Covering “Becoming, Part 1,” and “Becoming, Part 2,” in which close your eyes.
You can’t really blame Buffy for walking away.
Is “Becoming” the best of the finales? I can’t say yet, but it might be. It makes a very strong case. After all, while the show had plenty more stories to tell, “Becoming” ends the one that it was made to tell. And while later finales were larger and more grandiose, with armies and huge monsters that make these episodes look rather low key and sedate with their big rock, “Becoming” is surely the grandest, the most operatic. Flashbacks! Origins! Cunning ploys! Betrayals! Secrets revealed and withheld! Dubious allies! Shocking deaths! A climactic sword duel (hello stunt-people!)! And, of course the girl destined to save the world who must kill her love to do it. That he only truly becomes her love again seconds before she has to kill him? Well, that just makes the agony that much more exquisite, doesn’t it? If the show is legendary because of what “Surprise” started, that legend was sealed when “Becoming” finished so memorably.
Among many eventful events that aren’t the Angelus duel, including Willow taking on Jenny’s spellcasting role, Drusilla killing Kendra (with only two previous appearances, and this one mainly serving to deliver an important plot device artifact before sucking a bit and getting killed, Kendra doesn’t really count as Important under the “anyone can die!” paradigm, however her death is hugely consequential), and Buffy going fugitive, is Joyce finally learning her daughter is the Slayer. Secret identities, that oh-so-common comic trope, tend to be really rough on any character who isn’t in on the secret, particularly, as Arrow and The Flash can both recently attest, when the medium isn’t a comic. Such characters tend to look increasingly almost as foolish as the decision to keep those character in the dark as the danger rises. Buffy, like all holders of a secret identity, has plenty of good reasons to keep her secret from Joyce, who she clearly loves and values, but that choice does make her mother look the fool. Joyce, even though she’s a character with a name, is very much in the tradition of absent and superfluous parents who have no idea what their kid is up to—her presence thus far only differentiates from the thus-far unseen and unnamed Harrises and Rosenbergs mostly in that she serves as an obstacle, and occasionally a small oasis of normalcy. I’m fairly certain she never fully transcends this role, which is fine, it’s not like people were clamoring for Joyce to go out on patrol anyway, who’d want their mom to come with them for that? But at least having her aware of the supernatural world makes her look less dumb, even if here she doesn’t handle the revelation all that well (even throwing out the late-90s/early-00s well-intentioned but subtext-destroying trope “Have you tried not being [X]”). In just these two episodes, it’s already made her a key part of one of the series best comedy bits—awkward small talk with Spike.
Spike becomes more than just the great villain who saved us from the Anointed One here as he reveals a truism of the supernatural world that’s thus far only been hinted at—the demonic actually really likes the mortal realm. This, along with the arrival of Whistler, our first seemingly neutral demon, adds a great deal of dimension to the universe of the show. And, you know, he’s hilarious—“Ok, just let me kill this guy…Oh…right.”
Spike’s actions and status hint at some vampire evolution that the show never particularly addresses, but still are present. With the Master siring Darla, Darla siring Angelus, Angelus siring Drusilla, and Drusilla siring Spike, all are a part of the Order of Aurelius (who fall apart forever here), but it seems the further down the line we go, the more affinity for human things we see. Which is not to say there is a diminishing threat, quite the opposite. In keeping with how they were conceived, while Angelus is a very dangerous psychological sadist, a quasi-sex predator, but in most of their encounters Buffy whips his ass in a straight up fight, while Spike is no less a stalker, no less calculating, but is a much more deadly combatant, nearly besting Buffy a time or two (Drusilla doesn’t get to fight much, but against Kendra she shows some psychic aptitude that makes her yet another sort of danger). But Spike likes cigarettes and music and football (the real kind, I said jackassly) in a way Angelus and Darla do not, and, of course, he likes Dru enough to unite with Buffy to get her back.
While you can’t really blame Buffy for walking away (I mean, for one, you know she’ll be back), there are plenty who blame Xander for what he does here—he doesn’t tell Buffy that Willow thinks she can restore Angel. For a lot of fans, I’ve found his previous crush on Buffy muddies this action up enough that they feel he’s entirely self-serving and accordingly despise him for it. Myself, I think Xander is shown to have grown enough that swooping Buffy up after she kills Angelus is the furthest thing from his mind. That doesn’t make what he does right, it’s still rather paternalistic and presumptuous. But it’s also cruelly tactical, a hard decision made under extreme, even war-like circumstances, which is a theme the show will return to.
Which is little consolation to Buffy. When Angelus thinks he has the upper hand and mocks her for everything she is without, weapons, friends, hope, she quips that she still has herself, and in the end, that’s all she’s left with. She’s wanted by the police, probably expelled, her mom tells her not to come home if she goes to do her calling, her clouded judgement nearly gets all her friends killed, and as a final indignity, her love is restored just in time for her to have to kill him to stop the apocalypse his evil alter-ego started.
No, after all that, we can’t blame her for walking away. We should even be willing to let the Sarah McLachlan slide.
Apex Episode: Tough choice. Really tough choice. I think I ultimately have to go with “Innocence.”
Nadir Episode: “Reptile Boy”
Season 4 Costuming Theory Check-In: Lots of overalls, mostly on Willow, which makes sense, but occasionally on Buffy, too, which is weird, and Xander still has some bad silk prints, but, still, eh, nothing approaching the atrociousness I have in mind. Theory intact!