Warning – Buffy spoilers ahead
Rewatching Buffy for the umpteenth time highlights the remarkable difference in quality between the first and second seasons. In fact, Season 2 of Buffy is practically a masterclass in stepping up your game.
1. Go dark
One of the biggest changes in Season 2 is that it became palpably darker from the outset. Episode 1, When She Was Bad, sees a traumatised Slayer turn from Peppy McPeppyson to Queen Bitch. Not only that, but her dreams turn from straightforwardly prophetic to darkly Freudian, as she dreams of Giles, her father figure, killing her.
This darkening of tone made it clear from the outset that Joss Whedon’s baby was growing up. Themes became not just more adult, but more present, turning this from a simple teen investigation show to something far more watchable. Which was helped by…
2. Keep it witty
Despite going dark, the show stayed witty and charming, and fun to watch. This is Buffy after all – nobody wants it to be dreary. Even at its darkest moments in Season 6, it never lost that deeply ingrained intelligence and sense if humour.
By Season 2, it’s clear that the show’s writing team knew to tone down the ’90s cheese but couldn’t bring thenselves to lose it entirely. And it worked, no doubt thanks to…
3. Sharpen the writing
Even with the cheese, it’s clear that Whedon and co. are far more confident in their abilities, both at storytelling and at dialogue. It’s in Season 2 that the Slayer Slang becomes smoother (as opposed to the “Pos.” “Nay!” type ‘kidspeak’ from Season 1). Not only that, but the longer season format allowed for a more involved and complex main storyline, made possible by…
4. Rebuild the world
Where Season 1 was all about “Its a vampire/demon/witch/other!”, Season 2 started to explore the mythology and begin building the Buffyverse into something both fleshed and thought out. Vampires become far less zombie-esque, witchcraft stops being a mixture of cauldrons and voodoo and starts being explored as a legitimate, and large, part of the show, and hey, no more random bug demons.
The change from synthy sound effects to full musical score is almost as important and effective as the building and rebuilding of the mythos. Suddenly the world of Buffy doesn’t just look and feel more complete, but it begins to sound that way too. Themes are enhanced through music, and emotions are heightened.
As the world becomes more full, the stories within it make far more sense. Internal logic starts applying more than ‘Hellmouth Logic’. And when the rules start being set in stone, it allows the writers to start to…
5. Shake it up
Perhaps only equalled in importance by point 1, screwing with the first Season’s formula of ancient vampires and prophecies made the show into something far more inventive and engaging.
Key to this is the introduction if Spike. A ‘young’ vampire who doesn’t care about rules and rituals, he made the season unpredictable and personified the new energy breathed into the show. Aside from being Whedon’s favourite character to write (ever), he quickly became a fan favourite and remains as popular as ever amongst fans.
In fact, it is Spike who gives us the mantra for Season 2 at the end of his debut episode:
From now on, we’re gonna have a little less ritual, and a little more fun around here.