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1) I will be reviewing the episodes in bullet point form. This is because it makes the reviews simple to read, and helps break up the text.
2) This review will almost definitely contain spoilers for episodes after this one.
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With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?
• For a fandom that ran for 12 seasons, it’s odd and a little sad that the only real Christmas episode of the ‘Buffyverse’ is this one. There are other episodes that contain Christmas decorations, but this is the only one that feels festive and where the plot of the episode ties in nicely with Christmas. However, with that being said, this episode is absolutely beautiful. Let’s be honest, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” can be a depressing show to watch sometimes. For all its hilarity and loveable characters, there’s a lot of death and exploration of depression and loneliness. This episode is the opposite of that. It’s so inspiring. The ending to this episode is one of those moments where you well up with happy tears instead of the usual bawling-like-a-baby at the fact that someone had died and crying “I hate you, Joss!” into a pillow. “Amends” explores some of the horrific crimes that Angelus committed in his past by using ‘The First Evil’ to appear to Angel and try to get him to lose his soul in Buffy again. Get ready for the tears to flow...
Oh, just a little pre-warning, the ending section of this review will be a story about my personal life and how this episode has affected me. It will get deep.
• I love this episode right from the first moment. It opens to an absolutely beautiful musical score from the incredible Christophe Beck. In fact, this entire episode is scored superbly. It’s a top 10 episode in that regard.
• There are many reasons to love this episode. Three of them probably aren’t supposed to be loved for the reasons why I love them....
1) The snow. It looks so fake and fluffy that I can’t help getting distracted by the ‘snow’ and wanting to dive through the TV and make fluffy snow angels.
2) David’s Irish accent. I love it. It’s so bad, it’s good. I want him to always speak in an Irish accent. It counteracts all the brooding.
3) The facial hair and wigs. I can’t even begin to describe how much joy I get from that moustache. While Angel’s in vampire face! “Oh no! Who turned Tom Selleck into a vampire?!” I can’t...I’ll be the puddle of manly giggling on the floor if you need me. Almost every single flashback of Angel set before the 1950s involves terrible hair and/or terrible facial hair. What were they thinking with some of these?! Oh my God! I just remembered the mullet from Angel season four’s “Orpheus”! I genuinely just laughed out loud at work (I’m writing a section of this review on my lunch break) due to remembering that gloriously bad mullet and got the most filthy looks from my colleagues. Worth it.
• Keeping in theme with bad haircuts, Buffy has a little fringe. It’s nowhere near as bad as some of Angel’s hairstyles in this episode, but it still looks weird. I can’t decide if it looks oddly nice or if I want to chop it off...
• This episode marks the debut of ‘The First Evil’. Oooh, spooky. I love the concept, hate the execution (specifically in season seven). The First Evil works well in this episode as a ‘monster-of-the-week’ type villain, but when it comes to being a ‘Big Bad’ in season seven, it just lacks a certain energy. Perhaps it’s because of the non-corporeal nature of The First...how are we supposed to be intimated by a villain that can’t touch people? What’s he going to do? Talk at you to death?...he did with Chloe, I suppose (too soon?).
Even more hilarious is that the villain that can’t touch anyone has disciples that are blind. It’s like the start of a bad joke. I’m sure between The First Evil and all his followers they can just about cover the five senses as a group. I do like the ‘Bringers’ alphabet eyes though. Very cool.
• Xander sleeps outside to avoid his family’s drunken Christmas fights...that might be the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. We’ve still yet to meet Xander or Willow’s parents, but in Xander’s case, we already know that he has a difficult home life. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Xander’s home life gets explored a great deal further in season four when Xander moves down to the basement of his house and has to start paying rent, but it’s not until his wedding to Anya in season six that we really discover just what they’re like. It’s a shame that this never happened sooner (especially during the high school era) because it helps to explain Xander’s character and motivations so well.
• Oz: “I miss you. Like, every second. It’s like I lost an arm, or worse, a torso. So I think I’d be willing to give it a shot.”
Oz is a wonderful, wonderful man. He doesn’t know if he can trust Willow again after she cheated on him, but he’s willing to give it a try anyway because he misses and loves her. This closes the chapter on the fallout from Xander and Willow’s ridiculous romance. Let’s take that fling, put it in a box marked ‘never look at again’, and throw it into a volcano.
• It’s amusing to see that Joyce is still awkward discussing anything relating to Giles after their band candy-induced shagathon from four episodes previous. I like continuity.
• The first part of this episode that really stood out to me was Angel appearing outside of Giles’ door. Giles’ face when he sees Angel stood there is nothing short of perfection. Anthony Head is as close to a perfect actor as you can possibly get. David had also vastly improved since playing Angelus in the last season (Angel’s scream and “Leave me alone!” to Buffy later in the episode is evidence of this. So is the entire ending scene).
I love that Giles walked away to retrieve a crossbow before inviting Angel in. Suddenly the scene went from awkward to intense. It’s easy to understand Giles’ trepidation and hatred towards Angel. Not only did Angel (technically Angelus) torture Giles when they last met, but Angelus killed Giles’ girlfriend Jenny. Not only did Angelus kill Jenny, but he creatively posed her in Giles’ bed and left a trail of romantic breadcrumbs throughout Giles’ house leading him up the stairs to find her. If I was Giles, I’d have taken a “shoot crossbow now, ask questions later” approach. Giles is much more understanding and compassionate towards Angel than I was expecting. He’s cold towards Angel, understandably, but I was expecting more cold. It’s a testament to Giles’ character that he still helped Angel, even though he loathes him. That’s what makes Giles awesome! He’s a ‘for the greater good’ kind of guy. It’s more important to him to discover why Angel is back. He’s putting Buffy’s feelings before his own.
• When I first saw this episode, I lost my mind when Jenny was shown on screen! Was Giles right in “I Only Have Eyes For You”?! Is Jenny a ghost?! I really thought that Jenny was haunting Angel. She had very good reason to with Angelus killing her and everything. Then, suddenly, Jenny turned into an Irish guy and I got very confused.
• Oh, Xander...offering to help Buffy and Giles in researching what is haunting Angel. I forgive you for every silly decision you’ve made in relation to Angel just for this one act of kindness...well, almost. This is a very big moment for Xander. He’s not doing this to help Angel. He hates Angel. He’s doing this to support Buffy, which is even more heart-warming after their big argument about Angel in “Revelations” a few episodes ago. Not only does Xander offer to help research what’s haunting Angel, but he follows through on it as well. He stays there all night. It’s a Christmas miracle!
• Angel: “I never had a chance to…”
The First: “To die of syphilis?”
Interestingly, that’s what Darla was dying of before The Master turned her into a vampire. Xander also gets syphilis in season four in the funniest of ways. I think syphilis is Joss Whedon’s favourite sexually transmitted disease. It might be because it sounds like a posh girl’s name.
• It’s interesting to note that Angel bites Buffy during their highly erotic dream. This biting will become a reality by the end of the season, when Angel drinks Buffy (at Buffy’s request) to save himself in “Graduation Day Part Two”.
• The First Evil just stroked Angel’s hair. Major faux pas there! The First is later revealed to be non-corporeal.
• So, The First Evil claims that it’s responsible for bringing Angel back from Hell earlier in the season. It would appear that The First Evil went to the trouble of bringing Angel back so that Angel would lose his soul in Buffy again....why exactly? What was the point? We never really find out. After Angel refuses to do that, The First Evil decides that Angel killing himself is a suitable option too. Why bother bringing Angel back from Hell if Angel killing himself is a suitable option? What a waste of time! The only theory I can come up with that makes sense is that The First Evil was lying. The First Evil was taking credit for dragging Angel out of Hell, but it’s never confirmed. The Powers That Be also take credit for dragging Angel out of Hell once Angel moves to Los Angeles. That series of events would make much more sense. I also have to point out that when you think about it, aside from the ‘lose your soul or die’ part, The First Evil is nothing more than Jacob Marley from ‘A Christmas Carol’. He’s showing Angel his bad deeds over Christmas. How adorable.
• The thing that makes The First Evil’s plan for Angel to lose his soul again so masterful is the way in which The First Evil manipulates Angel. It shows him time and time again through flashbacks that Angel(us) has always been a monster. It’s not just showing Angel shitty things from his past, but it’s attacking his entire identity. It makes Angel question whether or not he can ever escape from what he’s done or whether his past actions will always define him. It’s great to see such a deep-rooted question get explored a little bit. Of course, once Angel moves to Los Angeles, this question gets explored in great detail over the five years that “Angel” is on the air.
• Xander: “We know underground, that’s a start.”
Buffy: “Sure, in a town with fourteen million square miles of sewer...”
Xander: “Plus, a lot of natural cave formations and a gateway to Hell.”
Sunnydale must be a big destination for tourists.
• The entire Oz-Willow sex discussion is absolutely adorable...if not a little awkward. Oz acknowledges that Willow is trying to show him how special he is to her, but he turns her down. Oz wants it to be the right time before they have sex and he wants Willow to be doing it for the right reasons and not because she feels guilty. I’ve never loved Oz more than I do in this episode. He’s such a stand-up guy. He actually has a track record with this type of thing. In “Innocence”, Oz refused to kiss Willow because Willow wanted to kiss Oz because she had just found out that Xander was dating Cordelia. She was jealous. Oz wanted Willow to kiss him for him and not to even the score with Xander. I’ve also got to mention that Willow’s dress as she tries to seduce Oz is really nice. Oh! Barry White! So cheesy I felt embarrassed for Willow.
• Joyce: “So, Angel’s on top again?”
• Faith went to the Summers’ house for Christmas. I think this was a really big moment for her character. She finally let herself be vulnerable and reach out for help. A couple of years later when Faith starts to rehabilitate herself and try to be good, it’s scenes like this that make it realistic for me. She’s always been walking a very fine line between good and evil so delicately. She’s really similar to Spike in that way, which is probably why I love their scenes together so much in season seven.
• The First (Jenny): “You think you can fight me? I am not a demon little girl, I’m something that you can’t even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. You’ll never see me but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate…”
Buffy: “Alright, I get it, you’re evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?”
I love Buffy’s complete lack of fear when talking to the ultimate evil. The biggest evil in the whole universe, the reason why evil exists, and Buffy is being sassy with it.
• Let’s be honest with ourselves. While the first three-quarters of this episode are pretty good, it’s the last quarter that makes this episode great. It’s the scene on top of the hill between Angel and Buffy that makes this episode something very special. I get teary-eyed every single time I watch it. It brings such a range of emotions out in me. From sadness, to empathy, to pity, and then to overwhelming joy at the end when it starts snowing. It’s such a beautiful scene. Angel’s desperation to make it all end, to make the pain go away, and Buffy’s desperation to save Angel is brilliant beyond words. Sarah is amazing here and David is arguably the best that he’s been thus far on the show.
Angel: “It’s not the demon in me that needs killing Buffy, it’s the man.” – That line is beyond powerful. Angel has realised that the half of him that makes him weak isn’t Angelus like he’d always thought. It’s his ‘soul’ side. The side that cares. The side that feels remorse for all the terrible deeds he’d committed that we were exposed to over the course of this episode. He knows that the ‘good’ side of him wants to lose himself in Buffy like The First Evil wanted him to. He doesn’t care about losing his soul, he just wanted to ‘take comfort’ in Buffy...sounds icky if you ask me.
Buffy tells Angel that she knows just how evil he’s capable of being because Angelus did those things to her. He killed her friend and made her life miserable for months. She tells him that she can’t hate him for those things because she loves him. She tells him that strong is fighting. Of course, the irony is not lost on me that Buffy’s speech here is the biggest catalyst to Angel leaving Sunnydale at the end of the season to try and truly make amends for all the pain and suffering he caused. In this scene he has a choice to make: try and make amends for the things he’s done or die a monster. Before this choice can be made, it inexplicably starts snowing and Angel and Buffy look up into the sky and realise that a ‘miracle’ is happening. Something or someone wants Angel to stick around. Buffy and Angel walk hand-in-hand through the snow as a beautiful musical score plays over all the Scoobies looking happy and wondrously at the snow. The show fades to black with everyone feeling positive and inspired. I can’t think of a better ending for a Christmas episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”. Think of the message that’s sending out to the audience...life can be turned around even when you’re in the darkest place you've ever been in. Even if there’s no end in sight, it’s never too late.
• Okay, I went back and forth with the decision of whether to include this section or not, but ultimately I decided that I owe it to you all to include it. How can I review this episode without expressing how it’s affected me personally?
After my best friend died in 2007 and a whole host of other bad stuff happened, I went into a downward depressive spiral for four years. After four years of feeling nothing but numbness, I came to the logical conclusion (or so my depressive brain told me) that I was never going to be happy again and that I should just kill myself. I want to make this very clear. This wasn’t some “I’ve had a bad day” thing. It was a case of losing a lot of people close to me (through death or abandonment) in a very short space of time. It was living with a girl for 3 years and being dumped over text message for another guy. It was battling physical health problems. It was wanting to escape from what my life had become. Simply, my life hit rock bottom. I’d been battling depression without knowing it for about 4 years at this point and I just gave up on wanting to live. I gave the decision a lot of thought. I spent weeks contemplating it and genuinely believed that it was for the best. I know that a lot of you will be sat there thinking “That’s such a selfish thing to do! What about your family and the people that love you?! What about what you’ll be putting them through?!” The thing about depression is that it addles your brain. You lose all rational thought. You don’t think about things like that. You can’t see past your own problems and feelings. It’s like being caught in a bottomless pit of negativity. Remember after Glory sucks Tara’s brain and Glory explains that it’s like being trapped and knowing that you’ll never, ever find your way out? That is what depression is like. I was tired of feeling empty. I was tired of feeling hopeless. I was tired of feeling so alone that I couldn't bear it anymore. So, on the Wednesday evening of the 20th of July 2011, I took somewhere between 40-60 painkillers and laid on my bed waiting to die.
Astonishingly, a few hours later, I woke up. By all laws of medicine and man, I should be dead. I didn’t throw the pills up, I had no medical intervention, I didn’t slowly build up a tolerance to painkillers, but somehow I survived. I don’t follow a religion and I’m not really sure how I feel spiritually, but I do know that I should be dead, yet I’m not. I’m sure you are starting to see why this episode holds a special meaning for me. Angel standing at the top of that hill about to end his life but somehow being spared by some form of ‘divine intervention’ has such a parallel to my own life that, every time I watch it, I get emotional with pure joy at the fact that I don’t feel that way anymore. Like Angel, I was tired of fighting. I was tired of every single day being such a struggle to get through. I was tired of self-harming just to feel something. I wanted a way out...but that’s not the end of my journey.
You see, in a roundabout way, attempting to end my life was the best thing that ever happened to me. After I awoke, I was faced with a similar decision to what Angel is in this episode: I can just take more pills and be guaranteed death, or I can be stronger than I’ve ever been before in my life and find the will to fight again. I decided that I was here for a reason and that I needed to fight. Over the course of the next year or so I made a conscious effort to fix every aspect of my life that needed fixing. I reached out to the people who’d wronged me and I talked it out with them, I dealt with my two closest friends’ deaths, I dealt with all the betrayals, all the childhood issues,...everything that was making me miserable and depressed I fought by myself and overcame by myself.
At the start of 2013, I realised that I was finally happy again for the first time in six years. What you've got to understand is that I thought this wasn’t possible for so long. My depression had convinced me that I was doomed to nothing but misery. Now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in my entire life! Through a huge amount of trial and error I’ve realised that your happiness is nothing more than a choice. You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be sad. Of course external factors will play a part, but you’re in control of how you react to them. You’re in control of where your life goes...I’m not sure when this turned into a motivational speech, but I think you get the point.
The purpose of this story was to show you how much this episode means to me. It was also a message to each and every one of you that is currently going through a rough time. If you’re battling depression yourself, if someone has died, if you’re homeless, if you’re unemployed, if you’re in debt, if you’re stressed out...suicide is not the answer. It’s never the answer. Trust me, life’s a gift. Suicide is a long-term solution to a short-term problem. Don’t make the same mistake that I did. Don’t make the same mistake that Angel almost makes here. Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone, get help! Hell, put a comment on this blog post or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)! Regardless of how bad you feel, you’re never alone.
Quote Of The Episode
It’s an obvious one here...
Angel: “I bet half the kids down there are already awake. Lying in their beds, sneaking downstairs, waiting for day.”
Buffy: “Angel, please. I need for you to get inside. There's only a few minutes left.”
Angel: “I know. I can smell the sunrise long before it comes.”
Buffy: “I don't have time to explain this. You just have to trust me. That thing that was haunting you...”
Angel: “It wasn't haunting me. It was showing me.”
Buffy: “Showing you?”
Angel: “What I am.”
Angel: “And ever shall be. I wanted to know why I was back. Now I do.”
Buffy: “You don't know. Some great evil takes credit for bringing you back and you buy it? You just give up?”
Angel: “I can't do it again, Buffy. I can't become a killer.”
Buffy: “Then fight it.”
Angel: “It's too hard.”
Buffy: “Angel, please, you have to get inside!”
Angel: “It told me to kill you. You were in the dream. You know. It told me to lose my soul in you and become a monster again.”
Buffy: “I know what it told you. What does it matter?”
Angel: “Because I wanted to! Because I want you so badly! I want to take comfort in you, and I know it'll cost me my soul, and a part of me doesn't care. Look, I'm weak. I've never been anything else. It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man.”
Buffy: “You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back, but if it did, it's because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends. But if you die now, then all that you ever were was a monster!...Angel, please, the sun is coming up!”
Angel: “Just go.”
Buffy: “I won't!”
Angel: “What, do you think this is simple? You think there's an easy answer? You can never understand what I've done! Now go!”
Buffy: “You are not staying here. I won't let you!”
Angel: “I said leave! Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!”
Buffy: “What about me? I love you so much. And I tried to make you go away.I killed you and it didn't help. And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard, and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you
dead. I don't. I can't.”
Angel: “Buffy, please. Just this once... let me be strong.”
Buffy: “Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day. It's what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you're too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can't convince you that you belong in this world, then I don't know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don't expect me to mourn for you, because...”
She stops in mid-sentence because it has begun to snow.
Beautiful. So much of what Buffy says as the end about being strong will resonate with so many of the audience that are going through something challenging themselves. It gives the viewers such an inspiring message...never give up fighting.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
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