[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 12/15/1998]
It’s a ‘Buffy’ Christmas and with it comes loads of pain, with the exception of the ending. Written and directed by Whedon himself, this episode ends with an surprisingly contrived happy ending involving a freak snow storm. For some equally contrived reason, though, I’m willing to let that huge complaint go. This is because it is the only episode in the entire series that ends this wildly warm. I never knew Whedon had this kind of warmth in him! Putting aside that anomaly, I can safely say that the rest of the episode is pretty damn good. One scene in particular, though, got me all sad. That’s when Joyce and Buffy chat about inviting Faith over for Christmas dinner. The characters are so happy here, and it’s so sad because I know what they’re all going to have to go through over the next few years.
I’ve got a handful of complaints, but nothing all that critical. Angel dreams of his vicious past right as he wakes up. He then goes outside to take a stroll and bumps into Buffy sporting a hair style that does not bring our her better qualities. Oh well, I love her anyway. While talking to Buffy, Angel sees the same Irish man from his dream behind her. Okay, so The First is orchestrating all of this, but it feels like awkward timing. The First should have appeared to Angel a ways after the opening credits. Another complaint I have is that later we find out that Buffy is appearing inside Angel’s dreams. Unfortunately, how or why this is happening is never explained. It appears like this is only happening to the two of them so they can have their, admittedly sensual, dream sex later on (which, by the way, also has some creepy foreshadowing at the end of it).
So now we get to the great material. There are a few really powerful scenes woven into the episode. The first being Oz and Willow’s sexual confrontation at Willow’s house. It begins at the school when Oz decides to give Willow another shot at their relationship. That leads to the home scene which is just golden television. Taking Buffy’s advice to show Oz that “he comes first,” Willow decides to offer herself sexually to Oz as proof of that. Our awesome man Oz, however, isn’t ready to make love with Willow yet. It’s really refreshing to see Oz’s maturity about sex. He wonderfully tells her, “you look great. You know, and, and you got the Barry working for you, and, and it’s all… good. But when it happens… I want it to be because we both need it to for the same reason. You don’t have to prove anything to me.”
The second big scene is when Angel pays a visit to Giles’ home for answers about why he’s back on Earth. Giles pulls out a crossbow and invites him in. As they’re talking, a manifestation of Jenny Calendar appears behind Giles as he’s talking. This puts Angel over the edge and he storms out of the house. Giles’ response to this entire sequence of events was also perfect. Ultimately, the idea of having Angel haunted and needing to overcome his greatest sins, on Christmas no less, is entirely relevant and beautiful. It’s also great that we finally know why Angel is back from Hell.
Scene number three, and ultimately the most important, is the big conversation between Angel and Buffy on the hilltop. Angel’s up there to commit suicide via sunlight and Buffy is passionately trying to convince him not to. He realizes that he’s weak and that part of him wants to “take comfort” in Buffy even though he knows it would cost him his soul. Buffy ends up giving Angel the fuel he needs to be able to make a difference in the world. She says, “You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it’s because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster.” She then tells him, “Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day.” This entire dialog exchange is literally the mission statement of the spin-off show Angel. That makes this in some ways the actual pilot episode for that show! In the final scene of AtS (“Not Fade Away”), Angel says “lets get to work,” swipes his sword, and then it cuts to credits. Stength is about fighting every day.
This is a very touching and powerful episode with a few small problems and a slightly slow pace. Buffy’s words of strength and the freak snow storm really help push the Christmas theme. The three huge scenes, though, completely blow away any negative feelings I have. I hadn’t planned on giving this one a big score, but upon analysis I realize this is a really good outing. A solid episode from Joss Whedon.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Joyce not wanting Giles over for the Christmas dinner because of their awkward situation.
+ Faith knowing Buffy’s mom sent her to make the invite, which makes Buffy feel bad and kind of want Faith to join them.
+ The quick flashback to when Angel was human and quite the partier. Ultimately, though, he was an innocent individual who never had a real chance.
+ Nice to see Willie again.
– I’ve simply had enough of the line “watch your back.” It’s caused me immense agitation, and quite possibly a rash.
– Why would The First even tell Buffy that Angel would be dead by sunrise? Why not tell her after he’s already dead?
* It’s established that Xander’s family have a lot of fights and alcohol problems. This is one of the reasons he decides to move out of his parents’ basement in “The Replacement” [5×03] .
* In Angel and Buffy’s shared erotic dream, Angel bites and drinks her. The First says later on in the episode, “you will drink her.” This foreshadowing comes to pass in “Graduation Day Pt. 2” [3×22] .
* The First and its minions, the Bringers and Caleb, become the main villains of S7.