School Hard

Accurate representation of my face when Spike’s DeSoto knocks down the Sunnydale sign:

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We’re getting to the good stuff, people!

Now, I am an Angel girl at heart, don’t get me wrong.  But Angel is at his best with other people around him who have strong personalities, and Spike is maybe the best of them all.  Spike is just an all-around great character for everyone in the Buffy’verse to bounce off of and conflict with, and we’ll probably deal more with how awesome he is as a foil to the Scooby Gang when he becomes a series regular.

For me, this episode is not at all about Buffy having to deal with her lives colliding.  This episode is about introducing Spike, and selling us on the idea that he’s going to be the season’s Big Bad, taking the place of the Master by quite literally killing off the Master’s final acolyte at the end of the episode.  We are getting all the clues, cues, and tip-offs we could want here.  Spike is going to be with us for a while, and he’s clearly going to go after Buffy, and he’s got his own agenda with Drusilla that has nothing to do with what other vampires in Sunnydale might want.

So, since I brought it up, let’s talk about how Spike interacts with Angel.  There’s a level of deception here that gets Inception like.  Angel’s pretending to be Angelus, Spike’s pretending to believe Angel isn’t pretending, and Xander’s pretending he’s not about to faint because here he is, neck bared and two angry vampires standing over him.  Spike is playful here, and conciliatory, and pushy.  He calls Angel/us out on his not having taken on the Slayer yet, teases him about being a loner, offers to share the kill with Angel/us instead of competing for the Slayer death.  And then he reveals he’s known all along that Angel was lying to him, reveals a deeper understanding of Angel than Angel probably realizes Spike has, and starts trying to kill Angel.  That’s a running theme, with Spike.

This also is a great contrast to how he acts with Drusilla, which is very solicitous and romantic.  They’re like that goth couple that no one else gets, who play silly games and wear odd clothes and don’t give a damn what the outside world thinks of them, unless they need the outside world in order to carry out some ridiculous plot.  There’s affection here, and a heavy undercurrent of sexuality that isn’t just subtextual with Spike and Drusilla, even though Buffy pulls it’s punches with a lot of other sexually charged relationships on the show (*cough cough* FAITH *cough*).  Spike care for Dru in a way that’s completely different from anything we’ve seen so far.  He’s tender and careful with her–something other vampires really aren’t–and she’s sweet and childlike and playful with him.  They’re complementary, filling in aspects of each other that we really do miss when they’re not together.  Spike just isn’t sweet with anyone else, not even in later seasons.  Drusilla is never quite as childlike and quasi-innocent as she is with Spike, I think because Spike takes the active role of hunting, killing, executing their plots, and she gets to dream things up for him to do.  Drusilla and Darla are close to this dynamic, but Darla isn’t sweet with Dru, instead they seem more like caged lionesses waiting to kill the zookeeper.

These dynamics are going to build and change, of course, particularly after “Innocence” in this season, when Angelus is added to the relationship.  The fun of this episode is the misdirection, the setting up of relationship dynamics so that when they get turned over and rearranged later on, we’re invested in how they ought to work.

On a Spike-less note, I love some of the character stuff given to Giles in this episode, particularly when he and Miss Calendar are barricaded in the library and he’s decided to go out there and fight his way to Buffy because he’s the Watcher, and she’s his responsibility.  Literally nowhere else in the entire series do we see another Watcher so firmly grounded and understanding of what it means to guard the Slayer as Giles.  In fact, most other Watchers seem detached and a little distant from their Slayers.  Kendra’s Watcher lets her stow away on a plane to Sunnydale, Faith’s first Watcher ends up collateral damage, and her subsequent Watchers are sublimely unconcerned with what she does when she’s not slaying.  Giles cares.  He’s invested himself in Buffy’s life, in her survival, and losing her feels utterly terrifying to him.  I also love that Jenny doesn’t try to stop him, just tells him to be careful and gets ready to put the barricades back in place after he’s gone.

Joyce, too, gets some good notes here.  I like the first scene with her, where she’s quizzing Buffy about why she hasn’t mentioned Parent Teacher Night before, and I love that by the end of the episode she’s seen enough of Buffy’s abilities as Slayer to be proud of her and remember that her daughter really does have a good head on her shoulders, for all that she occasionally swans off to LA without telling anyone and acts like the teenage girl she is.  What I don’t love about Joyce here is her willingness to just believe without question Principal Snyder’s imprecations and accusations about Buffy.  Buffy is clearly passing her classes, hasn’t been expelled or suspended, and has friends who aren’t trouble makers.  She also has the school librarian and at least one teacher (Miss Calendar) who can vouch for her as at the least an average student, although to be fair, Jenny doesn’t actually have Buffy in any classes that I’m aware of.  She also can’t be cutting class too often without an excuse, since at all the high-schools I’m familiar with, that would be an automatic phone call to the parent to make sure everything’s fine, and Joyce clearly isn’t aware that Buffy’s been AWOL from the high school.  So basically, I find Joyce’s reaction to the whole situation really over-dramatic.  Maybe I was just blessed with parents who were logical, reasonable beings who would usually sit you down and discuss any problems that had been brought to their attention instead of going right to grounding or other punishments?

One thing I really liked here, too, was we get a little taste of Willow’s vindictiveness again when she suggests Cordelia have some lemonade.  We saw this before, in “The Harvest,” where she told Cordy to “deliver” the computer program she’d been working on, thereby tricking her into hitting “delete.”  They’re just small things, but I think it’s important to note that pettiness and small revenges are clearly already a part of Willow’s personality.  Especially later in the series, this character trait of wanting revenge and finding harmless but satisfying ways to get back at people becomes so important and sets up Willows turn as Dark!Willow.  I’ve been noticing that little things like this are peppered throughout the earlier seasons as I’ve been rewatching, and I think this is a character trait Joss started deliberately planting quite early on, even though I don’t think he knew what he was going to eventually do with it.  Sort of like how Xander is often seen acting separately from what the group has decided (a thing set up in “Prophecy Girl” when he seeks out Angel to help him find and save Buffy, even though Giles has told him it’s no use).

Anyway, like I said before, this episode is really mostly about Spike for me, and setting up the misdirection of the first half of the season arc.  Remember, unless you’ve watched it before, Spike is put in the place of the season’s Big Bad, and it’s not until we reach “Surprise” that we even get an inkling that Spike might not actually be the ultimate villain of the season.  This episode sets up that misdirect perfectly, because we’re so busy falling in love with Spike and Dru that we don’t even think about how Spike clearly isn’t all that patient and is probably going to pull more stunts like coming to the school early and frying the Anointed One because he wants to be in charge.

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