Written by David Fury
Directed by James A. Contner
We open on Joyce’s CAT scan. It’s filmed in a really ponderous way, with slow zooms and no dialogue. Buffy brings Dawn a soda in the waiting room. Dawn tries to make things light by joking about CAT scan, and Buffy starts to get annoyed, then hugs her and kisses her head.
Giles has an ad in the yellow pages! Xander and Willow come in, debating about how uncool it was of Riley to return to that nest by himself when he said they’d all go together in the morning. I really like Tara’s outfit, and is her hair darker than it was? She looks very elegant, and this is a much better hair color for her than that weird frosted blonde from S4.
Giles agrees that Riley was very reckless, but Anya is at least glad to be off the hook for a morning slaughter. Which she feels constitutes significant personal growth on her part. Research continues on Red Dress Lady. They would like some more leads, particularly clues about her current location. Xander figures an abandoned building or a sewer.
He would be wrong. She’s lounging luxuriously in some extremely swanky digs, and she seems to have acquired some diseased-looking, extremely sycophantic minions. And we finally get her name! Glorificus, but she prefers Glory. One minion has brought her a spell of some kind. She needs to get some more ingredients, and she knows where to get them because of the Magic Box yellow pages ad. Crap.
Riley comes to Buffy’s house and finds the door ajar! He comes inside and finds a heavy blanket on the floor. That would be the blanket Spike left there after using it to shield himself from the sun. He’s taking advantage of the Summers ladies being out of the house to do a panty raid in Buffy’s room, including a lot of sweater sniffing. Woooooow. He tries to conceal his actions from Riley, but is very unconvincing about it. Riley drags him back out, but he manages to snag a pair of underwear on the way. Spike claims that Buffy wouldn’t mind if she knew he was there. That’s hilarious. His evidence is her spending most of the previous evening with him (because she wanted info about his Slayer kills) and that she hasn’t had him disinvited from her house (because he hasn’t come inside since S3, as far as she knows, and he can’t hurt humans, so it probably just didn’t occur to her). Wow, Spike is actually talking like he ranks higher in Buffy’s affections than Riley because Riley isn’t dark enough for her. Even if Spike is way off base regarding himself, he’s touching a lot of nerves for Riley, so Riley starts to toss him out in the sunlight. Spike twists the knife a little more because Riley didn’t know Buffy was at the hospital with her mom, but Spike did.
Buffy is pacing outside the door to the examination room when Riley arrives. Buffy hugs him, grateful that he’s there. She didn’t want to make a big deal until the doctors knew what was wrong. She asks him to sit with Dawn while she checks on her mom. The doctor leaves Buffy and Joyce alone so that he can go check on the status of the operating room. They found a shadow in her brain scan, and they have to do a biopsy to find out more. Joyce tries to keep a brave face, but her voice cracks when she hugs Buffy and tells her not to be concerned.
The rest of the Scoobies are still researching at the Magic Box. Tara wonders if Red Dress Lady might not be in the books at all. What if she’s not like anything they’ve dealt with before? What if she’s too old for the written word? Or language at all? Giles is disheartened; how will they ever be able to learn anything about her moves or patterns without books? Well if she were to suddenly turn up in the shop as a customer, that might be a lead. Unfortunately, none of the Scoobies present knows what their Red Dress Lady looks like, so the fact that Glory stands before them is lost on them. Giles sells her what she wants and she leaves.
Dawn is asleep in the waiting room, and Riley puts his jacket over her. Buffy watches them affectionately. Riley comes back over to her and provides a good shoulder to lean on. Then the doctor comes out and Buffy gets up to talk to him. The operation is over! Recovery time. The diagnosis is a low-grade glioma. His words fade out as the camera zooms on Buffy’s stunned, horrified face. Symptoms may come on very quickly. They still need to figure out if the tumor is operable. Buffy wants to know what she can do. Joyce’s chances are still pretty good! Almost a third of glioma patients survive and are fine! The doctor asks Buffy a lot of questions about the home environment, but she’s barely holding it together, so she can’t really think clearly enough to answer him.
Ben the sexy intern comes over and gets the doctor to leave for the ICU. His words and manner are much more encouraging than the doctor’s were. He wants her to get some air and come back in the evening. Riley comes back and Buffy hugs him. She wants to go find a healing spell. Riley doesn’t think that’ll work, but Buffy doesn’t appreciate that and heads to the Magic Box. Riley will take care of Dawn until she gets back.
Anya is going over the receipts of the day and she finds Glory’s. She’s extremely annoyed that Giles would be stupid enough to sell those particular items to the same person. Those items are for scary ancient transmogrification rituals. Giles doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about until it occurs to him that the customer quite resembled Buffy’s description of Red Dress Lady.
Riley and Dawn are at a big fancy carousel. Wait, they have one of those in Sunnydale? Since when? They’re eating ice cream, and Dawn tells Riley about her tenth birthday party at this carousel, right after they moved to town. She’s already assuming the worst about Joyce’s prognosis, but Riley makes her feel better with some well-chosen encouraging words. Dawn tells him both she and Buffy are glad he’s there. He seems skeptical about the Buffy part of that claim, but Dawn insists that it’s much better than when Buffy was with Angel. That was all end of the world all the time, super dramatic. With Riley, Buffy doesn’t get super worked up. Dawn thinks that’s a good thing, but Riley thinks it means Buffy hasn’t experienced any fireworks with him.
At the Magic Box, Buffy wants everyone to look for potions or spells that could help her mom, but Giles and Tara both think they’d probably do more harm than good. Anya brings up the topic of how they accidentally sold Red Dress Lady some very dangerous items. Giles doesn’t think now’s a good time for that, but Buffy insists. Giles is very ashamed. However, Anya knows what Red Dress Lady would be doing with the stuff she bought, so they now have a lead! She’ll be turning a cobra into a monster. They’re not sure yet what she’ll be doing with it. Buffy leaves to go kill the monster and/or Red Dress Lady.
Glory goes to the zoo and steals a cobra from its cage. She puts it in an urn thing and, with the help of her sycophantic minion, does the spell. Before she finishes, Buffy attacks. Buffy gets in a few licks, but then Glory turns the tables on her with ease while the minion guy keeps doing the ritual. She tosses Buffy through another glass display. Sheesh, I hope whatever was in there isn’t poisonous. The cobra turns into a giant snake monster with arms. Glory tells it to find the Key and report back.
Riley shows up at the Magic Box and is surprised (and resigned) when Giles says Buffy already left. Then he’s angry that they let Buffy go hunting Red Dress Lady alone. Xander turns that around on Riley and makes it about him charging in against that vamp nest with just a grenade as backup. Riley doesn’t think it’s the same thing. Xander wants Riley to knock it off whatever weird issues he’s got; Buffy’s going through something really hard with her mom’s illness. She’s being reckless because she needs something she can physically fight. What’s Riley’s excuse? Xander tries to get him to open up, but he leaves. He’ll be ready if Buffy needs him, but he doesn’t seem very hopeful that will happen.
The snake monster is checking out churches like Glory suggested, and since there are forty-three of them in Sunnydale (or maybe forty-two; I don’t imagine the one from “What’s My Line” is still in use), that should keep it occupied for a while. Buffy calls Giles from the hospital, where she’s applying an ice pack to the shoulder Glory messed up. Dawn will be heading to the Magic Box because school’s out. (Wait, that was a school day? Since when?)
Montage! Riley is at Willy’s again. Buffy’s in the waiting room. Dawn is studying at the Magic Box. Sandy comes up to Riley at Willy’s. He’s less resistant this time. Ugh, Riley! Buffy and Joyce get what appears to be bad news from the doctors, and Joyce tries to turn her head away so Buffy won’t see her crying. Sandy bites Riley—because he lets her. He holds her head against him. Then he stakes her.
Cobra monster passes by the carousel, presumably on its way to the next church. It catches Dawn’s scent there, and its eyes flash red.
Buffy arrives at the Magic Box. Dawn hugs her. It’s time to see Joyce at the hospital. They might be able to take her home. Nobody’s had any luck tracking down the cobra monster, but that’s not going to be a problem, because here it is! It knocks over a shelving set on Buffy, then goes straight for Dawn. Its eyes flash red while she screams, and then it slithers away at top speed. Nobody except Buffy and Giles understand why it would have behaved like that around Dawn. Buffy runs after the cobra monster. Giles runs another direction to speed things up in his car. They tear after the monster. One good thing: they know Glory’s name now.
Glory is throwing things at her minion now because she’s getting very impatient for cobra monster’s report.
Well, it won’t be long now. Buffy and Giles keep chasing it, all the way to a park near the premises of Glory’s swanky digs. Buffy jumps out of the car and sprints after it. She uses a chain from a gate to throttle it. Eventually, it keels over dead. Or not! It throws her off. She starts punching it until her hand is covered in gross snake innards. It finally dies. Wait a second, she’s punching it in the mouth! How did she not get stabbed by its fangs?
Glory continues to stare out her window impatiently. Her monster won’t be returning.
Joyce is still at the hospital. She wants to talk to Dawn alone. Buffy assures her that she looks beautiful (but she does look kind of small and frail). Dawn comes in and Buffy goes out. Joyce hugs Dawn. Riley comes up and Buffy steps away from the door. He’s wearing a turtleneck. He wants her to let out all her emotional vulnerability for him, but she doesn’t want to break down just now. Not when Joyce and Dawn need her. Riley reaches to wipe away her one tear that’s managed to escape, but Joyce calls her name, and she turns around before he can catch it. She wipes her own tears away and goes back in Joyce’s room, shutting the door behind her. The camera pans back from Riley, showing how alone he is. Boo freaking hoo, dude. You’re not the one whose mom has brain cancer. Get over it.
“Shadow” isn’t really one of those episodes you’d rewatch on its own just for fun, because it’s pretty much a bummer all around and kind of one of those stepping stone season arc type episodes, but it’s not bad. They finally make progress in getting information about Glory (well, they know her name and what she looks like), we know that Joyce has brain cancer, and holy crap I think I just figured out the connection between the Plot A of S5 and the Plot B. Buffy’s Plot A opponent is a god. Her Plot B opponent is Joyce’s illness. Both are pretty impossible for Buffy to fight. It’s only when Glory stops being a metaphor for Joyce’s illness and starts being a metaphor for Buffy’s grief and the crushing responsibilities of adulthood that she becomes defeatable. I’ll see if I can work on that theory more as the season goes on. We also get development of Spike’s creepy Buffy obsession and Riley’s completely unnecessary spiral of feeling unwanted by Buffy.
Buffy is only nineteen years old. Her ability to hold it together through everything she’s already dealt with was already incredibly impressive, but now her mom has brain cancer and her little sister is the Big Bad’s macguffin, and she’s still keeping it together. She gets a lot of hugs in this episode, but I still wish I could give her more. She’s amazing.
I really like the rapport Xander has with Riley. None of the other Scoobies really has that—even Willow, despite the fact that they hit it off really well at the beginning of S4. But unfortunately, Xander’s friendly gestures aren’t enough to pull Riley out of his funk, but he seems pretty determined to stay in it.
Willow is less involved in this episode than almost any other episode in the show so far. It’s kind of surprising, now that I think about it. She’s just sort of there at the Magic Box with the rest of the group. Tara is definitely a comfortable part of that group, now, though.
And this is the episode where I officially become fed up with Riley. It’s not like Buffy is cheating on him—her mom has cancer, which means she has to deal with the fact that even though she has saved the world multiple times, there’s nothing she can do to help one of the people she loves most. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that Buffy finds him appealing because he’s safe and not a source of big drama. Her life is already too full of that. That’s not a way he’s inferior to Angel. I’m pretty sure if Buffy was dealing with the S2 Angel/Angelus arc at the same time that she was dealing with Joyce’s illness, she’d completely fall apart. He’s making skewed and unnecessary comparisons and letting them mess with his head. And then, instead of being patient or trying to talk to Buffy, he goes and lets Sandy chomp on him. That is totally on him, and he still feels all disappointed and rejected when Buffy prioritizes her family over crying on his shoulder? UGH.
Anya’s knowledge saves the day again! But her people skills are still a work in progress.
Dawn is pretty great in this episode. She tries in her own way to lift Buffy’s spirits, she tries to make Riley feel better (even though it backfires), and she generally handles her stress and worry about what may be wrong with her mother very well.
Spike continues to get creepier, and he also continues to delude himself as to his importance in Buffy’s life. He seems to be incredibly perceptive about other people’s insecurities and interpersonal connections, but he’s very blind to his own. So he’s egomaniacal without being self-aware. Fun combination.
Giles is awesome in this episode, despite accidentally selling the Big Bad exactly what she needed to further her plans. I just love his unspoken solidarity with Buffy.
“Am I right, Giles?”
“I’m almost certain you’re not, but to be fair, I wasn’t listening.”
“Are you stupid or something?”
“Allow me to answer that question with a firing.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.