That Ultimate Buffy Scene – Willow’s Long Walk

What does storytelling mean to me?

Sometimes, I have to look back at the tales that make me glad to play in the writers’ sandbox. The moments, and the craft behind them, that have burned themselves into my brain as the best ever.

And there’s nothing like Buffy… and the longest, darkest school hallway walk in history.

 

“Things are about to get very interesting”

–That was a dialogue quote that played in the ads for the sweeps story of the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

–Yes, that season. The big one.

I would put a massive SPOILER ALERT here, but… well, I can’t imagine a dark fantasy reader on this blog who doesn’t know the turning point of that show-defining two-parter called “Surprise!” and “Innocence.”

But if you still don’t, readers all, you’ve had your warning. After all, omens are in the spirit of that storyline.

And second chances are not. So:

First glimpse is our heroine watching a dream of Angel, the world’s only vampire with a soul, being murdered… and fearing it’s one of the rare prophetic dreams that being the Slayer sends her. This is called establishing the, um, stake.

Especially since she’s in love with him. And how, in spite of having saved the world once already, Buffy Summers is very much a girl turning seventeen.

(Note, this was years before those books. The one word that can be spoken against Buffy is that it inspired Twilight as a pallid, pull-all-the-punches imitation of one piece of it.)

But the story isn’t only about her boyfriend. It’s got a few other threads too.

  • Willow, Buffy’s shy little friend, daring to ask an offbeat musician on a date, to their surprise party for Buffy. Sweet.
  • Xander, the long-suffering and all-too-human boy at their heels trying to get the snooty Head Cheerleader to admit how they’ve been sort of dating, between fights. Sweet and sour.
  • Computer teacher and ally Jenny Calendar getting a secret message revealing to us that she’s only been in town for one reason: to guarantee that Angel suffers. Especially by her removing Buffy.
  • And of course, the crazy-deadly (and simply crazy) vampire Drusilla receiving her own presents for her own party (why yes, it’s a theme). Namely, the severed pieces of an immortal demon called the Judge that can destroy anything remotely human with a touch, or build up his power to cleanse the planet. Dru’s first act when he reassembles is to let him vaporize one of her own vampires who almost one of his arms, and immediately squeal “Do it again!”

So all while our heroes are trying to slow down the assembly of the Judge, we can see Jenny picking some very clever moments to lead Buffy into a trap, or send Angel away on a solo mission (who else can hide the last piece of the Judge on the far side of the planet, and of course that means months away on a cargo ship…). And Buffy’s telling herself what many fans had been screaming from day one, that she should just take Angel to bed.

One narrow escape from the Judge later, she does.

And that’s what destroys Angel, and what Jenny had actually been sent to prevent: a hidden clause in The Curse that had been keeping Angel human, so that if his eternity of guilt was ever interrupted by one moment of real happiness, the soul the gypsies had forced back on him would slip away. Unleashing what an ancient vampire had once called “the most vicious creature I ever met.”

 

Why It Works

Meticulous buildup.

And, keeping so many threads fighting for our attention at once: we never did find out where Jenny would have taken Buffy if they hadn’t spotted those vamps.

All on top of the ultimate wish-fullfillment for the fans, turned inside out into the ultimate cautionary tale for any girl. (When Joss Whedon throws you a bone, it’s usually a grinning skull. One that bites.)

And then the second half of the two-parter.

All the right pressure points are hit: the first thing the restored Angelus does is to rip out a woman’s throat. The second is to join up with Drusilla, his creation, and letting the Judge find he doesn’t have one scrap of humanity to be burned with. (One guess why the Judge wasn’t written with simple weapons like poison or a thousand knives.) The third is to go back to the just-waking Buffy and rip out her heart… by keeping his secret and triggering every one of her teenage insecurities, finishing with “I’ll call you.”

So we know the world-burning demon is the minor threat now. Angelus is just getting started.

But all Buffy knows is she’s a total wreak.

Meanwhile her friends are scrabbling through the usual books, reciting more and more often how unstoppable the enemy they know about is: “no weapon forged can harm” and “it took an army.” But the guilt-stricken Jenny is nowhere to be seen. At least Xander and Willow are trying…

And Willow catches Xander making out with Cordelia, the Queen of Mean. “You’d rather be with someone you hate than be with me.”

But…

But…

Just then, when pretty much the entire cast has been given a custom-built trauma, Willow is able to pull herself up and tell Xander they still have a world to save. And then Xander—hapless, helpless, all-heart Xander who’s always failed—Xander says “I’m getting a thought.”

And THAT’S WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT.

There’s Angelus, standing in the shadows at the far end of the hallway, casually calling Willow to him. She walks trustingly toward him… and when the episode premiered it felt like it took a full minute for her to cross that hall, and that was still too fast.

Because of every twist that Joss took to tighten the screws, again and again.

Because there had never once been only one plotline in play that would let us catch our breath.

Because every one of them was aimed where they’d hurt the most.

Because by now everything and everyone our heroes relied on has been stripped away… and just now teased with that one glimmer of hope, except that Willow’s walking into the grasp of the hidden monster….

And we know that with every step she takes, no matter what comes next, nothing in this story can ever be the same again.

 

Nobody writes quite like Joss Whedon.

But God knows we have to try.

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Photo by dbnunley

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