This episode review contains minor spoilers for the remainder of the series. You have been warned, boys and girls.
What’s more fun than a twenty-foot tall snake? Nothing, clearly.
Except that cold open, my gosh. I love the bafflement of Xander and Buffy, and the implication that Willow understands Hindi. That’s just a great nod to her quick mastery of Latin later on, I think. Or maybe not, maybe it was just random.
So, after the fun of the Bollywood movie, we get a lot more serious right away. The girl in white running through the woods is a classic horror trope, which makes me wonder if maybe Joss was trying to tip the hat to those old house-in-the-woods movies, especially considering he’s since made Cabin in the Woods. Regardless, the whole scene smacks of gang rape analogies, which I think is kind of fitting since later we get date rape analogies. Like, date rape analogies so obvious it’s kind of surprising this episode didn’t get more flack. Or maybe it was that kind of “very special episode” mentality where “we’re deviating from the standard format–but only just this once.”
The other really interesting note from the opening is that Buffy is having realistic dreams about (presumably) sleeping with Angel. This is notable since the last time she had realistic dreams, they were about the Master killing her. Is this a premonition of what’s coming later on this season? My instinct is to say yes, but then again, sometimes writers include throwaway lines like this and don’t realize they’re making a statement via the mythology of the show. Buffy’s prophetic dreaming doesn’t ever play a super major role in the story arcs again until seasons 4 and/or 5, depending on how you read “Restless.” In any case, it doesn’t have a ton to do with the episode except to set up that Buffy is pining for Angel in a major way.
Before we get into the couldn’t-be-more-obvious-if-it-tried date rape metaphor scenes, let’s stop and talk about the Buffy/Angel relationship and how it sets up Buffy’s relationships for the rest of the series (not counting the comics, which I’ve only read part of and didn’t like enough to keep going). Buffy in this episode tells Angel that when he kisses her, she wants to die. The Passion of the Nerd points out in his episode guide that this can be interpreted several ways, but on it’s face, the word choice here is brutal. Angel makes Buffy think of death–maybe even long for it, given the way she was talking about her dream of him earlier. She wants to die when she kisses him, but she still wants to kiss him. She wants the thing that might kill her. She wants to embrace death.
Buffy is kind of the queen of horrible relationships. All of her crushes on the show end up with her hurt somehow and/or the guy she likes hurt, dead, or rejecting her. Angel does all three of these before the end of his run on the show. Riley ticks two of those boxes, Spike ticks two of them . . . and so does Robin (although it’s been so long since I last watched season 7 I can’t remember if he’s more Faith or Buffy’s love interest–or both? Yeah, can’t remember at all). Buffy is telling us here (or the writers are telling us through Buffy) that Buffy’s not meant to have healthy relationships. She doesn’t know how to do that. She doesn’t have a life where healthy relationships thrive. For Buffy, love is something destructive, something that hurts and ends unhappily.
We also set up that Buffy lying to her friends usually ends with some kind of weighty consequence. In this case she got chained in someone’s basement and almost fed to a snake demon. If I recall, we have this idea pop up a few times this season, and while it’s not a completely recurring theme, it’s one that is important to Buffy’s development this year.
The on-the-nose date rape metaphors (and the gang rape one earlier) really do make this feel like a Very Special Episode to me. It’s not a bad episode, but it hits the “watch out for the charming ones,” “don’t drink underage,” “don’t lie about going to parties” messages really heavily. I don’t mind that so much, but it’s just not at all subtle. The camera angles aren’t subtle, the idea of Buffy being drugged is not subtle, the scene where Frat McDoucheface comes in and stands menacingly over a passed-out Buffy is not subtle. I’ve seen Hawaiian print shirts that are subtler than this.
The thing that I think doesn’t get touched on quite enough is what happens to Xander. I think his whole “new pledge” experience was supposed to be funny, but for me, I watch it and see bullying, consent violations, and sexual harassment. It hits my embarrassment squick really hard, too, and even aside from that, I don’t find the deliberate humiliation of other people humorous, even when it’s intended to be played for comedy.
Let’s end on a fun note, though. WE’re going to have enough angst and drama later on this season, so I want to list a few totally awesome things to end this with:
- Willow telling it like it is to Giles and Angel
- “Angel, how do you shave?”
- That snake demon is literally a giant penis. It’s a penis demon. A decaying penis demon.
- “You guys. I just–hate you guys. The weirdest things always happen when you’re around.” (Never change, Cordelia. Never, ever change.)