Overall Rating: 7.5
This one trotted out a BUNCH of cliches (with a Buffy twist, of course) for a Halloween episode intended to highlight a teen girl's coming to grips with her sexual identity and/or her desire to fit in or get attention in a room full of people dealing with their own problems. It would be par if not for the fact that it manages to be somehow charming (and, I think, sends the right message).
Wikipedia has the story - here.
Oh what monsters we create when we spend too much time navel gazing, ey? Willow's descent into evil continues apace. The one person safe from her lesser impulses is no longer safe because Willow can't face her own problems, she can only cover them over. Now she's makig Tara forget their fights - this after saying it would be helpful if Tara would shut up and stop bothering her about her magic abuse. Can you feel the love tonight? Spike, meanwhile, is continuing his efforts to drag Buffy down with him...he'll be successful soon enough. For now, she's still going through the motions of being alright. Xander and Anya are a little too focused on the impending stress of their rush to the altar (I do think Anya shares some of the blame for Xander's decision to abandon her on the altar...she doesn't know how to handle her worldly desires patiently and will soon pay the price as Xander feels enormous pressure and it's only going to get worse). And none of them notice that Dawn has managed to sneak off, steal form the Magic Box, and gallavant around Sunnydale with a pack of vamps, all because no one is paying any attention to her problems (starting with Buffy, who wants Giles to do all of the work in raising her).
The main plot is theoretically Dawn's realization that stepping into a life of petulance and crime to get attention is going to get her all the wrong attention. And this is handled with a surprising amount of relatable charm. She really does come across as a well-meaning teenager who is simply confused and frustrated...and you really do feel for her - contrary to fan opinion that Dawn is just whiny and annoying, mind you. For folks, many of whom started liking this show as teenagers, these fans seem to understand teenagers very poorly. And, when it comes right down to it, I find her innocence (and even embarrassment) when she has her first kiss and then when she realizes she's been lied to adorable and refreshing. In contrast, when Buffy was Dawn's age, she was already dating and getting into trouble like crazy. Sorry...but I really like Dawn's character and will defend her at every opportunity from here on. If you have a problem with that...feel to (rationally) explain why you disagree. :)
The plot is a combination of Halloween tropes and a workmanlike, ordinary teen romance...but it's not cliche in a bad way. It's a good solid, average script.
Michelle Trachtenberg steps up her game BIG time...she does a great GREAT job with this episode, as does Amber Benson, by whom I'm not normally that impressed. The guest star vamps are only OK...but otherwise, I have no complaints.
It's nice to see Dawn stand up for herself against the vamp of her dreams when it turns out he's only after one thing (standing in for sex...or...alongside sex perhaps). The bottom line is...and Buffy has shown this several times now...the choice to give up one's virginity is not all that different than the choice to change who you are. Sex does change you...and it does cost you some of your innocence.