Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by David Solomon
We pick up right where we left off, with the Scoobies trying to figure out where Buffy went. A bunch of motorcycles race past them. They demon bikers are leaving town! Yay! Anya thinks they must’ve screwed up the resurrection spell because Buffy seems messed up. Willow objects; she thinks Buffy is just traumatized from being in hell, which will be tough to get over.
Dawn has brought Buffy back to the house (which was indeed not ransacked). Buffy still isn’t saying much. Also she still doesn’t particularly like bright light. They go inside, and Dawn explains about how Willow and Tara have moved in. Upstairs (hopefully after Buffy had a shower—but I guess not, based on the way Dawn is wiping dirt off her with a cloth) Buffy is now wearing different clothes. Dawn’s still trying to be forcibly cheerful. It’s not working. Buffy seems a bit sensitive about her bloody knuckles (and wait, shouldn’t it be her fingernails that are more screwed up?). Joyce’s room is now Willow and Tara’s room. Buffy’s a bit weirded out by the changes in the house. Dawn starts getting frustrated with Buffy’s uncommunicative attitude.
Spike shows up, and they go downstairs. He’s super annoyed with Dawn for running off in the middle of a demon biker warzone. Buffy appears, and for a second, he thinks she’s the Buffybot, but then he notices she’s actually Buffy. He notices Buffy’s bloody knuckles and knows exactly what that’s from. He says he had to claw his way out of his own coffin, but logistically I have no idea how that’s possible. Drusilla turned him in an alley, and he showed up at home before his mom even knew he was dead. At what point in the middle of that was he buried in a coffin? I know it’s Dru’s style to bury her new vampires, but she didn’t put Darla in a coffin. Anyway. Spike sits down with Buffy and has a closer look at her hands. She wants to know how long she’s been gone. He’s been counting the days. (Gag.) Time passed more quickly for her.
In come the Scoobies! Dawn is shocked that they all knew she was back, and she realizes that this means they’re the ones who brought her back. They’re all kind of crowding her, so Dawn tells them to back off. Buffy just wants to sleep. Willow is very pleased with herself for “getting Buffy out,” and then Anya says something about “jet-lag from hell,” so now Buffy knows where they thought she was. She heads up to her room. Willow is determined for everyone to accept that Buffy is normal. Anya is skeptical. She and Xander run into Spike outside. Spike slams Xander against a tree for not telling him about the plan to bring Buffy back. He thinks the reason they didn’t tell him was in case Buffy came back wrong and they had to kill whatever they raised, which Spike wouldn't have let them do. Xander is appalled (but indignant) at the implication that Willow had enough doubt about the plan that she would’ve prepared for the possibility of a Buffy zombie. Spike is sure there will be consequences for this. He rides off on the motorcycle.
Buffy is standing in front of a mirror, not moving. She leaves when she notices Dawn coming. In their room, Willow is telling Tara about calling Giles. He’s on his way back. Tara wants Willow to drop the “everything’s fine” act and actually tell her if she’s worried about Buffy. Willow thinks it’s strange that Buffy isn’t acting the way Angel did when he came back from hell. (Yeah, maybe because that’s not where she was.) Tara wonders if maybe they’re all freaking out because they expected everything to go wrong, so now they don’t know what to do if it actually went right. Willow thinks if things did go right, then wouldn’t Buffy be happy? Maybe even grateful?
Buffy is sitting on the edge of her bed, staring at nothing. She gets up and looks at a photo of her, Willow and Xander. She looks at the photos above her dresser, and all the faces turn into skulls. Uh oh.
Something breaks, and Willow and Tara jolt awake. Buffy is standing there, and she’s accusing them (in a very creepy voice, her face in shadow) of being horrible, reckless bitches for what they did. She throws something at them. She’s particularly talking to Willow. Willow jumps up and turns on the lamp, and Buffy is gone. Also, the glass she threw at them has vanished. They check Buffy’s room, where Buffy is sleeping. Ooookay.
They go back in their room, and something starts rattling the wall décor. Willow pretends not to know what the Buffy apparition was talking about.
Anya can’t sleep, so she’s trying to talk to Xander, but he, it seems, sleeps like the dead. Then Willow calls to tell them about the weirdness going on at the Summers house. While Xander’s on the phone, Anya comes walking towards Xander, her eyes white, laughing while she cuts up her own face. Then she collapses, the cuts gone. She’s fine, but things are definitely scary and weird. A weird lumpy thing leaves Anya and moves through the floor out of the room.
The four Scoobies who did the spell are in Buffy’s backyard the next day. Anya thinks the badness is from a spectral hitchhiker that made it to Earth because of the resurrection spell. She thinks bringing Buffy back was a bad idea. But Willow thinks all they need to do is kill the hitchhiker, and then everything will be fine. Buffy walks up to them, and Anya tactlessly reveals the topic of their conversation. Willow and Tara assure her she shouldn’t worry. Buffy tells them about the skull photos. She thinks it might mean she’s going crazy. Willow is very determined for Buffy to be fine.
The Scoobies are researching hitchhikers at the Magic Box now. They haven’t zeroed in on anything definite yet. Buffy misses Giles, so yay that he’s on his way back now. She decides to go patrol, and she doesn’t want them to come with her. As she leaves, we see that Dawn’s eyes have turned white like Anya’s were, and she’s grinning evilly.
Buffy walks slowly through the cemetery. The camera angle is just right so that when she walks in front of an angel statue, it looks like she has wings. Hmm, I wonder what that means.
Anya brings coffee to the Magic Box, and that’s when possessed Dawn rounds on the Scoobies. She chews them out for their foolishness, then breathes fire on them! Then she collapses. They put the fire out. Dawn comes to, very confused. Anya wants to know where it went and what it wants.
Spike is pacing his crypt. He starts laughing. Then he hears noises. That would be because Buffy is paying him a visit. She’s just standing there in the upper room. She notices his bloody hand (from punching the stone walls of the lower room just now). He invites her to sit down. She’s very quiet. He talks about how he failed to keep his promise to protect Dawn. Every night since then, he’s played it out in his head and found some way to succeed so Buffy wouldn’t end up dead.
The Scoobies have pulled an all-nighter doing this research. Xander asks Tara if she knew about the potential consequences of the spell. She didn’t. He wonders if Willow knew. Tara defends Willow. Before Xander can keep asking, Willow has a eureka moment over at the study table. They’re dealing with thaumogenesis, which is the spontaneous creation of a malignant entity as the side-effect of a spell. This is the bad thing to come out of the spell, to balance out the good thing (Buffy). The reason they can’t kill it is that it’s not quite in this dimension, which is why it keeps possessing people or creating apparitions. Also, it will be tricky to get rid of it without also getting rid of Buffy. Dawn gets angry and all in Willow’s face. Oh hey, but it’s cool, because the demon is temporary. The only way it wouldn’t be temporary is if it kills Buffy.
So yeah, it heard that and now it’s gonna go try and do it. Cut to Buffy arriving home. And here comes the floaty incorporeal demon to kill her. Buffy looks at the photos again, then gets confronted by the demon, which can hurt her, but she can’t touch it. It mocks her, telling her she doesn’t belong.
Xander, Anya, and Dawn are driving to the house to help Buffy. Xander explains that Willow and Tara are doing a spell to make the demon corporeal so that Buffy can fight it. Cut to them doing that. Cut to the house, where Buffy is still struggling against the demon. We cut back and forth between their spell and Buffy. Willow eventually stops doing the same spell as Tara, which unsettles Tara. Light shines on Willow, and then her eyes turn black. She completes the spell by herself. The demon finally solidifies. Buffy fights it while Xander, Anya, and Dawn watch from the doorway. Wow, guys, you were a great help.
It’s a bright new day in Sunnydale. Dawn heads to school, but Buffy stops her to give her lunch. Aww. Dawn hugs her. Buffy is tired of people asking if she’s okay. Dawn is hopeful that things will get better now, particularly if the Scoobies can see Buffy happy.
Buffy goes to the Magic Box, where the Scoobies are hanging out, and what the crap is that shirt, Willow?
Buffy tells them she was in hell and they brought her back, so thanks! Willow is particularly gratified by her thanks, and she hugs her. Xander joins in. Then Buffy goes into the alley out back. Spike is lurking in the limited shade of the neighboring building. Buffy wants some alone time, and Spike’s presence doesn’t interfere with that. Well that’s telling. Spike is pretty sure there’s something wrong, so he offers to help. He might not have been in hell, but still. She cuts him off. She was in heaven, and they ripped her out of it. She talks about it a little. It was warm and peaceful and happy, and she had a sense of completeness there. Spike is stunned. Buffy is having a very sucky time on earth now after being in heaven, and she has to pretend to be grateful to her friends for pulling her out. This is hell. It seems to occur to her that she may have overshared, so she walks away from Spike, but she pauses long enough to swear him to secrecy.
“After Life” is a defining moment for season six. The writers craft a Plot A that could have returned us to the status quo. The Scoobies could’ve spent this one episode feeling guilty and anxious over what they risked to bring Buffy back, but then, once the demon was defeated, they could’ve moved on. Everything could have been okay again, with Buffy alive and Giles on his way home. Going that route, of course, would have trivialized and cheapened Buffy’s death. Fortunately, these writers don’t often take the easy way out. Everything is not okay. We will not be returning to the status quo. The Scoobies didn’t pull Buffy out of hell, they pulled her out of heaven. As long as they don’t know that, though, they’ll be operating under the assumption that things are back to normal, and Buffy will be under a lot of pressure to maintain that illusion. This episode, much more than “Bargaining,” is the one that really sets up the season. If only the arc it foreshadows didn’t have to be such a downer.
There are lots of long shots of Buffy’s reflection in this episode, which is interesting. Reflections aren’t us; they’re just a little bit off. Showing Buffy’s reflection instead of her suggests that there is something wrong with her. The shot in the cemetery with the angel wings ups the ante. It’s not that something’s wrong with her, it’s that the Scoobies were very wrong to do that spell. Now Buffy has to deal with losing heaven. And because she tends to put other people’s feelings above hers, she feels like she has to pretend that she’s fine, even though it’s a struggle to carry on. Welcome to Buffy’s depression arc. Things will only be going downhill from here.
Xander wants to get to the bottom of that resurrection spell. I’m impressed that he continues to suspect Willow instead of putting heavy expectations on Buffy to act like her usual self. And as for what that means for Willow, well, it’s bad news for your moral alignment when the guy who’s known you your whole life feels he has reason to suspect you of shadiness. It’s too bad Xander doesn’t feel like he can actually confront Willow directly about it, though. I guess he’s not certain enough for that, so he wants to check with Tara first. Unlike him, Tara is still holding out with her faith in Willow’s good intentions, but Willow’s giving her some compelling reasons to have doubts now.
Anya has no understanding of sensitivity or tactfulness, which helps highlight Buffy’s emotional state and the Scoobies’ anxiety regarding her. But we didn’t hear anything about her and Xander’s engagement this time, which is kind of surprising.
It must be really difficult and confusing to be in Dawn’s position. To her, Buffy’s return is the best thing that could possibly happen, and yet Buffy’s quiet, gloomy demeanor makes it impossible for her to celebrate the way she wants to. Unless Buffy does a better job of expressing how much she loves Dawn and how her issues are not because of Dawn, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawn started to feel unwanted soon.
Spike’s attitude about Buffy coming back to life is fascinating. He’s angry he wasn’t in on the plan to bring her back, not because he thinks it was a horrible idea, but because he would’ve been happy to get anything even resembling Buffy back from the grave. Which means he’s not terribly concerned about whether or not Buffy is actually herself, or what laws of nature get crossed to get her back. Selfish motivations again. As to his “every night I save you” speech, that’s an interesting look into how grief works for a being without a soul. He couldn’t even make it past the acceptance phase; he was endlessly trying to think his way through a scenario in which she didn’t die.
If Buffy’s arc this season is depression, then I think Willow’s is narcissism. She refuses to entertain the possibility that she made a horrible mistake—that she was fallible enough to make a horrible mistake. She lies to the other Scoobies because she thinks they can’t handle knowing the truth about the spell, or because they wouldn’t understand what’s needed. And she has the nerve to feel entitled to Buffy’s gratitude. I do not like S6 Willow so far, guys.
“What in the frilly heck is going on?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.