You know...I went into watching this episode all excited - for some reason, I remembered it being phenomenal. But on repeated viewing, it doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny, though our history of Spike and his mother (and Spike and Nikki Wood) is interesting (and fertile ground for fan fiction).
A report is available at Wikipedia, here.
This is still a fun episode to watch, but I think that whatever messages it may have been trying to send got a bit muddled - and I'm certain that the execution was a bit on the uneven side. Whatever is happening with each of the individual characters that might undermine the plans of the First Evil, what's happening to the group as a whole only strengthens his twisted hand, and I don't know that that is what they were trying to do here. Allow me to explain what I mean - starting with the good bits:
- Spike's personal story appears to be about how evil can enslave us through ungodly emotions (jealousy, fear, anger, revenge, lust, ambition etc). He killed his own mother from a desire to do good, twisted by the evil within him - his pathetic need for external validation, his jealous lusting over the Countess Cecile and then Drusilla, and his fear of death and ambition to avoid being a small and pointless man all played a role in making him the demon he was and in his mother's death. When she was replaced with another vampire, she reflected back all of those hateful things he's been thinking about himself all along and offered him a twisted Oedipal fantasy to mock him. Those events would later be used to enslave him literally to the demands of the First. That is, until Spike asserted, thanks to clearer memories of his life before the vampire transformation, that his mother loved him and that he was now aware of how evil impulses had obscured this basic truth.
- Wood's story is yet another in a long line of Buffy stories demonstrating the fruitlessness of the desire for vengeance. This time, Wood is literally threatened with pain of death (Spike even drinks his blood to hammer home the point) to break him of his petty quest - Buffy is certainly right that, in the battle of good and evil, there's no time for vengeance.
- Giles tests Buffy in the graveyard - not with the insignificant vampire she's fighting, but over her convictions - this fight is going to be brutal and it will cost lives if it is properly fought, and Giles needs to know whether Buffy will have the stomach to give the orders that lead directly to the deaths of her potential slayer sisters or her closest friends and allies. That is, doubtlessly, an important question to ask.
But...here's the problem - everyone's methods are quite clearly evil. And you can't defeat evil by doing evil. Taken in turn:
- Every time Spike makes a personal discovery in these late seventh season episodes, he does so in his demonic visage and during combat. I really REALLY dislike the implications here.
- Buffy tells Wood that not only will Spike probably kill him if he gets in her way, but she will explicitly allow this to happen. This isn't the Buffy I knew from fifth season. I get that this is a dangerous battle...but, um...can't you just kick him out? Send him off to Florida to wait for the end to come? I mean seriously...if Wood is in your way, no one doubts that this needs to stop, but there are less evil ways of doing that.
- Giles tries to have Spike killed (!) - we can understand his motives, but Buffy is keeping him alive because he's a strong ally in the fight, because she cares about him now that he has a soul, and because she feels she needs him there to wage this war and you're just going to unilaterally decide you're not going to let her make that choice? He and Buffy have fought before (for example, over whether it was right to let Dawn die to save the world), but if she overruled him, he always respected her decisions in the past. Now he's trying to kill her strongest ally? The First would, I'm quite sure, love to see Spike die - whether he dies or turns on Buffy and her friends, it's as huge defeat for Buffy personally. The first would also, I'm certain, take pleasure in watching Wood die at the hands of Buffy's ally.
Bottom line...they trust each other less now...the group will soon shatter and need to be remade at the last moment...which I guess is what they're setting up here...but that doesn't mean I have to like this particular episode just because it's working toward something that I will like later. It's all a bit muddled and is happening pretty fast, so it doesn't score big emotional points with me. And if it doesn't evoke an emotional response, it's not going to get a stunning grade.
As noted, I think the plots are a bit jumbled and I'm not overly enamored with the lines they give Wood...they don't exactly make him a worthy adversary for Spike.
Marsters and D.B. Woodside work well together and Tony Head gives one of his best performances of the season, so...good on him.
For individual characters, there are messages worth praise, but the methods they're using are unethical at a minimum.