FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Amends
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel has returned from a hell dimension, but the gang are struggling to forgive him for the murders he committed beforehand, namely Jenny Calendar.
It's a rare festive episode this time with Amends, the Joss Whedon take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol via your standard supernatural route. It's unseasonably hot in Sunnydale as the holiday season gets underway, both Christmas and Hanukkah for Willow who is not worshipping at the altar of Santa. Angel begins seeing the faces of victims past in his dreams and in front of him, tormenting him about his previous life and trying to guilt him into committing suicide for their own ends. Buffy and her really awful fringe decide to try and bring him back.
Redemption is very much the order of the day here, not just for Angel who we shall talk about later, but for the Scoobies themselves who are still making their own amends for mistakes earlier in the season. Oz and Willow's reconciliation is suitably low-key and adorable, beginning with an awkward hug, nearly flatlining with an unsuccessful seduction attempt and yet still remaining nice and sweet at the end. Xander and Giles too make their peace with Buffy's relationship with Angel, offering her their help in his time of need.
The subject matter ensures that it is pretty gloomy for a Christmas episode though I don't really expect Buffy to indulge in something light and fluffy involving elves or candycanes. There are small moments of welcome relief in the episode like Xander's attempt to get information out of Willy the Snitch or Willow's seduction with added Barry White. What it does do is hark back to the Dickensian tale I mentioned at the beginning without the sense of humour. The First takes on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, haunting Angel with his victims and mistakes, taunting him into believing that he will never be able to repent for his actions. Buffy becomes his Christmas Present (both in temporal and relationship terms - they officially get back together here), trying everything to keep him in the world and talk him down from committing suicide. Angel therefore becomes his own Christmas Future, offered a second chance with a Christmas miracle as snow falls on a sunless Sunnydale morning.
For a relatively small scale episode in the middle of the third season, Amends has got a fair amount going on in it which will have further repercussions across both this series and on to Angel. It seems appropriate to kick off with The First Evil, the foe of the episode trying to get Angel to turn evil in this instalment and then going on to be the eventual final season Big Bad. For something that will have a massive impact on Sunnydale later, the First don't really make all that much of an impression here, acting as more of a facilitator for character moments than a foe in their own right though they do offer weird dream sex to tempt Angel into killing Buffy and turn evil again. Nefarious. Also, their minions are creepy, particularly if you have a thing about missing eyes (I do), and the First's ill-defined powers offer a glimpse into Angel's past (and a less than welcome return for Appalling Irish Accent Angel).
However, what it does do is give David Boreanaz a chance dig a bit deeper into the good side of the equation. Much of his guilt stems not from his strength as a vampire, but from his weakness as a man. The flashback to his human life shows him drunkenly falling over, seen earlier in the series, his turning with Darla is based more on the fact that he thought he was going to have sex with her than actually becoming a vampire and losing his soul to Buffy is seen as a sign of weakness by all involved. Throughout his whole speech, he refers to this chance to commit suicide, to rid the world of his evil, as something strong, until Buffy turns it around on him by stating the strong thing to do would be to stay and fight it.
In that beautiful, haunting final scene before the snow starts to fall, it sets up Angel's solo mission swiftly with the idea that he can repent for his previous sins. Angel suddenly gets a renewed focus and an extra depth that being Buffy's beau just never offered. His final scene in which his soul is laid bare and he is seconds from suicide is a powerful rendition of complete and utter desolation. It's one of the best pieces of writing in the entire series and perfectly establishes Angel's renewed sense of self.
The final Christmas Miracle snowfall that allows Angel to escape with his life has been talked about a lot over the years since it first aired. It's hard to avoid the overtly Christian connotations in such an act, particularly given the episode's themes of redemption and repentance, but it also allows for your own interpretation. Though The First take credit for bringing Angel back, that wouldn't account for the miracle to keep him alive. Personally, I think it's the Powers That Be who go on to help Angel in his own series are responsible, particularly given the Shanshu Prophecy. Oops. Getting ahead of myself there (very much looking forward to starting Angel too).
Quote of the Week:
Angel: It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man.
Let's Get Trivial: The Mutant Enemy at the end of this episode wears a Santa hat.
You can check out Becky's look at previous episode The Wish here.