“Smashed,” by Drew Z. Greenberg
After what feels like the longest “previously on BtVS” in the history of Sunnydale, we find Buffy interrupting a garden-variety mugging. Spike jumps in, eager to help. He means to prove manliness, devotion, willingness to do the right thing and possibly even the American Way, but instead what he (conveniently) proves is that his chip still works, because he gets an agonizing jolt when he punches one of the muggers.
I’ve asked before, I think, but how does the chip know when he doesn’t?
After the pain recedes, he tries to talk Buffy into more smooching. It turns out he enjoyed it. When she turns him down, he calls her a tease. She storms away in a mature fashion.
Back at home, Willow is missing Tara, so much so that she’s nattering at Amy the rat about her heartbreak. Eventually she realizes it’s her turn to give. “I swear if I figure out how to turn you back…” she says. Then it occurs to her that she can do just that. Amy, restored to naked girlish goodness, rewards us all with an eardrum-puncturing shriek.
Elsewhere in town, a certain Trio of wannabe evil villains are playing master thief at the Sunnydale Museum. Andrew lowers himself to the museum floor with crazy thief wires in a bid to prove he’s the coolest of the three. Ultimately, though, Warren is still the alpha male.
They grab a diamond the size of a ping pong ball, freeze-ray poor Rusty the security guard—and, as a bonus, freeze Jonathan’s arm too—before bailing through the front door.
At the Summers home, things are less Mission Impossible and more Carrie. Fixing Amy comes at a cost: not only is she upset and in need of clothes, but she’s freaking out, slamming windows and pulling curtains using telekinesis. Everything feels weird, as though—she says—she was in that rat cage for weeks. Willow looks guilty when she hears this.
(Hey, Willow, this part is not your responsibility! Many other things are totally your fault, but most of those will come later.)
Naturally, if not exactly gently, she tells Amy the truth.
In a continuing light burst of grown-up good sense, Buffy decides she’s ready to confide in someone. As almost always happens to her in these rare moments, it occurs just when Willow’s got her hands full. It’s a TV trope, of course, hardly unique to this show, but this time the bad timing is beyond unfortunate—it’s tragic. Like all of us, our Slayer needs to talk about her overwhelming compulsion to kiss Spike.
I think it’s no stretch to say that if she’d had a chance to confide at this point, the whole season could have played out differently. She and Willow are desperate for a chance to depend on each other, to relate as flawed, powerful, loving friends—to care, share and then work together to resist temptation. But before Buffy can get to the beefcakey heart of her problem, Amy interrupts. Wow, Amy’s human again! And so the moment’s lost.
Willow, it turns out, is pleased with herself, not least because Amy—freaked out or no—is so very pro-magic.
Instead of disclosing the state of the Spuffy, Buffy goes back to work. She hears on the news about Rusty the human popsicle and goes to the museum to investigate. And guess who’s there? Why, it’s Spike! He always knows where to find her.
She tries, once again, to convince him that there will be no more smoochies. “When I kissed you, you know I was thinking about Giles?”
Even Spike agrees that the only appropriate reply to this is: ewwww!
But hey, that’s not what she meant.
Spike tries to tell her that he can change. Buffy replies that he’s an evil disgusting thing. They come to blows, and the chip doesn’t kick in.
At first, Spike’s all Oh Happy Day! because he thinks he’s been unmuzzled. He goes out to savor his first warm meal in over a season. It’s harder than he thinks to bring himself to bite the woman he targets and terrorizes. But he is, in some ways, an evil disgusting homicidal thing. He gets past it.
And… ouch! No, Spike, you’re not fixed.What gives?
We’re all wondering that.
Elsewhere, Tara and Dawn are out having a movie date and a quasi mother-daughter chat about the WillTara separation. Dawn essentially claims Willow is using less magic, as part of a soft sell on Tara coming back home. That takes us handily to the Magic Box, where Willow is emphatically not using less magic. In fact, Buffy and Xander are disconcerted and uncomfortable when she appears to hoover most of the Internet into her brain while looking for info on the stolen diamond.
But yay Anya, because of course she bulldozes right in with a little truth-telling: “Tara left and you’re using too much magic and nobody will say so but me.”
I think that wins the prize for cutest moment in the episode.
Naturally, Willow breezes. This is becoming her go-to tactic when challenged on the magic thing: deflecting their concern and telling them it’s all okay.
Back in the lair, the Trio is contemplating their loot when Spike shows up, takes a Boba Fett action figure hostage, and asks Warren for info on his chip. This makes our villainous three look especially dumb and inept, but hey—they’re decoy villains. Why dignify them with a morsel of backbone or commonsense?
Be that as it may, Warren fires up his wacky brain scanner and tells Spike that the chip is just fine. Which means, as far as Spike’s concerned, something’s wrong with Buffy. This is significant: he has come to think that the chip being in working order means there’s nothing wrong with him. Evil or not, he has a certain sense of attachment to his leash.
By now, Amy has begun to feel better. She manipulates Willow into going out partying; they head off to the Bronze to conjure up some sexy bar fun.
And, speaking of manipulation, Dawn’s not above bringing Tara home to her empty house and then using guilt to make her stay, and possibly see Willow. She’s an experienced child of divorce, Tara. She can probably run circles around you on this.
Willow and Amy indulge in being bad, playing pool with telekinesis. A couple of guys ask Amy to dance. Later, when they get obnoxious and homophobic, the witches turn them into cage dancers.
At the Scooby meeting, Buffy and XandAnya are failing to figure out who stole the diamond and froze Rusty. They note the overall pattern of Trio crimes, and segue into talking about Willow and her not so little magic habit. Anya says buttoned down responsible types are the ones who go craziest when they finally stop playing by society’s rules.
This leads nicely into Spike phoning his favorite buttoned-down responsible heroine type. He summons Buffy, confronts her, hits her, and tells her she came back from the dead “wrong.”
Whereupon the two of them begin to sincerely beat the crap out of each other.
This is distasteful. It’s also, one could argue, something of a necessary development. If Spike cannot hurt Buffy every bit as badly as she can hurt him, their relationship is exceedingly unequal. (Not that this power imbalance ever stops male superheroes.)
What’s more—and as many of you have noted—Buffy seems to need to believe that she too is something of an evil disgusting thing if she’s going to finally break down and give the Spuffites what they’re looking for—which, I believe, may be hot, violent, steamy vampy sex with true love sprinkles. Tell me if I’m wrong.
Spike’s chip is thus serving as an impartial sort of Supreme Court, ruling that Buffy is not quite human anymore and thereby freeing her from feeling bound to all those inconvenient human taboos about monster-boinking.
She’s not the only one getting on with being naughty. Amy and Willow are, by now, zapping the whole Bronze. They’re on a magical rampage! If they had bumpy heads or snaggly teeth, the Scooby gang would be mounting up an assault on them even now.
But instead the Bronze has to wait until they’re bored and tired, because Giles is gone, Xander doesn’t know what’s up, and Spuffy are tearing each other apart, along with an abandoned house and many of their favorite garments.
Could Spike and Buffy have gotten together if his chip hadn’t gotten selective? Would it have been too unfair to Spike somehow, or too dangerous? Would it simply feel like too much suffering was being heaped upon him? He is, after all, a mass murderer. Is there such a thing as too much?
Speak up, Spike fans. I know you’re out there. Next: Wrecked!
A.M. Dellamonica has tons of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second Gale, story too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)