"Are you sure you're the Slayer?"
The episode opens on Buffy getting arreste--oh, nevermind, she punches the cop in the face and runs away.
But the Scoobies aren't out of the woods yet, as a bookshelf fell on top of Willow and she suffered from head trauma. Is that meant to be ironic? Giles fares even worse--Angelus promises torture, which he used to love back in the day "before they had chainsaws."
On top of all that, the police show up at the Summers home to give Joyce a rude awakening re: Buffy killing Kendra, which they believe because, as Principal Snyder says, "The police of Sunnydale are deeply stupid."
Buffy isn't at home--she's looking for Giles at his apartment, but finds Whistler there instead. He intimates that the sword is not enough to kill Acathla and some other deep philosophical thought-provoking stuff I can't remember, but Buffy so does not have time for him.
Xander gets to look like a big dope in the hospital when he holds Willow's hand and meaningfully tells her how important she is and that--wait for it--he loves her? She comes to, as all unconscious people do when told meaningful things about love, and says, "Oz?" Ooooouch.
Spike shows up out of nowhere to save Buffy from some cops. He wants to strike a deal with Buffy--he'll help her kill Angelus because he wants Drusilla back, and he kinda doesn't really want to bring forth the apocalypse. He says, "I like this world. You've got dog racing. Manchester United. And you've got people."
I'm impressed by how consistently the show contrasts Spike's values with other vampires--he's the Billy Idol character, who lusts for life, kills for the thrill of it, and is governed by romantic whimsy. He isn't just wandering around being evil for the sake of being evil. Buffy realized this and reluctantly invites him to her home before punching him a bunch of times and saying, "I hate you!" Eerie foreshadowing.
Once at the Summers home, Buffy explains Spike to Joyce by saying that they're in a band together. Spike giggles a little over the fact that Joyce doesn't know that SHE IS THE SLAAAYEERR, but the gig is up when a vampire appears out of nowhere and Buffy stakes him right in Joyce's face. She is finally--FINALLY--forced to say the words to Joyce: "I'm a vampire slayer."
Joyce...let's just say that Joyce doesn't deal with the new information well. She refuses to accept that Buffy is really a Slayer, and tells her that she's not allowed to go out and...slay. Buffy tells her that she doesn't have a choice, and that the world is at stake, and she would love to be a normal teenager©, etc. Then she shoves Joyce away and walks out the door despite Joyce telling her not to bother ever coming back. Ooooouch.
As if being kicked out of her house weren't bad enough, when Buffy goes back to Sunnydale to retrieve the magic sword, Principal Snyder tells her that she's expelled.
At the hospital, Willow decides she wants to try to restore Angel's soul one last time. Xander tells her not to because he's a big jealous douche, but Willow has summoned her inner resolve and tells him to go find Buffy and let her know to hold off on, y'know, killing Angelus.
But like an enormous tool, he runs off to tell Buffy: "Willow told me to tell you...kick his ass." In case you are wondering if anyone will ever confront Xander for willfully lying while everyone's lives and mental and emotional health hang in the balance--nope. (I'm saving analysis of this for my inevitable "SHUT UP XANDER" essay.)
Angelus continues to torture Giles, who finally reveals, "In order to be worthy, you must perform the ritual in a tutu. Pillock." You guys, I love Giles so much :(
As a last resort, Drusilla glamours Giles and makes him think that he's speaking to Jenny. He cries with joy and it is so so sad, and then he reveals to her the secret to awakening Acathla--only Angelus's blood can serve as an offering. Then they make out, which Drusilla is a little too happy about.
With no home, no future, and no other options, Buffy goes to speak to Whistler to find out what else is needed to stop Acathla. He reveals what we already know, that Angelus's blood is the key to opening the vortex--and also to closing it. Once the portal is open, she will have no choice but to kill him. (I've often wondered why they couldn't just have him shake some blood droplets into the portal to close it, but it's better not to ask those kinds of questions.)
Cordelia, Oz, and Willow perform the spell, while Xander rescues Giles, and Spike and Buffy fight Angelus. Just to clarify. The moment Buffy takes her eyes off of him, Angelus awakens Acathla. Whoops! Bad timing, as Willow seems to get possessed on her hospital bed, overwhelmed with power, speaking in tongues (foreshadowing!!!).
Buffy and Angelus are left alone for the FINAL BATTLE. Angelus gets her pinned in a corner and asks, "No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what's left?" Buffy catches his sword between her hands and says, "Me." Man, there's inner resolve all over this episode!
This may be a surprising controversial opinion for someone who doesn't spend her time writing lots of fan fiction about Angel/Buffy, but I honestly think this next scene is the saddest scene in the entire series.
Right when Buffy is about to slice off Angelus's head, Willow completes the spell and restores Angel's soul. He doesn't remember where he is or what's going on, and gives Buffy a great big hug. Buffy tells him, "Don't worry about it," while the portal opens behind them.
Then she says, "I love you. Close your eyes." And stabs him through the heart with the sword!!!
I have to tell you, I imagined many different ways that the show would resolve the Angelus arc, but I definitely did not see that coming the first time around. I mentioned in the review for I Only Have Eyes For You that Joss Whedon decided Angel should have a spin-off when they filmed that episode. Hopefully this isn't a spoiler--Angel comes back, due to having his own TV show that is not a looong flashback and doesn't take place in a hell dimension. But this means that originally, this was supposed to be it for Angel. Like, he was originally going to die and never come back. At Buffy's hands. That is a bold move even for Joss Whedon, who relishes in killing off characters all willy-nilly.
The episode ends on the most downer note in the history of downers. I mean a Sarah McLachlan song plays throughout the segment, no joke. Joyce finds Buffy's empty bedroom with a note, ostensibly reading that Buffy has left. The Scoobies don't know what happened between Buffy and Angelus, only that the world didn't end, and think that they'll see her soon because, after all, they have school!
Then we see Buffy in her sad pants headed for a bus to nowhere. THE END.
Back to when I said this is the saddest moment in the series. After discussing this episode with a brilliant Buffy fan, we decided that this episode marks Buffy's true Becoming a Slayer. For two seasons she only wanted a normal life©, but now she accepts that is not only impossible, but will cause excruciating pain and dire consequences for everyone around her. She was forced to actually kill the love of her life to fulfill her sacred mission™. Thus begins the show's descent into All Work and No Play Makes Buffy a Dull Teenager. And I don't mind the show taking that direction, but that means the sad moments in later seasons (The Body) aren't quite as shocking and gamechanging in context as the sword through Angel's gut.
It's been a wild ride, y'all.
Favorite moment: Joyce and Spike are absolutely precious. After Buffy reveals her secret to Joyce, they have a heart-to-heart in the living room as they wait for Buffy to gather weapons. Spike reminds her how they met (in School Hard)--"You hit me over the head with an axe, remember?"
Later, when Spike and Buffy strategize, Joyce keeps interrupting with questions like, "Have you ever tried not being a Slayer?" and "It's because you didn't have a strong father figure, isn't it?" When they reveal who really killed Kendra, Joyce asks, "Did she explode like that man out there?"
For the rest of the series, Joyce can't fully accept that Buffy is the Slayer and still clings to the idea that it is a delusion or a temporary habit. Buffy may have given up on the desire to be a normal teenager, but Joyce never will.