airdate: 14 Nov 2000.
Buffy is fighting a regular vampire and he turns her stake around and stabs her with it. What? She gets all vulnerable and Riley saves her. He also has "combat medical training", so he fixes her up. She decides (of course) to keep it from her mom, not to worry her. Riley takes over patrol with Willow, Xander, and Anya. He's being all military-stealthy while everyone else is eating chips and making jokes. So funny. One of my favorite scenes ever.
Buffy is having an existential crisis because she was almost bested by a regular vampire. She is studying old Watcher diaries to try to figure out why Slayers get killed. Giles explains that as a Watcher who also keeps a diary about his Slayer, after the final battle, a Watcher might be too emotionally compromised to tell a complete story. That's why they think of Spike, a surviving vampire who has killed two Slayers. So Buffy decides to talk to Spike. Ask him how he killed the Slayers. So this is a Spike-flashback episode.
She offers him money to tell his stories. At the Bronze. Spike is left-handed. 1880: he's a poet and in love with a pretty lady in an Austen-like land of aristocracy. Someone steals his poem and reads it aloud so they can laugh at him. Cecily, his love interest, rebuffs him. Tells him "you're nothing to me, William. You're beneath me." Heart. Breaking. OMG. He is crying, tearing up the poem, when Drusilla appears. She "sees him". His "strength". "You walk in worlds the others can't even begin to imagine." I would totally fall for her in that moment. I get it. She turns him. It's hot.
The guys are still hunting when they find the vamp that staked B. He goes into a crypt and you can hear other dudes in there. Riley declares they can "kill 'em just as dead in the morning".
Back to the flashback: Angel, Dru, Darla, and Spike. Spike is more like Spike now. Angel is threatened. Spike is all unruly and Angel is joyless. I love Spike's nails. They're all black at the beds and gradiate into regular nails. Very sexy. If only more men realized that painted nails are freaking hawwwt. Spike kills a Slayer in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. She's an accomplished sword-wielder. Hero shot as Spike struts off with flames behind him. "Best night of my life...and I've had some sweet ones."
Riley is breaking the rules! He went back by himself to kill the vampire-clan. With dynamite and a death wish. Buffy and Spike are sparring. He explains if there's no intent to hurt, he has no pain from the chip. Then he starts telling the story of 1977's Slayer he killed. He's all punk and fighting her on a subway. The fight he had with her is interspersed with the sparring with Buffy. He's telling B she's a little in love with the fear and uncertainty, the darkness. "Death is your art...every Slayer has a death wish...even you." He's taunting her. He tries to kiss her. She tells him he's "beneath" her and throws the money at him. He cries. Heart. Breaking. Has a new lust for the kill. Goes over to her house with a shotgun. He's been obsessed with killing Buffy since he met her. Another flashback to Dru. The reason she left him is because of his obsession with Buffy. The one he couldn't kill.
Joyce tells B that she has to go stay at the hospital overnight for tests. B goes to the back porch to cry when Spike shows up. His rage melts when he sees her crying and he simply goes and sits by her in companionable silence patting her on the back after asking her "what's wrong?" and "is there something I can do?" God, it is so fucking sweet. That is EXACTLY what you need in a time like that...someone to sit next to you, just BE with you. Spike is SUCH a lovesick puppy that he didn't even lose it all with the loss of his soul. I love his character arc so much and this is the season when he evolves the most. Another of my favorite scenes ever. This HAS to be on my top ten Buffy episodes of all time list. Fo Sho.
It's so smart that Joss is constantly drawing parallels between the vampires and Buffy. It's become a cliche that the Slayer falls for the vampire, but in this case (the premiere example, mind you) it makes total sense. She does love death. She loves the kill, the violence. She tortures herself with guilt, but to be as good as she is at her birthright, she HAS to be a bit in love with it. Riley knows it, to an extent. Spike knows it. And they are really foreshadowing her own death at the end of the season too. She doesn't have that death wish yet, but this is the season where she's trying to find herself. And the build to her sleeping with Spike is already starting. After her mom dies and everything goes to shit all around her and Spike proves himself to her over and over again that he cares about her, will even sacrifice himself for her (doesn't give up Dawn's identity in that ep where Glory tortures him almost to death), etc. It makes sense. There's a build-up. It's GOOD writing, man! So good.
And even the attempted-rape scene, as upsetting as that is...I think it's a valid commentary. To remind you that Spike does NOT have a soul...which is why he then seeks it out. Because he does care. Because he can't live with himself after what he tried to do. And you know his story, so you WANT to forgive him. And you do. And then you hate yourself for forgiving him, so you have to ask yourSELF what the fuck is going on that I'm forgiving an attempted rapist?! Putting yourself in his shoes and still knowing it is wrong and you'd never....It's NEVER excusable, but I get that in a relationship built upon abuse (from both sides, in this case) and darkness, there could be a confusing moment, a question of consent. She acts like she hates him the entire time she's fucking him, and really she hates herself the entire time she's fucking him. And for Spike's character, being soulless and recently losing Buffy, it makes sense that this happens, though she doesn't forgive him for a year and he never forgives himself. His love-sickness is more obsession than actual love and always has been. This is the moment he has to choose to change. A soulless creature can WANT to change.
Perhaps in this scene, Joss wants men to be put in Spike's place. If they've ever had that moment of almost overpowering a woman when they didn't realize what they were doing...the self-loathing that follows. The pain of seeing Buffy victimized, which you NEVER see in the show. Perhaps this scene is meant for men to see how this feels for a woman. How it is NEVER ok, even when the chick can kick your ass, even when you've had sex with her many times before. It makes the scene so much more intense when you know everything they've both been through to get to that moment. Everyone in season 6 reaches their darkest moments, and this is Spike's. I don't think he's trivializing rape here at ALL. People are more complex than their actions...and he didn't go through with it. And he will attempt to atone for it for the rest of his life.
There are consequences all over the place for every action in Buffy and this is why it's one of the best shows ever. Anyway, I'm getting YEARS (though for me, it will be only weeks) ahead of myself here. The arc of Spike/Buffy is very complex and interesting. His path is never clear-cut, but always nuanced and fascinating.
Commentary (by Doug Petrie) notes added 5.12.13: The point of having Buffy get stabbed by a typical vampire in a typical situation is to remind us how intrinsically dangerous Buffy's job really is.
I think Spike's nature is really true throughout his existence. He tries in life to be good so badly with the same fervour he emloys becoming bad as a vampire.
Doug talks about Spike's accent here. As a human, he had an aristocratic high-class accent and then as a vampire he employed (on purpose, presumably) more of a cockney working-class accent to differentiate himself from Angel. Never noticed Spike getting his eyebrow scar from the first Slayer he killed in China. Ha! I was right that Angel has a soul during the Boxer Rebellion. That he's trying to deal with what's happened to him and hasn't told his mates when Spike kills that first Slayer. This episode is essentially the story of Spike. It tells the story of the scar, the accent, and the coat. And no matter how far he's come, he's still William the Bloody when Buffy tells him he's beneath her and throw money at him like he's her whore.