The season perks up with "ANGEL", mainly because it enlightens us on the the eponymous vampire and worked as the first true follow-up to the pilot. The Bronze is being fumigated just as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has her own pests to sterilise; but what happens when you fall in love with a cockroach—namely Angel (David Boreanaz), here revealed as one of the vampires Buffy's born to exterminate? Emotional turmoil and conflicted feelings are the order of the day, and not just for Buffy. It turns out Angel's maker was Darla (Julie Benz), who's determined to make her progeny relapse back to his despicable ways, which will only please The Master (Mark Metcalf) after recent setbacks with the brawny chumps he sends to kill The Slayer. Well, if you're going to give them silly names like The Three, what do you expect?
"Angel" was the most narratively engaging episode of Buffy so far, perhaps because my current taste edges towards serialised stories. Monster-of-the-week episodes are all well and good, but nothing beats the feeling of watching a bigger, deeper story unfold over many weeks. Not that there was much about "Angel" that surprised me (cursed as I am by some foreknowledge, gleaned through cultural osmosis). Angel's a 240-year-old vampire with a soul—was that even a surprise back in 1997? Maybe it helped that vampires weren't always hunks with high cheekbones and amazing hair 15 years ago, so it was a slight departure to have Boreanaz as a "monster". But then again, Darla was introduced looking like a hot blonde back in the pilot, so the precedent for sexy people to actually be monsters was already set. Oh well, point is I don't think this surprise would work today, especially as the "tortured soul" vampires in Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, and Being Human owe a clear debt to Angel.
"I, ROBOT... YOU, JANE" made me feel very old. Like Buffy and her friends, I was also attending college in 1997, although I don't recall the world being so naïve about e-mail and the internet, but I guess it probably was. This dated episode had a good idea behind it, with a demon known as Moloch the Corruptor's spirit being contained within the pages of a book, only to be reborn when the pages are read hundreds of years later. The twist being that the "reading" was done by Willow's computer scanner, resulting in Moloch finding himself trapped inside the internet and becoming Willow's cyber-boyfriend. I liked the concept of this episode a great deal, even if the fears it preys on don't feel quite so alarming 15-years later. (Internet dating perhaps still has a mild stigma, but it's socially more acceptable; while better technology has decreased the obvious concern that the person you're talking to could be a different gender, age, or... in this case, a horned demon.)
Despite the essence of a good idea, that probably worked a lot better in '97, because it was often hard to watch this episode with a straight face in 2012. I had a genuine feeling of surprise that the late-'90s was so technologically inferior. Buffy was momentarily thrown by the word "online", webcams are heavily pixelated like it's the '80s still, laptops are as thick as half a Yellow Pages, a subtextual link was made between computing and drugs (a nerd self-harms while chanting "I'm jacked in"), and technophobe Giles' utter dismissal of the 'net just wouldn't be written the same way nowadays. (He would hate Kindles.) Obviously, times were different when this aired, as the internet was an emerging social phenomenon, so the subject-matter and theme probably felt fresh, even if it borrows liberally from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (computer-Moloch just had to chat to a geek called Dave) and occasionally Demon Seed. It also stretched credibility too much by the end, with Moloch finding worldly form as a hulking Power Rangers-y robot with glowing eyes. This provided Buffy with another brute to fight, but I would have found it more interesting to see her defeat a character she can't physically touch for once.
"I, Robot... You, Jane" was dopey but entertaining, if not often for the reasons intended back in the '90s. It was mostly an amusing time-capsule of late-20th-century tech and society's initial fears about the dangers of virtual anonymity. Oh, and Willow got to kick metal ass with a fire extinguisher.
written by David Greenwalt (1.7) & Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden (1.8) / directed by Scott Brazil (1.7) & Stephen Posey (1.8) / 14 & 28 April 1997 / The WB