Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 03, Episode 17
Written by: Douglas Petrie
DIR: David Grossman
Blurb: With the help of the Books of Ascension, Faith and the Mayor plot to steal Angel's soul[, and] then get him to kill that other Slayer -- Buffy.
SC01: We open on a shot of Sunnydale's local movie house, and general milling crowds. Because nobody ever stays inside at night in Sunnydale, no matter what weirdness may happen, or how many dead bodies are produced.
From the movie house, Angel and Buffy awkwardly leave, having just watched a French film. The film, which Buffy had thought was about a banquet was actually about sex, that happened to involve food. Being a steamy sort of picture, this has left her and Angel aroused, but since they can't do anything about that with each other... well, this is another reminder that this relationship of theirs is problematic, to say the least.
Buffy offers maybe they could go out for a hot chocolate... or a cold shower.
It turns out this was Angel's date, as he wanted to take her out somewhere fun, and it had been a long time since he'd gone to a movie. He offers that they've changed.
Buffy offers sympathy with Angel that he's worked up, and she and he can't... y'know. But he assures her that he's fine. He kisses her, to show that he can be close to her without losing control and shares with her that it's nice just to feel. They kiss some more, until they get interrupted by Faith. She's looking for Buffy, because she's finally been allowed back on patrol, and their new Watcher wants them down by Mercer. Faith banters a bit with Angel.
SC02: At a local cemetery, Buffy is distracted, while Faith tells her that she doesn't think she'd be able to handle being so close to her boyfriend and not... handling... her boyfriend.
Buffy is about to tell her to not talk about Angel, but instead tells her to duck as a demon has somehow appeared instantly behind the other Slayer [Yeah, Blurb - I said it... Faith is the OTHER Slayer! Fight me]. Faith reacts instantly, so Buffy can right cross the demon, but he only whines an 'OW'. It turns out he's not there to fight, or the usual kill-destroy-pillage reasons.
Our demon is actually there to offer a trade. He claims that he has the Books of Ascension, which Buffy offers she's never heard of. But he spells out they deal in majorly dark mojo and that The Mayor would be ever so interested in getting his hands on them before he...- but that is all the demon will say for now. He offers that he wants $5G for the set of 'em. Obvs, his mention of The Mayor maybe wanting these tomes catches Faith's ear.
Faith is for killing the demon, but Buffy lets him go to find out more about these claims of his.
Commentary: So... y'all can see this was a looong opener. We're just now getting to the Credits-Be-Doin'-It. I really liked the way that Angel and Buffy's relationship is being handled, because it's so obvious that this situation is untenable, and yet neither of our protaganists will allow themselves to see it. But later there is a caveat.
I also like that we still don't know for sure what Faith's game plan is here. Either she's interested in helping The Mayor by killing this demon before anything can come from his claims, or she wanted to kill the demon as a way to keep the Books away from The Mayor.
I think you could lean heavily toward her actually having joined The Mayor, since it doesn't appear that she's shared that she has an in with the psychopath BUT I kept hoping that this was an elaborate ruse that we weren't let in on yet.
The Books are problematic. They come across as a McGuffin and not actually germaine to anything at this late stage, since we're only now hearing about them, and The Mayor's plan has been chugging along just fine without his mentioning that his entire evil plan depends on getting a set of encyclopedias of dark rituals.
SC03: When we return from credits, Faith is blabbing all to The Mayor [okay, she's actually working for him... damn it, Faith!].
The Mayor is distracted by the fact that Faith is always wearing her hair in her face, when she has such a nice, expressive one. She's confused by such distraction, as it seems like the mysterious Books are the point, which she gets him back on track about.
The Mayor worries over how much stress Faith is under. He offers her a glass of healthy milk. And then orders her to kill the heck out of the demon and bring him the books. Faith worries over Buffy getting them first, and The Mayor offers that he doesn't like to think about bad thoughts, and if Faith maybe should fail... well, he did replace Mr. Trick easily enough with her so....
He returns to urging her to drink up her calcium.
SC04: In the library, Buffy has also blabbed all, but to the right people. Wes is taken aback by the demon wanting cash. Giles complains about the lack of standards anymore, when it comes to demonic demands [I can't decide if he's a bit appalled, or just being sarcastic].
Our Watcher and ex-Watcher don't recognize this 'Ascension', as it isn't a common term when it comes to the demons. But Willow offers that she saw mention of the word in regards to a genecide. Giles asks where she found such information, and she sheepishly replies in one of his dark chronicles on top of his bookshelf, that he tries to keep hidden from them. He gives her a judgement stare, as he goes off to fetch.
The reference is a simple line about the Ascension being the next day that somebody wrote in a journal found later. The entire village's population, and presumably the manuscript author, disappeared.
Contemplation of what they may be facing by The Evil Mayor is interrupted by Cordelia. She's dropped by on the flimsiest of excuses to lead Wes into a dinner date.
After she goes, Xan is in awe at how the term 'flimsy excuse' had been redefined, and they were all there to witness it.
Wesley turns attention back to the whole reason for the latest Scooby meeting in an inappropriate place. Wes offers that he suggests the Slayers instead persuade the demon to let them borrow the Books.
[Really, Wes? The Council doesn't have $5,000 to gamble on these books?]
SC05: As our gang are huddled in the library, we see our demon-guy rushing to pack up his things. Faith gives a knock at his door.
The Mayor is just as cheap as the Council, and our demon-dude doesn't get his escape from the Hellmouth cash. Faith does generously share her knife with his guts, though.
Turns out the twerp is harder to put down than expected, and there is a tussle that ends up with him stabbed to death, lying on top of her, and her hands full of blood from his punctured side.
She's left winded, and maybe-disturbed[?] by the blood on her hands.
Commentary: I don't like the way that this was shot. The scene of Faith's battle was choppy and had too many close ups of bleary action, and I didn't buy Faith's look of being bothered by this... not over a demon. It's this tug-o-war thing over 'Can Faith be redeemed?' ... but it doesn't apply here, because Faith just isn't introspective enough to bother feeling bad about killing a demon. In fact, she'd be 'up' after the fight, kinda glad that it wasn't an easy takedown.
What I did like though, very much - and what saves the scene with her in the aftermath of the body on the floor - is that this demon's blood is human-red. And having that blood on her hands, is very much about Allan's blood on her hands that she is still suffering over - however much she keeps trying to hide it from herself. I get what they were doing, I just don't buy it happening at this time, due to a dead demon.
SC06: Late that night, Faith drops by on Angel reading in his big, otherwise abandoned manor. She's there, professing that she thinks she's in trouble. The blood is still on her hands from killing the demon, and the red of it really seems to be bothering her.
As Angel is also constantly dealing with all of the killing he's done, she feels that he's the only one who can talk her down from the dark, scary thoughts she's having.
Comfort turns to trying to kiss him, but he puts her off that he can only be there for her as a friend. She's embarrassed at throwing herself at him.
Buffy comes to see Angel and sees Faith hanging on him [she was giving him an air kiss on the cheek], and immediately slinks off thinking that maybe Angel is looking for some company that won't involve him becoming Angelus [because she's so very stupid... ugh... the on-again/off-again/misconstrued roller-coaster of their love is wearing so thin].
SC07: Faith has returned to her apartment, where she complains to The Mayor that she tried, and he assures her that he's sure she did her best. It turns out, her whole vulnerability-lets-kiss-Angel act was just that. She was trying to seduce him on behalf of The Mayor.
[Why, is a serious question I have. Does The Mayor - with just a cursory glance at Angelus' history really want that evil loose cannon running around?! This seems like a generally dumb plan.]
With his plan to have Faith give Angel a moment of true happiness a bust, he offers that there are other, more painful ways to rid Angel of that pesky soul.
Commentary: Y'know, on this rewatch, I'm having all sorts of issues with this episode. The entire thing is revolving around two McGuffins, and neither one of them is actually important to The Mayor's dark plans. He doesn't need the Books of Ascension, since it's obvious that he hadn't heard of them before the Slayers did. He doesn't need Angelus running around to distract Buffy, since just putting him in mortal danger would do that trick nicely -- and it would have the added benefit of NOT having an uncontrollable psychopath running around Sunnydale at this sensitive time. If he thinks that they can get Angelus to kill Buffy outright [which Blurb tells us, but he's not always reliable], recent history should point out to him that she can hold her own against him. And again, even if Angelus didn't just leave Sunnydale for parts easier to cause mayhem and even if he did manage to kill Buffy, that still leaves him slaughtering his way through town, and basically getting in the way of The Mayor's well-organized, methodical plans for the Sunnydale.
None of these turns feel like they're having an actual impact on his goals, and in Angelus' case, may actually hinder them going forward. And he strikes me as too careful and clever not to realize that. I wish that this had been Faith's plan, instead, and that Wilkins then turns on her with one of his quiet threats at acting outside of his instructions. This would allow us another opportunity to wonder if Faith will turn away from him, seeing that he could turn on her at any time, and end up helping Buffy and coming clean about everything.
But the script would require an complete re-write, and the Books of Ascension could be safely disregarded entirely.
SC08: At the library the next morning, it's obvious that Giles and Wes have been up all night trying to find evidence of this Ascension that the Books are speaking about. Rupert suggests that they contact the Council, but Wesley is extremely hesitant to bring them in, because he hasn't informed them that Rupert is still working with the Slayers and him.
[Okay. I think this makes sense. I think they're assuming that the demon's claim that The Mayor would be interested in the Ascension leads them to conclude that the Mayor is interested in Ascending - whatever that means. But, it feels like the scripting to lead them from point A to point C was a bit rocky through point B. I'm not entirely convinced that one demon's claims on what the Mayor may or may not be interested in would immediately lead to their thought that The Mayor's ultimate goal is an Ascension. Especially without any hint that The Mayor was even interested in these Books beforehand. I don't know. It feels like the logical flow is shaky.]
Buffy comes in, but she's in a funk over Angel/Faith, which Wes doesn't pick up on. He goes about ordering that she work with Faith to track down the demon possessor of the Books. But she complains that Faith could be hours showing up, and that she'll just go alone. Wes tells her it's a job for both of them, as the demon has a good reason to hide and will be very hard to find.
Xander walks in at this point, with the address to their demon's apartment.
He claims that he beat the information out of Willy the Snitch. But as his explanation goes on, he ends up with admitting he bribed the information out of him. He asks if he'll get reimbursement from the Council and Giles asks him if he got a receipt. He didn't. [That was cute, and it's nice to have Xan using his head and getting answers.]
Buffy recognizes the address as in the not-good part of town, and Giles again complains about how demon standards have slipped, as any good demon should be holed up in a crypt. Buffy promises that she'll mention it to demon-guy.
Faith walks in, then. Things are a bit tense between her and Buffy for reasons unknown to her, but it's clear Buffy isn't thrilled with sharing the demon's location with her - or visiting him together. After the two leave, Xan mentions the sudden arctic chill in the room.
SC09: Being in the apartment, Faith acts a bit off while trying to be casual. As Giles pointed out to Buffy, Faith isn't really great at lying or acting [But Buffy has zero place to complain about anyone else's lack of ability to tell a convincing lie]. It's not immediately apparent, but Buffy is starting to become suspicious of Faith's lack of care in waltzing into the demon's place and her lack of concern that the all-important Books are missing and her casual comment that the demon maybe put up a fight, and that's why he ended up riddled with stab wounds.
Faith is also quick to rush out of the apartment, without even a cursory look around for the items they were there to retrieve.
SC10: In the Mayor's office, he's offering somebody a mint.
This turns out to be a dark wizard, who doesn't share the Mayor's proclivity for chat. He's been summoned to take Angel's soul from him... and to ignore bowls of mints.
SC11: Back at the school, Buffy is sitting in the lounge with Willow. Wills offers that Buffy seems a bit on edge and asks if there's anything she needs to talk about. Buffy brings up seeing Faith looking a bit too intimate with Angel the other night. Willow insists to her that she knows what she's thinking, and that would never happen. Buffy agrees... sorta... that Faith would never do something like that, but Willow scoffs that of course, Faith would do exactly that, but she points out how deeply Angel is in love with her and that he would never hurt her over somebody like Faith.
Buffy brings up how much in common Angel and Faith have, and that there is so much that Angel doesn't share with her. Wills asks what Angel said when she talked to him, and Buffy admits to bailing. Willow orders her to leave immediately and talk to Angel.
SC12: Before Buffy can get to Angel, though, Faith has once again stopped by for "help". And to apologize for that trying to bone him thing.
When she goes to hug him, he backs away, and Faith accuses him of not trusting her - like everyone else her whole life. When he tries to deny that is the problem, he tells her that he knows what she's going through and he'll continue to help her deal. She spins around, having had a vial tucked between her boobs [... or in Void-Space, because there is nowhere else she could've been hiding it during this scene]. This contains blood, and she splashes him, while calling him a chump.
From stage-left, a voice starts chanting. It's the dark wizard from The Mayor's office. Angel grunts in pain, while a lightshow occurs and suddenly, Angel is gone & Angelus stands in his place!
[Which again I object to as being monumentally dumb and short-sighted of Mayor Wilkins.]
Our wizard fades into the black. Our Angelus grabs Faith and kisses her passionately.
SC13: Angelus and Faith continue a heavy making-out session, where both are trying to eat the whole face of the other. Angelus thanks Faith for freeing him, and then backhands her across the room. Angelus tells Faith it's nice to have the taste of Slayer in his mouth again, before kicking her in the abdomen.
They spar a bit brutally, but Faith gets Angelus on the floor with a stake over his chest. He laughs at her. Faith asks if he wants to listen, or if he wants to die. He grins at her and says that as long as she's crouched on him, he mostly wants her to wriggle. [Wow! That seems really ribald for the WB and 90's television... that line got a shocked laugh out of me the first time, and still makes me grin hard now.]
Faith sells Angelus on giving The Mayor a listen-to. And then she grinds away on him as they return to kissage.
Commentary: This scene is pretty wild. I liked it a very lot. And we don't know just how far things went with Angelus & Faith here, but they have a long afternoon before the vampire can visit Mayor McCheesy's office so.... And this'll be a bit of minor importance to Buffy, later.
SC14: In the library, Wes is updating the Scooby Gang. He asks after Angel and Faith, both of which are MIA.
Giles tells Buffy that she'll have to go into the Mayor's den for those books, but warns her that they don't know enough about him, yet. He tells her that she isn't to confront him. He then asks Willow about her progress in accessing The Mayor's computer records. Cordy interrupts to remind everyone that Wes is the Watcher-in-Charge, but he waves this aside to return to Willow's report. Unfortunately, Willow has to inform them that by the time she was able to get around the encryption, the online files had been emptied.
Oz steps in to suggest public records at the Hall of Records, to dive into The Mayor's history. Oz, Willow, Wes and Cordy run off on their errand. Xander plans to coast around town and check in with Willy, et. al. to see if there is any news 'on the street'. [Looking back, I wished they'd done a little more of this with Xander by having him cultivate contacts with the demon community who isn't on crush-kill-destroy missions - especially with Willy's Bar.]
Buffy has gone to get ready for her mission, and as she leaves Giles last, they share a concerned glance with one another.
SC15: It's now after dark, and Angelus and Faith are in The Mayor's office, where Faith asks if she can keep him.
Angelus and Wilkins share banter about the former's brashness and how Wilkin's would like to offer him a future in Sunnydale. Angelus plays with a letter opener and tells The Mayor that he's thinking about putting it into the guy's heart. Richard offers him the opportunity, and Angelus throws the letter opener across the room. But Wilkins not only catches it through his palm, without evident discomfort, when he removes it - the wound insta-heals.
With the strutting out of the way, Angelus offers to find and torture Buffy to death. The Mayor brings up not killing her, as we don't want another Slayer called to replace her yet, but we know now that isn't a worry.
SC16: On the street, Xander is talking to himself, mimicking Cordelia's infatuation with the Brit.
He spots 'Angel' and Faith, and rushes up to them to fill them in on what they're doing about Richard. Angelus punches Xander unconscious, without losing his stride. He tells Faith that Xander just bugs him.
SC17: Next stop is Joyce's, where our two ask after Buffy. They're directed up to her room and Angelus makes a show of complimenting Joyce's hair, as we're all reminded of the last time Angelus showed up at the Summers' home, uneasily.
SC18: In her room, Buffy has changed into something more sneak appropriate. But she's also packing a HUGE bag o' weapons -- which seems to not be sneak appropriate in the least.
Faith & Angelus join her there. Faith claims that they've gotten the Books, and Angelus tells Buffy that they're at the mansion. They offer they wanted to get Buffy before hauling them across town for strength in numbers to make sure they can get them to Giles.
SC19: At the mansion, Angelus shows his true colors in a rather brutal verbal takedown, while Faith smiles away behind her. Buffy promises to kill him for good this time.
She tells Faith they have to get out of there, but Faith shows her true colors. Angelus punches Buffy unconscious.
Commentary: Oh, this episode. Just re-watch this one after we get to the end and view all of these scenes in that light.... This was brutal.
SC20: In the Hall of Records, Mayor Wilkins didn't think to scrub before starting on his endgame, so Oz finds strong indicators that The Mayor has lived in Sunnydale over 100 years.
Xan interrupts this revelation with news that things have taken a turn for far worse... Angelus is back. He also tells them about Angelus' new playmate, Faith.
Commentary: I have issues with this scene. It's minor, but I really don't like the sense of panicked urgency that this situation should have, and Xander being more self-righteous than scared shitless for Buffy just causes the revelation to the gang to fall flat for me.
SC21: Back at the manor, Buffy is just coming to. [Somehow, she was able to stand upright under her own power, despite being deeply unconscious so she can look stunning - rather than like a bag of potatoes piled against the wall.]
Buffy finds Angelus happy to see her in chains. Faith taunts her with making out more with Angelus. Buffy tries to warn Faith that when Angelus has killed her, he'll turn on her next. Angelus agrees that will probably happen, but Faith is all grins that they'll be keeping her around for awhile, so that works out, while she fondles torture tools.
Buffy's attempts to get through to Faith result in Faith's rant about how Buffy got everything in life, and Faith has always gotten nothing. She accuses Buffy of thinking that she's better than her. And Buffy totally agrees right to her face that she's always been.
Faith backhands Buffy, and she retorts that Faith had to tie her up to beat her. She calls Faith a loser to her face, despite Faith's holding a scalpal.
Buffy goads Faith some more about The Mayor's lame ascension, and Faith spills a little too much information. She tells 'B' to think about all of her friends being turned into kibbles and bits during Graduation, while her 'boyfriend' is cutting into her. Buffy observes that she didn't realize how much rage Faith had inside her. Faith offers she's the world's best actor, but Angelus counters that she's only second best.
Faith gets a suspicious look on her face, while Buffy checks with Angelus that they've got everything Faith may know about The Mayor's big plans. She then gives Faith a "Psych!" while she drops the chains supposedly holding her captive.
It turn out this was a Grand Ruse! Angelus was never back, and they set Faith up to see if she was all-evil and whether she knows the details of the Ascension plans!
Faith shouts in rage at being played. The gang manages to arrive to 'rescue' Buffy just then, but they're quickly on the sidelines as Faith and Buffy have a quick, knockdown-dragout.
It ends with Faith and Buffy having knives to one another's throats. Faith tells Buffy that if she kills her, she becomes her, and she's not ready for that... YET. She knocks Buffy's knife away and kisses her on the forehead before taking off at a run, leaving Buffy shaken. Willow pushes her way past the rest of the gang to drop to Buffy's side in support.
Buffy looks to Angel, who glances away - what with making out with Faith [possibly more] and punching her out and all that.
Commentary: I LOVED this scene! It's some brutal shit from Faith, and Eliza was amazing. And the entire Angelus thing being a massive trick was awesome. And I just loved that image of Faith and Buffy both reacting in the same way at the same time, and having blades at one another's throats... this entire scene made this episode for me.
SC22: Later, in the library, Giles is meeting with dark wizard and thanks him for his assistance in carrying out the ruse against The Mayor. The wizard warns Giles that his debt to him is paid, and he's not to summon him again.
After dark wizard takes his leave, Wesley complains about the entire charade pitting Slayer against Slayer... and without informing him!
Xan complains about his face being used in the plan that he knew nothing about, too.
Buffy tells Xan that Angel was just acting, but she's clearly just as bothered by some of the things she saw and heard from Angel as anyone.
Commentary: At least this also soothes the very minor gripe I had that Angelus wouldn't have simply snapped Xander's neck immediately - rather than the knockout punch. And I have to read "Angelus'" line about Xander just bugging him as actually Angel's feelings. I like the tension constantly boiling under the surface between Xan and Angel that hasn't disipated over the seasons... even if Xan seems to turn especially assholish at times.
SC23: In Faith's apartment, Wilkins is doing his best to comfort Faith that things didn't work out, while she's sulking. With his pep talk about slaughtering all of the kids who rejected her not bringing a smile to her face, Richard tells her that he has two words for her that will take all of the pain away: "Miniature Golf".
Faith - not for the first time - looks at him like he's grown two heads, but his cheery smile and twinkling eyes provokes a general grin from her, anyway.
Commentary: I'm sure I must've mentioned it before, but I really love the way that The Mayor treats Faith. She's kinda a henchwoman, but he always does seem to have her best interests at heart - as far as it isn't interfering with his big plan. And, I KNOW I've already told y'all that I love Harry Groener's acting.
SC24: Sometime later, Buffy and Angel have to deal with the consequences of his being able to embody Angelus a little too good. Buffy tells Angel that she knows he was only doing what she asked, but that she needs a little bit of a break.
As she leaves, he asks her if she's still his girl. She says always.
The Good: The pacing on this episode is one of its strong points. Things move along at a clip, and 'extra scenes' are kept short and to the point to focus on the main conflict.
I like the hints here that maybe Angel and Buffy are approaching - possibly - that things between them can't end with them together. Not with the curse and Angelus hanging over the background.
I was minorly amused by Wes and Rupert's disdain for demons wanting cash transactions, and not living in crypts.
I liked all of the scenes of Angel pretending to be Angelus for Faith's benefit.
Also, the highlight was Faith's dialog - carried by some amazing acting - at 'captured' Buffy, revealing just how damaged, violent and enraged Faith has been this whole time. And I loved Buffy's goading her into spilling what little she knows by pushing all of her buttons. Dangerous, as that was -- Angel was standing too far away to help if Faith just rammed her blade into Buffy's guts.
The 'psych' was awesome.
The Bad: It's minor, but I think it eaks into the bad but that scene of Faith vs. the Book-Seller was horribly shot and edited. And I didn't buy Faith's disturbance about the blood on her hands - despite trying to tie it to Allan's blood, emotionally.
Buffy's assumption that Angel might be intimate with Faith because of one 3 second glance at them standing too closely together really bugs me. It's unnecessary drama early in the episode that was well covered later when Angel is pretending to be Angelus and allowing Faith to hang all over him.
The two McGuffins in this episode are supremely clumsy. But the one that slips into the bad for me is the Books of Ascension, which just don't have enough detail in their description to us to justify they're constant mentioning out of the blue.
Other Thoughts: About the whole Buffy/Angel/Angelus deal though? I've already explained elsewhere why this can't be an issue, actually. I mean, I know for drama's sake, we have to continue to flog the "We can't be together" thing. BUT - but - there is no frikkin' way that Angel would ever have a moment of true happiness, forgets his torment moment again. There isn't an orgasm in existence that would have him not afraid of losing his soul again by being with Buffy, and that very worry would keep him from forgetting the torment, and ergo the curse won't be activated. It bugs me that the loophole is sitting there so plainly, and never addressed. Especially since Angel the Series compounds the problem by having Angel have sex very occassionally without the curse being a factor. The curse is neutered unless Angel suffers amnesia.
The Angelus McGuffin rankles me a bit, but not enough for the bad. But, I don't like Richard Wilkin's lack of logical thought about consequences of having something like Angelus running around Sunnydale at this sensitive time. A distraction for Buffy isn't enough of a reason to take this kind of risk of having such a chaotic killer loose. Especially putting Faith in such close proximity and risking the Slayer-Vampire dynamic short-circuiting any helpful partnership seems remarkably short-sighted and out of character to me.
I also find the leap from a demon offering the Books of Ascension, and saying that The Mayor would be interested in getting them, to The Mayor plans an Ascension for himself by our Gang to be a little too pat and not quite linear thinking.
I liked the dark wizard being a plant by Giles to set up The Mayor and Faith to reveal their true plans, but it's also left to our imaginations just how Richard happened to have come to consult the wizard in the first place. It's a bit unfocused as to how this plan was set up.
The Score: Let's see... the beginning of this issue really left some problems for me getting into it, but there is some delicious dialog with Angel-as-Angelus, Buffy and Faith that raises things considerable after Angel's "turn". But, there are logic issues that bother me, so I can't fully get on-board, but on the other hand, that confrontation between Buffy and Faith was so good. I do think the episode ended strong, so I'm giving this one...
3.75 out of 5 stars