Buffy is fighting a vampire, everything seems to be going normally. Except the vampire grabs the stake from her and stakes her in the stomach. Badly hurt, she flees as it pursues. Riley jumps out and tackles the vampire and it runs away. He takes her home and bandages her up. Dawn bursts in to tell them Joyce is coming. Joyce just wants to discuss the grocery list with Buffy. She smells the disinfectant, but Dawn pretends it is nail polish remover. When Joyce leaves, Buffy shows Dawn her wound and Dawn agrees to cover up for her so Joyce won't know she is hurt. Riley says he will go on patrol and Buffy makes him promise to take the gang.
Riley is patrolling with Xander, Willow, and Anya ineffectively trailing behind him. Buffy is reading slayer histories with Giles. She's trying to learn how slayers were killed, so she can better protect herself. But the final battles of the slayers are not documented. Buffy realizes Spike killed two slayers and she goes to him. Soon, they are drinking beers and she is offering him money to tell her what happened. He demands Buffalo wings and when she turns to order them he realizes she is hurt and understands why she is asking him these questions.
We flashback to prevampire William trying to write a poem about his beloved. He's at a party and people make fun of him and his poem. The girl he loves tells him he's beneath her. He runs crying into the street, bumping into Angel who is with Dru and Darla. He sits tearing up his poems and crying and Dru approaches him, apparently captivated by him. She vampirizes him. Riley sees the vampire who hurt Buffy, but it enters a crypt full of vampires and Riley says they will have to come back in the morning and slay them.
Spike and Buffy are playing pool, he tells her becoming a vampire made him feel alive for the first time. We flashback to an argument between Spike (he has just taken that name) and Angel. Spike is too violent, always drawing attention to the gang and Angel doesn't like that. They argue and fight. Angel tells him one day an angry mob or the slayer will teach him. Spike tells Buffy from that day on he was obsessed with the slayer. She asked how he killed her. He grabs her from behind and she reaches for him, but he grabs the pool cue she is holding. He tells her a slayer should always go for her weapon first, a vampire always has his - he puts on his vampire face.
We flashback to China during the Boxer rebellion. Spike is fighting with the slayer and defeats her. Dru enters and he tells her the blood of the slayer is an aphrodisiac. He feeds her some and they fall to the floor together. They meet Angel and Darla in the street and tell them what happened. Angel says he wants to leave and they walk away with Spike leaping with joy. He tells Buffy it was the best night of his life. She's disgusted that killing someone excited him. He tells her she's gotten so good she's begun to think she's immortal. She says she's just good. He punches her in the stomach where she is wounded, causing them both pain. He walks out and she follows. Riley goes back to the crypt and hears the vampire bragging about defeating the slayer. He bursts in and fights and kills the vampire. He then tosses a grenade in the crypt and leaps out leaving the other vampires to be blown up.
Outside the Bronze, Spike and Buffy fight. He tells her she should be asking why the slayers lost, not why he won. He tells her of battling and killing the slayer in the New York subway. He tells her death is her art and she's obsessed with it, wondering where it leads to. He says every slayer has a death wish. He says she has only lasted as long as she has because of her ties to the world, her friends and family. But eventually she will want to die and that day he'll be there. He moves forward as if to kiss her. She tells him that it may be true, but it won't be him. She knocks him down and says he's beneath her. She tosses his money at him and walks away. Spike picks up the money and cries.
At his crypt, Spike gets a gun and tells Harmony he's going to shoot Buffy no matter how much it hurts him. We flashback to Spike and Dru after they have fled Sunnydale. Dru is with a demon (one with deerlike antlers). She tells him he's obsessed with the slayer, that there is no room for her. At Buffy's, Joyce is packing for an overnight stay in the hospital and she's going to have a CAT scan. She tries to reassure Buffy that everything will be fine. Buffy goes outside and sits on the stairs crying. Spike comes up ready to kill her but stops when he sees she is crying. He asks what's wrong and Buffy says she doesn't want to talk about it. He asks if there is anything he can do. He sits beside her and pats her on the back.
In my comments on Family, I wrote about how much I liked the editing of that episode. I liked the editing this week even more. I loved the way Spike's conversation with Buffy was increasingly intertwined with his reminiscences about his past: becoming a vampire, being part of Angel's gang, killing the slayers. As Spike begins telling his story we see a sharp distinction between the Spike of today - the persona he assumes - and the William of prevampire time. It becomes clear that Spike has rewritten much of his history, making himself appear in the past as the character he now plays. Even his accent changes and becomes rougher. But gradually the two characters merge and by the subway scene they are the same. The subway Spike looks and acts like the Spike we know. And in this scene he talks directly to the modern day slayer. The wall between past reenactment and current events is completely broken down. This technique acts as a metaphor for the mental breakdown occurring in Spike as he starts reincorporating his true past into his present self.
By the end of this episode, I liked Spike more than ever and I realized he and Riley had practically exchanged personalities. And, when you come to think of it, they have strangely similar life stories. Both were normal people turned into supermen by women (Spike by Darla and Riley by Walsh). In each case, they were changed against their will, but came to think of themselves as very much the changed being. Riley is still trying to come to grips with the loss of his super powers (the last few episodes have had plenty of scenes showing how this has affected him). Spike has been in emotional agony ever since he realized what the chip had done to him. Oddly, both want to return to what they were (Riley to the Walsh enhanced version of himself and Spike to the Dru enhanced version of himself) but neither seems to realize that the person they yearn to be was never truly them. This conflict, between reality and dream, leads to the increasingly erratic actions on both their parts. And in both cases, their girlfriends can only stand by and hope they get better.
Spike says the slayer ultimately has a death wish. It seems clear that Riley has one. When he returns to the crypt to face down the gang of vampires by himself - even though his plan to return in the morning made perfect sense - he's creating a situation in which he can die nobly. Riley is avenging his girlfriend and proving himself. But he's also exposing himself to a glorious end. When Spike fights the slayer during the Boxer rebellion, he's doing much the same thing. He's proving himself to the women in his life (Dru and to a lesser extent Darla) and he's creating a situation in which his death would become legendary. But while both have done similar things, they seem to be moving in opposite directions. Riley is becoming increasingly isolated. Although he promises he will patrol with the gang, he comes back alone to fight the vampires. Spike is living with Harmony again and while he goes by himself to kill Buffy he ultimately can't do that and instead sits down to be with her. Riley's final scene is one of violence and destruction. Spike's final scene is one of friend consoling friend.
While Riley has generally lived his life with his emotions near the surface and Spike has buried his deep within himself, the three most emotionally evocative scenes in this episode all belong to Spike. There is the scene in the past where, spurned by his love, he walks through the streets crying and tearing up his awful poems. There is the scene where he lies on the street crying when Buffy has spurned him, using the same words as his one time love Cecily. It seems to me that at this point the two divergent aspects of Spike (William the poet and Spike the slayer killer) are violently yoked together. Spike's first response is to disconnect those personalities and become pure Spike again and his method is to kill the slayer who has been the catalyst for his reintegration. But when he finds her, it is the slayer who is crying. And Spike, possibly for the first time in his life as either human or vampire, feels genuine sorrow for someone else. And so we come to the third and most touching scene where Spike abandons his plan to kill Buffy and instead sits beside her and tries to comfort her. He finally sees in another person the same sorrow that he has felt himself. And this releases his humanity.
When Buffy was close to being killed by the vampire and someone leapt out and attacked it, I was really expecting Spike. He's the one who lurks around the cemetery looking for a fight. But it was Riley, which also makes sense. But the fact that Riley and Spike could be interchanged in this scene, and in the concluding scene, shows how similar the two characters are in their relation to Buffy. Riley, because of his relationship with Buffy, has had the two parts of him - the superhuman and the normal - separated. Spike, because of his relationship with Buffy has had the two parts of him - the poet and the killer - united.
Dru, while mad, clearly has deep insights into the people around her. Spike has always been very insightful as well - he's usually the one who first understands how people feel. The union between them makes sense and at last we got to see the scene in which they separated. Spike, in Lover's Walk, had described a scene in which Dru had abandoned him because he had become weak. But, actually, she seems to push him away because he has become inaccessible. She sees his obsession with the slayer long before he realizes it himself. She knows he doesn't want her, the woman who created Spike and submerged William the poet, but he wants Buffy, the woman who ultimately resurrects William and reunites him with his other half.
This episode focussed so heavily on Spike and Riley that there were only a few seconds devoted to the rest of the cast. But they were good seconds. The scene where Dawn comes to warn them about Joyce and later agrees to help Buffy keep her injury secret, reinforces the bonds of sisterhood which have become so strong between the two of them. Joyce's scenes, worrying about the grocery list and packing for her overnight stay, were particularly affecting. That seemed a very big bag for one night in the hospital. Joyce is clearly preparing herself, and to some extent Buffy, for the worst. Unfortunately, the scene with Xander, Willow, and Anya trailing Riley was just comic relief and not very good comic relief.
Angel says a good death is a work of art. Spike says death is the slayer's art. It's a pretty grotesque concept, but Spike clearly believed Angel and Buffy wouldn't react so strongly to Spike if she didn't suspect he was telling the truth. I'm reminded, incongruously, of Charlotte's Web. Charlotte speaks of the messiness of being a spider, all the trapping of creatures and eating them. Being a carnivore is a nasty business and so is being a slayer. It's just a fact of life you have to live with.
Spike remarks that Buffy has lasted as long as she has because of her family and friends. The illness and possible death of Joyce (and her realization that Dawn isn't real) is an obvious attack on the chain binding her to life. But while Buffy has learnt a lot about slayers from talking to Spike, he also has discovered a lot about himself. So when the moment comes, when Buffy's ties to life are at their weakest, he cannot act. He is no longer the vampire who killed two slayers.
You have to admire the cleverness of the Buffy and Angel writers in creating a crossover episode without any true crossover and using the same scene (the Boxer rebellion) in both episodes this week. They did something similar in The Freshman and City of where we saw both sides of a mysterious phone call. But the two different views of the Boxer rebellion scene were far more detailed and gave a much deeper insight into these four vampires - three of whom are still major characters on the shows. This is just really admirable writing.
Some quick final thoughts. I've thought for a while Spike needs to be in therapy. It strikes me that telling his life story to Buffy was not too dissimilar from some therapeutic practices and it may well have helped Spike deal with his issues. I liked the way we learnt the derivation of Spike's names - both William the bloody because of his bloody awful poetry and Spike from the cruel comment made at the party. This certainly casts a violently different light on Spike. I loved the way the initial scene, Buffy slays a vampire and makes humourous comments, was completely inverted.
Lines of the week:
"Painful." - Giles on the subject of the slayer's death.
"I've always been bad." - Spike with a self descriptive statement only true if you count poetry.
"They call him William the bloody because of his bloody awful poetry." - A party guest explaining name derivation.
"I'd rather have a railroad spike through my head than listen to that awful stuff." - Another party guest giving William ideas that Spike will follow up on.
"You're beneath me." - Cecily and Buffy saying the worst thing they can think of to William and Spike.
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