Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is quite possibly the best season of the bunch. While the series peters off rather a lot during its final two years the first few seasons truly remain emotionally resonant, beautiful, complicated and well written metaphors for the emotional trials of becoming an adult. Season 2 is by definition, where things get darker and more complex, this was the season that really made Buffy an unpredictably smart series. The beginning of the year starts off a little unsteady with several episodes that aren't really all that well formed. Yet despite a few shaky plots these early stories contain a lot of interaction between the main characters -- fun moments that really give the show its character-driven quality. The latter half of the season contains the best arc ever conceived in Buffyverse history with the emergence of Angelus. The season opens with 'When She Was Bad' which deals with the fallout of Buffy's momentary death in the previous year one finale; this episode, whilst not my favourite is appropriately handled and sees Buffy acting rather out of character after returning from her summer away from Sunnydale. The preceding episodes are a fun affair and help the viewer to settle back into the rhythm of the series with various episodes focusing upon certain characters. The 'Big Bads' of the season appear early on and come in the form of Drusilla and Spike, the former being a rather off-her-rocker vampire and the latter a bleached, leather wearing, cocky undead Englishman! As villains they are a lot of fun and help to shape season 2 as something unique and well constructed. However, come the end of the year things are considerably shaken up in terms of 'the Big Bads', with the appearance of Angelus.
Willow, Xander and Giles all find themselves venturing into new territory: dating! Cordelia continues to redeem herself and becomes a fully fledged scoobygang member, whilst Buffy and Angel undergo many changes to their relationship which is mostly the driving force of the season. By the middle of the season the episodes gradually become darker and a more coherent storyarc begins to emerge, starting with the events of 'Surprise (Part 1)' which culminate in the emotional and incredibly shocking 'Innocence' (Part 2). Said episodes are some of the best in the history of the series and set in motion events that help to lead to the end of the season. The circumstances surrounding this two parter does literally change everything once established between Buffy and Angel; and brings into question their future. The continuity, witty one liners, oblique use of language does continue into this season and helps to boost the chemistry between the actors as they discuss, for example the oddness of some TV movies and sore thumbs (among other things!). These subtle touches give the season a vibrancy and kooky edge; what makes Buffy such an enjoyable show is the warmth and heart it retains, mostly provided by the actors but also by the wonderfully consistent writing.
The two part finale 'Becoming' is well set up as a consequence of the episode 'I Only Have Eyes For You', which happens to be beautifully moving and tragic respectively. The complexity of the Angelus arc presented here really sets up and supports the actions that lead to the occurrences of the finale. 'Becoming' part 1 & 2 with all it's flashback goodness brings about tumultuous change and throws one through the emotional wringer all the while its still surprising, sad and gut wrenching upon each rewatch. The issues dealt with this season are far more adult and dark than is the usual, and in turn it delivers a wonderfully realized arc which never fails to amaze.
Highlights of season include: 'Surprise', 'Innocence', 'The Dark Age', 'Some Assembly Required', 'Passion', 'I Only Have Eyes For You', 'What's My Line? Part 1 & 2' 'Becoming Part 1 & 2'.