BUFFY: Everything I feel, everything I touch... this is Hell. Just getting through the next moment, and the one after that. Knowing what I've lost. They can never know. Never.There has to be a period of adjustment for Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), fresh from being yanked back into corporeal form after a noble death, as it would otherwise feel like Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn't take the demise of its lead character seriously enough. Jane Espenson's "AFTER LIFE" was this transition phase (at least in the sense Buffy swapped her funereal robes for a tan-coloured dress), and did a functional job of dramatising Buffy's rebirth—as it was a clearly traumatic event that's left her dazed and aloof in the face of her happy friends glad to have their pal back. (Those nightly patrols are a bummer without your super-friend taking the lead.)
Unfortunately, a couple of good moments (mostly scares) were overwhelmed by a very lacklustre storyline and crappy CGI ghost. Oh yes, it transpired that a 'formless demon' hitched a ride with The Slayer over from the other dimension, and unwisely announced its existence by spooking Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) while they slept, possessing Anya (Emma Caulfield) and making her carve chunks out of her face, and having Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) vomit fire.
I couldn't tell you why the demon decided this was all a good move, but then again very little about this episode worked for me—except for the final scene, where Buffy belatedly thanked her friends for resurrecting her, before confiding in Spike (James Marsters) that her afterlife was a blissful existence and being torn back into the material world is what's truly hellish. That was quite an unsettling moment, while also speaking to the growing bond Buffy has with her erstwhile vampire enemy.
Sadly, the Buffy/Spike moment was a highlight of the denouement, arriving too late to salvage the episode—which came across as predictable, stupid, and lifeless. I'm not even sure what to think about the off-camera moment where Willow apparently called Giles to inform him of Buffy's return, and that he'll be flying back to Sunnydale within days. What was the point of removing him from the show in the first place? If there was an issue with Anthony Stewart Head's contract, couldn't they have found a better way around it? I'd rather he left for reasons unconnected to Buffy dying, and came back when there was a more pressing need. Is he just going to appear occasionally, with increasingly dumb reasons for him leaving town every few episodes?
written by Jane Espenson • directed by David Solomon • 9 October 2001 • UPN
LILAH: You're a remarkable man, Angel.A halfhearted attempt to make Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) feel like a valued member of the team, and not just a psychic herald for their next adventure, "THAT VISION THING" started poorly and ended very well. It had to push Cordy off-screen and refocus on the idea of Angel (David Boreanaz) helping Wolfram & Hart break a villain out of Hell, but so be it.
ANGEL: Yeah. And you're an evil bitch.
After Cordelia starts receiving visions that manifest themselves on her body as unsightly claw marks and skin complaints, Angel Investigations aren't sure why The Powers That Be are seemingly punishing Cordy in this manner. It turns out her psychic channel is being hacked by a fez-wearing mystic (Kal Penn) hired by W&H's devious Lilah Morgan (Stephanie Romanov), as part of a plan to force Angel into travelling to a hellish dimension to free an accomplice of theirs—who, in a rather unsettling visual for the show, is being silently burned alive for all eternity by a hilariously nonchalant demon guard called Skip (a very memorable David Denman).
It sounds like a fun episode, and for the most part it was—it was just a pity it took awhile to get going, and newcomer Jeffrey Bell's script didn't actually do much to counter any feeling that Cordelia's an unnecessary part of their rapidly-expanding team. In some ways it feels like Fred's (Amy Acker) been added to the mix because she's even more of a naive ditz than Cordy ever was, which makes Cordy look comparatively wise and mature.
Whatever's going on with the dynamics of the cast, "That Vision Thing" essentially proved itself a winner because it was unusual seeing Angel do 'a favour' for the show's villains, in order to spare a friend cosmetic torment. Also fun to realise they've replaced W&H's Lindsey with smooth lawyer Gavin Park (a pre-Lost Daniel Dae Kim), whose idea of battling Angel Investigations is handing them building code violations. Here's hoping Kim's character raises his game soon, as the workplace rivalry with Lilah will surely turn bitter.
written by Jeffrey Bell • directed by Bill L. Norton • 1 October 2001 • The WB