Friday, 16 November 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 2.17 & 2.18 – 'Passion' & 'Killed By Death'

Friday, 16 November 2012
Angelus: Passion is the source of our finest moments; the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief.

This season's seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer mature in many ways, but "PASSION" is probably the moment it truly came of age. Angel (David Boreanaz) may have stolen the thunder of Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) since he lost his soul and went Evil, but it's easy to see why the writers prefer using him as the arch-rival. His attachment to Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her friends gives Angel's despicable activities the edge over Spike's humdrum desire to kill The Slayer, and "Passion" gave us a wonderfully tense hour as Angel upped the ante. Sneaking into Buffy's bedroom to sketch her while she sleeps was the epitome of creepiness, and also worked on the level of an obsessed ex refusing to let a relationship die—from the perspective of Buffy's concerned mother (Kristine Sutherland).

"Passion" worked because of how well things escalated, as Angel finally started putting a plan into action to agonise and unsettle his ex—by putting her nervous friends in potential danger. It's true that more could have been done to make you feel like Xander (Nicholas Brendon) or Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) were ever in real trouble, but I guess the episode didn't have time to ensure everyone had a satisfying moment. Instead, this was more focused on Angel going after IT teacher Jenny (Robia LaMorte), which was timely given her desire to re-curse Angel with a soul after visiting a novelty shop of knickknacks to buy an Orb of Thesulah. Hey, it's on my shopping list most weeks: bread, milk, cheese, tomato sauce, Orb of Theseulah...

The sequence where Angel chased Jenny through the empty high school was very nicely handled, culminating in the genuinely shocking moment of Angel capturing his prey and casually snapping her neck. Death is something that happens almost every week on shows like BtVS, but it's rarely treated as something so real and devastating. Jenny wasn't even a favourite character of mine, and her reveal as a gypsy keeping secrets from Giles (Anthony Head) could have been foreshadowed much better, but she was still someone who had enough screen time and connection to the characters to make her passing land an emotional blow.

For my money, the best scene BtVS has done so far was Giles returning home to a romantic setting at his place (wine in a bucket of ice, candles on the stairs, classical music playing), expecting to be reconciled with Jenny upstairs in his bedroom, only to find her dead body on display in his bed. The whole thing being a cruel trick by Angel, prompting a hurried retaliation as grief-stricken Giles made his way to the factory where Angel hangs out with Spike and Drusilla—almost succeeding with his surprise one-man attack of fire and violence.

It was a magnificent episode on BtVS's terms. It made it clear that this Angelus isn't just an unfortunate relationship dilemma for Buffy, but a serious threat to her friend's safety; it also paved the way for more major characters to be killed if that's the logical step to take; it showcased some of the show's smartest dialogue to date (such as "the talk" Buffy had with her mother, who is told she's lost her virginity); it was nicely directed by Michael Gershman (particularly Jenny's night-time chase, Giles' gruesome bedroom discovery, and the spooky factory face-off); and deployed its titular theme assuredly (that passion is key to people being at both their best and worst) despite using an uncharacteristic voiceover narration.

Giles: Cordelia, have you actually ever heard of tact?
Cordelia: Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass.

After the previous episode's highpoint for the series, it was disappointing that "KILLED BY DEATH" was so rudimentary and forgettable. The most frustrating thing was how it wasted a decent idea and a brilliant Freddy Kruger-esque villain, as Buffy found herself battling an illness that later hospitalised her with a high fever. A bad memory of her cousin dying in hospital was compounded by a waking dream where she saw a grotesque monster (ordinarily only visible to children), and the episode proceeded down the predictable path of Buffy conquering her sickness in order to protect the kids in the children's ward from this "Der Kindestod" (whose preferred modus operandi is to straddle kids and drain their life-force using his extendable eyeballs).

This certainly wasn't a bad episode, and might actually have been a minor highlight of the inferior first season (where it felt it belonged), but I just never found myself gripped by anything. It admittedly didn't help that "Passion" has now raised the bar to a level far beyond what this story achieved. But I do like the idea of Buffy going up against enemies her physicality isn't much use against (be it a virus or an undetectable child-killer), and the climax was surprisingly scary—with a gang of kids screaming for their lives while running through a hospital basement, pursued by this creepy fedora-wearing spectre with a mouthful of fangs). It's just a shame the majority of the episode was so pedestrian. I also don't like how this episode has already brushed aside last week's death of Jenny Calendar, with only a token scene of Joyce giving Giles her condolences. It would be nice if we felt that Giles was still under suspicion of her murder by the cops, seeing as she was discovered dead in his bedroom and they had recently split up. I guess BtVS was being made at a time when such plot-threads didn't continue in the same way modern shows do.

written by Ty King (2.17) & Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali (2.18) / directed by Michael Gershman (2.17) & Deran Serafian (2.18) / 24 February & 3 March 1998 / The WB