Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
We’re in Dublin in 1838, and it’s Christmas. An anxious young man makes his way thorough the streets until he gets grabbed and pulled into an alley by Angelus, who has a crappy Irish accent and a hilarious mustache. The young man begs for his life, but apparently Angelus isn’t very forgiving when people don’t pay him his poker winnings. He bites him, and then Angel wakes up in the present. And…does he sleep naked?
Angel runs into Buffy on the street. She’s in the middle of Christmas shopping, and she really needs to get a refund from whoever gave her that haircut. Her bangs are ridiculous. They try making small talk, but Angel gets distracted by the sight of the Irish man from his dream, who is standing on the street in 1998.
Buffy tells Willow and Xander about Angel’s weird behavior as they make their way from class to their lockers. Buffy would ask Giles for help, but Giles still doesn’t enjoy conversations about Angel. Xander, in typical Xander fashion, gets in a low blow about what Angelus did to Giles, but Buffy has grown very tired of these kinds of comments and wearily tells him to knock it off. Willow is wearing yet another unsettling shirt.
Buffy is upset because she’s trying to be good by staying away from Angel, but she can’t just do nothing if there’s something wrong. She wants to just have a nice Christmas with her mom. Willow’s previous holiday plans are now cancelled because of her falling out with Oz. The three of them end up walking by Cordelia while Xander explains his Christmas campout plans. Cordelia adds that he does this to avoid his family’s unpleasant behavior, rubs it in their faces that her Christmas plans are better than anyone else’s, and leaves. Willow isn’t offended by Cordelia’s attitude. She’s trying to be not only repentant but forgiving in the aftermath of the affair.
Cue the arrival of Oz, who wants to talk to Willow. He’s not sure how over things are between her and Xander, but misses her so much he can’t bear it. He wants to see if they can try again. She’s cautiously hopeful. They hug, and we can see the longing from both of them.
Buffy and Joyce are picking out a Christmas tree. Joyce wants to invite Faith over for Christmas Eve. Buffy isn’t psyched about that, because she and Faith are still on the outs after their fight in “Revelations.” Joyce is persistent, and Buffy relents without too much of an argument. When Buffy suggests they also invite Giles, Joyce hastily rejects the idea and then says they should split up. Ahahahahaha. Buffy isn’t overly troubled by that weirdness, and she notices a cluster of extremely dead Christmas trees. The owner of the lot tells her he has no idea why those trees died.
Next, we see trippy shots of some kind of evil ritual being performed by dudes who have their eyes sewn over with weird symbols. Then we see Angel waking from troubled sleep again. Yeah, okay, it’s really looking like he sleeps naked.
Faith is trying to get the old TV in her motel room to work, when Buffy arrives to awkwardly invite her to Christmas Eve dinner. Faith declines, citing a “big party” she’s been invited to. She’s obviously lying, but Buffy doesn’t push. She compliments Faith on her strand of Christmas lights.
Someone knocks on Giles’s door. His face falls when he sees who it is. It’s Angel. Angel wishes he didn’t have to bother Giles, but he doesn’t know where else to turn for help. Giles gets his crossbow and aims it at Angel before inviting him in. Angel explains about his dreams. He also wants to know why he’s back from hell. Before Giles can start helping, Jenny Calendar appears right next to him. Angel becomes so paralyzed with guilt that he can’t be around Giles anymore, and he flees.
At the mansion, he’s trying to sleep (again, naked—isn’t that uncomfortable, and, like, chilly?) but he’s having more dreams. This time, it’s of some house in England in 1883, at a swanky Christmas party. Angelus is coming onto a reluctant servant woman. He threatens her reputation, but he’s not interested in taking advantage of her—he just wants to drink all her blood! He drops her and gasps. Buffy’s there, looking confused and upset. Angel and Buffy both jerk awake.
Angel gets dressed and leaves his room. Jenny is in the atrium. She’s wearing the same outfit as when Angelus snapped her neck. He wants her to leave him alone, but she says she can’t, so he’ll settle for knowing why she’s there. She morphs into the Irish man from the first scene. These ghosts just want to show Angel who he really is. Okay. Not ominous at all.
Buffy goes to Giles’s office and tells him about getting sucked into Angel’s dream. Giles resignedly admits that Angel came to see him, wanting to know how he came back. Buffy wants to help Angel so that she can put everything behind her. Xander shows up, offering to help as well. A peace offering after all the crap he’s given her about Angel in the past. Willow still doesn’t have plans, so she ‘s there to help too. Some time passes, then Willow and Buffy talk about how Willow’s going to spend Christmas Eve with Oz. Buffy tells her she just needs to show Oz that he comes first.
Angel falls to the floor in the mansion. A man in modern dress is recounting what Angelus did to him and his family. Then he turns into the servant girl. She tells him how much pleasure he took in causing pain. The Irish man joins in. So does Jenny. Angel tries to plead that the demon in him is different from the man, but the ghosts point out that he was basically a useless loser consumed by lust and sloth as a human, so that argument won’t really hold much weight with them. The only thing he was ever good at was being a sadistic monster. He still denies it, and Jenny’s ghost tells him to rest. She’ll show him how it’s not a curse: it’s his destiny.
At the library, pretty much everyone’s getting droopy-eyed. Giles is doing this thing where he holds his glasses in his mouth by one of the earpieces. He’s done that before, and it’s really adorable. Over in the bookstacks, Buffy is falling asleep. She and Angel immediately start sharing another dream, and this one is not about the past but the potential future. About the two of them. They’re in Buffy’s bedroom, and they make love. Then those creepy eyeless dudes are there, and Angel vamps out and bites Buffy. They both snap awake again. Angel is starting to crumble under the influence of the ghosts, who now claim to be responsible for Angel’s return to earth. They want him to make that dream a reality so he can become Angelus again.
Giles shows Buffy what he found about these creepy dudes called Harbingers, who work for something called the First Evil—the thing that has been appearing to Angel as the ghosts of his victims. The Harbingers are the things she’s been seeing in her dreams, and even if she can’t fight the First, she can definitely fight the Harbingers. She just has to find them first.
So she and Giles go to Willy’s bar. Hee! I love Willy’s bar. It’s been a whole season since we saw this guy. When Buffy walks inside, he greets Buffy very loudly and pointedly, and all the vampire patrons promptly shuffle out of the bar. Xander tries to be intimidating, which is really hilarious. The Xander I like is back! Yay! Willy has heard some stuff about things underground that are scary enough to make demons flee town. That’s all he knows. He wishes them a merry Christmas and gives Xander points for being intimidating.
Outside, it’s really hot. Buffy’s not feeling like “underground” is a very helpful lead. Xander offers reassurance, which she appreciates.
Oz shows up at Willow’s house with videos, and he’s surprised to find her in a nice dress, with mood lighting and music. Willow has chosen to interpret Buffy’s advice as “prove you love Oz the most by sleeping with him.” Which is not what Oz had in mind. He appreciates the efforts she’s gone to with the setup, but he doesn’t want their first time together to be about her proving anything to him. They’re adorable, and the scene is remarkably less awkward than it could have been because Oz is just that smooth and sweet. It’s very similar to when he told her he wasn’t going to make out with her because to do it then would be on the empty side. She’s worried at first, but what he says reassures her, and they kiss.
Buffy and Joyce are getting all set for Christmas Eve dinner, and Buffy zones out a little until Joyce asks what tree-topper to use (in a way that freaks Buffy out a little, because of Angel and double entendres). Faith shows up, having swallowed her pride a bit about the “big party” she was invited to. She brought presents for Buffy and Joyce, which look like a stake and a book.
Buffy goes up to her room to get Faith’s presents, and Angel’s there. He’s really twitchy and weird. He keeps glancing at the bed and her neck. There’s something slightly ominous about his tone and his movements. The First is there as Jenny, egging him on. Buffy desperately wants to help Angel, but it’s all he can do not to give in to the First’s manipulation. Losing his soul again would mean being free of torment, so it’s a tempting offer. He ends up diving out the window instead. Buffy gets Faith to keep an eye on things at home while she goes to talk to Giles. Giles tells her that she might have to kill Angel if he actually loses his mind.
The First is still trying to convince Angel to kill Buffy. Angel finds the solution. If hurting her is inevitable, then all he has to do is die before that happens. He starts walking outside, where he can wait for the sunrise. The First doesn’t like this, but it’s an acceptable consolation prize.
Giles finds a poem about the Harbingers which he thinks is nothing but posturing, but it reminds Buffy of the dead trees in the Christmas tree lot. Which is where she goes next. She attacks the ground above the dead trees with an axe until she breaks through into a cave. Inside, she finds Harbingers chanting around an altar. She fights them until they scatter and sweeps the stuff off the altar. The First appears as Jenny and does a scary speech about how powerful it is. Buffy finds this very boring. The First jeers that Angel will be dead by sunrise, and then it shows her its true form before it disappears.
Buffy runs to the mansion, but Angel isn’t there. She goes outside and finds him standing on the top of a hill overlooking Sunnydale. Dawn is only a few minutes out. Buffy tries to tell Angel that the things he’s been seeing were just the First Evil messing with him. She doesn’t want him to give up. I really love this conversation, but summarizing it is a beast. Angel thinks he’s too weak to keep fighting his own worst nature. Buffy disagrees. He can still do good in the world. She tries to force him to come back inside, and they fight briefly. If there’s anyone in the world who has every reason to wish him dead, it’s her, but she wants him to stay strong and keep fighting, even if it’s hard and there doesn’t seem to be any reward. She’s getting to the point of being so frustrated with his stubborn hopelessness that she might give up on him, when it starts snowing. All episode, we’ve seen hints of how unseasonably warm Sunnydale is. This snow should not be happening. Buffy and Angel look around in wonder, and then their eyes meet as the camera moves past them. All the other characters come to the windows or step outside to see the snow. Xander in his sleeping bag is getting it all over him.
There’s a wide shot of Main Street, now buried in a few inches of snow. A newscaster reports the inexplicable cold front and snowstorm that will keep the sun hidden all day. Buffy and Angel walk down the street, hand in hand. Nothing like a little divine intervention to cure Angel of his defeatism. However, I kind of get the feeling that nobody who works on the show has ever seen snow. There are two serious problems with the snow on Main Street. First, if it was hot enough earlier that day for Buffy to describe it as “blistering heat,” then the snow would’ve melted instantly when it hit the ground. It would’ve taken several hours of continuous snowfall at least before the ground temperature cooled enough for it to start sticking, and the weather man even said the temperature would only be in the mid thirties all day, so it's not even below freezing. Second, when it does stick, fresh snow looks like a smooth white blanket, not this bizarre, lumpy mess. Buffy’s and Angel’s footprints should be the only things disrupting that brand new layer of snow. (I guess since it was probably fake snow, it wasn't possible to just lay it out without any crew members stepping in it, though.)
I’ve always loved “Amends.” I usually love episodes that focus more on Angel. And episodes with lots of Willow/Oz. In this one, I get both! The show finally addresses the question of how Angel came back from hell, by…not really answering that question. Whether he was brought back by the First Evil or by some higher power isn’t as important as that there is a higher power who wants him in the good fight. I don’t know exactly when Joss Whedon found out that Angel the series had been greenlit, but it seems like he’s already preparing for it. There isn’t much of a Plot B for Buffy, unless you count her making up with Faith. Mostly, Plot B is Willow and Oz. Xander is at his most likeable of the entire season, Willy the Snitch comes back, and it’s just always fun to have a Christmas episode to watch on Christmas—especially one this good.
Buffy is torn between her determination to be responsible about Angel (which means avoiding him indefinitely) and her innate instinct to help him whenever he’s in trouble. It seems like it’s more for everyone else’s sake that choosing to help him is an actual decision rather than something completely automatic, but I think this approach is what works so well at getting everyone else on board (well, I think Willow was on board anyway). Angel is officially someone who deserves their help again (if not their friendship or trust), not someone who deserves to die. Buffy has learned very painfully that sometimes you have to do the right thing even when you don’t personally receive any of the benefits—even when it’s agony. You can’t just take the easy way out. When you no longer have any hope for yourself, you have to learn how to make hope for other people be enough. This is what she tries to tell Angel on the hilltop. He can’t see anything through his despair right now. He’s been in hell and doesn’t feel like he deserves to be free, there’s nothing he can do to change his past, and he isn’t allowed to be with the woman he loves. In the end, he finds two sources of hope: Buffy believes in him, and so does whatever sent the snow. It’s enough.
It’s one thing for Giles to not want to discuss Angel with Buffy. It’s another thing entirely for Angel to show up at his apartment, asking for help. From the beginning of that scene to the end of it, there seems to be a subtle change in Giles’s attitude towards Angel. At the beginning, he’s coldly hostile (not without reason, of course—the last time Angel was in Giles’s apartment, he was Angelus, and he was setting Giles up to find Jenny’s body), though willing to listen. At the end, it looks like there’s a tiny hint of compassion mixed in. From then on, he’s much more willing to work with Buffy to find a way to end Angel’s torment.
I actually like Xander in this episode. Instead of antagonizing Cordelia, he takes her jabs as gracefully as possible. And even though he starts off with the usual insensitivity about Angel, I think he might finally see how much it hurts Buffy every time he does that, and how little good it does, because he spends the rest of the episode fully supportive. This may be the first time I actually wish I could hug Xander.
Oh boy is Willow the master of enormous gestures she has no idea how to handle. It’s sort of an extension of the character flaw I mentioned last time. She wants to solve problems as quickly as possible, and that can lead to bad things when she applies it to her relationships. Now that she’s given Oz all the time to think that he needed and he’s willing to take her back, she tries to skip past all the awkwardness of reconciliation by offering to sleep with him. Thankfully, this is Oz she’s dealing with, so he doesn’t take advantage of this desperate attempt, and they manage to move past the awkwardness just by talking and spending time together.
Oz continues to be pretty much the most wonderful guy ever. He’s forgiving, patient, and, as ever, the master of making the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech actually sound endearing and considerate. I love how careful he is about telling Willow what he needs and making sure that matches up with what Willow needs in the right ways. For a guy who’s usually known for how little he says, he’s very good at choosing his words.
“You can skip the passages on his garden, unless you’re keen on growing hearty beets.”
“You ever have that dream where you’re in a play, and it’s the middle of the play, and you really don’t know your lines, and you kinda don’t know the plot?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.