Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Broadcast November 21, 2000
Sarah Michelle Gellar .... Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon .... Alexander 'Xander' Harris
Alyson Hannigan .... Willow Rosenberg
Marc Blucas .... Riley Finn
Michelle Trachtenberg .... Dawn Summers
Amber Benson .... Tara
Anthony Head .... Rupert Giles
James Marsters .... Spike/William the Bloody
Kristine Sutherland .... Joyce Summers
Mercedes McNab .... Harmony Kendall
Emma Caulfield .... Anya Emerson
Joyce Summers, Buffy’s Mom, undergoes a CAT scan while Buffy comforts Dawn in the hospital waiting room.
At the Magic Box, Giles’ shop, Giles’ new yellow pages ad competes for attention with the gang’s worries about Riley’s avoidance of them all. Plus, they’re getting nowhere finding info on Buffy’s latest demon nemesis.
Her name is Glori, described by Buffy as being “a lot like Cordelia,” the Buffy, not the Shakespeare, character. Glori tries on new pumps in her swell apartment and receives a long-lost incantation from a toadying demon minion.
Riley lets himself into Buffy’s house and catches Spike sniffing Buffy’s clothes. Spike taunts Riley by saying Buffy’s losing faith in him-- after all, she didn’t tell him they’re at the hospital.
Riley comes to the hospital, where Buffy says she didn’t want to tell him until she knew more about Joyce’s possible cancer. The cancer looks bad. Joyce has “low-grade glioma,” a tumor in the left hemisphere, her doctor says. And it’s going to kill her.
While the gang researches the demon, Glori herself walks in, unrecognized by any of them, buys the magic items she needs for her recently-acquired incantation, and walks out.
Joyce’s illness may kill her quickly-- she may soon lose vision, muscle control. They may be able o remove her tumor, however. Even if it’s not operable, she might recover, however. The doctor asks a numbed Buffy a series of questions about habits, exposure to carcinogens, etc. The brain surgeon is sent away by charming young Dr. Ben, who knows Buffy needs a break. He recommends she go out and get some rest while Joyce sleeps.
Buffy wants to find a magic spell to fix Joyce, an idea Riley finds unlikely. She runs off, leaving Dawn with Riley.
Anya discovers that Giles sold the items needed for Glori’s conjuration spell-- meaning they put the items in the demon’s hand, and Buffy is going to be mad.
Riley takes Dawn to the park, where she shares tales of her mother’s support when she moved to Sunnydale and had no friends. She brings Riley down by saying what a great and safe guy is, compared with exciting Angel, who made Buffy all emotional.
Willow and Giles don’t think Buffy’s likely to find a magical spell for Joyce’s brain cancer. The mystical and medical were not meant to mix, Giles says. More immediately, they reveal that Glori now has the gear for her spell, which will conjure a big cobra demon. Buffy expects it to come for Dawn, whom she knows the demonic forces are looking for.
Buffy interrupts Glori’s conjuration at the reptile house at the zoo, tussles with Glori and gets knocked cold. As planned, Glori steals a cobra and makes a giant cobra demon of it.
Buffy runs while Glori orders the cobra demon to find “the key,” and tell her where it is. (We know the key has been transformed into Dawn.)
At the Magic Box, Xander explains to Riley that Buffy needs to fight something, which explains her running off alone. But why has Riley been such a loner? Riley wanders off.
Buffy knows Dawn will head for the Magic Box after school, so it’s important they keep the snake from her. Meantime, Buffy waits for news at the hospital.
Riley, meanwhile, goes drinking, deliberately picks up a vampire, and appears to let her bite him before staking her at the last minute.
The cobra demon manages to follow Dawn’s scent to the Magic Box, barges in, appears to memorize Dawn’s appearance, and turns and runs for Glori.
The chase is on for the cobra demon, which Buffy can’t allow to get back to Glori. Finally Buffy catches it in the park, jumps atop it, and beats it to death with her fists.
Dawn is safe for now, but back at the hospital, Joyce says she needs to talk to Dawn alone and tell her how sick she is. And Buffy can’t let out her sadness, even for Riley, because her family needs her strength.
"Shadow" earnestly begins what may be the most adult subject matter Buffy has ever tackled, that of cancer and the deadly sickness of a parent. Over the next several episodes we get to see Buffy separated from her Scooby Gang not because of mood or destiny, but by simple familial obligation. All of Buffy's reactions, such as her dull response to the doctor's questions, seem dead on. I appreciated her need to just hear what the doctor had to say; she's tired of sitting.
But of course, this is still Buffy, so the show gets to tackle with the question of what to do with a possibly terminal cancer in a world where a magic spell Willow cast gave Angel an entire soul back. Buffy wants to know if there's a spell to cure cancer, and right away the gang is skeptical-- why? Ultimately, because to allow her to find a magic cure would complicate the world entirely too much. It would beg the question of why anyone dies of cancer or any other disease, and any ramifications of the mixture of magic and medicine would sling the show into the realm of science fiction rather than fantasy. So Buffy is bound to run up against a strong taboo that keeps the show from dealing with the question.
Meanwhile, Riley, whom I've said before is doomed, doomed, doomed, has started skating right off the edge of sanity even without the benefit of a brain tumor. Whereas in normal adult dramas the boyfriend feeling sorry for himself would simply go pick up some nameless bar girl, here Riley picks up a vampire. But there's more at work here than the betrayal of trysting with Buffy's enemies: Riley seems to have taken Spike's words to heart and wants to become a vampire himself. Maybe. He can't go through with it just now, staking the vampire girl rather than drinking from her, in turn, to become a vampire himself. Pity, though, because Riley first appeared last season as a completely normal, together guy, even after he was revealed to be a spy. Blessed with the super-soldier powers of Captain America, now we get to see what might happen to Cap if you took his serum away. Of course, Riley happens to be stuck with Buffy the super-hero for a girlfriend, and she seems to have little use for him lately except as a babysitter. So he's suicidal. But I'm trying to imagine Marc Blucas as a vampire and nothing good is coming.
We can fault Spike with putting many of these ideas in Riley's head, but what do we want, Spike is resolutely evil whether that gang let him wander around unimpeded or not. Now, Spike is also in love with Buffy, a development played entirely for comedy around Spike's pitiful crush. One does wonder why, as Spike asks, hasn't Buffy ever barred him from her family's house, but it can't be love. God, what a mistake that would be.
Incidentally, Glori the Demon has got to be one of the cleverest creations the show has ever seen, a petite blonde with a sort of goofy, giddy delivery who nevertheless intends to destroy the world if she can just find "The Key," which has been transformed into Dawn Summers. It will be a pity to see Glori go.
Spike: “It’s a predator thing, nothing wrong with it, know your enemy’s scent, whet the appetite for the hunt. (Sniff.) That’s the stuff-- Slayer musk, bitter and aggravating. Grrr.”
Xander: “Just once I’d like to run into a cult of bunny worshippers.”
Anya: “Great. Thank you very much for those nightmares.”