Conversations with Dead People

Written by Jane Espenson & Drew Goddard
Directed by Nick Marck

Perri's Review | SunSpeak

Perri's Review

Previously on Buffy: Tara died, Willow killed Warren, Andrew and Jonathan headed for Mexico when she came after them. Spike got his soul back, Cassie died, and from beneath you, it devours.

From some reason, TPTB feel it necessary that we know the episode title, and that the date is November 12, 2002, 8:01pm, as a band sets up to play at the Bronze. Buffy patrols as female singer performs a plaintive ballad; Spike listens alone at the bar. Willow hangs out in the college library, not studying much because of the depressed thing, and Dawn, left on her own at home, gleefully orders the forbidden pizza. Buffy kneels on a grave as the song ends; a hand pops out of the dirt and she faces it with resignation. "Here we go."

An old-model sedan drives down Sunnydale's streets, as Andrew bitches at Jonathan to stop circling around and get where they're going. Jonathan's freaked about coming back, but he and Andrew have a Plan, mostly involving not being in Mexico anymore. And not having the nightmares anymore -- "Disday ebolve, te tu vhoreh.", Jonathan intones. Andrew does the subtitling: "It eats you, starting with your bottom." Jonathan is determined to "make it right," and Andrew seems to be with him. Meanwhile, Buffy is in a drag-out fight with the newly-risen vamp, who's pretty good at the fighting thing, while Dawn eats pizza and listens to loud music while raiding her sister's wardrobe and getting into the weapons stash (with the predictable damage to clothing, furniture and walls ensuing). She cranks some salsa music a little higher on the radio and nukes a marshmallow in the microwave -- before spinning when something thumps behind her. Willow is achieving the studying, when she hears someone speaking behind her -- it's Cassie, the little blonde procog who died in Buffy's arms a few episodes. They never met, but Willow recognizes her from her school records. Willow's awake, Cassie assures her, and Cassie is really there -- kind of; she sits opposite Willow and tells her that, "She asked me to come talk to you. It's kind of important." Willow wants more definite information, and Cassie smiles gently. "She wants me to tell you she still sings... She says, even though you can't hear it, she still sings to you." Willow is caught between joy and tears. "Tara?"

Dawn has settled again, watching a monster movie as she talks on the phone with Kit, her friend from school. She's startled by another thump, louder and faster; as she mutes the TV and gets up to investigate, the door suddenly bursts open, a strong wind pushing at her. She fights it to get the door closed, but the sound on the TV comes back on by itself as soon as she succeeds. Dawn hangs up and tries to turn off the TV, but even unplugging it has no effect. She stares around at the dark house uneasily. The fight rages on in the cemetery, and the vamp gets the upper hand -- literally, his hands around Buffy's neck. But before he can go in for the bite, he suddenly blinks and pulls back. "Buffy?" He starts laughing like they've just bumped into each other at a party and introduces himself as an old classmate, Holden Webster. Buffy totally doesn't remember him, but fakes it. Dawn resorts to appliance murder, axing the TV, then the VCR. Electronics shatter in a shower of sparks (and wow, is Dawn going to have some 'splaining to do when Buffy gets home). She heads into the kitchen, where the salsa music is still playing on the radio, but before she can kill it, too, the microwave explodes, forcing her backwards, her bare feet breaking glass against the floor. As she huddles in the corner, the radio gives way to static for a moment, and a familiar voice whispers, "Dawn?" Dawn straightens, shocked. "Mom?"

Buffy is still shaking her head in total befuddlement as Holden tries to remind her of who, exactly, he is. Since he was pretty much a nonentity in high school, it proves difficult, but he finally gets her with a lighting board dropped on her foot. They settle into awkward class reunion conversation -- Buffy: "So, what have you been up to?" Holden: "Well, apparently, dying." He was working for the Sunnydale Mental Hospital and studying taekwon do, and relates stories, until startled when his face reverts to human. Buffy gives him a crash course on vampireness, but he's not unhappy about the situation. "No, no! Feels great. Strong, like I'm connected to a powerful, all-consuming evil that's going to suck the world into a fiery oblivion. How about you?" Buffy: "Not so much with the connected." Buffy introduces herself as the Slayer, which intrigues Holden, and explains the rumors from high school. (Scott Hope was gay, by the way. If you were interested.) Being a psych major, he latches onto the whole "not connected" thing, and starts trying to dig deeper; Buffy rolls her eyes. "Yeah, what I really need is emotional therapy from the evil dead." Holden: "Hey, it was your phrase." Buffy begins her total lack of need of therapy (as the rest of us shout "Bullshit!" at the top of our lungs), caught up enough that she doesn't hear her cell phone ringing from where she dropped it during the fight.

Dawn, frying and panicked, finally gives up and starts trying to get the radio to talk again. She's busy enough that she barely registers her mother's body, sprawled on the cushions where she died; and when she turns to look straight at it, Joyce is gone. [ED: This is the part where your faithful synopsizer officially got creeped beyond the telling of it and had to call Kiki for company. Yee. Not better the second time around.] The lights suddenly flicker off; when they come back a heartbeat later, the weapons chest has spilled open, and every piece of furniture in sight has been stacked and otherwise rearranged. Written on the wall in blood, with a handprint beneath it, are the words "Mother's milk is red today." The lights flicker again, and everything is where it was, the wall clean -- and something is thumping again. "Why are you doing this?" Dawn screams, huddling into a ball on the floor. She screams wordlessly, and the thumping abruptly stops. "Hello?" she calls, and is answered by a single thump. "Once for yes. Twice for no. Mom?" A single thump. "Mom? It's you?" A single thump. "Are you okay?" One thump, then a second. "You're no. Mommy? Are you alone?" Two thumps, and everything begins shaking in the grip of an unnatural earthquake.

Jonathan slides down a rope Mission: Impossible style with something resembling grace; Andrew thuds to the floor behind him. They've broken into Sunnydale High in search of something, something they can show Buffy that will win them forgiveness when they help her destroy it. All they need to do is work their way down from the principal's office. They play radio games, then get down to it, Jonathan wending his way off on his own. "Nice job," Warren tells Andrew, appearing from behind him. Andrew jumps and curses -- but it isn't the first time he's talked to Warren. Warren tells him he's doing fine, everything's going according to the master plan. "If you strike me down... " Andrew completes the quote: "'I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.' Of course. Do you think maybe Willow could kill me, too?" Warren tells him that, "If Short Round pulls off his end of the bargain, we'll both become gods." Willow herself is still in the library, talking to Tara through Cassie; Tara's sorry she couldn't come herself, but she can't -- because of what Willow did, Cassie says. "You killed people. You can't see her. That's just how it is. I'm sorry." But Tara's talking to Cassie, and can hear Willow; Willow immediately cries out how much she loves and misses Tara. "She's crying," Cassie says softly. "She misses you, too. She wishes she could touch you." Willow: "Me, too! It hurts so much! Every day. It's like this giant hole, and it's not getting better." Cassie: "It'll get better." Willow: "No, it won't. You're gone." Cassie: "But you're not. You're strong, like an Amazon, remember?" Willow almost laughs. "I remember."

Spike is still hanging out at the bar when a young blonde woman comes over to offer cigarettes and chat him up. Meanwhile, Buffy and Holden have settled down into an extremely twisted therapy session, Buffy using a sarcophagus for a couch. "So," Holden prompts, "You mean someone, you form a bond..." Buffy: "And it never lasts." Holden: "You mean all relationships, or just yours?" She works it back around to her parents' divorce, and her own failed attempts at success. Holden: "You think you do that on purpose? To try to protect yourself?" Buffy: "Protecting myself? From heartbreak, misery, sexual violence, and possible death? Not so much." Holden: "Fro committing." Buffy: "I commit! I'm committed. I'm a committee." Holden: "So, it's them. You're reaching out, they're just not coming through." She's unable to answer, and he keeps pushing, reminding her that she doesn't have the patent on bad relationships (Buffy: "But wouldn't it be great if I did?"), and that it's not like she's old enough to be thinking about settling down. He's not going to go vampify his college girlfriend to be with her forever, after all. She corrects his terminology, and he gets all happy about the insane irony of their position. "I mean, I was afraid to talk to you in high school, and now we're, like, mortal enemies. Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we became nemeses?"

But they are going to have to fight to the death, and he's got no real problem with that -- it's not actually personal. Buffy lacks enthusiasm for the fighting and the killing; Holden doesn't think he'll lose, and the ensuing debate works back around to therapy: "Whose fault was your parents' divorce?" She reluctantly blames her father, who she thinks cheated. "Is it possible," Holden asks, "even a little bit, the reason you have trouble connecting to guys, is that you think maybe they're not worth it? Maybe you think you're better than them." Buffy grimaces. "There's that blood-lust I was looking for." Holden diagnoses Buffy with a superiority complex -- an unavoidable one given the whole Chosen By Destiny thing. She immediately shoots back, "I'm not! My god if anything, I'm... If you knew what I've done. What I've let myself become..." Holden sits back down. "Buffy, I'm here to kill you, not to judge you." She continues, "The last guy I was with... He got really... I behaved like a monster. And at the same time, I let him completely take me over. Do things to me that...." She breaks herself off before she can start crying in earnest and apologizes for dumping on him. Holden tells her, "There's nothing wrong with you" -- and swings a small, heavy statue at her head, knocking her over the sarcophagus and to the ground. "Everyone's got issues," he assures her, leaning in for the kill.

Buffy kicks Holden off and away before he can bite, and the battle is rejoined. Holden backs away after a few blows. "We had a moment, you opened up, it was really sweet. It made me want to bite you. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds." That knocks her off-balance long enough for him to land a kick, and they go back to fighting, crashing through stained glass into a crypt. Dawn is still locked in a battle of her own, alone in the dark house with something breathing. "Are you hurting my mother?" she demands. "Are you keeping her from coming back to me?" A sudden flash of lightning and Joyce is dead on the couch, eyes open and white. Dawn tries to go to her and lightning flashes again; something is leaning over Joyce, hurting her as she stretches a hand towards Dawn [ED: And your synopsizer is hugely creeped again. Ish]. "Get off her and let her talk to me," Dawn threatens the darkness; the shadowed form moves towards her, and she suddenly remembers the ax, groping on the ground for it, the sees it swinging towards her own head. She screams and ducks, then runs for the front door. The same wind greets her, but she suddenly slams the door shut. "No. She's my mother. I'm staying."

Jonathan and Andrew make their way through the Sunnydale High basement, memories coming back for Jonathan. They're having the usual trouble navigating, but Andrew points the way -- he's the only one who can see Warren guiding them. The reach a small room, and begin digging in the dirt floor. Holden and Buffy continue to fight it out, but she comes out on top, literally, stake in hand. Before she can kill him, he lets his face go back to human. "Are you killing me because I'm evil, or because you opened up?" Buffy gives a frustrated scream and stomps away; Holden sits up with a smile, and she kicks him in the face. This time, he comes up laughing. "What is wrong with you?" Buffy demands. Holden: "Nothing. I've got no worries. I'm dead! Biggest thing on my mind is whether or not Trisha Waldman came to my funeral or not. You remember her. Ohh, biteable!" Buffy huffs. "See, this is what I hate about you vampires. Sex and death and love and pain -- it's all the same damn thing to you." Holden suddenly shouts as he figures something out, and offers Buffy a deal: he ask a question, and if he's right, he gets to ask and get anything answered. No secrets, no defensiveness. Buffy tacitly agrees by asking, "What's the question?" Holden walks over to her. "Your last relationship -- was it with a vampire?"

Spike wanders down the street with the blonde from the Bronze, both of the laughing and talking animatedly, as Willow fills Cassie -- and through her, Tara -- up on everything that happened after her death. "I lost myself. The regular me." Cassie: "You were grieving." Willow: "A lot of people grieve -- they don't make with the flaying. I hurt so many people." Cassie: "It was the power." Willow: "I am the power. It's in me." Cassie tells her the power is greater than Willow is -- she and Tara can see her path more clearly than she can. There's only one thing for Willow to do, Cassie tells her -- never use magic again, not ever. Willow says she can control it, that she's learned not to hurt people. Tara doesn't need to worry, she'll be okay. Cassie looks sad. "She says... you're not going to be okay. You're going to kill everybody."

Jonathan and Andrew slave away digging; Jonathan stops long enough to suddenly remember his locker combination. Andrew stares at him. "Dude, we spent the last few years trying to forget about high school. Why are you trying so hard to remember it?" Jonathan shrugs. "I don't know; I guess I miss it. Don't you?" Andrew totally doesn't, but Jonathan has finally forgotten the pain. "I miss my friends," he muses, digging, not seeing Warren looming behind him. Andrew does. "I miss my enemies," Jonathan continues. "I miss the people I talked to every day, I miss the people who never knew I existed. I miss them all. I want to talk to them, you know? I want to find out what's going on in their lives." Andrew looks at Warren, who nods back, and Andrew suddenly straightens, speaking with absolute conviction -- and resignation. "You know what? They don't want to talk to you. Those people you just mentioned? Not one of them is sitting around going, 'I wonder what Jonathan's up to right now?' Not one of hem cares about you." Jonathan knows all of that, but smiles slightly anyway, at peace with himself at last. "Well, I still care about them. That's why I'm here." He puts his back into clearing away the last of the dirt from a massive silver seal, engraved with runes and a pentacle and all manner of other mystical signs.

On the floor of the living room, Dawn has candles burning and a book open, and she's prepared for an exorcism. She throws herbs, and gets kicked back against the wall. Undaunted, she begins chanting. Unseen claws leave bloody marks on her face, a wind blows out the candles; Dawn screams, but keeps going. The windows blast inwards, throwing glass everywhere. It's more peaceful in the crypt, where Buffy and Holden are talking again. "And the joke is, he loved me," Buffy is saying, "In his own sick, soulless way, he really did care for me. But I didn't want to be loved." Holden looks sympathetic. "Didn't you?" Buffy: "I have... all this power. I didn't ask for it. I don't deserve it. It's like... I wanted to be punished. I wanted to hurt, like I thought I deserved. I sorta think.... " She pauses, offers to stop, but Holden encourages her. "I feel like I'm worse than anyone. Honestly.. I'm beneath them. My friends, my boyfriends... I feel like I'm not worthy of their love. Because even though they love me, that doesn't mean anything, because their opinions don't matter. They don't know.. They haven't been through what I've been through. They're not the Slayer. I am. Sometimes I feel.... This is awful. I feel like I'm better than them. Superior."

Holden almost laughs. "So you can't win. And I thought I was diabolical... or at least, I plan to be. You do have a superiority complex, and you've got an inferiority complex about it. Kudos." Buffy: "It doesn't make any sense." Holden: "Oh, it makes every kind of sense. And it all adds up to you feeling alone. but everybody feels alone. Everybody is -- until you die. Speaking of...." It's that time again. Holden bounces to his feet, ready to fight; Buffy follows more slowly, and thanks him for listening. Holden shrugs it off. "You know, there's some things you can only tell a stranger." Buffy smiles. "You're not a stranger." She continues more bashfully, "You know, that stuff with Spike--" Holden does a double-take when she mentions Spike, who is, at the moment, walking the blonde up to her door. Dawn keeps screaming the spell -- "I cast you out!" -- even though she can barely keep her feet against the violence of the thing attacking her. "I cast you out with every prayer from every god that walks the earth or crawls beneath. I cast you out with the strength of those who love me!" She's bleeding from cuts and scrapes, and from her mouth, battered against the walls, but she keeps going. "I cast you out with the strength I have inside me! I cast you out into the void!" The monster begins screaming and she screams back, "That's right! Die, you bastard!" The monster howls and blood splashes every wall, then disappears. It's quiet at last and Dawn collapses -- until a radiant light fills the room. Joyce glows a few feet away, in long white robes and a peaceful smile. "Mom?" Willow stares at Cassie in shock, demanding to know what she saw. Cassie shakes her head. "You don't want to know what we saw. But if you stop, completely, o more magic...." Willow: "But.. what about Giles? He made it seem like it was just as dangerous for me to stop completely." She doesn't believe she can stop. "I'm not strong. I'm not an Amazon. I'm just me." Cassie looks thoughtful. "There is one thing that can stop it... and you could see her. You wouldn't have to talk through me. That's what you want, isn't it?" Willow's eyes are wide with shock, but, "Of course." Cassie: "So go! Be with her. Everybody will be safe and you'll be together again.... It's not that bad. Really. It's just like going to sleep." But she's finally overplayed her hand; Willow's eyes have narrowed as the light begins to dawn. She stands slowly, and calmly demands, "Who are you?" In the crypt, Buffy has a demand of her own: "How do you know Spike?" Holden smiles, big and happy. "He was the guy that sired me." The blonde collapses in Spike's arms as he buries his fangs in her neck and drinks.

Joyce stands over Dawn, looking peaceful and radiant. "Things are coming, Dawn. Listen, things are on their way. I love you, and I love Buffy, but she won't be there for you. When it's bad, Buffy won't choose you. She'll be against you." Dawn blinks in confusion, then screams in pain as Joyce fades away, leaving her alone in the dark wreckage of her home, sobbing. Andrew puts a hand on Jonathan's shoulder, and he stand, curious. Warren watches, smirking -- and Andrew drives a knife deep into Jonathan's stomach. The thing pretending to be Cassie looks up at Willow, unconcerned. "Tell me who you are," Willow demands again. "Cassie" shrugs. "I stand by my opinion -- the worlds would be a better place if you took a razor blade to your wrists." She mocks Willow, leaning forward. "You don't know hurt. This last year is going to seem like cake after what I put you and your friends through, and I am not a fan of easy death. Fact is, the whole good versus evil, balancing the scales thing? I'm over it. I'm done with the mortal coil. But believe me, I'm going for the big finish." Willow whispers, "From beneath you, it devours." "Cassie" smirks smugly. "Oh, not it. Me." She laughs, and turns inside out, disappearing into herself. Dawn sits alone, staring at nothing, as Jonathan collapses onto the silver seal, his blood gushing out to fill the engravings. Spike drops his victim's body, his mouth red with her blood, and licks it away, as Holden dusts under a stake, leaving Buffy standing alone, her face grim as death.

Spike is apparently killing people again.

The First (which we're all prety sure by now it is) claims to have gotten tired of playing around and is going for some serious pain before it leaves.

Andrew and Jonathan were messing around below Sunnydale High and found some kind of huge silver seal. Andrew sacrificed Jonathan, it would seem to open it.

Nothing, since no regular interacted with any other regular. Which is prety cool, now that I think about it.

Doing a character analysis for Buffy seems a little redundant, since the writers just spent most of an episode doing nothing but. And fairly accurately -- don't think we don't know this is your own twisted answer to our constant demands to get the girl in therapy. This is not what we had in mind. But it was fun, anyway; Holden was a psycho, but he was as on-the-ball as any psych major can be. And now that Buffy's Issues (or the vast majority of them) have been put into words, she can hopefully do a better job of dealing with them. (And yes, I admit it -- I cheered when she finally admitted a) that she knows Spike actually did love her, by his definition and b) that she mistreated him badly. And, of course, she was totally right about him taking her over so, really, no bad here. That was the clearest and most honest she's been about that relationship since, you know, ever.)

Poor Dawn. The kid is steel to the bone -- hard not be, created from Joyce and Buffy as she was -- and shows more guts than I ever suspected she had. And I suspected quite a lot of guts. But I could also just kill the First for doing this to her -- putting her through that horrific experience (I bailed out a time or two, and I was just watching), only to screw with her head by presenting Joyce to her. Hopefully, something inside of Dawn knows Buffy will never not be there for her (as Buffy so amply demonstrated at the end of season 5), but we'll see -- she's got an awful lot invested in believing that was Joyce, considering what she went through to "save" her.

And poor Willow. The First is sure as hell an expert at playing with people's heads, and once again is trying to take Willow and her power out of the picture. But Willow's a bright girl, and it was easy to see when the First went too far (actually, she started going too far the second she contradicted Giles; bad move). Azura Skye did an awesome job as "Cassie"; so sweet and innocent and so totally evil one she dropped the act. And if this was what they were trying to get Amber Benson back for, wow, am I glad they couldn't. It was harsh enough watching Willow suffer in front of Cassie -- watching the first do that to her wearing Tara's face would have been utterly unbearable. (And nice adjusting for Cassie instead of Tara if that was the plan -- "Tara can't come because of what you did" was gorgeously painful.)

And Andrew and Jonathan return! And how pissed am I at Jonathan's death? I should have known -- it looked like he'd finally worked through all the teenaged crap, finally grown up and accepted his life, accepted his responsibility for making it better. Of course he died. < sniffle > Andrew continues to be in desperately need of therapy (too bad Holden got staked), but I'm in favor of just killing him now and putting him out of everyone's misery. God, I want Jonathan back!

Holden was a fabulous character, shifting effortlessly from total sociopath to concerned friend and shrink without missing a beat. He figured out early on that, as hard as it is to beat Buffy on her own turf, you can kill her with confusion verbally. It's not her territory, it's not her thing -- it's one of the reasons Spike has always been able to get to her. I'm almost sorry Holden got staked; he was a lot of fun for his one ep.

Until given further proof, I refuse to believe Spike is killing of his own free will. Deal.

Best Moments:
It's too hard to choose individual moments, since it was all about the flow. But:

Holden's first moment of recognition. Way to throw that curve ball. Actually, Holden didn't have a single line of dialogue that didn't rock.

The brilliant use of the lightning flashes to show Joyce on the couch, but still keep her obscured. Damn near every moment of Dawn's battle was gripping and terrifying; the writers have out-done Hush for sheer creepiness. Again.

Willow facing off against the First. Great to see our Willow come back, spine and sweetness and all.

Jonathan's speech about his high school days. His finest moment, right there -- and sadly his last. RIP, babe.

Questions and Comments:
See above re: not beleiving Spike is acting of his own free will for a second. But why the hell wasn't the chip firing? We've seen it going of before.... Great interweaving of his scenes, leading up to the sudden shock of the attack. Brilliant directing.

So glad they threw in the mention of Kit, since I was really hoping we'd see more of her and Carlos. The New Scoobies, yes!

Rating: 4 stars out of 5. Solid, creepy, funny and shocking in turns; very solid.


"GAH GAH GAH GAH GAH GAH GAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, For all you folks who are like me and have to tape Buffy and watch it at a later time, DO NOT watch it at 12:01 am! The darn thing freaked me out! Sleeping not an option!" -- Tom

"Loved tonight's ep. Love this season so far. I'm nearly completely unspoiled and it's making things ever so much more intriguing *AND* frustrating!" -- Mary Beth

"Ok, it looks like they're doing nothing about the "back to season one" olive branch that was extended to us at the beginning of the season. And you know what? I could care less. If they delve this deeply into Buffy's psychology, trying to deal this extensively with what being a Slayer is doing to her and especially the aftermath of last season, for even a third of the year, than I can wave bye-bye to the initial premise with light heart." -- Mike Z.

"Spike!?! Completely under the influence of the Bad Thing? Is it so powerful as to override the chip? Or make him not care about the pain? I'm intrigued that it's going after the things that may be powerful obstacles -- get Willow to kill herself or stop using magic. Get Dawn to fear and doubt Buffy (I'm convinced that "Joyce" wasn't Joyce and that the ugly thing was trying to protect Dawn from it). Get Spike to kill again so that Buffy kills him -- getting rid of a potential warrior? "
"I'm not entirely sure it *is* the Bad Thing, at least not entirely. If it is, it's just taking advantage of William's need to be punished for what he did to Buffy, combined with Spike's need to be eeeevil. I'll be very interested in knowing how he's choosing his victims. "
"Or, was that Spike at all? Chatted with Perri about this, and there were several Un-Spikean things, aside from the lack of pain from the chip (he didn't even have to fight it, notice that?). One, he doesn't usually play that human-shy-guy game, two, he'd definitely have gone inside if invited (and that blonde girl was definitely inviting him), and three, why would he be stupid enough to kill her right under a porch light, where anyone could see him? Admittedly, not enough to be *certain* what's up, but... It's always possible she wasn't human, which makes this just-barely-tenable as Spike, but somehow, I doubt it. I don't think it's that simple." -- Mary Beth, Val and Chris

"What the frisnaregfhdblk is Spike doing biting people? Doesn't this kind of invalidate, well, everything we've learned about him up to now? "
"*pout* *whimper* One would think so, no? I would let myself get *really freaked out* about this, but I'm trying to have faith that it'll work out, and that the First is just trying to get him out of the picture. And yet, I can't help but worry.... "
"That's about it. On the one hand, we have Buffy finally admitting how rotten she was to him, and on the other side he removes any possible reason for us to feel sympathetic towards him ever again? The gods must be crazy. " -- Mike Z. and Chris

"(And for what it's worth, yes, I think it really was Spike. And so does my girlfriend.)"
"Hmm. In that case, the "Hellmouth-ate-Spike's-brain" theory comes to the fore, and the Scoobies have serious problems. YeeP! " -- Mike Z. and Chris

"I am thoroughly convinced until proven otherwise that Spike snacking on a young lady is in fact the first desguised as spike to cause trouble... He proved in this episode he could be in more than one place at the same time..." -- Tom

And what about the not!Cassie talking about "the whole good v. evil balancing the scales thing? I'm so over that. I'm through with this mortal coil." Hunh?"
"Hmmmm. It fits into the theory we've been kicking around a little bit, of The First (without the "Evil") being split at some point in the dim past into the Slayer's power and the "First Evil" we met in "Amends. Sounds like it wants to be whole again, but the Slayer's power is kinda busy being incarnated. I also have the strong suspicion that its reintegration will also unmake reality as we know it. The Void, primal Chaos, Tiamat, Rhea, etc. Doesn't bode well for anyone who likes being alive and/or having a recognizable plane of existence. After the whole Willow/not-Cassie thing, too, I'm thinking that *her* power is another splinter of it that it wants released. Which makes sense -- in pretty much every creation myth ever, the earth was either "formed" out of the chaos principle, or quite bluntly stated to be built on or actually composed of its corpse. And Willow's magic has been very pointedly defined as of the earth." -- Mary Beth and Val

"Can I say how much I loved Holden? How much a shout-out to the SunS he seemed to be? We beg for her to get therapy, and she does... from the evil Undead. Heh. Love it. And it *was* good for her to get that all out. Subtly, nicely, and diabolically done by Holden - that casting was perfect, btw - because the *only* truly negative thing he came out with (aside from the Spike Sire revelation) was the bit at the end, about how 'everyone's alone until they die.' Anything more overt, and Buffy would've picked up on it. But that's a complicated, partial truth that she's lived, having been dead and all. It plays into the First's strategy *so* well to try and isolate her some more, and a nice regular-Joe sympathetic guy was the best way to go. No one *is* completely alone, but if they thing they are, the First might have a shot... at ending the world, it sounds like. " -- Chris

"Joss is doing more writer-as-cast-member jobs then since the advent of Whistler."
"HA! Yes! I'm not the only one who thinks so! Joss screwed up Buffy's head, and then he stepped in to help her get it back on straight. Granted, in an evil way, but still... *laughing way too much* The name was kind of a giveaway anyway - Holden? As in Caufield, I think? As in "Catcher in the Rye", American classic and story of a kid who ends up in therapy himself at the end. Okay, its' a tenuous connection, but someone who actually made it all the way through the book can tell me if it's a good call. That guy was *so* Joss, though. Or at least, so Jane-and-the-other-guy, who can be Joss if they want to, and have an avatar to give Buffy some whaps on the head." -- Mike Z. and Chris

"Although, on reflection, I think I ought to say that the therapy was probably better for the audience than it was for Buffy in some ways... We got to hear her admit that the thing with Spike wasn't all his fault, that she went into it feeling awful and not wanting to be loved; that she has unresolved issues with her parents' divorce; that Spike loved her and she behaved badly; that she's isolated superior/inferior by what being the Slayer does to her. All good for Buffy to admit, so it was good therapy in that way for her - but the most Holden could say was "superior/inferior" complex, point out her commitment issues, and then pop off with "everyone is alone" and, oh yeah, "Spike Sired me." None of which is wrong, and it looked like she appreciated it (except for the last one). So I still think it was a good interlude overall if not for the ending. Which makes me want to break into a chorus of "No One is Alone" from INTO THE WOODS, but I've seen too many musicals, and that's one of my issues." -- Chris

"The thing about Buffy is that, by any objective standpoint, she is better than most people. Your average citizen doesn't devote massive quantities of free time toward defeating evil, risking her life, and saving the world, particularly when no material reward or even appreciation is involved. Never mind possessing super-powers and never once using them for anything less than altruistic purposes. On some level, she has to know this. And yet, she so consistently focuses on her failures, from Spike to Angel to even Merrick, although she doesn't mention him a whole lot, but you have to wonder, to her parents' divorce, which I don't care what she says, she still blames herself for to some degree. I think part of it comes from the person she was before, the carefree, slightly Cordelia-like Valley Girl for whom life was a new tube of lipstick just waiting to be smacked. Part of her looks at that girl in horror, wondering how she could have lived such a life when such terrors were all around her unseen, but part of her also longs to escape back to that world. Then, in due course, part of her despises that impulse, and sees it as another sign of her weak and selfish character. And so it goes, as she relentlessly seeks out the most inferior qualities in herself to the exclusion of all else, and is then surprised when she feels like crap about the person she is." -- Mike Z.

"And there's other factors keeping her isolated. Xander and Willow haven't been through what she has, true, but I think there's another reason why she has trouble opening up to them; she's smarter than they are. I've always maintained that Buffy, not Willow, is the smartest of the Scoobies. Willow may have the book knowledge and the technical know-how, but for sheer critical thinking skills, Buffy's got everyone beat hands down. Ever since the first season, she's always been the one to make the intellectual leaps needed to figure out what's going on a half-step faster than even Giles a lot of the time. She's also the most resourceful of the bunch, able to constantly outthink her opponents time and time again. There are several things keeping her from being as book-smart as Willow and Giles, not the least of which are impatience and a busier schedule, but for raw intelligence, Buffy's got it all over them. The sad truth is that if Buffy talked about this stuff to Willow and Xander, they'd be sympathetic, but they wouldn't really get it. And they sure as hell wouldn't know what to do for her. From this perspective, it's no wonder she connected to Spike and Angel, both people who had their destiny hijacked very early on and have seen a great deal more than most. And Spike, at least, is certainly a match for Buffy in the intelligence department; Angel's no dummy, but his focus is rather limited. He tends to be a half-beat behind people in areas he doesn't feel comfortable with, no doubt something that endeared him to Buffy, who has the same problem. Confidence, however, has rarely been something Spike had in short supply. I dunno; you could spend dozens of billable hours analyzing Buffy. There are times when I think her complexity veers toward the Hamlet end of the scale. There's so many massive emotional tangles inside that head... that I doubt even Joss himself knows the patterns completely. There's a line from Willa Cather: "People who have grown up too fast tend to have a good deal of child within them." So much of Buffy's trouble stems from the fact that she wants to be grown up so bad that she constantly overdoes it, and never seems to be able to ease into the role. " -- Mike Z.

"And Jonathan! Poor Jonathan. Dies at the high school -- joining the Big Gay Larry in the sky. How fitting that Jane killed him -- but gave him a moment of realization before he went. How beautiful that he came full circle from Earshot to realize that it doesn't matter what other people think. What matters is what *you* think and in his final moments, he grew up. *sniff* So no fair. "
"It does put a twist in Warren's reappearance in the first episode of the season, doesn't it? This was so well written, the scariest thing they've done since Fear." -- Mary Beth and Karen

"After all, with the sacrifice of Jonathan - which I'm still pissed about! I had plans for him! Good plans! - the First might have had enough mojo to make a FakeSpike. Or possibly killing those girls, it's built up enough energy to do that kind of thing now. (Perri pointed out that taking this route to get your own FakeSpike would be a bad thing. Bad. Baaaaad! List members shouldn't do this. Because it would be Wrong.) " -- Chris

"Oh yeah, and Jonathan's dead. Weird."
"Still pouting about that. Great storytelling. Appropriate use of character. Terrific shock value. Definite emotional impact. And yet, still pissed off. Which is what they were aiming for, and it worked. The poor guy just never got a break. Victim-boy to the end. Such great comedy bits in this one, too. The First seems to absorb and/or discard the personality traits of the people he's embodying at will; watching a semi-omnipotent evil entity playing along with Andrew's Star Wars refs was funny initially, but downright surreal upon reflection. Oh, and was anyone really surprised by the revelation about Scott Hope? " -- Mike Z. and Chris

"I. Love. Willow! So scared for her, so hurting, so frustrated that it looked like we were going to have the magic-is-evil thing for months on end again, and then she totally figures it out. Awesome. And can I say that if this is what they were trying to get Amber Benson back for, that I'm almost glad they didn't? Because that would have been just too painful."
"Agreeing on all counts. They did a wonderful job of setting up Cassie-channeling-Tara, and the tension-building was just great. Plus, this explains the introduction and some of the awkwardness of "Help" as well, if they were writing that to set up this ep after they knew they couldn't get Amber back. Putting Amber into the mix would've hurt *too* much, I think, for both Willow and goddess knows, the audience; a lot like seeing Jenny Calendar as the First, four years ago. (ANd I still want a decent return visit from her....) IT was bad enough seeing Joyce for five seconds; if we'd had a whole episode to build up with Tara tormenting Willow, it would've been right over the edge. " -- Mike Z. and Chris [ED: I swear I didn't read these before I did my review!]

"Oh, we're not going to have more poor abandoned Dawn again, are we?"
"I totally don't believe that was Joyce. *snort* If that was Joyce? I'll... I'll... I'll eat that ficus that Dawn had to move. " -- Mike Z. and Chris

"I really really hate the First. I want to smack it hard for messing with Dawn, and messing with Willow, and doing whatever it's doing to Spike... great writing, great plotting, I'm so damn hooked. EEEEEeeeeeeeee! " -- Chris

"But. . . how incredibly mean to reveal that Spike has (probably) been killing again in an episode that does NOT feature Xander! At all! Mean. Cruel. I'm sure Spike didn't eat him. Right?"
"Oh, MB. You. Are. EVIL! (Heard any new voices in your head lately?) That said.... < g > The First's tactics wouldn't work too well on Xander - most of his demons are walking around, under the surname Harris. And he was recently whammied at his almost-wedding, and would be extra-special-suspicious of anyone new coming up claiming to be a conduit to the other side. Anya, of course, is still on D'Hoffryn's hit list, and is probably regarded as a more minor player because of it. Gotta admire the First's efficient allocation of resources. Even as you curse its name. What's the Diane Duane salute when dealing with the ultimate evil... oh yeah. "Greetings and defiance, First, Fairest, and Fallen." I kinda like that one." -- Mary Beth and Chris [ED: I made her read that book. I'm so proud....]

"Dawn should look on the bright side: No one's likely to notice the hole she punched in the wall with the cross bow!" -- Mary Beth

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