For a lot of this episode, the Scoobies speculate on whether Buffy has come back 'wrong', that awful things occurred during her summer vacation in deathville and that she's somehow damaged as a result. But what After Life eventually proves is that it isn't Buffy that feels 'off' this season, but everybody else. It's no surprise that Buffy sparks up an immediate connection with Spike, since he's the only one who isn't bombarding her with questions and trying to figure out why she's acting differently. There's obviously a lot of overt symbolism (the knuckle wounds, both having dug themselves out of graves), but the deepest connection is found in the natural chemistry between the two of them. Their conversations are covered in long pauses and quiet trepidation -- an unusual friendship that feels weirdly right.
Willow has changed so much over the years, but we're seeing some horrible patterns emerging right now. She's constantly deflecting responsibility, feels annoyed that Buffy hasn't thanked her for bringing her back from the dead, and struggles to connect with the person that was at one point her best friend. She's suddenly a strange beast, somebody consumed with too much power and a diminishing conscience. Tara and Xander have become ciphers, and Anya is Anya. All four are annoying right now, and only Anya has any real excuse. When I suddenly begin to see Dawn as the voice of reason, you know something terrible has happened.
The demon plot is incidental and pretty routine (the dialogue at the Magic Box is also unusually awful), but that feels intentional. The real horror is occurring in Buffy's life, and the after-effects of her resurrection. The final scene between Buffy and Spike is beautifully performed, Sarah Michelle Gellar conveying so much loss and misunderstanding as she tries to piece together what she briefly had, and how she's going to deal with being dragged back to a place she doesn't want to be. Buffy mentions that she had ended as a person, that her time was done and that she was relieved. She had that freedom and that pure happiness... and then it was ripped away from her. It's a devastating situation, and I respect the show for going to such a dark place.
I still think season six flies off the rails mid-season, but right now the year has a clear focus that I'm enjoying. It's at the expense of a lot of the cast (who have become insufferable), but the character work for Buffy and Spike is so far really rewarding. A
Guest stars Amber Benson (Tara Maclay)
Writer Jane Espenson Director David Solomon