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“For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met, and I did it with a song in my heart.”

All is not well in Sunnydale, if you’re the Master. You’re still stuck underground after that botched Harvest thing, your face is permanently bumptastic, your best remaining henchmen is a petulant blonde with a habit of dressing like a naught schoolgirl (which is so last decade), and that pesky Slayer keeps thrashing your army. You’re supposed to be this big-deal vampire bigshot and you’re constantly getting bested by a fifteen year old girl. At least you’re past the age where you need to assume it’s an insult on your manhood (coughXandercough). We get a little glimpse into the Master’s hideout as this episode opens, where his only company is Darla and the Annointed One.  Darla offers to take out Buffy even though the Slayer has been carving a swath through the vampiric community and Darla cut and run the last time they came up against each other. But there’s no need for Darla’s offer; the Master has a plan.

There’s always a plan. Just often they’re not good ones.

As we cut away to check in on the Scoobies, I find myself really struck by the close ups of Buffy and Willow. SMG was 19 when Buffy started filming in 1997and AH was 23, yet they both looked convincingly teenager-ish. And part of it was the softness in their faces ““ there was still some puffiness in their cheeks, their jawlines didn’t look sharp enough to cut glass, their collarbones weren’t deadly weapons. As the series progresses, the actresses (with the exception of Tara) get smaller and tighter, their hair gets blonder (or redder, in Willow’s case) ““ they seem to move farther away from girls you might know and become more Actress! looking. It’s a curious thing to look back on. The tiny, tight, well cut look is a staple these days. It’s just the accepted and expected look to see on screen, but it wasn’t always like that. This change didn’t spontaneously happen in the late 90s ““ it had been going on for years, this streamlining of women’s bodies, yet its striking to see it play out over the course of one show.  Especially a feminist show. And let’s make no bones about it, Buffy is a feminist television show.

Let’s get back to the episode.

Buffy and Willow are hanging out at the pre-fumigation party at the Bronze, talking boys, being teenagers. Buffy has it bad for the noir mystery boy, Angel, and Willow has it bad for Xander, who in turn makes no bones about having the hots for Buffy. We presume that Angel has the hots for Buffy, because she’s the hero, and that closes up this loop of crushes. In fact, he’s hanging out in the shadows spying on our girl. Because that’s what mysterious, dangerous guys do. They go Edward Cullen on you.

If you’re a popular girl like Buffy, you get a lot of Edward Cullens. In fact, you get three more of them, a charming trio of mercenaries called “˜The Three’ hired by the Master to deal with his Slayer problem. The Three try the old stalk-you-down-an-alley-and-attack-from-the-shadows trick. Unbeknownst to them, Angel tried this in episode 1 already, so, like, Buffy is totally onto it. And he’s stalking her too, so when Buffy gets in over her head in the fisticuff department, Angel is able to rush in and provide heroic backup. They  fight off the trio and rush off to hide in Buffy’s house.

The trio is hot on their heels but no fear ““ vampires can’t come into your house unless you invite them in. Angel says this, so it has to be true, even though we clearly see one of the vampire’s reach in across the doorway to try and grab Buffy. Also, Angel is in the house, and he’s a vampire, which I hope isn’t a spoiler for anyone reading this, cause otherwise I totally ruined this recap for you. To be fair, Buffy said something like “˜come on’ when they were sprinting towards the house and that seems to be all the mystical invitation a vampire needs to get in your home. And your pants!

Er, pants? I mean bedroom. Because The Three might still be lurking outside, Angel sleeps in Buffy’s room. Which is totally an excuse I might have used myself in high school. “˜Don’t go home! There are vampires outside. Sleep beside me in a non-sexual way, cute subject of my interest!’

TNMAS there’s gossip about the sleepover. Giles killjoys that with information about The Three, which he stayed up all night researching, you ungrateful teenagers, and since they failed to kill the Slayer, their lives are forfeit to the Master. You’re welcome.

The Master doesn’t feel like killing the Trio, so Darla gets to. You’re welcome.

Buffy brings the good news to Angel, who is still lurking around her bedroom and not reading her diary, which was left out in plain site. Buffy fails at some basic teen girl tricks, like hiding your diary where your mom won’t find it. After she reveals that she thinks Angel is dreamy but babbling about, Angel and Buffy exchange deep, longing looks. I remember finding it very romantic when I first saw it, but all I think about now is how much older Angel, the character (240), is supposed to be. Buffy is 15 and that is just a layer of creep factor that is way beyond Edward Cullen.

They kiss, finally, and as they break away, Angel reveals his true vampire face. Buffy screams hysterically, chasing him away. She does very few stereotypical damsel things in this show, but I’ll give her this one. She’s not just the Slayer ““ she’s a teenaged girl. There’s a few seasons to go before the responsibilities of her job starts to eat away at her ability to be shocked at anything. I actually feel a little bad for her, knowing what’s to come.

Scream all you want, honey. Just know where the stakes are when you need them.

Now that the big reveal is revealed, TNMAS, the Scoobies set about figuring out what Angel’s angle is. He’s been a reliable ally, if a bit mysterious, and he didn’t attack the Buffster when he had her off guard. But he is a vampire and they are soulless animals. Angel is.. something else. As Giles reveals, he’s something else with a bloody and disturbing history. Until he came to America, Angel was something of a legend. A terrible, terrible legend. But he hasn’t killed anyone in over 80 years”¦

Darla pays Angel a little visit in his apartment, tosses a little sunlight in his face, tosses her short skirt, and drops a few digs at his relationship with the Slayer. She’s sowing the seeds of discontent, that one.

After she leaves Angel, Darla takes her bag of tricks to the Summer’s residence, while Buffy is out studying. For realz. Joyce is home and ignorant of rules of vampire etiquette, invites the innocent seeming Darla into the house. Angel stops by to.. well, no one really knows why he thinks this is a good idea. It’s a terrible idea, since he ends up with a Darla-bitten Joyce in his arms, a bumpy forehead, and a really pissed off Slayer. Buffy throws him out ““ literally throws him out, through the front window, and lets him know she will have no problem staking the hell out of him if she catches Angel around her family again.

It’s not the last time Buffy will make that threat.

Buffy settles her mother at the hospital and leave the gang there to keep an eye on her. She’s got a score to settle and a stake to settle it with. But, oops! Joyce tells Giles and the kids that it was Darla at the house, not Angel, and the gang quickly realizes it was all a trap to get the Slayer and Angel at each other’s throats. They abandon Joyce and run off after Buffy.

Because the show has a limited set budget, Buffy has ended up back at the Bronze, where she has intuited, via Slayer magic, Angel is hiding out. There is a fight. It’s a pretty great fight, lots of banging around and crossbow action. When Buffy goes down and Angel has an opening to kill her, he doesn’t press it, and the Slayer realizes he’s not the animal she thought he was. Angel has a soul.

He has a soul, he explains, because he was an animal and picked the wrong prey. A group of gypsies returned his soul after he killed their favorite daughter and the guilt of what he had done in his unlife has crippled him ever since. That’s why he came to America. That’s why he didn’t try to kill Buffy. That’s why he loves her.

Angel doesn’t admit that last part ““ Darla tells his secret, pissed off that her plan didn’t work. She was Angel’s sire and lover, thrown over after that pesky soul issue came up.

DARLA: Do you know what the saddest thing in the world is?

BUFFY: Bad hair on top of that outfit?

DARLA: To love someone who used to love you.

BUFFY: You guys were involved?

DARLA: For *several* generations.

BUFFY: Well, you been around since Columbus, you are bound to pile up a few ex’s. You’re older than him, right?Just between us girls, you are looking a little worn around the eyes.

Since she can’t win him back and he won’t kill the Slayer for her, Darla is going to take matters into her own hands. Crossbows are scary. Guns, she says, are scarier.

Darla shoots like a drunk on the midway, aiming in the right general area but never getting the target, pumping quarters into the machine over and over. She wings Angel, misses all three of the Scoobies who have shown up, and loses Buffy in the chaos. A lucky break lets her pin Buffy down, but she’s forgotten about Angel, who shoves a stake through her back.

Good-bye Darla. We hardly knew ye. We look forward to your return in flashbacks.

Cut to a few nights later, at the Bronze post-fumigation party. Buffy is there and Angel is lurking around to talk to her. They shouldn’t be together. It’s unnatural for a Slayer and a vampire to be in love, but a kiss can’t hurt, can it? When Buffy finally walks away, the imprint of her cross necklace is burned into Angel’s chest. It’s a great closing scene. I have my beef with the Angel-Buffy romance and so many things in the early episodes don’t age well, but this exchange in the Bronze is pitch perfect. The expression on Angel’s face as she walks away, the cross-burn, the music ““ it still works. I can buy this romance, at least for now.

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