Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: Sept. 29th, 1998

And… we’re back! And we’re back big. “Anne” finds our Slayer living in L.A., faking a life as the titular Anne to avoid detection and, above all else, remove herself from the pain and suffering of the events of “Becoming: Part 2″ – namely the knowing what she had to do went against everything she wanted. So punishing herself is the way to go. And what a way to go. Her life is so damned depressing; she lives in a shitty apartment on a shitty street in a shitty part of L.A. (the first street-level shot outsider her home immediately reminded me of “Angel” – the “BtVS” spinoff – and that’s a good thing) working a shitty job at a shitty dinner. She has left everything else behind and is left with exactly what Angel insinuated she had: nothing. This is a drastic departure from the life we’re used to seeing for Buffy, and one that – sadly – we won’t deal with for long.

If there’s anything this episode is about, its the idea of “identity” – insofar as each player’s role in the Slayer story. Giles can’t contain his idleness and frustration at not being a Watcher, and thus scours the countryside looking for his lost Slayer. The other Scoobies try to slay in Buffy’s absence (to great comic effect, mostly from Oz and his weak-as-hell throw: “That’ never works”) and screw it up. Even Buffy’s mom fails at carrying on in any fashion without her. And then there’s Buffy, who has the greatest role of all, and one she no longer wants. But even when she tries to ditch everything, her role comes back, ten-fold, and presents her with a situation that yet again calls upon her unique capabilities, powers, and tactics. And that situation has a name: Lily.

Lily, who some might remember from season two’s “Lie to Me“as one of the vampire worshipers, both recognizes and needs Buffy to help her boyfriend, Ricky. Buffy wants nothing to do with it, but goes along anyhow. Why? Because, despite her insistence that she doesn’t want to help anymore, her good side shines through and the Slayer comes back out of retirement. Want proof that Buffy can’t help herself when it comes to being a hero? After she tells Lily that Ricky is dead, and Lily vanishes, Buffy continues to search for clues, anyhow. Even though her abilities are no longer being sought after, she can’t stop herself from pressing on until she knows the answers, until she knows she’s saved the day. This leads her into a bash-you-over-the-head metaphor about her need to save people leading her into hellish situations: she goes to a hell dimension. Here, we get a mixed bag of prosthetic and made-up monster costumes (some rock, some… suck) and a bad guy whose motives aren’t clearly established one bit (sure he steals people off the street, works them to near-death, then puts them back as old people… but why? To what end? Its never touched on). And what’s she do down in that dimension? She saves the day, all the people she can, and fucking smashes a demon’s head in with a mace, telling the worst pun in the show (seriously, Xander, Willow, and Oz commented that they missed her quips and puns. Glad they didn’t hear her Ghandi “joke”).

SMG has to lead a lot of this episode and, as is usually the case, does an above-average job. There are too many scenes with her sitting around being sad, but that’s OK, because for each one of those we either get a cute scene with Willow (and her now too-cute haircut!), or a dream sequence with Angel and Buffy on a beach. But even if SMG’s acting sucked, we have one pivotal moment between Kristine Sutherlands’s Joyce and Anthony Stewart Head’s Giles that seals the deal. The acting in that scene is so damned real, and it gets back to the heart of the episode, its central theme. After being blamed for everything, Giles said he didn’t make Buffy who she was. Buffy’s mom: “Who exactly is she?” — this is all about identity, and Joyce Summers has no idea about her daughters. At all.

That’ll pick up in the next episode, immediately, but the setup for that is here, with the final, heartfelt hug between mother and daughter being a solid payoff for what – for some – was a four-five month wait. Other things to comment on, though, are in solid numbers. For one, the above shot is the new Buffy “power shot” which replaces that one of her from “The Harvest” (finally). But on a more serious note, we finally have the official logo for the show. Its a dumb thing to be excited about, but its worth noting because now its a logo, and not just some stupid… bloody… chalk lookin’ thing? Also of note, the Xander+Cordelia relationship takes its first leap toward being a thing of the past, but not before one more music swell, a la “What’s My Line? Part 2” – a moment that gets a smile out of me, every time. Yes, things are strange for the characters, and will only get more strange as the season continues on.

On a final note, I want to add the following: For the first time ever, I actually am invested in Buffy’s growth as a character, but also as a person. I know, I know, that sounds stupid. But when I watch this show, now, I see her growing, changing, and starting to move from the spunky girl from season one toward the hardened Slayer we see in season seven. I usually don’t care about Buffy, so much. I’m more a Xander/Willow/Giles kind of guy. But this time I’m starting to get to know her. And I’m liking her more and more.

Episode Rating: 90

Additional Notes:
-Carlos Jacott is another one of those “Whedon-every-guys” that shows up all over the place. He plays Ken, here, the demon. He’s also on “Firefly”
-Anne, well…. Lily, who is the new Anne, will feature a few times on “Angel” — even showing up for the series finale!
-I think one of those shots of homeless people are used on the starting credits for “Angel” but I can’t be sure, yet…
-Cordelia’s nervousness over seeing Xander for the first time after summer is cute and endearing. I’d have such sex with her
-That was inappropriate, again. Sorry sorry sorry
-But seriously. Without even needing to be asked.