I knew there was a reason I used this episode as a firestarter for 'Buffy' skeptics! Spike rolls into town with Drusilla and rolls over all the previous villains this show has had before. Before I talk about everything I loved, though, I'm going to mention the few things that could have been even better. One complaint is that, later on (in AtS I think), vampires are established as having insane hearing abilities. This episode ignores or isn't aware of that ability, which creates some scenes that don't work in retrospect. It's not too much of an annoyance, but it's too bad they didn't have that part of the mythology straightened out from the beginning. The only other complaint I have is that David Boreanaz's acting here is often quite poor. He comes off as pretty corny most of the time when he really shouldn't. When put in the same scene with James Marsters' Spike, it becomes painfully obvious who the better actor is. Fortunately, though, Boreanaz greatly improves his acting throughout the season.
Ok, now on with the fun. The episode begins with Principal Snyder threatening to expel Buffy because she burned down a school building in the previous episode. I not only love the consistency in Snyder's character, but I also love that no one just forgot about the fact that Buffy was involved with that fire. All of this introduction material is great continuity. Then Spike comes into town, mowing over the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign, a trait he later becomes known for. The 'cool' car stops to an abrupt halt then that usually annoying "this guy is super dangerous" music begins playing and you think, "oh no...another idiot villain," but instead Spike steps out of the car with his unusual platinum-colored hair and lights a cigarette. Already this guy is cooler than all the villains that have been on the show up to this point.
That brings us to Spike's first lines. He tears apart the corny dialog from the other vampire about being at the crucifixion and then goes on to talk about his experience of feeding off a flower person at Woodstock. Wow, good times. So while he's putting all the other lame vampires to shame Drusilla walks in with her creepy white dress. Immediately Spike shows a ton of affection for her, which is radically different from all the other vampires on the show. Then she licks some blood off of him and they do this damn cool face-turning-outward move instead of kissing (see screencap below). These two, already, have single-handedly made this season several times more interesting. They appear to be the bad guys of the season and boy do they hold your attention. Also, in retrospect, Spike comes across as 100% in character from his very first scene. Well done!
This brings me to the fantastic scene which majorly foreshadows character development over the next seven seasons. That scene is the one where Spike comes into The Bronze to check Buffy out for the very first time. You can see in Spike's face immediately that he is awestruck by Buffy. So awestruck, in fact, that he visibly has to snap himself out of it and remember why he's there. Then he yells out, "there's some guy trying to bite someone out there," which causes Buffy to rush outside. Spike intelligently watches Buffy fight the vampire he set up for her from the shadows to get a glimpse of her fighting style, then says he'll kill her on Saturday.
Spike has several things that make him such a good and entertaining villain. Some of them include his affection for Drusilla, his sarcastic and bad-ass attitude, his hatred for rituals and chanting, and his "fighting intelligence." By fighting intelligence I mean that he's very smart when it comes to fighting opponents and winning. He sets Buffy up to watch her fighting style, then he says he's coming to kill her on Saturday which is simply a ruse so he can attack her earlier when she's not expecting it. He ends up attacking her in the middle of parent-teacher night at the high school!
While attacking Buffy at the school he remains very intelligent. He has her locked down in the school with a bunch of helpless classmates and teachers she has to come out to protect. He takes charge and initiative while all the other vampires around him pretty much look brainless and confused. Him and Buffy duke it out and Spike basically wins the fight, but intervention via axe from Buffy's mom saves her life. Spike's angered comment, "women!" always gives me a quick memory flash of his "what's wrong with you bloody women!" comment in "Crush" (5x14). Then after all this excitement Spike kills off the last remnant from S1, "The Annoying One." While I didn't mind the idea of a creepy vampire kid running the local vampire population, he really hadn't done anything worth mentioning at this point, so I really enjoyed seeing him killed like that.
Spike says, "A Slayer with family and friends. That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure." This line tells us that Spike knows that a Slayer with strong ties to family and friends will help keep her bound to this world. These ties will make this Slayer more difficult to off than his previous victims. We also learn from Spike in "Fool for Love" (5x07) that every Slayer has a death wish, even Buffy. Spike knows after this encounter, though, that she's not close to that breaking point yet, which is why he is so depressed when telling Drusilla what happened at the end of the episode.
I have one minor complaint about Spike, but only one. He says to Angel, "you were my sire, man, my Yoda!" Well, we find out in "Fool for Love" (5x07) that Drusilla was Spike's sire, not Angel. This lapse in contuinity could be explained by assuming that when he said 'sire' he meant 'mentor.' The end of that line about Angel also being his 'Yoda' would make this theory plausible.
This is mostly an action episode, with little character development (aside from Spike and Drusilla) involved. If you had just given me that outline before I'd actually seen this, I would have predicted this episode would suck. Spike and Drusilla completely save the day, though, and bring interesting plotting to a show that already has fantastic character development. This series is finally putting the pieces in play for what could be a powerful season (and it turns out, is a powerful season).