There was more forward momentum with "FAITH, HOPE & TRICK", during a story that felt it like existed partly because the writers realised last season's Kendra storyline deserved to be done properly (i.e. the idea of a second Slayer is fantastic, but let's avoid the Jamaican/Irish accent and stoical demeanour next time). Enter feisty Faith (pre-Dollhouse Eliza Dushku), who's another polar opposite of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in terms of personality and fashion sense, but also an egomaniac who casts a spell over Buffy's pals with her naked slaying tales involving alligators. I'm a tiny bit disappointed Buffy the Vampire Slayer has gone back to this well, although it makes logical sense (a new Slayer is chosen whenever one dies) and Faith is a far more engaging character than Kendra. Unlike her predecessor, who was a regimented and emotionless version of Buffy, Faith's more relaxed and in touch with her feelings. I'm interested to see where they take it.
While Buff's struggling to recount the truth of her past when slaying Angel (David Boreanaz), her counterpart Faith's past comes back in a more literal and terrifying part—namely with ancient, cloven vampire Kakistos (Jeremy Roberts) and his lackey Mr Trick (K. Todd Freeman) driving into Sunnydale with a grudge bigger than their limo. The show sure loves its double-act villains, and I had particular fun with Trick's smart-ass quips and amusing behaviour (like dragging a drive-thru burger employee through his limo window for a snack). The fact he survives this episode has me hopeful for a return appearance.
Dushku was pretty engaging in her first appearance (like Dollhouse, her entrance came via the medium of dance), and the prickly relationship she has with "B" was entertaining despite it being the rather obvious choice. It doesn't help that it feels like a refinement of the Kendra character, but knowing she becomes a significant character on the show and spin-off Angel has me engaged. I just hope we get more clarity about the Watchers as an entity, because why would they be having a worldwide meeting back in England and not insist that the only one of their members who actually has a Slayer to protect isn't in attendance? Bizarre.
"Faith, Hope & Trick" was a rudimentary episode for the most part, but it pushed the season's concerns on with more confidence. Buffy's now confessed that she killed Angel after his soul was restore (lovely touch that Giles suspected this), Willow's (Alyson Hannigan) interest in witchcraft was touched on more strongly, Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) has been forced to enrol Buffy in school again, there was another mention of The Mayor, and Buffy resolves to put her recent tragedy behind her to date the aptly named Scott Hope (Fab Filippo)... just when ex-boyfriend Angel drops out of the sky, stark naked, apparently because Buffy has made peace with the situation and left a symbol of their love (her Claddagh ring) on the spot where he was banished. My guess is there's going to be a very awkward reunion in the near-future...
More importantly, this episode tackled abusive relationships in typical BtVS style—equating the changes of some men from "perfect boyfriend" to "violent control freak" in three similar ways: Oz's aforementioned lycanthropy, the introduction of insecure Pete (John Patrick White) who's concocted a Jekyll & Hyde-style potion to dominate his girlfriend Debbie (Danielle Weeks), and the return of Angel after centuries of torment in another dimension that has perhaps turned him into a pitiless savage.
There were moments in this hour where I wasn't so interested in the monster-of-the-week storyline, knowing that Angel's surprise return has been reduced to a gloried sub-plot, but this had dissipated by the end. I'm not a fan of how the show throws in new character we've never met before, but expects us to believe they're good friends of the core group, which is perhaps why I was a little irritated by the Pete/Debbie scenes before things became more interesting. I must also commend the action choreography this week, which felt much tighter and bruising than usual. You can tell the show continues to have a few extra pennies thrown its way each season.
The return of Angel was handled in an unexpected way, although it frustrated me that Buffy didn't just let everyone know he's come back in a feral state. She's very cagey about anything to do with Angel, isn't she? This is probably because she knows Angel killed Giles's girlfriend and is generally hated by her friends, but it feels like the show needs to make that a little clearer.
Overall, "Beauty & the Beasts" was a run-of-the-mill episode in terms of characterisation and story, but the core theme was very strong and nicely done. And now we're a step closer to Buffy rekindling her romance with Angel, who's proven to be a tame vampire with impeccable pectorals once more. The only person I feel sorry for is Scott; the boy who managed to woo Buffy the bombshell, on the eve of her hunkier true love coming back from the great beyond. What rotten luck.
written by David Greenwalt (3.3) & Marti Noxon (3.4) / directed by James A Contner (3.3) & James Whitmore Jr (3.4) / 13 & 20 October 2012