Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 2 Episode 21

Becoming, Part 1 (1)

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM May 12, 1998 on The WB

Episode Fan Reviews (24)

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  • The pieces come together as things with Buffy fall apart.

    As the season revs up for the climactic showdown between Angelus and Buffy, this two parter escalates everything. The major themes of this season are brought back to the forefront as everything Buffy knows and loves falls apart. Her desire for a normal life, the distance between her "real" life and her calling, her obsession with destroying Angelus and the consequences of such actions collide throughout the episode. Any problems with subpar filler like "Killed By Death" and "Go Fish" are distant memories by the time this episode's over.

    The episode primarily focuses on how Angel's reacted to several major moments in his life: his siring, the restoration of his soul and his first glimpse of Buffy. In the present, Buffy deals with major events in her life while Angelus prepares to unleash hell by allowing Acathla to suck the world into hell. The flashbacks pull double duty: showing how Angel became a vampire and later how his lost soul found its calling fighting evil. While the character backgrounds aren't always episodically consistent (particularly the first time Angel sees Buffy), this episode's information is undisputed canon.

    After his soul was first restored, Angelus spent the better part of a century moping about his evil deeds while feeding upon rats in the gutter, the vampire equivalent of rock bottom. It seems unlikely that the powers that decided Angel should fight on the side of good would have him suffer for that long, but perhaps they felt it would prepare him to accept his responsibility. Whether they planned that never has been confirmed.

    Angel's backstory illuminates details on two major female players. Drusilla's human counterpart is a shocking contrast to the aloof killer she'll become. The only thing these women had in common was precognition, albeit Drusilla's is fractured considering her mental state. The incident in the church illuminates the history that has been alluded to in the past. As seen since "Innocence", Angelus has gotten a kick out of torturing Buffy in her fragile emotional state, so it's fitting he'd do the same thing when the human Drusilla begged forgiveness. If only they had time for more in this episode.

    Buffy, before she was chosen, wasn't much different than Cordelia. Concerned with popularity, boys and not much else, she was rather shallow. Unfortunately, she had a troubled home life as she had to listen to her parents fighting. Ultimately, Whistler or the Powers picked her to help Angel find his way because she would be an outsider whose life was altered dramatically by a moment just like him.

    Now this part has been subject of some controversy, as Angel's behavior in the first episode hinted that this was the first time he'd seen her. I disagree with that assessment, believing that Angel merely behaved that way so as not to make her think he was stalking her. While that may be scoffed at because of Angel's lack of social skills, it doesn't explain why he's drawn to her besides her being the pretty new girl unless he'd been following her for some time.

    It was nice to see Darla return for this episode. Besides being very attractive, Darla's importance in Angel's story is invaluable, as seen eventually on "Angel". Although she doesn't appear outside of the prologue, this brief appearance provides foundation to the Angelus story that would be developed in future seasons and his show, as well as calling back to the early days of "Buffy".

    Whistler's appearance is the first instance of a benevolent demon in this universe. Considering where "Buffy" and "Angel" went as their series evolved, it's hard to believe that it took them this long to introduce this concept. Even a few would be credited among the main cast for both shows. Unfortunately, he was unavailable when time came to shoot the pilot for "Angel", so his role was tweaked into the character Doyle, who garnered his own following

    Whistler's role in this episode explains Angel's motivation and storyline, which would be further explored on his show. A benevolent demon, sent by powers far greater than him, tells Angel that he's meant to fight on the good side for a larger purpose. To establish this more than a season before is rather impressive. He also serves to reinforce the episode's central theme: humans can't control the big events in their lives, but they can choose how they react to it. With his soul, he can fight the evil that has plagued his conscience for a century.

    One thing worth noting, as the DVD version is what's reviewed, is that the original monologue that opened the episode was done by David Boreanaz. Subsequent airings use Max Perlich, who played Whistler. After some brief research, I couldn't find any explicit reason why they switched voices for future airings, but perhaps after "Angel" they felt the idea of destiny would've been better said by the person literally directed by fate to set on of the characters on their way.

    Acathla, much like The Judge earlier in the season, serves more to motivate the plot than as the motivation of the characters. It gives a high stakes apocalypse scenario that is fitting for the end of the season. Although they don't need another reason to defeat Angelus (either by restoring his soul or killing him), plotting to destroy the world makes it an event. Also it was amusing to see Jack McGee, who I'm more familiar with for his work on "Rescue Me", as the archeologist Drusilla kills.

    Buffy and Xander stand on opposite sides regarding the restoration spell, both motivated by their feelings. Xander's anger and desire to see Angelus dead is the proper follow up to his speech in "Passion". It goes so far as to even provoke Giles to fight, had no one been around to stop him. Buffy wants to see Angel restored because he isn't the guilty party. Xander has been bitterly jealous of what Angel's been able to have with Buffy and Buffy still loves Angel, even if the being "wearing his face" is a remorseless killer.

    Willow's curiosity in the magic left on Jenny's computer explodes when Buffy stumbles on the back up disk Willow knocked between the desk and file cabinet in "Passion". Considering Willow's ambition, it would make sense that she would accept the challenge of trying the restoration spell herself, even if it is years beyond her experience in magic. This is something Giles recognizes, but doesn't forbid. Instead this concern serves as foreshadowing of events that won't happen for several seasons. It was nice to see Kendra return. Her appearance reinforces the theme of how much detachment from others is necessary for slaying. It would've been nice to see more about what she did during her absence and it's unfortunate that she was killed off rather quickly, but ultimately where they were going would more than make up for this.

    Buffy's determination to get Angelus for what he did makes things even worse. Playing on Buffy's emotions, Angelus gets her to leave her group of friends for a fight, making them easy targets even with another slayer among them. Following Jenny's death, she swore it wouldn't happen again. Now Kendra's dead and everyone besides Cordelia's incapacitated. This cataclysmic series of events is another turning point for Buffy this season. She has been wondering how much distance she needs with other people, and considering what happened to those close to her because of her emotional investment, it'll be hard to reconcile keeping anyone close.

    Despite the dark material, there are some in-jokes for fans. Giles turns out to be one of those "New Agers" who used an Orb of Thesulah as a paperweight (which seems a bit hard considering its shape). Another instance is newly chosen Buffy having difficulty locating the heart when fighting her first vampire. For all the fights with vamps she has, I'm surprised even a seasoned vet has the accuracy she has. Has she ever missed the heart when she's gotten a stake in a vampire?

    It's hard to review part one of a two parter like this since it is really only half the story. Regardless, this episode is a fine set up for the conclusion. This is all about how our reactions to the major events in our lives determine who we become. Buffy's friends are decimated following Drusilla's sneak attack. Her support systems are gone and now she is facing the law. How will she react to all this?
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