FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Anne
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After killing Angel to stop the end of the world, Buffy heads to LA to mope around and listen to Sarah MacLachlan a lot, leaving nothing but a note to Joyce.
And so the third season begins! Last seen on a bus to Los Angeles, Buffy/Anne is now working in a diner, living in a scuzzy flat and having dreams about Angel returning to her and saying cryptic things in her ear. Despite wanting to carry on alone, a face from the past, Lily, the vampire lover formerly known as Chanterelle (from Lie to Me), wants Buffy's help in tracking down her missing boyfriend. The pair stumble upon a slave ring masquerading as a cult preying on vulnerable young people and forcing them to work in some weird time warp factory (alas, no one is doing the dance). Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, the remaining Scoobies are trying to slay in Buffy's absence though they're not doing a particularly good job of it.
If Becoming was all about stripping everything away from Buffy until there was nothing left, then Anne is all about her re-discovering that again. Throughout the episode, she is asked her name and repeatedly gives it as 'Anne', so often in fact that it becomes almost automatic. However, she has not entirely become Anne just yet; when Lily calls out Anne to her, she doesn't respond until Lily says 'Buffy'. Dragged back in to solve the mystery of Ricky's disappearance, Buffy comes face to face with a cult that strips people's identities and re-discovers her own over the course of the episode.
Serving as an introduction of sorts to the Los Angeles we shall see more of in Angel, the episode is at great pains to point out what a hole the city is. Streets are dark and dank, sirens go off at all times of the day and young people are lost and ragged. It's hellish even before they get to the industrial slave factory thing. There's even a nice joke with the diner Buffy works in, called Helen's Kitchen. Buffy may have escaped with retreating into herself in mind and largely the city works to anonymise her. However, it also puts her in more danger than Sunnydale would because she is alone.
Sarah Michelle Gellar is particularly good in this episode, portraying the Anne side of the character as a completely blank slate, one who doesn't even react to the kind of sexual harassment that Buffy would have kicked the crap out of someone for. It makes the contrast all the more sharp when Buffy does make her return. The scene with the doctor in the blood bank is a good example, displaying the witticisms we come to expect from our slayer as well as the underlying rage of the Anne side. However, it's only when she is placed specifically within the cult slave ring where everyone is forced to declare 'I am no-one' that she finally resumes her identity and accepts that she hasn't changed.
Expendable Demon #1: Who are you?
Buffy: (pause) I'm Buffy... the Vampire Slayer. And you are?
It's not just Buffy that has issues with finding herself again. Forced into the slayer role, the remaining Scoobies all face a bit of an identity crisis as they return to school for their final year. Willow, hilariously, tries to take on Buffy's personality herself, facing down a vampire with a less than witty retort. In fact, she calls the vampire 'Big Boy'. It's all a bit cringe. Xander's fooled by a bit of gymnastics and Oz can't throw a stake to save anyone's life (it's a wonderful gag, that). With Buffy away, it serves to show how the Scoobies work as a well-oiled machine and when one is missing, it stops working quite so well. They tried to step into her role, but it will never work because they a) lack super Slayer strength and b) work for the gang in other ways.
By the end of the episode, everyone is back in their place; Oz and Willow are together as are Xander and Cordelia despite a brief spat and Buffy is back in Sunnydale and saving everyone's collective asses. It may be a while before the air is cleared, but everyone is back in the right location at least. It's an important moment for Buffy, who is constantly torn between being selfless and selfish. By returning to Sunnydale, she's shedding the identity of Anne and therefore her own desires. Not only that, but Lily goes on to become Anne herself (and will become a recurring figure in Angel).
Technically speaking, the episode is notably strong, written and directed by Joss Whedon himself. After the cold open, we're greeted with a lengthy unbroken shot through the halls of Sunnydale High that begins with Giles and Willow and ends with Xander and Cordelia. It's a brilliant moment and one which perfectly captures not only the post-holiday chaos but the way in which everyone has been left reeling in Buffy's absence. In that one shot, we're instantly re-aquainted with everyone, even Larry. A smaller moment yes, but still a powerful one and a clear example of how exciting a director Joss Whedon can be. After all, he's only practicing for the unbroken shot through New York flying past all of the Avengers.
It's one of Buffy's best openings, having more work to do than most to get the characters back to the status quo. Though of course, it would be too easy if everything was back on an even keel...
Quote of the Week:
Larry (on Sunnydale High Razorbacks): If we can focus and keep our discipline... And not have quite so many mysterious deaths, Sunnydale is going to rule!
Buffy: Hey Ken, wanna see my impression of Gandhi?
[beats him to death with a club]
Buffy: Well, you know, if he was really pissed-off.
Sunnydale Who's Who: This is the first episode with Seth Green in the opening credits. Also, Carlos Jacott (Ken) will return in Angel, playing a different character and the pilot episode of Firefly. He doesn't really do nice people apparently.
You can read Becky's review of Season 2's finale, Becoming.