The Harsh Light of Day

Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by James A. Contner

Christina's Review

Christina's Review

We open in the Bronze, with Dingoes Ate My Baby performing on-stage. Devon is in full voice and molesting the microphone as usual; Oz is laconically playing guitar and surveying the room with his his trademark low-key lack of expression; and Buffy and Willow are holding down a table at the corner of the dance floor. Willow points out to Buffy that her buddy Parker is playing pool in the corner, and Buffy attempts nonchalance at this information--- a pose which is blown when it's revealed she's been watching him in one of the Bronze's mirrors. Parker and Buffy have been hanging out "moderately incessantly" all week, but haven't moved much beyond the hanging out stage, and since they're not at the Bronze together, Buffy doesn't want to crowd him. Oz joins them, Willow teases Buffy about her "lusty wrong feelings," then backs down and encourages her to go for it. Parker comes over to offer Buffy an escort back to her dorm, much to the delight of Willow and the calm interest of Oz, and the two leave the Bronze together. (And alas for Buffy that we can't reach through the TV and stop this from happening by smacking Parker.)

A few minutes later we're in back of the Bronze, where Devon, Oz, and Willow are loading up the equipment in the van, in anticipation of the Dingoes' next gig in L.A., exchanging banter that confuses the perpetually dim Devon and amuses Willow and Oz. While Devon and Oz go back for more equipment, ex-Cordette Harmony approaches a surprised Willow, who chats with her about Harmony's abortive summer trip to Paris. Those of you in the studio audience with better memories (and a more comprehensive television-enhanced point-of-view than Willow has) will remember that the last time we saw good ol' Harm, she was getting chomped by a vampire at Graduation. Evidently he did more than chomp, since after commenting on how Willow hasn't changed a bit, and being told the same, she proves how wrong Wills can be by going full vamp-face and then lunging for Willow's neck. Screech, flinch---

Cut to the credits. *dance along with Nerf Herder, who'd never hire Devon*

---and then Harmony's attack is cut short by a cross-and-mic-stand-wielding Oz. A put-out Harmony backs down, pouting (and you haven't lived until you've seen a game-faced vamp pout) and threatening Willow and Oz with her new boyfriend, who's "going to be mad that you were mean to me!" Oz and Willow fail to be impressed as Harmony runs away.

Meanwhile, Parker is asking Buffy about her hobbies on the walk home. Since 'slaying things' is kind of a conversation stopper, Buffy stammers around the subject and finally comes up with 'hanging out, doing stuff' and not much else. Parker notices the bite-scars that Angel left during Graduation 2, and Buffy waves it off with the explanation of an 'angry puppy.' After she asks about his own scars, Parker returns that his are all psychological, and upon further prying, says that his father died the year before. In spite of Buffy's embarrassment, Parker shrugs the subject off with "don't you hate guys who are all 'I'm dark and brooding, so give me love'?" Buffy is reduced to an even more embarassed denial as the audience rolls its collective eyes. Parker goes on to say that his father's death made him think about 'living for now', a philosophy that the Buffy of the carpe-diem school of thought can get behind. She tells him about her drowning a few years ago, and they bond over the mutual pain that lead to their wanting a life without regrets. Parker asks her to the party at Wolf House for the next evening, and Buffy accepts.

In another country entirely--- or just Giles's apartment--- Xander is helping Giles shelve books for extra cash. Into this fun-filled alphabetical frenzy arrives Anya, with darker hair, the same total lack of social skills she exhibited the last time we saw her, and a burning need to speak with Xander. After drawing him outside, she demands to know where their relationship is going, a question which stumps Xander, since the last time they spoke, she was making tracks for Bermuda in order to avoid the Mayor's Ascension. Anya pursues the question, and Xander points out the problems with this theory (one date, second called on account of snake, Anya being a former vengeance demon, which, well, Xander has problems with).

After confessing that she can't stop thinking about him and sometimes has naked dreams about him, Anya goes on to try and set the parameters of their relationship, including a standing Friday night date and recognition of Prom Night as their anniversary. Xander puts on the brakes real fast, denying the pre-emptive assumption of couplehood, and points out that "somehow these things just happen."

At the door to Buffy and Willow's room, Parker and Buffy are dancing around the possibility of kissage when they are interrupted by Oz and a bleeding Willow. After some of the normal lying to get rid of Parker, Buffy gets Willow and Oz inside, and the story on Harmony is shared. Willow is frankly doubtful of Harmony's 'boyfriend' story, and Oz points out that she once dated Devon, who "dumped her for being too flaky. Which, consider the irony." (Take a moment to be grateful that those two brain trusts *didn't* fall in love and reproduce, dear reader. The shallowness of the gene pool would trail away into very pretty rain puddle.) Buffy shakes her head in amazement at the concept of Vamp Harmony having a boyfriend. "Guy dating Harmony dead. Must be like the most tolerant guy in the world."

Or, well, not.

Because as we watch, Harmony sneaks up on her new boyfriend, who is wielding a drill somewhere dark--- and when he turns around, it's our old buddy Spike, someone for whom easy-going has never been his most memorable quality. Methinks there is more here than meets the eye as we go to commercial, and thousands of Spike-istas do the dance of hormonal joy.

Back from commercial, Spike and a random minion are checking sewer and crypt plans, while drilling continues in the background. Spike is very eager to find something quite specific, and isn't putting up with any waffling from the minion in question. His demonstration of zero-tolerance for errors (and a good choke-hold) is interrupted by Harmony's return and immediate glomming onto her "Blondie-Bear." That this doesn't undercut his authority probably has something to do with him ignoring her antics completely. After some pouting and foot-stamping, Harmony refuses to eat the leftover human chained to the wall ("I think I had a math class with him last year, and I didn't like him then, either") and demands that Spike take her out. After a bit of vampiric banter (shoving each other around amid threats), he agrees to take his girlfriend somewhere nice tomorrow.

The next evening, Bif Naked is singing at Wolf House. Parker and Buffy are wandering around the atmosphere of collegiate fun when they run into Harmony and Spike, grabbing some walking take-out. Buffy is amused that Spike's with Harm, Harmony snipes, Spike takes a few verbal pot-shots at Parker, and then Harmony and Spike shove their snack at Buffy before making a run for it. Buffy ditches Parker to pursue them, stalking outside for a minute before finding them in the bushes. "What's the matter Spike, Dru dump you again?" she asks. Spike denies it, but Harmony confirms that his dark princess left him for a fungus demon. Spike declines to fight with Buffy, saying "it isn't time yet," which is immediately followed by Harmony chiming in with, "And as soon as we get the Gem of Amarra, you'll be real sorry---" Fed up, Spike grabs her and runs, leaving Buffy to wonder what a Gem of Amarra is, and if Spike's taste in women is ever going to improve. (snort)

Meanwhile at Chez Xander (his parents' basement), the Xandman is affixing a discoball to the ceiling to give it that lame 70's bachelor-pad feel when Anya arrives again. His mom let her in (asking her to pass along the message that he's supposed to put fabric softener in the washer, sitting in the corner of the basement, when the bell goes off) and she still wants to talk. Xander's agreeable and offers her drinks. Anya accepts, and Xander turns his back for one crucial moment--- and Anya drops her dress. When Xander turns back around, the juice in the juicebox gripped in his hand fountains out. Whoa.

Buffy's called Giles to fill him in on recent events. Giles is amused, because the Gem of Amarra which Spike is looking for is evidently mythical--- many vampires have sought it, and no one ever found it. Unworried, he says he'll research it some more, but that Buffy should get some sleep. She fakes a yawn and then goes back to her party.

Back at the lair of Harmony and Spike (decorated in typically tasteless bordello red), Spike is studying the blueprints again, while Harmony is amusing herself by speculating about Antonio Banderas and listening to her pulse not-pulse. She finally asks one stupid question too many, inspiring an exasperated Spike to tell her to shut the hell up--- at which point, Harmony switches to seduction mode. "But if my heart isn't beating what are these veins for? I'm simply covered in blue veins. See?" Spike's mood turns on a dime from anger to arousal, and he begins a sloooow crawl up the bed to Harmony, shirtless, giving several members of the audience heart attacks in the process. Banter, banter, she teases him about Dru, he orders her to bite her tongue, she invites him to do so, and then the snogging begins.

Anya is still explaining her plan to get over him to Xander, who is completely failing to grasp the basics in his shell-shocked state. "Sexual intercourse. I've said it like a dozen times," an irritated (and still-naked) Anya repeats. Slowly getting his wits back, Xander has a few objections, even though he likes her--- they hardly know each other, for one. "But sexual inter-- what you're talking about. Well. And I'm actually turning into a woman as I say this.... It's about expressing something. And accepting consequences." Anya has condoms, so *that's* okay. Xander manfully struggles on, but Anya cuts to the chase: "I like you. You're funny and you're nicely shaped, and frankly it's ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not... interlock. Please remove your clothing now," she orders, closing in on him. "And the amazing thing?" A gob-smacked Xander mutters. "Still... more romantic... than Faith." They slowly move into a soft kiss--- interrupted by the 'ding!' of the washing machine, reminding them that Xander has to put in the fabric softener.

The party's still going on at Wolf House, and Buffy's tracked down Parker. She attempts to stammer out an explanation for the weirdness, but he waves it away, then asks if she used to date Spike. The genuine laugh this gets lifts her mood, and they go back to enjoying themselves. Bif Naked begins to sing "Lucky One", and they dance--- and I blame most of the subsequent events on Bif Naked. Many romantic mistakes are made under the influence of really good music, and Buffy is no exception to this rule. A little later, Parker and Buffy are talking, and he's macking on her big-time, saying that he doesn't believe in destiny, and "I don't believe in being swept along. You always have a choice with everything you do." Something which appeals massively to Buffy, who 'makes a choice.' Cue kissing. And more kissing. And tasteful sex on red sheets (a theme tonight). Giles tries to call Buffy with news, but she is far, far too busy, and not at home anyway. Bif Naked fades away as we fade to black (and would that they'd done so sooner, or this whole bad moment wouldn't have happened.)

The next morning....

Buffy wakes up in Parker's room-- by herself. Shades of her first time with Angel. Confused and vulnerable, she begins gathering her clothes when Parker returns with coffee. This is better than her last morning-after, but it's still awkward. He's being perfectly nice, but he can't spend the day with her. She suggests they do something later, he agrees, and promises to call (which you must never, ever do if you don't mean it. *Smack Parker, hard*) They kiss, with no hint of what's to come.

The atmosphere is even more awkward back at Xander's. Anya is adjusting her dress and putting her shoes back on as he buttons his shirt. "So, I... I'm over you now," she says, sounding much less certain than you'd expect. "Okay," he responds quietly, not looking at her. Outraged, Anya turns on him. "Okay?!" Xander is clearly in way over his head. "Um, yeah?" he offers helplessly. Disgusted and hurt, Anya storms out, leaving a crushed Xander perched on the edge of his sofa-bed.

Spike wakes up as Harmony draws "Spike loves Harmony" on his back, then rolls his eyes when she offers him the marker so he can draw on her. He has work to do; and at her pouted "you love that tunnel more than me," he merely responds "I love syphilis more than you," then stalks away. Out of our three contenders, Spike wins the Award for Worst Morning-After Behavior hands-down.

Buffy gets back into her dorm room to find Giles there, and after some half-stammered lame explanations for her shagged appearance, she lets Giles get a word in edgewise. After studying some prophecies, he found indications that the Gem does exist, and is there in Sunnydale. He leaves to do further research, and Buffy agrees to go looking for Spike. As soon as Giles is out the door, Willow is demanding watercolor details of Buffy's night with Parker. Willow is more excited for Buffy than the Slayer is; she's still kind of anxious, but happy.

Spike's made significant progress on finding the Gem, and he orders everyone to stay inside until it's found--- he doesn't want to mess things up now. Harmony is predictably less-than-thrilled with this, wondering whatever happened to his plans to take her to France, for one. No one wants to hear the fight that's going to happen, so the minions leave as Spike lays it out for Harm: "Listen to me, you stupid bint. This gem is everything. I came back to Sunnydale for it, a place that has witnessed some truly spectacular kickings of my ass. Now, when I have the gem, they all die, don't worry. Until then, stay inside. And by the way, I would be insanely happy if from this point on I heard bugger-all about sodding France!" Very hurt, Harmony sniffles, "I don't know why I let you be so mean to me." "Love hurts, baby," Spike sneers.

Time passes, Buffy searches the campus and Sunnydale for signs Harmony and Spike (and waits for Parker to call), Spike drills more holes in the wall, and Buffy checks the answering machine, becoming more and more depressed as Parker remains scarce over the next couple days.

Finally, Spike has found the treasure-trove he's been seeking, an old cavern filled with jewels and pretty glittery things. He grabs one that looks promising as Harmony babbles and decks herself out with other baubles laying around. Spike tries to touch a cross without success, and Harmony's continued brainless commentary finally pushes him over the edge, and he stakes her--- without effect, as the wound in her chest closes as soon as he pulls the stake out. Harmony is aghast for a second, then hurt and furious, pummeling him with girly-slaps as the significance of her escape sinks in for Spike. He finds the right jewel on her finger, and tests it by holding a cross to her head, with no effect on Harm. She throws the ring at him in a tantrum, and he takes it without an apology or backward glance, leaving a heart-broken and disbelieving Harmony behind.

Research party at Giles's, and Oz has discovered the joys of Giles's record collection, while Xander has discovered that Giles has a TV, to everyone's shock. A news bulletin chronicles the collapse of a portion of campus, probably due to Spike's tunneling. The Scooby Gang decide to go to the site of the disturbance, with Xander sent to find Buffy and bring her there.

A mopey Slayer is walking across campus when she encounters the man she's been looking for - Parker. Who is repeating many of the same lines he bestowed on her, about his father dying and "living for the now", to another young co-ed. (Okay. It could be coincidence. But... ) Confused and suspicious, she asks him what's going on. Sensing a bad scene in the making, he shoos the other girl away, as Buffy asks him why he didn't call. "It's only been a couple of days. Did you need to talk to me about something?" Off-balance by his casual response, she asks if everything is okay; receiving his reassurance, she asks if they can do something. He says sure; she suggests that night. Oh, gosh. He's busy. He totally blows her off, and Buffy feels compelled to ask if she did something wrong. Again he denies it. "It was fun. Didn't you have fun? Watch out how you answer that, my ego's fragile." (*smack* *smack* *smack* She so should've told him he was terrible in bed and lacking in personal hygiene)

"We had fun. Is that all it was?" a slowly-becoming-more-humiliated Buffy asks. Parker shrugs. "What else was it supposed to be?" Really not sure how she's supposed to answer that, she stammers that she thought he liked her. Parker then makes it ultra-very-clear: he's not looking for a relationship, or a commitment, and he thought she understood that. (Tchah. Right.) And then, Buffy apologizes for misunderstanding. (As half the audience realizes they want to kick Parker in the shorts for his tactics.) Parker shrugs it off and walks away, leaving Buffy near tears and thoroughly upset. It just can't get any worse.

Oh wait, yes it can. "Well, that was pathetic," Spike says, right before he punches her in the face.

Back from commercial, a groggy Buffy wakes up in the shade of the tree to see a gloating Spike standing over her in bright sunlight. Evidently the Gem of Amarra makes all of the standard vampire weaknesses go away without any fuss at all. She gets to her feet and we have the fourth act fight scene-- with one modification: Spike doesn't dust when staked. "Oh, do it again. It tickles. In a good way," he taunts her. "The Gem," Buffy says grimly. "Ohh, yeah. The Gem of Amarra. Official sponsor of my killing you," Spike says gleefully, as they go back to fighting.

Underground, Oz, Willow, and Giles are investigating the crypt where the treasure lies when they come across a tear-streaked Harmony. "Being a vampire sucks," she announces.

Xander's still looking for Buffy, pounding on her and Willow's dorm room door, when Anya approaches him again, looking slightly more shy and nervous than the last time he saw her. Xander's too worried about the whole Spike situation to notice this, though. Her hesitant attempt to retract that "over you" comment is met with "Anya. I don't have time," as he rushes off to go help save the world from Spike, leaving a devastated Anya behind.

Giles is attempting to cautiously question Harmony about Spike's whereabouts, as well as the ring, and she tells them that he took it right off her finger. "I would have given him anything he wanted. He was my platinum baby and I loved him." "Where did Spike go?" Giles asks.

To kill Buffy, of course. As we come back to the kicky-punchy-fighty thing in the middle of campus. Xander sneaks around the edges of the fight, gets pummeled by Spike, and then thrown into a wall. Spike gets very obnoxious about Buffy's recent encounter with Parker, making some pointed and too-accurate comments about Parker's pick-up technique as she tries to catch her breath. "I wonder what you did wrong. Too strong? Did you bruise the boy? Whatever. I guess you're not worth a second go. Come to think of it, seems like someone told me that once. Who was that?... Oh yeah. Angel."

That was a big mistake. At the mention of her lost love, Buffy's energized all over again, up and fighting and aiming to cause pain. Punch punch, kick kick, and she's got the upper hand, the one with the ring on it. Spike tells her that they'll both burn if she takes it off him, but Buffy's not impressed, and rips it off his finger. Spike is forced to duck into the nearest manhole in order to avoid a smoky death, as Buffy studies the new toy she's inherited.

Later at Giles's, the Scoobies contemplate the thermonuclear vampire Holy Grail, and Giles suggests destroying it. Buffy already has a good idea what to do with it, though. Oz is going to L.A., and says he can swing by. "What's in L.A.?" Xander asks. "She's giving it to Angel. Don't make a fuss," Willow explains/orders. Giles is still worried, but Buffy's sure she's doing the right thing.

As night falls, Buffy is wandering across campus with Willow, wondering if this kind of heartache is always going to happen to her. Willow is defending her and calling Parker a poop-head, trying to straighten her best friend out, but it doesn't help Buffy feel better. She's feeling rejected, used and confused. She still wants to work it out with the jerk; Willow can't support the idea. Buffy goes off to think and walk by herself, circling a tree in the middle of campus... as a depressed Anya walks around the same tree on the other side... and a still-teary Harmony paces slowly along the edge just out of sight. Three broken hearts wondering what they did to end up here.

Spike's back! Woo! And likewise, hoo! He's found and lost the Gem of Amarra, and still seems interested in kicking Buffy's ass to make up for all the times she kicked his.

Harmony's a vamp -- the chomping at Graduation was evidently fatal, and resulted in her being turned into a vampire. It has not, however, effected any other visible personality changes whatsoever.

Anya's back, and trying to get over her feelings for Xander. Or something.

Buffy's giving Angel the Gem of Amarra. (To see how that turns out, check out "Into the Night", over on the Angel Annex)

Giles owns a TV, and a really impressive record collection.

Anya and Xander had sex. But the morning-after was inconclusive, to say the least.

Dru dumped Spike again, so he took up with Harmony, and he's just totalled her heart (and ego). But she'd probably like to have him back... if he crawled enough.

Buffy had sex with Parker, who immediately turned into a jerk.

Buffy gets her heart bruised again; she really didn't know Parker well enough to get it broken, but rejection hurts, even if she knows that Parker is probably a shallow creep. You can't blame her for falling for his lines--- he's cute, he seems smart, and he also seems to have a lot of the same issues she has. She wanted to feel in control and normal, and he played to that. Without knowing the specifics of her hang-ups, he still managed to seem interested in *her*, not just getting her in bed. Someone on-list pointed out later that she was probably putting a lot of her Angel issues onto him, so getting used and humiliated by the first guy she's with after her steady boyfriend really messes with her head. As usual, when she's off-balance, her fighting abilities nose-dive--- the same deficit we saw in "The Freshman" when she was facing Sunday is in effect here. Until Spike makes the nearly-fatal mistake of bringing up Angel, allowing her to center herself again, and concentrate on what's important --- kicking his butt. And then giving the Gem to the person she wishes she was still with, who will always have bigger piece of her heart than Parker ever managed to touch.

Spike hasn't changed much since the last time we saw him-- except for picking up a blonde annoying attachment in Harmony. He's his usual snotty, obnoxious, funny and impulse-driven self, and why wouldn't he be? Spike goes from one obsession to another, and right now it's the Gem. God knows it isn't Harmony! Again, someone on list mentioned that if Spike tilted his head and squinted, he might have been able to pretend that Harmony's brand of ditziness was similiar to Dru's unfocused nuttiness--- they sound a *little* alike, if you want to believe they do. It's clearly the Rebound Romance from Hell, and for him, it's already over, since he tried to stake her by the end of the ep. Let's just be glad that Spike shares Ethan Rayne's propensity to gloat, or he'd be ruling the world by now. And let's also be glad he's back--- he's the silliest, sexiest fun this show has ever produced.

Harmony is, amazingly, even more shallow than before. Didn't think that was possible, did you? And her taste in clothing has gone downhill too. What a trashy, goofy bit of fun she is, especially watching Mercedes McNabb play off James Marsters.

Anya's strategy for 'getting over' Xander is priceless, and gives Nick Brendan and Emma Caufield some of the sweetest and most hysterical sex scenes ever. Anyanka's experience with rejected women and bad sex must have convinced her this was a viable plan, because otherwise there's no way she could have believed it would work. She also shows some lovely hesitation in her attempts to connect to him later; you immediately want them to get together again. Xander's confused morning-after reaction gives us hope, even if he doesn't follow it up later. Fortunately, we only have a week to wait for that.

Giles, Oz, and Willow give good support during this ep, especially Willow, who's enthusiastically encouraging of Buffy's romance in the beginning and wonderfully partisan and supportive after it all implodes. Her line to Xander about Buffy giving the Gem to Angel is also a good little bit of business, not letting Xander object to something that makes Buffy feel better. Giles would so much prefer it if Buffy never dated; he really doesn't want to know what she's been up to, or who with, but it always makes his job harder, and he never knows how to handle it when Buffy's hurting (although he does better than he thinks in this department). Oz is Oz. (And he gets to have more fun in "Into the Dark" than he does here, since Seth was probably filming both eps at the same time. Check that out for more on him.)

Parker is slime. (See below) But you have to admit: charming slime. I vote that he meet up with Drusilla in a dark alley somewhere, and she *not* offer him anything to drink after she's had enough fun with him.

Best Moments:
Harmony wailing that her boyfriend's going to get them, and Oz and Willow's disbelieving looks; as well as Willow's mimicry of Harmony a little later. ("You don't know him, he goes to another school.")

Spike's entrance as Harmony's "blondie bear" - yay!

Xander squeezing the juicebox in a terribly Freudian visual reaction to Anya's disrobing. *snerk* Priceless, and deservedly in the credits for about two years.

A nicely filmed romantic montage with Bif Naked singing in the background--- too bad the guy Buffy's with is lower than pond scum.

Anya's explanation of her 'plan' to Xander, and his completely sweet and overwhelmed response.

Spike crawling up the bed. Whew.

Oz threatening to move in with Giles for his record collection. *snerk* And Giles trying to claim that he only watches PBS; sure ya do, big guy.

Great fight scene between Spike and Buffy --- and also the last evenly-matched one they're going to have for about two years, so savor it while you can.

Questions and Comments:
A solid, enjoyable, arc-building episode that's enlivened by the return of old friends Spike, Harmony and Anya. Spike is always a shot of adrenaline to the show with his brand of in-your-face obnoxiousness and lack of impulse control. Not to mention sexiness. < g > Harmony is more amusing as a vapid vamp than she was as a brainless high school student; you can't take her seriously as a threat, of course, but she's a treat to watch being air-head sexy with Spike and pouty-threatening with the Slayerettes. Anya is, well, Anya: devastatingly direct and kind of alien, and amusing as hell. The first three episodes of this season were fairly dull, but "Harsh Light of Day" finally picks up the pace and sets the season in motion.

The Gem of Amarra is a good McGuffin to get Spike back into town, but the real action in this episode is all romantic/sexual, as our three clueless couples come together and fall apart in 43 minutes. The theme of college romantic experimentation, and all the ways you can get your heart broken by having sex, is well-parallelled throughout the ep, and that last shot of the three girls going around the tree was a nice touch. (It would have been better if the shot hadn't been so far away that it didn't frame all of them, but oh well).

Parker proves himself to be a thorough rat about two episodes down the line, and a serial dater who loves 'em and leaves 'em without a qualm. That said, he's vague enough in this episode that some nice debate about exactly to what extent each person's feelings needs to be explained *before* having sex, was inspired by his technique. Many guys (and women) feel that the mood is spoiled if you have the 'do you like/love me' conversation before having sex; others assume that having sex means you *do* love/like someone. Neither side is probably right or wrong, but the ep does a nice job of showing the different viewpoints that people bring to sex, and how most of one's preconceptions get thrown out the window afterwards. Sex practically never makes a relationship simpler or easier.

Rating: I give it a 4 out of 5, mostly for the performances, and the sheer fun of the Xander/Anya pairing.

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