Oct 15 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Prelude to Spuffy

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

Teevee relationships are about as enduring as mayflies, and—as I mentioned not long ago—sometimes on even the best-written shows, the thing that causes a break-up can be pretty darned spurious. But one of the things Buffy the Vampire Slayer always did well was the post-romance aftermath. The characters of the Buffyverse don’t get over their failed love affairs quickly. They don’t all mourn the same way, and when they do it’s seldom pretty. We get everything from Buffy’s summer-long retreat to waitressing in L.A., after Angel’s death, to Spike’s drunken rampage over Drusilla. Now, in “Something Blue,” we get our first glimpse into Willow’s total inability to deal with loss and heartbreak.

The episode begins with her holding a vigil in Oz’s old room, indulging the idea that he might come back and just trying to hang onto the denial.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

With her friends, she’s putting on the brave face, even making time for their concerns. When Riley invites Buffy out on a picnic, for example, Willow musters up the bestest of her best friend skillz, listening, supporting, eliciting important information about how Buffy likes Riley’s arms. (He likes that she’s unpredictable. Hasn’t he hit the mother lode?) Our Slayer does have reservations about the boy: he’s not evil and isn’t causing her pain. What’s to like about that? She isn’t sure she can deal.

Play and pain management both have to wait until after work, though: off they go to deal with Spike, who has less to tell about the Initiative than previously advertised. Willow suggests a truth spell and says she’ll do a components run. She’s got Buffy and Giles fooled. They’re all, “Whew, she’s better!”

It’s Spike who has to call horsepucky on that idea; he points out she’s hanging by a thread.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

It’s true. Willow heads back to Chez Oz for another hit of maybe, one day. She finds his stuff gone, and loses it completely. She has a big cry, mopes all over Buffy’s picnic, attempts getting drunk at the Bronze, and finally realizes—in that habitual way she’s already developing—that magic must hold the answer!

And so, instead of doing a truth spell on Spike, Willow tackles an enchantment that, on paper, looks like it’ll do her will. According to the fine print, though, it only grants angry wishes. It doesn’t work on her broken heart, but when Giles turns up looking for motherwort and assistance, and tells her not to toy with the magics, she blinds him without so much as noticing what she’s done.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

Confused but determined, Giles attempts the spell himself. Because of his failing vision, he can’t read it. He also inadvertently frees Spike

Willow, meanwhile, has gotten fed up with trying to act like she’s bearing up. She’s on a ranty, whiny tear. Her self-pity is at once utterly justified and—as such emotions tend to be—completely off-putting to her friends. She fixes Amy without realizing it, and then turns her back into a rat again. A random, impulsive complaint helps Buffy find Spike in mere seconds. She lashes out at Xander, telling him he’s a demon magnet and thereby making him into one. Then, even as Buffy and Spike yell at each other in the living room at Chez Giles, she utters the immortal phrase: “Why doesn’t she just go marry him?”

Poor Giles. His eyes are failing, but not fast enough for him to miss Spike’s proposal, bended knee and all. Not to mention Buffy’s enthusiastic, squeeful, Yes!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

It’s obvious even to a newly blinded man that there’s bad magic on the loose. Spike recommends a general reversal spell and a run to the magic shop. Buffy goes, but gets distracted by wedding dresses. That, unfortunately, is when she runs into Riley. She tells him all about her big plans for her special day and gets him all kinds of confused and upset. It’s a bad stroke of luck... except for the part where Riley doesn’t seem to know that the guy he’s been calling Hostile 17, lo these couple of weeks, is going by the same moniker as Buffy’s “totally old” fiance.

(Imagine how it might have played out if Riley had known Buffy’s Spike was the same entity as Mad Scientist Maggie’s favorite chip-implant subject. You’d have the Initiative tracking Buffy to the townhouse. There’d be a threat of Spike maybe getting dusted in a fit of super-soldier jealous rage. We’d see Xander and Anya leading a trail of demons right into the military dragnet... the potential mess boggles the mind!)

But there’s nobody home at Chez Giles but the Scoobies: Xander and Anya find blind Giles there, drinking hard and trying to ignore Spuffy in a liplock. Xander asks to be blind, too. Then he flashes back to Willow’s comment. Thus prodded, Giles remembers her saying he can’t see and mentioning a spell attempt. Now they know who’s to blame!

But they aren’t the only ones. Remember D’Hoffryn? He’s the demon who recruited Anya and it’s clear to him that Willow would make an awesome replacement. (Which she would!) He carts her off to some nether realm where her friends can’t phone her, even if she had a cell phone, which she—and all of them—ought. It’s a quick interview. He offers her power, immortality and mayhem. She’s not interested. He mentions the pain and suffering she’s caused her friends.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

Instead of embracing vengeance, at least this time, Willow gets herself returned to the crypt where her friends are losing a battle against all the demons Xander has attracted. She cancels her spell, dispersing their opponents and leaving Buffy and Spike to find each other joined at the lips.

They are, needless to say, horrified. How could such a thing happen? At least they can reassure themselves they will never kiss again.

In the end, by way of apology, Willow bakes cookies. Lots of cookies. Does she learn her lesson about turning to magic when she’s challenged? Oh, no. Does her capacity for nasty vengeance and deep, globally destructive mourning behavior diminish? No again. Redemption with Willow is all about the sugar high. But nobody knows that yet. Right now they’ve got chocolate chips and all’s right with the world.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Something Blue

And there is an upside to it all: Buffy decides to get over the bad boy thing. Unfortunately, she’s alienated the good boy. The only thing she can think of to get the Riley romance back on track is to tell him she was kidding.

Fortunately, Riley’s a credulous guy. You might say he wants to believe.

Next: Shhhhh!

A.M. Dellamonicahas two novelettes up here on 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.

In October, watch for her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novelIndigo Springsand its sequel,Blue Magic.

1. wiredog
Right now they’ve got chocolate chips and all’s right with the world.

Gotta admit, chocolate chip cookies atone for many mistakes.
Cassandra Cookson
2. cass
Those of us following the Buffy rewatch might be interested in Alyssa Rosenberg's very insightful post over at ThinkProgress concerning misogyny as explored through Buffy. She references the season 4 episode, "Superstar" as well as the Trio through seasons 6-7. It is well worth a read for Buffy fans.

4. Gardner Dozois
Again, one of the funniest episodes of the entire series. "Lips of Spike!"

The season darkens dramatically toward the end, but up until about the halfway point, it may have been the longest sustained sequence of good comic episodes in the entire series. The exchanges between the bewitched Buffy and Spike were comic gold, as were Giles's reactions to them, as were the scenes of Spike held captive in the bathtub. It's also funny and highly reveiling that Buffy wants "The Wind Beneath my Wings" as her song for the wedding dance--in many ways, she never does get over being the Valley Girl teenage cheerleader that she was before Destiny struck.

I sometimes regret that they lost that comic tone as the series became darker and grimmer, and the charcters more sunk into moroseness and angst.

Yes, a good foreshadowing here of both the Evil Willow arc and the Buffy/Spike "romance" (I'm not sure you could ever really call it a romance--Buffy and Spike falling into lust for each other, anyway).
john mullen
5. johntheirishmongol
The whole Buffy/Spike engagement was soooooo cute. The two of them were the perfect couple, all excited and with all the little pet names, and you knew it wasn't going to last. But it was pretty funny.

The Amy flash was pretty clever too. Willow is now showing real magic power and she doesn't even realize what she is doing. So maybe with Oz gone, she tapped into new resources she didn't realize that she had. And as atonement, chocolate chip cookies certainly work for me!
6. Gardner Dozois
"I almost destroyed the world--have TWO chocolate chip cookies!"
Jack Flynn
7. JackofMidworld
Yeah, the split second shot of Amy was a great touch.
Jason Parker
8. tarbis
This episode had some fun, but it might have damaged the show by making magic too powerful. Before this the most powerful magic effect Willow had done without gear was the seeking spell that went wrong in "Fear Itself" and the most powerful done without equipment or a coven was Amy turning herself into a rat. Now that our resisdent caster can use common materials to create a spell that lets her warp reality without noticing the limits are off. Which makes the writers have to shift from finding ways to make magic look special and cool to coming up with ways to avoid having magic solve all plots. To be fair the writers do a decent job of it most of the time for the rest of Season Four and a lot of Season Five, but their methods for dealing with the issue in Six and Seven come off as clumsy.

If the spell in this episode had required something rare (even an astrological handwave) they could have sidestepped the problem. Because up to that point most magic was time consuming, required something valuable, wasn't very powerful (one target, limited duration, limited effect, etc.), or multiple of the above.
9. Gardner Dozois
They may have felt they had to start ramping up the effectivity of magic if they were going to make it credible that Evil Willow was going to be able to destroy the world later on--IF you believe that they'd even thought of that arc yet at this point. People tend to give Whedon credit for plotting out and setting up every twist years in advance, but if BUFFY was like other TV shows, lots of stuff, even major plot-twists and arcs, were probably thought up in the writer's room the week before the episode aired. I remain convinced that they hadn't dreamed up Dawn at this point, for instance, which is why she isn't around the Thanksgiving table, even though the clear intention was to gather Buffy's "real" family (interestingly, including Spike) together in one place.

Of course, the problem with the Evil Willow arc is that I immediately think that if it's THIS easy for a powerful witch to destroy the world, surely some witch or wizard would have already done it years if not centuries ago. Willow certainly can't be the only magic user ever to suffer the tragic loss of a loved one and to be really pissed off by it.
Emma Rosloff
10. emmarosloff
Willow's not totally incapable, not yet. Right now, she's just prone to taking the easiest way out. She's going through the stages of grief, here, because Oz left rather suddenly after completely (if inadvertently) betraying her trust and sleeping with another woman, who in turn nearly killed her.

That's a lot for anyone to deal with. Even harder -- Oz could come back at any time. He didn't tell her to wait for him, but the implication is there because he didn't say that they were finished either. I think her denial is very candid and I love the moments with her alone, just sitting in it. It's true though that her anger manifests as whining (to the point of pigheadedness). And her tendency to resort to magic does increase as time wears on, to the point where she doesn't think twice about it, even when it affects the people she loves (i.e. Tara in "Once More With Feeling").

I have to agree with tarbis and Gardner that I had trouble with their portrayal of magic from this point on. I had the exact same thought as Gardner (when Willow tried to destroy the world and really anytime she cast a spell this powerful). Surely in all the world and all the time elapsed, there have been dozens if not hundreds of powerful witches capable of similar feats. Why then hasn't the world been destroyed, several times over? But this argument could be made in a lot of instances in shows like this. Statistically speaking, they should all have died in the field, probably more than once, and at least one of those apocalypses quite likely should've happened.

(Although I have to say I love the moment when Buffy overts some minor apocalypse and Riley's dumbfounded to learn that it's not her first: "I guess I thought this was a big week for you." At least they can be self-aware.)

I can overlook a lot, but like with the Gem of Amara, something so powerful shouldn't be so easy (to create or destroy), particularly when it entails warping the fabric of reality. I'm not saying I'm against Willow having that much power, but if anything it would've had a greater impact if they'd taken the time to make it more convincing.

Still, though, the spell provided us with some comic gold and it's true that there's less and less of it in the seasons to come. The Buffy and Spike engagement was just priceless. I love how over the top they are with it. They kind of have to be, given their actual lives/indentities and how little they have to do with the real, mundane world. And of course, Giles gets it right away. I love that he literally isn't fooled, even for a moment.

@Gardner: I think Willow's arc was plotted pretty early on. My boyfriend tells me that while he was watching it on TV, his mother was able to predict that she'd go dark (and that she'd have an epic showdown with Buffy) by the end of season two. His mother's a screenwriting, but still -- it was just the best storytelling choice and I think she saw that early on. There are so many hints leading up to it. Episodes like this are big ones, but there are smaller ones, too, like in "Fear Itself" when she snaps at Buffy: "I'm not your sidekick!"

When I look at Willow's arc vs. Spike's, I can see the difference. One was foreshadowed, which is great because there's satisfaction in having seen it coming, or even better -- shock in realizing you should've seen it coming. The other is completely a product of circumstance -- you didn't see it coming at all, but there's satisfaction in how surprisingly true it feels to the character and the story.
Constance Sublette
11. Zorra
If I may say so, the real magic happens in the course of the writing itself, not in the outline.

Which is why I, like Gardner, am certain Whedon didn't plan any of this. It emerged out of that incredible cooperative writers room for Buffy. They didn't know either, until they sat down and wrestled with this episode at hand, or, at most, perhaps the next 2 or at most 3 episodes to come. Somehow this series was fortunate enough to have matched the perfect material with these writers who were perfect to wrestle with it.

That the entire writing team wasn't swapped out for every season worked for the betterment of Buffy, in my opinion anyway. Usually after a season or so, the producers tend to let the old writers go and bring in new ones to keep things fresh. And that's often how needs to happen. But not in this series.

Love, C.
12. Gardner Dozois
Actually, in terms of being able to actually DESTROY the entire Earth, only two other menaces that Buffy faced were in the same league as Willow--the demon that Angel wanted to have swallow the whole world down to Hell, and Glory, who was going to open the interdimensional gateways, although even there whether the whole Earth would have ultimately been destroyed is problematical. Adam's plan is silly, with no chance of succeeding, and The Master's plan, as we see it work out in the Alternate timeline, was more or less to take over Sunnydale; elsewhere, in Cinncinati, say, they don't even know what's going on. The Mayor's plan was to become a big snake and eat everybody in the immediate area. None of these plans, except the sucking demon one and maybe Glory's, would have destroyed the entire Earth--that's what Willow was going for, though. I still think if it could be done that easily, somebody would have done it by now.

My guess is that they did loosely plan out at least season-wide arcs, but that many of the plot-twists and developments thereafter were worked out on the fly in the writer's room. I doubt they plotted out season arcs years ahead of time, except perhaps in the loosest of senses.

One of the things I found dissapointing about the Dark Willow arc was that she DIDN'T end up having an epic showdown with Buffy, who she dismissed almost contemptuously, sending her off to battle cannon-fodder monsters instead, and Buffy DIDN'T figure out a way to defeat her--which is really the way it should have been.
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
The point about magic is well-taken, but I always had the impression that we're supposed to buy that, due to midichlorians or whatever, Willow is exceptionally talented. That in terms of personal aptitude and because of the path she takes in seeking power, she develops world-shattering abilities that other witches don't have.

I suppose the evidence I have for this is retroactive, because it's essentially the events of "Chosen." She gets her mitts on the magic blade and she changes the essential and ancient rules of the Slayerverse. To me, that says that even though she was never labelled a chosen anything, Willow was as much a girl with a destiny as her BFF.

Or does that just not fly with you all?
14. Dianthus
Reading these essays reminds me why I loved this show so much. I have to take issue with one thing tho'. Willow's spell isn't about granting angry wishes. It can only work with what's already there. Giles doesn't have perfect vision, so the spell works to blind him. Xander's dating history is studded with demon-ish women (preying mantis lady, Inca mummy girl, Anya), so he's a demon magnet. Most importantly, there was an attraction between Buffy and Spike, so they got engaged.

It's interesting, too, that Spike gets a cookie at the end of this episode. Sure, Willow shoves it in his mouth just to shut him up, but he gets one all the same. I and other Spuffy fans found solace in this at the end of the series, after Buffy's cookie dough speech to Angel. The idea that Spike might someday enjoy Buffy's 'cookies' helped to ease the sting of betrayal with the Bangel kiss.
Jason Parker
15. tarbis
The closest Willow came to being exceptional was the never addressed moment at the end of Season 2 where she acted possessed. That kind of got dropped with the events of Season 3.

Remember in Season 6 they retconned magic into an attribute of people and things, i.e. this rock contains x amount of magic. Then they powered up Willow to make her a reasonable antagonist by draining the magic out of the books. She got a second power up by stealing more magic from Super-Ripper. There was no destiny in those acts, only theft. Until then Willow was operating at Amy's power level and for all the stupid stuff they let Amy do in Season 6 she was never a global threat. Season 7 was spent claiming that they couldn't get the magic back out of Willow while she brooded more than Angel on his angstiest day.

Of course everything in last few episodes is iffy just due to the number of things the writers were pulling out of their basest orifice. (Pagans in California that pre-dated the Chumash, built pryamids, and lived for thousands of years.) I'll save my rant about the mass triggering of the demon essence for when we get there.
16. Gardner Dozois
I think that we're supposed to think that Willow is a threat not only because she has exceptionally strong magical abilities (yes, she steals the magic out of the books, but she CAN, because of her natural talent; if it was easy to do, certainly other grieving witches would have done it hundreds of years ago), but because she hasn't received any TRAINING or guidance in the use of those abilities. Both Tara and Giles touch on this. Ordinarially, she would have been a member of a coven who would have taught her about the proper way to use magic as she matured. Willow was self-taught, though, so never had any of those prohibitions or inhibitions to hold her back or tell her what she should or shouldn't do.
17. NullNix
As an aside, note who *doesn't* take a chocolate chip cookie...
19. NullNix
Giles. The one who keeps telling her to be careful; the one who is most disappointed with her bringing Buffy back, in s6. (The one who she lashes back at verbally, in perhaps the first sign that she really is turning dark.)

(This is not my observation, but due to Mike Marinaro, whose Critically Touched Buffy reviews are full of wonderful observations.)

re your earlier comment 9, I might note that a rather better reason for Dawn not being around the Thanksgiving table at this point was that she didn't *exist* until season 5, and a person who doesn't exist yet is unlikely to sit down with friends for a Thanksgiving dinner. Dawn *never* appears before season 5 (at the end of an episode with such a hallucinatory air that I am intermittently convinced that the whole episode is simulated memory: note that it repeats, inverted, a phrase heard in dream form in the previous episode, _Restless_). The most you get of Dawn before that is offhand references to her in Slayer visions (known to be prophetic). The first unambiguous such reference is only a couple of months from now, in _This Year's Girl_, so it is clear that if they hadn't thought of Dawn, they were about to. An ambiguous reference exists at the end of _Graduation Day, Part 2_, but it is possible that this was retconned into referring to Dawn at a later date.

Dawn cannot possibly be around that table in s4, any more than she was around at any point in s1--s4: the monks didn't inject her into the past, they 'only' rewrote everyone's memories, and this series is not a replaying of memory, it's a depiction of what 'actually' happened, so is sans Dawn. Later, in s5 and beyond, those memories may well say that she was there -- but nobody ever mentions this scene, so we will never know.

(It is very strongly suggested that in the post-Dawn memories, Joyce knew Buffy was the Slayer long before the end of season 2. It's mildly diverting to consider just how different parts of the past might have become...)
20. Dianthus
I wasn't really happy with the idea (presented in s6) that Willow was 'addicted' to magic, but addiction is clearly one of Whedon's issues.
Giles had plenty of time to take Willow under his wing, magically speaking, and knew very well how dangerous magic can be, but chose a Just Say No approach instead. We all know how well that works.
Alyx Dellamonica
21. AMDellamonica
It's true, and a great point--they did change the rules on what magic is and does several times over the course of the series.

I like the core observation that if Willow had been properly trained, she might not have gone bad. It seems to fit well with the benign neglect her mother demonstrates that others overlook her too. Hey, she's a genius, she'll be fine!

The addiction thing bugged the hell out of me all the way through, as it did many of you.
22. Dianthus
Let me start out by saying that I really liked Anya. Maybe not at first, but she really grew on me. The thing is, Anya was a demon for over a thousand years. She caused more death, destruction, and collateral damage than Spike and Angel combined. Maybe even the Fanged Four as a whole.
As often as not we saw wishes come back to bite the wishers. But somehow, Spike and Angel were presented as the worse offenders. A lot of folks say it's b/c Anya's a girl, but I think there's more to it than that. I think it's b/c Anya wasn't a vampire (read: addict). How crazy is that? People are still just as dead, lives just as ruined, but, hey, at least she wasn't a drunk.
23. sturmvogel66
I'm watching through the seasons for the first time and I'm really enjoying Alyx's commentary and y'all's comments. I really liked this episode although having to listen to Willow whine was pretty annoying. I especially liked the bit where she clutched Oz's shirt and just mourned, very true to life, I thought, for certain kinds of people. The Buffy/Spike scenes were comedy gold, especially with Giles snarking at them. I really felt for Xander when Willow threw his basement situation in his face (twice!) and that felt true to life as well.

@11 Having watched several shows like Deadwood and The Shield all the way through, and listened to every commentary track, it seems clear that at least sometimes the creators did have at least a rough idea of character/story arcs plotted several seasons in advance (and what about Babylon 5?) and then firmed things up over time, so that little throwaway incidents in early eps can be later used, or not, as foreshadows of things like the Dark Willow arc. I mean none of this stuff that we've discussed which foreshadowed Dark Willow would have mattered if Buffy hadn't been able to switch networks after Season 5 and overtly develop that storyline. We'd probably be speculating what Joss's intentions were for Season 6 and what directions Willow would have gone if that were the case. And half the foreshadowing of Dark Willow that we see now would have gone virtually unnoticed, I'd bet.

@19 Look again, Giles did take a cookie. Willow told him that it was oatmeal and he said that he knew very well that it was chocolate chip and that he wasn't blind anymore (or somesuch).

@20 Why Giles, although he doesn't seem to have been a serious magician, didn't try to teach Willow more remains an annoying mystery. I suspect that Joss and crew wanted to keep the possibilities enabled by misfiring spells in reserve for use as needed.

@22 Maybe they justified Anya's behavior because the people that she wreaked vengeance upon had it coming because they'd spurned the women that Anya "consoled".
Alyx Dellamonica
24. AMDellamonica
Sturmvogel: yes. As a writer with a series, you're never going to close the door to spell misfires.
25. chiMaxx
Everything I've heard and read suggested that, far from the Dark Willow story being unplanned, the original plan was to have had it happen in season 5, that Glory would have been a McGuffin big bad in that season in much the way that Spike was in season 2, and her killing of Willow's love (whether Oz or Tara), rather than just stealing that person's brain, would have led to the unleashing of dark Willow (roughly at the point that Willow goes to attack Glory). But when s4 ended and they started plotting out the season arc for s5 that seemed like too much for one season. It would explain why the end of season 5 sometimes feels like it's got about 3 episodes worth of padding.

That they would devote an episode like this one to Willow playing out in comedy what would be the core of her dharacter's tragic arc laterp--Willow's turning to magic as an easy workaround instead of actually facing her problems and feelings--makes more sense than that this was random.

I definitely get the impressions that some aspects of the overall arc were planned from early on (Angelus arising, Initiative/Adam, dark Willow among them), while other elements (Spike and Anya staying on) were not, and the inital planned arcs were modified around the way evets unfolded both on and off screen.

If there was any doubt of this when watching Buffy, I think it's pretty clear with the very end of Dollhouse, where it's pretty clear he's trying to shoehorn five seasons of story outlies into a four episode bag.
Alyx Dellamonica
26. AMDellamonica
I never made it to the end of Dollhouse, ChiMaxx, but I've seen this in other series. Babylon 5 had some shoe-horning issues in... was it season four? And then they were surprised, as I recall, when they got renewed.
27. joy25
I can't say I agree with those who believe none of Buffy was planned out very far in advance - I don't think the show would work as well on rewatch as it does, and have as much consistency in character development and apparent foreshadowing for future events as it does, if it was literally being made up week-by-week on the fly. I realise that most TV shows are written like that, including some very good ones, but Buffy just doesn't have that feel to me. Buffy and Willow's storylines in particular feel carefully planned out, and I'm pretty sure it's been generally acknowledged by both writers and actors on the show that at least two major events - Joyce's death and Dark Willow - were planned and discussed a season or two in advance of their actual transmission. As another commenter mentioned, it's often been said that Dark Willow was originally intended for Season 5 but that it was ultimately decided not to include it in that season - this may not be true, but I think it makes a great deal of sense when you consider the fact that Season 5 ended up being very light on Willow compared to the two seasons either side of it.
Alyx Dellamonica
28. AMDellamonica
There's far too much ground-laying and careful planning for it to have all come together spontaneously. The show I'm remembering that did feel very improvised was The X-Files.

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