Spike’s back for a brief visit in s3, but he’s not the renegade from School Hard or even the deceptively defeatist vamp from Becoming Part 1. In his unglorious return to Sunnydale, he’s lovelorn and dejected, played for almost entirely for comic relief, and while I’m down with him as either sad or funny, I’m less favorable to both at the same time. If Spike is lovelorn, I’d rather see him frustrated and angry, as we’ll see in later seasons, and when he’s funny, he’s best working with his wryness and wrongness, making astute observations and dreadful decisions almost simultaneously.
But here he’s a drunken mess who fails to garner much sympathy from me, and though he does draw some laughs, even those are hit and miss. It’s easier to laugh along with Spike than at him, and the lovesick/drunken comedy is mostly too broad for James Marsters’ sharp performance. Spike shouldn’t be sad and sloppy, and he really shouldn’t be called in for duty just to help make a point about the futility of Buffy and Angel’s relationship while serving as monster-of-the-week to bring the Xander-Willow romance into the light.
It’s a Spike-centric episode on the surface, but he’s the device, not the story, which really lies in the three couples whose relationships begin to unravel or combust. I appreciate romantic rift delivered in triplicate, though it’s not as deftly balanced as when Marti Noxon explored the same three relationships in Beauty and the Beasts. I think this week’s writer, Dan Vebber, will find a better melding of comedy and character in Xander with his upcoming The Zeppo.
Yet I still enjoyed the episode! The moments with Spike that do work – spilling his heart to a confused but compassionate Joyce in the kitchen, then cutting zany vampire faces behind her back to taunt Angel – make his return most welcome and keeps the character a valuable iron in the fire for next season.
Also pointing toward s4 is the release of the SAT results, with Buffy’s surprising stellar score. I liked not only Joyce’s elation at Buffy’s considerably widened college prospects, but also Giles’ encouragement for her to escape Slayerdom and Sunnydale for the normal life she so often pines for.
Buffy doesn’t really want to leave, but it’s still all about a boy. She’d hang onto Angel if she could, but it takes Spike’s tough-love speech after the magic shop battle to make her face up to how insurmountable the physical barriers to the relationship are. She’ll fight against the odds for the rest of the season, but really, this is the beginning of the end.
And thankfully it’s the end for Xander and Willow. I never cared for their s3 dalliance, but I suppose it provides us closure on their romantic flirtation and opens the door to their deeper platonic love that will reach its apex in s6. More immediately, it severs the tie between Xander and Cordelia, freeing her to leave the show at the end of the season to join Angel in L.A. While I don’t mind the couple’s breakup, I’m unhappy that any character development made with Cordelia gets tossed out the window as she reverts to the vapid, thoroughly thankless Cordy of s1. Nevertheless, the busted relationship does gift us with next week’s The Wish, which is fucking dynamite, so let me hold up on the whining.
In my first viewing, I really did believe that Cordelia had died. I thought that the impalement after the fall was misleading enough, however. The subsequent scene with Buffy and Willow walking through the cemetery (by day, for once) past a burial seemed overkill to me.
Poor Cordelia will have to begin a character arc all over again in Angel, only to have most of that work undone once again in that series’ fourth season!
Mayor Wilkins practices putting in his office while planning his Ascension and trying to keep Spike in line. I like the putting better than the Spike damage control. Really, shouldn’t the mayor have been more concerned when Spike and Dru brought The Judge to town and launched a blazing bolts attack on the Sunnydale Mall? Surely a hulking blue demon flanked by vampires at the local mall would cause more public consternation than one little murder in the local magic shop. It’s Sunnydale, after all.
Spike stakes the chief vamp Lenny. It struck me as odd to see one vampire stake another, almost cannibalistic. I thought this might be the first instance of such an intra-demonic dusting, but then I recalled how delighted Darla was to stake The Three with what seemed like a broom handle in the episode Angel.
Spike’s sad state leads him back to the factory and Dru’s now charred collection of horrifying, old-timey dolls. Special bonus for him lacking the will to even seek out a new lair – and then getting called on his lack of initiative by Buffy!
Willow and Oz: I feel more for this couple a bit more than Xander and Cordelia, but I’m still not that invested. I thought the celebrated witch-Pez scene by the lockers far too cutesy, especially with Willow’s suggestion that they find a werewolf-Pez dispenser. It’s just precious enough to cause me a slight retch.
Conversely, while I don’t mourn the end of the Xander/Cordy romance, which I believe owes its existence far more to lust than love, I found Xander’s discovery of his photos lining Cordelia’s locker door rather touching.