Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | March 6, 2011

Robin’s Review: S2, E03 – School Hard

Synopsis: Principal Snyder puts Buffy and fellow “trouble maker” Sheila in charge of Parent-Teacher night to see if they can get in his good graces. Meanwhile a new vampire Spike and his girlfriend Drusilla arrive in town, bragging to the Anointed One that they can kill Buffy. Spike takes a look at Buffy by arranging a scuffle outside the Bronze and then promises to kill her on the Night of St Vigeous in a few days. Instead though he gets bored and crashes Parent-Teacher night forcing Buffy to protect the teachers, her friends and Joyce.

The Good: This was a tremendous episode which forever changed the show.

You won’t find many better introductions for a character than Spike gets here. So far vampires have appeared dull and characterless animals for the most part. Darla aside, even Luke, the Master and Angel have all been fairly stern and serious figures. So in walks Spike, a character of vibrant colour. As soon as he swaggers out of his car you are struck by the contrast with the other vampires: he smokes, he has dyed hair, he has a specific look, he has a sense of humour, he makes pop culture references, he has human reactions and emotions.

So much of what makes a TV show work are the intangibles. You can write a great part but if you get the wrong actor it won’t quite make the impact you were aiming for. Sometimes though an actor inhabits a part so wonderfully that you end up with something better than you could have imagined. James Marsters looks born to play Spike. His impact on the screen is instant and striking and there was an amazing range of things he was able to do. He is tremendously charismatic and his distinctive pseudo-cockney accent sounds very natural. The result is that he is able to deliver simple phrases like “metaphorically speaking” and “I feel better” with a twist of personality that the script didn’t necessarily intend. The script does aid him of course by giving him a well rounded personality. He obviously likes the grandstanding and bragging but can also switch up in an instant to understatement “I couldn’t wait” (when breaking into the school) or anger “You think you can fool me?” (when Angel tries to trick him). He also shows a rebellious streak (killing the Anointed), leadership skills (ordering the other vampires around), tenderness (towards Drusilla) and of course plenty of humour.

By the end of the episode he has changed the show forever. By replacing the Anointed One the show changes Buffy’s adversaries from dark metaphors for teenage angst into a super villain who has desires and relationships to concern him. We saw how fascinating this idea could be in “Angel” (107) and now it looks set to become a weekly fixture in the show. From an audience investment point of view this is a massive change. Where last week the time spent with Daryl and Chris seemed inconsequential, here every scene with Spike and Drusilla felt as important as those with the Slayerettes. Let’s not forget Drusilla who has her own look, accent and personality. Apparently unhinged and potentially clairvoyant she is obviously less easy to pin down at this stage but adds a whole intriguing dimension to the new villains in town.

Spike also provided the most exciting and entertaining action plot that the show has produced so far. There was genuine tension in seeing the teachers and parents trapped in the school confused and scared as Spike stalked the hallways calling out for Buffy. Everyone was on top form with Giles and Joyce able to show off parental emotions toward Buffy while she worked tirelessly to keep everyone safe. Angel stepped in to add some back-story to Spike and allow Xander to admit to his firmly held prejudices. The resolution to the story saw Joyce step in to save Buffy and compliment her daughter’s bravery and cool head in the crisis. It was actually quite a moving moment as Buffy is given love and approval in the real world for her work as a slayer. Spike adds to this sense of what Buffy has accomplished by contemplating on the fact that a “Slayer with family and friends” is a new idea for him. This underlines what Buffy’s goodness has brought her: a team of allies who will help her fight evil.

Amongst all the action the writers found time to slip in some solid humour too. Again Willow points out the obvious about Angel (that he may have had four hundred dates!) and swiftly changes subject. I also thought she played her reaction to Buffy’s sugarless lemonade perfectly.

The Bad: The body double used for Spike was not well chosen as his much thicker blonde hair stood out instantly as Buffy smacked him into the wall.

The Unknown: Principal Snyder talks to someone from the police after the attack and they all but acknowledge that they are aware of the existence of vampires. They agree to blame the attack on a PCP-fuelled gang rather than admit the “truth.” It seems like an intelligent direction to go (as we have seen before with the FBI in 111) to present the wider authorities as being aware of the existence of demons on a limited scale. Hopefully we will find out a little more about the extent of their knowledge as the show goes on.

Spike refers to Angel as his “Sire.” Presumably this means that Angel turned him into a vampire?

Best Moment: It’s tough to ignore a line of dialogue as outrageously good as this one. It manages to touch upon pop cultural peaks, show off Spike’s personality, make a realistic point about the age and origin of the average vampire and just generally amuse. The Anointed One has his few vampires gathered and one of them is claiming that he can kill Buffy. “When I do” he says “it’ll be the greatest event since the Crucifixion. And I should know, I was there.” A voice laughs its interruption as Spike appears saying “You were there?! Oh please! If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock…I was actually at Woodstock, that was a weird gig. I fed off a flower person and I spent the next six hours watching my hand move.”

The Bottom Line: We already knew the casting on Buffy was very good but this kicks things up a notch. Spike not only changes the nature of villainy on the show but he looks like he has been playing the part for years. The result is a really exciting and entertaining episode which makes you want to watch more. Terrific stuff.

80/100

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