Ahhh, Season Two, when things actually start to get good. Not as good as Season Three, but definitely an improvement from its twelve-episode predecessor: Spike and Drusilla appear to wreak havoc on Sunnydale, Angel and Buffy’s relationship explodes (in more ways than one), the stakes are raised in ways I couldn’t have predicted, what it means to be a Slayer is more fully explored, etc. And the episode that incorporates all of those? Why, it’s my favorite one from Season Two!
“What’s My Line?” is technically a two-parter, but I’m combining them into one episode because it’s my challenge and I do what I want.
The above is probably one of my favorite stills from the entire series; you can practically feel the attitude just oozing out of both Buffy and Kendra.
Anyway, there is so much to love about this episode that it’s difficult to know where to begin, so I’m going to start with Spike and Drusilla. Even though the Mayor is without a doubt the best villain Whedon and Co. ever created, Spike and Dru are just fantastic, evil versions of Buffy and Angel: just as dedicated (obsessed) and in love and just as focused on their mission (only they want to bring about the end of the world, but, you know … semantics). What made them fascinating in the very beginning of this season was their dynamic: Spike was this brash, charismatic dude with an uncharacteristic soft spot for a very weakened Drusilla. He wanted her to be better, healthier, and was willing to do whatever it took to get her there. By the end of this episode, he succeeded, and she was this powerful, insane vampire goddess that he admired and doted upon. But at what cost? Considering Spike’s penchant for not really thinking his plans through (and knowing how their relationship ultimately ended), that previous dynamic completely reverses, and nothing for either of them is ever the same, especially after Angelus reenters the mix. Just how dedicated was Spike to their union, and how much of that dedication was dependent upon his own superior status, his control? He spirals into desperation, even allying himself with Buffy to bring down Angelus and Drusilla, to return them to their life prior to Sunnydale. Granted, Spike becomes one of my favorite characters by the end of the series, and big part of that is due to “What’s My Line.” It all started here: his redemption. But that’s for another challenge day.
Second, let’s discuss Buffy’s lack of acceptance of her fate as a Slayer. Thankfully, later seasons see her renunciation of this habit, but it’s in full swing during this season. At the beginning of this episode, Buffy bemoans the fact that her fate is essentially sealed; there’s no point in her joining her classmates in joyfully experimenting in what their futures may hold because she already knows that she’s going to die early while fighting a demon or some other hellspawn. To some degree, I understand and can agree with her, but ugh, it gets super old to hear her complain about the same thing again and again. Thankfully, Kendra enters the narrative, and Buffy starts to realize that being a Slayer isn’t a job or a career choice. It’s who she is. I mean, Buffy still isn’t really happy about it, but it’s a glimmer of hope into what becomes the fifth season, where she fully embraces her gifts.
Third, oh Kendra (please watch the above clip, probably one of my favorites from the whole season). Okay, I love Kendra, and I am still upset (spoiler alert) that she dies at the end of this season. She’s just as much a foil for Buffy as Faith is in the third season, but instead of being a rebellious hellion with no friends or family, Kendra is a rule-following “she-Giles,” raised essentially as a battle-nun. She’s an effective killing machine, but it is only through her interactions with Buffy and Team that she starts to see herself as more than a tool of the Watcher Council. Granted, this comes with a major whiff of racism (did Bianca Lawson have to pretend to have a Jamaican accent?) which would later be more apparent when Sineya, the first Slayer, appears, but even this early in my education on race (I was in eighth grade when this came out, so …), I was profoundly unsettled with how a woman of color was seen as lesser-than to a white woman, just because she didn’t have the free-wheeling ‘Murica attitude of Buffy.
Fourth, I absolutely loved the assassins in these episodes, especially the grub-man that essentially begins the relationship between Xander and Cordelia. The fact they were meant to be decoys makes them even better: even though Spike probably hoped they’d rid him of the thorn that was the Slayer, he knew they’d be little more than distractions for a well-oiled Slayer team that had spoiled his plans before. Or at least weaken them so he could swoop in for that final kill, because if that’s not Spike, you don’t know the man.
Fifth, after a few episodes of near-mete-cutes, Willow and Oz finally meet, beginning a romance that affected me more profoundly than any that Buffy ever had. This is not to say that I prefer Oz over Tara – because I very soundly do not – but this is the era of Willow with which I identified before I was graced with the presence of Anya. Willow wasn’t quite taken with magic yet, and her core position of the Scoobies was much more mental and practical than it was in later seasons. I don’t necessarily think that this is a better Willow, but I feel like her arc is more a cautionary tale out of one of those after-school specials. Don’t get into magic, kids! You’ll end up a junkie who tries to destroy the world, when you could have become a … computer programmer. I still don’t honestly know what that company did?
“What’s My Line?” really does have all the hallmarks of a great Buffy episode: complex plot, memorable guest star, tie-in with season arc, romance, awesome one-shot villains. And it completely plays into the Slayer lore, bringing in world-building without being too heavy-handed and exposition-y. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go watch it right now, which is my reward to myself for meeting my word count goal for today.