Friday 11 February 2011

Buffy Blog: "Surprise/Innocence"

Since season one Buffy the Vampire Slayer has, to some extent, been building up to the events that take place in this episode. Shown originally on the WB on Monday 19 January 1998 and Tuesday, 20 January 1998 (Buffy now moved from Monday to Tuesday in the broadcast schedule and would remain there for its run on the WB) “Surprise/Innocence” is somewhat of a culmination of everything that has been happening in Buffy up to this point as well as, again to some extent, a transformation of everything in the series and a transformation of the lives of our Scoobies.

As season one and season two have progressed the innocence of our high school Scobbies has begun to teeter under the assault of vampires, monsters, and the realization by the Scoobies that good and evil are not always clear and that life is not always easy. In “Surprise/Innocence” Scooby innocence really takes a fall.

“Surprise/Innocence”, written by Marti Noxon and Joss Whedon, ties the loss of the innocence of our Scoobies to a series of surprise revelations that occur during the course of the episode. It is Buffy’s surprise birthday party that sets this loss of innocence in motion. At Buffy’s party the Scoobies learn that Dru is trying to reassemble “The Judge”, ”… a demon brought forth to rid the Earth of the plague of humanity... separate the righteous from the wicked... and to burn the righteous down”. As the episode plays itself out the events in this episode and what has been happening in Buffy since season one have consequences for our beloved Scoobies. Buffy looses her innocence, her virginity, to Angel at his apartment. Angel looses the innocence foisted on him by the gypsies leading to the resurrection of his less than innocent half Angelus. Willow looses her innocence about Xander when she discovers Cordy and Xander kissing among the library stacks. The Scoobies loose their innocence about Jenny Calendar (she is really Janna of the Kalderash, a gypsy sent to watch Buffy and Angel to assure that the vengeance (not justice) the gypsies cursed Angel for killing one of their beloved daughters continues). Giles looses his innocence about Buffy when he realizes that she and Angel have had sex. Oz looses his innocence about vampires when he sees one dusted by Buffy at her birthday party which he attends as Willow’s date. (“[I] explains a lot”).

The ending of “Surprise/Innocence” superbly condenses this loss of Scooby innocence. Buffy and Joyce are watching a movie. Joyce has brought in cupcakes to celebrate Buffy’s birthday. “JOYCE: So, did you have a fun birthday? What'd you do? BUFFY: I got older. JOYCE: You still look the same to me. She lights the candle, pushes the cupcake over to Buffy. JOYCE: Happy birthday. I don't have to sing, do I? Buffy shakes her head, looks at the candle. JOYCE: Well, go on. Make a wish. A moment before she replies. BUFFY: I'll just let it burn. Joyce puts her hand to Buffy's hair, touching it softly. Affection and vague concern on her face. Buffy puts her head in her mother's lap, brings her feet up onto the couch. They sit, Joyce playing gently with her daughter's hair. Buffy letting her eyes drift shut. The candle flickering bravely in the dark. FADE TO BLACK. END OF SHOW. This scene encapsulates the loss of innocence, tragedy, melancholy, sadness, horror, and pain, all things that have been present in Buffy since the very first episode but brings them all together at the same time for the very first time in an emotionally wrenching scene that rivals anything in the films of Anthony Mann or Ingmar Bergman and which made me cry profusely the first seven or eight times I watched this episode. It is one of the great scenes in all of Buffy and in all of film making.

Mise-en-scene: Much of the mise-en-scene reflects the theme of the loss of innocence that dominates “Surprise/Innocence”. The clothes the Scoobies are wearing, in particular, reflect the theme of loss of innocence in their play on light and dark. At the beginning of the episode Buffy is dressed in light or white clothing and Angel has on a white t-shirt. When Angel asks her what she wants for her birthday she has on a white jacket and a dress with white across her upper body and black bellow her midriff. After Buffy has sex with Angel she comes home wearing a light shirt and goes out wearing a black cloak. Angel wears his black leather jacket. The clothes of many of the other Scoobies also play on lightness and darkness. At one point in the episode Xander has on a dark blue shirt with white streaks, Cordy has on a white jacket and shirt and a dark skirt, and Jenny has on a dark top and a light skirt.

Candles: Candles are present at the Factory as Dru and her minions prepare for her coming out party for the Judge. They provide a bit of light amidst the darkness, literal and figurative, at the factory. At the end of the episode Buffy decides to let the birthday candles on her cupcake burn out and die just like her innocence.

The rain: It is raining when Buffy and Angel escape from certain death at the hands of the Judge. It is raining when Angel begins to turn into Angelus. It thunders as Angel becomes Angelus. The rain and thunder ends when Angelus says he is fine and that the pain (the pain associated with conscience?) is gone. Does the rain and thunder represent the turmoil of all that is going on thanks to Dru? the turmoil that is going on in Angel and Buffy? the turmoil that is going on in Angel? All of the above?

Music: The music by Christophe Beck marks, in my mind, the point at where Buffy really began to hit its orchestral stride. The music has a romantic and gothic quality to it that underlines what is going on narratively and visually. The Buffy-Angel theme is beautiful, romantic, and a bit sad all at the same time. The song in the film that Buffy and Joyce watch at the end of “Surprise/Innocence” contains the words “goodbye love”. Is Buffy saying goodbye to Angel?

Cinematography: Whedon has spoken of the sex scenes between Buffy and Angel with their fragmented images of Buffy and Angel and their alternating of light and dark (the loss of innocence? The darkness and light in us all?) as Lynchian, as indebted to filmmaker David Lynch. Scene at the Factory: Buffy and Angel are above on catwalks looking down on the Judge, Spike, and Dru. The Judge spies Buffy and Angel. I love the way the camera zooms from the Judge (his pov) onto Buffy and Angel. Scene at the mall: The Judge is in the midst of killing a number of those who “stink with humanity”. I love the camera moves from the Judge, Angel, and Dru to Buffy holding a crossbow and then a rocket launcher.

Scoobies: Oz becomes a kind of Scooby a la Cordy and Jenny.

Monster of the Week: The Judge or “the Smurf” as Buffy calls him. A demon who, as Giles notes, “…couldn't be killed[.] [A]n army was sent against him. Most of them died... but, uh, finally they were able to dismember him, but, uh... not kill him.

The Other Monster of the Week: Angel or Angelus. Angel’s curse is overturned when he has one moment of happiness. He has this moment of happiness when he has sex with Buffy. Angelus is a vampire who, as Dru notes, wants to do to Buffy what he did to her, mentally torture her to death. “To kill this girl”, Angel says to Spike, “you’ve got to love her”. Angel proceeds to attack Buffy mentally and also attacks her “friends”. He almost kills Willow during the Wild West like showdown between him, Xander, Jenny, and later Buffy at Sunnydale High School.

The Monsters of Season Two: It is now clear that Dru and Spike are not dead. Spike is severely injured, has injuries on his cheek, and is confined to a wheelchair. Spike, by the way, grounds Dru bringing her back to “sanity” when she is about to loose it.

Buffy’s Dreams: Buffy dreams four times during this episode. In Buffy’s first dream Dru is inside Buffy’s house, Willow is at the Bronze speaking in French about the animal cracker monkey she and Oz had spoken about at the end of “Who Are You”, Joyce is at the Bronze and asks Buffy if she really thinks she is ready after which she drops a cup and saucer, and Angel is at the Bronze where he is killed by Dru with a stake. The dream ends with Dru wishing Buffy a happy birthday. Later in the episode Joyce will drop a plate in her and Buffy’s house when when she and Buffy are discussing whether Buffy can take her driver’s test. Buffy, of course, becomes concerned that her dream is coming true and that Dru is alive and will kill Angel. Ironically it will be Buffy who will “kill” Angel by giving him that one moment of true happiness. Buffy also dreams that she and Giles opened an office supply store in Vegas (lol) during the same night. In the second dream Buffy dreams that she is at the Factory. There is a brief glimpse of Jenny followed by Dru killing Angel this time with a knife. In the last dream Buffy dreams she is in a graveyard along with Giles, Jenny, and Angel who tells her you have to know what to see. After this dream Buffy realizes that Jenny, who is dressed in funeral black as the old Angel is figuratively buried has “betrayed” her and the Scoobies. The surrealism of these dreams will be seen again in the dreams of the Scoobies in the fourth season episode “Restless”.

Mothers and Fathers and Daughters: David Greenwalt, says Whedon in the commentary to the second part of this episode, said that after watching the final scenes in “Surprise/Innocence”, the scene in which Giles tells Buffy after all that has just happened “Do you want me to wag my finger at you and tell you, you acted rashly? You did, and I can. But I know you loved him, and he has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn't have known what would happen. The coming months are going to be very hard - I suspect on all of us. But if you're looking for guilt, Buffy, I'm not your man. All you will have from me is my support... and my respect” and the scene in which Joyce lovingly celebrates Buffy’s birthday, a scene which ends with a sad Buffy putting her head on her lap, that Buffy had the best parents ever. Awesome scenes.

Willow the Observant: Willow releases that Buffy has had sex with Angel before anyone else. Willow wonders how Jenny knew Angel had turned into Angelus.

Buffy the Comatose: Buffy goes briefly into a comatose state after her encounter with Angel at his apartment where he tells her how difficult it was to remain with her after they had sex and after Angel almost kills Willow at Sunnydale High. This is not the last time Buffy will go into a comatose state (see season five).

Bringing the Romance: There is lots of Buffy/Angel and Cordy/Xander kissage in “Surprise/Innocence”. After Willow tells Buffy what Buffy told Willow in the very first episode of BtVS, carpe diem, seize the day, Buffy decides to have sex with Angel. Angel gives Buffy a claddagh ring (Angel is Irish). He tells her that “[t]he hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty... and the heart... Well, you know... Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody.” When Buffy and Angel go to Sunnydale’s port (Sunnydale is on or near the ocean)—Angel is going to leave Sunnydale with the arm of the Judge—his love for Buffy leads him to jump in the water to save her leaving Dalton to get away with the arm of the Judge. Angel they name is irresponsibility? According to the Judge Spike and Dru also “stink of humanity” because they share affection and jealousy. Willow asks Oz if he wants to make out. Oz responds by telling Willow that “Well, to the casual observer, it looks like you want to make your friend Xander jealous (Willow wants to make Xander jealous because she is angry that he is having a relationship with Cordy; “No. It just means you'd rather be with someone you hate (Cordy)...then be with me”). Or even the score, or something. That's on the empty side. You see, in my fantasy, when I'm kissing you... you're kissing me.” Oz really likes Willow. Watch Allyson Hannigan’s face as she responds purely physically to Oz’s speech: Willow’s facial expressions tell us that Willow has fallen for Oz.

Love is a Bitch: After Jenny betrays the Scoobies she comes to the library to see if there is anything she can do to help in the struggle against Dru, Spike, Angel, and the Judge. Buffy and Giles tell her to get out. To say the least the Jenny/Giles relationship has hit another bump in the road. Cordy is upset that Xander is once again running off to save his “beloved Buffy”.

Bringing the S&M: Angel kisses then pushes Buffy to the floor at Sunnydale High School just after Xander has saved Willow from death at the hands of Angelus.

The Gaze: Angel is shirtless twice during the episode.

A Little Man on Man Action: Angel kisses Spike on the forehead after taunting him.

Laugh at Loud: Cordy inappropriately shouting “surprise” (one of the main themes of the episode) at the Bronze as Buffy makes her entrance through a window fighting a vamp. Xander telling the miniskirted Cordy to wear something “trashy-er”. Xander’s “I'm seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.” Xander says this when he is using the knowledge about the military he gained when he was soldier guy in “Halloween”.

Watch Your Language: Spike calls Dalton, his intellectual vampire minion, a “wanker”. Dalton, who makes his first appearance in “What’s My Line” makes his last appearance in the Buffyverse in “Surprise/Innocence”. He is killed by the Judge because of his love for reading and knowledge.

Production: Whedon was originally going to have Buffy lose her innocence to Angel at her house. After he found that this scene was not working he moved the scene to Angel’s flat. The choreography of the fight scenes keep improving. Speaking of fight choreography note the intensity with which Buffy pushes Jenny to her desk after Buffy finds out that Jenny has betrayed the Scoobies.

Sets: Love the sewer tunnels under the Factory. Nicely done.

High Culture Reference: In Buffy’s first dream Dru stakes Angel. Just before he dies he reaches out his hand towards Buffy as Buffy reaches out her hand towards him. The image of their two hands reaching out toward one another recalls Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Popular Culture Reference: Angel references all of those 1930s Hollywood film where a young person moves to New York City to make his/her name on Broadway and becomes a star after filling in for a star who breaks her ankle just before the show opens.
The Metaphor: Hey teenage girls beware of that guy, particularly that guy who is “exactly wrong” for you, who is so romantic and so loving until her gets into your pants and who once he does tells you he’ll call you. Yeah sure. Sex can have “appalling consequences”. These are Whedon’s words in quotations.

The Chorus: “Surprise/Innocence” is an extraordinarily powerful piece of film making. It is one of the finest television shows or films I have ever seen. As I mentioned earlier it packs the emotional wallop of a Bergman film but a Bergman film leavened with wit, humour, and lots of narrative surprises. It is an intense emotional roller coaster ride.

Awesome: Angel killing the cigarette smoking woman of “of ill, if not actively professional, repute” exhaling her cigarette smoke just after he has removed his fangs into her neck. Buffy killing the Judge with a rocket launcher (not a weapon forged). Buffy kicking Angel in the balls during their epic fight just after Buffy has slain the Judge. Can you say vicarious thrill?

Foreshadowings: Buffy wants to get her drivers license as she tells Joyce. Buffy on the way to adulthood? This is not the last time Buffy will bring this up (see “Band Candy” in season three). “Surprise/Innocence” begins a tradition of bad things happening on Buffy’s birthday. Xander imagines a Buffy/Angel future where Buffy will be a “Denny's waitress by day, (Giles looks up, too) Slayer by night -- and Angel's always in front of the TV with a big blood belly, and he's dreamin' of the glory days when Buffy still thought this whole creature of the night routine was a big turnon”. In season six Buffy will work at a fast food restaurant for a while.


  1. This is exhaustive! Just got to this point in a Buffy re-watch and I think I'll follow along with your blog.