Last time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon shared his thoughts on balancing his portrayal of Buffy as an empowered “blonde girl in an alley” with the dramatic necessity of putting Buffy through the wringer after losing her virginity to Angel in the season two episode ‘Innocence,’ as well as the importance of the episode as a whole.
But for the episode to reach the level of achievement that it did, Whedon had to play the role of Dr. Frankenstein and stitch together a variety of scattered pieces of the story, especially when it was time to write the scene in which Angel’s gypsy curse is explained. “The fact is Jenny had been sent there as a gypsy, but had never done anything, had never accomplished anything, the gypsy curse didn’t make any sense – he’d become a monster and kill more people if he was happy, that’s not a good plan . . . – and we introduced the idea of Jenny being a gypsy really late, so I had a lot of disparate ends to take care of, a lot of things that didn’t make sense” (00:16:00), he says. Luckily, he found a way to bring it all to life. “One of the things that I’ve done as a script doctor is take things that don’t fit together and desperately try to make them all connect . . . and in this case it was the idea of ‘vengeance is a living thing.’ The idea that [the gypsies] served a kind of arbitrary god that was itself irrational completely justified the idea that nothing we had written before actually connected that well” (00:16:00).
Whedon also wanted to give the villains in season two a more direct connection to Buffy’s personal life. “[In] season one we had The Master. He was great, very funny . . . [but] pretty much surrounded by stunt men and not a part of the kids’ lives at all,” he says.
“The idea of Spike and Dru was to get somebody a little bit younger, a little bit funkier, who could walk in the lives of our characters and affect them on a romantic level, on a more visceral level than just ‘Oh I wish I could kill Buffy,’ and to bring some real twisted romance to [Spike and Drusilla’s] relationship was a fun new place to go. It said vampires were even more complex than we thought they were, as are people.” (00:07:30)
Having Angel turn bad and team up with them not only complicated Spike and Drusilla’s relationship, but tightened their connection to Buffy’s daily life like a noose around her neck.
There was no shortage of relationships for Whedon to juggle in season two. Others included the spark between Willow and Oz (Seth Green) and, perhaps more importantly, between Oz and the audience. In ‘Innocence,’ Whedon very deliberately fanned them both into a warm, growing flame. Viewers had not been responding well to Oz because they thought Willow should be with Xander. Whedon wanted them to accept the new relationship, but didn’t want to force it on them, which influenced his approach to the scene in which Oz gently refuses Willow’s request for a kiss. “I wrote this scene very specifically as the scene that would make [the audience] love Oz, because it’s the scene that makes Willow love Oz . . . ,” Whedon says. “Gauging the audience reaction is a very big part of the show and making things not just work – making you not just accept a plot twist or a character, but making you need them, making you feel about them the way your character is supposed to – is the most difficult and the most important thing” (00:32:00). And in this case, it worked like a charm. Audiences fell for Oz just as Willow’s beautiful eyes widened so much they made a doe seem beady-eyed in comparison.
All of this ties into what Whedon thinks, and most audiences agree, made the whole series such a success. “I pitched [the show] as the ultimate high school horror show, very basically taking the pain, humiliation, alienation, and all the problems of high school and ballooning them into horrific proportions,” he explains. “The show works only if it resonates. That’s the most important thing in the show. People forget this . . . but the fact of the matter is that the only thing that separates this show from any other, if in fact it is separate, is the kind of emotional resonance that we can get to by playing the entire thing as true life, just a little bit wonkier” (00:03:30).
This resonance is felt most strongly when Buffy’s many pieces come together, as they did in ‘Innocence’ and so many other episodes, and makes the show so much more than the sum of its parts.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2, Episode 14, ‘Innocence’ | Directed by Joss Whedon | Written by Joss Whedon | Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon, Anthony Stewart Head
Want to know more?
– Here is a detailed episode summary by Wendy Hathaway, part of the Entertainment Weekly community.
– This is an interesting essay on love and sex in Buffy by New York Times Bestselling Author Jenny Crusie. It spans the whole series, not just this episode, so if you want to avoid spoilers, avoid this.
– Here are five Buffy-inspired life lessons for the college/university set from the USA Today College website.
What do you think? Did Whedon’s explanation of the gypsy curse seem convincing? Did Oz win you over as much as he did Willow? Does the show still resonate with audiences in 2015? Leave some comments below and let us know!