The first show of s2 accomplishes two goals. First, the episode uses the summer gap to temporarily divorce Buffy from Sunnydale and from us, making the change in her – from victorious, celebratory Slayer to callous, cruel Slayer – believable and understandable. Second, despite the three months off, the story manages to pick up right where we ended: in the library with Giles, Miss Carpenter, Cordelia, and Willow standing over the freshly staked skeleton of The Master.
Now in my second viewing, I’m appreciating more how Whedon moves the story and character of Buffy into fast forward while holding tight to the previous season and building on its foundations.
At first I was confused as to why the vampires didn’t kidnap Xander when they had the chance, but then I realized that he and Angel were indeed not at the scene when Buffy sent The Master through the skylight for a magnificent staking heavily reliant on Force = Mass * Acceleration. (Even vampire lords are not exempt from physics.) Sure enough, Xander is not included in the intended bloodletting ritual to awaken The Master’s bones, though I don’t quite get why the vamps wouldn’t have killed him in their very clever attack, made possible by luring Buffy to The Bronze to an obvious trap –
except – ¡red herring! – the trap was really set for those she had abandoned in the library.
The architect of the aforementioned ritual, a vampire credited as Absalom, immediately won my approval as this week’s featured vamp. Of course, we desperately need some charisma to make up for the dead weight of The Anointed One, and Absalom, played with requisite vigor by Brent Jennings, can hold the screen while we continue our wait for Spike and Drusilla.
Absalom speaks and motivates the Order of Aurelius like a Black revivalist preacher quoting scripture for a downtrodden congregation. They may have lost their savior-like figure, The Master, but Absalom promises his glorious return, just like that of Jesus, if they can mount an elaborate resurrection ceremony, which necessitates digging up The Master’s skeleton and drenching it in the blood of those who oversaw his obliteration: Cordy, Willow, Miss Carpenter, and Xander, all of whom end up unconscious and strung upside down over a slab with Master’s remains!
The battle over Buffy’s buddies and The Master’s bones is one of the best yet, a creative fight involving fire and (alas) the end of Absalom. And while Buffy’s furious, cathartic sledgehammering of the skeleton denies us any future visits from The Master, on my second viewing I know not to fret, for one of the series’ greatest hallmarks, the flashback (!), will return him to me.
- I hate Cordy’s borderline blonde hair. Charisma Carpenter looks way hotter as a brunette. Wasn’t anyone telling her this? It seems inarguable to me.
- Speaking of Cordy, I don’t think Charisma Carpenter was even on the set during the ritual and rescue scene. She was depicted from afar as hanging upside down, but I couldn’t catch even a glimpse of her once everyone had been freed.
- The Bronze starts to promote its musical acts within the show: Cibo Matto in the nineties! It’s not only at the door; the Scoobies are buzzing about it.
- Angel and Xander keep getting thrown together and sniping at each other. Buffy’s ostentatiously sexy dance at The Bronze shows how cognizant she is of their rivalry and how she’s ready to exploit it – when she was bad, anyway.
- And she was indeed bad. This 1997 episode predates the torture debates that would begin in about five years with the attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent roundups of suspected or potential terrorists. The Buffy from this episode wouldn’t have flinched working at Gitmo or even Abu Ghraib. We didn’t need 24‘s Jack Bauer to serve as America’s pop culture phenomenon with expertse in enhanced interrogation. Buffy was performing it at The Bronze with no compunction way back in ’97.