In the twenty-second (and final) episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, I will need to be held until the end of time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
The point at which I realized that the finale I was about to watch would be utterly horrifying occurs during the cold open of “Becoming, Part Two.” It’s a moment that is so unexpected and brutal that it’s a clear sign that all bets are off, that Whedon is ready to deliver a story that is going to go far beyond our expectations for a season finale.
Buffy punches a cop in the face.
I shrieked. I just yelled at the episode over and over again. In my head, this episode was going to show how Buffy has to deal with the police, similar to what happened in “Ted,” but in much more detail. And then she PUNCHES A FUCKING COP AND ESCAPES. My face? Take Principal Snyder’s look of pure shock and that’s what mine was doing. Buffy Summers was now a fugitive. HOLY FUCK.
If I can be honest with you, my dear Buffy fandom friends, if this was the final episode of Buffy ever, the series finale, and if there was never going to be another episode of this show after this, I would be satisfied. This is despite that things are left unanswered, that many story threads are not only left open but RENDERED CHAOTIC, and that we are given one of the most bleak stories I have seen on television.
I am just so satisfied.
I didn’t necessarily believe that this finale would be like “Prophecy Girl.” Most of season two pushed the boundaries of what Buffy could be about, and what Whedon could do to his characters. But I admit that I expected “Becoming, Part Two” to give a sense of closure to a lot of the story arcs that had been stretched over the last twenty-one episodes. This is, of course, before I watched a second of this season finale. That cold open pretty much crushed my dream of a neat and feel-good story being delivered my way.
I’m trying to learn. I swear.
The decision to follow up Buffy’s escape with a reunion between her and the rest of the Scooby gang is that sign I needed that this episode wasn’t going to be an easy thing to watch. Xander has a broken hand. Willow is in a coma. Cordelia is awash with guilt over running away from the library during the attack. And Giles is missing; we discover that Angelus is preparing him for a bout of torture in order to get the information he needs to wake up Acathla.
But the true horror here is how Buffy’s life has spiraled so terribly out of control that her shaky alibis are not going to work on her mother. I thought that perhaps Buffy might be able to come up with some sort of reason to protect her identity, but how on earth was she going to explain punching a cop in the face? Even worse, when the cop from “Ted” brings up Buffy’s “violent past,” then I wanted to punch him in the face. My god, there are few things I despise more on the planet than authority figures trying to paint disingenuous stories of people they want to scapegoat and blame. Yet I couldn’t ignore two complications to this idea: Buffy did punch a cop, and Buffy did have a past of violence. How on earth was she going to justify herself this time while also keeping her identity as a secret? IT’S TOO MUCH. MY HEART HURTS JUST THINKING ABOUT IT.
I’m not the biggest fan of Whistler, and aside from one moment he has, I think his character was best suited to frame the narration of “Becoming, Part One.” He is truly unnecessary to the story and to Buffy in this episode, speaking in bizarre, ambiguous code about himself, Angel, Angelus, and Buffy’s role in this whole affair. I was kind of glad that she blew him off because he wasn’t making any sense at all. JUST TELL HER WHAT TO DO AND STOP ACTING ALL ~*MYSTERIOUS*~.
And then she runs into Spike at the same moment that a police officer recognizes her and I start to think, “Oh, great, this is just great, can this girl please get a break, why can’t she – HOLY FUCKING GOD, WHAT DID HE JUST SAY? WHAT? WHAT WAS THAT? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?! HE WANTS TO FORM AN ALLIANCE WITH BUFFY? SO HELP ME WHEDON, THIS IS SO GODDAMN AMAZING. It’s just such a fascinating and game-changing twist: Spike is sick of Angelus. Spike doesn’t want to actually end the world. And Spike wants Drusilla back. So he’s willing to put aside a burning hatred for Buffy Summers, his number one threat as a vampire, in order to get ride of Angelus.
HELP ME. HELP ME THIS IS SO FANTASTIC.
Even typing this sentence right now is giving goosebumps because it’s now time to talk about the one moment I thought I would have to wait years to get to. I admit that for a brief moment of time, as Buffy and Spike tried to come up with some awful cover story about being in a band, I was irritated. These lies that Buffy was coming up with just didn’t make any sense anymore, and I worried that Joyce would start to believe that her daughter was maliciously lying to her. How long could this show keep up the charade?
Turns out it was about thirty seconds. I sat in complete and utter shock as Buffy slays a vampire in front of her mother. I started laughing out of pure disbelief. I had no other way to react to this. Buffy just told her mother that she’s a vampire slayer. IN THE SECOND SEASON. I wanted this moment since the introduction of Joyce Summers, and I got it. That’s when Joss Whedon teaches me that I should never, ever desire anything ever from him, because he will promptly destroy it.
At this point, the story sort of bounces around between three main plots: Giles being tortured, Xander, Oz, and Willow at the hospital, and Buffy’s ongoing crisis of identity and fate. It’s never confusing at all, and I really enjoy how Whedon constructs the cutaways to give us this sense of growing chaos and complication. We have Xander declaring to Willow that he loves her. At possibly the most inconvenient time imaginable? I mean seriously. I thought it was a tad cheesy that this was the one thing that would wake her up, but then Whedon reminds me of his own taste for Misery when Willow asks for Oz first. WELL. This is going to make for an awkward season three, isn’t it? And I am just beginning to seriously like Cordelia and Xander as a couple! WHY MUST ALL THINGS BE RUINED? Oh god, and now Willow wants to try to curse Angel again? SO MANY THINGS ARE HAPPENING AT ONCE.
I suppose they’re not ruined yet. You know what is ruined? GILES. Angelus torturing Giles is bad enough, but when Spike intervenes in order to keep the man alive for Buffy, “Becoming, Part Two,” takes my heart, crushes it into sand, and then feeds me that sand, and then throws me under a bus that Joss Whedon is driving with glee on his face. We see Drusilla’s full power of mind reading at work against Giles as she tries to determine what his real weakness is, and when “Jenny” appears, I was pretty much ready to start sobbing endlessly. It’s a fucked up dynamic for the obvious reasons, but also because it shows that while Spike wants his alliance with Buffy to work for him and Drusilla, that doesn’t mean he is going to be friends with her or Giles. Truthfully, though, the scene feels like Whedon is just dumping salt in the wound. It’s no surprise that I think Jenny was one of the best-written characters on the show, and now I have to be reminded of that, of the chemistry that she had with Giles, and of the fact that I will never see her again?
You are a cruel man, Joss Whedon.
Though I suppose this whole episode is an exercise in cruelty. As I said before, I’d been eagerly awaiting the day when Buffy could talk to her mother openly about being the Slayer. Now, that day has arrived, and it’s FUCKING MISERABLE. Seriously, what the fuck did I expect? That her mother would joyously join her in killing demons and paranormal creatures? What an unrealistic fool I am. Joyce’s reaction here is entirely believable from the first moment she knows until the crushing ending. She doesn’t accept it. She doesn’t understand it. It’s not the answer to end all answers that Buffy (and myself) thought it would be. If anything, Joyce has more questions than ever, and now her daughter is running off to do something dangerous and violent again, refusing to talk to her. You may think that Joyce was being overly strict with Buffy by demanding her to stay, but what else was she going to do? Her daughter doesn’t talk to her. She just dropped the neutron bomb of reveals and now she’s just leaving?
Oh, Joyce. My heart breaks for you.
It eventually breaks for pretty much everyone, though, as the episode finally heads to its shocking endgame. Buffy consults the Whistler to learn how to stop Acathla: she must kill Angelus and use his blood to close the portal to hell. Of course, he makes some ambiguous reference to her having one last thing to lose in this battle and I hate him so desperately because COULD YOU JUST FUCKING TELL HER THAT INSTEAD OF MUTTERING IT AFTER SHE LEAVES? But it’s child’s play when you compare it to the actions of Xander, who has the most morally conflicting action in the entirety of “Becoming, Part Two.”
He doesn’t tell Buffy that Willow is trying to curse Angel again, instead egging her on to kill him. As soon as he said it, I screamed WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING????? at the television set. Because XANDER WHAT ARE YOU DOING? With some time to reflect on his choice, I feel less certain that it’s easy to determine whether he was right or wrong in his actions. Obviously, on its face, it’s a horrific lie, one that Buffy will suffer for greatly, so I do think there’s a whole lot to be argued for this position. But at the same time, Buffy has had the chance to kill Angelus before, and she didn’t. I don’t believe that Angelus is Buffy’s responsibility by any means. Yet she is truly the only person who could defeat him, and I think Xander didn’t want to derail the possibility that she might actually do it. Angelus murdered their friend and other people. He tortured Giles. He’s ruined lives, and now he is opening a door that’ll suck all of existence to Hell. Yeah, I don’t feel bad saying that killing Angel is pretty much excused in my own moral book if that’s what it will take to stop the world from going to hell.
I ultimately don’t want to make a judgment either way until I see what comes of this. My gut tells me that Buffy was wronged by Xander’s lie, and my brain tells me that he may have made the right choice. And then I think that perhaps there really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” in this situation anyway. And then I think about what happens next and I just want to curl up into a ball forever.
The final battle scene of “Becoming, Part Two” is organized chaos. It’s beautiful. It’s frightening. It’s brutal. It’s as if Whedon somehow acquired a doubled budget just for this episode, as the camera angles and production quality all seem leap years ahead of all of season two. You can see the emotion on Buffy’s face as she comes to terms with the fact that she has to kill Angelus once and for all, and then realizes that she’s losing, especially when Angelus removes the sword from Acathla. Even Spike truly believes that Buffy’s about to be killed, but he chooses to leave with Drusilla rather than stop it.
In the end, the Whistler’s ramblings prove to be true: Buffy really only has herself, and this season’s giant thematic arc is given to us. We have always been leading to this point, of Buffy being alone. When Willow succeeds at giving Angel back his soul, it’s at the worst possible time: Acathla has opened his mouth, and the vortex to hell has been opened. It is one of the most damning plot twists I’ve experienced, a moment of pure ironic terror. Buffy gets Angel back at the exact moment she must murder him. Sarah Michelle Gellar gives the best performance of the entire show as a young woman who must forever sacrifice someone she loves.
But I think what shocked me most was how in that instant, David Boreanaz is able to show me what Angel used to be. I have not forgiven him for what Angelus did, but I felt sorry for him. Sympathy can be a powerful thing, and now I know that there is at least a method for bringing about forgiveness. I said before that this would be the number one thing that I’d have a problem with because the writers crossed such a specific line with his character.
Still, that’s for another day. I don’t even think I could come up with a theory about how Angel is going to come back, so let’s not go there until tomorrow. For now, let’s just appreciate (and sob over) the end of “Becoming, Part Two.” Buffy leaves town. She leaves her friends, her mother, and her school behind. She has become exactly what she wanted to be long ago: a loner. She was always concerned about bringing people into her world, and now she’s going to pursue exactly what she thinks is best for her.
Tomorrow, I’ll post my predictions for season three, as well as neat feature I’d like to start doing at the end of each season, and we’ll start season three on Wednesday. In the meantime, I am going to ask that y’all provide some comfort to me in the form of cuteness in the comments. Because this shit has fucked me up.
Fucking Joss Whedon, I swear.