Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | February 19, 2011

Robin’s Review: S2, E02 – When She Was Bad

Synopsis: Buffy returns after spending the summer with her Dad and seems distant. She trains with great intensity, mocks Angel, teases Xander and is silent with Joyce. Meanwhile the Anointed One gathers vampires to try and resurrect the Master. They begin to gather those who were closest to him when he died and trick Buffy into leaving Giles and Willow unprotected.

The Good: This was a really strong episode. So many shows fail to adequately deal with the consequences of their major storylines. So many ignore the psychological effects that trauma and violence would have on people too. Buffy was not only killed by the Master, she was scared by him. He made her feel vulnerable and helpless. He made her think about how short her life might be in a way she had never had to consider before.

So this episode was an extended therapy session for her as she dealt with those feelings. Although that was spelt out by episodes end it was handled with great skill throughout. The conversation between her parents was absolutely perfect in getting across what had happened. Buffy spent the holidays away from Sunnydale and that actually led to her brooding and turning the trauma over in her head rather than dealing with it. Even better though was that the conversation between Joyce and Hank made it clear that since becoming the Slayer Buffy has changed dramatically as a person. Her parents don’t understand the growing distance and silence and they never can.

Buffy also spent the summer thinking about Angel and takes our her frustrations on both him and Xander in a very cruel way. At the Bronze she leads Xander on with intimate dancing right in front of both Willow and Angel. I particularly liked Xander’s reaction to that as he couldn’t fully enjoy the moment, knowing full well that he hadn’t really won her over. It was left to Cordelia to point out to Buffy what a bitch she was being which continued the process of integrating Cordelia into the world of the slayerettes nicely.

I liked that the Anointed One was smart enough to trick Buffy and get to those he needed to. In the end Xander and Willow offered Buffy unspoken forgiveness for her behaviour, recognising that what she had been through was traumatic enough to justify a little acting out. It was a very pleasant and mature moment which I think was more enjoyable than seeing her have to actually apologise and be verbally forgiven.

Willow and Xander almost kiss in a very well written opening scene where a summer of no Buffy seems to have finally turned Xander’s head enough that he, at least for a moment, considers Willow as potentially something more than a friend. It was a nice moment and despite still clearly wanting Buffy, one had to assume that Xander will move on sooner rather than later.

The episode was paced well with a necessary dose of action to break up the character interplay. We also got some nice banter between Giles and Principal Snyder and some trademark humour from Cordelia.

I think what impressed me most about the episode though was the acting from Sarah Michelle Gellar. I commented throughout season one on what a good choice she was for the role of Buffy and that was on full display here. There are two aspects to her performance which struck me here. The first was her ability to handle the humour and light heartedness of the show. When she returns from her break and saves Willow and Xander from a vampire she smiles and asks “Miss me?” She does such a good job of balancing those silly superhero lines with how serious her calling really is. The second aspect is that in playing the bitch here you could imagine Gellar playing the Cordelia role fairly well. I think that is what makes Buffy such a strong female lead. She could use her looks and charm and power to get more from life than she does. But instead she steadfastly sticks to doing the right thing. It’s that morality that makes her a hero, rather than the powers and Gellar plays it perfectly.

The Bad: If Angel wants Buffy to trust him then maybe he should consider knocking before climbing in her window. That was creepy. The music which played to indicate all was well once more at the episode’s end was a little too cheesy.

The Unknown: We still don’t know much about the Anointed One and it’s difficult to ask a young child to play a convincing villain.

I wouldn’t blame anyone who thought the “produce placement” of having the band Cibo Matto on the show was unnecessarily distracting. I didn’t have a problem with it as their slow songs played into the plot nicely.

Best Moment: Lots to choose from here but Buffy’s sexual dancing with Xander was a very effective scene for showing off what kind of person she could be without her moral code.

The Bottom Line: An excellent character episode which dealt with the trauma of season one’s finale with great skill.

71/100

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