Xander and Anya are in bed discussing Riley leaving. Xander finds it hard to believe he's gone. Anya fears Xander may leave her someday and says she wants lots of warning and then for him not to leave. She wonders whether the problem isn't Buffy. We cut to Buffy in a convent fighting and staking a vampire. She then helps a nun, whom the vampire pushed down, and asks her whether life without men is working for her.
Buffy and Giles are training. He's going to go to the council and ask for their help with Glory. He has to tell them about the key, but promises not to tell them about Dawn. Buffy is worried about what they may do. Giles says he has run out of options, that the Initiative is no more and with Riley gone their link to the government is lost. Mention of Riley's name affects Buffy but she puts on a brave face kidding about it.
Giles tells the gang about his leaving and Anya is excited about being in charge of the shop while he's gone. But Giles is clearly worried about this and Willow says she'll take care of things, getting Anya upset. Xander is soon in the middle of an argument between the women and he turns to Buffy for help, asking her to describe her slaying activities. She tells him about the convent and how the nun let her try on her wimple.
At home, Joyce is finally dressed and clearly feeling better. Buffy and Dawn are both happy. After joking with her, they go to Buffy's room where the sisters talk about Riley's leaving and Buffy assures Dawn it will get better. We cut to Spike talking to his mannequin. He's pretending it's Buffy and trying to apologize for what he did, showing her Riley and the vampire. He imagines Buffy's responses and gets angrier and angrier until he's in a rage. He calms down and starts practicing his apology over again.
Willow is taking supplies from the magic shop for a spell she is working on. She wants to create artificial sunlight, giving Buffy a powerful weapon to use against vampires. Anya doesn't think they should be doing this with Giles away. Willow compares her to the fish in The Cat in the Hat. This angers Anya who being a centuries old demon doesn't know anything about modern children's books. Willow tries to get her to try magic, but Anya sees this as peer pressure. Willow starts floating things and Anya wants her to stop. Xander walks in and Anya says Willow is stealing things. Willow says she's trying to help Buffy. They both want Xander to side with them. Willow does a spell and accidently makes the cash register disappear. Anya is furious. Willow brings it back, but it's in bad repair. She accuses Anya of only caring about money and mimics her. Xander tells them he won't be put in the middle and leaves them to sort things out. When Willow appeals to Tara, she, too, opts to leave them to talk things through.
Willow continues with her spell and Anya keeps track of the price of the ingredients she uses. Willow warns her that any interruption during the spell can disrupt it. But Anya keeps interrupting. This leads to an argument and while they are going at it, a troll suddenly materializes. He smashes up the store and leaves.
At school, Tara and Buffy are coming out of their Greek art class. Buffy is taking it because the only other thing that fits in her schedule is about central America and that would remind her of Riley. She suggests they get Willow and go for a hamburger. Tara tells her about the argument in the shop and Buffy thinks Xander and Anya are arguing and is really upset. Nothing Tara can say seems to placate her and she's soon in tears.
Meanwhile, Anya and Willow are chasing the troll in Giles' car. Anya is driving and we learn she never drove before. Willow is trying to find a reversal spell and the two are still arguing. In a bar, Xander bumps into Spike. Spike sits with him, just to bug him. He notes Xander is in a bad mood and asks if it has to do with Buffy. He keeps asking about Buffy and Xander can't understand why. Buffy and Tara enter the devastated shop. They go hunting for Willow and Anya. The troll is pretty easy to follow since he is leaving a path of destruction. He smells ale and decides to go there. Xander and Spike are playing pool and Xander is telling Spike about his problems with Willow and Anya. Spike tries to bring the conversation back to Buffy. The troll comes in and starts drinking - barrels. He then calls for some babies to eat. Xander tries to calm him down, but it doesn't work. Anya and Willow arrive, then Buffy and Tara. Spike starts launching into his apology to Buffy, but is interrupted by Anya who explains about the troll. Willow tries to avoid blame and starts the spell to banish the troll. The troll sees them and knows Anya, they used to date. In fact, Anya turned him into a troll because he cheated on her - that's how she got the job as a vengeance demon. He's mad at her and at witches (it was witches who imprisoned him in the crystal Willow accidently released him from). He's determined to kill Anya and Willow. Willow tries the spell, but it doesn't work. He goes to attack her and Buffy fights him. Spike goes to help and is knocked down. Buffy is knocked into Spike who gropes her as she tries to get up. The troll knocks down the pillars supporting the upper story and it collapses with a lot of people on it falling down.
Buffy is trapped under some debris. When they free her, the troll is gone. She sends Anya and Willow to the shop to create a counter spell and Xander to follow the troll. She starts helping people who are trapped or hurt. Spike is also helping and is upset when Buffy won't give him credit for not feeding off the victims. At the shop, Anya and Willow are still squabbling. Anya realizes Willow thinks she might hurt Xander, the way she has been hurting men for centuries. Anya says she would never do this and says Willow would try to take Xander away from her. Both deny these accusations and the troll bursts in. He wants to kill them both. Xander arrives and fights the troll but is pretty easily defeated - and badly beaten. The troll offers to kill only one of the women and wants Xander to choose. Xander refuses and the troll breaks his wrist. He says he'll kill Xander and Anya offers herself instead. Willow tries a spell which fails. Buffy and Tara arrive and Buffy fights the troll. They tell her his strength is in his hammer. Anya tries to distract the troll, by insulting him, while Buffy fights him and Willow casts a spell. The troll is enraged by Anya's criticisms and goes to attack her. Willow's spell separates him from his hammer and Buffy attacks him again, only he still has his troll strength. He asks why she is bothering to fight, saying their is no point in protecting Xander and Anya since they will never last. This enrages her and she pummels him into submission. Willow completes her spell and sends him to the land of the trolls. Buffy takes the hammer as a trophy and puts it on a display case, which immediately shatters under the weight completing the destruction of the shop. But she's just happy that all the couples are together. She breaks down in tears.
Giles is back and is at Buffy's home talking to her and Joyce. He has seen the destruction. The other watchers were not able to help immediately, but they are researching and hope to have information about Glory soon. They don't know about Dawn, but he had to tell them about the key and they were very interested in it. Joyce still finds it hard to conceptualize. Dawn overhears part of their conversation as she stands hidden in the stairway
I keep hoping I'm going to wake up in a moment and realize this week's Buffy episode was just a dream, a nightmare actually. If there has been a worse episode of Buffy, I sure can't remember it. Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The acting ranged from mediocre to awful. The script never rose above weak. And the basic premise was so shallow I can't believe it ever got approved.
I'll start with my one positive statement about the show: the ending. Having Dawn accidently discover the truth about herself, well something since it isn't clear how much she overheard or understood and nothing was said explicitly, came as a real shock to me. Obviously, the Dawn situation ultimately has to be resolved. I thought Dawn would discover what she was but in the final episode. By having her make this discovery earlier, I think the potential for a deeper, more layered climactic final episode has been established. I'm now thinking that the sisterly relationship between Buffy and Dawn will be pivotal in the defeat of Glory. And I suspect the scene where the troll asks Xander to choose between Willow and Anya (and later opts to kill Xander instead) foreshadows the final confrontation with Glory. At least I hope so. It would make this episode somewhat bearable.
This episode ending scene was made more powerful by the earlier scenes with Dawn. We see Buffy and Dawn interacting with their mother, interesting that when Buffy sees Joyce is finally up and dressed she immediately calls Dawn to come see. Then the sisters go to Buffy's room, where Buffy lets Dawn stay. They really treat each like family here, family who have been through a tough time and know how important it is to be there for each other.
I have to admit I really liked the scene with Spike and the mannequin, even though it didn't seem as sharply written or acted as Spike's scenes have been in recent weeks. It was still good stuff, revealing deeper layers to Spike. He clearly does understand how exposing Riley to Buffy hurt her. And since he loves Buffy, he feels badly about hurting her. And he desperately wants to apologize even though he secretly realizes it won't make things any better. Spike actually has a conscience. And the fact that he was practicing his apology, shows how important it was to him. He wanted to get it right.
SMG is not the greatest actress in the world. But she has always done a decent job as Buffy. Yet in this episode, she was terrible. Her whimpering seemed incredibly fake and her sadness over the perceived threat to the Xander/Anya relationship just didn't come across as real. The scene where she's reduced to tears at the thought of a squabble between Xander and Anya was just silly. The rest of the actors turned in pretty cardboard performances, although I can't blame them given the weakness of the script. I felt sorry for Benrubi as the troll who was given some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard on tv. Of course, you might miss some of that terrible dialogue while musing over the extreme set of coincidences that substituted for plot in this episode. We've got Willow attempting a spell with a crystal in which a troll is secretly hidden. The spell goes wrong and he's released. The troll turns out to be Anya's exboyfriend, the one whose cheating led her to her career as a vengeance demon. This nice set of coincidences makes it easy to set up the big confrontation between the two women where they realize why each worries about the other and how she will affect Xander.Then everyone arrives in just the right order. This happens twice, once in the bar when Willow and Anya arrive just after Xander has confronted the troll and Buffy arrives just as Willow wishes for her. Then, in the shop Buffy arrives for no reason at all at just the right time. Yes, I know this happens in other episodes, but other episodes have something (like writing or acting) to take your mind off this. And usually, there is some reason given for what happens.
The conflict between Willow and Anya has been foreshadowed, but it was weakly handled here. It was obvious that Anya saw Willow as a threat to her relationship with Xander, she is his oldest and best friend and there was once something romantic between them. But for Willow to fear that Anya would hurt Xander made no sense. This is the Anya who is slavishly devoted to him. The Anya who could only think of rescuing Xander in Fear, Itself. The Anya who has dedicated her life to Xander, the only person she treats at all nicely. And even if we believe in this fear, Willow is more sophisticated than to act as childishly as she did. And I can't buy that the animosity between the two could be so easily ended if it really were so intense as it's made out to be.
Giles had to act particularly stupidly for the Willow/Anya conflict to get started. Admittedly, he's always had a problem talking to and relating to Anya, but surely he has noticed her desperate need to be good at something. And while Anya doesn't deal very well with people, he should have realized Xander would help her with that and she does do a wonderful job of running the business. It was strangely thoughtless of him to ignore her feelings in this way.
Some quick final thoughts. While can't Giles simply call the council, why does he have to travel there? Has everyone forgotten about Parker, Buffy's other mistake. Maybe there is something to Anya's theory. So far we've seen bedroom scenes with Buffy and Riley, Buffy and Parker, Buffy and Angel, Willow and Oz, Willow and Tara, and Xander and Anya. When will we get Giles and Joyce, the only couple coupling we haven't had a view of. The sunlight spell was actually a really good idea. I hope we get more of those. Advanced methods of vampire slaying make sense. Willow says let it out just before the troll materializes. Clearly, her words modified the spell. I wonder whether Xander, who is mister insightful relationship guy these days, will start thinking about his conversation in the bar with Spike and realize what is going on there. Also, will Buffy realize that Spike was actually groping her in the fight scene?
Lines of the week:
"How's the food?" - Buffy getting to a question a nun is comfortable answering.
"A trip to England sounds so exciting and exotic. Unless you're English." - Tara trying to cheer Giles up.
"But I met a nun and she let me try on her wimple."
"Ok. Now we're back to frightening." - Xander who can deal with vampire stakings far more calmly than nun impersonations.
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