The episode starts where Hush ended, with Buffy and Riley staring at each other not knowing how to begin talking about what they now have to talk about. Buffy begins by telling Riley what she knows about him and the commandos and what they do. He tells her they call the demons hostile subterrestrials (HSTs). She questions his identity and he says his name really is Riley and he really is from Iowa. She tells him she's the slayer, only he's never heard of her. She's disappointed that he's not the normal guy she thought he was. They agree to take some time to process all this information and to keep silent about what they know. As Riley is about to leave, rat Amy starts screeching and then there's an earthquake. Riley is excited, but Buffy is clearly troubled.
Spike is still staying with Xander and the quake loosened some pipes and caused a little flooding in his place. Xander, now delivering pizza for a living, leaves Spike with orders to fix the pipes, clean up, and do some laundry. When he turns, Spike tries to brain him with a wrench, but the pain in his head stops him. At the dorm, Willow shows up and tells Buffy Porter dorm is blacked out and they are planning a party. Buffy tells Willow to go and that she will catch up later.
Buffy visits Giles and tells him she fears the quake is a portent of doom. He thinks it's just a quake and is far more interested in the commandos. He's determined they are situated under the university and that some may be at the university. She tries to get him off the topic by pushing her world coming to an end theory, but he's not buying. Meanwhile, Riley asks his friend what the slayer is. His friend says it's a myth, like the bogeyman, made up by the HSTs. He believes the HSTs are just rare animals. One of the demons tries to escape and Riley and his friend subdue it. All of the demons in the lab start acting up. They seem disturbed by the quake.
At the party, Willow meets Percy who she tutored in Dopplegangland. He's there visiting his girl friend Laurie. Laurie clearly doesn't like Willow. We see some kids going into a room (naked limbo seems to be the plan) and a demon follows. It kills one of the guys. Willow overhears Percy and Laurie talking about her. Laurie calls her a geek and Percy says he isn't interested in Willow, that he likes his women hot. Upset, Willow goes into another room and lies down. The lights finally come back on and Willow finds she's in bed with a demon mutilated corpse.
Xander returns to his place to find it a shambles. And Spike has shrunk his clothes. Spike is really upset and so is Xander. Xander tells him off and leaves. Buffy arrives at the party in time to see them carting out the body. An upset Willow fills her in and they go to see Giles. Riley learns of the killing and goes out to do some recon and determine whether his people should be involved. Willow is getting sympathy from the gang about being called a nerd. She also points out that she thinks the demon drained the blood from its victim. And she shows them a drawing of the carving in the victim's chest. Buffy thinks she recognizes the picture. Giles says it's the end of the world. Buffy goes out to stop it.
Buffy finds the place where she saw the picture, the side of a mausoleum. Inside, she finds a demon stealing some bones. They fight. It manages to knock her down and flee. When she gets up, Riley is there. She's mad he didn't pursue the demon. He calls into his base and we discover his code name is lilac. Buffy tells him she can't have a relationship with him. That it would be doomed and she can't go through that again. He tells her that he has never been so excited before and he won't walk away just because it may not work. But she's not convinced. She says he's involved in an adventure, she's following her destiny. Riley thinks she can change things, she disagrees. She says no and walks away.
Buffy and her gang meet to discuss strategy. At the same time, Riley briefs his people. Giles and Willow find a reference to a sacrifice of three to end the world. And the Word of Valios is the third ingredient needed. They decide to head out looking for it. Willow and Xander go to his place first so he can change and they can get weapons. Riley has a device which can recognize the pheromones put out by the demon and they will use that to track it.
At Xander's, Willow and Xander walk in to find Spike trying to kill himself by falling on a stake. But he just busts some furniture instead. He confesses that his inability to scare people any more has him depressed. Xander is willing to let him die, but Willow won't. She insists he come with them since he's in no condition to be left alone. He perks up when Xander tells him if they fail the world will end.
Buffy meets Riley in the street and he makes another play for her. It goes worse this time. He accuses her of being self involved and wanting to be depressed and alone. She gets angry. At the museum, Willow, Xander, and Spike have found nothing. Spike tells Willow and Xander that they are losers - he jobless and not in school and Willow unable to hold on to a boyfriend. He succeeds in making them feel bad and you can see him smiling at this success. Meanwhile, Giles realizes the Word of Valios is a talisman and he actually possesses it. But the demons break in and take it from him.
Buffy arrives to find a beaten Giles who explains about the talisman to her and the others who are already there. He has discovered that the ritual will reopen the hellmouth in the library. So they have to go back to high school. In the library, they find the demons conducting a ritual. They fight. Willow grabs the bones and Xander the blood. Demons chase them. Willow tosses the bones to Spike. The demon fighting Xander grabs the vial of blood and jumps into the hole in the floor. Xander realizes the demons are the sacrifice. Spike discovers he can fight, if he's just fighting demons. He beats up the demon and not realizing tosses it, and the bones, into the hole. The building starts falling down and Spike is hit by a beam. Buffy shouts at them to get out while she battles the final demon. Xander and Willow grab Spike and lead him out. Buffy continues to fight and Riley appears and helps her. The demon manages to grab the talisman and crawl into the hole. Buffy goes after it, but first Riley hooks a cable to her (it's a Batman type utility belt thing). She dives in and he pulls her back out. She's grabbed the demon and brought it back. The sacrifice fails and the world is saved.
Outside, they encounter the others. Willow and Xander realize he's a commando. He pretends he was playing paint ball. Spike fakes an American accent and pretends to be a friend of Xander's. At Riley's the next day, Buffy shows up to see how he is. He's upset at having revealed his secret to Willow and Xander. He says it's the end of the world. But Buffy says it's not and kisses him. At Xander's, Spike tries to get Willow and Xander to go out with him and find some vampires to destroy. He's eager to kill something.
I have to start by talking about Spike because he is my favourite character. And because this episode has firmly cast him as the antiAngel. There was always a parallel between Angel and Spike. Angel tortured Dru when she was human and then turned her into a vampire. Spike loved Dru as a vampire and competed with Angel for her. Angel created the woman Spike loves and clearly understands her better than Spike. Spike understands the relationship between Buffy and Angel better than either of those do, as he demonstrated in Lover's Walk. When it comes to the most significant relationships of their unlives, these two are intimately connected and have an incredible insight into each other.
The gypsy curse made it impossible for Angel to hurt people any more. The technological curse of Professor Walsh has made it impossible for Spike to hurt people any more. Both sank into despair. When Angel hit rock bottom, Whistler saved him by giving him purpose in life. Now Angel fights evil to protect the innocent. Spike hit rock bottom and Willow and Xander stopped him from killing himself. They took him on a mission and he discovered he could hurt vampires - and presumably other demons. This revived him. It gave him new purpose in life. Now Spike will fight evil for the fun of it. They've followed slightly different paths and have really different motivations, but they are both doing the same thing. And you have to wonder whether Spike won't eventually become Angel and whether Angel wouldn't be a little emotionally healthier if he were to become a bit more like Spike. And if you think Spike becoming Angel is really unlikely, remember it took a long time for Angel to turn from evil demon, to broken down bum, to dark knight. And I am guessing that a key item in making Spike good will be Willow. Her not wanting to kill him or let him kill himself is going to mean a lot one day.
I don't much like Riley, but he really showed me something in this episode. He's talking out of ignorance - he clearly doesn't have enough information to understand that when Buffy talks about destiny she's not kidding - but he does talk well. And he seems to be talking from his heart. When he describes how excited being with Buffy makes him and how he is willing to risk failure to pursue the relationship, you've got to feel for him. Of course, Buffy has been through this before and you can understand why it doesn't work for her. But at least Riley comes across as genuine and passionate in this episode. Something I've never really felt from him before. But I still think that when it comes time to choose, Riley is apt to make the wrong decision. And at some point he will have to choose between the mystical world Buffy represents and the rational universe Walsh stands for.
When Riley accuses Buffy of being self involved, it's hard for the audience to see his side of things. But if you limit your knowledge of Buffy to what he knows and your understanding of the demons to his, then it does make some sense. To Riley, there is nothing supernatural involved here. The demons are scientifically explainable animals. The world is not going to end because of some ritual. And the slayer is not fated to do or be anything. Seen from that perspective, you get some insight into the frustration Riley must feel. Buffy seems to be forcing obstacles between them. She seems to be obstinate and unwilling to do anything to make things better.
It's interesting that Riley seems to be getting more aggressive with Buffy at each encounter. He's clearly getting increasingly frustrated and we begin to see some of the real Riley come out. One of my problems with the character has been his bland niceness. Now we hear him say mean things. And probably mean them. He's actually getting angry, just as Buffy is getting angry. And in both cases it's the situation, and the unknowns, which are responsible.
Ironically, when Riley complains about the end of the world, it's a totally personal thing having to do with his secret being exposed. When Buffy was worried, it was the real end of the world. So you have to admit it took some control on her part not to point out that he's the one who is self involved, not her.
But doom isn't necessarily a bad thing. There can be good dooms. Buffy and Riley are clearly fated for some outcome. But there isn't enough evidence now to determine whether theirs will be a good or evil doom. And maybe the same can be said for Spike's doom. Maybe the doom or fate or destiny this episode is about isn't the end of the world, but the beginning of the relationship between these three. Will Riley keep Buffy's secret? Will he realize Spike is the escaped HST with the implant? Will he tell Walsh about this? Will Buffy protect Spike from Walsh and her people? Where will Willow stand in all this? Not to mention Xander. Maybe this season the great evil won't be a person or a demon, but a situation.
One of the things I love about Buffy is the way humour is intelligently worked into the story. In this case, when Giles says it's the end of the world and Buffy points out she was right all along, he has the funniest line of the episode - "My contrition completely dwarfs the impending apocalypse". This is a laugh out loud funny line, but it's not a joke someone stuck into the script. It's a naturally funny statement that works with the characters and with what has happened before. And that, in a nutshell, is what's so good about the writing on Buffy.
Some quick final thoughts. It's Riley's first earthquake. Buffy was born and raised in California. So why is he the one dragging her to the doorway. Surely she's the one who should react most quickly to a quake. Didn't Spike say he couldn't fight the demons in Something Blue? Was he just mistaken or has something changed? I loved Spike's pleasure at depressing Willow and Xander. He may not be able to scare people, but at least he can make them feel bad. Okay, gravity operates on all objects the same way. The demon went into the hole first. Since Buffy was just falling and not accelerating, there is no way she could have caught him. Which is a really big plot hole. Finally, does Angel buy his gadgets from the same place as Riley? They do seem similarly equipped. Clearly, Buffy goes for guys with a well stocked utility belt.
Lines of the week:
"I really thought that you were a nice, normal guy."
"I am a nice, normal guy."
"Maybe by this town's standards, but I'm not grading on a curve." - Buffy and Riley on expectations.
"I can feel my skin humming." - Riley on how excited he is.
"My contrition completely dwarfs the impending apocalypse" - Giles letting Buffy know how he really feels about being wrong.
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