FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Bad Girls
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: After the death of Kendra, Faith is called to Sunnydale and brings a unique brand of insanity to the proceedings. Giles is fired from the Watcher's Council for caring too much about Buffy and the last representative of the Council turned out to be evil.
Buffy and Faith face off against a vampire with jewelled swords and a natty uniform in one of Sunnydale's many graveyards. The Mayor takes an interest because the arrival of these uniformed vampires happens to coincide with his Dedication, a key ritual in the run up to his Ascension (something the gang aren't quite aware of just yet). Meanwhile, the Watcher's Council have sent a new Watcher to look after Buffy and Faith, the oh-so-terribly repressed and uncool Wesley Wyndham-Price. The three events conspire together to bring about a big confrontation with flabby, weakened demon Balthazar and his cult, The Eliminati. However, it all goes a bit wrong when Finch, the Mayor's assistant, tries to find Buffy to warn her about the Mayor.
I have a real soft spot for this episode. In the days before Netflix, owning the lightly mocking Twilight edition of the Buffy boxset or even completing my hard-won VHS collection, I used to have to tape Buffy episodes off the TV (usually the lengthier unedited versions that aired late on a Friday night). Bad Girls is one of those episodes and one (along with Enemies) that I watched religiously as a result, so keen was I to get a Buffy fix. As a result, I know the ins and outs of this episode rather well and it contains some of my favourite lines and moments (Giles and Wesley cleaning their glasses at the same time. Perfect - Does anyone else have a problem when Alexis Denisof speaks in his natural American accent now?). Also, this is the episode that also inspired my brief dark lipstick thing. I so wanted to be Faith. Well, right up until she stabbed a guy.
It's always been clear that Faith was a couple of cherry tomatoes short of a garden salad since her arrival on the show, but it's this episode that finally confirms just how unhinged the latest Slayer is. The concept of a rogue Slayer is one of the best that the show introduces, a thread that carries on throughout Buffy and into Angel too. With Buffy such a shining example of a white knight, there was always a question of 'but what happens if it goes wrong?'. It's something we got a glimpse of in The Wish with Buffy's more militaristic state, but Faith offers a window into how bad it can get if a person with superpowers goes to the dark side in this universe. In this episode, it's framed as Faith acting as the friend that tempts the good teen into taking a walk on the wild side which goes badly, badly wrong when Faith stakes a human, the Mayor's aid to be precise.
And in that one moment, the whole tone of the third season shifts into something that feels a lot darker than what had gone before. The rest of the episode is a much lighter affair; the arrival of Wesley leads to some big laughs, particularly in Giles and Buffy's attempts to undermine him ("You're not helping." "I know. I feel just sick about it..."). The broad comedy of the script means that when the stabbing occurs, the shift feels ultra-extreme, jolting you out of your comfort zone as the alleys of Sunnydale get that bit more threatening. When the final quiet of the scene between Buffy and Faith at the end, it's almost as if a chill has set in.
That combination of light and dark builds into the doubling going on elsewhere in the episode; the Mayor has his two aides, the cautious Mr Finch and the more gung-ho Mr Trick (who is more underused in the season than I remember him being). Wesley and Giles are both paralleled and opposed to each other. They share some of the same tics, but largely, Wesley's arrival serves to show how much Giles has developed since his first meeting with Buffy. He's the one facing down his would-be torturers with a pithy one liner and not getting knocked out. Faith and Buffy have been set in opposition during pretty much every scene they've had together up until now, but soon find their paths diverging once more in the wake of Finch's murder. It's a nifty way of showing their respective character developments, highlighting further the character traits that make us love these people in the first place.
In other areas, Angel gets a properly badass entrance to the big battle, all vamped out and leather-jacketed and the make-up effects team knock it out of the park once again with Balthazar's design. He's so disgusting. When he dies, he gives the warning 'when he rises, you'll wish I'd killed you all', referring, of course, to the Mayor. The gang don't know about it yet, but it's clear that we're into the home stretch of the season now as the over-arching Big Bad begins to come to the fore. It's cemented in his last appearance in this episode during which the Dedication takes place. Said Dedication? A ritual rendering him impervious to harm. R'uh r'oh Shaggy.
Bad Girls is the third episode in what is possibly Buffy's best and most consistent run of episodes, but is perhaps the most important now in terms of the developing narrative. With Faith on the downward slope to homicidal maniac and Buffy left in disbelief at the turn of events, the Mayor is about to gain a foothold in Sunnydale that looks strong enough to defeat the gang entirely. We may now know he doesn't, but that final scene of Bad Girls has lost none of its power in making us think everything is about to go badly wrong indeed.
Quote of the Week (this was a tough one!):
Wesley: Are you not used to being given orders?
Buffy: Whenever Giles sends me on a mission, he always says please. And then afterwards, I get a cookie.
Let's Get Trivial: The original plan for that final scene was to have Buffy visit the motel room only to find that Faith had committed suicide. Thankfully, the potential of the character was realised and Faith stayed standing.
Inventive Kill: Buffy uses an electric cable to electrocute Balthazar in his own personal hot tub.
You can find Becky's review of previous episode The Zeppo here.