[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Marti Noxon | Director: Marti Noxon | Aired: 04/17/2001]
We’re not watching the same Buffy anymore. With the move into Act III (now through S7) we find that the series has changed drastically in tone. “Forever” is the launching point of this new era and it proves to be an underrated, important, and dark episode which often gets overshadowed by [“5x16″] . Two primary things are happening here. The first is Buffy trying to cope with the wave of responsibilities forced on her, and the other is Dawn attempting to ressurect Joyce through black magic. With the exception of a clunky fight scene, both of these threads work together exceptionally well and force Buffy to face the emotion she’s trying to bottle up in order to get things done.
Before I talk about anything else I want to mention how much I enjoyed the attention paid to how everyone responds to Joyce’s sudden death. Willow is visiting her mom a lot, Spike brings flowers for Joyce, and Giles turns on the same music him and Joyce listened to during “Band Candy” [3×06] while under the candy curse. These are all beautiful little touches and nods to continuity that just feel right and that a lesser show would completely ignore. I really love that “Forever” doesn’t forget about these important little character nuances, as it really helps bring home how real these characters are.
Anyway, the episode begins in a funeral home where Buffy has to pick out a coffin for her mom’s funeral. The coffin salesman says some extremely pretentious things to her that make it obvious all he cares about is getting Buffy’s money. I also went through this despicable price gouging when my grandmother died. These funeral homes are out to gain extra money by taking advantage of your sorrow. It’s sick and very painful, although when I say this I can’t speak for all funeral homes. This entire introduction scene already shows how cut off Buffy is from her emotions. Now that her mom’s gone, all of these enormous and new responsibilities have been thrusted upon her. Buffy’s only way to cope is to blot out all emotion and just get things done. In essence, much of the shock and numbness witnessed in “The Body” [5×16] is still present for her, but now only her.
All Buffy can see right now is what must be done in the next couple minutes. After a wicked cool fade to black in the cemetary that is a literal metaphor for how quickly her life has also turned dark, she tells Angel “The funeral was… it was brutal. But it’s tomorrow that I’m worried about.” Angel replies, “What’s tomorrow?” Buffy answers, “That’s exactly what I don’t know.” Nothing is certain anymore in Buffy’s future. She’s abruptly entered adulthood and no longer has anyone to help guide her through though those rough first years where one doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing or where they’re headed. Having a strong family who can help provide a roadmap for you makes this period of life significantly easier. Without it? Void space.
With all her immediate responsibilities, funeral et al., Buffy hasn’t yet realized her biggest responsbility of all: Dawn. Buffy is now functionally Dawn’s mother, and Buffy is in no way ready or prepared for this responsibility as we can see in ample doses from now through S6. This is the beginning of a really rough time for Buffy and she’s going to have to feel her way through it. Angel points out, “You’ll find your way. I mean not all at once, but…” and he’s completely right. This is a process that will take quite a bit of time for Buffy. For now all that exists is mass confusion and immediate pressures. I’m tremendously happy that Angel showed up to at least offer Buffy one night of love, comfort, and guidance. The reprise of the Buffy/Angel theme song was beautifully worked in–I adore Angel beyond words for showing up here.
While Buffy is going through all of this, Dawn spends most of the episode trying to resurrect Joyce. For the integrity of the series I’m grateful Dawn fails (and that we don’t even see ZombieJoyce). What this really leads into is the final, very tear-filled, scene where Dawn cannot believe she hasn’t seen Buffy cry and that she feels Buffy has been purposely avoiding her. Of course, the truth couldn’t be further from the truth, of which Buffy explains: “Dawn, I’ve been working, I’ve been busy because I have to … I have to do these things, ’cause, ’cause when I stop, then she’s really gone. And I’m trying, Dawn, I am really trying to take care of things. But I don’t even know what I’m doing! Mom always knew.” Dawn says, “Nobody’s asking you to be mom.” Buffy replies, “Well who’s gonna be if I’m not? Huh, Dawn? Have you even thought about that!? Who’s gonna make things better? Who’s gonna take care of us? … I didn’t mean to push you away, I didn’t. I just, I couldn’t let you see me… Oh god, Dawny. I don’t know what we’re gonna do. I’m scared!” At this point the two of them collapse on the floor hugging while weeping, and their pain is palpable. Buffy’s inner numbness finally cracks and what’s left is a big, teary mess.
Before wrapping up I want to mention a couple more important tidbits. First of all is the beautiful speech Anya has about sex and life, which is in complete contrast yet directly tied to her confusion about death in “The Body” [5×16] . Here she says, “Well she [Joyce] got me thinking, about how people die all the time and how they get born too and how you kinda need one so that you can have the other. And when I think about it that way it makes death a little less sad, sex a little more exciting … I just think I understand sex more now. It’s not just about two bodies smooshing together. It’s about life. It’s about making life … I’m not ready to make life with you [Xander]. But I could. We could. Life could out of our love and our smooshing and that’s beautiful. It all makes me feel we’re a part of something bigger. Like I’m more awake somehow.” Anya pretty much just said my analysis for me there. What a beautiful realization for Anya to make and then share with Xander. This is fantastic stuff.
Even after all the great stuff loaded in “Forever,” there’s some juicy development for Willow as well. Dawn begs Willow and Tara for help in ressurecting Joyce. Tara leads the charge in telling Dawn that, firstmost, “we [witches] don’t mess with life and death” and second that they couldn’t even if they wanted to. We see a consistent opinion on the matter from Tara, that “witches can’t be allowed to alter the fabric of life for selfish reasons.” As Tara is talking we can see very clearly that Willow is not seeing things the way Tara is and doesn’t even seem to understand why Tara thinks trying a ressurection spell would be so bad. Willow plays along with Tara even though she clearly doesn’t agree, which is why she takes the initiative in helping Dawn get the information she needs that will lead to finding the required spell. This is a huge indication of Willow’s impaired judgement and of what is to follow for her.
As a whole “Forever” is an extremely good episode. It loses some points for there still being no proactive moves from Glory. What, she just conveniently stops going after Buffy for information about the Key because we have to spend screen time on Joyce’s death and other character topics? Sorry, doesn’t fly for me. The plot must be blended together better with the character threads. Aside from that issue and a couple smaller ones, though, there’s nothing but good here. This is a vital and powerful episode that needs to be looked at a bit more closely before seeing the value in it. Once found, though, there’s a whole lot of value here.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Dawn’s klepto problem begins here.
+ Spike helping Dawn again just because he knows she’ll be safer with him.
+ The Doc is fairly creepy and awkward.
+ Dawn invokes Osiris, a lord of dark magic with some resurrection capabilities (e.g. Osiris is used to bring Buffy back to life in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] ).
+ Why’d Ben do such a crappy job killing Jinx?
+ The entire fight with the Gora demon is very silly-looking.