Monday, June 21, 2010

Buffy 2x01 - "When She Was Bad"

It's only been three days for us here on the Whedoning, but the gap between "Prophecy Girl" and "When She Was Bad" was three months. But now that the show's finally back, does it meet expectations? Well... yes and no. overall, it's not a stellar episode of Buffy, but in some ways the writing nad production is more assured, which is nice to see. More after the jump.

"It's like they knew I was coming back."

- Buffy

The responsibility of the season premiere is to communicate that the show is "back." In some ways, this episode refuses to do that, by showing us a main character isn't really back at all. She's unprepared to move on from the events of the previous season, until she's dealt with the emotional issues brought up in the finale. So, yes, in some ways, it does resolve my criticism on the lack of follow-through in the emotional stakes of "Prophecy Girl." But it doesn't really work because the emotional trouble Buffy's going through doesn't really seem to justify some pretty bizarre behavior on her part. And the fact that we skip the three months after Buffy's defeat of the master doesn't really help us get inside her head and see where she's coming from.

We start the episode with some sweet moments between Xander and Willow. It's striking how firmly these characters are positioned as audience identification figures: they haven't seen Buffy all summer, because we haven't seen Buffy. In any case, this scene shows how much more assured the show's sense of humor is now. In this episode, the proportion of successes to misfires in the show's attempt at comedy is far better than it ever was in season one. The dialogue between Willow and Xander is quite funny (in part because Nicholas Brendon and Alyson Hannigan have great chemistry), and there are plenty of other funny moments, such as the gang's reaction to Cordelia's mention of the Three Musketeers and the conversation with Giles about "trout."

In a lot of ways, this is a great episode for Xander, who in the first season was used often, but not always well. In addition to his numerous comedic moments, there are some great serious moments from him as well. When he tells Buffy, "If they hurt Willow, I'll kill you," it's an interesting development for his character. Xander has always been capable of some degree of bitterness (usually toward Angel), but it hasn't been played so straight before. His performance in the incredibly awkward dancing scene is quite good as well, dispelling any notion that Nicholas Brendan is only good when he's saying funny things. Just from the physicality of his performance, we get a real snse of discomfort and confusion. His reaction basically spells it all out: this is quite clearly what he thought he wanted, but now that he has it he realizes how little sense it makes to him.

Cordelia's also given some rather interesting moments here. Her inclusion in the Scooby Gang is a bit forced, but the show acknowledges that and uses it as a source of drama and comedy. But it's rather unusual to see her as the moral center of the show, and that's what she is in this episode when she lectures Buffy outside the Bronze. I'm not sure the writers have really earned that. It really only highlights the problems with Buffy's character in this episode. Buffy's motivations here are really inscrutable, and that's bothersome. We can tell that she momentarily starts to think of her friends as liabilities (which, by the way, will be a major theme of this season) but that explanation doesn't really do it for me.

When I watched Buffy the first time through, I think this really spoiled my appreciation for Buffy as a character. Knowing that she has it in her to be this mean and this cruel, and that it comes to the surface for reaosns we don't really understand, sort of changes the way you think about her. So even though nothing like it ever happens again, really, it's there and you have to deal with it in thinking about who Buffy is at this point in her life.

Random observations:
  • This episode begins with a "Last season, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer" recap, narrated by Tony  Head. From what I understand, "Previously on" was a regular peature of the televised episodes but it almost never appears on the DVD, so this is a bit strange to see.
  • Starting with this episode, David Boreanaz is promoted to series regular. So they'd better figure out something to do with his character.
  • Speaking of which, Buffy tells Angel, "You know, being stalked isn't really a big turn on for girls." I guess Stephanie Meyer disagrees?


  1. I can understand your confusion about Buffy's behavior in this episode, but I think it's easy to forget as viewers how unpleasant Buffy can be--this episode is a very helpful reminder that her life is essentially ruined by being a Slayer. Willow and Xander are the viewpoint characters, as you note, because Buffy is the somewhat inscrutable girl who can never be normal--that's why it's necessary that it be Cordelia who bitch-slaps Buffy--only Cordy is insensitive enough to say what needs to be said loudly enough.

  2. You have written some very thoughtful comments about this episode! Yes, I agree with's difficult to reconcile the fact that the main character of the show, the hero, has this capacity for meanness. I think that it's for the best though. It makes her a more dynamic and interesting character that the show's audience can relate to...she's only human after all!

    Also, funny Twilight reference!! (ps-this is Sara F.)

  3. That line about being stalked is actually in the "Buffy vs. Edward" remix on YouTube! That's funny! And just to forewarn you Tom, Sara F. will defend Buffy relentlessly in any circumstances. So if you criticize Buffy's character again (which I'm sure you will, being Tom Dickinson, the self-proclaimed "overly critical bastard") be prepared to endure her wrath. :P

  4. If I ever called myself an "overly critical bastard," it was almost certainly in jest. I think I'm usually a pretty generous critic (just ask my co-reviewers at Behind the Sofa) and in particular I've been pretty good to the first season of Buffy. Much kinder than I thought I would be.

    As far as Buffy's character in this episode is concerned, I still don't really think it's consistent with how she's written anywhere else. It would be an interesting development for her character if it were something that were ever referred to again, or something that we saw her struggle with on an ongoing basis, but it's mostly just put away at the end of this episode.

  5. When you say that Buffy's character in this episode is inconsistent with how she's written elsewhere, do you mean just in how unpleasant she's being, or something else? Because I definitely think she gets that cruel again, at least with certain character(s) (not naming names to avoid spoilers), during season six. In fact, there are points during that season that I downright dislike her (but that may be because I have a soft spot towards the individual she's mistreating haha)

  6. Buffy's definitely no saint. But in this episode, she toys with Xander (who she knows has feelings for her) just for the purpose of making Angel jealous. That's pretty low for Buffy, considering Xander is her friend, and he literally brought her back to life in the season one finale.

  7. @Sara, I agree with Tom's comments. Don't get me wrong, I love Buffy as a character, but part of her charm is that she is self-sacrificing and self-absorbed at the same time. She has many flaws and that's what makes her interesting to watch. (again, Sara F...should I get an account haha?)

  8. I think the importance of her PTSD-type issues are being undervalued. Buffy's behavior in this episode is meant to be unlike her, out of character, and self-destructive. That's the whole point of the episode--which is why she's only "cured" by the destruction of the Master's bones. Even though she had defeated him, he had won a victory psychically, which she repaid at the end, allowing her to emerge from the dark places she had been.