Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Willow came back from rehab in England, Buffy got a job in the newly rebuilt Sunnydale High School, and Spike was crazy in the basement. Right you are, then.
For a change, this episode opens not with a young girl running from men in robes, but with a dead woman in a coffin at a funeral parlour. The undertakers are going home for the night, and as soon as they leave, Buffy pops out of a coffin. Hee, I quite liked that; it was a reversal of expectations, but without labouring the point too much. Xander emerges from another coffin, and frantic knocking comes from another coffin, in which Dawn has become trapped. There’s no explanation for how the three of them managed to get into a funeral parlour and hide inside three coffins without anyone noticing, or why they’d do that when they could surely just break in once everyone had gone home for the night, or even why Xander and Dawn needed to come along if there might not even be any vampires. But, oh, who cares about logic when there’s an opportunity for Dawn to make a crack about how Buffy’s shorter than she is and should have been the one in the child’s coffin? There’s a long whispered discussion of everyone’s current issues, which it seems like they could have had safely at home, and then the dead women opens her yellow vampiric eyes, Buffy stakes her, and the credits roll.
Post-credits, Buffy’s at work, sharpening pencils, nervous about her new job talking to troubled Sunnydale High students. There’s a montage of weird kids coming to talk to Buffy – a girl who beat up a bully after school, a guy who just wanted to skip Biology and isn’t a very good liar, and a silent guy in a hoodie who eventually turns out to be afraid that his army-bound brother won’t come home alive. Buffy listens to all of them, offering some quite bad advice and generally managing to arrange her face into the most judgemental expression possible. I think at least part of that is due to the horrible lipstick she’s wearing – she really does look like Dawn’s mother lately.
Meanwhile, Xander and Willow are walking across a field talking about nothing in particular for a really long time until it’s revealed that they’re visiting Tara’s grave. Um, sorry to be picky, but – that graveyard looks completely different from every other graveyard we’ve ever seen in Buffy to date. Where is it supposed to be? How freaking big is Sunnydale, again?
Back in Buffy’s office, a boy tells her he’s afraid he’s gay, but maybe she’d go on a date with him to check? Heh. Dawn comes in to rant about her controlling elder sister, who also steals her clothes without asking. Ha! And finally, a girl with blonde and purple hair, whom I recognise as Jane from Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane, comes in to talk about how she knows she’s going to die on Friday night, apparently underground and surrounded by weird coins. Buffy initially thinks she means she’s going to kill herself, or that someone’s threatened her, and – come on, Buffy, this is Sunnydale! – tries to help, in her own inept way. Cassie (of course she’s called Cassie!) seems sad, but says she doesn’t want to talk about it any more, and leaves – though not before warning Buffy to put a sweater on over her nice shirt, because it might get stained otherwise. This totally would have worked better if Buffy were wearing any shirt other than a bog-standard white wife beater, but I’ll force myself to ignore that oversight for now. Buffy goes to tell Principal Wood that something’s going on with Cassie, and, obviously, spills coffee on her shirt, which supposedly convinces her that Cassie is a pre-cog. Urggh. Buffy, sometimes, you are very stupid. Whatever. Buffy sets Dawn a Harriet-the-Spy mission – to make friends with Cassie and see if she can find out what’s going on. She does it really, really awkwardly, but does at least discover that Cassie’s friend desperately wants to take her to the Winter Formal Dance, but she keeps saying no. Oooh, maybe he’ll murder her! (That’s a major sarcasm exclamation point; this is the worst red herring ever.)
At home, Willow and Xander both suggest that maybe Cassie’s just your typical goth teenager and that nothing spooky is going on, because they’ve forgotten that they live in Sunnydale, where nothing normal ever happens and everything always has a supernatural explanation. Or because the writers have temporarily made everyone into idiots. Willow Googles Cassie, and finds a website full of disturbing poetry about death which, I recall, used to actually exist, which was really cool, but it’s long since expired now. (All you get when you Google “Cassie Newton” now is a ton of Wikipedia pages on minor Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters.) Willow also discovers that Cassie’s father has a list as long as his arm of convictions for being drunk and violent, so Buffy sets off to investigate.
In typical Buffy fashion, she just walks into the guy’s house and accuses him of being a violent drunk – seriously, she is about the last person I would ever recommend to work with troubled kids – but it turns out Mr Newton is only allowed to see Cassie once a month, and his weekend with her has already gone past this month, so he won’t see her on the Friday she’s going to die. Actually, maybe that was the worst red herring ever. Seriously, people, you live on the Hellmouth, start looking at supernatural explanations already!
Outside, Cassie is apparently lying in wait for Buffy, which is kind of weird, and she gets a long monologue about all the things she wants to do with her life (including ice-skating at the Rockefeller Centre, and falling in love) but knows that she won’t get the chance. We cut to a group of men in red robes (black would be confusing, obviously) chanting and throwing pictures of Cassie into a fire. Uh oh! Another montage shows various people researching various things while Cassie reads more of her dreadful goth poetry over the whole thing.
Then Buffy goes to visit Spike. How much longer is she going to use him as some kind of Oracle for? Does she not grasp the “insane in the basement” thing? She provokes Spike into punching himself repeatedly in the face, and then pleading with her not to leave him alone. I really, really hate this characterisation of Spike – it would’ve been so much better if he’d never become a regular character.
Topside, Principal Wood searches the students’ lockers, and discovers weird coins in one. Buffy finds the student to whom these belong, and basically theatens to beat him up if he doesn’t tell her exactly what’s going on. Luckily, he’s in on it – a bunch of high school boys are planning to do a ritual involving coins, a demon, and riches beyond their wildest dreams that requires a human sacrifice. Buffy sneaks into the ritual and discovers that the time-wasting boy from earlier is the ringleader… and that the boys chose Cassie as a sacrifice because she seemed weird and suicidal, and so no-one would notice if she went missing. Makes sense, except that she’s only seemed weird and suicidal and obsessed with death since she had the premonition that she was going to die that night, so it’s kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Actually, that’s reminiscent of the one at the end of season 1, where Buffy unintentionally sets the Master free by going down into his lair to fight him before he could break free – drinking her blood is what gives him the strength to escape. Did I mention I used to be really, really obsessed with this show? Anyway, Buffy beats up the boys, taunting them for being too pathetic to do their ritual properly, except that’s when the demon shows up, and Buffy has to fight him, too. Luckily, Spike’s having another lucid moment (and luckily the fight’s in the high school, so it’s not far from his insane basement) and comes to help out just in time.
Cassie tells Spike that “she’ll tell you, someday she’ll love you”, which, as far as I can remember, never turns out to be true, does it? Anyway, Buffy escorts Cassie out of the room, catching a crossbow bolt rigged at the door just before it enters Cassie’s eyeball, and has a moment of smugness before Cassie collapses to the floor, dead. Turns out she has a family history of heart irregularities – that, or she was just really and truly fated to die that night. Well, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a history of being odd when it comes to fate, and the episode ends with everyone being mopey at Buffy’s house, pondering what the point of trying is when sometimes, nothing you do will make any difference. That’s a really, really depressing and defeatest note to go out on, isn’t it? Might as well give up now, guys – it’s all going to end up the same way anyway! Pfft.