Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Beneath You

Summary

In Frankfurt Germany, robed beings pursue and kill a young woman. After she is stabbed, she says "From beneath you, it devours". Buffy screams and wakes, Dawn is at her bedside. Buffy has seen this in her dream. Buffy realizes there are others like the girl out there. She looks out the window and says they're going to die. Outside, we see something that looks like the fx from Tremors.

Spike is in the basement rambling. He says it's not the time and they wouldn't understand. He's not ready. He seems to be hunting a rat. There's a rumbling and he starts talking to his mother and screaming. Cut to Buffy, Xander, and Dawn driving to school. Dawn is excited about Buffy working at the school, but says she can't hang out with her or her friends. Xander seems nostalgic about high school. He says he hated it, but at least he was dating then. He says he sees Anya at the Bronze every now and then. Apparently, it is where scorned women go.

At the school, Buffy is shown her office. The principal gives her what seems to be good advice and tells her he thinks students will be eager to talk to her since she is the youngest and least stuffy person on staff. He says to remember the students only respect three things: the boot, the bat, and the bastinada. He laughs, she doesn't, and he admits it is a lame joke because no one knows what a bastinada is. She tells him what it is (a torture implement) and he says she'll fit right in. She asks why he hired her and he says he needs someone who can understand and relate to the kids. He asks if there is something about her he should know and she says nothing.

Buffy checks out the basement and looks for but does not find Spike. In England, Giles has come to collect Willow who is headed back to Sunnydale. She doesn't feel she is ready and wants to stay. She says she fears the hellmouth and her vision of it. She fears becoming evil again. Giles says she fears the gang won't accept her. He says no matter how long she stays in England and trains, it won't be a guarantee of her acceptance by her old friends. And he says even if they don't accept her, she's still needed there. She goes with him and he tells her to trust herself.

A woman is walking her dog, Rocky. There is a rumbling and Rocky has disappeared into a suddenly appearing hole in the sidewalk. The woman is dragged to the hole by the leash. The sidewalk bursts upward and she runs away and right into Xander. He takes her to see Buffy and Dawn and she tells them some monster burst out of the ground. Buffy remembers the "From beneath you, it devours" line. Dawn wants to round up the gang, but Xander points out they are the gang. Buffy is about to ask for something, but Spike walks in saying he's there to help.

They tell Nancy he's Buffy's ex. Buffy says she likes the better clothes and hair and the less with the crazy. He says they need to talk. Xander insists he do it publicly. He starts talking about how she last saw him, in the basement. Dawn is shocked that Buffy saw Spike and didn't tell her. She complains that Buffy only lets others in when she wants. Buffy takes Spike aside to finish their conversation. She tells him not to say he's sorry and he says he hasn't come to atone. He says he's come to help and asks her what evil is brewing, since she's supposed to have the visions. He says he senses something big and evil is on its way. She admits he's right. While she is suspicious of his motives, she agrees to let him help.

They go back to the other room and Buffy splits them into two groups. Xander will take Nancy home. Nancy thinks Buffy is his girlfriend and Xander corrects her. Buffy and Spike will go to the scene of the attack. Xander says he doesn't like the plan. He doesn't like Spike who tried to rape Buffy. Buffy says she can handle him. Dawn will stay home and do homework. She calls Spike over and asks if he sleeps. He says yes. She says she can't take him in a fight, even with the chip, but if he hurts Buffy he'll wake up on fire.

Walking to the scene, Spike talks to Buffy about how scary Dawn is. She asks him what he's doing. He says he's just helping and starts looking at the hole in the sidewalk. She asks what happened to him and he says the zombie ghosts of Lessons got into his head and drove him crazy. He says they made him see things and asked why she didn't tell anybody about seeing him. She says she was hoping he was a mirage. He asks her to hold the flashlight and when she takes it the memory of his attempted rape flashes through her mind. She tells him they can't get back together. She confronts him about the rape. He says he can't say he's sorry or ask for forgiveness, he can just say he's changed. She says she believes him but doesn't know what he has changed into. She says he's hiding something. He admits this, but says since they aren't friends any more he won't share. He says he has nothing better to do, so she should make use of him. There are no clues there and they leave.

Xander and Nancy arrive at her home. She hits on him and he's happy about it. They hear a rumbling and run. A giant many toothed worm bursts through the floor. It goes back underground. Xander thinks two attacks in one night cannot be coincidence. She says Ronnie would love this. He asks who Ronnie is and she says he is her psycho exboyfriend who is trouble. He asks if Ronnie might be raising demons. She says he was abusive. She asks if he knows the feeling you get when your ex is ruining every part of your life and he quickly answers yes. She says all you can do is wish it will stop. He repeats wish.

Anya is in the Bronze listening to a woman gripe about her ex. The gang and Nancy enter. Anya admits she turned Ronnie into a worm, but she's very upset the dog died. When Nancy asks, Xander explains Anya is his ex. She then discovers Spike and Anya had a thing although Spike and Buffy were a couple. She wonders whether any of them have not slept together. Anya notes at least they are all bipeds, as opposed to Ronnie the worm boy. Buffy points out Ronnie isn't a little worm. Spike realizes he is a sluggoth demon, a violent demon which died out during the crusades. Anya says it's the same phylum and she just embellished. Xander tells her to unembellish. She says she has to live by the vengeance demon code. She says they can't understand because they are human. Spike says he's not and he wants her to change back Ronnie. She looks at him and realizes he has a soul. She starts asking how he did it and won't stop. He hits her. Nancy leaves. Anya goes into demon form and hits back. Spike goes demon and Buffy starts hitting him and they fight. Xander tells her Nancy has gone and is worm bait. She goes after her and tells him to get Anya to reverse the spell.

Outside, Nancy is wondering why she always surrounds herself with freaks. The sluggoth comes at her and she runs, climbing up a fire escape. It rams the building and the ladder starts falling back. Buffy is coming via the rooftops and Spike is close behind. Xander tells Anya to reverse the spell. She says she will get in trouble with the vengeance demons if she does. She blames him, saying this all happened because he left her at the altar. He says she can't keep going back to that excuse.

Buffy saves Nancy, then goes to confront the demon. Spike leaps in, breaks off a metal bar, and attacks it. He goes to stab it and it changes into Ronnie. He stabs him and Ronnie screams. Spike screams and grabs his head. He looks startled. He starts babbling and yells for help. Buffy says he doesn't need help, Ronnie does. She calls for an ambulance. Spike continues rambling and shouting. He says this is the warm up act, that when the headliner shows everything will come tumbling down. He repeats the "From beneath you, it devours" line and runs off.

Xander and Anya show up. Buffy puts her jacket over Ronnie. Nancy says Anya is responsible and runs off. Buffy goes to find Spike. Xander tells Anya she did the right thing. He says it took guts and it could have been worse. Anya says it will be.

Buffy finds Spike in a church. He has taken off his shirt and says the costume didn't work. He says he's flesh to her, no spark. He starts taking off his pants and talking about servicing the girl. She hits him and stops him. He says she doesn't want him because there's no spark. He says he can't talk with her looking and hides in the shadows. He says he dreamt of killing her. She moves to defend herself. He says she made him weak and he cried. She realizes he got his soul back. He says that's what she wanted, what God wanted. He says everybody is in his head talking to him now. Including the thing beneath. He says he did it to be a man. He walks toward the cross, talking about forgiveness and love. He embraces it and asks if they can rest now. He begins smoldering.

Analysis

Whedon said he was going to lighten up this season. So far, I think he's done a great job of balancing the lighter, wittier moments with the drama and darkness that make Buffy so great. We've got funny moments like Nancy wondering about food in Sunnydale and incredible dramatic moments like the final scene. There were a lot of interesting ideas tossed off in this episode.

One of them is the fact that the gang has split. When Xander says 'this is the gang' he may be making the case for expanding again or for accepting the loss of the others and simply moving on. He certainly isn't eager to reaccept Spike into the group, even though they desperately need some muscle. On the other hand, he is successful in getting Anya to help him, despite the consequences to her. But accepting or spurning these two is just a foreshadowing of the problems lying ahead for Willow. She's the strongest and one of the most integral members. She's best friends with both Buffy and Xander. As a powerful witch, she's their best hope to fight whatever evil they are going to face. She's also the one they have the best reason for rejecting. Spike has done nothing worse than fall into a hopeless love and be an idiot. Ok, that idiot bit including trying to rape Buffy and that's pretty bad. But not as bad as the murder Willow committed and her attempt to destroy the world. Anya is back in the vengeance business, but she has a legitimate gripe against men having been jilted by Xander. And she only provides vengeance against men who have done something bad - frankly Ronnie sounds like a guy we'd like to be a worm. Willow had a legitimate gripe against Warren, who murdered Tara. But when she went on to attempt to destroy the world, she went way over any reasonable line.

Spike is completely out of control now. His soul, which should function as his metaphysical chip, turning him to good and away from evil, seems only partly functional. He's tormented by his inner demons and keeps moving from periods of lucidity to apparent madness. Anya is in control, but at the expense of abandoning her humanity - the humanity Spike has sought out and embraced. But she's unsuccessful in completely giving it up. She still cares for the gang and for Xander. As does Spike. His caring leads him to fight alongside Buffy. Hers leads her to undo her vengeance spell. Willow also cares and her caring leads her to return to Sunnydale, to face untold demonic foes and the possible scorn of her best friends.

Anya has engaged in a potential suicidal act. She tells the gang that undoing her spell will get her into serious trouble. But she does it anyway. Spike embraces the cross even as he has attempted to embrace humanity. He is smoldering in the final scene. This echoes Dawn's threat of setting him on fire in his sleep if he harmed Buffy. He now needs Buffy to save him and Anya probably needs Xander to save her. Willow, coming to face the hellmouth, will need both of them to stand by her.

What we are seeing here is a pattern of self sacrifice (the cross metaphor is no accident) and repentance. Spike, Anya, and Willow have all crossed between the demonic and human worlds. They have all given in to the worst of human impulses and striven for the highest of human ideals. They are teetering on the brink of damnation, possessed by despair. Spike's deadly embrace of the cross reminds us of the suicide of Judas. This is a despairing act. He tells Buffy he hasn't come to atone, but that's in response to her telling him not to say he's sorry. She isn't willing to forgive and so he comes to think forgiveness is impossible. Later when she confronts him about his attempted rape he will repeat this, saying he can't say he's sorry or ask for forgiveness. Willow suffers from the same sin, the belief that what she has done is unforgiveable. Giles cannot promise her forgiveness, but the metaphor of the cross suggests it is available, from some quarter if not from her human and fallible friends. What's important is that they ask for it and not simply give in.

It's interesting that Xander and Dawn have more trouble forgiving Spike than Buffy does. She's ready to work with him and by the end of the episode she's come to understand the enormous sacrifice he has made. Unlike the others, she knows his love for her was genuine. Xander can't get the attempted rape out of his head. Perhaps he's still thinking in terms of needing to protect the others. Last season he moped over having failed over and over again. He doesn't want that to happen now.

Dawn is starting to assume a more adult role. In Lessons, she was learning how to slay and when trapped in the basement she took charge. She asserts control again this episode by warning Spike. She will be Buffy's avenger. And Spike takes her seriously, telling Buffy that Dawn has become scary. She has matured into a figure which can be powerful and terrifying if she has to be. It's also significant that Spike has no witty comeback to Dawn. He generally does and had he been threatened by Buffy or Xander, he surely would have said something. But Dawn has filled the daughter role for Spike. Her turning upon him is far more painful than anyone else could be. He's left speechless, partly because his child substitute has turned against him (sharper than a serpent's tooth - rather fitting given the sharp toothed wormlike creature Spike will face) and partly because the child has suddenly become an adult and is forcing him to accept that. Everything has changed and Spike says as much to Buffy.

Spike confides to Buffy that he has changed as well and by the end of the episode the extent of the change, the acquisition of the soul, is obvious to her. But this change is just one of many: Dawn into powerful adult, Anya into vengeance demon, Xander into dateless nerd, Willow into world destroying evil witch and now possibly controlled witch, and Buffy into counselor. Just as Sunnydale high has been reborn, rebuilt upon its ruins, so are these people reconstructing their lives. Buffy and Dawn seem to have made the most positive progress, but the others are trying to move forward. Buffy says she realizes Spike has changed, she just doesn't know into what. She still doesn't. His soul acquisition may ultimately make him truly good, but it might also open him up to an even greater evil. That's a choice everyone with a soul makes. And all of them will have to respond to the evil or good they see in the others. Xander with Anya, Buffy with Spike, and all of them with Willow.

Anya has to choose between certain trouble with her demon friends and master and the uncertainty of her human friends. She points out her human friends, Xander, abandoned her. She blames them and specifically him for all that has happened. But Xander challenges her. He says the excuse is just running out of steam. She cannot continually blame her problems on that action. It is now too far back in time and too many other things have happened. By doing this, Xander forces her to choose and, by changing Ronnie back, she chooses to ally herself with humanity and not demonkind. When she does this, Nancy leaves and Xander realizes there will be not relationship there. Also, he praises Anya, welcoming her back into the metaphorical human fold. He says what she did took guts. But she knows much harsher trials are to come.

Spike is trying to choose humanity. He got a soul and he's trying to help the gang fight evil. But his good intentions always seem to fail. He ends up stabbing Ronnie, who may be a metaphorical worm but is a human. That's evil. And that's when we have the strange scene of Spike screaming and grabbing his head. Did the chip kick in. If so, why the strange startled look. Maybe it didn't kick in and his scream was from habit. Maybe a soul overrides the chip. Or maybe, since this is when Spike breaks down again, hurting a human opened him back up to evil influences.

It looks as if when Spike is driven to good - in this case helping Buffy when he felt the presence of evil, he becomes lucid. When he does evil, even accidently, he goes crazy again. He starts babbling immediately upon hurting Ronnie. He asks for help, but is denied. Buffy says it's Ronnie who needs help. She still cannot see Spike as human and he reinforces this, in the Bronze he identified himself as a demon and tried to hide the presence of his soul. He gets worse.

Anya's reference to the worse things to come is an echo of Spike's speech about the headliner and how the sluggoth was just the opening act. And all of this is tied together by the "From beneath you, it devours" line. This connects Buffy and Spike (both of whom have mystically heard the line), Willow (who has a literal image of the devouring hellmouth), and the mysterious young women being killed off.

In the final scene in the church, Spike talks about how he is just flesh to Buffy. That he serviced her, but she couldn't feel anything for him. There was no spark. Not the spark of love nor the metaphorical spark of his soul. By getting a soul, he strives to combine the physical and metaphysical elements and become the complete package for Buffy. This is paralleled by the evil force at work which combines physical threats, like the sluggoth, with metaphysical ones, like the vision Spike has and his madness. Buffy has defeated physical threats time and again. But the emotional, mental, and spiritual threats are far more fearsome. Her own depression almost destroyed the world last season. This season she needs to reintegrate. To become sister, mother, friend, lover, and slayer all in a single coherent package. That integration has to be paralleled in all the characters. Xander and Anya have to learn to function as a couple. Willow needs to integrate her desire to do good with the fearsome and seductive power she holds. Spike needs to integrate flesh and soul. His embrace of the cross while talking of love and forgiveness (the themes which dominate the lives of all of them) is an attempt to acquire that integration. The cross is a symbol of the word made flesh, of the physical and metaphysical brought together to bring peace and love. But he burns when he touches it and we know that the route to peace, love, and forgiveness will be a painful and dangerous one.

Some quick final thoughts. Istanbul last week. Frankfurt this week. And England both weeks. Has Whedon figured out a clever way to get the studio to subsidize his vacations? I loved the Run Lola Run reference in the Frankfurt scenes. Or was it a reference to Alias making a reference to Run Lola Run. Or maybe Whedon slyly sending up tv shows imitating movies when he's made a tv show infinitely better than the movie it's based on. And I loved even more the Nancy and Ronnie reference in the body of the episode. I was all set to like the new principal, but if he's a vegetarian surely there must be something wrong with him. Plus, he thinks Buffy will fit in because she knows about torture tools. The sign in Buffy's office seems to read "mentoring encourages rewarding growth". I love the glance Spike and Xander give each other in the Bronze when Nancy wonders if any of them haven't slept together.

Lines of the week:

"From beneath you, it devours." - Several people (the girl in Frankfurt, Buffy, and Spike) with the key phrase of the week.

"And they're gonna die." - Buffy on the fate of the victims of the robed beings.

"She bounced back to being a vengeance demon and I bounced back to being a dateless nerd." - Xander on the fallout of his leaving Anya at the altar.

"Can I give detention?" - Buffy getting to the fun part of being a school counselor.

"I think your gonna fit in just fine." - The principal upon learning Buffy knows what a bastinada is.

"What if they won't take you back." - Giles get to the root of Willow's fear.

"You may not be wanted, but you will be needed." - Giles on Willow's destiny.

"Trust yourself and the others might follow." - Giles with some advice for Willow.

"I could have gotten a cat." - Nancy regretting having made a bad move.

"This is the gang." - Xander possibly fatalistic.

"I didn't come here to atone." - Spike lying when Buffy tells him not to say he's sorry.

"I'm command central. So everybody check in with me." - Dawn living the dream.

"If you hurt my sister at all.Touch her. You're gonna wake up on fire." - Dawn getting scary.

"And when exactly did your sister get unbelievably scary." - Spike on Dawn.

"I've got nothing better to do." - Spike on why he's there.

"Come for the food, stay for the dismemberment."
"There's good food?" - Nancy focusing on the wrong part of Xander's analysis.

"Wish." - Xander getting the key word.

"Sooner or later, Anya, that excuse just stops working." - Xander not taking the blame any more.

"To be a kind of man." - Spike with the theme which has dominated him for the past few seasons.

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