Season Six, Premiere (in two parts)

What the Scoobies Did Last Summer

Bargaining: The Review

Bargaining is uncompromising. It gives the viewers the most painful view yet of the show's heroic burden: life's a bitch, and then it's over. For Buffy, however, there is the additional burden that it's not over.

Anne again.

The teaser is reminiscent of that of Anne, when the Scooby Gang attempted to assume the duties of the Slayer in her absence. It will be remembered that Buffy, having sent her lover Angel to Hell in order to save the world, had decamped for the City of the Angels, there to find only a Dantesque Inferno of the hopeless. Willow, Oz, Xander, and Cordelia tried to form a slaying collective, to perform the Slayer's Sisyphusean task of keeping the vampires in check. The results were comically ineffective. Willow's grasp of the superficies of slaying exceeded her dexterity with a stake, as she put the acquisition of a killer wit before that of a lethal weapon. Buffy's wit, certainly, is an expression of her quality, of her genius as it were, but it requires the personality of Buffy to produce it. It cannot be reproduced. The gang, even with their combined personality traits, could not equal the Slayer as a persona, let alone as a force. In Bargaining, the gang has grown, and their efficacy has increased, but still they are not a substitute for the Slayer. Willow is clearly in charge, supplanting Giles by virtue of her superior magical power. Moving beyond walkie-talkies, Willow now communicates telepathically, and invasively, to coordinate the gang's actions. She has also repaired the Buffybot, the mechanical simulacrum which Spike had commissioned from Warren.


Ironically, Buffybot is the vital part of the gang's plan to keep the illusion that Buffy is alive. Buffybot is the spit and image of Buffy, to be sure. The bright red lipstick and smart outfit seem a trifle too perfect, though, "too shiny" as Spike put it in Intervention. (The viewers will recall that originally the Scoobies were unable to detect that Buffybot was not Buffy, which says something about their perceptions of Buffy.) Willow has improved her own mastery of the superficial aspects of Buffy, but her programming of Buffybot betrays Willow's still imperfect evaluation of Buffy as a person. She cannot find the formula for the personality of the Slayer as expressed in Buffy's inimitable wit. "Word salad" is the result, as Buffybot dispatches a vampire with "That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo." The intangible essence of Buffy eludes Willow.

Like April, the prototype from I Was Made to Love You on which Buffybot was based, the modified Buffybot is a charming creation in her own right, totally innocent and yet not totally oblivious. She is also mock Buffy, possessing the look but none of the substance of the original, and as such, a source of both comfort and pain. She bears the freight of emotional baggage of the gang, but she cannot lift their sense of loss. Neither can she reciprocate their feelings. Buffybot goes through the motions, is relentlessly cheerful, but her manner like her wit is artificial. There is one peculiarly poignant yet ironical scene in which Buffybot declares that Dawn is her sister and embraces her, one artificial girl recognizing and clumsily hugging another. Her endearing predilection for knock-knock jokes, on the other hand, seems to be an irrepressible function of her native identity, but one which the gang tries to erase. Indeed, whenever Buffybot attempts to deviate from her programming, their impulse is to "fix" her. Buffybot is Buffy as object, too, the Buffy that her friends constructed in their own minds even while Buffy was alive. Anya and Spike are the most perspicacious in their insights regarding the situation. Anya correctly reminds Giles that Buffybot is descended from a long line of toaster ovens, not a long line of mystical warriors, and Spike can hardly tolerate Buffybot's presence, so much does she remind him that she is not Buffy. Willow, as Pygmalion, is especially determined to shape Buffybot into her image of Buffy. It is significant that Willow, who made her first forays into the underground of hacking in Welcome to the Hellmouth when she revealed that she had "accidentally" gotten into the city's servers, has attained a skill in robotics equaling that of Warren.

It was Willow who got the robot's head on straight, and it is to Willow that Buffybot must return when her navigational system fails. Willow is in control of Buffybot, of the remade Buffy, and it is Willow who will reanimate the real Buffy. Dissatisfied with her attempts to recreate Buffy, Willow intends to raise the dead.

Buffy redux.

The plan to resurrect Buffy is necessarily a secret from Spike, Giles, and Dawn. Other than Willow, in fact, none who is aware of it thinks that it is a good idea. Tara says outright that she thinks that it is wrong, but it is what they have decided to do, and there can be no reservations if they are to succeed. Despite objections, Willow steamrolls all opposition with the plea that Buffy's soul might be trapped in an hell dimension, suffering torture, and she will not permit it. Giles, having realized that the focus of his life cannot be replaced by Buffybot, leaves America, perhaps a little too conveniently for the plot, as the Scoobs themselves note. This leaves Willow with no possible check to her preparations, which includes the collection of Vino de Madre, a sacrificial blood offering. This deed she conceals even from Tara, leaving no doubt that such a sacrifice is beyond the pale. The procuration of the needed materials complete, the time is ripe for the resurrection, and none too soon.

Word that Sunnydale is without the Slayer already has reached a nearby roadhouse, where a rather Goth biker gang of demonic land pirates has gathered. While not an especially inspired play on Hell's Angels, they are nasty enough for the purpose, i.e., to provide a complication.

The actual ritual of resurrection is harrowing for Willow and the Scoobs, less so for the viewers, even though Willow coughs up a python, but it is punctuated by the arrival of Buffybot, pursued by the pirates. Scattering, the Scoobies leave Buffybot and the already revitalized Buffy to their respective fates. Their colossal miscalculations are about to become manifest.

Buffy, awakening in her coffin (which seems to be mystically illuminated), has to deal with her own confusion and her confinement. She is clearsighted and clearheaded enough to understand her predicament and to smash her way out of the coffin and to reach the surface in a scene that alludes to one from Nightmares, in which, as a vampire, she clawed out of her own grave. Here she reaches the surface as herself, and is confronted by the evidence of her own death, her tombstone. Whether she thinks herself a vampire at that moment isn't clear, but she is obviously traumatized by the abruptness of the change that she has undergone. Alone in the woods, Buffy wanders back into Sunnydale, which she sees through bleary eyes as a lurid confusion of burning vehicles and buildings.

The fate of Buffybot is wretched. Subdued by the demons, she is subjected to a modern drawing and quartering by motorcycles. This dismemberment is witnessed by Buffy herself, as though she is seeing her own execution. That Buffybot is dressed as Buffy herself was when she died in The Gift makes the scene more disturbing for Buffy, who sees herself, one imagines, as if in a nightmare, both as victim and spectator, immobilized and powerless to stop the torment. Buffy screams and flees. Pursued, she eludes the demons, dropping over a fence directly in front of Xander, Willow, Tara, and Anya. Differentiation of Buffy from Buffybot takes a few seconds (she is wearing Buffy's burial dress, after all), but Buffy hares off in alarm. The following scene, in which the disoriented Buffy is backed into the metaphorical metaphysical corner by her friends is transcendently sad. Xander is the first to comprehend their fundamental blunder, the failure first to exhume Buffy's body, when he sees her torn hands. From Buffy's point of view, her friends are almost indistinguishable from the demons of her tormenting vision of dismemberment. They close about her, hemming her in the corner. It is only when the Scoobies themselves are set upon by those demons that Buffy's protective spirit awakens fully, and she falls upon the attackers like a whirlwind. Despite everything, she seems stronger than ever, withstanding a vicious beating to throw off the demons as though they had been thunderstruck. But she is not entirely back, and runs from her friends when the battle is over.

The climactic scene occurs on the same Escheresque tower of confusion from which she plummeted to her death in The Gift. Here Buffy is tempted again to repeat the plunge, the scene of her death playing itself out in her mind. "Everything was so clear then." The viewers are given a pitiful and chilling insight into Buffy's heart when, summing up her experiences to since her rebirth, she asks "Is this Hell?" The answer from Dawn is hardly consoling, "No, you're home."

Buffy's question is heartbreaking and portentous. To contemplate the state of mind that would allow her to believe herself in Hell, one must first imagine that her idea of Hell is very much like her memories of life: fighting, pain, flight, and fear in an endless cycle. That she could believe that she is now in Hell immediately negates Willow's argument that Buffy had been suffering in an hell dimension from which she must be rescued. It also raises to a near certainty the probability that Buffy will not be grateful for her return to what she regards as an hellish existence. It also portends that she will be least happy with those who brought her back to that existence.

The laughs.

The humor in the episode is supplied primarily by Buffybot, which is earnest and cheerful in almost every circumstance. She is surprisingly (or not, as Spike points out) successful with the teachers during Parent-Teacher Day at school. In a scene borrowed from Being There, her Chancey simplicity is mistaken for wisdom. "School is a place for learning." One remark, that she made lunch for Dawn that morning, prompts a discussion about the substandard food served in the school cafeteria and the waste of money when parents must both pay for lunch and supply an edible alternative. Her admiration for a model "City of the Future" is completed by her observation that she has never seen a type of human small enough to live in it. Anya, too, contributes her own Cordelia-like tactless humor to the episode, as usual speaking her mind with unabashed directness. Her main concern is that she and Xander announce their engagement, and it is that thought that bubbles to the surface of her mind in the alley as the Scoobies are clustered around shell-shocked Buffy. That Buffy would have no idea what she meant doesn't occur to her. Anya's demon of acquisitiveness, awakened by the "Game of Life" in The Real Me, emerges yet again. She and Giles engage in a slaphappy fit of silliness over division of property that would do The Three Stooges proud. (It also recalls the almost cat fight between Xander and Cordelia in The Dark Age.) And what's up with the prime numbers on the shirts (07 on Dawn, 11 on Williow, and 13 on Xander)? Spike comes closest to wit with his gibe at Giles, who has nearly been throttled by the fat vampire in the teaser:

                     Oooh. Poor watcher. Did your life
                     pass before your eyes? "Cuppa tea,
                cuppa tea, almost got shagged, cuppa tea..."

In Sum.

Bargaining is a second Welcome to the Hellmouth for Buffy. Dragged again into the violence and struggle without her consent, she reacts instinctively to save her friends and Dawn and ultimately herself, but the dazed understanding that she cannot escape that destiny even in death weighs upon her. Her indomitable will seems to be her only real resource in a world in which love itself is tainted by selfishness. In the last analysis, Buffy is shown to be the one selfless character in the drama, the robot made flesh, as it were, subject to her programming as Slayer, sister, and friend, Protector, but having chosen to accept that role.

Horace LaBadie

Buffy Menu

Next Review