And so Buffy changes forever. This episode is a challenge for me because I’m trying to imagine how it must have been received on its initial broadcast as well as attempting to remember how I perceived the dark turn that it takes. Then I have to reconcile those two ideas with how I’m experiencing the episode now. Why? Because I see Innocence as a pivotal point in the series, one suggested in Lie to Me, where the last vestiges of childhood give way to the cold realities of burgeoning adulthood and where a body and its memories existing without a soul gives eternal life a bad name.
How did the teenage and YA audiences view this initially? And how does that differ from my own adult (but not young) viewing in the 2010s? I still feel the heat, but perhaps once removed, and with the sad foreknowledge that there is no fixing for this turn of events, at least not one that will leave anyone happy.
I imagine that the reversion to Angelus must have come as a shock to 1998 audiences despite all the foreshadowing, especially since it comes at such a blissful moment. I know that when I watched the series a few years ago for the first time, I was still stunned by the turn, even though I was vaguely aware that it was on the horizon due to some fuzzy recollections from friends’ chatter and perhaps some of the network promos.
Angelus taunting and humiliating Buffy as she makes her first non-virginal awakening hurls the high-school-as-hell theme into the deeply personal, what many girls fear and some experience: being thrown away by previously devoted boys after being used for sex. I wonder what the set was like during this scene. David Boreaneaz comes to razor-sharp life in the soulless death as Angelus. I can see an actor where I’d previously only witnessed some very intentional brooding; now he’s relishing the screen, seizing it like Angelus would a blonde’s pulsing throat, and it’s more unnerving watching his cunning cruelty than his more casual physical violence. Sarah Michelle Gellar comes through here as near mortally wounded by his words, but never quite wholly destroyed, since she is Buffy – not the Slayer – but just Buffy, who fights for survival even on the playing field of the typical teenage girl.
Just as romance (along with fate) takes a disastrous turn for Buffy and Angel, things roll forward with Cordelia and Xander. I understood their unseen time in the military weapons hold to have been their own jump into sex, making Xander no longer a possible mate for the virgin-hungry Miss French of Teacher’s Pet. Cordy and Xander don’t have romance, exactly, it’s just teenage lust, uncontained but momentarily quenchable, so this quenching felt even a bit overdue.
Also taking its sweet, adorably sweet, time in developing is the spark between Willow and Oz. The exchange between the two outside the Sunnydale military compound while they wait for Xander and Cordy, who are literally fucking around in the armory. Oz denies Willow’s advances by correctly intuiting that she is trying to check-mate Xander, essentially telling her that he (Oz) is worth more than that and he’ll wait for his turn when it’s really about him. I’m not sure a teenage boy would actually come up with those lines or even those sentiments, but the timing of the scene and the thoughtfulness of the dialogue, coupled with Willow’s pleased countenance upon Oz’s measured explanation of the rejection, strikes me as borderline perfect.
And speaking of telling scenes, I have previously complained about Cordelia being cartoonishly mean and hateful to the extent that I couldn’t really believe that the others would actually spend any time with her. S2 has made her far more bearable, Reptile Boy excepted. When Willow discovers Xander and Cordy kissing in the stacks, Cordelia’s face shows genuine remorse, not the embarrassment we’ll see later as her acolytes shun her for the association, but some actual anguish at having caused such a deep hurt. Her wordless reaction in this scene suggests to me (far more than anything more explicit tossed at us in Out of Mind, Out of Sight) the character arc of empathy that Cordelia would ride through this series and into Angel.
As much I love this episode, it’s not without flaws. I discussed my disappointment with The Judge in Surprise. He’s almost an afterthought, yet still somehow purportedly apocalyptic, in Innocence.
His most important function here is less in the comically violent showdown at the mall and more in his pronouncement that there unquestionably is no humanity to found in Angelus. The Judge can’t or won’t even fry him because there’s no goodness to feed off. We’d best take that into account for the rest of the season.
Message received, but hat was a whole lot of build-up for the messenger.
Nevertheless, The Judge isn’t the central villain here. He’s pushed far out into the corner of the frame by Angelus, who may rank at the very top of my Buffy villain list, which is already brewing in my brain. For the first time in the series, I actually feel a sense of dread knowing an ominous presence is imminent. As much as I loved The Master, I truly looked forward to visits with him in the underground lair. Angelus I recoil from. That’s a successful bad guy.
- Xander pulls up his memory from Halloween when he merged his identity with that of a super-soldier. He’ll draw on his memories-while-cursed again in the next episode, Phases. I think Whedon suggests that Hyena-Xander and Soldier-Xander are still at heart Xander-Xander; they’re wish fulfillment slices of him that are granted temporary full manifestations before being slotted back into compartments of his whole being. Whedon will get to throw open all the drawers on that theme in Dollhouse.
- I really enjoy the bickering between Xander and Cordelia. They both give as good as they get, and I love how their squabbling has escalated rather than softened since their physical relationship started. My favorite so far:
Cordelia: Yeah, you might find something useful if it’s in an ‘I Can Read’ book.
- The mall finale with the rocket firing at The Judge, Angelus, and Dru was a bit silly for such a heavy episode, but the wackiness, sprinklers and all, may have been necessary to offset the grim situation. Plus, Buffy got the chance to change from virginal white into mourning, marauding black and fire a cathartic missile at the one who done her so, so wrong.