"The Pack"). So for the first time viewer, I don't know if seeing that scene in this episode's marvelous teaser* would communicate to them just how fundamentally the show's dynamics had changed. But by the end of the episode, it's quite clear that Buffy's entered territory darker than any it's ever been in before, and that there's very little this show wouldn't dare to do.
"She made me feel like a human being. That's not the kind of thing you just forgive."
*(Angel feeding on a hooker and then puffing out the smoke from her cigarette? I don't know if that makes much sense. But it's cool.)
Evil Angel is by a mile the best villain the show has done to this point (or, in fact, after it), because Buffy (and by extension the audience) are about as invested in him as it's possible to be in a villain. Contrast this with The Master: the challenge posed by the Master is one of pure physicality, both in terms of his bodily strength and also the spatiality involved: For most of the first season, he's in a place where Buffy can't get to, and vice versa. Angel poses instead an emotional challenge to Buffy. The question whether she would best him in combat was briefly raised in "When She Was Bad," but I think we tend to consider Buffy physically stronger than him. The conflict is made difficult by Buffy's emotional and personal connection to Angel, and these are the difficulties she has to overcome before defeating him. And Angel's transformation is another often-cited example of Buffy's metaphorical underpinnings. Buffy sleeps with a guy and he changes, seeming like a completely different person thereafter. It's pretty potent stuff, especially during their first encounter in this episode.
There's so much other great stuff in this episode, too, as the Cordelia/Xander/Willow/Oz love quadrangle leads to a lot of hurt feelings and jealousy, particularly for Willow. The same can be said of the betrayal by Jenny Calendar, which Giles doesn't take very well at all. On top of that, Angel's reunion with Spike and Drusilla is really fun and it adds a new dynamic to two villains who were already one of the best things about this season. And Buffy's showdown with the Judge, whom "no weapon forged can kill," is pretty epic, as she takes him out with a rocket launcher. What the Judge lacks in personality, he makes up for in sheer creepiness. Brian Thompson has a great villain voice, which is probably why they chose to bring him back after his role in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest" as the Master's disciple Luke.
There's a lot more going on in this episode, and I could say a lot about it, but I've got a lot of Buffy to review and not a lot of time to review it in, so I can't give this one the full attention it deserves.
- A note on terminology: In later episodes of Buffy and Angel, the evil version of Angel is almost always referred to as "Angelus." He's also occasionally spoken about as though he were some fully separate entity from the "real" Angel. In this episode, that's not the case, and he's simply called "Angel," so I guess I'll do the same.
- One thing Joss talks about on the DVD commentary is how little sense Angel's curse makes. Leaving open the possibility for him to revert into a cruel monster just isn't a very good plan at all. However, they do a good job of fudging it to make it seem like it makes sense in this episode. If that makes sense.