[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner | Director: David Solomon | Aired: 05/06/2003]
As Buffy the Vampire Slayer enters its final three episodes Rebecca Rand Kirshner, for the first time, gets everything right. Pretty much all of her episodes have been solid outings, but this is the first one that really sucked me in and didn’t let go. “Touched” is the last episode of the series that is pretty much entirely focused on the characters, and it spreads that love to a lot of people, with Buffy, Faith, and Spike leading the charge. The writing is clever in several places and the acting is as solid as ever. This is one of those all-around solid episodes that doesn’t make any major mistakes.
In the wonderful opening scene we see a mixture of confusion, excitement, and frenzy. The now Buffy-less group is mostly pleased she’s gone, but the frenetic camera tells us that the situation is not as pleasing. This scene uses the shaky cam style correctly by not overdoing it and using it to express a specific emotion — a sense of panic. Faith doesn’t even know what to say at first, so she settles on postponing the discussion for another day. When the discussion continues we, expectedly, see Kennedy trying to push her ideas on everyone and act like she’s the leader now. It’s obvious what Kennedy wants, but to her credit she listens when Faith tells her to back off.
Things get really interesting when Spike returns to find Buffy gone. Spike’s initial reaction to Willow’s colorful rendition of what happened to Buffy is absolutely hilarious. But more importantly, it’s wonderful seeing Spike stand up for Buffy when no one else will. Earlier this season Buffy put her faith in Spike, and it’s now paying off for her with Spike gladly showing his faith in return. Their reliance on each other really asserts itself here and has become something quite beautiful and powerful. I also love the nod to “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] (in regard to the comment about Buffy surpassing Giles) and Buffy’s series-wide growth as a person and a leader.
The soul of this episode is really the sublime scene between Buffy and Spike in a then abandoned house. As this scene begins, I get the impression that Buffy is sulking and just wants to beat herself up over how everything’s gone down. At first, Spike seems to be a bit overly earger to defend her regardless of the facts. They’re both coming from opposite extremes, and it takes a little bit of conversation and expression between the two of them to find that healthy place of perspective in the middle. As Spike somewhat smugly points out, Buffy was right about the vinyard. The thing is, I always thought Buffy’s argument was plausible, just that her approach wasn’t. This is something Buffy realizes after a little spirit boost from Spike and is why she plays the dodge game with Caleb alone.
But before I jump ahead, let me dig a little deeper into this scene between Buffy and Spike. Spike is kind of right when he says, “You were their leader and you still are. This isn’t something you gave up. It’s something they took.” Their conversation, with the usual brilliant mixture of funny and sorrowful, eventually makes its way to Buffy getting all introspective. She essentially re-verbalizes what she was getting at with Xander and Willow in “Selfless” [7×05] and fully came to understand in “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07]. This time around she’s still using her uniqueness as an excuse to cut herself off from people. The fact Buffy kept herself isolated from the potentials wasn’t a huge surprise, and was actually foreshadowed by these two earlier episodes. What we’ve seen in S7 so far is that characteristic stretched to its extreme and displayed on a larger scale.
Buffy says to Spike, “People are always trying to connect with me, and I just slip away. You should know.” Spike amusingly responds, “I seem to recall a certain amount of connecting.” But Buffy’s right when she said they “were never close.” But she strikes a bit of a nerve when she tells him that he only wanted her because she was unattainable.
Spike, now having listened to her “pity ditty,” responds with one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard a television character say to another. So I’m just going to quote it: “You listen to me. I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine and done things I’d prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood, which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of. You. Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you… and I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are. You are a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.”
This scene is sublime in ways I can’t even put into words. It’s not only amazing in its own right, but it’s a superb culmination of seven years worth of Buffy’s fantastic character development and insight. I also can’t think of a better end to the tumultuous relationship between Buffy and Spike. When I see the two of them just holding each other in a loving embrace, I can’t help but feel a little bit of that love rub off on me too. This moment isn’t about sexual attraction, desire, or lust. It’s about pure undiluted and genuine love between them. And it’s in this moment that I think Buffy comes to love Spike in return. It’s a love and respect from one person to another — the Jesus kind of love, if you will. After this scene, it becomes absolutely no surprise to me at all when I see Spike letting himself burn to save Buffy and the world in “Chosen” [7×22]. Wonderful!
Although the Buffy/Spike scene takes away the ‘top moment’ prize, there’s several other notable moments that are worth cheering. One is the reunion of sort between Faith and the Mayor. The episode puts Faith in a very new position, one of leadership, in which she’s a bit out of her league. I’m so glad Harry Groener returned for this — I can’t think of a better way to get under Faith’s skin than to have her face the Mayor again after all that’s happened in her life. I also like that the First, although very much embellishing the Mayor’s personality, gets right to it and starts twisting that metaphorical knife by firing up that animosity between her and Buffy. He says, “You’re doing a great job with them, by the way. Much better than Buffy ever did. You were smart to kick her out. … You think she cares about you? She nearly killed you, Faith. … No matter what you do, Buffy will always see you as a killer, not as a person.”
After the First rattles Faith a bit, Wood comes in and ends up chatting with her about it. Wood touches on the theme of not only the episode, but also something that’s very close to Buffy’s series-wide personal struggle. He says, “listen, nobody wants to be alone, Faith. We all want someone who cares, to be touched that way.” Let me make note of the fact that I think it’s worth working hard to find that person too. One additional note is that I think it’s premature for Wood to tell Faith that she’s doing a good job leading — she’s hardly done anything yet and hasn’t even been tested under extreme circumstances. That will certainly change by the end of the episode though.
Speaking of being touched, it’s at this point where everyone pretty much just ‘gets it on.’ This scene is constructed in a very interesting way. Each sex scene is preceeded by a conversation by the respective couple. Faith and Wood talk about the First and loneliness, Kennedy tries to help Willow feel safe and grounded, and Xander and Anya pretty much just get it on. The scene begins and ends, though, back on Buffy and Spike, simply holding each other in true love and understanding of one another. To me, anyway, there’s something about that kind of raw emotional connection — sans selfish physical gratification — that feels transcendent in its power. Also interesting is the quick cut of the First relating to that connection by twisting the human need to feel into a desire for tactile evil. Neat stuff.
The next day, we see everything play out. There’s also a few enlightening comments, such as when Wood asks Faith where she needs him, and she responds with “by your phone. I’ll call you when I need you.” Ouch, but totally Faith — someone who hasn’t achieved the understanding of herself that Buffy has. The Faith-leading group at the house run into a trap while Buffy strikes a huge success against Caleb and grabs what he’s been hiding from her. This is a touching statement about the myriad forms of love and what each can bring to the table in a time of crisis. Some forms are temporary in their power, while others are more far reaching.
The end of the episode consists of two battle sequences that play out very differently — one lead by Faith, and one by Buffy alone (although not alone in spirit). Faith and the potentials run into a bomb while Buffy, in a very cool-looking sequence and with a renewed confidence, evades Caleb and finds what she’s looking for. This is really fun to watch. It’s neat how the confusion (swirling flashlights and all) of the potentials’ fight with the bringers connects us with the frantic camera in the beginning of the episode.
Although “Touched” isn’t a shocking game-changer, it’s nonetheless an example of a very solid character-based outing that gets just about everything right. The episode also does a great job at bringing out my emotions and connection with the characters. From the frantic opening sequence to the Mayor visiting Faith to Spike’s tremendously beautiful conversation with Buffy to the fascinating intercutting of the characters all trying to feel loved and touched by one another to Buffy’s slick fight with Caleb, “Touched” has a bit to think about, a bit to cheer about, and a whole lot to fall in love with. All in all a great episode.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ I hesitate to put to ‘+’ on here just because Felicia Day’s talking in this episode, but what the heck, here it is.
+ The idea of using Kennedy to bait a bringer out into the open.
+ The spell to make the bringer speak by channeling itself through Andrew. It’s just oddly fitting.
+ Spike not taking ‘no’ for an answer and Buffy postulating, “boy, you really do have a problem with that word, don’t you?” Hurray for subtle continuity!
– Why did Giles kill the bringer they were interrogating so abruptly? The information he was getting was accepted as worthy intelligence!
– The bedroom conversation between Willow and Kennedy feels a bit awkward to me simply because their personalities are so very different from each other. Although I don’t hate their relationship by any means, it certainly doesn’t seem like a good match to me.