Overall Rating: 9.3
A beautiful end to Riley Finn's character arc on BtVS and a deeply Christian message to boot.
The full summary can be found at the all-knowing Wikipedia.
Riley was the PERFECT man to show up and shine a light on Buffy's self-destructive behavior. I can't say enough about how ideal this timing is and how brilliant it was for Doug Petrie to choose the wholesome Iowan to deliver both a pep talk and a lesson in life by example. No one else in Buffy's inner circle could reach her the way that Riley did here because no one else combines old feelings of joy and relationship health with a sense of moral authority the way that he does. Angel could have showed up and heaped scorn on Spike, but Angel's hands aren't clean and he doesn't remind Buffy of the better parts of her nature the way that Riley does. None of the scoobies works as well because Buffy hasn't any reason to be romantically tied to them and they're all too close to the situation to be completely objective.
So Riley drops in for a monster hunt and his life - in every way better than what Buffy has made of her own - is like a painful blast of sunlight into the crypt of a vampire, burning away all of Buffy's self-delusions and excuses. She doesn't even get to feel sorry for herself here. Not when he combines a Christian morality with Christian love in the final big speech. Rather than scolding her, calling attention to her sinful behavior to the exclusion of anything else, making her feel irredeemable (as, alas, many Christians tend to do when confronted with appalling conduct) - he reminds her that, somewhere inside of her is the woman whom he loved and that she has reason to look to hope. I doubt Jesus himself could have done it better.
And it produces the correct result. Buffy is forced to finally admit that she's using Spike. And they hit the right notes yet again in this final chapter. It isn't about how Spike's being used is bad for Spike. As he points out, he isn't complaining (though, in the long run, he'll never be happy in a relationship with someone who cannot love him). It's about what this reality is doing to HER. In my youth, I argued that sex before marriage couldn't be all bad if both people in the relationship were interested in bringing joy to the other. The problem is...we all know, on some instinctual level, that sex outside of marriage and family is missing something crucial and that we're using our partners...and this knowledge, be it conscious or not, eats away at our hearts. There's a reason that couples who cohabitate before marriage aren't successful in their married lives (ignoring the high rate of relationship failures that occur before any marriage). There's a reason that women (on the whole) are programmed to seek out a life long partner and that the ones who don't have sex until such a partner is found are happier and more sexually fulfilled. The thing that separates a man like Spike from better men - his lack of a soul - will lead him to continue aggressively pursuing Buffy even after she has revealed just how deeply it hurts HER to use him that way. We would all do well to treat our souls like the priceless gifts that they are and to look for more than simplicity, momentary pleasure and passing desire.
I would ask an atheist how he can explain why it would destroy Buffy the way it does to use Spike if he's asking her to do it? Logically...this shouldn't bother her at all. But some part of her KNOWS that it's wrong and that knowledge is innate, unavoidable, and crucial. From where does that come?
The script starts a little on the routine side (other than the hilarious bits about the doublemeat smell and Buffy's reaction to seeing Riley again - "My hat has a chicken on it." - LOL! Classic) but it finishes very VERY strong. When I pictured sixth season, I saw a strong start and an amazing finish...but the stuff in the middle is pretty darned good too overall.
High marks to SMG and James Marsters...and I rather enjoyed Marc Blucas this week (SAY WHAT?!?!?!?!)...even his wife (Ivana Millicevic) was pretty solid (and likable too, I might add).
If they understand nothing else about my faith...at least they seem to understand theology of the body...if only on an intuitive/unconscious level.