I encourage everyone to use their own preferences when viewing the episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. But as for me and my list, "Darla" and "Fool for Love" will eternally be grouped together with "Darla" first and "Fool for Love" second. I have explained my reasons ad nauseum in my viewing guide and in its associated comments section, but I will do it once more for the record here and refer people here to this article from now on.
If I only had one shot at winning someone's love for Buffy and Angel, then these two episodes combined in this way would be what I would choose to show them. First "Darla" and then "Fool for Love." The entire reason why I posted a viewing guide to Buffy and Angel in the first place was in part to showcase this serendipitous discovery.
When I was watching Angel for the first time, I decided to intersperse it with Buffy since I heard that's how they originally aired. Only having the DVDs as my guide at the time, only air dates were provided, not airing times. So I was unsure which show aired first in the evening. So on that initial viewing of Angel, I guessed (incorrectly) that it aired first.
My reasoning was unimportant for this discussion, but this momentary lack of facts and a lack of google in a iPhone, led me to first order Angel and Buffy tgoether that way. And if it was not for this accident, I would not have stumbled on the best pairing of Buffy and Angel I had ever seen: "Darla" then "Fool for Love."
Later when I discovered the episodes actually aired in the reverse order of what I had watched, I was sure on my next rewatch to view them in their correct airing order. And to my surprise, I did not like it as well. Do not get me wrong: they were both still excellent episodes that I loved, but there was just something about them that did not resonate as strongly with me.
So I decided at one point to explore the original way I had the episodes and contrast it with the original airing order. And I discovered a few important things that helped me understand why I probably prefer watching "Darla" first and "Fool for Love" after.
These two episodes feature extensive flashbacks to the shared history of the four central vampire characters on the show: Darla, Angel, Drusilla, and Spike. I discovered that if one looked solely at the flashbacks, then "Darla" is the natural starting point as it begins in 1609 and progresses through to the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. "Fool for Love," on the other hand, begins and ends at much later dates, starting in 1880 and progressing through to 1977.
As these episodes do provide a rather complex mixture of past flashbacks contextualizing present day story developments, anything that is done to simplify this process of the audience will aid in viewer comprehension and can be processed mentally a little more efficiently.
Darla and Angel's lives and points of view in "Darla" take place earlier in the story and then crossover with the newer vampires, Drusilla and Spike, whose points of view take up the forefront of the flashbacks in "Fool for Love." The transition into the newer vampires' romance helps showcase a pattern revealed in "Darla" when the Master felt challenged by the up-and-coming Angelus, much the same way Angelus later feels challenged by the up-and-coming Spike later.
Therefore, when the episodes are paired this way, it creates a more subtle and chronological story to follow as we experience the exuberance of youth conflict with the caution and forethought that comes from old age. This lends the episode pairing with a strong beginning, middle, and end that does not present itself quite as easily when viewed in the original airing order.
When viewed in the original airing order, the story formed by the two episodes is basically that of Spike butting heads with his mentor Angelus and carrying on a bitter rivalry with him. Then we the audience later discover that some of this rivalry had more to do with Angelus receiving his mortal soul again, and he was in a desperate attempt to reconcile his vampiric bloodlust with his newly reinstated conscience, all in an attempt to still carry on with Darla
While both approaches to this story material work on a dramatic level, the interplay of youth and maturity as it relates to vampiric immortality was a slightly more interesting way to the view the story than generational miscommunication resulting in misunderstandings.
Now, let us compare the two episodes on a dramatic level and how they contrast with one another differently depending on the viewing order. While Darla and Angel are compelling in "Darla," I will make no qualms about it that Spike's flashbacks in "Fool for Love" are the most inspired flashbacks in either Buffy or Angel.
"Darla" builds up an emotional peak as we see Darla and Angel's former passion and verve for the kill being replaced in modern times with a conscience that makes them feel an odd mixture of revulsion and nostalgia for their soulless state as monsters. The episode delves into the despondency Darla experiences and ends with Darla clearly wanting to forfeit her mortality in favor of returning to her formerly nonconflicted state of being.
In contrast, "Fool for Love" begins with Buffy in a very similar state of despondency, but desiring a way to rediscover her mortality. Buffy has waltzed through much of the show with nearly godlike power, but she almost dies at the hands of a nobody whom she would usually have no problems dispatching. Buffy begins to questions herself and her powers and starts to ask herself tough questions about how the former slayers died.
Did they too just slip into a moment of mediocrity and find themselves on the wrong end of a wooden stake like she did? Buffy does not want this odd despondency to be the end of her, so she searches for to avoid slipping into a complacent death. Spike is the only one in existence who she question who was present at the deaths of former slayers, so she bribes him to help her discover how to get out of her current rut.
The strange confusion Darla feels at the end "Darla" perfectly transitions into Buffy's despondency as she becomes aware of a growing death wish that she too has been building up inside her. And strangely enough, Angel and Spike serve as excellent foils to these women, who they are both in love with (and obsessed with) while trying to counsel their beloved to face hard truths. As we explore Angel and Spike's pasts, we discover enlightening commentary on what Darla and Buffy are suffering from at present.
This story energy continues building up throughout "Fool for Love" more and more as Spike's feelings finally come to the surface in a powerful, explosive moment of revelation that Buffy finds completely incomprehensible. Spike's emotional explosion at Buffy is the culmination of the everything that took place in both episodes, building up to an impassioned climax of hatred and rage that bends to the power of love and devotion.
And in that way, "Fool for Love" helps illuminate everything that was set up earlier in "Darla," too. Hatred and rage that Angel felt for Darla and Spike felt for Buffy just cannot truly stand in the face of their deep feelings of love and devotion they feel for them. As much as they logically despise each other, they feel almost powerlessly drawn towards them in a desire to help and save them.
If you forced me to pick my favorite scene of Buffy and Angel, then it would be the last two minutes of "Fool for Love." It is the most powerfully acted, written, and directed scene from either TV show. To see James Marster's performance as he transforms from murderous rage to consolatory friend in just a few remarkably intense seconds is frankly one of the most remarkable moments captured on film.
When looking at the creative output of Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I am astounded at the number of brilliant moments captured on film. But for me, none is stronger than combining "Darla" with "Fool for Love," making the strongest and most cohesive joint dramatic presentation either TV ever pulled off.
From a storytelling point of view, this particular pairing of episodes illuminates the characters in the clearest and most enjoyable way possible. And it also provides the easiest door for a new viewer to open to connect to this show on an emotional level. I feel most viewers experiencing the show for the first time will be set up for greater success when viewing these episodes in this order.
Yanking on the audience's chain to make them wonder if Angel's boxer rebellion stint makes sense chronologically or not is not nearly as illuminating or intriguing to watch as getting a full dose of Spike's emotional tour de force at the climax of this beautiful 85 minute presentation.
The great thing about modern technology, you can watch the episodes in any order you want. I will always choose improved narrative flow and dramatic impact over any other concern when it comes to my viewings of Buffy and Angel. And I invite you to join me watching these episodes my preferred way some time and see if it helps the episodes resonate more deeply with you, too.