The writers on this show have a great way of juxtaposing similar events but with different people. Often that’s the world of Buffy and her friends in contrast with their enemies, and we do get that here, but there’s a third element as well, presenting a richer and more complex picture. We also don’t get a clear good/evil divide. The three relationships presented in this episode are all twisted in different ways.
Buffy’s is the centrepiece and in many ways the least interesting. It’s not very enjoyable to see her made to suffer again by a guy who changes after they sleep together, a very prosaic reworking of the previous Angel situation. Willow sums it up best: Parker is a “poop head”. He even manages to manipulate Buffy’s emotions to the extent that she is the one who ends up apologising for the one-night stand she thought meant something more. Sarah Michelle Gellar wasn’t keen on this storyline, perhaps expecting Buffy to make wiser choices so soon after the departure of Angel from her life, and that’s fair. Buffy is our hero character, so it’s tough to watch her making bad decisions, or appearing to move on too quickly. However, I don’t think it’s unrealistic. She’s a young woman who is attracted to a cute and apparently thoughtful guy, who makes her feel beautiful and special. He seems normal. The trouble is, he’s a bit too normal.
In comparison, we get Spike and Harmony, a hugely welcome plot development that brings this season to life with a bang. Spike is out and out the best character in this whole show, so it’s obviously a delight to have him back, and the Harmony/Spike relationship is at times very funny (except when it’s sad).
“You love that tunnel more than me.”
“I love syphilis more than you.”
On paper, their relationship is just too weird, but you can see exactly how it works for them: Harmony is so annoying that Spike gets furious with her, and then… they use the anger. That’s lust though, not love. Not even the warped, vampire version of love we saw between Spike and Drusilla. Something in Harmony makes her want it to be more, though.
“I don’t know why I let you be so mean to me.”
“Love hurts, baby.”
Cue Buffy getting no phone messages from Parker, and that’s the perfect comparison. Both Harmony and Buffy are being used, and both made themselves available as willing victims, hoping for some kind of a connection beyond the physical. They will both have to look elsewhere.
And then we have our third coupling, which muddies the waters of the juxtaposition in a way that shows a deep understanding of the messiness of new relationships, because Anya and Xander are our shades of grey. At first it seems like a reversal of the other two, with Anya the user of Xander, but neither of them are poop heads here. Anya thinks she can divorce the physical from the emotional, just like Parker or Spike did, but she can’t. The itch she thought she could scratch just got itchier, and Xander’s accidental snubbing of Anya is simply an indication of his assumption that she wanted nothing more than some bedroom gymnastics with him. It’s not his fault. Teenage boys are generally simple creatures; he was given the impression it was a one-and-done, so he took her at her word, and his prior experience with Faith (mentioned here) also conditions him to assume that he’s being similarly used. But here we have something very different: a misunderstanding. Spike and Harmony will always be a twisted relationship. Buffy was just another name on Parker’s list of college conquests. Anya has fallen for Xander. One of these things is not like the others. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
A vampire, a demon and a slayer walk into a courtyard… it sounds like the start of a joke. But this episode isn’t funny and it doesn’t even have a lot of comedy moments to speak of. It ends up being a fairly heavy episode about heartbreak. About half way through the episode, I was feeling bored. This doesn’t happen a lot in Buffy episodes. It started so well too! Willow is bitten by a vampire!?! Surely this would be a strong episode. But it took me until after I had finished watching to realize what was bothering me. It’s a repeat of the unlucky in love Buffy and a “guy turns into a monster after sex” story. It’s not a bad subject; I think what Buffy experiences is probably far more common than we want to believe and should be explored but it was done better as an allegory. When Angel slept with Buffy and turned into a literal monster it was depicting what often happens in real life, but doing that in allegory means it’s up to the viewer to think about. I much prefer that sort of storytelling. When Parker does it to Buffy this time around, it’s just a guy being a dirtbag. And it’s a shame, because he did seem like a decent fellow. Of note, I had stopped reading the trivia page on Amazon Prime, but for some reason I read it this time and there was a blurb saying that Sarah Michelle Gellar told Joss Whedon that it was too soon to have Buffy sleep with someone else after the events with Angel, and that Whedon told her that in college, we all do stupid things. While he’s probably right, and her actions might even make sense as she tries to find herself after what she had been through, the truth is, from a television perspective, they probably should have trusted SMG’s instincts because this one had no real spark. I felt very “been there, done that” with the whole thing.
Besides Buffy being treated terribly by a jerk, there’s Harmony, who is very hard to like, being treated badly by Spike because he is a bad guy anyway, so would we expect better of him? Sure, she brings that reaction out in him because of how shallow she is but that doesn’t give him the right to treat her that way. As much as she put me off, it was still hard to watch and while I will never place Harmony as a favorite character, when she started to cry, I felt terrible for her. It’s compounded by her comment: “I don’t know why I let you be so mean to me”. That was a brutal blow largely because I had disliked her so much. I felt complicit in the treatment because I was so tired of her, but she was no less deserving of kindness. When she said that, I actually felt for her and was mad at myself for disliking her. She just didn’t know a better way to be. I actually wanted Spike to be nice to her and her heartbreak at the end of the episode bothered me. Then there’s Anya who has a thing for Xander and her heartbreak is all about Xander rejecting her, but he doesn’t actually reject her. In fact, he sleeps with her, which is what she wanted, then rushes off to help his friend. He is actually terrified of her but accepts her wishes. (I doubt he was complaining, but he’s clearly confused too.) Her heartbreak is the one that made the least sense to me. Xander ran away from her to almost have his back broken while helping his friend. (Admittedly, he didn’t know that going into it!) Still, sucker that I am, I was almost hoping all three events would collide for a happier ending. All three do collide, but not the way I had in mind!
The whole episode seems to be a build-up to gain a relic that Buffy wants to give to Angel. Based on the limited experience I have with the series Angel, I’m guessing this will tie in soon and I am looking forward to it. I just hope we’re not going into repeat ideas now. The show has been impressive, actually causing me to make a 180 on what I originally thought of the series. It would be a shame to lose that. Another shame is something I’d experienced often with Babylon 5: opening credit blues! The big reveal that Spike was in this episode was ruined by the opening credits and that was unfair. I don’t see Spike as a particularly great villain; more of an antihero I think, but I would have enjoyed being surprised by his dramatic removal of the piece of cloth covering his distinctive hair. It wasn’t to be! And the worst part of that is that I try never to look at the words on the screen but sometimes they just jump out and this is one of those times. So this episode was truly a heartbreak on many levels; three lovely woman all wandering a courtyard at night mourning lost loves, opening credits that spoil what’s coming, and a repeat storyline that was done better the first time around. I confess I have a little fear about the next episode. But you know what they say: there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Fear, Itself