[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Fury | Director: David Fury | Aired: 01/08/2002]
“Gone” is an episode that tries to juggle comedy and character growth in the middle of a season who’s tone is decidedly not funny. I don’t have a huge problem with the writers attempting to inject a little fun in here, but this episode is often not actually very funny. With that said, there’s still some value to be salvaged from it. This value includes some solid character development, a few entertaining scenes, some nice realizations, and a few hints of what’s to come.
At the beginning of the episode, Buffy’s going off about not giving into temptation right as she stumbles upon Spike’s lighter. Although a little convenient in timing, the reminder here of how dependent Buffy is of Spike now is still appropiate. Even though Buffy appears to have thrown the lighter into the “magic clearance” box, we find out very soon that the lighter ends up in her pocket, a clear symbol that Buffy is still failing at overcoming her temptation and overall rut.
Very soon after this, Spike hilariously comes running into the house with a blanket over his head while proceeding to lightly push himself onto Buffy, and she continues to let him. At this point comments like Xander’s “Only a complete loser would ever hook up with you [Spike]. Well, unless she’s a simpleton like Harmony, or a, or a nut sack like Drusilla-” only unknowingly make Buffy crawl further away from being open with her friends, which thereby draws her even closer to Spike. This is some solid character development for Buffy that really sets up the brilliant psychological look at their relationship in “Dead Things” [6×13] .
When the social services lady arrives (Doris), the picture of Buffy’s life that’s viewable from the outside world is not exactly a thrilling one. Doris is not particularly portrayed as a good guy here, but what’s interesting is that, in reality, she really isn’t that bad. Although we know and love Buffy and her friends and can sympathize with them when they’re having a really hard time, imagine things from more of an outsider perspective. If I were Dorris, I’m not sure I would come to much of a different first impression than she had. Think about it: no full-on adults around, Buffy has no job, there’s some other girl living in the house that’s “not feeling well,” there’s a shady British guy in a big black leather coat hanging around, and there’s some magic weed lying around in the open. That doesn’t add up to a meal fit for healthy a teenage girl to me either. Although we know the situation more intimately and know Buffy just needs some time to pull her life together before having Dawn taken away from her, I can certainly also sympathize with the job of a social service worker to look out for teens in bad situations.
With her life continuing to push inward on her, Buffy tries to change herself in the hopes that maybe it’ll help snap her out of her post-resurrection funk. At first she thinks cutting her hair will make a difference. It turns out that, no surprise, that’s just a physical change and doesn’t really help matters. Then Buffy gets accidentally shot by the Trio’s invisibility ray, which eventually leads to the sequence where Inviso-Buffy has fun with Doris. This oddly works for me, is pretty funny, and fits with Buffy feeling like she can do whatever she wants without feeling guilty over it. This will soon spill over into having fun sex with Spike… and not beating herself up over it for a change. However, this leads to something interesting that happens.
This scene, in Spike’s crypt, really gets at the point of the episode which, as I pointed out, is pretty decent in of itself. Buffy says “What’s the matter? Ashamed to be seen with me? Come on. He had no idea I was here. This is perfect.” Spike aptly replies, “Perfect for you … This vanishing act’s right liberating for you, innit? Go anywhere you want. Do anything you want. Or anyone … The only reason you’re here, is that you’re not here.” He goes on to point out that she’s not too put off by the fact she’s invisible, to which she replies with, “No! Maybe because for the first time since … I’m free. Free of rules and reports … free of this life.” Summing up my response to that comment, Spike says, “Free of life? Got another name for that. Dead.”
Essentially being this liberated from herself and her responsibilities is like another form of suicide. She’s acting out a life that’s not real so she doesn’t have to face the other, more painful, one. This desire is something she doesn’t actually deal with until “Normal Again” [6×17] , which takes the idea brought up in this episode and runs with it to astounding emotional heights. This shows more solid thought put into Buffy’s character arc than the season hardly ever gets credit for. Also, kudos to Spike for recognizing that having sexual fun with an invisible Buffy isn’t much different than playing with the empty BuffyBot which, by the way, is not the same as recognizing that Buffy’s completely using him as a glorified sex toy. That he won’t fully understand until S7.
The ending Buffy/Willow conversation is good as well. Buffy admits that she — in the middle of her “no see me” fest — actually got scared at the thought of dying. I’d call that a good step in the right direction. It’s just a shame there wasn’t an overall better episode to support this realization.
While Buffy’s development in this episode is pretty intriguing, I can’t say the same for Willow’s. This episode furthers the idea that Willow’s big problem is a drug addiction. The opening scene (among others) re-inforces this. I continue to feel this is the wrong direction for the character. When Xander suspects Willow might be accidentally responsible for making Buffy invisible, he says “who’d be messing with that kind of powe-.” That’s the direction they should be going in here, but instead we cut to Willow sucking down water bottles and physically struggling to control herself from using casual magic.
As I mentioned in my “Wrecked” [6×10] review, this aspect — so heavily represented in that episode — is rather unfortunately carried over into subsequent episodes. So here it is in “Gone.” This makes the vast majority of the episode’s development for Willow fairly uninteresting to watch, although thankfully it’s not a large focus of this episode. With all that said, I really do enjoy that Xander immediately thought of Willow when something magically wacky happened to Buffy — that’s simply great continuity.
The Trio finally gets some decent yet subtle development as well. I really appreciate, in retrospect, the Trio more than I ever did before when first seeing S6. The fact that they’re the only external threat to the Scoobies at this point is understandably baffling when first seeing the season, but in reality they’re really not the real villains, although Warren’s descent into true villainry is made all the more powerful and shocking by the contrasting setup. For example, Andrew brings up the point that the Slayer could be watching them as they speak. The way they all buy into Andrew’s further ridiculousness for a second is actually pretty funny. This bit of innocent humor actually works here, where it clearly won’t after Warren’s actions in “Dead Things” [6×13] .
When first watching the season, I was pretty tired of the Trio’s goofy antics at this point. But knowing where they’re headed makes these earlier, goofier moments feel a lot more necessary. Without this kind of innocent humor, what’s to come wouldn’t be nearly as shocking and interesting. “Dead Things” [6×13] then demonstrates how much of a real effect they can have on Buffy in her emotionally unstable state and “Normal Again” [6×17] uses the Trio to highlight the fact that Buffy’s life is truly screwed up right now. All in all, solid setup and nice follow-through for the Trio. In addition to the humor here, we begin to see how Warren is morally separating himself from the rest of the group when he makes it clear that he doesn’t care if Buffy dies and then, later, even tries to facilitate her death.
Unfortunately, “Gone” really starts to go awry when the Trio’s silly plan intersects with Buffy’s troubles. The writers try to somehow get a light, funny episode while simultaneously tackling Buffy’s problems… and it just doesn’t mix together in a satisfying way. Frankly, the episode’s just too silly for it’s own good. I kind of like the concept in theory: Buffy becomes invisible and completely lets out her inhibitions with the thinking that it doesn’t matter if no one can see her. The problem is that I don’t think Buffy would be quite as non-chalant and almost uncharacteristically goofy and chipper about it — at the very least, not to this extent.
I think using the same basic outline while taking a more serious approach with more subtle humor, and removing the Trio out of the main plot entirely, would have worked a whole lot better. I still like a couple of the ideas brought up and it’s genuinely funny on occasion, but the overall taste when these aspects mix together is pretty lacking. A good example is how the skirmish between all the invisible people at the end of the episode is supposed to be funny, but it really isn’t; mostly, I’m just kind of bored. Fortunately it doesn’t last too long and the Trio’s failed exit is pretty amusing.
Overall, there’s both several things to like and dislike about “Gone.” I think the basic outline of the plot is a fresh take on what could have been a hollow episode, but the execution of it is a bit lacking. When the Trio’s plans intersect with Buffy’s problems, it really loses its balance. Also, Willow’s poor development from “Wrecked” [6×10] shows up again here rather than being justifiably forgotten about. Faults and all, though, most of Buffy’s development is quite good and interesting to watch along with some of the humor and ancillary stuff going on in the background. In the end, this is one of those episodes that is classified as troubled but with some good redeeming character value. That alone is enough to keep me interested in the material.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy understands Dawn’s anger towards both Willow and herself. Willow went crazy, but Buffy’s the one who wasn’t paying attention and let it happen. Good acknowledgement, but one that Buffy doesn’t act on until after “Normal Again” [6×17] .
+ Spike’s breakfast ‘entrance:’ comedy gold. The looks on Buffy and Willow’s faces are priceless.
+ Xander being the “put-together” one and taking Dawn to school.
+ Buffy mentioning Marci from S1’s “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” [1×11] . Character memory is always fun.
+ Buffy whistling the tune from “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] ‘s “Going Through the Motions.”
+ Spike’s always watching the most amusing things on TV.
+ Spike’s “excercises.”
+ Dawn’s sneaking out of the house at night. I can sympathize with her slight over-reaction to finding out Buffy’s invisible though. Just put yourself in Dawn’s shoes and look around.
– Xander’s “blinvisible” lines annoy, rather than amuse, me.
* Warren tries to kill Buffy. This is huge hint of where he’s headed.