Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2, Episode 14 Review – “Innocence”

Written By: Joss Whedon
Directed By: Joss Whedon
Broadcast Date: 20 January 1998
Buffy and her friends battle the Judge and face an unexpected danger from Angel, who has lost his soul after experiencing a moment of true happiness

Last we left off… Drusilla (Juliet Landau), restored to her full power, decides to give vampire slayer Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) a nasty surprise for her seventeenth birthday by combining the scattered body parts of a legendary demon known as The Judge. Meanwhile, Miss Calendar (Robia LaMorte) is visited by her uncle and revealed to be part of a group of gypsies who has good reason to ensure that Angel (David Boreanaz) never experiences true happiness in his eternal life. Buffy and Angel narrowly escape the clutches of The Judge and make love for the first time in their blossoming relationship. However, in the middle of the night, a storm awakens Angel and he runs into the pouring rain in agony, screaming Buffy’s name as the unaware slayer is asleep in his bed.

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

So, Angel is no more, and Angelus has risen. This was the major event that viewers have waited for this season, one that changes the show for the better. Although Angel was a decent character and had some good scenes with Buffy (original in a pre-Twilight era), it was noted that his development has effectively stalled, lacking some major moments of his own whilst being roped in as the solution or the saviour to the other members of the Scooby Gang. This was a shame given the power of his backstory revealed in the first season. In this episode, through the loss of his soul, the possibilities for his character are endless, not just with regards to Buffy but also through his past with Spike (James Marsters) and in particular Drusilla. David Boreanaz provides some great moments in this episode in his portrayal of Angelus, giving him multiple shades so that the character is even more unpredictable than the antagonists already present.

Showrunner Joss Whedon steps into the writing position for this episode and he does a really great job, not least in the way that action and plot development does not diminish the emotional impact that the characters feel from the events here. Buffy is rightfully given a lot of screen time to process the fact that the vampire she loves, who saw her at her most vulnerable, is no more. Sarah Michelle Gellar showcases her range with a fantastic performance, displaying all of poor Buffy’s emotions. She is given the tools to succeed with some beautifully written scenes at the close of the episode, firstly with her mentor Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) not allowing her to think it is her fault for Angelus losing his soul, and then a sombre but tender scene with her mother (Kristine Sutherland), where she says she will just let her birthday candle burn instead of making a wish, before laying on her mother’s shoulder. For all of her power and abilities, Buffy is still a seventeen year old, and though I have had reservations with certain episodes trying to force in that aspect, this episode showcased this fact perfectly.

The Main Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Season 2
(Joss Whedon/20th Television)

“Innocence” is the second part of a narrative involving the rise of The Judge (Brian Thompson), a powerful demon who can burn the humanity out of individuals, which would kill the victim if they were human. It took a whole army to defeat and dismember the demon the last time they walked on Earth, which gives Xander (Nicholas Brendon) an idea that brilliantly utilises the events of “Halloween”, in which he was turned into a soldier and appears he retained the knowledge gained that night – I love it when writers remember the events of previous episodes instead of retconning them. Xander and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) breaking into the US military base was a silly moment, but worth it for the sight of Buffy wielding an anti-tank weapon in a shopping centre and firing a rocket at The Judge – though I’m pretty sure Buffy would have been noticed as the one holding a dangerous firearm in a public place and firing it at someone. The Judge did give viewers a hint at his power when he attacked dozens of people at once, though we are yet to see a demonic entity that has the potential to be a recurring threat to Buffy and Sunnydale.

Such is the strength of Whedon’s writing in this episode that every other character gets their own narrative. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) finally uncovers the secret relationship between Xander and Cordelia and her fury that Xander would rather kiss someone who they both previously hated than her is clear to see, and is a long time coming given how he led her on during Season One, when he really just had feelings for Buffy. It isn’t hard to see it from her point of view, but she then attempts to use poor Oz (Seth Green; quickly becoming one of my favourite characters on the show) in her revenge, which she is better than. There is a lovely scene between the two where Oz admits that he has daydreamed about Willow kissing him, but doesn’t pressure her and can wait for that to happen; the pair are definitely the best couple on the show at the moment and I am intrigued to see whether their happiness can last beyond a few episodes.

Speaking of couples, Giles and Jenny’s relationship comes crashing to a halt when the latter’s treacherous involvement in Angel’s suffering is revealed, to the disgust of both Giles and Buffy. The Gypsy curse around Angelus and the attempt to create another curse will definitely be a slow burner this season, as Jenny’s uncle is brutally murdered by Angelus, with his blood being used to create a gloating message for Buffy. I believe that there will be a moment for Jenny to be redeemed, as her position, though a sneaky one, does expand this universe to include magic users (the Witch in Season One was a one-off), and it also puts her squarely against Angelus and the other vampires. But it is unlikely that Giles will ever truly be able to forgive her, especially putting the Slayer’s life and happiness at risk just to keep Angel from being truly happy.

Verdict: The follow-up episode to “Surprise” is one of the best on the show to date, with a dynamic switch that will allow for a lot of development among the characters. Some terrific writing from showrunner Joss Whedon allows all of the main characters to have their moment, and the image of Buffy wielding a rocket launcher will be ingrained on my mind for a long time to come. I look forward to the second half of this season, to see whether Angelus will regain his soul, or how far he will go to make Buffy’s life a living hell.

Episode Score: 9/10

In the next episode, a series of animal attacks see a hunter arrive in Sunnydale – a werewolf hunter. You can read my review of Episode 15 – “Phases” soon.

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