Season seven, while undoubtedly promoting new arcs and fresh incarnations of our favorite characters, is appropriately still sifting through the baggage of last year. Buffy's assault played a major part in last week's episode, and here we see Willow returning to Sunnydale after her murderous rampage last season. Same Time, Same Place is all about fear, and the various forms it arrives in. Willow is terrified of being isolated by her friends, as well as scared that she'll once again return to the crazed, grieving state she was in following Tara's death. Meanwhile, Buffy, Xander and Dawn all experience their own varying emotions when it comes to forgiveness, and whether Willow can ever truly be absolved for what she's done, and whether she's even still possessing the same anger she exhibited the last time they were all together.
While this is still a spectacular episode on a skin-eating, rubber-suited monster level, the major themes running through the hour are thought-provoking and intense. You can practically feel Willow's isolation throughout the story, Alyson Hannigan photographed so small at the center of the Summers living room, or in that great shot where she nervously walks down the corridors of Sunnydale High, every one of the students ignoring her presence. But you also feel for Buffy, who has to wonder whether Willow is still actively involved in the flaying-folks-alive community, and therefore what she has to do to stop her. In that great coda, Willow tells her that she shouldn't at all feel guilty because she has to have those feelings -- it's her sacred duty. It's an idea that plays strongly into the rest of the season, and it's wonderfully executed here.
The rest of the episode steam-rolls from several wildly distinctive tones but still somehow ends up being one of those unheralded Buffy classics. Gnarl, derivative Gollum clone as he is, remains one of the most horrifying monsters I've ever glimpsed in fiction. His dialogue is straight from gothic fairytale (like so many of the Buffyverse's most memorable antagonists), while Camden Toy's physical movements are chilling. Those snapping fingers still rattle me.
But even with all the skin-eating and eyeball-popping gross-out, Jane Espenson's script is a hoot. Anya's dialogue is hysterical, especially her asking Willow if their magic spell is going to get "all sexy", followed by her later follow-up statement ("It did get a little sexy, didn't it?") and Will's initially aroused but then instantly disgusted facial expression. Then there's Michelle Trachtenberg's hilarious comedy paralysis. On a character level, both Anya and Dawn continue to be written well this season. I loved Anya's nervous admission that she's suddenly finding all of her vengeance curses "depressing", while Dawn's unbridled glee at becoming a junior Scooby member and finally being taken seriously is completely adorable.
Same Time, Same Place is one of those perfect Buffy episodes that showcases every wonderful element of this show. The humor, the ickiness, the characters -- all wrapped up in a script that is beautifully constructed (notably in the reverse-perspective Spike scene) and gets everything it can out of it's intriguing 'isolated Willow' scenario. One of my all-time favorites. A+
Writer Jane Espenson Director James A. Contner