Buffy's torment makes for the best episode yet. Framed for a murder, Buffy must confront her lust for Spike, says Jeff Jensen
James Marsters, Sarah Michelle Gellar, ...
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Richard Cartwright/UPN

Buffy’s torment makes for the best episode yet

If ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” insists on becoming a supernatural ”Dawson’s Creek,” then please: more episodes like Feb. 5’s ”Dead Things,” easily the series’ most psychologically complex, smartly-told tale of the season.

The episode kicked off with the aftermath of another furniture-threatening forno-fest between Spike and Buffy, in which the love-struck vampire finally called the Slayer out on her sexual obsession. ”Do you even LIKE me?” Spike asked. ”Sometimes,” replied Buffy. A stung Spike then asked a more telling question: ”Do you trust me?” Her answer was no — though the episode proceeded to explore was how little Buffy trusts herself.

The story hinged on serious developments in two season-long subplots. First, Buffy asked Willow’s wiccan ex-girlfriend Tara to look into why Spike can hit her even when he has a chip in his head that should prevent him from hurting anything human. Second, those Dorks of Doom — Jonathan, Andrew, and Warren — whipped up some enchanted device that could turn any woman into their sex slave. Call it ”magical date-rape.”

Their first victim: Warren’s ex-girlfriend Katrina. Things, of course, went wrong — but this time, tragically, and Katrina wound up dead. And with that, these wannabe villains, whose wickedness had been so whimsical until now, finally crossed the line into true evil. A hallmark of which is not taking responsibility for your actions: hence, they plotted to pin their homicide on Buffy.

The frame on Buffy involved sending some temporal distortion demons to distract her while they snuck Katrina’s corpse onto the battlefield. Buffy got so discombobulated by this attack (the fragmented, non-linear presentation of this scene was very cool), that when it was over, and she saw Katrina, the Slayer was certain she had accidentally killed her.

That’s when the episode took it up a notch. Spike, sensing an opportunity to prove himself to Buffy, asked her to TRUST him, to let him take care of this, to make her problem go away. But Buffy, in a moment of heroic clarity, realized she must turn herself into the police. She told this to little sister Dawn, who has felt neglected by her never-around sister. Dawn asked Buffy not to go, but held back expressing another, more surprising feeling: relief. In finally re-taking responsibility for her life. Buffy became safe again for Dawn.

The twist came after Buffy discovered she wasn’t to blame for Katrina’s homicide. Upon learning that Buffy wasn’t going to jail after all, and that perhaps nothing has truly changed with her big sister, Dawn inexplicably stomped out of the room. The reaction was unexpected, the emotional meaning subtle yet stunning.

”Dead Things” saved its emotional whopper for the climax, when Tara revealed to Buffy that there is actually nothing seriously wrong with her, that Spike can hurt her because of some slight flaw in her post-resurrection molecular make-up. Buffy couldn’t accept this. She desperately wanted to believe that something else was to blame for her self-destructive decisions. She wanted to be fixed; failing that, she yearned to be disciplined, like some addict whose indulgences are really cries for help.

”Please, DON’T forgive me,” Buffy wailed. ”Please, don’t FORGIVE me.” Okay, maybe a tad too writerly. Still, I liked it. For me, ”Dead Things” was the exact opposite of its title: it was full of life, full of soul. And if ”Buffy” can’t keep it up?well, that, I won’t forgive.

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