Buffy and Willow are at the Bronze, listening to Oz and his band. Parker is there as well (Buffy is watching him in the mirror) and he comes over and offers to walk Buffy home - they have been seeing each other all week. Willow walks out with Oz. She is alone for a few moments and Harmony shows up. She briefly mentions that she had to cancel her trip to France (she wanted to go shopping, Willow mentions the museums which seem to surprise Harmony). She then reveals she is a vampire and attacks Willow, actually biting her neck. Oz drives her off and Harmony says she has boyfriend too and he'll show them.
Parker notices the scar Buffy has from where Angel bit her in Graduation - Part 2. She tells him it was an angry puppy. He tells her his father died in the past year. He says he now has a live for the moment philosophy. Buffy says she does to, saying she almost drowned (a reference to the Master killing her). He asks her to a party the next night and she accepts.
Xander is at Giles' place helping him organize his books. Anya suddenly shows up to see Xander. She wants to know where their relationship is. He doesn't think they have a relationship. She tells him she thinks of him all the time and even has dreams in which he is naked. She wants a standing Friday night date and recognition of the prom as their dating anniversary. Xander tells her to slow down, he says these things just happen and can't be forced.
Parker has walked Buffy to her dorm room. He's about to kiss her when Willow (bleeding) and Oz rush up. They tell her Harmony is back. Parker leaves and Willow says she's not sure if Harmony really has a boyfriend, that she always lied about things like that. Buffy thinks anyone dating Harmony dead must be really tolerant.
Harmony goes into a tunnel where vampires are drilling for something. It turns out her boyfriend is Spike. He's searching for something underground. He refuses to kill Willow for her because he wants to keep his presence secret. After a lot of whining from Harmony, he agrees to take her to a party.
At the party, Buffy and Parker bump into Spike and Harmony. They run away and Buffy chases them. Buffy and Spike fight. Harmony blurts out that Dru left Spike for a fungus demon. It's all he talks about. And she says they are looking for the gem of amara. Spike runs away with her angry that she has revealed his plan.
Anya shows up at Xander's place. While his back is turned getting her a drink, she takes off her clothes. Buffy phones Giles and tells him what she has learnt. He says the gem is a myth rumoured to make vampires indestructible. Spike and Harmony are in their home and Harmony is wondering if Antonio Banderas is a vampire and if not can she make him one. They fight but end up having sex. Meanwhile, Anya explains to Xander that she wants to have sex with him because she believes this will help her get over him. She's very matter of fact about it all. Xander tries to talk her out of it, saying having sex is about a relationship and accepting consequences. She says she brought condoms. He admits that despite her rather sterile approach, she is still more romantic than Faith. They kiss.
Buffy goes back to the party and dances with Parker. He tells her he is a history major. Pretty soon Buffy is back at his place, making out. Giles calls her room, but of course she isn't there. The next morning, she wakes in Parker's bed, but he's gone. He comes in saying he went out for coffee. He says his mother is coming to visit, so Buffy has to leave, but he promises to call. Anya and Xander are sitting back to back on his bed getting dressed. Without conviction, Anya says she's over him. Xander says ok and Anya gets mad. Harmony is writing Spike Loves Harmony on Spike's back. He gets up and goes back to his tunnel.
Buffy gets back to her room to discover Giles there. He's discovered the gem is real and Spike may be onto something. He leaves to search for the crypt where the gem is rumoured to be. Willow asks Buffy about Parker and she says it was nice and he will call. Spike is almost into the crypt with the gem and orders the other vampires to stay inside, lest they be discovered. Harmony is angry at this. Spike had promised to take her to France and now she can't even go out. He tells her to obey and says he never wants to hear about France again. She asks why she lets him be so mean to her. He says, love hurts.
Buffy searches for Harmony. Parker doesn't call. Spike breaks into the crypt. It is full of jewels and he finds one which he thinks is the gem. Harmony comes in and asks if she can take stuff. She puts on a tiara and a ring while he puts on a chain. But when he picks up a cross, it burns him and he realizes it isn't the gem. Harmony starts talking about France again and Spike stakes her, only she doesn't die. She's wearing the gem on a ring. He takes it from her and leaves.
Oz is going through Giles' albums and loves them. Xander discovers Giles has a tv. He turns it on and there is an item on the news about a cave in which they realize was caused by Spike's tunnel. They rush off with Xander going to get Buffy. Buffy finds Parker using his line on another girl. She talks to him and he makes it clear their love making was just fun for him and he didn't intend any kind of commitment. Buffy is hurt and upset. Then Spike shows up and punches her. They fight and Buffy realizes he has the gem.
Giles, Willow, and Oz find the crypt and Harmony in it. Xander goes to Buffy's room to discover she's not there. Anya turns up wanting to talk to him, but he says he doesn't have time. Harmony is hurt at the way Spike treated her, but she won't tell them where he is. She escapes. Meanwhile, Buffy and Spike continue fighting. Xander shows up, but Spike easily tosses him aside. Spike begins making fun of Buffy's relationship with Parker and with Angel. This gets her really mad. She manages to rip the ring off his finger. He starts burning in the sunlight and runs back underground.
Buffy decides to give the ring to Angel. Oz is going to LA with his band and agrees to take it. Buffy and Willow talk about Parker. Willow says Parker was a mistake, but despite everything Buffy still seems to think there is a chance at a relationship. The episode ends with shots of Buffy, Anya, and Harmony all sadly walking alone.
In Beauty and the Beasts, the show dealt with physical violence in relationships and the beast that lurks beneath the surface of our civilized self. It made the point that the presence of that beast wasn't an excuse for its evil actions. That the violence could be controlled (as Oz chains himself up in werewolf form) or turned to good (as Angel has done). In this episode, it isn't physical cruelty that is the relationship problem, but emotional callousness. And that, in its own way, may be even harder to deal with and far harder to identify.
There are three relationships to examine in this episode: Xander and Anya, Spike and Harmony, and Buffy and Parker. Anya is obsessed with Xander in much the same way he was obsessed with Buffy, maybe still is. It was amusing to hear her talk about her dream of him naked, very similar to the kind of thing he thinks about Buffy. This has been made explicit in episodes as recent as Earshot, when Buffy reads his thoughts and learns he's thinking of her naked, and The Freshman,in which Xander admits sometimes at night he wonders 'what is Buffy wearing'. Xander doesn't seem to make this connection (although he does see Anya is obsessing) and is about as callous to her as Faith was to him.
It is interesting that in their seduction scene (and you have to give Xander some credit for trying to talk her out of it - this is a far cry from the Xander who once told Cordelia looking at linoleum turned him on), Xander says that despite the aggressive, practical approach Anya is taking she is still more romantic than Faith. Of course, there are strong parallels to the scene with Faith in The Zeppo. Faith used Xander as a kind of release mechanism, burning off the sexual energy that slaying gave her. When she was finished, she tossed him out. In Consequences, Xander was hurt by the realization that the sex really was meaningless to Faith and at first refused to believe it. But that experience seems to have affected him. When Anya says she's over him, that the physical experience was all she wanted, he quickly accepts that. What he thought about Faith is true about Anya, yet he's treating her the way he should have treated Faith. Xander isn't so much cruel as confused.
In Lover's Walk, Spike was a drunken, depressed vampire pining for his lost love. His experience with Buffy and Angel helped him regain perspective, and his insights into their relationship helped them realize the truth of it. Now Dru has left him for a fungus demon, can it get worse? He seems to have picked up Harmony on the rebound (did he vampirize her or did this happen in the season finale during the big fight?) and has no real emotional connection to her. But for Harmony, the relationship is far more important. Willow speculates that Harmony never really had a boyfriend (or at least not one she was ready to brag about). Spike is quite a catch for her and she clings to him with the same puppylike obsessiveness that we used to see in Xander following Buffy and are now seeing in Anya following Xander. Only Harmony isn't as funny as Xander or as refreshingly honest as Anya. She's just annoying and insecure. She needs Spike to focus on her all the time, so she can be sure he really cares for her. And since he likely doesn't, she's never satisfied.
Harmony uses a combination of childlike whining and sex to get Spike to pay attention to her. She gets him angry as often as she gets him aroused, but she does get him to pay attention. She doesn't care if that means roughing her up or making love. Her insistence on the trip to France and later on taking her pick of the jewels Spike uncovers, are just attempts to get a physical demonstration of Spike's affection. Harmony sees affection as mediated through things and attention. She seems to have no strong sense of self (this was probably pretty clear in her prevampire self) and so only values herself to the extent that she sees others obviously valuing her. It's interesting that when she is driven off by Oz, she whines about Willow hiding behind her boyfriend and boasts that she has a boyfriend, too. Most of the vampires we've encountered boast of their own strength or how they will get revenge. But Harmony seems not so much concerned with avenging herself on Willow as in letting everyone know she has a boyfriend. When she tries to goad Spike into killing Willow, she's not really acting out of a desire for revenge, but out of a need to have more proof of Spike's devotion.
If there is a demon in this episode, it's Parker. In Gingerbread, when Giles suggested the murder of the children was committed by a serial killer and not a demon, Buffy found it hard to believe someone with a soul could do something so awful. She finds it just as hard to believe that Parker, who we have the mirror to prove is not a vampire, can just use her and dump her. In Beauty and the Beasts, Buffy tries to get Debbie to stop letting her boyfriend beat her. She realizes how destructive and unhealthy a relationship this is. But when Parker emotionally traumatizes her, she makes excuses for him, despite the clear message from Willow that Parker is a jerk who should be quickly forgotten. She blames herself.
You could forgive Buffy for having such doubts and for being confused. She's had sex twice. It turned Angel into a monster and revealed the monster within Parker. That's a bad batting average. In both cases, Buffy's real mistake was in not knowing her lovers better. Knowing the nature of the curse laid on Angel would have been difficult, but learning a little more about Parker would have just been astute. That said, Parker had a smooth line and clearly has practised it a lot. And he does have the soulful look down pat. It's easy to understand how she could be deceived by him and how, even after hearing him run the same line by another girl and getting some good advice from Willow, she could still hold out hope for a relationship with him. Some demons have no magical powers and no distinctive markings. But they are demons still the same. Buffy has to learn to recognize them.
There are some interesting parallels between this episode and In the Dark, this week's Angel episode. The Buffy/Parker relationship is very like the Rachel/Lenny relationship. Lenny is physically abusive, Parker emotionally so. Rachel confesses that even recognizing the nature of her relationship with Lenny, she is still drawn to him. Buffy, despite her recognition of what Parker had done, is still drawn to him. Angel tells Rachel she needs to have faith, by which he means confidence in her own worth. This is a message that could well be directed to Harmony and which has particular resonance for Buffy. For Buffy, faith is not merely a word denoting spirituality or confidence, but a reminder of Faith. And if Xander was wrong in treating Anya as if she were Faith, Buffy is equally wrong in responding to Parker as if he were Angel. If she drew upon the Faith part of herself (and remember that in Graduation - Part 2 Faith told Buffy to take what she needed), she would have the ability to distance herself from this bad relationship. When Parker notes Buffy's scar, the scar she got from allowing Angel to drink her blood to save his life in Graduation - Part 2, he makes a metaphorical connection with Angel. That physical scar is a sign of the love she has for Angel. The emotional scar he leaves her with is a sign of his callousness.
It's also interesting that Spike mocks the Angel/Buffy relationship both in this episode and in In the Dark. In both cases, the mockery inspires Buffy/Angel. In his battle with Buffy, it gives her the drive she needs to defeat him. Spike has a great insight into the Buffy/Angel relationship and into relationships in general. His analysis of Parker is quite accurate and Buffy should pay attention to it. And his recognition that despite other relationships they may enter into the bond between Angel and Buffy is still enormously strong and not about to be destroyed is equally accurate.
I was so happy when, contrary to my expectations, Spike was not caught because of Harmony. Yes, she spilled the beans about the ring, but she didn't lead Buffy and the others to him. And she didn't give him up when confronted by the others. In her own way, she remained faithful. This surprised me and revealed more depth to the episode, and to Harmony, than I expected. On the light side, I liked Xander having to add fabric softener and discovering that Giles has a tv and is as shallow as the rest of us. It was also fun watching Willow trying to defend him. But the best scene was the final one of the three women walking alone trying to deal with their loneliness. This episode had the mixture of wit and high drama that makes this show so worth watching.
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