I didn't want to start off this series of reviews by being all negative, but this is a poor example of Buffy. Not only is the main character behaving completely unlike herself, the inconsequential plot is laden with melodrama and the jokes are beyond awful. There's a cheesey training montage backed by what sounds like the dregs of an 80s hair band and even worse soap-opera music at the end.
The weird dream is an interesting point, but fails to elicit an emotional response after the initial viewing, and then doesn't really lead to anything. It is not as portent-ful as Buffy's dreams are supposed to be.
Cordelia does get some great moments and lines -- confronting Buffy in the alley and mistaking the Three Musketeers for the Three Stooges -- even though the actor, Charisma Carpenter, is obviously hampered by a bad cold.
Nevertheless this is our first look at Buffy as a dark and withdrawn character. She turns away from her friends in her time of crisis, which becomes a recurring theme. She becomes more withdrawn until she snaps and is forced to make talcum powder of her enemies. Although it plays badly here, it is an interesting early taste of what is to come in later seasons.
If this had been your first experience of BtVS you would not be blamed for never returning.
Verdict: "I hate that girl."
I didn't hate this episode nearly as much, or even at all, as you did. I think in part that’s because I went straight from Season 1 into Season 2 in the one hour. There was a lot of continuity that worked for me that way.
There’s so much bittersweetness in this episode. The opening scene of Xander and Willow doing what they would be doing had Buffy never come to Sunnydale makes my heart ache - the cute thing with the ice cream on Willow's nose and the very almost kiss? This scene leaves me wondering - if Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, would Xander and Willow have gotten together? They would, right?
Cue Buffy back from summer holidays visiting her dad - new haircut making her look more grownup, reflecting the whole 'coming of age baptism' she had in the Season 1 finale. There's a new edge to her. And there's also something up with her.
As an aside,I also really liked the scene with her parents discussing her well being. I liked that Buffy was clearly more important to them than whatever happened to their relationship. You never really see her parents interact again. And we know that Buffy never really gets to feel that collective love from her parents. It's very noticeably missing in the rest of the show.
Quickly we are back to Buffy and her atitude towards being the Slayer:
Buffy: You're the Watcher, I just work here
But we also get a bit of an insight into what's up with her:
Giles: Fair to say that you stayed in shape
Buffy: Whatever they got coming next, I'm ready
But I liked the contrast to the Buffy in the final scenes of the Season 1 finale where here there's also a new sense of fragility and mortality about Buffy. We see that in the dream sequence: I’ve killed you once, shouldn't be too difficult to do it again.
Being the Buffy/Angel fan that I am, I love the angst of their miscommunicated: "I've missed you" and I love the bit where Angel checks in with Buffy because he thinks she might be angr with him. I love how for someone so OOOLD as Angel, we still get snippets of adolescent from him.
The line by Buffy to Cordelia: "You won't tell anyone I'm the slayer and I won't tell anyone you're a moron" is so out of character that it is so memorable for me. It jars because it's so harsh and unexpected. And I love that even so, Cordelia is still the one that kicks some sense into Buffy. No matter how hard she fights it, Cordelia is in the gang.
But for me, this episode is always have THAT sexy dance with Xander in front of Angel. It harks strongly back to the moment of the dead/undead contrast between Xander and Angel set up in Season 1 finale. It's so extremely hurtful to both Angel and Willow. And Xander ultimately. And it's also I think the only time we ever see Buffy choose Xander over Angel, and much as he wants it to be true, you can see even he struggles to believe it.
Buffy: Xander, did I ever thank you for saving my life?
Buffy: Don't you wish I would?
Unlike you, Rachel, I liked some of the silly jokes:
And I love the joke for Snyder:
S: Some things I can just smell it. It's like a sixth sense
G:That would be one of the five
I love the underlying theme of friends having your back that runs through the whole show.
Willow: What about the other half of the note .... the bit that says PS this is a trap
Ultimately this is a major part of why Buffy is ongoingly successful and where one of her strengths lays but it just takes her a while to get it.
Buffy: This is Slayer business, a little less from the civilians please.
Finally, I love the moment near the end where Buffy asks Angel: "You think you can take me?... Go on! Kick my ass." It reminds me of the scene in Season 4 where she and Riley see who is stronger by beating each other up. Why does she keep goading her men to hit her? It's a bit off.
I think this episode is a good start for Season 2. It's got light and dark, bitch and snark. It picks up where we left off but it also sets up a lot of angst for us in the coming season. I can't wait!