I know a lot of Spike fans were disappointed at how last week's dramatic soul revelation was just sort of put on the back burner for this whole Willow-centric episode ... but I don't really see the two plots as that separate. I mean ... if you think about some of Spike's lines both in "Beneath You" and in this episode, they set up a sort of Greek chorus to this quick-and-easy little resolution for Willow. So ... in a way ... this episode can be seen as a sort of Whedonesque concretized metaphor for the same larger, abstract issues raised last week.
"And she will look on him with forgiveness"
This entire episode was about Scooby efforts to look on Willow with forgiveness. In true Joss fashion, the metaphor was made concrete in that they actually couldn't "look on [her] with forgiveness" ... because they couldn't see her.
Willow's own fear hides her from her friends. She hides her face from them, because they know what she did, and she is afraid that they will not be able to forgive her. Notice that in the school basement scene in this episode, Spike says to Buffy and Xander, "I should hide ... hide from you ... hide my face from you. You know what I did." Uh ... hello? Parallel plots, anyone? Spike and Willow have the same fears ... they just express them differently.
"You try to wall up the bad parts"
When Spike first sees Willow in the basement in this episode, he says to her, "You go off, and you try to wall up the bad parts and put your heart back in where it fell out, and you call yourself finished, but you're not. You're worse off than ever, you are." Am I the only one who sees him speaking about not only Willow but himself -- and Buffy, too -- here?
And, of course, again, Joss's ME team renders the metaphor concrete when the Scoobs wall Willow in with the skin-eating demon. Buffy isn't sure if she can forgive Willow, isn't sure if she can trust her, and so she puts a wall up between herself and the "bad parts," just as she did all last season with Spike. There are so many walls, so many definitions of "bad parts" in the series right now that it's difficult to even fully expand this metaphor.
Spike tried to wall off his "bad parts," his demon, his evil, so that he could be the kind of man that Buffy could love. Willow tried to wall off her own "bad parts," the black magic, the power that took control of her, so that she could be a Scooby again and return to her friends. Buffy tried to wall off her own "bad parts," the dark side of her Slayer nature, her hunger for Spike, so that she could prove that she was still a hero.
And then there are the walls between the different characters. Dawn seems the character currently telling the truth about this particular issue, since last episode she commented about Buffy's walls that keep her friends out except when she wants to let them in ... and this episode she asks, very astutely, "Will anyone around here ever start asking for help when they need it?" Smart kid! But they're all so afraid to acknowledge their own "bad parts," their own weaknesses, their own shortcomings ... so afraid that those around them will reject them if they know the truth ("What would they think of you if they found out all the things you've done? If they knew who you really were?") ... that they don't reach out to each other.
"Am I flesh? Am I flesh to you? Feed on flesh. My flesh"
Uh ... hello? Am I the only person who saw the connection between this line in "Beneath You," and the flesh-eating demon in this week's episode? Again, Spike was talking in metaphors, talking about how Buffy "fed" on his flesh last season as the only thing that made her feel alive, the only thing that sustained her ... her only true sustenance.
But in this episode, we saw the metaphor literalized again. We saw a demon who literally peels strips of skin off of his victims, slowly ... painfully ... for his own sustenance. He feeds on flesh. His victims, including Willow, are "flesh" to him. And, in the end, Buffy destroys him, because what he is doing is so clearly wrong ... just as she ended her relationship with Spike when she realized how she was using him, how she was feeding off of him like a parasite.
"And everybody will forgive ... and love"
Well, that's really what this entire episode was about, right? Buffy's quest for forgiveness and love for Willow. And, in the end, she found it. Willow is in pain (just as Spike is), and finds herself too weak to heal herself (just as Spike is) ... and at the end of the episode, Buffy finds it in herself to take Willow's hands, and lend some of her own strength to help the healing.
I don't think we can expect such a simplistic ending to Spike's own quest for Buffy's forgiveness and love. By the way things have been set up, with Spike's wounds as abstract metaphors and Willow's as concrete slashes to the abdomen, Spike's quest has been set up as larger, more important, more difficult. In the end, he may not succeed. But I think this episode gave us a concretized map of what he's looking for ... and what he has a chance to find.
When I watched the final scene of this episode, with Buffy holding Willow's hands, lending her strength to a friend in need, I thought of last season's "After Life" (which was also -- possibly not coincidentally, given the title of the episode -- the third episode of the season). I thought of Spike holding Buffy's injured hands, trying to heal her, trying to lend her his own strength and support.
And I hoped that this season, eventually, Buffy might return the favor.