Buffy's first season successfully relaunched the concept, banishing memories of the wonky feature film and making its mark as a televisual success. For its second season, Joss Whedon and his creative team – now including Marti Noxon (UnREAL, Dietland) as staff writer and script editor and Howard Gordon (Homeland, Beauty and the Beast) as consulting producer – upped the dramatic and emotional stakes. David Greenwalt, Rob Des Hotel and Dean Batali remained on the series as writer-script editors, with Greenwalt, Whedon and Bruce Seth Green (Knight Rider, Babylon 5) taking on the bulk of the directorial duties. The second season was sharper, funnier and more heart-wrenching. The first season had been a monster mash, and the second continued this approach, covering pretty much all the classic screen monsters who hadn't made it to the first run: werewolves, ghosts, mummies, gillmen and a Frankenstein-type monster all appeared. Only cinematic zombies got left out, and they'd be along the year after.
The season leaned heavily into the series' ongoing themes of responsibility, romance and relationships, introducing major new characters who would steer the future course of the series and playing with their interactions in surprising ways. The earliest hints of a conspiracy, involving Principal Snyder, the town's police and its mysterious, unseen mayor, begun to appear. Buffy's concerns for her future and the emotional toll of her duties were felt more keenly, and the emotional fallout from the season was huge. Most significantly, the season, a full twenty-two episode run, can be easily divided into two halves: before and after Angel loses his soul.
Not that the first season wasn't without its share of fallout. The first episode of the new run, “When She Was Bad,” sees Buffy return after spending summer away (a very uneventful, vampire-free summer in Sunnydale), behaving like a vindictive brat. She plays with Angel and Xander's emotions, is harsh with Willow and Giles, and with Cordelia... well, she and Cordelia give each other as good as they get. Meanwhile, the Anointed One (Andrew Ferchland), the child vampire chosen one, is joined by a new acolyte, the brutal Absolom (Brent Jennings), who plans to raise the Master. Over the course of the episode, and an excellent performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy deals with the trauma of her death and resurrection in the season one finale and prevents the resurrection: quelling her demons, literally and figuratively.
2.2, “Some Assembly Required,” the first script by freelance Ty King, is the series' first stab at the Frankenstein trope, and the first story of the season that touches on an uncomfortable running theme. Several episodes hinge on privileged boys and young men who can get away with anything. A rebuilt deceased footballer (Ingo Neuhaus) is brought back to life by his brother (Angelos Spizzirri) and wannabe modern Prometheus, Eric (Michael Bacall, later a noted screenwriter). At first, they're content with grave-robbing to get parts to build the living dead Daryl his own bride, but the need for a fresh brain leads them to abducting Cordelia to use as their “donor.” (Perhaps a greater influence than Frankenstein itself was the 1990 horror-comedy Frankenhooker.) The theme continues in 2.5, “Reptile Boy,” in which a college fraternity is revealed to owe its members' success to regular sacrifices of young women to a snake demon. Written and directed by Greenwalt, it's a pretty average episode, but its scenes of drugging young women, and a clear intent for worse by one of the frat boys even before the supernatural stuff starts, is an important and powerful look at the rape culture prevalent in American fraternities.
2.20, “Go Fish,” carries this over to the far end of the season, in the first script by David Fury (who'll go on to be a major figure in the future of Buffy and Angel) along with Elin Hampton. This episode sees arrogant, privileged members of the Sunnydale High swim team get away with falsified grades, bullying and predatory behaviour. When it appears that they've been targeted by the cousins of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Scooby Gang's investigations turn up something worse. (Although Cordelia thinks it's “the Creature from The Blue Lagoon.” As Xander points out, that was Brooke Shields.) It's not in the top tier for the season, and the script seems like one writer covered the plot and the other, wittier one the dialogue, but it does have some unsettling undercurrents (excuse the pun). It also boasts some very impressive costume and visual effects work on the monsters, and an early appearance by Wentworth Miller (Prison Break, DC's Legends of Tomorrow).
Season two's greatest contribution to the ongoing story of Buffy is the introduction of a new vampire twosome. Episode 2.3, “School Hard,” introduces Spike and Drusilla, two vampires from Angel's past. What's worse, Angel is directly responsible for these two vicious killers, having turned Drusilla into a vampire in the 19th century (although not before driving her insane), with Dru later turning Spike. (This, admittedly, isn't entirely clear at first, with Spike calling Angel his “sire,” in “School Hard,” which in the Buffyverse usually means the vampire that turned another. Still, he also calls him his “Yoda,” and he's not small and green.)
The two English vampires (albeit with Spike's accent being rather more convincing than Dru's) were never intended to be the new Big Bads of the season, and it was certainly never the plan that Spike would become a recurring character later in the series. Whedon came up with Spike as an antidote to the anguished, romantic vampire type seen in Angel, and the ancient, tradition-bound vampire exemplified by the Master. The punk rock, anarchic vampire, with his Billy Idol hair (actually, Billy Idol stole his look), announces his presence by driving into the “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign, and wastes no time muscling his way in and killing the Anointed One. “From now on, we're going to have a little less ritual and a little more fun round here,” he announces. He's a great creation, but it's the performance by James Marsters that meant Spike would survive his first couple of episodes and stick around for the long game. The actor, having made only minor appearances on stage and screen before this, swaggered onto the scene in his first moments as Spike, charmed his way into the hearts of fans and launched a career as a prolific actor in genre series.
While Spike is brutal and vicious from the outset, he's set apart from other vampires by his clear and heartfelt love for Drusilla. Juliet Landau, daughter of the prolific and beloved actor Martin Landau, previously appeared in films such as Ed Wood and Theodore Rex and had minor genre television appearances before taking on the role of Drusilla. While she never had the same impact as Spike, conceptually Dru is the more interesting character. Initially weak from a mob attack, Dru is mad, psychic and hilariously erratic. Tormented by visions, and later by Angel, she is clearly damaged, but Spike dotes on her. She's exactly how you'd expect a vampiress to look, skeletal and gothic, dancing around the place to music only she can hear.
“School Hard” sees Spike and Dru announce their presence with an attack on Sunnydale High at parent-teacher night, which not only sees Principal Snyder (an endlessly entertaining performance by Armin Shimerman) knuckle down on his campaign to expel Buffy, but makes it clear that he and the other authority figures in the town know exactly what's going on. Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) gets to be pretty awesome defending her daughter, but she's still infuriatingly blind to the truth. Two mid-season episodes explore the increasingly tenuous relationship between Buffy and her mother. 2.11, “Ted,” sees Joyce form a relationship with a new man, to whom Buffy takes an immediate dislike. John Ritter (Three's Company, 8 Simple Rules, IT) is brilliant as the eponymous Ted, all smiles, charm and mini-pizzas on the surface, but a vindictive and violent tyrant underneath. Xander and Willow are won over as quickly as Joyce, but Buffy faces his anger behind closed doors.
“Ted” remains one of the series' best episodes, an unflinching look at domestic abuse and the question of belief. Buffy tries to tell her mother what's happening and she refuses to believe her. When Ted turns violent and Buffy retaliates, losing her control and knocking him down the stairs, Ted breaks his neck and is, seemingly, killed. The consequences of this, both to the relationship between Buffy and Joyce, and Buffy's life going forward, are glimpsed, but it isn't long before Ted returns (turns out he's one of a series of wife-killing robots). While the series probably couldn't have survived such a massive change at this point, it's a shame that Buffy had to be bailed out of the situation by an unlikely sci-fi twist. Buffy's responsibility to her life as Slayer, the increasing difficulty of maintaining a normal life because of it, and the danger she poses to those she cares about, are all major themes of the episode, and excellent though it is, it could have been something really special had it held her to the consequences. But would that have broken the show? Regardless, “Ted” is one of the few genuinely frightening episodes of Buffy, because the horror is so very real and mundane.
It's followed by “Bad Eggs,” which similarly explores the difficult balance Buffy is having between her various responsibilities and the difficult time she's having with her mother, who's struggling to know how to effectively parent Buffy. However, it's far from the level that “Ted” reaches, being a very silly, schlocky monster story. Not that this is a bad thing, though: “Bad Eggs” is a lot of fun. When each of the students is given an egg to teach them about responsibility, it turns out to be the beginning of an invasion plan by a race of body-snatching prehistoric parasites. Worth it if only for Alyson Hannigan being honestly a bit scary as the lead drone of the “bezoar” hive. The drop-in vampires of the week, though, two killer cowboys, are forgettable.
One of the best episodes of the season is 2.7, “Lie to Me.” Written and directed by Whedon, this beautifully put together episode guest stars Jason Behr (Roswell, The Shipping News) as Billy “Ford” Fordham, and old crush of Buffy's from L.A, who's discovered her identity as the Slayer. Charming his way back into her life, he's obviously no good from the off, but it's tantalising watching how it unfolds. Ford manipulates Buffy expertly, allying with Spike and Dru and promising to deliver the Slayer to them in exchange for immortality. Dying from a brain tumour, and seeing eternity as a demon as the better alternative, Ford is a genuinely sympathetic villain, and Behr gives a very strong performance, sharing a palpable chemistry with Gellar. They would be reunited in the 2004 horror remake The Grudge. “Lie to Me” is also notable for introducing Julia Lee (Ophelia Learns to Swim) as vampire wannabe Chanterelle (“It's a mushroom”), who reappeared under different assumed names in both Buffy and Angel.
Either side of “Lie to Me” lies a loose two-part story. 2.6, “Hallowe'en,” introduces Ethan Rayne, played by the sadly missed Robin Sachs (Brideshead Revisited, Ocean's Eleven, and, um, SpongeBob SquarePants). A nefarious figure from Giles's past, Rayne is a chaos worshipper, delighting in causing trouble for the sheer hell of it. Coming to town to have a little fun, Rayne opens a costume shop, casting a curse on the costumes to wreak havoc. Buffy dresses as an elegant British maiden (having become jealous seeing Angel and Dru talking), Xander as a soldier, and Willow, initially as a rock chick, before bottling out and slipping on a bedsheet ghost costume. When the curse is enacted, they each become their costumes – Buffy is a helpless girl with no idea how to look after herself, Xander is an actual soldier (so really quite useful) and Willow is dead (but at least she's a sexy ghost).
“Hallowe'en” is tremendous fun, and starts a few ongoing plot threads. One is that the various monsters and demons don't actually like Hallowe'en, considering it all a bit crass and embarrassing, and prefer to stay in that night (although Spike goes out this time, for the lols). Another is that Xander retains the knowledge and experience of his brief time as a soldier, which sporadically comes up as a minor superpower when the plot requires it. More importantly, we begin to learn about Giles's sordid past as “Ripper,” and finally see his gloves come off.
Giles had been letting the mask slip a little over the early course of the season – unbuttoning his collar, that sort of thing – as he and Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) develop their relationship further. In 2.8, “The Dark Age,” his full backstory is revealed when some old associates from England are killed off. A bodiless demon, Eyghon the Sleepwalker, summoned by Giles and his mates back in the old days, is coming for them all, jumping from body to body and discarding them as it goes. Rayne is naturally drawn into this, trying to pass his share of the curse onto Buffy, but the meat of the episode happens when Eyghon jumps into Jenny's body. The consequences for her relationship with Giles are devastating. The episode features a great performance by Tony Head as Giles begins to unravel, and the eventual resolution for the plot is rather clever.
Giles and Jenny aren't the only ones with a tumultuous romantic relationship this season. In the first episode, we finally see that Xander is beginning to reciprocate Willow's feelings for him, but this goes out the window when Buffy shows up and turns his head again. Not long after, Xander develops a genuine romance with a mysterious foreign exchange student in episode 2.4, “Inca Mummy Girl.” If you can't spot the twist in that story, start over. Former script editors Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer, in their final work for the series, were inspired by the discovery of Momia Juanita (Juanita the Mummy) in 1995, the remarkably well-preserved body of a young girl who had been sacrificed by the Incas in the fifteenth century. Taking the name Ampata (the name of the exchange student she kills early in the episode, and also named for Mount Ampato in the Andes, where Momia Juanita was found), the Inca Mummy Girl is played by Ara Celi, who has virtually vanished from acting now. This is a shame, as this episode shows she is a talented and stunningly beautiful actress. “Ampata” shares a touching but doomed romance with Xander, with some great chemistry between Nicholas Brendan and Ara Celi, and her plight, as the chosen one for her people, mirrors Buffy's wrestling with her destiny. It's a great episode.
There's romance aplenty in the two-part story “What's My Line?” (2.9 and 2.10). Wanting Buffy out of the way while he searches for a way to restore Dru to health, Spike employs the services of an elite order of assassins. They're mostly not all that impressive – a big hulking brute who Buffy dispatches easily, and a killer cop who crashes Sunnydale High's careers fair. However, Norman Pfister (Kelly Connell) has to go down as one of the series' all-time classic monsters. Outwardly a mild-mannered door-to-door cosmetics salesman (who almost meets his match in Cordelia), Pfister is actually a writhing colony of worms, who can split apart into his constituent creepy-crawlies at will. To restore Dru, Spike needs Angel, her sire, and has him abducted and brought to him to be drained of his energies (and tortured for a bit, naturally).
The truly disturbing relationship between Angel and Dru is illustrated here, laden with sexual tension even as Dru taunts Angel with the memories of his tortures of her. A bit more wholesome is the preceding date between Angel and Buffy, a sweet trip to the skating rink (as long as you can overlook the two hundred-year age difference). The relationship between the two is clearly building to a, ahem, climax. The story also introduces Bianca Lawson (Sister, Sister; Rogue; Pretty Little Liars) as Kendra, Buffy's successor as Slayer. Kendra's surprise appearance is the result of Buffy's brief death at the hands of the Master in the previous season's finale, and since Buffy was revived, there are now two Slayers active at once. Kendra is a far more by-the-book, humourless character than Buffy, a “Watcher's pet,” but over the course of the story she and Buffy learn from and bond with each other. Lawson does her best with the character but is hampered by the last-minute decision that she should speak with a pronounced Jamaican accent. She doesn't do well with this, and one feels terribly sorry for her being saddled with this.
More surprising even than a new Slayer is the sudden explosion of passion between Xander and Cordelia, as they're put in a desperate life-or-death situation. Charisma Carpenter shares some great chemistry with Brendan, as the two snipe at each other between bouts of kissing, trying to keep their mutual lust a secret. They're both ashamed to be involved with each other, at first, but over the course of the next few episodes the truth comes out (when Willow, devastated, walks in on them). Gradually the pair become an actual couple, learning to genuinely respect each other; at least, their sniping becomes better-natured.
This reaches its culmination in 2.16, the hilarious “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” Marti Noxon's episode, originally broadcast just before Valentine's Day, sees Cordelia ostracised for dating Xander, so she dumps him rather spectacularly. Xander retaliates by coercing Amy Madison (Elizabeth Anne Allen, returning from 1.3, “Witch”) into casting a love spell, so that Cordy will fall for him again and he can then dump her in revenge. It backfires, so that every other female inhabitant of Sunnydale becomes dangerously obsessed with him, including, in order of increasing hilarity, Buffy, Amy, Willow, Jenny, Joyce and Drusilla. The episode shows Xander at his worst, but also his best, as he manfully resists the advances of women he's crushed on for years. Cordelia comes off best, though, reuniting with Xander and telling her “friends” to go hang. It culminates her evolution from Buffy's rival to unhappy ally to full member of the Scooby Gang.
While Willow does reel from Xander and Cordelia's hook-up shock, she isn't left out of the romance stakes. Also making his debut this season is Seth Green (no relation to the similarly named director) as Daniel “Oz” Osborne. Previously having multiple genre and comedy appearances, appearing in IT, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, with his later onscreen love interest Alyson Hannigan, My Stepmother is an Alien, and around the same time as his Buffy debut was filming the zombie comedy Idle Hands, Green was the perfect choice for the laconic senior Oz. Making several minor appearances through the early part of the season, Oz kept glimpsing Willow and wondering about her, (“Who is that girl?”) but they don't actually meet until the careers fair in “What's My Line?” (Turns out Oz is the only student as smart as Willow, but he has an unfortunate aversion to work.)
Oz and Willow develop a very sweet romance – and let's be honest, he's far better for her than Xander – but Oz discovers his own secret. In 2.15, “Phases,” a spate of werewolf attacks in Sunnydale lead to an altercation between the Buffy-Giles expedition and monster hunter Gib Cain (Jack Conley, who'd return to the franchise as the demon Sajahn in Angel). Oz discovers he is the werewolf, having been infected with the curse after he was bitten on the finger by his little cousin (his aunt didn't think to warn him). Aside from the pretty awful werewolf costume – there doesn't seem to be any way to make a werewolf on a budget without it looking like a grumpy teddy bear – “Phases” is a solid episode, and sees Willow and Oz cement their relationship with a kiss. A fun subplot of the episode sees Xander confront school bully Larry (Larry Bagby III, Hocus Pocus) who he believes to be the werewolf. The closeted gay Larry comes out and changes his character completely, becoming an occasional recurring character.
The big event of the season, though, occurs in 2.13, “Innocence” and 2.14, “Surprise,” a two-part story that changes the course of the series. As Buffy's seventeenth birthday approaches, Spike and Dru (their health now reversed after the events of “What's My Line?”) work to resurrect an unkillable demon known as the Judge, who can literally burn the goodness out of people. A group of warriors managed to hack him apart and separate his pieces, but now the vampires are putting him back to together. After a heated battle against the British baddies and their hench-vamps, Buffy and Angel take shelter together, finally sleeping together. Unfortunately, in a parallel plotline, we learn a great deal more about Angel's curse. Jenny Calendar – or rather, Janna Kalderash – is visited by her uncle (wonderful, weird old Vincent Schiavelli), revealing to the audience that she was sent to keep and eye on Angel and ensure he still suffers for the murder of “the beloved daughter of their tribe.” What her uncle fails to tell her, until too late, is that one moment of true happiness will cause Angel's soul to leave his body once more.
“Surprise” ends with Angel leaving Buffy's bed and immediately murdering a passer-by, having reverted to his evil Angelus persona. While we could debate the concept of true happiness and whether you can really simplify that down to an orgasm with someone you love, it's a brilliant allegory for exploitative men, who turn the moment they get what they want from a girl. Buffy loses her virginity and is not only dumped and mocked by Angel, she has to then contend with the revelation that he is once more a force for evil. Quite why the Kalderash Roma thought this was a good idea when they cursed him – it goes predictably badly for them once Angelus is back – is never answered. Immediately, Angel insinuates himself back in with Spike and Dru, recreating a sordid love triangle between them. He assists them with the resurrection of the Judge – a big blue beast played by Brian Thompson, returning from the series' opener – but they are, naturally defeated by Buffy.
The consequences, however, run through the rest of the season. Learning that Jenny had been planted to spy on them pretty much destroys any chance of her and Giles reconciling. Angel steps up a campaign of cruelty against Buffy, which reaches its peak in episode 2.17, the devastating “Passion.” Angel terrorises and taunts Buffy and her friends, culminating in the brutal murder of Jenny once he discovers that she is working on a way to once again restore his soul. In his crowning moment of cruelty, Angel lays Jenny's body out as a present for Giles, perhaps the single most upsetting moment in the series.
Following this, in 2.18, “Killed by Death,” Buffy is rendered uncharacteristically helpless by a vicious strain of flu, and hospitalised, something which terrifies her, since she witnessed her cousin's death in hospital as a child. While Angel continues his campaign of terror against her, the focus of this episode is the truly horrific demon der Kindestod, “the child death,” a formally dressed nightmare who stalks the corridors of the hospital, looking for children to feed upon. Pinning them down, he drains the life out of them in a particularly unsettling way (this episode was one of the earliest to be neutered by the BBC's edits for its early evening UK broadcast). At least he's polite enough to doff his hat to passers-by, even if he is invisible to all but children and the deliriously sick. It's another excellent episode, continuing a marked heightening of the horror in the series as it moves towards the season's end.
2.19, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” is another of the series' best episodes. A well-structured, rather traditional ghost story, it sees Sunnydale High hold its annual Sadie Hawkins dance (where the girls ask out the boys), on which night in 1955, a male student murdered the teacher he was having an affair with when she tried to break it off. The spirits of James (Christopher Gorham, Ugly Betty) and Grace (Meredith Salenger, The Journey of Natty Gan) possess successive pairs of people in the school, repeating the murder-suicide unless someone manages to intervene in time. When writing the script, Noxon drew on 1982's Poltergeist for the horror imagery of the ghosts' influence, but the storyline itself was inspired by 1990's Truly, Madly, Deeply, dealing as they both do with the inability of people to move on after the death of a loved one. Giles is convinced throughout that the poltergeist is Jenny, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, desperate to regain contact with her. A story of forgiveness and redemption, beautifully directed by James Whimore Jr, “I Only Have Eyes For You also manages to up the ante with the enmity between Buffy and Angel, using them to resolve the storyline in an ingenious way.
Everything comes to a head in the two-part season finale, “Becoming.” Buffy and Angel decide it's finally time to take each other out of the picture, but Angel really goes for overkill. He decides to resurrect the demon Acathla, this one even worse than the Judge: when Acathla awakes, he will open a vortex that will suck all life on Earth into Hell (or, at least, one of the many hellish demon dimensions of the Buffyverse). The season's plot and character developments reach their culmination in this eventful finale. Having subbed for Jenny as IT teacher since her death, Willow begins to dabble in the mystic arts after looking into her work, in this episode finally discovering her plans to return Angel's soul. While it looks like this is setting up for Willow to carry on at, or return to the school as a teacher, the actual lasting legacy is her ever-deeper involvement in the world of magic, which will have huge repercussions down the way.
A vicious attack on Sunnydale High by Drusilla leaves characters injured and Kendra (returning one last time) dead at her hands, with Buffy suspected of the murder. Now on the run from the police and expelled by Snyder, she inadvertently takes the fight back home. Joyce finally learns the truth of Buffy and the Hellmouth, but, in her worst moment in the series, tells Buffy she's not welcome back if she leaves the house to fight. Buffy forms an unlikely alliance with Spike, who's smart enough to point out the ludicrous flaw with Angel's mission to destroy the world and wipe out humanity: the vampires aren't going to have anywhere to live or anyone to eat, either. Add to this Angel's ongoing flirtation with Dru and his mockery of Spike, and the scene is set for a major turncoat moment.
One thing is notable from this story, though. Spike has much better chemistry with Buffy than Angel right away. In fairness to David Boreanaz, he's much more fun as the evil Angelus than the heroic Angel, clearly having fun as a villain and probably relieved that he has some character to explore. “Becoming” begins a long course of tracking Angel's history through flashbacks, including his turning by Darla in 1753, complete with Boreanaz's dreadful Irish accent (clearly he went to the same accent coach as Lawson). We track him through his torment of Drusilla, his cursing by the Roma and his down-and-out years, feeding off rats in New York. There'll be a lot more of this when he gets his own series. Here we see the beginnings of Buffy's time as the Slayer, a new version of events in which she is approached by her Watcher, Merrick, played here by Richard Riehle (Grounded for Life, The Man From Earth). In the movie version of events, he was played by Donald Sutherland; a 1999 graphic novel release, The Origin, adapts the script of the movie in line with the events seen here. One thing we learn about Angel: his stalking skills were evident long before he turned evil again, as he follows the fifteen-year-old Buffy from school on her first fight and, eventually, all the way to Sunnydale.
This episode introduces Whistler (Max Perlich – Georgia, Drugstore Cowboy), a mysterious, human-looking demon who puts Angel on the right path. The first indication in the series that demons can be good (or, at least, not actively evil), the character almost returned for the Angel spin-off. Whistler intervenes once again to help Buffy and Spike in their final confrontation with Angel, while Willow works to restore his soul. It works, but not in time; Angel has already opened the portal to Hell, forcing Buffy to kill him and send him through the vortex in order to close it and save the world. It's an emotionally brutal ending to an episode that puts everyone through the wringer, with Buffy finally quitting Sunnydale, her friends and family. The creative team would be faced with the daunting task of resolving this event and its fallout in the third season, and following this, perhaps the show's strongest season.
Review: Daniel Tessier
Dan describes himself as a geek. Skinny white guy. Older than he looks. Younger than he feels. Reads, watches, plays and writes. Has been compared to the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth Doctors, and the Dream Lord. Plus Dr. Smith from 'Lost in Space.' He has also had a short story published in Master Pieces: Misadventures in Space and Time a charity anthology about the renegade Time Lord.
Dan's web page can be here: Immaterial
Published on July 8th, 2021. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.