Surprise
Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: Michael Lange
Air Date: January 19, 1998

Its Buffy’s birthday in the first of this two-part episode chronicling the eventual downfall of the Buffy/Angel relationship. I’ll get more into my opinions on the new nature of it in the next episode review, but here we get to see their love at its highest point ever (really). Its so damned important for this episode that they have a fucking song, now. Whenever these two are on screen together, they simply start playing this song to add to the drama, the romance, and – most importantly – the lust they clearly have for each other, now. Its a cheap way to wrestle emotions out of viewers, but its a tactic used fairly well, I must say. For a dude that didn’t really care for the whole Buffy/Angel thing before, this rewatch I have to admit I’m kinda buying it.

Aside from the birthday theme (and, of course getting older in general), the episode brings Spike and Drusilla back into the equation for a bit. Its a nice addition back into the show because now we’re seeing a reversal of their relationship: Spike, having been beaten to near-death by a falling-in church, is the weak one, confined to a wheelchair for the time being (ps: he has this nasty burn/scar on the side of his face which heals and vanishes, but the scar on his eyebrow, which he gets from a Slayer while in vampire-face-mode, remains? Hm…), while Dru is up on running on Full for the first time in the series. Their interactions are now starting to become strained, but not so much that they aren’t a hoot to watch together. They’re assembling The Judge, some old demon that burns the humanity out of people. And apparently no weapon forged can kill him.

The comedy in this episode is through the damned roof, might I add. Oz’s sudden and totally in-character acceptance that vampires and demons exist is hilarious. They could have gone any number of routes to make his character come to terms with this sudden alteration to his understanding of reality, each one being funny in its own right. But here they went with the most simple method and it works perfectly. I’ve always liked Oz and Seth Green’s patented “downplay” method of acting in any role. Here it works, again, perfectly. His character is fairly one-note most of the time, but it works for him because, well, what else do you even need? As far as additional comedy, Cordelia is really starting to come into her own, too, adding countless laughs by simply being, well, Cordelia.

The twist revelation in this episode that I don’t like, though, is that Jenny Calendar is actually a gypsy spy sent to watch Angel to make sure the curse stays in place. I don’t mind the device, but it seems like it was suddenly tacked on to both make her more integral to the season/characters and to remind us of the curse before the next episode starts. It just seems so far out of left field for it to have been planned all along. Techno-pagan as she might be, there is no hinting at this side of her throughout the previous episodes. You can say it was how good an actress Jenny was or that her obvious love for her friends was winning out, but here it still seems like a necessary step before the end of this two-parter. I don’t hate it, I just wish it had been handled a bit better, is all.

The big deal, though, for this episode is sex. Sex sex sex. Buffy and Angel do it after narrowly escaping The Judge (played by… Brian Thompson, the same dude that played Luke in the first episodes of the show…?), rain-soaked, and alone on Angel’s bed. This time through the show I’ve been watching with the specific goal of determining whether or not I believe these two were “in love” or not. And I have to say, I believe Buffy was in love. I buy it completely. 17. In constant danger. With a mysterious man that is devoted to her and cares. What girl her age wouldn’t find these things and lead herself to that emotional conclusion? Angel, though, I don’t buy. Maybe its the rapid pace of episode-watching I’ve been doing, this time, but I have to say its as though they just met. We don’t see them hang out or go on dates or anything, really. Just hunting, slaying, and – now – screwing. Oh well.

The lines are ham-fisted, the acting is kinda cheesy (I do love SMG’s portrayal of Buffy’s uncertainty over how to cover herself up when Angel turns around to check her wound. Perfect), and the music that swells – yet again – is slightly over-the-top. But it works. I buy that this set of situations (particularly the fact that Angel almost left town for months after Buffy came to terms with her love/desire to pork him and now he’s not leaving) lead these two to his bed and I buy that this is the natural progression for these characters. Of course, there are ramifications for their actions (har har, its like in “Bad Eggs” when they talked about irresponsibility… or when I did in that review), but we’ll get to those soon enough…

Episode Rating: 87

Additional Notes:
-Best exchange in the entire episode is the one where Oz asks Willow out. Again, its all in the nature of Seth Green’s acting:
Oz: “I’m gonna ask you to go out with me tomorrow night. And I’m kinda nervous about it, actually. It’s interesting.”
Willow: “Oh… well, if it helps at all I’m going to say ‘yes’.”
Oz: “Yeah, it helps. It… creates a comfort zone. …….do you wanna go out with me tomorrow night?”
Willow looks all happy then frowns and slaps her forehead: “OH! I can’t…!”
Oz: “…………well, see, I like that you’re unpredictable.”
-Willow remembers what Buffy told her in the first episode and uses it as advice here. Nice touch, writers!
-I love that Spike informs Angel that its a matter of who dies first, not simply who dies. Evil is as evil does, I guess

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