[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 09/29/1998]
And S3 begins! I have very mixed feelings about this episode. What I really wanted to see here was a dark and gritty tale about Buffy’s isolation. I wanted to see her slowly fix the emotional issues that were plaguing her from the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] . I wanted this to last at least three episodes and be entirely focused on Buffy. Well, it’s pretty obvious I didn’t get what I wanted at all with this, but that isn’t to say it’s no good. On the contrary, it’s a pretty solid episode with moments of genuine insight. It’s just really not what I was looking for.
The episode begins with an amusing scene back in Sunnydale where the remaining Scoobies are attempting to keep the vampire population down and hoping that Buffy returns. Oz’s failed thrown stake and subsequent “that never works” always cracks me up. My problem with this scene, along with all the scenes taking place back in Sunnydale, is that they, while amusing, feel like a lightweight distraction from what I really want to see: a runaway Buffy. That story is simply too important to combine it with Cordelia and Xander worrying about their hair style.
Anyway, I loved Buffy’s dream with Angel on the beach. It shows a vision of all she truly wanted since becoming the Slayer: a nice normal boyfriend who she could spend a romantic evening on the beach with. “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01] shows her actually having a brief moment like this with Riley before everything quickly turns dark and rains them away. She then wakes up and we find out that she’s been impressively taking care of herself in the real world. This makes it obvious that she isn’t running away from ‘responsibility’ but rather just from being the Slayer. We can tell, though, that even through the depression Buffy is not fully hardened yet. She has taken the first step into adulthood but is still a young girl inside that basically just wants to be held. We find out later that this away-from-home experience made her realize for the first time that when it comes to Slaying she will always be alone; no one else can ever share that burder with her (until the beautiful end of the series).
One of the few scenes in Sunnydale I thought was meaningful is the Joyce and Giles conversation. She blames him entirely for being the cause of Buffy’s disappearance. They have a really important exchange which brings out the focus of this entire episode: identity. Joyce says, “I blame you. You’ve been this huge influence on her, guiding her. You had this whole relationship with her behind my back. I feel like you’ve taken her away from me.” Giles responds, “I didn’t make Buffy who she is.” Joyce answers, “And who exactly is she?”
During the summer, alone, Buffy has been thinking that she has two distinct parts to her being: the Slayer half and the human half. After the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] she wanted to completely rid herself of the Slayer ‘half.’ The problem with this, and what she ultimately realizes through helping the helpless Lily, is that she isn’t two distinct halves. She is one whole which is evenly blended between the Slayer and the human. There is no separating the two. My answer to Joyce’s question is that Buffy is a unique individual who posesses great strength and empathy, neither of which are completely related with the fact she is the Slayer. Being the Slayer amplifies her strength, but as we saw in a flashback during “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] , Buffy possessed great inner strength before even knowing what being the Slayer meant.
The first moment when Buffy realizes that being the Slayer is part of her no matter what is when she decides to help Lily. Lily tells her she doesn’t know what to do; she doesn’t know how to exist without relying on others. As much as I really wanted a dark and gritty Buffy story, the theme of identity works pretty well. When caputured, the demon Ken tells the two girls, “What is Hell but the total absence of hope? The substance, the tactile proof of despair.” We find out quickly that Lily is at the point of this dispair, but Buffy is certainly not. A guard walks up to the new group of slaves, asking them who they are. They must reply with, “I am no one” or receive a beating. When Buffy’s turn comes she puts on a perky grin and completely regains her identity by responding, “I’m Buffy. The Vampire Slayer. And you are…?” This is a fantastic “I’m back!” moment and was well earned. Also, as a bonus we get a satisfying extended fight sequence where Buffy rips apart hoards of demon guards.
The final scene in Buffy’s apartment with Lily is very intriguing. Lily gains confidence from her experience with Buffy and wants to ‘become’ her now previous persona, Anne. Lily still hasn’t found herself yet, like Buffy hadn’t while being Anne. But adopting the Anne persona makes her feel like something still with hope; someone who underneath the isolation has a lot of power and self motivation. While being Anne was a step backwards for Buffy, it proves to be a step up for Lily. This is a truly hopeful and heartwarming ending. It’s also great knowing that ‘Anne’ will become a useful person in society when she appears on AtS.
I wanted an extended dark and gritty tale and I got something different. Since the writers took the lighter route I’m glad they had Buffy home at the end of the episode. The darker route I wanted would have warranted multiple episodes though. Overall this is a very good episode that misses the mark in a few places.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Good to see Cordelia has kept her development from last season. She now openly talks kindly to Willow.
+ Buffy all alone in her apartment, completely depressed.
+ Giles searching all over the state for Buffy.
+ Buffy splashing Lily with a dose of reality about the death of Ricky.
+ Buffy researches the problem even though Lily left and isn’t bugging her anymore.
+ The writers poking fun at the Xander and Cordelia relationship with the corny romantic swell kiss again.
+ Lily gaining enough confidence to push Ken off the ledge.
+ Buffy and her mother’s heartfelt reunion hug.
– Too much “I’m sad” music.
– The homage to the homeless people is obvious and overdone. I got the point without needing to see this scene.
* When things gets bad for Buffy she tries to run away from it, one way or another. In S2’s “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] she leaves Sunnydale and tries to abandon her life as the Slayer. During S5 she begins to lose everything and simply cannot deal with it anymore. She knows from her experience in this episode that running won’t help, so she chooses the life of another over her own and sacrifices herself to escape being the Slayer anymore in “The Gift” [5×22] .
* Cordelia and Xander finding out they have nothing to say to each other when they meet for the first time after summer. This is a little reminder of why these two won’t be staying together for very much longer.