[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Stephen DeKnight | Director: Michael Gershman | Aired: 05/07/2002]
I’m almost tempted to call this “Entropy, Pt. 2.” The first two-thirds of “Seeing Red” really do represent an extension of “Entropy,” made even more evident early in the episode when Willow and Tara are talking about what happened the previous evening. Also like “Entropy,” this episode, overall, lacks that little extra bit of umph to put it over the top, although it does end with quite the huge surprise. Even though it doesn’t quite get full marks, I’m pleased to say it’s still another very solid episode with plenty to talk about. So let’s jump in!
As Spike says, “So the birds are flying again, eh?” Willow and Tara are together again, happy, and giggly. Yay for them! Although Whedon knows how to crush our hearts, at least he generally gives his characters genuinely awesome final hours. While it hurts to be set up with happiness only to have it so immediately crushed, I’d still rather them have the happiness before all the death. Take close note to the red sheets on their bed and, well, all over the opening frame. There’s going to be a lot of hints of what’s going to happen leading to the end. This includes red shirts and Xander’s bloody nose. The title of the episode is the most obvious clue to this fact.
Picking up from “Entropy,” the Trio are continuing their plot by obtaining orbs of strength and invulnerability. While I find the Trio’s actions not only useful as a plot device, they’re also a great thematic device. When Warren sucks in the power from the orbs, Jonathan wants to immediately try them out himself — my guess is to be able to take Warren and Andrew down. Warren’s response is eerily familiar to what he said to them when he was about to force Katrina so have sex with him in “Dead Things” [6×13] before killing her. There he was also using an ‘orb.’ Sex, power, and dominance are all themes at work here. Warren’s become the epitome of a ruthless mysogonist. This is why taking Buffy down is of such importance to him as, despite how much she’s lost her way this season, she is still at her core an icon for women’s strength. When they fight at the end of the episode, she literally smashes his orbs, and strips him of all his power. Until he gets the gun, of course. Then Willow stips him of, well, everything. The use of continuity with “Dead Things” [6×13] here is a pleasure though.
Speaking of continuity, how about the awesome scene between Xander and Buffy in his apartment? Why is Xander so depressed? I’d argue it’s not mostly because of his situation with Anya. He’s depressed because his unquestioned idolizing of Buffy was misplaced. Xander puts Buffy on the spot for letting him down, and I think he actually, in a way, represents the viewer who had always looked up to Buffy, but felt she lost her way this season. Well, she did lose her way this season because she’s human, just like all of us. Her mistakes not only make her stronger (assuming she learns from them), but also make her a much more realistic character.
Although Xander’s hurting over this now, he’ll come to actually see Buffy as we all see her: a wonderful human being with an incredible capacity for love, but also a flawed one that makes mistakes — sometimes big ones. Additionally, this scene also reinforces the message of what often happens to high school friends when they grow up. Buffy tells Xander, “My personal life is none of your business.” Xander responds, “It used to be,” to which Buffy somberly nods to. They all are starting to recognize the separation between them as they’re fully growing out of their childhood and turning into different people than they were. As a side note, I also love Xander bringing up, once again, Spike’s lack of soul. This has been brought up a ton this season, for the obvious setup of Spike actually getting one. This scene may be quiet, but it holds a lot of weight in my book. Great character work!
I also like Xander and Buffy’s conversation at the end of the episode. Xander asks, “How did we get here?” This is followed up by Xander’s mature realization that maybe Buffy would have told him about her and Spike if “I hadn’t given you so many reasons to think I’d be an ### about it.” Buffy follows that up by saying, “I guess we’ve all done a lot of things lately we’re not proud of.” That’s sure an understatement.
Alright, time to move into Spike territory. Dawn went to talk to Spike! Perfect! I really have missed their interactions. Her intentions seem to be to genuinely ask Spike why he acted the way he did. He tells her, “It’s complicated, niblet.” Dawn accurately responds, “Everyone’s been saying that.” Spike also correctly states, “Must be true then.” Dawn asks Spike if he loves Buffy so much, how could he do that to her? Spike’s response is fair, “oh right, ’cause big sis’ was treating me so well up until that point.” What’s not fair is what happens later in the episode.
When Spike enters Buffy’s bathroom (which, by the way, feels squicky the moment he walks in), we can immediately see he’s wearing a black shirt — not a good sign. This conversation they have here shows just how much miscommunication is going on between them. Their entire relationship was built on mixed signals, “no’s” that meant “yes,” and, well, frankly, rough sex. When Buffy says “you know why” in response to why she couldn’t let Xander kill Spike in “Entropy” [6×18] , Spike shows that he really doesn’t know why. He says, “because you love me.” I hate to put any fault on Buffy for what happens to her, but her conduct with Spike has been manifesting inside the demon inside of him, and now he’s finally lashing out. Did Buffy deserve this? Of course not! No one deserves this, and the fault lies entirely on Spike for the action of it. But when looking back at what led to that action, I can’t help but see that Buffy had a part to play in it.
Buffy tells Spike she could never trust him enough to love him, and this is where the philosophical differences become apparent between these two. Spike says, “Trust is for old marrieds, Buffy. Wild love, it consumes.” Buffy replies, dead on, “Until there’s nothing left. Love like that never lasts.” I must say that I feel Buffy’s totally right, and Spike just can’t understand it. How could he with no soul? “Trust,” as Buffy sees it, is what we see between them in “Touched” [7×20] .
The attempted rape scene has caused a lot of fuss in the Buffy community, and I can understand why. The scene is raw, scary, and real. It’s not pleasant to watch, nor was it intended to be. Looking at this moment from a character perspective, though, as I always do, I have to say that it really works. Something had to happen with these two. Spike had to just leave the show, die, or do something so bad to Buffy that he’d need to get a soul to even attempt to make things right with her, despite the fact that having a soul makes him a new individual in the process. So, despite obviously not “enjoying” the scene, I did find it shocking and I did find it valuable from a character perspective. Due to their twisted sexual relationship this season, I’m not convinced anything else other than this would result in Spike fighting for his soul to be not just a better man… but to be a man (which is poetically said in “Beneath You” [7×02] ).
A lot of people complain that Buffy should have been able to easily get Spike off of her. I don’t buy that though. Under normal circumstances, yes, Buffy would be able to easily get Spike off of her. But here she hurt her back patrolling, gets hit again in that same area when she hits the bathtub struggling with Spike, and she’s emotionally drained because of her earlier conversation with Xander and now dealing with Spike here. Frankly, she’s too tired to initally do anything but try to convince Spike to get off of her. It’s only after her body instinctively realizes that she’s in real trouble that she snaps out of it and kicks him across the room. That makes complete sense to me, and didn’t feel at all like a ploy just to make the scene more shocking.
After Buffy kicks Spike off of her, Spike immediately realizes what he’s done and what he’s lost. Before I go into that, though, I’ve got to just say: Clem! Okay, so the scene in Spike’s crypt right after the attempted rape is also very exciting. Spike at first says, “What have I done?” Then he thinks about it for a second and says, “why didn’t I do it?” This dichotomy reminds me of what he sings in “Once More, with Feeling” [6×07] : “First he’ll kill her, then I’ll save her/No, I’ll save her, then I’ll kill her.” This represents one of the most interesting aspects of Spike right now, and it comes to a head right here. He has to pick which one he wants and run with it.
At first his thoughts move to the chip as he says, “Everything always used to be so clear. Slayer, vampire! Vampire kills slayer, sucks her dry, picks his teeth with her bones … But with Buffy… it isn’t supposed to be this way. It won’t let me be a monster. And I can’t be a man. I’m nothing.” Clem says, “Things change.” Spike’s response is spot-on: “They do… if you make them.” Thus begins Spike’s journey to Africa (or wherever it is) to have… his chip removed? Soul restored? I like how it’s purposefully left ambiguous here. But we all know now that Spike picked the right choice.
The episode ends in a pretty explosive manner, thereby launching us into the ending act of the season. Xander, outside reconnecting with Buffy, says, “I don’t know what I’d do without you and Will.” This, I must say, is a beautiful moment for the two of them, but is also a great segway into Warren’s murder of Tara followed by the prospect of, well, losing Willow completely because of it. Xander’s comments also will resonate in an ever larger way with his actions in “Grave” [6×22] . The final moments of this episode, though, are shocking, terrible, and completely intense. To be completely frank: I get chills every time I see the quick three-shot of Buffy lying on the ground bleeding, Tara dead, and Willow’s eyes lighting up with dark red fury.
I’d like to take a moment to officially say “good bye” to Tara, who’s always been an extremely sweet, likeable character. I must say that I’ve been especially pleased with how well developed she was this season. Tara really came into her own and became a full-fledged individual. Her death here is extremely painful, shocking, and absolutely awful.
On the flip side, though, I’d also like to take this time to applaud Whedon for his ability to show us that characters in his universes are not immune to death. It’s moments like this that remind us viewers that any danger we see on screen in this series could actually pose a real threat to the characters. This makes for constant heightened tension and overall better television. Starting out this season, I know all of us thought Warren was just a big joke, and that no real danger would come from him. Well, we were all proven wrong. The reason why I mention this is because in nearly every other show I watch, the writers continue to pump out these plots where the main characters are in dire peril nearly every episode, but never die (or if they do, it’s a fake-out and they come back). Permenant death is one big factor in making this show above so many others in stakes, tension, and quality. So while I’m sad to see Tara go, I’m glad that a show about fighting the forces of evil doesn’t let its characters endlessly go on unscathed.
Overall, “Seeing Red” is a little uneven in tone and doesn’t quite achieve the weight it desires, but it’s still a solid episode that continues the superb character work from the last few episodes. There’s a lot of game-changing material here and, for the most part, it’s pulled off extremely well. As much as I enjoy character episodes like this, though, I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the issues bubbling beneath the surface all season run wild, with Willow as the vehicle for the carnage. Coming up next…
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Whedon finally putting Amber Benson in the credits… in the episode where she dies? Totally cruel, totally sick, totally crazy, and totally awesome!
+ Willow finally catching on that something’s going on between Buffy and Spike (even though it’s over now). I love how Tara just blurts it out: “They’ve been sleeping together.”
+ I think Willow and Tara sum up Buffy’s feelings over Spike. “I’m just trying to understand.” -Will “So is she.” -Tara
+ Dawn’s giddiness over seeing Willow and Tara together again. Poor Dawn’s had a such a rough time in the last year. That was a perfectly acted moment by MT to reflect undiluted giddiness over something the character should be that giddy about. Me loves it!
+ Buffy discovers the Trio’s now old lair only to find buzzsaws! It looked surprisingly cool when Buffy side-jumps over one of the saws.
+ Anya failing miserably to reap vengeance for the weeping lady at the bar. Although, she did probably make the lady feel a bit better due her own problems.
+ Anya keeping herself busy by dusting all over the Magic Box while Xander longingly peers in on her.
+ Hey, look at that, what’s on Willow’s laptop actually half-way makes sense for a change!
+ I appreciate how the writers throw Xander an opportunity for a quick hook-up, then have him immediately turn it down. There’s no ‘I’m going to get back at you!’ adolescent crap for Xander tonight! Good for him!
+ Xander standing up to Warren and giving him a good punch was oh-so satisfying to see, even if it did unfortunately result in a broken face.
+ Spike is so distraught at what he did to Buffy he left his leather coat behind which, symbolically, means a lot.
+ Warren flying off in a jetpack is definitely over-the-top, but Warren’s reaction when he goes up and Buffy’s reaction of seeing it happen make up for it. This is just hilarious, along with Andrew’s failed attempt to copy Warren. Andrew also finally unambiguously alludes that he has a thing for Warren.
– Why’d they give Buffy all the blood at the end? Tara’s wound was entirely lacking of blood! Just one of those little nagging reality things…