In the seventeenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Jenny is forced to come up with a way to bring back Angel’s soul when he starts tormenting Buffy’s friends and family. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Well, I suppose it was time for Joss Whedon to show me just how much he doesn’t care about my love for a character. It was about time that he showed me what my experience watching Buffy was going to be like.
Truthfully, “Passion” is about making the threat of Angelus very real. This is not him going through an uncomfortable phase or being unfortunate and irritating. He has lost his humanity, and he has nothing to stop him from being a horrific force for evil. When we’re reminded of how awful he was as Angelus long ago early in the episode, it doesn’t seem real. It’s a distant memory, an ancient history, and it only felt like an empty threat that would never actualize itself in the narrative.
Well, Joss Whedon’s here to make it a reality.
I’ve made a good run of not bringing up Twilight in these posts, so allow me this small concession: I am ecstatic that this episode shows you just how awful, invasive, and creepy it is for a guy to break into your house and watch you fall asleep. I will seriously never get over what a horrifying thing it is to know that someone thinks that this is romantic or sweet. As someone who was a victim of this very act (TWICE!!!!), I fucking hate that it’s a thing that exists in the world and is romanticized. It’s why I enjoyed “Passion” so much in the end: the writers go out of their way to have the script constantly criticize Angelus and present his actions in a poor light. There’s no ambiguity here at all. Angelus crossed the line, and he’s an asshole for doing it.
I suppose “asshole” is a bit of an understatement. A “severely gross individual who I instantly dislike and hate and dearly wish would get staked” is probably more like it. His actions in this episode are so terrifying because he knows how to make them so terribly personal. I’m sure he did what he did specifically because he knew that it would affect everyone. I’m sure he knew that Jenny would feel guilty about her past and seek out some way to “save” him. I’m sure he knew that Buffy would reach out to Willow and Giles. I’m sure he knew that she’d seek out her mother. He knew all of this, and he used it against her.
It’s what makes so many of the small details so horrible to me. The jokes from Xander and Cordelia are, in hindsight, extremely depressing. That conversation between Jenny and Giles? Unbelievably heartbreaking, especially because it was so touching. They were so close to forgiving and believing in one another again. THEY WERE THIS CLOSE, WHEDON!!! And then we get that conversation where Buffy has to talk to her mother about Angelus, to possibly warn him that he may come around. I was actually impressed how believable her cover story was, considering this show has come up with some awful and unrealistic stories in the past. It’s still just so hard for me to see Buffy struggle with a desire to talk to her mother, but have to hide her identity. And I know I am GAY GAY GAY projecting all over the place, but as someone who was in the closet until he was nearly nineteen, and then awkwardly unsure of how my own mother truly felt about me being gay, I can relate to this narrative so much. At this point in the show, I’m ready to just say that I feel most attached to Buffy, as her issues with identity and heartbreak are close to my own experience.
Well, okay, no. I did not have sex with a vampire hundreds of years older than me, but I know what it’s like to be betrayed by someone you thought you loved, and to then be unable to go to your own mother when you really need her. The things that happen in Buffy are fantastical, sure. I don’t have a problem admitting that. But they’re grounded when you put them all through the lens of the teenage experience, and you see an accurate and terrifying metaphor for a break-up, especially one where one party isn’t ready to let go.
And all of these feelings I had for Buffy and for this story are then promptly stomped on and cast out of a window. When Willow found her envelope, I remembered that Angel had been invited into her house as well. Had he drawn her while she was sleeping, too? But this was about escalation, and Angelus was taking this up a notch. She pulls out her dead tropical fish, threaded together.
It’s creepy because it’s an intentional mind game on Angelus’s part. He’s starting small, and that means it’s only going to get worse. But how far could this show go? I wondered. Would Angelus just threaten violence, or would he follow through on his words? I was unsure until Willow spoke the worst lines possible: “Except you’re still the only thing he thinks about.”
It’s a brilliant, stunning commentary on power dynamics in a relationship, as well as a marked attempt by the show to continue to put Angelus’s actions in a negative place. This is about obsession, and how what was once a loving relationship is now something dangerous and violent. And I’m glad that Buffy doesn’t treat this issue as a joke; this is a deeply serious and disturbing episode that traces Angelus’s descent into chaos.
It’s also one that manages to address the ongoing awkwardness between Jenny and Buffy. I found Buffy’s talk with her to be immensely mature. It’s really not an obligation that she forgive Jenny on the one hand, though I still don’t think she did anything personally to bring back Angelus. Jenny had no clue that pure happiness would eliminate Angel’s soul. Still, Buffy knows that her actions might be keeping Jenny from Giles, and that is not something she wants to be a part of anymore. She clearly cares about Giles so much, enough that she’ll put aside her own concerns just to see him happy.
My heart, y’all. MY HEART.
When the next envelope arrives, though, things get uncomfortable on a level that just pains me to think about. That image of Joyce drawn while sleeping is not just a sign that Angelus will invade the Summers’ privacy; it’s a threat, one that Angelus actualizes in a horrific way. When the camera cuts to Joyce pulling up to her house, Angelus on the lawn, my stomach turned. I know it’s weird to “praise” the guy for being the worst ever, but man, David Boreanaz sure is great at acting like a stalker. His harassment of Joyce is completely unsettling, a clear demonstration that he’s willing to blatantly and forcibly break any rules or laws in his pursuit to destroy those around Buffy. Also DON’T YOU FUCKING HURT MY JOYCE I SWEAR TO YOU I WILL END YOU. He doesn’t; instead, though, he tells Joyce that he and Buffy had sex. !!!!!!!!!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK WHY ARE YOU RUINING ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING
It’s at this point that this episode’s endgame is set into place, and the writers of “Passion” put “Innocence” to shame. We watch Giles and Jenny having a late night conversation, Jenny hard at work to translate the Ritual of Restoration to make things up to Buffy and give Angel back his soul. It’s awful writing about it now, because that scene has a whole new meaning to me: it’s a goodbye. Giles thinks it’s a new beginning when he invites her over, but hindsight’s a funny thing. There’s no way he would have known.
It’s harder writing about Jenny Calendar because I liked her so much, and I love what she represented: a modern element to a fantasy genre. She represented a character who was stuck between the culture she was brought up in and the techno-pagan world she loved. She made Giles happy. She was funny. And just like that, Angel snaps her neck and she’s dead.
but. but. WHAT ARE YOU DOING???!!?!?!? WHAT THE FUCK STOP THAT. YOU TAKE THAT BACK, JOSS WHEDON. FUCK!!!!!!!!!
I just sat there in shock. Angelus really was destroying everyone around Buffy. He knew that telling Joyce that he’d had sex with her daughter would rile her up, but I think he misjudged just how much Joyce cares for her daughter. Joyce is upset, but having the truth about Buffy out in the air for once gives their relationship a sense of relief. And I’m sure Buffy was relieved in her own way, too. Y’all, I just love their relationship so much.
I was left wondering, once again, just how it was possible that someone could dream up an idea so heinous. During “Innocence,” I was shocked that Whedon could even imagine one person saying the things Angeus said to someone else. Here, though, we are taken to a whole new level of disturbing. Setting up Giles to believe that Jenny was waiting for him was bad enough. Using Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Are you TRYING to destroy all happiness in my life? Oh…right. You are. I can’t think of something so wholly evil to compare this to. Killing Jenny was unforgivable, sure. Rubbing that in Giles’s face? I suddenly understood why Giles gave no thought to heading to the factory to kill Angelus. It wasn’t so much that he wanted to get revenge. I’m sure he wanted that. He also did not care if he he died, and I think that risk was too tempting for him to ignore.
I’m just flabbergasted as to how this is going to be dealt with. We see Angelus standing outside the Summers’ home, just to witness the grief of Willow and Buffy, and I can’t bring myself to imagine how anyone is ever going to be able to forgive him. How do you redeem a character who has done something so categorically awful? I’m not even talking about forgiveness yet. I’m sure that will come and be addressed. I mean that it is going to take one hell of a feet of writing to convince me that I should ever feel good about Angel again. Is it impossible? No, of course not. But the writers crossed a very specific line with this episode, and that means they took a risk of alienating people or upsetting them. It’s a bold move, one I certainly understand, but I can’t help but just hate Angelus so much.
The final fight scene is so emotional and violent and I kind of love that it’s here. To see Giles so unrestrained is terrifying, and it’s a sign of what a good actor Anthony Stewart Head is. I was surprised at how many shots he got in before Angelus tried choking him to death. Angelus and Buffy’s fight is so raw and vicious, and you can see the history between the two as they fight. Yet the entire scene has such a somber attitude toward it. I know (and the characters know) that nothing they do can do will ever bring Jenny back. She’s gone.
“Passion” closes on this same note as we see how her death has affected the three people she was closest with. Giles’s apartment is as vacant as ever, and light is cleverly used to expose that. Buffy expresses regret that she hadn’t put aside her feelings for Angelus and killed him already. And Willow stands before her old class, stumbling through an introduction, knowing that she got what she wanted in the worst way imaginable. But there’s hope. The floppy disk with the Ritual of Restoration on it wasn’t destroyed. DUN DUN DUN.
I just wanted to comment on one last thing before the depressing GIF war begins: for a serious episode, I laughed so hard at Drusilla’s puppy. Please be in every episode ever from here on out.
Okay, back to sulking. Also, I need to point out that the universe just conspired to make me death with this and that thing that happens in the opening chapter of The Two Towers ON THE SAME FUCKING DAY. GODDAMN IT.