The Mayor gives Faith a gift, a very fancy knife. He also tells her he wants her to pick up a package for him at the airport. A box very important for his ascension. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel are fighting vampires. After they've staked them, Buffy wonders whether this is how they will spend their future together. Nights in graveyards killing demons. She's a bit depressed over it.
Buffy's mom has discovered Buffy got accepted into Northwestern and is thrilled. Later Buffy tells Willow and the rest that she can't leave Sunnydale and her mother is in a state of denial. Willow has been accepted to Oxford, but isn't sure if she wants to go. Xander is reading Kerouac and says he intends to set out on the open road. He hopes to find himself. Cordelia walks by and says it will help everyone else to lose him. Xander leaps to the bait. He tells Cordelia about all the great schools Willow has gotten accepted by. Cordelia mocks them all. When Buffy speaks, Cordelia says the conversation is reserved for those with a future.
In the library, Buffy is arguing with Wesley about going away to university. He forbids it. She says if she stops the mayor and captures Faith, then Wesley and Giles can keep things under control until she comes home for the holidays. Giles sides with her and asks for her plan. She doesn't have one, but Giles advises the first step is to find out what the mayor is up to. Buffy is up for it.
At the airport, the box is delivered by a strange man. He's handcuffed to the box and upset when he discovers the mayor is not there. He says that means he wants more money. But Faith is on a nearby rooftop with a bow and kills him. She and the vampire driver who came for the box search him for the keys to the handcuffs. They can't find them, so she takes out the knife the mayor gave her and cuts off his hands.
Buffy has staked out city hall and sees Faith with the box. The mayor is delighted with Faith, she got the box and saved him paying the courier. He tells her he would take her over Buffy any day. But the mere mention of Buffy upsets her. He thinks it has to do with losing Angel. But she claims to be over it. When she tries to open the box, the mayor quickly stops her. Meanwhile, Buffy captures the driver and asks him what's in the box.
At the library, Buffy tells what she has learnt. It's the box of Gavrok and has some great demonic energy needed for the mayor's ascension. Giles brings maps of city hall. The box is being kept there and Buffy plans to steal it. There is a skylight in the room with the box and a fire escape leading up to the roof. Giles knows of a spell to destroy the box and sends Xander for the ingredients. Wesley feels things are moving too fast and out of control. He points out the box is probably protected by spells. Buffy suggests Willow come with them to defeat the spells.
While Xander is out shopping, he spots Cordelia in a store looking at dresses. He confronts her, suggesting she was bitter earlier because she didn't get into a good school. He says her grades were okay but she flunked the interviews when the admissions people learnt what she was like. Cordelia pulls out a batch of acceptances to fine universities and Xander is a little amazed. He says they must have seen a different side of her father's money. He then says he has to go off and save lives and that Cordelia must be busy accessorizing.
At city hall, the gang are ready to steal the box. While Giles and Wesley wait in the car, Buffy, Willow, and Angel climb on to the roof. Meanwhile, Xander and Oz are preparing the spell to destroy the box, following directions left by Willow. Willow uses a spell to remove the supernatural barrier around the box. Buffy then sends her away. Using a pulley, Angel lowers Buffy into the room. It's like a scene from a heist film like Topkapi or Hudson Hawk. Buffy grabs the box and an alarm goes off, which anyone who has watched one of those heist films could see coming. The pulley jams and Angel can't get her out. Two vampire guards burst in. Angel drops down and there's a fight. Buffy and Angel manage to grab the box and run out the front door of city hall. The vampires follow but lose them. The mayor is enraged. But he's cheered when Faith comes in dragging Willow.
Now Buffy is enraged when she learns Willow has been captured. She realizes there is only one thing to do, trade the box for Willow. Wesley refuses. He points out that by destroying the box they can stop the mayor and save Sunnydale. He's willing to sacrifice Willow to save thousands. A loud argument ensues which ends when Oz, who has been quiet throughout, gets up and destroys the potion he and Xander created to destroy the box. Buffy tells Giles to make the call to the mayor.
Willow is locked in a room at city hall. She starts looking for something to help her escape. She pulls out a drawer but it just contains some office supplies. Her vampire guard comes he. He threatens to bite her. Willow levitates a pencil (we first saw her do this in Dopplegangland) from the drawer and stakes him with it. Sneaking out of the building, she sees the mayor and Faith. She then realizes the mayor has left his office unlocked. She enters and opens his cabinet, finding the books of ascension, which she starts to read. Time passes and Willow has a pile of books on the floor about her when Faith finds her. Faith says Willow knows too much and must die. Willow says she wants to talk to Faith. Faith expects the speech about it not being too late, but that's not what Willow says. Instead, she tells Faith it is too late. That she made her choice. That maybe she had a tough life, but she had it better than some people. She had friends, like Buffy, she was a slayer. Now she has no one and is nothing. Faith hits her saying, "You hurt me. I hurt you". She pulls her knife. The mayor enters to stop her. He says he just received a phone call.
At the school, the gang are waiting for the mayor to arrive with Willow. They have locked all the doors except the front entrance. This traps them but also means they know which way the mayor is coming. The lights go out, the mayor's work. He enters with two vampires, Faith, and Willow. He confronts Buffy and starts lecturing her. He tells her that he just doesn't see how things can work out with her and Angel. He talks about his own wife, whom he married in '03 and who he stayed with until she died. He actually sounds sad when he recounts her death, senile and angry at him for staying young. He suggests the immortal Angel and the mortal Buffy would have the same problem. He confronts Angel saying that if Buffy stays with him she will spend the rest of her life skulking in the dark, avoiding the sun. He asks if that is the great purpose which brought Angel back from hell. He sighs and tells them to make the trade.
The box and Willow are traded. It seems to be over, but Snyder barges in with two policemen. They lock the door. He thinks Buffy is dealing drugs. He grabs the box and is about to open it when the mayor intervenes. Unfortunately, a policeman has taken the box and opens it before the mayor can stop him. A spiderlike creature leaps onto the policeman's face, a la Alien. It kills him and then leaps away. As they look for it, another escapes from the box. The first one falls down on the mayor. Faith rips it off his face and throws it away. He rises, huge scars in his face. But they heal immediately. Snyder is really shocked. As a third creature starts to escape, the mayor says to close the box. Buffy slams it shut, cutting off some of the creature's legs and trapping it in the box. One of the creatures jumps on her back and she falls backward, crushing and killing it. The other creature is on the wall beside Wesley. Faith throws her knife, scaring Wesley and killing the creature.
The mayor takes the box. The cops and vampire run out. The mayor says there are 50 billion of the monsters in the box. He leaves, calling Faith to follow him. She pauses, looking at the monster she killed, but goes. Buffy asks Snyder, who is standing holding a chair in front of him, if he is alright. He asks why couldn't they be dealing drugs like normal people. He leaves. Buffy pulls the knife from the wall.
Willow tells her story. She says she wasn't able to read the books thoroughly, she complains they were overwritten. She does say there were a few interesting pages. But she didn't have time to read them. She pulls the pages out of her pocket and hands them to an overjoyed Giles. He runs off to analyze them. Wesley says that they are back where they started,
The next day Buffy tells Willow that she realizes she can't leave Sunnydale. That even if she defeats the mayor, there will be other evils to fight. Willow reveals that she has decided to go to UC Sunnydale, the local college Buffy is going to. Buffy says Willow shouldn't make that sacrifice (she could go anywhere) for her. Willow says it doesn't have to do with Buffy. She says that facing off with Faith made something clear to her. She realized that fighting evil was a good thing. She doesn't believe Buffy does it just because she must, but because it is the right thing to do. And that's what she wants to do now. Fight evil, help people. The two go off for mochas.
At the dress shop, Cordelia is looking at a dress. The store manager walks in and tells her that her break is up and she must restock the shelves and sweeps the floor. Cordelia has no comeback. At the graveyard, Buffy is telling Angel about her plans. She and Willow are going to look at the campus. She hopes her mother will let her live there. They try to convince each other that the mayor didn't know what he was talking about.
I think there are four important scenes in this episode. Xander's confrontation with Cordelia in the dress shop. The argument over whether to trade the box for Willow. Willow's confrontation with Faith. The mayor's speech to Buffy and Angel.
When Xander confronts Cordelia in the dress shop, he's seeking revenge for the comments she made earlier. Xander is used to her anger being directed against him and at least to some extent against the others. But her viciousness against Buffy was extreme, even by Cordelia standards. That's probably why he decided to approach her. And he's got a theory. His theory is that Cordelia didn't get into university. Goaded by him, she shows him the admissions. And Xander is really taken aback. He responds with the meanest thing he can think of, claiming she got in because of her father's money. He belittles her life and her preoccupation with clothes.
Later, we discover Cordelia actually works in the store. It isn't clear whether she was working there when Xander first met her or whether she only got the job after their talk. It's possible his comments made her question her life of leisure. It's also possible that much of Cordelia's anger against Buffy has to do with Buffy's mission in life. Cordelia may feel resentment at not having an important task to fulfill. Getting a job may have been a way to deal with that resentment. Of course, her parents may have decided not to give her a free ride to university and insisted she work. Or, her folks may have split up leaving her in a tough financial situation. That would also explain some anger against Buffy. Buffy's parents broke up. but Cordelia knows the break up was congenial and Buffy's father would definitely help out with university.
When the gang debate trading the box for Willow, all the good points are made by Wesley. He's right that saving the town is more important than one individual. He's right that this may be their only chance. He's right that thousands of lives are at stake. But nobody is listening. Buffy and the others, even Giles, are driven by their feelings and not by the rational arguments Wesley makes. It's an irrational argument, Oz's destruction of the potion, that ends the argument.
Of course, it didn't have to be the end. The potion could have been created again. In destroying the potion, Oz doesn't do anything unrecoverable. But he expresses, wordlessly in a scene in which everyone else is doing lots of talking, the strength of his feelings for Willow. Feelings he revealed earlier to Xander when they were looking at Willow's stick drawings. Oz's sudden explosion makes it clear to everyone what has to be done. It reveals to Wesley the strength of the emotions he is confronting and it acts like a catalyst uniting the emotions of the others. They no longer need to debate, they know what must be done.
When Willow confronts Faith, Faith is really hurt. She even says so, 'You hurt me. I hurt you". Faith is physically tough, but emotionally fragile. Willow senses this and isn't afraid. She knows that her own strong sense of self makes her stronger than Faith. Faith has defined herself as a slayer. Willow points out that by giving up her role, Faith has become nothing. Faith lashes out physically. Willow says Faith didn't have a comeback. And she didn't. Like Oz with Wesley, she has no rational argument to make. Willow is right and she knows it. But where Oz's violence was geared toward saving the woman he loves, Faith's violence is geared toward destruction. She thinks that if she destroys those who tell her the truth about herself, it will make living with the lie easier. Of course, she's wrong. She probably even knows it. If she didn't, she wouldn't be nearly so angry.
When the mayor talks to Buffy and Angel, everything he says makes sense. The problems in their relationship are pretty obvious, although they like to avoid them. His speech is the centrepoint of three scenes. The first is at the beginning of the episode, where Buffy speculates about their future. It isn't very different from what the mayor says. The last is at the end, when they try to convince themselves that the mayor was wrong. He's evil, they keep repeating. He is evil, but he's also right. That's part of what makes his evil so scary and so effective. The mayor says a lot of things that are true. He sees quite clearly. He's a truly evil character because he has the wisdom to choose not to be evil. And Buffy and Angel are practising self-deception. As was the case with Wesley's arguments, they choose to ignore rationality in favour of love.
In the Xander/Cordelia scene a choice has been made. It isn't quite clear when or why, but clearly Cordelia's life has changed. It may be because of Xander or Buffy or her parents or something in herself. But there is a change. And given Cordelia's anger (Oz comments on this in the scene where she mocks the universities Willow got into) emotion has played a strong role in this change. In the debate over trading the box for Willow, Oz's emotional outburst rules the day. His love for Willow overrides the rational arguments of Wesley. It lends credence and strength to the feelings of friendship driving the others. Oz's emotion is a positive one, love. Cordelia is moved by what appears to be a negative emotion, anger, but at least she seems to be moving in a positive direction - to self reliance.
It's quite different for Faith. She's driven by a negative emotion, fear. She fears that the world she has created, one in which strength equals right, might not be the real world. She fears that the Willows of the world, who seem to find happiness, may be right. And that fear leads in a negative direction - to violence. Willow is right in saying Faith made a choice, but the problem is not that choice but the failure to make others. Since Faith broke with Buffy, she has followed a downward spiral without any attempt to break free. Her rage at Willow must come from realization of that failure. She stopped making her own choices and allows the mayor to make them for her. Throughout this episode, the mayor controls Faith. He sends her on missions and summons her to come with him. He stops her from doing what she wants. In joining the mayor, she sought freedom from the moral restraints she felt were imposed upon her. But he has made her a slave. In her final scene, when she hesitates to follow the mayor while staring at the creature she killed, Faith realizes that the mayor is a keeper of monsters. And she has become one of them.
Angel and Buffy are driven by a positive emotion, love. But it isn't clear if it is leading them in a positive or negative direction. As the mayor points out, their love could lead to Angel becoming evil or Buffy wasting her life away. Or they could be happy. The mayor actually seems to have a moment of genuine emotion when he talks of his wife and her unhappy end. Interestingly, Buffy and Angel completely ignore this. In the final scene, they claim the mayor never had a lasting relationship, even though he talks of his marriage. That denial of reality is scarily close to what Faith does.
Faith is an extreme case and in this episode we see the others following the same path as her but to a lesser extent. Buffy and Angel practise her denial of reality (the same reality Buffy claimed her mother was denying before). Oz practises her recourse to violence. Xander and Cordelia practise her "You hurt me. I hurt you" philosophy. Willow makes a choice similar to Faith's. Faith gave up her role as slayer and what she saw as the moral yoke it forced on her to follow the mayor and be his servant. Willow gives up the freedom her choice of universities makes possible to fight for good and be Buffy's friend. Faith thought she was finding freedom, but she found slavery. Willow knows that the freedom she is giving up is false, that she will find freedom in being what she wants to be. Maybe Xander hopes to find the same freedom on the road and Cordelia in her new self reliance. And maybe Oz has found it in Willow. And, possibly, Buffy and Angel will find it in each other.
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