Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The First Real Knockout Season Finale For Buffy The Vampire Slayer: "Becoming, Parts 1 & 2!"

The Good: Decent acting, Good story, Very good character development, Tone
The Bad: A little predictable
The Basics: A surprisingly good season finale that is darker than one might anticipate from Buffy The Vampire Slayer works wonders!

The second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a little rockier than some fans like to admit. For sure, it is the season that casts the show in a lot of serious darkness and introduces fan favorite characters Drusilla and Spike. And this season has a pretty serious body count, which is always engaging for a dramedy involving vampires and humans (which Buffy The Vampire Slayer is the only one that comes to mind, so it's kind of a stacked deck). The thing about the second season, though, is that while it might have an erratic up and down between the bottle episodes and the serialized plots once Angel loses his soul and becomes Angelus again, it sure knows how to bring it to a close. The second season goes out on a high note and the episodes that bring about that end are the two parts of "Becoming."

"Becoming Part 1" and "Becoming Part 2" are difficult to discuss separately and it's refreshing that they appear on the same video tape because the biggest problem with the second episode is how quickly it glosses over the climactic moment of the first episode. Also, this two-parter is best comprehended and enjoyed by those who have seen the earlier season two episodes "What's My Line, Parts 1 & 2." That said, for those who wanted to see how far Buffy The Vampire Slayer was willing to go to make its point(s), "Becoming, Parts 1 & 2" push the envelope and they do it quite well!

In "Becoming, Part 1," Buffy resolves to slay Angelus after she encounters him and his continuing carnage yet again. Guided by Drusilla, Angelus has brought forth a demon with the potential to destroy the entire world by swallowing it. When Willow finds Jenny Calendar's notes on how to restore Angel's soul, Buffy is surprisingly ambivalent and Giles is relieved when Kendra, the other vampire slayer, arrives for back-up. Unfortunately, when Drusilla and Angelus make their move, the double-team fails in the worst possible way.

Picking up moments after the climactic event of "Becoming, Part 1," "Becoming, Part 2" finds Buffy on her own, surrounded by police, and on the run. Angelus and Drusilla have the demon and the means to free it, having captured and tortured Giles. As darkness sets on Sunnydale, an unexpected ally comes forth in the form of Spike, who makes a deal with Buffy. Willow works to restore Angel's soul, but her timing falls a bit short of what everyone expects.

This two-parter racks up the body count and the nice thing about this finale is that until the third season, there are some major casualties who do not simply bounce back by the end of the episode. Indeed, "Becoming, Parts 1 & 2" kills, tortures and damns multiple characters and it does it with a style that is freakish for its efficiency. The plot might be pretty standard for a Buffy The Vampire Slayer finale - i.e. big evil prepares to destroy everyone and everything, only Buffy can stop it - but this one just knocks the primary characters around and it fraught with consequences. So, it doesn't take much for the viewer to bet on the hero when the consequence of failure is that the entire world will be eaten by a demon, but how the hero overcomes the obstacles is pretty impressive.

"Becoming, Part 2" does not have any easy answers, unlike something like "Innocence" where the invincible creature is undone with a very sensible rocket launcher. And that's cool, because that is the setup for the premise. We get the moment "no weapon forged" is brought up as the criteria for defeating the enemy that a modern weapon will dispatch the big blue. In "Becoming," there is no such luck. There are very specific terms for the creature that will swallow the Earth and suck it into hell.

Fortunately, there are clever character aspects. In this regard, James Marsters finally earns his keep as Spike. Spike becomes the true double dealer in "Becoming," revealing to Buffy that he is not as wounded as he has appeared to be in the prior episodes. As a result, he is in a position to deliver the world to Buffy at the hour she most needs a new ally. There are terms on both sides, but the negotiation plays out with a sense of realism and trueness of character that works. Spike, as it stands, has almost always been played as a romantic of sorts and here he trades the world for the woman he loves and it makes sense. His logic is flawless.

James Marsters plays that out with a coolness that makes it quite easy to see why the producers were not eager to get rid of the character. Instead, "Becoming" cements Marsters' position because he embodies a much more rounded character in these two episodes than he has had the opportunity to before.

On the character front, Angelus' capture of Giles is brilliant as it becomes the fulcrum upon which Buffy's actions turn. Angelus mistakes the value Giles has in Buffy's life and in his absence, Buffy's leadership qualities truly come out. As well, Willow begins to become when she works to restore Angel's soul and stop the end of the world by stopping Angelus that way. Hers is a compelling struggle as well and the genius of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is that sometimes the heroes do not save the world quite in time.

And that sets up the final scenes for Buffy remarkably well.

Anthony Stewart Head gives a great performance as the wounded and tormented Giles and watching him perform is heartwrenching. Giles, of course, is weakened by his love for Jenny and Drusilla uses that against him. Head plays the confusion and hurt alongside a very real sense of physical pain that he portrays with a quality that is agonizing to watch.

But the best performances come only in the final moments of "Becoming, Part 2" and David Boreanaz proves that he can act without saying a word. He opens his eyes and the viewer understands exactly what is going through his character's head. And Sarah Michelle Gellar rises to the same caliber with minimal lines and little movement, portraying resolve and her own sense of repressed pain that makes the finale seem . . . well, final.

If it weren't for the somewhat lame special effect that defined much of the last scene, this would have been even better. As it stands, it is pretty incredible and it works, even years later.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Buffy The Vampire Slayer - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season here!
or the complete series is available here!


For other television episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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