“Gone,” by David Fury and Jane Espenson
“Gone” opens with Buffy, Willow and Dawn at home, unhappily engaged in throwing out all the household magic paraphenalia, including Tara’s leftover crystals and a Kokopelli once treasured by Joyce. Actually, Buffy’s doing all the work, from boxing the stuff to explaining how encountering any tempting spell components might remind Willow right back into a relapse. And that’s when she finds Spike’s lighter stuck in the couch.
Relapsing would be bad, Buffy concludes, but there’s no conviction in her voice.
Over at the Trio lair, they’re having far more fun. Warren has finished incorporating a certain stolen diamond into his new invisibility ray. He tests it on an office chair, successfully. Jonathan takes a seat and is enjoying the invisible ride when Warren proves that he’s not simply another hideous face: he’s already thought through the part where the gadget is no good if they can’t reverse its effects. It turns on! It turns off! It also destroys the invisible thing if it isn’t turned off—but that little revelation will come later.
Morning comes—next morning, we presume—and breakfast is happening over in Buffyland. Dawn is angry both at big sis and guardian witch, and sulks off to school in a huff chauffeured by Xander.
Buffy doesn’t need Dawn to beat her up, because she’s come ’round to feeling guilty about having ignored Willow’s magic problem. She’s saying as much, to Willow, about how she was all wrapped up in her own “stupid life.” This is a euphemism for Spike, who promptly shows up, covered in a blanket and steaming at the edges. He says he’s in search of the lighter. Buffy tells him he’s making excuses to see her.
This is, of course, true. Spike’s making a serious effort to make a simple errand extra sexy. Imagine if fetching the milk looked that good. Xander interrupts them before Buffy can relapse all over the kitchen counter, and then proceeds to stick his foot in... well, not so much his own mouth, really. Spike, he reminds us all, had as his previous girlfriends Harmony and Drusilla, both of whom can fairly be considered judgment-impaired. Buffy’s far too smart and together to boink someone like Spike, is his message.
Haha, Xander—if only you knew!
But everybody’s kicking our Slayer in the self-esteem today. And, unfortunately, Dawn’s social worker is the next person to show up. (I’d say unannounced, but both Xander and Doris Kroger were actually expected.)
The latter appointment goes very badly. Dawn’s late for school and Spike and Willow give a bad impression merely by being in the house. The real problem, though, is that Mrs. Kroger is one of those cardboard tyrants who show up on TV now and then to cause our heroes unconvincing and passing discomfort. They tend to be impossible to like and easily defeated. Sometimes, like Principal Snyder, they grow dimensions before they get eaten. Other times, the story just sets them up and knock them down.
Buffy’s not quite quick enough on her feet to characterize Willow as a paying source of rental income (even if she isn’t, wouldn’t that make her presence seem like a plus?) The box of stuff they’re getting rid of is lying out, and in it is a bunch of “magic weed.” Oh, dear. By the end of it all, Chez Summers is on probation and Dawn’s in danger of being removed from the household.
Buffy, having now dropped to the end of her rope, overreacts and hacks off the hair Spike was admiring so smarmily just before Doris arrived. Then she goes off to the salon, because young guardians on probation can’t afford to be walking around looking like they fell out of a tumble dryer. Also, she desperately wants to be someone different. . . and a haircut’s all the transformation she can afford.
The first thing many people want after seeing the hair stylist is praise for the new look. But Buffy can’t even have that today. The Trio is about to test their ray—they want to sneak into a spa full of naked women—when they see Buffy coming out of the salon. In one of those bursts of OMG, we’re screwed, so screwed! panic that do tend to get triggered when you come upon your arch-enemy, Jonathan and Andrew fumble the zap ray, shooting Buffy along with many random items on the street.
David Fury and Jane Espenson don’t try our patience with a scene where unseen Buffy realizes she’s no longer rocking the visible spectrum. Instead, we jump right to the Magic Box, and XandAnya, who are trying to figure out who sits where at their wedding. Buffy strolls in, having realized she’s enjoying her new non-look. She asks her friends to do the research thing and goes off to play. Xander—who is about to have one of his outstanding unsung hero episodes—starts worrying that Willow has gotten tempted to play with spells again.
In a not-very-enormous coincidence, Willow is feeling tempted to play with spells again. She’s just considering whether she might get away with a little bit of telekinesis when Xander walks in and asks if it was she who made Buffy invisible.
Willow’s defensive and insulted. “Now when anything nasty happens, I get conveniently blamed for it?” Off she storms. It’s a little irrational, maybe, but it’s also pretty easy to understand.
The Trio are likewise far from rational. They’re bummed because they broke the invisibility ray. And paranoid that Buffy might be spying on them. She could be right there, learning all their plans.
But she’s far too busy going on a wee rampage of pranksterage. It’s nothing on the scale of Willow and Amy acting out in the Bronze the other day, but she soon homes in on Mrs. Kroger, and freaks her out—in a completely mean way. You can do any despicable thing to a cardboard antagonist, including making her seem insane at her workplace. And so, driving the social worker away from her desk with a coffee cup that says “Kill, kill, kill,” Buffy accesses Dawn’s file and then sabotages it, thereby buying them a needed second chance at the home visit.
While she’s taking the easy way out on the Social Services issue, Willow is doing things the hard way, engaging in old-fashioned girl sleuth forensics; she has a print of a van tire and paint off an invisible fire hydrant. Since the gang remembers the Triovan from “Life Serial,” this constitutes a serious and promising lead. Xander shows up and they reconcile: then she sends him back to the Magic Box with an invisible traffic cone to do further research on possible spells.
With that accomplished, we move on to the crypt, where InvisiBuffy is having her way with Spike.
But the traffic pylon confiscated at the scene begins falling apart, and Xander realizes there’s life-threatening danger in the mix. It’s about time, don’t you think? Warren, meanwhile, is clueing Andrew and Jonathan in on this minor detail. They object to the part where Buffy dies as a result of their ineptitude, and he tries to remind them that, you know, they’re villains. They kill people. Um, no, Jonathan says, rather forcefully. I love it when Danny Strong is forceful. Did you all see him do that thing on Mad Men this season? (Blink and you missed it!)
Warren makes a show of backing down, knowing full well that neither of his allegedly equal partners understands the gadget involved. He can do pretty much whatever he wants.
Xander hits the crypt, where he finds Spuffy engaged in vigorous invisible sex. He is uncomprehending but nevertheless squicked out, and leaves without mentioning the danger to Buffy. She’s busy enjoying the odd sense of freedom that can only come when you’re nuzzling your lover without any chance of being seen by your friends. Or even him. Somehow, this manages to hurt Spike’s feelings.
To her shock, he kicks her out. She returns home, where Dawn is completely freaked out by the invisibility thing. Nobody’s a fan of see-through Buffy except the woman herself. Xander has even gone so far as to leave a message on the household answering machine (which looks paleolithic) revealing that she’s in danger. Some people will do anything to get you to show your face.
Willow is close to the answer, though. She faces down the temptation to use magic as she tries to hack the DMV, and then—for unknown reasons—she also faces down the temptation to phone someone before she goes looking for the villain van by herself, in the dark. She breaks into the Subterranean Lair and finds the Invisibility Ray plans... and the ray itself.
Sadly, the Trio is waiting and they grab her. And it’s rather impressive, isn’t it, that she doesn’t zorch them all on the spot? She even lets them call Buffy to arrange a hostage exchange at the video arcade.
Up to now, Jonathan and Andrew are clinging to the adorable belief that that the point of the meeting is to reverse the invisibility—to save Buffy. Willow bursts their bubble by speaking up before Warren can enact his actual plan, which is to fry her. An invisible combat sequence then breaks out amidst the gamers, complete with comedy pratfalls and random game-smashing.
Recognizing that a scene like this can get old real fast, Willow gets the ray gun and visiblilizes everyone. Buffy recognizes Jonathan and Warren. Andrew’s failure to be on anyone’s radar is noted, resented, and forgotten. The Trio declares itself to be Buffy’s three-headed arch-nemesis before fleeing in terror.
In the silence that follows, Willow and Buffy debrief. Willow talks about how hard it was to plod through the investigation without taking magical shortcuts. Buffy admits she was a little afraid to hear she was dying.
It’s progress, and they both know it’s good, but they don’t feel happy about it.
In a season whose theme is growing up, this is one of the moments that strikes a genuine note of honesty. Those things we do because we know we have to—those things that are good for us—do sometimes feel more like a chore and a burden than a blessing. Buffillow’s recognition of this—and their low-key acknowledgment of each other’s pain—makes for a faintly optimistic ending. They are both getting better.
Better! Wouldn’t that be nice? With luck, Buffy will nail down a source of income soon. Surely once that happens everything will be goslings and puppies.
Next: Meat Mystery
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”!)