Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Buffy 2x03 - "School Hard"

With School Hard, one of the Buffyverse's most popular characters arrives in Sunnydale with a bang. Or rather, a crash. The result is an incredibly enjoyable episode. Find out why, after the jump.

"From now on, we're gonna have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here."

- Spike

"School Hard" is probably the best episode of Buffy so far, and I think it achieves this at least in part by correcting some of the problems I had with the first season. We mark this wymbolically with the death of the Anointed One. The Anointed One was originally supposed to be the main antagonist of the second season, but Joss and company realized that this wasn't going to work. He suffers from the same problems as the Master (see my wrap-up of season one for my thoughts on this) and has none of his cheesy charisma. He really doesn't have any personal involvement with Buffy, nor is he even really a character at all.

Spike makes a much more appropriate recurring antagonist, aligned as he is with the show's focus on character. His history with Angel threatens Buffy and Angel's relationship, and his more personality-driven approach to villainy allows for more meaningful interaction with our heroes (which is why, unlike the Master, he gets face time with Buffy right off the bat). Rather than being, like the Master, "as old as any vampire on record," he's "not even as old as Angel," so we have a comparatively youthful rebel, bucking the authority of both the Anointed One (by killing him) and the feast of Saint Vigeous (by impatiently attacking early and catching the Scooby Gang off guard). This makes him a much more appropriate villain for Buffy, much more in line with the subversive ethos of the show, as opposed to the Master, who was representative of the ethos against which the show's subversion was directed.

The parent-teacher night subplot is interesting enough on its own, but the episode leads us to think that it's going to remain pretty separate from the main plot of Spike trying to kill Buffy. The feast of Saint Vigeous is a great red herring because until this point, vampires have been portrayed as slavishly devoted to special days and prophecies and whatnot, so Spike violating this and bringing the A and B plots into collision is great fun. It ups the ante in terms of danger, action, and suspense in Buffy, bringing the vampires into the open. This leads to some great material from Snyder, playing his cluelessness for comedic effect and then revealing to the audience at the end that he's nowhere near as clueless as we had suspected. Very sinister. It also leads to a great moment between Buffy and her mother in the end, which takes some of the antagonism out of their relationship.

This is a great episode of Buffy, and it marks a major development in the course of the show coming into its own. It's really just a step along the path, but it's a really crucial step, and an enjoyable one at that.

  • We're told in this episode that Angel is Spike's "sire." I think it's pretty obvious what "sire" means, but Xander doesn't get it.
  • But on the other hand, maybe it's not so obvious: [HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER] Later seasons show us that Spike was sired by Drusilla, not Angel. Dru, as we'll find out next Wednesday, was sired by Angel, meaning that Angel is Spike's "grandsire." So is that a retcon? Maybe not. According to Joss it was always his intention to imply that Spike was sired by Drusilla, and when Spike uses the term "sire" he just means someone higher up on the who-sired-whom chain. Speaking of which, the chain goes like this: the Master sired Darla. Darla sired Angel. Angel sired Drusilla. Drusilla sired Spike. So by this definition of the word "sire," Dru, Angel, Darla, and The Master are all Spike's "sires.".
  • Spike refers to Angel's "Anne Rice routine." I know nothing about Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. Maybe at some point in The Whedoning I should do some digging into comparative Vampire material.
  • I also don't know Die Hard. Never seen it. So any resemblance between "School Hard" and Die Hard is lost on me.
  • James Masters does a decent English accent. Just not here. It gets better eventually. By the way, he apparently based his accent for Spike on Tony Head's real accent. Juliet Landau's accent isn't perfect either, but it somehow sounds right for the character. Apparently she was given the option to play Drusilla as American if she wanted to, but I can't imagine how that could be anywhere near as entertaining. Dru's voice is simultaneously creepy and endearing, if that's even possible.


  1. I called it didn't I? I totally called it!

    Does that mean that Buffy doesn't really come into its own until it gets a villain who's as hip as the Scoobie gang? So, does Spike make Buffy?

  2. I think you were half right. I mean, School Hard is great, but I feel like the next two episodes sort of squander that momentum. And I think forward momentum is really important to making Buffy work.

    And regarding Spike, yes and no. I wouldn't say Spike "makes" Buffy, and it's certainly not his hip-ness in particular that makes him work. It's the fact that he's an antagonist in whom the characters can have something personal at stake. Unlike The Master, who's just a sort of generic "uber-evil." This isn't unique to Spike, it's something that most of the future Big Bads share.

    It's the arrival of Spike that sort of "activates" this aspect of the show, but Spike as a character isn't essential in my opinion--especially after this season.

  3. @Tom Perhaps--but I do find the seasons as a whole rise or fall on the strength of their big bads. That's why I prefer 3 to 2, 5 to 4, and 7 to 6. But maybe that's just me.