“Two to Go,” by Douglas Petrie
Say what you will about S6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it is packed. So much so, that this penultimate episode opens with Xander announcing: “This is what happened this year.” We get an extra-long series of clips, which offer a detailed account of Buffy’s resurrection, the coming together and apart of Spuffy, Willow’s addiction arc, Dawn’s thieving and the failure of the XandAnya wedding to come together.
We also, naturally, see Tara’s tragic demise and, as a piece de resistance, Willow’s violent dispatch of Warren.
With everyone all updated, we find ourselves with Buffy, Xander and Anya as they sprint through the woods in pursuit of Willow... or they’re trying to pursue, until Xander gets nauseated. They’re grossed out and horrified by Warren’s execution, and set on keeping Willow from scoring the hat trick by moving on to Jonathan and Andrew. The one tiny upside is Anya can get to the troublesome two first, via teleportation.
This is good, because Willow has had the foresight and taste to put Xander’s purple car out of its misery. But there’s no time to stare at the steaming wreckage. Buffy runs on ahead. Xander is left alone to feel useless as he tries, manfully to catch up.
It’s the calm before the pyrotechnics and so over at County Jail, everything’s very quiet. Andrew’s trying to hear or decode imaginary signals from Warren. Jonathan is filled with contempt for him and his partners alike. This eventually leads to them slapfighting, much in the tradition of Xander versus Harmony, until Anya teleports into the cell and updates them on their incoming mortal peril.
Andrew, upon being clued in, says: “Oh my God, Warren!”
Jonathan, more on point: “Oh my God, me!”
Anya tries to convince the on-duty officer that he needs to let the boys out of the cell so she can save them. She’s quite impressive and rational, but we’re left to deduce that this particular officer is neither bright nor imaginative, and possibly that he hasn’t been in Sunnydale for very long, doesn’t have a child in the school system, never goes out at night and has a black belt in the fine art of “La la la, I can’t hear you.”
Despite Anya’s best efforts, Willow is soon on the scene, busily tearing the lock-up into wee stony pieces. She has gone from being a girl who considers eating her banana outside of recommended snacking hours a major offense to one who will commit massive public vandalism in front of the entire police force. Andrew whines about not bearing responsibility for her grief and rage. Jonathan is buying in, though. He knows he enabled Warren; he knows that he has to answer for both Katrina and Tara.
The cops are no match for the world’s most adorable witch on a rampage. Anya told them so, but would they listen? But Buffy has arrived, and she sneaks in the back way and spirits Willow’s intended victims out of the cell before she can defenestrate them.
They don’t get much of a head start. Anya, who is quietly heroic throughout this episode, tries to buy time by reasoning with Willow. For this, she gets zapped. It’s looking like the remains of the Trio may have to make a run for it when Xander shows up with a borrowed police car and they all zoom away. Buffy’s entire plan is hide the guys and then deal with Willow: when they complain that this hardly represents advanced tactics, Xander offers to boot them out onto the road.
It will surprise none of you to know I love Danny Strong in “Two to Go.” He’s reminiscing here about high school and the days when Willow was “just Willow,” neglecting to remember all the times when she interrogated him as a suspect in various school mystical mysteries. Ah, the memories. She responds by coming after them with a magically commandeered eighteen-wheeler. She’s only too happy to ram the police car, BuffXander and all, but then they all catch a sort of lucky break. Which is that she runs out of power before she can turn them all into road paste.
Dawn, meanwhile, is getting restless down in the Crypt of Spike, which you’ll recall is now under kinder, gentler, floppier management. Clem’s trying to do a taste test with her on some cheesy chip-like items. When he realizes he’s bored her so badly that he may have hit an all time high for perpetrating evil—for Clem, the wickedometer is set low—he offers to take her to a movie instead. But she upsells him: she wants someone of the demonic persuasion to take her on a fun hunt for Rack the Juice Dealer.
This turns out not to be Clem’s favorite plan, for about twelve reasons ranging from Rack doesn’t like the floppy-eared to what the heck is she going to do if she does find Willow? And what the even more heck is Buffy going to do to him if that comes together? Dawn tells him Spike would’ve helped. He reminds her that Spike’s gone.
This is a nice convenient entry point to zooming back off to our B story, in Africa, where Spike has talked the mysterious cave-dwelling demon into giving him a test of worthiness. He’s then tossed into a kill-or-be-killed fight with a guy who has flames for fists. It’s not a human guy, it turns out, so the chip doesn’t kick in.
With Willow taking a breather, the remnants of the Scooby Gang run to the Magic Box, looking for ways to stop their crazed friend.
Jonathan offers to help the gang with the Sumerian text in the one surviving book, and runs up against a wall of “Shut up, Worm!” Buffy lays it out for him: she’s not helping them for their own sake, only for Willow’s.
He is the mage on the scene, though, and he’s up on an important plot point. So he perseveres, explaining that Willow is running out of power. Which means she needs more, which means she needs... gosh, someone like Rack would really fit the bill, wouldn’t he?
Wouldn’t it have been interesting if she’d run into Amy on the way over? Or in the waiting room? Would she have sucked her dry too, just for kicks?
Anyway, Willow is indeed headed over to ye dark magic drug shoppe. Rack runs his usual creepy patter on her, complete with groping and talk about her dark juices. Oh, yuck.
It’s inconvenient for the Scoobies, but I’m not even a little bit sorry when she sucks him completely dry, just in time for Dawn and Clem to arrive. Clem’s such a chicken that he waits in reception while Dawn beelines for the inner sanctum. This leaves her alone with what’s left of Rack and with Willow.
Willow’s super-veiny, vaguely stoned and pretty darn mean. Dawn tries to calm her down and, for her trouble, gets offered an opportunity to go back to being a Key. Buffy shows up just before the Dawn haters in the crowd start to get their hopes up.
Over at the Magic Box, translation of the anti-magic book is not going well, in part because everyone is having so many feels. Andrew thinks he and Jonathan should turn on the gang and form a shiny new Duo. He goes on to point out to all present that Willow’s not necessarily going to stop when she’s done with the two of them. Does she care at all about her friends anymore? Anya thinks not. The thought that neither she nor Willow cares if he lives or dies damn near breaks Xander’s heart.
She replies that she does care but hasn’t decided yet. Somehow, this ambivalence of hers is lovely and believable. It makes me wish there’d been a one-off story where Anya and Jonathan teamed up. Something on the order of the episode of Alias where Malcolm had to dig Jennifer Garner out of a deathtrap coffin, or something, with no ninja helpers whatsoever.
Xander, going with the ‘it’s suddenly about me’ moment, asks Anya if she’s going to turn on him. She tells him she can’t wreak vengeance on him, and he brings up her interlude with Spike. Somehow that brings them to discussing his terrible guilt over somehow failing to stop Warren before Buffy and Tara got lethally perforated. He’s feeling exceedingly useless.
Speaking of feelings and the sharing of same, Buffy is trying to get Dawn out of Rack’s and stand Willow down. Willow comes back with a self-loathing monologue about what a mousy loser pre-magical Willow was.
“And now,” she says, “Willow’s a junkie.”
You can’t blame her for feeling as though all she had of worth was her relationship with Tara. It’s not true, but we all get demoralized sometimes. She’s had a rough year, and Tara was mighty terrific. I miss her already.
“You’ll lose everything,” Buffy argues. “There’s too much to live for.”
This is the heart of the episode, this quick exploration of Buffy and Willow and their tangle of mutual unhappiness. It’s not a stretch to say that each is unhappy largely because of the other. Not only has Willow’s magic brought Buffy back from Heaven, but Willow became the magician she is only because of her involvement in the business of slaying. As for Tara, she’s collateral damage in the good-evil war. So the life-affirming statement is a tactical error; Willow is delighted to respond by pointing out that Buffy has been miserable ever since she became not dead.
All of this chit-chat, it turns out, is mostly just a way of covering a spell to teleport them all to the Magic Box. Take that, Anya! Anything you can do, I can do better.
(Why does she bring Buffy? Keep Dawn by all means, but forcing Buffy to jog across town, yet again, would seem like decent planning.)
Buffy and Dawn are nauseated and fainty after the transition. Willow turns her back on them and tries to give Jonathan and Andrew a big, lethal zap. But XandAnya did manage to get the antimagics working. Anya’s tucked in a corner, chanting quietly, to protect the Undeserving Two.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering: how’s Spike’s making out with flame guy in Africa? The good news is hurrah! That guy’s dead.
The bad news? “You have passed the first stage of the test,” says the deep-voiced demon. Meaning: Wait! There’s more!
Always read the fine print, William.
Though it is excessively disappointing to realize that she can’t zap her targets to death, Willow gives herself a strength boost, with the idea of giving Jonathan and Andrew a lethal pummelling. That’ll be more personal anyway, right? And it means she and Buffy can finally come to blows.
You kinda have to rub your hands together.
The two besties square off. Xander, the minions and Dawn flee the Magic Box while Anya stays behind to maintain the shield.
Kickboxing ensues! Also, a little bit of unkind name-calling. This Buffy-Willow throwdown is a more brutal, strength-based fight than the various Buffy-Faith battles—there’s less finesse on both sides. As the two of them bash the Magic Box to bits, Anya’s cover is revealed.
By now, Andrew has decided he doesn’t want to run off with Xander and hide. He even pulls a sword on him, but Jonathan intervenes, declaring. “When this is over you and I are going back to jail to do our time.”
It’s not a great surprise, this development, but it’s still a “Yay Jonathan!” moment. Not that it’ll mean much if he gets slaughtered.
Anya, once again, fails to out any demon tricks to defend herself, and so SuperWillow chucks her across the room. Then she pounds the stuffing out of Buffy, too, and gloats that nobody in the world has the power to stop her.
Zap! Someone throws her, using mystic forces, across the remains of the shop.
“I’d like to test that theory,” says.... and look, everyone, it’s Giles!!!
Next: Scary Veiny Willow versus the Power of Friendship
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 of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)