Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | October 24, 2011

Robin’s Review: S3, E8 – Lover’s Walk

Synopsis: Buffy scores very highly on her SATs. Joyce and Giles both suggest she consider going to a good college leaving her with much to ponder. Spike returns to Sunnydale, miserable since Drusilla left him. He kidnaps Willow and Xander and forces her to perform a love spell for him. She needs more ingredients and a spell book and so he heads to Buffy’s house. Angel and Buffy catch him there but are forced to follow him to the magic shop to save Willow. At that point a gang of Mr Trick’s vampires arrive having been dispatched by the Mayor. Meanwhile Oz smells Willow and he and Cordelia make it to the factory in time to catch them making out.

The Good: An excellent episode, the best of Season Three so far by a distance. It did everything that previous episodes haven’t been doing and gave us a boatload of Spike to boot.

Upon rewatch you see that Spike actually didn’t get to do as much in Season Two as you might think. After his introduction (203) he was actually a periphery figure for much of that year. He played second or third fiddle until “Becoming” (222) when he finally got to show us some more of his unedited personality. This episode is when Spike is let off the leash. In an episode whose main focus is on the love lives of the Scoobies he more than steals the show. He actually steals focus in a way that is almost counterproductive.

However it’s hard to argue when he does such a good job. It’s a tremendous performance – loud, drunk, obnoxious, wounded, arrogant and violent. The show is transformed by having the monster-of-the-week be someone we know and enjoy watching. Instead of being a forgettable or forced creation we are seeing character development which is pretty extraordinary considering this is a one-off appearance. The comedy is strong as on the one hand he moans about Drusilla like any jilted lover but on the other the details are outrageous. He talks about bringing her beautiful dresses “with beautiful girls in them” and reminisces about killing a homeless man with her. He asks at the magic shop about curses for Angel and as the owner tries to talk him down he exclaims “Leprosy! Right? A spell that makes his parts fall off.” He whines about her not setting him on fire or any other sign of “affection.” What’s amazing about these silly lines is that there is genuine emotion behind them. As we know Drusilla well these lines seem believable and as mentioned already Spike’s performance sells it all well.

Then there is the physical threat that Spike provides. As I complained about last episode with Lagos, so often there is no sense of jeopardy with the villains that Buffy faces. Yet Spike gives a very physical performance here which actually becomes threateningly violent. First we just have him swearing which makes a difference in itself. Then he is also permanently under the influence which gives him an unstable edge. Then when he bashes Xander in the head you get a real sense that Xander is hurt. This isn’t just the usual bumps and bruises that the Scoobies suffer. Next came the most disturbing (and best) scene where he violently pulls Willow’s hair, threatens her with broken glass and then implies rape. It’s all pretty strong stuff and Willow’s performance in response was tremendous creating a real sense of fear. Finally Spike got to play hero and join Angel and Buffy in taking out the Mayor’s gang of vampires which was a fun and dramatic fight sequence.

Of course the real purpose of each monster-of-the-week is to shine a light back onto the ongoing situations which the Scoobie are involved with. Spike is ideally cast in that role because his obsession with Drusilla fits neatly into the relationship problems that the whole gang are facing. Spike cuts through all pretensions surrounding Buffy and Angel and points out the obvious about their forbidden love. His speech to them in the magic shop was great writing and performing and I haven’t even found space yet to mention the clever continuity that allowed Joyce to fear Angel but welcome Spike in with tea and marshmallows. Spike’s interference also allowed Willow and Xander to be left alone and frightened so that they would give in once more to temptation and finally be caught by Oz and Cordelia.

The fallout from their hookups is pretty sad. The sense of betrayal that Cordelia must feel is so sad. We know that she was in love with Xander (305) and had pretty much fully acknowledged his place in her life despite the social stigma. And now he betrays her with Willow, someone she perceives as completely beneath her as well as someone he has been part of this secret club with for so long. It’s a horribly personal cocktail of betrayal. Oz’ reaction will be different of course and we wait to see how he will respond to it. Buffy tells Angel that she can’t see him any more which makes sense but then again we know that isn’t the end of the story.

We got another glimpse at the Mayor in this episode as he jokes about selling his soul. Again a very literal demonstration of his metaphorical role in Sunnydale as the politician in charge. He was well scripted though with his seemingly well meaning but actually creepy tangents about mixing metaphors and problems with his golf swing.

The Bad: Is it possible to be too in love with Spike? Remember that this is a horrible, murderous demon. Yet essentially he gets a hero’s sendoff here. He beats up the Mayor’s goon and then goes riding off into the sunset. He is riding off to murder and apparently rape people so is it right to give him a cool song to drive off to? It’s one thing to celebrate a brilliant creation but another to cheer him on.

Cordelia and Oz demonstrating how committed they were to their partners right after one another was perhaps a touch too on the nose.

The Unknown:There were moments in the episode when I questioned whether we were getting one too many a line from Spike as the mood switched from serious to silly in the middle of a sentence. Most of the time I think that line was walked beautifully but it was close to overkill on occasion.

The story of Buffy’s SAT scores was largely forgotten by episodes end. It provided a useful catalyst for her “break up” with Angel but there’s clearly a lot more to be mined with the idea of her having a future away from Slaying.

Oz being able to smell people (life a wolf) when in human form was a convenient moment. The writers did cover well by having Oz agree with Cordelia that it was a disturbing development.

Best Moment: The scene between Spike and Willow at the Factory was fantastic. He manhandles her and threatens her in a way we never usually see and it really made for a dramatic spectacle. He then continues in his wistful, sad and humorous whining about Drusilla before slowly considering the possibility of Willow’s warm body. Willow stands up for herself, despite the fear and they agree on what to do next. It was such a strong scene with the way it was able to swing back and forth in tone. It was a scene that confirmed Spike as this mesmeric figure able to take the best parts of the Buffy world and blend them together into a believable package. I can’t say a star is born because Spike was good enough in Season Two to be well past that but somehow he reached a new level as a TV character here.

The Bottom Line: This was an excellent episode without a dull moment. At times it veered too far off course so I can’t see it as one of the best ever. However Spike steps forward here as one of the potentially great television characters. Someone who is capable of eliciting multiple emotional reactions at once and fuelling stories for himself and others. This feels like the end of act one of Season Three with the Mayor now established as the new threat, the end of school approaching and the relationships of Season Two reaching a dramatic climax.

83/100

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