Becoming: Part 1
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: May 12, 1998

“Becoming” is a damn fine season finale. Its got every last thing a good finale needs: awesome character development, good music, a sense of humor that is above-and-beyond everything else seen in this series, great directing, and – for the first time ever – the world’s greatest flashbacks. I love the hell out of LOST (so much so I’ve contemplated doing a second site after I’m done with this one… in about 20 years), but “BtVS”/”Angel” do the best job with flashbacks. Quality of it all just screams “I’m awesome!” and I can dig that. I can dig that hardcore. These flashbacks set up the story, in its entirety, without spending so much time with the characters in the past. This allows enough of a window to see Angel’s past and Buffy’s past, but not so much so that going back again in the future will be a big waste of time.

The two-part finale is called “Becoming” for two primary reasons: the first happens in this episode, by way of flashbacks. First we get all the awesome backstory on Angel. A drunken Liam is turned into a vampire by a busty-as-fuck Darla (who we haven’t seen since “Angel” back in season one), then we see Angel begin is incessant tormenting of a chaste and noble Drusilla (Boreanaz’ portrayal of an Angel pretending to be a priest is hilarious and dark as hell at the same time). Then we see Angel get his soul put in him by the gypsy curse, then we see him meet Whistler (who, I suppose, was supposed to be the character Doyle would later become in Angel. Have to say, I’m glad this is the way it all went, in the end) who introduces him to the idea that he should help Buffy in her never-ending fight to stop vampires. This backstory on Angel leads right into the start of the show, and brings his arc to a complete circle, showing him becoming the man he was. It also gives nice little tidbits on the other character’s “becoming” stories, and Angels’ role in them all.

These stories are awesome, truth be told. Its great to see Whedon develop these ideas that have been hinted at and/or discussed on the show with the camera, rather than simply using dialogue. A lesser show wouldn’t have showcased these moments in the character’s past, not as well, anyhow. But this episode brings it all to the table. The costumes, the settings, and even a young, dumb, blonde Buffy (pictured above) is portrayed as a naive and stupid girl, unknowing and alone (her scene in the bathroom is heartbreaking, by the way, listening to her parents bicker. Its nice to see a brief moment of deeper development for Buffy amidst all of Angel’s backstory. Quality writing, that) when she meets her first Watcher, Merrick are done with excellence in mind. And they achieve.

I just wish the rest of the plot would. In real-time, we have a couple dumb things happening. First and foremost, Acathla. A giant, stone demon entombed near/in/around Sunnydale. He wanted to end the world of man. Angel and Dru want to bring this guy back to end all life on Earth. I get that these guys are evil and all that, but it just seems stupid that they’d destroy all humans – their primary food source – out of a desire to be evil. This doesn’t stop them from trying, though. And of course they fail right away; its a two-parter. If they managed it this time, what would they do in the second half? This leads to an awesome set of occurences that take up the third act of the episode, and another tragic death at the hands of the bad guys.

I’d mentioned before that the episode’s title referred to two major things, and the second one is Buffy becoming ready – finally – to kill Angel and put and end to it all. And that doesn’t really happen until Dru kills Kendra, the other Slayer that we saw back in the “What’s My Line?two-parter. And this is the second thing that I don’t like about the first half; reintroducing Kendra at this point only serves one purpose: to kill her. Having the other Slayer be far away means you have to come up with devices to bring her back all the time, if you wanted to. But kill her, and you can have a new Slayer show up and stick around. This is exactly what they’re gonna do, come next season. Kendra, while fun, wasn’t going to be able to carry any part of the show herself, so to off her gives Buffy a chance to realize this isn’t a game, and also to make way for a much better character.

“Becoming: Part 1” is a fine start to a double-feature finale, one that titillates and tantalizes throughout, has chills, spills, and thrills. It sets up the back half in a productive manner, while still giving us tons to enjoy within its own 45-minute runtime. The battle in the graveyard, the battle in the library… and even the idea of bringing Angel’s soul back are all exciting moments for the series, and showcase just how far the show’s come in such a short time. Compare this episode to the finale in the first season, which was a self-contained episode unto itself, and you’ll immediately see its a winner, hands down.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
Best line?
Angel: “And you fall for it every… single… time!” (referencing Buffy’s flaw of falling for diversion-based traps)
-That library battle was damn brutal: Willow gets an entire bookcase dropped on her, Xander’s arm looks broken, and Kendra gets her throat cut by Dru. Nasty stuff
-Acathla looks stupid. He is a stupid concept and he looks stupid. Ugh
-I love it any time we see Dru with her vamp-face on. It happens so rarely, but when it happens, she looks like such an animal
-Darla, always a pleasure
-Spike is itching for a chance to just fuck Angel over. He’ll get one, next episode