Season one was...cute. Forgive me my condescension, but "cute" is the best adjective I can muster. Had I watched the original broadcast of Buffy I'm fairly certain that I might have caught some of the episodes, but I would not have been inspired to fandom. The first season feels like auditions for the rest of the series or maybe like a really long pilot presentation. Visually, the show needs the season to find its rhythm, and Sarah Michelle Gellar seems to need time settling into her role. Watching "Welcome to the Hellmouth" in retrospect, SMG's dramatic abilities are evident, but she doesn't seem quite comfortable with all of the comedic demands of the script. In other words, SMG does well telling Giles to prepare her but doesn't manage to sell me a copy of The Watchtower.
All of this is to say that for me Buffy finally arrives, if you will, with season two, and "When She Was Bad" really kicks it up a notch. I can almost hear the "BAM!" as the opening credits begin to roll. The episode showcases Buffy's new look, which frankly suits her better, and cockier attitude that first surfaced during "Prophecy Girl." The stuntwork is also noticeably more intricate and intense, with a good couple of minutes devoted solely to showcasing how bad-ass Buffy is. I always enjoy gratuitous displays of Slayer strength. This episode is also the first of the series that really deals with inner demons more than actual ones. For the most part, season one is more about camp, monsters, and witty repartee rather than complex emotions and relationships until the very end of the season takes a turn for the serious. This episode lets viewers know that "Prophecy Girl" was not a fluke. I think it was pretty brave of Whedon & Co. to make their heroine act like a total bitca for an episode and not give her an easy out like being possessed by a hyena. I also love that the writers found a very simple way for Buffy to destroy Angel, Xander, and Willow in one fell swoop.
Side note: Admittedly, I think that Buffy acts like a bitca later in the series – indeed for the bulk of season seven – but the difference between that later peevishness and this episode is that the writers admit that she's being mean. I feel like Buffy often gets a pass on bad behavior later in the series just because she's the Slayer. Buffy's indifferent and abrupt attitude in "When She Was Bad" has a definite though not immediately apparent cause and remedy, which makes it interesting rather than tiring.
I'm not sure I completely buy Cordelia feeling any compulsion to offer Buffy advice about her campaigning for Bitch of the Year, but I do really like that scene. "Whatever is causing the Joan Collins 'tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it." Also, Charisma Carpenter sounds like she has a cold in this episode.
Though perhaps not the coolest musical guest (cough, Aimee Mann, cough), Cibo Matto's music is used to the greatest effect of all the guest performers. The sexy beats, eerie backing vocals, and cryptic lyrics of "Sugar Water" perfectly fit Buffy's "sexy dance" with Xander. Cibo Matto also gets the best name drop ever: "Cibo Matto can clog dance?"
Angel's lines sound like they were cribbed from a Firefly protoscript ("And that bothers me more than I'd like." "Why are you ridin' me?" "Happy to oblige.") and David Boreanaz delivers them like he's auditioning for Mal. Can you imagine if Captain Forehead had been Captain Tightpants?
The only part that I do not like is the after-school special music of wholesome reconciliation that plays when Xander and Willow let Buffy know that she's off the hook at the end of the episode. But Xander looks so cute when he's teasing Buffy about grinding her enemy into talcum powder with a sledgehammer.