In the third episode of the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow’s fear of being rejected by the Scoobies upon returning to Sunnydale is manifested when… oh, I’m not going to spoil you! If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Okay, I really enjoyed this episode, so let me get my one real complaint out of the way so I can talk about why “Same Time, Same Place” totally rules.
So: Anya’s characterization is kind of all over the place, and it confuses me. Largely, I think we’re seeing her in a moment of crisis because she doesn’t know if she belongs in the demon world or the human one. That’s paralleled to Willow, rather obviously at one point, and I think it’s a fantastic story for her character. I want to see more of it. What I don’t get is this weird insistence from the writers to pick and choose what elements Anya is most human at. There are so many instances in this episode where Anya either doesn’t react to something happening, or the writers have her act entirely without empathy. Like, I get that she’s working through her anger over Willow destroying The Magic Box, but things are so tonally jarring when during the scene where she reveals that Willow is heading off to the Gnarl’s cave. In this same episode, Anya struggles with the knowledge that the pain she causes is upsetting, so why on earth is this scene played for laughs in a way that completely contradicts what we know of her? Is this meant to suggest that Anya cares so little about Willow that she finds Willow’s imminent death quietly hilarious? I kind of felt like they bonded in Anya’s apartment over their own role in the world, so why would Anya act so dismissive?
Even when Anya is by Willow’s side, her reaction to everything is just so weird to me. It’s like… Anya’s been human for a while now, and she’s certainly developed human emotions. Did those disappear when she was made a vengeance demon again? If so, why isn’t this made more clear? I mean, that would certainly explain her behavior! Bah, I’m confused. I love Anya as a character, but I don’t know what the writers are saying through her. Also, it’s entirely possible that I’m meant to be confused, and then I’ll get to a future episode, and I’ll have to remove my foot from my mouth. Again. Oh, well! That’s the nature of writing about this show. THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS, I HOPE YOU LIKE THEM.
So, let’s talk about why “Same Time, Same Place” is AWESOME.
- It’s not often that I comment about the way this show is filmed, and admittedly, I only really notice things when they break from the norm. Whedon and company have done a lot of rad shit over the years, but I noticed a great deal of shots and camera angles that we’ve not really seen before. “Same Time, Same Place” has an emotional base to its story, yes, but it’s also inherently about spacial arrangement. Where are these characters relative to one another? How can they exist in the literal same time and same place as one another without seeing each other? What are the ramifications and rules of this phenomenon? Multiple times, these ideas are explored visually as the camera moves around characters. There’s that gorgeous, haunting shot when Willow wakes up in the Summers household to discover that no one is there. Still. The camera pulls away from her, and we see just how isolated she is in that room. The same thing happens with Buffy and Xander multiple times. Where are these characters in physical space? Why does it matter? I love that this episode got me to think about those sort of things.
- Willow’s fear of rejection manifests in an unconscious spell that makes it so that her best friends cannot see her and vice versa. It’s a clever (and emotionally devastating way) to address the isolation both parties feel from one another. Ironically, Buffy, Xander, and Dawn were all prepared to welcome Willow back with open arms, but Willow had no idea that her friends would react this way. Instead, her worse fear is made real, and she returns from England to be greeted by absolutely no one.
- But that fear is compounded by the Gnarl, and Jane Espenson cleverly creates a situation where Buffy, Xander, and Dawn’s worst fear (that Willow is still Dark) is exacerbated by the discovery of a flayed body. We get to watch them navigate an uncomfortable (but necessary) process with their friend. Is it possible that Willow isn’t better? And what’s their responsibility this time around to stop Willow? Can they even afford to give her the benefit of the doubt? Honesty, they can’t, and Buffy herself struggles the most with this. (Dawn, however, does not, showing that once again, she is much more confident about moral issues than the rest of the group. That doesn’t mean she’s right all the time, obviously, but I think it’s fascinating to see this contrasted with her older sister.)
- While I have issues personally with how graphic the scene is between the Gnarl and Willow (DID YOU REALLY HAVE TO SHOW THAT), I do find him to be one of the most terrifying creatures this show has ever given us. It’s like he’s a rejected Dr. Seuss creation who got dropped into an H.P. Lovecraft pit. Oh god, the way he talks is the worst. Maliciously rhyming villains? No, thank you. But he does serve another purpose that fits in with this episode’s narrative: his technique involves paralyzing and then isolating his victims so he can devour them. Willow’s entire story is about isolation, so it’s just a further case of her worst fear coming true. She’s alone, and there’s no on there to save her.
- I’m glad that Willow and Anya’s first conversation is so raw and awkward. Okay, I’m not joyous, but I’m satisfied that Jane Espenson didn’t ignore what a horrible thing it was for Anya to even see Willow. But over the course of “Same Time, Same Place,” Willow and Anya come to realize that they have a lot more in common than ever before. Both are in such an odd place as supernatural beings. Anya is unsure whether she should wield her demon powers, just as Willow is unsure she should continue doing magic, even for positive reasons. While Willow’s recent history is just a bit more severe, both characters are honestly examining what it means to have the powers that they do. Ugh, can they bond more?
- Then there’s that unbelievable parallel between Willow and Spike. HOW DID I NEVER MAKE THIS CONNECTION BEFORE? They both did something terrible to their friends, left Sunnydale to seek out some sort of redemption or correction, and have returned to a morally confusing and chaotic worlds where few things make sense. H E L P
- Spike’s dialogue to the Scoobies is just GENIUS. Legitimately one of my favorite scenes in the entire episode, especially since it’s so weird.
- I honestly don’t know how or if Spike can ever get better. He’s clearly been suffering from the effects of gaining a soul, but what could possibly help him work through this stuff? Is it just a matter of time? I’m trying to think how Angel dealt with it, but I’m realizing it took him YEARS to begin to cope with the endless wave of thoughts, guilt, and fear.
- Oh my god, that final scene in Willow’s bedroom is just so incredible. Buffy and Willow are honest and open with one another. This is the only way these two can build that trust again. And I’m just so overwhelmed with feelings by Buffy offering her Slayer strength for Willow’s meditation. IT’S SO TOUCHING TO ME.
God, what a fantastic story. Some of the humor felt a bit misplaced, especially Dawn’s scenes while paralyzed in her house, but it wasn’t enough to distract from the story. Oh god, WILLOW IS BACK YESSSSS. Now if only Giles could come back, too. SADFACES.
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