The second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer may be the strongest arc of the show from the episode “Surprise” to the season finale in “Becoming, Part 2.” The loss of Angel’s soul and his transformation into Angelus is a fan favorite but also reveals a new strength in Buffy’s character.
The first half of the season, though highlighted in my opinion by “School Hard” and the introduction of “a little less ritual and a lot more fun” around Sunnydale through Drusilla and Spike still follows the monster of the week format. It begins to have an engaging arc around “What’s My Line, parts 1 and 2” and the introduction of Kendra, the slayer called when Buffy temporarily drowned in the season finale. The contrast between Kendra who, presumably as a potential was found early by her watcher and trained her whole life for her calling, and Buffy who was found after she was called, is drastic. Kendra is by the book (literally she’s read the manual that Giles never told Buffy even existed), whereas Buffy has always been a bit flippant and very Southern California and relaxed. One can see Buffy’s struggles with feeling inadequate compared to the more disciplined and organized slayer, except by the end of the two-parter she’s realized that there’s nothing wrong with her style and that that’s how she works best. Of course, the two girls learn things from each other. Buffy encourages Kendra to relax a bit and Kendra inspires Buffy to learn more and explore the academic side of things.
[img_assist|nid=210|title=Buffy and the other Slayer Kendra|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=301]
“Surprise”/“Innocence” is a one-two punch to the gut for the young slayer. On the night of her seventeenth birthday she finally sleeps with Angel and that triggers the most treacherous part of his gypsy curse: losing his soul if he ever attains a moment of perfect happiness. Angelus, the consummate bastard, then taunts Buffy in “Innocence” with the insinuation that she was terrible in bed and that kiss of death line “I’ll call you.”
Joss Whedon has made no secret that this incident was a (transparent) metaphor that sex is bad, a theme that continues in the Buffyverse in which happy couples either kissing or having just had sex are separated by death and catastrophe (see Willow/Tara, Fred/Wesley, or even Eve/Lindsey). Moreover, Angelus becomes the quintessential bad boyfriend who has used Buffy for sex and little else.
Devastated, Buffy must recover in order to stop Angelus, Spike, Dru and the Judge from burning through humanity. One of the most gratifying scenes of the season is her fight at the end of “Innocence” where she beats Angelus and, while she cannot bear to kill him yet, she does get a bit of revenge by kicking him in the testicles. Clearly a cheering moment.
In the two-part finale “Becoming, 1 and 2,” Buffy does finally muster the strength to do what is necessary and kill Angelus. By the end of part one, her life has been thoroughly wrecked. Her mother has found out about her double life and kicked her out of her home, Snyder has expelled her, the cops are after her for Kendra’s murder, and Willow has been sent to the hospital. She’s basically all alone. This is where she draws some strength from Whistler who tells her “The big moments are gonna come, you can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.” Thus, Buffy sets out on her own to kill Angelus.
She and he engage in a sword fight and he almost bests her, knocking her sword away and taunting, “No weapons... no friends... no hope. Take all that away and what's left?” to which Buffy replies “Me,” and promptly defeats him. Again, however, it is her strength of character shown in her willing sacrifice that speaks more to feminism than even her ability to best Angelus. Willow manages to restore Angel’s soul as the portal opens and Buffy must kill him anyway in order to save the world. She willingly sacrifices her chance at love to do her duty.
[img_assist|nid=211|title=Buffy and Angelus Fight|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=400|height=400]
While I suppose Buffy loses some points for running away to Los Angeles at the end of the episode, she still shows that she can get what has to be done accomplished. Even though she does rely on her friends heavily, Buffy shows that when “the big moments come” she can recover and find strength in herself.