“Bargaining” (P1 by Marti Noxon, P2 by David Fury)
Spike, Giles and Tara are chasing a vampire. Am I right in thinking there’s a combat trio you wouldn’t have guessed at a couple years ago? Actually, the whole gang’s out with them. There’s more than one vamp on the prowl, but they’re still just the story equivalent of an appetizer, a been-there, dusted-that prelude to get us all in the mood.
As Spike incinerates one vamp and the Buffybot skewers the other, we see what’s been up in Scoobyland over the course of the summer. The gang, led by Willow, is perpetrating the myth that the Slayer is still alive so that demonkind won’t come calling and Social Services won’t make off with Dawn.
Put another way: it’s been another Slayerless summer in Sunnydale. (I was hoping that phrase might make a good tongue-twister, but it’s actually pretty easy to say.)
The gang’s big problem at the moment is less about vamps and more about Buffybot’s tendency to say wildly inappropriate things. They have to send her off to the high school to be visibly alive and well and engaged in Dawn’s educational process. Willow is terrified she’ll screw up and it’ll all fall apart.
She doesn’t—it goes well. But Buffy’s death has transformed the lives of the Scoobies. WillTara, for example, have moved into the Summers home and are raising Dawn, keeping the household and the ‘bot running. Is either of them still in college at this point? I’m not entirely sure.
Giles is trying to move back to England, leaving the store under Anya’s charge. She can’t wait, which indicates that perhaps she has forgotten what happened to all the other Magic Box proprietors. She would also very much like to announce her engagement to marry Xander, but he’s dragging his feet. This is weaselly and beneath you, Xander.
What of Dawn? You might say she’s going through the motions: getting to school, avoiding trouble, presumably shoplifting a little thing and a little thing there.
Everything seems to be carrying on, except it isn’t. Dawn’s spending at least some of her nights tucked in bed with Buffy’s friendly electric ghost. In a sense, she and the rest of the gang are so busy holding together this illusion that Buffy’s alive and well that they’re buying into it themselves. They haven’t processed her death.
Giles, being older and possibly smarter, gets there first. He’s trying to train the ‘bot and they have a little heart to heart about how a Slayer’s death is built into a Watcher’s job description. (Death was her gift; death is his day job. He should’ve asked the first Watcher for a two-for-one deal on quest-y advice, don’t you think?) Buffybot asks why he’s still hanging around, and he realizes she’s got a point.
This is convenient, because the four cusp-of-twenty Scoobs are planning a big ol’ spell to raise their dead friend. It’s safe to say Giles wouldn’t be on board.
Just about the time the spell ingredients come together and Giles shuffles offstage—in a farewell scene that is both humorous and touching—the Buffybot gets herself damaged and a vamp figures out the truth.
Bargaining is, of course, one of the stages of grief. But what this episode is really about is denial. Buffy isn’t living on in the memories of her friends; her simacrulum is charging up in the bedroom. They’re doing everything they can to keep the idea of her alive until they can retrieve the real deal. They’re fighting her battles, raising her sister, inhabiting her home.
Willow is leading the crusade to raise her. Without her magical skills, it wouldn’t be possible. But it’s more than that. This project is her baby.
That’s not to say the others aren’t contributing. When Anya buys an Urn of Osiris on Ebay, they’re ready to go. At that point there’s one last “Should we? Really?” conversation. But Willow says they must: she says Buffy could be enduring Angel-style torment in a Hellverse somewhere. It’s a terrible prospect and it overcomes the others’ doubts, and even Tara’s religious objections.
The vamp who fought the Buffybot has, by now, informed the nearest gang of biker demons about the hoax.
Oh, wait, let’s stop there and ponder for a sec.
Biker demons! Led by a biker dude named Razor.
One can only imagine that there was a Mutant Enemy in-house competition whose purpose was to out-silly the Knights of Byzantium. I hope the winner got a big gift card from an appalling coffee franchise, or some other thing that they richly deserve.
Okay, where was I? Ah yes. Razor tells his demons to get on their zoomy zoom machines and make for the Hellmouth. They catch the ‘bot, damage her, and she obligingly runs to Willow for servicing. Hurrah, think the bikers, a chase! We love to chase things!
(Biker demon thoughts are remarkably easy to read.)
Sadly, the pursuit leads them to the Scooby gang, who are just then kneeling over Buffy’s grave, spreading baby deer blood and chanting as Willow vomits snakes. The bikers attack; Willow collapses. Worst of all, the Urn of Osiris is smashed.
The gang is forced to flee and the ‘bot is too scattered to fight. As for Spike, he’s Dawnsitting. There’s no win to be had here.
But the bikers were just a hair too late. Down in her grave, we get a good look at Buffy, one that leaves no doubt that she’s dead, dead, dead and has been for 147 days. (It’s something in the decay around the nose.) Then she rehydrates, thankfully, and returns to life, the universe, and her grateful viewing audience.
But not the open air.
As Buffy starts pounding her way out of the coffin, the Scoobies, having given the spell up for failed, are still on the run from the biker hellions. Willow is deep in the throes of the post-resurrection wimpies, so Xander hauls her into the woods while sending Tara and Anya to the Magic Shop on another route. The idea is to meet up and call Spike and Dawn.
They give up the ‘bot as lost. In a greater sense, they give up Buffy too, or begin to.
Actually, though, Spike and Dawn haven’t needed any heads up on the bikers’ arrival. Stealth is not what those guys are about.
Buffy makes it to the surface at last, finds her gravestone, and realizes where she’s been. Everything’s blurry and the dress she’s wearing is awful. She must be in Hell, she concludes: if anyone who loved her was here, they’d have buried her in Angel’s leather coat.
TarAnya make it to the Magic Box first. Anya worries about looters, and Tara sends a mote of magical light to guide Willow out of the woods. This interrupts Xander’s attempt to demand answers about the snake-vomiting. He wasn’t entirely keen on raising the dead, even the beloved Buffy dead, to begin with. Now he’s suspicious that Willow may have failed to mention some fine print within the spell.
Come on, Xander. Nobody actually reads the license agreement before clicking on “I Agree.”
Up to now, Spike’s aura of cool has been suffering. The gang is working major magic, while he’s babysitting. When he notices this, he does what any cool romantic lead type alpha male would do in his place—he steals one of the hellion bikes. I have to say, that little moment of awesome almost justifies the presence of demon bikers. And he and Dawn zooming away, her in the little kid helmet, is wonderful.
Buffy is looking around Sunnydale by now, and what she’s seeing isn’t so wonderful. This is especially true when what she’s seeing is a gang of bikers quartering the Buffybot. They spot her, mistake her for a second robot and she flees… once again leading them right to the gang. Who says that thing doesn’t act just like her?
Not the gang. They also mistake her for the ‘bot, and treat her accordingly.
Before the reunion can get too cringey, though, Razor and his pals show up. They bop Willow and Xander in their respective faces and embark on a series of long-winded rapey threats, giving Buffy time to gather her combat wits.
While she’s laying into the hellions, Spike and Dawn find the bits o’ bot. Spike foolishly wanders off to pick up a spare leg, leaving Dawn to hear, from the dying ‘bot, that there was another Buffy on the scene. She figures out what this means very fast; she wants to believe, after all.
Buffy flees from her friends before the biker battle’s quite over. They’re left to kill Razor on their own—Tara! In the Alley! With a BattleAxe! Sunnydale would be a great place to set a CLUE rip-off. This gives both Summers women, Undead Buffy and Dawn the Key, time to make it to the tower where she died in the battle with Glory. Dawn tries to talk Buffy out of jumping off the tower again. When beseeching fails, she resorts to being in mortal peril.
This is easy, because the Sacrificial Ziggurat was not built to code. It starts to collapse in a scary, scream-inducing fashion. Buffy gets them both down, and Dawn is so very happy to have her sister back.
Meanwhile, Buffy, peering out from the crushing grip of her sister’s stranglehug, has a look on her face of “Could this possibly suck more?”
You all know the answer to that one.
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, too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)
Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.