Passion” [2×17] explored the dangers of letting other people get really close to you, particularly in love, and how it can leave you vulnerable and deeply hurt. The way to minimize that risk, yet still open your heart, is to know yourself very well and be discerning about who to offer trust to — something that should always be gradually earned over time. The rewards for sharing who you are with someone can be quite fruitful as well, which makes it worth how arduous and painful the journey there can be. That journey is precisely the one Buffy begins in “Becoming Pt. 2”, and she will never so completely lose herself in another person ever again.
The problem with having gone through this trauma is that its scars, combined with a mediocre upbringing, sadly — but not surprisingly — leave Buffy with a hardened heart going forward. This will be felt in her attempts at connection in the coming seasons: namely Scott in Season 3 and Riley in Seasons 4 & 5. In some ways, this might be considered a good thing: consider how it will distance her from others and force more self-reflection. I feel this is ultimately harmful though — humans are social creatures and are not built for endless isolation. No, I think what we need to strive for is not to be hardened, but rather to be guarded. We should always try to keep an open heart, but also protect it like it’s the most precious thing in the world. Being cautious doesn’t mean we have to shut ourselves down. It just means that access to our hearts must be earned.
The trauma of putting everything she was into Angel only to have it ripped away and shoved in her face, not to mention having to unbearably send that object of deep affection to hell, will leave Buffy with an uphill internal battle in the seasons to come. It’s too bad Buffy didn’t heed the warnings, signs, and lessons that were offered in the first half of the season, because there were plenty of them, kicked off by “Some Assembly Required” [2×02]. Avoiding the mistakes other people have already made seems to be taboo in the adolescent world. Adolescents need to realize that being a bit rebellious and being smart (personality-wise) are not mutually exclusive concepts! To be smart in this way is rebellious at that age.
So why are kids making mistakes so often then, some of whom are even quite academically intelligent? Well, for one, it’s a cop-out to argue that it’s just ‘kids being kids’. Not all kids let their obsessions reach dangerous levels. I think that Buffy consistently, yet subtly, points to one of the biggest underlying culprits: broken families and/or bad parenting. Let’s take a moment to consider the family dynamics of the three core kids in Buffy: Buffy, Willow, and Xander.
I’ve already gone into the problems I have with Joyce as a parent, and I’ll have even more to say on her in a bit, but in summary she’s a selfish parent (with Buffy’s dad somehow being much worse) that places her own desires above the needs of her daughter — e.g. the flashback in “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] where we see Buffy’s parents use her as a catalyst for sniping at each other. Willow’s parents are eventually shown to have very little understanding of their daughter, and almost no affection is ever shown to them by Willow after high school. Here in “Becoming Pt. 2”? Well, they’re not even around when Willow gets injured. As for Xander? Well, we haven’t heard much about his family at this point in the series, but we’ll get a much clearer picture of the troubled dynamics over there in Season 3 and Season 4.
In all three cases, the Scoobies’ parents are either absent (Buffy and sometimes Willow), abusive (Xander), or clueless (all of them). The cop from “Ted” [2×11], in nice bit of continuity, actually asks a great question to Joyce: “And you have no idea where your daughter is?” I couldn’t have said it better myself! Joyce’s later explosion in the house, while understandable at a distance and excellently acted by Kristine Sutherland and Sarah Michelle Gellar, is unacceptable when considering the history between these two. Buffy does “need help,”… from her mother, but Joyce is far too clueless for that and even seems open the idea that her daughter could be guilty of murder! I mean, really!
Buffy, all exasperated, asks her mom, “How many times have you washed blood out of my clothing, and you still haven’t figured it out!?” Nope, Buffy, she really hasn’t. The ultimatum given to her is ridiculous, and I think even Joyce recognizes it after Buffy walks out. This is typical of Joyce though, only caring about what’s going on after the crisis has already happened, if not repressing it entirely. Also, when you have such a weak connection with your child that you have to threaten kicking them out of the house to communicate with them, that generally reflects far worse on the parent than the child. It’s never a good sign when the child is acting more selfless than the parent is, but this is sadly often the case when comparing these two.
“You got one more thing” left to lose, Whistler tells Buffy. Yep: Angelus can finish the job by killing a defeated Buffy. Thankfully Buffy is stronger than that! She must take that piece of her identity lost to Angel back from him, and that she does. This is why her response to Angelus’ “no friends… no hope” taunt is nothing short of spectacular, as is their entire sword fight. When everything else gets stripped away, you’ve got to be able to have a foundation of strength and self-awareness to lean on or you will wither away — just like Angel did in the New York flashback (“Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21]).
In what is now considered classic Whedon form, Buffy gets Angel back right before she has to send him to hell. This is not only tragic, but it proves to be a wonderful bookend for a season about the dangers of adolescent love. By working through the consequences of falling into this trap, Buffy can now get back on the path to adulthood, but not without a whole lot of pain. Aren’t those finals scenes, from the end of the fight to the bus ride out of town, quite the emotional wallop? Sarah Michelle Gellar’s reaction shots after impaling Angel into hell, repeating what Darla said to him — “Close your eyes” — before turning him into a vampire, just slay me; my eyes get watery every time I watch this moment. This is a painful experience for Buffy, no doubt, but a necessary one considering the choices she made and the warnings she ignored. Now it’s time to figure out how to move on.
SPIKE: I want to stop Angel. (Grins) I want to save the world.
BUFFY: Okay. You do remember that you’re a vampire, right?
Buffy and Spike have some intriguing interactions in “Becoming Pt. 2”, which again highlight just how similar they can be and how different they are than most slayers and vampires. All of these scenes — the cop outside, on the front porch, and inside the house — sparkle with fun, insight, and tension. “Hello, cutie,” Spike says to Buffy. “We’re going to have to play this a bit differently,” he adds. I really think that, sometimes, Spike actually does forget he is a vampire!
Seeing the new dynamic they form here will have major ramifications for both of these characters in the future. Consider how quickly Spike is willing to follow Buffy’s orders to get what he desires — for now, that being Drusilla. I mean, all Buffy has to do is clear her throat for Spike to recognize that he can’t kill that cop. This little truce between them is what Drusilla will later say drove Spike away from her! As I mentioned in the “School Hard” [2×03] review, these two are counterparts on their respective sides (good/evil), at least until a soul enters the picture. When that happens — Season 7 — they will have even more to offer each other and will finally be fighting on the same side, for the same reasons.
This shared future is furthered hinted at in the scene where Joyce confronts Buffy on the front porch. When pushed by Joyce to explain what she’s doing with Spike, Buffy offers up this hilarious answer: “I’m, uh… in a band! A rock band with Spike here.” Beyond simply being funny, there’s some insight to be gained in this exchange. Notice how Spike initially tries to say that Buffy plays the triangle until she abruptly overrides him? No, according to Buffy, she’s no triangle player: she plays the drums! And Spike — of course — sings. So, let’s get this straight: Spike sings to the beat of Buffy’s drums? Yep! This is a brilliant bit of writing. Throw in how completely synchronized they are in dusting a vampire that pops out at them and one might think something’s being foreshadowing here… 😉
It’s worth taking a moment to consider why Spike seems to show a complete reversal from his feelings in “Innocence” [2×14], where he went along with Drusilla’s idea to end the world via the Judge — this initially seems like an inconsistency. The way I see it, when the Judge was brought forth Spike had been recently injured and was wheelchair bound. That’s a recipe for a bored, depressed, and drunk Spike, so why wouldn’t he want to generate some excitement while incapacitated? His brilliant “it’s all right here” speech here in “Becoming Pt. 2” backs up that notion. I get the impression that if Buffy had not destroyed the Judge, Spike would have found a way to have shut him down after he got back on his feet. In light of this, the apparent change of heart works for me — it’s all tied to Spike’s desire to live and be an active presence in the world around him.
“Willow. Uh, she told me to tell you. … Kick his ###.” – Xander lying to Buffy
This one line by Xander has caused quite a bit of controversy for people. Most of it boils down to Xander’s intentions. I have to say, based on what we know of Xander up to this point, that his motivation for lying is predominantly, albeit perhaps not exclusively, steeped in jealousy and the desire to see Angel gone for good. The argument that he withheld information from Buffy to remove any incentive for her to stall Angelus is certainly interesting, but even if true would be both dangerous and insulting to Buffy as a leader — with Giles currently captured — of their little group.
This interpretation would mean that Xander doesn’t trust Buffy to place her duty to the world above her desire to get Angel back. A leader has to be informed of all the variables to formulate a winning plan, and Xander robbed her of that ability. No matter the motive, it was the wrong thing to do. It also shows how little Xander respects and understands Buffy’s role as the Slayer and the sacrifices she has and is willing to make to save the world.
Xander’s opinion of Buffy will come up again in a big way come Season 3 (“Revelations” [3×07]), and this lie will eventually return to kill his argument during a vital debate over Anya in “Selfless” [7×05]. Regardless, Xander’s actions in “Becoming” (the argument and the lie) prove that he’s got a whole lot of maturing left to do — he can leave one frustrated at times (in a good way). Buffy, mistakes and all, looks saintly in comparison right now.
“Tell the Mayor I have good news.” – Principal Snyder
A smaller aspect of “Becoming Pt. 2” that I really appreciated was the subtle setup for the themes and character arcs of Season 3. This is something Season 2 has been quietly laying the groundwork for all season, what with all of Snyder’s suspicious comments and finding out that he knows about the Hellmouth. Here in the finale, though, it’s implied that the Mayor wanted Buffy removed from Sunnydale High School.
Beyond the Mayor tidbits, one of the major themes of Season 3 begins to emerge here as well: Buffy’s relationship with authority. We see this right from the thrilling opening scene, with Snyder jumping on the chance to place blame onto Buffy — something he tried to do often in Season 2. Buffy then resists arrest, attacks a police officer, flees a crime scene, and then spends the rest of the episode evading the law. Snyder and the police aren’t the only authority figure Buffy comes to blows with in “Becoming Pt. 2” either: Joyce also tries to place blame onto Buffy and throws out a successful threat to kick her out of the house. All of these incidents will have increased resonance once we start digging into Season 3.
“Blood. Of course. The blood on my hands must be my own. I am the key that will open up the door. My blood; my life.” – Angelus
A more subtler theme running through all of “Becoming” is the relationship between blood and life. Angelus, and later Whistler, refer to Angelus’ blood as “the key” to opening Acathla, which just so happens to be a portal to a hell dimension. How can they stop the portal once it’s open? Well, that person’s blood must, metaphysically, be stopped — i.e. they have to die, or in Angelus’ case (already dead and all), he has to be sent to hell. Season 5, anyone? Dawn? “Blood is life … ‘Course it’s her blood,” says Spike in “The Gift” [5×22]. Whedon’s consistent use of this language and its underlying thematic meaning ties different parts of this show together in ways both creative and haunting. Incredible!
“Now Leaving Sunnydale. Please come back soon.” – Sunnydale Exit Sign
Well, I for one hope she doesn’t come back too soon, but that’s a discussion for another season (“Anne” [3×01]). As Buffy heads out of Sunnydale wondering what life will throw at her next, we as viewers must come to terms with the end of Season 2. This has been such a fabulous season of television, with highs that reached the stars and lows that kept things respectable. Best of all, the characters all came a long way having experienced their first taste of romantic relationships and the consequences that can quickly develop from them.
I could run through nearly every episode of Season 2 and make a case for its value to the season, starting with “When She Was Bad” [2×01] hauntingly setting the stage for Buffy’s seasonal arc and ending with “Becoming Pt. 2” providing excellent closure to all the themes and character arcs set into motion by earlier episodes in what is certainly the perfect end to an impressive season. This is a season that will forever leave a mark on both the characters and the viewers — well, this viewer, at least. Season 2 is one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen, effortlessly blending multiple genres into a haunting, intimate, and emotionally powerful tapestry of stories.
I bid farewell to Season 2 with a Buffy who has definitely ‘become’ the Slayer, but is making an active choice to suppress it and sink into grief. As Cordelia unknowingly suggests of Buffy, “I ran. I think I made it through three counties before I realized nobody was chasing me.” The role of the Slayer is in no way considered just a job to Buffy anymore, but is now at the core of who she is. To move forward she will have to begin the healing process and rise up again, stronger than ever. Until then, all that’s left is to hear the music.
“The winter here’s cold, and bitter / It’s chilled us to the bone / We haven’t seen the sun for weeks / Too long too far from home / I feel just like I’m sinking / And I claw for solid ground / I’m pulled down by the undertow / I never thought I could feel so low / Oh darkness I feel like letting go / If all of the strength and all of the courage / Come and lift me from this place / I know I can love you much better than this / Full of grace / Full of grace / My love.” – “Full of Grace”, by Sarah McLachlan
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Yay again for Christophe Beck, who always finds creative ways to weave the Buffy/Angel theme song into the tapestry of the episode.
+ Xander forgetting to call Oz re Willow is a bit meta in the sense of Oz having basically disappeared for a bunch of episodes before the finale.
+ Giles being tortured by Angelus isn’t exactly a ‘positive’, per se, but these scenes are quite effective in ramping up tension for the final showdown with Buffy.
+ Buffy defensively eyeing Spike while walking towards her house.
+ Spike and Joyce sitting in the living room, sharing silence together for an uncomfortably large amount of time. Absolutely priceless!
+ Joyce’s “you need help” reaction to the revelation that Buffy’s the Slayer. This continues to add more support for the mental institution backstory we learn about in “Normal Again” [6×17]. As Buffy responds, “I’m not crazy.”
+ Willow’s ‘resolve face’ is adorable.
+ Drusilla making Giles see Jenny is brutal! The Giles/Jenny musical cue being slipped right back into the story makes it even harder. Poor Giles! 😥
+ Drusilla getting lost “in the moment” kissing Giles. Haha.
+ The magic channeling through Willow, just as Giles warned, is a creepy moment. Willow’s got a lot more power in there than it seems.
– Whistler functions well in flashbacks, but I think his presence in the actual events of the episode is an unnecessary distraction. His presence feels a bit awkward and superfluous.
– The speed in which Willow recovers makes the coma scenes in the hospital a bit less effective in retrospect. Xander’s ambiguous “I love you” waking her up comes across as particularly melodramatic.
– The stunt doubles for Buffy and Angel during the sword fight become a bit obvious in brief spurts, but this is honestly only something I noticed after a lot of repeat viewings. It could have been done a bit better, but it’s not a big deal either way.
– Spike choking Drusilla to unconsciousness. I’m sure there’s a way to fanwank it, but on the surface it doesn’t make much sense.
* Principal Snyder implying that the Mayor would think Buffy’s expulsion was “good news.” Yay for Season 3 hints!