Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike’s chip was removed, Buffy believed in him, Robin Wood was the son of a Slayer that Spike killed. And Spike was wearing a trench coat he stole from her back in the 70s, because apparently it was made of magical non-wearing leather. Or something.
In New York, 1977, Spike and the current Slayer, Nikki Wood, face off. Nikki’s young son, Robin, cowers behind a park bench as Spike taunts Nikki, eventually leaving the conflict unresolved. (But we’ve seen the outcome of this particular fight before, this season even, so it’s not difficult to fill in the blanks.) She’s wearing the leather trenchcoat that’s recognisably now Spike’s trademark. Uh oh.
In modern day Sunnydale, Buffy, Wood and Spike are all fighting vampires. Spike stakes a vamp that’s about to bite Wood, and tells him that the stake’s his friend, and he shouldn’t be afraid to use it. Because he’s really stupid. Wood mutters “Just waiting for my moment” and we see that he’s clutching the stake so hard that blood trickles out between his fingers. I’m not even sure how that’s possible. Splinters?
Post-credits, Buffy’s at work and the kids seem to be mostly back to normal (except, presumably, any of the ones who died, got their eyes carved out, or were beaten into bloody pulps by Wood and Spike?). Giles comes into the office ranting, because the library consists solely of computers and no books. He’s apparently back from a trip, which explains why he’s been absent for the last couple of episodes (did I miss the part where he said he was leaving?) which Buffy thinks had something to do with collecting more Potential Slayers but was actually something to do with Spike. The discussion of the various things in Spike’s head here is hilarious, but only because the series has made such a hash of it all. Still, funny.
The thing that Giles went to get turns out to be yet another thing to go in Spike’s head – a magic wormy thing that enters through the optical nerve (sounds gross, was actually too CGI in execution to bother me) and seeks out the site of the trigger so that Spike can root out and deal with the source of it. Right. That sounds baffling enough to work. I think that might be a rule of Buffy – if something’s convoluted and nonsensical enough, then it’ll work. Anything simple would be too easy.
So, Willow does a spell and the worm enters Spike’s brain and suddenly we’ve travelled back in time to when William the Bloody was just a bloody awful poet. I think I dislike this vision of Spike’s mortal self almost as much as I dislike Anya’s pre-demon self; they’re used for comic effect without any regard for actual sense. Anywa, Spike’s reading poetry to his adoring mother, who, judging by the cough, is a consumptive. She asks Spike to spend time with her, and sings the song that we recognise as Spike’s trigger to him… and we’re back in modern day, where the trigger has, well, triggered Spike, who’s railing against his chains. The wormy thing creeps back out of his eyeball, and he returns to normal, insisting that he’s cured now.
Upstairs, Anya, wearing the most horrifying outfit in the world, is explaining to the Potentials that Buffy has a blind spot where Spike’s murderous rampages are concerned. She overshares on the murderous rampages thing, referencing her own killing spree in Beneath You, but everyone is clearly too distracted by her ridiculous hat to pay any attention to what she’s saying. Andrew interrupts to tell Willow that there’s someone called Fred on the phone, and that he “sounds kind of effeminate.” I laughed, I admit it, but that’s because I’m a sucker for Buffy/Angel crossovers.
Back in the basement, Spike asks to be unchained but Giles insists the de-triggering process takes more than that. We go back into Spike’s memories, to just after Drusilla sired him. He makes wild plans for evil schemes the three of them can carry out – Spike, Dru, and Spike’s mum. Drusilla is reluctant, and his mother doesn’t look much more keen, but Spike tells her he can make all the pain and sickness and dying go away by turning her into a vampire…
In Sunnydale, Willow’s setting off for LA, and while Buffy’s distracted, Wood and Giles have a conversation about how to deal with Spike. Giles figures out who Wood is, which seems a bit late, but better late than never, and asks if this isn’t just a personal vendetta. Not that it bothers him much, because he’s in agreement with Wood that Spike needs killing. Yet… since Spike has a soul now, shouldn’t that be classed as murder? Giles’ part in the plan consists of distracting Buffy while Wood murders Spike, so he takes her out for training in one of Sunnydale’s billion graveyards. He tells her things which seem to be in exact opposition with what she needs to hear: that she needs to be a general, that she needs to see the bigger picture, and she needs to remember that everyone is expendable. In fairness to Buffy, she points out that that’s exactly what she’s been doing – or, at least trying to.
While Giles keeps Buffy distracted with fighting a newly risen vampire, Wood takes Spike into a darkened room. When the lights come on, it turns out to be wallpapered with crosses and crucifixes. Uh oh. I’m thinking Spike, who prides himself on having killed two Slayers, should have been paying closer attention, but eventually Wood fills him in on who he is, and boots up his Mac to play an MP3 of the trigger song – for some convoluted reason, Wood seems to have decided that if he triggers Spike into becoming a monster, he can kill him and that’ll count as revenge for the death of his mother. Um, it’ll also make him a lot harder to kill than the besouled version, but Wood evidently thinks he can handle it.
The trigger takes Spike back to the siring of his mother again. While Spike, post-vamping, has managed to keep most of his personality, including his love for his dear old Mum, she’s changed quite drastically: she tells him all she wants is to get away from him, and shares some other choice words about Spike’s pathetic nature. Ouch. The scenes of Spike’s mother telling him how rubbish he is are intercut with scenes of Wood smacking the hell out of him: clearly, it’s Spike-bashing time. I really, really love this. It’s horribly melodramatic, but I love it. Spike’s mother says some quite astute things about Spike’s actions, although it’s all quite Freudian – saying he’s always wanted to be back inside her womb, and this “eternal kiss” was his way of hanging onto her forever. Poor William.
Meanwhile, Buffy has finally caught on that Giles is stalling her – though not until after she admits that if the season 5 finale were to happen now, she’d let Dawn die if it would save the world, which is supposed to sound cold but is actually quite logical, given that if the world ends Dawn would be pretty much screwed anyway – and races off to find Spike.
Spike, though, has finally snapped out of it, and starts fighting back. Once he’s thoroughly beaten Wood, it’s Spike’s turn to get harsh: he explains that he’s not sorry for killing Nikki Wood, because she was the Slayer and that’s the way it works, and that he’s finally figured out that it was the demon who said all those nasty things to him, not his mother. Even though she didn’t say them to him, she said them to the vampire, unsouled him, but let’s not think about that for too long, it hurts. He says he had a mother who loved him with all her heart, unlike Wood, whose mother would always put slaying before anything else (although, HELLO, Chosen one! It wasn’t her choice!). Spike plays the song on the Mac and isn’t triggered, but attacks Wood anyway, making sure he knows full well that this is of Spike’s own volition. He did kind of deserve that, it has to be said.
When Buffy arrives, Wood is lying in a pathetic pile on the floor as Spike walks out, saying he gave him a pass this time but next time, he’ll kill Wood. Buffy goes to help Wood up, but says the same thing: she understands why he did what he did, but if he ever tries it again, she’ll let Spike kill him. As if to drive home the Slayers-only-care-about-slaying message, she echoes Nikki Wood’s words: “The mission is what matters.”
At her own house, Buffy checks on a sleeping Dawn and then tells Giles, basically, to sod off. I love this episode, deeply. I wish I could take it out of context, because I’m not sure I agree with some of the directions the writers are taking characters and dynamics, and I’m not sure it all entirely makes sense in the long run, but just in terms of this one episode, by itself? Brilliant.