A friend of mine started Buffy the Vampire Slayer recently, and he has found himself dismayed by the cheese element (not cheese man, of course) in the show. I sympathized; it’s easy to miss what the show will be when you’re watching those first episodes. But I also said, even these earliest shows will become appreciated when the time comes. And I told him this is Whedon and Whedon enjoys cheese. The show isn’t cheesy. But there’s cheese. Still, don’t be an idiot, the show is incredible. Just hold on. At the very least, wait until Spike and Dru arrive. Every thing changes with Spike and Dru. And the evil version of Angel, Angelus.
The holy trinity of soulless evil vampires, you gotta seem them through season 2, and you’ll start to understand a hint of how richly concocted and executed Buffy the Vampire Slayer is.
In season 2, the story of the dreamy vampire Angel becoming the soulless Angelus, and the havoc he wreaks on the unwitting Buffy Summers, is a tremendous horror-tv affair.
The dynamic of the three vampires really begins with Drusilla. Dru’s story is this: she is a human woman, selected by Angelus (before he was cursed to have a soul and be tormented for all time by this evil actions) for torture until she loses her mind. Only then does Angelus turn her into a vampire. At its very core, a mad vampire is terrifying and fascinating. A vampire without a soul is one thing. A vampire without a soul or a mind is entirely another.
One more layer for the fun, though: When Drusilla becomes an insane vampire, Spike falls in love with her. It’s all so delicious.
Dru and her incoherent madness is a cold and constant icon in BTVS of the depth of evil Angelus contained in his former life (Angelus, for the record, is “more evil than any vampire in history,” the kind of theological peanut that Buffy is riddled with). The enjoyment Whedon and his creators will take in going deep in the twisted romances of horror pays off every time, but never more so than with Dru.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Buffy’s debut, I sat down to re-watch the two-part masterpiece of season 2, “Surprise” and “Innocence.” I remembered this spot in the show from my first time through the series. The mixture of teenage drama and monster-horror wasn’t new to Buffy, but Joss Whedon and his cast and creative team understand with such ease the natural overlays of young adulthood and horror stories. For example: your first sexual experience.
Many awful things will befall Buffy and her friends through these seven seasons. But there’s something chilling about the attitude of Angelus in these episodes–and the creators outside the show–that makes the exchange between Buffy and Angel, in Angel’s apartment, in “Innocence,” perhaps the most tragic. There are obvious competitors for “most tragic moment in Buffy.” It’s all relative, I know.
We’d already seen the backstory of the three vampires, but not until now have we seen how brutal they would get on the modern world. The answer is: unmercifully brutal, and in such a simple, surprising manner.
This two part-series is the story of Buffy’s first time; she has sex with Angel, and the act causes Angel to lose his soul (true happiness causes him to become evil, and what’s more happy/evil-inducing to an immortal teenager than the little death?).
Their next meeting is Buffy’s first encounter with Angelus after Angel has lost his soul, a fact she has not learned. Buffy feared that Angel would lose interest after sex (because BVTS is also always a teenage drama), and her fear is proven right. He is cold and distant, but responsive. He smiles, hugs her, kisses her. But it’s all a little off.
She doesn’t know what has happened. But we know. We know that Angel has lost his soul. He has met with Spike and Dru and is playing with his food. He has planned to torment Buffy as he did Drusilla in his past. Then, he plans to kill her the only way Buffy can be killed. “To kill this girl,” Angelus tells Spike, “you have to love her.”
So he returns to her, not to kill her, not even to turn her into a vampire. But to scorn her to death.
This might have been the moment I realized: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is special. The scene demonstrates, in my watching for the first time, the depth of layers at work in the show, from an excited teen’s first time with her boyfriend being met by his lost interest after sex, to the immortal vampire as predator playing with his food, and all the in-between. It also demonstrates just how cruel Buffy will be, how deeply invested in horror Whedon is, and how committed to Buffy’s emotional experiences the writers are.
Of course, this tormenting of a teenage girl after her first time works because Buffy is the target, and Buffy is the show, where bad boyfriends are also monsters who can be dusted with a stake to the heart.