FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Passion
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles and Jenny's relationship has fractured due to the revelations of her part in ensuring Angel lost his soul, Angelus continues to taunt the gang and Buffy finds herself struggling to keep him at bay.
I'm writing this first paragraph before I even begin watching this week's episode because there are few episodes that stick so clearly in the mind like Passion does. Several images immediately come to mind when someone talks about Passion; Willow's fish, the drawing of Buffy left on her pillow, the final chase, the rose petals... Even now, I'm getting a little upset just thinking about it. It's an episode that revels in its own darkness, because Angelus' particular brand of emotional torture gets to take centre stage and we get literally into his head. Very few Buffy episodes use a voiceover, but its sparing use over the course of the series' run really allows it to work effectively, hammering home the emotions of the episode in which it is featured. David Boreanaz is on voiceover duties here and the thought of it gives me the shivers.
Passion finds Angelus stepping up his game when it comes to torturing Buffy and her friends. The cold open follows his gaze as he stalks Buffy whilst she dances at the Bronze and then follows her home to draw pictures of her while she sleeps. The gang work on a de-invitation spell to prevent Angelus from entering their various homes and Cordelia's car, which comically comes equipped with garlic bouquets later on. Meanwhile Jenny is trying to repair her reputation with the group by tracking down what's needed for the Ritual of Restoration which would give Angelus back his soul. She slowly rekindles her friendship with Willow and works to do the same with her relationship with Giles, the pair agreeing to meet on a date once she has finished translating the ritual. Angelus, however, has other ideas.
After the levity of Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, the psychological horror of Passion is quite the gear change, but handled characteristically well thanks to Ty King's script and Michael E. Gershman's direction. The opening scene's voiceover and the gaze-focused camera-work create the edgy, uncomfortable atmosphere that permeates the episode, placing us within Angelus' mind. We see some of the action throughout from Angelus' gaze, particularly the scene in which Buffy and Willow find out about Jenny. The focus on Buffy, Joyce and Willow with the stalking in the first half of the episode is a feint of sorts before the real attack takes place. We've heard much about Angelus' particular brand of villainy before and after he turned, but this is the first time we've really seen him in action. It's chilling.
David Boreanaz's performance in this episode is one of his best, getting to play all the playfully dangerous facets of Angelus' character and rolling with it. The scene with Joyce at the doorstep in which he reveals the true extent of his relationship with Buffy is masterful in its manipulation. Kristine Sutherland also puts in a wonderful performance here, discovering that Buffy hasn't exactly been telling her everything. It's a pre-cursor to her finding out about Buffy's dual life later in the season and it's handled well, demonstrating the strength of their relationship when its tested.
However, most of the preceding episode is to establish this tense atmosphere, building up to the moment in which Angelus confronts Jenny about her attempts to restore his soul. The chase through the school is made even more dramatic by the knowledge that everyone who could possibly help Jenny is elsewhere; there is no last minute dramatic rescue as Buffy bursts through the doors, Jenny is completely alone. Famously, Whedon ensured that Boreanaz was in full vamp face for this particular death, because he didn't want viewers to hate Angel, but to entirely associate this with his other half. As with Buffy, it's the moment in which the audience finally sees Angelus' ruthlessness. It also serves as a double-edged revelation; this is the first instance of Whedon's characteristic willingness to kill off characters to demonstrate a point. Here, it's no character is safe.
As if killing Jenny hadn't been enough, the final ten minutes of the episode continue to show Angelus' emotional torture. The scene where Giles discovers Jenny's body, mistakenly thinking she'd set up a romantic date for the two of them, is one of the most heartbreaking sequences Buffy produced in its seven seasons. La Boheme is playing on the record player; the specific piece is O soave fanciulla, the piece the central couple sing to each other as they realise they are falling in love. It's a choice dripping with irony, much like the rest of the scene and it's another turn of the screw as Giles ascends the stairs to find her body.
Angelus reminds me of Heath Ledger's Joker in this respect; yes there is an endgame, but really he just wants to see how far he can push people before they break entirely. Giles very nearly does break entirely, going off on a vengeance mission half-cocked and overly emotional, leading to Buffy bursting in to save the day and beat the crap out of Angelus before saving Giles' life. If you hadn't already shed a tear at the discovery of Jenny's body, or the near-silent phone call as Buffy and Willow find out, then you certainly will as Buffy hits Giles to calm him down and then clutches him as he sobs uncontrollably. I'm an emotional wreck by the end of this episode every time I see it. This last viewing was no exception.
I've mentioned before that I'm a fairly emotional television watcher, I get far too wrapped up in these things. However, Passion stands out as one episode in which it is entirely justified. We've been getting to know these characters over the course of twenty-nine episodes and the Scoobies always felt like a family from the outset. By killing off a character who has been with us from the beginning and who means so much to people in the group, Passion forces us to confront the nightmarish world they live. Sure Buffy died, but she was always going to come back somehow. Jenny won't. The fragility of life on the Hellmouth suddenly is pulled sharply into focus and, building into the final episodes of the season, it becomes increasingly apparent that the stakes are too high for everyone to get out alive.
Quote of the Week:
Angelus: Passion... it lies in all of us. Sleeping, waiting, and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir, open its jaws, and howl. It speaks to us, guides us... passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments; the joy of love, the clarity of hatred, and the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank... without passion, we'd be truly dead.
Let's Get Trivial: In an interview with the BBC, Anthony Head revealed this to be his favourite episode.
You can read Becky's look at Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered here.