BtVS & Angel

Here it is. Initially I’d had the goal of posting a detailed review for each of the 254 episodes, and I got as far as the middle of season three before losing the energy and focus, but not the OCD need to catalogue and compare. So even as I gave up the ghost on 254 blog entries, I continued to jot down impressions of episodes and rank them within seasons. My re-watch ended up taking over three years! This summer, I dug everything up, and several hundred index cards and a spread sheet later, I have the complete list.

I waffled on whether to start at the bottom of or the top, eventually settling on the former, mostly because I believe in the old adage of saving the best for last, though I hadn’t realized how negative my takes on the lower end wound up. In my heart, though, I love both series through and through and can find something of worth in every episode.

The spread sheet is embedded at the end of the list with episodes listed in alphabetical order. The 44 episode posts that I did a few years ago are linked at the bottom of each capsule review here.

Thanks to Mr. Lousy and Doris W. for introducing me to the Buffyverse!


#254: The Girl in Question (Angel 5.20)
written by Steven S. DeKnight and Drew Goddard
directed by David Greenwalt

! Angel - The Girl in Question

Egregiously tone-deaf, sorely misplaced comedy episode that derails the building momentum toward the series finale. As everyone reels from the death of Fred and the impending apocalypse, Angel and Spike go on a goofball mission to Italy and match wits with a never-seen, never-before-mentioned nemesis. It’s a trip filled with one thudding joke after another, like a disastrous pilot for a sitcom spin-off. Worse yet, it’s a deflated goodbye to Buffy, shown only briefly by a body double and referenced by the unfunny, unwelcome Andrew. And worst of all, the flashbacks flop miserably, making our series farewell to Darla and Cordelia a footnote begging to be expunged from the show’s lore. All of this stands in jarring contrast to the B-story, a surprise visit from Fred’s parents and Illyria’s impromptu impersonation of the deceased. These potentially powerful, tragic scenes lose most of their impact from the inane Abbott (Angel) & Costello (Spike) bickering that they’re thoughtlessly sandwiched between. A mind-numbing misstep torpedoed into one of the Buffyverse’s greatest arcs.



#253: Inside Out (Angel 4.17)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Steven S. DeKnight

Angel - Inside Out

Season four accelerates its downhill slide with evil Cordy giving birth to Jasmine. The return of Darla as a benevolent spirit sent by The Powers That Be would almost be welcomed, but there’s very little recognizable in her, save for a single comment about the fear she inspired and sensed in all the people she’d murdered as a vampire. Unfortunately, even a sympathetic, maternal Darla can’t stave off the virgin sacrifice and the resultant hasty birth of Jasmine. Back at the hotel, Skip is interrogated under duress and reveals that nearly all the events of the series have been orchestrated to bring about the moment of Jasmine’s birth, which I find egregiously insulting as a viewer. Not only is this the absolute shittiest seasonal arc of the Buffyverse, we are now expected to accept that it has retroactively infected every plot point to date. It’s a fat fuck-you from the writers, who don’t seem to know yet what a morass they’ve created.


#252: Him (BtVS 7.6)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by Michael Gershman

BUFFY - Him

A standalone waste of space. I suppose it’s the last shot at humor in the season before it descends into full-on grimness, but the recycled plot from Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (which receives a tip of the hat with a clip of Xander besieged by spellbound admirers) doesn’t add anything new to any characters or show any novel cleverness with an old story. And any episode centering on Dawn can be hard to get down, but when it’s as derivative, out of place, and boring as this one, it’s pretty rough going just to see it through to the end. They don’t even bother explaining the origin of the stupid letter jacket. If they wanted to go the route of cursed objects, they should have been studying Friday the 13th: The Series. They had this shit down pat.


#251: Tomorrow (Angel 3.22)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

Angel - Tomorrow

It’s difficult for me to parse out how much I dislike this episode and how much I hate where it’s taking the series. For all sentimental purposes, it’s the end of the Cordelia character as she ascends to the heavens in one of the stupidest bits the series has ever brought forth. It’s not that I’m opposed to Cordy’s continued development toward benevolence and selflessness. I think her evolution from the starting point on BtVS to now has been one of the great character journeys, along with Willow and Wes, that the Buffyverse has pulled off, and moving her closer to an almost Mother Theresa-like state isn’t out of the question, but I mean the earthly Mother Theresa, not an actual saint floating around in the clouds. In addition to Cordelia’s departure, there’s more of Connor, collaborating with Justine to wreak vengeance on Angel that must involve mindreading so that Justine can inexplicably have her boat at Angel and Cordy’s rendezvous point. It’s lazy writing indicative of Whedon running too many series simultaneously. Even after Firefly flames out (and I’m sad about that), the damage ushered in by this finale will take an entire season to rectify.



#250: Benediction (Angel 3.21)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - Benediction

On top of Connor continuing to establish himself as an petulant imposition to be suffered through, the aged version of Holtz (now resembling Rocky Dennis from Mask), who never achieved much merit as a character (as much a fault of the writing as the actor) hatches a suicide plan to frame Angel for his murder. A more powerful story might have been finding some solace in forgiveness, as his letter to Angel would suggest, but instead he sticks to his guns and enlists Justine to stab his neck. This is the same Justine who we last saw saving Angel and trapping Sahjhan (now there was a good villain!) in an urn, presumably after seeing the futility of an endless revenge plot. Yet now she’s inexplicably back on the same track, character development be damned, killing her former superior to turn Connor against his father. Oh, and Cordy’s warm and fuzzy white glowing power gets another go. It’s still ill defined and we won’t be subjected to it again, but it manages to soothe Connor after one of his annoying rages. Too bad she couldn’t put that in pill form and dose him every two hours, but instead of thinking up practical applications to her newfound glow, she’s mulling over her withering relationship with Groo, something I never enjoyed to begin with. But on the subject of relationships, I’m all for the one growing between Wesley and Lilah. Their scenes are the one bright spot in this growing mess of a story.


#249: All the Way (BtVS 6.6)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - All the Way

Dawn-centric and not as disappointing as I’d remembered, but still underwhelming, especially as a Halloween episode. The one undeniably good scene is when Dawn’s randy suitor turns out to be a vampire and kills the presumed threat, the creepy old man, in the kitchen, a startling reversal of (mis)fortune. After that surprise, it’s slow deflation till the finish. What’s more, I have a qualm with the established lore of the holiday: Aren’t vampires supposed to stay in on Halloween? There are a whole mess of them at the make-out point in the climactic showdown.


#248: Players (Angel 4.16)
written by Jeffrey Bell and Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
directed by Michael Grossman

Angel - Players

Gwen, in (thankfully) her final appearance, enlists Gunn under false pretenses to assist in a heist, letting him show off his strategizing mind, as opposed to the “muscle” he’s referred to as by Angel. Gunn’s tenuous place in the organization and the limits placed on him could be turned into an interesting episode, but this isn’t it. When Gunn asks why he is committed to this caper in the middle of an apocalypse, the writers seem to be winking at the audience, but instead of winking back, I’m wondering why they didn’t attempt to giving Gunn a better shot earlier in the season. In other news, evil Cordelia is exposed as the master behind The Beast, and her character enters its final, abysmal stage.



#247: Shiny Happy People (Angel 4.18)
written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain
directed by Marita Grabiak

Angel - Shiny Happy People

Whedon likes to toy a bit with us, introducing an incomprehensible element to his shows and then ask us to bear with him as it slowly plays out (cf: Dawn in BtVS). He does this on a smaller scale here, with everyone, human and demon alike, falling to their knees on first sight of Jasmine for no discernible reason. I guess it’s a cult allegory, where everyone lines up for duping except the occasional true seer, who ends up branded insane and dangerous. But Jasmine isn’t frightening, and if I want to see inexplicable adoration turn to terror, I can find a considerably scarier cult quite easily. Jasmine’s New Age message of love and communion doesn’t even get at the appeal or the power of a cult of personality, which I feel the weight of greatly in 2017.


#246: Touched (BtVS 7.20)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by David Solomon

BUFFY - Touched

Four couplings followed by two battles. The couplings, or fucking, as is the case for three, are all preceded by tedious pillow talk. I supposed 15 years ago, the sex scene between Willow and Kennedy was groundbreaking, but now it seems unremarkable – both in the sense that same-sex sex has become more or less normalized and in the sense that it contains no real passion, a result of poor chemistry between the two performers and poor characterization for Kennedy, who never seems a suitable fit for Willow. I think my very tepid reaction to this ante-penultimate episode speaks to my impression of the season as a whole. I’m not feeling it.


#245: A New World (Angel 3.20)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - A New World

Connor is the worst character in the Buffyverse. And I am including the Potentials. I honestly cannot comprehend how Whedon could initially conceive of a teenage line-up like the Scoobies, each one distinct and charming in some fashion, and then poop out Dawn and Connor in two successive years. They’re both terrible, but I’m giving the bottom-of-the-barrel award to Connor because one, did they learn nothing from Dawn, whose primary character trait is pouting, and two, because Connor will go on to fuck and fuck up Cordelia’s character. At least Dawn didn’t actually damage BtVS beyond her own irritating presence. While I think the episodes leading up to Connor’s (sort of) birth and his infancy are some of the best in the series, the teenaged version back from the hell dimension stinks from the get-go. As much as I like Vincent Kartheiser as Pete in Mad Men, he’s terrible here, endlessly peevish, looking sort of like a young, dirtied-down David Cassidy with none of the latter’s sexy charm. Connor’s introduction to this dimension, rumbling with drug dealers and befriending a doomed junkie, keep him from interacting with the regular cast too much, but he’ll soon enough be integrated into the main story, and for that, I am eternally resentful. On the meager plus side of this episode, Lilah has begun to ensnare Wes with a copy of Dante’s Inferno. Say this for her, she can be straight up when she’s negotiating.


#244: Happy Anniversary (Angel 2.13)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by Bill L. Norton

Angel - Happy Anniversary

An awkward entry that serves as a placeholder during the schism between Angel and his associates. Lorne coaxes the champion into stopping something apocalyptic and then serves as a sounding board (the gay best friend cliché) to Angel, who confesses the trough he’s found himself in, which really we could have gauged without the amateur talk therapy. I had no investment in the physics–sex-freezing experiment, but my curiosity was certainly piqued by the drawing room murder mystery transpiring in the threadbare B-story. David Greenwalt had his money on the wrong horse in this episode. Imagine an episode completely devoted to a whodunit, complete with a wealthy, aristocratic family and a demon hitman! I suppose my real fantasy is for Angela Lansbury to walk on as Wesley’s sleuthing auntie from Maine, but I’ll have to file that Murder, She Wrote gem of an idea under future fan-fic.



#243: Unleashed (Angel 5.3)
written by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
directed by Marita Grabiak

Angel - Unleashed

An awful episode introducing werewolvery into the series with the least charismatic actress in the Buffyverse as the wolf in question; she’s like Patricia Arquette on too much Valium. But they make the most of her vulnerable blonde sexuality by chaining, stripping, and hosing her down before tying her up to be eaten alive. It’s quite an appeal to the horny fanboys, but the entire setup is unforgivably ludicrous. The only saving grace may be John Billingsley as the traitorous Wolfram & Hart scientist, though we have to bid him farewell in a stupidly contradictory conclusion: he’s set to be the next main course in the coming month’s werewolf feast… but then they announce the werewolf-eating society has been closed down for good. Worse yet, we’re more or less promised the blasé werewolf as a potential love interest for Angel. They’ve already bombed miserably with Kate and Gwen. The listless lycanthrope makes 0 for 3, leaving me to keep pining for the far superior blondness of Darla.


#242: Beer Bad (BtVS 4.5)
written by Tracey Forbes
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Beer Bad

Not as atrocious as I found it on my first run but still far below standard. It doesn’t work as broad comedy or as class commentary, but it does offer a fair finale with the coffee shop fire after a savvy Willow rebuffs the slimy Parker Finn. Perhaps Beer Bad doesn’t deserve its notoriety, and at least Buffy’s regression to Neanderthalism gets capped in the conclusion. Imagine this as a multi-episode arc!


#241: Bachelor Party (Angel 1.7)
written by Tracey Stern
directed by David Straiton

angel-bachelor-party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A misfired attempt at comedy. Doyle’s bland ex-wife is instantly forgettable and the series feels like it’s in a holding pattern. I would argue for a better back story for the appealing Doyle, but since he’s on the verge of his exit, I’ll chalk this episode up to the series’ freshman awkwardness and look ahead.



#240: The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco (Angel 5.6)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Jeffrey Bell

Angel - The Cautionary Tale of Numero Cinco

Last week’s Halloween episode was jokey enough; at this point, the season is veering dangerously into sitcom territory. I’m not against the Mexican-wrestler-as-demon-fighter premise in theory, but this one’s a bust. It brushes against the themes of living a life unrecognized by dominant culture as well as living into old age as a forgotten and unappreciated part of history, but does neither justice. The mask as metaphor in both cases comes closer to these ideas than the script ever does.


#239: Ground State (Angel 4.2)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Michael Grossman

Angel - Ground State

A preposterous superhero-esque figure gets shoehorned into what will soon shape up as a very messy season. (Alexa Davalos as the electrified cat burglar will get a much better character and give a much better performance over a decade later in The Man in the High Castle.) Was this part of Whedon’s warm-up for The Avengers? It’s ill fitting not just in the season but in the tone of the series.


#238: Get It Done (BtVS 7.15)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Douglas Petrie

BUFFY - Get It Done

Another portal, this time to the creators of the Slayer line. The visit is a serious letdown, especially considering it borders on an origin story, something that Whedon has done in the past with panache time and again. In a season full of debate about power, Buffy denies herself another infusion of it, and instead is granted knowledge: a veritable army of Turok-Han über-vamps lies in her near future. What an opportunity for the series to show the genesis of the Slayer line, but it’s completely dismissed and sadly exchanged for Buffy’s petulance in the face of patriarchy. The original Slayer deserves better.



#237: Where the Wild Things Are (BtVS 4.18)
written by Tracey Forbes
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Where the Wild Things Are

Was the late Maurice Sendak honored to have his most beloved work as the namesake of this awful episode about Riley and Buffy nearly frat-house-fucking each other to death after falling under the sway of the poltergeists of abused children? It’s actually not quite as bad as that synopsis suggests, but not a damn sight better either. On the plus side, Giles covers The Who.


#236: Killed by Death (BtVS 2.18)
written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
directed by Deren Serafian

_Buffy - Killed by Death

A potentially terrifying villain, der Kindestod, can’t make up for a very weak ending, poor performances from the regular cast, nearly pointless flashbacks, and some children in peril so irritating that I started rooting for the Freddy Krueger-ish scary monster. In the plus column, Buffy battles with Angelus and it’s the biggest beat-down she’s received so far. If we weren’t on high alert already, we are now.

full review


 #235: Dead Man’s Party (BtVS 3.2)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

!Buffy - Dead Man's Party

I discovered my personal list of worst BtVS episodes from my first viewing, and the very first episode in the series to make an appearance is Dead Man’s Party. However, I’m now calling that judgment into question. This is not a great episode by any means, but it does rescue the story from becoming all about Buffy brooding over Angel and wallowing in her guilt. Teenagers so often think that the world revolves around them, only to discover that it doesn’t – and that their choices have impacts on others that they might never have considered. Buffy, who’s already proven her personal strength with self-abnegation and acceptance of burdensome responsibility, still has more to learn about herself in relation to the lives of others. That she does so against the backdrop of a particularly ludicrous zombie story doesn’t ruin it for me, and perhaps the looniness of the zombie attack (I admit to enjoying the mayhem with Oz and Cordy emerging from the basement to defend themselves with ski poles) and the death mask possession of poor, ingratiating, highly dispatchable Pat comes as a tonal taste of what’s to come in s3, which will be far more playful and comical than s2. It will also be much tighter in terms of the seasonal story arc, which begins in earnest next week with the introduction of Faith. I think before making that (great!) leap forward, we needed to tie up the mess that Buffy left behind.

full review



#234: Lessons (BtVS 7.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by David Solomon

BUFFY - Lessons

Surprisingly clunky season-seven opener written by Whedon. Buffy’s return to high school seems a bit contrived in order to keep the teenaged demographic interested, but it does bring the series full circle. Across the Atlantic, we find Willow in recovery, guided by Giles in the bucolic English countryside, which, along with Anya’s half-hearted demonic efforts, feels like the only real carryover from last season. A creepy encounter in the school basement allows for a greatest-hits medley of Big Bads as The First reveals itself to crazy Spike, which is a fun exercise and a strong way to open the final year of the series, though it introduces a serious problem: Can the season really succeed with an incorporeal villain?


#233: The House Always Wins (Angel 4.3)
written by David Fury
directed by Marita Grabiak

Angel - The House Always Wins

One of the sillier entries that never loses its road trip trappings, and even Angel’s Rat Pack reminiscences can’t save the script. I like Lorne’s reading ability far better when he’s using it to diagnose the underlying emotional state of the singer. Using it to tell futures reduces him to crystal-ball hokery and seems a bad fit for a character who could then presumably be using this power to bail Angel and company out of the numerous pitfalls they land in.


#232: Double or Nothing (Angel 3.18)
written by David H. Goodman
directed by David Grossman

Angel - Double or Nothing

Poor Gunn. He gets saddled with some of the series dumbest episodes. This one, complete with flashbacks, tells the story of how he mortgaged his soul in exchange for something unexplained years before. Spoiler alert: it’s his fucking truck. If we are supposed to imagine Gunn as the epitome of a street-smart survivalist, this torpedoes that character trait in one fell swoop. The episode conclusion is played for light laughs as the series attempts to steer its way out of the tragic mood following the Connor kidnapping, and I suppose it works to a degree, but the silliness doesn’t fit this point in the season. What’s more, Cordelia’s (and Groo’s, ugh) return mean she has to catch up on the turn of events, and when she visits Wesley in the hospital, her aura of empathy evaporates, which I find hard to swallow considering how much they’ve been pushing her selflessness with the visions this season. The episode in by turns too melodramatic (Gunn being cruel to Fred to save her soul), jokey (Angel’s card-table wagering and decapitating), and birdbrained (the soul/truck exchange).



#231: Storyteller (BtVS 7.16)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Marita Grabiak

BUFFY - Storyteller

Andrew, for me, works best in small doses, and thankfully the episode strays from its original set-up: our resident nelly hostage creating his own story around the current arc with a video camera. Instead, we get more time at Sunnydale High, where the Hellmouth has begun exercising nefarious influence on the student body, including converting a few unlucky teenagers into new Bringers. Unfortunately, the creeping chaos at school gets the joke treatment, hitting its nadir when a student’s head actually explodes from test stress. It’s a low moment not just because it’s unfunny, but because the showrunners don’t seem in control of what is happening, neither in tone nor in narrative.


#230: Triangle (BtVS 5.11)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Christopher Hibler

Buffy - Triangle

Another comedy entry that falls flat for me. In all honesty, I have never been that big a fan of Anya. In terms of unfiltered speech, I prefer the self-aware Cordelia to the Aspbergery ex-vengeance demon (though I suppose Anya grows on me a bit in season seven). This episode is too broadly acted by the entire cast, and the story does little to move the seasonal arc forward until the very end, when Dawn eavesdrops on a conversation to learn that she is not who she thinks she is. As far as Anya back stories go, this doesn’t hold a candle to s7’s Selfless.


#229: First Impressions (Angel 2.3)
written by Shawn Ryan
directed by James A. Contner

ANGEL - First Impressions

An episode primarily dedicated to bringing Gunn closer into the fold and secondarily to showing Darla infiltrating Angel’s mind, First Impressions plays with the notion of deceit and identity, from the main villain Deepak masquerading as human Jameel right down to an extra fleeing the chaos at a party, who turns out to be a vampire running for cover. (I wish they’d used Angel’s detection of vampires more often.) It’s also about the impressions that Gunn has of the associates and they have of him. A sizable chunk of the dialogue in this episode is wretched, but I appreciate how Gunn gets eased gradually into the group rather than parachuted in out of nowhere.



#228: Dead End (Angel 2.18)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by James A. Contner

*Angel - Dead End

For me, Lindsey was always an also-ran next to Lilah. While I enjoy their rivalry, which gives new meaning to the idea of cutthroat corporate competition, there was never any contest as to who was smarter – or funnier. Lindsey strikes me as more of a dumb, overaged surfer boy than a snaky attorney, which makes his very slight back story about rising from poverty to the upper echelons of Wolfram & Hart a bit of a wash. His own epiphany, hot on the heels of Angel’s, about benevolence – or at least neutrality – and purpose strikes me as hollow since he’s previously shown no sympathy or empathy, save for Darla, whom he condemns to a second soulless existence by arranging for Drusilla to sire her. (He’s not even good boyfriend material!) So when it dawns on him that Wolfram & Hart might be too evil for his skill set, I don’t buy it, but I’m also okay to see him make an exit. And I won’t be particularly surprised to see him back in s5.


#227: Expecting (Angel 1.12)
written by Howard Gordon
directed by David Semel

@Angel - Expecting

Cordelia’s first demonic pregnancy. That I have to use an ordinal number in that sentence points to a fixation the series has on impregnating Cordelia with demon spawn. It’s a weak episode, though I am squarely in favor of the friendly ghost Dennis crushing on Cordy. Note: Ken Marino as one of the nefarious suitors is seriously underused!


#226: Empty Places (BtVS 7.19)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by James A. Contner

BUFFY - Empty Places

In a season all about power, Buffy is stripped of hers, at least in terms of leadership. While she’s never held any formal title other than Slayer, her role as head of the Scoobies has always been assumed. Now, after the arrival of the Potentials, she’s become something of a general and a den mother, discovering resentment on both counts from her unruly subordinates. Losing the confidence of the Scoobies, plus the already alienated Giles, means she’s really on her own, save for the absent Spike. But then, we knew from s2’s finale, Becoming Part II, when Angel tried to completely isolate her and break her down mentally, she could always count on herself. I just wish this episode were a shadow of that one, since rather than vaulting to those heights of tension or even darkness, we’re in the throes of glumness, which doesn’t equate to good drama.



#225: Judgment (Angel 2.1)
written by David Greenwalt and Joss Whedon
directed by Michael Lange

ANGEL - Judgment

The trial at the end of the episode is a bit nonsensical (Angel is jousting!), but the judgment here extends beyond the legal proceedings into the personal. Demons are much more a part of the regular Angel than BtVS, at least the non-vampire variety. Doyle and Lorne are part of the regular team of associates, unlike the all-human Scoobies (Angel and Spike never really counted, and Anya reverted back to humanity), just as the line between right and wrong – or friend and enemy – is more blurry in L.A. than in Sunnydale. Wesley’s visit to Faith at the end shows that judgment might be more of a process than an end point, with characters making terrible mistakes and struggling for salvation thereafter. Aside from the somewhat mundane pregnant-woman-in-jeopardy (played by Justina Machado from the 2017 reboot of One Day at a Time), there is plenty else going on in this episode: a dazed Darla is now ensconced at Wolfram & Hart, the Hyperion Hotel gets rediscovered, the ceaselessly stupendous Lorne makes his initial appearance, and Angel’s affinity for Barry Manilow goes public. Not a great episode, but one that sets up for a strong season ahead.


#224: Untouched (Angel 2.4)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Joss Whedon

ANGEL - Untouched

The series Angel has a thing for young women with X-Men-like powers. I like the X-Men, but the mutant angle doesn’t gel with the occult and supernatural very well, so I’m distracted by characters like this one, a runaway who can move things with her mind under great stress. Maybe I should think of her as a Carrie type; after all, she’s a redhead with an abusive parent (a dad in place of Carrie’s magnificently monstrous mother) and a heap semi-controlled telekinesis. Unlike Carrie, however, this girl has an Angel in her corner, keeping her from being led astray by that Wolfram & Hart wonder, Lilah. Angel wins out, and the visiting girl-in-peril gets sent off to safety in the end, meaning we’ll have a reprieve from mutant chicks until the truly terrible Gwen character arrives shooting electricity out of her hands in season four and has the nerve to become recurring. I’m happy the telekinetic character here is one-and-done… but I appreciate all the extra time we got to spend in Lilah’s apartment for all her psychological manipulation. Lilah works hard for the money and she’s worth every penny.


#223: Bring on the Night (BtVS 7.10)
written by Marti Noxon and David Petrie
directed by David Grossman

BUFFY - Bring on the Night

Spike’s seemingly endless cycle of torture directed by The First actually started at the end of the previous episode, but here it begins in earnest, presided over primarily by the apparition of Drusilla and assisted corporeally by the über-vamp, who also kills a runaway Potential and kicks Buffy’s ass in battle. Buffy gives the first of her season-seven long-winded speeches, which steers the arc directly into its grim battle against hopelessness, which, let’s face it, can be a slog to endure, either in real life or on the screen. Sometimes I think the entirety of season seven is a metaphor for depression.



#222: Damage (Angel 5.11)
written by Steven S. DeKnight & Drew Goddard
directed by Jefferson Kibbee

Angel - Damage

A promising premise with a psychotic Slayer bearing the memories of past Slayers, including the two killed by Spike. Alas, Goddard focuses his attentions on loads of fight/slashing scenes and a backstory of kidnapping and torture rather than opening the door to flashbacks centered on Slayers rather than vampires. We’ve already seen an unbalanced Slayer (the truly fabulous Faith), so why not use the craziness in a more novel, less destructive way – as a device to peer into Slayer history, which is oddly neglected in the series. Perhaps such a perspective would have been more appropriate to BtVS, but if we’re to understand Spike as a reformed villain, we need to feel the lives that he’s extinguished. His guilt gets a brief nod at the end, but the weight could have been increased exponentially by giving us an extended look at the two slain Slayers beyond their battles. Slayer lore would not be out of line since this was, after all, a BtVS crossover episode (even though that series had ended its run) with the appearance of Andrew, whose schtick (cf: the pretentious pronunciation of “vampire”) has long grown stale for me. His best use here comes at the end, when he expresses complete distrust in Angel for his association with Wolfram & Hart, the episode’s only substantinal contribution to the season’s arc.


#221: Goodbye Iowa (BtVS 4.14)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Goodbye Iowa

Adam seemed rushed into Big Bad status, though this episode shows he did have some possibilities, especially after the homage to Frankenstein with his murder of an innocent child. In the meantime, Riley gets more screen time, experiencing withdrawal symptoms after missing the late Professor Walsh’s doses of super-soldier drugs. Marc Blucas comes off as so relentlessly blah that even this souped-up storyline for his character doesn’t work. They needed to cast an actor with the capacity to show a darker side underneath the Ken-doll veneer; Blucas is just rubbery plastic all the way through.


#220: Gone (BtVS 6.11)
written by David Fury
directed by David Fury

Buffy - Gone

Character-based comedy works very well for BtVS, but sitcom-level zaniness does not; this episode wanders too far into the territory of the latter. Buffy’s invisibility could have made for a deeper exploration of her sense of self as a young adult and resurrected being, but most of the concept goes for cheap laughs like juggling floating objects and invisi-sex with Spike. The Trio’s animosity with Buffy gets a bump as they are finally exposed as her nemeses thanks to Willow’s detective work, so the season’s arc pushes forward, but the episode could have been much more. Bonus point for the throwback mention of Marcie (from s1’s Out of Mind, Out of Sight), though.



#219: Doublemeat Palace (BtVS 6.12)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Nick Marck

Buffy - Doublemeat Palace

Another episode that I found simply terrible the first time around, but I’ve warmed to on the second spin. The surreality of the overlit fast food restaurant, corporate conformity, and meat-related nausea work for me far better now that I have settled into Buffy’s rough transition out of heaven and into the grind of adult responsibility. The seasonal arc doesn’t go anywhere, save for Xander’s first serious doubts as his wedding day approaches, but that is the point: the gang, especially Buffy, is in a holding pattern, and it’s a blindingly vacuous place to be. Side note: Anya’s demon friend Halfrek is a most welcome comic treat.


#218: Beneath You (BtVS 7.2)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Nick Marck

BUFFY - Beneath You

Xander’s post-dating life after leaving Anya at the altar does not inspire much interest in me, though I liked the twist of his first crush turning out to be one of Anya’s unwitting new clients. The CGI worm pursuing Xander’s new lady friend is just awful; the series does far better with hokey demon costumes than it does with digital monsters. Many people are fans of the final scene between Buffy and a broken Spike in the church, when she discovers that he now has a soul, though I far prefer Anya’s earlier realization at the Bronze. In contrast to Buffy’s worried confusion about the regained soul, Anya reacts with a bubbly, almost giddy curiosity, leaving her completely uninterested in the disastrous monster-situation that she herself created and that everyone but her is attempting to rectify.


#217: City Of (Angel 1.1)
written by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
directed by Joss Whedon

@Angel - City of

Everyone seems to love this series debut episode, but I find it lacking. A cast of only three regulars too meager for an hour-long drama, which helps explain why the show will depend on guest turns from BtVS to get through the first season. The darker tone does get firmly established when Angel fails to save the blonde in distress, though he comes through for Cordelia, who’s learning humility as a failing actress. The most successful idea comes in the shape of a law firm serving the despicable. Wolfram & Hart won’t fully qualify as any season’s Big Bad until the very end but it pays great dividends along the way.



#216: Somnambulist (Angel 1.11)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Winrich Kolbe

@Angel - Somnabulist

Our first Angel flashbacks don’t reveal much, perhaps just whetting our appetite for the lavish feasts to come. The major development occurs as Kate Lockley discovers Angel is a vampire – from investigative research! (Where does she do her demon research? Did she contact the ethnodemonologist ex-wife of Doyle?) Jeremy Renner plays the daddy-fixated vampire – and Angel is the daddy! I have never understood how Renner became a star. He doesn’t stand out here any more than a hundred other visiting vampires. However unremarkable he may be, his Angelus-sired character does serve as reminder that Angelus is still in Angel. Cordelia clearly doesn’t need the reminder as she’s already on guard: “You stake him and I’ll cut his head off!” Cordy’s practicality is one of her most enduring charms.


#215: The Replacement (BtVS 5.3)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - The Replacement

A mighty comedown from s3’s The Zeppo in terms of exploring Xander’s persona. The episode flags in energy and the resolution is too pat; however, it does offer some great jokes about cat piss and the general state of Xander’s parent-basement lifestyle.


#214: Ted (BtVS 2.11)
written by David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon
directed by Bruce Seth Green

_Buffy - Ted

Here’s one that I genuinely wish I could like more than I do, but I see Ted as just another robot replacement story, a trope that I usually enjoy, but one that BtVS should have made more of. I suppose we can read into the locked-up ladies scenario: the long-dead scientist’s identity was dependent on his relationship with/subjugation of a woman, which is why Robot Ted must cycle through cellar-imprisoned housewives in order to keep himself (itself? – no, Ted is a boy) going. A wife (or succession of wives) anchors Ted to his former humanity and to his current self as make-believe-man. John Ritter is a high-profile guest star, and I enjoy seeing him in fun horror (catch him in Bride of Chucky!), but even with Jack Tripper, the episode never quite hits the mark. I don’t always appreciate when the supernatural collides with science fiction since I see the genres in a sense as diametrically opposed. I’d say s1’s I, Robot… You, Jane and the Trio from s6 are more successful since there is more of a meld with heavy emphasis on magic over machine. The Initiative from s4 is an also-ran in the same category.

full review



#213: Buffy vs. Dracula (BtVS 5.1)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Buffy vs Dracula

Season openers don’t seem to be foremost in Whedon’s vision and this is no exception The Dracula is surprisingly uncharismatic and unsexy, despite constant claims to the contrary from the script. Comic highlights include Giles in the cellar with the sexy vampire sisters and Xander’s bug-eating behavior under the thrall of the count. Otherwise, that most famous of vampires deserves a far better episode than this.


#212: Family (BtVS 5.6)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - Family

The first (and only) truly Tara-centric episode. We get the revelation of misogyny at the heart of her childhood – spearheaded by the father, enforced by the brother, and perpetuated by the cousin, a pre-fame Amy Adams. They’re such an obviously dastardly bunch; a bit of nuance beyond the good/bad dichotomy would have worked better to build some genuine conflict in Tara about returning home. It wants to be an important episode, but it’s kind of a bore, like, dare I say it, the rather milquetoast Tara.


#211: Bargaining Part I (BtVS 6.1)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Bargaining Part 1

Willow’s descent had really started at the end of last season when she opened herself up to the possibilities offered by dark magic in steering Dawn toward reanimating her mother and in taking revenge on Glory to save Tara. Here she goes straight to this ominous point of power in a plot to resurrect Buffy. Her unwavering sense of certainty and casual dismissal of danger combines with a willingness to compromise her sense of right and wrong, as when she kills the fawn without hesitation or remorse. This isn’t the Willow we know! It’s not that she’s at the bargaining stage of grief, she’s bargaining away her very self. The season opener isn’t fantastic, but the steady emergence of Willow as a potentially dangerous force will be one of the great character arcs of the Buffyverse.



#210: Crush (BtVS 5.14)
written by David Fury
directed by Dan Attias

Buffy - Crush

Spike’s early crush on Buffy still seems vaguely incomprehensible to me. I could see a hatefuck-type of sexual attraction more easily than the emotional attachment, and it saddens me slightly to see Spike softened further, but the cuddlier version does mean more screen time. More interesting to me here is Dawn’s schoolgirl crush on Spike, existing alongside her matter-of-fact recognition of Spike’s crush on Buffy.


#209: That Old Gang of Mine (Angel  3.3)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Fred Keller

Angel - That Old Gang of Mine

Some of the Gunn-centric episodes try to allegorize race relations, this being the prime example, but the clumsiness of the attempt stands out most here with the arrival of a rival vampire-killer, who, it is suggested but never followed up on, is running from his own metaphorical demons. Had this character been granted any purpose other than to generate internal conflict with Gunn, the attempted allegory might have played out better; instead, the episode winds up more an excuse to nearly demolish Lorne’s club. Point in the episode’s favor: the three flirty Furies, with whom, it is inferred, Angel has engaged in a four-way.


#208: Inca Mummy Girl (BtVS 2.4)
written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer
directed by Ellen S. Pressman

_Buffy - Inca Mummy Girl

After injecting the series with the adrenalin rush of Spike and Drusilla, the momentum gets stalled for another monster-of-the-week story, this time a mummy who sucks the life force from her ardent male admirers, Xander naturally included. It’s a generally clumsy episode from both narrative and cultural standpoints (though it’s an equal opportunity offender), yet Ampata in her human form can be compelling at times. Like Buffy, she just wants to have some teenage fun and be with a boy. Unlike Buffy, though, she needs to absorb that boy’s life force and leave him a desicated carcass in order to maintain her non-rotting-bandages state.

full review



#207: The Thin Dead Line (Angel 2.14)
written by Jim Kouf and Shawn Ryan
directed by Scott McGinnis

Angel - The Thin Dead Line

Angel will do far, far better with zombies later on down the line, when they run amok through the Wolfram & Hart building in s4’s Habeas Corpses. I’m not sure if this episode is supposed to be allegorical, with overzealous, killing machine zombie cops standing in for real cops committing police brutality. If that was the aim, they needed to work much harder; the messy script, awkward dialogue, and wholly unconvincing youth shelter teens under Anne’s auspices render this story almost as DOA as the zombies. And more cops means more Kate, who ranks as one of the most dull Buffyverse characters this side of Joyce Summers. The bright spot in this episode might be the minor subplot about girl with an eye growing in the back of her head, a story frustratingly truncated in the end, though we’ll get an extension shortly. The conclusion does offer a good scene of Angel attempting to visit Wes in the hospital – but cut off cold by Cordelia. It’s a deserved rebuff, and it also serves as foreshadowy reversal of what’s to come in s3, when Angel visits an ailing Wes in the hospital yet again, but this time to kill him. Better, darker things to come.


#206: Teacher’s Pet (BtVS 1.4)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by Bruce Seth Green

!Buffy - Teacher's Pet

I’d remembered this one from my first viewing as dreadful, but now I rather appreciate the schlocky B-movie feel, and I see that the Buffyverse obsession with impregnating Cordelia with demon spawn has at least one parallel with Xander, who’s on tap to create a brood of baby insect demons. His teenage horniness and the shaming status of virginity play well into the ridiculous but fun hot-teacher-as-praying-mantis-monster story. My favorite moment: when a vampire on the run from Buffy balks at encountering Miss French! Runner up: Miss French spending her lunch break eating a sandwich of grubs.

full review


#205: Lonely Heart (Angel 1.2)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

@Angel - Lonely Heart

The police procedural is simply too pedestrian a genre for Angel, and the last thing our vampire hero needs is “a buddy in the precinct” or someone akin to Chief O’Hara on Batman. I don’t like the direction the show wants to head, but I did immensely enjoy the body-hopping demon intriguing, and it was fun figuring out what on earth was happening with the hook-ups followed by host-hops.



#204: Some Assembly Required (BtVS 2.2)
written by Ty King
directed by Bruce Seth Green

_Buffy - Some Assembly Required

Another entry placing geeky boys as the agents of malice. We’ve seen tech geeks in s1 from I, Robot… You, Jane, and now we’ve got them from the yearbook club and science fair. Are the writers attempting to communicate something about themselves with all of these geeky boy villains? The Cordy-kidnapping, re-animating flunkies here are a far cry from s6’s far more humorous and dangerous Trio, but they do give Charisma Carpenter the opportunity to a whole lot of screaming.

full review


#203: Sense & Sensitivity (Angel 1.6)
written by Tim Minear
directed by James A. Contner

@Angel - Sense & Sensitivity

An episode dedicated to bringing Kate Lockley into limelight, which doesn’t bode well as she’s played by a weak actress and the police procedural is entirely the wrong format. That said, the hyper-sensitivity among cops is extremely entertaining.


#202: Out of Sight, Out of Mind (BtVS 1.11)
written by Joss Whedon; Ashley Gable, Thomas A. Swydon
directed by Reza Badiyi

! Buffy - Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The high school allegory is too heavy for me here, but part of me recognizes impetus behind the violence that the invisible Marcie visits on the boy in the locker room using a baseball bat – and later on Cordelia, who we’ve seen wield her status like a weapon time and again, but here shows glimmers of humanity. They save the best for last, with a still deranged but under control Marcie enrolled in some sort of government black ops school for mutants/future assassins. Too bad we didn’t get to meet up with Marcie again when the Initiative storyline rolled out in s4. And too bad this episode didn’t fall earlier in the season. We needed a strong run-up to the showdown with The Master in the finale.

full review



#201: The Pack (BtVS 1.7)
written by Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer
directed by Bruce Seth Green

!Buffy - The Pack

The Pack gives us much more Xander development – his sexual lust for Buffy, the ease with which he falls into a clique, and his reveling in newfound alpha status. This is the one where Xander gets to show off the dark side of the teenage boy – and in the end he even pretends not to remember any of it. Giles, himself a former teenage boy who knows better, doesn’t buy it but colludes with Xander to hide the truth. They know what lies beneath, as Giles suggested to Buffy earlier: “It’s devastating. He’s turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course you’ll have to kill him.”

full review


#200: Flooded (BtVS 6.4)
written by Jane Espenson & Douglas Petrie
directed by Douglas Petrie

Buffy - Flooded

No respite from reality as Buffy’s finances become a greater, more immediate threat than a demon or even the Trio – Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew – now established as geek-boy culture in the extreme. Their demonic assassin is a dud, though his destruction of the Summers’ home accompanied by Buffy’s exasperation at the economics of replacing tables, lamps, and doors is humorous. She’s itemizing demon damage as its incurred! Flooded doesn’t stand out on its own; it’s another unexceptional episode with a most exceptional scene: Giles calling out Willow’s arrogance and stupidity for tampering with a force as powerful as death. Giles has never directed such ire at a Scooby, and no Scooby has ever challenged/threatened Giles as Willow does in return. It’s youth in revolt, but we’re wary about the revolution. And this exchange will get one hell of a callback in the season finale.


#199: Potential (BtVS 7.12)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by James A. Contner

BUFFY - Potential

Episodes centering on Dawn are difficult for me. I absolutely hated her the first time I watched the series, but on the second go-round, have softened considerably, provided that she be limited to a supporting role. Whenever she steps front and center, I return to my initial experience of her: she’s conceived as a bratty foil and never rises above said conception, and in truth, Michelle Trachtenberg too often has a grating onscreen presence. So while I disliked this episode on the Dawn count, I did enjoy the newly revealed Potential, Amanda, played by Sarah Hagan, probably my favorite of the group. Her gangly awkwardness and unique voice could almost fill the void that Willow left after she came into her own after high school.



#198: Out of My Mind (BtVS 5.4)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Out of My Mind

Ostensibly a Riley-centered episode, but my attention goes all to Spike, desperate to remove his chip and return to his unfettered violent state. Riley’s weakened medical state would have been an ideal opportunity to kill him off, but Buffy’s mother’s death is in the works, so that really wasn’t in the cards. Still, I am endlessly bored by Riley and the flavorless Marc Blucas and would have welcomed a quick exit for him. No matter, this episode belongs to James Marsters with some choice comic support via the hapless Harmony.


#197: Blind Date (Angel 1.21)
written by Jeannine Renshaw
directed by Thomas J. Wright

@Angel - Blind Date

Inverse moral temptation (struggling for evil over good) for Lindsay as he draws the line at assassinating children, but then in the end reverts to his amoral corporate power position, pointing to the series’ success with noir elements. Alas, the blind assassin has no charisma or inherent menace, which sinks the tension considerably. It’s an oddly unaffecting episode considering its penultimate status, but the season finale will succeed even without a lead-up. Most noteworthy for me is the first appearance of Holland Manners. His voice drips with corporate seduction! I’ll enjoy Holland from here up right until his murder, and then at his very best post-mortem in s3’s Reprise.


#196: Nightmares (BtVS 1.10)
written by Joss Whedon; David Greenwalt
directed by Bruce Seth Green

!Buffy - Nightmares

I’m just not as big a fan of the dream episodes as everyone else. I find s4’s Restless overrated and the Soul Purpose episode in Angel rather uninvolving. Nightmares isn’t so ambitious, visiting mostly mundane bad dreams on its cast. For me this uneven episode is really all about Buffy, whose nightmares capture her soon-to-be longstanding dualistic dilemma of being both a teenage girl (with a more typical nightmare about wrecking her family) as well as a Slayer (losing to a vampire in the worst possible way). Buffy sired and rising from her grave a vampire not only lets us glimpse a Slayer with a game face, it also reveals that the character has a dread greater than death: transforming into that which she battles ceaselessly. It’s not only a horror to behold, it’s the ultimate defeat to experience. Almost as awful but more immediately relatable is Buffy’s father’s appearance in the waking nightmare, confessing with an air of smiling malice that Buffy herself was the cause of her parents’ divorce. This is my favorite Sarah Michelle Gellar moment thus far in the series – Buffy’s steeliness and sassiness crumble during the cruel admission, garnering my sympathy and marking a turning point for me in better appreciating the actress and her character.

full review



#195: Blood Ties (BtVS 5.13)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Michael Gershman

Buffy - Blood Ties

Dawn discovers that she is The Key – and I’m surprised at my sympathy for her character this time around. She’s still tremendously annoying, but the situation of a teenager forging an identity and then finding out there’s no there there, or there’s no me underneath it all, does fascinate. Whedon’s exploration of the realness of existence and identity gets its prime kickoff with Dawn, but he’ll build an entire series around the question in Dollhouse. I’m enjoying the beginnings here.


#194: I Robot… You Jane (BtVS 1.8)
Ashley Gable & Thomas Swyden
directed by Steven Posey

!Buffy - I Robot... You Jane

I gather this episode gets little love from most fans, but I’m not opposed to it at all. Willow’s tech know-how and her naivety lead her into terrible trouble, but it’s not just the demon Moloch at work; two pasty-faced computer-nerd teenage boys are behind some of the manipulation. They’re forerunners to the Trio, Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew, who become Willow’s nemeses (and near downfall) in s6. This episode also introduces Miss Calendar, a techno-pagan (!) who lends her first assist to the Scoobies. She’s a good (recurring) addition to the cast, though her status as a staff member at the high school doesn’t bode well for her longevity. We’ve already seen Dr. Gregory decapitated by a lady praying mantis and Principal Flutie devoured alive by a pack of human hyenas. I have to enjoy Jenny Calendar as long as she’s around.

full review


#193: Wrecked (BtVS 6.10)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Wrecked

Willow’s addiction allegory gets too heavy here. While Marti Noxon did much better with the partner violence allegory in  s3’s Beauty and the Beasts, this episode flirts with after-school special territory. Magic dealer/warlock Rack goes over the top, and Dawn-in-jeopardy comes off as contrived. Hannigan does her best, but the addiction storyline leans toward hokeyness. More intriguing is the parallel between Willow’s addiction behavior and Buffy’s secret sex with Spike. Both Buffy and Willow feel drawn to something counter to their characters and possibly self-destructive. The series started off positing that high school is hell, but young adulthood can be even scarier, especially when the darkest threats come from within.



#192: Shadow (BtVS 5.8)
written by David Fury
directed by Dan Attias

Buffy - Shadow

It’s a shadow that will cast over the rest of the season. Glory comes off as mostly silly and unthreatening to me here, and Riley’s descent into vampire-adjacency would have been better with a convincing actor, but the weight of Joyce’s crisis balances the weaknesses of the script and performances. Also, the snake was kind of fun!


#191: First Date (BtVS 7.14)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by David Grossman

BUFFY - First Date

Principal Wood finally gets his back story, and in the end, via a visit from The First in the guise of his slayer mother, he has a new wrench to throw into the team: vengeance against Spike. I like this twist quite a bit, considerably more than the predictable b-story of the Xander’s killer demon date. (Even Xander bemoans the frequency of his assignations with demons and half-jokingly begs to be made gay.) Nevertheless, Ashanti makes for an entertaining villain. (Maybe the show could have garnered higher ratings with more guest demons from the music world!) In other news, Andrew establishes himself as “good,” even wearing a wire to inform on The First. The scene is howlingly preposterous, but turns quite sinister when the apparition of Jonathan re-appears disfigured and putrified to issue the worst threats yet. Amidst the silliness, the series can still deliver scares.


#190: The Weight of the World (BtVS 5.21)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - The Weight of the World

A lull between the non-stop action of Spiral and the season finale, the episode finds Buffy catatonic, frozen in replaying a moment where she interprets the meaning of the Original Slayer’s cryptic “your gift is death” message. The loop is okay, but I’m more drawn to that rascal Doc, the tailed, deceitful demon who turns out to be one of Glory’s deepest devotees. Casting Joel Grey in this minor role shows an ingenuity they might have repeated. How many former Best Supporting Actor Oscar winners could they cast as lower order demons? George Kennedy, Louise Fletcher, Louis Gossett Jr. weren’t really doing anything at the turn of the millennium, and I’d really like to see any or all of them earn a paycheck with horns or a mucous-dripping chin prosthetic.



#189: Sleeper (BtVS 7.8)
written by David Fury & Jane Espenson
directed by Alan J. Levi

BUFFY - Sleeper

Spike as a sleeper serial sirer. It’s not particularly purposeful, but it does make for a weirdly fascinating confrontation at the Bronze between him and one of his recent victims whom he doesn’t recall. The ensuing battle very briefly interrupts the set by Aimee Mann, who gets the only line afforded to a musical guest – about how she hates playing vampire towns. And on the topic of music, Buffy claims that Spike inspired Billy Idol’s look, rather than vice-versa. Extra point for that post-punk kernel of history.


#188: Heartthrob (Angel  3.1)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

Angel - Heartthrob

An awkward return for Angel. The show has to contend with the death of Buffy from a distance, not just from Sunnydale to L.A., but from the once-removed vantage point of a spinoff, and the story here is almost as stilted as the acting of the visiting vampire, a figure from Angel’s Darla days of creating mayhem across Europe. The flashbacks allow for a prime scene with Darla in which she abandons him to Holtz, another great Darla moment, where Julie Benz makes Darla’s contemptible actions completely comprehensible. Alas, the rest of the episode isn’t nearly as strong, save for the final scene, another featuring Darla, this time with the whopping revelation that she is hugely pregnant, the best twist that the series ever drops.


#187: Soul Purpose (Angel 5.10)
written by Brent Fletcher
directed by David Boreanaz

Angel - Soul Purpose

The tagline champion has become a bit irritating by season five, at which point the writers seem to have fixated on tying it to Angel’s quest for purpose. Here, it’s presented more as a role that is more subject to disappointment than to destiny. Angel’s sub-conscious, parasite-driven dream state casts doubt on his champion qualities, suggesting a vulnerability and not entirely unsurprising egocentrism in his character. Much of this anxiety relates to the re-emergence of Spike as a rival for the fulfiller of the Shanshu Prophecy, yet the reality of Spike’s new existence –  living in squalor, spending time in strip clubs alone, being duped by Lindsey, and pining for Buffy – stands in strong contrast to Angel’s nightmares of being superseded. It’s a fair dream episode, considerably more literal than Restless from BtVS, not exceptional, but central to the season’s theme of finding meaning in action.



#186: Listening to Fear (BtVS 5.9)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Listening to Fear

A marauding monster is conjured by Ben to offset the chaos created by Glory’s sanity-sapping refueling. But, ugh, Ben is even worse than Riley in terms of blandness, like a lower-order daytime soap actor. Whedon needs some help in casting hunks. While he struck gold with David Boreanaz and James Marsters, thereafter it’s slim pickin’s. The alien killer of crazies, however, is suitably scary as it slithers and scales along ceilings, even stopping by at 1630 Revello Drive to drop in on Joyce.


#185: Supersymmetry (Angel 4.5)
written by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain
directed by Bill L. Norton

Angel - Supersymmetry

Fred’s thirst for vengeance and Gunn’s role blocking it until he becomes complicit really merit a better episode than this. We deserve to see Fred’s darker side with greater depth, which we know the showrunners are capable of pulling off after Wesley’s continued spiral. The final confrontation might have carried more heft had Fred and Professor Seidel had more of an exchange of words. Gunn’s stepping in to carry out the murder to was a logical twist, however, and one with repercussions, as it would eventually lead to the end of the romantic relationship with Fred.


#184: The Freshman (BtVS 4.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - The Freshman

Whedon seems to purposefully underwhelm in a number of BtVS season debuts, and Buffy’s introduction to college life is no exception. We get a tiny taste of the Initiative at the very end, but most of the episode centers on Buffy trying to find her place in a new environment with bullying professors and a terrible (but terribly entertaining) dorm roommate. A highlight is the showdown between Buffy and the leader of the college vamp gang, Sunday, who mercilessly critiques the fashion and musical tastes of her victims after she loots their belongings.



#183: Gingerbread (BtVS 3.11)
written by Thania John and Jane Espenson
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

<Buffy - Gingerbread

This one is a hoot!: widespread hysteria over unquestioned and manufactured tragedy leading to mob mentality justice powered by a self-righteous sense of infallibility. The kids should have been creepier, but the literal witch hunt culminating in Buffy, Willow, and Amy being burned at the stake wins a prize for taking scapegoating all the way to its worst possible end point. And the finale is funny to boot: Buffy’s ungainly but stupendous slaying of the demon; Xander and Oz’s failed rescue arrival crashing through the air duct; and of course, Amy’s transmogrification into a rat, which will pay off as a running joke for seasons to come.


#182: Go Fish (BtVS 2.20)
written by David Fury & Elin Hampton
directed by David Semel

_Buffy - Go Fish

An extremely dippy monster-of-the-week episode sadly sandwiched between the masterful I Only Have Eyes for You and the two-part s2 finale, disrupting the flow and tension of the Angelus storyline. I didn’t hate it as a stand-alone, but it really leeches from the build-up to the season’s end, much in the way that Out of Mind, Out of Sight did right before Prophecy Girl in s1. I wish that Whedon and his showrunners had kept a closer eye on the story arcs, especially as they rounded into their completions. Despite its dumb plot and the preachiness about steroid abuse, I found fair enjoyment from Go Fish with its Creature from the Black Lagoon swim team. Note: Wentworth Miller is the series’ first of the before-they-were-stars guest actors, here playing a swim team member before morphing into a sea monster. And two more casualties from the Sunnydale High staff: the school nurse and the swim coach. Here’s hoping their benefits package includes good life insurance.

full review


#181: I Was Made to Love You (BtVS 5.15)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - I Was Made to Love You

The smart script gets hidden a bit by very broad performances. Buffy’s frustration with failed relationships combined with her horror at the subservient sexbot is overplayed, but an undercurrent of what constitutes consciousness, being, and non-existence has a tighter connection to the season, especially with Dawn, and later with Joyce’s death. And Warren’s misogyny and villainy are on full view; we just just don’t know how deep it goes yet.



#180: Pangs (BtVS 4.8)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Michael Lange

Buffy - Pangs

A vengeful Indian spirit crashes Thanksgiving at Giles’ to wreck the holiday and throw American history into the grey with a muddying of good and evil. The secret star is Spike, surreptitiously falling into the role of the Pilgrim, taking refuge from the Initiative in the shelter of the others. And like the Pilgrims, he may harbor ill intent, but he’s taken in anyway. Angel’s first visit from his own series seems particularly contrived: he got a message from Doyle that Buffy’s life was in grave danger? Shouldn’t he have been getting that message weekly? The Turkey Day siege isn’t really any worse than the usual.


#179: The Harsh Light of Day (BtVS 4.3)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - The Harsh Light of Day

Buffy’s dalliance with Parker doesn’t really hold my attention. It’s a bit like a faint tracing of the catastrophe that followed when she awakened Angel’s perfect happiness and lifted his curse. This time, though, she simply learns that some guys have slick lines and that deep emotion and sex are not always linked, despite the effect said slick lines may work. Far better is the surprise return of Harmony – and the bigger surprise of her new boyfriend, Spike. Harmony’s her dumb-blonde vapidity merged with vampirism makes a wickedly funny combination, especially playing off Spike’s constant exasperation. The Ring of Amarra is a solid plot device, though it gets better play in the crossover Angel episode, In the Dark. Also, the closing of Buffy, Anya, and Harmony, all lovelorn and wandering alone, stands as one of the series’ best dovetailing exercises. Espenson has a gift for weaving together multiple plots, even when we don’t know what she’s up to until the final shot.


#178: Living Conditions  (BtVS 4.2)
written by Martin Noxon
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Living Conditions

I almost wish that Buffy had logged a couple more episodes with roommate Kathy Newman before her Cher-loving dorm mate was exposed as a runaway soul-sucking demon from another dimension. Buffy’s (rightly) founded paranoia and hysteria show how successful the series can be with a comedic episode. What’s more, it doesn’t interrupt the arc (messy as it is), coming appropriately before any of the Initiative intrigue commences.



#177: Checkpoint (BtVS 5.12)
written by Doulas Petrie & Jane Espenson
directed by Nick Marck

Buffy - Checkpoint

The return of the Watchers’ Council: Buffy the iconoclast vs. the Old Guard yet again, with Buffy gaining the upper hand. The solidarity of the Scoobies presiding over the final statements by Buffy and the Council is too feel-goody, but I enjoy seeing that loft at The Magic Box put to use. The Knights of the Byzantium promise a new element to the Glory intrigue, though it never adequately pans out. And Glory as a god introduces the Superman problem. It’s hard to sustain tension when one figure is nearly all-powerful. Nevertheless, Buffy’s maturation and ability to see through the Council’s manipulations reminds us how far she has come since her high school face-off with them in s3’s Helpless.


#176: Into the Woods (BtVS 5.10)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by Martin Noxon

Buffy - Into the Woods

The potentially intriguing darkness of Riley’s character is rendered near blank by the actor playing him, but Noxon’s script offers a fascinating perspective on the psychology of need in relationships: perceived, implied, and desired. Whedon and company must have known that Riley needed to be sent packing as the show cannot bear the dragging weight of both him and Dawn simultaneously. I haven’t been this engaged in seeing a helicopter depart since I was a child watching Nixon leave the Presidency from the White House grounds.


#175: End of Days (BtVS 7.21)
written by Doug Petrie & Jane Espenson
directed by Marita Grabiak

*Buffy - End of Days

A very flawed run-up to the series finale. The ancient lady sword-creator/Watcher of Watchers who appears from behind the curtain is simply nonsensical and an unwanted last-minute intrusion on the series’ lore. Perhaps they sensed this halfway through writing the scene and added Nathan Fillion in to kill her off in mid-sentence. The battle with Fillion is good, but Angel is an unnecessary addition. I understand he is central to the series’ lore – and his return is coming full circle like the return to the high school Hellmouth – but everything from his surprise appearance to his dialogue is forced. I welcome a visit from Angel, but not one so predictable and awkwardly wedged into the action. On the plus side, the episode does set up nicely for the far better finale.



#174: Showtime (BtVS 7.11)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by James A. Contner

*Buffy - Showtime

Buffy as George S. Patton before an assembled audience of Potentials. I’m not a big fan of the final fight, but I enjoyed the chaotic flight from the house getting there. Even better is The First’s infiltration of the Potentials, replacing the most irritating one who’d been murdered by Bringers a day earlier. It’s a wicked twist, and once she’s revealed and begins taunting everyone with a monologue with all the secrets she’s learned, she’s really scary. I’ve got to admit it, The First gives better speeches than Buffy.


#173: Belonging (Angel 2.19)
written by Shawn Ryan
directed by Turi Meyer

*Angel - Belonging

Our first peek into Pylea and the point at which Lorne stops being merely The Host and gets a regular slot with the associates (though he’ll have to wait a while before appearing in the opening credits). There are some gratuitous shots of Charisma Carpenter in a bikini – to be contrasted in a couple weeks with even more gratuitous shots of her in a hell-dimension royalty bikini, which I imagine may have come about as a means of increasing viewers. Belonging is an okay entry, mostly serving as set-up for the trip to Pylea and the introduction to Fred, but it’s at its best when Lorne is dissimulating his familiarity with the Drokken monster and his kinsman Landok. Lorne is like the fabulous gay living the life of sophistication in the big city – until his small-town past comes back to haunt him. You can never shake that off entirely no matter where you end up. I know.


#172: Real Me (BtVS 5.2)
written by David Fury
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Real Me

Continuing the mindfuck introduction of Dawn, who asserts herself as a horrible character from the get-go. Nevertheless, it’s a supremely ballsy move for Whedon to plunk her down and let the viewer experience the interloper with incredulity. We only get glimpses that something may be off, as with her encounter with the mentally ill man outside the magic shop. Also, Harmony goes rogue and is delightfully inept.



#171: Redefinition (Angel 2.11)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Michael Grossman

ANGEL - Redefinition

The prior episode, Reunion, is pretty much an impossible act to follow, so I cut this one some slack for its slightly disappointing end to Darla and Drusilla’s rampage through Los Angeles. They’re recruiting minions from the demon underworld, but Angel’s on their trail while his former associates try to process their recent firing through karaoke at Caritas. I knew that Darla and Drusilla’s spree couldn’t be sustained at the pace they’d set and that the massacre in Holland Manners’ wine cellar had to be the crescendo of their mayhem, but still, I’m sorry to see it all end. Redefinition ends up feeling like having to clean up the next morning after an out-of-control party.


#170: The Dark Age (BtVS 2.8)
written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
directed by Bruce Seth Green

_Buffy - The Dark Age

Ethan Rayne returns and we get the backstory on Ripper. I should revel in this because I really like Ethan Rayne and absolutely love Buffy‘s backstories, but I’m fairly lukewarm on this one; while the episode delivers on Rayne, it stumbles on Ripper. I welcome a Giles-centric story, but one that draws me in with a stronger script than this. For once, all the exposition felt too talky, maybe because it isn’t delivered by Darla at The Bronze while she battles Buffy and Angel, which is how Angel’s siring and curse came clear to us.

Would a flashback work for Giles? He’s integral to the series but more as a paternal figure than a peer to the protagonist. His past doesn’t provide much in the way of building mythology, and it doesn’t tie into any other characters other than Ethan Rayne, who barely qualifies as recurring. What’s more, Giles is no ageless vampire and Anthony Stewart Head is too old to be convincing as a 1977 university student. (Yet they could have cast some round-faced, bespectacled British hunk for this!) So I understand how they wouldn’t want to devote a full episode to a Ripper flashback, but sadly, this one communicating everything via dialogue to carry the history just doesn’t quite work. The big finish with a series of demonic possessions, however, makes up for the lost opportunity to flesh out Giles’ racy past. (And I can relax: we’ll get to see Ripper presented ingeniously in s3’s Band Candy.)

full review


#169: Tough Love (BtVS 5.19)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Tough Love

This is more about what’s to come than what it is. I have never really been a huge Tara fan; her stammering sweetness never quite won me over, and once Glory sucks the sanity out of her brain, I don’t really find her presence substantially altered. She’s good for Willow, to be sure, but not a particularly fascinating character on her own, sort of like a benign growth on the show and I don’t mind her one way or the other. We get a peek at Dark Willow when she discovers Tara babbling incoherencies like the rest of the growing population of Sunnydale crazies. The dark magic is not sufficient to defeat Glory, but enough to temporarily wipe the smirk off her face. And I love that Tara ends up Glory’s key to the Key!



#168: Slouching Toward Bethlehem (Angel 4.4)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Skip Schoolnik

-Angel - Slouching Toward Bethlehem

The growing mystery surrounding Cordelia and a budding chemistry between Cordy and Connor, plus mayhem from Wolfram & Hart. All this, and yet, for me, it’s all about Wesley and Lilah, whose twisted relationship brings me such jaded pleasure. Maybe I’ve now been around long enough and lived through some dark patches to appreciate how strangely gratifying it can be to discover someone else mired in the grey. There’s an enclosed world that Wes and Lilah inhabit. It’s dark, a little scary, and intensely wrong. I have been there. And despite better efforts, I love it there.


#167: Reptile Boy (BtVS 2.5)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

_Buffy - Reptile Boy

I’m not so harsh on this episode as I’ve read elsewhere, but I’m not so forgiving either. We’re continuing our detour away from Spike and Drusilla that began with last week’s Inca Mummy Girl, frustrating me to no end since I really crave that continuity. The monster-of-the-week episodes really need to allot five minutes to the season’s story arc. As I ponder the overall merit of this episode, which at times feels like an after-school special about date rape, and at others a twisted peek at the misogynistic, homoerotic bonding of frat boy scions who submit their morals to extend the privilege they were born into, I’m less enthused by the former and considerably more intrigued by the possibilities of the latter. The Delta Zeta Kappa brothers would have fit perfectly into the misogynistic tail end of s7, but we won’t hear from them – or Machida, the astonishingly phallic demon – ever again.

full review


#166: Room w/a Vu (Angel 1.5)
written by Jane Espenson and David Greenwalt
directed by Scott McGinnis

@Angel - Room w:a View

Fun Cordelia-centered episode with a good twist at the end and an entertaining turn by Beth Grant as the surprise villain. It’s a nice but brief respite from Doyle’s visions and the police procedural format that had been shaping the show. I really like the invisible, protective, Cordy-crushing Phantom Dennis as a recurring character and felt let down seasons later when Cordy left and he was never again addressed. He’ll never get another roommate as good as Cordelia!



#165: The Ring (Angel 1.16)
written by Howard Gordon
directed by Nick Marck

@Angel - The Ring

The demonic fight club episode, most noteworthy to me for the introduction of Lilah Morgan from Wolfram & Hart.  Also, we get the first signs of Wes being a badass as he and Cordelia plot to rescue Angel from slavery in the underground fight club. The demons in this episode have surprisingly good make-up and prosthetics, and the actors make more of an impression than most, engendering a strange sympathy that Cordelia questions after the trio congratulate themselves on their heroism in liberating the fight club slaves: “Well, actually, didn’t we set a bunch of demons free?” Cordy has a noteworthy clarity of mind even without the visions.


#164: Lovers Walk (BtVS 3.8)
written by Dan Vebber
directed by David Semel

)Buffy - Lovers Walk.jpg

It’s a Spike-centric episode on the surface, but he’s the device, not the story, which really lies in the three couples whose relationships begin to unravel or combust. I appreciate romantic rift delivered in triplicate, though it’s not as deftly balanced as when Marti Noxon explored three relationships in Beauty and the Beasts. While I prefer Spike sharp and swaggering, not a drunken, pathetic mess, I still enjoyed the episode. The moments with Spike that do work – spilling his heart to a confused but compassionate Joyce in the kitchen, then cutting zany vampire faces behind her back to taunt Angel – make his return most welcome and keeps the character a valuable iron in the fire for next season.

full review


#163: I Will Remember You (Angel 1.8)
written by David Greenwalt and Jeannine Renshaw
directed by David Grossman

@Angel - I Will Remember You

And once again, I find myself in the minority, feeling slightly guilty but nevertheless somewhat unimpressed with a much-beloved episode. I love the BtVS crossovers, but this is my least favorite of the Angel bunch. It feels shoehorned into the season to give the ratings a jolt, and I object to the rather cheap “like it never happened” gimmick, which allow crossover without contamination, as Buffy can go back to Sunnydale none the wiser – or sadder. I’m buoyed along by Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz’s performances far more than the script. And I’m against time resets in general. (As evidenced by my loud protestations at the 1978 Christmas Day showing of Superman, which I loved beyond reason, except for the stupid bit at the end when Superman flew around the earth to reverse its rotation and turn back time. I imagine the other patrons in the audience were not so interested in my angry conjectures of the full-scale calamities that such a reverse rotation would wreak, none of which involved time travel.) But hey, at least we get some good characters out of it: The Oracles! They’re wonderfully arrogant, pompous, and condescending and I’ll miss their semi-deified snottiness when I see them go at the end of the season.



#162: War Zone (Angel 1.20)
written by Gary Campbell
directed by David Straiton

@Angel - War Zone

Enter Gunn, as he and his sister form part of a street crew fighting vampires. It’s a missed opportunity to draw starker contrast to the Sunnydale Scoobies with the urban guerrillas engaging in a far more open warfare with demons. Cordelia keeps calling them “kids” even though she is supposed to be about 19, though she’s starting to look and act much older. The side plot with tech billionaire is uninteresting and presents another missed opportunity with the Madame Anita’s demon brothel, which is mostly there was titillation with sexy demons and suggested non-standard body parts/sexual positions. Why not go deeper and explore demon desire? The best scene in War Zone is with Gunn’s sister, post-conversion, teasing before attempting to sire him, which never transpires as he stakes her instead. Gunn won’t get this good a scene again until s5.


#161: Primeval (BtVS 4.21)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Primeval

For all intents and purposes, this penultimate episode is the finale to season four, leaving Restless as a curious coda. Primeval wraps up the Initiative story line that never quite took off with psyche-melding magic that results in a glowing-eyed Super-Buffy and manages to re-unify the Scoobies on a spiritual plane after Spike had fractured their complex relationships with some cunningly delivered hard truths in The Yoko Factor. It’s not a particularly stirring ending, but it wasn’t a particularly stirring season, either.


#160: Conviction (Angel 5.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Angel - Conviction

Continuing the reset from the season four finale, Angel moves to his third, final, and very unlikely headquarters, the L.A. branch of Wolfram & Hart. Cordy and Connor are gone, but Spike and Harmony are back, now as regulars. Harmony works perfectly as comic relief without disrupting the existing cast’s chemistry. Lilah has departed for good, which makes me a bit wistful, but unlike many viewers, I rather like Eve, the seductive, teasing, openly untrustworthy connection to the firm’s senior partners. The episode’s lawsuit and the dangerous client it presents suggest that the show may veer from the weekly detective drama of Angel’s first season to legal one in its last, a move that thankfully never transpires. Gunn, however, does get to make his debut as lead counsel endowed by the cat in the White Room with deep knowledge of both human and demon law. It’s a good shift for his character after drifting too long as the endlessly described “muscle” at Angel Investigations. And I like the new set!



#159: Doomed (BtVS 4.11)
written by Marti Noxon, David Fury, and Jane Espenson
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Doomed

Strong mid-season apocalypse episode in which Spike comically attempts suicide while wearing Xander’s most undignified Hawaiian tourist attire. Also, Spike discovers that his chip does not preclude violence against other demons, even as he discovers the pleasures of non-physical malice by way of psychological warfare against Willow and Xander. And Spike desperately adopts a magnificently terrible American accent to evade identification by Riley. It’s not all Spike, however, as an earthquake portends yet another apocalyptic event, once again centered on the Hellmouth amidst the ruins of the high school, which is now largely rubble littered with “Mayor meat.” The visit to Sunnydale High is preceded by Willow’s sad encounter with her former tutee Percy, and I love a callback to a minor character. How quickly they forget how they fought arm in arm on Graduation Day!


#158: Fear, Itself (BtVS 4.4)
written by David Fury
directed by Tucker Gates

Buffy - Fear, Itself

Ripe with foreshadowing in the fears of the gang, this year’s Halloween entry offers a fairly even mix of horror and comedy, notably ending on a stronger note of the latter with the tiny, irascible demon Gachnar being squished like a bug. Note: Anya’s adorable rabbit costume and her leporiphobia will grace both the opening credits and various scripts for the rest of the series.


 #157: Anne (BtVS 3.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

btvs - anne

I rather enjoyed this episode. I don’t believe that season openers are BtVS‘s strong suit, but I don’t think they’re a weak link either. This one, like s2’s When She Was Bad, takes us back to the previous season finale and jumps us through the summer into the start of the new school year. Whedon knows what he is doing even when he’s not doing it at his best, and here, he’s giving Buffy her space after the trauma of killing Angel, letting her slip out of Slayerhood and into anonymity, which leads her to cross paths once again with Chanterelle from Lie to Me, now going by Lily. She’s the anti-Buffy – desperately dependent and eternally grasping, and in this episode, infuriating in her almost cloying helplessness. While Buffy has an established identity, The Slayer, which she consistently struggles with and now runs from, Lily/Anne has none, shifting from one persona to the next, hoping to find one with meat on it, one that will fill in the interior of the ever-changing shell she wears. Rather than forging her own identity, she passively slips into that of others.

Meanwhile, the demons featured in this episode aim to rob her of any hint of self such that she has no name to identify with at all. “I am nothing,” is the mantra repeated by the elderly who roam the (presumably) LA. streets, cast off out of enslavement in the underworld/hell dimension once they’re too old and frail for hard labor. Buffy defeats them with a hammer and sickle, leaving me to wonder if Whedon is trying his hand at political commentary and the erasure of identity. If so, I can’t tell where he and the demon horde stand on the communist-capitalist continuum, so I’ll simply appreciate Buffy’s victory and her return to Slayerdom and Sunnydale for one of the series’ best seasons.

full review



#156: Amends (BtVS 3.10)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - Amends

As close as BtVS ever gets to a Christmas episode, or a Hanukkah-adjacent one for Willow, and who wouldn’t want to spend the Yuletide with The First and his little elves, the Bringers. Whedon establishes The First quite well considering the season-long revisiting it gets at the end of the series. Taking the form of only the dead, it haunts Angel’s dreams and then his waking moments, as the script alternates between flashbacks and the present to show first Angelus killing his victims and then their First-formulated versions, of whom Miss Calendar has the greatest effect of seduction and sheer malice. (Though I was intrigued by the man in a business suit who described finding his dead family arranged beautifully. His attire suggests that he and his family were killed by Angelus during his s2 comeback. I never gave that much thought to his reign of terror off the screen!)

Whedon also uses the episode to explain Angel’s return from the hell dimension, which isn’t terribly satisfying, but it’s a narrative box that needs checking off. Angel can never make amends for Angelus (and we’ll have entire series centered on that attempt!), but he’s not the only trying to make good on a past bad. Willow, trying to make up for the events of Lovers Walk, offers herself up to Oz with candles and Barry White, only to receive the sweetest sexual rejection ever in return, and Xander steps up to help Angel, conveniently forgetting to explain the misdeed (allowing Buffy to kill Angel in Becoming Part 2) that he’s atoning for. It’s all solid, but the Christmas miracle, record snow in the midst of a SoCal heat wave, is one of the worst endings the series ever slapped on. Since when did snowfall = a total eclipse? We’d already  had enough seasonal cheer with Faith showing up for Christmas dinner and Willy giving Xander some encouragement after a rather unconvincing tough-guy act. Even I sometimes want Whedon to reel it in a little.


#155: Earshot (BtVS 3.18)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Regis Kimble

Buffy - Earshot

The after-school special aspects of this episode weigh it down more than they did in Beauty and the Beasts and even Go Fish, but outside of the school-shooting theme, the mind-reading infection that Buffy suffers allows for some fun discoveries, ranging from unsurprising (Xander thinking about sex constantly), to surprising (Oz mired in existential thought), to confirming (Giles and Joyce’s Band Candy sex on a police car hood – twice), to comical (Cordelia speaking her mind to an extreme degree).

However, I think Espenson missed the opportunity for Buffy to find out something deeply personal that might change her, and our, perspectives on other characters. Instead, we get a too timely story about a mass killing at the high school, which presents the problem I can’t work past: why would Jonathan commit suicide using a sniper rifle in the school clock tower? I will readily swallow a red herring, but this one cheats with its explanation, though it does make Jonathan’s spell in s4’s Superstar more understandable. And I did enjoy the jokey ending with the lunch lady attempting to poison an entire cafeteria full of students with rat poison. Plus, we get another sight of her chasing down Xander, though unlike in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, where she was love-struck and ready for romance, now she seems to have his dismemberment as an immediate goal.


#154: Bad Eggs (BtVS 2.12)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Greenwalt

_Buffy - Bad Eggs

I love Body Snatchers movies in all their incarnations, so it’s no shock that even though Bad Eggs seems to be consistently ranked near the bottom, and sometimes at the very bottom, of all the Buffy episodes, I find its premise a slightly guilty thrill, one marks  a breezy break before we enter into a very grim chapter in the series. I won’t quibble with the critique that the episode is silly, but considering what’s coming in the next few episodes, especially for Buffy, I argue we have to take a last stand in foolish romps before taking the sex plunge for real and finding out it’s a deeper and darker descent than we’d feared.

full review

 


#153: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered (BtVS 2.16)
written by Martin Noxon
directed by James A. Contner

_Buffy - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

More mirthful shenanigans! I had imagined the descent into darkness would be a constant following Angel’s reversion to soulless vampire in Innocence, but instead the showrunners planted two more lighthearted episodes into the framework of the season before returning with a vengeance to the grim nightmare they’d promised with Angelus. Last week’s Phases gave us a diversion from vampirism nearly altogether, with the introduction of werewolfery via the nascent character of Oz. Now for Valentine’s Day, still mostly skirting vampires, we’re back to witchery, with Xander exerting a mystical romantic appeal over all females (save for Cordelia, but including the lunch lady). While this episode mostly belongs to Xander, it’s Cordy who carries the theme of individualism vs. groupthink. She has to work through her attachment to social status, largely determined by her coterie (led by a mean-spirited Harmony), first appeasing them through sacrificing Xander, then repudiating them publicly by taking him back. I found the latter scene a bit exhilarating – as if Cordy really learned something from witnessing the mob mentality from the outside when she was the only one not afflicted by Amy’s spell. She sees herself for the first time as socially independent and all the better for it.

full review


#152: I Fall to Pieces (Angel 1.4)
written by Josh Whedon and David Greenwalt
directed by Vern Gillum

@Angel - I Fall to Pieces

I like this rather stupid episode far, far more than I should. I find the villain highly enjoyable and the concept of floating and crawly detachable body parts superbly creepy. (The wandering eyeball takes Peeping Tom ickiness to a whole new level.) Angel‘s first season, like BtVS‘s, leans a little heavy on the monster-of-the-week scripts, but I’m often a fan of these hokier episodes, which belies my deep appreciation for low-budget 1960s science fiction and horror, and with I Fall to Pieces, I’m grinning squarely in the schlock camp.


#151: New Moon Rising (BtVS 4.19)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - New Moon Rising

Oz returns for a some tears and a final goodbye (save for a dream in Restless). His absence hasn’t really hurt the show, but he’s still a welcome presence, even though in this appearance, there is little of his trademark laconic wit. Instead, he’s first emotionally wounded by Willow and then slapped onto a slab for some apparent vivisection in the Initiative. No wonder he’s on the road out of Sunnydale. Willow, in the meantime, moves on with Tara more decidedly, confessing the relationship to a slightly bewildered Buffy and affirming her love privately at the close. If we’re looking at watershed moments in lesbian/bi television, this one stands far above season seven’s stupid sex scene with Kennedy. It’s heartfelt and genuine and follows perfectly from the goodbye to Oz, ending the episode on a slightly bittersweet note, with more emphasis on the sweet.


#150: The Killer in Me (BtVS 7.13)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by David Solomon

*Buffy - The Killer in Me

Some believe that killing off Tara was unnecessarily cruel, breaking up one of the few same-sex romantic relationships ever shown in episodic television, but Whedon almost never lets his characters find lasting romantic happiness, not here, not in Angel, nor in Firefly/Serenity, and only through AI in Dollhouse. He’s granting Willow another shot, but Kennedy seems forced. It’s not just that her character is imposing almost to the point of yuckiness; she seems wedged into the story to give Willow a second shot at happiness and to absolve Whedon from his decision to write a tragic end for the first serious lesbian love stories in prime time. More bothersome for me is that Kennedy is all wrong for Willow – a trust-fund kid with an cocky attitude. We know who warms Willow’s heart. Oz, yes. Tara, yes. Kennedy, no, never.

And yet this episode does admirably in addressing Willow’s double sense of guilt: one, for moving on after Tara’s death; and two, for murdering Warren. Amy’s engineering of Willow’s transformation into Warren, through a hex leaving the subject’s sub-conscious to select its own torment, is truly hateful but somewhat understandable. My first time around, I couldn’t believe Amy’s ingratitude for Willow’s keeping her in a Habitrail for years, but now I see that she really does have a point. As Amy says, it’s all about power, echoing Willow’s own speech as she destroys the Magic Box at the end of season six and the First’s speech to Spike at the outset of season seven. Willow has power and Amy resents it. In BtVS, power is held, coveted, clung to, stolen, regained, and lost, but it is never ignored.



#149: Destiny (Angel 5.8)
written by David Fury and Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Skip Schoolnik

Angel - Destiny

The tense rivalry between Angel and Spike comes to a head in a protracted battle over a golden cup purportedly connected to the Shanshu Prophecy. It’s a strong fight scene, fueled largely by the flashbacks of the two vampires with Drusilla, when a recently sired William the Bloody still held onto the naive romantic feelings he expressed as a human in his saccharine poetry. Angel quashes that sentiment by engineering a tryst with Drusilla to bluntly prove to Spike that as a vampire he lives without restriction, but possesses nothing, a nod to the sense/fear of emptiness in the season. Even the promise of the cup turns out null – or almost. Rather than a libation of eternal torment, it’s just Mountain Dew.


 #148: Help (BtVS 7.4)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by Rick Rosenthal

*Buffy - Help

Azura Skye makes such a remarkable impression as Cassie that I’m frustrated Whedon didn’t look to someone like her to play Dawn and then craft that character around the actress. She’s quite touching as the depressive, hopeless teenager, fully resigned to her doom but still forlorn about everything ending. That Buffy does prevent her murder and then Cassie dies anyway speaks to the tone of the seventh season and the Sisyphus aspect of Slayerdom. Bonus: Buffy’s Trojan Horse infiltration of the sacrificial ritual, which is my favorite heroic surprise entrance since Giles shows up at the Magic Box to take on Dark Willow in Two to Go.


#147: Superstar (BtVS 4.17)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Superstar

A riff on the alternate reality of The Wish with a dash of purposefully misdirected focus as in The Zeppo, though Superstar never comes close to the greatness of either episode. Jonathan creates his own alternate reality (without the help of a vengeance demon!) to place himself at the center of the universe, turning the episode into a narcissistic fantasy for a minor character. The nebbishy Jonathan’s need for recognition and admiration magnifies into a quest for absolute worship, leading to some impossibly exaggerated feats and improbably devotedfans. As much as I like the concept, the episode comes up short as it never transcends the jokey premise, though it does provide s4’s best callback to the spirit of first three seasons: some high school wounds may never fully heal. NB: five stars for the opening credits!



#146: The I in Team (BtVS 4.13)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

#Buffy - The I in Team.jpg

A very solid episode with a very disappointing conclusion. Professor Walsh would have made a dynamite Big Bad as a human foil to Giles and an organized threat to the Slayer – with an army of soldiers and a basement full of demons at her disposal, not to mention a Frankenstein-like monster of her own creation. Plus, there’s the Oedipal tension with Riley, which might have made his character bearable. But for whatever reason, Lindsay Crouse makes an exit and Adam takes the center stage, which he cannot fill no matter how they step up his demonic/tech capabilities. What happens in The I in Team should have ideally transpired over the course of several episodes, with Maggie Walsh growing increasingly uncomfortable working alongside an independent-minded occult-fueled semi-superhero who is sleeping with the prize soldier/son-figure. The scene of Prof. Walsh watching Buffy and Riley have sex on closed-circuit surveillance is a moment of delicious depravity and obsession that shows how truly great an antagonist she could have been! So while I enjoy this episode and the attempted demon hit on Buffy’s life, I lament that the seasonal arc will now lapse into a lull that it never pulls out of, and when Adam slices into the professor in a shocking game-changer, for once I’m resentful of the twist.


#145: Same Place, Same Time (BtVS 7.3)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by James A. Contner

*Buffy - Same Place, Same Time

A good transitional episode, with Willow anxiously making her return to Sunnydale from her recovery England. The mystery of Willow’s arrival gets a disappointing explanation (Willow’s anxiety leading to a magical, inadvertent invisibility, rather than a duality of realities hatched by a nefarious entity, which is what I would have liked), but the odd and unpredictable road to denouement means the journey supersedes the destination. Best is the scene with Spike rambling nonsense to Buffy and Xander in the school basement, which is then shot again to reveal far a far more coherent conversation with Willow. Also, the paralyzing, skin-stripping/slurping demon Gnarl is one of the series’ best ever!


#144: Lineage (Angel 5.7)
written by Drew Goddard
directed by Jefferson Kibbee

Angel - Lineage

Lineage has all the makings of a great episode and then trashes it with a stupid Stepford Wives conclusion. Wesley shoots his belittling, hectoring father to death to save the life of Fred, only to discover that the dying figure on the rooftop is a just an uncannily accurate robot impersonation. Nearly all the weight of the action dissipates in the moment, and we are left with no new knowledge, already aware that Wesley continues to be, as we saw from seasons three and four, a ruthless badass, but here he’s free of any terrible consequences. Perhaps Whedon figured Wes had already been through the wringer enough, and with what’s to come, he didn’t need patricide as yet another burden to carry. Neutered though the ending may be, finally getting to meet Wesley’s father (albeit in simulated robotic form) more than met my expectations for his disparaging and detrimental dad.



#143: Phases (BtVS 2.15)
written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
directed by Bruce Seth Green

_Buffy - Phases

After the sturm und drang of Innocence, Whedon grants us a bit of levity with Phases. I hadn’t remembered taking this brief semi-break from tragedy, but it’s well timed. The show must go on, even though Buffy’s heart has been broken, Angelus is unleashed on Sunnydale, and pervasive doom hangs overhead. We’ve got Oz in the gang now, in a newly compromised capacity, and this introduction to his werewolfism is great fun. (That damn Gordy!) Buffy also gets a bit of a break, ceding the spotlight to Willow and Oz. She’s in mourning, and though not cloistered, she’s stepped off to the side enough to let other characters develop while pushing the story forward. Smart move for the series, and I could use a little break after the exhausting last week as well.

full review


#142: When She Was Bad (BtVS 2.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

_Buffy - When She Was Bad

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, though in short order they are suspended upside down above those same ancient bones. The architect of said suspension is one of the series better vampires, Absalom, who speaks and motivates the Order of Aurelius like a Black revivalist preacher quoting scripture for a downtrodden congregation, who 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. 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 this great character to me in full glory.

full review


#141: I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Angel 1.14)
written by Jeannine Renshaw and David Greenwalt
directed by R.D. Price

@Angel - I've Got You Under My Skin

Two-thirds in, I would have placed this as the worst Angel so far as it was playing out like a fourth-rate knock-off of The Exorcist, but the episode is saved in the final act by a surprisingly suspenseful exorcism led first by Wes, and then by Angel, with a cross burning into his hand. The demon revealing secrets in Wes’s mind (recurrent failure in life beginning with a cruel father) and in Angel’s (impossibility of atoning for sins so great) is an unexpected turn, but the real kicker comes when they track down the released demon in corporeal form, who explains that the child he had possessed had no soul to feed from: the human was tormenting the demon inhabiting him, and the messages for help were coming from the trapped demon! Highlights include the demon’s speech in the sea cave and the performance by Patience Cleveland as a foreboding nun in the church.



#140: She (Angel 1.13)
written by David Greenwalt and Marti Noxon
directed by David Greenwalt

@Angel - She

Everyone hates She except me. I’ll admit it’s over the top with the female genital mutilation allegory coming off as blunt and a bit preachy, and while the script adds nothing to the arc other than cementing Wes as an official member of the investigative team, I unabashedly enjoyed Bai Ling as a demon on the run.  I know it’s preposterous: she’s like an extra-dimensional Harriet Tubman leading Playboy models to freedom from clitorectomies (the analogous clit being a giant ridge on the back). Her role is ridiculous, but she delivers all of her lines with a commanding urgency, and her visceral presence makes impossible scenes work for me. I get the hate, I really do, but I’m still the odd one out as a fan of She.


 #139: Hell’s Bells (BtVS 6.16)
written by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Hell's Bells

Xander and Anya’s ill-fated wedding day finally arrives. Xander’s demonic visions are fake, so it feels a bit like a cheat to me. The groom’s misgivings have been creeping up, so it’s not out of character for him to back out at the last minute, but the demon who prompts his flight is a disappointment: there’s no real flair to this demon seeking vengeance against a vengeance demon. And meeting Xander’s parents is a letdown. The running conflict/gag between his bickering, alcoholic family and the “circus folk” from Anya’s side gets tired as soon as it’s rolled out. On the plus side, the humbling and heartbreak of Anya will make her more sympathetic to me for the remainder of the series, and our final view of her, bathed in darkness, her face streaked in tears as D’Hoffryn offers her solace in the shape of vengeance, may be the best closing shot in the entire series.


#138: The Initiative (BtVS 4.7)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - The Initiative

Melding fight scenes and farce, this episode uses the secret identities of Slayer (Buffy) and soldier (Riley) to bring the mutually unknown entities closer than ever in the hunt for Spike, who has a golden bit holding Willow prisoner in her dorm room. James Marsters is so adept at weaving the cunning cruelty and comical frustration of Spike that he can make a scene incredibly tense and funny simultaneously. Broader laughs lie in the un-epic battle between Harmony and Xander, which barely qualifies on the lower end of a catfight. Of course the big news of the episode is The Initiative itself, which at this pre-Adam point still carries great potential, especially with the gleaming-white set of the cavernous underground headquarters and the commanding Dr. Walsh running the operation. Science and black ops crashing into the occult might have yielded a fantastic seasonal arc. It won’t, but the promise is here.



#137: The Puppet Show (BtVS 1.9)
written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
directed by Ellen S. Pressman

!Buffy - The Puppet Show

Another red herring. Spoiler alert: it’s not the sinister-looking ventriloquist dummy carving out hearts! The episode plucks Buffy, Xander, and Willow out of their elements and drops them into the school theater program, where they engage in a very Scooby-esque mystery that ends in an onstage demon guillotining that the non-thespians anxiously pass off as some sort of performance art. Note: we get our first taste of Cordelia’s terrible singing, which we’ll see more of in Angel. Also, Cordy’s skill in coldly gauging the strengths and weaknesses of others clearly does not extend to herself. Her rendition of The Greatest Love of All is astoundingly awful, and we’ll see a similar lack of self-evaluative ability in terms of acting in the Eternity episode of Angel. She’s at least consistent in the negative correlation of her talent and her ambition!

full review


#136: Wild at Heart (BtVS 4.6)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Wild at Heart

A semi-formal farewell to Oz. He was a strong addition to the Scoobies, but he doesn’t leave a gaping hole in the show, mostly thanks to Spike who will join the regular cast credits in the next episode. Yet I am sorry to see the understated, laconic, lycanthropic Oz take leave since he held a rather unique spot in the group – the most level-headed and calm, save for that full moon period, which becomes the pretext for his departure. Pushing him into dangerous territory is the reviled-by-fans Veruca, who doesn’t bother me a bit. She could have developed into a decent villain, though I am rather glad we didn’t have to suffer through the werewolf-witch-werewolf love triangle that Whedon had planned before Seth Green asked to be released. Of note: Willow very nearly resorting to magic to eke out revenge against Oz and Veruca, a reminder that Dark Willow of season six does not come out of the blue.


#135: After Life (BtVS 6.3)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - After Life

The hitchhiking demon doesn’t hold so much interest for me, especially when it takes corporeal form, but it does hint at the havoc Willow’s spell has invited. After Life is an unspectacular episode capped by a truly spectacular and wholly unexpected scene in the alley where Buffy confesses to Spike that she had been in what felt like heaven, and her friends had torn her out of it, returning her to a place – a reality – of seemingly ubiquitous ugliness and unrelenting violence. Espenson’s dialogue and SMG’s performance show how the series, largely built on action, can turn one of its quietest scenes into one of its most powerful.



#134: Couplet (Angel 3.14)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - Couplet

Groo should have stayed in Pylea. He was a fun diversion for that arc, but his very limited character (and the very limited actor playing him) doesn’t merit a reappearance in this dimension. I have never been that keen on the Angel/Cordelia romance, so adding a one-note character to create conflict doesn’t engage me. And while I am being a love-curmudgeon, Gunn and Fred’s relationship at this point has an almost gag-inducing level of preciousness.  They’re the two weakest regular characters in the series, so pairing them up sends me looking at the clock whenever they have a scene together. In addition to the Angel/Groo tension and the Gunn/Fred love prattle, there’s a brief stop at a demon brothel, which the writers play for laughs and shock, when such a locale might have made for a good regular setting.  Those complaints aside, the tree-root demon that feeds off lonely hearts’ hearts is funny and most original, and the startling ending introduces the (false) prophecy that Angel shall kill his son. Wesley’s tragic downfall starts right here.


#133: Carpe Noctem (Angel 3.4)
written by Scott Murphy
directed by James A. Contner

Angel - Carpe Noctem

Angel is possessed, not by a demon, but by a sex-crazed senior living on lockdown in a nursing home! It’s a great story idea that never realizes its potential. Rather than spend time with Angel in the elderly man’s body, struggling to do common things like rising out of a chair, we spend most of our switched-body time with the old man in Angel’s form, as he figures out he is vampire and free from the very ordinary human curse of aging. This might have worked even better as a two-part story to flesh out the two sides of the story: an old man discovering immortality and a previously immortal being discovering the infirmity of old age and the sense of approaching death that accompanies it. Moreover, subsequent episodes make no use of this potentially profound experience: Shouldn’t Angel now question the true cost of regaining his humanity, something Wesley reminds us quite regularly of with the Shanshu prophecy? It’s an overall fair episode but an absolutely great concept with loads of unmet potential.


#132: No Place Like Home (BtVS 5.5)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - No Place Like Home

After toying with us for a month, Whedon makes the big reveal about Dawn. I actually wish there had been at least one more episode with some more clues scattered about for us; nevertheless, it’s a fantastic conceit. Buffy’s spellbound state could have been more like a psychedelic drug trip, but I appreciate that the discovery of Dawn’s intrusion comes as a by-product of a spell rather than the goal of it. I’m enjoying Glory a bit more this time around, though much of her humor goes too over the top for me, making her more comic than scary. It’s a difficult line to balance for the Big Bad, one that the Master trod to perfection.



#131: Fredless (Angel 3.5)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Marita Grabiak

Angel - Fredless

Amy Acker’s over-the-top bumpkin portrayal of Fred works my nerves, but planting her parents in this episode does a lot to flesh out a character that heretofore existed primarily as a Madwoman-in-the-Attic crossed with Elly May from The Beverly Hillbillies. From here on in she is less clingy, less cornpone, and far more sympathetic. And the theme of parental devotion – human, or, as in this episode, horrifying giant insect – sets the stage for the return of pregnant Darla and fatherhood for Angel.


#130: Peace Out  (Angel 4.21)
written by David Fury
directed by Jefferson Kibbee

-Angel - Peace Out

The messiest season of the series closes out its unfortunate Jasmine saga. Whedon really owed Gina Torres her a better part after Firefly, but she’s good in the role as the seemingly benevolent Oprah-like quasi-deity, and as a testament to her appeal, she actually makes a pretty good case as to why her mass-hypnosis, human-eating manner of reign was still a better bet than humankind being left to the self-damage wrought by its free will. (The not-very-good Body Snatchers remake The Invasion had Nicole Kidman pondering this very question in its coda.) Really, the end point of this season is entirely tolerable, but the journey there, destroying the characters of Cordy and Connor, is what’s unconscionable.


#129: Spin the Bottle (Angel 4.6)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

- Angel - Spin the Bottle

This spell-gone-wrong/back-to-teen-personae story fell flat for me. Too much battling and teenage joking; not nearly enough introspection on the meaning and perspective of youth, as hinted at by Lorne in his initial monologue. Lorne’s breaking the fourth wall is handily the best aspect of the episode, which otherwise comes up quite short of the what was accomplished in the somewhat similarly themed Tabula Rasa from BtVS. Perhaps the most disappointing part is the conclusion, where we see the wrecking of Cordelia’s character begin in earnest. I want to appreciate the lighthearted fun of the script, but foreknowledge of where it leads takes a lot of the air out.



#128: Intervention (BtVS 5.18)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Michael Gershman

Buffy - Interention

The Buffybot gets solid screen time, and somehow she’s less icky than Warren’s last fembot creation, which doesn’t stand to reason since this one is modeled after a real person. It’s Spike’s genuine affection that carries this sense of semi-acceptance in lieu of complete repulsion for me. Instead of skeeviness, there’s more an undercurrent of sadness in the facsimile. She approaches the original in demeanor and even supersedes in sexual gratification, but the lack of realness speaks to the spirit of an individual, and though Spike still lacks a soul, he needs a connection with a being who has one. He has a depth that rivals or even surpasses Angel’s. His torture by Glory foreshadows the far more extreme and prolonged bout that he will undergo in the final season. He does it all for love, ensouled or not, and now Buffy knows it.


#127: Apocalypse, Nowish (Angel 4.7)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Vern Gillum

-Angel - Apocalypse Nowish

Plagues of rats and snakes, rain of fire, and a marauding beast demon that bursts from the pavement where Connor was sort of born: Doom is upon us, and by us, I mean the audience. When Cordelia fucks Connor at the close of the episode, they’ve set off an awful storyline that will eventually demand a near complete reset for season five. In the meantime, this ep doesn’t have that much to offer other than the first meeting with our new demon, The Beast, but I really like him. Even through all the make-up, Vladimir Kulich effects some stares that border on humorous. He’s got a sly sense of superiority that goes beyond his apparent invincibility, making me wish that he’s been s4’s Big Bad right through to the end.


#126: Awakening (Angel 4.10)
written by David Fury & Steven S. DeKnight
directed by James A. Contner

-Angel - Awakening

On the surface, it’s an episode that grows increasingly lamebrained, until we arrive at the final twist, at which point we see that the entire sequence following the start of the mystic’s soul removal ritual has been an illusion generated to simulate perfect happiness in Angel’s mind, thus releasing the soul as it did in the Surprise/Innocence episodes of BtVS. This falls well short of the bar set there – and we are still left with a silly story that makes Angel seem like a near simpleton (which Angelus alludes to later with disparaging remarks about the Indiana Jones fantasy) rather than exposing something deeper in his mind – about his innermost desires. Instead, all he wants to do is make peace with his son and get the girl. Nevertheless, that final twist makes it all worthwhile.



#125: Home (Angel 4.22)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - Home

Whedon pulled off a post-finale finale once before in season four of BtVS with Restless. That season, like this one, had writers scrambling to replace a Big Bad (Professor Walsh for Adam in place of The Beast/Cordy for Jasmine) and ended up with an unsatisfactory whole, so the early wrap-up makes sense in both cases. While Restless explored the subconscious of its Scooby Gang, Home moves toward a series reset: with a major shift of locale from the Hyperion Hotel to the Wolfram & Hart offices, and with the exit of Connor and Cordelia. Connor, I’m more than happy to wave goodbye to. He was a novel addition as an infant, but wore out his welcome almost as soon as he re-entered the story as Vincent Kartheiser. Whedon retcons him into an idyllic suburban family and erases his memory from the other principals. (I wish he’d done the same for me.) Cordy, however, is an incalculable loss to the show, which will recover in the next season, but I’ll still hold a bit of bitterness toward the writers for how they ruined her character.

I’m glad to see the season end, especially since I know the series is on the verge of reaching new heights. And on a final note, the corporeal spirit of Lilah (working for Wolfram & Hart in perpetuity!) gets prime screen time as she peddles the law office deal to Angel Investigations. I’ll really miss Stephanie Romanov, especially as she’s never been been better than here: she’s still hard-bitten and shrewd, world-weary even after leaving the world, and her dry comic timing never fails. As Angel begins to choke her in a rage, she warns: “Watch the head, it comes off easy.” Now there’s a consistent character!


#124: Provider (Angel 3.12)
written by Scott Murphy
directed by Bill L. Norton

Angel - Provider

The detective agency is in the red and the new baby’s financial future is pressing on Angel, so the associates take on three disparate, seemingly simple cases, each one resulting in a belatedly discovered deception on the part of the client. It’s a well orchestrated setup that is not apparent at the outset, and it works especially well when the team coalesces in the end. And it’s amusing to see Angel wringing his hands over the cost of college tuition.


#123: Life of the Party (Angel 5.5)
written by Ben Edlund
directed by Bill L. Norton

Angel - Life of the Party

A solid Lorne-centric episode and Angel‘s only foray into Halloween. Even if it doesn’t reveal much about Lorne’s character, we get a wealth of other bonuses: shambling drunkenness from Wes and Fred; frantic sex from Angel and Eve; territorial office pissing from Gunn; a demon gleefully masquerading as a human, spouting bumper sticker slogans and presumably wearing real flesh as part of his costume; and the introduction of the aristocratic and deliciously degenerate demon Sebassis, accompanied by his pee-sniffing sub slave on a chain. Plus, Harmony solo on the dance floor. Angel Investigations never threw a bash like this, so the move to Wolfram & Hart has at least one thing going for it.



#122: Bargaining Part II (BtVS 6.2)
written by David Fury
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Bargaining Part II

Buffy’s return to life, which she mistakenly but understandably believes is a dimension of hell. Sunnydale, overrun by a demonic motorcycle gang, seems only vaguely recognizable to a dazed, staggering Buffy after she’s clawed her way out of the grave, a feat only Spike recognizes, as only a vampire would. The most shocking moment for the audience is the dismemberment of the Buffybot, something Buffy herself witnesses with incredulity, incomprehension, and horror. It’s one of the more unpleasant episodes of the series, and all the more effective as a result.


#121: Life Serial (BtVS 6.5)
written by David Fury & Jane Espenson
directed by Nick Marck

Buffy - Life Serial

Upping the geek quotient with the Trio makes for some highly comical scenes. I could do with a lot more of their arguing over James Bond actors and the supposed inexcusability of Moonraker (I disagree!), but their plot to take down Buffy takes precedence over the enjoyable squabbling, though their geekery still holds center stage. They don’t seem particularly worrisome at this point, and their challenges to Buffy’s well-being still feel slight. Perhaps playfulness with a touch of malevolence is how it all boyish mayhem begins. Note: this is the episode that introduces the as yet-unnamed Clem and the much-discussed kitten poker game. I’d place Clem in at least the top five of my favorite demons, and he’s not even evil, except maybe at the card table.


#120: Release (Angel 4.14)
written by Steven S. DeKnight and Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
directed by James A. Contner

- Angel - Release

The Faith vs. Angelus battle goes on far too long, but it’s preceded by a scene of wonderful squalor: the back room of the bar, where junkies shoot up some sort of mystical opiate and get fed on by visiting vamps. It’s reminiscent of the suck house that Riley briefly frequented in BtVS, but better, because this is L.A. and everything has to be seedier. On the down side, the episode puts evil Cordelia’s pregnancy into the spotlight, and every scene with her and/or Connor goes down like lead, already making me long for our recently dispatched villain, The Beast.



#119: Waiting in the Wings (Angel  3.13)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

angel-waiting-in-the-wings1-e1497386578238.jpg

As much as I admire the inventive romantic and sexual pairings, this episode doesn’t excite me enough to match its reputation, despite my best efforts after learning it’s one of the most beloved and most-rewatched of the series. The baby Connor narrative goes on hold for a week to make way for a field trip to the ballet (featuring future Whedonverse star Summer Glau), an excursion that morphs into farce territory, with Angel and Cordy becoming temporarily possessed, allowing their attraction to go physical without real investment. Fred and Gunn become an official couple as Wes is left sad and alone in the wings – and to think, this miserable point is the happiest he’ll be for some time. I find Waiting in the Wings clever enough, but if I want multiple stories criss-crossing under a single theme, I’ll go back to s2’s Guise Will Be Guise.


#118: Offspring (Angel 3.7)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by Turi Meyer

Angel - Offspring

Angel’s subtle infatuation with Cordelia gets nipped in the bud by Darla’s return to LA. Pregnant Darla is swifter, more powerful, hungrier, and no less evil than ever. That she engenders a very misplaced sympathy in Cordy shows how falsely vulnerable the advanced pregnancy makes her appear. Coinciding with the Darla storyline comes the predictable return of Holtz, who has been turning up in flashbacks since last season. His arrival seems almost overdue; unfortunately, Keith Szarabajka’s glum, lifeless performance turns out to have been not worth the wait.


#117: Dead Things (BtVS 6.13)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Dead Things

The boys-will-be-boys semi-likeable mischief of the Trio dies along with Katrina, who, just before being killed spells out her disgust with them explicitly using the word rape. The date-rape drug allegory, Katrina’s death, and the subsequent attempt to frame Buffy for it expose not just Warren’s true insidious nature, but the complicity of the other two: the intermittently cautious and gleeful Andrew and the foot-dragging Jonathan, who shows the only real remorse in the group. From this point forward, the Trio as a unit can no longer offer pure comic relief, but they will bring pure tragedy.



#116: That Vision Thing  (Angel 3.2)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Bill L. Norton

Angel - That Vision Thing

Cordelia’s steadfast intent to serve via her visions is tested when Lilah interferes, upping the ante by adding physical manifestations of the violent images, leaving Cordy scarred, burnt, and bubbling with pustules. Kal Penn makes his second appearance in the Buffyverse (after playing a college boy turned caveman in the notorious Beer Bad episode). Here he hides an exposed brain under a fez, using it to infiltrate the connection between Cordelia and The Powers That Be. He’s a fun villain who should have gotten more than a single episode, but Angel doesn’t take any chance for a repeat torment visited on Cordy and puts a fast and definitive end to that very vulnerable brain.


#115: Just Rewards (Angel 5.2)
written by David Fury and Ben Edlund
directed by James A. Contner

Angel - Just Rewards

Spike’s addition to the regular cast initially feels imposing to me. There is far too much unfunny verbal sparring between the two ensouled vampires, and Spike seems ill fitting in his peevishness after the dramatic sacrifice he made in the series finale of BtVS. It’s as though we’re supposed to be winking at these two rascally characters we’ve come to know, demanding an artificial sort of relationship between character and audience reliant on a familiarity that the characters signal to the audience, which also translates to staleness. Nonetheless, the necromancer makes a super villain, and the triple-cross scheme secretly hatched (Whedon hides his characters’ plans from the audience a lot!) genuinely surprises as it culminates in a very funny battle.


#114: Birthday (Angel 3.11)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Michael Grossman

Angel - Birthday

Cordy’s transformation continues, this time within her coma-bound mind, as she samples an alternate reality in which she never crosses paths with Angel in L.A. and instead becomes a celebrated sitcom actress. She ends up making the decision to cast off the dream-come-true existence in favor of one that will place her back with the Associates, allowing her to continue with the visions and sparing Angel the insanity that he would suffer by bearing them. Skip plays a big role in this episode as the guide who shepherds Cordelia through the other reality. He would be one of my favorite demons, save for the implications of Cordelia’s demonness, ushering in the Jasmine mess of season four. I try to imagine Skip (the actor played Roy on The Office!) and this episode standing apart from that arc, but I’m not wholly successful, and Birthday ends up somewhat tainted as a result.



#113: Underneath (Angel 5.17)
written by Sarah Fain & Elizabeth Craft
directed by Skip Schoolnik

! Angel - Underneath

What lies underneath Illyria, specifically how much of Fred, the once-living Fred and/or the simulated Fred we get a slight sample of? The existential question of being without body (or, presumably, soul) drives the final episodes of Whedon’s later series Dollhouse, but the possibilities have been floating in the Buffyverse for some time, and now Wesley must wrestle with the question on a very emotional level. What is Fred, beyond a collection of memories and mannerisms, all of which Illyria can access and interpret? Is Illyria’s simulacrum of Fred an extension, a partial replication, or a fragmented continuation of the once-living being. The unanswerability lies at the heart of Wesley’s anguish at hearing Fred’s voice through Illyria, drawing a sharp, painful line between life and death.

The other underneath, the basement of the tract home in the sunny, suburban hell dimension where Linsdey faces eternal torment, suggests that writers Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain may not be big fans of the suburban sprawl lifestyle.


#112: Never Kill a Boy on a First Date (BtVS 1.5)
written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali
directed by David Semel

!Buffy - Never Kill a Boy on a First Date

The Anointed One arrives amidst medium fanfare and a great red herring, Cordelia crimps her hair for a night of boy-chasing at The Bronze, Anthony Head shows his gift for light comedy with a British bent, and Buffy whines in a wholly tolerable manner that the showrunners should have remembered when Whedon later introduced Dawn in s5. Here Buffy really does have plenty to grouse about: trying to hold down a normal social life while keeping true to her Slayer status. It’s a conflict between desire and duty that she’s only begun to understand.

full review


#111: Sacrifice  (Angel 4.20)
written by Ben Edlund
directed by David Straiton

- Angel - Sacrifice

As much as I dislike the Jasmine storyline, this episode has a lot going for it: Angel and the gang as frantic fugitives from the omnipresent cult; ordinary folk speaking in Jasmine’s voice as they attack the runaway rebels; and a bug-like demon from another dimension who finds itself baffled by a vampire that it cannot kill by any ordinary means. Episodes like this drive home the fact that the parts of s4 fare much better than the whole.



#110: Parting Gifts (Angel 1.10)
written by David Fury and Jeannine Renshaw
directed by James A. Contner

@Angel - Parting Gifts

A major transitional episode: Doyle’s visions have transferred to Cordelia, the Oracles appear as recurrent characters with self-imposed limitations on power, and of course Wesley arrives in L.A. The mourning of Doyle seems a bit forced, but the twist with the empath demon being the true villain is smart and scary. He’s witty, devious, and supremely dangerous. And the Korean demon spa should have been a regular setting! Lorne would have loved it.


#109: Dear Boy (Angel 2.5)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

ANGEL - Dear Boy

Darla’s plays mind games with the resource backing of Wolfram & Hart. The scheme, making Angel publicly come unglued and then setting him up as the patsy for murder, takes some fun turns, and even wet blanket Kate now serves a purpose as a non-supernatural sworn enemy of Angel. The present-day caper is well crafted, but the real meat comes in the flashback: Angelus and Darla in England, stalking and driving mad the sensitive seer Drusilla. Angelus’s plan in siring her is to trap her in the torment of insanity in perpetuity. But really, she doesn’t usually seem very unhappy. And planting the Dru flashback here primes us for her re-emergence just a few episodes down the line.


#108: Billy (Angel 3.6)
written by Tim Minear and Jeffrey Bell
directed by David Grossman

Angel - Billy

Misogyny as social infection, Cordelia as warrior, Wes’s burgeoning, ill-fated romantic feelings for Fred, and Fred’s ingenuity in the call of self-preservation all come together in one of the smarter scripts of the series. Lilah has two great scenes – an early one when she’s confronted by Cordelia, and a final, quite surprising one on the tarmac. Her character, already shown to be ruthless, is far more fascinating than the now shuttled-off Lindsey in terms of grey areas: her soul seems crowded out by ambition, but here she shows more commitment to self than to company. She’s still corporate, but with a layer of hot, vengeful blood underneath. I love Lilah.



#107: The Magic Bullet (Angel 4.19)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Jeffrey Bell

- Angel - The Magic Bullet

A ray of light with clever plotting and excitement in the D.O.A. Jasmine storyline. Fred is on the run as the sole seer of truth, and she encounters an underground human-hand-eating demon with a quick wit and a small bladder who really deserves more than a single appearance. I would have welcomed him joining her on the desperate quest, but she axes his head when he gives in to his appetite, which does lead to Fred’s revelation that Jasmine’s blood is the key to seeing through her. Also, Patrick Fischler as Ted, the loopy yet intense occult book store owner, would have made a fine addition to the regular cast. He’s one of my all-time favorite one-offs in the Buffyverse.


#106: Blood Money (Angel 2.12)
written by Shawn Ryan and Mere Smith
directed by R.D. Price

Angel - Blood Money

Yet another elaborate con played out by Angel on the antagonists and on the viewer. The Wolfram & Hart money scheme is numbingly stupid, but the counter-caper run by the associates is quite fun, replete with a nice twist at the end. Yet that’s not what I remember about this episode. I’m all about Anne. Drawing the Chanterelle/Lily character back into the fold for a third appearance, now as Anne, once again shows how much the Buffyverse focuses on detail. Chanterelle, the misguided teenage vampire groupie, was clinging to a false image to find a place in the world, while Lily, the teenage runaway, was clinging to a boy just to keep from sinking in a much darker world. Anne, however, isn’t clinging at all, not to a group identity, and not even to Angel, the hunky champion and her potential white knight; instead, she’s reinvented herself as the life raft to keep others afloat. More than just an anti-Buffy (a role she exceeded in during her two prior outings on BtVS), she’s now a quiet role model for Angel, someone who fights the good fight even when it seems a lost cause, who’s overcome her past and reinvented herself as a crusader for the helpless, a champion of a different stripe. Angel’s losing his way, and she’s inspiration incarnate, a very rare affirmation of hope, strength, and goodness. He’ll need it – because he’s about to hit a new low in Reprise.


#105: The Yoko Factor (BtVS 4.20)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by David Grossman

#Buffy - The Yoko Factor

Part of me really wants Yoko Ono to have watched this episode to consider how Spike absolves her of the Beatles’ break-up. I think he has a point, though I am not sure there was any Machiavellian figure engineering rifts among the members quite like Spike manages with the Scoobies. His physical menace rendered impotent by the chip, he expands his horizon of evil by engaging in some dastardly psychological manipulation, all of which makes sense within the context of the gang’s post-high school lives. I ate up the Spike side of the episode, but the returning jealous Angel bit doesn’t work as well, mostly because Angel > Riley under any circumstances, even with the former’s no-sex contingency clause. My favorite moment of the episode comes when an offscreen, very inebriated Giles overhears news of Willow and Tara’s relationship. Anthony Stewart Head doesn’t even have to be in the frame to make the line “Bloody hell!” a wonder.



#104: Harm’s Way (Angel 5.9)
written by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
directed by Vern Gillum

Angel - Harm's Way

Harmony finally gets the full spotlight after eight years in the Buffyverse! It’s one of the more successful comedic episodes of Angel, largely owing to Mercedes McNab’s performance. The stereotype of the dumb blonde is so entrenched that it’s rare to find anything fresh or energetic in such a character, but McNab’s timing and enthusiasm, coupled with the perversity of her vampire state, make Harmony one of the most lightly entertaining characters of both Angel and BtVS. Her near absolute superficiality as a human makes the transition to morals-free vampire almost minor. She’s not particularly good at evil, though it turns out she’s a crack typist, evidenced by her quick rise out of the steno pool, engendering the malicious envy of another Wolfram & Hart low-caste employee. My only real issue with this episode is the anonymity of the employee in question. The episode plays like a mystery, but when we discover that the culprit behind the elaborate plot against Harmony is a character we have never met before, the revelation comes as a letdown. Still, the tumbling fight that rolls through the break room, down the hallway, and into Angel’s office ends the story on an high-energy but mindless note, much like Harmony herself.


#103: Hell Bound (Angel 5.4)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Steven S. DeKnight

Angel - Hell Bound

Genuinely creepy episode with dismembered, deranged dead people appearing only to Spike alongside a malicious, sadistic spirit right out of Hammer Horror. I found the exposition behind his staving off hell confusing, but his just desserts in a cell in the basement of Wolfram & Hart satisfies. Spike’s growing bond with Fred gets cemented as he gives up his shot at corporeality to rescue her, and he’s redeemed himself again, though unlike Angel, still not experiencing any aching guilt for his demonic actions. He’s just aching over Buffy.


#102: Salvage (Angel 4.13)
written by David Fury
directed by Jefferson Kibbee

- Angel - Salvage

My welcome mat is always out for Faith! She busts out of prison with Wes and takes on The Beast in order to capture Angelus, who unexpectedly uses The Beast’s own bone knife against him to eliminate the walking rock collection, inadvertently returning the sun to L.A. Also, we (and Wesley) get a formal farewell from Lilah – or her spirit – or Wesley’s imagining of her spirit. She’s just as caustic in death as in life, and though I’m sorry to see her go, I enjoyed this post-mortem send-off before her body is decapitated by Wes.



#101: Calvary (Angel 4.12)
written by Jeffrey Bell, Steven S. DeKnight & Mere Smith
directed by Bill L. Norton

- Angel - Calvary

I truly appreciate the character metamorphosis that Cordelia underwent in the first three seasons of Angel so I’m resentful of the possession storyline, mostly because she never emerges from it. And I truly love Lilah and Stephanie Romanov’s portrayal of her as jaded and cutthroat, but with a barely perceptible streak of vulnerability and sadness. So what happens to both these characters in Calvary comes hard for me: the big reveal of Cordy as the sinister force of the season; and Lilah’s offing, which functions in service of said reveal. Yet the episode itself is quite rich in dialogue, including more verbal torment from Angelus and the last sparks of Lilah’s survival instinct, at odds with her weariness and knowing hopelessness. Bonus added for the soul-eating demon exhumed for the ritual.


#100: As You Were (BtVS 6.15)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Douglas Petrie

Buffy - As You Were

Riley is more bearable when they bring him back for a single episode and then we never see him again for the rest of the run of the series. His return as a swashbuckling mercenary soldier serves as a wake-up call to Buffy, shaking her out of the inertia she’s experienced since her resurrection and nudging her back toward accepting the Slayer mantle she once wore with youthful pride as opposed to tired resignation. Her return to form also means an anticipated break with Spike, which will send his character into another direction entirely. So the episode is more catalyst than anything, but that’s exactly what the season needed at this point.


#99: A Hole in the World (Angel 5.15)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Angel - A Hole in the World

Fred never really won me over. I thought Amy Acker’s performance as Crazy-Cave-Fred to be over the top in a bad way, and once she’d regained her sanity, I found her wide-eyed Elly Mae Clampett-physicist cloying. When season four started, Fred had miraculously lost the cornpone accent and became considerably more tolerable. Still, I never developed a real attachment, so Whedon’s decision to kill her off and allow Acker a new character to play doesn’t really hit me very hard.

What I do find odd, however, is that he does this just a three episodes after officially killing off the only other female cast member to be featured in the credits during the first four seasons: Cordelia. Cordy’s death has not merited a single mention since the episode featuring it, and now we’re expected to wallow in grief over Fred?

Fred’s death does reach a fever pitch of drama, but who I feel for is Wesley, who will never climb out of the sorrow. As part of his tragic character arc, Fred’s passing works perfectly. The related story of Angel and Spike rushing to England to find a reversal of the transformation is somewhat unnecessary, but I suppose they wanted to show how the paternal gang would move heaven and earth to save Fred. I wasn’t very engaged by the Catch-22 dilemma, but I did quite like cryptkeeper/guardian Drogyn, whom I might have made a regular character. If he loses his temper this much with Spike, imagine him with Harmony!



#98: The Shroud of Rahmon (Angel 2.8)
written by Jim Kouf
directed by David Grossman

ANGEL - The Shroud of Rahmon

The heist episode. Actually, there are a few heist episodes, but this one has the most going for it: a spliced chronology starting with Wes in the interrogation room as a suspect of murder; a Rat Pack reference with a dated Vegas demon; the shroud that leaves everyone in its midst unhinged; and a twist near the tail end that wraps it all up. To boot, one of the thieves is horror legend Tony Todd, of Candyman and Final Destination renown. It’s a real treat to have an old horror standby drop in for an episode, making me wonder if regular stunt-casting would have brought a few more viewers in. It’s a show about a vampire, so why not rope in some scary movie stalwarts for guest stars, sort of like Murder, She Wrote did for old Hollywood stars? I’m guessing if they’re budgeted for Tony Todd, they could also afford Dee Wallace, Linda Blair, Jeffrey Combs, and for a splurge, Robert Englund. Just my Monday morning quarterbacking – which almost always involves casting my favorite C- and D-list actors.


#97: Eternity (Angel (1.17)
written by Tracey Stern
directed by Regis Kimble

@Angel - Eternity

Another episode with an A-story that starts dreadfully but turns itself around, this time saved by the semi-emergence of Angelus after Angel is dosed by a fading TV star with a “happy pill” which simulates true happiness powerfully enough to partially release the demon. The pill only mimics a state of pure happiness, so what emerges isn’t quite Angelus, but it’s close enough. I still find it shocking how cruel and terrifying he can be. David Boreanaz has the transformation down pat. The fading actress character doesn’t really add nearly as much as she could, but then it’s Cordelia’s sensationally awful stage performance that’s the real thespian attraction.


#96: Shells (Angel 5.16)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Steven S. DeKnight

! Angel - Shells

Having dispatched Fred and introduced Illyria, the season (and series) now moves toward its final point: a confrontation between the Angel team and the powers behind Wolfram & Hart, and momentum feels great. I do, however, have some points to nitpick about the episode. One, the abrupt transition into “finding out Wolfram & Hart’s real plan” is forced. Nothing seems to motivate it beyond a feeling that Angel and Spike sense. Why now? It isn’t related to Illyria, who would be their logical point of focus. Two, Gunn’s guilt in Fred’s death isn’t nearly as great as the script makes it. The brain-booster duped Gunn. So what? How hard would it really have been to get a sarcophagus released from customs, considering the two culprits behind the scheme are top-of-the-line scientists with technical expertise ranging from advanced weaponry to AI augmentation? Gunn made a slip, but it’s nothing compared to Wesley kidnapping Connor; yet Wes decides to stab Gunn – in revenge for what exactly? Complaints aside, Illyria makes a far better possessor-goddessy-demon than Jasmine, and the storyline works far better as well. Best Illyria moment thus far: when she hurls Angel from the lab into Fred’s office and he continues to sail through the window and onto the pavement many stories below. I like the energy she brings!



#95: Faith, Hope & Trick (BtVS 3.3)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by James A. Contner

BtVS - Faith, Hope & Trick

Enter another great addition to the Buffyverse. I make no bones about my love for Faith, the Slayer id to Buffy’s super-ego. Her arrival comes in yet another reversal of expectations as at first sight she seems to be yet another vamp victim from The Bronze, only to reveal herself as a second Slayer, which is fantastic use of the Chosen line of succession that hit a blip in Prophecy Girl from s1. Whedon invented the rules; now he adapts them while sticking to the playbook. The geek in me is wholly satisfied! I’m also satisfied by Mr. Trick, who has a definite hankering for fast food… employees. On the other (third?) hand, Scott Hope barely registers for me, but I’m happy to abandon all Hope to focus on the fun of Faith and Trick.

full review


 #94: Through the Looking Glass (Angel 2.21)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

*Angel - Through the Looking Glass

The Pylea arc continues with court intrigue, a love interest for Cordelia, and a brewing rebellion. My first viewing nearly led me to a convulsion of rage when Lorne’s decapitated head was presented on a platter. Killing him off on his home turf would have been unforgivable, so I’m thankful the beheading ended as an elaborate gag. Before that shocker conclusion, we get more time with Fred, now in her cave-dwelling insane phase. I think Amy Acker is absolutely awful here. She’s cloying even when she’s in the midst of her crazed babbling, making me long for the magnetically insane Juliet Landau. I warm to Fred in s4 when Acker tones down the countrified cutesiness, but for now, I have to grit my teeth through her scenes. The Groosalugg, on the other hand, is better in his initial appearances here than when he turns up in our dimension in s3. He’s a cartoonish counterpart to Cordy’s Pylean princess and fits well in the outrageousness of the arc. Not so great in our dimension.


#93: Disharmony (Angel 2.17)
written by David Fury
directed by Fred Keller

*Angel - Disharmony

Plucking Harmony from the Cordettes and transforming her into a vampire has to be one of the great comic steps that BtVS ever took. Whedon has a knack for holding tight to  recurrent characters and popping them back in just when we least expect it. (Amy Madison!) Sending Harmony to visit L.A. for a very, very short-lived stint with Angel Investigations gives the show one of its best comedy episodes. Everything from her vampire confession misconstrued by Cordy as a muddled lesbian coming-out story to her almost immediate failure to withstand the temptations of a new-age pyramid-scheme vampire cult (!) is gold. After the grimness of Reprise and the enlightenment of Epiphany, the show needed a break from its somber tone, so Harmony’s visit could not have been better timed.



#92: Selfless (BtVS 7.5)
written by Drew Goddard
directed by David Solomon

*Buffy - Selfless

The long awaited Anyanka origin story! I liked this segment of the episode much more than the fraternity mass murder set in the present, though the spider was an entertaining agent of doom, even as it appeared in the most horrible CGI the series has featured in the history of the series. I wished the origin story had more running time, especially since its Ingmar Bergman flourishes are begging for expansion. My first time around, I was pissed off at the sudden offing of Halfrek, who, as an outsider, offered a breath of biting humor as the regulars battled their real and internal demons. She might have added some sorely needed levity to the remainder of the season, but the cruelty of her elimination by D’Hoffryn befits the bestower of power to vengeance demons. He knows how to deal the hurt. Then again, so does the show, as when it unexpectedly cuts to an outtake from s6’s Once More, With Feeling featuring a jubilant Anya singing about her upcoming wedding day; then it cuts back to Anya stabbed against the wall. It’s more than the proverbial emotional rollercoaster; it’s like the rollercoaster comes to a dead halt in the middle of a loop.


#91: Consequences (BtVS 3.15)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by Michael Gershman

Buffy - Consequences

Facing consequences can be a drag, and Consequences can be as well, insofar as it has to come down from the exhilarating high of Bad Girls. Buffy’s more rigid sense of right and wrong plunges her into despair, while Faith’s internal conflict leads her into denial and resentment. It’s a strong episode about facing or not facing responsibility and past misdeeds. Choice moments: Giles instantly seeing through Faith’s framing of Buffy, and later, Willow’s quiet, deeply hurt reaction to learning that Xander had slept with Faith. Wesley shows his incompetence and blind devotion to procedure, inadvertently sending Faith down the dark path to Mayor Wilkins. Alas, her availability as second-in-command comes at the expense of Mr. Trick, who remains one of my favorite vampires. Note: the connection between Faith and Angel begins as he counsels her (in chains!) on the temptations she now faces after killing a human, which makes me appreciate all the more her arc stretching across four seasons of Angel. He never gives up the faith on Faith.


#90: The Prodigal (Angel 1.15)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Bruce Seth Green

@Angel - The Prodigal

Balancing my favorite regular feature, flashbacks, and my least favorite aspect of this season, the police procedural and Kate, this episode won me over with its fully realized Angelus origin, complete with a delightful Darla. I found Angelus’s visit to his home to murder his family, especially his pious father, chilling even though I’ve already seen him at his worst. The parallel past/present father storylines wears down a bit as I have no interest in the police angle or in the detective (though Elizabeth Röhm has a compelling scene, when she discovers her father’s body), but the flashback easily made up for that. I am forever transfixed by the costume dramas that Whedon stages to flesh out his vampires, and Darla’s final warning to Angel that the murder of his father took but moments, yet the tormented relationship would haunt him forever is the highlight of the episode for me. She imparts centuries-old wisdom with a strange ambiguity, hinting that whatever Angelus does, even achieving gold-medal status as a vicious vampire, he will never find true fulfillment or happiness. (But she is oh so wrong on that count!)



#89: Dirty Girls (BtVS 7.18)
written by Drew Goddard
directed by Michael Gershman

*Buffy - Dirty Girls

Faith returns and Caleb debuts. Faith almost instantly sets Buffy off-kilter while Caleb proves a much stronger and crueler force than the Bringers, The First’s original puppets in the material world. And we’re starting to lose Potentials at a faster rate. I don’t really have any investment in them (a problem for the season), but knocking them off does feel like a precursor to the current trend in television: centering stories and audience interest on killing off principals, which is a means of engagement that I find sad. But I find this episode a very strong one. Buffy needed a threat that was not only physically powerful (like the über-vamp), but also one who could speak – both for himself and for The First. Nathan Fillion’s misogynistic, sadistic preacher isn’t really Big Bad material (despite Xander’s eye gouging), but he does make a worthy adversary at a point where the season was crying for one. And bringing back Faith helps complete the full circle that we’ve seen forming since the first episode. Her redemption has already been won on Angel, but she still needs to make good on Sunnydale, and in a season all about Slayers plural, we can’t skip her. This is what a final season should look like.


#88: Enemies (BtVS 3.17)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Enemies

Faith turns bad. If she’s not evil, she’s certainly warped, as in ready to torture Buffy to death, which seems out of character even for an already established loose canon. Sure, she’s got blood on her hands, literally, after killing the shady, book-peddling demon (who kept a goldfish in a bowl!), but I don’t buy that swift a trajectory downward. Another episode of Faith’s mayoral misdeeds would have made it more plausible, but then, I would not give up the preceding Doppelgangland for anything. I would, however, give up the Buffy/Angel rift that’s developing, since for me that romantic pairing came to its natural end for me when Angelus appeared in s2. Speaking of Angelus, he makes a phony appearance here, which feels a bit like a bait-and-switch, but we have to suffer through it along with Faith. My favorite part of the scheme is the participation of the mystery sorcerer, whose taciturn appearances sandwiched between ominous entrances and exits stand in hilarious contrast to his past debt to Giles, who explains offhandedly, “I introduced him to his wife.” Anthony Stewart Head’s understatement never fails.


#87: Older and Far Away (BtVS 6.14)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by Michael Gershman

Buffy - Older and Far Away

Probably not deserving of this high a ranking in and of itself, but the fact that a youth-oriented vampire series includes an ode to Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel earns it at least double points. Dawn is simply intolerable here, but in the plus column, the teleporting demon-of-the-week is fun, Halfrek pulls the strings behind all the havoc, and Clem is a polite party guest. I can’t really ask for a better demonic line-up or a finer riff on a Mexican movie masterpiece!



#86: Smashed (BtVS 6.9)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by Turi Meyer

Buffy - Smashed

The darkness of the season grows even dimmer with Willow’s increasing addiction to magic, which seems slightly silly, but then Hannigan really sells it. The return of Amy – a great gag running several years that shows Whedon’s hardcore commitment to a bit/storyline – allows for peer pressure to hasten the magic abuse. Meanwhile Buffy’s own descent, her relationship with Spike, goes carnal with a flourish of violence: it’s hate-sex on her part and unrequited love on his. Everybody in Smashed is feeding a need. Quelling desperation and loneliness with drugs and sex, the Scoobies are undeniably growing up.


#85: Origin (Angel 5.18)
written by Drew Goddard
directed by Terrence O’Hara

! Angel - Origin

As in You’re Welcome, the writers are in overdrive to repair season four’s character calamities: Cordelia in You’re Welcome, check; next up, Connor. I really liked Connor as a baby, but as an angst-ridden teenager returned from a hell dimension, he’s unbearable. Writing him out was the best move to close out s4, but inviting him back allows for some closure on Angel’s part as well as a solid explanation for the massive mind-fuck perpetrated by Wolfram & Hart to erase his identity from everyone’s collective memory. Better still, the magic-maker at the heart of the scheme is one of the series’ best demons, Cyrus Vail, played with flair by Dennis Christopher, the psychopath from the film-buff horror film, Fade to Black. And we even get a farewell performance from the witty Sahjahn, who’s been locked up in an urn for over a season. Whedon and company know just how to close the door on Angel, winding the series both up and down at the same time, with old foes vanquished and powerful new ones emerging, all while moving quite purposefully toward the finale.


#84: Revelations (BtVS 3.7)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by James A. Contner

)Buffy - Revelations

Angel’s return is exposed, the Scoobies stage an angry (and sharply written) intervention with Buffy, a corrupt Watcher arrives in Sunnydale, and Faith’s fall begins in earnest. I was indeed surprised when Miss Post reveals her ill intent by bashing Giles over the head and sets off to steal the glove, but for me, the more substantial revelation lies in Faith’s character. Her impulsivity collides with her resentment toward Buffy and the Scoobies, and she’s easily manipulated by Mrs. Post, leading her to go after Angel despite (or perhaps because of?) her friendship with Buffy. Faith is not contemplative like Buffy; she’s a doer working off raw emotion and adrenaline, and as we’ll see, she also lacks Buffy’s reflective nature, which largely absolves her from responsibility from her actions. Buffy, however, has fight strategy, never shown better than as she regains the “magic mitten thingy” by slicing off Miss Post’s arm.

full review



#83: Why We Fight (Angel 5.13)
written by Steven S. DeKnight & Drew Goddard
directed by Terrence O’Hara

Angel - Why We Fight

Angel’s post-curse, pre-BtVS existence has lent itself to one stellar episode (Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?) and one very good one (Orpheus), but neither holds connections to the already established Buffyverse like Why We Fight (as in the WWII origins of The Initiative here) or offers up information on the whereabouts of the other members of the marauding quartet (as here, Spike eating Nazis). This period piece succeeds by establishing claustrophobic horror, surprising us with Spike, and tossing in a very funny, Nosferatu-like Prince of Lies for extra delight. (Camden Toy, the actor underneath the Prince’s magnificent make-up, is also behind some of BtVS‘s best villains: one of the Gentlemen, the Übervamp Turok-Han, and Gnarl, the terrifically unsettling flesh-stripping/eating demon.) Bonus points for Angel having to create a vampire as a means out of dire straits, and then discovering said vampire may have been condemned to an existence of endless misery, somehow bearing a trace of the curse, burdening him vestiges of a soul, which leaves all his attempts at vampirism empty and meaningless. Empty and meaningless! Angel’s existential struggle continues even in his sole post-curse sire!


#82: The Price (Angel 3.19)
written by David Fury
directed by Marita Grabiak

Angel - The Price

I like big episodes, and The Price is big. It’s got some of the Buffyverse’s best use of CGI, for once not so awful that it distracts from everything else going on in the episode. (I’m looking at you, spiders from BtVS‘s Helpless.) The translucent, moisture seeking, parasitic slugs here owe an achingly obvious debt to the aliens from Robert Rodriguez’s fantastic 1998 film The Faculty, though these wormy invaders are far less surreptitious, eventually overrunning the entire Hyperion, including a heretofore unknown (and never mentioned again) swimming pool. Fred’s possession allows for a grudgingly helpful Wes to participate from a distance, while Lilah and Gavin (I already like him better than Lindsey) waffle over whether to help. Everybody’s in the mix, including The Destroyer, the thing that the water-worms have fled another dimension from. It’s Connor, as we discover from his grand entrance at the end of the episode, which is a good twist, and I’ll take it at face value since I don’t hate him yet. But I will in short time.


#81: Never Leave Me (BtVS 7.9)
written by Drew Goddard
directed by David Solomon

*Buffy - Never Leave Me

The wheels on season seven really start turning here. Storylines converge as Andrew is taken prisoner; a newer character officially enters the mystery (Principal Wood burying Jonathan’s body); Buffy’s house moves from base of operations to battleground (a superb attack by the Bringers); the old order is destroyed (the explosion at the Watchers’ Council); and a new threat emerges (the über-vamp Turok-Han, who arises from the school basement). It’s a pity that the rest of the season doesn’t build on this momentum. Outside of the finale, it’s the season’s most exciting episode.



#80: Dad (Angel 3.10)
written by David H. Goodman
directed by Fred Keller

Angel - Dad

Introducing a newborn baby into the Buffyverse is a risky prospect. The audience, myself included, generally does not enjoy babies meeting the awful fates that befall so many tertiary, temporary characters in the two series. By the end of this episode, however, a plausible scenario by which the baby will be protected by Wolfram & Hart is in place, but it’s the getting to this agreement that’s the fun part. Multiple parties want their hands on the new baby, but Wolfram & Hart is the most serious contender, certainly in terms of having the inside scoop via an elaborate secret surveillance system. Lorne’s musical ear also picks up the humming of the devices, however, and in a twist that Whedon regularly employs, the gang has been scamming the bad guy (and by extension, the audience), ratcheting up a falsely desperate situation that smartly reverses the roles of hunter and hunted. In addition to the sweet twist, we get our first glimpse of Justine and a fun encounter with the Wolfram & Hart archivist, a human-ish database with creepily clicking eyes and an insistently helpful demeanor.


#79: Choices (BtVS 3.19)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

=Buffy - Choices.png

The graduating Slayer has a lot of choices to make: whether to stay in Sunnydale or to attend Northwestern; whether to maintain a romantic but sexless relationship with Angel or to move on to a more mortal being; and whether to negotiate with Mayor Wilkins to save Willow or to guard the box of scary spiders to prevent the Ascension. All three are quandaries for Buffy but rather obvious to the audience, and really only the hostage trade-off has my full attention. It’s a very short-term situation, but at least I don’t know how it will play out, and it does so fantastically, with the Mayor showing the darker side of his smooth psychological manipulation as he reminds Buffy that she’ll grow old and feeble alongside an ageless Angel, just as he did with his dear, departed wife, Edna May. (I demand a flashback!) Note: Willow’s choice of a full-length dress for a stealth mission is questionable, but it does portend the fashion direction that she will take as a full-fledged witch in s4.


#78: Witch (BtVS 1.3)
directed by Dana Reston
written by Steven Cragg

!Buffy - Witch

Three shows in and we’re already sampling the monster-of-the-week, and I have no complaints! Witch plays with and subverts our expectations as do so many of the best episodes in the series. There’s a mystery for the Scoobies and they’ve barely coalesced! In addition to introducing Amy (who will go on to become a most unusual recurrent character!), witchery gets its first spotlight. And that final shot is a thing of wonder: the cheerleader trophy with Amy’s mother trapped inside the figure with darting eyes and muffled cries. At its best, BtVS has a wicked sense of humor that still manages to be unnerving.

full review



#77: Power Play (Angel 5.21)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

! Angel - Power Play

A grand forerunner to the season finale, keeping us guessing as to what Angel’s erratic and increasingly nefarious behavior could be leading to. Actually, even his undercover caper stands as pretty dastardly all on its own. Sacrificing Drogyn? It’s cold recompense for his stalwart honesty and dutiful sarcophagus vigilance. But everything’s in service to the elimination of the Circle of the Black Thorn, which is sort of what might be a demon equivalent to the Illuminati in the new millennium’s parlance. My only complaint is that we should have been encountering the various members with greater frequency throughout the season, which coasts into greatness in its last half, but I could have easily done without Nina the comely werewolf, and for fuck’s sake I wish I could erase 90% of the execrable The Girl in Question from my memory. Instead, I want more time with the smooth Senator Brucker, who’s such a late entry that she barely registers, and oh, how I relish the scenes with Archduke Sebassis and Cyrus Vail! Angel goes gangbusters with villains in s5, enough so that I’ve already forgotten/forgiven the leaden Holtz, who hogged the antagonist role for far too long. The bad guys so often make the episodes, and the Circle of the Black Thorn is a constellation of the series’ best.


#76: Welcome to the Hellmouth (BtVS 1.1)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Charles Martin Smith

!Buffy - Welcome to the Hellmouth

Returning to the series for the second time, I’m struck by how consistent Whedon’s characters are. Sure, they lean on high school archetypes (Willow as the mousy bookworm, Xander as the awkward goofball, and Cordelia as the queen bee mean girl), but this is only their starting point. Buffy arrives as a newcomer like the audience, which immediately bonds us to her as she navigates her way through the new landscape of geeks and cliques. We also meet Angel, The Master, and Darla, who kicks off the series in the opening scene by upending our expectations (the blonde in peril as the real monster). It does indeed look like it’s done on the cheap, but I don’t care at all since my TV self was weaned on Dark Shadows, a vampire soap that makes s1 of BtVS look lavish. For me, it’s about enthusiasm, dedication, and originality, and Welcome to the Hellmouth shows promise on all three counts, and the series will deliver throughout its run of seven seasons.

full review


#75: Loyalty (Angel 3.15)
written by Mere Smith
directed by James A. Contner

Angel - Loyalty

The loss-of-baby-Connor/downfall-of-Wesley arc moves into full swing. Plenty wonderful in this episode: the ever-beguiling Lilah suggesting a softer side as she talks to her mother on the phone, just before revealing that she holds a stolen a vial of infant blood to hand over to a demon; Holtz and Justine playing at voyeurism as they lure Gunn and Fred into an ambush just to take notes on their fight tactics; plus, a femme fatale of sorts, attempting to lure a too-wise Wes into a relationship by sort-of posing as a bereaved mother – sort of because it’s actually true, which shows the murky zone we’re falling into, where half-truths and façades construct false perceptions with catastrophic consequences.



#74: Seeing Red (BtVS 6.19)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Michael Gershman

Buffy - Seeing Red

We reach the depths: grief, rage, and remorse; this season is perhaps the most hated by fans after season 7, but at this stage I’m now understanding why I ended up loving it the first time around, even though I’ve been a bit frustrated by seeming lack of direction of the first half. The rancid core of Warren is revealed, and though he is too petty and limited to qualify as the Big Bad, he does hold the ability to inflict misery, perhaps the only real power that he knows he has; consequently, his last major act has no technological or magical marvel to it – just a shot fired from a common handgun, – as he is inherently a very common character.

Spike, on the other hand, presents a far more complex and polarizing presence. What is amazing for this largely feminist season is that his motivations for the violence he inflicts are entirely clear, and the audience is challenged to separate the comprehensible from the inexcusable.

Tara’s death might fall into the Bury Your Gays trope, but in reality, Whedon almost never allows a couple of any orientation to float off happily into the sunset. Rather than fade away into memory, losing Tara catapults Willow into a full-fledged horror show of cold fury, ushering in the unlikeliest and perhaps most unsettling Big Bad of the Buffyverse, Dark Willow.


 #73: Time Bomb (Angel 5.19)
written by Ben Edlund
directed by Vern Gillum

! Angel - Time Bomb

Illyria is a pure demon, I suppose along the lines of what the Mayor transformed into in Graduation Day, Part 2 of BtVS. Or at least she was – before eating up Fred’s soul and moving into her body, or shell, as she refers to it. Now she is, as Anya explained in BtVS, “tainted by humanity,” and her god-like (not quite Glory-like, but close) power is pulling her human form apart. She’ll have to hang up some of the dimension-hopping and timeline-skipping to maintain a physical presence, which makes me a little sad, but then I am willing to make concessions since I like her better than Fred. In other news, Angel is behaving uncharacteristically cold – like a standard Wolfram & Hart figurehead – the mystery of which means the wheels are grinding toward the series finale. Highlight from Time Bomb: the failed Illyira assassination plot and its finite possible outcomes coursing through multiple waves of time.


#72: Restless (BtVS 4.22)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

buffy-restless-e1500084595849.jpg

Having wrapped up the flaccid Adam storyline in Primeval, Whedon gives the fans something to gnaw on with the second of the series’ dream episodes, after s2’s Nightmares. Restless is far more self-referential, both to the show’s past and to its future, making it a bona fide fan favorite. And while I appreciate how deep Whedon goes with callbacks and foreshadowing, I still find it on the self-indulgent side and slightly disappointing for a season finale. The original Slayer has always deserved better than the spooky, primal characterization she gets, and this episode amplifies that weakness by sending her into four separate psyches on a killing spree. It was nice, however, to see some old faces – Oz, Faith, Harmony, and most surprisingly, Principal Snyder – turn up in the dreams, though for a finale with so much rooted in the first three years, I would hope for Angel, Cordelia, Jonathan, Amy, Percy, and the now-deceased Larry, Miss Carpenter, and Mayor Wilkins – or someone representing one of the true deep cuts of the character playlist – like Sunnydale High’s murderous lunch lady!



#71: Beauty and the Beasts (BtVS 3.4)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

)Buffy - Beauty and the Beasts

What Marti Noxon accomplishes in Beauty and the Beasts is daring and sharp in its ambition and strikingly on point in its execution. Her script zeroes in on the theme of abusive relationships with not one but three pairings, all featuring male monsters and female forgivers: Oz and Willow; Angel and Buffy; and the one-off appearance of Pete and Debbie. It’s really Beauties plural to match the three Beasts – because Noxon focuses just as closely on women’s/girls’ roles in the dynamic as on the boys’. Yeah, it sounds like it could turn into an after-school special, not unlike s2’s cautionary steroid story Go Fish, and I do understand the quite negative reaction from some fans that the story plays out like a preachy PSA. Yet I don’t read it as such because Noxon incorporates a well-constructed murder mystery in addition to some fine levity to ease the overall gloomy tone. (Giles getting shot with the tranquilizer gun in the ass = top-flight entertainment.) Moreover, the plot takes advantage of Buffy’s reunion with Angel, asking us to consider how the Slayer will be different from Debbie in her acceptance of a partner who alternates between displays of tender affection and horrifying violence.

full review


#70: The Prom (BtVS 3.20)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

=Buffy - The Prom

Buffy suffers the indignity of being dumped right before the prom – in a fucking sewer. Some fans don’t find her a particularly compelling character in the series, but for the most part, I admire her grit and determination. Rather than fall into a morass of self-pity, she channels her focus on preventing a prom massacre by a hell hound, which is  a standard monster-of-the-week ploy written by Noxon to keep Buffy busy, but it serves its purpose.

Rather than get pulled in by devil dogs trained to attack teens in formal wear (the prom-themed horror movies as a Pavlov’s training aid was a great touch), I found two other scenes here of greater note. First, Joyce makes her first and only visit to Angel’s mansion, complimenting the spaciousness and only giving the chains bolted to the wall a quick, nervous glance. (Angel, Faith, and Buffy have all had a turn in them!) She’s there to deliver the same message that the Mayor did last week: that Buffy and Angel have a hard road to hoe ahead, though she’s far more indirect and maternal in her delivery. Joyce doesn’t get that many solid parenting scenes in the series, and I really like this one showing her tact and compassion. I suppose at my advancing age, I see the Buffy/Angel relationship far more through her eyes, which explains my greater appreciation for the exchange at this point in the game. The second scene is the actual prom, where we get to see Sunnydale High step up, recognizing Buffy for helping bring down the student body mortality rate. It’s actually quite sweet and more importantly, it sets her up as a leader respected enough by the student body to build an army out of their ranks for the season finale.


#69: Soulless (Angel 4.11)
written by Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain
directed by Sean Astin

-Angel - Soulless

Angelus conducts a demented series of reverse-therapy sessions, as various members of the troop take turns on the metaphorical couch with him to have their hopes and secrets deconstructed and ridiculed. The caged, cagey Angelus actually terrifies more here than when he is predictably loosed. His revelations of knowledge he holds and his manipulations in gaining even more more show him to be an adversary whose primary threat isn’t his brute strength, but his cunning, which makes him even more threatening than The Beast.



#68: Long Day’s Journey (Angel 4.9)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Terrence O’Hara

-Angel - Long Day's Journey

One of Angel‘s better noir episodes.  It doesn’t play out like a movie, however, because there’s no closure, and we don’t find out the real femme fatale, possessed Cordelia, until later in the season. Gwen is far more bearable here, and her apartment – complete with a safe room and surveillance center – makes a perfect set for the mysterious murder. I don’t like the turns the story will take, but this episode, with its conclusion of the daylight disappearing, does take a magnificent and unmistakable turn into darkness, making the noir quite literal for some time to come.


#67: In the Dark (Angel 1.3)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Bruce Seth Green

@Angel - In the Dark

The first two episodes set the series up as a semi-standard police procedural featuring a vampire detective – with no sense of the stupendous soap opera with ambitious arcs that made its source, BtVS, such a groundbreaking show. The third entry, In the Dark, reminds what the series needs to be: a saga steeped in its own internal lore. Doing so without acknowledging BtVS as its forerunner would be impossible. The showrunners have to establish Angel as a mostly independent series, but they must also respect the history of the title character, so much of which has already been covered in BtVS, which is why I so heartily welcome this early crossover episode.

Spike is a (non)living embodiment of the depraved past of Angelus, a past that Angel can never fully escape, with the theme of chasing retribution running throughout all five seasons. Spike is fantastically funny and determined here, chasing after the ring of Amarrah (a gift from Buffy and a solid bridge between the two series). Angel could become an invincible daywalker with a soul, but he destroys the gem, condemning himself to find retribution in the darkness. It’s not an entirely convincing explanation; more logical would be that he wouldn’t want every vampire on the planet jonesing for what’s on his finger. Other notes: I wholly approve of guest visits from Sunnydale, in this case not only Spike but Oz, who would have been a good fit as a regular. Less successful is the vampire torture specialist/sadist who could have been played with more sinister flair (I’m thinking Peter Lorre), considering the terrifying build-up that he got. But that’s quibbling about an otherwise great episode that kept me hooked on the series after some initial worries.



#66: A New Man (BtVS 4.12)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Michael Gershman

*Buffy - A New Man.jpg

The most Giles-centric episode of the series, and it is an absolute joy! Ethan Rayne turns up to create more mischief, this time transforming his nemesis (but also kind of frenemy) into a demon who can no longer communicate in English. The scenes that follow place demon-Giles at odds with Xander (who defends himself by hurling pots and pans), the Initiative (who hunt him down to add to their basement collection), and Buffy, who, in a genuinely sweet scene, eventually recognizes her Watcher even through the hulking demon body he inhabits. But the high point for me was all the bickering between demon-Giles and his accomplice-for-hire, Spike, as they tool through town in Giles’ 1963 Citroën, which he can no longer reasonably fit into. In terms of episodes that merge character development – here Giles’ sense of obsolescence – and broad comedy, A New Man ranks near the top.


#65: The Harvest (BtVS 1.2)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by John T. Kretchmer

!Buffy - The Harvest

The second episode moves from introducing characters into establishing relationships, perhaps most importantly, bringing Willow and Xander into the fold, as Buffy and Giles explain to them the existence of vampires and the line of Slayers to fight them: the Scoobies are born! What’s more, the school library is starting to feel like home, presided over by the instantly paternal Giles. Plus, the first massacre at The Bronze! Note: Jesse has been sired by The Master and already has enough vampire sexiness to win over the previously dismissive Cordelia. Vampires are hotter than their mortal selves, in almost every instance: Later down the line, we find Liam was a common boisterous bar brawler before Angelus, and William a saccharine poet before Spike. The transformation into sleek sexiness is key in the appeal to us in the audience – and to Buffy. The love/hate, fear/attraction is key in the appeal to the show, and it starts right here.


#64: Orpheus (Angel 4.15)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Terrence O’Hara

-Angel - Orpheus

Angelus takes a tour through Angel’s mind, reliving some post-curse moments while accompanied by a vision of Faith, who is bedridden and fighting for her life after being bitten and nearly O.D.ing on the mystical opiate. If that isn’t enough, Willow drops in from Sunnydale to use magic to restore Angel’s soul, all while evil Cordelia plots against everyone, abetted by a gullible Connor. It’s another big episode with a few lulls, but some occasional laughs, such as Angel’s 1970s hair and his naked affection for Barry Manilow.


#63: Over the Rainbow (Angel 2.20)
written by Mere Smith
directed by Fred Keller

*Angel - Over the Rainbow

Far and away the wildest field trip in all the Buffyverse. If this is the land of Oz, I’m a bit hard-pressed to find analogues to the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and Dorothy, but Lorne, Angel, Gunn, and Wes do make four travelers to Pylea (Cordy had already made the inadvertent trip at the end of the last episode, and I’d wager she’d be the wizard anyway). I’ll take the sheer lunacy of the diversion. The second season previously went very dark with Angel sliding into an existential despair, and now he’s happy as a clam out in the sunlight! But in a hell dimension.



#62: Deep Down (Angel 4.1)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by Terrence O’Hara

-Angel - Deep Down

One of the Buffyverse’s best season openers to what would unfortunately develop into one of its worst full seasons. Whedon allows for a three-month lapse (goodbye, summer!) before picking up with the continued search for Angel, who lies bound at the bottom of the ocean, sunk there by Connor with an assist from Justine, who now lives locked in a cage in Wesley’s bedroom closet! Wesley’s descent is no longer mired in pathos; his fall and abandonment has now made him leaner and sharper than ever. By the time he cranks Angel up from the depths, Wes is no less the outcast, and he’s in complete control.


#61: Normal Again (BtVS 6.17)
written by Diego Gutierrez
directed by Rick Rosenthal

Buffy - Normal Again

A buffer episode, perfectly placed and perfectly realized. The idea that the entire series is a mass of delusions in the mind of a mentally ill Buffy – with the ending left open to interpretation! –  shows how inventive and daring the show can be and makes me wonder why Diego Gutierrez didn’t write more episodes. It’s not a stand-alone, however, as the events within the non-hallucinatory (or hallucinatory, depending on your take on Buffy’s sanity) are referenced later in the season, allowing for the arc’s flow to continue uninterrupted. There are plenty of mindfuck moments in the Buffyverse; this is the only instance where one never quite wraps up.


#60: Tabula Rasa (BtVS 6.8)
written by Rebecca Kirshner
directed by David Grossman

Buffy - Tabula Rasa

Not quite as farcical as I’d remembered, but enjoyable nonetheless, primarily for Spike’s assumption that he is Randy, Giles’ son. The rest of the Scoobies don’t get nearly as much mileage out of their memory loss, though Giles and Anya make an improbable romantic pairing; still, much of it feels like a missed opportunity for comedic play on identity. Maybe I liked it better the first time around because the conceit was so fresh and unexpected. Outside of the comic element, Willow’s flippant disregard and disrespect for others comes as the real shock of the episode, edging the arc and her character toward much darker territory. Dark Willow dark.



#59: Entropy (BtVS 6.18)
written by Drew Z. Greenberg
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Entropy

Not generally a beloved episode, but for the soap opera fan in me, it’s magnum force. The dovetailing of two heartbreak sagas – Spike’s and Anya’s – couldn’t be better. Everyone is in now in full tailspin, save for Willow and Tara, who now get but a brief respite from anguish. Moreover, the feud with the Trio goes to an new level of perviness with the hidden cameras, sending Buffy to war, the cost of which won’t unfold until the next episode. At this point, Whedon’s season finally feels cohesive and all the aimlessness diminishes into a tension so great that a bursting is now inevitable. The relative stillness and quiet unhappiness of Entropy will then seem like a pleasant dream.


#58: This Year’s Girl (BtVS 4.15)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Michael Gershman

#Buffy - This Year's Girl

As s4 really starts to sink, who better to show up and save the day than Faith! Well, not save Buffy’s day by any means, but certainly raise the bar in the season for a couple of episodes. I just knew a Slayer couldn’t remain in a coma that long, and apparently so did the Watchers’ Council, since they’d planted a nurse on the hospital staff for just such an awakening, which is preceded by a series of coma dreams. (BtVS works in a lot of dreams!) Most of these involve Buffy in a negative light, unsurprising given the events of Graduation Day, Part 1. In the end, revenge comes in a surprise package, supplied via a post-mortem gift from Mayor Wilkins, leading us right into a body swap! They know how to end on a cliffhanger.


#57: Grave (BtVS 6.22)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Grave

A very solid finale, though not up to the standards of heightened excitement and horror set by the two previous episodes. It’s at its best with Willow and Giles holding a gloves-off magic battle punctuated by vicious and not entirely untrue insults, and at its worst with Buffy and Dawn in an underground chamber fighting off a small horde of animated corpses when the true threat, Willow, is elsewhere. I dock it a bit more for moving Dawn to the forefront of action instead of back to a green blob. Also, I thought another apocalypse threat was completely unnecessary, but I suppose this is a season finale, so they need to aim large. There’s plenty of gushing and gnashing over Xander’s crayon speech that brings our villain off her magic ledge, but I found it too brief to be moving and not particularly  in line with the feminist undertone of the season: it’s a reasonable male talking down an out-of-control female. I suppose Xander’s open-hearted entreaty might be a dose of redemption for men in general, who are otherwise vilified by the Trio, and to a lesser extent, Spike after his attack on Buffy. Still, the awe-inspiring Dark Willow ends up brought down not by the mighty female Slayer, but by fatherly Giles and brotherly Xander. Serious female empowerment will have to wait until the next and last season finale.



#56: There’s No Place Like Plrtz Glrb (Angel 2.22)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

*Angel - There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb

The Pylea arc and the second season conclude with a revolution, Angel spars with the Groosalugg, and the gang makes it home after 3+ episodes away. Most important to me, however, is the re-heading of Lorne following his beheading at the end of Through the Looking Glass. He’s easily the best original (non-BtVS) addition to the regulars of Angel. (Apologies to Gunn and Fred, but they’re not even in the same ball park.) The trip to Pylea doesn’t endear me to Lorne any more since I already love him unconditionally, but it does cement him in the series. And finally, Willow turning up at the Hyperion on their return to bring the news of Buffy’s death brings the show back down to earth after the hell dimension excursion. I don’t consider the Pylea a series high point as I gather many do; instead, I see it as a bananas vacation with our favorite fruity uncle, and I can treasure it deeply on that count alone.


#55: The Gift (BtVS 5.22)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - The Gift

Killing Buffy off doesn’t make much impact for me. I know they’re going to bring her back: her name is in the fucking title of the series. And if she has to die, does it have to be for Dawn, the second-most bothersome person in the Buffyverse? (Connor from Angel wins that title for me.) Still, the suicide/sacrifice is a moving gesture, one that feels strangely comforting given the events of the season, primarily the passing of her mother. In fact, Buffy’s dive into the light feels a bit like a gentle collapse after the emotional – and non-supernatural – lows of the season. The real heft of her death doesn’t really happen for me until next season when Buffy is ripped out of heaven. It’s not the fall that gets me; it’s the tortured return.


#54: Spiral (BtVS 5.20)
written by Steven S. DeKnight
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Spiral

BtVS isn’t exactly known for its highway chase scenes, but there’s a whopper in this one, rivaled only by Willow astride a semi in s6’s Two to Go. It’s close, but I think I prefer the RV and Mad Max desert mayhem in this one, even though it’s the underdeveloped Knights of Byzantium on the attack. I relish Spike’s dry dismissal of them as role-playing rejects from a Renaissance Fair. The writers critique their own occasional shoddiness with Spike as their meta-mouthpiece! And Spike gets even more comedic play as he becomes increasingly exasperated by everyone else’s spellbound state rendering them unable to remember that Ben is Glory. It’s a gag that never tires, and even releases some tension as the bedraggled fugitives hole up in an abandoned building under siege by the Knights. One of the best action episodes of the series.



#53: Two to Go (BtVS 6.21)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Bill L. Norton

Buffy - Two to Go

What turns the series has taken, with Willow now a super-adversary, overturning cars, blowing buildings apart, riding atop semi-trucks in a gonzo chase after her own friends, and using electrified telekinesis against the central heroic figure of the series. Not only the action but the dialogue places Dark Willow as one of the great threats the Scoobies have ever faced, as she mocks her former self, derides Buffy, and revels pridefully in the dark power she’s absorbed. The scene with her threatening to return Dawn to her original key state of a green blob of energy was thrilling, not only because Dawn is such a bad character and the change might do the series a good turn, but because as Dark Willow explains it, it’s quite logical. Anya shines here, continuing the assist she began in the previous episode, showing that the emotional blow she took from Xander’s abandonment might have actually strengthened her character rather than simply decimating her.

And fuck if that wasn’t a majestic last-minute surprise entrance from Giles!


#52: To Shanshu in L.A. (Angel 1.22)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

+ Angel - To Shanshu in L.A.

Fantastic finale capped off by the dramatic return of Darla, naked and shivering in the mystery crate, after being resurrected in a rather stunning ritual involving demonic chanting and chained vampire sacrifices, followed by a last-minute battle between Angel and Linsday, culminating in the latter losing his hand! We get the introduction of the prophecy that Angel will regain his humanity, a promise that will play out right until the end of the series. On the down side, Cordelia’s evolution toward empathy gets too explicitly spelled out in the wrap up, and the tiresome Kate is now established as a nemesis to Angel, though as long as she’s sticking around, I’d rather have her as an enemy to be kept at arm’s length than an ally in the thick of everything. It’s also a farewell to the Angel Investigations headquarters. I rather liked his basement digs with easy sewer access, but far better digs awaits at the Hyperion.


#51: Conversations with Dead People (BtVS 7.7)
written by Jane Espenson and Drew Goddard
directed by Nick Marck

*Buffy - Conversations with Dead People

Four conversations with the departed, two of which are stellar, one fair, and one a flop. Unsurprisingly, Dawn’s encounter (written by Jane Espenson) with The First is the dud. We get a Poltergeisty horror scene that eventually leads to a gauzy apparition of Joyce with a cryptic warning about Buffy. It’s a particular disappointment since she is the deceased character with the strongest connection to the living. Andrew’s geek chats with The First as Warren (written by Drew Goddard) are laced with the usual pop culture and sci-fi references, and while the talk entertaining, it’s shallow and facile, though it does move the plot along with the exit of poor Jonathan. Far, far better are the scenes with Buffy and a forgotten classmate, Holden, now a vamp sired by Spike, who offers our lead a chance to engage in talk-therapy amidst the gravestones, with some of the season’s choicest dialogue written by Whedon. Jonathan M. Woodward as the newly undead in question might be my all-time favorite one-off character. I say “might be” because just as wonderful is Azura Skye, whom we’d already met as Cassie, so I suppose this makes her a two-off, though this isn’t the real Cassie, of course. We’re pretty sure early on that she’s an imposter in this encounter with Willow (written by Marti Noxon), which makes the eerie impersonation all the more unsettling, and when she’s exposed as The First, she’s terrifying.



#50: Fool for Love (BtVS 5.7)
written by Doug Petrie
directed by Nick Marck

Buffy - Fool for Love

An absolute feast for those who revel in both Spike and flashbacks, and a perfect companion to the concurrent episode of Angel, Darla, which runs a parallel storyline. It’s an ingenious means of providing crossover for both series while building on the internal mythology of the Buffyverse. I marvel at how tight this pair of episodes is and what sort of vision and collaboration it must have taken to pull this off in two separate, interlocking series. I do wish, however, that we’d been given more than just a battle glimpse at the two fallen Slayers, as I’ve always thought the history of the Slayer line was a missing piece of the Buffyverse.


#49: Forever (BtVS 5.17)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by Marti Noxon

Buffy - Forever

I gather this episode is not well regarded, but I find it one of the most moving in the series. Rather than attempt to leap directly back onto the Glory story, Noxon’s script keeps an ember in that arc, but gives grief its needed breathing room. In a show about the undead, it’s almost expected that someone would consider resurrection as an option, and unsurprisingly, it’s the most child-like character, Dawn, to pursue it, but more surprisingly, it’s Dawn who then halts it. The approach of something possibly benevolent, possibly horrifying, outside the front door gave me a new sense of suspense – not that I was worried about what would happen – but rather that I wasn’t sure what I wanted to happen. The resurrection plot also surreptitiously weaves Glory into the story in the form of Doc, one of the more memorable demons in the Buffyverse, while foreshadowing the corruptibility of Willow, who guides Dawn toward the dark magic to raise the dead. In addition, the post-funeral, after sunset appearance of Angel is easily the best and most meaningful crossover that BtVS gets.  Forever has a hard act to follow after The Body, but I can’t imagine it any better than this.


#48: Guise Will Be Guise (Angel 2.6)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Krishna Rao

Angel - Guise Will Be Guise

Two guises, both a delight. Wesley assumes Angel’s identity for a job while his real boss is meeting with a fake swami. Both stories contain enough fun and suspense to stand on their own, but combined they show Jane Espenson’s gift for running multiple plots under a singular theme. This the Buffyverse at its most clever and entertaining, and though it’s not really an important episode in terms of the seasonal arc, in terms of character, Wesley gains more independence and confidence, setting him further on a path that will end in full-on, stone-cold badassery.



#47: Lies My Parents Told Me (BtVS 7.17)
written by David Fury and Drew Goddard
directed by David Fury

*Buffy - Lies My Parents Told Me

Flashbacks and origin stories stand among my favorites in the Buffy/Angel canon, and this final throwback works well in service of two storylines: one, Principal Wood’s conflict with Spike; and two, Spike’s sleeper status under The First’s thrall. Principal Wood’s battle with Spike doesn’t end in resolution, though Giles’ participation in the suspenseful intrigue does bring an irrevocable split with Buffy. In his flashback, Spike’s post-mortal relationship with his mother seems inconsistent with his demonic self: why would he still feel clingy when other vampires (cf. Liam/Angelus) simply kill off their families? Nevertheless, the vampire version of his mother gets some of the most cutting lines in the series’ history: ridiculing her son’s poetry, expressing a desire to have bashed in his head at birth, and then proposing incest! This episode of flashbacks from two timelines in Spike’s history isn’t the greatest of the show’s peeks into its own past, but it is very nearly the best show of the seventh season.


#46: Reprise (Angel 2.15)
written by Tim Minear
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

Angel - Reprise

It’s always darkest before the dawn. Reprise is the darkest; Epiphany is the dawn. They’re a truly terrific pair of episodes that must be taken in tandem, indicative of two competing world views that Angel has been wavering between. It’s in Reprise that he slides into the channel of hopelessness and nihilism, nudged there with great charm by the now-deceased but still sly Holland Manners, an appropriate guide since Angel passively facilitated his murder, similar to his abandonment of the Hyperion Hotel residents to the demon in Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.

But things are bleak all over: the associates are looking like sad sacks going bust in business, and Kate has lost her badge, collapsing into a suicidal nadir. Worse yet, in the end, Angel no longer values his own sense of self, sleeping with vampire Darla, unconcerned or ambivalent about losing his soul to Angelus. Fever-pitch drama is my weakness, and the operatic level of hurt and hopelessness in the final few minutes of this episode nearly does me in. If I had to pick an episode to explain the philosophy of the series, I’d cheat and pick two: this one and the Epiphany that follows.


#45: Five by Five (Angel 1.18)
written by Jim Kouf
directed by James A. Contner

+ Angel - Five by Five

The return of Faith plus extensive flashbacks! Both are exquisite. The flashbacks of Angelus reverting to Angel after the curse takes effect and Darla’s revulsion at his soulfulness fascinate me, especially after hearing about this event for three years. Darla even tries to stake Angel to stem her disgust! In the present, Faith, barrels through L.A. unhinged and ruthless, with more swagger and threat than she’d shown even on s3 of BtVS, but the depths of her amorality in the torture of Wesley show her less as cruel than empty. There’s an epic fight with Angel, followed by a full-on breakdown, at which point we realize the bigger battle was taking place internally. Faith is one of the great recurring characters in the Buffyverse. Though she never gets a spot in the opening credits of either show, she’s unforgettable in both: as a counterpoise to the Buffy and as a reflection of Angel.



#44: Graduation Day, Part One (BtVS 3.21)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

=Buffy - Graduation Day, Part One

Like s2, the season finale is rightfully split in two parts, and this first half is a fine warm-up, especially in keeping Anya in the mix to add a first-hand account of an Ascension from centuries earlier. Her nervous narration of the event sets a doomsday tone and the stakes are set high! In the meantime, Willow and Oz have sex, Faith murders a professor before shooting Angel full of poison, and the Mayor eats his spiders. (His blackened teeth make the scene for me.) Note: I am not clear on the vampire poison: is it fatal? I thought our only options for taking out a vampire were daylight, fire, beheading, and a stake through the heart. If this poison is really lethal, why not get that recipe and turn the Scoobies into a crack archery squad?


#43: Forgiving (Angel 3.17)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Turi Meyer

Angel - Forgiving

An exemplar of how to wrap up an arc. Sometimes the series falters a bit after a storyline reaches its climax (e.g. the dip from s2’s Reunion to Redefinition), but here it rides the crest right into resolution with nary a bump. Part of the episode’s energy derives from Angel’s anger and grief, but behind all the battles and dangerous dark magic lies Wesley; I mean Wesley lies – literally on the ground – near death, his throat slashed and left for dead. Sahjan’s scheme is revealed in all its time-skipping brilliance before Justine traps him in the urn that he’ll spend the next two seasons in, and Angel gets ruthless with the rather incompetent (at least next to Lilah) Linwood, negotiating his (and our) first trip into the White Room, a Kubrick-esque blank space inhabited by a knowing little girl (though they could have found a creepier actress to play her). All this, plus the final scene, in which Angel calmly clarifies that he is not Angelus before attempting to smother Wesley in his hospital bed. Forgiving won’t really come until s4, and even then, what’s happened is never forgotten.


#42: Homecoming (BtVS 3.5)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by David Greenwalt

)Buffy - Homecoming

Homecoming is a bit of a dream BtVS episode for me since the “hunting humans for sport” is one of my favorite TV tropes. I think it’s especially fun because I didn’t realize what was brewing with all the spying until the rogues’ gallery of mercenaries and monsters showed up at the Slayerfest ’98 gathering in the home of the mysterious old man in the wheelchair. Then Mr. Trick lays it out for us: a competition! And I still didn’t see the twist coming where Cordelia would be mistaken for the more elusive Faith, and she along with Buffy would end up the hunting target of competitors. Highlights for me: Buffy’s Homecoming Queen strategizing at the whiteboard, where she has “Xander” and “brie” listed as some of Cordelia’s weaknesses, and the conclusion, when the other competition, the one for the Queen title, is settled when a third contender is crowned, leaving the two disheveled Slayerfest survivors both deserved losers. Also, welcome Mayor Wilkins!

full review



#41: Hero (Angel 1.9)
written by Howard Gordon & Tim Minear
directed by Tucker Gates

+ Angel - Hero

A  remarkable write-out for Doyle. From the very beginning, the script builds to his sacrifice without giving it away. Only nine episodes in feels a bit early to end his character (I would have appreciated more back story), but his presence stretches right through to s5 because of the transference of his visions to Cordy. Apart from the Doyle send-off, the monster-of-the-week angle aims big, with demonic racial/idealogical purity in uniform, an allegory that could have been explored in later episodes with more on the demon hierarchies and supremacies. The vision of the Nazi-like demon squad marching militarily through the L.A. streets unnerved me considerably more than the usual visiting demons.


#40: What’s My Line (Part 1) (BtVS 2.9)
written by Howard Gordon and Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

_Buffy - What's My Line Part 1

I love being led on wild goose chases as long as there’s some accountability and sound logic afterwards, and here they’ve got it down: Kendra’s set up for us as an assassin, but sure Kendra’s sneaking around – she’s on an unknown mission – and it makes complete sense that another Slayer would be activated at Buffy’s death. The multiple cliffhangers, in which Buffy battles Kendra only to learn that she is also a Slayer; Cordy and Xander are left to the non-mercy of an especially revolting Taraka assassin; and Angel awaits incineration by sunlight in the bar’s storeroom cage (riskier than the library cage!) all tantalize to keep me hyper-hooked for next week.

full review


#39: What’s My Line (Part 2) (BtVS 2.10)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Semel

_Buffy - What's My Line Part 2

I love this episode on multiple counts, especially as the show’s matchmaking takes flight. Willow and Oz finally make their connection after weeks of Oz’s longing from afar and Willow’s obliviousness from anear. Xander and Cordelia’s tension at last breaks into a series of passionate kisses accompanied by hokey orchestral swells. Buffy bravely rescues a helpless, conveniently shirtless Angel. And Spike risks everything to restore Drusilla, who in turn, saves him from the mounds of rubble. Only Giles and Miss Carpenter are left out this time, primarily because there is simply no more room. This could have been a Valentine’s episode! Except for all the assassins, who are superb, as is that crazy conclusion in the abandoned church. The series is on fire at this point.

Personal highlight: Cordelia stomping all over the squirming grubs that the bespectacled demon had transformed into. They were so yucky that it was almost cathartic to witness.

full review



#38: School Hard (BtVS 2.3)
written by Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt
directed by John T. Ketchmer

Whedon waits until the third episode of the season for a major game change, introducing the brilliantly conceived characters of Spike and Drusilla, who, with Angelus and Darla, will form a foundation for both BtVS and Angel as the fearsome foursome who cross multiple continents across multiple centuries. We don’t know it yet, though. Even without the lore, Spike and Dru invigorate the show, he with his sexy swagger and tales of Slayer takedowns, she with her magnetic madness and loony babbling. When he hoists the ineffectual Anointed One into the sunlight for an impromptu execution, Spike announces a change has come: less ceremony and more fun. It’s really Whedon talking, though, explaining a correction of course and introducing a new direction for the show.

%Buffy - School Hard

full review


#37: Surprise (BtVS 2.13)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by Michael Lange

%Buffy - Surprise

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). The episode opens up an arc that will include some of the series’ highest points of drama, tragedy, and terror so stupendous that even if the show ended with this season, it would be an undisputed classic. All of this in Surprise, plus Drusilla as a party planner!

full review


#36: The Trial (Angel 2.9)
written by David Greenwalt; Douglas Petrie and Tim Minear
directed by Bruce Seth Green

Angel - The Trial

Angel is a show that takes its own lore very seriously, making it an ideal vehicle for a diagnosed obsessive-compulsive viewer like me. I expect a show to follow its own rules, and Whedon seems to understand this, at least judging from an episode like The Trial, which calls back to Darla’s siring from The Master as she lay dying of syphilis. Wolfram & Hart brought her back from the dead, but they brought her back dying, as in her final human state four hundred years ago, which puts Lindsey and Angel is a quandary. The former is determined to see her survive, entreating the latter to re-sire her for a second shot at immortality. But Angel, under his new mantle of champion, instead attempts a heroic feat to win her mortal life by betting his own, succeeding in three tasks overseen by a wonderfully snooty figure known as The Valet. What makes Angel’s determination to save Darla all the more selfless is the flashback, in which Darla abandons him as the two are under siege in a barn, Holtz’s vigilante vampire-hunters closing in. Darla is loyal only to a point, the point at which her own self-preservation is threatened. In contrast, Angel goes to the mat for her in the present, all for nought, it turns out, as she cannot be re-resurrected. (Buffyverse rule violation: Buffy was brought back from the dead twice!) No matter, Lindsey hasn’t given up on the siring solution, and in the series’ greatest surprise appearance, no less than Drusilla swoops in to save (or spoil, depending on your perspective) the day, setting off a chain of events that will turn the series on its head.



#35: Helpless (BtVS 3.12)
written by David Fury
directed by James A. Contner

Buffy - Helpless

A pivotal episode eliminating Giles from the Watchers’ Council and further establishing him as a father figure to Buffy. It’s also the first major break Buffy gets from an imposed world order. Before, most of her objections to duty were born more of insouciance than independence, but now she has just cause for questioning the existence of the handed-down practices. Her re-writing of the rules will continue in s6’s Checkpoint and completely upend tradition in s7’s Chosen, but it really starts right at the close of this episode.

Aside from the Watchers’ Council game-changing aspect, Helpless is one of BtVS‘s scariest episodes. Sometimes I forget that the series is rooted in horror, but not here. They went for the gold in re-casting Jeff Kober as the demented vampire Kralik. (Kober has a triple crown of bad guys: Kralik, Luke from s1, and dark magic dealer, Rack, from s6.) His madness and cunning combined with an imposing physical presence make him an entirely unfair opponent for Buffy, now weakened by muscle relaxants and adrenalin inhibitors, and his kidnapping of Joyce takes the exercise to an unintended, much higher level. The cat-and-mouse chase through the decrepit and seriously spooky boarding house could come right out of a horror film. The struggle ends on a strategic high note for Buffy when she uses Kralik’s dependence on pills (anti-psychotics for vampires?) against him with holy water. Fitting that she’s limited by a pharmacological cocktail and then uses her opponent’s reliance on meds for the win! Favorite line from a stellar episode, as Angel inquires about Buffy’s gloomy mood as another disastrous birthday takes shape: “Then why’d you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?”


#34: I Only Have Eyes for You (BtVS 2.19)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

%Buffy - I Only Have Eyes for You

Marti Noxon returns us to the barely suppressed regret and layers of guilt left in the wake of Passion. I’m stuck considering exactly how strong I Only Have Eyes for You is, because as a stand-alone, there’s not that much here besides a common ghost trope, but in the scope of the season, the story transcends genre as the characters struggle through loss and forgiveness, not finding resolution, but rather tentative steps toward acceptance. In that context, it’s a motherfucking masterpiece.

Whoever thought of ghostly possession as therapy to work through trauma? I’ve read that  the possessed Buffy’s pronouncement  of the line, “Don’t walk away from me, bitch!” manages to be funny but also revealing, yet I didn’t find it humorous in the least. The ghost of James funnels all of Buffy’s anger and frustration into the moment, making it real and tragic in two timelines, the collision of which being the only release from an endless miring and repetition of remorse. What’s more, Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz don’t offer even a remote wink to the audience in the gender reversal. They play the possession scene for all its worth, and for Boreanaz, that worth may have been his own series.

full review


#33: Halloween (BtVS 2.6)
written by Carl Ellsworth
directed by Bruce Seth Green

%Buffy - Halloween

The first and faraway the best of the Buffyverse Halloween episodes. So much to love here: We have a new villain, Ethan Rayne, mischief-maker turned malevolent. He’s fun… but fatal. And his cursed costumes! Buffy gets to play the fainting flower, Willow winds up both unspooky ghost and dress-up slut, Xander regains some stolen masculinity as a soldier, and Cordy (uncursed) wears the ubiquitous skintight cat costume of the nineties. Perhaps best of all, after an absence of two episodes, Spike returns to go on a tear through Sunnydale accompanied by tiny trick-or-treaters morphed into mini-monsters. Priceless.



#32: Bad Girls (BtVS 3.14)
written by Douglas Petrie
directed by Michael Lange

Buffy - Bad Girls

Eliza Dushku as Faith is equal parts Ava Gardner and Joan Jett, a dangerous, swaggering, sex bomb with enough magnetism to swallow the screen whenever she walks into a scene. The swaggering bit can be a little stiff at times, which actually suits the character, who is largely performing as she attempts to reconcile her unbridled nature with a sense of ethics that she vaguely feels but seldom acts on. Her impulsivity is a pure rush, both to the audience and to Buffy, who cannot resist letting loose with her – until they run afoul of human law, first after being caught in a wild B&E, and then after Faith accidentally kills Fitch, who may have been coming to tip them off about the Ascension.

The fall of Faith had already been in the making, but it really moves here, as she cannot reconcile her hedonism with personal responsibility. Buffy always tilts in the other direction, hence the schism that never fully gets bridged (despite some approximation in s7). This is a splendid Faith-centric episode, but it also introduces Wesley into the mix. It’s odd to see him here as such a foppish windbag after knowing the astonishing character arc he’ll undergo in Angel, and he registers for me mostly as a comic foil to an exasperated Giles. Oh, Wes, the places you’ll go!

The episode also wins points for especially snappy dialogue as well as one of the greatest demonic creations the Buffyverse has ever known: Balthazar. Basking in a presumably fetid tub with his horrifyingly obese body continuously ladled with water by his minions, he’s like a nightmare version of the Fantastic Four’s The Thing gone to full flab – or as Buffy comments, “in desperate need of a Stairmaster.” Perpetually incensed to the edge of self-implosion, he reminds me of Melissa McCarthy’s take on Sean Spicer, and he makes the most of his limited screen time, even getting one of best Buffyverse last words, with a cryptic and terrifying admonition about the Ascension, tying the other thread of this episode, the Mayor’s nefarious scheming and his attainment of invincibility. Not a moment in Bad Girls gets wasted as it sets all conflicts and machinations into full speed toward Graduation Day.


#31: Sleep Tight (Angel 3.16)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by Terrence O’Hara

Angel - Sleep Tight

One of the most tense and pivotal episodes of the series. I was lulled a bit into thinking this might be another monster-of-the-week shows with the idiotic rock band/demonic infection story, but that’s the only semblance of routine in an otherwise stunning of episode of twists and shocks: Angel behaving bananas after drinking from a mixture spiked with his own infant’s blood; a forlorn but still scheming Lilah sharing a drink with Sahjhan and Angel at a bar (!); Lorne catching Wesley’s intent as Wes sings a lullaby before getting KO’ed; Wes kidnapping Connor; Justine slashing Wesley’s throat; and Holtz vanishing into a hell dimension with the baby leaving Angel howling in grief on the ground. This much double-crossing and tragedy could (should?) have made for a superb season finale; alas, Connor and Holtz will return and drag the series to its nadir. On its own, though, Sleep Tight represents one of the great dramatic crescendos of the Buffyverse.


#30: Innocence (BtVS 2.14)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

%Buffy - Innocence

And so Buffy changes forever. 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. Angelus ranks at the very top of my Buffy villain list. For the first time in the series, I actually feel a sense of dread knowing an ominous presence is imminent. True, I loved The Master in all his vileness and wittiness, and I truly looked forward to visits with him in that underground lair. Angelus, on the other hand, I recoil from. That’s a successful bad guy.

full review



#29: Quickening (Angel 3.8)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Skip Schoolnik

Angel - Quickening

Darla’s pregnancy finally takes full center stage as the the birth draws near, but not before a flashback to remind us of the depravity that she and Angelus shared in murdering Holtz’s family, including his infant son. The parallels of family formation and family destruction meet back at the present with a new life from the bringers of pain about to be born. As Darla’s labor intensifies, so does the tension, and surprisingly, the humor, especially with the rising threats to the unborn child, including a vampire cult crashing into the hospital delivery room and Wolfram and Hart’s repugnant sort of occult OB/GYN staked out at the Hyperion along with two stainless steel cages, both mother- and baby-sized. The pace never slackens once in this episode, though the actual climax won’t arrive until the next one, the even better Lullaby.


#28: Lie to Me (BtVS 2.7)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

%Buffy - Lie to Me

Swirls of teen jealousy amidst philosophical and ethical questions about death and dying, as well as a quandary at the intersection between soul and being. Plus comedy. The characters of Ford, who shows the peril of self-pity, and Chanterelle, the anti-Buffy grasping for a sense of identity, are two of the most complex in the Buffyverse, inspiring in me everything from empathy to pity to disgust. Chanterelle will appear again in BtVS as Lily, still hopelessly lost, and finally in Angel as Anne, where she has found a sense of self through a sense of purpose.

This is her genesis, a sad one, but her journey shows that Whedon and his writers are neither nihilists nor cynics, something to bear in mind for the somber closing of Lie to Me – 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 one of my favorite final scenes – in one of my favorite episodes, which winds together existential pondering, teenage angst, and tremendous wit.

full review


#27: Who Are You (BtVS 4. 16)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

#Buffy - Who Are You

I love the body-switching trope. I really, really love it. What’s more I love Faith. So no surprise, Who Are You counts as an all-time favorite, but not just on account of the switch; it’s how Whedon uses it to show where different characters are in relation to one another at this point. Willow and Tara are now a couple, which Faith can gauge without explanation, something the regular Scoobies miss. And only Tara, not even a Scooby yet, is the only one to recognize that something is off about Buffy. The best friend bond from high school has been silently splintering, foreshadowing the rift in The Yoko Factor, which is indeed less of Spike’s doing than of Spike’s facilitating. I’d kvetch about Faith’s departure at the end, but she’s headed directly to L.A. on Angel for the best crossover that the two series will ever share.


#26: Villains (BtVS 6.20)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Solomon

Buffy - Villains

The plural of the title begging the question, who are the villains? Most assuredly Warren, probably Andrew, sometimes Jonathan, but now, to our shock, Willow, the mousey, sweet-natured sidekick from s1, who has morphed into Dark Willow, now imperious, seething, and ruthless. The season has been building to this point for some time, so rather than out of the blue, Willow’s transformation feels fairly natural, not gimmicky, though no less horrifying.

And she isn’t the only one who’s looking compromised. Buffy stands as the sole Scooby willing to allow justice to fall on Warren through human laws, although Xander and Anya experience a turnaround after witnessing Willow nonchalantly flay Warren alive. They’re witnessing not only the savagery of the execution, but the savagery of the executioner. Dark Willow rightfully and unquestionably seizes the Big Bad title and won’t relinquish it until the finale.


#25: Prophecy Girl (BtVS 1.12)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

!Buffy - Prophecy Girl

Fantastic finale, though the short season didn’t build the arc to make the impact it deserves. The Anointed One goes thud (his grand destiny is to hold Buffy’s hand while she descends into the lair?), but the showdowns with The Master – with him taking the first round and Buffy the second – pay off big in Buffy’s doom and then triumph. The Slayer revival (or resurrection, though it’s not nearly as dramatic as Willow’s work in s6) will stand in painful contrast with her sending Angel to a hell dimension in the finale of s2 – and will give us Faith in s3. Prophecy Girl is a wonderful take-off point for the next six full seasons.

full review


#24: Habeas Corpses (Angel 4.8)
written by Jeffrey Bell
directed by Skip Schoolnik

Angel - Habeas Corpses

A brutal break-up between Wesley and Lilah, followed in short by the near destruction of Wolfram & Hart, including the murder of most of its employees, who surprisingly reanimate after being killed by The Beast to threaten Angel’s team sent in to rescue Connor from the chaos – and I do enjoy a well-orchestrated chaos. There’s also a return visit to the White Room, which stands in pristine contrast to the smoky, bloody disorder in the offices below. It’s the closest to Kubrick that Whedon gets, and I eat it up. This is one of the episodes where Whedon goes big: game-changing destruction of the primary antagonists (so long, scary little girl), replete with a horde of zombies (so long, Gavin). The best of the Buffyverse mid-season shake-ups.


#23: Sanctuary (Angel 1.19)
written by Tim Minear & Joss Whedon
directed by Michael Lange

+ Angel - Sanctuary

This is the crossover episode I’d been waiting all the first season for – not only Faith but a genuine surprise appearance by Buffy – this time fitting seamlessly into the story arcs of both shows. It’s rough retribution for Faith, bitterness from Buffy, and an empathy from Angel that tilts toward the former rather than the latter, as he recognizes the desperate need for redemption in Faith as he does in himself. Lots of high drama, plus some of the best battling of the series.



#22: Epiphany (Angel 2.16)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Thomas J. Wright

*Angel - Epiphany

The companion to Reprise and a distant mirror of Blood Money. The season has largely been about the struggle to find purpose and meaning in existence, either the alive or undead variety. The preceding Reprise was all about despair, a nihilistic capitulation to an inescapable ugliness of the world and its inhabitants. I’m reminded a bit of Buffy’s reaction when she was resurrected in Bargaining Part II of BtVS, when she looked around and assumed that she had awakened in hell, only to discover she was back on the earthly plane. Angel has a similar, perhaps more clear-headed impression when he steps off the elevator with Hollis, discovering that all the malice and horror around him stems not from any higher (or lower) power, but from a darkness apparently intrinsic in the human heart.

That isn’t his epiphany, however. It comes as he wakes up after sleeping with Darla, and in a flip from his regression to Angelus in BtVS‘s Innocence, he rediscovers his humanity, understanding that redemption is not the goal in helping others, but that the act of helping is the purpose in and of itself. We’ve seen this in Anne in Blood Money, who arrives at the same conclusion (albeit from a very different path) after drifting with no core identity for years. Selflessness becomes the key to the self.

When compared to BtVS, Angel is often characterized as much darker, existing in a moral grey area where the compromise of good is a hard fact of life. Yet in Reprise / Epiphany, we get perhaps the most humanist argument from the Buffyverse: helping means hope.

Other notes: the parasitic Skilosh demons who cultivate eyeballs in the back of the skulls of their human hosts are some of the best in the series. Also, goodbye to Kate. I’d like to say a simple good riddance since I found her a drag from the get-go, but I’ll confess to finding her salvation and quiet exit quite touching. It’s borderline hokey, but her final line, “I never invited you in,” speaks to the theme in the episode – that there must be good in the universe, or at least we must believe that there is.


#21: Angel (BtVS 1.7)
written by David Greenwalt
directed by Scott Brazil

!Buffy - Angel

Not just the big reveal for Angel, with both his game face and our first dose of his history, a seminal moment in itself, but also a showcase and first farewell for Darla. This episode really nails it on multiple counts: exposition dealt out in battle, a massive bombshell revelation along with a first kiss, a significant contribution to the season’s story arc with The Master, and a foundation to alter the series with the character of Angel. Up to this point, the show’s high-school-as-hell theme with its visiting monsters-of-the-week gave me the impression that the series was much like the character of Buffy herself: playful, witty, and trifling. From here on in, I’ll see my initial take on both the series and its titular character alter dramatically. Angel is the BtVS episode that made me a believer.

full review


#20: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been (Angel 2.2)
written by Tim Minear
directed by David Semel

Angel - Are You Now or Have You Ever Been

A stunning period piece from 1952 evoking the repressive era and allowing us a glimpse at Angel midway through the century and his cursed existence, all while introducing the audience to the Hyperion Hotel as the new main set for the show. It’s probably Tim Minear’s best script from the series, drawing on a host of hotbed issues of the time primarily racism, but also McCarthyism and homophobia, planting a disinterested Angel amidst all the paranoia and strife. He’s very nearly won over by humanity until it all comes crashing down in an angry mob scene and a bitter betrayal. When he leaves the hotel, with all the residents at the mercy of a demon feeding on their own inner demons, he’s not the Angel we’ve come to know – the “champion” touted repeatedly starting this season. But the denouement in the present grants him – and the woman who betrayed him – a chance at forgiveness. It’s not what I would call the endlessly sought after redemption, but it is allowing the past to finally sleep. The Buffyverse is filled with great flashbacks, but none comes close to capturing a Zeitgeist and standing all on its own as a worthy episode like Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.


#19: Chosen (BtVS 7.22)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

*Buffy - Chosen

I sometimes wonder if Joss Whedon could have had better quality control if he hadn’t had his fingers in so many pies at once. Season seven was a frequently a frustrating experience and I posit that a tighter rein at the helm would have brought some improvement. Firefly had just been canceled after a single season, and s4 of Angel, concurrent with s7 of BtVS, was even messier than this, so it seems there was trouble all over. Yet for all its faults, the season (and series) goes out strong and satisfying. Re-writing the basic rule of Slayerdom, Buffy and Willow transform the very ragtag team of teenage girls into a platoon of bona fide Slayers to meet the army of Turok-Han über-vamps in battle, lifting the sole burden from Buffy and realizing the potential in the Potentials. The season’s theme of power gets its resolution; rather than cling to or simply cede it, Buffy shares the power and finally frees herself from its trappings. I know the series sort of continued in comic form, but when I picked up the comics, the story felt oddly inauthentic, and I realized that for me, Chosen really was the end, a fine conclusion to seven years of slaying.


#18: Band Candy (BtVS 3.6)
written by Jane Espenson
directed by Michael Lange

)Buffy - Band Candy

Happy fortieth to BtVS! How fitting to ring in the big 4-O with the series’ fortieth episode tailored around the comedic edge and range of forty-ish Anthony Stewart Head. This is my favorite Giles-centric show so far, easily surpassing a somewhat disappointing The Dark Age, which failed to give us a sufficient feel for our stammering, stuffy librarian’s youthful alter-ego, the infamous Ripper. I complained in reviewing that episode that what we really needed was a flashback, admittedly a daunting task since Stewart Head can’t reasonably pass for a teenager. Jane Espenson, in her first writing credit, finds a workaround with Band Candy, bringing Ripper to us without any cumbersome time travel or a awkward substitution by a younger actor. In addition to Giles’ youthful insouciance (like Buffy!) and arrogant impulsivity (like Faith!), Espenson treats us to a new dimension of the series’ mom, Joyce. We’ve gotten hints of her teen awkwardness in the past, but directly experiencing her anxious flirtations and eagerness to impress a boy beats any softly told tales of yesteryear delivered to Buffy at the kitchen island. Her hopeful query about Seals & Croft to an incredulous Giles while sitting on the floor spinning vinyl = true teenage pain, incongruously, hilariously presented by middle-aged bodies. It’s Ethan Rayne’s best malevolent prank, just barely eclipsing Halloween and A New Man from s4, and it’s most probably BtVS‘s most endearing episode of all.

full review


#17: Darla (Angel 2.7)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - Darla

I can’t deny it: Darla might be my favorite character from the entire Buffyverse. Part of the appeal is the geek factor of her presentation: She’s the first “person” we meet in BtVS, then she’s abruptly killed off a few episodes later, and then reintroduced through flashbacks, and then resurrected in a fucking incredible ceremony. She’s got staying power, which any recurring (and regularly dying) character has to have in spades. Aside from the writing, Julie Benz’s portrayal of Darla as mischievous and fun, even when she’s committing atrocities, never fails to win me over.

So this origin story unsurprisingly brings me an unmeasured amount of joy, especially as we get to see her sired by The Master, the most wickedly funny and scary vampire in the long line of vamps from both series. And the flashbacks keep coming! The second brings us to Darla’s disastrous introduction of Angel to The Master, which ends up severing her relationship with the latter and cementing it with the former. A third takes us to turn-of-the-century Romania, where the trio, Darla, Dru, and Spike, attack the gypsy camp, vainly attempting to reverse the curse on Angel. The fourth and most spectacular lands us in the middle of the Boxer Rebellion, with Angel dragging behind his three soulless consorts as they feast amidst the chaos. It’s the final break with Angel, as he can’t bring himself to join in the revelry of carnage, which in a sense delivers us back to the present, where he still feels a bond to the being who robbed him of his soul, set him on a course of depravity so deep that it torments every fiber of his being, and abandoned him once she found him too weak and principled (when he wouldn’t eat a baby!).

All that, and Angel is still willing to do almost anything for her. I can’t say that I don’t understand. Note: Never before had Angel and BtVS worked in tandem so seamlessly. Darla here and Fool for Love there ran back to back on the same night, each one featuring a whirlwind of lore-building flashbacks, both culminating in the Boxer Rebellion. This is no run-of-the-mill spin-off!


#16: The Zeppo (BtVS 3.13)
written by Dan Vebber
directed by James Whitmore, Jr.

Buffy - The Zeppo

One of the series’ most daring, insightful, and comical episodes. Xander’s lack of confidence, missing sense of purpose, and general bungling presence quietly take precedence, pushing off the supposed A-story to the fringe. I wish I could go back and view this again for the first time, and experience my initial sense of irritation at the lopsidedness of the script give way to giddiness when I realized that Xander’s zombie adventure was the A-story, and the half-assed, umpteenth apocalypse plot was a smart parody of some of the show’s regular tropes. Now I find myself laughing out loud at the urgency of the disconnected scenes with Giles and Buffy as they engage in overly familiar dialogue about thwarting another Armageddon, as I wait for a return to Xander’s night of alternating crises (death as gang initiation!) and ecstasy (losing his virginity to Faith!). Hands down this is not only the best Xander-centric episode of the series, but the best meta-commentary on the show itself. This one I can re-watch and enjoy every time, if only for this exchange as the two plots, one gravely serious and one blithely comical, nearly intersect:

Giles: There’s something different about this menace, something in the air. The stench of death.
Xander: Yeah, I think it’s Bob.



#15: Something Blue (BtVS 4.9)
written by Tracey Forbes
directed by Nick Marck

#Buffy - Something Blue

My cherished favorite of the comedy episodes, a bit behind Tabula Rasa, which shares the theme of Willow’s magic making unintentional mischief, though the consequences here are far lighter. Writer Tracey Forbes absolves herself of the other two episodes she wrote, Beer Bad and Where the Wild Things Are, both low points not just in this season but in the series as a whole, by turning Willow’s offhanded comments, made figuratively or sarcastically, into literal events visited upon Giles (blindness), Xander (demon magnet), and Buffy and Spike (betrothed!). So much to love about this one: Buffy’s musing that her Slayer status must have made her immune from the spell – as she canoodles with Spike; D’Hoffryn dropping in to recruit Willow as a new vengeance demon; and pre-spellbound Spike chained in Giles’ bathtub in front of a television screaming about his soap Passions and Timmy being trapped down in the well. On that last count alone I love Something Blue immeasurably.


#14: Smile Time (Angel 5.14)
written by Ben Edlund & Joss Whedon
directed by Ben Edlund

Angel - Smile Time

Whedon’s greatest satire – of both children’s television and of himself. Aside from the wickedly brilliant and skeevy premise of luring children to “touch” the TV screen so that malevolent muppets can steal their innocence, we’ve got Angel transformed into a stuffed cloth caricature of himself, scowl and all. The concluding battle – with puppet stuffing wafting through the air – is truly inspired. And for the record, my favorite demon here is the Teletubby-esque Ratio Hornblower! Beep! Beep!


#13: You’re Welcome (Angel 5.12)
written by David Fury
directed by David Fury

Angel - You're Welcome

Whedon made a colossal miscalculation with Cordelia from the end of season three through all of season four. One of his greatest series-long character arcs (rivaled only by Willow’s and Wesley’s) gets flushed down the toilet with the PTB-Jasmine-Connor storyline. You’re Welcome doesn’t really offer restitution, but what it does is succeed in is giving Cordy the send-off that she deserves, placing the spotlight squarely on Charisma Carpenter, who delivers such an unflagging performance it’s as though she’s making up for all that time lost in the coma. She’s the Cordelia of old: exuberant, sometimes bitchy, and always on point. Her reappearance also allows for a reflection on the stunning transitions that have taken place since she fell out of consciousness: Connor erased out of everyone’s memory; Angel Investigations subsumed by Wolfram & Hart; and an ensouled Spike fighting for the forces of good. What’s more, we revisit Doyle via videotape, in what turns out to be a foreshadowing of Cordy’s fate. By the final scene, where we discover (as I had slightly suspected) that Cordelia’s emergence from the coma was not all it seemed, I was feeling an emotional payoff I hadn’t anticipated. Whodathunk judging from the very first episode of BtVS that seven years later, Cordelia’s final note would be one of wisdom, grace, and sacrifice?



#12: Reunion (Angel 2.10)
written by Tim Minear and Shawn Ryan
directed by James A. Contner

*Angel - Reunion

Sometimes Angel and BtVS hit a magnificent stride over the course of a few episodes and then burst into an almost deranged gallop that leaves me dazed and delighted. That’s Reunion, which I’d dare to say is Angel off the fucking chain. Drusilla has always been nuts, but Juliet Landau goes all out in this one, as she blathers about the grandmama and the granddaughter, which sounds like more of her lunatic ravings we’ve grown used to, except that of course it isn’t, and we understand the twisted logic in her circular reforming of the siring line. That is the beauty of the Buffyverse for me: Drusilla makes perfect sense because the sing-songy ramblings of a madwoman mirror the series’ consistent internal lore.

And that lore goes into overdrive here, expanding with an elaborate vampire awakening ceremony – that Angel does his best to disrupt, engaging in a rooftop battle with a very determined Drusilla before Darla crawls out of a greenhouse plot to then take on Angel herself. The show doesn’t stop for a breath once the two vampires are reunited, sending them on a shopping/killing spree through L.A. before they set their sights on a Wolfram & Hart gathering at Holland’s mansion. My first time watching this episode, I had no clue how far this would go. A full-on massacre of the law firm elite in a deluxe wine cellar goes over the top, but after that rooftop craziness, it seems like the brakes on this train had already gone out.

But rather than derail, the wine cellar carnage (which we don’t even see!) sends Angel in an unexpected direction, a sudden spiral downward – because he locked the cellar door! The champion falters mightily, opening the character up to what I guess might best be called a vampire’s spiritual crisis. Just in this second season, Angel has produced episodes that are more adventurous (Through the Looking Glass), complex (Guise Will Be Guise), original (Are You Now or Have You Ever Been), wrenching (Reprise) and profound (Epiphany), but for me, none is more straight-up entertaining than Reunion.


#11: Graduation Day, Part Two (BtVS 3.22)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

=Buffy - Graduation Day, Part Two

Building on the student body unity from The Prom and that odd, fleeting sense of community in graduations (captured so well by Willow and Harmony’s uncharacteristically chummy yearbook signing from Part One), Whedon turns the Sunnydale almost-alums into warriors led by general Buffy. And it’s not just the Scoobies! I appreciate the nod to some of the minor players over the past three years as Jonathan, Larry, Percy, and Harmony all soldier up. The episode goes big in a way we’ve never seen, with the Mayor as a super-snake demon plowing through the high school halls before being incinerated by a blast of explosives. It might not have the emotional heft of s2’s Becoming two-part finale, but it makes up for it with the best full-scale battle of the Buffyverse. In the end, we bid a temporary farewell to Faith, watch Angel fade into the shadows of his own spin-off, and see the Scoobies walk off together toward their uncertain futures. Graduation Day, Part Two is a definitive and spectacular end to the high school years. I’ll miss Sunnydale High, but I’m thankful they decided to let everyone grow up.


#10: Doppelgangland (BtVS 3.16)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - Doppelgangland

The show’s affection for its supporting characters is never more apparent than in s3 of BtVS, first for Xander in The Zeppo and now for Willow in Doppelgangland. Vampire Willow was the far and away the standout alternate in the alternate reality of The Wish, so it stands to reason that she would be the one transported out to wreak havoc through the still relatively peaceful Sunnydale of this reality. Whedon ties the arrival to Willow’s frustration at her own meekness and others’ perception of her as reliable in the most mundane sense of the word. Vampire Willow has no such issues. Instead, behold her deliciously arch demeanor as she sweeps through the Bronze or her supercilious manipulation of Cordelia from within the library cage. Faith may be a sort of alter-ego for Buffy, but Vampire Willow gets even closer to our Willow, foreshadowing her sexuality (“kind of gay”) in s4 and a darkness at her core in s6 (“bored now”).

Even though this episode gives each Willow a chance to shine, it hasn’t let go of the running storyline of the Mayor’s Ascension, with Faith as the new double-agent, now housed in luxurious digs complete with PlayStation. And Anya has now been outed as an ex-demon. Willow’s longstanding antipathy toward her starts right at that failed spell, and by the end, both Willows lose patience with her, rolling their collective eyes at her hollow but impassioned threats. Even the conclusion with Vampire Willow returning back to the Wishverse Sunnydale is sly, planting her right back into staking position, this time with an expletive interrupted by dusting. Doppelgangland shows Whedon’s writing and attention to character just about as well as any other episode in the Buffyverse.



#9: Lullaby (Angel 3.9)
written by Tim Minear
directed by Tim Minear

Angel - Lullaby

Stupendous! A flashback to Holtz’s discovery that his daughter has been sired and his decision to subject her to disintegration by sunlight – and back to the present day with the impossible event of Angel and Darla forming a family. Darla’s self-staking as she lies on the verge of miscarrying on the wet pavement in the alley under torrents of rain ranks as one of my favorite scenes in either series. The previous episode, Quickening, works perfectly in setting the stage for the flood of remorse that Darla feels as the soul of her child bleeds into her being. Darla has long been a favorite character of mine, largely for the wit and wicked delight that Julie Benz brings to the role, but I’d never imagined that she would meet her end in self-sacrifice and anguished penance as she clings to a sliver of hope that her baby will be the one contribution of goodness to the world. It’s not just hands-down the best of Darla’s four (!) death scenes; it’s the best death scene in the Buffverse.


#8: Becoming (Part 2) (BtVS 2.22)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

%Buffy - Becoming (Part 2)

Phenomenal finale to s2. Willow casts her first powerhouse spell, Angelus subjects Giles to torture, Xander engages in a deception with questionable motives, and Buffy sends Angel (not Angelus!) into a hell dimension.

Plus, the amazing scene with Buffy’s revelation to Joyce that she is The Slayer! Holy shit did I not see this coming! Even on my second viewing I felt stunned. And while the “coming out” speech with its quite direct parallels to a gay teen and unaccepting parent seems somewhat dated in its obviousness now, in 1998 on broadcast TV, it must have been far more striking. The escalating conflict between Buffy and her mother provides another of my favorite Sarah Michelle Gellar moments in the series. She’s great in the scene, drawing on two seasons of character development to burst into a furious and frustrated teenager, resentful of a compromised adolescence and an adulthood promising only more of the same.

SMG fares just as well in her later battle with Angelus with her assertion that she still has “me” (herself) as he attempts to psychologically break her before killing her. The character of Buffy had a fantastic second season, and she closes it up strong and tight with a massive show of strength and sacrifice. And on a light note: Spike sitting awkwardly in the living room alone with Joyce is my favorite comic moment from the first two seasons. Amid all the deceit and drama, we needed a bit of absurd levity, and the extended take pulled it off in spades.

full review


#7: Becoming (Part 1) (BtVS 2.21)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

%Buffy - Becoming (Part 1)

If there is anything I love, it’s a story that constructs its own internal lore and then integrates this invented history into the fabric of the narrative. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And vampires have a long past, at least the four principal ones of the Buffyverse. They also have a beginning, and we finally witness Angelus’s here. This isn’t the only becoming, however. We also see Angelus becoming Angel as his soul is restored, and then Angel becoming what will later be referred to as a champion when Whistler recruits him to guard over Buffy, who has her own becoming as she finds herself the Chosen One. Buffy’s transformation into Slayer slips carefully in the 34th episode of the series, more as a side course than a main dish. Whedon has always trod around the edges of the BtVS film, making Buffy’s s1 transition to Sunnydale rather than to slayerhood the entry into her story. Now her character gets a Slayer genesis through Angel’s flashback, a careful weaving of the two stories. The entire episode represents the best of Whedon’s narrative genius.

full review



#6: Passion (BtVS 2.17)
written by Ty King
directed by Michael Gershman

%Buffy - Passion

Angelus has been the villain building silently since the pilot. We’ve already learned his M.O. It’s not like Cordelia flatly reading second-hand accounts of terror from thick, dusty books about The Judge, a failed villain from this season. No, we’ve heard of Angelus over and over, not just from library research, but also from Drusilla, who directly experienced the heinous acts, and worst of all, from the tormented Angel, who in his soulless state committed the decades of atrocities. They know how to set up a bad guy.

Passion is how to follow through. The series has so far proven itself expert at setting a tone of silliness and sadness, but never quite reaching real scariness – until Angelus stalks and kills Miss Carpenter. Almost as wicked as the murder is Angelus’s pornographic peering at Willow and Buffy as they receive the news on the telephone and collapse into sobs of grief. Here is the heart of his character’s evil. It’s not rampant destruction and taking of life; it’s methodically decimating people through exploiting them at their most human. Angelus doesn’t simply want to take souls. He wants to watch them crumble until there is almost no light in them to extinguish. His art is agony.

Even though I’d seen the episode before, I had a false sense that Giles’ horrible discovery of the body and Angel’s grief-voyeurism had to be the final scene in the episode. Maybe I wished it would just end, or perhaps I figured that the intensity simply couldn’t play out any further. But there’s the closing battle at the factory, which does begin almost perfunctorily. Then pathos gives way to rage, sending Giles and Buffy into an explosion of fury that ignites into a literal blaze subsuming everything around them and resolving nothing. Buffy as she was will never completely emerge from the scorched ruins of Passion.

full review


#5: The Wish (BtVS 3.9)
written by Marti Noxon
directed by David Greenwalt

,Buffy - The Wish.png

I love alternate realities, and this one is a thing of wonder! When, on my first viewing, I realized that The Wish was winding down, I made my own wish: that this visit to an alternate reality would exist as in a multi-episode story arc, a desire that would be partially granted in Doppelgangland on BtVS, and much later fantastically fulfilled in a different (semi-) Whedon project, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (s4).

But this single ep packs enough in: the hard-bitten, joyless Buffy; a monster-of-the-week (Anya) soon to join the regular cast; a shockingly sadistic Vampire Willow; the sorely missed Master getting a rightful return of reign; and the original Scoobies all killing each other! That last point is not just about shock value; there’s a grim humor in Xander and Willow literally killing Cordy after figuratively doing the same in Lovers Walk – only ten minutes into her fantasy turned catastrophe! But Buffy taking out eternally crushing Xander, Oz doing in Willow, and Xander staking rival Angel also suggest a cruel irony in the wish fulfillment.  It’s not a wonderful life, and I love the misery, especially since I get to leave it once the episode concludes.


#4: Not Fade Away (Angel 5.22)
written by Joss Whedon and Jeffrey Bell
directed by Jeffrey Bell

! Angel - Not Fade Away

The end is upon us, and Whedon takes us out with a superlative finale. His series always have ups and downs, but they always finish with flair, true to the spirit of all that preceded them. Whether it’s the reinventing sister-Slayerhood in BtVS, taking an ambitious turn into harder sci-fi in Dollhouse, or rounding out the somewhat unfinished universe of Firefly with Serenity, he accords his stories and characters a sense of completion that a hardcore fan hungers for.

The only complaint I have about Not Fade Away is that it isn’t long enough. Admittedly, I become easily bored with protracted action sequences, but the sextet of assassinations had me on the line for so much more! But I wouldn’t have sacrificed any of the existing scenes either. Harmony’s hilariously predictable betrayal (and she still gets a letter of reference!) and Connor’s battle at his father’s side successfully cap both characters, but it’s how Whedon and Bell send out Lorne and Wes that left me spellbound. Lorne, our fluttery, fey friend with endless reserves of positivity becomes a double-crossing hitman, disappearing remorsefully into the shadows after finally compromising himself as his associates Angel, Gunn, and Wes have done over and over. And Wesley! What a character arc spanning two series, from laughable fop and ineffectual bureaucrat to cold-hearted warrior and tragic hero. The simple dialogue he shares with Illyria as he dies, leaving the world begging for an illusion to obfuscate his deep sorrow left me thinking, now that’s an exit. The same can be said for Not Fade Away.



#3: The Body (BtVS 5.16)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - The Body

I wonder how I might have viewed this episode when I was Buffy’s or even Dawn’s age – before I’d been confronted with death and experienced all the comes with it: a sense of unreality and stillness, a strange disruption of time, and a sharp disconnect with the world that seems to be moving forward when mine has stopped. But I don’t know how my more innocent self would have viewed this, as I have only seen it through more knowing eyes, wiser, sadder, and more empathetic. This episode left me stunned the first time I saw it. A show that started as a showcase for a quippy fifteen-year-old semi-super-hero was communicating something about the experience of death that I had never quite seen before on a weekly television program. My second viewing was more cerebral, but no less engaging. Everything about The Body – the script, the direction, the performances – knocks me over and holds me down like little else on dramatic TV ever has.


#2: Once More, With Feeling (BtVS 6.7)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

Buffy - Once More with Feeling

Part of me wishes I could go against the grain her and fault the cast for their high-school talent-show levels of musicality, but I can’t remain a cynic in the face of this much eagerness and cleverness, and end up giving myself over completely to the sheer joy of the concept, not just the musical numbers, but the weaving of the seasonal arc into the confessional lyrics. My favorite song-and-dance is I’ll Never Tell with Xander and Anya, though I’m not averse to any of numbers. I love so much about this episode: Hinton Battle‘s Sweet demon, the mundane street conversations set to song, Willow and Anya’s love paean in the park, and the conclusion with Buffy’s singing the devastating truth about her interrupted afterlife. It’s not just the realized ambition of a musical episode that spins my head; it’s the emotional payoff that makes some of the more middling moments of the season up to this point seem inconsequential. I love Once More with Feeling from beginning to end.


#1: Hush (BtVS 4.10)
written by Joss Whedon
directed by Joss Whedon

#Buffy - Hush

The best one-shot demons of the Buffyverse – and they don’t even have lines! As the elegant, gliding Gentlemen accompanied by the servile, loping, Quasimodo-like Footmen sweep through silent Sunnydale on a quest for fresh hearts, I’m struck by Whedon’s use of their movement to fill the empty space that the absent dialogue has left. And like silent film stars, the Gentlemen have what Norma Desmond referred to as faces – capable of communicating a queasy enthusiasm as they carve up freshmen and stalk coeds. Every hand flourish seems choreographed to convey a sense of grace and refinement at extreme odds with the brutality of their pursuit.

But it’s not just about the demons. Whedon knocks speech out of the equation, dropping his trademark dialogue entirely, letting his characters fend for communication with price-gouged, erasable whiteboards. Their attempts to wordlessly collaborate on a plan to defeat the sound-stealing, heart-snatching demons are both funny and desperate, communicating familiar actions without the familiar quips and rhythms. What’s more, the season’s arc takes two bold steps forward: one, Buffy and Riley learn each other’s secret identities through battle, and two, Tara makes her first – and nearly last – appearance on the series.

Yet Hush is less about narrative and more about the power of visuals. Horror and humor come through like a beautiful nightmare without not a word to be spoken. Ordering the top three episodes in this list was really a toss-up, but in the end,  Hush for me embodies the appeal of the Buffyverse with its magnificent mash-up of  horror, humor, and heart.