Buffy Season 2 Ups the Ante
By Kristin Battestella
One can make the case that Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually begins in 1997 with its full-length Second season. Any growing pains from the quick debut season are corrected, and the Buffyverse hits the ground running here in fine paranormal form.
Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) begins another school year still trying to balance teendom with being the Vampire Slayer. Mom Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) and Principal Snyder (Armin Shimerman) are still clueless about her secret identity, but Buffy’s friends Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) help her deal with the ruthless new vampires in town: Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau). School Librarian and watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Steward Head) finds romance with Computer Science teacher Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte), but the dark forces drawn to Sunnydale’s Hellmouth spell doom for Buffy’s relationship with reformed vampire Angel (David Boreanaz).
Show runner Joss Whedon (Firefly) springboards from Buffy’s first season into more wit, dark comedy, and seriousness. The ongoing storylines and continuing mythos have grown up considerably- already stand out or multi-part episodes like “What’s My Line”, “Surprise”, “Innocence”, and “Lie to Me” take things beyond high school towards the bigger life picture. Despite the fantastical scenarios, Buffy never lets us forget life is just as scary as vampires or other fictitious demons. Some stories do borrow from the same old Frankenstein, mummy hijinks, and Anne Rice references; but the second half of Season 2 brings the series into its own. As the episodes progress, there’s less and less outside influence and more and more of the nuances that make Buffy Buffy. The mix of stand-alone shows and two part episodes is finely balanced, and from Episode 6 “Halloween” to the double finale “Becoming”, the viewer is hard pressed to find filler or fluff.
Nowadays, teeny vampire goodness and forbidden dark romance is an inescapable phenomenon. Did this hysteria begin with the ill-fated romance of Buffy and Angel? Perhaps. Though a complicated and realistic relationship, the periodic make out sessions are now a little redundant to older viewers. The first romance and sexual experience scenario is also dated, but the tact here is angsty, relatable, even mature and well done. This is not my favorite couple from Buffy, but the innocence lost here is still superior to Twilight. Sarah Michelle Gellar (Scooby Doo) wonderfully walks the difficult line between being the tough action hero and the hurt and broken young woman. Despite superpowers, Buffy can’t always deal with everything. She’s flawed, screws up, and it’s delightfully refreshing to watch. Likewise, David Boreanaz (Bones) struggles with the romantic feelings amid his 200 years of vampire soul and conflict. When Angel returns to his evil ways, again its refreshing, tragic drama. Sure we’d like our couple to live happily ever after, but where’s the fun in that? Angel’s extreme take on the bad ex-boyfriend puts the exclamation on Season 2.
Oppositely balancing the polarity of the slayer loving a vampire is the fun introduction of James Marsters (Smallville, Torchwood) as punk vamp rocker Spike and Juliet Landau (Ed Wood) as his demented love Drusilla. The pair is visually at odds themselves- platinum, wild Spike and dark, classical Dru- but the vampy affection of the couple adds another layer of bizarre emotion. Evil demons who take over one’s souls can’t be affectionate, endearing, or in love- can they? There’s plenty of history, love triangles, and kinky vampire goodness for Season 2 and beyond. The fact that these vampires can comment and even laugh at their own dynamic drama makes heavy episodes like “School Hard”, “Passion”, and “I Only Have Eyes for You” all the better. Likewise, we have time to explore Buffy’s flawed adults and the skeletons in their closets. Anthony Head (Merlin) and Robia LaMorte (Beverly Hills 90210) add fun and bumbling flirting amid dark and ruthless histories, and even Kristine Sutherland (Honey I Shrink the Kids) has a chance to have some twisted romantic fun with delightful guest star John Ritter (Three’s Company) in “Ted”. Armin Shimerman (Deep Space Nine) as anti-student Principal Snyder and Robin Sachs (Babylon 5) as Giles’ antithesis Ethan Rayne also add seriousness and maturity to make life even more difficult for Buffy’s Scooby Gang.
Nicholas Brendon (Kitchen Confidential) and Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother) also gain a little growing up thanks to more relationships. Though the Buffy, Xander, and Willow trio is the core of the show, the interconnecting character relationships add depth and conflict nicely. While Brendon looks to be having a lot of fun as the wisecracking Xander, his lady foil Charisma Carpenter (Veronica Mars) still doesn’t get her full glory. Is making out and being pretty all there is to Cordelia? We get hints that there’s more, but again she does all the screaming and seems more like a reflexive character meant to strengthen or interfere with the lead three. And but of course, the underutilization of Oz begins. Though Alyson Hannigan continues to wonderfully grow with the budding Willow, boyfriend Oz’ coming out party in “Phases” is one of this season’s few missteps. Although the teenage werewolf scares and fun are there, such a big character development demands more than a mere 45 minutes. This storyline could have been an ongoing mystery through Season 3. Instead, we go from barely knowing Oz to being intimate with all his secrets too soon, and he never fully fits in with the rest of the gang. I like Seth Green’s (Austin Powers, Robot Chicken) quirky performance and sardonic delivery; but despite fine dialogue, this is one place where Whedon’s writing wasn’t there for his character. Even the snips of Danny Strong (Gilmore Girls) as geeky Jonathan, Elizabeth Anne Allen (Bull) as teen witch Amy, and Larry Bagby (Hocus Pocus) as macho Larry are a lot of fun as supporting high school stereotypes that develop in later seasons.
Once again, the dated fashion, hairstyles, and music from Season 2 aren’t so longstanding twelve years on. Though somewhat critical in storylines this season and next, the onscreen band Dingoes Ate My Baby is kind of silly and seemingly a ploy for music fun more than anything else. Some graphics and horror makeup aren’t up to snuff anymore either- especially the werewolf design. I suspect this might have been part of the reason we don’t see the full beasty so much, but with the right treatment, who cares what the doggy suit looks like. Even the vampire dress style and brooding goth motifs aren’t in today’s ala mode. Nevertheless, this is a decade old television show, visual imperfections are to be expected; and frankly, the focus on characters and story angst before glittering effects is not dated, but refreshing against today’s trend of visual desensitization over intelligent substance.
New fans can meet Buffy the Vampire Slayer or returning viewers can rekindle their love here with Season 2. There’s more paranormal romance fun and some scares, but things this season are tame compared to later seasons and modern television. All this goodness without the introductory hiccups of Season 1, too. Fans of recent vampire motifs can definitely turn to Buffy; and with rental options, streaming sites, and affordable DVDs, there’s really no reason not to enjoy Buffy Season 2.