You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it’s because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster.
There’s a number of Buffy episodes I’ve watched so often that I know them inside and out. There’s a second set that I’ll watch if they come on but don’t seek out. And then there’s that third kind: the ones that aren’t very good or unmemorable or painful – I mean, who really sits down one day and says to themselves “This really feels like a “Bad Eggs” day”?
“Amends” falls into that third category. With everything that happens in the third season, it just get lost in the shuffle. I sat down with it again tonight – possibly only the third or fourthtime I’ve watched it; I have got to move this up my internal list. “Amends” is so chock full of foreshadowing that I forgive it for inflicting Angel’s horrendous, horrendous “Irish” accent on the world.
I remembered, obviously, that this was the episode where we meet The First, who is, of course, the Big Bad of Season 7. To me, that was basically the summary of the episode: “Here’s the episode with The First, can we move on to the one where Buffy’s mom tries to burn her at the stake?” I had quite forgotten how dark the storyline is, how creepy The First’s manifestations are, and how deep Angel’s despair was.
If you’re not particularly familiar with the plot, let me catch you up: Angel is tormented by The First, who claims to have brought him back to this dimension. The First appears as people Angelus murdered – Jenny Calendar, most frequently – and encourages him to rape Buffy, lose his soul, and then kill her. When he refuses to kill Buffy and decides to commit suicide by waiting for the sunrise, well, that’ll suit The First’s plans as well. Buffy’s on-again, off-again psychic powers drag her into the mystery and she intercedes to keep Angel from going through with the plan. There are a lot of flashbacks, wigs, bustles, and one particularly horrid fake accent.
So let’s look at what is being set up here:
– The First and its priests, The Bringers, are introduced as the villains who scare monsters. The First has a vested interested in killing Buffy, specifically – not Slayers, since it’s not going after Faith – for a reason that is not articulated but becomes important four years after this show airs.
– Angel, ensouled, is a danger to The First’s plans. Angelus would be a major foot soldier. Angel is so important to the cosmic plan that The Powers That Be directly intercede in his attempt to commit suicide.
– Despair so great it leads to a death wish. Angel is tormented by his past as Angelus and being pulled back to earth. He was in another dimension, getting his just rewards, and is brought back to this plane of existence for reasons he doesn’t understand. He is tormented just by being here and is unable to emotionally connect to people who used to be his friends. Sound familiar?
The first point is just the set up for Season 7. You know, “just.”
The second point is mostly pertinent to Angel’s spin-off show. He performs an important service in the fight against The First in Season 7, but truth be told, there’s nothing he does that couldn’t have been done via Fed Ex. Even if he had stayed and fought, his aid alone wouldn’t have been enough to turn the tide. It’s Buffy’s plan that beats back The First and the Turok-Han. From the show’s mythology, The First probably wasn’t aware of what Buffy specifically would do to harm it, but it has enough of an inkling that she’s dangerous to the plan that it brings Angel back to kill her.
I’m really far more interested in the last point. “Amends” is a microcosm of the entire first half of the sixth season. The parallels are unmistakable – both Angel and Buffy are ripped out of other dimensions against their wills and their returns to this plane of existence is pure torture for them. Angel’s ennui manages to escalate and come to a head over the course of a few days. Buffy wallows in hers for months, unable to tell anyone but Spike what happened to her. Angel has Buffy reach out to him at his lowest point, letting him know someone loves him and needs him.
Compare Buffy’s speech to Angel to Dawn and Spike’s in “Once More With Feeling,” which is itself a turn around of what she says in the Season 5 finale:
Angel: Buffy, please. Just this once… let me be strong.
Buffy: Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don’t expect me to mourn for you, because…
Buffy: Dawn, listen to me, listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles”¦ tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I’m okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world”¦ is to live in it. Be brave. Live”¦ for me.
“Once More With Feeling”:
Buffy: There was no pain, no fear, no doubt, till they pulled me out of heaven. So that’s my refrain. I live in hell ’cause I’ve been expelled from heaven. I think I was in heaven. So give me something to sing about. Please give me something.
Spike: Life’s not a song. Life isn’t bliss, life is just this. It’s living. You’ll get along. The pain that you feel can only heal by living. You have to go on living. So one of us is living.
Dawn: The hardest thing in this world… is to live in it.
Let’s not leave out the fact that both characters try to immolate themselves – Angel by waiting for a sunrise that never comes and Buffy by dancing until she burns and is then saved by Spike’s intercession.
Pull out your DVDs or put on your Netflix, fast forward to the scene where Buffy and Angel have their confrontation on the hill and it starts to snow. Listen to the score. Does it sound familiar? It’s repeated again in the overture of “Once More With Feeling” and parts of it are used in “The Gift.”
There is too much here to claim coincidence. In a few weeks, the show drops another long-term omen in “Graduation Day, Part 2,” predicting the arrival of a character who doesn’t appear for two years. Whedon was playing the long game with the show. It pays off – we’re still talking about it and the characters still impact people. There are so few shows that really impact popular culture the way Buffy has and a lot of it is due to episodes and story arcs like this. Everything matters.
There’s a few other brilliant pieces in the episode I’d be remiss not to mention. Giles continues to break my heart, still suffering from Jenny’s death and Angel’s reappearance, unwilling to forgive but willing to help Buffy find out what’s going on because he loves her just that much. Every scene he’s in is fantastic, but nothing is as brilliant as his conversation with Angel in the apartment.
Oz continues to be the boyfriend (some) of us wish we’d had, turning down sex with Willow because he’s not willing to take advantage of her guilt.
Xander continues to be a jackass, but both gets told off for it and tries to make amends (hah!) by helping Buffy and Giles. His character development is always one small step forward and a giant leap back.
Next week: “Gingerbread”