Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Amends

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 3
Episode: “Amends (A Buffy Christmas)” (December 15 , 1998)

Synopsis by Jason Henderson

Overview
The victims of Angel’s vampiric past return to haunt him—will Angel kill Buffy to relieve his pain? Or will he destroy himself?

Credits:

Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
Angel: David Boreanaz
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Oz: Seth Green
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head

Synopsis

Dublin, 1838

Angel corners “Daniel,” apparently a friend of his who cheated him at cards, and kills him. Angel awakens from this nightmare in present-day Sunnydale to go out into the hot December streets, where a heat wave is promising a toasty Yule. He meets a shopping Buffy, and while they talk, Angel sees the figure of Daniel over Buffy’s shoulder.

At Sunnydale High, Buffy, Xander and Willow wonder if Angel is losing it. They exchange Christmas plans—Buffy will be with Mom, Jewish Willow will be wishing she were with ex-boyfriend Oz, and Xander will be camping out on his front lawn. Cordelia makes an appearance to reveal Xander does that to escape a houseful of raving alcoholics, and announces she’s off to Aspen to enjoy actual snow. Willow and Xander are still reeling in self-pity and guilt over their mutual wrong against Oz and Cordy, when Oz appears.

Oz and Willow speak alone and Oz goes out on a limb: he wisely isn’t sure that whatever’s between Willow and Xander will ever be over. But he misses Willow, and he’s willing to give their relationship another shot. Willow asks, really rather sweetly, “Do you want us to… hug now?”

Buffy and Mom go tree shopping and buy an ugly little one that makes the rest of the gang mad. No, no. They talk about inviting Slayer #2 Faith over for Christmas. (Faith lives in a hotel.) But not Giles, Mom says. Buffy finds a section of the tree farm where all the trees have died. Below the dead earth, druidic types moan, and at the mansion Angel reawakens from another nightmare.

Buffy comes to Faith’s charming flea trap and invites her to Christmas, but of course Faith has too much pride to say yes and feigns plans.

Giles is visited by Angel, the recently revived demon beast who killed his girlfriend. Angel needs help. Giles holds a crossbow on Angel while Angel complains of nightmares. He wants to know why he’s back on earth and not still suffering in the demon dimension. Giles suggests maybe peace of mind and complacency do not befit Angel, and when Angel sees the ghost of Jenny Calendar (Giles’ lover), he runs.

Another dream. This time in 18th century England, Angel cuts off a vampire’s head and receives the Quickening. No, no. Angel, with hair and a moustache that make him look like the Comte de Saint-Germaine, assaults and kills a poor servant at a Christmas party. Oh, and he’s gonna kill her little son, too. Buffy’s apparition appears and Angel awakens.

Next the ghost of Jenny Calendar comes to Angel. She taunts him with her murder. “I am sorry for what I've done… what else can I say to you?”

Buffy’s worried because she walked into Angel’s dream, and Giles agrees to help figure out why Angel has returned. Xander joins in the search for a solution, and soon Willow does, too.

Angel’s being tortured with tales of his own torturing—Angel was a true sadist even before becoming a monster. The demon represented by Jenny Calendar suggests that she has no intention of hurting him, but cruelty is Angel’s only talent: it’s his destiny.

At the library, while Giles toils, Buffy and Angel share a sexy interlude dream that ends in Angel biting Buffy. Jenny Calendar taunts him again—all he need do is take Buffy, and his true self will be unleashed. “This is why we brought you back,” the demon Jenny says. “Take her, and then you’ll be ready to kill her.”

Giles, meanwhile, has dug up a reference to “The First Power,” a demonic entity serviced by the Bringers, cult of original evil, who are good at conjuring dreams and apparitions. Buffy and Xander go to their bartender informant, who says the Bringers are underground somewhere, and their presence has scared off a lot of minor underworlders.

Oz brings videos to Willow’s place and is beset by Willow in a red cocktail dress and Barry White on the stereo. Oz is touched by the suggestion that Willow wants to regain his trust at the not-inconsiderable expense of her virginity. (“And you got the… Barry working for you.”) But Oz earns his place in smarmy fanfic by declining until the time is truly right. (Let’s hear it: sigh.)

At the Summers home, Faith shows up for Christmas! And so does Angel, in Buffy’s room, acting hopped up and frightening. Angel runs and Buffy leaves Faith to run to Giles. “He’s slipping,” she says. “If he truly becomes a danger,” Giles concludes, “you may have to kill him… again.”

Jenny pressures Angel to kill Buffy. He was born for it, she says. Angel vows to kill himself and walks out to await the sun.

Buffy works out that the dead spot at the tree farm marks the hiding place of the Bringers and goes there, to face the First Power itself. The First Power insists that it is truly, deeply evil in an unbelievably primordial evil way. Really, really evil. But the power tells Buffy Angel’s going to die at dawn, and Buffy runs.

She finds Angel waiting for sunrise (at the same hill people keep threatening to throw themselves off of on 90210, I think.) Buffy pleads with Angel, but Angel says he’s weak and unable to fight the evil in his soul. Buffy says he has the power “to do real good, to make amends… but if you die now then all you ever were was a monster.” Let me be strong, he says. Strong is fighting, Buffy counters.

And then, a miracle. It snows, preventing the sunshine for at least a day. Buffy and Angel walk the streets, early on a white Christmas, as each member of the cast encounters the falling snow.

Notes

This was a splendid Christmas piece that fit the Buffy universe perfectly—after all, this is a universe where it fits that God himself might give Angel a “reprieve” by sending a cold front. The miracle allows Angel to walk in daytime, in fact, while California gets a white Christmas.

The whole snow scene at the end is a treasure granted after a series of selfless acts. Xander and Giles reach beyond their hatred to help Angel, Oz shows compassion not once, but twice, and Willow prepares to make her own sacrifice. Buffy reaches out to Faith, Faith reaches out for companionship, and Angel decides he would rather die than be corrupted.

The agony of Angel is an interesting character study. We learn here that Angel possessed a knack for sadism borne of himself, not his vampirism, and it’s that darkness that the First Power wants to unleash. There’s also a hint that Angel is a counterpart to Buffy, put on this earth to destroy her. Buffy may be right that destroying himself is a cheap way out, but Angel has to wonder if the goodness and guilt that he feels is in fact going to last. It’s nice that rather than wrapping the story up, the end merely puts the solution off until Christmas is over, like one of those tales of battlefield truces during the First World War.

A few minor points:

*Angel goes to visit Giles to ask for help. I’m trying to imagine Angel calling first. “I thought maybe I could come over…” It’s stunning that Giles agrees to help, later, and only shows what a deeply good man Rupert Giles is.

*Buffy suggests to Willow that one of Oz’s problems with Willow and Xander is that “Xander has a piece of you that Oz just can’t touch.” Tough issue, because it’s true. Like Angel jumping to the notion of killing himself, Willow tries to make up for the gulf between Oz and Xander by sacrificing her virginity. Oz, like Buffy, recognizes the essential good intentions of the sacrifice, but knows that there are better ways of dealing with the problem. More moves like this, and Oz will end up taking whatever firmly entrenched part of Willow’s heart Xander has.

*As a Texan, I loved the throughline involving the hot Christmas. Buffy’s mom lights a fire and turns on an air conditioner—we Americans feel, at heart, that Christmas should be as cold as the Potomac.

*I wonder if the First Power decides its okay to allow Angel to kill himself because he’ll be re-incarnated…

*Faith just pours on the toughness, doesn’t she? I like the touch of the string of lights she hangs in her flea-bitten motel room, defiantly summoning the Christmas spirit. We know she’s going to accept Buffy’s invitation in the end, but true to form she declines at first. Lonely girl. Incidentally, Xander, who we last see isolated and camped out on his front lawn with a snow-driven pizza, is available.

*Any theories on why Mom doesn’t want to invite Mr. Giles over for Christmas?

Memorable Quotes

On bad people:
“For they are the harbingers of death and nothing shall grow above or below them… (sighs) they’re rebels and they’ll never ever be any good.”

- - Giles, reading yet another droning text on evil

On getting back together:
“It’s good. Its perfect, in an awkward, uncomfortable sort of way.”
- - Willow, wondering how to ease back into her relationship wit Oz


On pettiness:

“It must be that whole Angel killed his girlfriend and tortured him thing. Yeah, Giles is pretty petty when it comes to stuff like that.”

- - Xander, pointing out that Giles’ hatred of Angel is not merely “twitchy,” as Buffy callously labels it.

On equal time:
“Hello, still Jewish. Hanukah Spirit, I believe that was?”
- - Willow, showing some Holiday Chutzpah

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