“What’s My Line: Part 1”
Written by Howard Gordon and Marti Noxon
Directed by David Solomon
It’s Career Week at Sunnydale High. Buffy, Willow, and Xander are filling out career aptitude questionnaires. Willow is excited, Xander is insecure, and Buffy is a bit mopey. Cordelia swings by with her (silent) ladies-in-waiting so that she and Xander can trade zingers. (Why on earth is there a question about shrubbery preferences on this quiz thing? Are the Knights of Ni hiring?) Turns out the reason Buffy is mopey is that being the Slayer makes most careers impossible (either she’ll die too young to make it far, or all the nightly battles with evil will seriously cramp her schedule).
At the factory, Drusilla is playing with fake Tarot cards while Spike and a bespectacled minion are trying to translate that book he stole from Giles. Hey! Arc episode! The translations are not going well. Spike’s trying to cure Drusilla. She does seem a bit weaker than when they first arrived in Sunnydale. She struggles to stand now, and her skin is bruised. Spike and Dru have a cute/creepy moment and then he cracks down on Glasses Vamp. It won’t do any good though, because according to Drusilla’s fake Tarot cards, the book’s in code and they’ll need a key first. Spike picks Drusilla up, bridal style, and spins her around. (Come on, Spike; you know what happens when you preemptively celebrate the crushing of your enemies.)
That night, Buffy patrols and finds Glasses Vamp trying to steal from a mausoleum. Another vamp comes up and she stakes him, but Glasses Vamp gets away while she’s distracted.
She heads home, and when she climbs in through her bedroom window, she sees Angel hanging out in her room. She’s happy to see him and amused to catch him holding her stuffed pig, Mr. Gordo. He doesn’t have bad news, but he does have a bad feeling. Buffy takes out some of her earlier bitterness out on him, then apologizes and opens up. She looks at the mirror, in which he isn’t reflected. She admits that sometimes she wishes she could have a normal life. He worries that he’s part of what’s keeping her from getting that, but she assures him that’s not the case. She manages to make him smile, and then he asks her about a picture of little Buffy ice skating. He invites her on an illegal ice skating date so that she can reconnect with a part of her normal life. Excellent boyfriend form, Angel.
At school, the results of the questionnaire are in. Xander’s says prison guard, Buffy’s says police, and Willow’s says…nothing. None of them are happy. Buffy goes off to check in with Giles, who is carrying a towering stack of books. She tells him about last night’s patrol. Giles wants to find out what Glasses Vamp stole from the mausoleum, and he’s rather impatient with her about not following up on it. She is in no mood for Impatient Giles, because her only career path option is being a Slayer (or dead), and she doesn’t want Giles telling her she’s not doing a good job.
Turns out that the item Glasses Vamp stole is this elaborate golden cross that’ll help him with his translations. Spike is determined to make sure Buffy doesn’t defeat him again, so he takes a contract on her with the Order of Taraka. Drusilla turns over three fake Tarot cards: a Cyclops, a worm, and a jaguar. (Now that I know how British people pronounce “jaguar,” I’m really sad that neither Spike nor Dru actually described the cards. Jag-you-are. *giggles*)
At school, Xander and Willow try to distract Principal Snyder from Buffy’s absence. Xander heads off to his prison guard seminar (there were enough other schools with prison guard aptitude for there to be a seminar?) and then Willow gets herded off to a rather swanky curtained off area (there’s canapé). Some software bigwigs want to recruit her and…OZ! (HELLO OZ IT IS SO VERY LOVELY TO SEE YOU!) He is very happy to see Willow, who he clearly recognizes from their earlier aborted meet-cutes. He offers her some canapé.
Giles and Buffy (who is grumpy with Giles) arrive at the cemetery. Giles tries to be encouraging by suggesting that Buffy could go into law enforcement, since that would pair about as nicely with being the Slayer as any career could. She’s not encouraged. The problem is that being the Slayer is already not something she chose to do, so why would she want to add a similar career on top of it? (Also, Giles, Buffy is Neutral Good; you need to be one of the Lawful alignments to make it in law enforcement.) Inside the mausoleum is bad news. It’s the tomb of the heretical Josephus Du Lac, who wrote a book full of evil spells. This does not bode well, considering that Spike’s minion stole a book by Du Lac back in “Lie to Me.”
Elsewhere in town, a huge, muscular dude with one eye steps off a bus. A super bland-looking door-to-door salesman walks past Buffy’s house and gets himself invited into her next-door neighbor’s house, and as soon as the door closes behind them, Mrs. Next Door screams! A black girl in exotic clothing kicks an airport employee on her way out of an airplane’s cargo hold. So…Cyclops, worm, and jaguar.
At the library, the Scoobies are researching Du Lac. Giles doesn’t appreciate Buffy simplifying and Americanizing his exposition. They’re going to have to do some serious research to make sure Spike doesn’t pull of whatever ritual he’s attempting. But not Buffy! Buffy has a date with Angel. Willow has her back on that.
We’re treated to a lovely thirty seconds or so of Sarah Michelle Gellar figure skating like a pro. (I’m very annoyed that nobody thought to ask David Boreanaz about his ice hockey skills, because this could totally have been couples skating.) One-Eyed Guy shows up at the rink and attacks! Angel, in vampface as he always is when Buffy’s in danger, attacks him before he can finish strangling Buffy, and then she slits his throat with her skate. He staggers onto the ice, holding his throat, and collapses. Um. Guys? If you’re going to kill someone by slitting his throat, there should be a little more blood in evidence than none at all. I mean, for crying out loud, Angel’s eyebrow wound is bleeding more than One-Eyed Guy’s neck. So here, let me just fix up some of those shots for you…
Arterial blood spray!
I may have gone overboard with this one. I regret nothing.
I mean, seriously, the only way he would've died that quickly would be if she'd severed both carotid arteries.
Drusilla turns over the Cyclops card; she can sense he’s been defeated. Spike isn’t worried. Even if the assassins fail, they should be enough to distract Buffy until they finish Dru’s cure.
At the ice rink, Angel notices One-Eyed Guy’s ring, and he recognizes the insignia of the Order of Taraka. He’s officially afraid for Buffy’s life. He’s also still in vamp face, and we see that minor eyebrow wound I mentioned earlier. Buffy’s more interested in making sure he’s okay than in getting to safety herself, and he gets very insecure about his demonic features. She shows him she doesn’t care by taking off her glove so she can caress his face, and then she leans up to kiss him in spite of the fangs. Excellent girlfriend form, Buffy. Across the rink, Jaguar Girl watches their makeup session with narrowed eyes.
At the library, Buffy shows Giles One-Eyed Guy’s ring. Giles is just as worried as Angel. He too thinks that Buffy needs to hole up somewhere safe until they can do something about the contract on her, because the Order will just keep sending more assassins until she’s dead. Buffy is thoroughly unnerved by this argument. Giles’s exposition continues in voiceover as we see Bland Salesman Guy, who is actually MADE OF WORMS and has killed Buffy’s neighbor.
When Buffy leaves the library, she’s majorly paranoid. Even the most innocent movements of the people around her have her jumping and looking around in fearful suspicion. Oz comes walking up behind her, definitely minding his own business, and she grabs him and pins him to the wall by the throat, then realizes her mistake and apologizes. He shrugs it off.
Buffy makes it almost all the way home, then decides that’s probably not the safest place for her right now, and doesn’t go in. At the library, Willow and Xander think Giles was a little too convincing with his danger exposition. The next place Buffy goes is Angel’s apartment. He’s not there, but she breaks the lock and goes in anyway. It’s possibly the first time she’s ever been there (definitely the first time she’s been there onscreen). She walks through it slowly, then curls up on Angel’s bed, looking very vulnerable.
The reason Angel isn’t home is because he’s at a sleazy bar, trying to shake down its sleazy owner, Willy, for information. Willy immediately starts backing away from him, even before he says anything threatening, which is awesome. (Since they clearly know each other, do you think Willy might’ve been the one who gave him some of the information he had for Buffy in S1?) Angel wants to know why the Order of Taraka is after Buffy. He quickly tires of Willy’s evasions, so he slams his head against the bar and starts with the actual threats. Before Willy can spill, Jaguar Girl arrives and starts fighting Angel. They’re pretty evenly matched, but she eventually gets the better of him and locks him in Willy’s back room (which has eastern exposure). She has a…Jamaican? accent, and her next target is Buffy.
*cough* Um. Did the writers forget that Angel has superhuman strength? As early as “The Harvest,” we saw vampires bending a solid metal door with their bare hands until it popped out of its frame. A dinky little padlock would not be enough to keep Angel trapped. I’m not even sure it would be enough to keep a David Boreanaz-sized human trapped. The whole door moves quite a lot when he slaps his palms against it in frustration. One good kick (or maybe a few) to the side of the door with the lock, and something would probably have broken. And even if the lock itself was somehow too much for Angel, what about that super thin metal mesh the door is made of? Sunrise is hours away. He has time to beat that door into submission. There are just so many reasons this is not a convincing holding cell for a vampire. The fact that Willy’s bar is frequented by vampires and demons means the set designers had a perfect excuse to give him something more durable for his secure storage.
Nitpicky rant over. At the library, Giles calls Xander and asks him to go check on Buffy. He’ll need someone to drive him, like Cordelia. Willow is asleep at the computer. Giles wakes her up. She’s really adorable. He’s discovered that Du Lac’s book contains a ritual to restore weakened vampires to full health.
In the factory, Glasses Vamp has finished translating this very ritual. It turns out that the missing piece to curing Drusilla is Angel. Uh-oh.
Xander and Cordelia get to Buffy’s house. They get inside, where Buffy is not. Worm Guy shows up, and since he’s peddling makeup, Cordelia falls for it. He’s looking for Buffy, though, so he doesn’t immediately attack her.
*lengthy, irritable sigh* Against all logic, Angel is still unable to break out of that stupid storage room. At his apartment, Buffy is enjoying a refreshing nap when Jaguar Girl provides a wakeup call in the shape of an AXE TO THE FACE. Buffy dodges just in time, but Angel’s going to need to buy a new mattress. They fight, and Buffy plays dirty, using her fingernails and pulling Jaguar Girl’s hair. Eventually, after smashing some of Angel’s furniture, they come to a standoff, and Jaguar Girl identifies herself as Kendra the Vampire Slayer. Whaaaaaat! Credits.
“What’s My Line: Part 1” is great. It’s an arc episode in a season that hasn’t felt like it had much of an arc so far—and actually it just occurred to me that even the Plot A arc of S2 is character-driven (because the villain characters just sort of do what they want) rather than plot-driven (as when the Big Bad has a definite endgame in mind from day 1, which is how it works in every other season except S6). The Plot B conflict for Buffy (that she’ll never be free to choose a career based on her interests) is the perfect setup for the introduction of Kendra. This is the half of the story concerned with Buffy feeling like she doesn’t really have a say in her own life, and that’s where it connects to Plot A: supernatural assassins are after her. Regardless of how much control she has over it, her life is in serious danger. Some other good things about the episode… Oz returns, and FINALLY actually meets Willow! There’s some really good development for Buffy and Angel as a couple. The Order of Taraka is an excellent concept, even if Worm Guy is the only really interesting manifestation of it. And the dialogue is on point, even by Whedonverse standards.
Career Week was the perfect device to give Buffy a crisis about her future. Once again, we see how much being the Slayer alienates Buffy from other people. Giles isn’t a useful confidant this time, because while he may not have wanted to be a Watcher initially, he actually likes his dual Watcher/librarian career, to the point of being a little obsessive. Xander and Willow, even if they didn’t get the career aptitude results they wanted, will in theory be free to pursue their own interests after high school. The only thing Buffy sees ahead for her is more demons to fight, and she doesn’t really get to opt out—that was the lesson of S1. Buffy’s struggle is still to find meaning in her destiny, rather than just feeling enslaved to it. This is why Angel is the only character she can really relate to in the episode. He may not have her destiny, but he isn’t a “regular kid” either. He knows how much it hurts for a normal life to be out of your grasp, so he gives her something normal to hold onto: skating. The skating scene is Buffy’s most peaceful moment in the episode, until Plot A arrives to ruin it. And for all the times the “vampire thing” has come up in the past when Buffy and Angel have had issues, she proves in this episode that she cares far more about who Angel is than what he is.
We already knew that Willow was a genius, but it’s nice that other people are noticing too. It’s also such a relief that she finally gets to meet Oz. There wasn’t any follow-up to the initial meeting this time, but okay. After three near misses, actually achieving the initial introduction is a relief on its on. (I’m going to pretend that the software company trying to recruit Willow and Oz is owned by Wolfram and Hart.)
The only thing we really find out about Xander is that he’s pretty aimless. He doesn’t like that he gets assigned to the prison guard seminar (still can’t get over that there’s a whole seminar for the prison guard aptitude), but he doesn’t seem to have any ideas for what he does want to do. He also doesn’t seem to have any skills? Like, does Xander seriously just exist to provide humor and (sometimes) good emotional support for Buffy? What are Xander’s interests? What does he want out of life? It frustrates me that I have no answers to these questions. Xander would be interesting if he was also frustrated by the lack of answers, but he doesn’t even seem to be asking the questions.
Cordelia is just the drive-by snarker again. As per usual of late, Xander is the target.
Giles is in über-Watcher mode. I feel like he might be the one weakness in this episode. It doesn’t feel like there’s much continuity from all the important moments he had with Buffy in “Lie to Me” and “The Dark Age.” He’s mostly just overbearing and obsessive again, like in “Reptile Boy.” This could’ve been okay, if there had been just one reference to Jenny Calendar and how her needing space from him is why he’s on his hyper-efficiency kick. I feel like this is the sort of thing any of the kids would have picked up on.
This episode gives us what I think is the first obvious indication that Angel wishes he was human. I don’t think it’s something he often dwells on, because what would be the point? As far as he knows, it’s impossible. But it’s why he can relate so well when Buffy is miserable about her lack of normal life future options. He can’t have anything he wants either. Gah, that’s so sad. I really love how he responds to Buffy’s sadness. First he commiserates, then he offers her a brief escape. And then he goes into protective boyfriend mode and tries to beat people up for information so he can keep her safe! I think the scene in Willy’s bar was the first time Angel has had an opportunity to be menacing, and it was glorious. If we ignore the ridiculous padlock situation, this was a good episode for Angel.
“Cordelia Chase, always willing to give a helping hand to the rich and the pretty.”
“Which, lucky me, excludes you. Twice.”
“What does that mean anyway? ‘Whole nine yards.’ Nine yards of what? Ugh…now it’s gonna bug me all day.” Buffy you are my spirit animal.
“It’s worth nothing, Harris. Whatever comes out of your mouth is a meaningless waste of breath. An airborne toxic event.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.