Say what you will about S4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I love the credits. The clips seem extra-delicious, perhaps especially the ones of Giles. The suit! The chainsaw! It’s a small thing, but this montage makes me happy. I’m just sayin’.
“Harsh Light of Day” takes us back to the Bronze. You’d think a bunch of college kids would be too cool for their old high school hangout, but Dingoes Ate My Baby have a gig there, which gives everyone a legitimate excuse except maybe Parker. He’s there too, not quite out on a date with Buffy but date-adjacent. He makes the highly chivalrous offer to walk her home and she pretends she needs an escort.
And speaking of the good old days, as the band is packing its gear, Harmony turns up. She’s a vampire now, and she catches Willow off-guard, getting close enough to actually take a bite out of her. Oz helps fight her off. “Nyah nyah, hide behind your boyfriend!” is Harmony’s pouty and slightly weird reaction. She follows up with the info that her boyfriend’s going to come and get ’em—the vamp’s equivalent of my dad can beat up your dad, I guess—before she huffs off.
Parker, meanwhile, is showing Buffy that he comes fully loaded with teh angsty sensitive. He wants to know if she has hobbies, ponders her neck scar, and finally tells her his dad died—we feel terrible for him, don’t we?—and so he’s living for now. “Now,” in this case, being sleazy code for “lots of sex with as many young women as I can catch.” He follows this up with an invite to a party. Buffy accepts.
Anya has mating on the brain, too. She has returned to Sunnydale, decked out in a voluminous brunette wig that only lasts a week, to demand that Xander tell her where their relationship is going. Since the last he saw of her, Anya was fleeing the Mayor in terror, this catches Xander off-guard. It probably doesn’t help that the “we have to talk” inquisition begins in the presence of Giles. At least she didn’t say “orgasm friend.” Yet.
But by now we’re deep into plot: Harmony’s boyfriend turns out to be Spike! Three cheers! And WillOz have caught up with Buffy and let her know about the attack.
Spike and Harmony have a thoroughly icky relationship. Like Parker, he’s in it for the sex; being Spike, though, he doesn’t bother to hide his contempt for her the rest of the time. I can’t help thinking he’s already falling for Buffy. He’s still wanting to bag a third Slayer—that seems obvious enough later in the episode—but Harmony’s little, blonde and arguably cute. She doesn’t have much else to recommend her except a superficial resemblance to Buffy and the fact that she’s willing to put up with him.
The four of them—Buffy and Parker, Spike and Harmony—collide at the party. It’s like a toxic spontaneous double date. There’s some wonderful taunting back and forth between Spike and Buffy about who’s dating whom. It all comes off like angry ex-partner banter, and one can hardly blame Parker for wondering if the two of them were together at some point. Before long the vampires bail, and to Spike’s chagrin, Harmony spills that they’re after the Gem of Amara.
This, sadly, doesn’t keep Buffy from going back to Parker and ending up in bed with him, which might be a pretty fine thing to do if she wasn’t completely mistaken about his intentions. The scene is set up to contrast with the empty, distasteful Spike/Harmony sex and to the moves Anya is, simultaneously, putting on Xander.
Ah, Anya. She’s so adorable in her Spock-like you humans and your crazy sex appeal way. She’s trying the show up naked and be totally honest approach to getting some: “It’s ridiculous to have these interlocking bodies and not interlock.”
(Actually, Anya’s lying, too—to herself—if she thinks that making love to Xander will sever her emotional ties to him.) But part A of the plan works: he notes that she’s got more romance in her soul than Faith on a tear and duly jumps in.
Next morning, Buffy wakes up alone and has an uneasy moment. Has Parker lost his soul too? Is he even now plotting the death of everyone she knows? Or did he just need coffee? The latter, it turns out—he comes back, and all seems well.
“I’ll call you,” he says. Yeah, right.
Buffy goes back to the dorm and finds Giles and Willow in research mode, chasing down the Gem of Amara clue. Initially, the thing was supposed to be a myth. Now, maybe, it’s looking like it might exist, which is problematic since it’ll make a vampire immortal... wait, immortaller? Impervious to sunlight and stakes, anyway, and presumably fire and holy water too. What about rocket launchers?
The girls find time for a bit of a squee over the Parker hook-up. The worm has already turned, though: Parker has embarked on an aggressive and distracting-to-Buffy campaign of not making that phone call.
While the Slayer’s head is full of Boy Trouble, Spike breaks into a tomb full of treasure. Harmony finds the one true ring, and we get a live demonstration of the Gem of Amara’s power when he tries and fails to dust her. He also collapses part of a highway, which makes his base of operations somewhat easy for the Scoobies to find. They arrive to find Harmony still down in the tunnels, having a good cry over having fallen for an uncaring bastard.
And, speaking of, Buffy runs Parker to ground and sees he’s working on his next freshman conquest. He’s gleefully blowing her off when Spike shows up, in full daylight, and bops her in the face. They fight, he’s foolish enough to bring up Angel, and soon enough she gets the ring. Spike is forced to flee or go up in flames.
Spike’s return to Sunnydale in “Harsh Light of Day” is such a good development. He’s largely his bad-ass self here—bent on mayhem and revenge, but not to the exclusion of having a little fun. This is the Spike of “School Hard,” the one who couldn’t quite wait until the vampire holy day to go after Buffy. Maybe he’s not quite as funny as the so-drunk, Dru-lamenting Spike of “Lovers Walk,” but he’s not pathetic. He’s a creditable threat, and James Marsters—as always—brings a welcome sizzle to the story.
As the episode wraps up, Buffy decides, not surprisingly, to give the ring to Angel. Willow tells Xander not to make a fuss and Oz offers to be the delivery wolf. All that remains is the emotional fallout from all that interlocking. Buffy and Willow discuss Parker’s general state of poopheadedness, while Harmony wanders, lost, and eventually drifts to L.A. for a short appearance on Angel. Anya finds that a taste of Xander was no damned cure for all her inconvenient lusty feelings.
So, really, everyone’s sad but Willow. Good thing she’s found tru luv 4evs, huh?
Next week: a wee tiny taste of fear.
A.M. Dellamonica has two novelettes 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.