“Villains,” by Marti Noxon
This episode opens with an ambulance racing to the Summers house, not for the first time, with an extra at the wheel who looks like he can’t quite believe he’s on BtVS. When they arrive, a panicked and blood-splashed Xander directs the paramedics to the back of the house, where Buffy is lying in a pool of bullet with a stunned expression on her face.
Nobody knows that upstairs, Willow is also seeking help because Tara’s been fatally shot—but instead of 911 she’s calling 1-800-Osiris—and without doing said deity the courtesy of having slaughtered a baby deer or even a couple goldfish first.
Osiris is, in his way, a good sport about it. He tells her straight up that she cannot defy the natural order by resurrecting Tara. Poor Willow is completely shattered, naturally, out of her mind with shock and grief. She gives him a zorch, of sorts, by way of hanging up.
Time for a homicidal plan B, she thinks.
As Buffy gets loaded into the ambulance, Willow heads downstairs. She connects with Xander for just long enough to find out that Warren’s to blame for it all, then stomps off in a fury. Xander lets her go because he’s riding to the hospital.
Over in the Sunnydale hoosegow, Jonathan and Andrew are blissfully ignorant of recent events. Jonathan is worried about being sexually assaulted by their fellow incarcerees, especially that guy with all the traffic tickets, while Andrew nurses his little candleflame of belief that Warren will come bust them out.
But Warren couldn’t care less about his former compadres. He’s going into the local demon bar, to celebrate his having killed the Slayer. He’s got a vague idea that everyone will be so terribly impressed, possibly even grateful, and then maybe he can head up a vampire gang. Even he knows he’s nothing without partners to exploit and betray.
The bar’s denizens do react strongly, but with derision and amusement, not so much respect. They’ve already seen the news and they know Buffy survived.
The bar crowd in Sunnydale’s underworld isn’t composed of the kind of go-getter demons who used to lurk in town. These aren’t dudes who’ll mount an attack on the hospital while she’s vulnerable. The Master would’ve sent someone, clearly. Angel, too. You’ll remember the Mayor, always a believer in hands-on management, had a go at Buffy in person during her S3 end-of-year brush with death.
Buffy and her friends have pretty much thinned the local Hellmouth herd over the past few years. If the Initiative were still in the game, they might even study whether a successful Slayer reduces the overall level of demonic evil on her patch through some kind of unnatural selection effect.
My point is: the survivors don’t even have the gumption required to take a bite out of Warren. Instead, they tell him to run because ‘the girl’ is gonna be coming after him.
Which is true, though they have the wrong girl in mind. Even as they chortle lackadaisically about the prospect of someone else dismembering Warren, Willow’s busting into the magic shop in search of her dear old friends, the Dark Arts books. Anya voices a low-key objection and gets frozen for her trouble, then watches as Willow hoovers up every little bit of knowledge within all the books. Text scrolls over her skin and her hair and eyes turn black. Mmmm, the Dark Arts are delicious and come with a free costume change.
At the abandoned Summers house, Dawn is just arriving home. Nobody’s there to greet her except Tara’s still-cooling corpse.
Warren is, fundamentally, a coward. Even the idea that Buffy might heal and come after him sends him scurrying to Rack the Juice Dealer, looking for something to hide him. Rack is every bit as happy as the bar demons to tell Warren that, first, he hasn’t heard of him and second, his problems are huger than he thinks. Oh, yes, an enormous storm of Willow-sized proportions is headed his way.
Gloat while you can, Rack. That storm’s gonna be less fun than you think.
He’s also delighted to take Warren’s money and give him some minimally useful magical defences.
Over in surgery, Buffy’s not doing so well. She’s giving every appearance of a girl on the Come into the Light Express back to Heaven. Willow shows up and boots the medical team out of the operating theater. She then pulls the bullet out of Buffy and heals her up, good as new.
What surprises her isn’t that this works, but that the bullet’s so tiny.
Buffy wakes up with questions about what’s going on, and Willow looks semi-human for a second. Happy to see her alive and well, even. She says she’ll explain everything, but they have to go after Warren. And so, soon, our three friends are zooming along the desert roads in a shockingly purple car—I assume this is a Xandermobile, and I just failed to notice the color when he and Anya went to pick up Uncle Rory at the airport.
As Xander tries to drive and Willow uses telekinesis to run the car way over the speed limit and eventually boing it across the desert dunes on a wild pursuit course, BuffXander try to talk her into easing off the magic. They’re wondering: what’s the deal? Why now? It’s kind a shame they don’t have Rack on speed dial. He’d have gleefully offered to bring them up to speed. In the meantime, they think it’s just Warren shooting Buffy that Willow is so incredibly mad about.
The purple car prevails, intercepting the bus Warren’s taking out of town. Willow stops the bus, obliges him to get out, and crushes his throat. Alyson Hannigan is delightfully Terminatorish throughout this episode, almost mechanical at times as she stalks her prey. But the chase isn’t over yet—the thing she has destroyed isn’t Warren. It’s a robot. He tricked her.
She declares she’ll find him another way... and then kill him.
Whoa! Kill? Buffy starts to say she’s angry too, but...
...and that’s when Willow reveals that Tara’s dead. Warren is toast, and that’s that, and there’s no getting her to see reason, though her friends do try. She blows them off while they’re still reeling with grief.
Buffy and Xander return home, where they find poor Dawn with Tara’s body. They send for the authorities and everything’s sad and terrible and bureaucratic for awhile. Papers to sign, evil genetic McClay relatives to (presumably) phone, nosy police questions to answer. It’s also time consuming. The sun goes down as they talk to paramedics and cops.
“Warren’s a dead man if Willow finds him,” Buffy says.
Dawn’s opinion on this is, basically, Yay!
But Buffy seems strangely at peace and filled with certainty. She’s got her eye on the ball: it’s Willow who needs saving here. The forces she’s messing with aren’t going to stop once she’s killed Warren. They’re going to destroy her... and perhaps whatever else they can get their mystic tendrils on.
So Buffy and Xander have to go after her, which means they need teencare. Dawn wants to go to Spike’s, and despite Xander’s strenuous objections—he’s still all hosed about the rape attempt last week, if you can imagine—they take her to the crypt.
And where is Willow? She’s gone to Tara’s room on campus. She has the bloodstained shirt and is using it for a location spell. It’s a poignant echo of earlier Willow heartbreaks: the scene where she was visiting Oz’s room and clothes after he left, for example, and the one where she inflated a Tara outfit, using magic, in order to get a snuggle during their estrangement.
This time, instead of comfort, the clothes and blood provide a location on Warren, who is in the woods.
(Why is Warren in the woods? What could he possibly be thinking? He sent the decoy bus in one direction, and he had a whole afternoon. He’s certainly techno-savvy enough to have hotwired a car and taken the highway in the other direction. Or to catch a flight out to Alaska.)
At the crypt, Buffy finds that Clem’s the only demon at Chez Spike. He tells them Spike took off. Dawn ends up staying anyway, though Clem, while he’s a gracious host, is presumably no good as a bodyguard. Dawn may not be safe, but at least she’ll have snacks as the world ends.
Off this, we get a quick Spike sighting, in Africa. (See, Warren? That’s how you get out of Dodge.) He’s found himself a cave inhabited by a tall demon who went to the same elocution school as Osiris and tells the creature he wants to return to his former self. The monster mocks him about how he used to be such a badass. You’ve gone from dark warrior to fluffy kitten, is basically his thesis, but eventually he agrees to put Spike to the test.
Over at the Magic Box, Anya is just getting over the paralytic whammy Willow put on her. She tells Xander she can track Willow’s unslakable thirst for vengeance, and thereby also reveals that she’s a demon again. Despite this, she says she’ll help them find Willow—for Willow’s sake. I am again impressed by the changes in the WillAnya relationship.
Time is running out, though—the chase is on in the woods. Warren is running. Willow is walking, and yet somehow catching up. (This is a convention I remember fondly from serial killer movies of the Seventies.) He puts an axe in her back, but she pulls it out. He uses a bomb, too, and a sticky gooey force field. No dice. Then he tries telling her killing Tara wasn’t personal.
That doesn’t get him anywhere, of course. Willow gets the trees to string him up, spread-eagle, and then she shows him poor dead Katrina. This creeps him out a lot.
The Scoobies are pursuing them through the woods, and by now Warren’s screaming for help. The bar guys didn’t convince him, and Rack didn’t convince him, but now he’s actually beginning to understand how utterly screwed he is. Willow presses the point home with the bullet she pulled out of Buffy, driving it—very, very slowly—into his chest.
“One tiny piece of metal destroys everything,” she says.
When “I’m sorry” and abject begging don’t get him anywhere, Warren tries one last rhetorical tack, which is: you’re a better person than me. And hey, won’t your friends disapprove?
The Scoobies arrive on scene just as Willow decides she’s bored with the chit-chat and rips Warren’s skin off his body.
I was shocked. Weren’t you? Buffy and Xander are definitely surprised and appalled.
“One down,” Willow says. Meaning: guess what? I’m not done!
With that, she incinerates Warren and vanishes.
Next: Cleaning up the minions...
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”!)