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This is one of the show’s most unusual and original episodes. But while most of the BtVS episodes with an unusual format belong to its best (Hush, Restless, The Body, Once More, With Feeling, Conversations with Dead People), The Zeppo is, at the same time, a great episode and a very bad episode  – depending on whether you look at in isolation or within the continuity of the show.

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
This was the season where the show become great rather than just good, and it’s stood the test of time. I’d even say it seems even better now that it did the first time I watched it. I always appreciated the great episodes and the Angel-goes-bad arc, but now I can see how even the standalones that apparently have nothing to do with the arc reflect on the main themes. It’s certainly one of the best seasons of the show.

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
When I was about to watch this episode, I wondered if I can still be affected by it, since I’ve seen it several times. Of course, this is one of the most important and iconic episodes of the show, but can it still move me when I almost know it by heart? And…it didn’t exactly make me cry this time, but it’s still an awesome episode you could watch over and over,.

As a season finale, it’s one of the best. It perfectly resolves so many storylines from season 2: Buffy’ s strained relationship with her mother, Snyder’s attempts to find a reason to expel Buffy, Willow’s relationships with Xander and Oz, the Spike/Dru/Angel triangle, the B/A romance and the “Angel loses his soul” story; and in the best tradition of bittersweet Whedon finales, it manages to have Buffy defeat the Big Bad and stop an apocalypse, but leaves her emotionally devastated.

Throughout the episode, things just keep going wrong for Buffy, with just an occasional break. First cops want to arrest her for Kendra’s murder and she has to run away, then she finds out that Willow is in hospital with a serious head injury, and that Giles is kidnapped; Snyder uses the opportunity to expel her from school, and later her mother tells her not to come back home, all while she has an apocalypse to stop. If episodes like Prophecy Girl and School Hard were about Buffy surviving because of her connections to family and friends, this one is about coming to the point when you only have yourself to rely on. As foreshadowed by Whistler’s voiceover in part 1, this is where she finds out who she is. And that’s someone who never gives up and keeps fighting, even in the most desperate situation:

Whistler: In the end, you’re all you’ve got.

Buffy: I have nothing left to lose.
Whisler: Wrong, kid. You’ve got one more thing.

Angel(us): No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what is left?
Buffy (stopping his sword with her bare hand): Me.

To make things all the harder for her, she’s put in the position where she has to kill the man she loves to save the world (well, sort of, since Angel gets sucked into hell, but doesn’t actually die). But the emotional cost is too high, and the season 2 finale ends in both triumph and despair, as Buffy runs away from her life, trying to become someone else.

For an episode with so much pain and drama, it also has an amazing amount of humor, sometimes even at the same time. There are two scenes (Buffy and Spike coming up with the lie that they’re in a band, and Joyce and Spike trying to make small talk) that I would rank among the funniest in the show. There’s self-mocking humor even in show’s ending credits this time, as the Mutant Enemy monster doesn’t growl “URGH-ARGH” but whines “Ooh I need a hug!”

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)

So there it is, finally, the season 2 two-part finale. This season has been really amazing, especially its second part, or more precisely the arc about Angel losing his soul and going bad; and Becoming is a near-perfect finale.

There is a big theme of Destiny vs Free will running through this two-parter. As the title says, it is all about transformation, about becoming someone/something else; but part 1 is full of flashbacks that show people becoming something new due to fate, to circumstances they couldn’t control, to something that someone else did to them, or to an intervention of higher powers, while the present day plot is about what is done to our heroes, the situation they’ve been put in – while part 2 is about people making their own choices, choosing how to deal with the situation they’ve been put in.

Review of part 1 )


timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)

This is the kind of standalone episode that would fit well in season 1 – an obvious but still effective metaphor about some particular aspect of the dark side of school life (Witch, The Pack, Out of Mind, Out of Sight). This time it’s a heavy-handed “don’t take steroids, they’ll frak you up” message, with a realistic portrayal of other unpleasant things that surround school sports: ruthless, over-ambitious coaches (something that The Pack already touched on), the entitlement and arrogance of the members of the sports-team (including the pressure put on the teachers to give them better grades even if they are blatantly disinterested in studying or homework), sexism and rape culture. Well, “realistic” apart from that thing where this particular brand of steroids (mixed with fish DNA) makes the swimmers literally turn into fish monsters similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (which actually gets name-checked). Incidentally, it just occurred to me that this kind of story about humans turning into mutans after being injected some other species’ DNA is exactly the kind of story I hate when Star Trek does it – but BtVS is a whole different story, since it’s not a science fiction show and never pretends to take the “science” of it seriously; it’s a fantasy and it’s all about the metaphor. First we see at the athletes have been acting as aggressive jerks because of the steroids (psychological effects, just the same as in real life), then we see them turn physically into monsters (the disastrous effect of steroids on the body).

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
The second part of season 2 just keeps breaking you heart, doesn’t it – after Passion, here is another moving, dark, haunting (no pun intended) episode. While no main characters die in this one, this is one of those episodes that make me cry every single time. Both for its ghost story about the 1950s tragic romance between Sunnydale high school student James (young Christopher Gorham) and his teacher Grace, which ended in a murder and suicide that gets replayed several times by different pairings of actors – but loses none of its poignancy – and for the way it resonates with the Buffy/Angel story in an unexpected way. And this time it was no different, I started bowling my eyes out since the scene where Buffy is over-identifying with James, to the 1950s scenes between James and Grace, to the climactic resolution as Buffy and Angel get possessed and replay the fateful scene. Writer Marti Noxon has said that the ghosts were really a metaphor for repentance and second chances, and this is exactly what the episode conveys.



timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
I know that a lot of people hate this episode, but it’s an OK little early seasons horror story with some nice moments between Buffy, her friends and her mom, although nothing particularly important happens and it could be taken out without the story suffering at all. Nothing puts it above average for BtVS but nothing puts it below either.

When Buffy comes down with flu, we learn she is scared of hospitals because of a childhood trauma when she saw her cousin Celia die in a hospital. It’s the first time we hear anything about any relatives of hers other than her parents. Being rushed to the hospital against her will (after Angel[us] used her condition to beat her about in the graveyard) proves to be a blessing in disguise as it allows her to investigate a series of suspicious deaths of children, not as natural as they seem.

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)

One of the high points of the show and its first really heartbreaking episode, this was the moment when I first realized BtVS was one of the greatest dramas on TV. Having Angel go evil was a bold move, but the real game-changer was having him kill a character we know and care about and cause great pain and loss to a core Scooby member.

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
This episode is mostly known for the wacky love-spell-gone-wrong comedy, but I find it a bit overrated as comedy and actually like the parts before the spell much better. The stuff with Xander and Cordy’s relationship is really good for the first 20 or so minutes, and another plus is that the darker B-plot with Angel is woven nicely into the fabric of the episode together with the comedy parts. Once the spell kicks in, it’s fun, but I don’t find it nearly as funny as Band Candy, Something Blue or Tabula Rasa. But it’s the resolution of the Xander/Cordy storyline that bothers me, and takes half a point off from my rating. Cordy breaks up with Xander out of a shallow reason – her social status in school – but the reasons she takes him back, not just in spite of, but because of his stupid, irresponsible actions, are very misguided.

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)

I guess it had to happen: with all other kinds of monsters in the verse, sooner or later we had to meet a werewolf. The twist is that it’s Oz, the nicest and by all appearance calmest and least aggressive man in the show. And of course it’s right after Willow started dating him, because there has to be some sort of complication in the most stable relationship, which means that Buffy is not the only one with a man-monster for a boyfriend. Although this monster, as it turns out, is a lot more manageable and less dangerous.

 

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
Now this is Buffy the Vampire Slayer in all its greatness. It is of course, an iconic episode, but I had forgotten just how great it is. Well, there are a couple of plot points that don’t make an awful lot of sense… but I’m willing to overlook it, because it just keeps delivering emotional punches, from start to finish.
 
I’ll start by making my thoughts clear on a certain issue:

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timetravellingbunny: Angel's duality (Angel Tarot Temperance)
The start of the tradition of Buffy’s disastrous birthdays, and the first part of the game-changing two-parter, this episode works great as a setup for Innocence, but in itself it’s a mixed bag. There are some great moments in it, but the problem I’m having with it is that the Buffy/Angel romance, which is dominating the episode, is here crossing the line into really schmaltzy, while Angel is more than ever acting like a cardboard romantic hero. Watching him I was at moments relieved that he’s going to lose his soul by the end of the episode.

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Despite this episode’s bad reputation, I didn’t find it as awful as it’s cracked up to be. I can’t say that there was anything that especially annoys me about it – its only problem is that the main story is a little thin. The Texan vampire brothers Gorch are a comic relief red herring, and the real danger turns out to be in the eggs that the kids get to keep as a part of a school task to learn to take care of children – a possible unwanted consequence of sex. It’s another episode with a typical cheesy SF-monster plot (like Some Assembly Required and Ted), this time it’s possession story – the little parasite babies’ using the humans to lead them to the Mother. The title could be referring literally to the eggs, or metaphorically to the Gorches (who were always bad eggs, even as humans), or even Buffy, who’s a bit of a ‘bad egg’ in Joyce’s eyes. We’ve had a phallic monster earlier (Reptile Boy) and now the main monster is the big mom, a…uterine monster? While the other “villains” are the “children” possessing their surrogate parents. Overall the episode feels like a blatant metaphor about careless teenage sex, responsibility and pregnancy.

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The plot of this standalone is very similar to Joseph Ruben’s 1987 thriller The Stepfather with Terry O’Quinn: a teenage girl’s divorced mother finds a new, too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, a guy who seems to be an embodiment of the 1950s sitcom dad, all traditional and fatherly and nice and into “family values”, and only the girl is suspicious of him, and rightly so, because he’s actually a creepy serial killer obsessed with finding a perfect new family. Although in this case, Ted is less about family and kids and more about the perfect wife/marriage. Oh, and he’s actually a robot.

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I remember these episodes as being among my favorite pre-Innocence episodes, and they are as enjoyable. They have cracking dialogue throughout, especially part 2, Xander and Cordy's hilarious first kiss, the wonderfully twisted Spike/Dru/Angel dynamic, some great Oz moments… and the introduction of a major new plot point – another Slayer, an opportunity to examine the questions what it means to be a Slayer, what kind of Slayer Buffy is, and how she feels about her calling.

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