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“From now on, we’re gonna have a little less ritual … and a little more fun around here.”

I know that all you hardcore Buffy lovers have been waiting for this episode. I know, because that’s what you’ve been saying in the comments. So this week, you guys, we finally get to the first of the Spike arcs.

“School Hard” pulls off a win in a couple of different departments: we’re introduced to Spike and Drusilla, two of the best characters introduced over the course of the series, we get to see a lot of Snyder, and we receive some excellent resolution with the Anointed One.

A lot of educators tell students, “Think of your principal as your pal.”  I say, “Think of me as your judge, jury, and executioner.”

Snyder is first up, casually threatening the two worst students in the school, Sheila, who seems to be sort of a Faith-lite, and Buffy. Sheila once stabbed a teacher with pruning shears. Buffy burned down a school building. More than one, she admits later. Snyder pits the two delinquents against each other; they will host a most excellent back-to-school night on Thursday and the one of them who is least hosty will get expelled from school.

Sheila, who really is the kind of truant Snyder thinks Buffy is, couldn’t really care less about the whole deal. Buffy, who is eaten up with the kind of guilt one deals with after they burn down a gymnasium, destroys their parents’ marriage, and forced a move to a new city because they’re secretly the Slayer and can’t tell anyone that their weird behavior and all the blood on their clothes is in the service of the greater good, immediately starts making plans for painted banners and finger foods. You guys know how that is.

At home, Joyce stops by Buffy’s room to lay some well-intentioned but still manipulative parent talk on her. She found the invitation to back-to-school night that Buffy tried to hide and she reminds her daughter that she’s already restarted her life over because of Buffy. She just doesn’t want to ever be disappointed in Buffy like that again. Joyce means well. She just doesn’t see the big picture.

Spike and Dru

Hello, young lovers

While Buffy is getting the talk, over on the other side of town a Cadillac is crashing through the Welcome to Sunnydale sign. As the terrible metal music swelling in the backgrounds announces, something bad rolled into town. Spike and Drusilla have arrived. They promptly crash a party at the vampire’s warehouse. Some stuffed shirt named Colin is making a big fuss about how he’s going to be killing the Slayer on yet another invented vampire high holy day, a bit of bluster Spike puts a stop to. He’s the real the deal. He’s killed two slayers, including one during the Boxer Rebellion, which he’d be happy to tell you about it, if only Dru didn’t need some attention. Oh, and he’ll take care of the Sunnydale Slayer while he’s in town.

TNMAS, Buffy and the Scoobies are hard at work on decorations for parent night. Sheila’s ditched, which is just as well, because Giles has some important business to talk about. See, there’s this vampire high holy holiday coming up on Saturday “¦ This is a big week for the Buffster, what with Snyder breathing down her neck, so everyone volunteers to help her get ready for Saturday by crafting weapons and surfing the Internet ““ you know, all the stuff that doesn’t actually require being the Slayer to do.

As busy as things are, the gang still has priorities. And those priorities are usually located at the Bronze. And called Angel. Buffy and Willow are nominally studying French at the club, but really are dancing, while Spike watches them from the shadows. He’s not like  the other vampires in town ““ he sets up a ploy with one of his minions to lure Buffy outside so he can study her fighting style. She handily dispatches the other vamp, so that Spike can make his Evil Dude appearance. A slow clap is involved. He’s gonna see her on Saturday.  For. Death.

A midnight study session at the library doesn’t turn up a lot about Spike until Angel shows up. He knows who Spike is and that he’s dangerous. Then he takes off. He’s not very helpful, this Angel. If I were Buffy, I’d punch him in his face a lot more.

But first things first. Buffy needs to get through Thursday night, which involves a great deal of misdirection, some sugar-free lemonade, and a lot of creative lying to keep Joyce and Snyder from bumping into each other. And she has to do it all without the help of Sheila, who has totally bailed on all her responsibilities. The best laid plans of mice and Buffy come crashing to a halt as Joyce and Snyder find each other in the lobby at the same time Spike and a crew of vampires crash through the windows of the school. Why put off to Saturday killing that can be done today?

Chaos ensues. Parents and teenagers scatter to the winds, being chased by anonymous vampires with big teeth. Buffy gets some parents, Snyder, and her mom into a barricaded room and tells them to stay put. This is her job. As everyone loses it, Buffy is cool and collected, and calmly tells her mother that she’s got some things to take care of. Joyce doesn’t understand ““ well, at least she’s so deep in denial it’ll be 20 more episodes before she digs out of it ““ why Buffy is heading back out into the school. Buffy just climbs up into the ceiling ducts and heads off for the library and her handy stock of weapons.

Xander has made it outside the school and recruited Angel to come back and help Buffy out. They run into Spike, which is when we discover the two vampires aren’t exactly strangers:

Spike:  Angelus!

Angel:  Spike!

Spike:  I’ll be damned!

Angel:  I taught you to always guard your perimeter. Tsk, tsk, tsk. You should have someone out there.

Spike:  I did. I’m surrounded by idiots. What’s new with you?

Angel:  Everything.

Spike:  Yeah. Come up against this Slayer yet?

Angel:  She’s cute. Not too bright, though. Gave the puppy dog ‘I’m all tortured’ act. Keeps her off my back when I feed!

Spike:  People still fall for that Anne Rice routine. What a world!

Xander:  I knew you were lying. Undead liar guy.

Buffy has gotten to the library, gotten her weapons, avoided being skewered by Spike and his henchmen while crawling through the ceiling, run into Sheila, who is now a vampire (figures), killed a couple of others, and made her way back to her mother. You know, the usual. She tries to get her mom and  Snyder, for some reason, safely out of the school. They have to get past Spike to do so ““ the parents make it out, but Buffy lingers behind to deal with the problem.

Spike’s figured out Angel’s trying to pull a fast one and retaliates by punching Angel right in his smug face. (See?!)

Spike:  You think you can fool me?! You were my sire, man! You were my … Yoda!

Angel:  Things change.

Spike:  Not us! Not demons! Man, I can’t believe this. You Uncle Tom!

Joyce has an axe to grind

Angel and Xander lead the bulk of Spike’s troops off so that Spike and Buffy can have their mano-e-mano. Well, their axe versus sharp pole fight. Because they’re a couple of toughs, they drop their weapons and go at each other. The fight is vicious but cut short when Joyce, who has sneaked back into the school, brains Spike from behind with the business end of a fire axe. She’s tiger mother fierce here, poised to cut Spike’s head or balls off if he comes at her daughter again. He chooses the valiant course of running for his life; Spike can never stand against the Summers women.

The cops have finally showed up at the school and are talking about the carnage with Snyder. It’s the first hint the show gives that not everyone who lives in Sunnydale is ignorant to what’s really going on there and that there’s a high level effort aimed at covering things up.

Chief:  I need to say something to the media people.

Snyder:  So?

Chief:  So? You want the usual story? Gang-related? PCP?

Snyder:  What’d you have in mind? The truth?

Chief: Right. Gang-related. PCP.

Back at the warehouse, The Anointed One is pretty ticked off that Spike has ruined the holy day Slayer-slaughtering plans. He’s giving Spike and Dru a piece of his tiny little mind ““ that is until Spike is tired of being humiliated about getting his ass kicked. He grabs the Anointed One, shoves him in a cage, and lifts the cage into the line of a sunlit window, all while the rest of the vampires watch in disbelief. Good-bye, Anointed One. We never knew what your grand importance was going to be.

Continuity errors: Spike refers to Angel as his sire, though later in the series it’s revealed that Drusilla is really Spike’s sire. The light-hearted way Spike greets him implies they had a good relationship, but Spike and Angel can barely stand each other, even when they’re nominally on the same side. Given that Spike was supposed to be a short-term character that was brought back due to fan clamoring, most of these revisions are probably due to necessary background fleshing out.

WOW: Oh, Xander. Oh, Xander.

We have got to stop meeting like this

As a sign of how old I am getting, there are more times than I want to admit during this rewatch where I think “˜why can’t Buffy just wear a bra?’