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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: School Hard

Spike: "If every vampire who said he was at the Crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock."

Spike and Drusilla have arrived, and nothing will ever be the same again. The vampires up until now haven't been all that interesting (with the obvious exception of Angel); can you say three-dimensional villains at last? Spike in particular works as an actual threat, since he has already killed two Slayers.

Like so many other fans, I adore Spike. He's intelligent, canny, perceptive, and damned funny; a passionate guy who lives his un-life to the fullest. What creates the connection so many fans have with him? What makes him so appealing? Here, it is most likely the contrast between his evil vampire persona and his all-encompassing, gentle love for Drusilla; the tender way he treats her is a dramatic contrast to his villainy. James Marsters is a talented actor, and a marvelous match for the character.

Drusilla, played by the equally talented Juliet Landau, is more clearly evil and unpredictable, but she's also fragile -- much like a disturbed child, as suggested by her dolls. Not your typical villain to be sure, probably because even this early, we can see that she must have been a victim, too. Spike and Drusilla are a physically striking couple, and the actors have a great deal of mutual chemistry.

Speaking of chemistry... the intent way Spike stares at Buffy when he sees her for the first time at Bronze can be interpreted as both homicidal and sexual. James Marsters has since acknowledged that this is exactly what he was attempting to convey.

Buffy's mother, Joyce (we finally learn her first name) gets more than a rubber-stamped line or two this time. Joyce is a strong woman who can handle herself; Principal Snyder even remarks on the mother-daughter resemblance. Joyce also sees Buffy in Slayer mode for the first time, and is quite appropriately proud of the way her daughter "handles a crisis." We can see how much love is there.

The confrontation between Spike and Angel tends to stand out mostly because of inconsistencies with later episodes, but there are some interesting moments -- particularly when they discuss the "Anne Rice routine." They are referring to the fact that Angel's good guy persona resembles the tortured vampire Louis in Interview with the Vampire. One can take the analogy further and compare Spike to Lestat, her protagonist in the following five books of the series; Lestat is a flamboyant and morally ambiguous character who tends to dare anything, and do what is least expected of him.

In a delightful bit, Buffy yells at Xander to fetch her a stake, and he runs into the Bronze and rummages through her purse. He pulls out a yo-yo, which Buffy had in the previous episode; a tampon, which Xander treats like a hot potato; and a stake. Later, during the fight at the school, Spike says, "Fe, fi, fo fum. I smell the blood of a nice, ripe girl." It is eventually established that vampires have a heightened sense of smell, especially in reference to blood. Does Buffy have her period? And is Spike aware of it?

Bits and pieces:

-- In this episode, Spike is wearing a black tee, red shirt, black jeans, engineer boots, and a black leather duster. He ends up wearing this outfit for quite awhile. (This is a retro review and spoilery in regard to the fact that Spike is not a one-episode character. Sorry about that; couldn't help myself.)

-- Spike kills three people in this episode: Sheila's guys, and one man at Parent-Teacher Night. He also kills the Anointed at the end of this episode. It was time we got rid of "the Annoying one" since he was never adequately developed as a character.

-- Cordelia helps the gang by whittling stakes. She is now truly a member of the group, albeit a reluctant one. Jenny Calendar is also firmly part of the group now.

-- Buffy burned down more than one school building?

-- Mr. Dijon is the French teacher? Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?

-- Willow is wearing a Scooby Doo shirt.

-- The title of the episode is a reference to the Bruce Willis movie Die Hard. Buffy even goes through the duct work.

-- Jenny tells Giles that he has "got to read something that was published after 1066." The first printed book was the Gutenberg Bible (1455 or 6). Yes, I'm a librarian. It has to come out sometime. And yes, I know Jenny was kidding.

-- Snyder and the police chief know what's really going on in Sunnydale, and they consistently cover it up ("gang-related, PCP"). Does Snyder know that Buffy is the Slayer? Is that why he is constantly targeting her?

- Obligatory dog reference: Angel tells Spike that he gave Buffy the "puppy-dog, I'm so tortured act."

Quotes:

Xander: "Well, Sheila's definitely intense. That guy with her? That's the guy she can bring home to mother."
Willow: "She was already smoking in fifth grade. Once I was lookout for her."
Xander: "You're bad to the bone."
Willow: "I'm a rebel."

Spike: "Oh, please. If every vampire who said he was at the crucifixion was actually there, it would have been like Woodstock. I was actually at Woodstock. That was a weird gig. I fed off a flower person, and spent the next six hours watching my hand move."

Giles: "This Saturday's going to need a great deal of preparation."
Willow: "Well, we'll help."
Xander: "Yeah, I'll whittle stakes."
Willow: "And I can research stuff."
Xander: "And while I'm whittling, I plan to whistle a jaunty tune."

Vampire: "Slayer!"
Buffy: "Slayee!"

Giles: "Spike. That's what the other vampire called him? That's a little unorthodox, isn't it?"
Buffy: "Maybe he's reform."

Cordelia: "You're starting to look a little slagged. What, are you just skipping foundation entirely now?"
Buffy: "Cordelia, I have at least three lives to contend with, none of which really mesh. It's kind of like oil and water and ... a third unmeshable thing."
Cordelia: "Yeah, and I can see the oil."

Buffy: "Do we really need weapons for this?"
Spike: "I just like them. They make me feel all manly."

Four out of four stakes,

Billie
---
Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.

25 comments:

  1. I'd forgotten how seriously wonky Spike's accent was in the beginning. Good thing Tony Head was around to give James Marsters some elocution lessons. Nevertheless, an amazing episode, still one of my favourites.

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  2. Squeals of joy! Spike has come to town. I am another of those fans who completely and utterly adore him and I think your review nails why absolutely perfectly. The first time I ever watched this series, I fell in love with him here and it has lasted ever since.

    I'm so obsessive, that I will watch a show I never watch if James Marsters is in it. But, in my opinion, he has never again matched Spike.

    One more squeal of joy -- because I can.

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  3. Spike is here!!! Spike is here!!! Aah the episode that finally introduces Spike.. I absolutely love him and kept comparing him to Damon ( I started watching buffy an year back, and am already on my third watching.)

    Billie I was also confused about 'burning more than one school building' but i think they refer t the science lab they burnt in the last episode...

    Ohh and this you notice the population of Sunnydale on the board Spike runs over? It would be fun to compare the population depicted at the end of season 7 to this... Just saying :)

    Spike's here!! :) :) :)

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  4. Willow: "Cordelia! Have some lemonade!".
    Isn't Willow just adorable:)

    Great episode! Besides Angel, we have only had a little glimpse of an interesting vampire before, and that was Darla. But swoosh, she got dusted. And here comes Spike and Drusilla. Yes, they are certainly interesting, but do we like them - yet??
    I do think we fans tend to be a bit biased when we watch this episode again. When I first saw this I was totally unspoiled and didn't know a thing about Spike and Dru. I thought Spike was a fun character, but not very likeable. As for Drusilla, I just thought she was a lunatic with a bad accent. I know that I will learn to love Spike, but not just yet.

    Still, this IS a good episode, with lots of witty dialogue (as usual), and the best part is probably that Spike took care of the Annoying One. Good riddance! Evil children always creeps me out anyway...

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  5. You're very right, TJ. In his first episode, Spike comes across as interesting and fun, but obviously, when it first aired, I didn't love him. My first two seasons of reviews were written around -- I think it was the end of season three? Later? I don't recall, but definitely before season six. I thought about revising this review to make it sound like I didn't know Spike and Dru, but I just couldn't do it. Sorry about that, newbies.

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  6. This is easily my favourite episode up to this point, Spike is an excellent character and so is Dru.

    Things I love -

    The arrival of Spike, crashing his car into the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign to a heavy guitar riff, smoking a fag introduces a departure from the vampire antagonists thus far encountered. When he introduces himself to the sunnydale vampires he oozes confidence and cockiness 'you're that annointed guy' and he clearly impresses the annointed one with his bragging. With the arrival of Druscilla another dimension of Spike is revealed, he literally shows his human face for the first time and we can see that he cares deeply for Dru in a way we've not seen before in the vampire characters – there's some humanity there. What makes this affection more interesting for me is that Druscilla is clearly not all there, she's strange, disturbed and we get the impression that Spike has to look after her to keep her safe, they are not a conventional couple.

    The scene when Spike and Dru are talking in their living area, that they have it set up with lamps, a bed, TV and Dru's creepy dolls which is kind of domestic and again human, but there's a huge horror element with poor Sheila hanging there waiting for Dru to get hungry.

    When Spike asks the resident vampires - 'So, how about this Slayer? Is she tough?' Cut to buffy in pjs complaining about the pain of brushing her hair after using new crème rinse that is neither 'creamy or rinsey' looking about as far from tough as she could get. For much of this episode Buffy is very much an average 16 year old, worrying about what teachers are going to tell her mom, thinking about boys (well, men) but when it all goes off the strong slayer Buffy emerges as she fights to keep her mother safe with the vampires led by Spike attacking the school with the aim of killing her. I love it when Buffy's mum saves Buffy in the end, sending Spike running for the exit.

    Druscilla comforting Spike when he fails to kill the slayer is another strangely touching scene.

    My absolute favourite scene though is when, after his failure to kill Buffy, Spike goes to make amends to the annointed (annoying) one, thinks better of it (or maybe he was always going to take over) and hoists him into the sunlight. 'from now on we're going to have a little less ritual and a bit more fun around here' touché Spike, touché.

    So many good lines but I really love this interaction -

    Buffy: 'you shouldn't have come here' Spike (laughing): 'no, I've messed up your doilies and stuff'


    It is hard for me to know how biased I am with regards Spike and Dru but what I do know is that when Buffy was being aired for the first time only caught the odd episode and it never really grabbed me, but when I happened to catch the episode of 'School Hard', I remember being intrigued and much more interested in catching future episodes. I never had the time to follow Buffy religiously but it was episodes such as this that made me promise myself to watch the whole series when I got a chance, and I eventually kept that promise – very glad I did.

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  7. Billie, I think I recall you began writing the reviews for season one and two around the end of season three. And I think you finished them rather quickly around the beginning of season four? Still, you managed to review Spike perfectly here, without giving anything away. I don't think there is a newbie out there who doesn't know that Spike is an important character to this show anyway.

    It must have been extremely difficult to write these retro-reviews. I often have a hard time just to comment without spoiling anything. I tend to comment that I love things some characters are doing early on, just because they develop in some way later. That must be very confusing for a newbie to read...

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  8. Spike and Drusilla!

    I think Buffy really comes into its own with this episode.

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  9. Yeah! Spike has arrived--and what an entrance/episode!

    As a newbie, I knew Spike was coming and that he would be around for a while, but I must admit I had never heard of Drusilla. She's quite an interesting character. Those dolls were CREEPY! I can't figure her out and I have tons more questions about Spike too--they are definitely way better than the Master and the (thankfully departed) Annoying One.

    There were lots of other things I liked about this episode, including seeing Spike as vampire, Angel and Xander reluctantly teaming up again, Jenny and Cordelia being full members of the gang, and Buffy's mom finally seeing her in action and then giving her some respect. Principal Snyder was also great, of course.

    The only thing I didn't like was Spike running away after Buffy's mom showed up with the ax. He killed those two losers with Sheila in an instant but couldn't take down a woman with an ax?

    Even with that, I really enjoyed this episode and can't wait for more Spike and Dru and Angel and the whole gang!

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  10. I adore this episode; it is one of my favorites since it was the first one that truly hooked me into fully committing to this series. I wasn't a vampire fan at all before Buffy, and the Master didn't change that feeling. Spike and Dru did! Even the first time I saw it, I immediately loved Spike as Buffy's antagonist. As soon as he drove through the Sunnydale sign, it was obvious he as going to be great. What sealed the deal for me, though, was his handling of the "annoying one" at the end. Whedon did to this annoying child character what I only wish many other show runners would do to theirs.

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  11. This was the episode that hooked me on the show, and usually the first one I let newbies watch (unless I know they're willing to sludge through awkward season one). Spike remains one of my favorite TV characters of all time.

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  12. I can only echo what everyone else has said. I really enjoy Dru as a character and I think she is really the indicator that we are going to explore vampires in more detail and they are not all going to be just bloodsucking thugs (Angel excepted). Spike is still a thug but at least he is a funny, intelligent, well-dressed thug and he obviously has a soft spot for his lady love. I am continually amazed by how much fun this show is and how much I am enjoying re-watching it with company.

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  13. Once again, and as so many above have commented, welcome to our world, Spike! Certainly one of my favorite fictional characters ever, be it on the screen or on the page. James Marsters is brilliant in the role and I have been in love with him since the first time I watched this episode.

    I think TJ makes an interesting point about when it is that we rabid fans truly fell in love with Spike. I can honestly say it was right from the start with me. Even though I didn't know on the first watch that he would stick around for as long as he did, his entrance is one of the great ones. I remember smiling broadly and really looking forward to where the writers were going with this OTT guy.

    I would also like to echo Doc. I am having so much fun doing a re-watch with others!

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  14. I haven't been able to keep up with the re-watch, but seeing all the comments on this episode makes me want to pop it in the DVD player so that I can once again enjoy the introduction of Spike and Dru! Woo hoo! (If only I could!)

    I absolutely love the photo chosen for this episode because it captures one of my favorite Spike and Dru moments ever. I just love the way they are all into each other, then turn out together with those deliciously evil looks. So wonderful!

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  15. It's one of my favorite photos too, Jess. I know I've told this story before, but I have a Spike and Dru photo that I got James Marsters to autograph at a con right before season four. I told him I'd named my cat after him because my cat was cute and obnoxious, like Spike the character, and he laughed and wrote "Spike" under his sig. Much later, when season seven was airing, I went to an autograph event with Juliet Landau, and she signed the same photo. She noticed that James had added "Spike", so she added "Drusilla", even though the guests weren't supposed to add anything to their signatures. Very sweet of both of them. I don't have a lot of autographs or autographed photos, but that Spike and Dru photo they both signed has a prominent place on the wall.

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  16. Neat story, Billie!

    I find that whenever I do a re-watch, some part of me is just biding my time until Spike shows up. Spike is here! Now the real fun begins!

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  17. I feel the same way, M. I am always anxious for Spike to appear when he isn't around. He never gets old (pun intended).

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  18. It's amazing how much improved a vampire show is when there are, you know, vampires in it.

    I'll say one thing about Spike - he sure knows how to make an entrance.

    I liked this episode because everyone got to be a hero, even Joyce. I find the ensemble so much more interesting than just Buffy doing all the heavy lifting while everyone else is comic relief.

    I liked Drusilla a lot. She had a real Ophelia feel about her, and I think that was the intent. I'm expecting her to jump into a river and be held aloft by her skirts at some point. I don't know anything about her (and please don't spoil me), but I'm guessing she went nuts due to some personal tragedy in her past?

    So, if Drusilla is Ophelia, then Spike is ... Hamlet?

    I also didn't see his logic in killing slayers. It only means a new one is called, so what's the point of killing the one you know? Just for spite, I guess. Maybe he should have called himself Spite?

    Too bad they didn't do anything with Creepy Kid. But I did like the way Spike did away with him so matter-of-fact. I didn't realize Creepy was a vampire. I thought he was some other sort of supernatural being since he had so much status over the others. Well, ta-ta, Creepy. Here's your limerick:

    There once was a vampire named Spike
    To annoited ones took a dislike
    He focused his rage
    Put the Kid in a cage
    Now there's one fewer annoying tyke.

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  19. Pucklady -- I just want to let you know how much I am enjoying your limericks. They always make me smile.

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  20. Spike! Spike! Spike!

    I watched this for the first time way after I got into the show (the first Spike episode I saw was probably Lover's Walk). Though I like to think I would have appreciated Spike at least a bit for killing the Annoying One!

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  21. Crap I'm late ! (I've always wanted to mention this : oh, nice DVD menu BTW LOL)

    I am very fond of Miss Landau's parents, having enjoyed, amongst other shows, Mission Impossible when I was VERY young and Space 1999 as a teen.

    When I saw that 50's car, I knew it was Spike's entrance, and a nice one indeed. I can sense the show's mythology will build up with the addition of this character. Good.

    "...mice that were smoking ?" Loved the cheek scene between Drue and Spee. That my nickname for these two from now on. "So ! He's thorough AND gore oriented."

    "Do me a favor, eat something !" "Cordelia ! Have some lemonade !" "The door's solid." "Use your head!" "You get the hell away from my daughter !!" Oh, that was great ! Mom to the rescue !

    Hum, Snyder is MORE than a principal....And, too bad, the kid's gone. Good riddance. Yes, more Spike please LOL

    Great stuff !



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  22. pucklady

    If one day your make an album or write a book, I want an autographed copy !!

    Taking about autographs, Billie, that was an amazing story. Cool, cool, cool.

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  23. This episode is certainly well loved. :)

    It's one of my favorites from season two and it's not because of Spike. Haha, who am I kidding? It's all about Spike.

    Other moments I liked include Joyce's defense of her daughter with an ax and her later realization that, however badly Buffy does in school, she is ultimately a good kid whose first impulse in a crisis is to care for others. Really, what more can a mother ask for?

    I love any time Xander and Angel team up. The actors have great rapport, despite the characters' mutual dislike.

    My first time around, I really enjoyed the subversion of the would-be big bad for the season. I thought it was going to be the Annoying One (ugh), but here it is episode three and he's already dust. Thanks, Spike! The best seasons of Buffy are those whose big bads are not clear from the beginning of the season. Yeah, non-newbies, you know what I'm talking about. :)

    Snyder knows what's going on in Sunnydale which is much more interesting than the ignorant amnesiac routine. Plus it leaves us to wonder if he's a black hat or just trying to sweep everything under the rug for convenience's sake.

    Also! Spike vocalizes what makes Buffy different from other slayers. She has family and friends. The same things that complicate her life also serve to keep her alive. Time and time again, they save her, she saves them. The importance of Buffy's created family remains a runner through the series. They're her backup, her support system, and the thing that keeps her from giving up when the going gets hard. Without them, she would have died for good at the end of Season 1. It's nice to have what makes Buffy different from previous slayers laid out so clearly for us so early in the series.

    One gripe about the ep, though. Cordelia and Willow get forgotten? Cordelia I can see, but Willow? No one's going to wonder if Willow survived the bloodbath at any point? C'mon guys.

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  24. Oh and clearly I'm an idiot because I never got the reference to Die Hard. I always thought it was School [is] Hard in the vein of Buffy's later line "Fire bad. Tree pretty." haha

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  25. I keep saying this, but this was my favourite episode yet. Spike and Drusilla were easily the best villains yet.

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