I liked it. Not loved, not hated, not was annoyed by. Liked. And that is... so *very* encouraging. Because it was Just Good Buffy. Makes me feel like I don't have to be on tenterhooks every episode, wondering if it's going to be completely awful (As You Were) or the writers are going to combine something brilliant with something that Really Pisses Me Off (OMWF)*. There were Things That Made Me Go Huh, and I'm still not 100% in Buffy's corner, but I felt like this was... a Buffy episode. Not a sweeps episode, not a brilliant piece of drama, not a desperate piece of character fixing, just... a plain old good Buffy story. Something I haven't seen in a long time. It gives me great hope.
I was mildly spoiled -- knew the main gag was that Willow couldn't see them and they couldn't see her. Did *not* know that the mechanism for this would be to repeat scenes with Buffy & Co., then with Willow. I think it worked nicely. The conversation with Spike was especially clever, with certain lines applying to either audience. I also liked Willow's "You didn't do anything." beat "Did you?" Willow knows nothing about the assault (or his soul) and I wonder how *she'll* deal with either.
As others have stated, overjoyed about continued references to Giles. And that he's in a Council Meeting. He's *doing* things, and they're acknowledging him, and all is right with my world. Except for the part where there's no cutaways to naked Giles in the bubble bath, but I can't have everything.
I was a bit thrown by continuing to wonder if anyone *else* knows about Spike's soul. Xander apparently was aware that Buffy found Spike in a church at the end of last ep, as he evinced no surprise at that -- but the soul itself wasn't mentioned. Somebody pointed out that Buffy held back some of Xander's nastiness -- I'd point out, *Xander* held back some of Xander's nastiness. His comments about Spike were along the lines of "Well, he's exceptionally useful at the moment" (which in my mind hearkens back to "You're a fount of nothing...") -- a far cry from "Why are we working with the monster again?"
Somewhat annoyed by the playing of Xander as dimwitted. It grows tiresome. This is the guy who came up with the rocketlauncher plan, thought on his feet quick enough to play "Sneaking the girl onto the base, and soldier your shoes aren't shined" back in Innocence, yet he's not picking up on things like "We have someone who can track blood" until it's batted back three or four times between Buffy and Dawn? Xander can be a goober -- and he certainly has his share of "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that, I was thinking about breasts" moments, but the man did not get a lobotomy when he graduated from high school. I understand that the point of the scene was to show off Dawn as Research Girl -- (though could someone tell me why Willow is now *incapable* of being Research Girl? Did the magic drain all the computer knowledge out of her brain?) -- but Xander-as-clueless-doof is getting on my nerves. Quite tickled by "My mouth saved the world," though.
Also disturbed by the hints of Buffy/Xander, but so far, it's the slasher in me who's disturbed, not the viewer. Meaning, I can't think of a real *reason* they shouldn't be good for each other, besides "I don't like them together, now please make Spike and Xander have more innuendo-laden conversations and find Buffy a boring steady whom I don't care about."
I mostly liked Buffy and Spike's interactions (keep in mind that I'm firmly in the camp of happy people, should Spuffy never return). She called him "the crazy vampire" and I actually quite liked that. He is; he says it himself, and it's familiar (and funny) without being insulting.
Yes, we need a leash for Spike. And a collar. Rrarrrr.
Willow and the demon... ah. Yum. He was freaky in his darting and hiding and general invisibility (though not his annoying voice). Once we finally saw him and he was bending over paralyzed Willow, snacking, I was reminded strongly of The Nightmare, an image that's pretty strikingly horrific, and has ties to Mary Shelley and Frankenstein and all kinds of postmodern symbolism stuff that I'm going to sum with "It's creepy and good and I'm going to assume they did it on purpose, yay!"
So all the 'ewwwww' stuff basically just had me going "Yeah! Yeah! Really scary stuff, instead of Buffy's depression angst! Yay! It's a Buffy episode!" while I shuddered.
I do think the "She's being punished for Warren" thing was anvilly-goodness, but I didn't get the feeling, after, that she thought this made *up* for what she'd done. (Though in fact some part of me wants to interpret her paralysis as thinking she deserved this. Yes, she *does* want to be punished, Giles, and not the way the rest of us want you to punish us. I.e. -- it seemed like the Gnarl was immune to magic, but not necessarily that magic couldn't happen in its presence -- so if Willow hadn't been panicked and guilty, I would think she could have gotten *herself* out of there easily enough.)
The healing bit was corny, and left big questions of "So now it's okay for her to use magic to do things she could do naturally, like, oh, *heal*? But it wasn't ok before, when she wanted to make biodegradeable party decorations?" I'm willing to cut a little slack, though, given that a) no one said Tara was the Vox Dei when it came to magical ethics; hers was just one opinion and b)healing, especially via meditation and sharing the earth's power, is at least the kind of peaceful, passive, introspective stuff that Willow used to mostly want to bypass in favor of "Poof, I'm better."
"I'm insane; what's his excuse?" He's still befuddled from picturing you on a leash, Spike. Give him a break. So ends your review, with the requisite slashy comment for the day. I'm happy. :-) That's all that matters, right?
* The "Huh? Xander did it? What? May I have my money back, please, because whatever some may think of him, he's *not* that stupid?" ending.