FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - School Hard
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Anointed One has survived into the second season and has put together another posse of vampires to ritualistically take on the Slayer. Also, Principle Snyder is totally gunning to get Buffy kicked out of school
Ladies and gentlemen, the talent has arrived, crashing into the Welcome to Sunnydale sign with a cool car, a reckless attitude and a knack for killing slayers. Yes people, Spike's in town. I think it's fair to say that School Hard is where Buffy really kicks it up a notch and starts hinting at not only the bigger picture, but the highs that this season in particular is about to hit.
Buffy faces the prospect of Parent-Teacher Night and organising the whole event with fellow delinquent student Sheila (I heard she ate a live duck once). Snyder is determined to prove Buffy's inadequacy and Joyce is out to find out just what is going on in Buffy's school life. Not only that, but the Night of St Vigeous is coming up and the Anointed One is gunning for the Slayer. It's the one night of the year that vamps' abilities are heightened and they actually stand a chance of cutting down everyone's favourite blonde bombshell. It never comes again mind, this St Vigeous thing, so maybe when Spike shows up, he really does ruin it forever.
So called because it's Die Hard in a high school (something I only actually realised a couple of months ago), School Hard sets a whole bunch of stuff up for the coming series in one handy 45 minute slot. First up, and the most obvious, is the arrival of Spike and Dru, the Buffyverse's very own Sid and Nancy, mad, bad and dangerous for just about everyone. Spike's entrance to the factory, all posturing and kickass attitude, was exactly the shake-up the show needed in terms of its bad guys. The Master's dogmatic nature may have worked to set up the Buffyverse in the first season, but let's face it, there's only so much ritualising you can take and Spike demonstrates the punky, subversive attitude that Buffy will become known for. This also happens to set up two of the Big Bads for the season with bonkers Dru in toe.
The third is but glimpsed in this episode as Angel uses his former self and friendship with Spike to get into the school once the hostage situation has arisen. With Boreanaz' voice shifting up an octave for play-acting Angelus and offering Xander as bait, it's a hint at what is on the way for the season, another bit of foreshadowing to go along with that in When She Was Bad. It also introduces us to the concept of a sire (the process of making a vampire) and though this would go on to be proven factually incorrect (Drusilla sires Spike), Spike yelling 'you were my sire man' at Angel hints at a deeper connection between the two as well as an expansion of Buffy's vampire lore.
As far as the human characters go, it also proffers some foreshadowing in the form of Joyce attending Parent-Teacher Night and seeing Buffy in action. Well, sort of. Buffy's very careful to make sure she doesn't see all that much, just enough for Joyce to give her a week and a half's grace. It's a great episode for their relationship, one that hints at Joyce discovering the truth about her daughter later in the season whilst also demonstrating Buffy's desire to retain her mum's approval. Oh and Joyce does get her very own Ripley moment when she bashes Spike over the head with an axe. So that's nice.
The dialogue is characteristically snappy, with James Marsters announcing his unique presence on the show immediately with a series of quips about vampire boasting; "If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there, it would've been like Woodstock." Spike's bravura also makes him a good villain; as it's his first appearance, and other characters are emphasising just how good he can be, it lends a degree of tension to the episode (let's just ignore the worst stunt-doubling EVER). Without this, the concept of everyone being held hostage in the school by a load of vampires could have fallen completely flat.
As it stands, School Hard is the first truly great episode of the second season, thanks in no small part to a blistering performance from Marsters, who was initially only supposed to be in a few episodes. Think how different the mythology would have been then.
Quote of the Week:
Spike: "From now on, we're going to have a little less ritual and a little more fun around here."
Inventive Kill: Spike wacks the Anointed One in a cage and hoists him up into a beam of sunlight. Mmm. Crispy.
Let's Get Trivial: Spike casually mentions/brags that he has killed two Slayers. He only mentions the one in the Boxer Rebellion, Xin Rong, and later he will talk about Nikki in New York (both seen in Fool For Love)
You can read Becky's bumper Frankenstein edition of Some Assembly Required here.