Written by David Fury and Jane Espenson
Directed by Alan J. Levi
We open on frantic knocking on Xander’s door. It’s Buffy. She wants to know where Spike is immediately. Xander doesn’t know because he’s been asleep for hours. It’s four in the morning.
Spike is in a basement somewhere (probably the school), humming while preparing a shallow grave for the chick he killed last time. He drops her into it and covers her up. The tune he’s humming is “Early One Morning.” Okay, I seriously don’t get how the basement has a huge patch of just open dirt. Does this building not have a foundation at all?
Cut to London, where some English dude shows up at his house to find a dead girl on the floor. It’s those dagger-wielding guys from the beginning of the season! He fights one off, but then gets stabbed to death by more of them.
Willow arrives at the Summers’ house, where she finds Dawn in the middle of the completely trashed living room. Dawn tells her about ghost Joyce. Willow is pretty sure that wasn’t really Joyce, based on her own experience. Dawn leaves out the bit about Joyce saying Buffy wouldn’t choose her. Dawn wants to believe that ghost Joyce was real, and it was the freaky black monster thing that was the Big Bad. Willow agrees pretty much to pacify her.
Xander, despite his hatred of Spike, offers Buffy a few options for how this might not be what it looks like. Well, he does that for about five seconds. Then he tries to convince Buffy to stop giving Spike the benefit of the doubt. Normally I’d be on Xander’s side about Spike, except that I’ve seen the rest of the season and I know it isn’t actually Spike’s fault for a change.
Spike shows up, and seems completely nonchalant and ignorant of any unpleasantness. Buffy talks about her patrol, and slaying Holden. Spike continues to act completely ignorant—even sympathetic, since Buffy knew Holden before he was a vampire. He heads to the glorified closet to sleep. Buffy assigns Xander to keep an eye on Spike, but Xander has construction work! So he gets Anya instead.
Anya isn’t happy about this at all. Xander makes a jab about the Spike/Anya table sex, but Anya is mostly just worried Spike will murder her if he’s all murder-y again. Eventually, Xander convinces her it’ll be okay, so she stays, very grumpy.
Buffy gets home and understandably freaks out about the trashed house, thinking Dawn’s hurt or in danger. Willow tells her about the spirits she and Dawn saw. Buffy wonders if maybe Holden was another side of this Big Bad thing. However, Holden did fight and turn to dust like a normal vampire. Whatever’s going on with Spike, Buffy is determined to witness it for herself.
Anya is getting very nervous while watching Spike. She squares her shoulders and creeps into Spike’s room. And if that’s what the Scoobies call a glorified closet, then it’s no wonder Buffy had money problems in S6. That’s bigger than most of the bedrooms I’ve ever had! Anya starts poking around in Spike’s stuff while holding a stake. Also, he’s clearly naked under the sheet covering him. He grabs Anya’s wrist in a very jumpscare way. She tries to pretend she’s in his room because she wants sex. It’s a super effective topic change, because it makes Spike very uncomfortable. He keeps backing away while she awkwardly/bluntly tries to come onto him. He assures her that he finds her attractive, but he’s not interested in her like that. She takes it about as well as one would expect Anya to take it.
Later, Spike (clothed now) finds Anya reading in the living room. He heads out, and she calls Buffy to tag her in. Cut to a crowded shopping center, where an old dude is playing a harmonica. He’s playing “Early One Morning.” Spike starts humming as he walks. Buffy follows him. She spots him chatting up some brunette, and she hastens to close the distance, but it really is very crowded.
Spike isn’t being overly talkative with his date, but she doesn’t mind. She’s very interested in him. Before their necking can become the unsexy type, Buffy strides up. Spike spots her and seems to snap out of it. Oh wait, no, Buffy’s telling him she wants him to attack this girl. So he does. Crap. He drops the body and moves away from apparition Buffy, which turns into Spike!
Buffy finds Spike at Xander’s apartment and throws him off his bed. She wants to know what happened to that girl. Spike has no idea what she’s talking about. He claims he only talked to her, and that he couldn’t have hurt her anyway. But not because of the chip (he indignantly claims when Buffy makes that assumption)—because of the soul! His next theory is that Buffy is jealous. She is so not in the mood for this. He says he talks to women because he can’t talk to her (she’s disgusted), but he could never care for anyone like he does for her. He got his soul for her! Yeah, well, she didn’t ask him to do that. She’s not responsible for him. Buffy tells Spike what Holden said, and what Spike looked like when she followed him. He looked very prowly. He doesn’t remember anything but talking to her, and Buffy finds that very suspect, but he thinks it’s absurd that he would forget tasting human blood. He thinks she has no proof. She intends to find some.
The next day, the Scoobies are all at work at the Summers’ house (minus Xander, who probably has more work). They seem to have gotten it more or less cleaned up. Dawn thinks Holden could indeed have been another side of the Big Bad, but Willow thinks that might not matter. Villains can tell the truth too. Buffy wants actual evidence. So Willow looks for neck trauma victims. She finds none, but she does find an alarming number of missing people. Nobodies have turned up. That seems to confirm what Holden said, and Dawn clearly thinks it also confirms what Joyce said.
Spike is getting dressed to head out. He has a flashback to his story in “Conversations with Dead People” and is disturbed. Xander tries to stop him from leaving, but Spike wants to go prove his innocence, so he punches Xander in the face. He gets slammed by the chip, but Xander is unconscious now, so it worked.
Cut to the Bronze. A band that looks ridiculous but sounds nice is playing. Spike goes around asking about the blonde girl. Nobody’s seen her since the previous night, which doesn’t look good for his belief he’s innocent. He climbs up to the loft.
Xander calls Buffy as soon as he wakes up. Spike is still on the loft, and a black girl comes up to him. She gets awfully cozy with him very quickly. He tries to shake her off. She vamps out! She’d like to tag team the Bronze’s patrons with him. Also, she’s another one of his new fledglings. He doesn’t want to believe her, so they start fighting. The scene cuts back and forth between the fight and the lead singer until Spike finally stakes the vampire in the middle of the dance floor. It’s one of the very rare times that the fight disrupts the band. Everyone stares at Spike for a second, and then the singer carries on like nothing happened.
Buffy is at a different club looking for Spike. Wait, there’s another club in Sunnydale? Since when? The bouncer at this club has seen Spike picking up a lot of chicks lately.
At the Bronze, Spike goes backstage about the same time as the band, and the lead singer says one of the coolest lines in the show. “Man, I hate playing vampire towns.” That is so awesome! And it has potentially major implications. Just like the supernatural chat rooms the nerdy kid mentioned in “Supersymmetry.” Spike calls...someone? We can’t hear a voice on the other end. Oh, it’s Buffy. He’s afraid. He thinks she’s right about him. She offers to meet him, and he tells her to go to a certain house. When he hangs up, the Big Bad masquerading as him is standing there. He’s going off the script, but the Big Bad is willing to improvise.
Buffy finds Spike in a brick house, where he leads her to the basement. He seems sad and resigned about her wariness. The Big Bad keeps taunting him. Spike tells Buffy he’s pretty sure he killed that girl she saw him with and the owner of this house. The basement—oh, this is the basement from the earlier scene, not the school. But my questions about the lack of foundation still stand. Big Bad Spike starts singing “Early One Morning” and Spike stops talking to Buffy and vamps out. They fight. Buffy doesn’t want this, but he doesn’t give her a choice. All the people Spike has killed burst out of the dirt floor, freshly awakened vampires. Buffy fights them, but there are too many of them. They hold Buffy still while Spike goes up to her to bite her (on the Big Bad’s orders). He licks some of the blood from a wound on her arm, and then abruptly remembers everything he’s done. That’s Slayer blood for you. He snaps out of it and freaks out, horrified by his own actions.
Buffy breaks free of the vamps holding her and manages to stake all of them in quick succession. Nice! Big Bad Spike taunts actual Spike some more, about how Buffy’s going to kill him now. She hoists the last vampire out of the ground and stakes her, before walking over to Spike. He pulls his jacket aside and asks her to make it quick. What Spike says makes Buffy realize the Big Bad has been messing with him all this time. Spike yells at something Buffy can’t see. She drops her stake. He begs her to kill him. He talks about all the things he’s done and how he can’t stand it. He asks Buffy for her help. She agrees to give it.
Back at the Summers’ house, the Scoobies discuss Spike (who is bundled in a blanket a few yards away). Nobody’s thrilled about Buffy’s plan to keep Spike in her house, but Buffy thinks they might be able to learn more from him about the Big Bad than any other way.
In London, Giles arrives at the house where the girl and the English dude were killed. Oh wait, the dude is still alive! Well, he’s alive enough to tell Giles to gather someone because something has started. And then a dude with sewn-over eyes and an axe comes up behind Giles. He swings the axe, and it cuts to black before we find out if Giles just lost his head, but it looked super close.
“Sleeper” returns S7 to some of that sinister main arc buildup and global scope from the first two episodes, which I feel is an improvement. It’s interesting that the Scoobies have averted so many apocalypses, but this is the first time we actually see other parts of the world. I think that’s a big part of what makes this arc work (even if it’s not my favorite). If there’s one thing S7 does well (possibly better than any other season, actually), it’s convey a sense of dread over the looming threat. That cliffhanger with Giles is extremely mean, but it’s also very effective, because in addition to being a cliffhanger, it’s also the source of the final clue to confirm the identity of the Big Bad to astute observers. It’s the First Evil! Which didn’t necessarily seem incorporeal in “Amends,” but it definitely had a similar strategy with Angel as the one it’s been using on Spike and trying/failing to use on Willow, and it has those freaky eyeless minions. This is probably one of the least irritating Spike-centric episodes, for me at any rate. It has to be about him because he’s potentially turning a bunch of people into vampires. One weird thing, though, is how fast they cleaned up the Summers’ house. It was completely trashed, but now it looks just fine, if somewhat more sparsely furnished. For a second, I thought the scenes at the house were actually in Anya’s apartment or something, because it made so little sense that it would be all cleaned up already.
Buffy’s attitude about Spike is, I feel, a good mixture of determination to do whatever is necessary to stop him and fear that it’ll actually come to that. As compassionate as she is, she’s more wary than she is sympathetic. Despite my apprehension when I started S7 that Buffy would revolve around Spike, based on what I remembered from the other times I watched the show, so far it seems like she’s only focusing on him as much as is warranted. I particularly like her lack of positive reaction when he reminds her he got his soul for her. That’s nice Spike; it doesn’t mean she owes you anything.
Regarding Xander’s conversations with Buffy about Spike: is this what it feels like for Spike fans to watch Xander’s conversations with Buffy about Angel in the early seasons? Because he seems totally reasonable and level-headed here, whereas I frequently wanted to throw things at him in the early seasons whenever he started talking about Angel. Do Spike fans think Xander was reasonable in the early seasons, but that he’s completely out of line when he talks about Spike? That would be interesting to know. (But clearly we Angel fans are the ones who are right about this.) Xander’s interactions with Anya are also fascinating. They seem to be pretty comfortable as exes now, and he’s still being quietly supportive of her moral alignment shift. (She was True Neutral before. Now she’s tentatively Neutral Good.)
It’s hilarious that Anya, even though she is just about as unsubtle as Buffy, can use her normal bluntness about sex to cow someone into not suspecting her of skullduggery. Every time I rewatch BtVS and Angel, I discover that I like a character I previously disliked or was indifferent about. It’s happened with Lorne, Faith, and Jonathan, and I definitely love Giles more on every rewatch. This time, it’s Anya. She’s fantastic.
I can see why Dawn would be hesitant to share exactly what Joyce said with Willow and/or Buffy. I can also see why she would prefer to believe that Joyce was actually Joyce, rather than the Big Bad playing games with her. But she basically has two options: either it was really Joyce, which means Buffy is going to abandon her at some crucial moment, or it was the Big Bad, which means she didn’t actually speak to her mother’s spirit but she probably doesn’t have to worry about Buffy’s loyalties. They’re both pretty sucky options.
Okay, we’re finally getting to the bottom of Spike's craziness. And looking back on his behavior in the early episodes, I still don’t think a lot of it makes sense, and I still find him deeply horrifying in “Beneath You,” but maybe it’s ever so slightly less nonsensical when you consider that the First could have been appearing to him unbeknownst to the other characters at any point, actively encouraging the incoherence and craziness. It’s not that he was actually crazy; it’s that he had no idea what was real anymore. There's a brief glimpse of Spike's remorse and horror at his past actions. That's the stuff I want to see more of.
Willow has lots of good theories and ideas in this episode, and it’s impressive how unshaken she is by the First messing with her. She can talk to Buffy and Dawn about it, and it didn’t trigger any kind of relapse. She’s doing much better than in “Selfless.”
“So that’s all I was to you? A one-bite stand?!”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.