Buffy is in the cemetery staking vampires as they rise. Riley appears and starts beating up vampires as well. Then Spike shows up, eager for some violence. Buffy is angry at Spike and tells him to go away. Spike, seething with hatred, looks after them. He turns and walks away falling into an open grave.
At school, Buffy and Willow are arguing about the French revolution, their first intellectual debate. Willow is thrilled. Buffy has to go train and Willow goes with her. At the shop, Xander is helping Giles rebuild the store. He's making shelves. Buffy and Willow arrive to find the rest of the gang there. As Buffy and Giles go to train, Willow tries to convince Tara to set up shop as a fortune teller in the store. Giles and Xander have created a real training room and Buffy is touched.
Spike is in his crypt watching television when Harmony shows up. She's convinced she is Buffy's arch nemesis and is being hunted by the slayer. Spike doesn't take her very seriously, especially when she has trouble smoking, but she does offer to have sex with him and help him kill the slayer. Buffy and Riley are in bed together. Riley is insatiable. Joyce is making breakfast for Dawn who has emptied the cereal box to get the prize but wants eggs. Suddenly, Joyce pauses, says 'who are you' and passes out. Dawn calls 911. We see Buffy rushing into emergency where Dawn is waiting playing with a stethoscope a doctor lent her. The doctor tells Buffy her mother is ok. Dawn listens to everybody's heart, Riley's sounds strange.
Riley is being examined by a doctor who says he has tachycardia, basically a rapid heartbeat. She doesn't want him to leave, but he insists. Joyce is ready to leave and soon Joyce, Dawn, Buffy, and Willow are at Buffy's home. Joyce is worried about Riley but Buffy says not to worry. In her room with Willow and Dawn, Buffy is worried. Willow says to contact the Initiative, but how. Dawn says if they are spying on them, all Buffy has to do is say something while they are listening. She says she sometimes puts false entries in her diary for that reason.
At Riley's, Buffy picks up the phone and hears clicking. She says that Riley needs help and hangs up. Riley is playing basketball, Graham, one of his buddies from the Initiative, shows up with two agents. He says they have a doctor who needs to operate on Riley. Riley doesn't trust the government. He fights with them and flees. Graham tells Buffy what happened and that they need to get Riley to the hospital where they have a doctor waiting. She goes to the shop to confer with the gang. Xander obliquely suggests Riley may have gone off because he fears Buffy doesn't love him. Anya thinks he's talking about himself and reassures him that she does love him. Buffy tells Anya and Xander to check the docks. Willow and Anya go to check the burnt out school. Buffy realizes Riley might go to the caves and Giles says Spike knows them well. In his crypt, Spike is playing 20 questions with Harmony. He guesses - Harmony is thinking of a breadbox. They hear Buffy coming and Harmony hides. Buffy offers Spike money if he will find Riley and take him to the hospital. At the hospital, the doctor tells Graham it may already be too late for Riley. Spike and Harmony arrive, with a crossbow, and Spike tells the doctor he has a new patient.
Buffy enters the caves. Harmony and Spike are forcing the doctor to operate on Spike and remove the chip. The doctor says he doesn't know how to do it. Willow and Tara are at the school. Willow uses magic to light the building - a spell Tara taught her and which she improved upon. Tara is really impressed. Buffy finds Riley punching the cave wall. His hand is bleeding but he doesn't feel a thing. He confesses he fears that if he is normal Buffy will dump him. She is angry at him for thinking her so shallow. He agrees to go to the doctor with her. Meanwhile, the doctor has Spike's skull open and is looking for the chip. Harmony is looking on and won't shut up. Buffy and Riley arrive at the hospital and Graham tells them what happened. They go searching for Spike. Harmony is smoking and the doctor points to the nonsmoking sign. Harmony quickly puts out her cigarette and while she's doing that the doctor removes the chip. Spike is ready to kill the slayer and tells the doctor to stitch him up.
Stitched up and ready to go, Spike wants to snack on the doctor. Buffy and Riley arrive. Spike and Harmony put on their vampire faces. Harmony accidently shoots Riley in the leg with the crossbow, but he doesn't feel it. She and Riley fight and Buffy and Spike fight. Spike tries to bite Buffy, but feels the pain in his head - the doctor didn't really do the operation. Riley is doing well against Harmony, but he seems to have a heart attack. Spike and Harmony flee and the doctor operates on Riley who recovers. Riley assures her he is okay and she goes to see how her mother is. Graham tells Riley there is nothing for him in Sunnydale and he should rejoin the Initiative.
Spike is in his crypt and Buffy bursts in. She's got a stake and is ready to use it. Spike tears off his shirt and tells her to go ahead, that he can't stand it anymore. She can't bring herself to stake him and he kisses her. She kisses back. He says he loves her. Spike wakes up, terrified.
The final scene of The Replacement was pretty shocking. So this week they decided to outdo it with an even more disturbing final scene. Again I found myself surprised by an episode - four times. First, there was Joyce fainting - something that happened without any preparation. Then there was Dawn hearing Riley's rapid heartbeat - I really thought in this scene she'd listen to her own heart and hear nothing. Then there was Spike's endeavour to get the chip taken out of his head - although this has been his long sought after goal I was still surprised when he almost pulled it off. Finally, there was Spike's nightmare - something we should have seen coming since Something Blue and which was foreshadowed earlier in the episode. And every one of these events has significant story arc implications. Even better, each event led inexorably to the next, tying all the storylines together.
Joyce is making breakfast and Dawn is acting like a kid. Actually, too much like a kid. Are we just too used to precocius children on tv or is 14 really too old to be digging through the cereal box for the prize? And is it this strangeness or just the unfamiliarity of what should be the most familiar of moments which triggers her sudden realization? She realizes Dawn doesn't belong there and asks who she is. And she passes out. Dawn actually seems really shocked at what happens and immediately dials 911. Did some natural defense mechanisms of Dawn trigger itself and knock out Joyce when she was about to see the truth? Did something similar happen to the crazy man in Real Me?
At the hospital, Dawn is once again acting like a kid and being treated like one. It's interesting how she's completely ignored and can use the stethoscope on people without their saying anything. I really expected this moment to reveal something about Dawn - like no heart. And I wondered whether this might not surprise Dawn herself. Instead, Dawn's medical adventures linked us to the Riley storyline and his rapid heartbeat. Of course, Riley's heart trouble is both real and metaphorical. The procedure Walsh performed endangers his physical health, but he is also feeling his heart breaking because of his perception that Buffy does not love him. Xander actually tries to make this point, but it seems impossible for the others to believe. They can never perceive Riley as the unselfconfident one. It's also nice that the metaphorical heart damage is what is hampering the repairs to the physical heart. Riley fears that by becoming normal he will be excluded from Buffy's world. Of course, Giles and Xander are normal and Willow was before she took up witchcraft. And none of them are excluded. But Riley clearly compares himself to the superhuman Angel - who ironically left because he couldn't be normal.
Riley's situation leads Buffy to ask Spike for help - always a mistake. And an angry and bitter Spike follows up on what has been his goal ever since the chip got implanted - getting it removed. I really thought he was going to use the opportunity to kidnap Riley and lure Buffy into a trap. Or maybe just attack Buffy somehow. Or somehow pit the two against each other. But Spike was smarter than that. He realized he couldn't defeat Buffy through proxies, especially not proxies like Harmony. So he decided to grab an Initiative doctor and get his chip removed.
When Buffy arrives and Spike puts on his vampire face I was struck at how much more angry and violent it looked than I remember it from the past. I'm not sure if the makeup was altered or if weeks of seeing a harmless Spike emphasized the difference. In either case, this Spike was genuinely scary. I didn't think he would be able to hurt people, but I thought it would be because the implant had led to a conditioned response which worked even without it. Instead, the doctor tricked them. Not tough to do when Harmony is the one to trick.
The battle against Spike, not to mention the delay in getting the doctor, almost leads to Riley's death. In fact, my biggest complaint about this episode is the speed of Riley's recovery. Although Buffy has been unwilling to harm the crippled Spike in the past, an attack on Riley would be the one thing likely to cause her to kill him. And Spike presenting his chest for the stake was completely in character. Spike is always ready to take the big risk and make the big gesture. And I think he's also recreating a scene out of Richard III. Richard proposes to the wife of a man he killed. She says she wants to see him dead and he gives her a dagger and points it at his heart telling her to kill him or marry him. She can't kill him. Buffy responds in the same way and hate turns to passion. Reminding us of Darla's words to Angel in Prodigal, telling him that his murder of his family is an act of love. Love and violent acts are inextricably linked in the world of vampires, demons, and slayers. In Something Blue, Willow's spell caused Buffy and Spike to fall in love. But was it really so strange an idea? Certainly Spike has displayed an intense interest in Buffy. He claims he wants to kill her, but he also talked of torturing Drusilla. Harmony, whom he actually makes love to, clearly doesn't interest him at all. He never thinks of her and essentially ignores her. But Buffy occupies all his waking thoughts and now his dreams. Maybe the mannequin we saw in The Replacement was as much an object of worship as of attack.
The return of the Initiative and Buffy's realization that they have tapped Riley's phone, lead to some interesting speculation. Just how involved is the Initiative, or whatever has replaced it, with day-to-day activities in Sunnydale. Are they just monitoring Riley or are Buffy and her friends also being watched? Is there any connection between them and Dawn?
I wonder if there is an intentional parallel between Spike and Harmony and Buffy and Riley. In each case, one partner in the relationship is the victim of Initiative experimentation and looks to the other to rescue him. Spike needs Harmony to help him get his chip removed (and she fails as usual) and Riley needs Buffy to get him to let the Initiative operate on him (and she succeeds as usual). In each case, one partner is clearly superior to the other and the inferior partner desperately wants to achieve parity. Harmony tries hard to be a villain and a slayer killer, just like Spike. Riley is constantly attempting to equal Buffy's feats at slaying. Riley's desire to patrol - his appearance at the cemetery and his eagerness in slaying - is similar to Harmony's desire to kill Buffy and her smoking. Both are emulating the actions of their partner. Both question their partners love for them (Riley in The Replacement and Harmony in several episodes most notably in The Harsh Light of Day). Both have clear inferiority complexes - actually they really are inferior. Given Riley's resentment of Spike (remember he threatens to kill him in Buffy Vs. Dracula and he knows Buffy was magically in love with him in Something Blue) and Spike's obvious obsession with Buffy, you have to wonder whether Spike's nightmare isn't the secret fear of Harmony and Riley. A fear Buffy herself articulates when she tells Riley that if she really wanted someone with super powers she would be dating Spike. Spike does indeed have the strength Riley thinks is so essential. And Buffy has the brains Harmony clearly lacks. And for the insecure duo of Harmony and Riley, that means a lot.
Some quick final thoughts. I like the way the hospital became the central scene in this episode with Joyce, Dawn, Buffy, Riley, Spike, and Harmony all visiting it. It was a nice way of making us focus on the medical storyline while the real magic was happening elsewhere. I also liked the work Giles has done with the shop. He came through on his promise to create a training area for Buffy. And it's nice to see Xander contributing his construction skills. If he's really good at carpentry, Xander can have a very good career and actually make enough money to make Anya happy. It's interesting that as Darla invades Angel's dreams in Angel, Buffy invades Spike's dreams here. Dawn's admission that she writes fake things in her diary forces us to reconsider the events of Real Me, given that many of them are narrated from her diary. In the final dream sequence, Spike doesn't have a bandage on his head. But he does have one as he flees from Buffy earlier. A clue it is a dream. I like the ambiguity of the title, referring both to the madness which almost overcomes Riley, the near panic Buffy faces, and Spike's goal to get the chip removed. It's interesting that in the first scene of the episode, Spike is fighting vampires much like Riley and points out the angry look Buffy gives Riley. In the final scene, he is dreaming about supplanting Riley in Buffy's affections.
Lines of the week:
"It's blood. It's what I do." - Spike defending himself.
"I will make your neck my chalice and drink deep." - Spike in a near Shakespearean moment of hatred.
"Q from Bond, not Star Trek." - Buffy clarifying her popular culture references.
"Who are you?" - Joyce starting the process.
"Is the enormous hall monitor sick?" - Spike at his most obnoxious.
"Loving you is the scariest thing I've ever done." - Riley telling Buffy his secret.
"This has got to end." - Spike pleading for respite from Buffy.
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