She made me feel like a human being. That’s not the kind of thing you just forgive.
This episode is still a punch in the gut. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it since it first aired but like other great Buffy episodes ““ “The Body” or “The Gift” among them ““ “Innocence” holds onto its wallop. There’s not a lot of action in the episode, despite that it ends with a rocket launcher and a fight in the rain, so we can get right to the meat of the story.
Last time we left Angel crying out in the stormy streets of Back Alley, Sunnydale. When we pick up again, the storm is over and so is Angel’s agony. As metaphors go, this is about as subtle as a brick to the head. Angel picks himself up off the street and helps himself to the first unprotected throat that comes along. (The plume of smoke he blows out after killing the smoker is a cool image, but what the hell? You don’t drain the blood through the trachea.)
Buffy wakes up alone in Angel’s bed. She sneaks back into her house but runs into Joyce ““ not the first person one wants to run into after the first time you’ve had an adult sleepover at your undead boyfriend’s place. Joyce, as usual, is willfully oblivious. It’s gonna hurt like hell when those blinders get ripped off her eyes. Buffy runs upstairs to burn her giraffe pants.
Pay attention the sartorial choices in this episode. In “Surprise,” Buffy is dressed in all light colors, whites and off-whites, with her hair loose. In this, the other half of the episode, after losing her virginity, Buffy is clad in dark colors that get darker as the episode goes on. (Also, she replaces the giraffe pants with velvet dragon pants. I don’t even.) When she’s unsure of what’s going on, it’s dark pants with a lace sweater/shell set in nude and black. When she goes to battle, she’s dressed in all black. Her hair is pulled up and tight, and I swear it actually looks darker through most of this episode than it did in the one prior. Dru went through a similar color scheme change after a big character change ““ prior to the ritual to restore her health, she’s clad in romantic, light-colored dresses. Dreamy, fluffy things. Once her health is restored, all we see her in are dark, sensual colors, tight dresses in reds and blacks. Say what we will about the actual clothes the show picks for them, they pay a lot of attention to the small details. Buffy and Angel are actually dressed almost identically in the climatic fight scene at the end ““ I’m not sure exactly what to make of that, but I doubt it’s coincidental.
The Scoobies have been hanging at the library most of the night and are getting worried that they haven’t heard from either Buffy or Angel. Xander and Willow want to storm the warehouse and rescue their friends while everyone else hangs back and gets a tongue lashing from Willow about their lack of loyalty. Buffy turns up before anything rash is done. Not that she’s bearing good news ““ the Judge is still active and apocalypse-y, and Angel is still missing.
Well, not missing. Just, you know, looking up old friends and lovers at the warehouse, and getting his lack of humanity vetted by the Judge. (Who most watchers will recognize was also Luke, the Master’s sidekick from season 1.) Dru is much more excited to have Angelus back than Spike is, but we quickly grok that there is some sexual competition there for Dru’s affection. Team Bad Guys appears formidable.
That night, Buffy checks for Angel one last time at his apartment. He’s there, shirtless and waiting for her. I can just imagine him hiding out in the corner waiting for her, refusing to put a shirt on just for that little extra jolt she’ll get when she sees him. God. He’s such an asshole. He’s a cold, distant asshole. Buffy is so relived to see him that she starts crying and he slithers out of her embrace and leaves her staring at him, confused.
Angelus: It was a good time. All right? It doesn’t mean, like, we have to make a big deal.
Buffy: It is a big deal.
Angelus: It’s what? Bells ringing, fireworks, a dulcet choir of pretty little birdies? Come on, Buffy. It’s not like I’ve never been there before.
Buffy: Don’t touch me.
Angelus: I should’ve known you wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Buffy: Angel! I love you.
Angelus: Love you, too. I’ll call you.
What’s horrifying about the exchange is just how prosaic it is. That conversation has been held thousands of times, with only the details being changed, but it’s never any less devastating for the repetition. Buffy is a superhero ““ she saves the world, she fights the good fight, she died for us ““ and she still doesn’t get a happy ever after, or even a happy morning after. And sometimes, no matter how nice we are, how well we thought we knew our lovers, neither do we.
The acting here is just so on spot. Poor SMG looks like her heart is just shattering.
While Buffy is getting her heart trod on, Jenny is checking in with Uncle Enyos. She thinks Angel is still missing and thinks Enyos will be able to track him down. Her uncle doesn’t care ““ he doesn’t care about the Judge, or Buffy’s feelings, or Jenny’s guilt. He’s an instrument of vengeance:
Enyos: The curse. Angel is meant to suffer, not to live as human. One moment of true happiness, of contentment, one moment where the soul that we restored no longer plagues his thoughts, and that soul is taken from him.
I just wanted to emphasize what the curse actually was since so many people assume that it was having sex with Buffy that caused Angel to lose his soul, and, once restored, that he should lose it yet again if he has more of The Sex with people. But the curse is pretty pointed. It’s predicated on happiness, on peace and contentment. It wasn’t sex with Buffy that damned Angel, it was the moment he laid down his burden and was at peace.
At the school, Angel has shown up to slaughter all of Buffy’s friends, starting with Willow, who is also having a pretty rough night before the whole threat of death thing, since she caught Xander and Cordelia making out. Jenny is suspiciously prepared for an Angel attack, already armed with a cross and knowledge that he’s up to no good. No one gets killed though, since Buffy shows up and ruins Angel’s little surprise care package.
The cross ends up being Jenny’s undoing. Buffy realizes that Jenny knows more than she’s letting on and slams her way through the school until Jenny confesses who she really is. Poor Giles. Everyone is getting their hearts broken this episode. Jenny offers to take Buffy to meet with her uncle. Except that he’s already dead and whatever knowledge he had about the curse is lost to the ages.
And so we come to the conclusion. With the Judge still out there and no help for Angel’s soul in site, the gang needs to deal with the impending massacre. No weapon forged can kill him, so the Scoobies improvise.
Angel, Dru, and the Judge attack the Sunnydale Mall and Movie complex, burning the souls right out of people. Buffy, who has had a really shitty day and always feels better after a good fight, climbs to the top of the movie concession stand, and thanks to a little help from Xander, produces a rocket launcher.
And then she blows the Judge up.
I gotta say, it’s pretty badass.
The gang sets about collecting whatever pieces of the Judge are left while Buffy takes off after Angel, finally confronting him in the theater lobby. Oh, hey, did you know Quest for Camelot was coming out when this episode aired? It was. There are a dozen posters advertising it in prominent places during the fight scene.
The fight is a great one, huge kicks and punches, people being slammed through glass cases and thrown around. “You can’t do it,” Angel mocks her, still trying to get under her skin. “Not yet,” she answers, and drop kicks his testicles. “But I’m getting there.” She leaves him crying on the floor.
Giles drives her home later. He’s figured out what happened, but it took a while.
Buffy: You must be so disappointed in me.
Giles: No. No, no, I’m not.
Buffy: But this is all my fault.
Giles: No. I don’t believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you that you acted rashly? You did. A-and I can. I know that you loved him. And… he… has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn’t have known what would happen. The coming months a-are gonna, are gonna be hard… I, I suspect on all of us, but… if it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is, is my support. And my respect.
Sometimes Giles is the dad we all wish we had.
Bonus content: The movie that Buffy and Joyce are watching at the end of the episode is the 1936 musical Stowaway, which stars Shirley Temple. “Goodnight My Love” is the song being sung. I can’t find a copy of the clip, so the lovely Sarah Vaughan will just have to be an acceptable substitute.