Spectrum #31

“Bargaining (Part 2)"

Spectrum episode guides contain credits (actors, writers, and directors), plot summaries, and commentaries on every episode of a given show. To give new readers an idea of the kind of commentaries that we do, here are our comments for “Bargaining (Part 2),” the second episode of the sixth season.

COMMENTS: A spectacular episode on first viewing becomes even greater in light of subsequent revelations. In particular, in the scene on the tower it’s especially clear why Buffy is tempted to jump. Initially it appeared to be a choice between Hell and oblivion, but it’s actually a choice between Heaven and Hell-on-Earth. Who wouldn’t choose the former? We don’t know how much of the later information Gellar knew while performing the scene, but she perfectly captures Buffy’s extraordinary dilemma.

The elements that were so carefully put into place in part 1 allow for an understandably traumatized Buffy in part 2. With fires raging throughout Sunnydale and demons in control of the town, it’s no wonder Buffy believes she’s in Hell. First she must claw her way out of her own grave. She sees her own tombstone, then soon stumbles upon demons ripping her apart. Of course, it’s only the Buffybot, but in her state of shock, she probably doesn’t understand that. (And even then, it’s a very intense scene for network television.) She probably believes that she’s been sent to a place of torture, and the foreshadowing of her own punishment is to view “herself” being ripped apart. It’s natural that she would want to climb the tower and re-create the event that provided her entry into Heaven.

The appearance of her friends must have jolted her again. It was bad enough that she has been sent to Hell, but now her friends have been sent there, too. Or are they illusions, part of the torture process? In Buffy’s dazed condition, there is no way for her to know.

Thematically, the episode touches not only upon mythic ideas about life, afterlife, death, and rebirth, but integrates them perfectly into the cosmology set up for the show since the very beginning. As we’ve noted before, “The Harvest” (from season one) establishes that in this fictional universe, the world began as a place ruled by demons. Man entered the scene and eventually took control. Nevertheless, the struggle for dominance continues (with vampires being a fusion of the demonic and the human elements). Because this world never had a paradisiacal Garden of Eden origin, it is essentially tainted at its core. Buffy’s situation is unique, of course, but it reinforces that initial theme. “Is this Hell?” The series suggests that, in some ways, yes, it is. Other “hell dimensions” are referenced (such as the one that Angel was sent to at the end of “Becoming” part 2, second season, or the one that Glory came from in season five). Are there degrees of Hell? Life itself on this Earth is fraught with struggles, and in “The Gift,” Buffy told Dawn that between life and death, the more difficult path is to go on living.* While Earth isn’t the worst place to be, it’s Hell compared to Heaven. Especially in retrospect, that idea is presented with chilling effectiveness in this episode, as a traumatized Buffy wanders through Sunnydale.

Again in light of later learning that Buffy was in Heaven, Dawn’s dialogue on the tower becomes ironic. Seeing that Buffy is contemplating jumping, she says, “We were up here together, and then you went away, and you don’t want to do that again.” Of course, Buffy does want to do that again, but she’s not ready to tell that to Dawn.

Whether intentionally or not, three times throughout the two-part “Bargaining” characters shout out “No!”, forming a kind of refrain. Willow says it as the demons disrupt the resurrection ceremony. Buffy says it as the demons are about to destroy the Buffybot. And Dawn says it as Buffy is about to jump off the tower. In each case, Buffy’s life (or, in the case of the Buffybot, its “life”) is at stake.

The scene in which Dawn comes upon the dismembered robot has a number of fascinating elements that correspond to the situation with the real Buffy. Dawn approaches the Buffybot expecting it do be “dead,” but it’s alive. It speaks, though in a disjointed manner (even more so than the usual robot speech). Its first words are about Dawn (“You’re my sister”)—significant in that Dawn’s plea for help on the tower is the only thing that keeps Buffy from leaping off. Then the robot says, “Where did I go? I was here; then I ran away.” She’s talking about seeing Buffy a few minutes earlier, but it corresponds to Buffy’s situation as a whole. “Where did I go?” Where, indeed? Willow assumed that Buffy might have been trapped in a hell dimension, but it turns out to be quite the opposite. “I was here; then I ran away.” Actually, Buffy “jumped” away in “The Gift,” leaping from the tower to save the Earth. The idea is the same. Buffy fulfilled her duty as Slayer “here,” then went somewhere else in death.

With Buffy’s death in “The Gift,” shouldn’t another Slayer have appeared? Faith remains in jail (where she ended up at the end of “Sanctuary,” the first-season episode of Angel), so who is the Chosen One? Of course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Scooby gang—or even Giles—would know who she is.

We should at least briefly mention a couple of extraordinary technical accomplishments of the episode. The score by Thomas Wanker is an amazing work, especially the lush and dream-like track that accompanies Buffy on the tower. Likewise, the photography by Raymond Stella is beautiful, particularly the scenes with Buffy walking through the burning Sunnydale. A dominance of yellow, reds, and oranges emphasizes the idea of Buffy’s walk through Hell.

Astonishingly, in its sixth season, Buffy has gotten off to it strongest start in its history.
RATING: 5 (out of 5)

*This is actually a recurring theme of the series. Two episodes, "I Only Have Eyes For You" (season two) and "Earshot" (season three), have ended with public service announcements about counseling services for teen suicide.

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