Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S06E03 – After Life

In the third episode of the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Scoobies battle a demon they unknowingly created while Buffy copes with life. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.

Truthfully, I’ve been dreading this episode for a week. After I finish writing reviews for the following week, I actually don’t watch any more episodes for a full seven days. I do that partially to give myself to do site stuff and spend time writing my books, but I’ve come to enjoy that I do get a week off from seeing the next part of the story. In this case, that break caused me to feel more and more dread for the moment after the second half of “Bargaining.” I imagined a thousand different ways this story could go, and not a single one of them was pleasant. There was no doubt in my mind that Buffy Summers was traumatized and unhappy with being brought back to life. Unfortunately for me, not one of these scenarios was what actually happened, which means that there was no way I could have ever been prepared for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s closing monologue.

I’m so fucked up right now.

First of all, I didn’t expect “After Life” to begin in the exact place where the previous episode left off. It’s a choice that left me feeling uncomfortable for forty-two straight minutes. There was not on goddamn moment that I felt everything was okay. There was not even a second when I thought that I’d be rolling in puppies. Actually, okay, the second when Willow said that line was wonderful, but you get my point. This felt so wrong, and Willow’s insistence that everything was all right made it worse.

It was all hard to watch, but I appreciate that the writers aren’t taking the easy way out on this one. I know that season six is going to have to address a lot of the issues brought up here, like Willow’s continued use of magic that’s more and more powerful, or Buffy’s sense of displacement in the world. For now, though, most of “After Life” avoids grand spectacles and revelations. The writers largely focus on the subtle and emotionally destructive moments of each of the characters dealing with the return of Buffy. It’s interesting to me, then, that the two characters who had nothing to do with resurrecting Buffy are the ones who ultimately treat her the best. Dawn eventually gives Buffy the space she needs to explore the world she has returned to, and even when she is talking to her, she’s tender and respectful. I think that’s also because Dawn had no idea Buffy would ever come back, so she’s surprised and shocked herself.

I know that’s a similar to Spike’s reaction. It really is such a small, quiet scene, but seeing Spike’s face as he stares at an impossibility was just so gripping. Bless both James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar for this brilliant moment of flawless face acting. Spike is staring at someone who should not exist. And it’s not just any old person. This is the woman he loves, and impossibly, she is standing in front of him. He turns to the one thing he can comprehend in the situation: her hand is injured. He finds something to do. He can take care of her. It’s why he freaks out so much when the rest of the Scooby gang arrive, and they make it very clear that they brought her back. He’s lost the only strand of understanding and sense that he can deal with, and the whole thing unravels.

Well, and he’s fucking livid at these people. I don’t want to forget that. They left him out of their plans to resurrect Buffy. And whatever their reasons – legitimate or not – Spike still isn’t fully accepted into the Scoobies. Yes, he’s helped out all summer, he’s done his best to take care of Dawn, and at the end of the day, he is still an outsider. Of course, this whole thing is about Buffy, so that pisses him off even more. But he also has the most sensible reaction to the very idea of resurrecting Buffy: what price are they going to pay for bringing her back? 

It’s clear that Willow never truly thought about this, and it takes Tara spelling this out for Willow to accept that. While Xander and Anya certainly doubted the process and all of the Scoobies were generally preparing for the worst, no one really thought about what it would be like if they succeeded. What if they really did bring Buffy back as her own self, and there weren’t any horrific complications to it? Well, that’s being disingenuous to the situation. Honestly, all of the Scoobies aside from Spike think about Buffy’s resurrection in an unfair and selfish way. They want her back, they needed her, and they’re only worried about how this would affect them. It’s frustrating to watch, especially from Willow. Willow frames a lot of the things she says in a way that positions her feelings as the most important aspect in the situation. It’s not that she doesn’t care for Buffy! She clearly cares about her a great deal, but she seems so concerned about assuaging her own guilt that she can’t really see how much Buffy is suffering.

The demon in this episode (whose name I totally missed and cannot spell for the life of me) represents this chaos and confusion brought with Buffy’s return. I loved the explanation that it wasn’t a hitchhiker but a creation of the magic that Willow used. In that way, it makes Willow the one who is most responsible for what Buffy is going through. One of the things I’ve liked about Buffy is the way the writers have used the villain-of-the-week format as a commentary on the horrors and pain of everyday life. Sure, a lot of the metaphors have been about as subtle as Mitt Romney’s platform, but it’s something that I find fascinating. This show has really been about how life can be this tragic, harmful experience, but it’s the family we form that makes it livable. In this case, the demon that Willow created is the writer’s way of giving us a parallel to Buffy: this being is out of sync with its own time. Buffy is now out of step with the world, and it isn’t until the final scene that we find out why. But even before that, I still understood the basic dynamic of the episode. No one consulted Buffy and asked her if she wanted to come back. Now, I recognize the inherent absurdity in that statement. It’s not like Willow could have texted Buffy HEY GURL SO U WANNA COME BACK TO LIFE THX BB or anything. And trust me, I understand the desperation that comes with losing someone you love. Ultimately, though, Buffy is back in the mortal world after death. She lived a full life, and now she’s back. What the hell is she supposed to do? I’m actually writing this review after having finished The Sandman’s ‘Brief Lives’ for Mark Reads, so the crossover theme here is SO TERRIBLY RELEVANT. We live our lives, no matter how small or huge, and they are ours. Buffy completed her life, and I know that she met death with such ease because she was happy for it all to be finished. How is she supposed to go on after death?

I thought that the title of this ever was a clever play on this theme of a life after death, then. Buffy’s afterlife was life, not her own death. But the final scene of “After Life” gives it a horrifying twist, and I don’t think this show has ever been more disturbing. I knew that Buffy’s gratitude towards her friends felt forced. I knew that she was trying her hardest to comfort her friends, and I knew that she was putting her own terror and pain aside so that she could make them all feel better. It was a touching, heartbreaking moment, especially since I could tell Buffy was hurting throughout the whole thing.

I had just accepted that she had been to some sort of hell and that the experience had left her cold, hollow, and numb. I had no reason to think otherwise. So when Buffy revealed that she’d been in some sort of heaven, I just put my head down on my desk and tried not to cry. I felt numb. I felt awful. I felt personally responsible for wanting Buffy to come back. Buffy found peace and happiness, as if the universe gave her an award for all the years she sacrificed her own well-being for others. She was in this warm, comforting place, and her friends ripped her out of it so she could claw her way out of her own coffin.

It’s not lost on me that the person she confides in is Spike. He’s miserable, she’s miserable, and it works. That’s one way you can look at her relationship, but there’s a trust built between the two of them that’s undeniable at this point, and Buffy knows Spike won’t bullshit her. He’ll be there, and he’ll be honest about what it is she’s going through.

Each moment is a struggle just to survive for Buffy Summers. She is now in her own personal Hell. I am just so fucked up over this revelation. Please bury me here in my blog, y’all. I can’t go any further.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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3 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: S06E03 – After Life

  1. Silverr says:

    As much as I love all the Scoobies, I always find myself wanting to slap every one of them for the way they come stampeding into the quiet space between Buffy and Spike (and Xander offering pizza, fawgawdsake).

    I also love the way that he reacts to the ‘”I can be alone with you here.” line. But he really is the only/first one to recognize/acknowledge that she might be in pain, and so it seems reasonable that he’d be the one she confides in – not so much because it’s him, but because she needs to say aloud to someone what she can’t say to the others.

    (And every time I watch these episodes I marvel again at how they’ve brought Spike to this point, without it seeming at all forced, and yet also still surprising even saavy viewers. What a an amazing, amazing show.)

  2. Simone says:

    Yupp. Shit just got real,yo!

    The back alley scene w/ Buffy and Spike is horrifying AND heartbreakung.

  3. richie says:

    After rewatching that season 4 or 5 times… I’ve grown to despise willow. Buffy said her peace and had the luxery of dying for something she believed in! And willow didn’t care. Selfish

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