Buffy, Dawn, and Xander are at the airport waiting for Willow. Xander has a sign written in yellow crayon, a reference to his world saving speech which he apparently has been talking about a lot. They are nervous. Buffy reveals that Willow has not completed her recovery course, but Giles felt it important she return early. Xander notices everyone has deplaned and there is no Willow. We return to the moment the scene started. We see Willow get off the plane and look around for her friends. But they aren't there.
Some kid is graffitiing a wall. A demon looking thing is flitting about and whispering. It attacks him. Willow arrives at Buffy's home. No one is there. She enters and goes upstairs, having a brief flashback to Tara's death. She hears a bang, as if the door were slammed, drops the address book she was looking at, and rushes downstairs calling for Dawn. But no one is there. She lies down on the sofa. That same evening, Buffy, Dawn, and Xander arrive home. They have called Giles and think Willow got off the plane somewhere. They wonder whether she is evil again. Xander slams the door shut. We hear a sound, like an address book being dropped. They rush upstairs calling for Willow. She's not there. They come back downstairs and sit on the sofa. They wonder whether she feared they wouldn't forgive her. Giles is blaming himself. Dawn suggests someone should blame Willow.
Fade to Willow waking, still on the sofa. She tries to call Giles, but he's in an all day council meeting. She goes to the magic shop and finds Anya, still angry over the destruction of her store by Willow. She asks if Willow is ok and she replies that she's working on it. She says she wants to help with the store, she feels responsible. Anya says she is responsible. Willow says she's sorry, Anya says vengeance demons don't groove with the I'm sorry bit. Willow sits on the sidewalk and Anya sits beside her. Anya says she's just been to Brazil doing vengeance. Willow asks where the others are and Anya realizes she hasn't seen them and says they are probably still angry at her. She tells her they are probably at the high school and explains about Xander working there and Spike being in the basement. She says Xander starts early, so she'll probably find him there now.
Willow goes to the construction site, but it's deserted. She finds the graffiti and the boy - dead and flayed. Xander and Buffy are looking at the body of the dead boy. He says he found the body, gave his crew the day off, and called Buffy. There is a noise, like someone climbing a ladder. We see Willow climbing the ladder out of the construction site. Xander says he knows what Buffy is thinking, maybe Willow is back.
Willow goes into the high school and enters the basement. Spike leaps out at her, saying it is his place and she needs permission to be there. He goes on about going off and trying to put your heart back and walling off the bad parts and thinking you're finished but you're worse than ever. She tells him about the body and asks what could have done that. He says she did once. She asks if anything else could. He starts staring at something and saying someone is glowing and wondering what rhymes with glowing. He starts saying he should hide, she knows what he did. He says everyone is talking to him and not to each other. He says someone isn't here. He says his money's on the witch.
Buffy and Xander are walking through the basement. Xander says the blueprints are no help, the walls seem to move. They hear Spike and walk in on him when he's talking about being worse off than ever. But Willow isn't there. The dialogue we heard before is repeated. They are about to leave, but he gets to the part about the witch. They think he knows something. He says they (the slayer and her boy) think Willow did it - only he says you addressing Willow who isn't there. They ask if something is there. He says he has to leave and check authorizations.
Willow arrives at Anya's apartment saying she needs help. Anya says she has no money. Willow tells her about the dead boy. They both ask if the other did it and both deny it. Anya says given the flaying, they are going to think Willow did it. Willow says they may already think that. Anya says maybe Willow hopes she can stop whatever is doing this and stop the others from suspecting her. Willow is surprised at how insightful Anya is and asks for help. Anya helps her do a demon detection spell. It reveals a huge clump of demons under the high school. The map they are using catches fire and Willow stomps it out. It does leave ash on the carpet staining it and angering Anya. Willow thinks she's found the demon, in some caves. She wants Anya to teleport there. But Anya reveals her teleporting privileges have been revoked because of her reversing the vengeance spell in Beneath You. She can only teleport for business reasons and has to file a flight plan in advance. She says she's not enjoying the vengeance as much as she used to. Willow says she thought Anya liked inflicting. Anya says it sounds good, but it's really upsetting. Willow says Anya is afraid of losing that feeling and of the power taking control of her. Anya says that's true, though overly dramatic. They feel sorry for each other. Willow says she has to find the monster. Anya suggests a spell to find Buffy and Xander. Willow says she tried, but it said they didn't exist.
Dawn is researching the demon attack. Buffy tells Xander they are kidding themselves, they know who did this. Dawn has a hit, a demon called Gnarl. He paralyzes his victims with a poison in his nails. He then cuts off strips of skin while his victim is alive. Xander says they found no strips. She says Gnarl eats them, he's a parasite. She says he's a perfect match since there was no blood. He laps up the blood. Xander suggests they ask around at Willy's. Buffy says they could be smart, Xander doesn't even seem to notice the slam even though she apologizes, and track the blood.
Buffy, Dawn, and Xander are following Spike who is tracking the blood trail to Gnarl. He says it's supposed to get easier, helping, but it isn't. Dawn says they could develop more nonmagic procedures to solve cases and build a database. And she could wear heels more often. Buffy says she was close to being empowered and Dawn says everyone loves a slender ankle. Spike stops. He shows them a cave and leaves.
Willow is already at the cave and enters. Gnarl whispers 'all alone'. Buffy and the others enter the cave. Gnarl attacks Dawn, scratching her. She says his poison paralyzes. Buffy and Xander carry Dawn out and then seal the entrance to the cave trapping Gnarl and Willow. She tries to use magic to protect herself, but he is immune to spells. He says her friends have abandoned her to him. Buffy and Xander are taking Dawn home and looking up Gnarl on the computer to find an antidote. Willow asks if her friends were really there. Gnarl attacks and paralyzes her, then says yes. He starts eating her skin and drinking her blood. They put Dawn on the sofa and Buffy finds the paralysis ends when Gnarl dies. Xander is worried about leaving Dawn, in case she vomits. The talk of vomiting really annoys Dawn. Buffy decides to call Anya to watch Dawn.
Gnarl is peeling off skin from Willow's tummy and eating it. Anya wonders what kind of paralysis Dawn has. She tries posing her and discovers it works. They sit her up. Buffy is eating nuts Anya brought from Brazil. Anya says she's feeling benevolent, helping Willow and Buffy. She reveals Willow had gone to the cave and poses Dawn in a salute. Since she knows about Gnarl, Buffy has her come with them and they leave Dawn alone. Buffy puts the remote in Dawn's upraised hand (or maybe it's a cell). At the cave, Willow is still maintaining her friends will return.
The gang run to the cave, although Anya finds it hard to keep up being out of shape from teleporting. They enter and while Anya sees Willow, Xander and Buffy can neither see nor feel her. Buffy thinks Gnarl is separate from whatever is causing the invisibility. Gnarl attacks and Buffy fights him. Anya reminds Buffy to go for the eyes. She explains to Willow what's happening, Willow still can't see them. Buffy stabs Gnarl in the foot, pinning him to the ground. She then squeezes out his eyes with her thumbs. Willow starts recovering from the paralysis. We cut to Dawn falling off the sofa. Buffy and Xander still can't see Willow. Anya says she's badly hurt and goes to get help. Buffy says they're glad Willow is back. Willow materializes and they can see each other again.
The next day, Buffy enters Willow's room where she's meditating. She says she's growing new skin, magically, but the effort wears her out. She explains what she has learnt about everything being connected. Buffy is going to leave to let her rest but Willow says to stay, that she missed her. Buffy says she missed Willow. She says Dawn is trying to figure out what caused the invisibility. Willow says it was her. She was afraid to see them and unconsciously created the invisibility. Buffy says it's ok and Willow says it's nice to be forgiven.
Buffy confesses she thought Willow was the killer. She says she wants to be the kind of person who doesn't think like that. She says Xander never thought it. Willow says he did, a little. That even she did. That Xander has the luxury of not saying it, but the slayer doesn't. Willow tries growing skin again. She says she doesn't have the strength, but it hurts too much not to try. Buffy says she has strength to give away and takes Willow's hands. Willow asks if she's sure and Buffy says yes.
Once again, Whedon demonstrates that he can add a lot of humour to the mix and still create solid drama. The juxtaposition of the hysterically paralyzed Dawn being posed by Anya and the tragically paralyzed Willow being eaten alive by Gnarl, was fantastic. When you add to this the recognition of the parallel between Anya and Willow, which I touched upon in my comments on Beneath You, and the beautifully done double scenes where we see them from Willow's and the gang's separate view points (which was reminiscent of the use of the flashbacks in Buffy and Angel in Fool For Love and Darla), you've got a terrific episode which shows this series still has lots of steam.
Let's start with the Willow/Anya parallel. The key point is probably the demon detection spell. This is the spell Willow and Tara did in Goodbye, Iowa or one very like it. In that episode, Tara sabotaged the spell fearing that it would reveal her as a demon. In this episode, Anya helps do the spell and it does reveal she's a demon, as we know. However, during this scene and the one immediately before we see Anya's sensitivity and sense of humour - human characteristics. Tara, sabotaging the spell, acted like a demon even though she wasn't one. Anya, helping, acts like a human even though she's a demon. Willow's life changed when she became partners with Tara. Anya's life changed when she became partners with Xander. Both became evil when those partnerships were dissolved. Earlier Anya sent Willow to Xander and now Anya takes on the role of Tara. The two are complementing each other and working, albeit subconsciously, to make each other whole.
Anya functions as the bridge between Willow and the rest of the gang. She encourages Willow to seek them out and later tells them where Willow is. In the cave, she brings them to Willow and she's the one who goes for help - she's actively seeking to save Willow. It's no accident that Anya is the first person Willow actually sees and talks to and the only sane one. Anya bridges the two worlds - the world of the frightened person seeking forgiveness and unsure whether it is available and the world of the angry, vengeful monster seeking to destroy all that hurts her. These are the two worlds Willow inhabits and which the ensouled Spike/William also lives within. Spike has emotional insight (he's always had this) and can intuitively understand what is happening. But Anya has an intellectual insight. She is emotionally distant, using humour to keep people at a distance (Spike does this too, but in a more mean spirited way), but demonstrates a deep understanding of human motivations.
Anya doesn't know how to act as a human herself (we've seen her stymied by simple situations many times most notably in The Body), but she does know why humans act as they do. How else could she be a success as a vengeance demon. Of course, her understanding is skewed toward the more negative of emotions, but those are the feelings most of the gang have right now. She understands the fears which motivate Willow and articulates them. Willow, for her part, understands the fear which motivates Anya - the fear of becoming the successful vengeance demon she once was - and articulates it. By voicing their fears, they help each other confront and overcome them.
Of course, Willow has not been magically cured. One tenet of the show is that there are no magical cures. But a big impediment to being cured has been removed. She is able to ask for forgiveness and get it. She is able to ask for help and get it. Buffy lends her the strength to heal. The healing is both physical and emotional. Anya has stumbled through these same steps. She has come to understand the pain and suffering she inflicts. She turned Ronnie back to a human in Beneath You. She talked to Xander and has rejoined the gang. While posing Dawn she talks about how her beneficence should make up for her evil. She is asking, somewhat elliptically, for forgiveness. So far, the gang haven't quite heard her. They include her in their activities, but they don't explicitly say they want her or understand her. Alone she does not have the strength to turn her back on her demon role. Just as alone Willow does not have the strength to confront the magic she possesses. I'm guessing that Xander will lend his strength to Anya just as Buffy has done for Willow.
Last week, we had the very phallic Ronnie worm. This week we have Gnarl and his very phallic nose eating and sucking Willow. Metaphorically, this is the sexiest show on tv. Gnarl's assault on Willow is made worse because of the sexual overtones, it's rape as well as simple assault. He's stripping her, both physically (first he cuts off her clothes and then her skin) and emotionally (his gentle, loving sounding talk is designed to frighten her and make her cry), and consuming her. He tells her when her friends return they won't find her because she'll be all inside him. While Gnarl consumes, Buffy creates. Buffy and Willow, on a bed but in a nonsexual manner, engage in a creative act of growing back Willow's skin. The hands which poked out Gnarl's eyes, now hold Willow and give her strength. These two opposites were foreshadowed by the magic spell scene with Anya who wonders if it will get sexy and later says it did a little. Anya is not as destructive as Gnarl, although she is harsh and critical, nor as constructive as Buffy, although she does help Willow heal both emotionally (through the above mentioned articulation of her fears) and physically (she's the one who finds Willow and goes for help). The scene is not as sexy as the lip smacking, blood sucking, skin eating of Gnarl (Willow says a sexy scene with Anya would be shocking) or as sexless as sitting and talking with Buffy (it does, after all, take place in a dark room on the floor with candles).
Buffy gets lots of praise for its writing and justly so. But the direction deserves some credit. The double perspective scenes were not easy ones to shoot. They had to be the same, yet different. The viewer had to realize what was happening without it being too obvious. This was very well done. A lot of credit has to go to the direction and cinematography. Although clever writing which made the dialogue read differently from each perspective was a big help. And Marsters as Spike was exceptionally good in a complicated scene which must have required many takes. I'm always amazed at how actors can hold on to an emotion through countless retakes which are then edited together to make what appears a coherent scene. This was a good example of that kind of film magic.
Many people like to draw parallels between Buffy and Dawn, forecasting a Dawn the Vampire Slayer role. But Dawn is far more like the premagic Willow. Not one of the in crowd, somewhat awkward, but very clever. She relishes the research - remember Willow looking up demon facts on her computer? Like that early Willow, she is naive. She dreams of being grown up (wearing heels), but still acts like a kid (the worry about the vomiting). A few years ago Willow was wearing little girl clothes and was too shy even to wear a sexy Hallowe'en costume. That all changed with Buffy and slaying and Oz and Tara. It is beginning to change for Dawn, who has finally been allowed to be part of the slaying.
Back in Lessons, Spike talked about it being in the wall. In this episode, Xander says the basement walls seem to move. This has got to be a clue about the evil which is dwelling beneath Sunnydale and how it will present itself. And, maybe, how it can be defeated.
I suspect some people will wonder why Xander and Buffy leave Dawn alone after they've gone to the trouble of getting Anya to look after her lest she vomit. I have an explanation, although it isn't made explicit in the episode. Anya poses Dawn upright. That means any vomit will go out and down. If Dawn were lying down, she might drown in her vomit. But upright she should be ok. And I'm with Dawn, all this vomit talk is deeply disturbing.
Some quick final thoughts. The title of this episode reminds me of the closing lines of the old Batman series. Now I know that in Sunnydale you are more likely to be killed by a vampire than burglarized (maybe the vampires killed the burglars). Still, it seems odd that nobody locks their doors. I've got to admit, the scene where Buffy and the others are sitting on the sofa, complaining that they can't be there for Willow if she isn't there, while they are actually sitting on or in her lying on the sofa, is really funny in retrospect. But really hard to describe. I assume nobody in the house ever changes the speed dials and that's why Willow was able to call Giles with a single button press. Also, didn't it ever occur to Willow to go to her home? Haven't her parents noticed she's been out of the country for months and how did she explain that to them.
Lines of the week:
"You are really responsible." - Anya telling Willow what everyone else is thinking.
"Everyone's talking to me. No one's talking to each other." - Spike getting to the heart of the matter.
"Someone isn't here." - Spike not getting it.
"It's like the walls move or something." - Xander with what might be a big clue.
"I need to do something right." - Willow seeking redemption through deeds.
"I'm surprisingly sensitive." - Anya definitely surprising us.
"I'd be shocked." - Willow on the likelihood of getting sexy with Anya.
"I ate that." - Anya showing she has a sense of humour.
"Teleporting isn't a right. It's a privilege." - Anya has been grounded.
"It's not as fulfilling as I remember." - Anya admitting she doesn't enjoy the vengeance any more.
"It's really upsetting." - Anya revealing how human she has become.
"She knows about viscera. Makes you proud." - Buffy on Dawn growing up.
"You're terrifying." - Xander agreeing with Spike and not knowing it.
"I'm insane. What's his excuse?" - Spike dissing Xander.
"Watch my head. Watch my head." - Dawn with a very sensible warning.
"It's nice to be forgiven." - Willow getting what they are all after.Got a comment? Send me mail.
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