“Touched” is a very good episode. You need to get passed the nonsense of last week (and the whole season really) but, if you can, you’ll be treated to some of the best raw storytelling the series has to offer. And it’s not just that it only works in isolation either as many of the character dynamics I’d thought thoroughly played out or hopelessly boggled are able to yield new drama here. It’s so good that I think I may have been too hard on Buffy last week. This is still a great show, just one mired in a bad story. Whenever it breaks free of that story and simply lets the characters be themselves, it can still sing.
My favourite Slayer/Vampire couple has been sadly lacking this season. Spike getting a soul promised to open up a new chapter in their relationship and while the series did successfully avoid the risk of retreading Buffy/Angel, what actually appeared on screen has been pretty thin; some awkward moments and longing looks and not much else. Spike’s pep talk is almost great enough to make up for that. Eloquent protestations of love have their own inherent appeal, but this one really works as a culmination of their relationship. It began with her bringing out the best in him and then transitioned to him bringing out the worst in her. For Spike to now be bringing out the best in her not only demonstrates how far he’s come, but holds up the possibility that their relationship may actually be something positive in both their lives.
Other Buffy couples also manage to get some gas out of seemingly empty tanks as Xander/Anya and Faith/Wilkins(!) make their return. Anya and Xander weren’t apart for very long but their “one last time” sex did provide a sense of closure for their relationship and yet, despite this, their ice cream fueled sex still feels right; these two are still ready to move on, they’re just doing so together. Faith and the Mayor’s little reunion is similarly unnecessary but not unwelcome. Wilkins’ video will was a suitable goodbye to his surrogate daughter, but it does nothing to undermine his return here. Faith may be on the side of the angels (sorry) but their dynamic’s as entertaining as ever and he’s still able to bring out the worst in her.
Breathing new life into old character dynamics is only half of what this episode gets right, as it also wraps those relationships in a very good story. As I said, you need to pretty much forget how we got here and accept the fact that Buffy’s hit bottom; she’s been beaten, rejected, isolated, and is ready to give up. That’s an intriguing place to start a story and this episode delivers. Not only do we get to watch her regain her strength, she does so via a satisfying reminder that “she’s Buffy” and then proceeds to demonstrate that fact to Caleb. The climactic fight is one of the best Buffy’s ever done; the action’s pretty solid in itself but Buffy’s shift in tactics, avoiding Caleb rather than trading punches with him, roots her victory firmly in her adaptability.
There are plenty of other small touches in this episode to remind us that Buffy can still be great; Spike calling the Scoobies on their BS, the way the final fight cuts between Buffy & Caleb and Faith & the Potentials, Amanda charging a Bringer with an empty crossbow, pretty much everything Andrew does. All of the elements of great television are on display here, if only they were part of a better arc.
Couple we didn’t need to revisit: Willow/Kennedy. How on earth could Kennedy make even seduction seem insufferable?
Couple they didn’t need to concoct: Faith/Wood. What the hell was the point of this?
Anyone who’d read Fray no doubt got a charge out of seeing the Scythe buried in that rock but, for the rest of us, it was an anti-climactic “huh?” at the end of an otherwise solid episode. The idea of the Scythe really needed to be introduced earlier in the season. Even if Buffy didn’t know exactly what it was, there could easily have been mention of some sort of weapon in the emergency kit or in the volumes Giles stole from the council. The only reason Buffy was looking for this thing was that Caleb taunted her about it. Which means that Caleb, and by extension The First, is an idiot. Had he simply kept his mouth shut he could’ve left the Scythe buried in the rock. Failing that, there was no need to lay the trap in the actual location of the Scythe.