In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone just came back from vacation, so she’s a little rusty. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick.
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
- Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
- Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
- Science and technology are not to be trusted.
- Mental illness is stigmatized.
- Only Willow can use a computer.
- Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
- Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
- Oz is the Anti-Xander
- Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
- Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
- The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
- Smoking is evil.
- Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
- Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
- Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
- Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
- Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
- The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
- This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.
- Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments. Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.
WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.
When we last saw Buffy, she was on a bus, headed out of Sunnydale. Which is why, when a vampire rises from his grave, it’s not Buffy who’s waiting with a stake and a pithy comment:
Xander and Oz are there, and between the three of them… they aren’t able to subdue the vampire and he easily gets away.
Xander: “First of all, what was with the acrobatics? How did that happen?”
Oz: “Wasn’t Andy Hoelich, like, on the gymnastics team?”
Xander: “He was. Cheater!”
Xander also has an issue with Willow’s attempts at pithy comments, lamenting that they didn’t give Buffy enough credit for her puns. School starts the next day, and Willow is holding out hope that Buffy will somehow just show up–they don’t know what’s happened to her or if she’s even alive, as evidenced by Willow’s insistence that no one use the past tense when referring to her.
So, where’s Buffy?
Buffy stands on the shore, and, in a shot that weirdly lingers on her boobs, we see hands around her waist. It’s Angel. They embrace in the sunlight, which is our first clue that this is a dream. The second clue is when Buffy wakes up to the wailing of sirens. She’s definitely not in Sunnydale anymore.
Buffy, now Anne, works at a greasy spoon diner where guys hit on her and smack her ass. Two of her customers are a blonde girl and her boyfriend. They have matching tattoos with each others’ names. Buffy recognizes the girl, and I’m not sure if we’re supposed to recognize her as the girl from the episode where Buffy’s dying childhood friend wants to be turned into a vampire or if that’s a big reveal for later, but spoiler alert, that’s who it is. She thinks she recognizes Buffy and asks her where she’s from, but Buffy hightails it out of there super quick, telling a coworker that she doesn’t feel good and she’s taking off for the day. So, at the very least, Buffy recognizes her from that episode.
Back in Sunnydale, Giles and Willow are talking pretty loudly and openly about vampires in a school library full of students. Like, more students than we’ve ever seen in the school library. Tens of students! It’s almost as though the library is attached to the school. Anyway, they’re literally talking out loud, within earshot, about vampires, which basically everyone in town already knows about, but everyone carries on as if nothing is amiss. #8 is still in action, even at the start of a new school year.
Cordelia comes into the library and meets up with Willow. Apparently the resort at which Cordelia spent her summer wasn’t as super fun as she felt it should be. She’s looking for Xander, and she’s afraid he’s forgotten her or met someone else over the summer. Oz shows up, and Willow is delighted that he’s come to visit her. But he hasn’t come to visit her so much as he’s come to redo his senior year, because he didn’t actually graduate. PS. I really like that Oz has to redo his senior year. He’s consistently held up as being as smart as Willow, but where she excels at school, he doesn’t. I love that the show quietly acknowledges that even smart people can fail to thrive in an academic environment, and never makes fun of Oz or suggests he’s not intelligent because of that.
Willow and Oz run into Xander, who has the same first day nerves that Cordelia has. This episode is taking me back, because I went to high school during the nineties. I remember when you might not see your boyfriend or girlfriend over the summer very much. If your families went on vacation? Pff, forget it. You had to figure out that slender window of opportunity to get one or two phone calls in. Maybe a date, if you’re lucky. And if you’re unlucky, that date is to Batman & Robin. So I feel for Xander and Cordy here.
Their reunion, however, is super brief and stilted.
Cut from the school full of lively action to Buffy, in her palace of sadness, eating cold Spaghetti-O’s straight out of the can like I did on election night in 2004. She walks to work, past a preacher handing pamphlets out to the homeless, then past a person who is homeless and sitting in a doorway, muttering that she’s no one.
Giles is on the phone in his office, and he’s super excited. He announces to Willow and Xander that a friend of his saw a girl in Oakland fighting vampires. Giles is off to catch a flight, but Xander reminds him that this isn’t the first time they’ve thought they’ve found Buffy:
Xander: “Look, I don’t mean to poop the party here, it’s just…you get your hopes all up, and then it’s just a big fat raspberry and I feel bad.”
So, clearly Giles has been on a hope roller coaster for a long time, and he’s unwilling to exit the ride when it’s come to a full and complete stop. Willow tries to be encouraging, but it’s clear that she doesn’t have much faith in this Oakland lead, either. When Giles leaves, Willow asks Xander if he thinks Giles will find Buffy, and Xander answers that Giles will find Buffy when she wants to be found.
Speaking of not wanting to be found, Buffy is wandering down a street, not answering to the blonde girl’s repeated calls of “Anne.” When the girl finally calls out, “Buffy!” it gets her attention. Way to be incognito, Buffster. Finally they work out where they remember each other from, and the girl–now calling herself Lily–thanks Buffy for saving her life from that vampire worshiping cult. Lily is squatting in abandoned buildings, living that glamorous 1990’s street urchin life, constantly changing her name and falling into cults and stuff. Lily invites Buffy to a rave, if Buffy can front the cover, because Lily is broke. Buffy is about to give her the money when a man staggers between them and into the street. Buffy asks him if he’s okay, and he repeats what the homeless woman said before: “I’m no one.” Buffy pushes him out of the path of a car and is hit herself.
A crowd of concerned bystanders help Buffy up and start tossing around words like “hospital,” which equals “everybody is going to find out where you are when you can’t produce ‘Anne”s I.D.”. Buffy runs, turns a corner, and smacks into the guy we saw ministering to the homeless before. His pamphlets scatter everywhere and Buffy, being a nice person, stops to help him pick them up.
That’s how those religious types get you. With scattered pamphlets.
The street preacher is character actor Carlos Jacott, who has been seen in basically anything. Just throw a dart. I know him best from Big Love, where he played one of the neighbors that the youngest wife tried to befriend.
Anyway, he asks Buffy what she’s running from, and introduces himself as Ken. He gives her a flyer and tells her to stop by his shelter for food and spiritual guidance. He talks about kids getting old quickly, the life draining out them, despair, etc. which is immediately followed by images of teens living on the street. Bellylove’s “Back To Freedom” plays mournfully over this scene, then we cut to The Bronze. This band and song are so painfully 90’s that I can almost feel Hard Candy nail polish drying on my hands.
Willow and Xander are wallowing to the sad music, Xander worrying that Cordelia is out somewhere laughing at him and how over him she is, and Willow wondering if they could be doing a better job stopping vampires. Cordelia and her friends walk in, dressed like they’re headed to the homecoming dance, and Xander hits on a great idea: use bait.
Seriously, this is where Xander goes when he feels his romantic intentions have been thwarted. Use Cordelia as bait to catch vampires, which they have, as of yet, been wholly unsuccessful doing. Another season, another example of #5. Cordelia is a person while cooperating with him romantically, but she’s a nightcrawler ready for a hook when she isn’t.
At Casa de Summers, Joyce is working on something when there’s a knock at the door. It’s clear that she’s expecting Buffy, but it’s just Giles, come back to tell Joyce that he still hasn’t found Buffy or any vampires in Oakland. Just goths. He reassures Joyce that Buffy is smart enough that wherever she is, she’s not in danger. Joyce doesn’t want to leave the house, which is new for her, considering she was hardly ever home during season two. She’s afraid that Buffy will call and she won’t be there, and says she’s sorry that the last time she saw Buffy, they were fighting.
Giles: “Joyce, you mustn’t blame yourself for her leaving.”
Joyce: “I don’t. I blame you. You’ve been this huge influence on her, guiding her. You had this whole relationship with her behind my back. I feel like you’ve taken her away from me.”
Giles: “I didn’t make Buffy who she is.”
Joyce: “And who, exactly, is she?”
This is where I really, really begin to loathe Joyce. She blames Giles for Buffy leaving? Wasn’t it Joyce who told Buffy “don’t even think about coming back”? Wasn’t it Joyce who never once questioned why her daughter’s school librarian was taking such an interest in her? And what’s with the “relationship with her behind my back” remark? Joyce even mentions in “Killed By Death” that she appreciates Giles looking out for Buffy. So where’s the secret? Joyce is the person who pushed her daughter away. Joyce is the person who refused to listen when her daughter tried to tell her the truth. And this isn’t my wide-on for Giles influencing my opinion here; up until this season, Joyce’s constant neglect and criticism of Buffy is straight up canon. So, fuck off with your blame, Joyce. Be a grownup and accept the fact that you told your daughter she couldn’t come back home (#3).
Back at Buffy’s diner, Lily tells Buffy that Ricky is missing and she needs help. Buffy is not interested in getting involved in any of the “helping people” stuff. She’s out of the biz now, and tells Lily as much. But Buffy is Buffy. She’s not really going to turn her back on someone in danger.
Buffy goes with Lily to a place where she and Ricky occasionally sell their blood. While they’re waiting for a nurse to check if Ricky has been in lately (these are the pre-PHI days of HIPAA), Buffy tells Lily they should split up to look for him and meet back at her apartment later. The nurse returns and tells them that Ricky hasn’t been around, but if she sees him, she’ll tell him Lily is looking for him. Buffy and Lily leave, and the camera lingers on the nurse, who makes a shady face as dire music plays.
Buffy prowls the alleys of the city in search of Ricky. She finds a middle aged man lying dead next to an empty bottle of drain cleaner. He’s got the same tattoo as Ricky had.
Back at Buffy’s apartment, Buffy breaks the bad news to Lily: Ricky is dead. At least, the person who Buffy thinks could possibly be Ricky is dead. She tells Lily that the person she found was old, that he looked about eighty. Uh…
That guy is not eighty. That guy is sixty at most, maybe a rough fifty.
Lily asks if a vampire did it, but Buffy knows that vampires can’t prematurely age people. She thinks there could be something fishy with the blood place. Lily, on the other hand, thinks there’s something fishy with Buffy; after all, Buffy knows about monsters, and suddenly monsterish things are happening. Buffy points out that Lily is the one who came to her, and Lily storms out.
Honestly, Lily might be onto something. Buffy didn’t always live in Sunnydale, and there were vampires at Buffy’s old high school, too. I know this, I’ve seen the movie. Donald Sutherland was barely coherent in it. But the point is, Buffy does seem to have a habit of being where monsters are. It’s not that strange for Lily to make that connection.
Wait, where is Buffy now? I don’t remember anyone ever saying where she is, definitively. We know she’s not in Oakland. Is she supposed to be in L.A.? That doesn’t make sense, because she used to go to school there. She was popular and knew lots of people. Surely she could be crashing with someone. Or maybe avoiding the city entirely, because what if she randomly ran into someone? L.A. is a big place, but I once ran into someone I went to Elementary school with in a medieval monastery in France, so. Shit happens.
Anyway, Lily is crying and upset, and Preacher Ken approaches her. He tells her that hope is real, and can help her get through this tough time. When she mentions Ricky, the preacher dude knows her name. He tells her that Ricky is at his ministry, and she should come with him.
I’ll note here that though I keep referring to him as a preacher, he never specifically says anything about God. You still know, though, that though he’s saying stuff about hope filling a hole in you that he’s talking about Jesus, and the pamphlets and approaching homeless youth is so, so preachery. I think it’s pretty cool the way Joss Whedon got that into the story. He couldn’t offend his audience by being all, “See this, kids? This is why you never trust religious people,” when he was clearly writing this thinking, “See this, kids? This is why you never trust religious people.” This is actually the first time I’ve noticed that street preacher wasn’t actually preaching about anything specific.
At the clinic, Buffy, goes through Ricky’s medical records. It’s always really easy for the Scoobies to do this, and it’s never occurred to me before but…medical records are actually pretty tricky to navigate if you don’t know what you’re looking for. There’s a lot of codes and abbreviations involved.
Anyway, the nurse from before comes in (because she’s apparently there after hours, lurking in the dark) and they have one of my favorite Buffy exchanges:
Nurse: “What are you doing?”
Buffy: “Breaking into your office and going through your private files.”
The nurse says she’s calling the police, and Buffy just reaches up and nonchalantly rips the entire phone off the wall. When the nurse tells Buffy that she’s going to get into trouble, Buffy responds that she’s basically always in trouble, because trouble kind of follows her around. This is not not true, and in admitting this to herself, Buffy is realizing that even if she abandons Sunnydale and her life there, she’s always going to be the Slayer. She demands to know what’s going on with the kids that come to the clinic, and the nurse tells her that she gives the names of the healthiest kids to someone.
And that someone turns out to be Preacher Ken. He’s got Lily all dressed up in rustic robes for “the cleansing”. He promises she’ll see Ricky right after, and Lily, believing she’s going to get baptized or something, goes along with it.
In Sunnydale, the Scoobies are on a vampire hunting mission. Cordelia loudly protests her role as bait, and makes it clear to Xander that she’s not doing this for him, but for Buffy.
Cordelia: “What’s the plan?”
Xander: “The vampire attacks you”
Cordelia: “Then what?”
Xander: “The vampire kills you. We watch, we rejoice.”
On the other side of the hedge, Willow is having to listen to all of this crap.
I’m with you, Will. WTF is Xander’s problem? Cordelia is unable to communicate her feelings toward Xander, so she lashes out by warning him not to misconstrue her presence as her helping him when she’s really helping Buffy. Xander is unable to communicate his feelings toward Cordelia, so he lashes out by wishing she would die. Why does she want to date this guy?
Willow is so distracted by wanting to stake herself, she doesn’t see the vampire creeping up behind her.
At the ministry, Ken shows Lily to a blackened pool, and talks about how she needs to wash away her past and her sin and stuff (sin being the first time anything remotely religious has been mentioned in conjunction to this whole thing). Buffy is outside the ministry, trying to talk her way past some guys at the door.
Buffy: “You know, I just, I looked up and I looked in the mirror and I thought, ‘Hey, what’s with all the sin?’ I need to change. I’m dirty. I’m-I’m bad with the sex and the envy and that, that loud music us kids listen to nowadays… Oh, I just suck at undercover. Where’s Ken?”
Then she bashes their door in and storms the place.
So, wait a second. Ken? Wasn’t his name Ken on Big Love, too? But now that I think about it, he looks like he could be a Ken. Or a Dan. Or a Kevin. Really, any name would work on this guy. He has a very generic face.
Lily starts to put her hand in the oily pool, because even though she knows about monsters and shit, she doesn’t see the harm in getting into a weird inky pool in a creepy ministry backroom. Buffy kicks in the door and demands to know how Ken makes the kids so old. Just then, something grabs Lily’s hand and jerks her into the pool. Buffy and Ken tussle, and they both fall through the pool, landing on the hard cement floor of a warehouse. Ken starts shouting about his face, but he’s not injured. He’s just pissed he’ll have to glue it back on:
I got super excited at this point, because I was like, “Wait, is that the same kind of demon as Kathy the roommate from ‘Living conditions’?” But the only thing they really have in common is the face ripping off thing. They both have weird, raw-looking faces underneath, but Kathy’s looks like it’s a lot more sore. I should have known better than to think there was a connection; demon races rarely appear more than once on this show, unless the demon is a recurring character, like Anya or Clem.
Ken shouts for the guards to pursue Buffy and Lily, who stumble into what looks like the set of a late 80’s, early 90’s music video, because there are chains and foundries and sparks flying around and a lone spotlight scanning the scene. Ken warns Buffy and Lily that they’ll never leave. But that’s not strictly true, is it, Ken? Because we already saw that Ricky got out, albeit with a craving for drain cleaner.
Back in Sunnydale, Cordelia and Xander are still arguing over who doesn’t love who, when Willow is attacked by the vampire meant for Cordelia. Both Xander and Oz run in to help, but it’s Xander who’s ultimately grabbed by the vamp. Cordelia rushes to Xander’s defense, knocking over both him and the vampire and driving the vampire onto Xander’s stake. Cordelia and Xander start making out with the bits of dead vampire still between them.
Buffy wakes up in a cage, where Lily immediately launches into a speech about how she always knew she was going to end up in hell. Let a girl get some coffee first, Jesus, Lily. Ken appears and tells Lily that it took Ricky years to forget her. Basically, the realm they’re in isn’t synched up with normal time, and while a day might go by in the in the mortal world, it’s been a hundred years in demonland. Ken tells the girls that basically, nobody is even going to wonder where they are before they’ve already served their entire lives in demon prison.
Buffy and Lily are herded into a group of humans, and a demon guard tells them they’re no one. Then he asks one of them who they are, and when they respond with a name, he hits them. After that, everyone answers that they’re “no one.” So, that explains all the old people chanting that on the street before. The demon guard asks Buffy who she is, and she says:
Buffy: “I’m Buffy. The vampire slayer. And you are?”
Then an ass-kicking commences.
Buffy tells the group of humans to follow her, and instructs Lily to take the prisoners up to the portal as quick as she can. An alarm goes off, and Buffy leads guards on a chase through the foundry.
You know what I really wish we could have learned in this episode? What product, exactly, are the demons making? What if it’s something totally ubiquitous in demon world? Nothing important, nothing magical or rare, just something like iPods or DVD players or something, and cruelly enslaving human children is just an accepted part of the process of delivering these goods to consumers? Wouldn’t that be unthinkably horrible?
Oh, Wait. Shit.
As Buffy busts her way through guard after guard, a frustrated Ken laments that humans don’t fight back, and that’s why everything was going so well. I assume Ken is up for a big promotion or something, because he walks in with Lily. He has a knife to her throat, so Buffy obviously has to stop what she’s doing rather than risk human casualties. While Ken monologues about how if anyone of them fights back, they’ll all die, Lily decides she’s had e-fucking-nough and shoves Ken off the platform they’re standing on. Buffy and the others race to a portcullis type thing. Buffy struggles to hold it while the others run under, but before she can get through, cracked-headed Ken runs at her. He only succeeds in pushing her through the gate. He doesn’t quite make it through all the way himself:
That is probably the only thing that has ever actually made me recoil in horror in this show. Just the thought of it. It’s so gross. You know that went right through the bone.
Buffy makes a joke about Ghandi that isn’t her best and bashes Ken’s skull in with a club. Lily pulls Buffy out of the hole and wonders aloud what they should do about it, when it suddenly bricks over like a Tetris “game over” screen. So it’s a good thing everyone got out in time.
At Buffy’s apartment, Buffy tells Lily that the rent is paid for three weeks, and Buffy got Lily a job at the diner. Lily says she’s not great at taking care of herself, and asks Buffy if she can be Anne now. Sure. Why not. It’ll tide you over until you join your next cult, Lily.
At the Summers residence, Joyce is fixing the dishwasher when there’s a knock on the door. When she opens it, she finds Buffy standing there, and they hug wordlessly.
Someone on IMDB.com described this episode as being filmed “like a big-budget mini-movie”, and honestly, it is. The fight sequence in the foundry alone must have cost at least a quarter of the production budget for the season. It’s just fantastic. And while it’s not one of my favorites (I can’t stand for one of the core cast to be “away” for an episode in most television shows, but this one, especially. Don’t even approach me about season seven and Willow being in freaking England for two whole episodes), I can appreciate the way it’s structured.
All in all, this is a pretty solid episode, and reinforces for the returning viewer that Buffy isn’t the Slayer just because of a mystical calling, but because she’s genuinely driven to help people, no matter how much she wants to deny that.