As I mentioned in my last, the insanity of the end of the semester cut into the pace of television-watching around these parts, but here are some of my thoughts on Season 2…
In terms of the larger questions of continuity, and in relation to Season 1, the show still hasn’t quite figured out its relationship to seriality. In the pro-continuity column, Angel has become a regular cast member this season, so that plot line remains shockingly consistent in the background—even the stand-alones usually feel like they contribute to the overall plot at least in their metaphoric relationship to the ongoing Big Question of the Buffy/Angel love connection. “Bad Eggs,” for instance, is a great balance between a super-scary creature feature and ominous foreshadowing of Buffy and Angel’s imminent loss of sexual control. “Ted” is another favorite, especially in how it makes Buffy’s relationship with Giles look even better, and makes his non-judgmental reaction to Buffy’s having slept with Angel more meaningful once that happens.
(A confession moment—Giles is my ultimate Dad crush. In an alternate universe, I am the product of a union between him and Laura Roslin.)
More on continuity, character, and compulsion after the break.
This weirdly doubled relationship to continuity is clearest in the previouslies: we get Giles’s voice intoning “previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but only before those episodes that explicitly drive the Buffy/Angel plot forward. The act of binging makes the monomaniacal focus of the previouslies particularly annoying—we keep seeing the same shot of Buffy and Angel meaningfully leaning out of the frame followed by Angelus licking his fangs and saying “dream on, schoolgirl, your boyfriend is dead.”
There’s a way that this hyperfocus seems developmentally appropriate: what better representation of being a teenager is there than sublimating all plots to the romance narrative? At the same time, it denies the way we’re getting caught up in the other storylines—and, unlike the first season, all the characters are starting to get appealing ongoing stories. Oz and Willow hook up this season, as do Cordelia and Xander (finally making Charisma Carpenter’s presence in the credits make a little sense!), and there’s my personal favorite: Giles’s Secret History. As these other lines of serial storytelling become more established, the lack of continuity becomes more jarring when it does happen.
And the character beats that are established here stay true throughout the show: Buffy can’t listen to other people when she thinks the world is on the line; Willow vacillates between being motivated by knowledge and her love for her friends; Xander only wants what he can’t have. There’s this great moment in the season finale when Buffy and Spike are coming to a truce, when she says “I hate you,” and he responds, “I’m all you’ve got.” That moment expresses the core dynamic of their relationship as clearly as anything in the next six years. As much as the series can’t seem to make up its mind re: plot continuity at this point, the character development becomes really stable, which is the thing that allows us (IMO) to become emotionally attached to the narrative universe.
In the comments section of an earlier post, D. pointed out how her reaction to the show had changed over time—while she had originally identified with the central teenage characters, she found herself aligned much more closely with Giles when she rewatched it in her thirties. This doubled reaction was one of the central elements of my experience of Buffy this time around. I’ve seen the show so many times and quoted it in conversation with friends, that little feels new, even though it’s been at least five years since I’ve seen some of these episodes. At the same time, I’m driven crazier and crazier by Xander every time I watch the show, and he was the one with whom I most closely identified when I was twenty in 1997. (That moment when he lies to Buffy about Willow’s attempt to re-soul Angel? And Cordelia’s no prize, but he’s such a bad boyfriend! Argh!)
My experience of watching is doubled in another way as well—I’m caught up in the forward momentum of the story, but also thinking about how each moment is projected into the story’s future. For instance, whenever Joyce is on screen, my bride says “Poor Zombie Joyce.” It’s impossible, after seeing “The Body” and “Conversations with Dead People,” to view Joyce separately from her death and brief revivication. This uncanny feeling, wherein I’m focused on the story’s future and its past at the same time, might be my favorite part of long-form serial narratives. I know what’s coming, but it always, unexpectedly, brings me something new.
So here’s my question, friends: why do you rewatch serials? When you know what’s coming, what is it that brings you back to a show for a second or even third (or fourth, or fifth) run? Re-reading is always strange, but particularly for a story that takes the kind of time to make one’s way through as this one—what brings you back and keeps you going?
 I love this idea: that there’s a generation of people who rewatch Buffy throughout their lives, seeing how their readings of it have changed. I have a similar relationship to Jane Eyre, which I read annually for many years, and still return to about every three years or so, noticing how Rochester has improved or worsened, or whether I buy Jane’s happy ending. This notion of long-form narrative working as a kind of therapeutic exercise feels wonderfully Victorian.