Beneath You

Season Seven, Episode Two


Beneath You: The Review

Down to basics.

Beneath You begins to answer some of the questions raised by Lessons. It continues the revival of the show's original premises.

The teaser makes use of the Slayer's power of oneiromancy to establish that the young women who are being systematically murdered around the world are connected in some manner to Buffy and to the coming eruption of the Hellmouth. In a nightmare, Buffy witnesses the latest murder in Germany, that of a Daryl Hannah/Jennifer Garner stunt double, who utters the title phrase, "From beneath you, it devours," with her dying breath. Spike, as the viewers will readily remember, was "beneath me" both to Cecily and Buffy in Fool for Love. The phrase has more immediate meaning, however, for it defines the monster of the moment, one of Anya's pets, a burrowing, omnivorous "worm" straight out of Tremors.

Nancy, the intended victim of the Sluggoth demon, is not one of the young women being pursued by the robed assassins, but she is in as much peril. Luckily, Xander happens to be passing as Nancy's Yorkshire Terrier, Rocky, is devoured by the demon, and he has this friend who deals with that sort of problem.

Pick up Styx.

Buffy has begun her new job as a counselor, working at a desk conveniently located outside the principal's office, sure to be a crucial spot in the coming months. Principal Wood continues to be charming and encouraging. He says all of the right things, which is suspicious in itself. His joke about the bastinada draws unexpected comprehension from Buffy. (The correct form is bastinado, from the Spanish, not the Turkish, as Buffy says.) In any case, whether good or evil, Robin Wood bears watching.

Spike is transiently lucid, but he appears to be battling both his demon and the ghosts of his victims, as his conscience has been awakened by the restoration of his soul. The crowd of voices in his head and William's 19th Century moralistic personality appear to provide a constant barrage of condemnation, which Spike can only partially mute. Buffy knows something of his condition, having suffered from the voices of thousands in her brain during Earshot. It is interesting that the personality of Randy from Tabula Rasa briefly resurfaces, as Spike dons a blue shirt as heroic uniform, assaying to remake himself, sartor resartus, as the superhero with a change of costume. It doesn't work to suppress the voice of his demon or to transform him more than superficially, as he ironically notes.

Having been ignored in the first episode, Anya is made the central character in Beneath You. Anyanka was an heartless Vengeance Demon, but Anya has been long enough under the influence of Buffy to have experienced selflessness and to learn through her own pain how terrible was the suffering she once inflicted. Her heart is no longer in the game, but she has been warned that her job performance has been disappointing, and the Sluggoth demon is her response. Pressure from her friends and her own conscience overcomes her work ethic, and she reverses the wish. Anya is confronted by Nancy, who pointedly asks, "What are you?" Indeed, although Anya revels in her power, threatening to kick Spike's ass, it is evident that she is not happy as the demon and is merely resigned to making the best of a bad thing. When she sees that Spike has regained his soul, she becomes excited, and urgently inquires how he did it, as though she has regained hope of quitting the demonic ranks again.

Nancy and Ronnie provide the meager story upon which the exploration of Anya's and Spike's dualistic problems hang. The plays upon the Nancy allusions (Nancy and Ronald Reagan, Nancy ad Sluggo, "Nancy boys") are more whimsical than illustrative. Spike's reclamation of his soul, and Anya's desire to revert once more to womanhood, are the real points of focus. Spike's aspiration, the classic chivalric desire to attain God through the love of a lady, has placed him on the same path as Angel, to whom comparisons must be made. Like Angel, he attempts to atone through good works, although the immediate purpose of all his actions remains centered in the desire to please and to atone to Buffy. Of all his crimes as a vampire, the one that torments him most is the attempted rape in Seeing Red. How much strength he has to resist the demon is being tested. When he feels the first rumblings of the Sluggoth demon through the earth, his reaction is to cry out that it isn't yet time, which can be interpreted from both sides of his split personality. Anya's torment, however, appears to arise from her sense of despair. She sees no way out of the trap into which she has stepped willingly.

Willow is in the same boat. She has to return to Sunnydale with her knowledge of the Hellmouth's appetite and to add her own powers to the attempt to curb it, but she is afraid of both the gaping maw and her own destructive tendencies. She isn't sure if she can control herself, and is even more disturbed by the thought that her friends will not forgive and receive her. Whatever punishment the universe has to inflict, that would be the worst.

In Sum.

Spike completes the episode's delve of self-torment with his worm-like turn in the alley, followed by his run to ground into the chapel, where he confesses his soul to Buffy. Having fought Anya to keep the secret, he now reveals all to Buffy. The voices of his victims and his own self-loathing wish him in Hell, and he invokes God, seeking peace in the Cross, which only sears his flesh. Buffy's stunned acceptance of the news is the center of the scene, as he circles her in the shadows, and it is evident that only the hope of her forgiveness keeps him from destroying himself. That Spike has become a pathetic schmuck, in the words of The First Evil, seems ever more true. The fear generated by the finale of the sixth season has been realized: Spike, while technically dangerous because of his mental illness, is little more than a scourge to himself. Whether his chip or his own moral sense is the source of his pain when he impales Ronnie is of little consequence. The mystery of Spike's former behavior is gone. What he might be doing off-screen is probably the only remaining question to be answered. On-screen, however, he is no longer interesting.

Horace LaBadie

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