2.22 Becoming, Part 2
As always, welcome to the spoiler board this week, where you can speak freely about this week's "Becoming" episodes without fear of spoiling anyone. Please check out the post above this one for Steve Halfyard's musical analysis on the "Becoming" episodes, as well as my own point form notes.
This week I'm posting my take on the episode here simply because it looks forward as much as it looks back, and I thought this might be the better home for it. So here we go.
“Becoming, Parts 1 & 2”
“There's moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you're gonna be. Sometimes they're little, subtle moments. Sometimes... they're not.”
I will never forget the first time I saw the “Becoming” two-parter that ended season 2 of Buffy — unlike "Surprise" and "Innocence," we had to wait a whole week between episodes. And don't get me started on that incredibly long summer that followed.
For two seasons we’ve watched these vampires mention snippets about their backstories (or, more commonly, Giles reading their backstory details out of dusty, old books) and heard about how they became who they were. “Becoming” finally goes back in time and shows us what really happened.
Now, of course, the flashback device seems pretty standard. We’ve seen how Damon and Stephan became vampires in The Vampire Diaries. We know absolutely everything about every character on Lost by going back and seeing where it all began. We spent more time in flashbacks on Flashforward than we did in the present. Fringe often goes back in time to show a young Olivia or a younger-looking Walter as they were several years ago so we can find details in the re-enactments that might not have made it to the retellings through the characters.
But Joss was a pioneer of the flashback, and he did it beautifully. (And without those Wayne’s World wavy lines.) We see the happy-go-lucky leprechaun, Liam (oh, how I hate Angel’s accent in this episode... see above for more complaining) as a drunken lech, something we didn’t know about Angel before now. We see Darla turn him in an alleyway (and rather than the Catholic schoolgirl outfit, she was going for more of a courtesan look back then). We see Drusilla as the poor, desperate, good girl, who didn’t mock churches, but worshiped in them. As she steps into the confessional, we see the beginning of what would become horrible torture for her at the hands of Angelus. We see Angelus get re-ensouled, and the unwashed creature lurking in alleyways he became after.
And, we see the first time Angel looks at Buffy. In the moment where she’s first approached and told she’s the Chosen One, Angel is right there. He watches her dust her first vampire, and he follows her back home (Angel has a thing for lurking in the bushes, and the Summers have a thing for leaving their curtains wide open) and sees this little girl torn between a future she doesn’t want, and a present that’s pulling her apart as her parents fight in the background.
But the big moments aren't all in the past; this episode is filled with new ones: Kendra dies (meaning a new Slayer will be called), Buffy’s mom finally finds out what her daughter does, Willow tries the Dark Arts for the first time, and Buffy sends Angel to Hell. And then... she leaves.
We’ve watched these characters building up to these moments from the beginning – Buffy tried to run from her duties in the very beginning, when a naive Giles plunked the Vampyr book onto the library counter and Buffy ran away. Buffy has gone from being a reluctant Slayer to one who accepts her job, albeit begrudgingly, to one who despite being annoyed at her Chosen One status doesn’t want to share that status with the Aladdin-panted Kendra, to one who realizes at the end of “Becoming” that it doesn’t matter if you save the world alone, or surrounded by friends, or at the side of another Slayer... this slaying gig SUCKS.
“Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments [...] No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.”
What may not be clear to fans watching the show – and definitely not to anyone watching the series for the first time – is that “Becoming” is actually filled with many of those initial moments that won’t come to fruition until much later in the series. Just as Angel stumbled out of a bar into the streets and was bitten by Darla, in this episode Spike joins forces with Buffy for his own selfish reasons, completely unaware of what is going to happen as a result – he’ll find a connection with the Scoobies, he’ll work against Angel, he’ll incur Drusilla’s wrath for doing so and will be left behind, and after a brief canoodle with a certain unicorn-lovin’ vamp, he’ll find his way back to the Scoobies, and to Buffy. And there he’ll fall in love, ask for his soul back, and prove to be a hero. In “Becoming, Part 2,” Buffy asks him why he wants to help her. Spike chuckles and says, “I want to save the world,” with a snide grin. In five more seasons, he’ll do exactly that.
And then there’s our Willow. She insists on doing the spell that will re-ensoul Angel. Giles warns her that if she channels these dark magicks, she may open a door that she won’t be able to close... but at the same time, he supports her decision to do so. Buffy also encourages her. Both of them have selfish reasons for wanting her to do it: Giles believes it’s Jenny’s last wish, and Buffy, as Xander puts it, wants her boyfriend back. But fastforward to season 6, where Willow’s use of magic will spiral out of control, and it’ll be both Giles and Buffy who must stop Willow... because they’re the one who started it. Both of them will admonish her and act like it wasn’t their fault, and truly, it wasn’t. But they were definitely partly responsible for what she became, and it starts here.
Xander argues with the lot of them, something that begins to show his separation from the team, a separation that will continue to grow until he accepts that he’ll be a part of the group, but never a heroic, demon-slaying part (think of his speech in "Potential" when he tells Dawn how important it is to be a background player). When he says to Buffy that Willow told her to kick Angel’s ass, we can’t help but be momentarily angry with him – if he’d told the truth, Buffy might have held him off longer, kept him away from the sword, and Buffy wouldn’t have left town. But Xander has always been the guy who speaks what’s in his heart. He hates Angel because of what he did to Buffy, to Willow, and mostly to Giles and Jenny. One can forgive him for not wanting to hug the guy who hurt the people Xander loves the most.
Giles is one of those people, and he becomes a liability when Angel realizes he’s knowledge guy and can help them out with how to get the sword from Acathla. Throughout the (surprisingly non-bloody) torture scene, Giles holds his own, but Drusilla goes right to his heart and by making him see the woman he cares about once again, he spills everything. Buffy has to rush in and save him, and she puts her plan together without needing his help. If he hadn’t mentioned the blood thing, Acathla wouldn’t have opened early and perhaps everything would have worked out. I’ve often wondered if this moment was where Giles began wondering if he was simply “standing in [Buffy’s] way” and that maybe she can handle this on her own. Just a few episodes earlier, in “Passion,” she told him how much she needed him and that she can’t lose him, but the daughter begins to come out from the father’s shadow in this episode, and proves she can begin to handle things on her own.
And then there’s Buffy. Her mother now knows the truth, her fellow Slayer is dead, and she’s just thrust a sword into Angel to send him to Hell. And worse, moments before she did so, she saw the soul of the man she loved come back, which made destroying him so much worse. She’s broken by the end of this episode, and no matter how strong she appears, she can’t face anyone after what’s happened to her. She walks away from Giles, her friends, and her mother. When she returns in season 3, it will be to a sea of hostility, of people who see her as the friend who turned her back on them, and that will harden Buffy further. Killing Angel provides the seeds to what Buffy does at the end of season 5 – if she can thrust a sword through Angel’s heart (and consequently, through her own) in order to save the world, then she can sacrifice herself to save the world and her little sister Dawn. If she can come crawling up out of the dark depression and Hell she’s endured over the summer after killing Angel and face the people around her in season 3 – the people partly responsible for the pain she feels – then she can climb her way out of the dirt in the ground and face the people who are wholly responsible for bringing her back. The strength she gains from this moment, unbeknownst to her, will be crucial to her survival in later seasons.
Interestingly, when Joyce first finds out what Buffy does, her first instinct is to act like Buffy just came out of the closet. Her second is to talk to Buffy like she might be mentally ill. It evokes the brilliant season 6 episode, “Normal Again,” where we find Buffy in a mental hospital, living in the fantasy world of her mind where she’s a Slayer and saving the world, and her parents are sitting by her wondering when she’ll come back to them. The seeds of that moment are planted here for the audience, so we can store this comment from Joyce to recall later in that episode.
“So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.”
As Whistler says in his voiceover in this episode, these moments happen whether you want them to or not. There isn’t just one moment, but many, and they shape who we are and the people around us. It’s not how you deal with the moment itself that’s important, but how you handle it. We’ve seen how Angel and Drusilla have handled their “becoming.” Now it’s time to sit back and watch how Buffy and her friends handle theirs.