Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Warning: May contain spoilers for later episodes.
Episode 19 “Tough Love”
In the aftermath of Mrs. Buffy’s death, Dawn has started cutting school, and Buffy has to visit the principal’s office. She begs Giles to handle the problem, but Giles gently refuses, forcing Buffy to step up instead. So Buffy goes full authoritarian and tries to get Dawn to shape up. Dawn, still in a rebellious teenager phase, resists until Buffy reveals that Dawn might get taken away from her if she keeps cutting school.
Meanwhile, Buffy’s new intensity with Dawn upsets Willow and leads to a fight between her and Tara. It starts with Tara telling Willow that she doesn’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent, which of course Willow resents. But as couple fights do, it evolves into a fight about the real issue–that Tara thinks Willow is getting too powerful. (Somehow Willow also becomes convinced Tara thinks she’s going to go straight again. It almost makes it sound like Willow’s been worried she’ll go straight again, but maybe she’s projecting some insecurity because she feels like a newbie lesbian compared to Tara or something?)
The upshot is that Tara ends up alone at a multicultural fair she’d been planning to go to with Willow… and Glory finds her. Turns out Glory thinks Tara might be the Key (the show keeps us in suspense for awhile as to who Glory is targeting–I guessed Willow on first watch!). She realizes her mistake as soon as she tastes Tara’s blood, but Tara won’t give up the real Key, even after Glory explains how horrible and lonely and scary Tara’s life will be after she drains Tara’s brain. Which she promptly does.
Willow finds out from one of Glory’s hobbits that Glory is after Tara, but only manages to find them after the damage is done. Tara is just babbling nonsense, like the other people we’ve seen this season who were victims of Glory. Willow holds her and cries and apologizes, but it’s too late. Tara’s hand is treated in the hospital, but they can’t do anything for her mind. An angry Willow wants to go after Glory for revenge, but Buffy tells her that there’s no chance. Only later does she realize–when Spike points it out–that Willow definitely did go after Glory as soon as Buffy looked the other way. Just the way Buffy would have done for Dawn, just like Spike would have–he implies–done for Buffy. Buffy shows up just in time to keep Willow from getting her ass kicked by Glory. Together, they manage to escape.
Meanwhile, Dawn–left alone with Spike for protection, as he fumbles to comfort her–asks the question: everything that happened to Spike, to Tara, is because of her, and Glory might be wanting to do something to her that’s worse than death, so should she maybe die? I mean, it’s a good question. I’m just saying! (I kid, I kid. I like Dawn, I don’t really want to see her die–she’s much less annoying than in the first couple episodes.)
When Tara finally gets home from the hospital, Willow vows to take care of her forever, no matter what. But then Glory finds them, and unfortunately, everyone who’s been brain-drained by Glory sees Dawn as the original energy, not as a human. Since Glory’s brain-drain also results in a complete lack of a filter, Tara immediately reveals the Key through her rambling monologue. Now Glory knows Dawn’s the Key. Ruh-roh.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Buffy is dropping all her classes. My reaction: She’s still in classes?!
- I’m STILL confused about the relationship between Glory and Ben. Maybe she can take him over whenever he gets emotional? Like now, when he’s super angry about getting fired for not showing up to his job for two weeks?
- Anya is very excited to be an American because the US was founded on the amazing ideology of capitalism, and anyone who doesn’t spend money is un-American. Hee. Anya as a vocal capitalist totally vibes with her take-no-prisoners conversational style. I wish we could see a 30 Rock crossover where she just hangs out with Jack Donaghy and calls everyone a peasant.
- When Anya says offensive stuff about French people, Xander says, “How about we try being a wee bit more inclusive? Not us, just you.” For once, Xander responds well to something! I want to try saying that to the next person who makes an inappropriate joke.
- Xander works in construction and the only supportive object he can think of to compare himself to is bras. Remind me not to live in any multi-story houses he worked on.
- Giles tells Buffy that Dawn needs her to be strong. I love that he doesn’t just claim the authority she’s trying to give him. You know Xander would’ve been like, Yes, I am Man, I Will Fix All.
- Willow deadpans that she knows what a Freudian slip is because she took Psych 101 from an “evil government scientist who was skewered by her Frankenstein-like creation before the final.” Heh.
- Dawn says, “Who cares if a Key gets an education anyway?” It’s dumb, but so real. Any teenager would have used the same excuse if they had it available.
- Glory is literally squeezing blood out of Tara’s hand. Ahh!! Also, so heroic that Tara manages to keep quiet through it all, and doesn’t betray Dawn despite being tortured by a goddess so powerful she can defeat Buffy.
- Of course Buffy leaves Dawn with Spike. It’s a stark reminder of how much she’s grown to trust him with the one thing most precious to her–Dawn.
- Willow’s eyes go all black like the guy who almost helped Dawn resurrect Mrs. Buffy. [spoilers] This is when Willow goes evil?! I thought Tara was actually dead by that time! [edited to add: Oh, I guess this time it was temporary.]
- Spike says he’d take on Glory for the person he loved, and Buffy gives him this look. I mean, come on, he might be creepy AF but I think even someone whose heart had actually turned to stone would soften at that.
- Even though I don’t have a big soft spot for Tara/Willow in general, I think one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen on this entire show is the moment when Willow declares she’ll take care of the disabled Tara for the rest of her life. Willow’s devotion, and her bravery, facing down decades of a life in which she takes care of the woman she loves with hardly anything in return, is so intense, and so touching. She’s probably too young to understand truly how much that would cost her, but you get the sense—from Alyson Hannigan’s fine, graceful, brave, slender strength in this moment—that she would never back down.
- This episode fits together so neatly. Everything stems from a seemingly simple incident: Dawn cutting school. But because of that, the cracks in Willow and Tara’s relationship lead to Tara becoming vulnerable which leads to Glory eating her brain which leads to Glory finding out who Dawn is. It’s all interconnected! Stay in school, kids, or else an evil hell goddess will come for you, too!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Anya has recently come to the realization that America is built not on democracy, but on capitalism, and that therefore the old people who browse and don’t buy anything at the Magic Box are “unpatriotic.” It’s treated as a gag but she, uh, kind of gets it!
- As a teacher, it hurts me that Buffy won’t let Dawn learn in a fun, engaging way! It does work better!
- That being said, Willow seriously needs to back off. She’s lecturing her bereaved 19-year-old friend about her parenting skills? And she accuses Tara of being self-righteous?
- Speaking of which, I guess I like that Willow and Tara have a fight, because it gives their relationship more texture, but it also sort of comes out of nowhere? I haven’t seen any indication that Tara has more power in the relationship, or that she’s worried Willow isn’t really a lesbian.
- You know you’re getting old when you think Ripper Giles is super hot. [I guess you’re older than me now, because, still no on Giles! —Nerdy Spice]
- I think Willow’s wearing the same dress as when she got kidnapped by Faith that time!
- Oh it’s so sad that Buffy said Willow could “never understand” the responsibility of taking care of another person, and by the end of the episode Willow is Tara’s caretaker. That hurts.
Episode 20 “Spiral”
After Glory finds out Dawn is the Key, the Scoobies barely escape her. Willow tries to give Buffy time to escape with magic, but Glory easily catches up, and they only get away because she’s hit by a convenient truck, Regina George-style, and then transforms back into Ben. When they get back to the rest of the Scoobies, Buffy gets hard-faced and tells everyone that now that Glory knows Dawn is the Key, they need to get the hell out of Dodge. Everyone is aghast at the idea of “running away,” while Anya’s like, “Finally, a sensible plan.” Uh, I’m with Anya, they should have gotten out of town ages ago. Buffy lays it out simply: “We stay, we die.” Preach!
Buffy’s completely panicking, but it brings out a decisive, take-no-prisoners side of her that we haven’t really seen yet. She gets an RV and enlists Spike to come along, and of course Xander gets all butthurt about it. This is a dire situation! They need more superpowered people around! Buffy doesn’t have time for Xander’s whinging. “This isn’t a discussion!” she yells. “He stays, get over it!” I think I’m supposed to think she’s panicked and borderline out of control, but telling Xander to get over himself is the mark of a true leader.
Buffy isn’t out of control (or “not thinking clearly,” as Xander obnoxiously says), but she is emotionally exhausted. In private, she tells Dawn that she feels like a coward. “It just keeps coming,” she says tearfully. “Glory, Riley, Tara, Mom.”
And for the rest of the episode, it really does keep on coming. A few seconds later, the RV is under siege by that army of LARPers that attacked Buffy in “Checkpoint.” Buffy literally just sighs, like “of course this is happening.” She tries to strategize, but they’re getting hit from all sides. When they get on the roof of the RV and Spike catches a sword coming down from the ceiling in his bare hands, he snarks, “Now might be a good time for something heroic.”
Buffy might be tired, but what follows is truly heroic. She gets on the roof and fights the soldiers one-by-one, using the resourcefulness and ingenuity we know and love. She faces soldiers who are wielding axes, swords, and maces, and just whales on them with her bare hands. She also occasionally steals their weapons, which leads to an amazing moment where she does the Xena sword-twirl. (I definitely spent hours when I was a kid practicing that twirl with a stick and challenging Nerdy Spice to swordfights. She was not amused. [True story. —Nerdy Spice]) After she’s thrown all of them off the roof, there’s a few moments where it seems like everything is over, but then a LARPer shows up out of nowhere and throws a spear through the windshield, hitting Giles in the stomach and causing the entire RV to crash and tip over.
They flee the scene and drag Giles to an abandoned barn(?), where he’s bleeding profusely. [Isn’t it an abandoned gas station? —Nerdy Spice] Everyone’s looking to Buffy for directions, but girl has decision fatigue. “I don’t know!” she cries when they ask her what they should do. “Give me a minute.” But she doesn’t have a minute, because literal flaming arrows start flying in through the windows. The LARPers are back, and they have an entire army outside. The general gets in, and things are looking really bad for the Scoobies, but then Willow does a shield spell to keep them out and they keep the general hostage.
The scenes with the general are wonderfully tense. He’s tied up, but he still has his army outside and he can tell they’re desperate. Buffy tells him that Dawn is an innocent kid–“What kind of god would demand her life for something she has no control over?” she asks. She tries to convince him to tell his men to stand down, but it’s no use–he’s a true believer. He keeps looking at Dawn like she’s the antichrist, and Buffy grabs his face and snarls, “Look at her that way again, and she will be the last thing you ever see.”
The general also gets to deliver some exposition about what the Key actually opens, and what Glory actually wants (and like, it’s crazy that we didn’t have this information until now and yet the story still has stakes? That really goes against all the conventional rules of fiction). He says Glory aka The Beast–not to be confused with the considerably lamer Beast from Angel–once ruled a hell dimension with two other hell-gods, but she was so sadistic, they were even scared of her. (That’s a great origin story–almost worth the wait!) So they banded together, overthrew her, and banished her to Earth where she would be trapped inside a mortal vessel, a newborn boy, and die with him. Meanwhile the Key is a big ball of energy that is intended to open the doors between dimensions, so Glory wants to use the Key to go back to her hell dimension and take back her throne. Buffy bursts into inappropriate laughter and says what we’re all thinking: “That’s Glory’s master plan? To go home?”
The general clarifies that the Key won’t just open the door to Glory’s dimension, but all dimensions, so the “walls separating reality will tumble” and eventually the “universe will be thrown into chaos.” Okay, so that explains the whole antichrist vibe. He says the Key is too dangerous to exist, but Buffy won’t accept that. At one point the general overhears Spike and Xander mulling over whether they should just make a run for it, so at least a few of them will make it, but Buffy firmly interrupts, “We’re all going to make it,” she says. “I’m not losing anyone.”
This attitude seems like a liability to the general, who laughs at her condescendingly, but it’s in keeping with the season’s primary question: whether Buffy has to choose between strength and love. As Buffy looks after Giles, who is very weak and bloody, he sputters that he’s “so proud” of her, and that her greatest strength as a leader is her ability to “place [her] heart above all else.” Aw! What a great mentor!
Side note: Does Giles seem like he’s about to die here or what? The beautiful speech, the spluttery cough, the blood trail of death at the corner of his mouth?? I’ve seen this literally 20-30 times, and every time I think, “Wow Giles seems super, super dead.”
Buffy seems to sense that his death is imminent–the blood trail doesn’t lie–so she asks Willow to open a door so she can negotiate with the LARPers. Since Buffy has their general, they reluctantly agree to let a doctor into the barn to help Giles. Buffy decides to call the only doctor she knows/flirted with, and it’s Ben! Nooo!
Ben arrives and sees the LARPers and he’s like–WTF did I just walk into. (Although he would presumably have been a lot more freaked out if he didn’t already have extensive experience with the supernatural–honestly his understated reaction should be a red flag.) He tends to Giles, and when the general catches him alone, he tells Ben that he should kill Dawn to save everyone. Ben doesn’t seem super tempted, but then the general says that if Dawn dies, the will of the Beast will fade and she’ll disappear. That seems awfully convenient and I don’t know how he could know that, but whatever.
The next few minutes work overtime to convince you that Ben is about to kill Dawn. He gives super evil vibes when he’s talking to Dawn and filling a syringe, saying ominous things like “sometimes terrible things happen to good people.” But it’s just a fakeout–what actually happens is much worse. He starts to feel Glory coming, and he can’t get out because of the shield spell, so he becomes Glory right in front of them!
Glory is over the moon about this timing. She kills the general with a flick of her wrist, grabs Dawn, and easily breaks through Willow’s magic shield with her fist. Buffy can’t break through, and by the time Willow gets it down, Dawn and Glory are gone, and Glory has somehow had time to kill every single one of the LARPers. Buffy looks around at all the corpses, and she just shuts down. Her friends are once again asking what they should do next, and she just sits on the ground and stares into the distance. The camera closes in on her catatonic face as we hear her friends call her name in the distance. Terrifying!
Notes from a New Fan:
- Glory turns back into Ben when she’s hit by a truck. I’m still confused, you guys. I feel like maybe I will just never get this. Sort of like linear algebra, or Faulkner.
- I love that Buffy has already come up with a plan to get out of town. No one else helps. Girl power!
- Ben says that his life is only due to Glory’s failure. I still don’t get it. Is there something wrong with me?
- Buffy’s stealthy plan is to wrap a mobile home in tin foil and have Spike drive it. It took me a second to figure out that the tin foil was to keep Spike alive. That’s hilarious.
- A nice touch after his reference to manicures a few weeks ago: Spike’s nail polish is chipped. How very human!
- Buffy moans that “it all keeps coming. Glory, Riley, Tara.” Um, one of these things is not like the others. Glory is a God who’s trying to kill your sister. Tara had her brain eaten and is now destroyed permanently. And Riley was just a handsome, boring boyfriend who tried to outshine you despite the fact that you were a Slayer, started visiting vampire brothels because he thought being dangerous would make you like him more, and eventually broke up with you because he didn’t think you loved him back. Do you see how that’s… not the same?
- I love how Buffy promises Willow she won’t hit “the horsies” and then tells Giles to aim straight at them.
- I also love how Xander is sidelined in this fight not by being beaten up but by his own motion sickness. Always useless! What a great meme.
- My notes in this episode contain the following: Is Giles gonna die?!?!?! Shortly after, when Giles sort of leans back looking all dead and shit, I sent a text to Janes: “GILES DIES? WHAT?!?!” Apparently I spoke too soon.
- Wait, why hasn’t Dawn ever told anyone that Ben morphed into Glory? I’M SO CONFUSED!
Notes from a True Stan:
- Buffy is sometimes criticized for its inconsistent plotting (which is sort of inevitable in a 22-episode season), but from the moment Glory finds out that Dawn is the key, the stakes are clearly established and the pacing is impeccable. The rest of the season is a nonstop thrill ride.
- Wait, Glory has super speed like the Flash?? Why hasn’t she ever used it before?
- Anya has Barney Stinson syndrome, where she assumes that Elmer Fudd is the protagonist and Bugs Bunny is the villain of the piece.
- It’s incredibly stupid that Giles et al are acting like it’s cowardice to run away from Glory. She’s a god! Rocket launchers and Xander’s fake military training aren’t gonna cut it this time.
- I love episodes where the whole Scooby gang is trapped together, like when Buffy was wearing sushi pajamas in Xander’s basement. It’s so fun.
- There’s a woman minion! Like a Smurfette.
- Xander complained so much about Spike coming with them, and then when the shit hits the fan, he’s literally just sitting there being carsick while Buffy and Spike do all the work. Typical.
- Buffy throws an axe into a LARPer’s chest–she killed a human! It’s a big moment that goes unaddressed, which I kind of like.