I certainly didn’t expect to be writing the next one of these so soon, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Buffy it’s that the show is watchable as anything. We finished up the season in a five episode marathon a couple of days ago, and not for one second did I want to take a breather.
Becoming a Buffy fan is every stereotype of the Whedon experience distilled to its purest. The dialogue is playful. The characters are lovable. The stories are earnest. Things are, occasionally, silly. But most importantly it hurts. Whedon’s reputation for ripping out the hearts of his viewers wasn’t earned for nothing, after all. Two of his greatest strengths as a storyteller are his ability to deeply endear audiences with his characters coupled with a willingness to use that attachment to create pain.
He won’t just kill Giles’ love interest Jenny Calendar, he’ll put her corpse in his bed. And why stop at turning Angel evil the moment he and Buffy consummate their relationship? In their first post-coital scene, the newly soulless vampire mocks Buffy’s inexperience while she—at her most vulnerable—gradually breaks down in tears, unable to understand why the person she loves most in the world is suddenly acting like their relationship is meaningless, and that she’s to blame.
The only reason it works so well is because 90% of the series is more or less lighthearted. Sure, students at Sunnydale have a higher mortality rate than deep sea fishermen, but that’s almost part of the fun. It’s all banter and fighting and friendship until the darkness hits, which is why it hits so fucking hard.
The trajectory of this season was fantastic, and a great sign of things to come. The vampire leadership shifting from the Anointed One to the scene-stealing Spike and Drusilla to Angel felt natural, as did the relationships that continued to develop amongst the core cast. Everything progressed naturally, with even the episodes that appeared to stand alone including scenes that built the overall narrative.
There were still some unintentionally dumb stories, but watched with a roomful of funny people, those are wonderful. The highlight this time around was “Go Fish,” featuring an idiotic message about steroids and a swim team coach with some of the least believable motivations ever devised. Great stuff.
But for the vast majority of episodes this season, I didn’t need any sense of irony to deem them great. Bring on Season 3.