The first part of season 2's finale embroidered a simple story with fan-pleasing moments: another solemn voice-over by Angel (David Boreanaz), flashbacks curtly explaining the origin of key characters, and even the return of auxiliary Slayer Kendra (Bianca Lawson). Okay, so the last one's unlikely to please anyone, unless you like playing "guess the funny accent". Other than that, "BECOMING: PART 1" was good fun, although it felt too much like mid-season's "Surprise"/"Innocence" two-parter—only with the opposite aim of restoring Angel's soul. I'm sure that was the point to a large extent, which is fine, but it's harder to get excited by a story where vampires were again plotting to destroy the world with the help of an exhumed demon.
However, I can't refute the sense of occasion and emotional stakes here. The flashbacks were enjoyable, although each was deserving of its own special episode to do a more satisfying job. Amongst them we witnessed Angel (or Irishman Liam) being transformed into a vampire by the late Darla (Julie Benz) in Ireland 1753; his own siring of pious psychic Drusilla (Juliet Landau) in London 1860; before he was cursed in 1898 by Romanian gypsies; leading to him becoming a homeless rat-eating loser in 1996's Manhattan. There was nothing here we didn't know or suspect, although I appreciated the confirmation that Drusilla has ESP—which somehow escaped my notice, maybe because I associate her with childish babbling. Landau herself continues to walk the fine line of being indescribably terrible in this role, yet you can't take your eyes off her. She was also much better at playing younger than Sarah Michelle Gellar's attempt in her own flashbacked origin (sans Donald Sutherland as Whistler from the original film, sadly)—which was done by amplifying all of Buffy's immature traits and getting her to wear lots of pink. Yeah, that'll work.
As usual for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "BECOMING: PART 2" was a marked improvement because of the greater impetus on everything after a full hour's set-up, and it was particularly nice to have Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) brought into her daughter's confidence about the whole Chosen One thing. This should open BtVS up and make it easier for the writers to deal with Buffy's mom (i.e. find ways to keep her ignorant of the truth). It was also great to have Spike (James Marsters) join forces with Buffy to kill Angel, if only for the ensuing scene of Spike and Joyce sharing an awkward "getting to know you" moment in her front room. Hilarious.
I thought it was odd the demon Acathla wasn't given more prominence here, too, but the story didn't suffer in the slightest. This was because the separate strands of the plot were sewn together effectively—with Buffy a fugitive for murder; Giles (Anthony Head) tortured for information about how to summon Acathla (including a fun hallucination of dead girlfriend Jenny); a convalescent Willow (Alyson Hannigan) completing Jenny's work and restoring Angel's soul from her hospital bed; and the highly amusing Buffy/Spike team-up to end Angel's tyranny. It was a shame Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Oz (Seth Green) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) didn't really get much to do in this two-parter, but Joss Whedon understandably scaled back on Buffy's "support" to let her find closure almost single-handed. This was a very personal matter for Buffy, so it was only right it came down to two former lovers literally crossing swords.
Knowing that Angel gets his own TV spin-off, I was very surprised by the season's conclusion, too. It was inevitable he'd get his soul back, but I assumed there would be a happy ending tarnished by Angel opting to become a P.I in Los Angeles. Instead, after getting his soul back (but with no memories of the terrible things he's been doing), Buffy had no choice but to seal Acathla's portal by running Angel through with a sword and pushing him into a godforsaken dimension. It was a surprisingly dark and cruel ending for their twisted romance, which had backbone of the vastly-improved second season, so I can only assume the writers comes up with a tenuous reason for Angel's return...
written & directed by Joss Whedon / 12 & 19 May 1998 / The WB
This completes season 2's mini-reviews of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is coincidentally my 2,600th TV review for Dan's Media Digest. Based on popular opinion here and on Twitter, readers would like these weekly double-bills to continue into Christmas and New Year. So who am I to argue? Starting from next Thursday, I'll push into the third season. Hopefully I'll be able to keep a similar pace, but there are no promises.