Wikipedia has the goods on this shocker here.
The choices of the scoobies throughout the course of this episode are (a) very much in their characters and (b) fascinating to watch as they evolve in the face of the ongoing events of the episode. Character by character, we have:
- The obvious (Willow): Running on nothing but (as Anya puts it) pure vengeance, Willow becomes immediately resolved in her desire to personally murder Warren for his crime. Of course, it's obvious to anyone watching (and she even explains it in exquisite detail while torturing Warren with a bullet) that the light is gone from Willow's world and that she can't feel anything, let alone think about what she really needs. She systematically hunts him down and, when he tries to appeal to her sense of right and wrong, she flays him and then vaporizes the remains. This arc won't end until next week, but after the death of the man responsible for Tara's passing, Willow still feels nothing and decides that she won't be done until she kills the other two members of the trio.
- Buffy: Buffy can think only of what is best for Willow when all of this is done. She gives a pair of moral lectures on the need for superheros like Willow and her to have limits and on the need for Willow not to cross a line and become the malignant evil that struck down her true love. Buffy has been down this road a couple of times before - she knows what affect killing a human will have on her friend (she's been party to it, though it was Faith who actually struck the fatal blow - and, as of this episode, still hasn't recovered from it) and she intuitively seems to grasp the reality that it isn't about what is "fair" or about who deserves to live or die. Those are judgments that must be left to God. And Warren is a man who must be held accountable by our legal system for the good of all involved.
- Xander: Quietly appears to back Willow's choice to kill Warren, but as soon as he's confronted with the evidence of what vengeance does to his best friend, he comes around. He doesn't like seeing Willow into the dark arts, and the horror of witnessing as Willow tears Warren apart without the slightest hint of remorse puts him in Buffy's camp for good.
- Anya: She has the unusual perspective of actually being a demon in the service of raw vengeance. She seems, however, thankful that Willow wants to act on her own and doesn't want Anya around. When it's a stranger in a strange town, it's a lot easier to dole out vengeance, even though you know that the results generally destroy the person you claim to be "helping," but when it's a friend, the picture becomes a lot more clear.
- Dawn: The unfortunate soul who discovers Tara's body, Dawn is absolutely terrorized. Her desire to see Warren dead doesn't come from a place of vengeance, so much as fear. This person has tried to kill Buffy three times (that she knows of) and very nearly succeeded this time around. And worse, Tara was the only person in the group who regularly spent time with Dawn and paid attention to her while the rest of the group was struggling with their own problems. This kind of thing is bound to make a girl who is constantly being told that seeing what her sister does at night is too dangerous for her feel weak and helpless and want to see the bad guy killed, even if he is human.
The characterization and psychological insight we have come to expect from Whedon's writing staff is here in spades. The plot moves astonishingly quickly considering all that must happen to set up the big series finale. Some of the visual effects really help to make this episode pop...and just wait til we get to the big finish!
Side note: I enjoy Spike's self-delusion and the way in which the uber-demon in, apparently, Africa (which he somehow got to by motorcycle...mmmkay...moving on) cuts right through the BS. This is going to be a fun final season!
Excellent set-up episode with a ton of fast-paced action and a scary finish that still makes me go "wow..." when I see it. The heartless, cold way in which Willow finishes off Warren is just...wow.
Although Alyson Hannigan carries HER stuff well, as does SMG, I think Warren kinda kills some of the momentum of the episode - especially when he fakes bravado while ensnared by Willow and then begs for forgiveness. Maybe they wanted him to be unconvincing...but it would probably have played better if he were more convincingly reduced to a pathetic little boy before being killed.
They have their scruples in the right place, no doubt about it. For a profoundly atheistic person like Whedon, his creations sure do seem to have a ton of Catholic themes - especially those about what should be within our power to decide and what should not, and about whether vengeance ever produces a positive outcome for the aggrieved.