Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by Michael Lange
Buffy is not sleeping well. She takes a drink of water (oh hey, my parents have those same glasses!) then goes out into the hall. Drusilla appears and follows her. Buffy wanders through a door and into…the Bronze. Okay, definitely a dream sequence. There, Willow is chilling with a monkey, commiserating with him in French about the hippo stealing his monkey pants. Joyce is there too, and she breaks a plate. Buffy keeps wandering around the dancing couples, a bit bemused, and then she sees Angel. They walk towards each other with loving expressions, and then Drusilla appears behind him and stakes him! She wakes up, terrified.
Angel goes to answer a knock on his apartment door. (And he is shirtless again! Hooray!)
It’s Buffy, come to make sure he’s still okay. He’s a little confused, but not unhappy to see her. He puts on a shirt (nooooooo) and reassures her that her dream might not come true. Buffy’s not being rational; she says, “What if Drusilla is alive? We never saw her body.” Um, that would be because vampires leave ashes, not bodies (but yeah, also because she’s alive). She’s still worried, so Angel tries a new tactic: surprise kiss! It’s super effective! They keep kissing, getting more and more passionate until it triggers the fully developed Buffy/Angel theme in the background music for the first time. Eventually, Buffy remembers that she is due at school, so they migrate to the door, still kissing. It’s Buffy’s birthday tomorrow, and she wants him to surprise her. *cough* She tells him she likes seeing him in the morning, and then has a foot-in-mouth moment when he points out that it’s bedtime for him, but he rolls with it. Looks like it won’t be long before this relationship gets consummated.
At school, Buffy and Willow are talking in very thin double entendres about this impending consummation. Willow recommends that Buffy go for it, and she is in awe. Buffy points out Oz by the picnic tables, and she nudges Willow in his direction. Willow’s nervous and scared and still crushing on Xander, but she heads over to him anyway. THEY ARE SO CUTE. Oz asks her out and she invites him to come to Buffy’s surprise party as her date. Have I mentioned THEY ARE SO CUTE.
Xander finds Cordy at her locker and asks her if she wants to go to Buffy’s party as his date. He’s definitely ready to call their regular snog sessions a relationship, but Cordelia’s still afraid for her social status. Xander sighs and leaves, and he runs into Giles. Jenny and Buffy join them, and Buffy shares her dream worries with all of them. Giles sympathizes, but doesn’t want Buffy to worry unnecessarily.
At the factory, Spike (in a wheelchair, with burns all over his face) and Drusilla (who is sprightly and able) are preparing for a party with all their minions. Spike is feeling pretty done with Sunnydale, what with his personal 0-4 record against Team Buffy, but Drusilla is set on having her party there. She’s particularly excited about the presents. She opens one, which “reeks of death,” but we don’t get to see what it is. According to her, though, it means this will be the last party ever.
It’s Buffy’s birthday! She is seventeen. She wants her mom to let her get her driver’s license now, and Joyce drops her plate. Oh noes! A part of the dream has come true!
In Jenny’s computer lab, a tall guy with a mustache, and old-fashioned suit, and a lopsided hat comes striding in, accompanied by an exotic strain of background music. He is concerned that Jenny isn’t doing her duty. The “elder woman” has seen signs that Angel’s pain is lessening. He and, it turns out, Jenny, are part of the same tribe that cursed Angel with his soul originally. Lopsided Hat Guy is not a Buffy/Angel shipper, and he insists that Jenny break them up for the sake of vengeance. Rude.
In the library, Buffy is telling Giles about the part of her dream that came true, and Xander and Willow come bouncing in to wish her happy birthday. She’s not in the mood. Giles still doesn’t think she should freak out, but he’s prepared to spend the rest of the day researching Drusilla just in case. Xander and Willow think this means they have to cancel the birthday party, but to their surprise, Giles insists that they throw it anyway. Aww, Giles.
Nightfall! Buffy comes to meet Giles as planned, but Jenny intercepts her and offers to drive her to Giles. They head out, and Jenny is being slightly sinister. Before they reach their destination, they see some kind of cargo truck that sets off Buffy’s spidey-sense. Three vampires are there, including Glasses Vamp from a few episodes ago.
This is happening right outside the Bronze, so all the Scoobies can hear some of the fight noises. Buffy stakes one vampire, then crashes through the back window of the Bronze with the second, who she stakes with drumsticks. Cordelia chooses that moment to jump out and yell “Surprise!” (Read the room, Cordelia.) Oz takes the revelation that vampires are real more in stride than anyone else did.
Jenny enters with the thing Glasses Vamp was carrying, since he ran off without it. Buffy opens it, and an armor-clad arm reaches out and tries to strangle her! Angel manages to pry it off her and close the box in time (and in the background, Oz moves to stand in front of Willow). Angel and Giles realize that the arm is a piece of the Judge, a demon who can destroy anyone with redeeming qualities just by touching them. An army managed to chop him up and scatter the pieces, but he’s still not dead. Now Drusilla and her minions are trying to reassemble him. Jenny volunteers Angel to take the arm as far away as possible so that they won’t be able to. Buffy is heartbroken at the thought of him being gone for months, especially starting on her birthday.
Um, why can’t they just encase the box in concrete and drop it in the ocean? It’d be pretty hard to find then!
At the factory, Drusilla is disgusted with Glasses Vamp for losing the box. She stomps on his glasses and is about to poke his eyes out when Spike suggests she give him a chance to get the box back before she kills him. She puts the broken glasses crookedly back on his nose and pats him on the head.
Buffy and Angel are walking up to a cargo ship on the docks. (So Sunnydale has a bus station, an airport, docks, a mall, a university, and at least two high schools. HOW BIG IS THIS TOWN?) Buffy is feeling pretty pessimistic about her and Angel’s chances of surviving long enough to see each other again. Angel tries to comfort her by giving her his birthday present. It’s a silver Claddagh ring, which is fitting, since he’s Irish and grew up very near Claddagh. He explains what it means (sort of), and shows her the one he’s already wearing (heart pointing in). She’s very touched, and she lets him put it on. Then they kiss, and we see that he put it on her left ring finger, heart pointing in. Anyone who knows more about Claddagh rings than what Angel just told Buffy realizes that she’s now wearing it in the “I’m married!” position. Angel is about to confess his feelings when vampires show up to steal the box back! Buffy and Angel fight them, but since there’s three vampires and only two of them, the third one keeps getting farther away with the box. When the one Buffy’s fighting throws Buffy into the water, Angel abandons his own fight to go pull her out.
The Scoobies are doing research on the Judge at the library, and they’re getting antsy about Buffy and Angel not having returned yet. Buffy shows up in a different outfit with the news that vampires stole the box back, and they all decide that this will be an overnight mission, so they do a round robin to get alibis from parents. By the early hours of the morning, they still don’t have a solution for the Judge problem. Buffy’s asleep in Giles’s office. Giles and Angel see this and smile. Angel tells everyone that Buffy hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and they all give him suspicious looks until he explains indignantly that he doesn’t know this firsthand; Buffy told him. Meanwhile, Buffy’s having another nightmare. She’s wearing the same dress we’ve seen on Drusilla before, and she sees all the Judge part boxes in the factory. She also briefly sees Jenny walking past. Then Drusilla (also wearing the dress) appears and beheads Angel. Buffy wakes up terrified, holding onto Angel for dear life.
At the factory, the party has begun! Drusilla dances to “Transylvanian Concubine,” which is awesome. Spike wheels in with the box containing the Judge’s head, and they put it in the slot. Lights flash and the fully assembled Judge steps out. He’s…blue, and rather silly-looking. Also he’s played by the same actor who played Luke. He’s annoyed at Spike and Dru, since the affection and jealousy they have for each other means they aren’t *quite* as devoid of humanity as he likes his company. Still, it must not bother the Judge that much, because when Spike pokes him indignantly in the chest, he doesn’t get so much as a blister from all that alleged humanity inside him. Drusilla offers the Judge Glasses Vamp to burn since he’s such a sniveling intellectual, and it works. (What the heck does this guy define “humanity” as, anyway?)
At the library, Buffy is in action mode. She and Angel are going to go do recon at the factory, and she wants everyone else to check out all the places in town where boxes could be arriving.
Buffy and Angel creep into the factory, which is decked out exactly like Buffy saw in her dream. They see the Judge walking around next to Spike and Drusilla, and then the Judge looks up and sees them! They’ve been made! Before they can escape, a couple of minions grab them and drag them to the ground floor. Spike and Dru are going to have the Judge kill both of them, but Angel manages to act quickly enough to get them a way out through the sewers.
It’s pouring rain when they get to the surface, and they run to Angel’s apartment. It’s January, so Buffy is frozen from all that rain. Angel gives her some dry clothes to change into. She sits on his bed and starts taking her camisole off but winces. Angel checks the cut on her back, but it’s tiny and healing. The mood begins to shift as they realize how close they came to being either separated or killed that night. She leans back against him and he holds her, trying to reassure her. He finally tells her he loves her. He’s been fighting it, but it’s a battle he has officially lost. Buffy kisses him, and it’s starting to heat up. He says maybe they shouldn’t keep going, but she changes his mind. They kiss until they lean out of frame.
Cut to later. Buffy and Angel are curled together, asleep, obviously naked under the bedcovers. Lightning flashes and Angel wakes up with a jolt. He sits up, evidently in pain. In the next shot, he comes bursting out into the alley above his apartment, now fully clothed (how long did that take?). He collapses to the pavement, in agony and terrified, calling Buffy’s name. Well that’s a mean cliffhanger.
It's hard to talk about "Surprise" on its own, but it's a fantastic episode. The dialogue is top notch, there are great moments for all of the characters, and Spike and Drusilla are back! There are so many different relationships at play here, and they're still so different from each other. Buffy and Angel are achingly intense and romantic (in "Bad Eggs," their scenes were largely physical, but here, there is a truckload of emotion to go along with that), Willow and Oz are sweet and tentative, Xander and Cordelia are slowly transforming from hostile to affectionate, and Spike and Drusilla are sensual. But romantic relationships aren't the only ones that get screentime. Buffy also has significant moments with Joyce, Willow, and Giles. Along with all this Plot B socializing, there's also a Plot A threat coming from Spike and Drusilla. Buffy's dreams and the parallels between her and Drusilla tie Plots A and B together. The Judge is a fairly impressive threat, almost killing Buffy as just a disembodied arm. How's she supposed to fight something she can't touch without turning to ash?
Buffy’s dreams are fascinating. In the first one, she and Angel are so intent on gazing at each other that they don’t notice the immediate threat. In the second one, Buffy is dressed like Drusilla. It doesn’t occur to her or any of the Scoobies that the dreams mean that the relationship between Buffy and Angel is the actual threat to him. There are other parallels between Buffy and Drusilla, such as that Drusilla is also having a party, and her dialogue indicates that she's sharing Buffy's dreams. Buffy is unwilling to let Angel out of her sight, both because she loves him and because she wants to protect him. She doesn’t want him to take the Judge’s arm halfway around the world, even if doing so will save countless innocent people. At the end of the episode, when Buffy and Angel’s priority should really be to call Giles immediately and tell him the Judge is active, Angel is only worried about Buffy being cold, and Buffy is only worried about how close she came to losing him. I know Joss came up with the loophole in Angel’s curse as a metaphor for the nice boyfriend turning into a jerk as soon as the girl sleeps with him, but it really looks like it’s the punishment for Buffy wanting something for herself. As the Slayer, she doesn’t have that luxury.
How is it possible that I forgot how adorable Willow and Oz are? Their scenes are truly a joy to watch, now that I no longer have all of their dialogue memorized. The way Willow smiles as she haltingly tries to invite Oz to the party, and the way Oz smiles and shifts in his seat when she approaches him. They are just THE CUTEST. Xander-schmander. Oz is the guy for Willow. It’s interesting how she’s still trying to live vicariously through Buffy’s love life, but now Buffy won’t let her. She must seize the day for herself!
Xander, as usual, is at his best when he’s not crushing on Buffy. His attitude towards Cordelia is rather endearing now. He’s the first one of the two of them to swallow his pride and all the years of animosity and admit he likes her enough to date her properly. She’s still resisting, and he seems slightly hurt by that. He doesn’t want to just be her shameful secret. This is good. As badly as he handled his crush on Buffy, he still isn’t the type of guy who would just use a girl only for physical satisfaction. He wants to be someone’s boyfriend, not someone’s frenemy-with-benefits.
I finally have something separate to say about Cordelia! She comes to Buffy’s party. Yes, she spends the entire party not caring about the Plot A mayhem erupting around her, but she’s willingly attending an ostensibly Plot B only event on Buffy’s behalf. Either she actually likes the Scoobies but won’t admit it, or she at least finds them far more interesting than her popular crowd (which, of course they’re more interesting). She’s not invested enough to resent having to contribute chips and dip, but the enthusiasm when she jumps up and says “surprise!” wasn’t fake, even if it was misplaced.
Giles, who started out entirely focused on Plot A, is willing to take a few hours off from that now so that Buffy can get her Plot B birthday party, dang it! This is adorable. He doesn’t just care about helping her become an effective Slayer; he wants her to have some joy in her life as well. (Or maybe he just already knows how badly he’s going to ruin her 18th birthday, so he thinks he’d better make the 17th count.) Jenny is in this episode too, with way more of her own subplot than usual, but Giles never interacts with her; his focus is all on Buffy. Also, while I agree with many other fans that in some ways, Jenny’s identity as a Kalderash Gypsy feels like the retcon it is, I really don’t mind. She first shows up the very episode after Buffy and Angel’s first kiss, which fits with what we’ve now learned: she was sent here to watch Angel and make sure he doesn’t get too happy.
She’s done basically nothing to get between Buffy and Angel this entire time, though, but apart from the one attempt to get him to leave town with the Judge’s arm, she doesn’t do anything about that in this episode either, so it doesn’t really feel like much of a deviation from her usual behavior.
Angel immediately abandoning the box to the vampires so he can jump into the harbor to save Buffy is the parallel to Buffy being so attached to Angel that she would rather keep him in town than let him leave so that the Judge can’t be assembled. Right now, they’re both choosing each other over the rest of the world. (I’m assuming Buffy has had some major issues with being submerged in water ever since she drowned, otherwise Angel jumping in after her would be an entirely pointless bit of chivalry.) I kind of love that they do this here, because, in time, they’re both going to learn that they don’t have the luxury of prioritizing each other. It’s one of the hardest lessons either of them has to learn, but if they hadn’t, Angel wouldn’t have spun off into his own series. I love Angel’s Claddagh ring gift so much. What’s particularly cool about it is that he’s been wearing his own Claddagh ring heart-pointing-in for pretty much the entire series. There aren’t any clear enough shots of his hands in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” or “The Harvest” for me to be able to say for sure that the silver ring he’s wearing is a Claddagh, but I found this in “Teacher’s Pet,” when he’s giving Buffy his jacket:
Left hand pointing in! Holy crap! I checked the rest of his episodes in S1, and it’s still right there on his left middle finger through “Prophecy Girl.” In S2, it switches to his right hand (the first clear shot of it is in “School Hard” but there’s a super obvious one when Buffy catches him holding Mr. Gordo in “What’s My Line: Part 1”). Always heart pointing in. When he gives Buffy the Claddagh ring, he tells her that wearing it heart pointing in “means you belong to somebody.” So he’s been devoted to Buffy this entire time, in case that wasn’t obvious. This may have been the first time he’s told Buffy he loves her, but it is absolutely not the beginning of those feelings. Which is why what’s about to happen is so particularly heartbreaking. It’s dangerous to find your soulmate when your own soul has merely been stuck on haphazardly by a bunch of vindictive jerks with crazy glue.
“Do you guys, uh, have a gig tonight?”
“Oh, no, practice. See, our band’s kinda moving towards this new sound where we suck. So, practice.”
12/8/2015 07:25:32 am
You know, if "Angel" is this series' single biggest plot hole showcase, this episode might be the same for, shall we call them, plausibility holes? Between the size of the allegedly one-Starbucks Sunnydale and the complete failure of everyone to come up with a better idea for hiding a box than "Angel goes on a cargo ship world tour", it kind of seems like all the writers had their minds elsewhere.
Lenore Warren, M.A.
12/8/2015 07:56:53 am
Wait, why is "Angel" the biggest plot hole episode?
12/14/2015 11:20:05 am
Everyone expecting Angel to stay in Buffy's room all day, Giles spending all night researching a topic he wouldn't hear about until the next day...I think there are a few others; I just hear it mentioned a lot as a plot-holey episode.
Lenore Warren, M.A.
12/14/2015 11:27:40 am
Oh yeah, I forgot about that stuff. It's not impossible to explain, though, is it? Maybe Buffy called Giles at some point about the Three, and maybe she thought Angel was too injured to go back to his place that day.
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.