I’ll be spending December joined by writers who I love watching holiday episodes of some of my favorite teen shows. This will end in tears.
First up is the season three episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Amends,” where Buffy is still getting over that whole Angel wanting to kill her post sex thing. Angel is the focus of the episode where it’s shown that he’s the worst and needs to die.
For Buffy, fellow fan and writer, Eric Thurm is joining me to re-experience “Amends.”
Kerensa: When I watched Amends earlier, I realized that I haven't rewatched any Buffy in a very, very long time. So I got weirdly emotional watching this episode--I mean it is a pretty emo episode since it focuses on Angel (aka king of emo vamp bros everywhere) and Christmas which already has its own set of emotional baggage with it. Seeing Buffy always makes me feel weirdly giddy and sad and I associate so much of my OG TV watching with it.
But, even though I loved Angel, I really cannot deal with him and his brooding ever.
What did "Amends" bring up for you?
Eric: Well, I hadn't watched any Buffy in almost a year, and I rewatched the next five or six episodes of season three (the best season, for the record). So mostly that. But, even though I love Buffy, "Amends" is still a powerful reminder of just how great the show was, even in one of its lesser episodes.
There's so much stuff going on! Besides the main Angel and Buffy story, there are Xander and Willow's attempts to cauterize and heal their relationships with Cordelia and Xander, respectively. There's Joyce's kind gesture toward
Faith, who continues to experience tension with Buffy, as well as Joyce's embarrassment over her hookup with Giles (Joyles forever). That's a whole lot of emotional territory and juggling stories, and they're handled, if not as well as the series would manage in some other moments, at least deftly.
But oh man, that Angel brooding. I saw most of Angel before I ever saw Buffy (thanks, TNT), so I have a very high tolerance for mopey Angel, and this comes close to putting me over the edge. It helps that we get to spend a bunch of time in his weirdly nice, furnished, mausoleum apartment which is a thing for some reason? (This is one of my favorite silly production things about the show, because I always just imagine Angel mixing cocktails in a bathrobe sitting in an easy chair when he's not out glowering at stuff.) For me, that humor helps cut the darkness of the rest of the episode. Did it do that for you, or just make everything silly?
Kerensa: Oh man Angel's mausoleum apartment is soooooo funny to me. Honestly, though that humor does help cut the darkness a bit, especially the Jenny Calendar sitch which still devastates me. But even the humor, cannot help me with dealing with mopey Angel because I just cannot give a shit.
I get like why he's sad. He's murdered so many people, he's betrayed the woman he's so in love with and judging from who he was pre-vampire he was always a shitty dude. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to feel sympathy for him from those flashbacks because mostly I just felt like I wanted to give him a haircut!
But it doesn't ruin the darkness of the rest of the episode because I'm feeling all the things for my girl Buffy in this episode minus her TERRIBLE bangs. But goddamn, if we haven't all been in Buffy's shoes...running into a former flame, one who treated us like garbage but who we cannot quit at all. I get it. I think Buffy's reaction to the whole thing alongside that of her people make the episode gel for me. Not Angel at all ever.
Do you relate to Buffy in this episode?
Eric: I think so! The entirety of Buffy's relationship arc with Angel in season three is about the end of their relationship, in a way that's even more final than her stabbing him. Angel hurt her, and this run of episodes is, in part, about the two of them realizing it's not going to work out. That slow march toward a breakup is definitely something I can relate to. (The way it ends in the prom episode is so great.)
And in particular, she's trying to save him when no one else seems to really care that much. They've all been hurt by Angel (there's that Jenny Calendar thing again, still probably the most shocking moment of the series for me), and it's easy for us as the audience to separate Angel from his evil self, but it's not really like that for everyone else. I'm especially down with the way Giles lets Angel into his house (but then again, I'm always down for badass Giles). I agree with you about everyone else's reactions making this episode.
But we haven't even talked about the holiday aspects of this one. It's the only real Christmas episode Buffy did, and they really go all out, ending with a literal snowstorm in the otherwise very un-wintery Sunnydale. The arbitrary nature of that resolution bothered me a bit at first, but then again, we're never really supposed to think Angel is any real danger. It's a much more contemplative episode. Do you think this is worthy of being the only Buffy Christmas?
Kerensa: Always, always here for badass Giles!
I think it's kinda weird that "Amends" is the only Buffy Christmas episode. I do agree that it does go all out from the snow to the general super sad holiday feelings that the episode brings up but I am so not here for Angel on Buffy (prefer him SO MUCH MORE on Angel) that to me it feels that wasting the only holiday episode on him and his dumb brooding that as you mentioned obviously has no stakes is pretty annoying to me. I will admit that I will always be the harshest on Angel though, he really irritates me. While I do think that so much of "Amends" is super effective and so great holiday wise, especially that final montage of the snow falling, the Angel focus makes me wonder what other kinds of stuff they could have done with a Christmas episode.
What do you think?
Eric: I'm not sure if the lack of Buffy Christmas episodes is a missed opportunity or not.
On one hand, Christmas episodes have a lot of easy emotional territory to hit - the creation of families, regrets, celebration, and magic, all ground tread by "Amends" - that could have made for some solid Buffy. Even the pagan history of Christmas might have been a cool thing to link some demons too. And the image of people in Sunnydale pretending to have Christmas and trees and stuff is pretty potent, deeply linked to the way the show paints the town's veneer of respectability and complex system of appearances.
But at the same time, holidays besides Halloween were never really Buffy's strong suit. The show was so tightly bound up in the academic calendar that Christmas never made much sense as a time to set episodes anyway (just like summer vacation, which gets effectively dispensed with in season premieres). And Christmas episodes of TV tend to be overemotional and a little cheesy, which might have enabled a lot of Buffy's worst tendencies (see also: Angel's mopiness).
Really, the biggest thing that "Amends" hints at that a Christmas episode might have allowed for is the home lives of the Scooby Gang. We obviously spend time with Joyce, but Willow and Xander's families are practically afterthoughts for most of the series. We never really see how that effects them, or whether they even think about their families, and "Amends" presents a powerful image in Xander sleeping outside to avoid his family's fights. It might not totally be in the Christmas spirit, but more stuff like that would have been welcome.
Kerensa: I totally agree with all of that. I love Buffy's cheesiness but I can totally see how that could veer into dangerously bad territory very quickly. But I would have loved to see more about Xander or Willow's families as well.
My only other thought about “Amends” is that I really need Buffy to stop with those AWFUL bangs that she has. I get that it's her breakup look but girl, maybe stop.
Next Week: Kerensa will be revisiting the ultimate in holiday episodes—The O.C.
FYI: Eric Thurm writes about TV and music for, among other outlets, Grantland, The AV Club, Complex, and The LA Review of Books. His favorite episode of Buffy is "The Zeppo." He is sorry for holding that opinion.