The Harsh Light of Day (4x03)

In this first highlight of the season, we begin with Willow and Buffy at the Bronze. Willow is watching "Dingoes Ate My Baby" play, while Buffy is watching Parker's (recurring guest Adam Kaufman) reflection in a mirror. (We learn a lot right here: a) Parker has a reflection and therefore is the "real deal," not an undead creature, and b) he is Buffy boyfriend material with the added feature of a heartbeat)

Girl talk reveals that Buffy and Parker have spent quite a bit of time together lately and that she has "lusty feelings" for him. When he comes over and offers to walk her home, they leave together.

While the band is loading their instruments into the van, Willow is left alone. Suddenly Harmony (guest star Mercedes McNab), a former classmate from high school, comes along. (Those who have been watching for a while know that Harmony was bitten by a vampire -- and presumed dead -- in last season's finale. That'll teach us to jump to conclusions). Willow quickly catches on to the altered reality when Harmony grabs her and begins to sink her teeth into Willow's neck. Just in time Oz comes to the rescue, keeping Harmony at a distance with a cross.

On their way home, Parker reveals his vulnerable side to Buffy, talking about psychological scars, trauma and living for the moment. Overwhelmed by so much sensitivity, Buffy agrees to go to a party with him the next night. (Phuleeze! The guy is so slick, he slips when he walks!)

At Giles's place, meanwhile, we witness the return of one of my favorites. Anya (guest star Emma Caulfield) walks in on Xander who is shelving books. Last seen leaving town in the first part of the season finale, Anya returns to inquire about the status of her and Xander's relationship. (At this point I should explain the history of Anya. She used to be human, but was turned into a vengeance demon roughly 1,120 years ago. Last season she lost her powers and was trapped in the body of a teenager. Currently, Anya is relearning human rituals and behavior, giving opportunity for many hilarious and refreshingly honest moments as well as some of the best dialogue -- as we will see shortly. Anya and Xander don't really have a history. They did, however, go to the prom together).

While Willow and Oz inform Buffy of Harmony's transformation, the aforementioned undead gal leads us below the ground, to the root of brewing evil and her boyfriend - Spike. (My universe just became whole again. The sexiest undead to ever walk among us, and mastermind of the most ruthless and evil plots against humanity, has returned. My faith in the abilities of Joss Whedon has been restored). Spike is quite obviously in the middle of a potentially lucrative enterprise, digging his way into an underground crypt with the help of his crew.

Harmony, whiny as ever, bugs him until he promises to take her to a party later.

It just so happens that Buffy and Parker are at the above-mentioned party. Naturally the four run into each other, just as the undead ones are carrying their unconscious dinner to a less populated place. They make a run for it and Buffy gives chase. When she catches up to them, Harmony explains that Drusilla has left Spike again, this time for a fungus demon. (Yuck! I have nothing to back this up, but it sounds like a fungus demon is even lowlier than a vengeance demon, for which she left him the first time. Obviously this has traumatized Spike, at least that's the only reasonable explanation I have for his new choice of live-in love). Further unprompted information from Harmony reveals what Spike is digging for -- the Gem of Amara. Before more of his latest adventure gets out in the open, a visibly upset Spike drags Harmony off into the night.

The situation is much more pleasant for Xander and Anya. They are in Xander's basement apartment and Anya, not one to beat around the bush, drops her dress to the floor and, completely in the buff, explains to Xander that the best way to get over each other is to have sex. "I think it's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively - I'm thinking face to face for the event itself." And later: "I like you. You're funny and you're nicely shaped, and frankly it's ludicrous to have these interlocking bodies and not interlock. Please remove your clothing now."

After alerting Giles to Spike's return and future plans, Buffy returns to the party, finds Parker and explains away the earlier disturbance. They dance a little and talk a little more, then go back to Parker's room in Kresge Hall. Things get hot 'n heavy and, yes, they do the deed. The next morning, Parker tells her his mom is coming to visit and that he'll call her later.

Xander got lucky, too (as we might have suspected after Anya's analysis of the situation). Now they are getting dressed and Anya declares her plan a success; she's over him, she says. When Xander accepts this without protest, he's in for an eye opening experience. Anya, seriously pissed off, proceeds to explain that this is not what he is supposed to say. He's supposed to declare his love for her and tell her not to leave him. (My guess is that Anya has been watching daytime television as part of her research on commonly acceptable, human dating practices.)

Not so lucky is our villain, rather harmless looking while sleeping on his stomach, who awakens to Harmony writing "Spike loves Harmony" on his back (with what I believe to be lipstick). Annoyed and on a tight digging schedule, Spike gets back to work.

Upon returning to her dorm, Buffy encounters Giles, who has been trying to reach her. His research uncovered some interesting facts. The Gem of Amara, initially presumed unreal and the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail, may exist after all, sealed away in an underground crypt. (Funny, how all these underground crypts happen to be in Sunnydale. You'd think that with that many holes under ground, the town might just disappear altogether). The demon who wears the gem is indestructible and can move around freely during daylight hours. While Giles and Willow attempt to locate the crypt, Buffy is off to find Spike and stop him.

But the demonic leader has already succeeded in his search and is presently entering the crypt in question. Harmony, who follows on his heels, puts on some jewelry, while Spike goes straight for a necklace he beliefs to be the Gem of Amara. But when he touches a cross, he promptly gets burnt. Just then Harmony starts rambling on about France and Spike, at the end of his patience, shoves a stake right through her heart. Startled, but uncomprehending, Harmony begins hitting Spike, but doesn't turn to dust. Spike, dumbfounded at first, notices a ring on her finger and realizes that it must be the gem. He tries to rip it off her hand, but ultimately she takes it off and throws it at him. In possession of what he came for, Spike pays his whiny lover no second thought and leaves her there.

Through a TV newscast that mentions a sinkhole in the road, the gang has figured out where the crypt is located. Everybody is on their way to the scene, except for Xander, who was sent to find Buffy.

At the same time, the slayer is wandering all over campus and happens upon Parker. He's giving his live-for-the-moment speech to another unsuspecting freshman. When Buffy puts him on the spot about not calling her, he doesn't see it as a big deal, since they had a good time and there was nothing more to it.

Crushed by the harsh reality (Sorry, but I just have to say this: I told you so!), Buffy is unprepared when Spike appears and, nonchalantly skipping the niceties, punches her. She recovers from her surprise (I'm not sure which one, Parker's slickness or Spike's sudden love of daylight) and fights back.

Giles, Willow and Oz arrive at the crypt and hold a whining Harmony at bay with a cross. Wallowing in self-pity, she tells them that Spike violently took the gem from her and that she'd have given it to him if only he'd asked.

In search of Buffy, Xander goes to her dorm where he runs into Anya. She's come to explain that she didn't really mean it when she said she was over him. Having his priorities straight, Xander leaves her there to find Buffy.

He locates her just when the fight with Spike gets down and dirty (psychologically speaking that is). Spike, never at loss for an uncanny comment (That's what I love about the guy -- he's got spunk!), brings up the forbidden topic of Angel. That does it for the slayer. She kicks into high gear and manages to get a hold of his arm, pulling the gem off his finger. A sizzling and smoking Spike escapes into a nearby sewer.

Back at Giles's place, Buffy decides that she wants Angel to have the gem. Oz, whose band has a gig in LA coming up, offers to take it for her.

Later, Buffy and Willow have a girl talk about Parker. Willow is right on the mark, when she observes that he is "a poophead." (While this choice of words may be more appropriate for prime time TV, there's others that come to mind more quickly.) Buffy agrees, but still has hope that they might be able to work it out. (Work out what?) Needing some alone time, she tells Willow to go ahead.

My thoughts:

Without question my favorite ep so far. With the return of true evil and the sexiest British accent on network television, the series once again lived up to its fans' expectations.

The fighting scenes looked great, the vampire make-up even better and Anya's dialogue was nothing short of hilarious -- it produced visceral emotions in me.