It was a good choice. Of course, the whole Willow/Xander story is very weird and I don't like it. Their attraction comes out of nowhere during a time when they are both in happy relationships and I just don't buy it. Other than that, though, it is thoroughly enjoyable. The culmination of the story, when Oz and Cordy walk in on them kissing in the factory, is legitimately upsetting, and my heart breaks for Cordy falling through the stairs and getting all impaled on the rebar.
The most successful part of the episode was, of course, Spike. James Marsters is simply so much fun to watch, and Drunken Spike, stumbling around Sunnydale, is some of his most entertaining work. The important thing, though, is that Spike's presence doesn't derail the story of the season. Far from it, in fact. This episode could have simply been "Haha, Spike is back and he's awesome and funny." Instead, Spike's story in this episode is very related to the story of the other main characters.
You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love 'till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other until it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood -- blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be loves bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it.This quote (that is also extremely defining of Spike as a character), speaks to the other two main threads of the story: the Buffy/Angel relationship, and the Xander/Willow relationship.
It is this speech that makes Buffy realize that she and Angel aren't friends. As she says, she can fool Giles and her friends, but she can't fool herself. (Or Spike) She and Angel can't be friends because they still love each other, and the more they pretend otherwise, the more hurt they will be in the end. Just because love is inconvenient doesn't mean you can make it go away.
Willow runs into the same problem. She decides to resort to magic to get rid of the lust between her and Xander. Man, this is some great foreshadowing. I can't even believe how awesome this moment is. Here is Willow, being faced with a problem that should really be dealt with on a personal, mutual level, deciding to take matters into her own hands and take the easy way out: magic. She even lies to Xander about what she's doing. This is seriously awesome foreshadowing for her later development.
Of course, beyond that, the Willow/Xander story fails to impress me. As I said before, I just really don't buy that they would even have those kinds of feelings for each other at all, and the entire ordeal screams of plot contrivance to me. However, it is wrapped up into a satisfying conclusion.
Which brings me to the fantastic conclusion to the episode: the montage between the main characters pondering the pain that love brings, sent to an excellent score by Christophe Beck. The acting here is fantastic. I really feel for these characters in this moment. I particularly love how much emotion Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green are able to play just by sitting there: Willow with her PEZ dispenser, sitting on the floor by her bed, and Oz sitting with his guitar in the Bronze, deep in thought in a way only he can be. I also really like Xander's moment as well. Everyone else in the montage seems to be caught in a moment of deep contemplation of what they've lost, except Xander. He is busy organizing books in the library, when he suddenly stops and looks forward, as though he suddenly remembered everything that has happened. Having had many of those moments when I am suddenly overcome with a painful thought while doing something else, I particularly like this shot. I can also feel nothing but sympathy for Cordelia, lying in her hospital bed alone.
The episode ends on a completely different tone, though, as Spike rides enthusiastically out of town singing along with Sid Vicious's version of My Way. This is a pivotal episode for Spike, and he gets a lot of great moments that really speak about his character. Beneath the bad boy attitude, Spike is a romantic. He is completely and totally ruled by love. He has an understanding of love that the other characters lack. Of course, he really only knows half of it. While he understands that love is not a decision, he also believes it is an ultimately destructive force. To Spike, true love burns and destroys. It is all consuming passion. It won't be until Season 7, when he gets his soul back, that he will realize that love is in fact a positive, constructive force.
Love hurts, possibly more than anything else. It would be nice if we could just decide to stop loving someone. But we can't. Love isn't brains. It's blood.
- This episode would have been a great place to end the Buffy/Angel relationship. Unfortunately, they decide to get back together for no good reason, and break up for even less of a good reason. Ultimately, the reason they can't be together is not because of the curse, but because Angel needs to find out who he is. Unfortunately, this point is never brought up and the relationship later in the season feels forced and awkward.
- I love Spike's drunk speech when he is spying on Angel. "Yeah. I'll show you who's...a... cool guy."
- I like that Buffy got really high SAT scores. She's a sharp cookie, a fact that I think is frequently forgotten. (sharp cookie?)
- Angel is shown reading La Nasée by Jean-Paul Sartre, an existentialist book that was a significant influence on Joss Whedon.
- Angel is really not very convincing to Joyce when he is trying to get into the house to save Spike. He looks positively insane. I wouldn't have invited him in either.
- I love every moment Spike has with Joyce. They share an odd connection that makes a weird kind of sense.
- Was Oz insinuating sex when he told Willow that she did have something she could give him? I prefer to think he was just saying that her presence in his life is good enough. Not that I think that "sex is bad" or anything, it just seems a little out of character for Oz. I also don't think that exchanging sexual favors for PEZ dispensers, thoughtful and cute though they may be, is a good thing to promote.