Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 2

Go Fish  Becoming (Part 1)  Becoming (Part 2)

Go Fish 

The Metaphysics of "Go Fish"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 3 BtVS/season 4 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

The fish monsters are dark green bipedal fish-human hybrids with sharp teeth and scaly ridges across their heads. When a human (males only?) ingests a sufficient amount of a special steroid mixture, he essentially transforms into the monster beneath his human skin. When the monster is sufficiently developed, it breaks free of the skin and the higher cognitive abilities of the human apparently begin to go as well.

The steroid mixture which transformed humans into fish monsters was developed from Soviet experiments using fish DNA. It didn't improve their Olympic swimmers, but it went overboard on the Hellmouth.

Evil and Moral Ambiguity in "Go Fish"

The fish monsters are non-rational predatory beasts not unlike Oz-wolf, but in this case the state is permanent. Their actions--killing or raping--are unacceptable and have to be stopped, but they are acting on mindless instinct and therefore are not evil as such.

The real evil is the "win at all costs" system that encouraged Coach Marin to give the boys the steroid mixture and encouraged Principal Snyder to overlook the boy's academic failures. Athletic achievement is a good thing to be valued, but in this case, it was over-valued at the expense of other things of value: Buffy's reputation, the boy's academic careers, not to mention their human lives, and other priorities the school could have had if it didn't put money into the excess care and training of the swim team.

This is an example of the human moral weaknesses of arrogance and pride: the over-valuing of one's self. In the end, the coach is a victim of his arrogance. When he tries to bean Xander with a gun, Buffy trips him and falls into the sewer with the monsters. She tries to keep the coach from dropping into, but he's soon monster meat anyway.

Sexism: The quintessential drug of faux male power, steroids, turns young men into killing and (potentially raping) monsters. Buffy fends'm off, fine, and is rightfully miffed when the out-of-control hormonal behavior of her swim-team date is blamed on her. But Cordelia's disturbing belittling of Xander in the episode sends the mixed message: "you ran like a woman" "why don't you go out and practice running like a man"? Stereotype much, Cordy? It wasn't Cordelia's macho expectations of Xander that turned him from wimp to hero in the second season of BtVS, it was his own reaction to the circumstances around him.

Ethical Quandaries in "Go Fish"

Go for "the win" even though it has the side effect of turning one's team into monsters?

Nurse Greenleigh argues that the boys' lives are the paramount value. Winning swim meets is not as important as keeping the boys in their normal human form. What the Coach is doing is sacrificing individual players just so he can squeeze out a winning team.

Coach Marin sees the issue within the context of teams and winning. In his view, Nurse Greenleigh is "part of the team" and hence should support decisions which are best for the team. In his view, winning is the ultimate value, and anything that leads to winning is good, no matter what its side effects. Since Nurse Greenleigh chooses not to support his use of the steroid mixture, she is not supporting the team; she is a "quitter".

Buffy lets them the fish-monsters go out to sea instead of killing them. This may because they used to be human and didn't ask for their fate (except for the mistake in judgment, taking the steroids), or because, out to sea, they won't harm any humans, or possibly both.

Democracy vs. neo-fascism (or, Xander and Cordelia debate student athlete perks)

Xander and Cordelia have an interesting exchange in Go Fish that illustrates the on-going tension between Xander's unrefined democratic-ness and Cordelia's haughty neo-fascism. When Willow reports that Principal Snyder asked her to change Gage's grade, Xander comes down clearly against it. In his mind, grades are a matter of merit, they must be earned through academic achievement.

Cordelia responds that "certain people are entitled to special privileges. They're called winners." This neo-fascist principle implies a distribution of grades not simply according to academic achievement, but as rewards passed out based on other standards (like athletic achievement) which are irrelevant to academic ability. Her reason? "That's the way the world works." This is a classic example of the naturalistic fallacy--that what is  implies what ought to be. This is a fallacy because one cannot move deductively from a factual statement about how the world is to a statement about what rules we should have.

Xander responds with the quintessential statement of the principle of democracy in the United States: "And what about that nutty 'all men are created equal' thing?"

Cordelia objects that those who are "not winners" invoke this principle, not because it is a correct principle, but only because it gives them the power that on her non-democratic standards they do not deserve. On her standards, they are "ugly" (by which she means more than lack of looks, but lack of athletic ability, etc, e.g., Lincoln) and therefore "less deserving."

When Willow chimes in that Jefferson coined the principle of democracy Xander invoked, Cordelia responds with another fallacious argument (either Ad Hominem Circumstantial or Tuquoque)--since Jefferson kept slaves, whatever he says about equality and justice must be false. This may make Jefferson a hypocrite, but it does not make his statements false.


Becoming, Part 1 and 2


| Metaphysics | Evil | Moral ambiguity | Ethical Quandaries |

The Metaphysics of "Becoming"


| Whistler | Callings | The ritual of soul restoration | Acathla | Psychic powers | Timeline discrepancies |


Whistler "Nobody understands me. That's my curse."

Whistler is a demon, but he is not "dedicated to the destruction of all life," as many other demons are. In B1, he calls Angel to join the forces of good. In B2, he tells Buffy how to stop Angelus and Acathla.

He's a Watcher-type...guides people, but doesn't really interfere himself. Annoying, but I guess that's how it works: "In the end, all you have is yourself. That's the point" (Mircalla, Jan 3 20:01 1999).

Callings: Whistler finds Angel derelict on the streets of Manhattan in 1996. He already knows he's dealing with a vampire with a human soul. He knows Angel "could go either way"--become a force for good or remain the same clueless loser for the rest of his un-life. When Whistler says to him, "I wanna know who you are," he is setting up Angel to make that choice. Whistler then takes Angel to witness something that he hopes will motivate the vamp to join the forces of good: Buffy's calling as a slayer. Moved by the young girl's struggle to accept her destiny, Angel asks to help her, to "become" someone worthy.

Prophecy transpired? When Buffy confronts Whistler in Giles' apartment, Whistler tells her: "I figured this for Angel's big day. But I thought he was here to stop Acathla, not to bring him forth." This implies that there was a prophecy that Angel would stop Acathla. If there was such a prophecy, the events of B2 do not contradict it. Although Angel is only a tool in closing the mouth of Acathla, he did do it, albeit skewered on Buffy's sword.

Restoring Angel's Soul

The ritual of the undead (AKA the gypsy curse)

Romania, 1898. The Elder Woman of gypsies sits beneath a tent canopy chanting over an Orb of Thessela within a sacred circle.

The glowing Orb gets very bright for an instant, and then goes dark. Angelus' eyes glow briefly, then return to normal. The human soul has been restored to the body. At first, Angel does not remember anything--not the ether where his soul resided, not the 150 years of Angelus' reign. Slowly the "memories" come back to him, though, as he sits where Angelus fell, and he is devastated by them.

Sunnydale, 1998. Willow has the Orb of Thessela nestled in a basket within a sacred circle surrounded by candles, bones and stones. She casts some stones onto the tray table above her hospital bed. Cordelia swirls incense in the air and Oz begins to read the Latin incantation. Willow does not get very far into the ritual before she weakens, becomes possessed and begins to chant in Romanian:

Quod perditum est, invenietur.
Translation: What is lost, return.

Nici mort, nici al fiintei,
Translation: Not dead, nor not of the living,

Te invoc spirt al trecerii
Translation: Spirits of the interregnum, I call.

Te implor Doamne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte!
Translation: I call on you, God, do not ignore this supplication!

Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-i va transporta, sufletul la el.
Translation: Let this Orb be the vessel that will carry his soul to him.

Este scris, aceasta putere este dreptul poporuil meu
de a conduce.
Translation: It is written, this power is my people's right to wield.

At this point, the orb begins to glow with the presence of Angel's soul.

Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum! Acum!
Translation: So it shall be! So it shall be! Now! Now!

The glowing Orb suddenly gets very bright for an instant, and then goes dark. Angelus' eyes glow briefly, then return to normal. Angel's soul has been restored to the body again. It is not clear he ever remembers anything--not the ether where his soul resided, not the four-five months of Angelus' sadistic rampage--before Buffy sends him to hell.

Who or what possessed Willow during the ritual? This question has never been answered. Was it "The Powers That Be"?

Did Willow curse Angel when she re-souled him?

Can Angel lose his soul again in a moment of happiness? Answering this question is vital in resolving two issues: (1) whether Angelus could ever get free and kill again, and (2) whether Angel can ever be with Buffy (or any other women he'd love) again. In Amends, the First Evil tries to tempt Angel with a seductive dream in which he makes love to Buffy and then tries to kill her. This is one indication that the clause still holds. Angel's evening of synthetic bliss is another. And his "perfect day" fantasy probably resolves the question once and for all.


Acathla is a stocky, horned demon dedicated to the destruction of all human life. His mouth is a dimensional portal between the Earthly plane and (a/the) demon dimension. His method of destruction is to "swallow the world"--literally, Acathla will take a breath that will create a vortex that pulls everything on planet Earth into the demon dimension. There, any non-demon life will suffer horrible and eternal torment (this seems to imply that life on Earth will be sucked into hell physically, but will not die in the demon dimension).

The ritual to reawaken Acathla: Acathla was turned to stone by a virtuous knight who pierced the demon's heart with a sword before Acathla could draw a breath to suck the world into hell. Acathla was buried near the Hellmouth (one wonders what sort of "knight" would have been in southern California in the ancient days referred to. He could have been a Native American warrior or a European or Polynesian explorer). The spell on this enchanted sword is basically this: as long as the sword remains in the demon, the demon is dormant. If the sword is pulled, the demon comes back to life. The sword can only be pulled by someone who has their own blood on their hands and performs the right ritual. Before Buffy arrives, Angelus speaks the following incantation:

Acathla, Mundatus sum. Pro te necavi. Sanguinem meum pro te effundam quo me dignum esse demonstram.
Translation: Acathla, I have been cleansed. I have kill before you. For you I will pour out my blood, by which I will show myself to be worthy.

When Angelus finally gets the opportunity, he pulls the sword with his own blood on his hand, and the mouth of Acathla is opened.

Closing the mouth of Acathla: Once the sword is pulled, only the blood and "life" (being physically pulled into hell) of the person who reawoke Acathla can make the demon dormant again. This reversal ritual necessitates that this individual's blood be drawn by a second sword. This sword also has mystic properties endowed upon it in a blessing given by the Knight who first slew the demon. Once Angelus pulled the sword, the reversal ritual was necessary. Buffy had to draw (the now souled) Angel's blood and send both him and the sword into Acathla's mouth in order to seal the vortex.

Drusilla's powers: Human Drusilla had "pre-cognitive" gifts--she could "see things before they happen".

Drusilla was a young cockney lass whose family were coal miners. She was Catholic and lived in London. She was not a gypsy (Joss, 3/15/00).

The vampire Drusilla seems to sense Acathla's presence before he is brought to the mansion. It may simply be that she read about the tomb, and realized psychically that something evil was inside of it. She also reads Giles' mind by putting her hand on his head and make the torture-weary watcher think he is seeing and hearing his beloved Jenny. Giles then reveals to "Jenny" the key to opening the mouth of Acathla.

Timeline discrepancies: In Halloween, Willow said Angel was still human in 1775, and in Becoming it shows him being vamped in 1753.

Let me clear up this whole timeline confusion once and for all. People seem to be tripping over themselves and the explanation is really not all that complicated. So, for the record. I suck at math (joss, Oct 13 22:27 1998).

Angelus was sired in 1753. The tombstone of Liam of Galway puts his mortal birth at 1727 (The Prodigal).

Vampires and choking

Evil in "Becoming"

In 1860, Angelus took an interest in the human Drusilla, tormenting the pious young woman by playing priest and condemning her psychic abilities as "evil". In 1998, he has his minions kidnap Giles, ostensibly so that the watcher can tell Angelus how the ritual to reawaken Acathla works. However, Angelus seems just as interested in torturing Giles. What we know of the torture: he binds Giles tightly to a chair until his arms are bleeding and breaks his fingers. Angelus' pre-1898 evil

Acathla: As a demon who wishes to destroy the Earthly plane as it is, Acathla represents evil-as-corruption. He provides the sure means to destroy all that is human and earthly.

Moral Ambiguity in "Becoming"

Liam (Angel), 1727-1753:

More on Liam and the siring of Angelus

Spike: When Buffy is running from the law, Spike becomes the surprising ally who prevents her capture. He then puts up the "white flag"--not of surrender, but of compromise--a temporary truce between vampire and slayer. Buffy is skeptical of course, given all the times in the past he has tried to destroy her, but Spike's motives are not all that hard to understand.

He wants to get Drusilla away from Angelus and Sunnydale, and he prefers the world as it is, with the Earthly pleasures that only humans can provide: dog racing, the Manchester United Football Club, and four billion "happy meals with legs". Buffy wants to save the Earth as well, but, as Spike points out, neither of them can fight Drusilla and Angelus alone. In return for Buffy's help, Spike agrees to keep Giles alive and help Buffy defeat Angelus when the time comes. Highlights of Spike's moral ambiguity:

Joyce has apparently washed blood out of Buffy's clothes on more than one occasion. When Detective Stein asks her, "Your daughter has a history of violence. Doesn't she, Ms. Summers?", Joyce can't deny it. But when Buffy reveals she's the slayer, Joyce's only response is to demand that she stop. Joyce's weakest moment throwing Buffy out of the house in B2 (even though she didn't mean it) (aardwolfe, Dec 20 22:33 1998).

Should Joyce have been told before now?

The corrupt Principal Snyder

Ethical Quandaries in "Becoming"

Was it wrong for Buffy to take so long eliminating Angelus?

She sure did. What happened to Angel really wasn't any different from what happens when anyone else is turned into a vampire. Remember that speech Giles gave Xander about Jesse after he became a vampire? If Xander and Willow's best friend doesn't deserve preferential treatment, why should Angel? Buffy is indirectly responsible for every person Angel killed after "Innocence" (Odin, 22 Jan 1999 14:24)

Right and wrong have nothing to do with it. She didn't choose to let him live and then choose to kill him. It was not an ethical dilemma, but a mental and emotional block. She just wasn't ready, nothing that happened or anything anyone said or what she thought could made her able to kill Angel, or even speed up the process. She had lost someone who she loved. And as anyone who has lost someone will tell you, it takes time before you can let them go. Perhaps it would have been better if she had been able to kill him sonner, but is she wrong for that? No, just human. (Kay 4 Jan 1999 17:05)

Should Angelus be killed or cured?

When Willow and Buffy tell the gang that they found the curse to restore Angel's soul, and Willow claims to be able to get it to work, it sets off a heated debate about the wisdom of doing so.


Giles is concerned about Willow putting herself in danger by channeling the mystical powers required through herself. This in itself isn't an argument for not curing Angel, but they have very few alternatives at this juncture.

Xander believes that killing Angelus is paramount. He sees attempting to restore Angel's soul as "forgiving" him for killing Ms. Calendar, in the same way that some people see sending deranged murderers (e.g., John Hinkley, jr.) to mental hospitals for rehabilitation as an inadequate punishment.

Is souled Angel responsible for Jenny's death?


Giles argues that curing Angelus might be a way to honor Ms. Calendar, since she was attempting to cure Angelus before she died.

Buffy argues that since Angel wasn't at fault for turning into Angelus, he should be given another chance at life. In arguing this way, she is implying that Ms. Calendar's death is also not souled Angel's fault. Xander disagrees with this implication. He also sees Buffy's argument as motivated by the desire to get her boyfriend back, a selfish desire given the circumstances. This is a fallacious ad hominem argument on Xander's part. Even if Buffy's argument is solely motivated by her desire to get her boyfriend back, that in itself is not an argument against Angel's re-souling. That must rest on the consequences of the re-souling and whether Angel himself deserves it.

The Relationship of Angel and Angelus

 Xander's Lie
Xander: Now, that's a new look for you.
Buffy: (lifts her sword) It's a present for Angel.
Xander: Willow. Uh, she told me to tell you...
Buffy: Tell me what?
Xander: Kick his ass.

Xander never made it a secret that he disdained Buffy's vampire boyfriend--for being a vampire, for being Buffy's boyfriend, and for the perverse juxtaposition of the two. When Angelus returned, Xander saw his hostility as vindicated. He was dead set against giving the sadistic vampire back his soul, and he made his feelings clear--to attempt to the curse would be "forgiving" Angelus for killing their teacher and friend, Ms. Calendar. So when Xander failed to tell Buffy that Willow was going to attempt to restore Angel's soul in lieu of Buffy's killing Angelus, fans were divided about Xander's motives: was he supporting Buffy's resolve, or was it a final act of jealousy?

Xander's motives were selfish

Xander's motives were good

The Xander betrayal issue... hasn't come up with us, and here's why. Xander made a decision. Like a general going into battle, he had to keep Buffy's fighting spirit strong and he felt telling her the truth would blunt it. And Angel needed to be stopped. It was a tough decision, and an unpopular one, but I'm not sure it wasn't the right one. I'm on the fence, and that's what makes it FUN! So there (joss, Oct 20 21:42 1998).

Pictures are copyright © 1998 The WB Television Network
Screen shot credits
Translations are by Alexander Thompson and I. Meyers
This page last modified 3/23/03

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