School Hard
Written by: Joss Whedon/David Greenalt
Directed by: John T. Kretchmer
Air Date: Sept. 29, 1997

If there is any one thing the second season of BtVS does right, right off the bat, its introduce these characters to us. Spike and Drusilla show up in the third episode, here, and are a treat the moment they show up on camera. Spike’s destruction of the Sunnydale sign and Drusilla’s daffy-headed, loopy entrance instantly set up who these two are. Pair this with Angel and Giles telling tales of William the Bloody and you’ve immediately set the stage for a season that features a different kind of bad guy.

See, the thing I both love and hate about The Master in the first season is that he can’t go anywhere or do anything. Mark Metcalf gets to ham that role up so much because, what else can he even do? He can’t leave that one set and, when he does, it never means anything (one is a nightmare sequence, the other is when he dies). It makes his character fun and interesting but not really all that threatening, since people have to come to him to make him work (and boy, when Buffy gets down there, how it works!). That’s what sucked about him; he wasn’t scary and just plain corny. Spike and Dru? Completely different. And we’ll see more of that as the season progresses.

“School Hard” is mostly an action-oriented episode with comedy thrown in (and one lame-ass Bronze sequence with another lame-ass Bronze band) and very little character development outside of our two new antagonists. Buffy has to throw a smashing good Parent-Teacher Conference or Principal Snyder will do his best to get her expelled. The leads to some stupid comedy moments that both work and are slightly groan-worthy. Even I know how to make lemonade from fresh-squeeze lemons, Buffy. C’mon.

We get introduced to Sheila, another high school student we’ve never heard from before and, despite the fact that she does not get dusted in the school campus battle, I don’t believe we ever see her again. I’ll eat those words though, if necessary. She is portrayed as the kind of chick I had the hots for in high school: rebellious; tough-as-nails; annoying-as-fuck… I had some real issues, is what I’m trying to say. She of course dies and becomes a vampire, but we know this by the time its “revealed” to us, so its not a huge deal. We also get to see Buffy’s mom kick a ton of ass this episode, as a mom, a warrior, and as someone that won’t let even a weasel like Snyder say nasty things about her daughter.

Really this episode isn’t about Buffy (who was on target as far as writing goes) or Willow (who has the best scene of the episode with Cordelia in the broom closet), Giles or Jenny, or Xander. Its about Spike. Its about Spike and undoing – or… more succinctly, doing away with – the stuff in the first season that wasn’t that great, namely the cheesiness, the lame acting, the worse action, and the villains who aren’t threatening or interesting. When he stuffs “The Annoying One” in that cage box and pulls him into that beam of light, what he effectively does is destroy everything that’s come before. His “less ritual, more fun” line is what its all about, now. The name of the proverbial game, so to speak. Things are different, unexpected, and unpredictable, now. Despite the fact that this season still forces some awful “monster-of-the-week” episodes down our throats in the next little bit, it knows it now needs more focus, more direction, and – quite frankly – more fun.

Spike aims to please.

Episode Rating: 94

Additional Observations:
-Angel is Spike’s sire? This is a throw-away line to start with, but touched on later. It might not make much sense, but it works itself out
-I love the subtle hinting that Snyder and the police officer know way more about this stuff than “gang members on PCP” – hints at S3
-Giles’ tireless dedication to helping and protecting Buffy is heartfelt, more so than simple duty
-Drusilla’s doll collection is creepy, but the fact that she’s named them and talks to them?
-What would they tell Dawn had happened when they got home from the school that night? I try to think about what Dawn’s role in things would be, were she to be on screen (since they’ll have memories of her in all of these events, later on). What would they tell her?
-David Boreanaz is a shit actor.

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