Synopsis: Dawn spends some time with Spike and realises that he has feelings for Buffy. When Buffy confronts him he admits it and she is disgusted. Meanwhile Drusilla slaughters the passengers on a train and tells Spike that she wants him back. They knock Buffy out but then Spike ties them both up and tries to prove his love for Buffy by staking Dru.
The Good: This was a tremendous episode until the penultimate scene.
It’s a cliché to talk about how good James Marsters is as Spike. One of the things I love most about television is when that magic alchemy comes together and an actor is so right for a part that whatever was on the page becomes something so much better that character and actor become impossible to separate and you are left with a creation who feels real and vital. Spike is one of the great TV characters and any episode that lets him show off the range and depth of his personality and emotional palette is bound to be good.
The scene where he tells Dawn a scary story was a perfect example. Here’s Dawn being a naive teenager and treating neutered Spike as if he is no threat and coming to hang out in his crypt because it’s an act of rebellion against Buffy. Of course she has a crush on hunky Spike but it’s the naivety that’s fascinating. She has grown up around the idea of vampires and yet she can’t seem to connect the horror of what they do to Spike’s pretty face. Even as he tells her a horrific story, which is clearly going to end in the murder of a girl younger than Dawn, she sits transfixed by how cool it all is. Without that chip she would be the girl he was so hungrily hunting and yet she isn’t disgusted by him, she’s attracted.
That is the fascinating thing about the character of Spike. It’s all too easy to forget, amidst the comedy, the emoting and the handsome face that this is a demon. He is a creature who not only kills people and drinks their blood but revels and lusts after it. This episode begins to explore to what extent he is capable of changing. Drusilla argues verbally and is undead proof that vampires are capable of being passionately in love. However is Spike capable of loving Buffy in a way which makes him change inside? Is he capable of admiring her goodness enough to be good himself? And has the chip begun to change his natural desires? Does fear of the searing pain make those evil acts seem less appealing after the conditioning jolts of electricity? The way Spike expressed the pain they caused him almost made you feel sorry for the guy.
Drusilla was excellent in her return as she seductively makes the case for his nature being able to overcome any obstacle. The scene where they enter the Bronze to spy out some prey was beautifully filmed and acted. The slow motion recalled earlier seasons when vampires still retained the full horror and majesty of their hunt. Again Marsters facial expressions were mesmeric as he fell back into his affection for Drusilla and then as she handed him a fresh victim he questioned whether he could or should drink her blood.
The twist that Spike is so far gone in his love for Buffy that he would double cross Drusilla was an excellent choice. It was a surprise even as it made perfect sense. So with both women tied up he plays the note that fits the character like a glove: obsessive love. He spent a century enthralled by Drusilla and now he declares “I’m drowning in you Summers, I’m drowning in you.” He is so sure of love that he is willing to humiliate himself like this and kill Drusilla too.
Before I get to what I didn’t like I should add some other things. I really liked that Willow was still showing the effects from her teleportation spell. The show has done a stellar job of showing us that magic takes a toll. I was also pleased to see Giles at the Summers house keeping an eye on Dawn but with the excuse that he was protecting them from Glory.
The way Spike roughly handled Harmony (when Dru returned) reminded us of the abusive boyfriend he is and was a necessary demonstration of the threat he can pose. The shrine he keeps to her in his cave was creepy and disturbing and there’s no sense in which his love can be viewed as healthy at this point. There was typically good comedy early on too with Spike encouraging Harmony to dress up as Buffy for some sexcapades. Or when Buffy points out that two vampires have been nesting (hence didn’t just arrive on the train) and Spike questions “So you’re saying they’re a couple of poofters?”
From Buffy’s point of view I think her reactions gave away that she was only ninety five per cent revolted by Spike’s love. If she found him impossible to be near then she wouldn’t have sat in the car and reacted fearfully that he might be about to kiss her. I thought largely her reaction fitted with what we’ve seen so far. She does dislike him and think he is a murdering demon but she can’t shake the fact that he is attractive and does understand parts of her that humans can’t. The stakeout\date was a nice escalation of the affection he’s been trying to show her.
The Bad: I felt very let down by the ending. As Spike told Buffy about drowning she seemed freaked out by the whole experience. Then the tone of the whole episode abruptly changed. Suddenly Buffy was unafraid and defiant taunting Spike that killing Drusilla would mean nothing. Spike got so frustrated that he went on a comedic tantrum about ‘bloody women.’ Harmony then reappeared and we got a tensionless fight scene which concluded with Buffy “the Vampire Slayer” letting three vampires walk away without lifting a finger to stop them. That was appalling but worse was the flat conclusion to the episode as Spike chases after Buffy and they chat as if he hadn’t just threatened to kill her. She has uninvited him from her home but there was no sense that the events of this episode had had any consequences. Spike isn’t going to leave Sunnydale and she isn’t going to kill him despite all the provocation she could possibly need.
The two actors kissing in the Bronze were standing apart in a really awkward way as if their faces could touch but no other part of them.
The Unknown: The story arc of where Buffy’s power comes from and whether it has a dark, murderous origin has been quietly simmering since “Restless.” I wondered if her declaration that love was impossible without a soul was a conscious or subconscious attempt to define her humanity in some way against that of a vampire. Perhaps her encounter with Dracula and the failure of her relationship with Riley are making her question things more directly.
Best Moment: Spike’s facial expressions as Drusilla handed him the body of the girl at the Bronze were exceptional.
The Bottom Line: I don’t know what angered me more: that an episode of exquisite character drama was blown off as comedy or the complete absence of logic or consequence in Buffy’s actions.