I hate starting any article with an apology, but here we go.

In the first episode of our "Buffy Project" podcast, we were plagued by my oncoming illness and some ugly technical issues.  It sounded about as bad as it could.

This time, I managed to figure out how to route my Skype through my Garage Band on my laptop and record Scott Weinberg directly so we sounded closer in terms of quality.  Everything worked like clockwork, and the whole time I recorded, I watched to make sure levels looked good.

So I have no idea how, when we finished, only half of the podcast recorded.

I would imagine that Scott is probably going to stake me the next time he sees me, and I don't blame him.  We talked for about 50 minutes this time about season two, one of the best seasons of the show, and certainly one of the most important in terms of the overall growth of the series.  It was loose and fun and exactly what I hoped it would be when we first discussed doing these podcasts.

All I can do is promise that our next time, we'll get everything right.  Consider this all part of a learning curve, and just as "Buffy" continued to grow and evolve from season to season, we'll get this pinned down, and I guarantee we won't have this problem again.  If I weren't filing this report from an airport on my way out the door to Cannes, I would try to re-record with Scott today.  As it is, I'm going to offer you everything we managed to record plus, as I did the first time, the notes I made as I was watching each episode of season two.

SEASON TWO

This is the season where "Buffy" became "Buffy."

This is the season Joss made his viewers hurt.

S2E1 - "When She Was Bad"
dir. Joss Whedon
scr. Joss Whedon

The way the show brings Buffy back is smart, because it immediately establishes that the show's going to go some darker places this year, and that there is going to be lingering damage from the events of the first year.

Willow watching Xander is just sad.  The ice cream on the nose bit?  A nice bit of heartbreak by Hannigan.

Cibo Matto at the Bronze is sort of amazing.  I forgot they used to do this sort of thing, having guest bands in residence for an episode.  It's a great way to get a kick-ass soundtrack, and it really works on this one in particular.

It's not a great episode overall, but it does cover some important ground for the character, and she has to get to the point where she dusts the Master's bones.  The episode establishes a status quo for the season, and it also removes the Master as a potential threat for the future.

I like that Cordelia is now in on the secret, and that she's down with keeping it.  She understands the importance, and she knows that it's ongoing.  And in the real high school side of things, the importance of "We saved you a seat" is pretty key.  It shows that even after the worst, these are her real friends, and it allows her to start to thaw a bit.

S2E2 - "Some Assembly Required"
dir. Bruce Seth Green
dir. David Tyron King

MOTW all the way, but we do see Rupert finally ask Miss Calendar out.  Or vice-versa.  And Angel finally fesses up that he's interested in Buffy.  Otherwise, fairly routine.

S2E3 - "School Hard"
dir. John T. Kretchmer
scr. David Greenwalt
story Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt

Oh, hello, Spike.

It's amazing how quickly they got most of the show's big building blocks in place, and how confident they were about many of them right up front.

I like the evolution of the opening title sequence, by the way.  I like how much season one is still in there, but how they started to drop in season two footage as soon as they had it, and slowly but surely, you can see the look of the show coming into focus.

And, oh, hello, Drusilla.  Juliet Landau was fascinating from the moment she walked into the show, and the same was true of Marsters.  The two of them felt like big inventions, strong additions to the mythology of the show immediately.  They were dirty, creepy, and very very strong.

When Cibo Matto is on, my reaction is "wow!"
When Nickel is on, my reaction is "who?"

That's the chance you get when you have a guest band on and they're of the moment.

Xander pulling out a tampon while looking for a stake?  Hilarious.

I like the way Spike tests her without fighting himself.  It's a great moment, and Spike certainly isn't shy about introducing himself to Buffy.  In the grand tradition of comic books, though, why does't Buffy follow Spike after he threatens to kill her?  She just lets him walk away?  I would take that as a reason to follow.

Y'know, Angel probably read a whooooole lot of Batman comics, the way he likes to disappear silently mid-conversation.

Oh, yeah… Drusilla is bugfuck crazy, isn't she?

The raid on the school confounds me, because I don't remember how they explain this away with Buffy's mother being present at the raid.  Buffy does what she does right in front of her mother.  It's something I have trouble accepting because of how long they've gone without doing this so far.

But I do like the way Spike organizes the raid in general.  I like them hunting her in the ceiling.  And when Spike first sees Angel, it's a pretty great moment.  It tells a lot about how Angel used to be.

"People still fall for that Anne Rice routine?"

You hear that, "Twilight" fans?  Yo shit ain't new.

I like the cheap two dollar version of the turns to dust trick, where the dude falls off-camera and someone throws confetti.

Buffy's mom saving her?  I… I just don't buy it.  It's a huge miscalculation.

I don't believe you ever recover from that moment.  At that point, you have to sit Mom down and tell her the truth about being the Slayer.  That's the only real choice.  The way they play it here, Mom is a giant fucking moron.

That's one of the few times I feel like they just plain chose wrong with a major character turning point.

"What's the deal with you being Spike's sire?  What's a sire?"

I do like that we see that Principal Snyder is in on it, that he totally knows what's going on.

These are looooooooooong episodes.  45 minutes each.  That's longer than the average one-hour show on commercial TV these days.

Spike and Drusilla call him "The Annoying One."  I like it.  We know right away that Spike isn't buying into all of this nonsense.  And to have him ice The Annointed One in a fit of pique and just plain erase all the ongoing prophecy related stuff?  Great.

"From now on, let's have a little less ritual, and a little more fun."

Sounds good to me.

S2E4 - "Inca Mummy Girl"
dir. Ellen S Pressman
scr. Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer

MOTW.

Oh, hello, Oz.

But otherwise, total MOTW.

S2E5 - "Reptile Boy"
dir. David Greenwalt
scr. David Greenwalt

MOTW.  And skanky.  The college party is about as gross as any moment in "Buffy" so far, and there's a rapey vibe to the whole episode that's hard to watch.  That's intentional, though, and I do like the idea that on the Hellmouth, there are all these holes full of demons, all these possible rips in reality, and this is just one of many that people have found.  Makita is sort of freaky deaky once he's revealed, and nicely executed as a design.  As with much of the pacing of monster moments, though, there's a whoooooole lot of standing around once Makita's out of his hole, and it doesn't really make sense for them to live as long as they do.

I also like that ultimately, it's about lying and facing consequences.  It's a very small high school lesson illustrated by a giant freaky snake man who almost eats someone, and that is a good use of "Buffy".

Oh, hello, Jonathan.

There is a footnote here where they show some real-world fallout from the death of the demon, and it's interesting to see how they walk the fine line of what people do or don't know.

And then there's some full-blast Buffy/Angel smolder at the end.  Sheeeeesh.

S2E6 - "Halloween"
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. Carl Ellsworth

First of all, if you set anything on Halloween, you're halfway to winning me over already.  Love it.  Always have.  Always will.

Great set-up.  I like the premise of forced volunteerism to help kids trick or treat.

Great set-up about how no vampires go out on Halloween, like heavy drinkers on St. Patrick's Day.

The emasculation of Xander continues unabated.

And then the reveal of the bad guy as the owner of the Halloween store is pretty great as well.  The scene with Buffy when she finds the costume is perfect, and the reveal of Willow's costume is pretty kapow as well.  Hannigan's a dish, and she plays the discomfort of wearing her outfit perfectly, and it makes sense she'd hide it from Xander.  Have I mentioned yet that Xander's a dick when it comes to Willow?  By this point in the series, I'm actively annoyed by how stupid he is when it comes to the way she feels.

Larry makes a strong first appearance here.  Oz makes a very cool second appearance.  And pretty much every use of costumes is great.

I like how the plan doesn't come into focus until 22 minutes into it.  And then it's a huge A-HA! moment.  Very cool structure.  Having everyone become their costume is something I haven't seen before on one of these shows, and it's done beautifully.

Oh, hello, Ethan.

But more importantly, hello, Ripper.

It's nice to see a glimpse of the Giles who used to be and realize that he hasn't always been the stodgy Watcher we met in season one.

S2E7 - "Lie To Me"
dir. Joss Whedon
scr. Joss Whedon

You can tell just by looking at the credits that this is a major mythology episode, and sure enough, the opening scene with Angel and Drusilla is just loaded with significance, especially since Buffy sees them talking to each other.

Ford shows up, ready to hand Buffy over, and while his plot never really seems like it's going to work, it does reveal quite a bit about the regular characters.

Besides, at this point, if someone shows up from Buffy's past, it's not going to end well.  We know that by now.

S2E8 - "The Dark Age"
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

By the way, Miss Calendar is INSANELY OH MY GOD HOT HAVE YOU SEEN HER? WHERE DID THEY FIND HER?!

Ethan Raine is back, and that means it's time to learn more about Ripper, and that can only be a good thing.  I think Rupert's nightmare at about 20 minutes into the show is genuinely deranged, and it once again exposes more of that crazy dark underworld that's part of "Buffy."

When these guys die, it's reeeeeeeeeeeeally nasty.

And let me make this perfectly clear, Joss… you are not allowed to hurt Miss Calendar.  If you put that demon in her, you damn well better get it out.

The Mark of Igon is interesting because it's something he doesn't want Buffy involved in at all, something that's outside her skill set.  That makes for good stakes in an episode, since we've basically seen her to be invulnerable up to this point, and able to beat anything into submission.

The reason the Jenny/Giles relationship is so hot is because they are both walking into it eyes open and all the cards on the table.  She's forward to the point of being intimidating, and that's awesome.  It's not a weak sexual iconography at all.  There's nobody who comes out a victim or a loser or bruised, and that makes it the healthiest relationship so far on the series.

Damn… he's got me on the hook right now, because even though I know where the show is going, I'm genuinely tense watching this, hoping that nothing happens to Miss Calendar and that she doesn't get permanently hurt.

Oh, hell… and when she finally reveals who she is, and he realizes he's in danger, it's a pretty great scene.  She kicks his ass.  She doesn't waste her time the way some of the monsters do.

And the show has played so rough by this point that anything could happen.

The monologue when he finally comes clean with Buffy is about as dark as things have gotten so far, and it permanently darkens him as a character.  It suggests a much more chaotic and terrible world of magic than anything ever hinted at in, say, the Harry Potter series.  The description of possession as a high is something I've never seen before, and it's a great seductive bit of imagery and back story.

Willow's the shit, by the way.

And Ethan's plan should work.  He tattoos Buffy, burns his own mark off.  Seems like a good idea.

But Willow's plan is better.

Nice work, Angel.  Nice work keeping Jenny alive.  Nice work, Willow.

Awesome.  Seriously.  One of the best of the series up to this point.

Especially because they go from "here's the best relationship on the show" to "oh, shit, they might be broken forever."  And Joss earns it with the writing.  He gives the cast a big meal, and they devour it.

S2E9 - "What's My Line? Part 1"
dir. David Solomon
scr. Howard Gordo & Marti Noxon

Oh, hello, Kendra.

Career Fair sets up some great ways to reveal more about the characters and really underlines just how much it's starting to bother Buffy to be "chosen."

Spike and Drusilla are interesting big bads for a season because they aren't looking to end the world or take it over… they just reeeeeally want to kill Buffy.

Angel gets bonus points for the ice skating move.  Smooth, dude.  It turns into a very strange and tender moment between them.

I like the efforts that are made to recruit Willow, and the suggestion that she really is exceptional.  It's also sort of an amazing way for her to finally meet Oz.

The nerd dude who turns into worms?  GROSS.

This is an interesting precursor to "Angel" as a spin-off, and a good indication that he might work on his own.  When he questions Willie, he's just plain Batman.

I dig Kendra versus Angel because she works him over pretty goddamn good.  And I just realized… they still haven't said who she is.  I know, of course, but the show hasn't given that up yet.  Right now, she might well just be one of the assassins sent to kill Buffy.

"Don't warn the tadpoles!"  Willow waking up from her nightmare = adorable.

And there it is… it's the punchline of the episode.

"I'm Kendra.  The Vampire Slayer."

S2E10 - "What's My Line? Part 2"
dir. David Semel
scr. Marti Noxon

I guess I should also say, "Oh, hello, Marti."  Because these two episodes are sort of amazing as an introduction for the writer who became one of the most significant not-Joss people on the show.

And it's like they knew.  They gave her this big two-parter, a significant other shoe dropping that's been building from the final episode of season one.

Great cliffhanger for Angel, and it's nice the way they keep cranking it up at the end of the teaser for this episode.  There's really no place for him to go.

"She died?"
"Just a little."

It's a great twist for the show to finally reveal, and having never asked anyone involved with the show, I choose to believe they had this plan from the moment she died.  It's really clever, and it sets up the idea that now there are always going to be two.  And it gives us a glimpse of the way the Slayers are supposed to be, the way they're meant to train and live, and it establishes just how wrong Buffy is and how far off-book she is.

Willie and Spike and Angel… good stuff.  It's really chugging along at this point, these relationships and the intricacies of who's doing what to who and why.  This is wonderful pulp, and the longer the thing goes, the richer it starts to get.  I like that Angel is the key to healing Drusilla, and that I have no idea how.

The Cordelia/Xander kiss?  Totally had to happen.

Oz gets a pretty great scene.  He takes a bullet meeting Willow.  Nice.

And Kendra meeting Xander?  EPIC.  HILARIOUS.  I like that she can't handle herself with men at all, and that Xander renders her nearly speechless.

I will point out that Kendra has the single worst outfit I've ever seen on a human who wasn't a literal clown.  Those pants.  Oh, those pants.

The Cordy/Xander kiss theme coming back a second time? Even better.

"Dat's me favorite shirt. Dat's me ONLY shirt!"  Oh, Kendra.

Best beat of the whole thing is the ending with Drusilla resurrected.  They really knew how to end an episode on a kicker, and the ones that worked the best are the ones where it ratchets everything up, one step closer to the season's climax.

S2E11 - "Ted"
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. David Greenwalt & Joss Whedon

Holy shit, it's John Ritter!

People who didn't grow up with John Ritter in the pop consciousness will never fully appreciate John Ritter, but trust me on this… John Ritter!

I have a theory that great clowns are also very good at being scary on film.  I want to see a movie where Will Farrell plays a stone-cold psychopath, because I have a feeling it would be the scariest thing you've ever seen.

Man, that's an efficient pre-titles sequence.  Fast, with a quick punchline, and it sets up the whole episode.  Nice.

This must have just popped fully formed out of Greenwalt and Whedon.  It's such a big honking obvious metaphor to play with, the parent starting to date again, and Ritter is good at playing both sides of Ted.

This is one of the first episodes to really get the balance of MOTW and mythology right, and it's because they use Ted to really shine a spotlight on what's going on with the characters at this moment.

When Buffy kills Ted, it's played real.  When she's at rock bottom with her mom, it's played real.  It stops being metaphor in a very satisfying way.

And, yes… of course I have to say it… HOLY CRAP MISS CALENDAR IS BACK!

"Feels like home.  If it's the '50s and you're a psycho."

S2E12 - "Bad Eggs"
dir. David Greenwalt
scr. Marti Noxon

Definitely a MOTW episode, and a "Body Snatchers" riff.  Some good work in it, and in particular, the way the Cordy/Xander relationship is developing is good for laughs, but this is one of those episodes that feels like filler to some extent.

Lots and lots of hormones a-flyin' in this one.

S2E13 - "Surprise"
dir. Michael Lange
scr. Marti Noxon

Great pre-credits tease.  Weird and personal and suggests that things are still ramping up between Buffy and Dru.

Birthday angst is a big deal for teenagers, so it's a great place to start an episode.  Anxiety is already going to be a big part of the experience, but adding dreams about Angel's death give her a good reason to get really worried.

One of the things that I loved about "Buffy" while it was on the air was the way Joss and his crew would drop these bombs on us that they'd been building up to for a while, and so often, they are twists that we just plain couldn't have seen coming.  The nature of Angel and his curse is one of those things that deserves all the praise possible, just because it's such a smart, heartbreaking riff on what was already a very familiar set of tropes by the time the show went on the air.

The decision to move into an adult sexual relationship is a big one, and I think the show treats that with the appropriate degree of seriousness.

Look at Willow in her hat.  Awwwwwwwww.

I like the way they've reversed roles for Dru and Spike at this point in the season, making her strong and him weak.  It makes her rabid lunacy scarier.  Watching her deal with a flower arrangement she doesn't like should tell you how bad things are going to get when it's something important.

Vincent Schiavelli is one of the great creepy character actors ever.  And it's a big deal to see that Jenny Calendar is actually tied to Angel's curse, watching him to make sure that he always suffers.  It makes her an even larger part of the series.  It also complicates the audience's relationship to her.

And now Oz knows she's the Slayer.  One by one, people keep learning her secret in the most hilarious ways.  "Hey, did everybody see that guy just turn to dust?"

It's impressive to see how Jenny manipulates the situation while appearing to do only good things.  It makes her hard to sympathize with, but it makes her more interesting.

The Judge is a great creation, and the idea of a demon that can't be killed but only dismembered is a good one.  Nice threat to introduce.

God, Dru's scary in this one.  Juliet Landau was making great big wild choices in the role, and it really pays off.

Brian Thompson's second appearance on the show as a different character.  Some guys just plain have the face to play monsters under make-up, and I do not mean that as an insult.

The love scene between Buffy and Angel is so natural, so honest, that the ending of the episode comes as a true shock.  What could drive Angel out that door?  What is causing him that kind of pain?

Oh, Joss… you bad, bad man.  I forgot what a great trap you set for us.

S2E14 - "Innocence"
dir. Joss Whedon
scr. Joss Whedon

And here's how you know this one is important to the overall mythology.  Check out that writing and directing credit.

Not only is it a great pre-credits tease because it tells us that Angel's gone bad, but the idea of him biting a woman and then exhaling her cigarette smoke?  Great.

Moms know.  Moms always know.

"She made me feel like a human being.  That's not the kind of thing you just forgive."

Xander really hurts Willow in this one, and when you talk about their perfect metaphors, this episode is one of the show's best moments.  Sex changes everything.  Growing up means getting hurt.  And sometimes, the moment you surrender yourself to someone, they change, and suddenly you don't recognize them at all.

Angel's a truly great threat to Buffy because at this point, he's earned her trust completely.  And now he knows how to hurt her, and when he starts, it is deeply ugly and incredibly personal.

Buffy's dreams carry a lot of weight in this episode, and when she calls out Miss Calendar, it's pretty great.

Bye, Vincent Schiavelli.

And by the way, how cool is Oz?  And how was Seth Green that focused on the character from his first appearance?  He's grrrrrrrreat.

Wow.  Both Buffy and Giles shut Miss Calendar down.  And she deserves it.

"What's in the booooooooox?"

The mall has it all… including The Judge, evidently.

"What's that do?"  B O O M

And honestly, people are surprised by "The Avengers"?  That line is AWESOME.

The moment between Giles and Buffy in the car at the end of everything is beautiful, a lovely piece of writing that shows why this is more than just popcorn.  Real things are grappled with amidst the blood and the bazookas, and in a way that is very direct and very powerful.  Giles could be a cartoon if that's what they wanted to do, but "Buffy" is not a cartoon.  It's hyper-real, and very honest.

How can I tell that I'm almost fifteen years older than I was when this show aired originally?  Because I feel paternal towards Willow this time around, and Buffy's mom is looking gooooooooood.

S2E15 - "Phases"
dir. Bruce Seth Green
scr. Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

Oz looking at the eyes of the cheerleading statue.  Nice.

"They all get an F in Willow."
"I want Oz to get an A.  And a gold star."  Awwwwwwww. And a new hat!

And Xander and Cordelia continues to be a gift.  They're awful together, and it's fun to watch.  I forgot just how much making out there was on this show at this point.  And then… our first werewolf! All that in a teaser.  Well played.

I'm pretty sure I heard some Seth Green in the mix during the werewolf attack.  If so, nice detail.  If not, sure sounded like it.

Giles gets excited at the prospect. "Werewolves.  That's one of the classics."

Gym class.  Oh, yeah, "Buffy" is a high school show.

Every now and then, Sarah is a cupcake.  Styled to the nines.  Her in gym class is one of those moments.

Kane - Werewolf Hunter
We never see him again, right?  He feels like a character Joss would like to have brought back if he worked out but… no.  Not feelin' it.

OH, SHIT! IT'S OZ!

That was a great reveal.  They really sold Larry as the werewolf.

Oz seems surprised which is a nice moment.  "Is Jordi a werewolf?"  So he hasn't been the werewolf until recently.  So Larry was also bitten.  That's what we're supposed to think, right?

We know Oz didn't kill anyone.  We saw the way it went down.  Angel's a piece of shit at this point.  A Spike level monster.

And then comes the scene.  The other great moment from this episode.

Larry comes out to Xander.

It is a beautifully written fake-out.  And it's played for laughs, but it's also played for reality.  They can't just wipe this out.  That's who Larry is now.  And the moments after the confession are pretty much perfectly happened.  It stops being funny because of Larry but remains funny because of Xander.  And yet it's not about intolerance and it's not a judgement of Larry.

So far, Willow and Oz are my favorite couple on the show.  I root for them in a way I don't root for anyone else.  It comes down to Seth and Alyson as performers.  And "Three days out of the month, I'm not fun to be around, either" is a pretty great line.

S2E16 - "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"
dir. James A. Contner
scr. Marti Noxon

Amy's first use of powers since the episode with her mom.  Creeeeeeeepy.

They haven't forgiven Jenny.  She's back to Miss Calendar.

I get it.  I mean… LOOK AT HER… but I understand.  Now that's good writing.  If I'm rooting against Giles forgiving her, they've done their job.

The game's starting to get nastier.  Angel leaving her notes.  Taunting her.  What a bag of garbage.  He's awful.

Xander goes really dark in this episode considering how they've played the Cordelia/Xander relationship overall.  We're not supposed to want them to get together, are we?

And then when things start going Xander's way, it's played well right up to the moment it's played creepy, and it's a nice bit of writing.  Noxon's got a different voice than Whedon, and this feels like Noxon.  Playing variations on the characters we recognize.

Marti likes Xander.  It's that simple.  She likes the character, and she likes Nicholas as an actor.  On TV, when you're really comfortable with the range of your cast and the specific talents of your cast, you can write to their strengths and build things that you want to see them do, that you know the audience will want to see.  Xander walking down the hallway to the sounds of "Dr. Love" is great television.

What redeems Xander is the moment where Buffy tries to give him his "present," and he explains why he couldn't accept it.  The stuff at the end with Cordelia is nice, and it suggests that, no, maybe we are supposed to root for them as a couple after all, but it's his decency in what would be a dream situation for most guys that marks him as a good guy, and I'm glad he pulls it out after doing something truly awful.

S2E17 - "Passion"
dir. Michael Gershman
scr. David Tyron King

Speaking of doing awful things… this episode is the moment where I decided that this was one of the all-time great shows, and where I also decided Joss Whedon is one of the all-time great sadists.

What he does to Miss Calendar in this episode, and the way they set up the missing disc with instructions for "curing" Angel… brilliant.  It's a good episode overall, but it really just boils down to that look on Giles's face when he sees Miss Calendar in his bed.  TV rarely plays this rough.  Hell, features rarely play this rough.  This hurt, and it hurts again seeing it now, and it establishes that there is no safety in the world of "Buffy," and no one can be considered outside the reach of the writers.

And, boy, did I want Angel to die by the end of this episode.

S2E18 - "Killed By Death"
dir. Deren Sarafina
scr. Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali

Buffy's ready to kill Angel, and we're ready for Buffy to kill Angel.

Decent MOW episode.  Nothing more.

S2E19 - "I Only Have Eyes For You"
dir. James Whitmore Jr.
scr. Marti Noxon

Interesting one.  First, it's always nice to see Meredith Salinger in anything.  Yowzas.  Second, the way the episode plays some gender-switch games with Buffy and Angel as they're taken over by the restless spirits is pretty great.

Otherwise, more stalling.

S2E20 - "Go Fish"
dir. David Semel
scr. David Fury & Elin Hampton

This episode does not exist in my dojo.

S2E21 - "Becoming: Part 1"
scr. Joss Whedon
dir. Joss Whedon

S2E22 - "Becoming: Part 2"
scr. Joss Whedon
dir. Joss Whedon

Now, finally, the conclusion to season two, and one of the things that makes me feel like this is one of the great examples of episodic storytelling.

We learn a lot in this episode about character histories, about overall mythology, and about the way things work in this world.

We get to see the moment when Darla changed Angel and set off the events that are still being dealt with by Buffy and her friends.  Angel and Buffy are both ready for the endgame… it's just that neither one of them seems completely sure what that endgame is going to be.

It's interesting to see Drusilla in her innocent human form.  Dru's visions have nothing to do with her being a vampire.  She was always that way.  Her madness is more complicated than just Angel changing her.

It is wildly cruel for them to offer up a way to restore Angel's soul at this point in the game.  He's done so many awful things that he deserves to die… but we've seen the good version, and Buffy still loves him.  It creates such a strong dramatic dilemma that there is no good answer.  I love that.

We get to see the moment where Angel gets his soul back and the weight of his crimes starts to land on him, and that's one of those things that I can honestly say I've never seen in vampire fiction until this show.  That's what I am impressed by… there are new ideas here, things that add to the tropes and bend them in new ways.  This is why something like "Twilight" infuriates me.  Not only is it bad writing… it's lazy writing.  When Meyer says she doesn't care about the rules of vampire fiction, that's because she's not really writing genre.  All she cares about is the smoochy smoochy.

Joss writes ugly emotional moments really well, and I love it when characters lay into each other.  Xander calling Buffy out for wanting to restore Angel's soul is brutal, but he's right.

Kendra's back and so is her terrible accent. Yay!

"It's a big rock.  Can't wait to tell my friends.  They don't have a rock this big."
Spike, you sly boots.  He's got plans of his own, and when we see that he doesn't need the wheelchair anymore, that just makes things even more interesting.  Nobody's exactly what they seem heading into this finale, which means anything can happen.

Max Perlich as Whistler.  I love Max Perlich.  He should be in everything.  Always.  He's an important part of the puzzle in terms of how Angel went from curse to contributing member of society.  And the way his scene folds back into the events from the movie version of "Buffy" is cool.  Getting a glimpse of her in her last pre-Slayer days is sort of sad.  She was happy being a total ding dong, and then everything landed on her, leading to the misery that is so clearly a part of her every day life now.

It's interesting to see that Angel made the choice based on Buffy.  It ties them together in an awful way.

And boy do they turn up the screws at the end of the episode.  They break Xander's arm.  They kill Kendra.  Willow's in a coma.  They kidnap Giles.  Just plain awful.  And Buffy's guilt, which was already at the breaking point before this just gets cranked up a little more.  It makes you wonder how far they can push her before she snaps completely.

But, hey, at least Kendra got some new pants.

It's also a great cliffhanger with the cops showing up as Buffy kneels over the dead body.

The second half starts well, with Buffy on the run and the cops looking for her.  She's stripped of her support team, which makes it all feel more chaotic.  She doesn't even know who's alive and who's dead at this point.

Spike and Buffy working together is a disturbing prospect, and a great way to make the season's ending even more upsetting.

Boy, Joss just keeps turning the screws.  Xander's heartfelt confession.  "I love you."  And if that wasn't enough to tweak the heart, Willow's confused "Oz?" is devastating.

Angel torturing Giles is nasty. Again… it's the personal thing that makes this worse than most good guy/bad guy stuff.

The moment that had to happen finally happens when Buffy tells her mom that she's a vampire slayer.  And I'll be honest… I don't remember if that lasts or if it doesn't.  Watching Joyce sit on a couch and chat with Spike is classic weird-ass "Buffy," where they address the reality of things and the absurdity at the same time.

"It's because you didn't have a strong father figure, isn't it?"
"It's fate. I'm a Slayer. Deal with it."

And again, things get ugly.  Joss loves to break relationships.  He loves to wound as deeply as he can while leaving people intact.

With one line, Principal Snyder lays the groundwork for season three.  "Tell the Mayor I have good news."  When you look back at the show from this perspective, it's amazing how much they laid in early and how well they managed to put the building blocks in place.

What a sad, sad way to see Jenny Calendar on the show for the last time.  Giles knows it's not her, but it still crushes him.  They play on his sorrow and his loss and his loneliness.  Juliet Landau really cranks up the batshit in these last few episodes, and I can't think of many people who have ever played that sort of evil lunacy with the combination of fragility and strength that she brings to it.

Angel's blood opens the door.  Angel's blood closes the door.  Simple rules.

Xander's lie is a big one.  Boy, they're turning it up.  I remember the first time around, I was practically screaming at the screen with each new beat, each new turn of the screw.

Spike and Dru have the most damaged relationship I can recall seeing.  By the time they exit stage right, they're at a new stage of fucked up, but Spike still loves her and is devoted deeply to her.

Giles is broken.  Truly broken at this point.

And as the end of the world begins, Willow gets to the big finish in the spell.

The fight between Buffy and Angel is, suitably enough, one of the best fights of the season.  Well choreographed.  Well staged.

When Willow goes all witchy, that's a pretty important moment for the show's continuity.  It makes perfect story sense the way they've set things in motion, but it still felt like an awful surprise as it started to happen.

Angel gets his soul back.  Buffy sees it happen.  She knows it's real.

And even so, the door to Hell is open.

What happens had to happen.  It's one of the best endings to any episode of any TV series, but it only really works on TV where you have a full year to build up to it.  Without that time and that investment, it doesn't mean the same thing.

And with it?  Total heartbreak.

I remember thinking at the time that there was no way they would be able to recover from that beat.  That the show had just flipped its biggest card.  If anything, this is the moment the show because what it was for the rest of its run.

Of course Buffy says goodbye.  Of course she leaves.  She was alone even before she had to kill Angel.

Using Sarah McLachlan is just salt in the wound, Joss.  You bastard.  You beautiful, wonderful bastard.

Just like I was the first time around, I'm onboard now for the rest of the series.  I am once again an active fan.  It's not just some thing I vaguely remember digging.  I'm excited to make my way through the rest again, and I'm enjoying the fact that I basically only remember broad strokes, not details.

This is going to be fun.

"The Buffy Project" will continue.

The MCP presents THE BUFFY PROJECT - Episode Two