2.22 Becoming, Part 2
And so we come to the end of season 2, which, as someone said earlier in the season (and I have to agree), may not be the best season of Buffy, but it’s probably my favourite. And the “Becoming” two-parter might be my favourite season finale of any show. I was a little worried going into it, knowing that I hadn’t seen the episode in a few years. Would it still stand up? Especially after the consistent excellence of Lost? Would it still have its oomph?
I’m happy to say that years later, it’s full of oomph. It's oompherriffic. I wept as much this time around as I ever have.
At the beginning of the Rewatch, I sent out the list of episodes to all of the contributors and told them to sign up. But there was only one pair of episodes I’d written my name beside... and it was this one. However, after much thought I decided I’d write something about the future of the series in light of what we’ve already seen. In previous weeks, when a paper contains spoilery bits, I’ve been whiting them out. I haven’t relegated anyone to the spoiler post because I wanted everyone to be able to read the writing of all of my guests. However, you all know my writing, so I’ve decided that I’m going to post my paper in the spoiler post below, and I’ll keep my point-form notes here. To help me out this week, though, the wonderful Janet/Steve Halfyard has offered to write up this episode (thank goodness!) because the music is absolutely extraordinary. So don’t worry, you all are still getting a lovely treat this week. First, some notes:
• That horrific Oirish accent that Angel has in the first flashback. Oh my GOD it’s awful. I said a while back in the Kendra week that her accent was the worst, save one. Well, this is the ONE. I think David Boreanaz’s accent coach for this one was the Lucky Charms leprechaun. “Frosted Vampire Fangs... they’re magically delicious!” Good news, boys and girls... when Angel was first bitten, he saw red hearts, yellow moons, green clovers, and blue diamonds!
• Xander’s fish-stick re-enactment.
• Dru: “Met an old man. Didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.”
• Spike: “It’s a big rock! Can’t wait to tell all my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.”
• Buffy calling Acathla the Tomb of Alfalfa. HAHA!!
• I LOVE Max Perlich as Whistler; I’ve always thought he could play Thom Yorke in a Radiohead biopic.
• Spike’s singsong voice: “Someone wasn’t wor-thy.”
• Mr. Pointy! The legendary stake. (At the Slayage conferences, the awards for best paper of the conference and best academic Whedonverse book are the Mr. Pointy awards... as these large wooden pointy awards are given out, there are always many jokes about how to get THAT into a carry-on.)
• That slow-mo run of Buffy racing into the school to find Kendra. It’s become one of the iconic scenes of the series.
• Spike: “Hello, cutie.”
• Spike and Buffy coming up with the story of them being in a band. Spike: “Well I sing.”
• Spike and Joyce making small talk. Possibly my favourite comic scene of season 2.
• Willow’s resolve face.
• Giles: “In order to be worthy, you must perform the ritual... in a tutu. You pillock.”
• Snyder: “In case you haven’t figured it out, the police in Sunnydale are deeply stupid.”
• Buffy: “You never ever got a single date in high school, did you?” Snyder: “Your point being?”
• The conversation between Xander and Giles as Xander tries to save him:
Giles: You're not real.
Xander: Sure, I'm real.
Giles: It's a trick. They get inside my head, make me see things I want.
Xander: Then why would they make you see me?
Giles: (considers) You're right. Let's go.
• Angelus: “Take all that away, what’s left??” Buffy: “ME.” YESSSSS!!!!!!
• The entire scene where Angel’s soul comes back. I don’t think a single scene had ever gutted me like that one when I first saw it.
• Oz: “We know the world didn’t end, because... check it out.”
Did You Notice?
• Giles has an Orb of Thessaluh that he uses as a paperweight; if you’ll recall, the guy who ran the magic shop says he usually sells the orbs to New Age types who use them as paperweights.
• This week’s Lost reference: Did y’all see the Hurley gravestone in Becoming?? It’s near the Alpert mausoleum. How I wish the dates on it were April 15, 1923-August 16, 1942. As I mentioned in the comments last week, David Fury was a writer on Buffy, and then went over to Lost (he wrote “Walkabout” in S1). However, I doubt that he offered up suggestions for names that he saw on props on Buffy. But weirder things have happened.
• That “to be continued” elicited a LOUD scream from me the first time around.
• When Buffy comes out as the Slayer, her mom acts like she just announced she was gay: “Are you sure you’re a vampire slayer? Have you tried NOT being a slayer?”
• The chalk drawing on the floor of the library has Kendra lying on her side, where we saw her flat on her back.
• Spike squeezes Dru until she passes out... but Angel said in “Prophecy Girl” that he doesn’t breathe.
• Joss loves his Sarah McLachlan. Listen for it in a future pivotal scene... in another season finale.
• At the end, Buffy’s wearing the overalls of sadness again from “Ted.”
• The Mutant Enemy man (the little Grr, Argh guy) says, “Ooh, I need a hug!” Aw!!
One of the key players of this episode is the score (now you see why the love theme is called "Close Your Eyes") and it just wouldn't be right to talk about "Becoming" without inviting the marvellous Steve Halfyard along to help us out. So... here she is! To read my post, proceed to the spoiler forum after reading this.
Love, loss and music in “Becoming”
I said in an earlier post that it was a musically good decision not to overuse the love theme, and the reason for that is this double episode. As listeners as well as watchers, we are all pretty familiar with the love theme now, but not bored with it because we haven’t been bludgeoned with it at every opportunity (which sometimes happens in films that only have one big theme). Beck, I think, knew that he needed his big theme for the season finale so he saves it, tapping into its meanings in various episodes but restricting the number of outright statements of it in order to ensure maximum impact when he finally does unleash it.
The use of flashbacks is another important part of this episode, and the music for them is very distinctive, partly it uses real instruments and voices rather than just synths. Beck often adds some live woodwind, a single player who is recorded over the synths to “sweeten” the music and give it a bit more life, but the flashbacks in particularly have some unusual ‘real’ music in them. In the flashback to the first time Angel meets Drusilla, we have male voices singing the Tantum Ergo, a rather beautiful bit of chant from the catholic liturgy, seriously ancient (it’s part of the longer Pange Lingua written by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century); and then in the Romanian woods in the 1890s, we have a soaring, searing cello line when Angel is cursed. This use of real instruments lifts the music, gives it an emotional depth that is very hard to achieve with synthesized sounds (but it’s more expensive than one man sitting at a keyboard, so Buffy was being quite adventurous with its budget by increasingly using real instruments — and then there was Firefly!). Representing Angel with a cello, incidentally, reconnects him with that other suffering vampire, Louis from Interview with the Vampire, who was also scored with achingly emotional cello lines in the 1994 film.
When we (or rather, Whistler) find a bedraggled Angel in Manhattan in 1996, we get a new theme that is used several times in this flashback, but always scored differently. The first time, we have it on the cello — it’s a very sad theme, not really going anyway, just circling around the same notes, lost, somehow. We hear it again when he sees Buffy for the first time from his car outside her school: any sense of creepy stalker is countered but that sad little theme, now with the melody played on a cor anglais (very like an oboe, but lower and with a darker tone colour), and with the cello harmonizing underneath; and then after he has watched her kill her first vampire, he watches her at home, being yelled at by her mother, and then crying as she looks at herself in the bathroom mirror. First we have the theme on a clarinet – even darker colour than the cor anglais – but then it changes again, with a question and answer pattern, piano answered by Angel’s cello, as if we hear the connection that Angel makes with Buffy, hear him responding to her pain and falling in love with her.
The love theme itself also gets played on real instruments, giving it that greater emotional depth. We hear the first three notes in the computer room as Buffy realises that the lost disk holds the key to restoring Angel’s soul; and then we hear it in full when she finds the ring he gave her, now played on an alto flute (again, a darker sound than a normal flute). In both cases the theme seems to represent Buffy’s hope that perhaps she can get Angel back: certainly, it reminds us of her love for him, that it has not gone away, that she has not given up on him. But then something very unexpected happens, something that takes the whole idea of this theme in a new direction. At the end of part 1, Buffy realises that Angelus has tricked her into leaving her friends undefended and they are being attacked. She races back to the library, but we already know it is too late; before she gets there, we see Kendra killed by Drusilla. The deaths of Jenny and Kendra have one particularly horrible thing in common. They are both killed specifically to hurt other people rather than to feed — neither Angelus nor Drusilla bother to bite or to drink from their victims, but kill them by other, somehow more brutal means and leave them to be found in order to bring pain to those that love them.
As Buffy enters the school, the image goes into slow motion, and the love theme begins to play — again, the flute that represented her sense of hope has the melody. The image and the music conspire to hold us longer in this moment where we know the truth but we know that Buffy stills hopes she can save her friends: it is meant to hurt, to make our sense of her loss more acute when she kinds Kendra’s body. As she comes into the library, the melody is taken by the piano alongside the flute; and then the flute drops out, as if to say that all her hope is gone, and the theme keeps playing as Whistler tells us that we are never ready for the big moments.
There are several different ways one can read this scene. If you read the theme primarily as a love theme, perhaps it signifies Buffy’s love for her sister Slayer; if you read it as a Buffy/ Angel love theme, it reminds us that this death is the direct result of their relationship; and if it represents Buffy’s point of view, then perhaps it indicates that this is on her mind in these moments, that she feels herself responsible for what has happened to Kendra, just as she blames herself for what happened to Angel. But if you read it as a theme primarily about loss, it becomes an articulation of the things that Angelus is taking away from her He’s already taken Angel; now he takes Kendra. And in part 2, this process of stripping away from Buffy the things that she loves gains momentum. She fears she’s lost all her friends, which is why we hear the theme again as she sneaks into the hospital, having escaped from the police; she then has a row with her mother and we hear music that suggests the love theme but now it’s holding back from making an outright statement again — Beck is once more saving it for the big finish; we get it at the top of the episode in the hospital, but what we hear in both the scene with Joyce (losing her mother and her home) and then when she returns to the school (and gets expelled) references the theme by using the falling 6th and other fragments, but holds back from playing it in full.
In Part 2, there is music new and old: a new, lilting lullaby theme used for the unconscious Willow in hospital; and Jenny’s theme from “Passion” making its last appearance of the season as Giles is hypnotized into thinking that Dru is Jenny. Having her theme reinforces the illusion of it really being Jenny, even though Giles logically can’t hear it; but even more heartbreakingly, it is the version of the theme from the end of “Passion”, the graveside version that, first time round, had Giles’s voice singing the melody — so in some way, perhaps he does hear this music and is convinced by it that the illusion is real. It evokes his love for Jenny just as specifically as does the presence of Robia LaMorte playing Dru playing Jenny.
And so to the big finish. By the end of the final episode Buffy has lost Kendra, Willow is badly injured, Giles has been kidnapped and tortured, she’s been thrown out of her home and her school: and as she prepares to kill Angelus, Whistler, the (mercifully) shortlived precursor of Doyle, tells us that she still has one thing left to lose: that of course is the process of completing the circle that the love theme began and making her lose Angel yet again. This is the scene Beck has been waiting for, and we get his music in all its glory as she kills him in a scene in which love and loss are perfect partners. The sword fight is scored with the expected action music; and it is only at the moment that Angel’s glowing eyes tell us that Willow’s spell was successful that the action music drops out and the love theme begins.
It starts with the first three notes of the theme like a question mark until he says Buffy’s name and she realises it is truly Angel. The melody is the flute again, the instrument of Buffy’s hope, but something new happens in the theme: the third phrase of the theme is replaced with something different which sounds like it really might come to a happy ending – until she sees the vortex opening behind him, and instantly, the original third phrase comes back in its original form as she realizes it’s too late to save him. The theme starts again now, stripped down to just the piano — the hopeful flute is gone — as she understands what she has to do, tells him she loves him and instructs him to close his eyes (“Close your eyes” was the name he gave the cue for the CD track). I’ve talked before at how good Beck is at scoring to the visual image:, here, the music lingers so that she can stab Angel through the heart precisely on the goal note, the highest note of the second phrase, which not only mimics the physical gesture as she stabs him but rings out like a cry of anguish as he brings the rest of his ‘orchestra’ in at this point and Angel is sucked into hell.
The emotional peak the music has taken us to by this point (if you weren’t even a bit tearful, you have a heart of stone) means that we need something dramatically different to help get us to the end of the episode, and so we have the very unusual use of a song to close the episode and the series, Sarah McLachlan’s “Full of Grace.” There’s a beautiful segue — the final note of the love theme is held and merges into the opening of the song, as if they are part of the same musical idea. There are only a small number of episodes that end with songs, but McLachlan gets two season-end moments, this one and season six (ironically, the song of hers that seems to have been written for this series — "Angel" — is never used). Here we have "Full of Grace": “I never thought I could feel so low/ Oh darkness I feel like letting go/ I’m all out of strength and all out of courage/ Come and lift me from this place/ I know I could love you much better than this/ Full of grace.” The lyrics give voice to how Buffy is feeling: there is no need for dialogue (we do not hear her speak in this season again after she utters the line “Close your eyes”) and the lyrics stand in to tell her story for us as she leaves Sunnydale and apparently abandons her post as Slayer. I remember the first time I saw this, being a little pool of snivelling misery on the floor as the screen faded to black — it’s a remarkably brave and complex ending: she both wins and loses in equal measure, and the repercussions of this never entirely go away. Her willingness to be the Slayer is always compromised after this in a way that it wasn’t before. In “What’s My Line?” she toyed with the idea of handing responsibility over to Kendra, but this was because she wanted a chance at a normal life; after “Becoming,” she is always much more aware of the weight of responsibility for the choices she has to make and the repercussions of them. The end of season 2 is the moment when that weight first descends in full force, where the hopes she had that there was a chance of a normal life and a happy ever after are stripped away from her. Not only does she never get them back again, but things get progressively worse as we move through the later seasons. It hurts, yes? It will hurt more.