The scramble to handle the demonic forces now circling the gang leads to an episode in which consequences of Buffy's resurrection are faced by everyone involved. You have to admire the staff's dedication to earning Buffy's return with all kinds of pain...more is coming.
Wikipedia has a nice summary here.
This would have been an ordinary, unspectacular Buffy episode except that it concluded in such a gut-wrenching and dramatic way that everything in the previous 40 minutes seems to mock you when it's over. They spend all of that time acting like Buffy's return to the mortal coil was a costly, but necessary evil. We see Buffy gradually get her sense of time and place back, fight a demon created during her resurrection, even thank the scoobies for bringing her back from hell and apologize for not doing it sooner. And all of it is a herculean chunk of misdirection. When it ends, we know that Buffy was not in hell, but in heaven (OUCH)...that she is unhappy here because mortality is hell compared to eternal love. I mean, really...ouch. Just wow.
There are many things to like about this episode besides the big reveal - all of them are merely set-up fodder for later greatness, but you do have to appreciate the amount of effort the staff is putting into setting up a whole boatload of character development plans for the rest of this season and beyond. Some highlights:
- Spike's affection for Buffy really does seem genuine here...the seeds are in the ground for his eventual subconscious desire to get his soul back, but first we need to get through his mistaken belief that, as he is, he can be a good companion for Buffy. As he'll soon put it...right now, he's only dead to her, meaning any desire of his to be with her now is necessarily selfish since he will come to know that there's no life and no future in it for them as a couple.
- Willow is starting to really scare the astute viewer. It's clear that Spike is correct - that Willow kept him out of the loop because she knew that the spell was a longshot to work correctly...that there might be consequences. I even believe, given the events of "Restless" that Willow is terrified to stand on her own and this is why she wanted Buffy back so badly, whatever justifications she might have given to defend the plan in the season opener. Now, she seems determined not to pay the price for her violation of Wicken natural law (or...a Christian might say...for playing God), and digs into dark magic again to affect the demon she created.
- You can see Tara starting to panic as well. In the scene where she begs Willow to admit that she's scared, the sense is certainly that she is noticing Willow's reliance on magic to avoid her own emotions and that she is keeping Tara at bay as well...trying to be the strong one
As a set-up piece, this one gets a lot done and leaves the viewer feeling rather sick from the suckage of their situation. Hard to complain about that.
SMG actually rises above her normal level of skillful execution - she and James Marsters are going to be working together a lot this year, and the results are pretty impressive already.
The message is only half-delivered yet, but Willow's better nature runs into her naval-gazing and produces a very bad result - the warning is clear...to stay on the right side of the laws of God, one must focus not on their own intentions, desires and fears, but on the needs of others.
Only two highlights, presented for contrast:
BUFFY: It's okay. I got it. (nervous) Look, you guys, um, there's this thing ... so I'm just gonna say it.
They all look expectantly at her.
BUFFY: You brought me back. I was in a ... I was in hell. I, um ... I can't think too much about what it was like. But it felt like the world abandoned me there. And then suddenly ... you guys did what you did.
TARA: It was Willow. She knew what to do. (Willow looks embarrassed)
BUFFY: Okay. So you did that. And the world came rushing back. Thank you. You guys gave me the world. I can't tell you what it means to me.
Willow has tears in her eyes.
BUFFY: And I should have said it before.
WILLOW: (tearful) You're welcome.
Willow hugs Buffy.
XANDER: Welcome home, Buffy.
SPIKE: Buff? ... Slayer? Are you okay?
She isn't, but she composes herself and nods at him.
BUFFY: I'm here. I'm good.
SPIKE: (walks back to her) Buffy, if you're in ... if you're in pain ... or if you need anything... or if I can do anything for you...
BUFFY: (looks down at her lap) You can't.
SPIKE: Well, I haven't been to a hell dimension just of late, but I do know a thing or two about torment.
He sits beside her.
BUFFY: (still looking down) I was happy.
Spike looks at her in confusion.
BUFFY: Wherever I ... was ... I was happy. At peace.
Spike stares, shocked.
BUFFY: I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it. Time ... didn't mean anything ... nothing had form ... but I was still me, you know? (glances at him, then away) And I was warm ... and I was loved ... and I was finished. Complete. I don't understand about theology or dimensions, or ... any of it, really ... but I think I was in heaven.
Spike continues to stare at her in dismay.
BUFFY: And now I'm not. (almost tearful) I was torn out of there. Pulled out ... by my friends. (Spike continues staring, listening) Everything here is ... hard, and bright, and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch ... this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that ... (softly) knowing what I've lost...
She looks up, realizes Spike is still there. She looks uncomfortable, gets up.
She walks just to the line where the shadows become sunlight, and pauses, but doesn't turn back to face Spike.
BUFFY: They can never know. Never. (ho...ly...crap!)