Synopsis: The Scoobies are maintaining the illusion that Buffy is still fighting vampires by using BuffyBot and helping her patrol. They are also using her to prevent Dawn’s father from taking her away. Giles is preparing to leave for England while Willow is researching a spell which could resurrect Buffy. When a vampire discovers that Buffy is just a robot he tells a gang of demon bikers who descend on Sunnydale.
The Good: I really enjoyed this. The focus on the emotional fallout of Buffy’s passing was excellent and to say goodbye to Giles as well made for a powerful part one.
Every detail was taken care of as we examined the domestic and professional sides of Buffy’s life. Tara and Willow have moved in to the Summers home to be guardians to Dawn and to take charge of patrolling. While the BuffyBot is used as cover to ward off Mr Summers along with the demons of the world. BuffyBot ended up being more than a plot device as her presence was a constant reminder of her model’s absence, preventing the Scoobies from truly moving on. So many scenes beautifully demonstrated this awkward dynamic. Spike can’t look at her as she is a constant reminder of his lost love and his once grotesque behaviour. Dawn seeks comfort in the arms of the robot as she silently misses her sister. And in a lovely touch Giles can’t quite let go of his former dynamic and attempts to teach the robot things just as he would have done with his Slayer.
Giles’ departure was very sad. He has been an unassuming presence on the show throughout its run; the adult who could hold the group together when needed. Now his job as Watcher has come to an end and he returns to his homeland. A good television show should make you cry (or well up in my case) when a character as kind and important as Giles says farewell. The equity built up in his presence now pours out of the viewer, who will miss him nearly as much as the other characters. His words for Dawn (offering fatherly help) and Willow (acknowledgement of the torch he is passing to her) were particularly moving. His parting line of “Be careful, please” was so appropriate and touching. Of course he wants them to all survive the Hellmouth and go on living but in his wisdom he also foreshadows the coming spell which he would not approve of.
Willow has had to change most in Buffy’s absence and has assumed the leadership of the Scoobies. It’s a natural choice and the performance by Alyson Hannigan conveys the new inner-steel without giving up on trademark frowns and foibles. That steel also threatens to turn into something dark. The resurrection of Buffy, as a story, was handled with real skill. On a basic level it seems the logical thing to do. We get it confirmed that it was the mystical portal energy which killed Buffy rather than her fall to the ground. So it’s plausible to think that she has ended up in Glory’s dimension or worse (as Angel did) and is in need of rescue. The emotive power of that idea is undeniable and everyone nailed the moment when Willow expresses this as something they must do and Xander gives in, asking “What time do we meet?” Yet below the surface everyone has real doubts and the tone was always cautious and foreboding. We well remember Dawn’s attempts to raise Joyce (517) along with Tara’s worries about Willow’s growing power. The whole group realises that they are messing with something they don’t fully understand and their reluctance to tell Giles is surely a bad sign. Willow seems to recognise the uncomfortable realities all too well as she summons an innocent looking lamb and slaughters it without telling anyone. The spell itself showed off the advancements in CGI as we got some of the show’s best looking effects as Osiris “tests” Willow.
Adding to the sense of impending doom was the demon biker gang who seemed more threatening than the average Buffy villain. A Sunnydale without Buffy is something we haven’t often had to contemplate and things felt quite fragile when the gang surrounded BuffyBot and began to lay waste to the high street. The fact that Buffy, unbeknownst to Willow, is restored below the ground will doubtless cause much confusion next episode.
Interestingly Spike is feeling guilty over his failure to defeat Doc on the scaffold. If he had succeeded the portal wouldn’t have opened and Buffy would still be alive. That’s quite a burden. Anya’s frustration at how her life has stalled was well portrayed and led nicely into an explanation of the unspoken resurrection plans. I really liked how the four in on the plan hung out together hours before they went through with it because they were all so uneasy about what they were about to do. Tara’s use of “Grrr Argh” ala the Mutant Enemy tag that ends every episode was a nice piece of meta-humour.
The Bad: The one thing missing from this episode was comedy. The Vampire with the Hanson T-shirt who bragged up his “victory” over Buffy was far too broad. As was Xander’s question about who made Willow boss being answered in Austin Powers fashion with the answer that not only had he voted her in as boss but made a plaque to commemorate it.
The Unknown: Of course it’s not clear if Giles is really gone or not. Willow and Xander acknowledge that he would have to come back if their spell was successful. However he’s not in the credits anymore so his farewells can’t merely be for show.
Best Moment: This was one of those episodes with a dozen lovely little moments and no one standout. I suppose it has to be the exchange between Willow and Xander which settles the dispute over the spell. Their lives have been utterly transformed thanks to Buffy and if there is a chance that she is suffering and they could do something about it then how could they not respond? The communication of both the logic of that decision and the sense that it was somehow the wrong thing to do was tremendous.
The Bottom Line: This was a terrific season premiere which packed a lot of emotion into part one.