[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Marti Noxon, David Fury, and Jane Espenson | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 01/18/2000]
This is a really good episode with a terrible plot, which is quite possibly the most inept of the entire series. The plot itself is not funny, it’s hokey, and it really tears apart the show’s respect for the hard work other villains go through to try to end the world. Apparently all it takes nowadays is the blood of a man, the bones of a child, and a talisman. After watching this, how does the writer not expect us to beg the question, “how in the hell does this world even exist right now if that’s all it takes to destroy it?” Even in the midst of great character continuity, I can’t help but be disgusted by how insulting this plot is. This is a giant complaint which drastically pulls the score down. I can handle silly, sloppy, or useless plots, but not completely inept ones. While I’m at it, I’ll just pass right over the fact that “we’ve already done this” before, many times.
Anyway, lets move on to the good. First off, I’ve got to point out how much I respect Whedon and the writing team for letting us hear the conversation that was left open at the end of “Hush” [4×10] . Lesser shows would have taken the easier route and just given us little hints about what happened. Instead we get an interesting exchange between the two of them. Riley starts it off by commenting on her strength and speed. Her response, “Also passionate, artistic and inquisitive,” goes to show that she is still bothered when defined completely by her Slayerness. Even though she’s accepted her role as the Slayer she still, at least deep down, will forever want to be recognized as a human being. This theme goes back to the beginning of the series, but the most recent example of it is in “Homecoming” [3×05] .
Riley shows up in the cemetary later and his presence and location likely bring back memories of Angel. Boyfriend who fights demons in the cemetary with her. She might have even remembered the final picnic her and Angel shared in the cemetary, the one in “Choices” [3×19] when she said the Mayor didn’t know what he was talking it. Her relationship with Riley is now looking pretty ‘doomed’ and she’s terrified that she’ll end up just being hurt again. Riley’s response to all this skepticism is strong. He says, “Buffy, I’m thrown by this, I’m confused… But I can feel my skin humming, my hands, my every inch of me. I’ve never been this excited about anybody before. I’m not trying to scare you, and I’m not going to force myself on you. But I’m, by God, not going to walk away because I think it might not work.”
This Buffy and Riley conflict continues all throughout the episode. Later on Riley tells Buffy she’s self-involved and has a “doom and gloom” outlook on life. To Riley it really is an adventure and he doesn’t know what she’s been through. Buffy has to be self-involved, to an extent, to do her job. I really sympathize with both of them though. Riley’s just ignorant about what he’s getting himself into and Buffy’s genuinely worried about being hurt again — she has every right to be. It’s unfortunate that at the very end of the episode we see Buffy completely disregard everything she told Riley earlier. I don’t fully understand why she would change her mind, and especially that quickly. Riley happened to help her out during the big fight, so that was enough to convince her they can successfully work together? I think that’s the point they were trying to get across, but I’m not convinced at all. We find out later that even though Buffy decides to have a relationship with Riley, she never does fully open up her heart to him like she did with Angel. This way she can still have a relationship without risking that pain. The fact she’s closed off her heart stems directly back to the events of “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22] , which left a permanent scar on her heart that won’t be fully healed by series end.
Xander, on the other hand, has a new job as a pizza delivery guy. It’s nice to get an update on his ever-changing stable-job search. This job obviously isn’t going to last very long. The focus, though, is definitely on Willow and Spike here. While at a party Willow spots Percy (the guy she tutored back in high school) and walks over for a chat. He is polite enough to her but when his girlfriend says he was checking her out, his defense is to put down Willow and call her a nerd behind her back. Of course she overhears this and is genuinely hurt. She’s worked hard to create a new persona for herself in college with the new hair and her huge appetite for powerful magic.
In a few words Percy was able to make Willow doubt the change in herself — he makes her feel like a nerdy high school girl again, even though she isn’t that person anymore. I know exactly how this can feel, though, as there’s been times when I thought I knew my stuff when someone with more self-confidence came along and made me feel like I hadn’t learned anything at all. When the group gathers to discuss the dead guy Willow found, we find out that she’s more upset about Percy’s comment than the fact she was trying to sleep next to a bled dead guy. I also love how she sounds like she’s all upset about the murder. She says, “There was so much blood, and there – there was a symbol, and Percy said I was a nerd!” This is another wonderful BtVS moment of mixing drama with humor.
There’s a couple things happening with Spike here as well. On the surface it seems like the writers are using him purely for comic relief, and the character is suffering as a result. If you look a little further, though, there’s a lot more going on. Early on we see Spike still stuck in Xander’s basement. This is Hawaiian Spike, who’s stuck wearing a Hawaiian shirt and looks completely pathetic. Xander tells him that he’s not even worth beating up, and we can immediately tell that this severely hurts Spike. We see this through James Marsters’ fantastic subtle face gestures which he’s so good at. This is the moment Spike reaches the low point of his existence. He’s so useless and frustrated that he tries to stake himself. This is entirely in character based on what we’ve seen of him earlier, especially in “Lover’s Walk” [3×08] . When I first watched this episode I was beginning to get concerned that they were ruining Spike, but now that I know what’s in store for him I realise all of this is just natural development based on what he’s been through, and that he’ll regain a lot his ‘cool’ early in S5.
Once he’s saved from staking himself he discovers he does have a weapon to hurt the Scoobies after all. His speech to Willow and Xander about how useless they are is simply wonderful. This plays off of Percy’s nerd comment to Willow earlier, and Xander’s lack of job stability. Plus, as is usual from Spike, there’s just enough truth thrown in (how they’re just Buffy’s sidekicks and that she’s too soft to cut them loose) to get them thinking about it. Spike’s huge grin after realising how successful he was at making Willow and Xander feel more worthless than him says it all. Anyway, this episode has a lot of good character development while unfortunately possessing, quite possibly, the most inept plot in the history of the series. The former barely saves it from the pit of despair (a.k.a. below a C-).
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy shocking Riley with how much knowledge she has on the Initiative.
+ Riley not knowing what the Slayer is.
+ Spike trying to hit Xander with a wrench. His head explodes in pain and Xander doesn’t even notice. haha.
+ Forrent perceiving the demons as animals.
+ How often partiers and frat boys die on BtVS.
+ Buffy flips back up and accidentally attacks Riley.
+ Buffy referring to Faith’s coma in her relationship debate with Riley.
+ Riley’s excuses for his outfit. “Paintball!”
+ Spike desparately wanting to go out and kill things while Xander and Willow just want to watch TV.
– The demons want to end the world, yet they leave Giles alive? Why?
– The demons are trying to open the hellmouth…again. *sigh*
– There’s just a big hole in the ground the demons jump into to make the world end. How? Why?
– I like Spike’s ‘moves’ after he discovers he can hurt demons, but the music is incredibly hokey and his line, “I’m a bloody animal!,” is terrible.