In the thirteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, all joy is destroyed forever. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I liked this episode so much, and that’s why it pains me how upsetting it is. AND THIS IS ONLY HALF OF THE STORY. Goddamn it! But in one episode, the writers manage to grow nearly every character in fascinating ways, introduce a hell of a plot, and then DESTROY ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. oh god OH GOD.
I wanted to talk about one particular point that I’m actually not entirely sure on, and it’s something I think will either pan out in the second part, or I’ll be able to get a better perspective on it from all of you. The reveal that Jenny is actually Janna, of the Clan Kalderash, is so brilliant that my heart hurts in a million different places. It’s surprising and evil, a way to make her character conflicted and interesting, and I am totally on board with seeing how it will turn out.
But – and you knew this was coming – I am a bit hesitant about the use of the Romani culture on American television. There’s a lot of context that makes me feel this might be okay. First of all, Jenny has been portrayed in a positive light so far, and she’s not set up to be the villain purely because of her culture. Even when she’s forced into the role of antagonist by her uncle, it’s still shown to be a major source of conflict for her character. Still, her uncle isn’t that layered of a character, coming off as some overzealous sadist who wants someone else to suffer regardless of their moral standing.
It’s interesting to me that the show does go out of its way to draw the line between Drusilla, Jenny, and the culture they came from, stating very explicitly that Angel deserves the pain he gets because of what he did to their family and Clan. There is something here that could be used wonderfully if the culture is treated respectfully, but it’s one of the only things that’s regularly given a very superficial treatment by the writers of this show. (And let me just remind you all that the Romani culture considers “gypsy” an ethnic slur, so please avoid using it in a pejorative sense, okay? Obviously if you need to discuss the use of that word, that’s totally an acceptable context, but I think a lot of people genuinely have no clue that word is an incredibly oppressive slur. If you’re at all interested in reading more about the issue (and you should be!), I rather love Golden Zephyr on Tumblr, and you should check out their archive for a whole lot of educational goodness about being Romani.)
This issue, though, is paralleled well with every other character in this episode. The writers draw characters together in “Surprise,” which makes me nervous. You know this is only done so that they can tear them apart and Whedon can add another month to his lifespan, right? But in this episode, we finally see Willow and Oz together in a significant capacity. We see Xander attempt to convince Cordelia that perhaps they shouldn’t be so secretive about their feelings for one another, and then I suddenly find myself liking him a whole lot? And it’s not that I dislike Cordelia, because I am so endlessly fascinated by the constant complication of her character! But in this situation, I can see that she’s so desperate to keep up her reputation that she’ll hurt a guy she actually likes. Let’s not kid ourselves, either. I genuinely think both of them are more obsessed with being tough and emotionless than they’re willing to admit, and that deep down, the two appreciate each other a whole lot.
We also see that SPIKE HAS SURVIVED OH MY GOD YES. I seriously like his character, but now his role has been reversed in a way with Drusilla. It took me until “Surprise” to really feel out their relationship and Drusilla’s characterization. It’s a clever thing to make her birthday so close to Buffy’s, especially since we get to see Buffy’s birthday ruined as Drusilla’s progressively gets better. Part of that comes from Spike’s gift to her: The Judge. (Sorry, I need to do this: OH MY GOD IT’S BRIAN THOMPSON OH MY GOD IT’S THE ALIEN BOUNTY HUNTER FROM THE X-FILES OH MY GOD.) What’s so awesome about the introduction of The Judge is how the mere pieces of him provide such an important plot point for multiple characters without him ever actually being on screen. His arm is what causes Buffy to have to fight off vampires outside her own birthday party; it’s what causes the group to induct yet another person to their secret club (FUCK YES, PLEASE LET THIS MEAN THAT OZ IS AROUND MORE); and it forces Angel to (try to) leave Sunnydale to hide the arm far away from town. Jenny recognizes how perfect of an opportunity this is to separate Buffy and Angel, satisfying the request from her uncle. Bless Robia LaMorte, who plays this scene so believably. You can see the conflict on her face. She’s over-excited about the prospect, yet entirely nervous about what she’s doing to a man who saved her life. In that sense, she represents this fascinating division: Does she respect and honor the culture she came from, or does she judge a man for his deeds in the present?
However, I am ignoring the power and the heart at the very center of “Surprise”: Buffy and Angel. I can’t deny it anymore. The two have this brilliant, furious chemistry that is absolutely necessary to make this episode work. I know I had my doubts earlier, but I’m ready to discard them now: these two love each other. Watching Angel bid goodbye to Buffy on that shipping dock (WHICH IS NOT EVEN THE MOST AGONIZING SCENE IN THE EPISODE) is just too much for me to handle. Ugh, I am getting emotional just thinking about it. (Though, at the time I’m writing this, it’s 11:55am on the Sunday before this was posted, and I am also thinking about the season finale of Sherlock, and I think this is all just too much to handle.)
Can we all just agree that Buffy and Angel going to the factory where Drusilla’s party is at is just a bad idea? I was actually confused as to why Giles thought it was a good plan. It’s kind of not. Also, can we agree that Drusilla’s party looks like a goth club night? If I walked in on that, I wouldn’t think it was a gathering of vampires at all.
There are a few things during this scene that are wickedly clever, the first being the choice to have The Judge assemble before Angel and Buffy even arrive. There is absolutely no hope that they can stop this happening, and now there’s a demon who can bring about the Apocalypse roaming Sunnydale. Oh, and he’s invincible. Also, he sort of looks like a Smurf on steroids. SORRY TO PUT THAT IN YOUR HEAD.
I adored the choice to have The Judge spot Buffy and Angel spying on them, prompting one vicious confrontation between all of these characters. I am truly glad that Spike and Drusilla are antagonists because they’re the kind of villains who both love a good, cheesy monologue, and they don’t care about following what’s expected of them. They’re almost self-aware that they’re the bad guys, and they don’t care. They’re going to do what they want, and they’re going to pursue whatever it is that makes them feel good. Of course, they’re also a good parallel as a couple to Angel and Buffy. It’s like Spike and Drusilla are more of an intellectual couple. They’re overtly more sexual, and there are subtexts of control (for both parties) that they exchange with one another. I don’t just mean that they switched the role of caretaker, since Spike is now in a wheelchair and Drusilla has been healed. Their relationship seems to address the idea of power, and I’m fascinated how neither one seems to have more power than another.
It’s not that I think either Angel or Buffy controls the other. The post-escape scene in Angel’s apartment is just an interesting contrast to what we’ve seen of the other vampire couple. The two are much more emotional, eager to touch and assure the other of how much they love one another. There’s an inherent pain to their relationship, as if two lonely souls are finally finding a solace they thought didn’t exist. I’m not sure if this episode confirms that Angel and Buffy finally had sex, but I think it’s easy to read that when Angel wakes in the middle of the night and is barely clothed. I imagine there probably was some fandom drama regarding this, but I’m also curious if there was a larger criticism for showing a possibly sexual Buffy on television. Did this happen? I wasn’t paying attention to this show when it was on, so I have no idea if parents everywhere decried the loss of innocence on their television sets.
I can’t say I understand what the hell happens at the end of this episode. Clearly, Angel is in a whole lot of pain, and I’m sure it has something to do with Jenny’s task from her uncle. But the goddamn episode cuts to a “To be continued…” card as Angel is crying out Buffy’s name and I AM SO CONFUSED. Look, Angel’s a pretty tough vampire, so whatever is going on must be horrific for him to deal with.
GODDAMN IT I NEED TO KNOW.