Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Buffy 2x17 - "Passion"

Just when you think the tension can't get any higher, Buffy surprises you with a frightening and dramatic look at the depths of Angel's obsession... or as he calls it, "passion." More after the jump.

"Without passion, we'd be truly dead."

- Angel

The most immediately striking thing about "Passion" is the narration by David Boreanaz. On first viewing, as the episode began, I admit I rolled my eyes. It seemed a bit melodramatic, and not really in keeping with the tone one expects from Buffy. But by the end, the episode seems to have earned the narration, lived up to it even, as the most most dramatic and dark Buffy to date. There's little humor in the episode, and what's there is more to diffuse tension than to elicit a laugh. There's also not much action, and the brief conflict is saved for the end and feels a bit like the show is trying to fill a quota. Instead, the episode is filled with horror and grief.

Angel's attempts to provoke Buffy in this episode are some of the show's most frightening moments to date. And, in fact, ever. For a show with such strong roots in the fantasy horror genre, it's strange that Buffy's best horror moments to date owe more to the tradition of psychological thrillers. But the villain in this episode isn't Angel the vampire, it's Angel the stalker--just another reason he makes such an effective big bad. Slightly less effective, I think, is the dysfunctional vampire family of Spike, Angel, and Drusilla. I have to admit that as I re-watch these episodes, I'm remembering that the dynamic between these three really doesn't do much for me.  I've become less enchanted with Spike and Drusilla since "What's My Line,  Part 2". Rarely is the bickering between Angel and Spike over Drusilla at all interesting or memorable, and the emasculated Spike isn't particularly interesting to watch.

The episode does a really effective job of portraying the grief in the aftermath of Jenny's death, particularly on the part of Giles. At this point in Buffy, Giles is probably the show's most compelling character, for me anyhow. The mature perspective of Giles offers some standout moments (see "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," "Lie to Me," and "Innocence") that help make this show more than just another teenage romantic relationship drama that happens to involve vampires and demons. It's appropriate that Giles bear the brunt of the grief from the show's first major character death, and his reaction continues to make his character more complex. In any case, the scene where he discovers Miss Calendar's body is extremely well done, so kudos to director Michael Gershman.

And yes, I'll admit that this episode's examination of grief pales in comparison to a notable successor several seasons down the line, but it's still early days and given what we've seen to date this is quite powerful and shocking. The death of Jesse in "The Harvest" was a threat to the audience, that anyone can die in Buffy, but this is the first time Joss and co. have made good on that threat.

You might expect that I'd say something here about Jenny Calendar as a character, and the kind of send-off she gets in this episode. And you'd be wrong. For the moment.


  1. Awwwwwww Miss Calendaaaaaarrrrrr!!!!!!! This episode was so tragic to watch! But I strongly disagree about Spike and Drusilla not being interesting characters. Granted, the focus for now is indeed on Angelus, but I think Spike and Drusilla add just as much to the show.

  2. I like Spike and Drusilla but they haven't done anything remotely interesting since "What's My Line, Part 2" (with the sole exception of Drusilla hitting on Xander under a love spell, which is funny). Pretty much every scene they've had together since Angel turned bad has been the same:

    Angel enters, Angel flirts with Dru, Dru flirts with Angel, Spike gets pissed off, Dru flirts with Spike, Angel and Spike trade insults, repeat as desired, end scene.

    It was fun to watch once.