''Buffy''

Back for the Future

Faith and Spike spark a demon love. Buffy's other slayer returns for the series' final five episodes, and you won't believe the trouble she's courting, says Rachel Lovinger

Eliza Dushku | 'GIRLS,' GIRLS, GIRLS Faith returns and gets down and ''Dirty'' with Spike
Image credit: Faith: Michael Yarish
'GIRLS,' GIRLS, GIRLS Faith returns and gets down and ''Dirty'' with Spike

Faith and Spike spark a demon love

This week's ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' could make a long-time viewer feel miserable. Is it because the episode, ''Dirty Girls,'' had clichéd characters, half-hearted attempts at witty banter, and subplots that were left to dangle disappointingly? Or is it because this history-rich hour was so tense and stunningly brutal it left us feeling that things are kind of hopeless for the Scooby Gang? It may be five more weeks before we get the full story and know for sure. But my guess is the latter.

Two highly anticipated returns were featured this week. Both fell a little short of what viewers may have been expecting, yet both yielded surprise results. First, Faith's arrival in Sunnydale wasn’t exactly received with balloons and Welcome Home banners (despite her sarcastic notions to the contrary). But eventually Buffy grudgingly admitted she was glad to have the OTHER ''one and only'' slayer around to pitch in.

Faith’s initial fight with Spike, with the accompanying argument about who reformed first, was priceless. But who would have expected the other kind of sparks to fly between them, as they bonded over reminiscence of the indecent things Faith said to the vamp back when they were both evil and she briefly inhabited Buffy's body (Season 4). These two have a natural affinity, for obvious reasons. But they both barely contain their explosive personalities, and seeing them on screen together is like having someone holler ''Of course!'' in one ear while someone else screams ''Anything but that!'' in the other.

The other ''return'' was Nathan Fillion, from the recently cancelled ''Firefly,'' whose very first appearance on ''Buffy'' constituted a reinstatement on a Joss Whedon created show. It’s no surprising to learn that Fillion’s Caleb is an ex-preacher doing The First’s bidding. Nonetheless, his ''evil Southern Baptist'' shtick and over-the-top psycho-sexual posturing were disappointing shortcuts for character development. But maybe it was necessary, because when it came to the big battle, his easy ruthlessness was riveting. He inflicted a lot of damage during that fight. And when Caleb stuck his thumb through Xander's eye, it was somehow more shocking than if the fallen priest had actually killed him.

And what about Buffy? Is she reaching the pinnacle of her skills and readiness? Or is she totally deluded and off-base? At least she had the good sense to smooth things over, somewhat, with Giles and Wood. She can't afford to alienate allies right now, even if they did conspire to kill Spike behind her back. But clearly it was a mistake for Buffy to lead her soldiers knowingly into Caleb's trap. It still isn't clear if she's making difficult but necessary decisions, or just stubbornly exercising poor judgment. One thing's for sure, though. You're going to want to tune in two weeks from now to catch the last month of ''Buffy'' and find out which it is.

What did you think of ''Buffy''?

Originally posted Apr 16, 2003