*pokes head out, looks around* Hi?
I know, I know, it’s been so long! I have not abandoned this project, though, I swear. Life got in my way, and a quick, week-long hiatus turned into . . . months? Sorry! I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but in the mean time, let’s get into season 2.
“When She Was Bad” suffers a little from “first-episode-back” syndrome. First returning episodes are often a little clunky, having to deal with new haircuts, unresolved plotlines form the season before, and mostly just the fact that these characters have been existing for a space of months without anything else significant happening to them. For the most part, I feel like Buffy is a show that doesn’t have too many extremely clunky season openers. Usually we’re reintroduced to the universe, given hints as to the season arc, and filled in on where we are in the timeline (whether we’re picking up where we left off, like some seasons of Angel do, or how far into the future we’ve gone). “When She Was Bad” does these things, but it also does some classic “first-episode-back” things.
For example, Xander and Willow set up in the opening scene that Buffy isn’t back yet, but she also isn’t really needed. The vampire population is low, and no other demons have really been introduced at this point in the show. We don’t necessarily need this information, it’s a little exposition-y, but it is handled well, whereas in other shows (I’m looking at you, Castle and Glee) it feels like no one could figure out a graceful way to explain why we’ve jumped into the future.
Where this episode does excel, for me, is in it’s handling of Buffy’s processing her trauma from dying (kind of) and being brought back to life. She acts out, acts rebellious, acts like an irresponsible Queen Bitch, which she actually used to be, pre-Slayage. A lot of the arc of the season is mirrored, here–people reverting to their true selves, or having other sides to them revealed, Buffy needing to grow up and accept her role as Slayer but also wanting to be a normal teenager. It’s a great way to set up the idea of duality, too, of people having a darker self. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t already seen the show, but I thought it was worth noting Angel’s reaction to Buffy, given what happens in “Surprise/Innocence.” He looks afraid and disgusted. I don’t know if David Boreanaz knew what was going to happen later in the season, but it’s a great reaction nonetheless.
I think my favorite part, though, is that Cordelia is the voice of reason. We’ve never had any indication that Cordelia watches or cares how Buffy behaves, but this episode, when Cordelia calls Buffy out outside the Bronze and tells her to get her act together, Cordelia finally gains some of the depth that made me fall completely in love with her on Angel. Also, if you’re interested in the idea of Cordy and Buffy as mirrors of each other, go check out Passion of the Nerd’s video guide. He talks a lot about Cordelia as Buffy’s shadow-self in the first and second seasons, and his analysis is very on-point and thoughtful. (Link goes to his landing page, but check out his video for this episode and for “Welcome to the Hellmouth and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” for Cordelia as Shadow!Buffy.)
The last thing I wanted to mention was that to my mind this is the episode that confirmed Jenny Calendar and Giles were going to be a thing. The prolonged eye-contact, the discussion of Burning Man and the hint about the books, the soft little smile Giles gets around her . . . that just sort of seals the deal in my opinion. They’re heading toward Thingness, they’re both on board, and their scenes here just have this wonderful “Yes, but not yet” feeling to them. Jenny and Giles are the one couple that (while I didn’t necessarily think so the first time I watched the show) I really wish would have become a solid, ongoing, series-long romance. Jenny and Giles getting married and settling down, anyone? I guess we probably would not have gotten the epicness that is Anya and Giles running the Magic Box in the later seasons, but still.
In conclusion: Solid episode that actually deals with plot threads left hanging, like how Buffy is going to handle almost dying, and Willow’s thing for Xander.
I’m adding a new feature, here. I’m calling it a Spike Countdown. His first appearance is coming up in two more episodes, which means we only have on episode between us and the glory of Spike and Dru’s epic romance!
Number of Episodes left until Spike: 1