The stooges, on motorcycles with stakes affixed, chase two vampires through a cemetery. Warren says they have to catch them and get the disk which one of the vampires is carrying. The vampires knock them off their bikes and make it out the cemetery gates. There Buffy runs into them and starts fighting them. Spike is there and grabs one of the vampires. He threatens to let him go if Buffy won't tell her friends about them. She says she doesn't care what Spike does. She says her friends love her no matter what (giving her locking them up in a basement last episode as evidence of the no matter what) and he can tell them the truth if he wants. Warren grabs the disk which one of the vampire's has dropped and the stooges make off. Buffy slays the vampires and walks off. Cut to Xander sitting at home listening to sad music and drinking beer. He leaves and we see Anya outside watching in the bushes.
Willow 'accidently' bumps into Tara as she comes out of class. They chat and Tara reveals she saw Willow when she was planning a similar meeting in Normal Again. She says the woman Willow saw her with was just a friend and they both indicate they have not started new relationships. They agree to meet for coffee. Buffy and Dawn are doing some sister bonding by shopping. Only Dawn can't go into any of the shops because she stole from them. We learn she has returned the things she kept and is paying for the rest of the items she stole. The stooges are working on something with the disk they got and Warren is trying to rush Jonathan. Warren and Andrew don't trust Jonathan and plan to get rid of him when he's finished the work he is doing for them.
Xander returns home to find Anya there. He tries to explain and apologize. When she asks if he wants to get married he can't answer at first. He says it is complicated. He says someday when they are ready. He says he's trying to be honest. She says maybe he'll get a medal for his honesty. She turns away from him. He says he wishes they could go back to the way things were before. She puts on her demon face and says she wishes he were never born. But nothing happens. She reverts to human face and turns to him, spewing out violent wishes. But none of them come true. Frustrated, she walks out.
Later, Anya and Halfrek (in human form) have coffee and Halfrek describes a curse she inflicted (a guy who never paid his child support now gets paper cuts every time he touches a piece of paper that isn't a child support cheque). Anya is upset about her inability to curse Xander and Halfrek reminds her she cannot inflict a curse for herself. She has to find someone else to make a wish about Xander. Dawn comes downstairs to find Buffy going wild with the pancake making. Buffy is working hard at bonding, then thinks she is over doing it and intruding on Dawn's personal life. But Dawn says what she really wants to do is go patrolling with Buffy and Buffy is adamantly opposed to that.
Willow and Tara are having coffee and Willow is telling her about the adventures she missed. Anya shows up and tries to get them to make a negative wish about Xander (she figures as lesbians they must hate men). We get a series of cuts of Anya talking to Willow and Tara, Dawn, and Buffy about Xander. None of them will say anything awful. Most say he feels terrible. Dawn is actually trying to find a way to work off her debt to Anya for the things she stole. And she never uses the word wish any more because of her experience with vengeance demons in Older and Far Away. While Anya is with Buffy, Xander comes by. Anya stomps off and Buffy stops him from pursuing, thinking it isn't a good idea at the time. Xander breaks a garden gnome and Buffy wonders what it is doing on her lawn. They discover a camera inside and realize someone was watching the house. They think it was Spike.
Buffy confronts Spike who denies the camera is his and says he doesn't hurt Buffy. She admits this. He says he has changed, that what he feels for her is real. She says she thinks it is, but not for her. She tells him he has to move on and he tells her to get out. At the shop, Anya and Halfrek are talking and Anya realizes she needs a wish from someone who doesn't care if Xander gets hurt. But her social circle is limited. Spike walks in. He says he needs a numbing spell. Anya takes Halfrek aside and says Spike hates Xander. But she needs him to be a woman. Halfrek says Anya needs to expand, that men need vengeance, too. She leaves. Anya says she has what Spike needs and pulls out a bottle of alcohol.
Willow is trying to trace the signal from the camera. Xander and Buffy are with her and they realize if it wasn't Spike, it must be the stooges. The stooges are using the disk to reveal the spot they have to go to. They have a map and shine candlelight through the disk, pinpointing a spot on the map. The map catches fire. Spike and Anya have had a few and he's telling her what happened, but doesn't let on it was Buffy. Anya steers the conversation to Xander and Spike says he would never stoop as low as Xander did. He's ready to do something to Xander, if it weren't for the chip. The stooges put out the fire. Spike and Anya are getting drunk. They are going on about how they didn't mean to but they fell in love. And now they are hurting. Willow realize there are other cameras. Anya complains the scoobies are always nice and never speak what's on their mind. Spike says she does and she's the only one he wouldn't bite if he could. He says he has respect for a woman who is straightforward. Anya says Xander thought she was rude. Spike says Xander is uptight and repressed. He says he and Anya are the most alive of the gang, even though they should be dead. Willow realizes there are cameras at the Doublemeat Palace, her classes, Xander's site, and the Bronze. Anya says it is good to be with someone who understands. That she can't sleep nights thinking it is her fault. He says Buffy and Xander are just weak. He moves in to kiss her and says they are moving on. They start making out. The stooges realize Willow is on to them. Spike and Anya are on the table. Willow gets the picture from the shop and sees Spike and Anya making out. The stooges are trying to stop her, but are mesmerized when they see the picture. Xander and Buffy see what is happening. Dawn comes in and sees it, although Willow tries to stop her. The look on Buffy's face reveals all to Willow and Dawn. Buffy walks out. Xander goes. Dawn follows Buffy. Willow sees Xander is gone and realizes he took a weapon from Buffy's chest. Cut to Xander striding purposefully and carrying an axe.
Buffy and Dawn are in the yard talking. Buffy admits Spike was the secret she was concealing and says it is over. Dawn tries to console her, saying she knows it must have hurt to keep the secret. Willow comes out and tells them about Xander. In the shop, Spike and Anya are dressing and not looking happy about what happened. They are silent. Spike walks out and is attacked by Xander. He doesn't fight back, angering Xander, and he says it is because of the chip. Xander is about to stake him when Anya and Buffy run up and stop him. Xander and Anya argue. She calls him a scared, insecure, little boy. Buffy notes it didn't take Spike long. Xander says he is sick when he looks at Anya because she had sex with an evil, soulless thing. Spike says it was good enough for Buffy. Shocked, Xander leaves. Buffy, hurt, walks away. Spike says Xander messed everything up. He's about to make a wish, but Anya stops him.
Tara walks into Willow's room. She says when things fall apart, it takes a lot to put them together. A lot of time and effort to rebuild the trust. She says can't they skip all that and kiss. They rush into each other's arms.
In the Buffyverse, cause and effect are strong and clear. The things you do come back to haunt you, sometimes literally sometimes metaphorically. I like that because it's real and it's what sf/horror and drama in general is supposed to be about. I liked pretty well everything in this episode. The growing distrust amongst the stooges, the pain of Xander and Anya, the development of the Dawn/Buffy relationship, the development of the Tara/Willow relationship, and the painful revelations in the episode's penultimate scene. I also like the fact that while this episode almost ends with a painful scene of people sundered (which strangely reminded me of the final scene from The Harsh Light of Day where disheartened Buffy, Anya, and Harmony are left alone) the actual final scene is a happy one - a scene of a couple deciding to cut through the angst and get right to the fun. That's kind of refreshing and gives you some hope for the future.
I've never really liked the stooges. As villains, they aren't much to write home about. They have a curious combination of competence and incompetence. They are completely ineffective in chasing and capturing the vampires at the start of the episode. Yet they are capable of bugging half of Sunnydale without anyone noticing for quite some time. They manage to remain hidden, in fact Willow and Buffy don't really seem to be making a strong effort to track them down, yet at the same time they seem to leave huge clues to their presence. They are the prime villains of the season, yet no one seems continually concerned about them. They aren't even the first ones considered when the surreptitious camera is found. Even though technology based spying is incongruous for Spike (who will just come around and spy in person) and quite in keeping with how the stooges work. For most of this season, the stooges have just been there to give the plot a nudge in the right direction. The spy cameras simply exist so Buffy and the others can see the Spike/Anya tryst.
That said, the growing discontent amongst the stooges looks good. We see Jonathan making a reference to Warren's murder of his girlfriend. It's clear that isn't water under the bridge and Jonathan is still upset about it. As is Warren. In an episode about past mistakes haunting you, that's one big haunting waiting to happen. We also get more evidence of a conspiracy between Warren and Andrew against Jonathan. Warren clearly intends to get rid of the short one once his value to them is exhausted. And we also get a hint of a long term project which will be the culmination of their season long ride of evil. So, while the stooges still pretty much bore me, some interesting stuff is happening and there is considerable promise for the remainder of the season.
At the core of this episode was the pain of Xander and Anya. Both are incredibly upset and incapable of really connecting with the other. Xander feels, metaphorically, all the things Anya wants him to feel literally. Which really makes the cursing irrelevant. The vengeance demon is only necessary when the guilty party has no remorse. Xander is already feeling his punishment. And his guilty conscience is actually worse than any physical suffering. I think Anya subconsciously senses this and that's why she is so ineffective in her search for a way to punish Xander. Halfrek points out that you cannot confer your own vengeance, something Anya should have known. Then she seeks out Xander's best friends to elicit the vengeance wish - the very worst group for this purpose. You've got Willow and Tara, who never think in that manner. Dawn who's never going to use the 'wish' word again after her bad experience. And Buffy who is so caught up in her own angst she can't really hold much against Xander.
Anya actually seems on the vengeance track when she starts chatting up Spike. But this quickly degenerates into two unhappy people getting drunk and comforting one another. It isn't about revenge or making Xander feel badly (he already does). It's about dampening her own pain. It's the numbing Spike comes looking for. That's why instead of vengeance she gets unsatisfying sex. And if you don't think it was unsatisfying, look at the sorrow on their faces as they dress and Spike leaves. All without words. This is not a couple who have just had a good time. This is a couple who realize they made a huge mistake. That the thing they felt would make them better (the traditional revenge on the exlover of taking a new lover) actually just made them feel worse.
There table top affair leads to many things, but I'll start by dealing with how it immediately affects Spike and Anya and talk to the Xander and Buffy issues later. Spike feels genuine guilt. When Xander attacks him he does nothing. He says it is because of the chip, but Xander is serious about slaying him. Surely Spike would try to defend himself, even if it would hurt. I think he does nothing because he knows he's in the wrong. He did something bad. He betrayed Xander (who in a weird way is his friend) and Buffy (who he still loves even if she can't love him back). He's verging on suicidal here. Anya, meanwhile, has realize that revenge is not the dish she wants (cold or hot). So when Spike is actually about to utter the wish she has been waiting for she stops him. She realizes that hurting Xander won't make her feel better. It won't make the pain go away. Not for any of them.
I was glad to see the consequences of shoplifting finally happened. Dawn gave back stuff, paid for things she couldn't return, and generally feels embarrassed and humiliated. I was glad to see her going to the magic shop to attempt to work off her debt. And it was nice to see the awkward attempts at sisterly bonding. It sure is tough when shopping becomes one of those things you can't do. I liked Buffy morphing into the role of trying too hard mom and Dawn, naturally, asking for the one thing Buffy could not give. They both make excellent arguments. Dawn notes that danger always seems to be coming to them, so why make a fuss about going into a dangerous situation. Buffy argues, just as realistically, that living with so much danger there is no need to increase the likelihood of meeting it. Dawn, of course, wants access to the part of her sister's life which is hidden from her. The part she is an essential component of (Dawn only exists because the key was sent to the slayer for safekeeping) but from which she is barred. You can understand her feelings. Of course, with the revelation of Spike/Buffy Dawn suspects this is what Buffy has been protecting here from. Not the violence but the sex. The other secret element of life. The Buffy/Dawn relationship becomes a metaphor for all mother/daughter relationships in this way.
Every drama needs comic relief. Not necessarily laugh out loud type comedy, but some light moments to make the shadows cast by the darker moments all the more foreboding. Willow and Tara take the comic relief role this week (a role often taken by Xander and Anya in weeks past). They are finally moving to happiness. It's interesting that this lesbian couple is the most normal (after all they are both human) and happiest couple on the show. They are the only ones who seem capable of moving past their problems into a revived relationship. They are dealing with trust and abuse problems and dealing successfully. They are talking while Xander and Anya and Buffy and Spike cannot communicate.
You have to love the way the Spike/Buffy relationship came out in dribs and drabs. And it was particularly poignant given Buffy's earlier claim to Spike that he could go and tell her friends because she was sure they would still love her. But that was never really in question. The real issue is that she has hurt some of them - by the relationship and more significantly by the lies she told to keep it secret. It first comes out when Dawn and Willow see her response to the scene in the magic shop. Buffy has to admit to Dawn that she has been protecting her not from killer vampires, but lover vampires. This is particularly ironic given how angry Buffy was with Dawn when she ended up on a date with a vampire in All the Way.
But Xander is the one who is truly hurt. His rage against Anya is made pure by the evil of her act. He can justify it by saying he is not angry at her betrayal of him (which pales in comparison to his betrayal of her) but at the undead evil with which she has betrayed him. Spike, who despite threatening to reveal the truth has kept silent, finally lets it slip. Not to hurt Buffy (the truth is already coming out and she has claimed it would not hurt her) but to punish Xander. Spike has tacitly admitted his guilt. He knows what he did with Anya was wrong (even though Buffy really inspired it by telling him to move on and thus leading to his visit to the magic shop, the drinking, and the sex), and he also knows Xander and Buffy haven't been paragons of virtue. They are partners in the two failed relationships. And they should accept their share of responsibility for the failure. By revealing that Buffy, who Xander idolizes, had an affair with him he deflates Xander. Left without the moral high ground - forced to accept the situation as it is and not as he wishes it were - Xander leaves. He's angry and hurt and most of all he's not winning the argument.
Spike tells Anya that what makes them different is despite the fact they should both have been dead for centuries they are more alive than the others. He might add that despite being unfeeling demons they are more sensitive and more easily hurt than the others. He notes that Anya tells the truth, as did Drusilla. While Spike will lie for a reason, he's actually pretty honest himself. Xander and Buffy are the ones who have done most of the lying. To themselves and to their friends. It's ironic that the demons are the most virtuous characters in the current situation. They are victims of the evil the others have perpetrated.
Some quick final thoughts. I like Buffy being nicer to Spike. She has finally accepted that his feelings are genuine and she's no longer denying them. She's just denying she has any reciprocal feelings. You have to love the scene where Willow brings Tara up to date on all that has happened. I liked the fact that Buffy remembered there were 4 guys (3 known and 1 she was keeping a secret). I was glad to see that Parker (transition guy between Angel and Riley) has not been forgotten. I loved the honesty argument between Xander and Anya and her medal remark. That was some really realistic dialogue. Xander wanting to go back to the way things were is an example of the kind of infantile regression Anya complains about. He really has to make hard decisions. That paper cut punishment was a stroke of genius. It's interesting that the making of pancakes is so critical a component of life in the Buffyverse. I've lost track of how many pancake scenes we've had this season. I think Spike wouldn't bite Buffy, Dawn. Willow, or Anya. In fact, I really don't think he'd bite Xander. Despite himself, he really likes them.
Lines of the week:
"In that case, why won't you sleep with me again"
"Because I don't love you."
"Like hell." - Spike asking the question and not liking the answer.
"We'll be deader than an exgirlfriend." - Jonathan riding Warren.
"I don't hurt you." - Spike on his redeeming characteristic.
"I think it is. For you." - Buffy trying to let Spike down easily.
"We're the only ones who are really alive." - Spike on why he and Anya hurt so much.
"It's good enough for Buffy." - Spike finally defending himself.
"Can you just be kissing me now." - Tara cutting through the red tape.Got a comment? Send me mail.
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