2.2 No Assembly Required
2.3 School Hard
Season 2, folks! And for the first-timers, I can't tell you how giddy I am that you're getting to see this incredible season for the first time. When people ask me what season is my favourite, I often say season 2, but then I realize that it really picks up around episode 7 and thunders all the way to the end, whereas season 3 is pretty awesome all the way through. But then, season 5 has some of my favourite all-time episodes, season 6 has one of my favourite arcs, and season 7 had me in love week after week when it first aired. Yes, I know I've skipped season 4, which is the one that I would hands-down say is my least favourite, but it also contains some true gems of the series, episodes that I would put in my top 10, so it makes it all worth it.
This week's guest focused on "School Hard" (hm... a significant character is introduced in this episode and now I can't seme to remember who...) so I'll talk a bit about the first two.
"When She Was Bad" has never been a favourite episode of mine. I watch it now and love it from beginning to end (as I was reciting the lines in one scene my husband said, "Why exactly are you rewatching each episode again?" "Uh... for the AWESOME, that's why") but it's still not a fave. In fact, I would argue that most of the season premieres are among the weakest episodes of the season. The season 3 opener is pretty blah, season 4's is weak, season 5... ok, season 5's is often reviled but I LOVE it... season 6 is pretty amazing, actually, and season 7 is good. Ok, in the first 4 seasons, the season openers are not that good.
But "When She Was Bad" is important, because it marks a significant turning point in Buffy's character. In "Prophecy Girl" she came face-to-face with her mortality. She realized she really will die, she donned a white wedding-like dress in a symbolic gesture of marriage to slayage, she DIED, she came back to life, and she saved the day. She realized her friends relied on her, and that is a LOT to heap on a young girl's shoulders. So... she went away for the summer, she went shopping (I always found it amusing that Giles won't give her the night off in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date" and yet she always gets summers off... does she get spring break and Christmas vacations, too? Do vampires adhere to the school calendar?). She also did a lot of soul-searching, and was haunted by the Master. In this episode, she returns. And she's mean. I mean... when CORDELIA is telling you you're a bitch...
Buffy is rebelling. She's angry that she's been stuck with this, and she's angry at these people who put so much on her shoulders and get angry with her when she doesn't come through. But I always found her anger and rebellion to be a little bit OTT -- in the next episode she's good ol' Buff the Team Player. Yes, I know it has a lot to do with crushing the Master's bones (in a scene rife with continuity errors... first the skeleton is rubber, noticeable when Giles's arm brushes against it and it bends; then when the camera is beside the table it's some breakable substance. Buffy crushes the ribs, goes after the legs, and OH! The ribs have magically grown again! She crushes them again and OH! that pelvis she just smashed is there again! I lurve this scene for its insanity of wrongness. ;)
Episode 2 doesn't do much better. The subplot is far more interesting than the main one, but the Frankenstein motif just leaves me cold. It's overused and ridiculous, and honestly, plastic surgery could totally help suture that guy up. Though... try to explain to a plastic surgeon why his skin isn't regenerating quite right... or why it has that deathly pallor. That said, the subplot as the Scoobs work together to catch the baddie is awesome, and full of some of the best lines yet.
• Willow on burying the Master’s bones: “We got to wear robes.” (By the way, why didn’t they salt and burn them? Apparently the Winchester brothers know WAY more about this stuff than Giles.)
• Cordy: “Is it possible to have too much character?”
• Xander: “Yo, G-Man, what’s up?” Giles: “Hello! Don’t call me that again.”
• Xander: “We’re your bosom friends! We’re friends of your bosom.”
• The reaction shot after Xander suggests Buffy is attracted to him.
• “Bitca?” For the first-timers, by the way, this is a word Buffy fans use regularly. I still use it all the time. “God, she’s such a bitca!” Takes the edge off.
• Snyder: “There are some things I can just smell. It’s like a sixth sense.” Giles: “No, that would be one of the five.” (This line makes me laugh out loud every time.)
• Angel says to Buffy, “Why are you riding me??” :::snort:::
• Angel saying Buffy mated with Xander on the dance floor. Haha!
• “Some Assembly Required": Buffy giving dating advice to Giles in yet another Buffy/Giles brilliant banter scene: Buffy: “You also might wanna avoid words like 'amenable' and 'indecorous', y'know. Speak English, not whatever they speak in, um...” Giles: “England?” Buffy: “Yeah. You just say, 'Hey, I got a thing, you maybe have a thing, maybe we could have a thing.'” Giles: (sarcastically) “Oh, thank you, Cyrano.”
• “Love makes you do the wacky.”
• Buffy: “I’m an old-fashioned gal! I was raised to believe that men dig up the corpses, and the women have the babies.”
• Xander playing with the plastic head.
• The Buffy/Angel theme starts playing when she takes his hand at the end of “Some Assembly Required.” Shivers!
• “School Hard”: Buffy trying to suggest she didn’t burn down the school: “It could have been mice… mice who were smoking?”
• Willow tells Xander and Buffy that she used to be Sheila’s lookout. Xander: “You are bad to the bone.” Will: “I’m a rebel.”
• SPIKE!!!!!!!!!!!!! His arrival is PURE JOY.
• Willow saying Buffy just said in French, “The cow should touch me from Thursday.” Buffy: “Je stink.”
• Xander looking through Buffy’s purse is hysterical.
• Xander on Angel disappearing: “OK, that’s it. I’m putting a little collar with a bell on that guy.”
• Xander: “Does anyone remember when Saturday night used to be date night?” Cordy: “You sure don’t.”
• “Cordelia. Have some lemonade.”
• Spike mocking Buffy is delicious: “Someone’s in the seeeeee-ling.”
Did You Notice:
• Oh, the ice cream on Willow’s nose. It goes from adorable to heartbreaking from one scene to the next.
• Angel standing in Buffy’s room reminded me of Edward. :::shudder::: Just another thing Meyer poached from BtVS. My husband said, “Will Angel sparkle, too?” LOL!
• Xander’s speech to Buffy when he basically tells her to suck it up and fight, dammit. At once you’re both cheering him on, and also realizing exactly where she’s coming from – if people get hurt, they blame her. No pressure there, Buff.
• The skeleton is not only rubber when the bodies are pulled in above it, but it looks four feet tall.
• Oh Christophe Beck, THANK YOU for coming!! Folks, the good music begins HERE. You hear a few notes from the upcoming epic Buffy/Angel love theme… although the end music for “When She Was Bad,” which sounds like Bruce Hornsby and the Range, is NOT typical of his music. Promise.
• In “Some Assembly Required,” Buffy says, “Come on, Stephan. Rise and shine.” I actually said aloud, “He can’t! He’s in Mystic Falls!” ;)
• Cordy stands around talking to everyone and they completely ignore her. Now she knows how it feels (and you start to see that she wasn’t just talking gibberish when she said sometimes the cool kids can be left out, too).
• Um, for the record, I second Willow on the powdered donut love.
• When the gang shows back up at the library and Angel is standing there with Cordy, it’s like a scene from Rocky Horror (think of Angel as Rocky and Cordy as Janet). They all stand there and then Xander says, “Angel.” Angel: “Xander.” Buffy: “Angel.”
• This is the first episode where I checked the entry in my book, and I realized I mixed up the credits for the guest stars (ack!): Michael Bacall plays Eric, and Angelo Spizzirri is Chris (I had them the other way around). Bacall went on to Inglourious Basterds and was one of the Scott Pilgrim writers. Spizzirri was in The Rookie, but was found dead in his apartment in October 2007.
• The first time she meets Spike he’s doing a slow clap. Oh, Spike. No. No no no.
• Alexandra Johnes, who plays Sheila, is now a documentary film producer.
• Spike says “Angelus” like “Angeles” the first time he says it. Oops.
So this week's guest poster is a very good friend of mine, and one of my favourite writers. Becca Wilcott wrote the Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion, which I edited and put out through ECW Press (also my publisher... where I work during the day as an editor). I still remember getting the episode guide and reading through it, and I thought it was fresh and fun and she had this way of making me laugh out loud with these turns of phrase. I'd read her reading for a long time before this (when she was known as Julie Wilson... what's with these pseudonymous companion guide writers?!) and she wrote this brilliant blog called Seen Reading, which was picked up by many peeps in the literary community and much-talked-about (seriously, check it out; I read it all the time and I'm fascinated by it!). Check out her main website here.
Her True Blood book is one of my favourite books I've worked on (I mean, is that cover a thing of beauty or what?), and for any fans of the show, I urge you to pick it up. It's brilliant and will make you appreciate the show in an entirely new way (and the True Blood community absolutely loved it). And in light of her specialty being "True Blood," I wanted to mention that I was talking to my best friend Sue a couple of weeks ago about the rewatch, and she said, "I just have to say that after watching the vampires explode into bombs of disgusting goo every time they're destroyed, I really appreciate that BtVS's vamps simply turn to dust." I totally agree.
Her entry this week made me laugh out loud, and it's written in the same sense as her episode guide. Becca, you continue to be one of my faves.
"It's a Hard Knock Life and I Still Have to Go to School?"
There was this guy. And this is some time ago. I’d joined a gym. And I’d been warned about “this guy.” In conjunction with short term memory loss and a long term marriage, he was also a notorious flirt.
“Hey. My name is [This Guy] and I should tell you up front that I have short term memory loss so I might not remember you the next time we meet. I don’t want you to be offended if I don’t recognize you. But you’re a very pretty lady and I’d like to spend some time with you today. May I join you on the rowers?”
What does this have to do with Buffy? Well, for a start, I can totally imagine that monologue delivered in the voices of both Xander and Willow. To the point at hand, though, I forget almost everything I’ve ever read, watched or written. By way of example, when I got a Facebook message from Deborah Ann Woll’s partner telling me that she got Truly, Madly, Deadly: The Unofficial True Blood Companion as a Christmas gift from her mother, and was appreciative of what I’d said about her (she plays Jessica on the show), I think my exact words were, “Oh my god! The chick from the show has my book!”
The chick from the show. Better still, when my girlfriend asked what I’d said about Deb, I followed up with, “I have no idea! Let me go check!”
That said, I do retain a lot of the emotion of things I read and watch. I never forget how something makes me feel. Which is just a long way of saying that my take on “School Hard” is not going to come from a place of how it’s couched in the series, but how I’ve never forgotten how this one episode resonated with me different from the others.
That feeling could be summed up in one word: SPIKE! But to use a few more, Spike and Drusilla are introduced as new characters. We learn that Spike has killed two slayers, so he’s a crafty vamp worthy of Buffy’s shock and awe and not just good with bleach and hair gel. Also significant, he’s dead sexy. Significant to the story itself, Principal Snyder alludes to the fact that he and the police force are aware of demon activity in Sunnydale.
But what I took away from this episode was the vulnerability that comes from learning that our educators and parents are just as clueless as we were as teens. That their authority can be abused if yielded by a weak individual. That communication is about trust and listening. And that no matter how hard you try to shape your own destiny, there’s always something or someone who will step out of the shadows and challenge what you thought you knew about the world and your place in it.
Buffy: What can you really tell about a person from a test score?
Here we go!
Let’s stop there.
Like a lot of children of the 70s, I was put on some drug or another to calm me down. Looking back, I was barely passing elementary school. A few years later, I kicked the habit and had a distinct moment of kiddie consciousness when I was awarded an academic bar of excellence in grade four. I looked up at my teacher and asked, earnestly, “What does ‘academic’ mean?”
In grade 8 Home Economics, we were assigned a sewing project. While a number of girls knew how to knit and needlepoint, I would have been happier tying knots. I chose the simplest pattern to be told afterward that we were being marked on our perceived aptitude. I was capable of better apparently and assigned a supplementary sewing assignment. I threw together an understuffed basketball and moved to shop class the next term where I made a wooden plate that remains on proud display in my kitchen, right beside a 3 lb mug I made in pottery class before I learned to thin.
In university, I had the same hair as the The Annoying One.
Point being, that while school itself isn’t hard, being a student sure ain’t easy. This, too, is something I’m reminded of every time I watch this episode.
“School Hard” begins with Buffy and fellow student, Sheila, in Principal Snyder’s office. Both have been charged with the task of making Parent/Teacher Night hospitable, expulsion being the punishment for the student who doesn’t keep up her end of the bargain. While Buffy worries about banners, two visitors comes to town, Spike and Drusilla.
When Spike and Dru share that first moment in which he offers her his coat, the world belonging only to them, I felt a pang. That pang, yes, but also the fear that these two would never live up to their initial chemistry. I didn’t trust that two characters could imprint themselves so immediately. I started to miss them as soon as we’d met.
Upon this view, Spike, in particular, made me feel something particular to my age. Zoe Whittall just contributed a podcast comment to CBC’s “Day 6” about aging baby boomers and the looming deadline we’ve inherited as they approach their senior years. Us, the generation that invented grunge music, caretakers? For me, Spike isn’t my bad boy so much as the manifestation of an eternal worry that a lot of my generation suffers from, that we’ll never grow up. We’ll live hand-to-mouth, rebels and princesses, squatters in a land of homeowners.
Spike (to The Annoying One, upon promising he’ll kill The Slayer): Me and Dru, we're movin' in.
Meanwhile, Buffy, who lives with the epic responsibility of worrying for the safety and well-being of friends, family and the human race, is subjected to her mother’s skin deep assessment of what she sees as her daughter’s unwillingness to tow the line.
Joyce Summers: What I don’t want is to be disappointed in you again.
Buffy: Mom, that is that last thing that I want too. I’m trying, I really am. I have a lot of pressure on me right now.
Joyce Summers: Wait ‘til you get a job. Sleep tight.
Buffy (to herself in the mirror): I have a job.
Off we go to The Bronze, where most of my least favourite scenes of the series take place, extras dancing to the beat of entirely different songs, depressed “bands of the day” doing hatchet jobs on their own songs and where women are only appealing if waving their arms in the air like a slow loris. Interestingly, in this scene, I never recognize Xander as the dude in the two-toned sweater doing what appears to be The Golf Swing to The Twist during the reveal shot of Willow trying to help Buffy with her French homework.
Yet, it kind of sets up my point that this episode’s message is ultimately about perceptions and how we reveal ourselves.
Case in point, Spike seeing Buffy for the first time, their future clashes foreshadowed in the tension created by mashing his dramatic background music against the pop music she dances to. Oblivious to his presence, slow loris Buffy only steps back into her role as Slayer when she overhears him say that an innocent is being attacked outside the club. There, Spike steps again from the shadows, this time revealing himself as her foe, all without having lifted a finger while she’s fresh and weakened from a fight. Buffy is clearly off guard, a child to this enigmatic man, a dynamic that will be revisited often throughout the series as Buffy continues to break and rebuild under life’s lessons.
Spike: Nice work, love.
Buffy: Who are you?
Spike: You'll find out on Saturday.
Buffy: What happens on Saturday?
Spike: I kill you.
Ahh, foreplay. You know, years ago, a woman stepped from the shadows in a bar and I actually had a little up chuck in the bathroom, I was so racked with nerves. We dated for a year.
But to this Saturday business, it’s the Night of Saint Vigeous, during which vampires get a leg up on their already remarkable abilities. Think Pimp My Ride meets Supermarket Sweep, perhaps? And Spike, we learn from Angel, is a ruthless killer who won’t stop until he gets what he wants. (Spike is not an ironic nickname. “William the Bloody,” as he was known, earned the moniker for torturing his victims with railroad spikes.)
Infantalization side note: I’m sure if Dru donned a Cat Woman suit, Spike would take no issue. But he’s otherwise sleeping with a woman who dresses like a doily and plays with dolls. Then later:
Spike (to parent/teacher): I’m a veal kind of guy. And you’re too old to eat. But not to kill.
Which would make Buffy, what? The veal?
Virginal side note: The Scoobies clumsily playing with their respective tools in the library while prepping for the big showdown is hilarious. While Xander massages (and felates) his stake and Cordelia displays a stunning lack of whittling finesse, Buffy looks just as out of place chopping a cuke with a machete.
Cordelia: My fingers have been cramping. How long have I been doing this?
Xander: 3 minutes.
I like to think Whedon intended this scene to demonstrate that they’re new to the pleasures of the flesh and wouldn’t begin to know how to ask what they should be doing. Honestly, there’s enough phalli in this scene to repopulate the earth after a zombie apocalypse, yet the kids have no clue how to handle their weapons, with the possible exception of Willow whose enthusiasm for her bow shows great promise.
Even early in the episode, “School Hard” is a good example of what it feels like to be a teen and already living beyond the cusp of adulthood with no appropriate role models in sight, floundering in an institution in which cosmetic flourishes step in for true character. Take Cordelia’s jab at Buffy on Parent/Teacher Night that she’s not wearing any foundation. Some days, at all ages, but especially as a teen, it seems as if our sole purpose in life is to displease and disappoint others.
But I have my own oil and water and a “third unmeshable thing” to contend with too, and can relate even all these years later. Buffy’s a young woman learning that most of life’s hardships will be unplanned. And that what may seem like an obscene gap in logic at first, that the things we work hardest for won’t be the things we’re ultimately graded on—said the agnostic—are, in fact, the things that ultimately yield survivors and heroes.
Thankfully, Spike suffers from premature vampulation, so we get to test this theory as Buffy shows Mum that her baby girl kind of has some shit going on, right now. Joyce. Homework later. The school is under siege of vampires on Parent/Teacher Night and Buffy is large and in charge, telling the adults and Principal Snyder how it’s gonna go down and showing some midriff as she disappears into the vent.
John McClane: [huddled in an air vent, recalls his wife's invitation] “Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs . . .”
The next scene was the one in which I realized a television character held the capacity to freak me out, not as written so much as imagined, in this case by James Marsters when Spike prowls the darkened halls, trying to draw out Buffy.
Spike: I’ll find one of your friends first. I’m gonna suck them dry . . . and use their bones to bash your head in. Are you getting a word picture here???
Marsters delivers the first half of this in an almost sing-song voice, practically throwing the middle away as if an afterthought, to come back strong at the end. It displays an intensity that, personally, I never saw in David Boreanaz as Angel. Spike’s not just a killer, he’s a homicidal maniac, a stalker, driven by a sick sense of play and poetry. Other vampires are goons next to him.
Not to forget a true gentleman, Giles shows restraint by staying out of the fight to ensure that Buffy’s mother is accounted for. By also trusting in Buffy’s capabilities, he acts as a surrogate caregiver, able to let her go, a lesson Buffy’s mother has yet to learn. Although, granted, she doesn’t insist that Buffy stay so that she doesn’t have to be alone, something that I’ve always found inconsistent with her character.
Adorable side note: When Giles tells Buffy to watch her back as she climbs back into the vent, is he saying that she should keep a good lookout, or that she should actually keep from injuring herself, a nod to their evolving relationship from Slayer/Watcher to student/teacher to youth/caregiver?
But, back to the chase.
When I first watched “School Hard,” I was far more scared by the notion of Buffy going it alone against Spike than I expected. It must have been around the same time I first learned about that “big questions” book, the one that asks the would-you-rather-this-or-that questions, each one designed to reveal something about you, all of which is meant to lead to more questions about what you thought you knew about yourself and others. Here, Buffy knows that to keep her mother safest, she has to leave her at risk. And the only person (in-house) who knows her real identity, and is also capable of helping her fight—Giles—has been retired to the Library where he’s to stay put unless all hellmouth breaks loose.
And she doesn’t know where her friends are.
And Sheila’s a hammerhead shark. (Sorry, that’s some really big vampire forehead.)
Angel, tries, and fails, to detract Spike from killing Buffy by invoking Angelus, Spike’s sire. (Kind of.) As we anticipate Buffy’s ascension in her mother’s eyes to something more than just a troubled teen, Spike realizes his mentor, his Yoda, has long gone to the light side.
But, hey, back to that infantilization thing for a moment?
Spike (to Buffy): Fee, fi, fo, fum. I smell the blood of a nice, ripe . . . girl.
Which evolves into his love for weapons that make him feel like manly, inferred sexual violence and a general disdain for any woman who poses a challenge.
Spike (to Buffy): As a personal favour, from me to you, I’ll make it quick. It won’t hurt a bit.
Buffy (half in and out of the shadows): No, Spike, it’s going to hurt a lot.
Not much later:
Spike: But not as much as this will.
Joyce: You get the hell away from my daughter.
Spike (back in the shadows): Women!
Joyce (to Buffy): Nobody lays a hand on my little girl.
The moment is as nice as it can be considering that Joyce, having just saved her daughter’s life precisely because she had a moment’s pause and thought to stay in the building rather than flee, concludes, knowing her daughter is brave and resourceful, that she won’t have to lose sleep worrying about her. Did she not just save her daughter from a beastly, creepy dude? Are there not “PCP, gang-related” activities in Sunnydale? Did the bad guys not all get away? Is Buffy not still a young woman in need of a trust-worthy parental figure? If that were my kid, I’d be buying the store out of ice cream and penning a stern letter to the police. The police! She doesn’t even go to the police!
Joyce is frustrating.
The parent raises the child; the child raises the parent. I get it. And I like that Buffy’s friends retreat into the background for most of this episode to bring her relationship with her mother to the forefront. But it leaves me feeling sad for Buffy the daughter, even if Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been cut some slack. Having seen this episode umpteen times, it remains fresh with each viewing that I can’t determine if I think this is necessary plotting or shallow character development.
In short, my summary of “School Hard” is that the teen-aged years are a tough time in which to come of age. And while it may not be the best of the overall eps, I give it a solid 6.5 out of 8, because it doesn’t yet know that it’s capable of aspiring to a 10. Even if it did come damn close with the introduction of Spike, who losing out on Buffy, saved us from The Annoying One by sending him to a caged and sunny death. I really didn’t like that kid.
Spike: From now on, we're gonna have a little less ritual . . . and a little more fun around here!