In the seventh episode of the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I realize exactly why I should have hated the Twilight series all along: This show already did that whole plotline. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
There’s a few things I need to talk about regarding “Angel” over the course of this review, the first being the fact that I just typed “reagaurding” twice before I realized why my computer was telling me I am an awful speller. IT HAPPENS, OKAY? But I want to make this clear: I am going to make a concerted effort to avoid ever making any reference to Twilight, or at least as much as I can help it. I’m sure a lot of you don’t care to have me talk about it at all, and others are bored by me repeating myself. But I have thoughts and feelings and unfortunately they are tied to that abysmal series.
I feel I should get one thing out of the way, and it’s an example that demonstrates exactly why my spoiler policy is so ruthless and strict. Somehow, over the last fourteen years, I had not learned or internalized or even forgotten that Angel was a vampire. I yelped at the screen when he revealed himself, and that genuine surprise made this episode so much better than if I’d known all along. I’d entertained the notion that maybe he was a ghost or a spirit or some possessed lord of the vampires, but I can honestly say that the idea that he was an actual vampire never really crossed my mind. In a matter of minutes, not only does this show get more interesting to me, but now a character who had just been a slightly-irritating and not-shirtless-enough plot-bringer has…well, he has a history. Two hundred forty years of it, to be precise, and with that history comes a whole lot of baggage, violence, and emotional conflict. (PS: Could we get something like this for Cordelia? I NEED TO START STANNING FOR HER.)
But after this episode ended, it was pretty much impossible for my mind not to go to one place: I just watched the entire plot of all four Twilight books.
Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but after spending months and months reading that series (OMG BUY MY BOOKS OH MY GOD), it’s hard not to have references ready in my brain. I don’t want to draw any sort of conclusions about Meyer’s true inspiration, but this episode is THE EXACT SAME PREMISE. Not only is it remarkably similar, it is already done a thousand times better. There’s acknowledgment of the age difference in a much more significant way; there’s a very outright insistence on Buffy’s part that Angel has to keep his distance from her and her mother at one point. (Yes, it’s a bit misguided, but I still love that she firmly sets boundaries and demands that he obey them.) Other people in her life disapprove of the idea and she actually listens to them. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t ultimately make her own decision alone, but she actively engages with her friends to get their opinion on the situation.
My roommate (who’s a huge Buffy fan) said it was like Twilight existed solely in the set-up of “Angel” for four books. The books never progressed beyond this idea of falling in love with a vampire. With “Angel,” though, I feel like the show has set up the possibility for so many plotlines, and as someone who generally isn’t the biggest fan of romance, I’m actually excited to see what Buffy is going to do next. On the same note, I talked about what it’s like to be gay and watch storylines that hinge on heterosexuality in my post about “Teacher’s Pet” last week. I think “Angel” is a great example for me of a story that is between a heterosexual pairing that I can relate to and enjoy at the same time.
I suppose part of that comes from the fact that…well, let me first just get this out of the way. David Boreanaz has got his smolder down, and I think he smiled once in the entirety of this episode. I’m counting two half-smiles in the very end that occur during the final scene at The Bronze as one single smile, for the record. Otherwise…wow, he’s not the best actor I’ve come across. Dare I say he seems rather inexperienced here? Which is fine, since I am not setting the bar high for season one of Buffy. Yet despite that, there’s an undeniable chemistry between Angel and Buffy, and it’s the writing that ultimately supports it. Well, I also don’t want to ignore that I think Gellar is actually getting much, much better as the episodes go on, and she gives a strong performance as someone torn between reason and emotion in regards to Angel.
I think I’m drawn to the idea that what Buffy and Angel are doing is essentially frowned upon. (Which does not mean I’m going to ignore that Buffy is still a minor here.) Again, being queer means that the society I live in can still view my sexuality in a very negative manner. I spoke briefly about the idea in a review for Looking For Alaska over on Mark Reads, but I remember that when I was finally able to kiss a guy, it was exhilarating because I felt that I was transgressing some forbidden rule, that I was doing exactly what I wasn’t ever supposed to do, and that excitement was a huge moment for me. Of course I’m projecting myself onto this story, but there seemed to be an element to Buffy’s kiss with Angel that reminded me of this.
“Angel” also navigates the extremely complicated grounds of sexuality in a high school setting, especially the “first” time you start to fall for someone. Unsurprisingly, Xander continues to be really gross and annoying about all of this. Oh my god, dude, we get it. You like Buffy. She does not reciprocate those feelings. PLEASE MOVE ON. Look, I really need him to…I don’t know. Become interested in someone else? Become interested in something besides girls? To be fair, I actually find his characterization so frightfully accurate to about a third of the guys I went to high school with that I’m starting to believe that’s not an actor playing him, but some random student pulled out of class for a few hours a day to just react to the things being acted out around him. Thankfully, I’m glad there are moments (albeit small ones) where the characters and the writing actively paints Xander’s actions as being ridiculous. I do desire some big, cathartic moment where someone tells him to knock it the fuck off, but for the time being, I’m glad there’s something here. (Have they all forgotten the events of “The Pack” so soon?)
I haven’t said much about her, but this is as good a time as any: Bless you, Joyce Summers. I’m beginning to truly enjoy Buffy’s mother as a character because she is so realistically portrayed as a source of conflict, but not some evil force in Buffy’s life. What’s so honest about her character is that the show doesn’t let us forget that she is genuinely trying to be a good parent. She’s never too pushy, but she knows when to be firm. Even if she doesn’t understand her daughter, that doesn’t mean she has to insult her or condescend to her. The truth is that she really doesn’t know her daughter is a slayer of vampires. How could she? Unlike “The Harvest,” I felt the “end” to the vampire confrontation and Joyce’s shaky memory was far more believable than the former’s resolution. What makes me happy, I guess, is that she’s not portrayed as a bumbling fool. She is clueless about her daughter’s true nature, sure. But that’s not something that a mother instantly goes to when her daughter is acting up, is it?
I mean, all Joyce knows is that Buffy misbehaved at her last school and burned down the gym in the process. She senses that if Buffy gets involved with the wrong crowd, she might relapse again. It’s why she’s so excited when Darla comes over, or when she sees Giles. It’s important to note that throughout this all, Joyce never doubts Buffy’s capacity for being spectacular, and it’s what I love about Joyce the most. She doesn’t think her daughter is a failure. She doesn’t think her daughter is a bad person. At heart, she believes in her. That’s a powerful thing to have from your parents, and it’s something I didn’t experience until after I was out of high school. When I did, though, that sort of inherent validation is a great feeling.
Oh, but let’s just take a moment to talk about Angel. It’s not enough for the show to just drop the revelation of his true nature on us; no, instead, through Giles’s research and from Darla and the Master, we learn that Angel has a history. Oh my god I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT HIM. The dude is a vampire who was one of the most ruthless killers in history, and then something happened 80 years prior that caused him to stop killing humans. HE KEEPS BLOOD IN HIS REFRIGERATOR. And he knows Darla, and he knows The Master, and OH MY GOD THIS IS ALL SO MUCH FOR ME TO HANDLE.
Even if the impetus for Buffy’s anger is a trick perpetrated by Darla, I still enjoy that it’s here. I was worried this episode would set up a really boring trope: since Buffy is a woman, her emotions would get in the way of her sense of reason. Which is not to say that the writers go the opposite direction and make her devoid of any emotional reaction, either, as she is clearly upset about Angel’s treatment of her mother. It’s a nice balance between the two, to show that a person like Buffy can be a veritable badass and an emotional human at the same time. The two aren’t mutually exclusive! Why can’t she be a girl and royally kick some vampire ass?
The trap against Buffy doesn’t work as Darla planned, and I think that’s because Buffy gets the sense that something’s not right with Angel. She chooses to follow her instincts, which is why she doesn’t kill him with the crossbow when she has the chance. It’s a risky move, sure, but I think she felt it was worth it to take the chance. The pieces really didn’t add up, and that’s when she finds out the real truth: a family put a curse on him for eating their daughter, and that curse gave him something vampires don’t experience.
I think in any other context, that idea might be ludicrous, but I really like its execution here; I think the possibilities are endless for where the show can take this character trait of Angel’s, and I’m also glad it supports everything we’ve seen from him in the past six episodes. Hell, it even explodes why he’s so mopey and quiet all of the time. Well, okay, not every time, but if you had murdered hundreds of thousands of people over the course of one hundred sixty years and then were forced to feel guilty for that after the fact, you might not be the same person anymore.
God, I can’t believe Meyer had vegetarian vampires in her goddamn books. LOOK HOW MUCH BETTER THIS IS. Okay, I swear, last time I’ll mention that.
I was shocked by Darla’s death, despite how inevitable it really is. I was just starting to like her as a character, and the reveal that she’s Angel’s maker gives them such an amazing dynamic. But really, how could she stay alive after all of that? I mean, SHE USES GUNS. First of all, THAT IS THE MOST AMAZING TROPE-KILLING PLOT TWIST EVER. When do vampires use guns? But Darla’s set up two people to despise her, and it’s Angel who stakes her in the back, a symbolic moment meant to represent that he still rejects her and her lifestyle and the Master. Now I can see why Angel always dropped little hints to Buffy: it was a way to assuage his guilt, if only for a brief moment.
But how is he going to act in the future? I feel like he and Buffy are on good terms in a way, even though they swear this is goodbye for them. (Did any of you who watched this in real time believe that Angel would never come back?) I think it’s a very telling sign that the cross Buffy wore branded Angel without him turning or making any indication that it had happened. Does Buffy enable him to control himself more than he thought? I WANT TO SEE MORE.
This is, like “Witch,” and “The Pack,” one fantastic episode of the show that I enjoyed a whole lot. Plus, we got to see Buffy knock Giles down on his ass for being a bit of a dick to her, so that was awesome. And…look, y’all, the Anointed One is a goddamn child. I can’t get over how amazing that is. OH GOD SO UNPREPARED AND I LOVE EVERY SECOND OF IT.