Buffy the Vampire Slayer - After Life

Summary

The gang are walking home, hoping to find Buffy there. The demons seem to be fleeing town now that their leader is dead. Anya thinks Buffy is broken, but Willow believes she is suffering from being tortured in some hell dimension, possibly for years since time may pass at a different rate there. Tara wonders whether Buffy is dangerous. Cut to Dawn who has brought Buffy home.

In the house, Buffy notices how things are different - chairs have been moved around in the living room and Willow's computer is now taking up part of the kitchen table. They go upstairs and Buffy changes and Dawn helps clean her up. She sees how bruised and bleeding Buffy's hands are, from breaking out of her grave, and she buttons her shirt for her. Buffy walks into Joyce's bedroom and sees that Willow and Tara are living there now. She asks what else is different and Dawn tells her Giles left but he'll come back now and that someone will call him. Spike arrives and shouts out for Dawn who calls back to him. Dawn goes downstairs and Spike is an angry with her for running off. Then he sees Buffy and thinks it is the Buffybot but quickly realizes it is the real Buffy. He notices her hands and realizes they got that way clawing her way out of her coffin.

He tells Dawn to get bandages and mercurochrome. They sit together and he holds Buffy's hands. She asks how long she was gone and he says 147 days. She says it was longer for her. Dawn comes back with the bandages. The gang burst in asking questions. Spike walks out without saying a word. Dawn tells them to back off, she realizes they did this. Buffy says she is tired and wants to sleep.

When Xander and Anya walk out, they see Spike (he wipes away tears before they can see them). Spike is angry that they didn't tell him what they were going to do. He thinks Willow kept it secret because she thought Buffy would come back damaged and have to be destroyed and he would never allow that. Xander says Spike is just covering and that seeing Buffy back was the happiest moment of his existence. Spike rides off, saying there are always consequences when you use magic.

Willow has called Giles who will be returning shortly. She talks about how Buffy described Angel when he returned from the hell dimension. She's worried. She wonders why Buffy isn't happier, why she hasn't said thank you. Tara says to give her time. Buffy is in her room looking at photos of the gang. For a second, they all seem to be photos of dead people. Later that night, Tara and Willow are awakened by their window being broken and Buffy is standing before them. She starts screaming at them, calling them names, and referring to the deer Willow killed in Bargaining. She hurls a glass at them and Willow turns on the lights. Buffy isn't there and there is no glass. They go into Buffy's room and she's fast asleep. In their room, the pictures on the wall shake and they realize there is something in the house. Willow calls Xander. He's asleep and Anya is trying to talk to him. The phone wakes him and Willow tells him they've been attacked. As they talk, Anya comes over, possessed by a demon and cutting her face with a large knife. She drops to the floor and something crawls away under the carpet.

Next morning, Xander is telling the gang what happened. Anya thinks it's a hitchhiker, a demon which grabbed on to Buffy to travel between dimensions. Willow says they have to kill it. Buffy walks in at this point. Anya tells her about the demon. Buffy tells them about the photos. That night, they are researching possible demon hitchhikers. Buffy goes on patrol and a somewhat upset Dawn tells her not to worry about her. We see Dawn has been possessed.

Anya has gone out for coffee and returns with coffee for all and hot chocolate for Dawn. Possessed Dawn confronts the gang and breathes fire at them, setting the table on fire. Dawn passes out, the demon escapes under the floor again, and Xander puts out the fire. Anya wonders where it has gone and what its plan is.

Spike is in his crypt, pacing. He trips and hurts his hand, not unlike the way Buffy's hands look. He hears a noise, grabs a sword, and goes upstairs. It's Buffy. She notices his injured hand. They sit and he tells her he remembers the promise he made to protect Dawn and how he failed and it led to Buffy's death. He tells her that every night he relieves that final battle, this time saving her.

Xander, remembering what Spike said about consequences, asks Tara if she knew something like this would happen or if Willow knew. Tara gets defensive. Willow shouts out thaumogenesis, she says they created the demon as a side effect of the magic spell to bring back Buffy. It's caught between realities and cannot fully manifest. So it borrows their bodies to do things. If they send it back, the spell will be undone and Buffy won't be back. Willow says she won't do that, but Dawn panics at the thought anyway. Then Willow discovers the demon will dissipate on its own, that the only way for it to remain permanently is to kill Buffy. Possessed Xander says thanks for the tip. Xander passes out as the demon leaves his body and escapes.

Buffy returns home and the demon is there. It attacks Buffy and while it can hurt her, she cannot damage its immaterial form. Xander, Anya, and Dawn are driving to the house. Willow and Tara are casting a spell to make the demon solid so Buffy can fight it. Xander, Anya, and Dawn arrive and see Buffy fighting the demon. A light appears around Willow and she finishes the spell alone. The demon becomes solid and Buffy uses an axe to cut off its head and kill it.

The next morning, Dawn is going to school and Buffy rushes after her with her lunch. Dawn tells her that the gang just want her to be happy. Buffy shows up at the shop where she finds the scoobies. She tells them that she was in hell and they brought her back. She thanks them. They hug. When Buffy leaves, she finds Spike lingering outside in the shadows. He says if she wants to talk about being in the hell dimension he's ready to listen. He knows something about it. But she tells him she was happy. That she was at peace and felt safe and that all her friends were safe. That she was in heaven and her friends pulled her out. That now she is in hell. She tells him the others can never know.

Analysis

You're the slayer. You've spent most of your young life fighting evil. You've stopped apocalypse after apocalypse, even sacrificing your one true love for the world. Finally, you make the biggest sacrifice of all, you give your life to save the world. Odds are pretty good you find yourself in heaven. Looked at logically, that is. But if you're a friend of the slayer, someone who has stood by her almost from the beginning, someone who is familiar with the hell dimensions and what they are like, someone who has been in a state of panic for months (at least from the attack on Tara by Glory), then you aren't looking at it logically. You're scared and frantic and desperate to get your friend back. You're sure the worst has happened and logic just never enters into it. And your friends, even though they may be a little calmer than you, are just as apt to believe the worst. Because, after all, Sunnydale is the kind of place where the worst happens. And so it does.

The best scene in this episode, given the above, is obviously the last. Buffy confessing to Spike what she cannot tell to any living being. Spike is ready to console her, to help her get past the memories of the horrible hell she was in - something he can understand. But he discovers the reality is much worse than that. She isn't living with the memories of hell, she's living in hell. Nothing in his experience, nothing in his being, prepares him to help her here. And Buffy realizes no help is possible. She warns him to tell this to no one. It's something she will have to live with and something he will have to come to grips with. And just as important is the secret they now must both keep.

Spike says magic always has consequences and he's right. We're lured into believing the consequence is the demon conjured up by Willow which threatens them all. But that's at best a minor irritant. The real consequence will be the suffering of Buffy. Like Angel, existence now becomes pain for her. It's unfair that the victim of the spell is the one who pays for it. But that's the way magic is. That's why magic is always a final option, not a first course of action. That's why Willow wouldn't tell Giles about her plan, because he would know that the consequence would be severe and try to talk her out of it. It's what Xander senses (although he fears for Willow believing the spell caster to be the one in danger) and what she attempts to discount. Willow has gone down a very dark path here and something has to happen to pull her off it.

It's interesting that while the scoobies are concerned about Buffy, none of them really sees what has happened. They are too wrapped up in themselves and too involved with their preconceptions, to see the reality of her situation. When they burst in on Buffy and Spike they are full of questions, loud and worried and projecting their fears on the situation. Spike leaves, without saying anything, realizing they have destroyed the moment of softness. That they aren't focused on Buffy, as he is, but on themselves. Contrast this to his actions when he first sees Buffy and stares quietly at her. That silent stare portrays the depth of Spike's feeling - this most verbal of the characters is suddenly speechless. And Buffy is uncomfortable before him. She buttons up her shirt and hides her hands when he notices them. In The Gift, Spike said Buffy treated him like a man even though he was a monster. And she does that in this scene. In front of a thing, she wouldn't be embarrassed or feel the need to button up or hide her wounds. But in front of someone who might mean something to her, concealment is necessary. And Spike responds with a softness we almost never see in him. He moves to treat her wounds. Gently, he tells Dawn to get bandages and mercurochrome. They sit together and he holds Buffy's hands. She asks how long she was gone and he says 147 days. He has been counting the days. And now that she is back, the count no longer matters. That's all Spike has to say for Buffy to understand how he feels and what has been happening to him. While she has been in heaven, he has been in hell. Now his heaven is her hell.

The scoobies continue to miss what is happening. They want to do things for her, they want her to tell them what she wants, they want her to be happy. They are so obsessed with what they want or fear, they don't notice what is happening around them. When Xander sees Spike he doesn't notice Spike is crying. He doesn't understand Spike's anger at not being included, not being one of the gang. Spike talks about working with Xander. Spike thought he had finally become part of something, something good. Now he feels excluded again. For a moment, Xander actually sympathizes (the relationship between these two has really evolved). Xander realizes that Spike must have been happy to see Buffy alive. He realizes that Spike's concern for Buffy is genuine even though he was mocking his obsession just minutes earlier. But he cannot yet bring himself to accept Spike the way he accepts Anya. And that's harder on Spike than it is on him. Especially since when Spike finally is accepted, when Buffy takes him into her confidence, it's with the worst possible news.

While Willow turns increasingly inward (despite being elected leader of the gang) and all of them keep shouting at Buffy rather than listening to her, Dawn takes charge (ordering the others to back off) and Spike demonstrates his sensitivity (sitting quietly with Buffy and becoming the person she can confide in). There is a change of roles happening here. A result of maturation (Dawn is growing up and taking on responsibility while Spike is changing into an entirely different kind of being) and of personal development (as Willow becomes more powerful and more independent she becomes less sensitive to the needs of others).

Willow's insensitivity to others is coupled with an unwillingness to talk, at least about what matters. In Bargaining, Xander accused her of avoiding the issue when he tried to talk about the spell she cast. This week, when Tara asks her about the things the demon Buffy said (like the references to the deer), she claims not to have understood them. Of course she did, but she's hiding the information, taking upon herself the burden of this horrible knowledge which is eating away at her. Tara tells her that in their room alone together Willow is allowed to be scared. While Willow pretends to believe this, she doesn't fully buy into it. She won't share her fears with Tara. Like Buffy, she is condemning herself to carry a terrible secret. But Buffy, at least, finds one person to confide in. Willow hasn't, unless Giles is that person (from the unheard phone call) or will be when he returns and they talk.

Anya is the antithesis of Willow. She's always ready to talk and to share her fears with Xander. Which may be why their relationship, for all its problems, seems stronger than any of the others. They have lots of problems, but at least they've solved the communication issue. It's Anya who says they shouldn't have brought Buffy back. She's right, but not for the reasons she thinks. She's also the one who tells Buffy about the haunting demon. She's the first of the gang to start treating Buffy normally. While the others try to hide things from her and keep asking if she's alright, Anya starts acting as if she's the old Buffy. It's interesting that Spike and Anya, both one time evil demons, are the first to be able to react normally to Buffy.

Spike's best moment probably occurs in the crypt, when he tells Buffy he remembers the promise he made to protect Dawn. A promise he failed at but in which he succeeded in his dreams every night since her death. This confession happens after Buffy notices his injured hand and he says it is like hers. We're meant to realize how much alike Buffy and Spike are. Both risen from the dead. Both granted powers they never asked for and never particularly wanted. Both deprived of heaven by those who loved them (the scoobies for Buffy and Dru for Spike). Like Anya, Spike speaks simply and from the heart. There's no subterfuge here. It's a quiet moment between two people. And in that quiet moment we realize how intense and how deep the bond between these two has become.

It's interesting how everyday simple events seem so much more important in this episode than the casting of spells and the battling of demons. Quiet conversations between friends are the deepest and most exciting moments in the episode. And Buffy running out with Dawn's lunch is probably the happiest. It symbolizes a return to normalcy, or at least an attempt on Buffy's part to do so. It gives Dawn great happiness (we see the smile light up her face). And this leads to the first normal, relaxed conversation between the two sisters and Dawn's statement that all the gang want is to see Buffy being happy.

Some quick final thoughts. I like the scene with Willow and Tara preparing for bed, Tara brushing her hair and Willow putting lotion on her arms. I loved Anya's negative take on bookstores becoming coffee shops. Way back in Anne, Buffy made a Gandhi joke. In this episode, she reworks a quote from George Santayana. Don't tell me this isn't an intellectual show.

Lines of the week:

"What will you say to him?" - Buffy with a very good question about calling Giles.

"We'll take care of you." - Spike in a tender moment.

"147 days yesterday. 148 days today. Except today doesn't count, does it." - Spike on how long Buffy was gone.

"Buffy be happy." - Willow completely missing what is happening.

"I worked beside you all summer." - Spike angry at not being included.

"There are always consequences." - Spike on the perils of magic.

"I think we all just assumed crash positions." - Tara on what they all did.

"It's like evolution, only without the getting better part." - Anya on the movement from bookstore to coffee shop.

"Every night I save you." - Spike on the biggest regret of his life.

"That's probably the sort of thing I'm not supposed to see, right?" - Dawn on beheading demons.

"Those of us who fail history are doomed to repeat it in summer school." - Buffy with her own twist on a great quote by George Santayana.

"I think I was in heaven and now I'm not." - Buffy on what really happened.

"This is hell." - Buffy on how she really feels.

"They can never know." - Buffy on the price of friendship.

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