While “Villains” took time to underscore just how evil Warren was, “Two to Go” is at pains to remind us of how much we like Jonathan and Andrew. “Pains” is perhaps the wrong word, as the
TrioDuo is consistently entertaining, but there were a few too many explicit comments that they’re not the same as Warren. It’s a bit of a backpedal, to be honest. Last week, Willow would be “lost” if she killed Warren, but turns out she’ll only really be lost if she kills Jonathan and Andrew. It’s an oversimplification of the moral issues at play here but, to be honest, I don’t particularly care. Letting us root for the Duo, or at least sympathize with them, makes this episode a lot more exciting by pushing Willow firmly into villain territory.
There’s still a lot of moral conflict for Willow, and I’ll get to that, but I was struck by just how much fun she is as a straight antagonist. From shrugging off the cops as she tears apart the jail cell, to taking mystical control of a semi, to going no holds barred with Buffy, Willow’s one exciting bad guy to watch. The fun’s backed up by a genuine threat as Willow doesn’t seem to be holding back; smacking Anya around, trying to run down the boys even though her friends are in the car, killing Wreck, and then trying to unmake Dawn.
Despite the hatred many fans hold for the younger Summers, sending Dawn back to whence she came doesn’t fall into the “fun” category. In fact, our agreement with many of the things Willow says only helps to heighten the creep-factor. Dawn does whine too much and we’d love to tell her as much but watching Willow be this cruel is disconcerting. The pain she inflicts here is emotional rather than mystical, and therefore far more real. It’s a solid bit, elevated by the performance of both actresses, that drives home the fact that this Willow is evil.
Tellingly, it’s on the heels of this moment that the episode reminds us that Willow isn’t evil. Or at least that her evil comes from a very human place. The “Willow’s junkie” speech gets me everytime and is, in my opinion, some of Hannigan’s best work on the show. The insecurities that once defined her never really went away. They’re what drove her to rely too heavily on magic to begin with, and they’ve now grown into full blown self-loathing, causing her to not particularly care about the fact that she’s losing herself. It’s a heartbreaking self-assessment and instant reminder of what a great person Willow actually is and why she needs to remember that.
The reminder of Willow’s humanity comes at the right time, as she’s quickly back into arch-villain mode once she transports to the Magic Box. There’s more fun to be had here as she tries to kill the boys again, though I wish that her fight with Buffy had had a bit more juice. The resentful sidekick routine didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but it was never a particularly consistent element of their relationship and doesn’t add the weight it’s meant to. Still, the fight itself is pretty great. And then Giles shows up. YES!
“YES!” was my exact reaction the first time I saw this episode. Giles’ departure left a pretty big hole in the series and his return ranks as one of its best moments. It may actually have been a bit too good, as I walked away without any sense of tension about the finale. Giles was back, he’d fix things. Of course, daddy saving the day was never what Buffy was about but his appearance was comforting enough to make me think that for a while.
They’re hitting the “Xander feels useless” note a little too hard here. It hasn’t been a real element of the season thus far and only serves to telegraph the conclusion.
Way to go Jonathan! Nice to see the little guy get some redemption.