On her nightly rounds, Buffy catches sight of Angel and Drusilla on the playground engaged in what appears from her vantage point to be a passionate embrace. The next day, in a wonderful moment of high school note-passing, she then communicates to Willow what she’s witnessed – and Willow responds back in a hysterically funny but completely understandable query about the mystery girl: “Vampire?”
Buffy thinks not, but we know better, especially since the supposed playground embrace was preceded by Angel saving a child from Drusilla feeding on him. Angel turns up just as Dru muses aloud about what the boy’s mother will think when she finds his body.
(Drusilla’s loopiness and “illness” soften her around the edges, but she’s just as vicious a vampire as the rest, though perhaps a bit more thoughtful, even reflective. Is her craziness the key? I’ll get to that in a few episodes.)
In stark opposition to Drusilla, who once took every measure imaginable to prevent herself from becoming a vampire, we have Ford, seemingly sympathetic but in reality desperate and predatory. He’s the central liar from the episode’s title, and the first character from the series who actively seeks eternal existence (if not life) from vampirism.
His speech to Buffy about the agonizing process of dying that awaits him is one of my favorites from the series so far, and the interplay between the two actors at this point, each shifting back and forth before standing their ground, rises to the level of the Whedon’s dialogue.
As for Ford’s soul, by the conclusion of this confrontation, its existence seems a moot point. He’s already relinquished his humanity by plotting to exchange the lives of Buffy (and a bunker full of angsty teenagers) for an extension on his existence. He’s wedged between the anger and bargaining stages of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s paradigm of dying, and he’s quite literally bargaining (with Spike) to save himself, or at least a part of himself, from death.
Ford’s resolve wobbles along with his voice when he confesses his plan to Buffy after she exposes his lies. The scene is near flawless. It’s as if his soul is fighting for an existence unrelated to his corporeal being – and we bear witness as the soul loses. My sympathy for Ford is all but extinguished just moments after being ignited, but I still feel a twinge of sorrow for him.
The actor, Jason Behr, makes great use of a face that expresses sadness and desperation in one moment, then anger and uncaring the next. Both of Ford’s faces carry an element of self-pity that shows why the emotion can be so dangerous.
And his trade is questionable, as Buffy implores him to understand. What is left if the soul departs? Is death substantially different if Ford’s memories and cognizance remain intact without a trace of his humanness?
Ford may have sold his out, but still glowing with her humanity is the sacrificial Chanterelle, one of the naive teenagers enthralled by Goth ambiance and drawn into a false vampire lore. She’s the lost girl grasping for a sense of belonging, of identity, of meaningfulness. She’s a liar as well, but she’s lying to herself. We’ll see her again later, the same character assuming new names, played by Julia Lee.
Chanterelle (AKA Lily AKA Anne) is another anti-Buffy, this one fairly similar to her in appearance, but markedly different in confidence and sense of self. While Buffy has slayerhood thrust upon her, forcing an identity that she’d happily relinquish, Chanterelle drifts in search of such any such solid identity or sense of purpose. We’ll have to wait until well into Angel to see her find it, and I look forward to that reward. So many people – myself included – are far closer to Chanterelle than to Buffy, and I think there was a quiet connection to the audience with Chanterelle that Whedon established and continued for years.
Marvin, the preposterously sparkle-caped vamp fanboy is more of a wink at the audience, holding up a mirror to a certain segment just so we can dodge our reflection in embarrassment as we giggle at the geek’s foolishness. Marvin is really just for laughs.
Angel, who’s considerably less brooding than usual, may have the best comic moment of the evening, however. As Angel dismisses the dreadful faux-vampire fashions fluttering around him, he’s confronted with a teen clone in the same outfit he’s wearing!
Back to teen jealousy – and resolution: in the end, Buffy saves the day in the underground bunker by threatening to stake Dru. Not only does she tap into Spike’s psychology by exploiting his one great weakness, she gets a chance to hold a stake to the heart of Angel’s (or better said, Angelus’s) old sweetheart. A fitting callback to the playground opening when her jealousy first flared! Drusilla is not a threat to Buffy’s relationship with Angel – though she will prove to be a threat to everyone’s well-being in the near future.
But it’s in the final scene at Ford’s gravesite where Whedon makes the episode linger with its bittersweetness and sorrow. Buffy and Giles’ conversation shows us Buffy in mourning after losing a childhood friend twice over, once to horrible treachery and then again to inescapable death. She’s made a realization about life, and it’s a moment difficult to encapsulate: feeling youth and innocence giving way to hard reality that not even the most trusted grownup can fix. Giles plays the part of Buffy’s sympathetic father figure so wonderfully here, calm and caring but incapable of rendering life any less painful. When Ford’s vampire springs from the earth, I am stunned by the horrific re-appearance – but Buffy is not. She perfunctorily stakes her old friend and turns to Giles for comfort, knowing that the best he can offer her is a lie, a retreat back to a childhood free of vampires – and of suffering, profound sorrow, cancer, and inevitable death.
This is my favorite closing scene of the series so far – in one of my favorite episodes, which winds together existential pondering, teenage angst, and tremendous wit. This is why I’m watching the show again.
- Why do Buffy and Giles so easily accept that Ford “just knows” that Buffy is the Slayer? I get that Buffy might be overwhelmed by her fifth-grade best friend, but she’d still want details about how her secret identity got out. Willow and Angel could have discussed this point further as they made their alliance behind Buffy’s back.
- The book-stealing vampire spared by Ford in exchange for access to Spike feels especially bizarre to me. Is it the fried bleached blonde hair or the fact that a real stuntwoman played her and she moves like an athlete more than a monster?
- Spike is especially funny here. I loved his exchanges with Ford!