Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4.E3 — “The Harsh Light of Day”

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.

Still of Buffy saying, "Harmony's a vampire? She must be dying without a reflection."

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:

Animated gif from Buffy the Vampire Slayer of Spike making sex eyes

Or this one:

Animated gif from Buffy the Vampire Slayer of a shirtless Spike panting.

I’ll give you a moment to fan yourself.

So, where were we? Right, the episode.

Parker and Buffy look into each other's eyes.

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.

Xander and Anya post-coital; she looks sad.

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.”

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

5 thoughts on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4.E3 — “The Harsh Light of Day””

  1. I heard somewhere (possibly one of those DVD extra things, not taht I own all the dvds and watch the extras or anything…) that Joss actually had to trim parts of the episode because it was too long for TV and part of what was trimmed was this convo Buffy was having about the sex she chose to have with Parker. If I remember right, one of the reasons was sort of an Angel rebound thing, like everytime she was with/around Parker, she kept htinking to herself “look, look at me having a normal relationship without Angel. Look at me not thinking about Angel”. I could be wrong on that recollection though.

    Gotta say, season 4 has some of the best episodes, as well as some of the most mediocre (and probably my least favourite Big Bad. What kind of Big Bad doesn’t snark and have fantastic witty battles of wits with Buffy?). So glad the recaps are back!!

    1. Speaking of Angel: you made me think of when Angel follows Buffy back to Sunnydale after kicking her out of LA for trying to kill Faith and then quickly getting into a fight with Riley. The whole time Buffy was chewing him out I was like, “You tell him girl!! Damn right!” And then proceeded to lmao when Riley was like “I’m not leaving, I’m not giving you two any privacy” and Buffy just takes Angel into her room and closes the door. Priceless.

  2. You know, after watching all of Buffy and Angel, I can’t really hate Harmony. Sure, she’s self-absorbed and shallow, but she’s got a smart streak. And never deserved how Spike treated her (because she wasn’t Drucilla, then she wasn’t Buffy). As much as I like Spike, he’s a complete jackass to Harmony. And Harmony probably figured that she was lucky, at least at first, because her much older boyfriend was such a hottie and so good in bed. I always thought Harmony could use a few “learn to love YOU first” chats, but the high school crowd seemed to be more interested in feeling superior.

    Parker sucks, and sucks more because a later comment by him causes Stupid Riley to realize how he feels about Buffy. Nevermind the “freshman girls are conquests” attitude, which makes me slightly smashy. He’s a complete ass and really, really led Buffy on — all that talk about being connected and making choices, and then he tells her that it was just about having sex with her once. And blowing her off when she has feelings about it. Jerkass.

    And, well, I like Anya more as she tries to adapt to being human again. Stupid Xander was stupid, but he also didn’t expect the odd girl who told them how to keep Mayor Wilkins from destroying the world to show up and go naked in front of him without warning. His stupid choice was kind of almost understandable, as was his reaction, but, well, XANDER. COME ON. YOU’RE NOT THAT DUMB. At least try for a cup of coffee and actually talking, you twit.

  3. Fun fact- that Bif Naked song is the first song I ever downloaded on Napster. Learned how to be shady thanks to this episode.

    I always thought Parker looked like someone, and you, of course, fucking NAILED it with the Prince Eric comparison. That is totally it.

    I hate Riley. So much.

    I will now be locking my office door and using those Marsters gifs for some private time. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Leave a Reply