Rough edges aside, I’d still call “Forever” a really good episode. The ME team was wise not to try to confine the fallout from Joyce’s death to one episode; she deserved more than that. The risk of this is that any further exploration of grief would inevitably suffer in comparison to “The Body.” There’s some of that here but, for the most part, this episode’s able to avoid retreading the same ground. Where “The Body” was decidedly unlike a Buffy episode, “Forever” is almost exactly what we’d expect from this series when dealing with death; we get some research, a fight with a big ugly baddie, and some ill advised spell-casting. As I said, there are a few rough edges in there but some smart choices and some solid acting help make keep this story fresh.
The “spell gone wrong” is an old Buffy trope but it’s effectively used here as Dawn’s spell is wrong the moment it’s conceived. This isn’t a matter of wacky hijinks ensuing when magic gives the caster more than they bargained for (how awful would that have been? I’m thinking Weekend at Bernie’s 2), it’s a matter of everyone immediately realizing that the mere intent to resurrect someone is wrong. It’s a fairly obvious point, though it’s also believable that Dawn, a grieving fourteen year old, wouldn’t care. If I have one gripe here it’s what a lousy job Tara does of explaining things. “Don’t mess with the natural order of things” may be sound advice, but it’s a gross oversimplification. Nothing Tara said was going to convince Dawn, so why not give the audience a bit more meat to chew on?
My second gripe with this episode is just how easy everything is for Dawn from this point on. Willow and Tara just happen to have a book with a chapter titled “Resurrection Spells: A Controversy Born”? Which just happens to reference another book that Giles owns? Spike just happens to come by when Dawn’s digging up the grave? And just happens to know a guy who just happens to be an expert on resurrection spells? Who directs them to eggs that just happen to be in the Sunnydale sewers?
While contrivance is never a good thing, I’m generally willing to forgive it if it takes us somewhere interesting and I think this episode qualifies. Where Tara’s warnings failed, Dawn should have started second-guessing herself when Spike, the man without a moral compass, immediately supports her. If that weren’t enough, then getting help from Doc ought to have been. The doddering old man with something sinister underneath makes for one of Buffy’s more fascinating demons (and that’s really saying something) and Joel Grey’s performance deserves a special shout out.
Dawn, having never seen Pet Cemetery, is undeterred by the implicit warnings and the casting of the spell delivers more smart choices as we never get to see the undead Joyce. Also excellent is Sarah’s acting in this scene. I thought I’d been choked up enough last week, but it seems that Joyce’s death had at least one more gut punch left in it. I love the fact that in the moment, despite all her objections, Buffy’s eager to open the door for Joyce. The fact that someone as good as Buffy would be tempted goes a long way to selling how much Joyce meant to the Summers girls and elevates Dawn’s decision to stop the spell.
Where “The Body” was focused on the fact death seems to make life stand still, this episode is centered how it’s able to go on. Dawn’s desire to bring back her mother is rooted in refusal to accept that life goes on; she just doesn’t see how that’s possible. Her decision not to go through with it is rooted in the realization that Buffy feels the same way. Buffy doesn’t offer her sister any real answers regarding what life without their mother will be like, she simply acknowledges how frightening and painful the question is. It’s enough to convince Dawn to destroy the photo because bringing Joyce back isn’t going to address this fear and pain. The only way that’s possible is by moving forward, a prospect that’s made a little less frightening by the fact that they don’t need to do it alone.
Angel’s appearance at the cemetery made for a pleasant surprise. It’s actually a nice bit of continuity as this episode aired a month after “Epiphany.” Prior to those events, Angel would’ve been incapable of offering Buffy sympathy.
I appreciate the acknowledgement that Joyce and Spike always got along. Their scenes together were invariably amusing.
The season arc re-emerges here with her new-and-improvedness learning that the key is in a person.
Stealing the Gorrah demon’s eggs just felt like an obligatory demon/action scene shoehorned in. They may as well have just had Doc supply the necessary ingredients for all the difference it made.