Buffy, Dawn, Riley, Giles, Willow, and Xander are in the hospital waiting for Joyce to come out of surgery. She's been in a long time. The doctor arrives and tells Buffy that, barring complications, her mother has a very good prognosis. They removed all the tumor and she should be fine. They all hug and when Buffy hugs the doctor she squeezes so hard she hurts him.
That evening, Anya and Xander have Dawn at their place, allowing Buffy and Riley some alone time. Anya wants to play The Game of Life, but Dawn says Anya always wins. Xander suggests going to a movie. Anya wants to see the one with a chimp on ice. Dawn is pretty sure Buffy and Riley are having sex. Xander tries to pretend otherwise, but he's not very convincing. At her house, Buffy and Riley are slow dancing. They have sex. Spike is outside watching the house. Later, Riley creeps out and Spike follows him.
Buffy is at the hospital with a cheery Joyce. She has arranged to spend the day with her mother. They kid about the wigs Joyce could wear. We cut to the military group Riley called in Listening to Fear. They have a mission in Belize. Graham suggests they ask Riley to join them. We cut to Buffy in bed, awakening when someone comes in. It's Spike. He tells her he wants to show her something. She reluctantly goes with him and he takes her to the building he followed Riley to. They enter and the place is a nest of vampires feeding off willing humans. They go upstairs and Buffy sees Riley allowing the vampire to feed off him. She runs out. Riley rushes downstairs and is stopped by the vampire who runs the place who realizes Buffy is the slayer. Riley knocks him down and goes out.
At his home, Riley finds Graham and his boss waiting. They offer him a chance to join them, but they are leaving tomorrow at midnight. At the shop, Giles is putting up a sign for a Christmas sale. Actually, it's pretty well every holiday plus some demonic aspects. Anya complains that her contribution to the shop is not recognized and the others are making fun of her. Xander tries to get her to back off, especially when she criticizes Willow. She's mad at him for not taking her side.
Buffy enters and tells them about the nest she found, omitting mention of Riley. Anya and Giles tell her such places are known. That some humans get excited at being fed on and they pay the vampires to do it. The vampires don't kill them because they are a source of money and blood. Giles says her time would be better spent fighting Glory. But she's determined and Giles, Xander, and Willow back her up. Only the house is empty when they get there. Angry, Buffy sets the building on fire.
Spike is alone in his crypt, drinking. Riley bursts in. He starts beating on Spike. He stakes him. Only it's plastic, not wood. Spike admits he's after Buffy, but he says that's not Riley's problem. He says Riley isn't the right man for Buffy and he knows it, hence he's going to the vampire nest to get sucked. He says Buffy needs some monster in her man and that's not in Riley's nature. He admits he doesn't think he has a chance with Buffy, but he's going to try. They both agree they would kill the other. He drinks and passes the bottle to Riley. He tells him how much he envies him. Sarcastically, Riley admits he's lucky.
Buffy is training in the back room of the shop. Xander tells Anya what happened at the nest and gets mad when she doesn't really listen to him. Riley comes in and asks them to leave them alone. Anya thinks he and Buffy are going to have sex. She wants to go home and have sex with Xander, but he says he has some stuff to take care of. Riley tells Buffy he starting going to the vampires because he wanted to know how she felt when Dracula but her. He says he wanted to understand the power Dracula and Angel had over her. He says he kept going back because of the feeling the vampires gave him, that they needed him, craved him. Something he doesn't get from Buffy. She's angry, feeling he has been unfaithful to her. She says she needs him but he says he never feels that. She tells him it's true and he tells her about the job offer. She's angry at what she feels is an ultimatum. He says he's leaving unless she gives him a reason to stay. She walks out.
In the street, she's confronted by the vampire gang whose nest she torched. They plan to kill her. But Buffy is really angry. She breaks off a plank and stakes them with it. The final vampire she faces is the girl who was feeding off Riley. She lets her go, then hurls the plank at her staking her from behind. Xander walks up. He waited, feeling she might want to talk, then followed her and witnessed the fight. He tells her she's been acting crazy. He says Riley would do anything for her. She tells him everything. He asks if she's going to let him go. She says it's not her decision. He says it is. He says she uses Riley as a convenience, she accuses him of doing the same with Anya. He says she's treating Riley as rebound guy when he's the real thing. He says if she really loves him, if he's really the guy, she should forget about issues like ultimatums and go after him. She runs into the woods where Riley is waiting by a helicopter. But it takes off, with Riley, before she arrives and she stands below shouting up, apparently unheard, as Riley flies off.
Xander goes home and tells Anya that he loves her. He says she makes him feel like a man. Buffy goes home alone.
Well, I guess we've walked into the woods, but we are far from out of them yet. Riley is gone (for the time being anyway), Xander has taken a big step forward (he sure isn't anyone's butt monkey now), Spike has demonstrated a level of self awareness that has to stun you, and Joyce may be on the way to recovery. And pretty well any one of those situations could dramatically change tomorrow. Which makes for a heck of a year ending cliff hanger. Just halfway through the season, you have to wonder what they have planned for the season ender.
This is an episode about relationships: Buffy/Riley/Spike and Xander/Anya. Although the former gets most of the air time, both go through dramatic changes. Pretty well everything else this week was just filling.
The first relationship starts with a joyous Buffy spending an evening alone with Riley. It gets romantic and they seem to have a wonderful time. But Riley is taken aback by Buffy's admission that she cried. He's still caught up in the perception of himself as weak and Buffy as strong - something he ultimately admits he has a problem with. But Buffy has her weaknesses too, times when she needs someone to be strong for her. And Riley doesn't quite seem to get this. He's too wrapped up in himself to understand. A despondent Spike is standing outside the house watching it, realizing what is going on inside. But Riley gets up in the middle of the night and leaves. Spike, not believing anybody would willingly leave Buffy follows and discovers Riley's secret. Of course, he gets Buffy and shows her what Riley is doing. It's the logical move for a would be lover. He wants to get Riley out of the way so Buffy will be available. It's a logical and very human move. It's the kind of plot device you'll find on a conventional show like Friends.
But after Buffy rushes out of the building and Spike follows her, he seems to have a sudden realization. She doesn't talk to him, she just glares at him and runs away. I'm not clear as to exactly what Spike feels at this moment. Maybe he feels genuine remorse at causing her such hurt. Maybe he never thought before about how much this would hurt Buffy because he was concentrating so hard on hurting Riley. Or maybe he realizes that the extent of her hurt is the measure of her love for Riley and that he really doesn't have a chance. That Riley is her true love.
Riley's confrontation with Spike is one of the best scenes this series has given us. We get Riley actually staking Spike, something we've been waiting for most of the season. And we get Riley and Spike realizing how alike they are. Both hopelessly in love with a woman they suspect cannot truly love them. Spike tells Riley he's not the right man for Buffy, that there's no monster in him and she needs that. But he also admits that he doesn't have a chance with her. But, unlike Riley, he's ready to try even if he feels it's hopeless. The similarity in their situations is made metaphorically evident when they share Spike's bottle - both wallowing in their romantically induced despair. But Spike's situation is much the sadder. He's envious of Riley who should be happy. He at least has Buffy for the moment if not forever. Spike realizes that as bad as Riley's situation is, his is worse. Because Riley merely has to save a relationship, Spike has to create one. And if Riley fails, at least he has his memories.
When Riley confronts Buffy in the training room, he's trying to explain his metaphysical dilemma. He wants to feel needed and he knows that Buffy doesn't need him, at least to protect her. And that's the role he has cast himself in. The vampires did need him, his blood was their life. But to Buffy they are whores and Riley has been unfaithful. Riley thinks he was trying to find purpose in his life, Buffy thinks he was looking for cheap thrills. She's angry that he compares her to vampires. He says she never feels for him the way he feels for her. She says he doesn't know her feelings, that she does. He says he doesn't sense that but he can sense the desire of the vampires.
Xander helps Buffy understand what is happening to and with Riley. He reminds her of all Riley has given up for her, of the risks he has taken. He tells her she's being foolish to engage in a spat and risk losing him. This is the Xander we saw in The Freshman. It's the Xander who has real insight into people and their feelings and who Buffy can turn to for help. In Restless, there was an implication that Xander saw himself as a watcher in training. And he takes on the role of watcher here. He follows Buffy ready to help her fight vampires. He watches the battle and realizes she's plagued by a deeper problem. And he talks to her trying to help her make her decision.
The Xander/Anya relationship follows a path pretty similar to that of Buffy/Riley/Spike. It starts with a nice evening at home (although Dawn is present the affection between Xander and Anya is very evident) like the evening Buffy and Riley spend together. There is an argument started by outsiders - in the store when Giles and Willow make fun of Anya and Anya is angry because Xander doesn't side strongly with her. The parallel is even stronger when you realize Willow secretly longed for Xander (as Spike does for Buffy) and as a lesbian there is a bar to their relationship not unlike Spike's being a vampire. They separate (Xander leaving the store to follow Buffy rather than going home with Anya) just as Buffy runs out on Riley. And in the end both Xander and Buffy go off to say how much they really love Anya and Riley.
But it differs in a critical way: Xander knows himself. He's aware of his true feelings for Anya and when he lectures Buffy, he also listens to what she says to him. He realizes that it may appear that he takes Anya for granted and he does something about it, he tells her how he feels. He tells her how good she makes him feel. That she makes him feel like a man. He's come a long way from the guy who complained about being everybody's butt monkey in Buffy Vs. Dracula. This is the Xander we caught a glimpse of in The Zeppo and again in The Prom (when he bought the dress for Cordelia even knowing she would be wearing it for Wesley). This is a strong and self assured Xander (the other half we saw in The Replacement). It's a Xander who knows who he is and what he wants. This is the Xander Anya loves.
Some quick final thoughts. So Xander and Anya get Dawn duty while Buffy and Riley have some time together. I can buy that. I can't buy Dawn basically disappearing for the rest of the episode. Buffy is supposed to be looking after her. It would have been nice if there had been a mention of Tara and Willow babysitting or something like that. Isn't it interesting that Tara and Anya were not in the hospital waiting room with the others. You'd think Tara, the sensitive one, would be there. And you'd expect Anya just to follow Xander. Since the clock says past 11 and Dawn is sleeping, I'm assuming that it is late in the evening and unlikely that Anya is minding the store at that hour. The idea of people paying vampires to bite them is really interesting and quite believable. I like this plot point and it put a really different spin on Riley's activities (changing them from a romantic to a business relationship and really cheapening them). There isn't any promise that Joyce will survive, just that she made it through surgery. I loved the scene where everyone hugged and Xander and Giles pulled back and shook hands. How does a weakened Riley beat back the vampire as he leaves the nest? For that matter, how does Riley survive after being bled repeatedly in a short time? I'd expect him to be anemic at least. And what has happened to Harmony?
Lines of the week:
"Oh, I cried." - Buffy shocking Riley with an admission of weakness.
"Are you naked under there?" - Spike having a little trouble focusing.
"We only came here because we care about you friend." - Spike being sarcastic.
"No longer a victim of crass holiday commercialization. I'm a purveyor of it." - Giles acknowledging his decline.
"I left reasonable about 3 exits back." - Riley in a moment of self realization.
"You actually think you've got a shot with her?"
"No I don't. Fella's got to try, though. Gotta do what he can." - Riley asking the question and Spike being honest with his answer.
"Sometimes I envy you so much it chokes me." - Spike letting Riley know how he feels.
"Like a man." - Xander letting Anya know how she makes him feel.
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