A Promise of Railroad Spikes: A BTVS Retrospective, S2 E3-4


We start off in school, and GOD I can’t wait for these kids to graduate and get out of this setting already. Principal Snyder is here with Buffy and another heretofore unseen student named Sheila. According to Snyder, these two are the worst students in SunnyDale… and he is going to expel one of them. So he does what any principal would do when faced with his two most misbehaving kids: he puts them in charge of planning and setting up Parent/Teacher night. And whoever does worse will be the one to get kicked out of school.

Buffy laments to her friends these goings-on, and Xander jinxes everything by saying “Hopefully nothing bad happens”. Willow and Buffy berate him for the incoming bad karma.

Elsehere, we see a car pull up and a new character arrive. This new baddie gets rock music guitar for an entrance music! The camera pans up from his feet, and we get our first glimpse of… SPIKE. My wife is thrilled as her favorite character has now debuted. Also, his name is SPIKE, not “Dave” or whatever. THAT’S a vampire name. Spike is always going to be a bigger threat than Nick, you know?

In SunnyDale, The Anointed is with his gathered vampires minions. They are talking about how and where to find a new The Master. The new Master will be whoever kills The Slayer. So wait… was there anything special about the old The Master? It seems like he had extra powers and abilities, but now they decide anyone who achieves a goal can become “The Master”. So it’s more of a championship title than, like, an identity.

Billy Idol: The Vampire struts in and immediately intimidates all the vamps. His girlfriend Drusilla comes in after him, and she is all weird and cryptic, talking about how she can not “see” the Slayer. So she’s a psychic or something, I guess? She also can not act, but it’s nice to see we got a new character who really just loves gnawing on the set since The Master has passed on. She just lazily looks around every room trying to avoid the camera, and all of her lines are delivered so meticulously.

At school, Buffy and her friends are painting school signs. Sheila is supposed to be with them, but she is MIA. Snyder comes up and asks about her lack of presence, but Buffy covers for her. Aw, friendship is developing! Or Buffy is going to get expelled by saving her rival. Whichever!

That night at The Bronze–YOU KNOW, THE NIGHT CLUB–Buffy and Willow are doing their schoolwork. What? We see Spike stalking them throughout the club. He convinces another vamp in the club to go cause a ruckus, which draws Buffy out to kill him. Spike emerges from the shadows, threatens to off her soon and then wanders away. I guess don’t jump the guy when he isn’t prepared or anything, Buff.

As he is leaving, Spike comes across Sheila, and he MDK’s two men who are with her. He charms Sheila, who clearly digs bad boys, into following him home. We then see Sheila tied up in Spike and Drusilla’s bedroom; Spike implores the seemingly weakened Drusilla to feed off of her. So Dru’s… just a vampire, too? But I guess she has visions? Okay, I guess. Spike gives a throwaway line about the power of the Hellmouth being able to restore her from her current state.

Giles has done some bookreadin’! Turns out Spike is actually “William The Bloody”, which I ALSO doubt is his birth name. I mean… it might be! How rad would that be? Kind of pigeonholes you, though. William The Bloody isn’t about to become a medical file reviewer. The name “Spike” comes from his penchant for torturing people with railroad spikes. And he has a 2-0 record against former Slayers…

I’m putting the Over/Under on 33.5 episodes before we see Spike torture anyone with a railroad spike.

Actually, I doubt it will EVER happen.

But at least we aren’t getting the new great threat of WILL!

Meanwhile: It’s Parent/Teacher night! Buffy’s mom wants to talk to Principal Snyder, and Snyder wants to talk to Buffy’s mom. So this leads to Buffy and Willow sitcom-ing them away from each other. It works for three-plus hours of in-show time (about 3 minutes of episode time). After a brief meeting once they get face to face, Mommy Summers is back and fuming. She orders Buffy to get into the car…

But then Spike and his minions strike! Buffy immediately marshalls Snyder, mom, and the rest of the parents and teachers to follow her. She locks them in a classroom for safety and openly says she is the only now who can save them from these assailants. Principal Snyder, who has seem the vampiric faces, states that they must be under an attack from gang members on PCP.

Giles deus ex machines the fact that there is a “secret” exit to the school in the library. He sends Xander out to go get Angel’s help. When the duo return to the school, Angel and Spike know each other; as a matter of fact, Spike refers to Angel as his sire, which Xander doesn’t understand because I guess the definitions of basic words are too hard for him.

Anyway, Angel tries to offer Xander up as a snack to Spike, but Spike sees through it and attacks.

In the locked classroom, the vamps have the teachers and parents surrounded. One starts hacking through the door with a fire ax. Snyder and a teacher try to escape through a window, but the unnamed teacher is snatched by outside vamps and eaten.

Sheila shows up, obviously now a vampire, and Buffy’s mom shouts a warning to her daughter. Thwarted, Sheila runs off to be a threat for another day. Or just vanish into thin plot. Whichever with this show, you know? Buffy saves the adults and sends them all to safety.

Buffy and Spike finally come face to face and have a short brawl… which mom breaks up by hitting Spike in the head with the blunt side of an ax. Mom is there, so Buffy suddenly has a huge and glaring weakness of needing to protect mommy, and of course Spike… runs away. Man, great strategizing there, Bloody Billy.

At the end of the night, we see Snyder talking to the police. The police ask if Snyder wants the media to know the “truth”, but the principal knocks the cop’s suggestion and tells him to go with the PCP gang excuse. Hmmm! We have some intrigue!

And the episode ends with Spike easily killing The Anointed and SERIOUSLY GOD DAMN, what was even the point of that character?! He served no purpose, but he got way too much screen time! In a whole season’s worth of episodes, he

-Made a surprising debut as the threat Buffy failed to spot!

-Sat around and talked to The Master a lot.

-Managed to NOT trick Buffy because she found out his identity before he could try.

-Just tweedle-dee’ed away from Buff’s fight with The Master.

-Utterly failed to revive The Master.

-And was humiliatingly easily fried by Spike.

What a waste of god damn time.

That aside? This was another fantastic season two episode, actually. The school siege was dramatic and powerful. The new threat of Spike was built up powerfully. Drusilla seems a bit silly, but at least she has the beginnings of a mysterious story. And we have the new x-factor of what is going on with Principal Snyder. Everything is working all of the sudden, so I’m sure we’ll keep this momentum up.


Episode 4

In the wake of the best episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer yet, it’s Foreign Exchange Student Program time! The kids are headed to a museum amidst talks of their incoming exchange students. Buffy’s family is getting a kid from “South America” named Empada. South America is absolutely one of my favorite countries. Don’t worry! The weird micro-aggression racisms don’t end there this episode! The Hypno-Hyenas episode is downright woke compared to this one.

Speaking of that very Previously On Buffy The Vampire Slayer, this episode also features a bully (Rodney) on a field trip, though this one seems to be more golden-hearted, as he is kind to Willow. She is apparently tutoring him to help him graduate on schedule. I guess he is the third worst kid in the school. Though given Sheila is now a vampire, he might be in the top two now! Climb that ladder, Rodney!

The team gets a presentation on a mummified Incan princess. She was a young woman who was sacrificed by the Incans and buried with a cursed seal to protect her. And, of course, Rodney walks in after the presentation is over and shatters the seal. Whoops!

Willow walks in on Buffy and Xander talking relationships and what-have-you. She arrives just in time to hear Xander friend-zone her. He can’t DATE her, he says; they are friends! And he’s never thought of her lips. Except for three episodes ago when you two almost kissed, you know?

Anyway, Willow reports that Rodney has gone missing since the field trip, and a show that typically insists on showing Giles reading up to figure out the Threat Of The Week instead opts to have the kids INSTANTLY go “Hey, I bet it’s that mummy!”. The writer of this episode essentially said “I got NO TIME to pussyfoot around this one, guys. We got a plot full of irrelevant details to get to!”

They head to the museum and realize the seal is broken… and the mummified body is now Rodney’s, not an ancient Incan princess! So in the last two episodes, we’ve lost, what? At LEAST three people from SunnyDale this school year already. I just… this would be national news! And that’s ignoring everyone who died last year. If there aren’t going to be ramifications to all of these deaths, I reiterate: I can’t wait until these characters aren’t in school anymore.

At the bus station, Empada is alone and waiting for a ride. He hears someone calling out to him and heads off… into the arms of the princess. She kisses him, sucking the life out of him, thereby reverting her to her pre-mummified self. There also seems to be somebody stalking her…

Cordelia is complaining to some greaser dude about the student living with her from the exchange program, Sven. Why was every artform so insistent that greaser dudes existed for a much longer timeframe than they actually did? I was in high school the same time as this show, and I promise you that no one had the white shirt/black leather jacket/slicked back hair look for years at this point. Yet, if you watched TV or movies in the 90’s, this character continued to exist as a high school staple. It’s bewildering.

Anyway, greaser dude is in a band… and his lead guitarist is Seth Green! Oh man, I knew he was in this show, and I was wondering when we would finally get him.

The team is introducing Fake Empada around, and Giles is like “You’re South American, translate this ancient Incan seal”. Jesus, Giles. Fake Empada and Xander head out together, with Willow staring at them longingly. She later tells Buffy she is considering giving up on Xander after all of these years. And hey, Seth Green just debuted! What super convenient timing!

I swear to god if there is a plot where she starts dating Seth Green right as Xander decides he wants to try to date her… How tropesy would that be? It feels right in line with this show.

Xander and Fake Empada are sitting on the bleachers at the football field flirting away with Twinkies. Fake Empada has the Alita: Battle Angel effect going on of “Well, this is the first boy I’ve met and talked to, so I guess I love him with all my soul now”. And while they are on the bleachers, the guy who was stalking Empada earlier just… appears behind them? Like he apparated there, I guess? He takes some swings at them with a machete, but they are able to escape due to poor episode editing.

Screenplay: I want the bodyguard guy to attack them on the bleachers. I don’t care how. Then they escape. I don’t care how.

Director: Well, if the camera doesn’t show either of these things happening, the audience will just have to accept it!


They rush off to alert the others, and Fake Empada begs Giles to hide or destroy the seal. It’s not long at all before everyone stops caring that there is an assassin out there, though, because there is a Culture Appropriation… WHOOPS! I mean Cultural Appreciation dance coming up. Willow tells Xander to go with Empada. He tells her she is his best friend. She replies, “I know”.

Fake Empada agrees to go to the dance with Xander, then stops for a potty break. The stalking assassin guy is there, but she dispatches and mummifies him with absolutely zero effort. If I had a present for every time I’ve written something along the lines of “He/She effortlessly [does a thing that should be difficult]” in these reviews, it would be better than Christmas in here. This show constantly sets up plot points it has no desire in developing.

Just… don’t include the guardian of the mummy if this is your resolution for him! Nothing at all changes if they just didn’t have this dude!

Fake Empada is preparing for the dance in Buffy’s room, as the two of them talk around being sixteen years old and chosen for something bigger than themselves. Buffy, you were sixteen LAST year. This is not how aging works! Fake Empada has been delivered both the real Empada’s luggage and a crate that has a mummified corpse in it. So that’s weird. Too bad it’s a real crate and not some big wooden box. Mama Summers has seen enough Wile E. Coyote sketches to know how to open those!

Finally, we get the dance, and it is GLORIOUSLY out of touch to watch here in 2023. Willow is dressed as an Eskimo. Cordelia’s friend is a geisha. Cordy herself is in Pacific Islander garb. In the background, you’ve just got racist costumes all over the place. Like, I get it: in 1998, we were still a society that did not care when minorities told us this set them back and stereotyped them. We were just like “No, costume funny” and went on with our lives. But it’s such a relic of an era watching it now.

Hey wait, maybe the greaser guy from earlier was just in costume before everyone else. He was ahead of the curve!

Also, Willow’s costume includes an honest to god harpoon, and that’s another ancient artifact of society. How long from this episode would it be before the idea of carrying a weapon to a school dance would be laughable? But hey, Seth Green notices her from on stage and is smitten.

Fake Empada almost seduces and kills another boy when she realizes her hand is mummifying again, and I really love/hate how many times I am typing a variant of “mummify” this episode. Xander walks in, though, and the boy runs off. He and Fake Empada stand around in this strange-ass yellow/orange lighting that looks like they are on a spaceship just miles from the fucking sun. The choices the creative team made this episode, I swear to god. Fake Empada and Xander kiss, which just barely starts to mummify (there it is again) Xander, but she breaks it off. Then, sensing the seal is in danger, she runs away to deal with that.

(Oh yeah, at some point Buffy and Giles put everything together, so Giles is at the museum repairing the seal. Because I guess the entirety of the museum staff saw a broken artifact and just decided that dealing with that was not their fucking job).

From there we get a climax at the museum. Fake Empada shatters the pieces of the seal and almost mummifies (yay!) Willow, but Xander stops her and demands she take him instead. She is reluctant with love… but eventually decides she needs to survive. As she grabs him, Buffy rips her decaying arms off, and then she crumbles into dust.

I… what? She was fully rotted and had been for centuries when the broken seal revived her! Why now is she like “Oh no, I am old and withered! This is the end of me”?

Guys, this episode was the pits, guys. Season two just followed up the show’s best effort to date with this doozy of a lazy, poorly made, racist piece of crap entry. Just when the first three episodes seemed to be building some solid momentum, we come crashing back to earth in a way that reminds me of so much of the worst of season one.

Which direction will we go next?

One thought on “A Promise of Railroad Spikes: A BTVS Retrospective, S2 E3-4

  1. “Hey, you’re from the South American continent, translate some Incan for me.”

    “Hey, you’re from the North American continent, translate some Navajo for me.”

    Liked by 1 person

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