I Love a Gifty. I Can’t Wait to Unwrap It.

... and a nice chianti

… and a nice chianti

“Helpless” still reigns supreme as Buffy’s best forray into the truly scary, but “Same Time, Same Place” is also up there.  Which is saying a lot, considering that the horror elements only make up a slim minority of the screen time, most of which is spent exploring the mystical metaphor disconnect between Willow and the other Scoobies.  That’s fine (actually, it’s quite good) but it’s the scenes with Gnarl that loom large in my memory, which (again) is saying a lot considering how little screen time her actually gets.  It’s not just delightful ick of his skin eating (props to UPN for letting that in), it’s the whole clicking fingernails, lurking in shadows, paralysis causing, taunting his victims package.  The fact that he preys on those left alone is pretty on the nose but, like most of the time Buffy does this, it works.

Gnarl is, of course, not the central mystical metaphor of the episode.  That honour goes to the fact that Willow’s unable to see or interact with any of the other Scoobies.  The two are essentially linked as manifestations of Willow’s fear of being rejected by her friends.  It’s this fear that causes her to inadvertently cast the spell that keeps them apart, and it’s this fear that serves as sauce for Gnarl’s feast.  He seems to delight in taunting Willow even more than he does in eating her and this may be the creepiest part.

What happens to Willow is, effectively, the punishment she was seeking.  There is, of course, the eye for an eye element of her being skinned, but it’s the abandonment by her friends that’s truly painful.  Willow’s concern is that her friends won’t be able to look at her the same way again and she is, sadly, correct.  Beyond the mystical metaphor of them simply not being able to see her, the fact is that a year ago they never would’ve suspected her of being the particularly grisly monster of the week.  She just “wants to be Willow” but no one can be quite certain what that means anymore.

Like many Buffy morals, this one is a bit trite when you get down to it; friends should talk things out.  But, like many Buffy morals, it’s no less powerful for that.  Willow’s isolation is as much a product of her friends attitudes as it is her inadvertent spellcasting.  They’re too busy oscillating between leaping to her defense and assuming the worst to think seriously about who Willow is now.  Friendship wins out in the end as the gang is able to break the spell just by stating how much they care about each other.  Express your feelings, even when you don’t think you’ll be seen or heard.

Final Thoughts

Wow, this review was a bit scattered, comes from writing most of it in the wee small hours.

Another solid outing for Dawn, “It’s his natural beverage.”  Just giving character a few of the snappy lines goes a long, long way to making her more likeable.

I was a bit surprised to see Spike back in the basement this week.  It’s not that it doesn’t make sense for Buffy to let him go after the reveal, it’s just that it would’ve made more sense for her to get him out of there.

Nice to finally have (almost) all of the Scoobies back on the same continent.

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