[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 10/08/2002]
“Same Time, Same Place” is a very nice Willow episode that, while not particularly amazing in any one way, is not particularly bad in any way, and has really grown on me every time I’ve seen it. When I first saw this episode, it confused me quite a bit. Now that I know what’s going on from the start, I like the concept of it a lot more and feel it’s a little underrated. The one place it does get bogged down a tad is in its slow pace. While I feel the slower pace does fit what the episode is trying to do, it just gets a bit too slow for its own good in places. Admittedly, this pace allows for a fairly different tone, which is set very nicely by the opening scene. Willow thinks no one’s waiting for her at the airport terminal, while Buffy, Xander, and Dawn think Willow ditched the flight and is running off somewhere else, possibly wrecking havok.
I think the episode, as a whole, works fairly well mostly due to its timely comedy and Alyson Hannigan’s amazing ability to make you feel so crushed when she’s sad or rejected. The very funny comedy is balanced by some surprisingly effective drama. I’d like to also just pause a moment here to point out how rare it is to find a demon in Buffy that is genuinely creepy, has great make-up, and has an actual personality. Kudos to the make-up team on this one! The demon really works great here as a red herring to the Scoobies, while also acting as a means of forcing Willow to confront what she did to Warren and herself last season — the skinning being the most obvious clue. This all really comes together in the cave sequence later in the episode, which I’ll get to in just a bit.
I’m really pleased with how they used Spike’s apparent insanity here. Willow talks to Spike, and he looks like he’s talking to the air. Later, we see Buffy and Xander talking to Spike and the opposite happening, although we know Willow’s actually there. This can’t help Spike’s sanity very much. I also enjoyed seeing a bit of William seeping out when he’s talking to Buffy: “Glowing. What’s a word means glowing. Got a rhyme.” This more theatrical version of Spike will continue to seep out more as the season goes along. This is a really fun, inventive scene.
I really love Anya’s interacton with Willow as well. It all amounts to some incredibly funny dialogue (“This isn’t going to get all sexy, is it?”) and some interesting new parallels between them. The scene with the both of them doing a spell together really flashed me back to “Doppelgangland” [3×16]. Wow, times have changed! I also really appreciate the little bit of insight from Anya about causing pain. She tells Willow, who can now really relate, “Well, causing pain sounds really cool, I know, but turns out it’s really upsetting. Didn’t use to be, but now it is.” It’s obvious her vengeance gig isn’t going to end well, much like how Willow’s vengeance on Warren didn’t end well for her. Anya’s not in a particularly happy place right now, which continues to play out as more setup for “Selfless” [7×05]. Very few shows bother taking the time to consistently set up the events of future episodes, so it’s important to take note of how well Buffy does this and how unique it is because of it. Even this late in the series — Season Seven — it’s still getting this right.
Everything about this demon is super creepy and icky. As I pointed out above, they really did a great job with this one. When the demon gets a hold of Willow and starts stripping off her skin, piece by piece, I can’t help but feel this is some sort of sick karmic justice at work, punishing Willow for what she did to Warren. I actually found myself very scared for Willow here, with her friends unknowingly locking her in the creature’s cave. Willow’s paralyzed joy when Anya tells her she’s not alone is simply heart-breaking. The spell that separated Willow from her friends dissipates when Willow admits her fear of not being wanted out loud. Even though she can’t see Buffy, she speaks to the air, believing that she is. Willow simply thinking her friends didn’t want to see her again actually made it happen. She is definitely right when admitting she’s got a ways to go before controlling her new uber powers — something she’ll struggle with all season.
Although it can’t compare to the end of “Beneath You” [7×02], I still have a tremendous appreciation for the final scene of “Same Time, Same Place.” Willow says, “It’s magic. I’m drawing power from the earth to heal myself.” Buffy admits to thinking the flayings were because of Willow and tells her that, “I want to be the kind of person that doesn’t think that. Xander never thought it.” Willow responds, “I’m sure he did a little. Heck, even I did a little. Xander has the luxury of not saying it. But you’re the Slayer. You have to say stuff like that.” Willow nails this truth about Buffy, which provides insight into how Buffy will react in a critical argument in “Selfless” [7×05], along with her approach to leadership throughout the season.
This is also an important moment of self-realization when Willow recognizes that she’s not even sure recovery is possible for her, and won’t blame Buffy if she feels the same. Buffy, in response, visually admits that she has concerns, but then offers to give away some of her strength to help Willow heal — a touching moment, but one that is also very thematically relevant to the season. This moment of sharing and friendship, in all its simplicity, beautifully symbolizes the First’s ultimate downfall. This also foreshadows Buffy’s plan in “Chosen” [7×22] to share her strength with all the potentials, with Willow acting as the catalyst.
Some nice little touches that I appreciated, in regard to everyone’s feelings toward Willow, include Willow hearing Warren’s gun shot when she gets close to the window Tara was standing in front of when she died, Dawn pointing out that, at some point, the gang has to stop defending Willow, and Anya’s overall inital feelings about her. Dawn, with an excellent point, states, “So Giles is blaming Giles, and we’re blaming us. Is anyone gonna blame Willow? Oh, don’t give me shock face. I mean, will anyone around here ever start asking for help when they need it?”
When Willow expresses sorrow over what’s she done to Anya, we get Anya’s appropiately blunt response, “You feel really responsible? You are really responsible!” Willow is willing to take it though, without any defense: “Go on. Say whatever you want. Rib bones and so forth. I deserve it.” Anya, of course, straight-forward as always, accurately says, “You won’t mind? Then that’s no fun.”
So, all in all, “Same Time, Same Place” is a fairly modest character piece that doesn’t really try to draw attention to itself. Looking past its modesty, I found quite a bit to admire and enjoy out of it. Overall I feel it’s a slightly more solid episode than “Beneath You” [7×02], but it doesn’t have anything that can match the final scene of that episode. I can’t really give it an A-range grade because it just isn’t quite special or powerful enough to warrant it. I just don’t want that fact to diminish my appreciation for a really pleasant episode… besides, you know, all the skin eating. 😉
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Love Xander’s sign with “Welcome back, Willow” written in yellow crayon.
+ Gnarl kind of reminds me of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. Only much creepier.
+ Really love the music in this episode. Go Robert Duncan!
+ Anya’s reaction to Willow walking up to her. It’s sad to see the Magic Box all boarded up.
+ Anya bringing up the gang’s little “mix-up” a few days ago (“Beneath You” [7×02] ). Honestly, episode-to-episode continuity like this just never gets old!
+ Posable Dawn: fun for the whole family!
+ Buffy’s fight with Gnarl: very cool; icky end.
– Although out of the picture for a very long time, where are Willow’s parents? Did she disown them when she went to college or something?
* Buffy sharing her strength with others, as she does with Willow here, is a big part of what, thematically, allows them to triumph over the First. You could even say that Willow pays Buffy back in “Chosen” [7×22].