We’re in the airport arrival lounge. People get off the plane, hug their loved ones, usual airport business. Buffy, Dawn and Xander are waiting by the exit, eyeing the crowd. Xander holds a big poster drawn in yellow crayon. It might be saying “Welcome home Willow”, but I can’t be sure, because it’s yellow on white. OK, Xander was never overly bright, but why not use blue background or something? He explains to the girls (for the thousandth time, judging from their reaction) that yellow crayon is a very special memory from his and Willow’s childhood, and he mentioned it when he talked Willow out of destroying the world. When his mouth saved the world. Heh. I still prefer that other story where some guy saves the worlds with his penis by seducing the sacrificial virgin. Everybody’s a little nervous, because it can be weird reconnecting with a friend who tried to kill you, and also because they know that Willow did not finish her rehabilitation course in England. Finally they notice that everybody is off the plane, but Willow is nowhere to be seen.
And then the same scene repeats again! Same time on airport clocks, same people pass by, and Willow is among them, but nobody is there to meet her. “Welcome home, me,” grumbles Willow, looking sad and distraught.
Somewhere in a messy dark place a teenager is spraying graffiti on a wall. Something creepy with long, unkempt fingernails approaches him and asks: “Are you frightened to be alone?” in a creepiest voice imaginable. It’s a kind of voice you should be saying “My precccioussss” with. Looks like between instalments of “Lord of the Rings” Gollum takes his vacation in Sunnydale. Gollum attacks the kid, and we cut to…
Willow knocks on the door of Buffy’s house, but nobody answers. Then she just enters. They have no locks whatsoever, I’m telling you. The house is empty. Buffy has moved into her mother’s old bedroom, where Willow later used to live with Tara. There are some pictures of the gang on the walls, but Willow is not among them. She picks up a notebook and discovers she is not on the list of “family numbers” either; it’s just Buffy, Xander and Dawn. She hears some noises at the front door, but there’s nobody there. Willow curls onto a couch in the front room and falls asleep.
Buffy, Dawn and Xander enter house at the same time as Willow. They even hear her footsteps at the climbs the stairs, but don’t see her. They checked with Giles that Willow has indeed left London, and they think she might have left the plane during a stop at Chicago. Buffy is wearing a sheer white long dress and jeans at the same time. Not only this outfit is absurdly bizarre, it also stresses that her once perky and prominent boobies are nowhere to be seen, just like Willow. This is so sad, people! Giles is blaming himself for pushing Willow to go home before she felt ready, Xander and Buffy are blaming themselves for not making Willow feel that she will be welcome. Dawn just wants to blame Willow. And during that talk they all sit on the same couch Willow is sleeping on!
Willow wakes up the next day, still alone, tries to call Giles but cannot reach him. She goes to Magic Box shop she destroyed during her “evil” phase and sees Anya, who’s apparently still in the process of clearing the debris of her “ex-livelihood”. Anya is a bit scared and angry; she asks: “What are you doing here? I thought you were with Giles studying how to not kill people!” Willow is so humble, guilty and remorseful, that Anya softens up and they have quite a nice chat. Anya tells her that Buffy and Xander can be found at the High School, and Spike is there as well, insane in the basement. Anya looks so lovely in this episode! Finally, they stopped using her as a test subject for inhumane experiments in fashion!
Willow goes over to the school construction site and discovers there a neatly flayed body of that graffiti kid. At the same time Xander, who found the body earlier and gave his crew a day off, arrives with Buffy. They even hear Willow running away in horror, but don’t see her. They stare at the body and make an assumption that maybe Willow is back. Because she did that kind of thing before, to a guy who killed the woman she loved – and now what, made hobby out of it? They are quick with the assumptions. Willow goes to the basement, and strangely enough, I have a feeling that, considering she is on such low point of her life, she never looked nicer. The hair, the clothes – all perfect. Spike jumps at her and starts with the insane ranting. He says: “Out! This is my place. You need permission to be here. You need a special slip with a stamp.” Actually it’s not insane, I think I’ve heard that American schoolchildren really do need permission slips to go, like, anywhere. Maybe Spike, like Buffy, was bullied by principal Wood into helping? Then we’re treated to the same scene shown twice for the forth time in the episode. Buffy and Xander come into basement to pump Spike for information on a flayed body, and he has a conversation with them and Willow at the same time, but since they can’t see each other he comes out looking more insane than he is. In the end he figures out what’s happening and says that he thinks the witch did it, meaning the whole quantum anomaly. Buffy and Xander worry that he might mean something else, the flaying, for instance, but dismiss his crazy opinions anyway. Why ask in the first place? Spike runs away to return to his permission-control duties.
Willow rushes into Anya’s apartment demanding help. She explains about the body, and says she needs to find a perpetrator. Not just to put a stop to his evil ways, but also to clear her name and prove she did not do it. She wants to perform a demon-locating spell. “This isn’t going to get all sexy, is it?” asks Anya warily. (Because magic was pretty much foreplay for Willow and Tara.) “I’d be shocked,” answers Willow. They put a map of Sunnydale on the floor and Anya asks if the spell will “hurt the carpet“. Willow says it won’t. They perform a spell, and little lights appear on a map, indicating locations of the demons. Anya excitedly waves to a tiny representation of herself. There is a huge clump of lights over the High School. There’s a whole bunch of demons. Spike must be rushed off his feet checking all the permissions there. Suddenly the clump bursts on fire. When they put it out, there is a burn mark on the carpet! Anya is peeved. Willow notices a dot that might indicate the skinning demon and asks Anya to teleport there and check it out. Anya grudgingly explains that her teleporting powers were revoked as a punishment for reversing a vengeance spell in a previous episode, and she can only teleport now on an official business. She even has to file a flight plan. I’m starting to think that a career in vengeance might not be for me after all. She also laments that vengeance is not that fulfilling anymore, and she and Willow have another friendly sympathy chat. “It did get a little sexy, didn’t it?” notes Anya, and Willow is all coy seductive smiles until she catches herself and runs away to find a monster. Anya calls after her and suggests performing a locator spell for Buffy and Xander, but Willow already done that and spell went wrong, because it said they did not exist.
At Buffy’s place the gang is deep in research mode. Dawn is glowing with pride and excitement as she describes her discoveries in every gory detail. She found information on a demon called Gnarl (must be Gollum’s maiden name), who paralyses victims with his poisonous fingernails and then cuts off their skin in little strips while they are still alive, which takes hours. Then he eats the skin and laps up the blood. Dawn calls him “a parasite”, but I forgive her, because she’s just a schoolgirl. Buffy comes up with an idea to use Spike to track the demon, because the demon should smell of blood.
Spike takes them across the woods, complaining to nobody in particular: “Supposed to get easier, isn’t it. Supposed to help to help, but it doesn’t.” He takes them to a rock cliff, and for some reason they are deeply baffled until he points out that there is a cave in it. Then he wonders off. They get into the cave right after Willow, who they still can’t see. Gnarl lurks in the shadows reciting creepy demon poetry, trying to make up for reduced amount of crazy talk in this episode. Then he attacks Dawn and scratches her with paralysing fingernail. She starts going stiff, and Buffy and Xander rush her outside. They seal Gnarl in the cave behind them, leaving Willow trapped!
She tries to perform weakening spell on Gnarl, but he’s immune to the magic. He taunts her with more poetry and the notion that her friends abandoned her and they wanted her to die. Then he attacks and paralyses her. She falls down, and Gnarl climbs on top of her and starts licking blood from her stomach where the scratch was. He is so gross and ugly, this scene is truly horrific.
Buffy and Xander take Dawn home and dump her on a couch. She’s stiff as a pole. Buffy checks computer database that provided information about Gnarl in the first place and discovers that paralysis is permanent until the creature dies. They need to kill Gnarl but are afraid of leaving Dawn alone in case she vomits and chokes, and sure enough, extensive talk about vomit is starting to make Dawn nauseous. Buffy calls Anya for “vomit watch”.
Gnarl cuts Willow’s skin with his nails and slowly rips a bit of it off. Then he chomps on it and lick the bloody wound. Poor Willow can’t even scream. I wonder why doesn’t KFC deliver? I’m suddenly hungry.
Anya arrives at Buffy’s place and instantly discovers that Dawn is poseable! She bends her at a right angle and sits her up on the couch. “Neat as you please. Hardly a need to undo her.” She says. “No need to thank me, by the way, for sitting with her. I’m feeling very benevolent today. Helping Willow. Helping you. You might even call it even for that whole worm thing last week.”
Buffy and Xander react to the mention of Willow and Anya explains about the cave and Willow’s one-woman monster hunt. “Oh, wouldn’t it be tragic if you were here being kinda silly with your comically paralysed sister while Willow was dying?” she adds while arranging Dawn’s arms in a salute. Oh, she gets all the best lines. Dawn is silently giving her an evil eye. Buffy gives Anya a battle-axe and orders her to come with, but before leaving she sticks a remote in Dawn’s hand. Cute.
They burst into a cave and scare Gnarl off Willow. Buffy, armed with a sword, fights him. Xander is looking for invisible Willow, and Anya, who can see them both, explains that Xander’s hand is going right through her. Anya uses her vast demon knowledge and advises Buffy to get the demon in the eyes, and then she kneels next to paralysed Willow and tries to cheer her up in a nice, sweet, really friendly way. I think that spell they did actually got quite, quite sexy. Buffy nails Gnarl to the floor with a sword through his foot and stick her both thumbs in demon’s eyes and squishes them!!! I love the expression on her face when she’s doing it. Willow can move again. At Summers’ house Dawn topples from the couch.
Anya runs out of the cave to get medical help for Willow. Buffy tells invisible Willow that they can’t see her, but they’re really glad she’s back, and Willow appears on a cave’s floor, too hurt to move, but very happy to see her friends. She’s crying happy tears, and while they are shocked by her injuries she assures them that she’s going to be OK since they are with her.
Later at Summers’ house, Willow has taken Buffy’s old room and is meditating on a bed in her pyjamas. Her stomach is bandaged and there’s blood seeping through the bandages. Buffy appears in a doorway and tries to walk past, but Willow calls her over. She was healing herself with magic, drawing power from the earth. She explains a little from her recent studies: everything is a part of the earth, everything is connected, and so forth. They are a little awkward together, which is very sad to see, they used to be such close friends just three years ago. Buffy says that Dawn is investigating the causes of the quantum anomaly, but Willow admits that she did it herself, not on purpose, subconsciously really, just by being scared of facing her friends. “Guess I have a ways to go before I master my powers, huh?” she adds. Buffy confesses that she thought Willow was behind the flaying, but Willow says it’s her duty as a slayer to think about possibilities like that. As they talk, they open up a bit more and actually reconnect, and you can see that old friendship vibe going. Willow tries to heal some more, because the wounds hurt too much, but has no strength left. “Well I’ve got so much strength, I’m giving it away.” says Buffy, climbs on a bed to mirror Willow’s pose and joins hands with her. They meditate together. Friends after all. Cool!
This episode gets 18,057 out of 10, some points taken off for having too much demon poetry and making me inappropriately hungry.
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