Buffy 6×03: After Life

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 10/09/2001]

Brilliant! Jane Espenson for the win! Cheers all around! Yes!! “After Life” perfectly delivers everything I wanted to see from a conclusion to “Bargaining.” This is Espenson’s shining moment, a stand-out episode even topping the one she’s more famously known for: “Earshot” [3×18] . To say “After Life” is underrated is an understandment. It’s not only underrated, but it’s also often ignored simply because some people don’t like Buffy’s forty-five second fight with the wispy ghost towards the end of the episode. I often need to ask these people “…but what about the rest of the episode!?” Anyway, this is darkness done at its best and is one of the bleakest episodes of a season filled with bleak episodes. Its depressing, dark, and haunting atmosphere, combined with an excellent use of symbolism to relay important information about the characters, is unique and surpremely compelling.

Like the best plots in Buffy the one here, involving a demon created as a ‘price’ for Willow’s spell, is just a means to show us what’s going on with the characters. It also turns out to be a clever red herring in misleading us to think, throughout the episode, that this demon ghost is the only repurcussion of Willow’s resurrection spell in “Bargaining Pt. 1” [6×01] . In truth, there is a price to pay for her spell: Buffy’s depression and her lack of interest in living. Sarah Michelle Gellar turns in a brilliantly nuanced performance — one where, if you’re not actually paying close attention to her subtle facial expressions and body movement, you’ll likely have no clue of the depth of emotion being expressed without blatantly spelling it out for us.

I’m really happy this is a direct continuation of “Bargaining” because there’s a lot of stuff that badly needs to have screen time, the biggest being Spike’s reaction and just how Buffy will react to everyone. The episode’s title is about what happens after you’ve lived your life already. Although there’s no direct way for us to relate to being ripped out of heaven, I can say that this season is clearly intended to be the full introduction to the adult world for the Scoobies. Buffy’s death in “The Gift” [5×22] can be seen as a metaphor for the death of childhood, so in that respect, the afterlife of childhood would be the adult world of responsibilities, day-to-day work, and growing internal problems that could often just be laughed off when you were a kid.

As Buffy walks with Dawn into their house, still in a daze, there’s some subtle things that begin replacing Buffy’s confusion with utter depression as she remembers her old life and all the pain it wrought. Throughout this entire ‘tour’ through the house SMG makes fantastic use of quick, subtle facial expressions that tell me a lot. The first of these things is seeing the photo of her mom — you can see Buffy quickly wince in pain as she remembers what happened. During this entire time Dawn is talking to her, trying to reconnect, but Buffy shows complete disinterest in everything she’s saying. I have to come back to SMG’s terrifcally morbid, hollow, and detached performance — it’s so atmospheric and gut vacating.

Dawn cleans Buffy up a bit and asks her if she’s going to button-up her shirt, but Buffy simply wanders off not even remotely caring about something as insignificant as her looks at a time like this, another grave sign of how broken she is. After a short while, Dawn expresses some concern as to why Buffy won’t talk to her and says, “Buffy? You wanna, like, stop? We can… we can sit down and talk.” Instead of giving her an answer Buffy simply skips right past wanting a discussion of any kind and asks the procedural “what else is different.” Eventually Spike comes in and notices Buffy on the same staircase where a choked-up Spike shared his gratitude for the respect Buffy had given him in “The Gift” [5×22] . His expression seeing Buffy alive says it all. It’s interesting to note that Buffy now immediately buttons up her shirt, the one she didn’t care about a minute ago. It’s a small thing that is ultimately important, because it signifies her first step into re-integrating back into this world.

While Dawn expresses confusion as to why Buffy’s knuckles are all bloody, Spike knows exactly what happened because he had to do it himself once before. This connects the two of them in a dark way they never had before. One thing I want to stop and point out is how every time someone pays attention to her bloody and beat-up hands she immediately hides them, which is representative of hiding the emotional pain she’s feeling and is exactly what she does when lying to the Scoobies at the end of the episode. Spike is incredibly gentle, kind, and understanding to Buffy here and his passion for her is immediately shown to us, and her, as not slightly diminished when he knows that she’d been dead “Hundred forty-seven days yesterday. Uh… hundred forty-eight today.” He also asks the important question of “How long was it for you… where you were?” Her response is expectedly, “longer.”

To contrast Spike’s wonderful gentleness, the Scoobies come crashing in showing they have no comprehension of what they just did. Notice how Spike shakes his head and immediately leaves the house? The gang is pushy, one-sided, and completely inconsiderate of what Buffy’s gone through. They all mean well, but they’re really not thinking the situation through and putting themselves in Buffy’s shoes. I’ve got to say thank you to Dawn for telling them all to back off. The problem stems from the fact that the Scoobies have all bought into this “we got her out of hell” line of thinking. At first it’s a valid concern, but after seeing Buffy’s demeaner we see that many of them are concerned yet they keep trying to convince themselves they did the right thing, especially Willow. The alternative is too painful to consider, so I completely buy why they’re acting this way. They’re also keeping in character. Anya, always the up front one, isn’t paritcularly fooled by the group’s delusion at this point and says “I think Willow’s wrong. I don’t think she’s [Buffy] particularly normal at all.”

Spike, who’s crying outside after leaving the cluttered ‘scene’ inside, forces Xander to open his eyes even further than he was in “Bargaining Pt. 2” [6×02] . Spike says “I’ve figured it out. Maybe you haven’t, but I have. Willow knew there was a chance that she’d come back wrong. So wrong that you’d have… that she would have to get rid of what came back. And I wouldn’t let her. If any part of that was Buffy, I wouldn’t let her. And that’s why she shut me out.” Xander, at first, responds in denial saying “What are you talking about? Willow wouldn’t do that.” But, observant as he always is, Spike can tell there’s more going on with Willow than everyone is recognizing when he snaps back “Oh. Is that right?” Before riding off in the motorcycle he picked up in the previous episode, he tearfully repeats an important lesson that’s a hint of things to come: “That’s the thing about magic. There’s always consequences. Always!” This can also be said about the Buffyverse in general, which parallels our lives in this important way which is another reason why these shows so consistently resonate with me.

Switching back to Buffy’s perspective we see her, after says she just wants to sleep, sitting on her bed in complete silence, darkness, and depression (a similar scene in “Anne” [3×01] comes to mind). As she picks up a photo with her, Willow, and Xander in happier times, it feels like it’s from a past life or is simply a distant memory. In more than one way, the photos are from a different life. I’ve been saying this a lot, but it’s important to realize that Buffy is not the same person she was and never will be again. The creepy moment when all the people in her photos turn to skulls is a metaphor for this change — how her past, happier life is dead to her now.

The next morning the Scoobies come up with the hitch-hiker theory. This turns out to be a red herring for the demon they actually inadvertantly created by resurrecting Buffy which turns out to be a red herring for the real threat introduced in the episode: Buffy’s long-term, suicidal depression. When Buffy finally joins in on this conversation we get two brief but vital signs of the real problem Buffy must fight this entire season. The first is that she’s wearing a completely black shirt. The second is that when asked how she’s doing she, once again, skips the question and immediately asks “what are we killing?” Buffy needs to kill her depression which is symbolized here in that black outfit she is currently wearing. In order to do that, she’s going to have to face her pain, and pain like this isn’t going to go away quickly.

A little later on, in the Magic Box, the gang is researching the demon further and we can once again see Buffy isn’t listening or caring at all. In the middle of nowhere she just says “I miss Giles” and then that she should go and patrol. This shows that she clearly wants to get away from these ‘friends’ of hers, which right now she’s incredibly alienated from and not terribly happy with. The fact she doesn’t even make sure Dawn will be okay, as Dawn herself notices, shows us how right now Dawn isn’t even on Buffy’s radar.

All of this quickly leads to one of the coolest symbolic visuals that the series has ever treated us with: Buffy’s body lining up perfectly with the statue of an angel so it appears Buffy has wings on her back. The sad, pained look on her face, the black shirt, and the angel wings on her back all symbolize her as a fallen angel — ripped out of heaven, but with the twist that it was against her will and wasn’t deserved. Although now, during this season, Buffy definitely ‘falls’ hard. My entire heart goes out to Buffy and this episode has me crying for her. This beautiful symbolism is also the first solid hint we get that she was actually in heaven.

Still sad and depressed, Buffy heads to Spike’s crypt — the one place she knows she’ll get someone who talks to her quietly and with respect for her situation. Spike has sure come a long way, hasn’t he? Even so, we’ll soon get to see that while he’s certainly become a kinder individual to the Scoobies, he’s still very much a soulless vampire. For this moment, though, he gives Buffy exactly what she needs and a remarkably beautiful speech about his remorse. Here’s a piece of it: “I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I had done that… even if I didn’t make it… you wouldn’t have had to jump. But I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course, but… after that. Every night after that. I’d see it all again… do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways… Every night I save you.” This is such affecting dialogue. Wonderful. This episode is filled with one amazing character moment after another.

Over at the Magic Box, Tara says “I like sunrise better when I’m getting up early than when I’m staying up late, you know? It’s like… I’m seeing it from the wrong side.” Here’s yet another subtle piece of symbolism that connects the sunrise that helped Buffy realize it was her time to die in “The Gift” [5×22] with her current situation. The sunrise in “The Gift” [5×22] represented Buffy’s entry into heaven, while the one Tara speaks of here has her at the opposite end of that experience — entry into an after life where she has no purpose, direction, or meaning and must suffer each moment with the intolerable loss of pure contentment and peace. This is a unique form of a kind of mythical torture for Buffy that is in a league of its own.

Before I discuss the utterly shocking and saddening ending scenes, I want to talk about some of the factors that led to them. First is taking a look at how Willow interprets Buffy’s inanimate responses while the second involves looking at the actual plot at hand, the latter being a very small part of the episode (just look at how much I’ve had to talk about that has nothing to do with the plot). Anyway, jumping back to the beginning of the episode we see Willow starting to see that something’s not right, that maybe Buffy might never return back to normal (note the relation between the title and character importance of “Normal Again” [6×17] , key word: ‘normal,’ later this season). Anya importantly tells Willow point blank “and you think of this now!?” Anya’s ultimately right here as Willow was being largely selfish and didn’t even fill in the others on the details of the spell.

In bed later on, Tara is able to force out some of what Willow’s thinking about beyond the superficial. The subject of Angel’s savage return from hell in S3 comes up (a useful and appreciated use of continuity). But Buffy is not like that, as Tara points out, which is a hint of the opposite but still not obvious enough to clue the two of them in. Willow does, however, notice that Buffy is extremely unhappy about being alive. They both excuse the behavior as simply needing some ‘time’ to re-adjust. What’s really telling here is that Willow is acting incredibly selfish in admitting that she expected Buffy to give her a pat on the back, recognize how powerful she is, and give her a chipper “thank you,” which are all responses only something like the BuffyBot would give her. This is very disturbing behavior and continues to illuminate the imminent disturbance in Willow’s thought process. All the black magic she’s been using has really blended itself in with her.

The plot intersects with this character thread when a manifestation of Buffy appears over their bed and starts yelling out all of Willow’s recent bad deeds. It says “Do you know what you did? You’re like children. Your hands smell of death. Bitches! Filthy little bitches, rattling the bones. Did you cut the throat? Did you pat its head? The blood dried on your hands, didn’t it? … You were stained. You still are. I know what you did!” What’s so creepy about this scene is that these are things that Buffy herself could very well want to yell at Willow if she knew all the details of her resurrection. It’s impressive to be able to pull that kind of confusion off. Tara immediately asks Willow if she knew what it was yelling about, but Willow just blatantly lies to Tara — not a good sign at all. Creepily breaking away from Tara during a spell later in the episode confirms these problems even further.

The ghost/demon thingy then makes an appearance at Xander and Anya’s place (can it teleport? Seems like it). I’ve got to use this moment to point out that the one thing Buffy has lacked a bit is genuine scariness. But seeing Anya cackling while cutting open her face, a genuinely terrifying sight, won’t soon leave my mind. Up until this point the demon has proven to be excellent in scaring the crap out of the Scoobies and me. Where it loses its potency is when it becomes a ghost-like wisp that attacks a Buffy who can’t hit it but can be hit by it, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. I, personally, think the effects for it were kind of cool (I like wispy things) though. In the end this quick ending fight is really not important. The entire plot proves to simply be a clever red herring for where the true price, and fright, of Buffy’s resurrection lies. It also helps the Scoobies be more convinced than ever that they’ve already overcome the consequences of their dark act.

Towards the end of the episode, after all the action has passed, we see Dawn walking off to school in the morning with Buffy, homemade lunch in hand, stopping her for a minute. Take close notice to the “everything is back to normal” super happy music that plays at the end of so many television shows at the end of an episode, where things are easily back to normal. Dawn tells Buffy that all anyone wants is to see her happy. This, of course, leads directly to the scene at the Magic Box where she lies — holding back a lot of pain and even some tears — about where she had been. Buffy tells the Scoobies that she was in hell and that she’s grateful of them, especially Willow, for getting her out of there. She blatantly lies about this so that her friends will feel better about themselves but, more importantly, also because she does not want to share or deal with the pain she has. More great, subtle, acting from SMG here. Utterly heart-wrenching stuff.

Amazingly, the brilliance isn’t quite finished yet! In the final scene of the episode we witness a tenderly painful moment when Buffy reveals to Spike what happened to her. The first thing to notice is where Spike’s located: in the shadow, a place in between light and dark. Buffy walks into the shadow with him, shares her heart-breaking secret, and then braces the painful blinding light that is hurting her almost as much as it hurts Spike. It hurts her so much that she’s going to avoid it as often as possible and become increasingly attracted to the dark. Her admission to Spike and the resentment of her friends, specifically Willow, is completely new ground for the characters and the series and is completely fascinating to watch.

As I mentioned earlier, Buffy’s jump in “The Gift” [5×22] repesented (among other things) the death of her childhood. So when she, here, talks about being happy in heaven it’s really just a metaphor for the warmth, lack of worry, and innocence of her childhood, an extension of “The Gift” [5×22] . Now Buffy’s fully stuck in the young adult world of mundane day-to-day responsibilities and (for many) lack of purpose in life. Having to abruptly enter this stage in life is often like, well, pulling yourself out of the grave of your childhood. This is something that Spike doesn’t have experience with and cannot relate to, which is the major thing that proves to be the undoing of their soon-to-be relationship and best represented in, the also brilliantly dark and complex, “Dead Things” [6×13] .

As should be obvious by now, I feel “After Life” is a seriously underrated dark and haunting masterpiece. There’s basically no action, so I can see why it doesn’t appeal to the casual watcher. But as I hope I’ve pointed out, there is a load of excellent and important symbolism, one fantastic scene after another, juicy insight into the characters’ thoughts, great acting, and a chilling, haunting atmosphere.

I’m going to wrap up this review on Buffy’s painful make-me-cry ending speech: “I was happy. Wherever I… was… I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time… didn’t mean anything… nothing had form … but I was still me, you know? And I was warm… and I was loved… and I was finished. Complete. I don’t understand about theology or dimensions, or… any of it, really… but I think I was in heaven. And now I’m not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out… by my friends. Everything here is… hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch… this is hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that… knowing what I’ve lost…” (sniff… I need a hug).

Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Anya describing how a demon hitch-hiker can latch onto beings passing through dimensions. Cool idea, even though that’s not what this demon actually did.
+ Several times in these openening episodes Anya comes across as incredibly rude to Buffy. But, as we found out in “The Body” [5×16] , this stems from a simple lack of understanding. Anya just doesn’t get what Buffy’s feeling thus being blunt in talking about it. Very in character.


* Willow breaking away from Tara during their corporealization spell. This shows that Tara has now become a hindrance to Willow’s use of black magic and overall power, which hints at imminent future problems for these two.




91 thoughts on “Buffy 6×03: After Life”

  1. [Note: Sunnycide posted this comment on March 1, 2007.]

    Mike, wonderful and insightful review! I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this episode is severely underrated. In fact, I think this is my favorite Jane Espenson episode. I also wanted to point out that Buffy sitting in bed in complete silence also mirrors the scene in “Forever”, just before Joyce’s funeral. I love all the subtle character moments that you’ve mentioned, and I think the pacing perfectly reflects the darkness of this episode. Knowing that Buffy was yanked out of heaven, watching her thanking the Scoobies in the Magic Shop is more painful the second time around.


  2. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 1, 2007.]

    Thanks for the comment Sunnycide! Also, good point about “Forever” — I’d forgotten about that brief scene.


  3. [Note: Tranquillity posted this comment on March 2, 2007.]

    I love this episode and place it in my top 10. The three Buffy/Spike scenes are just gorgeous and provide such stunning contrast to the guilty-worried-selfish behaviour of the scoobies. No wonder she was drawn to the bloke!!

    BTW, i always found the bit where Buffy buttons her shirt as quite telling, its a distinctly feminine action, something girls do when they meet an attractive male – slight forshadowing of things to come.


  4. [Note: MrB posted this comment on March 5, 2007.]

    There is actually a bit of anti-foreshadowing here.

    In the ending speech of this episode, she talks about about being “finished” and “complete”. This is in direct contrast to her cookie-dough speech to Angel in “Chosen” about specifically *not* being finshed or complete, and that being OK.



  5. [Note: rick posted this comment on March 12, 2007.]

    Mike, I very much enjoyed this review. I, personally, scored the episode at a 96 because, unlike you, I actually found Anya to be a bit out of character. Saying “the demon you brought back to hell with you” is meant by espenson to be funny and Anya-like, but it is really not funny at all, given the gravity of the situation at hand. As well, I find everyone’s reaction to Buffy’s revival a little off. Xander joking about “pizza??” They’ve just lived over a hundred days without their best friend, who died a tragic death to save the world, and they seem oddly unsurprised or and ‘unthrown.’ Then Xander and Anya walk home while Willow and Tara go to sleep. Um, you’ve got someone who’s been dead for months that you loved and you can sleep? They don’t seem overly excited. I know if my best friend was dead and I went through the process of complete grief, I would be shocked and a little creeped out (although very happy) that they are standing in front of me again. Sorry about the rant, I just connected a bunch of random sentences!


  6. [Note: Rick posted this comment on March 12, 2007.]

    I know this may come as a shock to some viewers, but the scene between Buffy and Spike at the end of the episode is preliminarly my favourite scene of the series. The description of existence as physically hard, violence, and bright is intriguing. As well, the philosophical implications for Buffy’s character and our human lives in general are riveting. I didn’t know Espenson could pump out dialogue like. The whole episode is a triumph just short of a masterpiece. I wonder if Joss had a hand in any of it?


  7. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 12, 2007.]

    Rick, I pretty much agree with you on your comment about Xander, Willow, and Tara. I still feel Anya was completely in character though. Just watch her comments in “The Body” for more proof of that. Anya’s never one to much care about the ‘gravity’ of the situation when blurting out offensive comments.

    I’m, obviously, also a huge fan of the final scene. All painful, heart-breaking, and fascinating. I’m not sure how much involvement Whedon has in this one though. I’m sure he wrote *some* of the dialgoue though.


  8. [Note: Rick posted this comment on March 12, 2007.]

    Hmm…the Anya thing I can live with. It is like her to say stupid things without bad intent, but this one really threw me and her bluntness didn’t seem natural this time (again, though, it could just be me). While I love Anya’s characters, I often wonder how her behaviour is really justified. How can she be so ignorant about everything after living for a thousand years. Some of it is realistic, but other times you just go: huh? For instance in the body, her lamenting about “I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it.” Hmm, great monologue and lvoed it to death, but her confusion here about life and death strikes me as odd and foundationless, especially considering the many murders she committed. I’m also not sure why Xander reconicles her past so well, considering his disgust for Angel.???


  9. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 12, 2007.]

    Well, the way I see it is that Anya has a new perspective as a human because, while she committed a ton of crimes, she never lost someone in that capacity even before and saw its affect on the people around her. I think that her speech in “The Body” goes to show how much she’s grown from when she was a demon — a being who never took the time to see the damage she was inflicting.

    As for Xander, his disgust of Angel was purely a jealously thing over Buffy. Xander’s largely like this with every one of Buffy’s boyfriends, although Angel was the first and worse.


  10. [Note: Ari posted this comment on March 19, 2007.]

    It’s not just this episode, it’s the entire season 6 that’s underrated and unjustly reviled. I don’t think I’ve ever been as obsessed with this show as I was in that time period. There was some missteps, sure, but I found S6 to be the most emotionally hard-hitting and character driven.


  11. [Note: mike posted this comment on March 24, 2007.]

    I just wanted remind of nice touch JM does when tries to joke with Buffy “Willow getting pretty strong its hard to get good nights death around here” he starts chuckle but stops abruptly when he realizes buffy not there to joke around.There is these little touches that go under the radar that make Afterlife very memorable


  12. [Note: Ali posted this comment on April 18, 2007.]

    I totaly agree with mike about anya, yes she inflicted a lot of damage and murdered alot of people, but the fact is she never understood the meaning of her actions, more accurate she never understood or felt the pain she caused, she was untouched with her feelings, for her it was mere job. Over time she starts bonding with people, and she starts developing human emotions such as love, friendship, compassion and so far, these feelings make her able to understand the meaning, the emotional meaning of live and death.
    I actually find a lot of similarities between her and angel in that respect.


  13. [Note: robgnow posted this comment on August 23, 2007.]

    I mostly hate this season because I find a lot of it a bore to watch (including the only mildly amusing trio) and that I think the writing is lacking. However, this isn’t one of the episodes I dislike. You really presented a strong case for taking a second look at this unsung episode Mike (yeah, too much complaining about the will-o-wisp demon instead of focusing on the POINT). Perfect score? Eh-eh. But it is really good.


  14. [Note: gabrielleabelle posted this comment on November 13, 2007.]

    THANK YOU for giving this episode its due props. I love it and think it’s a wonderful introduction to S6. I know that this season isn’t highly regarded, and I understand why. But I still enjoy it immensely on a personal, purely emotional level.

    This episode in particular blows me away with the performances. SMG is excellent. And JM makes me, once again, wish I had a Spike of my own.


  15. [Note: Nix posted this comment on November 22, 2007.]

    Also, Rick, it’s not ignorance. We see in _Selfless_ that Aud (as she then was) was every bit as odd and lonely in her first life.

    As someone every bit as gaffe-prone without the excuse of ever having been a demon I can sympathise.


  16. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on December 30, 2007.]

    Wow, mike, that was a wonderful review. I had no idea this was so underrated. I mean, this is an amazingly and fascinating episode to watch. SMG and JM are just wonderful here. I also agree with you about Willow, she´s very selfish here. I just wanna smack her when she says that she actually expected a “thank you” from Buffy. But really a wonderful episode and I´m glad you give it the score it deserves.


  17. [Note: Jaden posted this comment on May 15, 2008.]

    this is a great review. however the part about how the gang were crowding buffy seems a bit unreasonable. they raised her from the dead!!! they went through alot of trouble doing it, the very least they could get is information. okay we get that buffys in pain and all but she should be able to survive her friends being concerned about her. if she doesn’t want any of the things they’re offering her then she can just reffuse them. simple. also dawn swooping in to tell the gang off annoyed me. its like if i look after a dog and you drop in to give it cuddles then which is going to make more difference in its life. sorry its just i dislike having insight in to emotions that i cant relate to.


  18. [Note: Paula posted this comment on August 28, 2008.]

    Jaden, the Scoobies’ behavior is pretty understandable from their point of view, but the point is that they’re getting the whole situation completely wrong and it will take them (and the viewers too) a while yet to realize it. Frankly, they’re rather full of themselves and not really thinking about Buffy at all.

    Buffy’s not just “in pain”, she’s mentally just plain nowhere near “Scooby space” or prepared to deal with her friends and their questions, which is incredibly understandable after hearing what she tells Spike at the end of the episode. It will take her a few days to even start to be able to act like she’s halfway normal, and even that will cost her dearly.


  19. [Note: HarFang posted this comment on August 31, 2008.]

    Seriously, I didn’t believe for one instant that Buffy could have ended up in Hell after sacrificing herself for the world, and it made total sense that she would feel both traumatized and resentful at leaving Heaven when she deserved it so much. But it is very coherent and brave of her to still lie to her friends about it, both to spare them and herself. Just as she had done after Becoming 2, when Willow was trying to get her back on track (already!). And Giles isn’t even here to realize that something is amiss and trick her into confessing it all. So she is left pouring it all out to Spike, a rather unlikely confidant. But it is also very logical since after all, he has gone through the same ordeal… and maybe “talking to the dead man’s head doesn’t make it real”. (Hey, it rhymes!)
    On the whole, the episode is so morbid and grim that it pains me to re-watch it, but I still do because of Spike’s scenes. Or I should say, Marsters’s scenes, because this was the first episode that had me really consider the actor’s performance. His “every night I save you” speech is flawlessly delivered, but the moment that really takes my breath away each and every time I watch it is the meeting in the stairs. Not a word. No great line to work with. Just plain awesome acting, and you could rewrite Shakespeare with what shows in Marsters’s eyes, and in the funny way he bends his head on the side with a tentative smile.


  20. [Note: Sam posted this comment on November 22, 2008.]

    Okay, that screenshot of Anya laughing while there are gashes on her face is REALLY creeping me out. I haven’t seen this episode in a long time; could someone please explain to me what is going on in that shot?


  21. [Note: Tony posted this comment on December 3, 2008.]

    I never ever caught that fallen angel thing. Never noticed the angel behind her. Thanks for that info, I appreciate the episode much more now.


  22. [Note: AJ posted this comment on March 12, 2009.]

    Something confused me about this episode. When Spike referred to crawling out of his own grave – didn’t Drusilla make him a vampire then and there in that alley way? Why would she leave him there, have him be buried and then he becomes a vampire? Is this poor continuity?


  23. [Note: Leelu posted this comment on March 13, 2009.]

    It pretty much is poor continuity, but I suppose there wasn’t any reason his corpse couldn’t have been discovered and buried, while unknown to his mother. Or perhaps Dru buried him. She is bonkers. She’d probably do it.

    We’ll never really know. They’ve never gone into the bit of time between Dru killing him and him rising. 8S


  24. [Note: Tara posted this comment on March 21, 2009.]

    Finally, someone who appreciates and gives this episode the true attention it deserves. A quiet, sombre and subdued masterpiece, After Life is a logical development from the Season opener. Buffy’s raw terror and disorientation that we saw in Bargaining has moved into a chilling detachment and depression that lasts almost an entire Season. I thought Bargaining was Buffy’s best Season opening by a mile, and After Life manages to top it.

    I agree that Sarah’s performance is outstanding: it’s subtle and understated, but utterly haunting, and becomes even more memorable on repeat viewings. I also have to comment on the music for this episode. The eerie minor chords playing throughout really add to the sense of all not being quite right, especially in contrast to the falsely bright and jarring music in the scene where Dawn is heading to school. When Buffy describes herself in Heaven, the score really is quite beautiful before becoming steadily darker. The fact that all this takes place on what appears to be a beautiful sunny day makes it all somehow worse, and really highlights just how seriously depressed Buffy must be.


  25. [Note: Sam posted this comment on March 28, 2009.]

    “Anyway, this is darkness done at its best and is one of the bleakest episodes of a season filled with bleak episodes. Its depressing, dark, and haunting atmosphere…is unique and surpremely compelling.”

    Hmm… I think I’m sensing a theme here. Could it be that your love of Season 6 stems from your outlook on life?


  26. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 28, 2009.]

    Actually, Sam, I’m quite an enthusiastic and optimistic person. Just because I find exploring darker themes fascinating doesn’t mean my outlook on life at all reflects that. I personally believe there’s a lot to be learned from reading into the darker aspects of life. At the very least, it serves as a cautionary tale. At best, it also inspires interesting debate and even personal growth. I state this very same point several times while reviewing Season 6.

    I’m sorry you have to resort to a personal attack to express your apparent dislike of my reviews and Season 6. You’re welcome to disagree and offer up your point of view, but please offer up actual evidence to support your position and steer clear of personal attacks.


  27. [Note: Ryan-R.B. posted this comment on March 28, 2009.]

    People who refuse to explore the darker side of life and try to put a happy face on everything are, at best, lying to themselves and, at worst, holding themselves back from a true understanding of themselves and the world at large.

    We can’t understand light without dark, and that’s something Joss understood when he wrote season six. I, for one, have always admired Joss and his staff for that insight, even at S6 and 7’s low points.


  28. [Note: Sam posted this comment on March 30, 2009.]

    Mike, I went way too far with that last comment I made, and I apologize for it. Considering how delighted I am to have stumbled upon this site and how much of your heart and soul you pour into these reviews, you really didn’t deserve that. I am truly sorry.

    Ryan, I am not someone who tries to put a happy face on everything and refuses to explore the darker side of life, although after the confrontational question I threw out, I guess I deserved that. Anyway, I’m sorry, and I plan on making my case in the boards soon.


  29. [Note: AJ posted this comment on April 21, 2009.]

    Ok I’m continuing to harp on this continuity issue here. In Season 7 – Lies My Parents Told Me – it appears that Spike returns to his mother with Dru straight after she vamps him. His mother doesn’t appear to be surprised as if she has just been to his funeral or anything. I maintain that he never dug his way out of his own grave. This is bothering me.


  30. [Note: Paula posted this comment on April 22, 2009.]

    AJ, that’s a valid continuity complaint. I’ve seen it argued though that even though Spike never had a real funeral, Dru may have buried him in a coffin just for the sake of tradition. (She buried Darla over at AtS, after all, although w/o coffin. And it’s not like burial is necessary in order for a vampire to rise.)

    Most likely though, the writers just forgot/changed their minds about that little detail.


  31. [Note: Paula posted this comment on April 22, 2009.]

    A comment I’ve been meaning to make to Harfan’s (#35):

    Seriously, I didn’t believe for one instant that Buffy could have ended up in Hell after sacrificing herself for the world

    I think Willow’s point was that since Buffy was killed supernaturally in connection with a portal to all sorts of hell dimensions opening, she fears that Buffy (well, her soul or essence or something) might be trapped in one of those. So not actual Hell as a punishment for something, but, well, no big difference.

    Not saying that I’m with Willow all the way, but her thinking the above is not incomprehensible.


  32. [Note: Sunburn posted this comment on July 6, 2009.]

    Just with regard to happy and sad outlooks, I’ve always thought that it’s only happy people that can routinely listen to sad music. When your mood is constantly fragile, you need to bolster it with lively, joyful songs. I’m not talking about heartbreak, when pretty much everyone listens to sad music because it’s the only thing they can stand, but just daily life. KVZK


  33. [Note: Rosie posted this comment on September 17, 2009.]

    “I think Willow’s point was that since Buffy was killed supernaturally in connection with a portal to all sorts of hell dimensions opening, she fears that Buffy (well, her soul or essence or something) might be trapped in one of those. So not actual Hell as a punishment for something, but, well, no big difference.”

    Did Willow ever tried to find out what happened to Buffy’s soul?


  34. [Note: Rosie posted this comment on September 18, 2009.]

    I thought that this was a first-rate review. But I had trouble with the following:

    “This is very disturbing behavior and continues to illuminate the imminent disturbance in Willow’s thought process. All the black magic she’s been using has really blended itself in with her.”

    It sounds as if you’re trying to externalize Willow’s problems with magic. You seem to be blaming the magic for her troubles and decisions . . . instead of Willow. Also, I don’t believe in the term “black magic”. I don’t accept modern Western society’s view that anything black is negative or evil. And to me, magic is neutral. It’s neither good or evil. It simply is. What made the magic that Willow negative was her. Her emotions, her desires and intent, etc., had tainted the magic. The magic did not taint her.


  35. [Note: Wendy posted this comment on November 12, 2009.]

    Mike, I love your review and I absolutely love this episode. All the scenes with Spike were superbly acted. However, I think you may have missed the cave scene which totally deserves a good mention. The way how Spike paced back and forth and tried to make sense of his feelings of worry, anxious and happy all happened at the same time because of what might the consequence be of Buffy’s resurrection. JM mastered so well with his tear stained face and his punch in the wall, etc. I’m so surprised that he didnt get an Emmy for his great acting in this series.

    This also made me reflect in life things are not always fair. Although JM is a much better actor, he doesnt have as much luck as David Boreanez. DB has his own series and unfortunately JM is still doing small roles. I guess that’s Show Biz. Mind you, I dont dislike DB, just thought that JM really deserves to have a series of his with his acting talent is all.


  36. [Note: Susan posted this comment on November 12, 2009.]

    Wendy, you said it well. I agree with your comments concerning James Marsters. I’ve gone out of my way to watch tv shows I normally wouldn’t watch when I see that he’s going to be in them, and I watched the very lame movie PS I Love You just to see him. But his acting ability was wasted in all of those parts. I wonder if we’ll ever get to see him really come to life again the way he did as Spike.


  37. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on December 2, 2009.]

    This episode had a bit of foreshadowing/repeating with ‘Once More, With Feeling’.

    One was Buffy going to visit Spike in his crypt with Spike confessing feelings for her and the other was Buffy leaving the group to go outside and meet Spike in an alley where he comments on her leaving the big group hug/sing.

    I liked all the Buffy and Spike scenes, including the wispy ghost lady as she had some good questions for Buffy and her existence.

    I wouldn’t rate it 100, but somewhere around 85.


  38. [Note: AttackedWithHummus posted this comment on April 2, 2010.]

    I absolutely agree with the underratedness of this episode and season as a whole. It is one of my favourite seasons of the series and depending on my mood is my favourite. Despite having low/dull points, I find this season also has a heightened amount of highs (while other great seasons may be more consistent, this one is earth-shattering at its best). It settles nicely into some personal scars and this episode is one that clearly demonstrates that.

    I love Epsenson drawing us into this almost-painful thank-you speech of Buffy’s – thinking “What? This can’t be true? They can’t climax here!” – and then turning around and stabbing us in the heart as she let’s go of the truth with Spike. Simply brilliant writing.


  39. [Note: Aisha posted this comment on May 26, 2010.]

    It’s interesting that the idea Anya describes of demons hitchhiking from one dimension to another is explained in the Buffyverse and then used again later. I am referring to Jasmine hitchhiking with Cordelia to come back to Angel’s dimension in Season 4 of AtS.


  40. [Note: Elbie posted this comment on June 5, 2010.]

    Does anyone else see the wispy demon as yet another metaphor of Buffy and the gang’s situation? The scoobies created something without form. Because they can’t see Buffy’s loss, they can’t understand it. And the demon can hit Buffy but she can’t hit it back. In her previous life, her problems were solvable and the demons were hit-able. Willow makes it corporeal – instead of facing the demon as a consequence of her actions, she fixes it with magic. And foreshadowing to the very end of season six, it’s Willow’s magic that took a turn for the ugly that assists in Buffy finally feeling the will to live. Its wispy-ness might not make sense but hey, we’re talking about a demon-filled universe here….


  41. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on June 7, 2010.]

    I´ve just noticed something now: Spike hitting his hand against the wall in his crypt reminded me of Xander hitting the wall in “The Body”. Both wanted to feel something other than the numbness.


  42. [Note: sarah posted this comment on August 29, 2010.]

    I share your love for this episode because it is emotionally and intellectually absorbing.

    During this season my latent uneasiness concerning Willow finally manifested in open dislike. I guess that this was not only due to rational motives but also bases upon a lack of understanding of her flaws. According to my personal theory you can relate better to people´s mistakes if you share the same faults in character to a certain extent. I can empathise with Buffy´s dominant attitude during a crisis, with Xander´s fear of long-term decisions or with Faith´s wild streak but I never understood Willow´s willingness to do unethical things in order to avoid conflicts. Honesty and openess are virtues that I really appreciate. To me Willow mindraping Tara was the worst thing a supposed good character has done during the whole series. A physical rape is aweful but a mental one in my opinion is worse: Your whole “core”, your identiy is captured and violated. Everything that constituted yourself is put into question. In a certain way Tara parallels resurrected Buffy who also lost an stable sense of identiy.

    This season shows us the unholy alliance of Willow´s to greatest flaws: Her avoidance of conflicts and her love for power that is supposed to hide her insecurity.


  43. [Note: yippers6 posted this comment on December 9, 2010.]

    something for foreshadowing is that buffy only tells spike that she was in heaven showing that she felt she couldn’t go to anyone but him


  44. [Note: John posted this comment on January 8, 2011.]

    Spike’s speech in this episode was just incredibly touching; one of the most moving moments of the entire series.


  45. [Note: Emmybecca posted this comment on January 31, 2011.]

    I know I’m a bit late for this discussion – I only just found this site a few days back despite being a total Buffy fan for years! And sorry this post has turned out to be a mammoth – didn’t realise I had so much to say!

    Most of the points I found interesting in this episode have already been discussed from all angles, so I just wanted to pick up on the comments made by Wendy and Susan about James Marsters. For some reason I never consciously acknowledged the astonishing performances in Buffy until I read this thread – all the actors are so immaculate I suppose I just expect it, but it’s an integral part of what makes Buffy so effective in taking us with and inside all the characters. In fact this is probably one (of several) reasons that Dawn grates so much – MT is inconsistent and in such company that really stands out.

    This episode is particularly intense for Spike (and Buffy obviously). In fact I love the whole character of Spike, and his ability to empathise with Buffy so much better than any of the Scoobies (love that he actually coined that term in his especially evil early days). Also, something as simple as James’ ability to do a believeable English accent is a godsend (especially compared with Dru’s horrendous cockney mash up – being English myself, it’s truly painful and ruins that whole character for me)

    Anyway, you mentioned he hasn’t done much big stuff since this (I too watched PS I Love You on the off chance, and was thoroughly horrified). If you’re American, as a lot seem to be on here, you may not be aware of an English show called Torchwood. It’s a spin off from Doctor Who – it’s pretty cult in England.

    James is in the first episode of season 2, then the big 2-part finale (12 & 13). It doesn’t quite reach Spike standards, but it really shows his skill in a way I haven’t seen since Buffy. It’s only 3 episodes, and purists will probably want to watch the first season before to set everything up. They also left the character open to return 🙂 And don’t worry – given the time-travelling nature of the show, that’s not a spoiler!

    But back to Buffy, I’ve really enjoyed reading through a lot of these reviews and discussions. Often it’s brought things to my attention I’ve not picked up before despite many viewings, or disagreeing with a point has made me think more specifically about why I think otherwise. It gives me an extra appreciation of just how genius the show in general is. I don’t agree with everything said here, and some big debates about the tiniest of issues seem a little nit-picky to me, but hey everyone’s entitled to their opinion. What is important in a show, and the appreciation of it, is always going to be hugely subjective.

    So thanks for the HUGE amount of work you (and the others) have put into this site. It’s obvioualy a labour if love that is very welcome. I’m just in the middle of a marathon rewatch session atm (I do it every couple of years or so) so this discovery couldn’t have come at a better time 🙂


  46. [Note: luv2hike posted this comment on March 9, 2011.]

    One of the best episodes to me. I love how Buffy’s and Spike’s relationship begins to deepen and evolve. SMG’s soliloquy at the end about being in Heaven is powerful, moving, dark, and done to perfection!


  47. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on March 20, 2011.]

    I recently rewatched this episode in an attempt to start appreciating some of the more daring aspects of S6, and hoping that some day I will eventually be able to watch most S6 episodes without wanting to crawl under a rock. This time around, I actually did notice a couple of classic Espenson-y lines (both from Anya) that made me laugh out loud, and provided a brief moment of respite amongst all the oppressive bleakness.

    BUFFY: I just figured it was me. Like, I was going crazy.

    ANYA: Maybe you are going crazy, from Hell. (Everyone stares at Anya) No, you’re fine.

    ANYA: Coffee, coffee, coffee. Hot chocolate for Dawn. (to Dawn) You’re too young for coffee.

    DAWN (possessed by ghost): IDIOT.

    ANYA: You can have my coffee.

    In fact, I actually like the episode a great deal more than I used to. There’s something austerely beautiful about the quietness of it all.


  48. [Note: Al posted this comment on May 2, 2011.]

    Way late to the discussion here, but just wanted to add to Nix(#19)’s comment above.

    “We see in _Selfless_ that Aud (as she then was) was every bit as odd and lonely in her first life.”

    Anya started out life as human *then* became a demon. Granted she was a demon for 1000+ years, but she was at her core a human woman first and her demon nature was an extension of her human self, just the worst parts.

    It just really “grates my cheese” that every one is so willing to accept Anya and makes excuses for her commentaries because she was a demon and only recently became human. She was always herself, its just for the longest time (her demonized self) she only showed/expressed her worst nature, and is just now coming to grips with her better half.

    End rant. Sorry about that, if for some reason this doesn’t belong here in the commentaries feel free to delete/edit/move this post.

    BTW I have to agree with pretty much everything this review has to say about this episode. The end scene with SMG/JM is on the list of my most memorable Buffy moments.




  49. [Note: Nix posted this comment on July 26, 2011.]

    Al, you’re right. Actually, it’s not just Aud: it becomes clear in _Selfless_ that her *whole village* is like that, the Village of the Cluelessly Pedantic. Why remains comically unexplained…


  50. [Note: ShinyNorman posted this comment on August 8, 2011.]

    This episode for me is continuing to explore our human need for projection and delusion, both of which are not bad things psychologically. They’re not pathologies. All of the characters go through moments of denying themselves for the sake of the others, which we all do at some time or another. Xander is most consistent in his bull-in-china-shop self centeredness, whereas Anya is fully cognizant that she is confused, and makes amends for that. Xander’s hatred is full bore, and he ‘defends’ the Scoobies with bluster, much more bluster than Spike ever puts forth.

    Buffy says to the group that she is grateful, but she isn’t, and doesn’t quite know why. She says to Spike in the alley that she was complete, and knew that they were all alright, which they weren’t at all. They were in chaos, so how could Buffy know things were alright? She is telling herself that. Buffy is telling herself that she was in heaven, but I don’t think she knew where she’d been by that point, and that she didn’t know what to think, but she has to explain things to herself in a conclusive way anyways. She seems to have reached a point in her reintegration, not uncommon with all trauma recoveries, where you tell yourself whatever is necessary for logic to hold itself together. I think that this is very insightful writing and plot-character development. I also think Buffy is coming to terms here with not being destined any longer, of having lost her destiny innocence. We are foreshadowing later chaotic developments.

    We as outside observers see that nothing there is what it seems, and that everyone’s assumptions only fit what is needed to be fit. This should bring about discomfort, because we as humans are socialized to fix things and to not just let them be what they are. (This we call ‘progress.’) Buffy is all about Chaos, and the need to make order out of it. Control and order easily becomes a shackle of consequences. If Buffy is a study in irony, it progresses from S1 through S6. What begins with fun camp later becomes a study in existentialism and its discontents. Buffy says to Spike that she doesn’t understand theology, but that she thinks she was in heaven — she doesn’t really know where she was. She imagines, or so it seems, that compared to the harsh brassiness of the Reality, it was warm and cozy. We do not really know, nor can we, but must be careful to listen closely to the dialogue — she never says that she knows that she was in heaven.


  51. [Note: Dave posted this comment on August 18, 2011.]

    I would have loved to see Spike or Buffy just clock Willow. The inconsiderate, rude, childish selfishness she had, expecting praise, the look on her face when Buffy lied to her. Pathetic. It should’ve been obvious from Buffy’s attitude that she isn’t happy to be here. Spike can immediately see she she was lying, when he asks if she’s really okay. However unlike her “friends”, he doesn’t push, and lets her talk in her own time.


  52. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on August 19, 2011.]

    Actually, Buffy’s friends didn’t push. Willow actively avoided finding out how Buffy was really feeling, cause she was afraid of what she’d hear. There’s a great scene in “Flooded” that shows just this. Buffy is taking out her anger on the punching bag after being denied the loan. Willow tells Buffy that she hasn’t been very emotionally expressive lately, then sort of falters. The camera stays steady on Buffy and it looks like she might, maybe, actually open up to Willow again. But then Willow quickly changes the subject and then leaves.

    It would have been ridiculously out of character for Buffy to punch Willow at any point in the show (outside of Two to Go and Grave), but especially now, when she’s depressed and feeling dead inside. And Spike can’t punch people. And, bad as she’s behaving, a punch is not at all what Willow needs.

    I think they can all see that she’s not fine, Spike is just more open to hearing about WHY. Willow in particular, though probably also Dawn, Xander, and Anya, don’t want to here why because it could mean that it was a mistake to bring her back. And they really don’t want to deal with that.

    Very interesting points, ShinyNorman. I did always wonder if Buffy was really in Heaven.


  53. [Note: Gon posted this comment on October 25, 2011.]

    As I consider “Bargaining 1 & 2” as one unique episode, this is the first BtVS episode without Giles. I like season 6 very much, but I think it suffers from a problem: the lack of strong male characters. With Riley leaving the show and Giles being absent, we only have 2 main masculine roles (Xander and Spike) for 5 female roles (Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Tara and Anya). Plus, during season 6 & 7, Xander gets more and more superfluous (which is a pity!), and Spike turns to be the only main masculine character to have a strong story.


  54. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on November 30, 2011.]

    On another watch I realised that perhaps it would have been a better plot if it was Buffy’s hate manifested on the group.

    I got this thought while the bedroom scene with Willow and Tara was showing. That while Buffy is asleep her anger towards the gang manifests and terrorises them. This would give a clue to the end of the episode when Buffy reveals the truth to Spike.


  55. [Note: BGAP posted this comment on March 7, 2012.]

    I can now say I’m in the camp of those who feel BtVS gets better with each season. (maybe premature, as I’ve only watched the first 3 episodes of season 6) But wow, oh wow, great stuff so far. I have to wonder if it’s because I went through my own dark, heavy times in my mid 20’s, after a relatively happy childhood and teen years.


  56. [Note: Ryan ONeil posted this comment on May 18, 2012.]

    First of all, I’d like to reiterate Paula’a response to HarFang: Yes, they didn’t think Buffy was in Hell because she was somehow a bad person, they thought it was more like Acathla, that that’s just where the portal went regardless of the person trapped in it.

    Secondly: Rosie, I think there should be a distinction between Willow’s “Dark Magic” and Tara’s more natural, “Earth Magic” (Nice pun Whedon: Terra). Tara had grown up with magic, even though her father tried to brainwash her into thinking it was fundamentally evil, and viewed it as a thing in of itself. Willow had started learning combat magic as a means to an end after spending years as a wallflower, so it affected her differently.

    Thirdly: I couldn’t help be be reminded of when Oz caught Willow and Xander making out behind his back and told her he needed some space before they could be together again. When Willow ran into him in the hall, she tried some small talk before Oz shut her down that he already told her what he needed, that he couldn’t help but think that Willow was just trying to make herself feel better, and that that wasn’t his problem. I wish someone could’ve reminded Willow of that.


  57. [Note: wytchcroft posted this comment on June 11, 2012.]

    Just to say (on my nth go around through your site) that this is up there with your review of Restless, great stuff; insightful and illuminating, full of fresh perspectives and free of the usual character/writer/season/actor prejudices that afflict many a site and many a fandom.

    The read is pure pleasure.




  58. [Note: Candice posted this comment on June 23, 2012.]

    I’m watching Buffy for the first time and I have to agree the show is amazing and Season 5 was one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen. I’m really enjoying Season 6 so far and it’s deep exploration of life/death and existentialism.

    Couple of things I wanted to bring up/discuss about this episode:

    Buffy says “I knew the people I loved were alright”, but we know from Bargaining Part I that they clearly weren’t. They were barely holding it together and were painfully lonely and depressed without her, especially Dawn. This is seen through their interactions with the Buffybot (by the way, does anybody else find it extremely disturbing that they kept a robotic replica of their dead friend/sister, just hanging out with them, pretending to live Buffy’s life?) Which I think pretty much says it all. They said they kept the Buffybot to keep doing the slaying and so that no one would know Buffy was dead, but the real reason they kept it was because they needed some presence of Buffy in their lives, because a fake Buffy is better than no Buffy at all, and her total absence would be too painful to bare. The fact that Dawn sleeps next to a replica of her sister shows her aching sadness and loss. Giles ends up leaving for England because for him the presence of the Buffybot only makes him feel the loss of the real Buffy more completely. He tries to pretend as long as possible that the Buffybot is Buffy and fools himself so much in this that he tries to give a lesson to the Buffybot about chi and breath (something the Buffybot obviously has no understanding of since it’s not alive), but it’s only when the Buffybot bluntly points this out that he realizes what he’s doing and is smacked with the pain of reality that the Buffybot is not and will never be the real Buffy, and coming face to face with this realization makes his pain too intolerable to stay in Sunnydale any longer, and that’s when he finally leaves. For Buffy’s friends and sister, the Buffybot is there to keep them holding on, because they don’t know how to live without Buffy. It’s only because Willow and the others so deeply believe that they are going to bring Buffy back that they are willing to abandon the robot when the demon bikers come, but you get the impression that even if the robot was damaged, they would have gone back to repair it or built another one if the spell didn’t work and Buffy didn’t come back. When Dawn finds the damaged Buffybot, she is clearly heartbroken and cries as if the robot is real when she thinks its damaged beyond repair, but its only when the Buffybot mentions seeing the real Buffy that Dawn suddenly comes to life and runs off to find Buffy, running after only the possibility, the hope, that she is alive, without any care for her own safety when the demon bikers are still on the loose. I’m mentioning all this to present the case that Buffy’s friends and sister were clearly depressed and in pain at the loss of Buffy before she came back, so despite what Buffy says, her loved ones were not alright. They were alright in the sense that they were alive, but that’s about it. In fact, they were alright in the same way that Buffy is now alright, alive but dead inside. Which brings me to my main point. It seems that there is a reversal of depression going on here, all the pain and depression Buffy’s friends and sister were feeling have now been transferred to Buffy. Later in the season Buffy says she feels like she’s just “going through the motions”, which is exactly what Buffy’s friends and sister were doing with the Buffybot and in their own lives. Does anyone else see this transfer of grief, loss, and depression?

    Also, I understand Buffy’s situation is extremely traumatic and painful and she has to go through this huge loss of losing being in peace and happiness. However, after some period of adjustment, don’t you think she should see this as a unique opportunity to live the rest of her life, which was tragically cut off while she was really still just a kid, get what happiness and purpose she can out of it, and then at some point later die with the secure knowledge and comfort that she’ll return to that place of complete happiness and peace again? I sympathize with Buffy but at the same time I feel like, she has a chance to do something here no one else ever gets to do, live a second life, and live it knowing someday you will return to a place of total contentment that you not only securely and thoroughly know with 100% assurance exists but that you have already been to. Yes she lost heaven, but the thing is she’ll go back there again someday, so it’s not a permanent loss. It’s more like getting a second chance at life knowing at the end of that life is something even better and more wonderful. Who can ask for anything more than that? Does anybody else see that as a huge gift and amazing opportunity that she should be, I don’t know, somewhat grateful for?

    Finally, the way she looked at her mother’s picture when she first walked in the house, did anybody else think that she was with her mother in heaven and now she’s not, which makes her loss felt even more, which is what that expression of pain was really about? If she wasn’t with her mother in heaven, that is truly sad, and I don’t know how she could say that she was completely happy.


  59. [Note: keekey posted this comment on June 23, 2012.]

    Hi Candice, I’m glad that you are enjoying the show!

    On your “transfer of grief, loss, depression” point, I totally agree. I think it’s significant that the first two episodes of Season 6 are called “Bargaining.” The five stages of grief have been described as (1) denial, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance, and the events of “Bargaining” seem to show Buffy’s family and friends at various early stages in the grieving process. Willow has reached the “bargaining” phase and so tries to use magic to essentially negotiate a new outcome for Buffy. And Willow’s bargaining actually works here–but because Willow cut short her own grieving process, it transfers over to Buffy who must then wrestle with the fourth stage–depression. I think this “transfer of grief” goes back to Spike’s warning that there are always consequences to magic. Willow tries to avert a natural process that’s been set in motion (grieving) through a magical resolution but the grieving process goes on regardless–it just shifts over to Buffy. By sparing herself her own pain, Willow has inflicted it on Buffy.

    Anyway, just my thoughts! Buffy’s line that “I knew the people I loved were all right” has always bothered me too for the same reasons that you cite. I take it to be part of Buffy’s experience of the after life–her sense of peace there required the belief that everyone she loved was all right. Her depression after she returns seems to blind her to the fact that her friends and family actually were miserable and desperately needed her.


  60. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 23, 2012.]

    Nice comments, Candice and keekey.

    My thought on the whole “I knew my friends were at peace” stems from the idea that the afterlife doesn’t have a linear notion of time. I took her comment as meaning ‘I know they will be all be okay’ more than that ‘I know they are all okay right that moment in our time.’ As we know with hell dimensions (see “Anne”), time can actually move differently from our reality as well.

    Taking both of these ideas into consideration, I don’t see Buffy’s comment as odd at all. In fact, I can even see it as possibly prophetic in that it could pertain to where the Scoobies end up after their mortal lives, as if when in Heaven Buffy could know that her friends will make it there one day too.

    That’s my take on it, at least. 🙂


  61. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on June 23, 2012.]

    I also wanted to add that it’s easy for you or I to throw some logic at Buffy and, say, ‘hey, get over it. You’ll be back there later!’ But in the short term I can’t imagine it would feel anything less than a massive loss to Buffy. Only time can give her peace, healing, and perspective. I think by the end of Season 6 she does, in fact, realize that she has more that she can offer this world (and Dawn is a big part of it). But until that ‘epiphany,’ all she has is the heartbreaking loss of a heavenly state and all the harsh realities of life on Earth and life as the Slayer to contend with again. In “The Gift,” she was done, at peace. Now what? Her mom’s gone, responsibilities are piling up, and she has to deal with what must be overwhelming jetlag from Heaven?

    Personally, I think it’s a miracle she eventually figured things out. Even better? That conclusion actually feels earned by the story and doesn’t tarnish the lasting power of “The Gift” like the first three episodes of Season 3 tarnish the lasting power of “Becoming.”


  62. [Note: keekey posted this comment on June 24, 2012.]

    Hi MikeJer,

    I like your thought on Buffy’s line about “I knew my friends were at peace” (i.e., she is speaking in terms of them being ok at a much later point–possibly in their own after lives). That fits with Buffy telling Spike that the absence has been “longer” for her. With that perspective, it would also make sense for Buffy to be fearful that her return could impact her friends and family in a way that results in worse eventual outcomes for them.

    Thanks again for your terrific reviews (and everybody’s interesting comments)! They deepen my appreciation for the show immensely.


  63. [Note: Rob W. posted this comment on July 14, 2012.]

    I was watching the end of S5 last night, and then, as usually happens, I had to stay up and go all the way through After Life. That stretch from Gift to AL is amazing and includes one (Bargaining Pt 2) of the two episodes that I saw during the show’s original run, sparking my interest for when I finally took the plunge last year.

    MikeJer, I agree with keekey that your comment about “I know they will all be okay” is a good insight and helps smooth out that wrinkle for me.

    keekey: “it would also make sense for Buffy to be fearful that her return could impact her friends and family in a way that results in worse eventual outcomes for them”

    I’ve thought this often about Buffy herself. It’s bad enough that she gets torn from the warm fuzzy completeness, but any number of things could keep her from it eternally (Acathla-type scenario, or that she’d eventually turn dark or selfish and thus not merit another shot at Heaven). I hadn’t really thought before that bringing her back could have a similar impact on her friends. I suppose it’s possible, on the other hand, that being brought back to life was in the stars all along, and is part of how her friends all make it to “okay” some day.


  64. [Note: Janice posted this comment on November 5, 2012.]

    Mike, another gorgeous and insightful review! I tend to think of Bargaining and After Life as a single three-part arc, at least emotionally. After Life is one of my favorite episodes and I agree is much underrated.One thing about the sequence on the stairs, which echoes the scene in The Gift (“You treat me like a man”), in which btw Buffy was also wearing white, and standing in the same position on the stairs; only this time she is descending rather than ascending to Spike’s level (heavy foreshadowing for the remainder of the season). The image of Buffy buttoning her shirt, then giving up and crossing her arms over her body makes me want to cry, even in screencaps, because what her expression and posture communicate to me is a sense of SHAME, something I rarely see accurately done in tv or movie performances. (SMG’s performance here is astonishing – she communicates so much with such economy of means.)My experience with depression (and with having grown up in a deeply dysfunctional family) is that shame is a major element of the experience. As opposed to “guilt” – which for convenience sake I’ll define as feeling bad about one’s behavior – shame in this context is feeling bad about oneself without having any particular reason; not bad about an action which can be corrected/addressed, but feeling that one’s core self is wrong and is lacking. It’s confusing and frustrating for the person feeling it because it’s hard to put one’s finger on (like the wispy demon in the episode), to identify for what it is. Feeling bad for something you did or didn’t do is very different from feeling bad for being oneself, which is something there is no “cure” for. This connects very strongly to what happens later in the season, why it’s easy for Buffy to believe that she “came back wrong”, because she already fundamentally believes it on at least a subconscious level long before Spike says it to her in Smashed.

    – QUOTE -It seems that there is a reversal of depression going on here, all the pain and depression Buffy’s friends and sister were feeling have now been transferred to Buffy.

    Candace that is an excellent point, one I really haven’t seen stated elsewhere; and I think we will see this dynamic reversed yet again in S7, in terms of Buffy helping Willow and Spike in their depressive states (which will be reversed yet again, or rather returned in kind, by Spike in Touched).

    – QUOTE -don’t you think she should see this as a unique opportunity to live the rest of her life, which was tragically cut off while she was really still just a kid, get what happiness and purpose she can out of it

    Candace, have you ever read Susan Rose Blauner’s book, “How I Stayed Alive While My Brain was Trying to Kill Me”? As someone dealing with depression, it’s the only book I’ve found in all this time that’s been genuinely helpful; it describes the experience from the inside, by someone who has fought and continues to triumph not only over depression but suicidal ideations. One of the things her book makes very clear is that depression is not about “willpower”; there are actual chemical and physical components involved in mental illness (which is as real as any other physical illness). As someone who has suffered with depression, I have all the shoulds very well absorbed, as Buffy does in this season – “I should be happy to be alive again”, “I shouldn’t be sleeping with my mortal enemy” “I should lie to make sure I don’t hurt my friends”, etc. The shoulds and should nots are very well internalized, and it’s the failure to make oneself match up to those often unreasonable expectations that only compound the depression, shame and sense of worthlessness or failure. I have found that in my personal experience and that of EVERY other person I know who struggles with depression there is at least one person, usually immediate family (parent or spouse), someone who should theoretically “know us” better than anyone, who tells us that we “should” snap out of it, we “shouldn’t” mope, etc etc And oftentimes, that person is someone who themselves is suffering from some sort of depression but unable to deal with it or even admit they have it. The fact that someone near to them is suffering depression and is trying to do something about it or at least admit it out loud, is terrifying to that person because what does it say about them? This is where your comments about the gang’s depression being transferred onto Buffy come full circle. Willow and the others (including Giles) can’t admit to their own depression, admit that they have been depressed, because it is too terrifying. And as in earlier seasons, when it was up to Buffy to handle the physical monsters, here she is left to shoulder the burden of the inner demons as you correctly state – but she can only fight her own person demons, not Willow’s or anyone else’s.And this is not a fight that can be won by punching someone, and in fact may never be “won” in any traditional sense of being “defeated, over and done with”; not a war but a series of battles day in and day out. (I’ve been lucky enough to have some resources to turn to – an excellent therapist, community clinics, anti-depressents. These don’t “cure” me but support me in my efforts to keep living and fighting. Buffy, alas, seems to have none of these supports or resources – I’ll leave out the stay at the clinic we’re told about in Normal Again out of the conversation at the moment, as that gets into another discussion entirely.


  65. [Note: Arachnea posted this comment on March 7, 2013.]

    The greatest openings of Buffy so far with these three episodes and I decided to make just one comment for the three, here.

    First the nitpick: I can understand why young people would use the bot, but not Giles. It’s creepy and awful for everyone, especially for Dawn and it sure doesn’t help to deal with the loss of Buffy. Perhaps, I’d be ok to use her on patrol, but certainly not to hide Buffy’s death and become a substitute to let Dawn remain without a legal guardian nor financial resources. And the bike demons were hokey.

    Everything else was impressive, from the shooting (camera) to the acting. It rang so true that Buffy would do anything to comfort her friends. Having lived through it myself, I remember how much energy I would spend to smile, make my loved one comfortable, lie to them about my mental state just to be left alone with my pain and let them go on with their lives. And you know, it works, because that’s what people expect, you smiling saying you’ve never been better. Thank you Janice for the comment about guilt and shame.

    I found the contrast between the scoobies and Spike very well portrayed. It’s like when you come back from the hospital after a trauma, you always have the cheery ones and the calm ones: obviously, you’re drawn to the calm and I understood perfectly why poor Buffy would go seek comfort by Spike.

    The dialogue in the shadows was very powerful. At first, I was bugged by the: “I knew everyone was ok”, but then I linked it with The Gift. Buffy was content to die and her wish – even if it was unrealistic – was that everyone would be alright. I like to read her state in death by her own projection of happiness: we would go to a place that would make us feel happy. Every word she utters is about what she always wished: warmth, love, peace, no violence, no more responsibilities, her loved ones happy. In a nutshell, her ideal idea of heaven. Then, there’s the commentary about hell on earth; life, at times, seems like hell. It was gut-wrenching to watch all the suffering and inner turmoil of Buffy.

    I also wanted to make parallels between Buffy and Willow, to understand why Willow had been bent to be corrupted by her powers and not Buffy:
    – before becoming a slayer, Buffy had a normal and comfortable life and loving parents, she was popular and confident; Willow was already an outcast at school for being a shy nerd + lack of confidence and self-esteem.
    – After becoming a slayer, Buffy still had a loving mother. Willow seemed to have oblivious parents.
    – Buffy had a guide, a watcher who gave her insight, advices, schedules, training, limits and even love. Even if she didn’t always listened to him, it was clear she needed Giles. Willow had nobody to guide her or to give her limits.
    – Buffy was put on a pedestal, was always the center of attention, no matter what. She received thanks, even a moment of glory. Willow was the useful sidekick and wasn’t thanked for every contribution she made, be it with research, magic or computer skills.
    – Buffy has a destiny, a purpose; granted, it was imposed on her, but the path was clear even if she didn’t fully accepted it at first. Willow chose to be there and help; to be even more useful, she took the path of enlarging her knowledge of magic. So during the time when people construct who they are (adolescence), Willow constructed her own definitions of good/bad/wrong/right on her own.

    Now, I’m not saying that Buffy’s path was easy and that Willow is a poor thing ! I just think it’s interesting to put things in perspective to better understand how Willow is/will becoming so scary. That’s the first steps in her addiction: 1. delusions, projections of what she wishes to be true.

    I believe she convinced herself that Buffy was in a hell dimension and was ready to do anything to bring her back: at first, the intent was good. What we’ve seen throughout the seasons is that she’s totally oblivious about the dangers of magic, while Tara is very respectful of its power. So, my quibble is about Tara’s behaviour in these episodes that I find very out of character. What I liked is the fact that Willow, deep down, knows the spell she’s going to perform is wrong: she knows Giles and Spike wouldn’t let her do it, period. She knows her friends wouldn’t have let her do it had they known all the implications, but she hides all the bad. I felt sorry for Xander who trusted her best friend, didn’t know into what he put his feet, was lied to and had to suffer all the consequences, while being the unheard voice of reason.

    Great great great material and thanks Mike to have given this one a well deserved P !


  66. [Note: Henrik posted this comment on June 25, 2013.]

    This comment echoes much of what I wrote yesterday as a reply to Bargaining, I just don’t feel the Willow-hate yet. That Buffy might be trapped in a Hell dimension is a very valid concern given for instance what happened to Angel. No one had a clear understanding about how the Key really worked.

    Something else that isn’t talked about much is that this situation gets worse since Buffy won’t explain what really happened and put on a fake happy face and lies to the gang. It alienates her further when the best thing probably would’ve been to confront the situation together. The resurrection was understandable, but from Buffys POV a very big mistake. Shouldn’t they deal with the aftermath together? Speaking again about Willow, wouldn’t it have been better if she had know what really happened, instead of getting a big boost to her confidence that she did the right thing? She might had been more accepting of Giles outburst in the very next episode… Shattering her delusions now would have been better.

    I think I didn’t expressed that in my last comment but some great discussion here, both in the review and comments, even when I disagree!


  67. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on November 1, 2013.]

    I want to point out that the Scoobies had a reason for believing that Buffy was in hell, for they had seen her dive into the hellmouth.

    Spike is obviously a flawed character, but his love for Buffy is amazing and complete. He loves not always wisely but too well.

    I think the noncorporeal versus corporeal evil made an interesting metaphor: some evils are impossible to fight because you can’t reach them. Giving form to something – like admitting you have an addiction – is the first step in conquering it in life, too.


  68. [Note: ElectricNova posted this comment on November 2, 2013.]

    Nah,really the Scoobies had no reason to think she was in hell.

    When Angel ended up in hell his physical body was literally shoved in. Buffy’s was still just lying on the ground, seems unlikely that dying “near” a portal(that went to literally everywhere by the way, all dimensions. not just hell)
    would put her in hell.

    Willow just sorta pressured everyone into the resurrection by saying “Oh well she might be being tortured in hell, oh no what if she is, we’d be horrible people if we just left her there” which played on everyone’s fears. Xander certainly wouldn’t be involved otherwise.


  69. [Note: EdwardH posted this comment on January 20, 2014.]

    I just realized that when Spike says that magic always has consequences he could be foreshadowing the real consequence of bringing Buffy back, Tara’s death. If Buffy hadn’t been resurrected Warren wouldn’t have fired the fatal shot that killed Tara; I believe Willow realizes this as shown in the comic’s’ It’s kind of a life for a life sacrifice.


  70. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on January 20, 2014.]

    I’d say all the pain experienced by the characters in season six is a consequence of bringing Buffy back…


  71. [Note: EdwardH posted this comment on January 21, 2014.]

    True, but Willow was the one to directly bring Buffy back and Willow who, in the end, paid the ultimate price by losing her one true love.


  72. [Note: Nix posted this comment on October 8, 2014.]

    One awful possibility which is (thankfully) neither confirmed nor denied by the text is that the Scoobies were right. Buffy *was*, in a sense, in hell: in this interpretation, there are no heavenly dimensions (I don’t think we ever hear of any others). Specifically, the sensations she was experiencing were the sensations of a fly caught by a spider, sensations designed to keep the prey peaceful and harmless while they’re not being used. Who by? By the First Evil: this was the copy of her in the First Evil’s mystical storage banks. We *know* the First takes a copy of everyone who dies, and we *know* that copy can influence the physical world: it’s not too hard to imagine that you could take a copy of that copy and overlay it back on the physical body again to reanimate it.

    So, yes, happy and peaceful — but heaven? Not so much.

    Thankfully, though, this isn’t textually supported to any great degree (the last thing this universe needs is *more* darkness). It’s just consistent with what we see, I think.


  73. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on October 8, 2014.]

    This is contradicted by Angel‘s “Inside Out” where demon Skip confirms that a Slayer (referring to Buffy) came out of heaven. He could of course have been wrong, but that’d be a mighty stretch.


  74. [Note: Nix posted this comment on October 9, 2014.]

    Ah. I haven’t got that far (just got past the justly-panned Provider in my first Angel watchthrough). But thank goodness.


  75. [Note: Freudian Vampire posted this comment on October 10, 2014.]

    You might want to see the episode before you say that. A lot of fans do not consider “Inside Out” to be canon (for reasons I cannot go into without spoilers).


  76. [Note: AnnaLeigh posted this comment on October 8, 2015.]

    I’ve just re-watched this episode for the millionth time, and something just occurred to me. If Buffy was so depressed why didn’t she let the whispy demon-ghost thing kill her? Then she’d presumably go back to where she was…

    Any thoughts?


  77. [Note: MichaelJB posted this comment on November 13, 2015.]

    I’d like to expand on the connection between Buffy and Spike that you talked about, specifically this wonderful piece of dialogue:
    SPIKE: Clawed her way out of her coffin…. Isn’t that right?
    BUFFY: Yeah, that’s what I had to do.
    SPIKE: I’ve done it myself.

    I have found that in the midst of any trauma – and after it, for that matter – there is a strong tendency to gravitate towards other people who have experienced/are experiencing that same darkness. It is the search for understanding, for validation – this is what Spike is able to give to Buffy that no other character in this season can provide, and it’s why Buffy becomes increasingly drawn to Spike (at least initially, before it takes a darker and less healthy form – as this type of pain-based-attraction almost inevitably does). This mutual understanding is demonstrated again when Spike punches the wall in his crypt, creating exactly the same physical injury on his knuckles that Buffy has from crawling out of the grave. And of course, right after he does this, who shows up? Buffy.


  78. [Note: B posted this comment on September 28, 2016.]

    SMG deserved an Emmy for her portrayal of Buffy Summers. I hope one day she’s able to find another role that allows her to stretch and flex her acting muscles. Such an underrated and unappreciated actress.


  79. [Note: Kit posted this comment on October 29, 2016.]

    I kinda got the feeling Willow didn’t tell Giles the full story about how Buffy came back over the phone, given how brief and jokey she was describing it to Tara and how mad Giles got when he does get back. I haven’t watched the rest of the season in a while, but I can’t remember if Willow ever tried to take responsibility for what she did. Sure, she brought Buffy back, but does she do anything this season outside of just expecting Buffy to be happy for their sake?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s