Have Yourself a Bloody Little Christmas is a yearly column highlighting holiday horror, from movies to television. In past years, I’ve tackled multiple television specials; you can check out the archives for 2012, 2014, and 2015 at the links. We’re running out of things to cover, but we’ll continue the tradition this 2016 season!
Unlike yesterday’s Have Yourself a Bloody Little Christmas post about Supernatural‘s “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Christmas special “Amends” isn’t as easy for first-time viewers to follow, nor is it particularly full of holiday cheer. It’s an episode of the series that is heavily canonical, continuing the third season’s storyline about Angel’s return to Sunnydale and his fight with succumbing to evil. With “Amends,” that plot comes to a head during the holiday season, normally a time for yuletide frolicking but instead a destructive moment in time for Buffy and Angel’s relationship.
As stated before, “Amends” isn’t really an episode newcomers can hop into simply for the holiday festivities. Anyone unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be completely lost in this hour, especially when it comes to Buffy and Angel’s past relationship. “Amends” makes heavy use of their previous encounters, including their initial sexual bond and Buffy’s decision to kill Angel; viewers won’t know why Angel was gone or why he’s back, two things that “Amends” uses to pull together its finale.
But those that follow along with Buffy will find the episode somewhat lacking Christmas cheer as well; though the episode is set on Christmas Eve for the most part, “Amends” is curiously devoid of much festive revelry. Even the set designs are missing the lights and decorations inherent in the season; when Buffy and Angel stand on a mountaintop overlooking Sunnydale, there’s a poor display of yuletide lighting below. Perhaps it’s the California weather affecting the town’s spirit, since the characters are sure to note that it’s a very balmy holiday season, hinting at the unseasonal snow that falls in Sunnydale to block out the sun as a sign that Angel shouldn’t kill himself.
Still, a couple of holiday moments do make it into the hour, including a flashback to Angel’s past in Dublin during the Christmas season and the holiday decorations that Giles has hung in his library. Even Faith shows up for a little bonding time with the rest of the Summers family, able to put aside her differences with Buffy to spend Christmas Eve with her only family.
The final snow scene does add some yuletide feelings to “Amends” as well, with Sunnydale taking on downright classic holiday look in its main square reminiscent of older Christmas films like Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life. This comes with some unnaturally sappy dialogue for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though, with a cringeworthy confrontation between Buffy and Angel that borders on domestic violence.
As an episode in the Buffy canon, “Amends” does some important work for the season’s arc (while setting up the Angel spinoff in the process). But as a Christmas special, most casual viewers will probably find themselves lost in the plotting, especially because the episode lacks a lot of holiday imagery and common Christmas traditions present in less plot-focused Christmas TV specials.