Written by David Greenwalt
Directed by John Kretchmer
We open in Snyder’s office, where he’s lecturing Buffy and an actual delinquent, Sheila. Whichever of them he decides is worse by the end of parent/teacher night gets expelled. They have to organize parent/teacher night, and if everything goes perfectly, they’ll both be off the hook. Wow, this event is already a guaranteed disaster. Buffy wants to start working on organizing right away, but Sheila doesn’t care at all.
Willow and Xander console Buffy a little about her undeserved reputation, and Xander jinxes everything by saying nothing bad will happen. Buffy and Willow are more genre-savvy than him and they chew him out for it. Xander protests, which only makes it worse, because…
Bam! That night, an electric guitar riffs while a black classic car drives over the Welcome to Sunnydale sign. A bleach-blond vampire in a long leather coat steps out, smoking a cigarette. New villain in town!
In the factory from “When She Was Bad,” a group of vampires (including the Anointed) are planning an attack on the Slayer, which they’ll do on the night of St. Vigeous, because apparently vampires are stronger than usual that night? Why is there a vampire saint? Did the Vatican sign off on this? I don’t think the Vatican signed off on this.
Just as the Anointed’s favorite minion is really getting in the zone with his posturing, the vamp Xander summoned with his foolish optimism interrupts. He has a working class Londoner accent and he doesn’t give a crap what you think about him. He punches out Posturing Vamp without even looking at him, and he doesn’t seem overly impressed by the Anointed. His name is Spike, and his favorite extracurricular activity is killing Slayers.
He’s halfway through bragging about his two Slayer kills when tinkly music box music starts up and a woman with black hair, wearing a white dress, drifts into the frame. Spike goes to her immediately. Her name is Drusilla. She has a similar accent to Spike. The two of them are quite a striking visual pair and they already have fantastic chemistry together. Apparently, Drusilla is very weak. She is also very crazy. Even the Anointed is creeped out by her. She has some kind of psychic ability. Drusilla is afraid of the Slayer because she can't see anything about her future, and Spike promises her he'll "chop her into messes."
Literary commercial break! "I'll chop her into messes" is a line from Othello, so it looks like Spike has a flare for the theatrical. Othello says this about his wife Desdemona after Iago convinces him she's been unfaithful. It doesn't resemble anything Buffy and Spike ever do, nor particularly does the story of Othello and Desdemona overall (except that it ends badly), but it might say something fairly unpleasant about Spike's attitude towards Buffy. Back in season one, the Master quoted a Shylock line "What news on the Rialto?" and a Hamlet line "Where are your gibes now?". Interesting choices, as neither character triumphs in his play. With Cordelia's name, the Master's and Spike's lines, and the English lesson on The Merchant of Venice and whether or not Shylock's revenge was justified in "Out of Mind, Out of Sight," we're starting to see the impact Joss's love for Shakespeare has on his creations.
Now back to our show. Buffy’s mom got a letter about parent/teacher conference. She has pre-disappointment stern face. She really doesn’t want Buffy’s school problems to force them to start over a second time.
Willow is wearing another Scooby Doo shirt! Buffy is seriously stressing about balancing her very full schedule. Giles and Jenny show up with bad news about the night of St. Vigeous. Giles thinks Buffy is once again having priority issues, but honestly, the looming threat of expulsion is hardly a frivolous concern. Snyder shows up and Giles and Jenny skedaddle (together).
Snyder is about ready to expel Sheila because she doesn’t seem to be helping. A clearly hung-over Sheila staggers in, and Buffy covers for her. Sheila is very impressed by Buffy’s arson record. Buffy is not flattered.
At the Bronze, Buffy is trying to study French. She very much needs to study many more hours. (Fun trivia: in the French dub of this episode, she and Willow are still studying French in this scene, rather than Spanish, Italian, or English, which would have made sense. Sorry you had to deal with that, French Buffy fans.) Willow wants Buffy’s distraction issues to be about missing Angel, but Xander wants them to come dance.
The very nerdy-looking band starts up a new song, and we see that Spike is stalking his way through the Bronze, watching Buffy. It’s pretty sinister, with clear sexual predator overtones. He tells Posturing Vamp to go find some dinner, then walks over near Buffy and loudly talks about how some guy’s trying to bite someone outside. Buffy goes to get her slay on. Xander fumbles through the contents of her purse, tossing aside a tampon in a hilarious panicked fumble before finding the stake.
He gets the stake to Buffy in time for her to use it on Posturing Vamp. Spike has been watching this fight, and then he comes out of the shadows with a slow clap and taunts Buffy. He plans to kill her on Saturday. Then he disappears into the shadows.
Sheila and a couple of dudes leave the Bronze. The guys disappear one by one, and then Spike appears. Sheila is very interested, and the camera pans to show that the two guys are very dead.
The Scoobies meet at the library (including Jenny) to talk about Spike. Giles is about to dismiss him as no worse than anything Buffy’s already faced, but Angel arrives with an opposing argument. Buffy is more interested in flirting with him than learning about Spike. (Ha!) Giles and Jenny get Buffy back on topic, but before they can get more info out of Angel, he’s pulled yet another Batman. Xander doesn’t approve; he’s a Marvel fan.
Offscreen, the vampires are…doing Gregorian chants? The crap? Onscreen, Drusilla is playing with her dollies. It seems she was weakened by something a mob in Prague did to her. Spike is more interested in Drusilla than in hanging out with the Anointed’s crowd. He insists that she eat something, and by “something,” he means Sheila. She obliges.
At the library, the Scoobies (now also including Cordelia) are assembling an arsenal, and Buffy is using a machete to cut vegetables. (GROSS.) Not long after, parent/teacher night is starting, and Buffy has made sugar-free lemonade for the punch (and by “sugar-free,” I mean “unsweetened”). The plan is to keep Joyce away from Snyder all night. Willow helps with this.
Unsubtle Buffy strikes again! She tells Snyder her mother doesn’t speak English. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite her. Joyce quickly loses patience with seeing classrooms that have no teachers in them, and finally Snyder catches up to her. Not good.
In the library, Giles has found stuff about Spike. Some accurate stuff, like Spike’s Slayer kills. Also some inaccurate stuff, like that he’s 200 rather than 117+how old he was when he died (James Marsters was 35 when he first got the role, but we could probably guess at anywhere from 27 to 35 for Spike’s official physical age, since canon never clarifies this).
Joyce’s talk with Snyder was not happy. She is very disappointed, and she and Buffy go to leave. Snyder starts turning out all the lights when VAMPIRES crash through the big window at the front of the school! It’s Spike and at least four of the Anointed’s flunkies. Buffy throws a chair at Spike and herds the terrified parents and teachers away from the vampires. Willow knocks one off Cordelia by whacking him with a metal bust.
One of the minion vamps reports to Spike that everyone’s locked in the building, but they don’t know exactly where the Slayer is. Spike kills a middle-aged man by breaking his neck. He’s a veal kind of guy. Old people blood is gross.
Giles sends Xander out from the library to go find Angel, because help from someone who knows Spike would be a major advantage.
In the classroom where Buffy is barricaded with Snyder, her mom, and a bunch of teachers, Snyder is being belligerent, but Buffy doesn’t listen to him. She goes up through the ceiling.
In the hall, Spike is still looking for Buffy. He walks past the utility closet where Cordelia and Willow are hiding. Before he can kick the door in, a minion vamp points out the rustling sounds in the ceiling. In the library, Giles is freaking out; he’s about to tear down the barricades and go charging after Buffy when she falls through the ceiling into the library. Buffy puts Giles in charge of her mom’s safety if she doesn’t make it. She gears up and goes back into the ceiling.
In the classroom, Joyce and Snyder argue heatedly, and one of the teachers pries his way out of a window. In the hall, Spike smashes his minion’s face through the glass covering the fire axe, and he starts using it to chop through the door into the room where Snyder and Joyce are. At the same time, the idiot who tried escaping out the window gets seized from outside by a vampire.
Xander has found Angel. As they approach the school, Angel seizes Xander around the neck.
Buffy stakes the vampire hacking his way into the room with Joyce and Snyder, and then she goes looking for her next target. Sheila shows up! It seems like she’s willing to help the fight, but unlike Buffy, we know that she was attacked by Drusilla.
Spike notices Angel, who is in vamp face and still has Xander in a headlock. Spike is delighted to see Angel. Xander is not having fun. Angel offers Spike Xander’s blood.
Behind Buffy, Sheila is now in vampface, but she doesn’t get a chance to use the axe thanks to a timely warning from Giles. Buffy stakes another vamp, and Sheila runs away. I guess Buffy wins the expulsion tournament by default! (And I’m just going to assume Buffy eventually staked Sheila on one of her regular patrols, because this is the only episode we ever see her.)
Hmm. You know, Angel, I don’t think Spike is entirely falling for this ac—yeah, nope. Spike punches Angel in the face. He’s furious. He considers Angel a traitor, because Angel used to be his evil mentor. He makes a very interesting statement about how demons never change (I’m not sure the writers remembered that in later seasons). He and the other vampires charge Angel and Xander, but then Buffy shows up, and Spike stops. He’s more interested in fighting her than chasing Angel. They drop their weapons, and Spike talks about his last Slayer victim begging for her life. They trade insults and taunts, then fight.
Outside, Xander and Angel are fighting the other two vampires. In the library, Giles is leading all the adults to safety, but Joyce turns back.
Spike totally cheats in the no-weapons fight by pulling a board out of the wall and whacking Buffy with it. Before he can deal the killing blow, Joyce hits him over the head with the axe (the blunt side, unfortunately). Spike mutters a furious “Women!” and takes off.
Outside, Angel saves Xander from female minion #1, and she and the other vampires run away. So now Angel and Xander are going to be friends, right? Haha, nope.
The police arrive far too late to actually affect anything, and the chief talks to Snyder about “the usual cover story.” So Snyder knows what’s really happening! Why does he have it out for Buffy, then? Jerk.
Joyce is very impressed with Buffy for how she handled that crazy crisis. Yay!
Willow and Cordelia are still in the utility closet. Nobody sent them a memo about the battle ending.
The next morning in the factory, Spike is pouting about failing to kill Buffy. He’s never met a Slayer with family and friends, and that makes it a bit trickier. Drusilla pats him a bit, then sends him to grovel before the Anointed. One of the few remaining minions chews him out for his impatience (uh, shut up, dude; you went with Spike to the school). Spike makes it about five seconds before he starts cracking up. Then he grabs the Anointed, throws him in a metal cage, and hoists it up into the sunlight, turning him to dust. Thank goodness. The Anointed being a little kid was a pretty good twist at first, but then it just got kind of lame when he never really did anything. Looks like this season’s villains aren’t going to be the kind that take themselves too seriously! Excellent.
“School Hard” is for early season two what “Angel” was for season one: a game-changer, and a welcome one at that. So far, the only type of vampire we’ve really seen (apart from Angel) is the kind obsessed with tradition and ritual—the campy, muah-ha-ha villain type. That was going to get boring very quickly. It was time for the status quo to shift. Spike and Drusilla bring us exciting new flavors of evil. He’s arrogant, cocky, and rebellious; she’s got this air of twisted innocence that makes her terrifying. In an episode about Buffy’s ongoing struggle to balance her Slayer life with her normal teenager life, it’s interesting that the new threat is from someone who couldn’t care less about order and responsibility. The only one he answers to is Drusilla, his lover, which indicates that he’s ruled by passion alone. (He's also constantly sexual—almost more so when he's sizing up Buffy and circling her before the fight than he is in Drusilla's bedroom. It's very creepy, but also very consistent with his characterization through the end of season six.) Spike is the personification of everything getting in the way of Buffy keeping her life in order. I’m going to be paying attention to see if the other episodes in which he’s a threat are also ones where Buffy’s having difficulty keeping everything balanced.
The Buffyverse and Religion
I've always thought this show had a weird, possibly hypocritical approach to religion. All the characters use crosses and holy water against vampires, and vampires can't even touch copies of the Bible without burning. Buffy even has a large container of communion wafers in her trunk. And yet none of the good guys seems to be terribly religious. They all seem to be agnostic in a vaguely Christian way (except for Willow, who is agnostic in a vaguely Jewish way). What gives? With the exceptions of Riley and a really awesome nun with a bit role in an episode of Angel, overtly religious characters in either show are always presented as overzealous weirdos (at best).
Now, alongside all of that, we have the pseudo-religious ritualism of the "traditionalist" vampires (such as the Master, the Anointed, and all their minions). They have saints, hymns, pseudo-Biblical dialogue, prophecies, rituals, holy days, leaders with a very preacher-like schtick, and even a freaking Jesus metaphor. Why are these demons so interested in creating their own evil version of Christianity? The cynic in me would say it's just because Joss and the other writers want to make organized religion the bad guy (and not even a cool bad guy). But even if that's true (and I think it's less true here than with Caleb in season seven), it's only the Doylist explanation. For the Watsonian, it seems likely that these vampires may be trying to ease their fear of damnation by glorifying it. This would be even more likely if the vampires who first started doing this were human in the early days of Christianity (like the Master). Even the vampires who actively rebel against everything their human selves stood for can't manage to get very far away from it, so when they set themselves up as enemies of religion, they just end up creating something opposite and parallel.
Unlike in several season one episodes, Buffy’s problem in this episode isn’t that she has her priorities wrong, it’s that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to be both an effective Slayer and a model student—not even if she cuts out everything she does for fun. She is completely swamped. It’s like she’s the rope in a game of tug-of-war between Plots A and B. (Also, based on the tampon in her purse and one of Spike’s grosser comments, I think she’s on her period in this one? Even her own body betrays her with its horrible timing.) She’s actually handling it very well, though. With the exception of the unsweetened lemonade, she does quite a good job of organizing the parent/teacher conference on such short notice, even though she gets no help at all from Sheila. It’s a shame that Snyder refuses to see her for her merits. Until the end of the episode, Joyce can’t see them either. That would be such a confusing situation to be in as a parent; your daughter seems cheerful and nice, she has equally nice friends, and yet she’s missing class all the time and is frequently accused of starting fights and getting into other kinds of trouble. It doesn’t add up at all. She’s got to be wondering if she’s missing something.
Willow gets some funny lines, and she’s still shipping Buffy/Angel possibly as a precaution against Buffy/Xander. I also love when she tells Cordelia to drink the disgusting lemonade after Cordelia makes Buffy feel worse about her mom talking to Snyder. She’s still got that little spark of defiance, and when it mixes with her loyalty to her friends, amazing things happen. It’s also pretty impressive when she bludgeons that vampire with a statue. How heavy was that thing? She hasn’t really participated in many fights since the show began, but it looks like that’s slowly changing.
Xander didn’t have much to do on his own behalf. He helps Buffy in a fight, he helps Buffy prepare for battle and parent/teacher night, and he gets used as bait against Spike.
Cordelia doesn’t really get any development either, except that she’s still spending an awful lot of time with the Scoobies for someone who professes to dislike them. Maybe it’s for survival purposes?
Giles’s relationship with Jenny seems to be progressing nicely. He rarely appears without her in this one. My favorite Giles scene, though, is when he’s about to abandon all caution and reason to go help Buffy. He has never seemed so panicked before. She’s already died once, and he’s clearly terrified it will happen again, now that they’re up against a vampire who’s killed Slayers before. He’s not going to be prevented from helping her like he was in “Prophecy Girl.” Jenny seems to understand this about him. She wants him to be careful, but she won’t stop him from doing what he has to do.
Angel and Buffy are still trying to figure out exactly what they are to each other. He drops by to give a tiny bit of information about Spike, then leaves. Why didn’t he stay? Xander was being snarky, but only mildly, and the rest of the group was quite willing to include him. His personal account could’ve saved them a lot of bother with book researching, and he might even have been able to give them a heads-up about the unlikelihood of Spike actually following the Feast of St. Vigeous schedule. Was he just too ashamed of his shared backstory with Spike to want to tell them about it? (Or did he leave because Buffy being on her period proved to be super distracting? Oh man I suddenly have a thousand more questions for any vampire who thinks trying to pass for a normal high school student is a good idea.) Then he uses Xander as bait during the fight. I don’t think he meant it when he implied to Xander that him surviving wasn’t an essential component of successfully pulling off the ruse with Spike. Xander made it out completely unscathed, after all, and Angel saved his life from that vampire chick. Angel just wants to get back at him for all the snark, and he might have some lingering traces of jealousy to vent.
“La vache doit mi touche de la jeudi.” Words to live by.
“Wow, two centuries of dating. Even if you only had two a year, that’s still four hundred dates with four hundred diff—why do they call it a mace?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.