I’d forgotten that season four takes several episodes to get to the overall storyarc for the season. In my memory, Stupid Old Riley Finn and Adam loom large, but the third episode, “Harsh Light of Day” is more set up for the rest of the season. In this one, Spike returns to Sunnydale (yay!), Harmony comes out as a vampire, and Anya drags her newly mortal ass to Xander’s Basement of Infinite Sadness. Also, everyone gets laid.
For my money, James Marsters is worth his weight in gold on this show. Spike is an amazing character, partly because the writers took such care in developing him once they decided to commit to the vampire as a recurring character, and because Marsters takes already fantastic dialog and direction, and turns it into something amazing. The episodes with him in it just glow a little brighter. SMG is always better acting against him. Even their fight scenes are some of the best choreographed ones on the show – check out their knock down, daylight fight over the Ring of Amarra if you doubt me.
I mean, come on. Look at this gif:
Or this one:
I’ll give you a moment to fan yourself.
So, where were we? Right, the episode.
Buffy, our gal, gets to go through yet another common college experience, the ill-advised hook up. That Prince Eric-looking mofu, Parker, shows up with his good hair and his clear skin, spins out a story about his “dead” father and living for today, and Buffy, who honestly likes her guys with a little bit of pathos, laps it up. Why shouldn’t she? If a girl goes around thinking every guy she meets is gonna end up a soulless vampire serial killer, life would be pretty grim. So she goes on a couple of dates with him and slow dances to a pretty song, and later goes back to his scrungy dorm room for the horizontal mambo.
And then Parker doesn’t call her back. Because he’s a scum bag.
Meanwhile, Spike is back in town with his newly vamped girlfriend Harmony – and I’d really like to see the backstory on how the two of them ended up together – looking for the Mystical Treasure of the Week, the Gem of Amarra, which is supposed to grant invulnerability to the wearer. As his crew is digging tunnels under the UC Sunnydale campus, we get treated to a number of scenes of his relationship with Harmony. I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely found myself in relationships with people who seemed to have a barely disguised loathing of me at that age, and that’s exactly where Harmony finds herself. She’s far more into Spike than he is into her. Maybe she thinks she can change him, but in the meantime, she tolerates a lot of verbal abuse. Plus one ineffective staking. When Spike finds his Gem, his first thoughts are of Buffy – foreshadowing! – and he leaves her crying on the floor.
The overarching and not exactly subtle theme of the episode is the parallel heartbreak the three main women go through – Buffy, Harmony, and Anya. Anya’s heartbreak, like the other two, is largely do to her own poor, though understandable, choices. Showing back up in town, demanding the relationship talk with Xander, who was largely unaware one prom date made a relationship, and then a therapeutic roll in the hay, does not seem like the basis of a strong emotional bond. When Xander doesn’t immediately fall in love with her, Anya is unable to handle it.
In case we weren’t able to keep track of the three shockingly similar emotional stories, the last shot is of the three of them walking in slightly different directions around the same square of Sunnydale’s campus.
Also, Buffy gets the ring back from Spike and sends it to Los Angeles for a handy crossover episode.
Most of “Harsh Light of Day” is fodder for the rest of the season. Spike’s return is integral to the Initiative plot. Anya and Xander’s on-again, off-again relationship continues until the end of the series. Stupid Parker leads the way for Stupid Riley, which will give us plenty of things to gripe about in the coming weeks. Even vampire Harmony ends up being an important cog in the Buffyverse.
Next week: Fear, Itself
Bonus Tracks: The official music video from Bif Naked’s “We Are the Lucky Ones.”