Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Bargaining

Summary

The gang are in a cemetery pursuing vampires. The gang consists of Spike, Tara, and Giles in one group, Anya and Xander in another, Willow perched on top of a tomb coordinating everything via telepathy, and Buffy. When the final vamp is destroyed, we realize it's actually the Buffybot. The gang have been using her to keep Buffy's death a secret, both from the everyday world and the demon world.

Willow and Tara are staying at Buffy's and next morning Willow cannot find her clogs. Tara thinks Dawn took them, but she says not. In the kitchen, Tara is making breakfast and the Buffybot has made a huge stack of sandwiches (Tara told her to start but never told her to stop). Xander shows up with his tools for Willow to work on Buffybot. The phone rings and they stop Buffybot from answering, fearing it is Buffy's father. If he realizes Buffy is dead, he would take Dawn. But it's Anya telling Willow she got something Willow wanted for the scoobie meeting that night. Spike will be staying with Dawn.

Buffybot has to go to parent/teacher day with Dawn. While she acts rather strangely, she's a huge hit - oddly saying exactly what the teachers want to hear. At the shop, Giles wants Anya to recheck some accounts. She feels he is torturing her. They start arguing and it turns into a slap fight. Xander breaks it up, reminding Anya that when Giles returns to England - as he says he soon will - he will leave the store for her. Giles points out he will still be a partner. Xander takes Anya aside and she says she is anxious about when he will leave and whether he should leave and when they will announce their engagement. Xander wants to wait, but Anya thinks it is a good time to tell everyone.

That night, at the house, Dawn tells Spike what a success Buffybot was. He ways it's because schools love mindless automatons, but catches himself and says it is important for her to go to school. Dawn tells Spike Willow and Tara will be home soon and he can leave, but he angrily refuses. He says he won't leave her to get hurt. We cut to a woman leaving her shop and walking home down a deserted street. A vampire attacks her and the Buffybot comes to her rescue. The woman flees and the vampire hits Buffybot with a bottle, exposing her metal interior and injuring her. He escapes, realizing she is a machine.

Willow, Tara, Anya, and Xander are looking at the Urn of Osiris, the object Anya acquired for them. She got it on eBay from a desert gnome in Cairo and got him to throw in a limited edition Backstreet Boys lunch box for Xander. Willow says they will be able to act tomorrow. Xander wants to slow down, but Willow says they are ready to resurrect Buffy. Xander asks who made her boss and Anya points out he did. And they voted and it was unanimous. And he made her a plaque saying 'boss of us' with sparkles on it. He agrees these are valid points but then they were just talking. Willow insists they can do it and says they mustn't tell anyone (even Giles). She also insists nothing can go wrong. When Xander continues to argue she points out Buffy died because of mystical energies (which means they have a shot at a true resurrection) and also they don't know where her soul is. It might be in hell and they have to save her. Xander agrees to go ahead with things.

Willow returns to the house to find the injured Buffybot there with Spike, Dawn has gone to bed. The Buffybot is programmed to find Willow when injured. While Willow is working on fixing her, the Buffybot mentions Spike's washboard abs and Spike is furious that this remnant of her old programming has not been excised by Willow. She says she'll try to get it, but Spike leaves unwilling to be with the Buffybot. The Buffybot notices that Spike seems uncomfortable around her and never looks her in the eye anymore. That night, Dawn sneaks out of bed and gets into bed with the recharging Buffybot.

Giles is checking the Buffybot's reflexes. He starts talking to her about chi. Anya suggests this is too complicated a subject for the Buffybot, but Giles rejects this criticism. But then he talks to the Buffybot, bemoaning his failure to save Buffy. The Buffybot tries to cheer him up. He says he did his job and she asks why he is still there. He pauses and thinks. Cut to a biker bar full of demons. The vampire who fought the Buffybot and injured it is there. He tells the demon bikers about this and they realize Sunnydale is unprotected. The lead biker kills the vampire and they all head off to Sunnydale.

Willow is in a parklike space casting a spell which summons a little deer from the woods. It comes to her and she takes a knife and kills it. She goes to the store where she finds Xander, Tara, and Anya - Giles isn't there. She tells them she has the final ingredient. Tara is really nervous. Anya finds a note from Giles saying he has left. Cut to the airport where the gang arrive (with Dawn) to say goodbye to Giles. Willow has a sign with balloons on it. They have several gag gifts which they bought at the gas station. They call the flight and Giles hugs them all, telling Dawn to call him if anything happens. After he has left, the gang wonder whether they should have told him about resurrecting Buffy. Willow says not, that if it works he'll come back.

That night, the bikers arrive in Sunnydale. The gang are at Buffy's grave starting the ceremony. Willow pours the blood from the deer into the urn and marks her face with it. She starts the spell and she is tested. Her arms are cut and something seems crawling under her skin. Meanwhile, the demon bikers are trashing the town. Willow vomits up a snake. At the house, Spike hears the bikers outside and sees what they are doing. The Buffybot goes to the lead biker and tells him to stop. The gang surround her and injure her. She heads off to Willow and they chase her. The spell is peaking with a red whirlwind surrounding Willow. Buffybot appears with the bikers behind her. The circle is broken, the urn destroyed, and Willow collapses. The gang flee with Xander carrying Willow. A biker grabs Anya, but Tara uses her magic to free her. We see Buffy's corpse in her grave. The whirlwind enters and resurrects her. The Buffybot is captured by the bikers. The gang decide to split up, Xander and Willow and Anya and Tara. They will meet at the store and whoever gets there first calls Spike and Dawn. They realize the Buffybot is lost. As the bikers beat the Buffybot, Buffy frantically tries to break out of her coffin.

Willow comes to and Xander tells her what happened, including the destruction of the urn. Buffy breaks out. Anya and Tara are hiding from the demons who decide to stop searching and head to town. Spike tells Dawn they have to leave the house. She's frightened and he reassures her. They realize the bikers know that Buffy is gone. Buffy digs her way through the dirt and climbs out of her grave. She sees her tombstone and walks into town, seeing the fires and destruction. Anya and Tara have made it to the shop. The demons are rioting in the street. They are worried about Xander and Willow and think they are lost. Tara begins to cast a spell. In the woods, Xander and Willow are lost. Willow is avoiding talking about what happened. They see a light, it is Tara's spell to guide them.

Buffy is in the street, she sets off a car alarm and a man with a gun comes out of his house threatening her. Spike finds a helmet for Dawn and knocks one of the demons off his bike. He and Dawn ride off on the bike. Xander and Willow arrive at the shop. Willow wants them to go out looking for Spike and Dawn,

The lead demon is telling his gang Sunnydale is their new home. He plans to inaugurate it by an act of violence, the destruction of the Buffybot. The real Buffy arrives and sees this. The demons chase her and she flees. The gang are walking down the streets, armed with weapons from the shop. Tara wonders whether the fates didn't stop the resurrection on purpose. Anya wants Xander to announce their engagement. Buffy appears. She flees, but they find her. Xander realizes she was in her grave and had to dig her way out and they realize this traumatized her. The demons arrive and the gang try to scare them off. But it doesn't work. The demon leader knocks down Willow and Xander. Buffy confronts him and knocks him out. The other demons attack.

Dawn and Spike find the destroyed Buffybot. While Spike looks around, Dawn approaches the Buffybot which tells her about the real Buffy being there. Dawn wanders off in search of her. Spike sees Dawn's missing and goes hunting for her. The gang defeat the demons, but Buffy runs off. The lead demon comes to and attacks. Buffy kills a demon which has followed her. She sees the tower Glory built and goes to it. The gang are fighting the lead demon and not doing too well. Dawn sees the demon Buffy killed and the tower and heads toward it. The lead demon is choking Willow and Tara kills him with an ax in the back. Buffy has climbed the tower and is reliving the last minutes of her life. Dawn climbs up and talks to her, trying to convince her to come down, saying she needs her. The tower was poorly built and is collapsing. Buffy asks if this is hell. As the tower collapses, she runs to save Dawn. They fall safely. Dawn hugs Buffy and cries.

Analysis

I think a season opener is always a tough episode. And one with such a problem to solve (bringing Buffy back to life) and such a big change to deal with (Giles leaving) is going to be even tougher. So compared to other season openers of Buffy, it did a very good job. It brought Buffy back in a way that was reasonably difficult and not possible to replicate for others. It even included some indication of why it would only work for Buffy (Willow mentioning that she had died because of mystical energies and not natural causes and so magic might reanimate her). It handled the problem of Buffy being dead and reappearing by having the Buffybot take her place. This was sensible. It dealt with the day to day problems of keeping Dawn in school and her father happy (but why hasn't he visited since Joyce died?). And it dealt well with Giles' motivation for leaving and the mixed feelings the others have about it.

On the negative side, the demons were lame. They were stupid and you had to wonder why Sunnydale doesn't have a police department or a fire department. There should have been a SWAT team out there taking them down. You'd assume they'd have a lot of experience with that in Sunnydale. While I liked the scene on the tower, you have to wonder what happened to Spike (who was determined to save Dawn only a few minutes earlier and then loses her and seems incapable of tracking her down again) and the scoobies who should have been quickly on Buffy's trail. They seemed to disappear so Dawn and Buffy could have their big scene together. That is weak plotting and not something I expect from this show.

But the positives outweigh the negatives and this was a pretty good way to kickoff the new season. And I'm going to start by talking about my favourite scene which starred my favourite character: Spike. It's the scene where Dawn is trying to get him to leave and he insists on staying. We realize he's still trying to fulfill the promise he made to Buffy in The Gift to protect Dawn to the end of the world. A promise he failed to keep and which led to her death. The emotional change which has come over Spike since Buffy's death (indeed a change which began happening in the last few episodes of the fifth season) is highlighted when Spike is angry when the Buffybot speaks the way he originally had it programmed to speak - adoringly of him. The Buffybot notes Spike cannot look her in the eye. At one time, he viewed the Buffybot as an acceptable substitute for the real thing. Now he can't stand to be around it and wants no contact with it. He wants the memory of his creation and use of it excised. In Intervention, Buffy told Spike that the Buffybot was gross and obscene and not real, but that what he had done for her and Dawn was real and something she would remember. In The Gift Spike says he knows he's a monster but Buffy treats him like a man. This is what matters to him and what he remembers. That memory is both what is keeping him going (he protects Dawn and fights with the scoobies because that is what Buffy would want and that makes him feel less like a monster and more like a man) and what is emotionally destroying him (the presence of the Buffybot is a concretization of his own monstrous nature and the presence of Dawn is continuous proof of his failure).

Spike is made of sterner stuff than we might have guessed. And his feelings for Buffy inspire him to be better than perhaps he really is. When the demons attack, his thoughts are about protecting Dawn. He flees the destruction with her (although you get the impression he would rather stay and destroy things) because it is his duty to the memory of Buffy. It is only when they encounter the destroyed Buffybot that he is distracted. The absence of the Buffybot removes one of the emotional thorns in his side. Spike will no longer be reminded by her presence of the absence of the one he really wants. His temporary lapse is a result of his relief at the destruction of the painful reminder but also his unwillingness to look at the face of the Buffybot, which is where Dawn is. Turning aside, he loses Dawn. Spike has demonstrated that he will endure any physical peril for Buffy, but emotional pain is still too much for him.

Spike's relationship with Giles has evolved considerably. In A New Man, Giles had to bribe Spike to help him. In Restless, we saw an image of Spike as a watcher in training. In this episode, we see a friendly, joking relationship with Giles as they kid each other and joke about demons in the cemetery (and it's interesting to note that Spike helps Giles up and jokes with him about his unexciting life). Of course, this was foreshadowed in The Gift when Spike commented on Buffy's speech and Giles started reciting Shakespeare. Their shared nationality has always been a sort of bond between them. Now they are also connected by Buffy - both essentially exist because of her. Spike's current vision of himself is based on his promise to Buffy and the exchanges between them in the last days of her life. Giles' self image is entirely based on Buffy - he's a watcher and she's his slayer. Her death is the natural end of the relationship, as he says, and of course exactly what he doesn't want. While Spike tries to avoid the Buffybot, Giles tries to embrace it. He tries to act as if it is Buffy and uses it as an excuse to remain in Sunnydale. Anya recognizes this when she talks to Giles about the pointlessness of discussing chi with the Buffybot. He's continuing to train it as if it were Buffy. As she points out, it's not the latest in a line of warriors, it's a descendant of toasters.

While the destruction of the Buffybot defocuses Spike, the destruction of the illusion that the Buffybot is Buffy refocuses Giles. He realizes he must leave Sunnydale because his work there is done. It is time to move on. He also comes to understand and articulate what the gang mean to him. While Buffy is central to his universe, the others are also very important. We see this at the airport where we learn he left unannounced to avoid causing a scene and where he finally hugs them all. And he makes Dawn promise to call him if she has any trouble. Dawn is the last piece of Buffy left in the world and Giles is still hanging on to that, but recognizing that he has to leave her training up to Willow and the others. That's not his job.

The direction of Willow's development seems to be becoming clearer. Over the last season, she became increasingly uncontrolled. In Something Blue, she used her powers to attempt to get over Oz leaving her. In Triangle, she takes stuff from the shop without asking Giles and atttempts to perform a complicated spell without taking proper precautions. In Forever, without thinking, she helps Dawn find the reanimation spell. In Tough Love, she rushes into battle with Glory against Buffy's advice and uses black magic to do it. And, in this episode, she engages in black magic (the killing of the deer and the vomiting up of the snake sure point to that) and she doesn't even let Tara know exactly what is going on. Willow has become increasingly isolated and risk taking. Her attack on Glory almost killed her and her attempt to reanimate Buffy comes close.

Willow clearly has the knowledge and the power to perform magical acts of enormous impact. But her personal limits of strength and her intellectual/emotional maturity as a witch have not kept pace with her development. She's driven by her emotions (reacting with magic when she is moved by sorrow or anger) and her normal inwardness (Willow has always been quiet and noncommunicative and has traditionally kept her feelings and her thoughts to herself) makes matters even worse. She doesn't seek advice or emotional support. She doesn't consult with Giles and Tara about her plans (and when she does she keeps secret the dangerous elements of those plans) and she doesn't go to her friends for emotional support in times of crisis. Even in this episode, she's reluctant to talk to Xander who accuses her of avoiding the issue.

Xander has grown a lot since the gang's high school days. Perhaps more than any of the others. And, with Buffy and Giles gone, he takes on a leadership role. While ceding authority to Willow in many matters (he does make her boss), he's still ready to question her decisions and to raise counter arguments. When fleeing the woods, he takes charge. Not in a faux macho manner, but by being the person with a plan. He splits the gang up - this makes sense since Willow would slow them all down and four people together would be louder and easier to track than two sets of two. He takes Willow because he's physically the strongest and so best able to physically support her. He articulates his reasoning clearly and the others go along with him. While he is still the not very academic, generally joking, Xander; he is also taking the role of the voice of caution and reason. The sober second look.

But Xander does still have his weaknesses and one of them is his unwillingness to announce his engagement to Anya. While the period immediately following Buffy's death might not have been the right time, months later he should be ready. I found it odd that he let Giles go without telling him since Giles functions very much as the father figure for the group. And Anya's argument, that it is good news and would cheer people up in hard times, is a valid one. There is more here than merely timing and a sense of appropriateness. For all the certainty he felt last season about his relationship with Anya (revealed in his comments at the end of Into the Woods and during his proposal in The Gift) he seems to be unsure of himself and their love this season.

Anya remains wonderfully unchanged. She continues to be obsessed with money (she tells Giles she will take good care of it at their leave taking and she offers to let Tara look at the money to help calm her nerves). She continues her interest in monkeys (last season she wanted to see the movie about the skating monkeys and this episode she talks about a Discovery show about monkeys). She remains Internet savvy (in I Was Made to Love You we learn she has been piling up capital gains by online trading and in this episode we discover she tracked down the urn of Osiris on eBay). And, most importantly, she's still scared of bunnies (remember she wore the bunny suit to the Hallowe'en party in Fear, Itself, screamed when she found the stuffed bunny in The Gift, and was disturbed at the demon's mocking suggestion that Willow pull a bunny out of her hat).

Dawn seemed very young for her age last season. She required a baby sitter, did dumb things like run away from home, had a little girl crush on Xander, and seemed incapable of eating ice cream without getting it all over her face. Now she seems to have grown up, not surprising considering what has happened to her. At the parent/teacher day, she takes charge trying to move the Buffybot through the day safely. She laughs off the Buffybot's bizarre comments about the model city. Of course, the model city is also evidence that she is still a kid - she made the flying cars and seems pleased at the absence of schools and the presence of many pizza parlours in the model.

In Intervention, we saw Dawn take a pair of earrings. In this episode, it's suggested that she took Willow's clogs. This is a suggestion from Tara, generally a reliable source. Dawn was never confronted about the earrings, but she clearly says she did not take the clogs. Is this just a matter of childhood stealing - lots of kids do steal small things? Or is it a sign of something deeper? Does it have something to do with the manner in which the monks created Dawn? She says that she's no longer the key or no longer can open anything if she is a key, so what is she then? Did the monks make her as a permanent creation?

The character we see the least of is the most important, Buffy. She has virtually no dialogue and doesn't appear until halfway through the episode. If course, she also has the biggest obstacle to overcome - coming back from the dead. I was happy to see that the loose ends were not wrapped up and that Buffy will have to deal with this further in coming episodes. And I liked the problems her resurrection caused her. Confused by her sudden revival, she looks about herself and sees a world in flames overrun with demons. She asks if it is hell and it certainly looks like it. She must think her sacrifice did not succeed, so it is no surprise that finding herself at the tower again she considers reenacting the sacrifice, seeking to save the world once more.

Buffy digging her way out of her grave (how could the gang be so stupid as to not realize this would happen) was a great scene. It obviously feeds into a fear many people have (being buried alive). Her aimless and speechless wandering through the devastated town was even better. But her final scene, with Dawn, was predictable and weak. While the relationship between Buffy and Dawn is clearly the defining relationship in their lives right now, Dawn's melodramatic speech and the actress's limitations as a performer reduce the effectiveness of the scene. Whedon has often used silence very effectively (take the scene where Buffy tells Dawn Joyce is dead in The Body) and I think such an approach would have been better here. To much dialogue dragged the scene out and reduced its impact.

But Buffy did have her good moments. One, and an important one, was her fight with the demon biker. As the demon talks to Willow and Xander, we see Buffy's vision clearing. She's reviving and becoming more herself. She confronts the demon and defeats him. She stands over him, the way Buffy always stands over fallen enemies. But she's speechless. It's Anya who speaks, wondering if they won. Buffy, unlike the word salad Buffybot, is incapable of talking. And that silence lets us know just how profoundly Buffy has been affected by her experience. She's alive, but she's not herself. The witticisms which are so much a part of slaying aren't there yet.

Some quick final thoughts. Xander seems to have bulked up a lot over the summer and not in a good way. And, no matter how light Willow may be (and she's certainly not under 100 lbs), there's no way Xander could really have carried her very far. And I like Spike's analysis of what schools did and why teachers like robots. I say Giles was the father figure of the group. Given that, it is interesting to note that Buffy's father is always absent and distant and apparently uninterested in his children, Xander's father has been presented as an argumentative drunk, Tara's father as a bullying villain, and Willow's father is just never present. Giles is just filling a vacuum. The folks in Sunnydale never seem to learn. I can't believe that woman was walking down a deserted street at night. I have to wonder whether it's even possible to buy insurance in Sunnydale. My respect for Xander diminishes now that I know him to be a Backstreet Boys fan. I was going to argue that a private grave with a gravestone and a professional looking coffin just seems very strange and unlikely. But this is Sunnydale. The sisterly bond was nicely dealt with in Dawn's reaction to the Buffybot hugging her and calling her sister (Xander is sensitive to this moment) and with Dawn creeping into bed with the Buffybot. A great silent moment. Another great moment was Spike calming the frantic Dawn as the bikers smash up the neighbourhood. How come only one householder came out with a gun?

Lines of the week:

"Did your life pass before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea." - Spike empathizing with Giles.

"That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo." - Buffybot demonstrating only the real slayer can be witty and slay at the same time.

"When I'm marvelling at the immaturity, be scared." - Xander breaking up the Giles/Anya fight.

"Happy news in hard times is a good thing." - Anya on why they should announce their engagement.

"I'm not leaving you to get hurt. Not again." - Spike talking to Dawn but wanting Buffy.

"You know I admire your brain almost as much as your washboard abs." - Buffybot talking the way Spike programmed her.

"I told you to stop making her do that." - Spike unhappy with the programming.

"She's not the descendant of a long line of mystical warriors. She's the descendant of a toaster oven." - Anya on why the Buffybot is different.

"She's gone. I did my job."
"Then why are you still here?" - Giles on what happened and Buffybot with the obvious question.

"I got the whole sunlight issue" - Soon to be dead vampire understating.

"You wanna look at the money?" - Anya trying to calm Tara.

"We'll miss you. But we'll be ok. We'll miss you. But we'll be ok." - Willow letting Giles know how they feel and what he has done for them.

"Buffy's gone." - Willow being really wrong.

"They can't loot the magic shop. Not now. I just got it." - Anya getting her priorities straight.

"I so need male friends" - Xander realizing how alone he sometimes is.

"Of course we want trouble, we're demons." - Lead demon summing it all up.

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