Unlucky number thirteen for Buffy. Surprise is full of surprises:
- for Buffy (a sparsely attended surprise party at The Bronze – and later unplanned sex!)
- for Spike (a better attended celebration in the abandoned factory with a special gift of an unassembled über-demon)
- for Miss Carpenter (an unwelcome visit from her curse-ranting Uncle Enios)
- for Willow (an invitation to date from Oz)
- and of course, for Angel and the audience (the return of Angelus).
Buffy’s opening dream – now that’s the stuff that Nightmares should have been filled with. It’s truly dreamlike – surreal and scary – with a mostly silent Drusilla all in black, stealthily stalking Buffy as she drifts from one unreal, ominously foreshadowing scene to the next: Joyce’s saucer shattering, Miss Carpenter lifting the veil at Angel’s funeral, and Dru staking Angel into dust.
We’ll see it all come to pass, though not literally. Dreams don’t work that way, not even prophetic Slayer dreams.
I wish Giles would take some more interest in Buffy’s mind! They could head off plenty of problems with some analysis of her dreams, but then Giles can’t even understand the conscious mind of an American teenage girl; delving into her subconscious might set him off into an interminable fit of stammering.
At first I was upset that the lighthearted snippet of Willow speaking French with a monkey at The Bronze never got realized in real life – but it did, of course: the monkey is Oz!
Fitting it is, that Surprise opens with a nightmare as the episode, when taken with its companion, Innocence, is a game-changer of the highest order, setting the series off into darkness and tragedy, but I’ll save that discussion for when I hit Innocence later.
If I have any misgiving about this episode, it’s that The Judge just doesn’t do it for me, which is a pity, since I flipped when the same actor, Brian Thompson, incarnated Luke in Welcome to the Hellmouth and The Harvest. I find The Judge more comical than threatening, all bravado but very little action, with much billowy portent from Giles tomes and such meager follow-through once he’s assembled.
The most The Judge can do is fry poor Dalton, the bookish lackey of Spike and Dru? How I’ll miss this bespectacled, scholarly vampire whom Buffy diagnoses as kleptomaniac!
Really, I’m mad at The Judge for robbing Buffy of one of the vampires worthy of being kept on and developed – at least through close to the end of the season. He’s the underworld’s scholarly counterpart to Giles. Imagine if the two had had a face-off!
I’m quite intrigued that Dalton’s thirst for knowledge reads as traces of humanity for The Judge. There was something to work with here, just as there was with Dru’s barely suggested bitterness at Angelus for killing her friends and family, but they shot their wad for an easy means of showing us The Judge’s frying power, and we bid adieu to Dalton with nary a tear. Well, Drusilla did clap and cry, “Again! Again!”
And honestly, do we really need another threat of apocalypse? Are we on a twelve-episode cycle for the end of the world? The Mayans had a much more reasonable schedule.
I guess I see Buffy creating some patterns of overloading finales/mid-season finales when the central storyline suffices. Just as we didn’t need The Old Ones bringing Armageddon in Prophecy Girl, neither do we need The Judge, or we need to him to be less bluster and more might – and considerably less world-ending.
The end of Buffy’s world is enough alone.
Dalton and Judge complaints aside, I really enjoyed the episode, though perhaps not raising it to the legendary status it holds among many fans. Surprise succeeds in moodily on the sexual theme set up in the previous Bad Eggs, and then Innocence blows it up in a spectacular teenage girl living nightmare, the very tip of which we see as the post-coital Angel stumbles out into the rain and changes the course of the entire series. I’m now fighting off the urge to binge through the rest of season two, but I have held strong, even at the conclusion of this episode, which arrived accompanied by the dreaded “to be continued.” Any less restraint and I would have to be locked in the library book cage to keep me from watching the next ten episodes on one cold, winter day.