Joyce is getting her CAT scan while Buffy and Dawn wait. They realize they don't even know what a CAT scan is. Giles is showing Tara his new ad in the phone book. Xander, Willow, and Anya arrive and Xander complains about Riley destroying the vampire tomb by himself (from Fool For Love). They settle down to hunt through the books for something about the demon in red, whom Xander assumes is in a sewer or some condemned building. We cut to the demon in red in a luxurious house lying on a bed trying on shoes. She's attended by a toadying demon, who she tells to call her Glory. He has a spell which she wants. He assures her it will work if she has all the necessary items. She rips the ad for the magic store out of the phone book.
Riley arrives at Buffy's and, finding the door open, walks in. He discovers Spike there, secretly going through Buffy's things. He's sniffing her sweater. Riley drags him downstairs, but Spike steals some of Buffy's lingerie first. Spike claims Buffy wants him there. He tells Riley they spent the previous night drinking (a lie of omission) and notes that while she has had Tara and Willow cast spells to keep vampires out who had been invited into the house, she has not done so for Spike. Riley says that's because Spike is harmless and Spike says the same is true of Riley. But he claims he has the attitude still while Riley has nothing. He says what Buffy wants is a vampire. This enrages Riley who shoves Spike into the sunlight, but pulls him back in when Spike reveals he has more information. He tells Riley where Buffy and Dawn are and why and wonders why she didn't bother to tell Riley while she told him. Riley tosses him out of the house, but does give him a blanket to shield himself from the sun.
Riley arrives at the hospital and Buffy is glad to see him. She asks him to sit with Dawn while she talks to her mother. She enters the exam room where a doctor is explaining things to Joyce. The doctor leaves to check on the OR. Joyce tells her they found a shadow. They have to do a biopsy to determine what it is.
The gang are making no headway with their research. Tara wonders if the demon they are looking for isn't in the books, maybe isn't a demon. Willow remembers the Dagon sphere was designed to repel that which cannot be named. They wonder if she predates language. Giles says this means they are blind, they have no idea where she might be. He turns around to find Glory behind him wanting to buy some things. He cheerfully sells them to her.
Buffy watches Riley watching Dawn. The doctor comes to talk to her. Joyce has a brain tumor and they don't know if it is operable. If not, he says she has a one in three chance. He describes symptoms like loss of vision and motor control. He starts asking questions about what the insurance company will need and about the environment they live in. Ben, the intern we've met before, calls the doctor away. He sits with Buffy and tells her the doctor wasn't really needed, he just realized he was overwhelming Buffy. He tells her the doctor is really good and her mother is in good hands. He suggests she take a break and leaves. Riley comes over and Buffy says she is going to see Giles and seek a magic solution. She asks him take Dawn to school and have her meet Buffy at the shop later. She says to tell her they don't know about Joyce yet.
At the shop, Anya is going over the receipts. She starts yelling at Giles and calling him stupid for selling a Sobekian blood stone and a Khul's amulet. She says these can be used for a dangerous transmogrification spell. He says the Sobekian spells are long lost and that they young woman he sold them too would need enormous power to effect the spell. They all realize the young woman is Glory.
Riley and Dawn are in the amusement park, watching the carousel. Dawn tells him about having her 10th birthday party there, only she didn't know anyone in Sunnydale yet and it was just her, Buffy, and their mother riding the carousel for an hour so Joyce would get her money's worth. She's worried Joyce won't get better. Riley tries to reassure her. She tells him he's better for Buffy than Angel. That she cried a lot when Angel was around and she doesn't get all worked up over him the way she did over Angel.
Buffy is asking the gang for a magical cure, but they tell her such things are difficult and usually dangerous. There isn't an easy solution. Giles confesses about selling the objects to Glory. Anya tells them the Sobekites were reptile worshippers. They've learnt she's going to transmogrify a cobra. Buffy heads out looking for her. She finds her at the zoo where she has gotten a cobra and is performing the ritual. Buffy attacks her, but Glory easily defeats her. Buffy does hear the demon call her Glory. They finish the spell and the cobra turns into a very, very big snake. Buffy flees and Glory sends the snake out to find the key.
At the shop, Riley arrives and is upset to learn they let Buffy go after Glory alone. Xander points out Riley went after the vampires alone. He asks Riley what he's trying to do. Riley leaves saying Buffy needs him. Buffy calls the shop from the hospital. She tells Giles about the snake and tells him to stay there since Dawn is coming. She goes to see her mother. Riley is in the bar he went to in Family and where he met the female vampire Sandy. He meets her again. As the doctor explains the situation to Joyce, Riley goes off with the vampire and lets her bite him. But he stakes her as she is doing it.
Buffy goes to the shop; Dawn is there. Willow says they haven't found the snake, but it bursts into the shop at that moment. It knocks Buffy aside and confronts Dawn who screams. The snake turns and leaves. Willow thinks the snake was afraid of Dawn, Buffy realizes the snake knows she is the key and is returning to Glory to tell her. She and Giles chase it. Glory is furious at how long it is taking for the snake to get back to her and is taking it out on her toady, Dreg. She tells him she's on a schedule. In a park, Buffy catches up with and kills the snake. Nearby, we see Glory looking out a window waiting for the snake's return.
Buffy is with Joyce who wants to talk to Dawn alone. Riley arrives (wearing a turtle neck) and tries to comfort her, but she says she can't allow herself to let go. Her mother calls her and she leaves.
There are few things in life we know with absolute certainty. But sometimes we know so little that we find ourselves incapable of making decisions, of determining the best or even most reasonable step to take next. I think that uncertainty, that shadow which clouds our minds and judgements, is the central theme of this episode. We see it in the diagnosis of Joyce, in Riley's continuing confusion over his relationship with Buffy, in Buffy's battle to protect Dawn, and in Glory's struggle to find the key.
We started this episode not really knowing what was wrong with Joyce. After tests, Joyce tells us there is a shadow. After exploratory surgery, a doctor gives the shadow a name - but neither he nor Buffy still knows enough to make a decision. The doctor cannot recommend a treatment, because he doesn't know enough to select one. Buffy can't do anything, because nobody can tell her what to do. The doctor asks her a series of questions she doesn't know the answer to, the intern tells her to take a break, Giles and the others tell her magic isn't a solution. Neither Buffy nor Joyce has enough information to make a decision. In fact, they don't even know if there is a decision to be made.
In The Replacement and Out of My Mind, Riley was unsure of Buffy's feelings for him and whether they would change when he became less of a superman. In Fool For Love, he seems to have decided he has to keep acting like a superman, foolishly taking on a crypt full of vampires by himself. Something Xander and the others comment on this week. Riley, himself, knows the foolishness of his actions. He is critical of Buffy for doing something very similar when she heads out looking for Glory without backup. But he seems oblivious about the problems involved in his own search for glory. And he's so uncertain of his relationship with Buffy, of where he stands, that he's easy prey for Spike. Although Spike is caught sniffing (and stealing) Buffy's clothes, he actually manages to get the upper hand in his argument with Riley. Riley is reduced to force, tossing Spike out into the sunlight. He's so insecure, he cannot effectively rebut or ignore Spike's arguments.
Things don't really get better for Riley when he gets to the hospital. Buffy has too many problems of her own to be able to expend energy on reassuring him. He's given the responsibility of looking after Dawn and her attempt to be nice to him, to compare him favourably to Angel, backfires. It now no longer matters what people say nor how credible they are. Riley is always hearing the most negative thing possible. Buffy's protestations of love, her happiness to see him, these mean nothing to Riley because he seeks certainty. And since you can't be certain in any relationship, he's never going to find it. So whenever a possible negative presents itself to him, he jumps on it. He's ready to believe Spike's ridiculous allegation that Buffy really wants a vampire. And when Dawn says Buffy is happier with him than with Angel, what he hears is that Angel was able to bring her to greater emotional highs than he can.
Riley is brought face-to-face with his problem when Xander confronts him about going after the crypt of vampires by himself. Xander asks him what he is looking for and Riley doesn't have a quick answer. Xander isn't trying to put Riley down, he actually is really concerned. He has understood Riley's fears about his relationship with Buffy (he made this clear in Out of My Mind) and he's trying to help. He's particularly insightful in this scene, noting that Buffy is going after Glory because it gives her something to fight, while she has no way of attacking the tumor that may kill Joyce. He realizes that Riley is going after vampires because they are less frightening than confronting his own fears and he tries to get Riley to face up to that confrontation.
All of which leads to the dumbest stunt Riley has pulled so far, going out with the vampire from the bar. Clearly, Riley is striving to be more Angellike, since he feels that Angel is what Buffy wants. So he puts himself directly in harm's way. He knowingly goes off with a vampire. He does this without any backup. And he lets her bite him. Of course, he does stake her. Maybe Riley is just continuing his game of chicken. Taking greater and greater chances in vampire hunting to prove that he is still a superman. Or maybe he was seriously toying with the idea of letting himself be made a vampire, feeling that only then would Buffy really love him. I have to wonder whether Riley's uncertainty won't ultimately lead to him taking that final step. And whether the season won't end with Buffy having to stake him. It would be cruelly ironic if Riley, seeking to confirm Buffy's love for him, turns himself into the one thing Buffy has to destroy. And even more ironic if she ends up destroying him with the help of Spike.
Buffy began the season not knowing the truth about Dawn. Now she knows that Dawn is the key, but doesn't know what Glory is or how to defeat her. Her conflict with Glory is fought entirely in the dark. It's pure accident that leads Glory to them and pure accident that Anya makes the connection. It's interesting that Anya seems to have done all the really clever thinking in this episode puzzling out something of Glory's nature and plan. The people who normally do the thinking and make the plans - Giles, Willow, and Buffy - haven't a clue. Buffy failed to defeat Glory when they first met in No Place Like Home and no one comes up with a better approach this time. She fails to defeat her once again - in fact Glory doesn't really bother with her. Buffy is reduced to a mere annoyance to Glory. The giant snake is only caught because Buffy happens to be there when it finds Dawn. None of the gang has a clue as to why Glory made the snake or how to find it. And Buffy just barely kills it in time. Ironically, she stops the snake just outside Glory's hideout - which she's also unaware of. The gang assume Glory is staying in a crypt or a sewer or a similar demon type place. In reality, she's in a mansion. In short, none of the gang's research or analysis has led them a step closer to Glory. Only dumb luck and the unexpected insights of Anya (who as a former demon probably has more in common with Glory than the rest of them) have yielded fruit.
But Glory is just as much in the dark as Buffy. Twice she has confronted and basically ignored Buffy. Although she tried to have Buffy killed in Family, she never bothers to do the killing herself when she has the chance. She sees Buffy as beneath her - something she said clearly in Family. But meanwhile, Buffy is hiding the key, the thing Glory most wants. When Glory creates the snake, Buffy is right there. But Glory ignores this protector of the key and instead sends the snake out on its difficult mission. She sends it to the holy places, while the key is in school. Ultimately, Dawn is found at the magic shop - the one place Glory had actually been herself. She's been in the building and she has had contact with Buffy and she remains blind to where Dawn is. In the final scene, we see her gazing longingly out the window - Glory seems surprisingly human and sad in this scene - not realizing her snake is dead and the secret of the key was merely inches away from her.
To add a little, but a very little, lightness to the episode we get Spike sneaking into Buffy's house and sniffing and stealing her clothes. He then cleverly lies to Riley, undermining Riley's already flimsy confidence. His lies are good because they contain so much truth in them. He did spend the night drinking with Buffy, but not because she cared for him. He does know about Joyce, but only because he came to kill Buffy and found her crying on the steps. He never says anything completely untrue about what happened, he merely omits unwanted detail.
There was also some more lightness in the scenes between Glory and her demonic acolyte. He was bringing new realms of meaning to words like toady and subservient. But given Glory's quick use of violence and the total terror she seems to invoke in most demons, maybe he was just being smart. She certainly enjoys being flattered (you can't seem to lay it on too thick), and she appears to be very obsessed with her personal appearance. She certainly has enough clothes and she obviously likes to wear them and get complimented on how she looks.
Some quick final thoughts. I was so happy to see Xander raise the issue of Riley's reckless actions. I had feared this would be one of those overlooked items, but Buffy is a better written show than even I thought. You've got to love Giles' ad for death charms. It's interesting that Ben the intern says the doctor lacks the bone in your head that tells you to back off and Spike tells Riley that Buffy likes guys bumpy in the forehead - meaning vampires. Buffy watching Riley watching Dawn was an interesting scene. It gave an insight into Riley's paternal instincts, an area in which he easily defeats Spike and probably Angel. Too bad he doesn't realize Buffy wants that. Anya really is becoming human. She actually catches on that she shouldn't be talking about the sale to Glory. I also liked the way she rearranged things as she came into the shop in the morning. It was nice to see the little bit of continuity of Anya's fear of bunnies, first mentioned in Fear, Itself. Glory says she's on a schedule. I'm guessing she only has a limited time to find the key and that ultimately Buffy just has to delay her long enough, not defeat her. A CAT scan, for those still curious, is computerized axial tomography - basically an x-ray connected to a computer. Although Buffy, her mother, and Dawn all specifically refer to a CAT scan, the doctor asks if her insurance company needs copies of the MRI.
Lines of the week:
"It's a predator thing, nothing wrong with it." - Spike trying to excuse his sniffing Buffy's sweater.
"If it's any consolation, I may have overcharged her." - Giles trying to find something positive about his encounter with Glory.
"Just once I would like to run into a cult of Bunny worshippers." - Xander with a Night of the Lepus type daydream.
"Great. Thank you very much for those nightmares." - Anya reminding Xander she's scared of bunnies.
"Aleister Crowley sings." - The weirdest music request ever.
"She needs me." - Riley trying to convince himself.
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