In other reviews I’ve read and watched of this episode, there’s a lot of discussion of existentialist philosophy and how that relates to the Buffy/Ford dynamic in this particular episode. It’s all very deep and interesting, particularly as I think Joss is definitely coming at this show (and Angel, and Firefly, although I’d argue that his existentialist metanarrative drops off after the ends of those shows and he focuses his philosophical interest elsewhere in his later works) from an existentialist perspective. There’s solid evidence for this, in any case, and if you’re interested in hearing more about it, I’d go check out some of Joss’ interviews on youtube, or the Buffy Guide for this episode over on Passion of the Nerd’s youtube channel.
For me, though, this episode strikes an entirely different note. This episode is forever shaded by my own relationship with my friends, and two friendships of mine that soured instead of maturing.
I’m tempted to dive right in and anaylize the friendships in this episode, but if I do that, I’ll never get to any of the other themes flowing through this particular episode, so first things first. We’re introduced in the cold open, to the idea of Buffy being jealous of Angel and Drusilla. She doesn’t even know who Drusilla is, she has no context for their relationship aside from watching them from a roof where she can’t even hear what they’re talking about. For all she knows, Drusilla might not even be a vampire, although it’s a safe assumption that she is. And this, boys and girls, is why we do not do what Buffy does in this instance and immediately assume there is reason for jealousy.
Instead of asking about the woman she saw him with in the park, Buffy tries to trick Angel into denying he was there. This could have happened (and probably did, since there was a kid still at the park when Dru arrived) early in the night, and Angel’s answer to Buffy about what he was doing last night might be true–he spent most of the night at home reading after taking care of an errand (blood bank, anyone? He has to eat sometimes, after all) on which he ran into Dru. He doesn’t really count Dru as an event, because he’s known she’s in town for a while (anyone familiar with Spike would assume Drusilla would also be there) so he wouldn’t mention her to Buffy. He’d assume that Buffy or Giles would have made the Spike-Drusilla connection and that they already knew. He would also assume, after their talk in the last episode about being honest with each other and not trying to be something they’re not to please the other one, that Buffy would ask if there was something bothering her. Buffy dumps all that development out the window in favor of being blindly jealous over an encounter she briefly saw toward it’s end.
Buffy’s not the only one who’s jealous in this episode, though. Angel himself is also jealous of Buffy’s easy relationship with Ford–we’re not shown him directly observing the two of them, but it’s a fair bet that Angel was probably creeping on them before Buffy ran into him at the Bronze. Xander has this same jealousy, and he’s more vocal about it, stating outright a few times that Ford is imposing (“Only in the literal sense”) but understanding that he’s the sidekick and can’t really do anything about it. Willow also seems jealous, but less so. She’s more jealous of the friendship, it seems to me, and is willing to allow Ford into their group when Buffy wants him around.
The jealousy serves the purpose here of giving Xander, Willow, and Angel a reason to go behind Buffy’s back–if they’re just being jealous, they don’t want to upset her. Which is fair reasoning, too. If you’re feeling upset by something, gathering more information about it is not something you’re obligated to announce. If your best friend starts spending time with someone you have a bad feeling about, you naturally want to find out other information on him–like where he went to school, his address, his other friends. Ford has none of that history in Sunnydale, so checking online isn’t an outrageous idea. Buffy’s reaction when she does find out is defensive. I think this is partly because pretty much her entire social circle had a problem with Ford and none of them came to talk to her about it first, and partly because she was having the same misgivings but didn’t want to acknowledge them.
That brings me to the second major theme at play here: lying. Ford is lying about why he’s in town. He also tells Buffy she doesn’t have to lie to him, but then lies to Buffy about killing the vampire instead of letting it go. Willow gets upset when she thinks Angel is suggesting lying to Buffy about what they’re doing–he’s not, and in fact, my interpretation of his statements to Willow about not telling Buffy were more “Don’t bring it up, but you don’t have to lie” than “Don’t say anything about it.” If Willow had admitted to Ford and Buffy that she was doing some research for Angel, she wouldn’t have made Buffy feel like everyone was hiding their dislike and distrust of Ford from her. Giles lies to Jenny about enjoying the Monster Truck rally Jenny took him to–although how Jenny didn’t notice Giles wasn’t enjoying it is beyond me. Spike thinks Dru is lying to him about having seen Angel, and Buffy finally confronts Angel about Drusilla and tells him not to lie to her about what happened between them. Ford lies yet again, this time to his vampire worshiping cult, about what’s going to happen when the vampires arrive. And then finally, at the end of the episode, Buffy asks Giles to lie to her about whether growing up ever gets easier. It’s a lot of lying, a lot of distrust when caught, and a lot of obscuring the truth. Willow seems chastened at the end, but not even Buffy seems to have really internalized the idea that lies are dangerous by the end; this is a theme through the season, actually, the idea that lying can result in deaths or other kinds of destruction. We’re going to see it again most prominently during the season finale, but it’s sprinkled throughout the rest of season 2.
And then, finally, we have the idea of the ethics of death. Ford is a tricky character to pin down in this episode, because he’s playing the villain, and he even admits it in his final confrontation with Buffy. He’s trying to make it easier on her by pretending to be the bad guy. But he’s also doing something that is truly villainous. He’s not only allowing but facilitating the deaths of over a dozen other people. Buffy’s memory of him as the super cute older guy she had a crush on and then became friends with blinds her to the ugly side of Ford. Experience of the world indicates that this side existed even before he was diagnosed as terminal, because otherwise why would he think of doing something like this? Why would he let it get so far?
Ford clearly believes that his life is somehow worth more than the other vampire worshipers’ lives. He believes that he deserves immortality more than they do, and he doesn’t seem to care that achieving that immortality might render him morally and spiritually bankrupt in ways he hasn’t even thought of yet. He hasn’t considered fully that becoming a vampire is a form of demonic possession (which could lead to an interesting discussion on whether Christians can become vampires, but that is for another day and another blog). Ford’s plan seems, to be honest, a little suicidal, not to mention massively arrogant. I’m not even sure what his plan really was. Was it simply to die before he became a withered husk of himself? Suicide by vampire? Was it really to become a vampire and live forever? Was he trying to get Buffy to turn on him and kill him first? In the long run, these questions don’t matter, but in the discussion of the ethics and morality behind Ford’s decision, these things could be highly interesting points. I think, though, that the simplest answer is the right one, here: Ford truly does want to become a vampire, for whatever reason, and his demand that Spike reward him answers the question of his motives. He wants to live, and if the fangs, the violence, the sun allergy, and the demon possession are all part of that package, he will take them.
Buffy’s response, though, when Ford tells her he doesn’t have a choice if he wants to live, is something I’ve repeated over and over again so many times I honestly don’t know if I picked it up from Buffy or if I heard it somewhere else first: “You have a choice. You don’t have a good choice, but you have a choice.”
We always have a choice. That choice may suck, but we are never stuck with only one option. We are able to make a choice to avoid or avert whatever obstacle we’re facing. That idea has honestly saved my life a few times. There is always a choice. There are always at least two options.
The episode ends in a very different place from the beginning, despite the similar setting. In the graveyard, at Ford’s grave, Buffy asks Giles why growing up is so hard:
Buffy: Nothing’s ever simple anymore. I’m constantly trying to work it out–who to love, or hate. Who to trust. It’s just like, the more I know, the more confused I get.
Giles: I believe that’s called “growing up.”
Buffy: I’d like to stop then, okay?
Giles: I know the feeling.
Buffy: Does it ever get easy?
Giles: You mean life?
Buffy: Yeah. Does it get easy?
Giles: What do you want me to say?
Buffy: Lie to me?
Buffy has come full circle, from trying to trap others in their lies (Angel), to demanding they tell her the truth, to wanting to hear the lie because it’s easier to swallow than the truth will be. Of course, by simply asking him to lie, Buffy knows what Giles is saying is over-simplified and wrong, and her rueful, playful “liar,” as the screen goes black lets us know that she’ll be all right by the next episode. But there are some deep betrayals in this episode, and it’s because of those betrayals that we get the season’s theme of avoiding the truth until it’s too late set up for us.
Since that is a dark and awful place to leave this on, let me point out some of my favorite, funny moments from this episode:
- Jenny and Giles flirting and planning their date.
- Buffy and Ford and their inside jokes and stories about each other.
- Willow not understanding what the DeVinyls’ “I Touch Myself” was about.
- Spike’s question after being locked in the basement room: “Um. Where’s the doorknob?”
- Quite a lot of Angelus teased in this episode.