On a lesser show than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the curse would work, and then Angel would be back to normal, then he and Buffy would take out Acathla and kiss and then go back to the bronze for high fives and everyone would be like, "Awww yeaaah! We can beat anything! Go team!" Or, at most, Angel would be back to normal, but then Buffy would realize he has to die, and then Angel would realize it too, and then he would give a dramatic final speech, and then they would kiss, and then he would take the sword and plunge it into himself and everyone would cry about what a hero he is.
Not so on Buffy. Buffy has to do it by herself, because Angel is disoriented and doesn't have a clue what's going on, and he goes out with a whimper rather than a bang, and there's no proper goodbye, and nobody but Buffy knows what's going on, and as a result of the whole thing her life basically falls apart. It's about as pyrrhic a victory as you could think of, and it gives us the occasion for the first variation on the Mutant Enemy logo, where instead of "Grr! Arg!" the monster says "I need a hug."
But backing up...
Buffy's conflict with the law nicely recalls "Ted," and in a nice bit of continuity, the detective from that episode returns. But whereas things are all patched up in the end of that episode, here they don't end so neatly as Buffy's Slayer duties make her a fugitive and indeed a bona fide criminal (she's guilty obstruction at the very least). Buffy has always been concerned with how Buffy's role as the slayer plays havoc with her "real" life, but here it tears it down utterly, getting her expelled from school and causing a rift between her and her mother. It's greatly to Buffy's credit that she doesn't let this slow her down even for a moment. She understands that everything she cares about is collapsing around her, but she grimly accepts it and does what she needs to do.
Which, of course, involves a deal with the devil, or more specifically Spike. After spending half a season on the back bench, Spike suddenly returns more awesome than ever as his devil-may-care attitude causes him to go against form and bare his devil-does-care interior to Buffy. I've complained before that the interactions between Angel, Spike, and Drusilla have been dull and repetitive since Angel joined the dark side, and here is the first and only time their dysfunctional family of villains really becomes interesting.
So once again, the fate of the world is put at stake, but what's more important to the episode is what's at stake personally for the characters: for Buffy, who has to make the tough decisions, for Spike, who has to humble himself before Buffy, for Giles, who has to withstand torture.
As a finale, "Prophecy Girl" was pretty much the culmination of everything Buffy was in its first season. But in its second season, Buffy grew a lot, and so it needed a finale that was both more epic and more personal. And in Becoming (Part 2), that's exactly what it got.
- This episode features another mention of the mayor, to whom Snyder reports the "good news" of Buffy's expulsion. It's not too much of a spoiler to point out that Joss is sowing the seeds for the show's third season arc. Presumably by now he's confident that the show will be renewed for another season, whereas the entire first season was written blind to the show's performance and prospects for renewal.
- It's also not too much of a spoiler to say that Angel's death here is less than entirely permanent, given that he goes on to star in a program that bears his name. Does that diminish the impact of the episode? A bit, yeah. But I'm doing my best to banish that from my mind as I watch this show.
- We also haven't seen the last of Spike, which I suspect is another non-spoiler. In fact, he'll go on to be a pretty important part of the Buffyverse, but that's not for a while. At this point in the narrative, though, this is a great exit for Spike and a crowning moment for him as a character. It's also pretty clear to me that this is the last time that Joss and Company ever have a really clear idea of who this character is, what he's about, how to write him, and what his role in the show is. Which is not to say that the character is never interesting again, only that his most interesting and least problematic days are now squarely behind him, in this reviewer's opinion.