“When She Was Bad”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
Oh hey it’s season two! We return to one of Sunnydale’s many graveyards, where Xander and Willow are playing the movie quote game. Xander’s hair is no longer floppy. He’s had an extremely boring summer and is trying to act like he’s over Buffy. Not very successfully. There’s a really cute moment where he smears ice cream on Willow’s nose, then leans in to lick it off.
The moment suddenly turns very intense and he’s about to kiss her when they’re interrupted by a vampire who is RIGHT THERE.
Apparently vampires are like cats: always in your personal space at exactly the worst moment. Xander tries to fight him and defend Willow when Buffy shows up, back from her summer in L.A., and makes with the slaying.
New opening credits for season two! Angel’s been promoted to series regular! Yesss.
Xander and Willow and then Xander again hug Buffy. This was the first vampire activity since Buffy killed the Master. Buffy also has shorter and blonder hair. Willow and Xander tell Buffy about burying the Master’s bones.
At the Summers house, Hank and Joyce are discussing how weird and distant Buffy’s been for the last few months. Hank tried to force a connection by buying her lots of clothes and shoes, including a neon yellow pair of heels.
First day of school! Cordelia, who obviously has a cold, is talking about her summer to her friends. They don’t reply, because they are extras. A short distance away, Giles is walking with Snyder, who is going off about how much he loathes teenagers. Jenny shows up, and Snyder’s commentary suddenly becomes the narration for Giles and Jenny flirting with each other.
Inside the school, Jenny tells Giles about her summer, and they continue flirting. Willow, Xander, and Buffy join them and discuss the possibility of a new vampire threat. Apparently Willow and Xander have a betting pool about Giles’s book-consulting timetables. Giles is willing to let Buffy take a few days to get back in the swing of things, but she wants to start training now.
Training montage! With obvious stunt double. Buffy gets rather intense about it, whaling on the training equipment until she breaks it in half while images of the Master flash across the screen. She clearly has Unresolved Issues.
In an old brick factory across town, a black, very Baptist preacher-esque vampire is giving his minions a pep talk, using the Anointed as a creepy Jesus metaphor.
At school, Willow and Xander come join Buffy in some kind of student lounge area. They swap snacks in an adorable way. Giles arrives, and he goes from normal Plot A-focused Giles to suddenly wanting to kill Buffy. He punches her, then tries to strangle her. As she struggles to get free, she grabs his face. The Giles mask comes off to reveal the Master!
Buffy wakes up from her nightmare. She looks around her room, sits up, runs her hands through her hair, and when she looks back at her window, Angel is suddenly there, leaning casually against the sill as if he didn’t just scramble up her roof, slip through the window, and stand upright again all in under two seconds. Buffy’s usual upbeat humor is missing the upbeat part. Angel’s here to warn her about the Anointed and his minions. Buffy gets a couple more insults in, then turns over to go back to sleep. He starts to leave, but pauses to say he missed her. She tries to say it back, but he’s already gone.
On the way to school the next day, Joyce tries to talk to Buffy about what’s wrong and gets nowhere. In school, Willow wants to hear all about Angel’s visit, especially if it was about kissing. Buffy is both unwilling to talk and suddenly not wearing the perfectly normal outfit she had on in the car. Now she’s wearing an awkwardly-fitting white tank top tucked into a high-waisted pair of business trousers.
Cordelia swings by and tries to insult Buffy, Willow, and Xander. It doesn’t really work, but she also wants updates about monsters. It doesn’t occur to her that this is the sort of thing she should keep her voice down about. Buffy tosses a pretty harsh (and unprovoked) insult her way and leaves the three of them standing there, bemused.
At the Bronze, Cibo Matto is clog dancing—I mean playing—on the stage. Willow’s concerned that something’s up with Buffy, but Xander is too distracted by his reawakened crush on her to pay attention. Willow tries to reel him back in by putting some kind of white dip on her nose to recreate the ice cream scene in the cold-open, with no success.
At the cemetery, the vampire minions are digging up the Master’s bones. The soil burns them because of whatever consecration ritual the Scoobies performed over the summer, but they keep digging anyway.
Cibo Matto starts up a new song, just in time for Buffy to arrive. She’s wearing a Little Black Dress, and there’s something very Queen Bee about her expressions and body language. Angel finds her. He thinks she’s mad at him and wants to fix it. She continues being super rude. Even Cordelia thinks there’s no call for that.
Then Buffy goes over to Xander and Willow and turns the seductive body language on Xander as she asks him to dance. On the dance floor, she does a lot of grinding up against him while he looks more and more uncomfortable about it and Willow and Angel look on, jealous and hurt. Buffy suggests that there might be something in the “science experiment” arena that she can do to thank Xander for saving her life, then strides off.
Cordelia follows her outside and chews her out for being so awful. She needs to get over it, whatever it is, because she’s quickly driving away everyone who cares about her. Buffy isn’t moved, and she walks away. Just in time for Cordy to get grabbed by vampires!
Cordy is now in a very dark room, and Jenny is unconscious on the floor next to her.
Buffy goes to the graveyard and finds the Master’s grave empty. She’s majorly freaking out now, and there’s another flash of the Master appearing beside her.
At school the next day, Xander briefly argues that maybe Buffy’s fine, just super into him all of a sudden. But then he caves and admits it’s much more likely she’s possessed, which is Willow’s. Only possession could make Buffy act like such a B-I-T-C-H (n.) \bɪt-kʌ\. Giles thinks it’s more likely that she’s just suffering some kind of PTSD from the Master killing her.
Buffy arrives, and they quickly stop talking about her. Oh hey, now she’s wearing the outfit from the scene in the car with Joyce earlier. I guess the editing department forgot to tell the costume department about a scene switcheroo (and everyone on set forgot to tell the costume department to burn the tank top/business pants outfit. Buffy’s angry that, despite everyone’s precautions, the Master’s missing from his grave. She has realized, correctly, that the minions are going to try to bring him back. She snaps at Giles for not being prepared for this, and she snaps at Willow to stay out of Slayer business.
Snyder interrupts, and his presence is actually useful for once, because it breaks up the nasty moment. Once the students scatter, Snyder reveals to Giles that he majorly has it in for Buffy. Giles sticks up for her despite her recent attitude problems, and Snyder thinks Giles is a weirdo.
That evening in the library, the Scoobies are researching vampire reviving rituals. Buffy thinks she’s the last ingredient because she and the Master are connected by having killed each other. Someone throws a rock through the window. It has Cordelia’s jewelry tied around it as well as a note. Buffy intends to head straight to the Bronze to confront the vampires. Willow is sure it’s a trap and that Buffy needs backup. Buffy doesn’t care. Willow’s getting more and more upset at the way Buffy’s acting. Buffy still doesn’t care, and she leaves to go fight the vampires. Xander looks pretty fed up.
Outside the Bronze, Angel catches up with Buffy. Now she’s going past being rude: she’s trying to provoke him into fighting her. He’s not taking the bait. He does not like this version of Buffy. If she keeps it up, he might not like any version of Buffy anymore. Still, he follows her into the Bronze to provide backup. There’s only one vampire there, and no Cordelia. Angel points out that this isn’t a very good trap if the goal was to capture the Slayer.
Giles continues translating the ritual, and he realizes that the final ingredient isn’t Buffy. It’s everyone who was in the library when the Master died there. That means himself, Willow, Cordelia, and Jenny. Alas, he makes this discovery at the exact moment that vampires start closing in on the library.
Buffy leaves Angel to guard the vampire chick in the Bronze and runs back to the library. Xander is the only one left there, and he’s pretty beat up. He’s done putting up with Buffy’s crap. He blames her for what happened, and his priority is now Willow’s safety.
Buffy and Xander go to the Bronze, where Buffy uses her cross necklace to torture the others’ location out of vampire girl. Angel and Xander both find these tactics a little unsettling.
At the factory, the missing Scoobies are all hanging limply upside down over the Master’s bones. The vampires are going to slit their throats and use their blood to bring back the Master. Buffy, Angel, and Xander show up. Buffy puts the guys on rescue duty while she takes care of the vampires. She stakes one, and all hell breaks loose. Angel and Xander pull the others away from the Master’s bones and get them off the chain. A vampire tries to attack them, but Angel tackles him.
Buffy has now staked a couple more vampires. Giles and Jenny are awake, and Xander’s cradling Willow while he watches Buffy’s fight. Angel stakes his vampire. Now, Baptist Preacher Vamp comes for his turn against Buffy. He has a sledgehammer that he wants to smash her with. She breaks off a torch and uses it to score a double kill, staking the vampire she had already been fighting with the pointy end and burning Baptist Preacher Vamp with the torch at the same time.
There’s a pause—all the vampires are dead. Buffy slowly picks up the sledgehammer and smashes the Master’s bones to tiny pieces with it. After only a few strokes, she’s sobbing, and there’s some lovely, sad piano music playing in the background. (Very familiar lovely, sad piano music. It’s pieces of the Buffy/Angel theme, for the first time!) Angel comes up behind her, and she buries herself against his chest, crying.
The next day, Cordelia is traumatized over the stains those chains left on her clothes. Jenny thinks she could do with a priority check.
Buffy, back to her usual self, is worried that she’s alienated everyone so much that they won’t want to be her friends anymore. Giles assures her, somewhat ineptly, that it’ll be fine. He’s right; Willow and Xander already saved her a seat in class, and they’re tentatively being friendly.
Cut to the factory, where the Anointed walks into view. Is this going to be a sinister cliffhanger? Oh, nope. He’s just sulking over his foiled plans.
“When She Was Bad” begins the Buffyverse tradition of using at least one episode of the new season to deal with the Plot B fallout of the previous season. A lot of more recent shows, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries being major offenders, will end a season on a Plot A cliffhanger and then continue the same story in the next season’s premiere. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, due partly to Joss’s constant uncertainty over the show getting renewed for another season, does not do this. Here, the major Plot A stuff gets resolved in the finale, and Plot B is what gets resolved the following season. I think this is a much more effective strategy, because it uses the characters to bridge the seasons together rather than the plot. “When She Was Bad” does a very good job of reintroducing all of the characters and establishing their current dynamics. Giles and Jenny are crushing hard on each other, Willow likes Xander, Xander likes Buffy, and Buffy and Angel like each other. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles are still the core of the group, but Angel, Jenny, and Cordelia are all in close orbit around it. In this episode, Plot A is the possible threat of the Master rising again, which also ties back to season one, but the focus is much more on Plot B: Buffy’s PTSD. Most (if not all) of the good episodes in this show succeed at tying Plots A and B together without beating us over the head too much with the metaphors. This is one of those episodes. By the end of the episode, the plots converge with Buffy smashing the Master’s bones.
It’s very difficult to watch Buffy, the girl who was so compassionate and intuitive all through season one, suddenly being so abrasive and cruel to everyone around her. Before we can really get mad at her for this, the training montage with the Master’s image flashing through it reminds us of what’s really going on with her. Buffy died just a few months ago. It shook her deeply. She’s still terrified, but she’s trying to hide it by putting up iron walls all around her and keeping everyone at arm’s length. Her nightmare in which Giles turns into the Master and tries to kill her while Willow and Xander keep smiling placidly is fascinating. She seems to associate Giles with her calling and the danger it represents, and maybe she resents him for it a little. He’s the one whose job is to send her into danger. Right now, the fact that he cares about her wellbeing so much that it hurts him to do this isn’t registering with her. She also resents Willow and Xander for their freedom to be normal. They will never be required to sacrifice their lives for a sacred calling to fight evil. They could walk away from this if they wanted to. On an ordinary day, I don’t think any of this resentment is enough to register on Buffy’s emotional scale, but right now, she’s so closed off that it’s one of the only things getting through. Her attitude is actually a lot like Harry’s in Order of the Phoenix. If you multiply teen angst against huge responsibility and seriously traumatic experiences, there will be collateral damage. I can’t quite figure out what she was trying to accomplish by dirty dancing with Xander, unless she’s just trying to make everyone else as miserable as she feels? She also uses Angel as a verbal punching bag. It seems like the two of them take turns with the “it’s probably a bad idea if we act on our feelings” mentality. When Angel has it, he stays out of sight. When she has it, she repels him with a hostile attitude and barbed comments. It’s not very pleasant. Fortunately for everyone around her, Buffy, unlike Harry Potter, does not require an entire school year to come out on top of the issues her traumatic experience left her with. She just needs to smash the Master’s bones and let her walls back down. A good cry in the arms of a hunky vampire always helps too.
It looks like Willow’s crush on Xander might get more focus this season. I think this episode put the most emphasis on it of any episode so far. Watching her take Buffy’s abuse is really painful, but I love that her first instinct is to assume that Buffy’s possessed. She has great faith in the goodhearted nature of her best friend, and she can’t imagine her being deliberately mean to people who care about her. Her disappointment over Xander’s waning interest once Buffy returns makes me want to hug her. I have been the girl who wasn’t brave enough speak up about a crush. It sucks. Stay strong, Willow.
Xander has some ups and downs in this one. “Prophecy Girl” really seemed to resolve the plotline about Xander’s crush on Buffy, but now it’s back. It doesn’t look like it’s quite as much about him anymore, though, so that’s something. He likes normal Buffy, not scary mean seductive Buffy (even if scary mean seductive Buffy likes him), which means that he’s been paying enough attention to notice a few of the qualities he admires in her. However, he’s completely unable to sympathize with Buffy, which is pretty disappointing from the guy who brought her back to life last episode. Of all the Scoobies, he’s the one who witnessed the source of her angst. Angel is much better more understanding, even though he doesn’t appreciate her taking it out on him. This may be the first episode that shows the high pedestal Xander puts Buffy on, which is already looking like it might become a bigger problem than his crush. He relies on Buffy a lot, but when things go wrong, he’s way too quick to blame her. Buffy didn’t lock everyone in the book cage before she went to rescue Cordelia; they still could have followed her. It’s not only Buffy’s fault that Willow and Giles were taken. And what’s with his behavior towards Willow? He knows about her crush. Why would he lean in to kiss her if he was uncommitted enough to only have eyes for Buffy again as soon as she arrived? I do like the final scene in the factory, though, where Xander’s holding onto Willow and reassuring himself that she’s going to be okay, but it’s a little disappointing that he only realizes how much she means to him when she’s in danger.
I like that even though Giles lives for Plot A stuff, he’s the first one to suggest that Buffy’s unpleasant behavior may not be of supernatural origin. This Giles understands Buffy far better than the Giles we met in “Welcome to the Hellmouth.” I’m still loving his interactions with Snyder. They’re so hilarious. Giles clearly loathes Snyder, but I sort of get the impression that Snyder considers Giles his closest friend on the faculty. Giles’s reclusiveness may have given him the impression that he, like Snyder, hates children, so he mistakenly sees a kindred spirit in him. Everything with Giles and Jenny is still awesome. She’s flirting hard, and he’s so British that he just gets very flustered about it. It’s absolutely precious.
Cordelia’s attitude towards Buffy in this one suggests that even if she doesn’t like her, she does hold her to a high standard. Buffy is the girl who sacrificed the possibility of top-tier social status in order to have genuine friendships with so-called losers like Willow and Xander. Part of Cordelia admires that even if she’s not so willing to do the same thing, and she’s not just going to stand by and watch while Buffy throws away the thing Cordelia secretly wishes she could have.
As much as Angel doesn’t like being a vampire, I think he really gets a kick out of pulling his Batman appear/disappear trick. He’s done it at least six times already. I wonder how that would look if the camera wasn’t cooperating with him. Anyway, Angel spent the summer missing Buffy and presumably keeping watch over Sunnydale while she was in L.A. with her dad. Seeing her dead, then alive again seems to have shaken his determination to keep a safe distance. But even though he wants to be a part of her life more, he won’t just lie down and take crap from her. He reminds her what her purpose is, and when her walls come down at last, he’s ready to offer his lovely broad shoulders for her to cry on.
“There are some things I can just smell. It’s like a sixth sense.”
“No, actually that would be one of the five.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.