“Becoming: Part 1”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We open on an old-timey cobblestone street set, which is labeled Galway, Ireland, circa 1753. Oh hey, Angel flashbacks! And since we got the year of his human death in writing on the screen, his age is now locked in. He’s 245 in vampire years, 271 total. Human Angel, or Liam, as he will be identified in flashbacks a couple of seasons from now, gets tossed out of a tavern. He is very drunk. He staggers across the street until he spots an elegant lady at the mouth of an alley. It’s Darla! He follows her and offers some drunken pick-up lines in a rather crappy Irish accent. She’s very interested in him, and she invites him to travel the world with him. He’s down for it. She tells him to close his eyes, then vamps out and bites him. Next, she slices open the skin above her breasts and pushes his mouth against the cut. Goodbye, Liam.
Present day Sunnydale. Hello, Angelus! He’s lurking in a cemetery while Buffy fights vampires. She wants to send one of them with a message for Angelus, but ends ups taking him. Xander is there too. He’s a bit concerned about how gung-ho she’s been about slaying lately. She wants to have the final showdown with Angelus already. Angelus, meanwhile, seems to have something unpleasant up his sleeve. Also, it’s the weekend before final exams (so my timing watching it today is just spot on).
Some archaeologists are chipping away at a big stone thing, and Giles comes in. They’ve invited him because of his expertise on “obscure relics.” It has runic carvings on the side, and Giles figures out almost immediately that it’s some kind of tomb. He wants the archaeologists to wait to open it until after he’s translated the exterior runes.
In the school cafeteria, Xander is reenacting Buffy’s vampire slayage with fish sticks and toothpicks. OZ IS THERE! HELLO OZ, IT’S SO V—you guys want me to stop doing that, don’t you? It’s a pretty cute Scooby moment. Willow’s still enjoying teaching, and Xander and Cordelia are being almost as adorable as Willow and Oz. Everyone's getting along great, and Oz and Cordelia really feel like part of the group. Then Snyder comes in and ruins it, naturally.
Okay, weird stock footage of the exterior of an old abbey. We're in London in 1860 now. This time it’s not just an Angel flashback; it’s also a Drusilla flashback! Uh-oh. Human Drusilla goes inside to the confessional, where Angelus is just about finished draining the priest. Drusilla thinks she’s cursed and evil because she keeps seeing visions that come true. She’s very devout, and she wants to be good. Angelus pretends to be the priest, and he tells her she’s evil and there’s nothing she can do about it. She’s so innocent that it doesn’t occur to her that her priest is acting extremely out-of-character. Angelus definitely has her in his sights now.
Cut to present-day Drusilla, who’s just returning to the mansion after killing an old man. She’s telling Spike about it, and also about the vision she had. Angelus comes in to hear about it too. Turns out it wasn’t so much a vision as a newspaper article, the subject of which is the stone tomb the archaeologists are working on. Angelus is very interested, and Drusilla does this:
Buffy and Willow are studying chemistry. Buffy is not having fun, and Willow is showing off her teaching chops. Buffy’s pencil falls into the gap between the desks WHERE THE FLOPPY DISK FROM “PASSION” IS! She picks it up and keeps studying. Then her pencil falls down again, and this time she actually notices the disk. Willow pops it in her laptop’s drive, and it pulls up the Ritual of Restoration. Buffy realizes what it means first.
Another flashback! This time it’s 1898, and we’re in Romania. Angelus is running through the woods, evidently terrified of something. Nearby, a clan of Gypsies is holding a funeral for a young girl, while an old woman performs a ritual. Angelus makes it to a bonfire when he collapses and his eyes fill with golden-white light. His first moments with his soul restored are brutal. A Gypsy man stands over him, pretty much guaranteeing that he’ll blame himself for everything he did without his soul once the memories start coming back. When the memories hit, he begins to weep, his head bowing under the awful weight of it.
In the present, Buffy and Willow bring Giles the curse. Xander takes the opportunity to make a jab at Angelus for killing Jenny before she could curse him. (What the heck does he expect? Angelus is evil! Why does he keep talking about Angelus as if it’s a smear on Angel?) Willow is confident that she could actually perform the ritual herself. Xander doesn’t care, because he hates Angel either way, and even if he got his soul back, Xander would still want him dead. SHUT UP, XANDER. Giles is willing to do the ritual because it was Jenny’s last wish, but Xander’s all “yeah, but she’s dead,” which enrages Giles. Everyone’s shouting until Buffy gets them to cut it out. Xander thinks Buffy is selfishly trying to get her boyfriend back and that she doesn’t care how many people Angelus has killed in the meantime. Again, SHUT UP, XANDER. Willow stares at him in disbelief while Buffy, deeply upset, leaves the library.
Archaeologist guy hears creepy noises, like whispering sounds coming from the stone tomb. He doesn’t have long to think about what it means, because suddenly Drusilla is there, and she grabs him and bites him. Angelus sends the minions over to get the tomb and sweetly asks Dru to share the archaeologist’s blood.
Buffy and Willow are on the phone. Willow is still super mad at Xander, and Buffy isn’t sure what she wants to do until she finds the Claddagh ring in her desk drawer. Then she heads out patrolling, where she is ambushed by…Kendra! Oh hey, Kendra! She has a whole new outfit this time. She’s been sent by her Watcher again because of another dark power. So does this mean that when a Slayer can’t be stationed permanently on a Hellmouth, she still gets to take frequent fieldtrips there?
At the mansion, Spike is unimpressed by the stone tomb, but Angelus explains that it contains an ancient demon that was all set to swallow the world into hell until a good knight stabbed it through the heart, turning it to stone. Angelus wants to wake the demon up so it can resume its world-swallowing.
At the library, Giles is using the information from Kendra’s Watcher and what he just heard about the attack on the museum to figure out what’s happening. The good guys know about Acathla, the world-swallowing demon, so hopefully that means they’ll be able to do something about it. Buffy wants Willow to try the curse to restore Angel’s soul, but that’s a backup in case Buffy can’t kill Angelus before he wakes up Acathla. Kendra has brought a sword that should be useful against Acathla if he does wake up. Willow’s on soul restoration duty now, and fortunately Giles has an Orb of Thesula in his office. Apparently he’s the new age nut who bought it from the magic shop to use as a paperweight.
Angelus is working on a ritual of his own, the ritual to wake up Acathla. He spouts some mumbo-jumbo about how everything in his life has led to this moment, he kills a guy, and he goes to take the sword out of Acathla.
Flashback! It’s 1996, and we’re in Manhattan. Angel is stumbling around an alley. His hair is long, he’s wearing ratty clothes, and he’s chasing rats for food. He looks thoroughly woebegone. A short guy in a fedora shows up, and he’s interested in pulling Angel out of the alleys and getting him into the fight against evil. This guy’s name is Whistler. He’s got something to show Angel.
That something is in Los Angeles, at Hemery High School. Angel pulls up in a beater with blacked-out windows, just in time to see 15-year-old Buffy walking outside, surrounded by a pack of ladies-in-waiting and acting rather like S1 Cordelia. Innocent, but superficial. A Watcher shows up to tell her that destiny is calling her number. She thinks he’s a wackjob. Next we see, though, she’s gone with him to a cemetery, where she’s fighting a vampire while Angel watches from the shadows. He sees her make her first slay. He keeps following her and he overhears her argue with Joyce when she gets home. He sees her crying in her bathroom while Joyce and Hank yell at each other, and he looks very moved. He returns to Whistler. He’s on board. He’s got a long road of rehabilitation to walk before he’ll be able to be useful, but he wants to do it.
In the present, Angelus grabs the sword hilt and tries to pull it out. Instead, he gets blasted backward onto the floor. It didn’t work! Spike mocks him, Drusilla starts crying, and Angelus swears and throws things. He really wants to end the world.
Buffy’s taking a final, and a vampire wearing a shroud walks in. She takes the shroud off, and she starts burning in the sunlight from the windows. This is Angelus’s message. Buffy relays the message to the rest of the Scoobies in the library. She’s wearing a gorgeous coat.
She feels like she has to go confront Angelus now, because he’s threatening to kill more people. She can’t just wait for Willow to do the curse, but she can stall him if they’re fighting. Kendra sends her off with Mr. Pointy, her lucky stake. Aww. Buffy wants to get her a stuffed animal. It’s such a nice moment between the two Slayers.
When Buffy arrives at the cemetery, Angelus strolls out from behind a mausoleum. They do a bit of banter, then start fighting.
At the library, Willow starts the ritual. But she doesn’t get far before vampires attack. Xander gets his arm broken, Willow gets a bookcase knocked over on her, and Giles gets knocked out. Xander yells for Cordelia to run, which she does. Kendra manages to take out at least one of the vampires.
Buffy and Angelus are still fighting. He starts laughing. Turns out, he was stalling her just as much as she was stalling him. She turns around and sprints back in the direction of the school. Kendra is still fighting, but then Drusilla strolls in. The minions fall away so that she and Kendra can fight one-on-one. Drusilla’s strategy isn’t that offensive, but she’s very good at dodging and blocking Kendra’s attacks.
Buffy’s still running to the school, when Drusilla suddenly pulls Kendra into her thrall. It’s not the same as how the Master got Buffy in S1, but it’s just as debilitating. Then she uses her long fingernails to slit Kendra’s throat. She blows a kiss, the minions grab Giles, and they leave.
Buffy finally makes it into the school, and Whistler’s voiceover (which began with the first scene) continues. She finds Kendra’s body, and there is once again zero blood.
The episode ends with a policeman pointing a gun at Buffy and yelling “Freeze!” Uh-oh.
“Becoming: Part 1” is excellent. We’re finally back to something of the higher caliber we’ve come to expect in season two. We see what Angelus is prepared to do. I think he may have realized that Buffy isn’t as breakable as Drusilla was, and that trying to approach her the same way will only destroy him. So he’ll destroy the world instead! The possibility of getting Angel back could not have come at a worse moment. Kendra returns and then is killed. The police are getting involved. Willow is unconscious (or worse), Xander has broken bones, Giles has been abducted. It’s about as dire of a cliffhanger as you can get. There are great Scooby scenes, some funny, some bursting with emotion. The flashbacks covering Angel’s life are also fantastic, and very expertly woven through the present-day scenes.
Just when Buffy is ready to take Angelus out, the soul-restoring curse comes back into play. Contrary to Xander’s accusations, Buffy is not willing to risk everything to get her boyfriend back. Of course she wants Angel back, but not at the expense of letting Angelus hang around long enough to kill more people. This is Buffy with her priorities in absolutely the right place, and Part 2 is going to test her on that harder than she could have possibly imagined. One thing I find a little troubling is that Buffy is the only character who thinks about the curse in terms of how it will help Angel. For everyone else, it’s like Angel is just an extension of Buffy. Buffy’s the only one who can see the heinous injustice that has been done to Angel and wants to put it right.
Holy crap has Xander just undone all the characterization that made me kind of like him. The only character in the entire cast who has the right to take a hard line against Angel is Giles, but the only reason Giles doesn’t want to do the ritual is that he’s worried about what it will do to Willow. It doesn’t even seem like Xander still has any hope of being with Buffy. Now it’s like he’s just trying to punish Buffy for daring to hope she could ever have Angel back. He throws Jenny’s death in her face, and much worse, he throws it in Giles’s face, as if Xander cares about that more than Giles. Xander’s complete inability (or unwillingness) to see Angel and Angelus as separate is particularly infuriating considering that he has had an evil alter-ego of his own! Or do those memories only matter when he’s trying to sniff out werewolves? Even if nobody has explained the meaning of a soul to Xander, he should be able to see it for himself. I’ll stop ranting now, because I know he’s only going to give me more ammunition in Part 2.
Willow’s motivations for trying the spell seem to be evenly split between being a good best friend to Buffy and wanting to prove she’s capable of this kind of magic. These are fine motivations, but it’s slightly alarming how easy it is for her to brush off Giles’s warnings. This is absolutely the beginning of a dangerous pattern for her. It’s good to finally get more of her and Oz. He’s been missing since “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” which is just not fair.
Cordelia is the most objective of the whole crew in this episode. She’s not exactly Buffy’s friend, but she did like Angel before he lost his soul. She definitely sees the difference between him and Angelus, but she also sees Xander’s point underneath all his hypocrisy. I think she might’ve been the one who tipped the scales towards “let’s try the curse,” since Xander would’ve been more likely to listen to her than anyone else about it.
One of the most interesting things about Giles in this one is how it’s common knowledge around Sunnydale that he’s the leading authority on linguistics and ancient artifacts. It makes me remember what Willow said in the first episode about how he used to be the curator of a British museum, and now I really wish we knew for sure if it was The British Museum. I’m not sure what to make of Giles claiming he lacks the magical skill to pull off the ritual. He’s hardly a novice sorcerer. Is he just hesitant about trying anything big now because most of his past experience with magic was only with scary drug-like black magic?
The flashbacks give me a chance to talk about Angel, not just Angelus. This is the first glimpse we’ve had of Liam, the drunken wastrel who wasn’t bothering to make anything of himself. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise after that to find that Angel spent much of his time after being cursed slumming it up in alleys, eating rats. Until he saw Buffy, his soul never had a strong enough goal to galvanize him into action. A lot of people have commented on Angel’s reaction to fifteen-year-old Buffy being icky, but despite Whistler joking about how Buffy must be prettier than the last Slayer, I didn’t see any lust in how Angel looked at her. In “Helpless,” he says that he loved her the first time he saw her, but I think that was agapé love, not eros. He saw a kindred spirit: a girl whose life was about to be hijacked by the supernatural world, just like his own life was. As someone who used to be one of the most terrible examples of the things in the dark that innocent girl would soon be fighting, how could he not want to shield her from some of it? I think the attraction came later, after months of seeing how well Buffy rose to the challenge of being the Slayer.
“Met an old man. Didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.”
“It’s a big rock. Can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.