Becoming: Part 2
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: May 19, 1998

I’m letting you know, right now, that this is one of the few episodes of the show that will receive a “Perfect” score. While its predecessor, “Becoming: Part 1“, is an episode that evokes everything it needs to, “Becoming: Part 2” has one thing going for it: no more need for build-up. Part 2 is all payoff. And its all awesome. Right off the bat, we get some damned fine action and tension as Buffy has to battle her way out a sticky situation involving the police, murder charges, and an overjoyed Principal Snyder. From there its a roller-coaster thrill-ride of humor, action, and drama until we get to the final moments – put in an un-cliche and less-than-trite way to some Sarah Mclachlan – which are gutwrenching and bittersweet, while at the same time extremely rewarding and true to the direction the season took for its 22-episode run. To say that this episode is anything less than the perfect end to season two would be an outright lie.

I mean, its the episode that brought us this:

While the first half of the finale was about Angel becoming, well, Angel and Buffy becoming ready to kill him, this episode is all about finally becoming responsible, as far as Buffy’s character arc is concerned. She’s dead-set on ending Angel once and for all, and even has to finally tell her mother the truth about her being the Slayer. This leads to the moment, pictured above, in which Joyce Summers and Spike have their second interaction, but the first meaningful moment that will blossom into a strange, pseudo-respectful relationship throughout the rest of the series. This sequence, in which Buffy has to explain to her mother that there is no choice involved in her role as Slayer, is painful to watch. But, at the same time, this is because it is expertly acted and, for the characters, true to their lives and roles in each others’. The pain you see in their eyes over what the other is saying is damning and brutally real. Joyce tossing that glass across the kitchen in anger is a telling sign that she’s had enough. And the look of instant sorrow when Buffy leaves showcases Kristine Sutherlands chops (as does her scene at the end of the episode, reading Buffy’s note).

The other major player in this episode, not featured as such in the first half, is Willow. In “I Only Have Eyes for You“, Willow started down the long, dark path to becoming the witch we all know and love. But this is the episode when the can of worms is opened. When she starts chanting the lines of the curse in fluent Latin, you know shit got real. And Cordelia and Oz can tell, too, suddenly shifting their tension levels to “freaked the fuck out” status. After being banged up to the point of no return, Willow is back with a vengeance, ready to prove that she can contribute to the group in more ways than simply hacking into things. This is a far cry from season one Willow, who lacked the backbone to do such things. Now, boyfriended and sure of herself, Willow is on her way to being an uber-witch. She has a long way to go, mind you, but the pieces are set.

All the negative things I could say about the Acathla plot are washed away, here, by Spike, though. He speaks on my behalf, stating he doesn’t want the world to end, lest all the “Happy Meals on legs” vanish and he’s left with nothing more to eat. James Marsters is the best actor amongst the Whirlwind. He really hams things up when necessary (like beating Angel with that metal pipe) but other times plays it cool. This betrayal leads to the fantastic final battle between Angel and Buffy at the mansion. This is where the season has been working its way towards, and what an ending it provides. The fight between Angel and Buffy starts while Spike knocks Drusilla out to escort her away from Sunnydale. Once that’s done, its a race against time for Buffy to kill Angel, and stop the now-awakened Acathla from devouring the world. The sword fight featured here is awesome and well executed (for a TV show) and is worthy of note.

Of course, before the final blows can be dealt, we get one moment of awesome character and show development. Angel has Buffy cornered and ready to end her, when he taunts her, asking what she’s left with when she has no weapons, no plans, and no friends. Buffy then catches the sword between her palms as Angel thrusts and responds: “Me.” Then she just takes him apart. Its a brutal beat down that coincides with Willow re-ensouling Angel at the last minute. And this is where the beauty and cruelty of Joss Whedon is at its strongest. Give Buffy the thing she wants the most, her love, back to her, but make her give it away herself. Not take it away, mind you. But make her destroy it. Without killing him, Buffy can’t save the world. And she makes the right decision when, in a moment of sheer genius, Buffy – like Darla before her – tells Angel to close his eyes before she kills him. Its heartbreaking to watch, because we’ve seen Buffy transform from a chick that was in love with a boy, giddy about it even, and the arc of the season has changed her into this new person. She’s willing to deal with this shit, now, and does so, despite the fact that it ends her life, temporarily. She no longer has school, friends, or family. She no longer has Angel. For a girl her age, everything she knows is gone. And that’s brutal punishment for someone that just saved the world.

This episode signals a change for Buffy, yet again. She’s going to be an adult – a naive, brash adult, mind you – when we see her next in season three. She’s had some lessons learned and some shit dumped on her these past few months, and Joss Whedon’s tight-as-fuck script and fluid-as-hell directing makes sure that we’re ready to tackle what comes next, with her. Of course, based on the ending – with Buffy leaving Sunnydale on a bus – we are not sure what to expect, at all. Whatever awaits her on the other side of tomorrow, it won’t be familiar, and it won’t contain any of the things that have made Buffy unique and strong, namely a solid foundation of supporting friendships. “BtVS” is due to experience some drastic alterations come next season, and – as someone who hasn’t watched most of that season in over 5 years – I’m excited and ready to watch.

Episode Rating: 100

Additional Notes:
-Best line? Between Giles and Xander:
Giles: “You’re not real”
Xander: “Sure I’m real”
Giles: “Its a trick… get inside my head, show me things I want”
Xander: “Then why would they make you see me…?”
Giles ponders this for a second
Giles: “You’re right, let’s go.”
-Snyder makes a call to the Mayor. Get prepared to see a lot of that guy, next season
-I love that Buffy’s mom seems thrilled to hear her daughter
didn’t kill Kendra. As though she thought, you know… maybe…
-As noted, the part where Spike and Joyce sit down and talk is one of my all-time favorites
-Drusilla’s largest arc is now over. We’ll see her a few more times, yes, but never as frequently as we just did. Its a shame, too, as she’s one of my favorites
-Xander admits to loving Willow, but she only asks for Oz. Guess you’re stuck with Cordy, you lucky bastard