Written By: Ty King
Directed By: Michael Gershman
Broadcast Date: 24th February 1998
Angel torments Buffy as Jenny Calendar looks for a way to restore his soul.
*Warning: This review contains major spoilers. Please do not continue if you intend to watch this episode unspoiled*
After last episode’s aborted attempt from soulless vampire Angelus (David Boreanaz) to torment Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) on Valentine’s Day, the opening of this ramps up the tension to eleven. Viewers will watch nervously as Angelus stalks the Slayer and her friends both in and outside the town’s bar, and then using his invitation of accessing Buffy’s house to watch her as she sleeps. A brilliantly unnerving and minimalistic beat accompanies these scenes, the sense of dread increasing with every second that passes. Buffy wakes up to find a hand-drawn image of her sleeping next to her bed. Simple in premise, but executed to a tee, this is a brilliantly nervy opening that preludes the terror that is about to reign over the Scooby Gang.
The psychological torment that Angelus performs in the first half of this episode is nerve-wracking, not least as he (when having a soul) was invited into multiple homes. Not a hair on a human head is harmed in these scenes, but the threat of violence is a more terrifying prospect. Willow (Alyson Hannigan) finding her pet fish tied together in an envelope with hooks, and Buffy receiving a second hand-drawn image, this one of her sleeping mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), is an elevation of what viewers have seen recently from Angelus, and you get the sense that this will culminate in something horrific this episode.
The episode also finally faces head-on the emotional fallout in the relationship between Buffy’s Watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and Jenny (Robia LaMorte), after the latter was revealed to be descended from the group of Gypsies who cursed Angelus to have a soul in revenge for his massacre of their people. Their chemistry is undeniable and it is easy to see that Giles still has feelings for her, but can’t quite get himself to trust her completely, in spite of Jenny confessing her love for him. Their moments together in the first half of this episode are sweet and both actors do a great job in conveying what gets left unsaid. If anything, both felt too happy in each other’s presence, and the sense of dread viewers felt in the first few minutes of the episode returns, especially when Jenny and Giles agree that they should meet at her house later in the evening once she has finished something. Viewers know that she has been working on finding a way to restore Angel’s soul to Angelus, and the promise to meet later immediately causes alarm bells to ring – surely nothing bad will happen to this likeable character?
Viewers can brace themselves all they want, but it will be to no avail. Angelus gets told by the psychic vampire Drusilla (Juliet Landau) of Jenny’s plan to break up their reunited vampire family, and traps the teacher in her own classroom, destroying the Orb of Thesulah which she was using to translate instructions on the Restoration spell. The music escalates as Jenny runs through the school corridors trying to escape; she is in danger more than any other character this season. But Angelus is playing with his prey, and with just a single line of dialogue from the vampire, he snaps Jenny’s neck. It is brutal but swift and, just like that, Jenny Calendar becomes the first recurring character on the side of the protagonist to die. I felt like Robia LaMorte could have been given more storylines and development in the future – I loved that her role in this episode provided more lore and background information on ethnic magic and magical items, but I understand why her death was necessary. Firstly, this feels like the point of no return for Angel’s character. Even soulless, murdering an innocent will surely get in the way of the relationship with Buffy once his soul returns. Secondly, up to now the Scooby Gang and their associates have been fortunate to escape from all of the perils they have faced in one piece – Jenny’s death suggests that no one, not even the main cast, are safe with the unpredictable Angelus a threat.
It is a shocking moment, but becomes even more unbearable when Giles arrives at Jenny’s house to find rose petals, candles and champagne leading up the stairs to her bedroom. You are willing him, screaming at the TV, to get him to not go upstairs, as you know what is coming. It is incredible writing and production, and the slow realisation on Giles’ face upon seeing Jenny’s broken corpse on her bed is heartbreaking. Huge acclaim should be given to all of the main cast in their reactions, from the wailing of Willow, who looked up to Miss Calendar as her computing teacher, to the quieter but no less impactful emotion from Buffy. Anthony Stewart Head is simply majestic in this and the scenes that follow, Giles’ grief turning into blind rage and vengeance, leading him to attempt to destroy Angelus in the warehouse the vampires have been existing in since the start of the season. Buffy is forced, following a great fighting set piece on a catwalk above a warehouse floor being engulfed with flames, to choose between pursuing Angelus or saving Giles from being consumed in the burning warehouse, and picks the latter. The moment when they escape the building and she punches Giles hard in the face, before pulling him into a tight hug and begging him that “I can’t do this alone!” is another terrific and emotional scene – I dare anyone to try and not cry at least once during this episode.
The last few seconds provide viewers with a flicker of hope, as though the Orb and printed instructions were destroyed by Angelus, the floppy disk that Jenny (very smartly) backed up her information on was revealed to have survived the destruction. As Willow prepares to lead a computing class that Miss Calendar would have led, that floppy disk slides on to the floor between the cabinet and desk, unbeknownst to her, and the episode ends. I am glad that the writers chose to end the episode on a hopeful note, as it does not take away from the pure horror and misery felt only minutes earlier.
Other Take Aways from the Episode:
- For such an emotional episode, there are several moments of comedy gold that shine through the gloom. The scene where two students actually visit the school library to get some books is brilliant, not least for the mixture of annoyance and surprise on the faces of the Scooby Gang.
- Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) spends most of the episode getting confused on the rules of inviting a vampire into your home and subsequently worrying about Angelus getting in her car after she drove him that one time. Her character has been great this season and her hilarious confusion is needed in this episode.
- Willow mentions on a call to Buffy something along the lines of all men being jerks “dead or alive” – is her relationship with Oz (Seth Green, unseen this episode), on the rocks again? She was showing him off in the previous episode – I honestly can’t keep up.
- Spike (James Marsters) has really fallen from grace since his explosive introduction at the start of Season Two. In a wheelchair, tried to be fed an adorable puppy by Drusilla (so glad he didn’t eat this ball of cuteness), and then mocked by Angelus, he feels like he is on the verge of turning against Angelus and Drusilla. If so, will he help Buffy or not?
- I always feel that Kristine Sutherland is not given a lot to do as Buffy’s mother Joyce, and can be given one-note character development where she chastises Buffy for her secrecy. There is a lovely scene in this episode following a revelation from Angelus that they have had sexual intercourse. It starts off as another chastise to Buffy, and ends up being a sweet moment where Buffy acknowledges her mother’s feelings. I hope that there can be more scenes like this soon.
This episode was a milestone, not least as it saw the first death of a recurring character aligned with the protagonist. Everything came together brilliantly here; from the tense opening, I got the sense that something horrific was around the corner. The writing and acting were near-perfect throughout – my heart will break on repeat viewings when Giles enters Jenny’s house and discovers her crumpled body – and the tense and unnerving music rocketing the tension up to eleven. No scene or even line of dialogue felt wasted, and because of this and also the constant manipulation of viewers’ emotions, from fear to laughter to absolute anguish and then hope, this is the best episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to date.
Episode Rating: 10/10
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