Synopsis: At the airport Willow doesn’t appear to Buffy, Xander and Dawn’s sadness. However she did arrive but couldn’t see any of them. Meanwhile the flayed body of a boy is found at the school and Buffy fears the worst. Willow visits Anya and Spike and begins to track down the demon Gnarl who was really responsible. The rest of the Scoobies do the same and track him to his cave.
The Good: I really liked the opening of the episode where Xander talked about saving the world with his words and used yellow crayon for the welcome home sign. We’ve become so used to the Scoobies saving the day that it was really nice to be reminded of how a normal person would endlessly talk about something amazing that happened to them. The crayon reference and his nerves about whether Willow would get it were very sweet.
Sweetness was the word for the episodes end too. Willow’s tone when she could finally see her friends was so pathetic that it really drew my sympathy. And the final moments where Buffy lends Willow her strength may be the closest we’ve seen them as best friends since Season Three.
I liked the idea that Willow had made herself invisible. It very much fit with the development of her powers (like when her will came to be in 409) and updates us nicely on the condition she’s in.
Gnarl was possibly the best looking demon the show has ever produced. The shots of him crouched over Willow licking her blood were as disturbing and cinematic as anything I can remember. His “I can see you” routine was so simple and yet very effective at giving you the creeps.
The Bad: It’s such a shame that Gnarl didn’t get a more prominent role. And indeed that the height of his creepiness was ruined by silly comedy surrounding Dawn’s paralysis. It was a real lack of judgment and continued the awkward attempts at comedy that littered last season. The paralysis was kind of funny which made it an even worse tonal contrast. It’s rare that we see a Scooby in as vulnerable position as Willow was in and yet there was no tension in the sequence.
The Unknown: The practical results of showing us scenes where the Scoobies couldn’t see each other was less fun than it seemed on paper. By seeing both perspectives we always knew that nothing major was amiss and some sequences were a bit dull as a result. The repeated Spike scene was a clever idea but it didn’t actually add much to the plot.
We need an Anya-centric story soon. We understand that she is a Vengeance demon with a functioning conscience but now that needs to go somewhere.
Best Moment: Gnarl looked amazing but Willow’s emoting was really strong.
The Bottom Line: This was one of those frustrating episodes which had all the elements to be great but couldn’t pull them together.