“In case the curse does not succeed, this is my lucky stake. I have killed many vampires with it. I call it Mr. Pointy.” – Kendra
So here we are the end of Season 2 and seems that its suddenly dawned on the writers that our vampire trio of Spike, Drusilla and Angel have yet to come up with an end game for their schemes something which they now set out to correct with this two part finale. This week I’ll be looking at this double as one episode seeing how here in the UK they showed both parts together. At the same time this episode really highlighted just how popular the show had become as they tried to sell this episode as a direct to video special with that classic “Never Seen On TV” tag, which was true only because the episode hadn’t aired yet!
While the antics of Angel and co have taken on more of a taunting threat since he became evil having lifted his curse after he experienced that one moment of perfect happiness with Buffy. Now however he suddenly becomes set on bringing about the apocalypse via the demon Acathla (here taking the form of an interesting looking statue) which when awoken will suck the world into hell. At the same time Buffy discovers the floppy disk containing Jenny’s translation of the document which will restore Angel’s soul which she’d done shortly before Angel killed her.
One of the key aspects of the episode and one which didn’t dawn on me until I rewatched these episodes now is that here we get the abridged history of Angel something which you normally wouldn’t see to the extent they are used here unless the character was soon to be meeting their demise. Though the flashbacks as we see him turned into a vampire by Darla, driving Drusilla insane by pretending to be a priest in a confession booth and being cursed with a soul by the Romani gypsies before skipping forward from 1898 to New York 1996 where Angel has been reduced to a filthy bum hunting rats for food and where he is approached by the demon Whistler who also serves at the episodes narrator. Whistler we soon discover being the one who puts Angel on the path of redemption as he shows him Buffy who at this point who at this point has yet to discover her destiny as a slayer and is still a carefree and kind of vacuous high school student with Whistler essentially setting Angel up as her unofficial protector realising her importance as the Slayer.
The flashback to Buffy is especially entertaining as we get to see her clumsily take on her first vampire under the watchful eye of her first watcher while living in Los Angeles and whose fate is never revealed unless this was an attempt to tie the original film into the series. At the same time we get to see the fractures in her parents’ marriage which will eventually lead to them divorcing and Buffy being brought to Sunnydale.
As a two part episode this one works perfectly as the first part ends with Buffy and the Scoobies being put in the worst position possible as returning slayer Kendra is killed by Drusilla who uses her hypnosis powers on her before slashing her throat. Willow and Xander are meanwhile are knocked unconscious and Giles is kidnapped by Angel who plans to use his knowledge to help him awaken Acathla. Buffy meanwhile at the end of the first part is left being framed for Kendra’s death and being forced to run away from the police and go on the run as fugitive knowing that they won’t believe her claims of vampires being responsible. All this of course really stacking the odds against Buffy to a level we’ve not seen before and one which only made the worse by the threat of world annihilation with the added hook of Buffy now having to choose between killing Angel or stopping him by restoring his soul. I think the weight Buffy feels from her slayer responsibilities being perfectly summed up in the second part when she tells her mom
“Do-do you think I chose to be like this? Do you have any idea how lonely it is, how dangerous? I would love to be upstairs watching TV or gossiping about boys or…God, even studying! But I have to save the world. Again.”
It’s a really great moment and one which shows Joyce wanting to protect her daughter as a parent by refusing to let her leave the house, while clearly not fully understanding her daughter’s role as the Slayer. The fallout of this argument soon becoming one of the many bridges that Buffy burns over the course of these two episodes aswell as getting herself expelled from school much to the delight of Principle Snyder who follows it up by phoning the Mayor in a subtle nod to what lies ahead in season 3.
The real twist in the episode though is with Spike deciding to call a ceasefire and team up with Buffy as it turns out that he likes talking about world destruction much more than he actually wants to do it, citing
“We like to talk big. Vampires do. “I’m going to destroy the world.” That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friend over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got…dog racing, Manchester United. And you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real…passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farwell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?”
I guess the showrunners were thinking we’d look past his attempts to unleash “The Judge” on the world with Drusilla and Angel a few episodes back while they clearly really wanted to push that British edge to Spike’s character, something that had been forgotten by myself especially when his accent is so infused with an American twang so hearing him mentioning Manchester United took me really by surprise the first time I watched this episode. While Spike has been nothing but a major threat without the series this little speech combined with his dismay at Drusilla’s increasing infatuation with Angel let alone his own personal gripes with him meant that this surprise ceasefire was perfectly believable.
The finale of these episodes is fantastic with Buffy finally having the showdown with Angel which has been teased out for so long with neither side seemingly able to commit to their threats of killing the other. Needless to say to have them now finally face off and more interestingly to have them engage in a swordfight to the death only adds to the thrill of the scene, especially as they trade barbs as sharp as their swords. It was also interesting to see Spike keeping his word as he runs off with an unconscious Drusilla rather than pull some kind of ruse on Buffy and reveal he’s actually on Angel’s side the whole time. At the same time while this fight is happening we see a turning point in Willows magic use as while performing the ritual with the other Scoobies she snaps into a trance enabling her to read it in perfect Romanian and marking the start of her powers as a Witch which will become one of the major plot points of the seasons which follow, but even here you can tell it was the start of something when it suddenly happens.
Ultimately the final pay off with Angel getting his soul restored at the last minute and Buffy still sending him to hell (literally in this case) in order to close the portal is a great one, not only for how unexpected it was let alone celebrated by teenage boys sick of hearing girls bang on about the appeal of Angel but because it did seem like another major character had been killed off permanently which seemed to only be backed up further by the fact the last shot is off a heartbroken Buffy leaving Sunnydale on the bus alone. However a clumsy piece of promotion did kind of spoil things for the fans closely following the newswebs for the show as it was announced shortly after the season ended that “Angel” had been given a spin off show, despite the fact we had just seen him sent to hell and kind of ruining for those fans the surprise of him coming back in season 3.
A great end to the season even if it’s big evil until the end felt as if it was lacking but the pay off here really makes up for things, while ensuring that it ends in a place which leaves you hankering to know what will happen next.