31 Monsters #26: The Judge
Another “remember that?” pop-culture artifact of the ’90s was the late and occasionally lamented WB television network (1995-2006), which for a time was our nation’s chief exporter of angst-ridden fictional teens.
Perhaps no series better identified “the WB” than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a spin-off of the unpopular 1992 film of the same name. While it was never the network’s most-watched series (that distinction went to religious-themed family drama 7th Heaven), its success encouraged the WB to focus on shirtless and/or mascara-smeared teens for the remainder of its brief life.
For the uninitiated, Buffy was about a high-school girl who learned that she was the “chosen one” born to assume the mantle of the Slayer. Granted supernaturally enhanced strength, dexterity and recuperative powers, she was tasked with ridding the world of vampires and other demons until the day she died. And Slayers typically didn’t live long. Let the weeping commence.
In a not-especially-surprising twist, Buffy’s broody soulmate, the mysterious Angel, turned out to be a vampire himself. I mean, really, I too have genuflected at the Church of (Buffy creator) Joss Whedon, but when a guy in a black leather jacket shows up calling himself “Angel,” you know he’s gonna be anything but.
Angel had once been an especially vicious vampire named Angelus, but was cursed with a human soul after getting on the wrong side of some gypsies. (In Buffytown, vampires were soulless demons mimicking the personalities of the humans whose corpses they inhabited.) The idea was that he would be forced to live with all of the suffering he had caused. This made him sad.
It really wasn’t until the second season of the show that it found its stride, with the introduction of a pair of Sid-and-Nancy inspired vamps named Spike and Drusilla. But even more important was the development of the tormented relationship between Buffy and Angel.
It all came to a head in the two-part episode “Surprise”/”Innocence.” The two celebrated Buffy’s 17th birthday by getting funky. In the middle of the afterglow Angel ran off into the night, only to return a changed man corpse. You see, under the oddly complicated rules of the gypsy curse, Angel would lose his soul again should he experience one moment of pure happiness. (If you know what I mean, and I think you do.) It played as a metaphor for the way that men (allegedly) change personalities overnight after successfully planting their flag.
So evil Angelus was back, and he teamed up with Spike and Dru to resurrect The Judge, an ancient demon so powerful that “no weapon forged” could harm him. Defeated but not killed some six centuries earlier, the pieces of his body had to be physically separated to keep him dormant. The Judge had the ability to “burn the humanity” out of anyone less than 100%, Grade-A evil.
Buffy’s friends looked for a way to defeat The Judge. Ultimately, they brought her a mysterious “present.”
The final confrontation took place in the midst of a crowded shopping mall. As The Judge began to (er…) judge the humans present, a bolt twanged harmlessly into his chest. Buffy stood atop a mall kiosk, covering the demon with her trusty crossbow.
The Judge scoffed, “You’re a fool. No weapon forged can stop me.”
“That was then. This is now.” Buffy set down the crossbow and pulled out her “present”: a rocket launcher.
The demon’s last words were “What’s that do?”
And then he blew up in an extremely satisfying manner.
I had originally thought that they might get around the “no weapon forged” rule by the old “by man” disclaimer. (Buffy, of course, not being a man.) Instead, the answer was simpler, and oh, so sweet. According to Joss Whedon’s DVD commentary, he never loved Buffy more than in the moment she hefted that rocket launcher, and I don’t disagree.