*Warning: This recap will contain spoilers relating to the plot of this episode. Turn back now if you want to watch it unspoiled*
The third episode of the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer introduces a new major antagonist for the gang, a new focus for the narrative and provides an action-packed episode where family and friends come under attack from a hungry pack of vampires.
The main talking point is the introduction of Spike (James Marsters) and Drusilla (Juliet Landau). They have a very interesting dynamic; at this point it is hard to see whether this is a relationship between two equals or a familial bond, where the older brother looks out for his sister. Drusilla is played as a child-like individual, possibly down to mental health issues or her upbringing and it is acted out to a creepy effect, punishing one of her dolls at a tea party by turning her around so she can’t see Drusilla “feed” on a victim. I think this portrayal is far more effective than that of the Anointed One, an all-powerful vampiric being in the body of a child, who has come across laughably dull at times. As for Spike, I think it is good for the series to have a vampire/supernatural being with a big personality, he injects life and drama into every scene he is present in. I also liked that he has a connection with Angel (David Boreanaz), who is his Sire; their one scene together was like ice clashing with fire, and I look forward to seeing more of that in the future.
Spike’s appearance also has a major bearing on the direction that the show is travelling in. For the first season and the first couple of episodes in season two, the mythology of the vampire narratives has driven the plot, with Buffy’s mentor Giles (Anthony Head) being able to predict what will happen based on his readings. Therefore, the antagonists have been ancient figures, The Master and subsequently the Anointed One. I don’t see how much further the latter could have lasted in the show due to his lack of presence. It is no surprise that they are bumped off by Spike in the closing moments of the episode in a literal changing-of-the-guard. This tactic will also help to bring other members of the primary cast into play because it won’t just be Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) going up against the villains, as it has been foretold.
Another element that “School Hard” succeeds in is bringing in is colliding Buffy’s personal and slayer worlds by putting her mother (Kristine Sutherland) to the forefront. In placing the vampire attack at a parent-teacher conference, it gives the character a genuine reason to be there; it wouldn’t have made much sense to have her at the school during The Master’s attack at the climax of season one. The foundations to this were laid earlier in the episode, where there is a nice little conversation between the two as they think back to the last time they had to move house because of Buffy. Buffy’s mother notices the strained look on Buffy’s face and how much pressure is under, telling her to “wait until you get a job”. There is an emotional moment as Buffy admits once her mother has left that “I already have a job”. Although Joyce doesn’t get know about Buffy’s secret, only that her daughter helped to chase away the gang who were threatening those at the school, there is a lovely moment that follows on from the earlier conversation where Joyce says how proud she is of Buffy. Plus Joyce took the axe to Spike when he was threatening Buffy, literally, and that moment had echoes of Ripley in Aliens.
In terms of the other primary characters, this episode does not introduce any new threads for them, rather maintain what has happened before. So Xander (Nicholas Brendon) is still jealous of the feelings Buffy has for Angel, who are still doing that half-dating act because Angel can’t read women, which I thought was funny for a vampire of over two hundred years in age. Giles and Miss Calendar (Robia LaMorte) are still in the early stages of their blossoming relationship, with their conversation at the end almost feeling identical to the one they had at the end of the previous episode. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) hits a vampire with a stone head and then spends most of it stuck in a cupboard with Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who has a new hair style and is reluctantly helping the Scooby gang more following the previous episode.
The introductions of Spike and Drusilla look set to spark new life into the narrative and the show from the antagonist’s point of view. Also, there were good scenes between Buffy and her mother Joyce that I hope the series does more of in the future. In all, “School Hard” is the highlight from the opening three episodes.