Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Buffy: When She Was Bad (2.1)

Buffy has come back wrong. It's a great conceit to hang an episode on, and also pretty daring. A season premiere of a show which isn't yet a major hit, featuring its kick-ass protagonist acting like a mean bitca for nearly the whole hour? Something tells me that wouldn't fly on the CW today. In a series of wonderfully paced scenes, Buffy is depicted as bitter, angry and passive aggressive, alienating her friends, manipulating the fragility of those around her, acting out at various moments, and being generally mean to everybody that comes her way. But you get it. She died, she returns from a blissful vacation where she was suddenly normal again, and is immediately thrust back into a world full of destiny, fighting and death.

Plus there are the issues of her lingering attraction to Angel (still uneventful because of the major blip that is his vampirism), Xander's doomed profession of love for her, and Giles generally being Giles with the warnings of coming violence and apocalyptic carnage. She's had it rough, and she's doing exactly what a confused teenager sometimes does: she's acting out. Sarah Michelle Gellar is pretty wonderful here, and the pacing, music and staging of the dance sequence with Xander is inspired. Buffy's doing her provocative seduction work, Xander is bewildered, Cibo Matto play that beautiful song, and everybody else is looking on in disgust. It ranks up there with some of the greatest scenes the show ever did.

But, outside from Buffy's characterization, it's not hard to admit that When She Was Bad blows everywhere else. Part of the problem is that so much of the story hangs on old events, from the constant discussion of The Master's failed attempt to destroy Sunnydale, to the random Anointed minions and their plan to bring The Master back. While Buffy as a character is the star of the episode, it wasn't the greatest decision to make everything else in the episode pretty flat, merely a rehash of old material.

The character work saves the episode, however. I loved that Cordelia, Angel and Miss Calendar are still very much part of the Scoobies (in their own sometimes vacuous ways, of course), and the complexities of teenage friendship (especially in that wonderful coda sequence) are brilliantly drawn. But the redundant and pretty boring vampire plot drags everything down a notch. B-

Guest stars Kristine Sutherland (Joyce Summers); Robia La Morte (Jenny Calendar); Andrew J. Ferchland (Colin); Dean Butler (Hank Summers); Brent Jennings (Absolon); Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder)
Writer Joss Whedon Director Joss Whedon

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