This is now a very different show compared to its first season. "LIE TO ME" didn't even have a monster for Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) to fight of clear supernatural origin; instead, it was a human villain in childhood crush Ford (Jason Behr). The episode also spent a chunk of time keeping its cards close to its chest, so I wasn't sure where the story was headed until Ford visited a club for Anne Rice-worshipping vampire obsessives. I'm so glad Buffy the Vampire Slayer has reached this creative juncture, because it makes for far more interesting and texture storytelling. I had a feeling creator Joss Whedon was behind this hour, and my hunch was proven correct after reading the credits (he even directed it).
I loved how this episode drip-fed information, with Ford re-entering Buffy's life and making Angel (David Boreanaz) so jealous he made Willow (Alyson Hannigan) dig around for dirt on the guy. (Pre-Facebook, that was a tough mission.) The reveal that Ford knows Buffy is The Slayer was the first good twist of three; the others being Ford's plan to catch Buffy in exchange for Spike (James Marsters) turning him into a vampire; and the even better moment when Ford's cold-hearted behaviour was shown to be born of despair after a terminal brain cancer diagnosis. Ford consequently became BtVS's more layered guest-star, overcoming the fact he started off as a total stranger. I also loved the denouement in the graveyard, where you felt certain a defeated Spike had killed Ford after his plan failed and Buffy was burying her old flame's body out of respect, until the undead Ford sprung from his fresh grave to be immediately staked. It seems Spike at least keeps his promises, like all good Englishmen...
There was a lot to savour with this episode, although the first half was less involving because the direction was intentionally vague. But we did get some interesting information about Drusilla (Juliet Landau) being the progeny of Angel, who's haunted by the vicious maniac he created. I only hope we get to see some of that old Drusilla on the show one day, because the feeble version of the character with her monotone cockney accent is a little too clichéd for my tastes. There are moments when Drusilla's creepy and bewitching, but it waxes and wanes depending on the lines she's given.
Xander: I feel pretty good about it. Does that make me a sociopath?
"THE DARK AGE" shed light on stuffed shirt Giles (Anthony Head) and reaped the rewards of giving Head (the show's most accomplished actor) something juicier to grapple with. This was something of a follow-up to "Halloween", which first hinted at Giles' dark history and introduced old friend Ethan Rayne (Robin Sachs), who returns here to frustratingly disappointing effect. In fact, the biggest problem with "The Dark Age" is how the first half's mystery and suspense is replaced by a fairly typical demonic possession story—that, broadly speaking, wouldn't have looked out of place in the unsophisticated first season.
Turns out Giles and Ethan were into the occult as teenagers living in London and got their kicks from taking it in turns to get possessed by the demon Eyghon. I didn't quite understand what happened to Eyghon in the interim (did I miss something?), but now it's back and systematically killing the members of Giles and Ethan's clique. When you lay things out, "The Dark Age" wasn't anything special, but writers Dean Batali and Rob Des Hotel got plenty of mileage from the smokescreen deployed to obscure a dopey idea. It was good fun to see a very different Giles (belligerent, frightened, secretive), and see how the gang coped without him to save the day by themselves, while the deepening of Giles' relationship with Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) was achieved nicely during the hour.
In fact, it once again reminded me of how one-note the Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), and Willow can be in comparison to Giles. It's still noticeable how green some of the actors are on BtVS, too, as evidenced by a terrible moment when Hannigan tried to shift things up a gear and get angry with her screen pals. And as I said, it was ultimately a waste of the potential for Ethan to become Giles' nemesis. (What is that guy's deal anyway?) However, I liked more than I disliked about "The Dark Age", and prefer to remember the intriguing first half over the second-rate reveals and resolution.
written by Joss Whedon (2.7) & Dean Batali & Rob Des Hotel (2.8) / directed by Joss Whedon (2.7) & Bruce Seth Green (2.8) / 3 & 10 November 1997 / The WB