Sunday, October 15, 2006

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 2 Review


US Airdate on the WB: September 15th 1997-May 19th 1998.

Hitting the second season of the deadly Sunnydale, Buffy finds almost dying a tough experience. Sadly for her, that’s nothing compared to the dangers of Spike and Drusilla, Career Week at school, a potential stepfather from hell, the death of a pivotal ally and the horror of her first time resulting in a frightening transformation from the love of her life.

Having Sex Reveals That All Men Are Evil – Season Two is the first of many turning points for Buffy, both the character and the series itself. For one, it’s from here onwards that the series goes from an enjoyable supernatural romp to a series where the meaning “life or death” situations are literally redefined. It’s the season (of which there will be many) where the characters are put through the emotional gamut time and time again. Funnily enough, it’s also the season when I stopped being a casual viewer and became an obsessive. Misery love pain, eh? Well I’m not a misery guts but I love my drama dark, meaty and raw and for a series with a large teen following, Buffy would more than satisfy that appetite.

Highly regarded as the best season of the show’s entire run, Season Two opens with the superb “When She Was Bad” where our beloved heroine doesn’t take well the fact that she nearly died last summer so she behaves like so much of a bitch that Cordelia of all people tells her to get over her pain. This is excellent advice and is only really taken into consideration when Giles, Willow and Jenny are to be used as a sacrifice to resurrect The Master and Xander rips Buffy a new one of her attitude. Post Traumatic Stress aside, Buffy snaps out of her funk and rescues her pals and apologises to Angel. So all is well that ends well for now, right?

Um not really because for a second year in a role our main big baddies happen to be vampires and the Cockney punk rock duo of Spike and Drusilla does live up to the promise of more trouble. They’re really here for the Festival of St Vigeous where their vampire powers are at their height but Spike loves the idea of messing with Buffy and proceeds to attack her at school during Parent/Teacher night. Spike is a cocky so and so sired by his insane lover Drusilla who in turn was sired by Angelus, giving them the nice tie into Sunnydale that helps heighten their ongoing plots in both the season and the remainder of the series.

Debuting in “School Hard”, another classic episode was only the tip of the Spike and Drusilla iceberg and these two continues to wreck havoc whether it was trying to kill a vulnerable slayer “Halloween” or “Lie To Me” or abducting Angel in “What’s My Line Parts 1 and 2” where his blood could restore Drusilla, Marti Noxon made her scripting debut or Buffy learned that her brief death meant the activation of another slayer – the uptight and duty bound Kendra, Joss Whedon were not only bringing baddies to be reckoned with but also villains of the epic scale to rival movies. The first half of the season also deserves the credit of the beautiful Giles and Jenny romance, pairing the sparring duo of Xander and Cordelia and debuting monosyllabic musician Oz. Hey, if Xander and Giles can get laid, so should Willow and most people will agree that this is Seth Green’s best role to date in his career.

The second half however only improves on the opening half after we got through a clever analogy of the stepfather from hell (who’s a robot and played by John Ritter no less) in “Ted” and the incredibly banal “Bad Eggs”.

The moment that captured the ratings was the 17th birthday from hell for Buffy when not only Spike and Drusilla raised a beast called The Judge that could exterminate humanity but sex with Angel turned him back into the former killing machine known as Angelus. We’ve also had boyfriends who are bastards after giving it up but Angelus’ mission to utterly destroy is ever bit as captivating as it’s disturbing. “Surprise” and “Innocence” are the defining moments in any television series but there is the exact moment that also culturally thrust Buffy into the mainstream. The stunning two parter also brought pain for Giles when Jenny was revealed to be a part of the gypsy tribe that was supposed to prevent Angelus from ever coming back. It’s just too bad for her and everyone else that her silence and attempts of redemption by finding a way to re soul Angelus results in a horrifically violent death in the unforgettable “Passion”. This particular event is also sandwiched in between Willow discovering Oz is a werewolf and Xander learning the hard way that having wanting to jump your bones isn’t always a good thing.

The final five episodes of the season continue the consistence quite well as Buffy tries not to let her psycho ex-lover get the better while dealing with an asshole of a principal that is Snyder. A tale of unrequited love gone wrong dominates “I Only Have Eyes For You” and manages to thrash the bogey man themed “Killed By Death” and the much maligned “Go Fish” (which debuted second pivotal staff writer David Fury). Someone really should’ve thought the Creature From The Black Lagoon tribute a lot better than the mess we got here.

The second season ends on a truly excellent but heartbreaking note with the triumphant “Becoming Parts 1 and 2”. If this didn’t have you glued to your seat and the hankies at the ready, then nothing would. With Willow badly injured, Kendra murdered, Buffy framed for said murder, Snyder revealing his true hatred for the Slayer, Giles kidnapped, the fallout Buffy suffered from telling the na├»ve Joyce about who she really was and the ultimate fight to the death between Buffy and Angelus as he opened Acathla and planned to send the world to hell, the pain came big time when Willow restored Angel’s soul and Buffy still had to send the love of her life to hell to save humanity. Not dealing with this, Buffy skips town and the Scoobies are left to their own devices. It’s not the most positive way to end a drama fuelled second season but it’s certainly keeps with the brilliance that this whole season constantly throws at you. I know I was literally counting the moments for Season Three after the last two episodes were finished. Needless to say, I wasn’t alone.

DVD EXTRAS: Like with many a series, every season of Buffy improves on the DVD and extras scale and the season is served with four interesting commentaries as David Greenwalt has plenty to say on his directorial debut with “Reptile Boy” and Marti Noxon isn’t shy in talking about the series darker side sexually with her anecdotes on “What’s My Line Parts 1 and 2”. Similarly Joss Whedon has high praise on the series defining “Innocence” but why there aren’t commentaries for “Passion” and “Becoming Parts 1 and 2” beggars’ belief. Other highlights in this generous helping the usual scripts and the fun and lengthy features on the shows design (“Designing Buffy”), monsters (“Beauty And The Beasts”), as well as prosthetics (“A Buffy Bestiary”). Many of these have interviews and brief comments from regular cast and crew, which despite a notable absence from Sarah Michelle Gellar; you do have surreal moment of listening to James Marsters in his Californian accent and learn how the teeth on the vampires are done. If that doesn’t float your boat there are some US trailers for certain episodes of Season Two and new cast biographies but honestly, I think there is a lot here for DVD lovers to chow down on.

EPISODE RATING FROM 1 TO 10:

2x01: When She Was Bad = 9/10, 2x02: Some Assembly Required = 6/10,
2x03: School Hard = 9/10, 2x04: Inca Mummy Girl =5/10,
2x05: Reptile Boy = 7/10, 2x06: Halloween = 8/10,
2x07: Lie To Me = 9/10, 2x08: The Dark Age =6/10,
2x09: What’s My Line Part 1= 8/10, 2x10: What’s My Line Part 2=9/10,
2x11: Ted = 7/10, 2x12: Bad Eggs = 4/10,
2x13: Surprise =10/10, 2x14: Innocence =10/10,
2x15: Phases = 7/10, 2x16: Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered = 8/10,
2x17: Passion = 10/10, 2x18: Killed By Death =7/10,
2x19: I Only Have Eyes For You = 9/10, 2x20: Go Fish = 4/10,
2x21: Becoming Part 1 = 10/10, 2x22: Becoming Part 2 = 10/10.

Season Two is both available on VHS and DVD.

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