Overall Rating: 6.7
While I think the plot points here are plausible...the exact execution seems *very* rushed.
The details of this after-school special can be found at the all knowing Wikipedia.
As I said in the last Buffy review, I find it wholly plausible that Willow would slip further into magic addiction the instant her emotional rudder (Tara) turned her away over it. Addictions are insidious - they creep up on you and you never see them coming, and when someone says you have a problem, often your first impulse is to assume that they're the one with the problem and to rebel. Amy didn't help matters...but Willow let herself get drawn further down the sinkhole even though she knew it was wrong. Right up until Willow's binge on the Cocaine of dark magics with Rak (even the second such binge with poor Dawn along for the ride), all of the relevant plot points were completely plausible (though it would have been good, I think, to stretch out the coke-addict phase a bit longer). It's the final resolution to the episode that makes it feel a little like an after-school special. Willow does wrong, gets Dawn injured, and collapses in bed...and then she and Buffy have this strangely stunted conversation in which Willow mouths the words the writers are doubtlessly thinking to explain her character arc exposition-style while Buffy nods and says very curt, very over-simplified things in response.
I mean, just get a load of this exchange:
BUFFY: I just don't understand. I don't understand why you'd go to see somebody like Rack, and I certainly don't understand why you'd drag Dawn into it.
WILLOW: I don't know. The magic, I ... I thought I had it under control, and then ... I didn't.
BUFFY: Because of Tara?
WILLOW: No. It started before she left. (pauses) It's why she left.
BUFFY: (pauses) Seemed like things were going so well.
WILLOW: It was. But I mean ... if you could be ... you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be? (looks at Buffy) I guess you don't actually have an option on the whole super thing.
BUFFY: Will, there's nothing wrong with you. You don't need magic to be special.
WILLOW: Don't I? I mean, Buffy, who was I? Just ... some girl. Tara didn't even know that girl.
BUFFY: You are more than some girl. (walks into the room) And Tara wants you to stop. She loves you.
WILLOW: We don't know that.
BUFFY: I know that. I promise you.
WILLOW: I just ... it took me away from myself, I was ... free.
WOW! We just went from Buffy being unbelievably pissed at Willow and Willow being emotionally wrecked by injuring Dawn to Willow having complete and total understanding about the nature of her addiction and the necessary action to take to recover...and to make it worse, all of those negative things Willow says about herself, Buffy shrugs off with a simple "it's not true." That just seems...very perfunctory to me.
Meanwhile, we have Buffy...after literally bringing down the house with Spike, he struts around like he God's gift to Slayers, makes some exceedingly disgusting comments all episode long, and the most Buffy can do is scoff and make idle threats (and wallpaper her room with garlic...LOL). But that's not out of character for the discombobulated, depressed Buffy. What is out of character is what will happen in the very next episode after Buffy internally vows to give up Spike. Her reform and Willow's don't exactly stay on the same path. While Willow struggles to be magic-free for a week, Buffy enjoys being invisible long enough to have sex with Spike again...because being invisible gives you a free pass?? So Buffy's plot in this episode seems a little hollow too.
Their story arcs may make sense...but I don't think things should have progressed as quickly as they did for either of the characters. This would have been a much more impact-heavy episode if we'd simply ended on the emotion note they struck with Dawn slapping Willow across the face for what she did. That moment really makes you shudder.
As I said...good plot, weak dialogue, bad timing here.
Alyson Hannigan does a solid job with her scenework right up until the final confrontation with Buffy...at which point the way she plays it seems rather flat. SMG was a little off her game this week as well IMHO...on the other hand, Michelle Trachtenberg gives a nice performance - you really feel sorry for Dawn...none of the "adults" in her life are doing her any favors except for Tara...and Tara can't exactly be around much right now.
I get what they're trying to say about escapism not being the answer to life's problems - and I wholeheartedly agree - but the delivery just feels very heavy-handed and simplistic because it all happens too fast.