Bargaining I

Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by David Grossman

Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

We return to Sunnydale for the usual season opening doses of exposition and resurrection.. No, wait, that part's new. Not unexpected, but new.

I do actually have reasons for doing this in two parts: a) It actually works better broken as it was intended to be broken, and b) It's too frelling long to do in one shot and I had to get the tape of the first half back to the person who loaned it to me. (Did anyone else program their VCR for the WB on sheer muscle memory? 'Cause I don't want to be the only one...)

It doesn't really look like anything has changed in Sunnydale. It's a dark night, a cemetery, and a fight against a really heavy vampire. He's being chased by Spike between headstones, and the Slayerettes are in hot pursuit of both. Well, kind of warm pursuit, since Tara and Giles can't quite keep up the pace, and the spell Tara tried didn't work like it was supposed to. They stop to breathe (and do a little bonding), until Willow's voice says, "Guys, heads up" Willow being somewhere not even close, standing on top of a crypt and being eye-in-the-sky girl. Guess that telepathy thing is really coming along. She coordinates the gang's actions as they drive the vamp towards a particular crypt. He drives, all right, until he runs headlong into something and falls backwards. He looks up -- into the face of the Slayer.

Buffy herself stands over fang boy, but her wisecracks are better than her fighting. The rest of the Slayerettes charge in (and Xander and Anya are less than thrilled about this whole mind-talking thing), Xander and Anya taking on vamp, Tara, Giles and Spike joining forces against the original one. It gets a grip on Giles, and Spike closes into help -- then backs off to light a cigarette. "Spike! Help him!" Willow 'yells'. "I did," Spike says casually... as the vampire's clothes catch on fire. He stumbles back, and goes poof. Spike offers Giles a hand up which, surprise surprise, he takes, although not without a few snarky comments on timing. "Poor Watcher," Spike returns, "Did your life flash before your eyes? Cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea?" Willow sends them off to rescue Xander and Anya, since Buffy isn't doing much good. It takes them all to get him down, with Buffy delivering the final stake. "that'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo," she announces smugly, as he poofs. The Slayerettes stare, before reaching the general consensus that Willow needs to put more work into the BuffyBot's programming. "It's a glitch. We'll fix it." Giles cautions her, "We need the underworld to believe the Slayer is alive and well." Willow assures him that she'll get the fix done -- she already got her head put back on and programmed out the knock-knock jokes -- well, almost. "If we want her to be exactly --" Xander starts. Spike cuts him off coldly. "She'll never be exactly." "I know," Xander acknowledges as they all leave the cemetery. The real Buffy is gone, leaving only a BuffyBot who still hasn't quite got the concept.

Roll opening credits after the longest teaser in Buffy history, and Amber Benson still isn't in said credits!!! What's up with that major wrongness?!?

The next morning, Willow and Tara wander around the Summers house, trying to get ready to leave for the morning; they apparently moved in with Dawn and the BuffyBot. Xander arrives with a toolbox for botwork, and to eat the huge pile of sandwiches that the BuffyBot made as her contribution to the morning activities. She is not, however, allowed to answer the phone, in case it's Mr. Summers. It seems the 'underworld' isn't the only group that the Slayerettes have been keeping in the dark about Buffy's death -- this was the only solution they could come up with to keeping Dawn safe in Sunnydale.

Actually it's Anya, calling to tell them she found... something. They agree to meet that night, for what they tell Dawn is just a Scoobies meeting; Spike will come over to babysit. As Willow hangs up, they try to explain the whole phone thing to BuffyBot, who agrees enthusiastically that Dawn should stay. "You're my sister!" she announces with a big and perky hug. Dawn returns the hug unhappily, as the others watch in discomfort, then settle down to action. It's a big day -- parent/teacher day at Dawn's school, and the BuffyBot needs to do the performance of her programmed life.

She succeeds, for the most part, being attentive, perky, smiley, involved and generally the teacher's pet to end all teacher's pets. It's a rotten imitation of Buffy, but it sure makes Dawn's teachers happy. Back at the Magic Box, Giles is doing his level best to drive Anya insane by harping on accounting which he's apparently already harped on. Anya calls him on it, and he informs her that he won't be comfortable leaving without making sure everything is in order. At least, that's probably how he was going to end the sentence, before Anya interrupts to demand why he's taking some statue with him. The ensuing debate over store property versus personal property is broken up by Xander. "Okay, when I'm marveling at the immaturity, be scared. Anya, Giles is gonna leave the store to you when he goes. What more do you want?" Giles responds rather testily that he's not 'leaving' the store to her, they are simply becoming partners while he's in England. Reminded of her manners and future livelihood, Anya retreats.

Xander corners her a moment later to find out what's up; Anya's frustrated because Giles has been saying he going for a month now, and still hasn't gone -- not that they're allowed to discuss whether he should be going at all. Xander sympathizes -- this isn't easy for him, either, but tells her to be patient. "I was being patient, but it took too long. I miss Buffy, I do. But life shouldn't stop just because she's gone." And here's the real problem -- Xander still hasn't let Anya announce their engagement. "If things go as planned, everything can be different," Xander tries to soothe her. "We'll know more after we talk to Willow and Tara tonight."

Dawn relays the day's events to Spike, who is amused. "That's all schools are -- factories, spewing out mindless little automatons." Dawn raises an eyebrow and he instantly adds, "Who go on to be very valuable and productive members of society and you should go. 'Cause Buffy would want you to." They sit silently on the couch Spike offers a card game to pass the night, but Dawn tries to tell him he doesn't have to stay; she'll be fine alone if he wants to leave. Spike won't hear of it, even as Dawn tries to assure him she doesn't open anything anymore -- the whole Key mess is over. She pushes the point until Spike slams the cards down, but he regains control quickly. "No. I'm not leaving you to get hurt. Not again."

A pretty young woman without a Spike to protect her wanders through town alone; of course, she's grabbed by a vampire. She screams and struggles until the BuffyBot appears. "Don't be scared. I'm going to kill him. You can run away now." The girl obeys, and the BuffyBot squares off against the vampire. She stomps on him pretty well until the vampire gets a hand on a bottle and smashes it against her forehead. She staggers back, and the vampire stares in fascination at the blinking lights revealed by the cut, instead of blood. "You're a machine!" The BuffyBot ties to resume the fight, but walks persistently into a wall instead; the vamp runs off gleefully.

In Xander's apartment, Willow is holding the Urn of Osiris, the 'thing' Anya managed to acquire. She'd had no luck going through the Magic Box's suppliers -- and had to be careful not to let Giles know what she was doing -- but finally found one on eBay. She got it "from some desert nomad in Cairo. He drove a really hard bargain, but I finally got him to throw in a Backstreet Boys lunchbox for--" Xander clears his throat pointedly. "--a friend." Willow ignores the byplay. "It's time." They apparently have everything they need for what they're doing, except the confidence -- when Willow says that they'll go tomorrow night, Xander objects. "This is deep stuff, Will. We're talking about raising the dead." But Willow is determined. "Then it's time we stopped talking. Tomorrow night, we're bringing Buffy back."

"Guys, I need you on-board here," Willow tells Xander and Anya, who are both not real happy about this. "It feels wrong," Xander says. "It is wrong," Tara agrees, but not like she's going to do anything about it. "It's against all the laws of nature, and practically impossible to do, but it's what we agreed to. If you guys are changing your minds..." Willow won't even discuss anyone changing their minds, and it turns out they all voted her the leader in this project. She's sure she can do it, and equally sure the Giles, Spike and Dawn can't be told, in case they don't understand. Xander brings up the whole zombie thing, but both Willow and Tara assure him that this is nothing like the resurrection spell Dawn attempted with Joyce. "Buffy didn't die a natural death, she was killed by mystical forces." Which Tara says means they have a shot. To Willow it means more. She's terrified of where Buffy's soul really is -- whether she's trapped in some mystical hell like Angel was. "I'm not going to leave her there," Willow vows. "It's Buffy." Xander can't ague that. "What time do we meet?"

The witches head home, to find Spike's charges expanded to include keeping the injured BuffyBot, who was programmed to go looking for Willow whenever she was injured, safe at home instead. Willow begins repairs as Spike brings tools. "Sorry I doubted you Spike," the BuffyBot says sweetly. "You know I admire your brains almost as much as your washboard abs." Spike flinches, then says grimly to Willow, "I told you to make her stop doing that." Willow says she'll add it to the list, and asks Spike to hold the flashlight, but he's already out the door, presumably looking for something to go kill. "I think Spike stopped liking me," the BuffyBot says sadly.

Later that night, Tara and Willow snuggle into bed, as Dawn stares out into her darkened room. Finally, she slips out of bed to Buffy's room, where the BuffyBot lies limp, her eyes open, and her battery charging. Quietly, Dawn lays down beside the effigy of her sister, snuggling up and trying to sleep.

Giles puts the BuffyBot through her paces the next morning, trying to improve her fighting style and breathing until Anya points out that trying to help the BuffyBot find her chi is probably a losing proposition. "She's not the descendent of a long line of mystical warriors. She's the descendent of a toaster oven." Giles bristles and Anya leaves; as she does, Giles tiredly ends the training. "I like the teaching," BuffyBot tells him. "Every Slayer needs her Watcher." Giles isn't so sure about that. "I just can't help but wonder if she would have been better off without me. Buffy." The BuffyBot objects, but Giles isn't going to listen. "I did what any Watcher should do -- got my Slayer killed in the line of duty.... That's how all Slayer/Watcher relationships end, isn't it? Buffy's gone; I did my job." BuffyBot blinks, then asks innocently, "Then why are you still here?" Giles doesn't have an answer for that, but does seem to make a decision.

Demons have biker bars, it turns out, and the vampire who injured the BuffyBot is gleefully telling his story to the leader of a gang of, well, demon bikers (Hell's Angels taking on a whole new meaning). The tale has, of course, been edited for television, but the crucial point remains the same -- the Slayer's been replaced by a machine, and there is no Slayer in Sunnydale. The vamp gets beheaded in passing, of course, and the gang heads for the now undefended Hellmouth in a cloud of dust and BO.

In an angelic sunlight scene, Willow sits in flowing robes, chanting something and sprinkling herbs as she calls something to her. At the edges of the glade, a tiny fawn steps hesitantly towards the witch, who welcomes him with a pat -- and a knife. "Accept our humble gratitude for your offering," she tells it. "In death, you give life." Her face is sick, but determined. She arrives at the Magic Box a little later with the 'vino de madre', carefully not telling the others where she got it. Black market apparently sounds better than 'do it yourself'. She covers by asking them what they're all doing at the shop; they're all mostly just there because it's easier than being anywhere else. Anya gives them a better distraction -- a note she found in the cash register. "I've gone. Not one for long good-byes, I thought it best to slip out quietly. Love to you all, Giles."

Giles sits alone in Sunnydale Airport, obviously unhappy, but forcing himself to stay seated -- until he hears a familiar voice. "Did you really think we'd let you get away with it?" Willow asks, leading the other three Slayerettes and Dawn up to him. Busted. "I was trying to avoid a scene," Giles says and Willow grins. "Like we'd make a scene" -- as they produce a bon voyage sign and balloons from behind them. "Not you," Giles says. "Me." They brought prezzies, too -- Anya presents an apple pile; Tara has a tiny monster finger puppet (which she demonstrates with a cute, "Grr. Argh."). They weren't able to buy the Old English 800 since no one's of age, but got the rest of the stuff at a gas station, and made the card and sign in the car.

Giles stares at all the stuff, near tears. "This is... impossible, really." Willow tries to smile. "We just wanted you to know that we'll miss you. We'll be okay, but we'll miss you." The farewells are cut short as Giles' flight is announced. "Well, if we're going to do this," he says, "let's do it properly." Xander gets the first hug, the guys maneuvering to preserve manliness, then giving up and clinging. Xander looks impossibly young for a moment. Anya wraps her arms around Giles with more enthusiasm than grace before backing away. Tara's embrace is more gentle; Giles holds her against him carefully, with one hand on her hair. The tears begin to show as he clutches Dawn. "I'm only a phone call away," he assures her. "If you need anything... You must promise." She promises, and he lets her go reluctantly. The hardest farewell is to Willow; the two sway together for a long moment. "I'm trying to be stiff upper-lippy," Willow says bravely, and Giles has to take off his glasses. "Well, you get going," she finally tells him. "Haven't you got a life or something?" Giles turns away, clearing his throat. "Well, yes, that is the question, isn't it? Just... be careful, please," he tells the crowd of teenagers, as they cling together. When he walks slowly onto the jetway, he doesn't look back.

They wait until his plane takes off before leaving the airport. Willow is worried about Giles being alone in England; Dawn and Tara are already making plans to call him tomorrow. Xander is mad about the timing -- they'd been hoping to work it out before Giles left. If it works, Willow shrugs, he'll come back. "Nothing can go wrong tonight." They leave the airport, and as the sun sets over Sunnydale, a biker gang crosses the city limits.

To Be Continued

Buffy is still dead, but the gang restored the BuffyBot to masquerade as Buffy, both to ensure Dawn's custody and to make the demons and such think there's still a Slayer defending Sunnydale.

Giles has gone back to England, leaving Anya as the operating partner of the Magic Box.

Anya and Xander have yet to announce their engagement, and Anya is not happy about it.

Willow and Tara are allowed to kiss on UPN! But may I reiterate the whole 'no Amber in the credits' thing, and how much that sucks?

There are certain members of SunS who are currently wandering around being very smug; I had the (fairly obvious) uber-protective Spike thing nailed, Christina correctly pegged the lack of engagement announcing for Xander and Anya, and Lizbet called the whole 'reactivate the BuffyBot' scenario and is renewing her custody suit against Joss for possession of the Evil Brain. Everyone else is just scared. < g >

That said, this entire first-half of the season premiere was a study in characters, and not much else -- goodness knows there was no actual plot present. We got to see how another summer without Buffy has changed them all and, to no one's surprise, it's pretty much changed them in the same ways the first Summer Without Buffy did -- they're stronger, they've pulled together, and they're determined.

Willow, in particular, emerged to take on the leadership role that Buffy used to fill. The telepathy bit is really cool -- aerial reconnaissance is never bad, and it sure does make them effective. But more than that, her determination to bring Buffy back has obviously been the driving force behind the Slayerettes all summer. And she must have been pretty persuasive to get Tara to help with this, even above Xander and Anya. Still, I worry about Willow when she's doing things like calling animals to her with magic, then sacrificing them -- no matter how many thanks and blessings she gives, she's skating ever closer to 'black' magic, and any resurrection spell involving Osiris is just sending her closer. But I've been worried about Willow for a long time before this, so what the hell....

And I am surprised that Tara is behind this -- Willow must have spent a lot of time crying and demanding for Tara to give in to something that clearly scares her -- and that she states up-front is wrong. But she loves Willow, and that overcomes anything else. Which is sweet, if potential Bad. It was also nice to see how she and Willow pulled together to take care of Dawn; they've got a nice little family unit happening there. Which begs the question of why Amber isn't in the credits.

And poor Dawn. Not only dealing with suddenly being alone in the world, and the whole, 'my sister sacrificed herself for me' thing, but she has to live with the BuffyBot wandering around thinking she's Dawn's sister. Dawn's holding up well under it, but sneaking in to sleep next to the Bot is just... I almost started crying for the girl. But she's got Willow and Tara looking after her and, of course, Spike.

Poor Spike. Obviously he's Guilt Boy -- he failed Dawn and the result of that was Buffy's death, and he's dealing with it in his own way. He seems to be surprisingly good at adapting -- his instinctive disdain for authority gets submerged under 'Dawn must go to school', which is cute, and he gets control back after his little 'moment' when Dawn is trying to persuade him to leave very quickly. I can see why Willow doesn't want to tell him about the spell, though -- there's just no way of knowing how Spike would react, and so many of them are Bad. He could be useful, he could forbid it and find a way to screw it up, he could go psycho at the very concept, he could find a creative way of committing suicide if his hopes get raised for nothing. I wouldn't tell him either.

Xander and Anya have obviously been holding each other together all summer, and doing a reasonably good job of it. But I would lay money that while doing this spell is obviously what's been keeping Willow going, Xander has been almost as dependent on the concept. Neither of them accepts death with any kind of peace, as we saw when Joyce died; they've spent too long fighting it to give up without one hell of a fight. And with Willow getting the whole 'stuck in hell' thing in her head, of course Xander was willing to do whatever he had to, both to help Buffy and to help Willow. But I'm also not surprised that Xander got cold feet when the plans became reality -- he's the grounded one, the one who gets that magic is tricky and has consequences and sometimes shouldn't be messed with. But he'll try it for Willow, and for Buffy, because he's Xander. Bless him.

But I do feel for Anya, who just wasn't as close to Buffy, and has recovered enough to want to get on with life, including announcing her engagement. It's bee months, and she's right -- happiness needs to be shared. But the plan for the spell also kept Willow and Xander in a holding pattern for that summer -- they couldn't move on enough to think about the future until they'd done everything they could to change it. Anya is therefore, obviously, the well-adjusted one in the crowd, which is more than mildly scary....

And Giles. Poor, heartbroken Giles who lost his daughter when he was meant to protect her. And, in losing her, decided that he'd lost the rest of his life, too, and had to go find it. Do I agree with Giles' decision to leave the rest of his children behind? Hell, no, but I understand ASH's reasons for going recurring, so I'm not going to say anything. Given that ASH wanted out, this was about the best way it could have been written. And you have to admit, Giles standing there trying to help a robot find her chi was, um, kind of pathetic.... Still, we did get that lovely scene in the airport, where we got to see just how much Giles loves his kids -- all of them; I was particularly touched by his farewells to Tara (the way he cradled her head and was so careful with her) and Dawn (he almost couldn't let go). Xander looked so incredibly young for a moment there, as he was hugging the closest thing to a father he's ever had, Anya letting him know that she wants the store, but will still miss him, and poor Willow.... < sigh > All I can say is, we had better get the BBC series here in the States, or there's going to be hell to pay.

Best Moments:
The entire opening fight scene. Fun choreography, good directing, and little bits of business here and there that did a great job of establishing what's been happening over the summer. Spike and Giles sharing a laugh, Willow directing, Tara trying a spell... Show-don't-tell storytelling at its best.

The BuffyBot hugging Dawn. Owies all around.

Xander breaking up the incredibly juvenile Giles/Anya fight. < snerk >

Spike babysitting Dawn. I love James Marsters soo much, and the relationship with Dawn is wonderfully done. Even the little snap at the end was perfect -- Spike is really controlling himself against all his instincts and it's cool.

The BuffyBot walking into the wall. Yeah, I know, but it is funny. SMG does a lovely job as the Bot throughout. I never forgot it was a robot, but I constantly forgot there was a human playing it.

Anya finding the urn on eBay. I love the way things like this get tossed in, and now I won't be able to go there again without giving the new age/occult section a weird look. Just wondering... Plus, the Backstreet Boys lunchbox was a classic bit.

The Bot hitting on Spike, and his full-body flinch. More owies.

Dawn creeping into bed with the Bot. < sniffle > Just a gorgeous performance from Michelle Trachtenberg.

The airport scene, of course. I said pretty much all I need to about this, except for the part where I developed leaks in the general vicinity of my eyes.... Gonna miss ASH in the worst way!

Questions and Comments:
So where's Dawn going to school, anyway? Did they rebuild Sunnydale High at some point, or build a new school?

Rating: 3 stars out of five. Pretty standard season-premiere fare for Buffy, if substantially better than the last few years have been. The downside to not having a cliffhanger to resolve is, unfortunately, the lack of anything to distract us from all of the new viewer exposition. It wins points for the awesome opening fight scene, and the totally heartbreaking Giles departure scene, but everything else is just kinda there. Plus, Amber's not in the credits.


SunSpeak for both parts of Bargaining will be found in the review for Bargaining II, when I finish it.

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