As just about every Joss Whedon fanatic knows, he was not terribly pleased with the way director Fran Rebel Kuzui treated his screenplay for the 1992 film Buffy the Vampire Slayer, replacing his delicate balance of humor and horror with ham-fisted campiness. When he wrote and directed the first half of the two-part second season finale of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, he got to go back and tell Buffy’s origin the way he wanted.
Becoming, Part 1 (originally broadcast on May 12, 1998) opens with a flashback to 1753 Galway, Ireland detailing the origin of Angel (David Boreanaz). As a young drunkard named Liam (Angel when he was human) staggers through the streets at night, we hear a character to be introduced later as Whistler (Max Perlich) providing the following voice-over narration: “There’s moments in your life that make you, that set the course of who you’re gonna be. Sometimes they’re little, subtle moments. Sometimes they’re not. I’ll show you what I mean.”
Liam runs into a seemingly aristocratic lady who turns out to be vampire Darla (Julie Benz). As he flirts with her, she sinks her teeth into his neck, then cuts open her upper breast and forces him to drink her blood, transforming him into a vampire. Cut to a Sunnydale graveyard at night in the present. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) watches as Buffy (Sarah Michelle Geller) offs yet another vampire in hopes of luring out Angeles (the evil version of Angel). (Yeah, he has three different names.)
The next day at the Sunnydale Museum, Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) has been invited by curator Doug Perran (Jack McKee) to study a huge stone obelisk which he recognizes as some sort of sarcophagus. Meanwhile at the high school cafeteria, Xander reenacts the previous night’s event with two fish sticks and a toothpick for Buffy, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Oz (Seth Green).
Buffy: That’s exactly how it happened.
Oz: Well, I thought it was riveting. I was a little unclear about some of the themes.
Buffy: The theme is Angel’s too much of a coward to take me on face-to-face.
Xander: And the other theme was ‘Buy American’, but it got kind of buried.
Cut to another flashback, this time in London 1860. An agitated, still human Drusilla (Juliet Landau) is in church to give confession. Unbeknownst to her, Angeles has killed the priest and has taken his place in the confessional. As she unburdens herself about her clairvoyant abilities, Angeles cruelly tells her that she’s the spawn of the devil, thus providing an example of how he drove her mad before turning her into a vampire. Cut back to the Sunnydale crypt Angeles, Drusilla and Spike (James Marsters) use as their hideout. Drusilla has just returned from a walk around town.
Spike: Nice walk, pet?
Drusilla: I met an old man, didn’t like him. He got stuck in my teeth.
As Angeles joins them, Drusilla has a vision of impending evil. Spike, who has been reading the newspaper, reveals the discovery of the obelisk. Back at a classroom in the high school, Willow is tutoring Buffy who, as she leans down to retrieve a fallen pencil, discovers the missing computer disc that contains the curse Ms. Calendar discovered that will restore Angel’s soul.
Our next flashback takes us to Romanian woods, circa 1898. As Angeles runs through the woods, a band of gypsies are casting the original spell to give Angeles his soul back. He arrives at the camp too late to stop them. Now burdened with a soul, Angel (as he is called in this incarnation) is stricken with unbearable remorse for all the murders on his conscience.
In the school library, Giles and the Scooby Gang are informed of the discovery of the curse. Across town, Drusilla kills Perran and her minions steal the obelisk. That night while out on patrol, Buffy is surprised by Kendra (Bianca Lawson), the other Slayer who has come because of the ominous forces gathering in Sunnydale.
Back at the crypt, Spike is less than impressed with the obelisk: “It’s a big rock. I can’t wait to tell my friends. They don’t have a rock this big.” Angeles reveals that the obelisk contains the petrified remains of Acathla, a demon with a sword in its heart that, if removed, will bring about the end of the world. “Tonight, we’re gonna make history… end,” he gloats.
At the library, Buffy brings Kendra back to the Scoobies who are planning how to cast the “soul restoring” curse. Giles doesn’t think he’s up to it, but Willow, who has been studying the dark arts from Ms. Calendar’s files, believes she has the ability to pull it off.
Another flashback, this time to Manhattan in 1996. Angel is a pathetic bum sucking the blood out of rats to survive. Whistler, a loudly-dressed semi-demon in human form, appears to play Jiminy Cricket to Angel’s Pinocchio. He has something to show Angel and they head for Los Angeles. At an LA high school, Whistler points out to Angel a vapid, pre-Slayer Buffy sucking on a lollypop. She is approached by a mysterious stranger named Merrick (Richard Riehle in the role Donald Sutherland played in the movie).
Merrick: There isn’t much time, you must come with me. Your destiny awaits.
Buffy: I don’t have a destiny. I’m destiny free, really.
Merrick: Yes you have. You are the Chosen One. You alone can stop them.
Merrick: The vampires.
After observing Buffy for a while, Angel consults Whistler about the young Slayer.
Whistler: She’s gonna have it tough, that Slayer. She’s just a kid. The world’s full of big, bad things.
Angel: I want to help her. I want… I want to become someone.
Whistler: God, jeez, look at you. She must be prettier than the last Slayer. This isn’t gonna be easy. The more you live in this world, the more you see how apart from it you really are. And this is dangerous work. Right now, you couldn’t go three rounds with a fruit fly!
Angel: I want to learn from you.
Whistler: All right.
Angel: But I don’t want to dress like you.
Whistler: Again, you’re annoying me. You’re lucky we need you on our side.
At the crypt, Angeles prepares for the Acathla ritual by killing some poor bastard and, with the victim’s blood on his hands, tries to remove the sword. It won’t budge. “Someone wasn’t worthy,” Spike taunts in a sing-song voice.
At Sunnydale High the next day, a young woman walks into a classroom and says to Buffy: “Tonight. Sundown. At the graveyard. You will come to him or more will die,” Then, the woman (who is a vampire) bursts into flames as the sunlight from the window hits her. (The vampire was played by Cindy Folkerson who holds the record for the dubious achievement of being set on fire more times than any other stuntwoman in Hollywood.)
After stocking up on weapons, Buffy confronts Angeles that night at the cemetery. It turns out the whole thing is a ruse to lure Buffy away while Drusilla and her hench-vampires are attacking the Scoobies and kidnapping Giles to learn the secret of Acathla’s ritual. As Buffy heads back to the school, Angeles gleefully taunts her with: “And you fall for it every time!”
Whistler: (closing narration) Bottom line is, even if you see ’em coming, you’re not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does. So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No. The big moments are gonna come. You can’t help that. It’s what you do afterwards that counts. That’s when you find out who you are. You’ll see what I mean.
And on that note, the words “Continued next week” appear on the screen…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Becoming, Part 1 can be viewed on-line for free at Hulu and is available from Netflix (Season 2, Disc 6) and Amazon.