My people — before I was changed — they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty… and the heart… Well, you know… Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.
So here we are, my friends. I’ve been harping on this story arc since I started doing the rewatch series and now that we’re here, I’m almost afraid I won’t do it justice.
Prior to “Surprise” and its second part, “Innocence,” B:TVS had some notably good episodes, some very interesting things to say about teenaged girls and power, and some very novel approaches to the vampire genre. But it’s right here in season 2 that show really begins to prove what a game changer it was. Now that we live in a television landscape oversaturated with supernatural high school dramas and teenaged girls who have more sex than some paid professionals, many of the revolutionary parts of this show seem, well, less original than they really are. But back when “Surprise” originally aired (January 19, 1998), good girls on television shows didn’t have consensual, female-initiated sex with their older boyfriends. Honest, they didn’t. Brenda and Dylan’s horizontal mambo on Beverly Hills, 90210 had caused a firestorm when it aired several years prior to this, despite Brenda bring appropriately punished with a pregnancy scare, her parents finding out about her night at the Spring Dance, and a refusal to have sex again until she was “ready.” For Buffy, a character specifically designed to be inspirational (but maybe not exactly aspirational) to young girls to have sex with her boyfriend, on prime time television? It was almost unheard of.
Buffy and Angel’s lovemaking did have its repercussions, both in the larger metaphysical sense of the show and on a personal level for the characters, but I think it’s important to draw a difference between “repercussions” and “punishments.” Their night together ““ not just the sex, but the entire emotional impact of the night they spend together and how much they love each other ““ becomes the “one moment of happiness” that breaks the gypsy curse and banishes Angel’s soul. Once the soul is gone, all that is left behind is Angelus, the monster. This is a punishment ““ but not for Buffy. It’s a punishment for Angel, the culmination of a curse placed on him over a century before. He is the one who transgressed; he is the one who is punished. Buffy sleeps peacefully through Angel’s tortured scene in the rain.
When Angelus literally becomes a different man after sex, when he becomes cold and callous towards Buffy, the scene obviously pulls for many real life stories of finding that sex has changed a previously doting partner. This isn’t really a punishment either ““ it’s real life. Sex changes things. Sometimes we find out we made bad choices, that we didn’t have all the cards and neither did Buffy. Her choice had a repercussion that is particularly unpleasant, but the show is careful not to frame it as a moral failing. We see this specifically in how the other characters react when they find out what happened ““ there is some surprise and some shock, but mostly empathy for Buffy’s ordeal. Even Giles, who has spent most of season 2 lecturing Buffy about her impulsiveness and risk taking, is entirely gentle with her when she breaks down at the end of “Innocence,” lightening the burden of guilt Buffy has shouldered for releasing Angelus into the world.
I’ve seen plenty of essays that point to this two parter as “evidence” that Whedon is anti-feminist because Angel turns after he’s with Buffy, but I say to that: they’re not paying close enough attention. Acknowledging that sex changes things is not anti-feminist; pretending women lead a virtuous and cloistered lives until matrimony introduces a perfect sexual pairing is.
The episode opens, as do many important B:TVS story arcs, with a dream. Buffy wakes up in her room and as she walks through her house, finds herself at a party in the Bronze. Willow is there, with a little monkey, and tells Buffy in French that the hippo has stolen his pants. Her mother is there, drinking tea, and drops a saucer after asking Buffy if she’s sure she’s ready. (I thought the hymen reference was a little heavy handed.) And then there’s Angel, waiting for her across the dance floor. Before she can reach him, Drusilla appears from behind and stakes him.
In the morning, she’s sure that something has happened to Angel, so she rushes to his bizarre windowless apartment (where is this thing supposed to be? the sewers?) to check on him. He’s safe. Dru is dead. He calms her fears with a kiss. Not all dreams are prophetic.
Buffy can’t shake the feeling of foreboding the dream has left her with. Maybe if she knew that Willow’s appearance in the dream referenced an actual conversation Willow and Oz had, something that Buffy had no way of knowing, she’d force everyone to treat her seriously. Because across town, Dru and Spike are holed up in the old warehouse, planning a coming out party for Dru’s recovery. Spike always gives her the best presents: for this shindig, he’s collecting all the scattered pieces of The Judge, a demon so powerful he couldn’t be defeated, just disassembled. Nor does she know that Jenny’s uncle has shown up in town to check on her, wanting to know why the curse their people placed on Angel a century ago seems to be weakening. Jenny cops to knowing about Angel and Buffy’s relationship and pledging to destroy it, as part of her responsibility to her gypsy family.
At school, the Scooby Gang is busy planning a surprise party for Buffy’s 17th birthday. Willow asks Oz to go as her date and Xander asks Cordelia, but only one of these couples actually attends as a couple. You wouldn’t be surprised which one.
The night of the party, Jenny offers to drive Buffy to “meet Giles,” which is set up all sorts of ominously, since we now know Jenny isn’t who she pretends to be, but ends with”¦ Jenny driving Buffy to the party. It’s a total coincidence that a bunch of Spike’s vamps are there accepting a delivery of one of the Judge’s body parts. This is probably fairly par for the course for Slayer birthday party celebrations. She crashes her own surprise party when she literally crashes through a window at the Bronze.
The body parts are uncovered, the plan is uncovered, Dru is uncovered, and no one eats any birthday cake. But one of the best exchanges of the entire series is offered up:
Oz: Yeah. Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?
Willow: Uh, well, uh… sort of.
Xander: Yep. Vampires are real. A lot of them live in Sunnydale. Willow will fill you in.
Willow: I know it’s hard to accept at first.
Oz: Actually, it explains a lot.
Things move pretty quickly from here on out. Jenny suggests that Angel takes the bit of the demon they have and deposit in some remote region of the world, which conveniently separates Buffy/Angel and is an actual good deed, so maybe her karma won’t suffer too much. Despite Buffy’s protests, Angel insists on taking the first freighter he can hop down at the dock. (Jenny will drive!) During their emotional, star-crossed lover’s goodbye, a group of vampires set upon them, kick their various asses, toss Buffy in the harbor AND make off with the disembodied arm. This is the worst birthday ever. As a side note, this is also the most competent vampire waylaying in the show’s history. They should have taken notes.
Buffy heads back to the school to get clean clothes ““ specifically, you may note the return of the giraffe pants — and see if the gang has turned up any useful tips about what she’s got to fight. Everything is all gloom and doom. Judge is bad news. Judge will extinguish all of humanity. Judge can not be killed by any forged weapons. Demons are always such bummers, man.
She and Angel head over to the warehouse to see how far along Dru is in assembly her particle man, only to be greeted with more bad news. Not only is Dru alive, but so is Spike (even if he’s confined with wheelchair), and the Judge is brought back to life faster that you can say “get the hell out of Dodge.” Then they get caught by some minions. Buffy is just totally off her game.
She rallies enough to orchestrate an escape before the Judge can burn the humanity out of them, disappearing into the sewers, and eventually into the rain, so that they’re both very wet and cold by the time they get to Angel’s hideyhole. So wet and cold they need to change clothes again. Which reminds them of being naked. Which leads to a kiss. And another kiss. And when Angel pulls away, it’s Buffy that makes the move, pulling him back down to her.
Afterwards, while laying in each other’s arms, Angel is awakened in pain and confusion, stumbling out of bed and to the streets outside, where he cries for Buffy while she sleeps, oblivious to the storm outside”¦
Bonus Content: Rasputina performing “˜Transylvania Concubine.”