Or: men behaving badly.
We start with some hot girl lovin'. At last, Tara and Willow get the post-coital sexscene they deserve. And Tara's finally in the credits! It's all going well for our two favourite lesbian witches......oh.
As we all know, lesbians are very empathetic, so whilst Xander is ranting about Buffy's choice of men-vamps, Tara and Willow are "trying to understand". Xander placed Buffy on a pedestal many years ago and, whilst he accepts that she doesn't want him, her wanting an evil dead thing knocks her straight off it and down to our level. Similarly Willow could never get her head around Xander preferring Cordelia, Faith and Anya to her. He makes it clear that he is better than Spike as he tells Buffy: "I many have made some mistakes in my time but slaughtering half of Europe wasn't one of them". He seems more upset by this and by being wrong about Spike "never [having] a chance with a girl like you," than he does by Anya moving on and using Spike as the springboard. Nevertheless, he is now stalking his ex as she did him last ep, and turning their former love nest into his former basement with beer cans and pizza boxes lying around unbinned.
Talking of empathising, Anya is trying to get back in the game by listening to women in bars kvetching about their unfaithful boyfriends. Unfortunately, Anya's heart isn't in vengeance. She is less interested in cursing than complaining about Xander's behaviour. The girl in the bar sums up the episode's theme: "Men suck". The ep starts off light and fluffy with Buffy trading quips with vamps, getting annoyed about her clothes being ruined by the amusing giant buzzsaw that the nerds have set up as they flee lair#2 (if the boys are so clever and inventive, why didn't Microsoft headhunt them as they did with Oz and Willow?), and Jonathan forced into the funny skinsuit. But it takes a turn for the dark side as the boys get hold of the Nezzla'Khan orbs, this episode's Gem of Amara, and gets steadily more sombre.
Warren finally has some balls and sets off to do all the things he couldn't do as a dweeb, humiliating Frankie from high school - he seems more interested in this than impressing Frankie's girlfriend, or perhaps he thinks woman are impressed by violence, and going on to treat the other women in the bar as prostitutes, all the time using words such as "babe", "kitten", "b*tch". We've already seen how Warren treats women and here we see his view of femininity and masculinity, it's all about physical strength, the haves and the have-nots. "You hit like a girl", he tells Xander disparagingly. In a macho world, the way for Warren to feels good is through physical strength, money and disposable women. "Did you never fight a real man before," he ask Buffy, his idea of a real man being a burly, beef one who isn't afraid to prove it. In previous episodes, the boys have tried to control Buffy (and other women) with trickery and supernatural drugs, now they challenge her main strength – her strength. They have gone from incredibly annoying to incredibly dangerous.
BTVS is essentially a feminine fantasy about a girl being stronger than men, but Buffy has always been about plans, wit, ingenuity, resourcefulness and strength of mind, not just muscle. She tells Warren that he is a "sad little boy" and that he has "a problem with strong women". Larry et al came to accept Buffy's superior power, Warren sees it as a threat to his masculinity.
The episode is also about taking sides. Andrew, now blatantly in love with Warren, shouts: "Kill her!" whilst Jonathan, coming to his senses, jumps on Buffy's back to tell her Warren's power source, his testicles-substitute, so that Buffy can get him by the balls to kick him into touch. Warren is horrified by Buffy's smashing of his powers, his sexual prowess, his maleness, and making him the b*tch, and he turns to a phallic weapon to punish her. "You think I'd let you get away with that!?" It seems like the nerd story is over, but it's only just beginning. Andrew and Jonathan should be glad they're in prison (the Andrew/jetpack scene never ceases to amuse) as Willow sees red – or rather black. The episode's title obviously refers to Warren's, Spike's, Willow's moment of angry madness, but also refers to the viewer. We are seeing red – red hair, red sheets, red sunrise-light, all leading up to the final scene when Willow literally sees red as Tara's blood splatters onto her shirt.
Xander also chooses his side – it is by Buffy's side. He comes to tell her about Warren's new found strength and makes up with his BFF in a sweet reconciliation scene. He is not a man afraid of women. He also gently turns down the woman in the bar who is trying to flirt with him, rather than take revenge on Anya. He has made up for his behaviour.
Will Spike atone for his? Spurred on by Dawn's inadvertent encouragement (telling him that Buffy was hurt by his sleeping with Anya), he visits Buffy, following her into the bathroom when she's tired and injured. The scene that follows is shocking and horrible; to see our heroine helpless and squirming beneath a man momentarily stronger than her is not what we're used to. She tries to get him to stop by pleading with him, only using her slayer strength when this fails. Spike is trying to make an emotional connection through a physical one and, as ever, is not listening to Buffy, either her screaming no or her denial of love for him. She tried to be honest with him, saying she has feelings for him, but this is faint praise to Spike. It's all or nothing with him. "Real love is wild and passionate and dangerous", he says, still trying to force her to be like him, and when this doesn't work, he just tries to force her. Ditto when he talks with Clem – he can't be a monster, can't be a man, but he can't live with this grey area ("everything used to be so clear"). He oscillates between "What have I done?" And "Why didn't I do it?"
He has to choose – monster or man? Spike or William? This is his eternal conflict. He needs to choose his sides and as he drives off into the sunset with his farewell highly ambiguous speech: "Get nice and comfy, Slayer. When I come back, things are gonna change", we're left wondering a) why he thinks he could get rid of the chip when he's tried and failed so many times before or, alternatively, b) why is he snarling if he means for things to change for the better? The mislead is a bit disingenuous. "Ask me again why I could never love you," asks Buffy. It's possible that Spike still will.
The episode ends in the opposite way to last week's when we had doom and gloom and then a lovely Tara/Willow rapprochement. Here we have a happy ending with Xander and Buffy reconciling but then hinting at the horrible coda: "I don't know what I'd do without you and Will", says Xander as Warren enters the garden....