One of my biggest beefs about this episode is something that should be fairly minor, but for some reason, isn't. Buffy's "nice guy", Tom, is a fail. His appearance is bland and artificial, the actor is wooden, and he doesn't say anything that would explain why Buffy initially likes him enough to accompany him to his party. The friendly college student ruse is effective enough, but it doesn't matter - when he turns out to be evil, sure, that could explain why he cast such a one-dimensional blemish-free image, but the lingering and still more likely explanation is that he's just a poorly conceived character. The one-dimensional thing, it's fact.
And he had some good lines, too! The whole "nothing happened last week, I was there" exchange was charming and almost clever; seems like only the delivery was off, for that and a few others. I just really wanted him to fool me, even in a rewatch. I wanted to rail at my screen, "Why do all the cute funny guys turn out to be demon-worshipers?!" But instead all I can think about is his stupid sweater and hair. Dolt.
Other gripes: why the bejeezus would anyone need a computer to think of words that end in 'ENT'? Xander got that bra off way too easily; either he has practice or it was velcro. The snake looks like a hand puppet. Angel's lipstick looks like lipstick. Why did they call it "Reptile Boy" instead of coming up with some clever pun about the frat?
And WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THESE PANTS?
I think it's the only article of clothing she wears more than once. It's not that I don't like giraffes, just...she wore so many cute things, why THESE?
On the whole, though, I like this episode. The setting is kind of cool; I have no experience with frats but I kind of buy the way this one was portrayed. There are a lot of good character moments between the clumsier bits of dialogue. Buffy and Giles' relationship was a highlight, as was the demonstration that Buffy can be taken out with one roofied drink passed to her by a powerless human - chilling, but useful information.
And, of course, there's the B/A factor.
The Buffy and Angel show: Okay, forget the whole frat boy thing, because this is really what the episode is about. And I love it. I love Angel's first appearance coming with an undeniable reminder that he's a vampire. I love Buffy's nervous dance as she tries to figure out how to phrase her request for a date. I love Angel seeing through her, and I love how he's an asshole about it. Sure, I also love how they eventually resolve the argument and get couply at the end, but most of all, I love how the conflict has finally come to the surface for them, and that they have to talk about it directly. Uh, almost directly.
The most controversial line in the episode is "When you kiss me, I want to die." (Controversial is the wrong word. If there were ever heated arguments about this line, I'm sure they're over by now. But there's potential here for disagreements, possibly disagreements with emotions behind them, so I'm going to leave the word where it is.) I wrote a whole fic about it, but since it's been a while since then and now I finally have "Reptile Boy" in the spotlight, I'm going to do something that writers shouldn't do, and explain my train of thought while I was writing it.
The complaint leveled against the line (I gather) is that it's not healthy for Buffy to be feeling this way about a man she allegedly loves. This is true. It's not. Buffy and Angel, as anyone watching can see, are a long way from healthy at this point. They've admitted their feelings toward each other, and these are no ordinary feelings, but they're still dancing around them. They're seeing each other frequently - and apparently sharing the occasional kiss, even - but aren't "together". And now, she's insisting, and he's belittling her. Not healthy at all.
I may have mentioned in an earlier review that I'm fascinated by the mystery surrounding their relationship in the first season up to this point. What have they been up to? Why has it taken them so long to actually talk about where they stand? Only one thing it could be - they already know. They're in love, they can't be together, end of story. The mature, healthy thing to do would be to cleanse themselves of their attraction and get on with their lives, but, hello, that's impossible. So they push their boundaries. They pretend they're just working together, but hey, we can hold hands while working. Need somewhere for your tongue? How 'bout in my mouth?
Buffy shakes things up when she actually addresses this, with "One thing already has led to another", and I love her for it. On her side of the conversation, you can see the stance she's taking on their dilemma. "This isn't working, it's not good for us, something needs to change." Her not-so-controversial line is the clincher. She's not happy. In my story, it reflects a scenario she dreams up in which Angel finds her body and finally feels that he can kiss her without feeling guilty about it, but I don't think it's meant to be that literal. What she's going through right now is an understanding that her greatest desire can never be, and it hurts her badly, and every kiss is a reminder of it.
So I think she's justified. Obviously, she doesn't really want to die. Obviously, she's being a little overly dramatic. But Angel can be pretty thick, and this might be exactly what he needed. Hey you, guy who loves Buffy more than life! The thing that you are doing is causing her pain! Knock it off!
Wow, I'm usually nicer to Angel than this. Okay, now I'll look at things from his perspective. Right now, he's still very unsure of himself, though he doesn't know about the curse. He has without a doubt considered in great depth what a relationship with him would mean for Buffy, and come out with the conclusion that it would do more harm than good. He thinks that Buffy agrees, because they've talked about it at least once before ("this can't ever"), but he also knows that she's in love with him. (Which, sidebar, is one thing I love about how their romance is portrayed. There's never any "She'll be fine, she doesn't really care about me anyway." He makes his decisions based on what's best for her, but factors in her feelings toward him as part of that, even if he never knows why she loves him.) As far as he can tell, they've been maintaining this imperfect professionalism together, but he's not surprised that she's the first one to crack. And realistically, he shouldn't be. She is young, she's less jaded than him, less cautious, and less willing to endure years of loneliness.
As always, he's trying to protect her. He intuits that he's dangerous without knowing why - he might be having more trouble controlling his bloodlust than he lets on, or he might not trust himself to keep his sex drive turned low. He might be thinking long-term, imagining all of the opportunities that Buffy would miss if she's tied to a dead end partner like him. Unfortunately, he chooses to express these concerns by telling her she doesn't know what she wants. (Which is a rather disappointing line. Can we not have the point spelled out so blatantly, please?) He's already angry, it seems: Why does Buffy have to make this hard for him? Why can't she just go with the plan they agreed upon, in which she lives a happy fulfilling life without him?
So, there's plenty of fuel for his bad conversational decisions. He knows his vampirism is to blame for the danger he poses to her, and tied into that is his age, so that's what he mentions. All of his arguments are based in "We can't." He's caught completely off-guard when Buffy and Willow fight back against something entirely different: "You don't want to."
Of course he does want to, but his brain is going dangerdangerdanger, and his mouth is just trying to come up with better ways to say it. I find it telling that he goes with "out of control", and that Buffy has such a perfect comeback. She's right - for any other couple, it's supposed to be out of control. But, danger! The episode's plot is perfectly constructed to defeat that idea. Buffy gets into trouble by not being Angel's girlfriend, and Angel begins to realize that her happiness, at least for the present, is a greater priority. He can be there for her, love her, not destroy her life, and make use of whatever time they have in whatever way she wants. The last part is of course the most thematically important for the plot we're currently dealing with, because it means he stops treating her like a child and accepts that hey, sometimes the girl doesn't want you to obsess about her mortality. Even though Willow's accusation of him giving Buffy the brush-off because he doesn't have time for a cup of coffee isn't anywhere close to accurate, it's still a valid point. Whatever his reasons for rejecting her, they made her feel unwanted, and he needs to do whatever it takes to fix that.
Also I read somewhere once that the potential "ick factor" of their age difference is dealt with by making Buffy the one who's in control, and that starts here. I firmly believe that their ages are equal in every way that matters. Angel has the wisdom of his years, but his maturity is right around Buffy's, and Buffy's is far beyond that of a typical sixteen year old. She's the one who lives in the world, she's the one who has the most at stake, she's calling the shots, as it should be.
Cordelia and boyfriends: So, here's a thing. Cordelia is probably the canon character that I relate to the absolute least, and that includes the males, demons, and Miss Edith. But her routine about how to reel in a guy with your active listening? I do that. Just not to reel in guys. I can't help it. I've convinced myself that what people want is someone who looks like she's paying attention and impressed by your humor, and since it's not altogether easy to cultivate that impression, I work at it fairly hard during most conversations. And, just like Cordelia, I often miss everything that the person actually said to me, because hell if I can appear to be listening and also listen at the same time. The exaggerated laugh is part of it. Mine is more convincing than Cordy's, but it's not usually genuine. Most people aren't funny; I can't help that.
Anyway, this episode adds one to the pile for Cordelia's failed romances. He doesn't die, but it's kinda worse than that. I feel sorry for her, and that might be just because I can finally empathize. She's not naturally shy like I am, so it's not a simple case of nerves for her, but both of us have a goal, and the goal is for people to like us. For Cordy, it's especially important for wealthy attractive men to like her, because whether or not she'll admit it at this point, her plan is to marry one and secure her lifetime wealth and (she assumes) happiness. I'm not judging her for this. I can't. She's preparing for the future in her own way, and it happens to involve dating rather than choosing a career. So what?
The hole in the plan, of course, is revealed right within the episode. Wealthy rich men aren't necessarily good husbands. Indeed, some of them could make your life a living hell (or feed you to a giant snake, whatever). Cordy's task is a lot more difficult than she realizes. If she knew that she wasn't shallow enough to require more than money to make her happy, she'd probably turn her sights to another kind of man - or away from dating altogether. Either way, she would have to lose the fake laugh routine; that won't attract the right kind of person to share her life with. Right now, she still thinks she's shallow, but she'll spend the season realizing she isn't, and for her, it's a theme that will continue for as long as we're watching her.
Of course, we can note right now that she enjoys talking to Xander, and vice versa. Oh come on! It would have been so easy to ignore him, but no, she banters.
You know, the hours I've spent actually watching this show are so limited that when I look at Cordy talking to this girl, I still think, "Whoa! Is that Amy?"
...Seriously, doesn't she look like Amy?
Willow and feelings (mine): Willow is totally shipping Buffy and Angel. You'd think I'd be oozing love on her for that, right? You'd be wrong! See, Willow and Buffy have this code. Willow supports every relationship that Buffy wants to pursue. Buffy supports every relationship that Willow wants to pursue. It doesn't matter what kind of relationship it would be, or whether the crush in question is potentially a good romantic partner - if Buffy wants it, Willow wants it, and vice versa. While this is really very true to the lives of teenage girls, especially BFFs, it's not a great policy. Buffy's having sexy dreams about a vampire; the last thing she needs is more encouragement to yearn after him. What she does need is a disinterested analysis of the pros and cons of getting involved with Angel, so she has a basis for deciding for herself whether or not to ignore them.
Willow doesn't have that, okay, that's fine, she's the same age as Buffy and with even less dating experience. But she's making it harder by not admitting that she doesn't know how to handle it, by instead getting excited on Buffy's behalf and coming up with ways to snare that sexy vampire. Buffy can't look at this objectively, and that includes not being able to dismiss her friend's advice - especially since Willow is kind of the only one talking to her about it at all. Soon she'll be coaxing Willow to make a move with Oz. Later, Willow will approve of Riley; Buffy will approve of Tara (after a bit of static, granted). They'll get angry at the love interests on each other's behalves, but they'll never be the ones to issue the initial warning. Willow doesn't really ship Buffy/Angel, she ships Buffy/Whoever Buffy Wants.
Xander and bus stations: I'm not going to say anything about bus stations, that's just how I want to label my thoughts about Xander from now on. I don't expect to collect a lot of agreement on this, but I really don't have a problem with the way he rags on Cordelia at this point. He knows something she doesn't - that the hot rich guys aren't going to work out for her - and he's holding her to a higher standard than she is herself. Granted, he's only doing it because he's enraged that he won't be considered as a match for her because he lacks the qualities that she wants and he knows they're superficial, so it's purely personal, but it's a legitimate thing to be angry about. She didn't start off with a reason to hate him, she just decided he was beneath her. It's not surprising that his bitterness turned into a need to find appalling insults to hurl at her.
I also get a lot of sincere cringes from the 'New Pledge' ritual. Hazing's bad enough as it is; I can't imagine doing it to someone you never expect to see again.
Giles and objects: You didn't think I would forget, did you?
Here's Giles with a bracelet, sadly a bit hard to see. I tried.
Here's Giles with a sword. And Buffy! Hehe, it's like Gilesvision.
Here's Giles with a sword again, only this time, it's behind his back!
Just one icon today. I loved the way Willow looks as a floaty head in the glass behind Angel.