The episode is titled Angel, but for me, Darla is the indisputable star here. Of course Angel’s backstory and the vampire revelation changes the direction of the series – or it will by s2 – and maybe I’m simply so familiar with the story from flashbacks that my attention was directed less toward the cursed vamp and more toward the spritely demon who sired him: my beloved Darla.
She was never just a throwaway character anyway; she did open the entire series, after all, letting us know up front that this show would play on its own terms and toy with our expectations within the horror/vampire genre, spinning gender conventions, teasing traditional narratives, subverting expectations, and fulfilling the bloodthirst that the viewer may surreptitiously share with the vampires. All that from Darla’s opening of the very first episode!
Not until e7, however, did we really get to see Darla – and Julie Benz – come alive, or maybe come vivaciously, euphorically undead. I absolutely understand why Whedon would take a no-name expendable character and turn her into one of the bedrocks of the shows’ (Buffy and Angel) mythology.
Julie Benz. She’s so girly! Flirty but not flighty, she makes Darla the bubbly-voiced, fun-loving monster, filled with malice but revved up for fun! There’s a twisted sweetness to Darla, not sugar and spice, exactly – more like sugar and venom, and while the sugar is sticky-sweet and false, I cannot help but want a taste.
I wish I had the energy to go back and get screenshots of Darla in this episode because there were three key points where Julie Benz embodied absolute vampiristic glee: 1) staking The Three with a pole from the back, taking relish in killing her fellow vamps; 2) peering in at Buffy’s mother through the kitchen window, her eyes lit up with anticipation of savagery; and 3) firing guns at Buffy in The Bronze, her madness and mirthful violence unleashed beyond even the confines of vampirism. You can read it all over her face, even and especially her game face!
In fact, Darla/Julie Benz is in fact the first character/actor to make me fully appreciate the game faces – how scary and malevolent they look despite the limited budget. Maybe I needed to see an actor whose human visage I was accustomed to and loved watching in order to appreciate the transformation. Angel’s game face is good, but Darla’s is even better, perhaps because he seems pained by his vampirism, while she delights in it – her giddy enthusiasm comes through even – or especially – when she is full-on vampire.
And her malicious, unhinged glee never pops more than in that final scene, guns blazing, cackling and taunting (and having trouble pronouncing the -s sound, I think because of the prosthetics in her mouth), leaping through The Bronze like the bouncy teenager she impersonates. Alas, this scene is the last of Darla, at least this incarnation.
At least she died doing what she loved.
Like The Master, I hate to see Darla leave us so early, but one of the joys of the second round of Buffy viewing is knowing that she’ll be back again – and again – and again. Raúl’s welcome mat is always out, though I know better than to invite her inside.
IMPORTANT: Before Giles spars with Buffy, he retrieves some weapons from a cabinet in the BOOK CAGE! Given the off-label usage of said cage, I hope they move the cabinet to a more suitable location.
QUESTION: I believe this is out first peek at Angel’s apartment. I’m confused. It seems like they access it through some underground stairs as if it’s part of the Sunnydale sewer system, but then Darla makes reference to him living above ground like a pathetic human, taunting him by streaming sunlight in. Is the apartment maybe next to a boiler room or something in a regular building? Sort of an industrial garden apartment? Do I have to look this up?
THINKING AHEAD: When I finish with season one, I plan to do some sort of ranking of the episodes. I urge Mr. Lousy and Clem to do the same. Doris W should weigh in from memory, though I can state at this point that I am indeed viewing the series somewhat differently from the first time around, with a deeper appreciation for the seasonal and series story arcs – not only what I am seeing but how it fits with what’s to come. Case in point: Darla.