[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Drew Goddard | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 11/26/2002]
“Never Leave Me,” and to a slightly lesser extent, “Sleeper” [7×08], do what I feel is an excellent job of blending plot, character development, drama, and comedy. “Never Leave Me,” in particular, also has many of the same qualities I applauded “No Place Like Home” [5×05] for, although it’s not quite as polished and tight. Drew Goddard is quickly emerging as a top-tier Buffy writer. He has an incredibly adept understanding of the show’s genre-blending nature and is insanely well-read on the characters. This is an episode that is buoyed on a coupled brilliant conversations between Buffy and Spike, but is assisted by a ton of awesome little things that spread the love around to all the characters and really add up to quite a fun episode.
As I just mentioned, this episode is really centered around two particularly probing Buffy and Spike conversations. Knowing this, I appreciated getting an idea of what the other characters felt about Soulful Spike the Killer. Dawn and Anya are voicing concern; Dawn being concerned about what Spike might be capable of, Anya just being practical. Xander stays out of it completely, which is interesting. Instead of getting all worked up over Spike, Xander seems to have some perspective now and clearly trusts Buffy to handle the situation herself — he’s lost that jealously and feeling that Buffy’s better than Spike. I see this as a reflection of Xander’s growth from last season. Buffy’s not on his pedastal anymore, and is instead treating her more like a trusted friend rather than a desired girlfriend (although I still believe he’ll likely always desire her on some level).
I really like Spike’s soft but blunt outing of his thoughts on everything that’s happened. Of particular interest is when he tells Buffy that his pain and suffering is all relative. He had to redefine what those words meant after falling in love with Buffy. Now, I can see why Buffy might take offense to that comment, but I think I understand what Spike means by it. I really don’t think Spike is entirely trying to put blame on Buffy by saying this, but rather just that loving her has led him on a journey that redefines what pain and suffering means. With that said, he clearly has some blame for Buffy as well, as he just now fully realizes what it means that she used him last season. He says, “I’m feeling honest with myself. You used me. I never understood it though. Not until now. You hated yourself, and you took it out on me.” This certainly doesn’t excuse Spike’s awful behavior at points of last season, but both characters did bad things to each other which fueled a growing flame.
Spike goes on to talk about now understanding “the violence inside.” What he’s talking about here is that internal struggle inside all of us — to be good people, to strive to be better, and the guilt most of us feel when we do wrong. Spike articulates what it means to have a soul and guilt — or self loathing — is definitely a part of that. This entire segment beautifully summarizes what it truly means for Spike to have a soul. We can not only see and feel the difference, Spike is now also articulating the difference. Once again, the writers have done a phenomenal job synching us up with the characters’ psychological state, which is then used as a spring board for new developments that are actually believeable.
Later in Buffy’s basement, once Buffy explains to Spike that he’s being triggered, he pleads with her to kill him. This leads him to a speech about what he’s truly capable of, telling her “you got off easy too.” Buffy, still acting very mature and intelligent about this, reminds Spike that he’s not responsible for these recent triggered-induced actions. Soulful Spike is not the same person as Soulless Spike. Buffy knows this from experience dealing with Angel. This is why she’s so quick to want to help him. Spike, on the other hand, is really letting that whole self-loathing thing overwhelm him. Being soulless for so long, it’s probably easy to forget how to constructively channel that guilt. It’s only human to struggle with it though.
Spike tries to make a case for how bad he is with creepy murderous knowledge he has. What’s more interesting is when Spike asks one of the biggest questions of the series: “Have you ever really asked yourself why you can’t do it? Off me? After everything I’ve done to you, to people around you. It’s not love. We both know that.” Spike goes on, “Don’t do that. Don’t rationalize this into some noble act. We both know the truth of it. You like men who hurt you.” Buffy refuses to completely believe this. Though her response does insinuate that there is some truth to it before, which is true to what was going on in Season 6.
In particular, I think most of their dialogue here is referencing Season 6. Buffy hits it home with her rebuttle, “No. I don’t hate like that. Not you, or myself. Not anymore. You think you have insight now because your soul’s drenched in blood? You don’t know me. You don’t even know you. Was that you who killed those people in the cellar? Was that you who waited for those girls? … Listen to me. You’re not alive because of hate or pain. You’re alive because I saw you change. Because I saw your penance.” Spike’s understandably in the trap of, well, self loathing and isn’t really in the mood to give himself any credit whatsoever.
Buffy goes on to say, “Be easier, wouldn’t it, it if were an act. But it’s not. You faced the monster inside of you and you fought back. You risked everything to be a better man. And you can be. You are. You may not see it, but I do. I do. I believe in you, Spike.” This is really moving and powerful stuff! The dialogue between the two of them in “Never Leave Me” not only sets up Spike’s final journey, but also extremely clearly shows us why Buffy has faith in Spike, and why Spike feels the way he does. I want to stress that it’s clear to me that Spike’s motivation to go get his soul goes well beyond just sex. I think Buffy has it completely right. Spike did risk everything to be a better man — a better man for Buffy. As Spike said in “Beneath You” [7×02], “What must a man do what he mustn’t for her, to be hers. To be the kind of man, who would never… to be a kind of man.” Spike’s behavior paints a pretty consistent picture to me, and it’s all built on top of what came before while simultaneously laying new foundation for the the rest of the series. This is fantastic television at work.
It’s extremely beautiful that the last thing Buffy tells Spike before the Bringers flood into the house and capture Spike is “I believe in you.” At that moment, Spike fully gets it, and has a newfound belief in himself. I also think Buffy communicating this belief to Spike is a direct threat to the First, which is why it mobilized the Bringers on a raid to immediately get Spike out of there. The last thing the First needs is a Spike that believes in himself and is fighting strongly on Buffy’s side. This sets up the First’s approach to bringing him down a notch over the next couple episodes.
The Watcher’s Council headquarters (I think — what’s with the building shots being different?) being blown up is certainly quite a huge shock, especially after Quentin’s “rousing speech” and a promise of another Council visit to Sunnydale and Buffy. You just don’t expect something like that to happen, but then again, that’s always been a staple of this series — to do the unexpected. I really love the ambitious scope of the First’s attack and how “huge” this whole thing feels. The only big problem is that the season sadly isn’t able to maintain this pace for very much longer.
“Never Leave Me” is a very well-rounded episode that moves the overall story along while also giving us some key character insight and development. There’s a lot of fun around the edges as well, from Willow bumping into Andrew at a butcher’s shop to Anya and Xander working together to “break” a hilarious Andrew. On the more serious side, some big events happened such as the Watcher’s Council being blow’d up good, the First capturing Spike, the First raising the real Ubervamp, and us being left to question whether Giles is still alive. The only thing this episode is missing is a little more character depth of the non Buffy and Spike variety. With Spike being out of focus until later in the season and the Potentials beginning to arrive in the next episode, this deficiency sadly isn’t handled better until later in the season. Despite that one flaw, though, I feel this is an excellent episode.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Spike telling Buffy to tighten his restraints even tighter.
+ Principal Wood’s tough love on some misbehaving students.
+ Buffy trying to get a hold of Giles after crazy recent events. It’s cool to see Quentin and the Watcher’s Council back.
+ Xander apparently giving Willow lectures on construction.
+ The First working over Andrew is still very convincing. I can totally buy how Andrew’s allowing himself to believe that Warren and now Jonathan are actually talking to him, telling him everything is just dandy.
+ Andrew failing miserably at killing a pig.
+ Andrew’s butcher shop order.
+ Andrew running into Willow! Their entire encounter is just pure awesome.
+ Xander and Anya’s hilarious interrogation of Andrew.
+ Anya accidentally slapping Xander and silently wording “I’m sorry!”
+ Spike talking about how he thought his craziness was because of his soul. Makes sense to me.
+ Spike being triggered on Andrew. Damn, that’s quite the ferocious attack.
+ Dawn still refers to Andrew as “What’s His Name!” Awesome!
+ Willow’s reference to Xander’s brief stint “in the military” (“Halloween” [2×06] ). Xander thankfully doesn’t remember any of that (which has been the case since about S4), and claims the knowledge is from army movies. It’s funny how another show would have so easily messed that bit of continuity up.
+ Buffy going into command mode, getting the gang working on the case. Talk about a difference from the earlier seasons! It’s lovely to see Buffy’s development manifest itself like this.
+ Principal Wood’s mysterious grave digging. I really like that they played up the ambiguity on him.
+ During the fight, Dawn uses a sweet move that goes back to something she learned in “Lessons” [7×01] — love the visual reference.
+ Buffy, ever the resourceful one, uses Andrew’s body as a weapon. Good use!
+ Buffy putting all the pieces together and realizing it’s the First Evil from S3 (“Amends” [3×10] ). It makes sense that the distinctive Bringers would be the ones to make everything come together in her mind.
+ The Ubervamp has some really convincing make-up. It looks pretty darn menacing in my book, although I could have done without the growl that all monsters seem to have to make these days (although this is not as bad as most).
– I like Spike not knowing who Andrew is, but I don’t see how Buffy saying he’s “Tucker’s brother” makes it any clearer to Spike. I find it highly unlikely he is aware of the events of “The Prom” [3×20]. Buffy should have just said that he was working with Jonathan and Warren last year.