Overall Rating: 9.0
We;re just warming up, kiddies. This is a great episode...and they get better from here.
The full description of heart-pounding events can be read at BuffyGuide.com
The moment when Glory arrives at Tara's side, crushes her hand into a bloody pulp and threatens her sanity in an attempt to get the key...is the stuff of horror film legend. THIS is what villains should be like ALL the time. Buffy has had a number of different types of bad guys, and they've found many winning formulas, but none so effective as Glory on a rampage. As well, when Willow goes evil and tears up Glory's apartment looking for revenge, we get the appropriate HOLY CRAP! vibe...not a feeling of satisfaction. This is most assuredly not a good sign, and Willow's rise to magical power can only lead in one direction from here. Everyone knows what's coming now.
The show even achieves the element of true surprise three separate times - first we're lead to believe that Glory has figured out that Dawn is the key - but BOOM...there's Glory right in the middle of Tara's good cry over Willow. Then we figure they've had their share of action and suddenly Willow shows up at the mansion looking like she just crossed through the Event Horizon (not that I recommend that movie to anyone...but...watch it to find out what I mean...LOL). And finally, just when you think they're going to end the show on a sweet emotional note and save the "oh shit" revelation for next week, Glory comes barging through the house like the Kool Aid pitcher and Tara makes the key's position (d'oh!). That is the kind of stuff that makes for fun and engaging drama, I must say.
I am not familiar myself with gay cultural norms, but I do know from reading and from friends who've experienced this that it is very common, especially among lesbians, when one member of the pair bond is "new" to her sexual identity for the other to wonder whether she is truly committed to being gay or whether it's just an exploration or confused feelings that will resolve themselves in time. Perhaps this is partly because women are in fact more likely to mistakenly believe they are gay or bisexual after having precisely the kinds of bad experiences that Willow had with men and then later realize their mistake. But either way, the nature of Willow's love for Tara is well tested in this episode and this is clearly not a phase or some college confusion. Whatever I think of the plausibility of this change in Willow, I must say that once the decision is made, their relationship is one of the show's enduring strengths and you can't help but root for them.
Meanwhile, it's interesting to see Dawn struggling with the reality that, because some great evil power wants her, she is surrounded by suffering and the imminent threat of death. This may help to explain why she feels safe around Spike - some part of her wonders whether they might not have something in common...wishing to do good but prevented by their nature. The entire episode seems to revolve (emotionally) around what each member of the team is willing to do to really love someone. There is something truly wonderful about the moment where Dawn offers to help feed Tara, or the moment where Buffy comes clean with Dawn about the threat that she'll be deemed an unfit legal guardian, or that shared understanding between Willow and Buffy that their love comes with great sacrifices but the alternative is unthinkably empty and horrible. The title says it all here.
Buffy's insane rant against creative approaches to math education aside, this episode never fails to come across as real to me...the characters are simply doing exactly what my mind pictures that they should given their make-up...and that's a good thing.
I don't think Michelle Trachtenberg quite carries home the mail in her scene with Spike, to be honest. That should probably have been more emotionally effective than it was given the weight of the dialogue, but she just doesn't quite make me feel the anguish. The rest of the performances are top notch...especially Clare Kramer...yikes!
They don't have you recite wedding vows that include phrases like "in sickness and in health" and "for better or worse" for nothing. Love is about more than closeness and joy in our happiest of shared moments of intimacy. It's also about shared sacrifice and selflessness. This, of course, is not a new theme in the BuffyVerse...but it's well done in this episode.