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Backstory / 8x01: "Crossroads"

After the defeat of the First Evil and the collapse of Sunnydale, Buffy and her friends eventually made their way to Cleveland, Ohio, acting on Giles' information that it was home to the world's most potent Hellmouth after Sunnydale. Upon their arrival, however, Willow detected a strong flow of dark energy away from Cleveland. The group followed the energy trail to a little town called Trillium in Pennsylvania. Trillium lies in the exact center of a triangle of nearby Hellmouths: the one in Cleveland, another in Syracuse, New York, and the third in Washington DC. Realizing that this nexus of energies had the potential to become even more potent and volatile than any one Hellmouth (as well as being within relatively short distance of its three sources), the group decided to establish their new headquarters there. Xander dubbed the area "The Tri-Mouth", and the name has stuck.

Soon after establishing a location for the new Watcher's Council (affectionately referred to as "Slayer Central") and ensuring her friends and sister were set, Buffy decided to leave the group on extended hiatus. Leaving with explicitly strict instructions that they were not to contact her for anything short of a life-threatening emergency, she went to Europe. She spent the next several months backpacking and, in theory, enjoying her newfound freedom. Her contact with home was brief and ultimately stopped altogether as she become more and more focused on trying to find what she felt she needed to be happy. Her friends, Willow in particular, were hurt by her decision to leave, but did their best to understand that this was simply something she felt she had to do.

Meanwhile at home, Giles was busily rebuilding the Watcher's Council from the ground up, doing away with its archaic foundations and ensuring that it would be a partnership and not a dictatorship over the world's Slayers. With Willow's assistance, they wrested control of the old Council's funds, and together set to work creating a new bureaucracy. Giles' methods and plans for this new Council were so drastically removed from the old Council that many of its surviving members wanted nothing to do with this more modern incarnation; Giles was of the opinion, 'good riddance'.

Willow is back in school and loving every second of it, attending a local branch of the Pennsylvania State. Her magic remains a serious concern for her, the situation not helped in the slightest by the spell that unlocked the power of the scythe. Whereas before Willow was wrestling only with her fears about dark magick, she has now also been touched by the purest strain, and both ends of the spectrum are forever a part of her. Willow has yet to strike a balance, and given the intense power levels she now possesses, she is also wrestling with fine-tuning her control over magick; big spells are no problem, but little things tend to go all wonky. Between school, the Council, magick, Kennedy, her friends and helping to take care of Dawn, Willow's life is a perpetual juggling act. Will's not a very good juggler.

Things for Dawn are a strange mixture of "really good" and "really crappy". On the one hand, her home life is probably more stable right now than it's been for years, with both Willow and Xander acting as loving parental figures. Dawn misses Buffy very much, but given Buffy's general attitude towards Dawn over the previous few years, her complete absence isn't drastically different. On the other hand, however, Dawn is going through an identity crisis, always feeling as though she's defined by her relationship to someone else, or overshadowed due to some sort of deficiency on her part. Dawn very desperately wants to establish herself as her own person, but she's not even altogether certain who that is.

On the Slayer side, Faith, Wood and other Watchers have been busy contacting, visiting and attempting to recruit girls to come to Trillium to learn how to use their powers and help in the never-ending battle against evil. This has led to a nice full house of Slayers (the exact number in the facility has yet to be revealed), although the lack of Watchers to go around is starting to become something of a problem.

Two of those new Slayers are introduced: the first is Judith, a charming girl who Kennedy has taken a liking to, and Hazel, an unsure but enthusiastic recruit who Faith visits.

Faith and Kennedy are both primary, full-time trainers for new Slayers (versus, say, Vi and Rona who are experienced but remain part-time), although Faith spent the bulk of the first few months recruiting. Kennedy is in her element teaching the new girls, and feels resentful about the fact that she has been assigned a Watcher of her very own, an eager young man named Nathaniel. Kennedy believes that he has nothing to teach her; he believes that only proves that he does.

Since the destruction of Sunnydale, Xander has found himself spiraling into a deep depression. Anya's death has hit him hard, and he's wracked with guilt about pretty much everything to do with her. He hides his depression from just about everybody except Willow, who he couldn't hide it from anyway, and she is desperate to try and make things better for him. When he announces his plans to leave them, Willow's fears for him increase tenfold, as does her resolve to somehow make him see how important he is.

8x02: "Human Nature"

A new environmental group on campus takes things to the extreme when it's revealed that they're dryads, out to put a stop to the mass destruction of trees by turning people into them. Willow is adamant about stopping them with non-lethal force, and succeeds in convincing the dryads that a human turned to their cause is the more natural, balanced way to go about effecting change.

Giles, noticing Xander's mood, talks to the young man and finds out that on top of everything else, Xander can't get a job in construction due to his missing eye. Noticing that Xander is feeling completely useless, Giles asks him to build some bookcases, giving Xander more to do than simply take care of the house, as well as proving that while companies may no longer want him to drive wrecking balls, he can still use his carpentry skills.

Over in Scotland, Buffy finds a giant spider-like creature attacking a man. She leaps into action and manages to have him and drive off the monster, but not before getting hurt herself and falling unconscious.

Tension rises between Kennedy and Willow, as the former wants the later to skip school and spend the day together. Willow reluctantly, but adamantly, insists on going to class, and after a bit of a spat, Kennedy comes to the conclusion that she doesn't share very well.

Faith returns to Slayer Central after her most recent recruiting trip, furious when she thinks that Giles didn't trust her enough to get the job done and sent someone in her place; the girl she was assigned to speak with had already heard Faith's pitch the day before. Giles is confused, however, as he did no such thing, not even accidentally. He calls the girl who Faith spoke to, intending to ask her some questions, but learns from her parents that she's not around, having left a note reading that she'd gone off with some friends for the weekend.

Willow's desire for a non-violent solution to the dryad problem leads her to not tell Kennedy (or any other Slayer) what's going on with the group as she, Xander and Giles go to confront them. Not realizing that Willow was keeping it secret, Dawn accidentally lets it slip to Kennedy that the redhead had gone to deal with the creatures. They both realize that this was a very intentional omission by Willow. Given how much Kennedy had been poking and irritating Dawn in the beginning of their conversation, Dawn can't help but give some of her own back by sprinkling salt in the wound. She comments that Willow just didn't need Kennedy, but insinuates that she probably would've taken Tara, had Tara been around.

After the dryad situation has been resolved, Willow brings Xander to a beautiful clearing where the dryads have caused a tree to grow as thanks for their help. Willow explains how she assisted in giving the tree life, and imbued it with their thoughts and love for the people they've lost over the years. She believes that the deceased, restless after the destruction of Sunnydale, will now be able to find them here, and having someplace concrete to visit will help out those still living as well. She and Xander sit side by side, watching the sapling.

8x03: "Hide & Seek"

Willow and Kennedy's special, 'just the two of us' day is interrupted mid-picnic by a call from Giles. He doesn't go into detail, but presses that he needs Willow's help on something urgent. Kennedy presses Willow to tell Giles she can't do it today, but that doesn't happen. This on top of everything else lately infuriates Kennedy, and she stomps off, spending the rest of the day avoiding Willow entirely.

Giles has been receiving several disturbing reports from other operatives about Slayers disappearing around the world, and he needed Willow to do another mass locator spell, similar to the one she did months ago to help them start narrowing down where to look for the new Slayers. Willow does so, her eyes and hair going white in the process, and discovers that there are indeed fewer Slayers out there, as well as "something but nothing" which she can't make heads or tails of. This information now in hand, Giles informs Faith, Xander and Wood (not Kennedy as they can't find her) about the problem as well, insisting that they keep it quiet for now so as not to cause panic.

Thousands of miles away, Buffy wakes up in the home of the man she rescued to discover that she's been unconscious for five days. His name is Knight, and he tells her that she was infected by ettercap venom, and he's impressed that she's recovering so quickly. They talk over dinner, Knight sensing something intriguing about Buffy, and he subtly probes for more information. Buffy is tight-lipped, however, and when he finally asks point-blank why she seems so unhappy, she finds herself at a loss for a good answer. He encourages her to follow her heart, since it's usually much smarter than we are.

Following up on his promise to surprise Faith, Wood asks Faith out on date. She instantly refuses, and he says that he understands that she's afraid. This of course has the obvious effect of making her agree, although she calls him on it later that night and says that because he tricked her, the date doesn't count. This leads to a discussion about Faith's view of the world, with Wood assuring her that him asking her out doesn't mean anything she thinks it does. Suspiciously, and with the lure of a really good steak, Faith agrees to stay.

A group of robed figures summon something they call a "Mogari" – a viscous-looking giant dog-like creature with no eyes–and they command it to "seek". It disappears with a flash of light, turning up in a neighborhood, then later being sighted by Kennedy and the new Slayer, Hazel, who has just arrived in Trillium. The fight with the creature is brutal but over quickly, Kennedy emerging the victor but not before noticing how the creature seemed intent on attacking Hazel. She reports this information to Giles, as well as handing over her shirt, stained with the monster's blood, when he asks for it.

Willow finally returns home, having looked for Kennedy as long as she could. Xander chastises Dawn for her apparent glee at Willow's misery, but Dawn hastily corrects him; she's not glad Willow's upset, but she's very much of the opinion that Kennedy is all wrong for Willow. Xander responds that Willow's happiness should be all Dawn is concerned with, to which Dawn replies that Willow sure doesn't look happy.

The day ends with Kennedy going to Willow, now ready to talk, but Will has to leave to do a specifically timed spell to reach Buffy in her mind and warn her about the Slayer disappearances. She does indeed contact Buffy, but the situation between them is tense as well, Buffy at first being angry that she was contacted when everyone was okay, then quickly dipping to a sort of melancholy while talking to her best friend. When Willow leaves, Buffy wakes up and goes to her backpack, pulling out pictures and staring at one of her, Willow and Xander.

8x04: "The Name of the Game"

Giles obtains a locked chest from an estate sale and brings it back to Slayer Central. When he finally gets it open, the contents are largely unremarkable, save for a stack of diaries and a ouija board. He asks Willow to take the chest home with her to do some tests on the items to see if any are magickal in nature.

Hazel, now rooming with Judith, complains to Faith about how the other girl is driving her nuts. She refuses to ask for another room, however, believing that to be exactly what Judith wants. Their conversation leads Hazel to nickname Faith "Fiver", based upon Faith's continual usage of "five by five" and Hazel's own love for the book. Her animosity toward Judith comes to a head when they meet during training, and it turns into an impromptu sparring match. Faith and Kennedy, who was working with Judith, watch and begin to vent their own rivalries through their respective protégé, betting on the outcome. Hazel eventually loses, putting Faith in a sour mood, and she brushes off some of her crap jobs to Hazel. Judith finds Hazel alone, working, and taunts her some more but quickly retracts it when she realizes that Hazel got in trouble. She apologizes and offers to help, which Hazel accepts. Hazel says that she'll take Judith in the end, and Judith simply nods and smiles patronizingly.

For Willow, it's a tough day. Her problems in fine power control don't appear to be improving, and she keeps blowing up the map she's trying to use for locator spell practice. Giles is a patient and insistent mentor, however, not allowing Willow to fall too far into self-depreciation and always prodding her forward. After many (many) attempts, she gets it, only accidentally setting Giles' shoes on fire in the process. They retire to his office where she tries (and fails) to be nonchalant about the fact that Buffy still isn't home and hasn't contacted them.

It's a busy night for everyone. Xander has put untold effort into organizing "Manly Man Poker Night" with himself, Giles, Wood and Andrew. He seems to be resting their entire male worth on the game, which makes it all the more demoralizing when Faith invites herself and takes them for every cent.

Kennedy and Willow have a nice, relaxing evening planned at a romantic restaurant, although when it looks as though Kennedy is proposing, Willow finds the entire situation anything but. It soon turns out, however, that it's not an engagement ring but a small silver stone. Kennedy's brother told her when she was small that it was a butterfly tear, and he gave it to her so she'd always remember that someone out there thought she was special. Kennedy insists that Willow take it so she'll always remember the same thing.

With the house free, Dawn's been planning a slumber party with some of her friends. She stresses (and stresses and stresses) about it, desperate for everything to be perfect. So of course it's not when her friends start digging in the chest that Giles bought, pull out the ouija board, and accidentally manifest an angry spirit. Really, really angry. It starts trashing the house, but Dawn manages to keep her head amidst her panicking friends. Just as she figures out how to defeat it, Buffy comes home. Her fight with the ghost is ineffectual, but highly impressive, and all of Dawn's friends are entranced. Dawn gives Buffy the key to winning, and Buffy smashes the ouija board, which does the trick. The threat over, Dawn's friends stand in awe of Buffy, who at first laps up the attention but then realizes how it's making Dawn feel and tries to redirect it. She doesn't succeed. Willow and Kennedy arrive home and Willow starts to go into meltdown about the house. Xander soon follows, but it's not long after when they notice that Buffy's home, and that sucks up every ounce of attention. Xander hugs her immediately, but things between Buffy and Willow are still tense.

8x05: "Fringes"

The gang throws a welcome home dinner for Buffy that soon degenerates into an argument about a variety of topics, not the least of which being what Buffy should do now that she's back. The argument, of course, excludes Buffy herself, who seems to have no particular input on the matter.

Similar to general appearance to Buffy's dinner, a meeting is occurring in a dark and fairly plain room, adorned only by a pentagram identical to that seen in 8x03, and a strange symbol that looks like an eye sitting atop a strangely shaped staff. Around the table sit a group of powerful magic users, led by a young man named Madrigan whose power seems to dwarf them all. They discuss several bits of business and appear to be in league with a group named the Assemblage of Merodach. Madrigan doesn't seem the least bit concerned that someone named Robespierre is becoming insistent about getting his prototype, not even when mention is made of "the Antediluvian". Instead, Madrigan seems much more interested in "the Sangerand", and is looking forward to a report that is expected the following evening. After rather messily destroying a particularly annoying lackey, Madrigan calls for someone named Seneca, a huge but well-proportioned man who says nothing but has creative ways of communicating anyway.

The next day, Giles introduces Judith to Sonja, a perky and highly enthusiastic new Slayer who just arrived from Sweden. Judith shows Sonja around Slayer Central, introducing her to the key players and filling her in on all the latest gossip. As the day progresses, it is interspersed with segments of a report, detailing the writer's observations, thoughts and opinions on the new Council and everyone of importance that they encounter.

It's a day of much conflict, starting with Buffy stepping in on one of Kennedy's classes when Kennedy left for a moment, the Alpha Slayer giving the class her not-so-high opinion of their seeming dedication to violence and little else. When Kennedy returns, things degenerate quickly between her and Buffy, only narrowly avoiding getting physical.

Totally pissed about the Buffy thing, Kennedy vents to Willow, who manages to soothe her girlfriend down and promises to speak to Buffy about it. Calmer, Kennedy tries to do some magick with Willow on the witch's request–she's looking to achieve the sort of magickal harmony she once had with Tara. It doesn't work out so well, leaving Willow feeling more than a little disappointed.

Willow's mood doesn't improve when she talks to Buffy and the two argue bitterly, the conversation very quickly ceasing to be about anything but their own strained relationship. They both state a desire to return to how things used to be, but neither has any idea how they can do that.

Dawn and Giles continue their research on the creature Kennedy fought in 8x03, trying to uncover just what exactly the creature was. Thanks to some laboratory work done on the blood, they eventually discover that it's not a known demon at all, but one created by powerful magicks with a very specific purpose, although they're not altogether certain what that is yet. They bring Willow into the game, and she confirms that while it won't be easy, with the use of the blood sample and some serious preparation, she thinks she can trace back where the creature originated.

Faith goes to the memorial site, where she finds Xander simply sitting and thinking. She tries to leave but he convinces her to stay, and she eventually confesses that she's just received word that her mother is dead. Far from being upset about the news, however, Faith is more disturbed to discover that she doesn't have any particular feelings about it, and it's that fact which is causing her more pain than anything else. Faith worries that perhaps she hasn't come far from where she started after all.

Also with a keen eye on Slayer Central is a tiny, well-dressed orange demon named Norg. When he finally approaches the Slayers with a story about a kidnapped baby, they agree to check it out. It turns out, however, the Norg was working for another demon, who set up the Slayers to eliminate some of the embarrassing dead weight of the demon world.

At the end of the day, the report is delivered to a group of men, all extremely professional-looking. One in particular stands out, not only by the fact that he appears to be in charge, but by the scar stretching across the side of his face.

Alone in the training room, Judith finishes giving her report via one of the mirrors there, paying no particular attention to the eye-shaped marking over her heart.

8x06: "Where the Heart is"

Experiencing some "truly sucky" days, Buffy progressively feels isolated in an environment that's coped without her quite nicely for several months. She doesn't get their in-jokes, the new Slayers don't respect her, her Watcher has a life outside of her, and her sister turns to her friends first. Adding to all of that, Buffy is plagued by dreams involving three zombies who, rather than wanting to eat her brains, plead with her for help. Research discovers that the zombies are victims of a car accident that claimed all their lives, save an eldest son named Ryan. Ryan was thrown from the car and found in a coma, but he's recently awakened and gone missing. With the help of her dreams, Buffy tracks Ryan down and discovers that he is unaware of his necromancy powers, he's just desperately wishing for his family to come back to him. She convinces him to return to the hospital where he can get help.

Her discussion with Ryan helps Buffy to see that she, too, is dwelling in a past that she can't change, and she goes to Willow and Xander, declaring her desire for all of them to move forward and let the past go. They do, and for the first time in years, things are looking up.

Willow, with Giles' help, has been researching on modifications to the tracer spell she'll be using to track down the Mogari's point of origin. Preparations are nearly complete, and she'll be able to do the spell in four days, Giles acting as her anchor. Kennedy has assumed, however, that it will be her keeping Willow grounded, and when Will tells her that it's Giles, Kennedy is hurt and disappointed. Both are frustrated that the magical connection between them is all but non-existent, and Kennedy leaves before she says something she doesn't mean.

When Willow goes to find Kennedy later, she overhears Judith making a report about the upcoming tracer spell. Judith receives the order that the spell cannot be allowed to be completed and that she is to eliminate anybody who discovers that she's sabotaging the spell. Concerned, Willow tries to follow the line of communication and discover who Judith is talking to, but she's discovered and Judith is ordered to kill Willow. Still detached courtesy of the spell, Willow never sees Judith coming and receives a brutal beating at the Slayer's hands. Just as Judith is about to deliver the finishing blow, Buffy arrives. Buffy and Judith fight while Xander takes care of an unresponsive, broken and bloodied Willow.

Buffy gets the upper hand and, with Judith pinned and helpless, demands to know who she really is and what she's doing. Before Judith can respond, however, the mark over her heart begins to glow. Panicking, Judith screams that she's not done yet, that she can still do what they need, but the mark burns brighter and brighter until it becomes a raging inferno that completely and utterly consumes Judith without a trace. Buffy is stunned, but snaps out of it at Xander's urging and rushes to Willow's side.

8x07: "Inside Out"

After spending about a week in the hospital, Willow returns home with some head stitches, tender ribs, lots of bruises and a newly-operated-on shattered wrist. Everyone hovers nearby in over-protective mode, with Buffy and Kennedy in particular in overdrive to get to the bottom of why Judith attacked and how to make sure it never happens again. Suspicions are flying, especially given that nobody really knows much of anything about the army of Slayers that have been invited to stay Slayer Central. Vowing not to let anything hurt any of them again, Giles places a phone call, saying only, "It's time. I need you."

Buffy meanwhile manages to convince both Xander and Kennedy to take a break from Willow watch, while simultaneously denying that she herself could use some time off. They do, although reluctantly, Kennedy feeling driven to take some sort of action to protect Willow, particularly in light of the guilt she feels for having been a mentor to Judith. When she finally returns home, tensions are running even higher than before, and everyone is about at the end of their rope.

Willow, frustrated at being bed-ridden, begins to snap at Kennedy, who can't seem to stop herself from snapping back. Giles and Dawn, trying to research the strange marking Buffy saw on Judith, are each other's throats, especially once Giles reveals he's leaving for England in a few days to pick up some necessities. Xander and Andrew nearly come to blows over a comic book debate, and Faith and Buffy succumb wholly to violence and very nearly kill each other. Something is clearly not right, and it's soon discovered that Kennedy is at fault.

Wanting to be able to see into the hearts of others, so she can detect any sort of threat to Willow well ahead of time, Kennedy cast a spell. But as so often happens, the spell didn't come out as planned, and instead everyone Kennedy came in contact with felt compelled to speak what whatever negativity was on their minds. The thoughts and feelings fed off of each other, causing situations to snowball rapidly out of control. The cause identified, the spell was easily broken, although fixing the damage done proved nowhere near as simple.

Driven by the spell, Kennedy had confronted Willow with her feelings about their relationship. Realizing that what they had both spoken, while painful, was the truth, Willow was no longer able to deny that she was unable to fully return Kennedy's love. Sadly, but convinced she was doing the right thing, Willow broke up with Kennedy.

8x08: "Refrain"

Buffy and Xander band together at the Vortex to comfort Willow, who is doing the Breakup Mambo. Buffy throws herself whole-heartedly into her expected role of best friend, and while Xander starts off on the right foot, he soon becomes distracted by the band onstage, "Persephone's Tears". Willow and Buffy aren't impressed and can't quite figure out the appeal. Meanwhile at home, Giles returns from his visit to England with some new information and a wife, Hannah. This surprises the heck out of Dawn, but not so much that she can't taunt Buffy about how she (Dawn) has information her sister doesn't. Xander seems unwell, claiming a stomach bug of some kind, and retires to bed early.

The next day, Giles introduces Buffy, Faith and Willow (Xander's still sick and at home) to Hannah. She's there to implement and manage internal security measures in the wake of Judith's attack. Oh, yes, and she's also his wife. The gang react much as one might expect, but are soon interrupted with news of a vicious murder/suicide that occurred in town last night. The killer was a guy Buffy and Willow had seen the night before at the Vortex who seemed pretty friendly with the band. Buffy, with a hunch there's something else going on, heads to the Vortex. She discovers that despite her initial thoughts, the lead singer was not the dead girlfriend mentioned in the newspaper article.

After much research, the gang eventually discover there's a link between the travels of this group and death and mayhem, and eventually develop the theory that they're dealing with the Sirens. It doesn't take long afterwards, thanks in part to a tip-off from Faith, that Xander hasn't been sick at all. In fact, he's been going to the Vortex every night and seems to be quite taken with the singers. This proves true when Xander, in a blank stupor, stalks Dawn and Willow in the house with an axe. A bonk to his head breaks the spell, and he returns to the Vortex to completely deny the Sirens' song. This disrupts their presence on this plane, and they are temporarily banished, but will return so long as men give in to temptation. Xander claims this won't ever be him again, but caves quickly when he learns there's Chunky Monkey in the freezer.

8x09: "Ex Post Facto"

Xander is participating in a crafts fair sponsored by and held at Trillium High. His wooden items are going over very well, but some unfortunate run-ins with a group of school jocks is less pleasant. In particular, they focus on Xander's missing eye, and this bothers the carpenter considerably. It would seem that regaining his missing eye would be something he wanted more than anything in the world, and Willow approaches him later with the news that she can help him regrow it. Taking everything into consideration, Xander discovers that he likes this new him, and is even thinking about opening his own carpentry business. He declines the offer, feeling that even the less good parts of his past have shaped him in the present. Willow supports this decision, with the reminder that should he change his mind later he can, and torments her best friend with truly abysmal wood puns.

Giles is busier than ever. Since the Watcher's Council is still closed to new Slayers, he's decided to restructure just about everything and the paperwork's killing him. Hannah, noticing how stressed and overworked he is, continues her quest to get him to take a break, but Giles constantly refuses, citing far too much work. It seems unrewarding, to say the least, but as his week progresses, his important, highly scheduled and structured days are interrupted with assorted problems and needs of the Scoobies. In each instance, Giles puts everything aside to help, and in doing so comes to realize that regardless of how stressful it all is and how much he hates the bureaucracy of it all, helping the Scoobies is exactly what he wants to be doing with his life.

Several states away, Faith has returned to her home town, but doesn't seem to have any particular purpose in mind. She wanders the streets, lost in her own thoughts and memories, plagued periodically by Roxi, a girl who is insistent that Faith has returned because a life of living on the streets without cares of responsibilities is really what she wants. Faith's protests to the contrary are weak at best, and it seems for a time as though she may be considering staying and forming a new gang with Roxi ... until she's reminded of just what she has to offer to the new Slayers in Trillium and chooses instead to return home.

8x10: "Waxing and Waning"

Much to everyone's surprise, Oz and his new band, "Three Moon Tuesday", arrive in Trillium. As Oz soon explains, almost the entire band and their crew are werewolves who are looking to control the wolf. They travel around the country, playing their gigs and helping each other deal with the monster. Buffy appreciates the altruistic gesture, but is concerned that there are so many werewolves in her town that, as Oz admits, don't yet have control.

This fear is soon founded when a young boy is ripped apart by an animal of some kind. The authorities suspect a wild bear or bobcat initially, but Buffy fears the worst. The most likely suspect is Toby, a new wolf with Oz's group and sister of the band's bass guitarist, Jemma. Jemma herself is wolf-free, but is devoted to her brother and helping him as much as she can. In addition, Jemma has a very obvious attraction to Oz–something which seems to be constantly eluding his notice, but Willow picks up on almost immediately.

On the personal-side, since leaving Sunnydale all those years ago, Oz has remained solitary. It's very clear that he still has feelings for Willow, and while she still loves him too, it's not in "that way". Concerned for him, Willow takes it upon herself to get Oz to move on, and since he happens to have a very attractive woman already interested in him, so much the better.

But Jemma's got her own troubled past, and it arrives in Trillium in the form of Eddie, her brutish ex-boyfriend who's been tracking her down since she and Toby left him. He knows of Toby's condition and maintains that he is the only one who can help him control it. He threatens to turn Toby into the Slayers unless Jemma and Toby return with him. Torn, Jemma goes to Oz. Buffy's already confronted Oz about the attacks, and he tells Jemma that he can't risk the lives of everyone for a single person. It tears at him to do so, but he tells Jemma that she and Toby must leave.

Having nowhere else to go, Jemma returns to Eddie, but it turns out that it was a trick to get Jemma to lead them to who they suspect is the real murderer. They confront Eddie with what they learned from Toby–that Eddie is a werewolf himself and, in fact, the one who bit Toby in an effort to maintain control over Jemma. Eddie's reactions prove to them that he is the real murderer and after a short but intense battle, Jemma is forced to shoot and kill him with his own silver bullets.

While all of this has been going on, Kennedy and Willow finally talk. Things are becoming okay between them again, and Kennedy states that after much thinking, she's realized the real reason Willow couldn't give more is because she's still mourning Tara. In her own special way, Kennedy apologizes for pushing Willow too fast. The Slayer states that while she won't live like a nun while Willow comes to terms with the loss, she's going to be watching and waiting and will be ready to get back together when Willow's truly ready.

Willow and Oz talk again later at the Vortex, and Willow firmly pushes Oz toward talking to Jemma, stating that she will always love him, but it's time for him to move on. She watches as Oz starts a possible new relationship, while Kennedy's finally returning to the swing of dating as well. Willow sits by herself, but smiles happily for the two of them.

8x11: "Hard Day's Night"

A corporation/union-type organization for monsters, led by the demonic "Boss", is hit hard by the influx of Slayers into what used to be their town. Things are rough all over — morale is low, kill counts are way down, and it's clear that something must be done. With the help of his right-hand demon, the diminutive Norg, the Boss institutes a brand new incentive program: for every act of mayhem, terror or bloodshed performed against the three chief Slayers and their inner circle, participants can earn points toward such great prizes as a month's supply of virgin's blood, a set of sacrificial daggers, and even a clock radio.

Now with proper motivation, team after team of vampires and other demons make their best efforts, but each plan is thwarted with seeming ease by Buffy and the others. This includes one creature who is staking out Slayer Central when he comes across a figure he identifies as "Slayer." "We're nothing so common as a Slayer," she replies, and when he attacks, she defeats him with frightening ease. Her shirt is ripped in the process, revealing the marking of an eye over a key.

Meanwhile, it seems that someone finally got lucky, and they cheerfully deposit "the dark Slayer" at the Boss' feet. Only it turns out it's not so much Faith as someone who looks absolutely nothing at all like Faith. Amidst the bickering left in the wake of the Boss' disappointment, the not-Faith girl escapes and runs into the real Slayer, who finds the idea that she's on a Demon's Most Wanted list quite interesting. She rounds up a group of Slayers and with disturbing ease, they wipe the demons out.

Standing in the wreckage of his once semi-mighty empire, Norg and the Boss decide that perhaps a new line of work is what's needed. Not customer service, though — nobody's that evil.

8x12: "Loves, Labor, Lost"

Buffy's night is plagued by strange dreams where a rather hunky guy oozing sex appeal, and looking oddly like Angel, comes on to her big time. Despite the full night's rest, the dream prevented Buffy from actually feeling rested at all, and she spends the bulk of the next morning in a sleepy haze. Though she's awake enough to catch the fact that both Xander and Willow suspect her dreams are Buffy's subconscious telling her she needs a date, big time. Conveniently, they just happen to have a few viable candidates in mind. Dawn enters, makes a disparaging remark or three and skips out again.

At school that day, Dawn is plagued by a blinding headache, which concerns her friends, particularly since this doesn't appear to be the first one. Dawn insists that she's fine, however, and convinces her friends to not tell anyone else about it. Soon the have bigger things to discuss anyway, as Grip approaches Dawn and asks her out that Friday.

Things are progressing on the Sunnydale front. The Covens have finally gotten a good enough look at the ruins of the town to see that someone has apparently tunneled under the rubble. The magickal energies in the area prevent them from seeing underground to what may have been taken, but they claim the area should be safe for someone to physically investigate now. Giles makes the decision to dispatch Hannah and Wood, thinking that a small group of "ordinary" humans will be able to more effectively check out the scene and not raise suspicions.

Buffy's dreams continue to get worse, and what's more, a "sleeping sickness" is affecting women around Trillium. Figuring that the two are linked — because that sort of thing tends to be the case on the Hellmouth — Xander and Willow decide to bring Giles and the Watchers into the picture.

While in his workshop, Xander is approached by Sonja, who asks him out for that night. Xander's still not ready to return to the dating game yet, though, and as he explains to Andrew later, he has a very special and important task anyway — that being to join Willow and Buffy in intimidating the hell out of Grip. Their efforts succeed mostly in only making Dawn wish she were dead. Buffy's date that night doesn't go much better either, seeing as how it turns out that Willow's friend is really almost exclusively interested in Willow.

Willow and Xander, meanwhile, decide to go out together, but Will is distracted by the allure of books and they miss their movie. Instead, they head to The Common Grounds, where they talk about their respective romantic losses and how difficult it is to move on. As Xander goes to get their order filled, Willow is approached by a fellow female brainiac, and they hit it off instantly. Xander notices, and sneaks away with a smile. He soon meets up with Faith, and the two decide to go dancing.

More dreams, and Buffy's finding it harder and harder to wake up. What's more, the effect is spreading across town, and due to sleeping late, Buffy's in danger of missing her second blind date. Though she needn't have bothered — it goes just as poorly as the first. She soon feels better upon arriving home, as she learns that not only can she get in a good nap, but beat the crap out of something at the same time. She, and the other women, are being plagued by an incubus, and Buffy is thrilled to have someplace to vent her frustration. It takes her all of about 20 minutes, since it turned out the incubus was a lover and not a fighter, and almost immediately after informing the others, Buffy passes out in a deep, dreamless sleep for the next 24 hours or so.

Meanwhile, at Slayer Central, the girls are enjoying a nice relaxing Saturday when they suddenly find themselves under attack by a lone girl — the one who was spying on the facility in the previous episode. The girl handles a half-dozen Slayers, including Faith and Kennedy, with alarming ease. It takes practically everything they have, but with the help of Giles on the sidelines observing, the tide slowly turns. Before she's fully defeated, the attacker runs, stating, "We're not ready yet. But we soon will be."

Buffy finally awakens to learn that Willow is out at The Common Grounds meeting her new friend, Jessica. Jessica asks Willow on a date, but Will turns her down, citing much the same reasons as Xander — she's just not ready yet. Jessica says she more than understands, and is keen to take Willow up on her offer of being friends. Now alone, Willow turns to her books, but is soon struck with a feeling so intense it's almost physical. Confused, she looks around, and then spots someone staring at her across the street. "Tara?" she whispers.

8x13: "The Inward Eye"

Picking up moments from where the previous episode left off, an utterly stunned Willow stumbles out of the coffee shop and across the street to confront what she believes to be Tara. When they're finally face-to-face, Willow still seems unsure, almost afraid to believe that it could be her. When the blonde makes to leave, Willow grabs her; the subsequent physical connection has a tangible effect on them both, utterly convincing Willow that this is the real thing. Everything comes crashing down at once at that moment, and she simply cries on the sidewalk. Tara seems reluctant for the briefest of seconds, but is unable to keep from offering much needed comfort.

Meanwhile, a school field trip to a local Trillium takes an unexpected and deadly turn as a group of young boys wander off from their group to explore an exhibit on ancient justice not yet open to the public. While there, one of the boys, Jeffreys, dons a pair of glasses. The boys joke and laugh, but as soon as he looks at one of his friends, he's treated to a series of insightful flashes into the other boy's life. When the flashes disappear, the glasses shoot out some sort of beam that incinerates the boy within seconds. Jeffreys doesn't react to this, save to pronounce him guilty.

Back in the Common Grounds, Willow is doing her best to cope with these new revelations. She has lots of questions for Tara, but the blonde can only say that she was brought back and sent here to fight some great evil. Any further details appear to be causing her distress, and Willow quickly assures her that the details are unimportant. Tentatively, Willow tries to find out what Tara knows about events after her death, but Tara only responds with "Why don't you tell me?" But Willow, too, is unable to find the words just at the moment.

Giles receives word of the inexplicable deaths at the museum, and immediately gathers together as many people as he can to find out what may be going on. The three Senior Slayers, Xander and several Watchers all convene in the library to compare notes. They eventually uncover that the glasses were made from the glass of an orb called Utsikt Skjønn, which was rumoured to have been crafted by the god Tyr and would grant the holder "purity of sight" and invulnerability. It turns out the invulnerability part was exaggerated, but the rest is probably true. Giles decides to split everyone into two teams — Watchers to do further research and Slayers to track down the missing Jeffreys.

Unaware of any of these events, Willow brings Tara home. The only person present is Dawn. Willow does her best to steel the girl for the meeting, but nothing could really have prepared her. Dawn is initially suspicious, assuming the worst of all possible scenarios. Willow assures her that this really is Tara, but only Tara herself can make Dawn believe it. When she does so, they both experience a tearful reunion.

Xander and Giles have teamed up to look for Jeffreys, but they soon discover that they can't possibly hope to keep up with a platoon of Slayers searching out every inch of town. It takes some doing, but Xander convinces Giles to take a break and go get dinner. They settle on Chinese, but upon arriving home, get considerably more than they bargained for with the revelation that Tara has returned. Unlike Willow and Dawn, neither Xander nor Giles are quite so immediately accepting. Quite the contrary, both are suspicious, realizing only too well that Willow has already been a target once. Giles in particular presses Tara for answers; she doesn't provide any, which fails to alleviate his concerns, but she acts so much like the Tara he remembers that neither he nor Xander seem to know exactly how to react.

Faith and Buffy, meanwhile, are searching themselves. However the injury Buffy received in the previous episode is holding both of them up and Faith all but demands that Buffy head home. With a solemn promise that Buffy will be contacted as soon as there's anything to report, Buffy does indeed return home. When she gets there, much like Giles and Xander, she is utterly shocked to see Tara. Unlike them, however, she knows exactly how to react–as though Tara is the enemy. She first orders Dawn away, then Willow. The former complies but the latter does not, and both Willow and Buffy teeter dangerously on the edge of violence. Faith's phone call interrupts things. Buffy is reluctant to leave, but does so when confronted with Giles' logic and Xanders's promise to watch her. It's clear that Buffy is not even remotely convinced that this is really Tara.

Finally, Jeffreys has been located in an abandoned warehouse. The problem is that no one can risk getting close enough to him to try and remove the glasses without nearly being fried. When Giles and Buffy arrive, they meet up with Kennedy and Faith to try and formulate a plan. Giles finally cracks the riddle of the glasses, hypothesizing that what is happening is that Jeffreys is being shown both the best and worst thing a person has done in their life. It then forces him to pass judgement on that person, based solely upon those two moments. Giles concludes that they simply need to send in someone who will be judged innocent. Kennedy volunteers, and is able to retrieve the glasses. She is suitably impressed with herself.

Giles and Buffy return to his office, where the Watcher stores the glasses under lock and key. They discuss the events of the day. Refuting a comment from Buffy, Giles points out that neither Jeffreys nor the glasses were inherently evil, they were essentially neutral; it's all a matter of perspective. Meanwhile at home, Tara observes herself in the mirror, paying little attention to the marking over her heart of an eye atop a key.

8x14: "Fulcrum"

Although no words are heard, Tara and Willow finally have a talk that neither of them much wants to have. In her room, Willow confesses all of her sins, laying out everything that happened after the bullet ripped through Tara and killed her. The story is long and painful, causing emotional responses from both sides. But at the end of it all, as Willow looks drained and defeated, awaiting judgment, Tara forgives her.

Some time later, Buffy arrives home after dealing with the events from the previous episode to find Willow sitting on the couch, alone. The two talk, the subject inevitably turning toward Tara. Willow attempts to convince Buffy that it's really her, just as vehemently as Buffy tries to convince Willow that it can't be. Harsh words are exchanged, and Willow vows that now she has Tara back, nothing will take her away again.

Still later that night, Tara goes downstairs for a glass of water. She believes herself to be alone until confronted by a very suspicious, adamant Buffy. The two talk, but accomplish little; Buffy makes it quite clear that she will not let 'Tara' out of her sight, and Tara accepts this as given. The tension between them is high and only promises to get worse. Sure enough, when Giles arrives the next morning, things have deteriorated badly. Buffy won't give even an millimeter to Tara, and Willow is defensive about it on Tara's behalf. Once more, the two seemed poised for violence, a fact which is distressing Xander to no end. He tries his utmost to get through to his two best friends, but to no avail, and he finally resorts to physically removing Willow from the house.

Alone now, Xander attempts to make Willow understand Buffy's concerns, however Willow is so lost within her own anger that she doesn't hear a word he says. Nervous about leaving Buffy alone with Tara for too long, she runs off, leaving Xander feeling entirely useless. Without much else to do with his day, he heads to The Bazaar, where he lays out his concerns to a receptive Banan. In the process of helping the shopkeeper, he is holding an artifact of some kind when he says, "I want the power" (to make them actually talk to each other). The artifact glows briefly, unseen by either man. Xander seems none the worse for wear until later that evening. Worried about Willow and Buffy's now-constant battles, Dawn appeals to Xander for help in soothing things over, but he is detached and apathetic to the situation. This is an attitude that carries over to the next morning, when breakfast continues to be a stressful affair.

Later, Xander is helping Faith teach a class by once more donning the Puffy suit and allowing himself to be pummeled for training purposes. Hazel, the pummeler, keeps repeating a sequence of blows at Faith's command, and the motions eventually irritate Xander to the point where he lashes out — literally. He bursts out of the Puffy suit and sends Hazel flying. Faith is only barely able to restrain him, and only for a few moments. Xander stomps away, and Faith places a phone call to Giles.

Meanwhile, back home, Willow has hacked into computer systems in California and called up all pertinent death-related records for Tara. Willow encourages Tara to take the bold motion to delete them, and the two lapse into their old selves–just for a moment. Buffy's ever-watchful eyes ruin things for Tara, and Buffy's not too happy either. She goes to Giles, demanding answers for what Tara really is, but he counters with the much more pressing Xander issue.

Speaking of, Xander has headed for the cafeteria, where he's joined by Kennedy. The two talk briefly, but then Xander drops the fact that Tara's come back from the dead. Kennedy is shocked, at the very least, and when she hears Buffy's theory that Tara is really there to kill Willow, she doesn't hesitate in running to the Scoobies' house. She finds Willow and Tara making lunch, but the innocuous scenario does nothing at all to calm her. Willow leaps in, asking Kennedy to please trust her, and promising that they'll have a good talk soon. Kennedy shoots a parting threat to Tara and goes, albeit reluctantly. Tara seems equally as unsettled by Kennedy's appearance.

The hunt is on to find Xander, with Buffy being the first to confront him. She misinterprets his mood as simple anger and frustration at all the tension of late, and as a result she never sees the blow coming that knocks her out. Xander, nonplussed, simply leaves her where she fell and goes off in search of "fun".

Willow and Tara, now joined by Dawn, have been filled in on the Xander situation, and are doing their part by trying to track down what might have happened. Their search leads them to Banan's shop, where they convinced the shopkeeper to let them riffle through his rather dauntingly extensive artifact collection. Working in conjunction with Giles over the phone, they finally find the right one, and realize that the power in the object has transferred to Xander, at his (unintentional) demand. While he's under its influence, his only concerns are for the power and what he can do with said power. The group – including the now-conscious Buffy – all agree they have to find him. Quickly.

Given that Xander's flinging cars around and generally making a mess of downtown, he's not too terribly difficult to locate. With Faith and Kennedy there also, they try to get Xander to deplete his energy in the least destructive and least deadly ways possible. He does indeed begin to weaken, but not before nearly killing Willow. The real Xander pokes through just in time, and he expends the remaining dregs of the borrowed power to save her.

Back at home, Buffy and Willow are still at each other's throats, but this time Xander isn't prepared to simply allow them to keep going at it and he forcibly drags them away to settle their problems. Dawn figures this is the last hurdle to clear before the family is together and happy again, but she doesn't see the look that crosses Tara's face ...

Robespierre, meanwhile, is nowhere near as impressed as Madrigan at the assault on the Council (in "Loves, Labor, Lost"). Madrigan placates him by saying that "version 2.0" will be ready soon. Once Robespierre has gone, Seneca brings up Tara, and Madrigan simply grins, saying that "Any day now, we'll see just how bright she shines."

8x15: "Second Chances"

Giles and Buffy are burning the midnight oil, trying to research what exactly Tara might be. All of their efforts produce only a few possibilities which, upon reviewing, Giles rules out. Intensely frustrated, Buffy refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that the "thing" might actually, in fact, be Tara. Trying to get to the root of the problem, Giles pushes Buffy on her feelings, and she confesses that she knows it can't be the real Tara because Tara's death was her fault – and when Buffy messes up that badly, there are no "do-overs". Seeming to understand, Giles returns to research, but not before wishing Buffy a happy birthday. Meanwhile, Tara awakens from a nightmare, and seems to have reached the end of her patience as well.

Preparations for Buffy's party that night are underway. Willow and Tara go shopping for a new outfit, Tara skirting around unpleasant issues while Willow tries her utmost to not show that the strain is getting to her. Dawn in the meantime finally asks Grip if he wants to come to the party with her, and he accepts, causing much delight on Dawn's part. While downtown, Xander is working on another local job, doing some carving work for a café. His skill attracts the attention of Serafina, a woman who asks him to design some toys for her nephew's upcoming birthday. The two seem to hit it off well.

Buffy seems less enthusiastic about the approaching celebrations, as she spends part of the day at the memorial sapling, lost in thought. Kennedy finds her there, and presses Buffy to take action against "Tara" for Willow – and everyone's – safety. When Buffy seems reluctant, Kennedy says that she'll do it herself, but Buffy steps in and says that since it's personal, she'll handle it. Giles is doing some further work on his own, finally reaching the Coven in Devon and enlisting their aid. The news he finally receives doesn't appear to be particularly good.

At the party that night, Buffy finally seems able to shed a bit of the anger and tension of the past week, particularly when she and Willow finally have a talk and seem to come to a truce. During the present opening however, Tara slips away unnoticed. In Willow's room, she's clearly searching for something, finally settling on the Doll's Eye crystal. With this in hand, Tara prepares a spell that, given the photograph of Willow and the dagger she produces, doesn't look to be benign for the redhead.

That's certainly the impression that Buffy gets when she interrupts. She's too late to stop Tara from casting it however and the Slayer attacks. All of the pent-up anger Buffy's been feeling towards "Tara" come bubbling to the surface and it looks as though she's coming dangerously close to really hurting her. That is, until Willow arrives. And she's not happy. At all.

Meanwhile, Giles receives a call from Hannah in Sunnydale. They've explored the ruins and followed the trail to a cemetery. Hannah wonders if maybe someone took an artifact, but Giles knows that what was really removed was a body ...

Back at home, Willow attacks Buffy, ignoring Tara in the process. As Willow rages, Tara closely studies the crystal, but all she can see is darkness. Upon seeing this, Tara looks heartbroken, but resolved, and she raises the dagger in her hand to strike Willow down before Willow can kill her best friend. Willow manages to regain control of herself however and is horrified at what she almost did. It's then that Tara notices the crystal has gone from black to white, and she hesitates. Buffy and Willow finally see her, and Tara throws the dagger away, disgusted, saying that she won't do it. Almost immediately after, the mirror in Willow's room glows, and a voice can be heard. It thanks Tara for providing great entertainment, but says that if she won't fulfill her task, her usefulness is at an end. The mark of the Circle over Tara's heart then flares, just as it did with Judith. But before Tara can be killed, Willow steps forward. In a magnificent show of power, Willow and Tara both begin to glow and the flames are smothered. Only a scar remains as the power ebbs away, leaving both women drained and exhausted.

Thoroughly confused, Buffy demands an explanation. Tara offers little to offer, save to say that she had been sent to kill Willow. She won't do it now that she knows Willow has control of herself and her power, but she would have, and accepts what Buffy now has to do. Buffy seems confused, but Tara simply waits, expectant. Willow pleads with Buffy not to do it, and it seems that finally everything hits home. Rather than kill Tara, Buffy simply begins to cry, finally accepting everything that's happened and realizing that she does, in fact, get a second chance. As Tara embraces Buffy, Giles and Xander burst in with the news that Tara is indeed who she claims, but it's clear that everyone already knows.

Later, Tara explains that when she was brought back, she was repeatedly shown the things that Willow did upon her death. She was told that when Willow cast the spell to activate all the Slayers she was redeemed for her past crimes – but that with all of the power now within Willow, it was only a matter of time before she would again lose control ... and there would be no possibilities for redemption again. Convinced that the only way to save Willow's soul was to kill her before that could happen, Tara was sent to Sunnydale. The others are concerned that Tara might still somehow be under the control of the people who brought her back, but Willow confirms that she severed that link ... and she knows because she could always sense it and had accepted whatever fate Tara felt she deserved.

In the Circle's headquarters, Madrigan and Seneca congratulate themselves on a job well done – it's clear they never intended for Tara to kill Willow at all, and that with these recent events, everything is "right on track".

That night, Willow tells Tara that she forgives anything that Tara did or would have done. The problem, Tara replies, is that she doesn't forgive herself.

8x16: "Jigsaw"

Willow and Tara, with Giles' help, are trying to figure out what is going on with their powers. Whereas before they were able to cast spells together effortlessly, now they seem unable to synch up. While taking a break, Giles asks Tara to review what she can remember about her resurrection. She states that she was brought back by someone who called himself "Robespierre", but that there was something odd about him – he was extremely powerful and had strange eyes. The memories are clearly unpleasant for Tara and she fears that perhaps she isn't actually free from their influence, but the tests that have been performed on her by various members of the Covens prove that she is, in fact, tamper-free. Before work can resume, Xander enters, and says he's here to help Tara. She's looking for a new apartment, and Xander has set aside the day to play guide and chauffer. The two exit, leaving Giles with a less-than thrilled Willow to continue working on the magick situation. During this time, Willow reveals that it looks as though she and Tara have forged some sort of magickal connection, and that her powers – including the dark ones – now flow into Tara as well. Freaked, Willow insists that Tara can't become tainted by the darkness, and that they have to find some way to sever the connection.

Tara and Xander visit apartment after apartment, but there always seems to be something wrong with it, must to Tara's dismay. As they go about town however, she and Xander have several conversations, including her thanking him for saving Willow on Kingman's Bluff and him asking her if Anya was with Tara (which she can't remember, only being able to say that she was "waiting"). After Xander's rather feeble rejection of a loft that Tara was particularly fond of, she realizes that Xander is intentionally dissuading her from each location. He confesses that it's true, but it's because he doesn't want her to leave. He knows how it is for her to be back, and insists that she shouldn't be alone right now, not when she has family who love her and can help her. Tara agrees not to move out.

Dawn has been spending the day with her friends. They're discussing (and bickering) about a variety of topics. When the subject of martial arts and the impossibilities therein emerges, Dawn feels the need to defend the talents of her Slayer companions, as well as her own. She demonstrates her ability, earning her much respect in the process, but then is struck but another crippling headache and passes out. She awakens not long after, having thoroughly frightened her friends. Knowing that these headaches have been occurring for some time now, they put their foot down and insist that Dawn tell Buffy or they will. Dawn agrees.

Buffy, Faith and Kennedy are having a much less satisfying day. To begin, they can't seem to agree on anything in regards to upcoming classes and scheduling. But to make matters worse, they're individually abducted by a demon sportsman, who dumps them in the woods and proceeds to stalk them. Tired of being chased, Faith is the first to directly confront the demon, but her strength proves no match for him. Buffy tries next, attempting her own unique blend of battle while trying to persuade him to give up. That, too, fails. Kennedy relies on her fighting skills, but still she can't bring him down. When the three Senior Slayers manage to stop bickering long enough to work together, they manage to hold the demon off long enough for them to escape the woods – thereby ending the contest, according to the demon's rules. He won't be able to confront them again for one year, which the Slayers sound really happy about. Pledging to return with a lot more girls – and quite possibly a bazooka – they make their way back to town. The demon watches them go, already looking forward to the next year's challenge ... when his neck is snapped from behind. As the demon falls to the ground, dead, Judith stands over his body. She looks the same, save for the glow in her eyes and the mark of the Circle on her chest. "For them," she snarls, "there won't be a next year."

8x17: "The Wren"

In the past week, Dawn has been poked, prodded, scanned and tested for every possible cause of her headaches. Everything has come back negative, leaving the gang with no clue as to what might actually be causing them. To make things even stranger, since the attack in the previous episode, Dawn hasn't suffered another. Still though, everyone is concerned, except perhaps Dawn herself. All she can say on the headaches is that it doesn't feel like something bad. Besides, she has something else demanding her attention.

During Dawn's stay at home the past week, she heard the cries of an abandoned baby wren in the tree by her window. She spent several days watching and waiting, but the bird's mother hasn't returned and its cries are getting weaker. Adamant that its mother will not return, Dawn takes it upon herself to rescue it. She enlists the aid of the Scoobies, and climbs up into the tree to fetch the bird, but while she's climbing, Giles spots a whitish-green shimmer around the crown of the tree. It disappears quickly, but then slips and falls from the tree and Tara sees the energy as well.

Dawn lands heavily on the ground, but is none the worse for wear. As she gets up, she looks around and notices that not only is she now in a forest, but the house (and the Scoobies) are nowhere to be seen. Frowning a bit at this but otherwise unperturbed, Dawn hears the sound of the wren off in the distance and follows. She eventually comes to a Renaissance Festival. Which is odd in and of itself, but the fact that Anya is manning the ticket booth makes it even more so. Giles comes out then and asks Dawn who she is and why she's there. Dawn gives her name and says she's looking for the wren, neither of which seem to strike any sort of recognition with Giles. Still though, since the Queen wouldn't want anyone to pay for a quick look around, Giles allows Dawn into the Fair without payment, much to Anya's dismay. Once inside, however, Dawn loses sight of Giles altogether.

As Dawn explores the Renaissance Festival, she encounters many individuals: William the Mercenary, her friends in the food court area, a two-eyed Xander, Buffy the boldest knight of the realm, Willow and Tara in a magick booth, a brave Roman centurion, along with several others. None seem to recognize Dawn, nor are they able to help her in either her search for the wren or her increasing need to see the Queen.

On top of this, there is a mysterious gypsy fortune teller whom only Dawn is able to see. Eventually able to get a reading from the gypsy, a Madame Kalderash, Dawn is told that she needn't search for the wren, as it can't possible go anywhere without her. The fortune teller also does her best to explain to Dawn that there are some people who are simply so close to us, even after death, that they cannot truly be seen because it's as though they have become a part of that person. Dawn doesn't understand and simply thinks that the fortune teller is denying Dawn the opportunity to see the Queen.

Soon though, Dawn has more serious concerns. Emerging from the darkness that surrounds the Festival are six young boys, reciting a poem that Dawn had learned about the wren. Fearing that they are going to kill the bird, Dawn takes off, even as the world around her begins to become engulfed in darkness. Dawn is joined in her rush to save the wren by Buffy, Tara, Willow, Xander, Giles and William. They make their final stand at the tree where Dawn arrived, holding off the Wren Boys until Dawn can save it. One by one however, they begin to fall – Xander is shot in the eye by an arrow; Anya arrives soon into the battle, only to be cut down; William is set alight. Then the darkness begins to claim them those still standing, while the Wren Boys watch on. With a final, desperate scrabble, Dawn reaches the wren, only to fall once more ...

...where she is caught by Buffy. Back home again, the Scoobies rush around Dawn. She's okay, but unfortunately the wren also fell, and nobody was there to catch it.

Not long after, everyone attends a small ceremony for the wren, buried among the roots of the tree. Dawn is upset, adamant that it was her actions that led to the bird's death. Buffy is forced to agree that such might've been the case – but that without Dawn even trying, the baby bird would have died anyway. The words make Dawn feel a little better, but not much. Buffy, Willow and Xander head back into the house, leaving Dawn with Giles and Tara. Giles in particular feels bad that he was unable to save the bird, but Dawn merely echoes Buffy's words that he at least tried. Giles responds with something in Latin, and then also leaves. Tara and Dawn stay for a while longer. "It will always need its mother," Tara explains, "but it no longer needs its mother." She then translates Giles' parting words: "She flies with her own wings." Then Tara heads into the house, leaving Dawn to kneel by the tiny grave.

8x18: "Separate Tables"

It's boys' night versus girls' night. Xander, Wood, Andrew and Giles head to a local sports bar while Buffy rounds up as many females as she can reasonably find for an evening of fun at the Vortex. Unfortunately both have members not entirely into the spirit of things. For Buffy's part, neither Willow nor Tara are particularly comfortable nor enthusiastic. Throughout the course of the evening, Willow and Tara skirt around each other, and just as they are finally able to have a long overdue talk, Kennedy interrupts and takes Willow away to dance. In a rare display of anger, Tara fumes from the balcony as she watches Willow and Kennedy below. Later that evening, Willow pulls Kennedy aside and makes it clear that while she still loves and cares for Kennedy a great deal, she has to try and make things work with Tara. Kennedy is understandably hurt, but expected no less and seems to accept Willow's decision.

Xander meanwhile has a very distracted Giles to contend with. After some digging, Xander uncovers that the pressures of the being in charge of the new Council are beginning to get to Giles, and when all is said and done, he doesn't like the position he's currently in, even as he recognizes how important it is that he be there. Xander offers to help, but Giles refuses, instead walking off to be alone.

The girls pass the time by grilling Hannah for some dirt about her and Giles. Hannah consents, and begins their tale in London, 1973. Hannah was in the city on break from Oxford's Magdalen college. She and a friend make their way to a local bar where Hannah finds herself intrigued by the performer on stage in full makeup and costume, performing a song as Ziggy Stardust. She is approached by a young man by the name of Ethan Rayne, who notes her interest and introduces her to the singer, who is none other than Giles himself. Giles and Hannah hit it off almost immediately, and although the encounter is brief, they make arrangements to meet again time she is in town.

Further flashbacks paint a picture of an independent, hopeful Hannah and a dark, angry Giles, doing his utmost to deny the pressures of his father to join the Watcher's Council, even though for the most part his personality is calmer when around Hannah. Eventually Giles succumbs to his father's wishes and agrees to join the Council, but before that point, he gets his father to agree to let Giles spend the summer on mainland Europe. He asks Hannah to accompany him and his friends, which she agrees to do quite readily. While the group is in Spain, Hannah and Giles sneak away to get married – a decision that Ethan most certainly does not agree with, despite Giles declarations that Hannah is good for him.

The two don't have long to enjoy wedded life, however. Not long after they return home, the Council discovers the marriage. Without consulting either party, they have the marriage annulled, citing that Giles' father is adamant that his son pursue the path of becoming a Slayer's Watcher, and such an important duty strictly prohibits any family such as wives or children. Hannah argues, but her words fall on deaf ears. What's more, the Council threatens Hannah to leave the country, to remove all possibility of future temptation from Giles. In this, too, they manage to succeed, and Hannah agrees to leave.

However she does not agree to take Giles with her when he suggests running away together. She explains that despite the bad parts of the Council, they have a discipline about them which she can't provide, and she knows Giles needs this to keep his life on-track. Furious, Giles storms away. From there, Hannah reveals she finished school in Switzerland, but says little else about the time period between then and when she arrived in Trillium.

Later that night, Hannah arrives at Giles' loft, responding to his phone call. He's quite drunk, looking at pictures of the two of them and thinking about how much easier things were back then. In his inebriated state, he asks her to stay with him. Before she can really say yes or no however, Giles suddenly gets a flash of memory. He recalls the panel that he and Hannah sat before all those years ago when their marriage was annulled. He remembers one in particular ... Robespierre. Giles now knows who they are up against.

8x19: "Aid & Abet"

Giles has gathered the gang together to tell them what he knows and suspects. Robespierre used to be a member of the Watcher's Council, a highly respected member whose family had been part of the organization for countless generations. Robespierre, however, believed that the Council was going about protecting the world all wrong. He firmly believed that the Slayer should be used as an active tool against evil and chaos – what's more, he urged that the Council should wrest control of the world's governments one at a time, claiming it was the only way to truly maintain control over things. The Council, not so much out for the global domination, eventually threw him and his followers out. They watched Robespierre for a time, but he seemed unable to amass any sort of power to become a true threat, and they eventually lost all contact with him. Now that his name has emerged once more, coupled with the disappearing Slayers that they have been tracking for months, Giles believes Robespierre is amassing an army of Slayers to do what he always planned. The problem is that neither Giles nor the Covens can seem to find Robespierre. They were uncertain of how to proceed next when there was a breakthrough. Giles and head members of the Coven were contacted telepathically by a woman who claimed to have information that could help them. The Coven members identified her as "The Keeper of the Wing", a powerful witch who went into seclusion about thirty years ago and hadn't been heard from since. Not knowing of any other leads, Giles agreed to meet with the Keeper, but she had a very specific condition. She would come to Trillium only if Giles sent someone to get her ... and that someone must be Tara.

As expected, there's much protestation about sending Tara off alone, but Giles was able to get the Keeper to agree to one other person as well. Before anybody else can speak up, Kennedy volunteers. Tara also agrees, and the two prepare to leave that morning.

Hazel approaches Faith with a problem of her own. She's just learned that her parents are getting a divorce, and besides just feeling upset about that, she also feels guilty. Hazel thinks that maybe if she'd been there, she could've noticed what was happening and stop it. Faith tries her best to make Hazel feel better, but being unused to giving the kind of advice and emotional support that Hazel clearly needs, her success is marginal at best. Thoroughly annoyed and frustrated with herself, Faith seeks out the Scoobies to get their opinion on what she should do to make Hazel feel better. Nobody can offer her any options that really sit well however, and much later that night, while patrolling, she apologizes to Hazel for not being able to do more. When Hazel finds out that Faith has spent the entire day trying to find out what she could do, it's all she needs to hear – the effort has more than done the trick. Faith smiles, obviously pleased with herself, but threatens Hazel not to tell anyone about this, and the Junior jokingly agrees to silence.

With Dawn away on an overnight field trip, Xander, Buffy and Willow have the house to themselves. Xander is only too well aware that between Buffy worrying about her sister and Willow worrying about Tara, something must be done to get their minds off of things. To that end, he brings in boxes and boxes of junk food, and the three spend their night challenging each other to assorted brave food-related tasks (such as eating fifteen Twinkies without stopping) and keeping score. With some teasing and chiding, Willow eventually wins, but as a result, she passes out from a sugar high. Xander declares the evening a success.

Kennedy and Tara are having a slightly less amicable time during the long drive to Canada. The two women range from uncomfortable silences to minor irritation to squabbling both petty and less-petty. Tara finds Kennedy's stubborn need to be independent and right about absolutely everything to be annoying and frustrating, while Kennedy is equally unimpressed with Tara's clam demeanor and her evasion of anything even remotely unpleasant. And all that's without the tension about Willow to take into account. After many rather heated exchanges, Kennedy finally manages to get Tara to admit that yes, she does want Willow, but there seems to be too much stuff in the way. For Tara's part, she confronts Kennedy about her inability to accept help, but neither get much further than that for a time.

When they finally arrive close to the Keeper's location, they are attacked by a yeti-like monster, which they discover is actually a small faerie with a big glamour. He says his name is Quinstharyn (Quinn for short), and he offers to take them the remainder of the way to the Keeper. When they arrive, they find an old woman on the porch. Tara approaches and upon seeing her, the old woman says, "The Curat." But Tara doesn't quite catch the word, and the Keeper doesn't repeat it. As she begins to lay on the mysticism pretty thick, Quinn cuts it all down to size and entirely ruins the effect. The old woman – less impressively known as Ruth – insists that Tara and Kennedy stay the night before they all make the long journey home.

Unfortunately there's only the one bed to spare, leaving a somewhat less than ideal night of sharing. In the closeness however, Kennedy and Tara finally come to resolve their issues. Kennedy confesses that she's afraid she'll never be able to step out of the shadows of Buffy and Faith. No matter what she does, she's always just going to be one more Slayer among hundreds, and she'll never even really know if she was "supposed" to be Chosen or not. Given that being a Slayer is all she's ever really wanted since she was a child, it's a hard pill to swallow. Tara counters by saying that Kennedy is an incredible Slayer, and that by simply being the best Kennedy the Vampire Slayer she can be, she shouldn't have to worry about comparing to Buffy or Faith.

As for Tara, after some convincing, she confesses that she's been haunted by the knowledge that she very nearly killed Willow. She wonders what kind of person that makes her, particularly in light of how hard she tried for so many years to never allow herself to fall prey to the evil she always thought was inside her. On this, Kennedy can empathize, and she reveals that she, too, nearly killed Willow to save her (at Willow's request before activating all the Slayers). Kennedy insists that they both only wanted what was best for Willow and the fact that they were willing to go to such extremes only proves how much they both love her.

Meanwhile, Robespierre looks out over his army of Slayers and smiles.

8x20: "Exchanges"

Tara returns home, greeted by Buffy and Willow. She has little information at the moment, with the bulk of it to be revealed in a meeting early the next morning. Buffy isn't pleased at all, but there's little to be done but wait for now. The rest of the evening is devoted to the assorted activities: Faith catches Xander up on Hazel's mental state of being as he delivers the toy order from Serafina. Giles finds Kennedy working with some of her students rather than resting after her long trip, and he approaches her with a question about her feelings toward Europe.

Willow and Tara finally sit down to have the talk that's been so long in coming. Both women express some of their fears – Willow confessing that she's worried about what their magickal connection may mean for Tara, and Tara concerned that she's no longer the person she used to be. Despite these concerns they're inevitably drawn together, but just as they're about to kiss, an arc of energy leaps from Willow into Tara, staggering them both. When they recover, Willow is horrified to see Tara with dark magick eyes, although Tara doesn't seem to notice any change. Willow freaks out and runs.

Driving Dawn home from her trip, Buffy and her sister have a nice chat about a variety of topics, not the least of which is Joyce. They discuss how much they miss their mother. Dawn worries that if she doesn't miss her mom as much as she used to, Joyce might think Dawn doesn't love her any more, but Buffy soothes her fears. As they arrive home, Buffy tells Dawn of tomorrow's Scooby meeting. Dawn realizes that by the extended invitation, she's officially being considered a member of the team – this takes the sting out of the early morning wake-up call. Unknown to either, their entire conversation about the meeting is overheard by Judith.

The next morning, Ruth reveals what she can about what she knows. She went into seclusion some time ago and all but ignored what was going on in the world around her. However recently there was so much power being used that Ruth couldn't help but pay attention (Giles suspects this was Tara's resurrection). Once again aware, Ruth managed to detect the power signature and track it to its source. In addition, given the fact that the signature is constant, never fluctuating, that there's a device or conduit somehow involved as well. With all of the facts – the use of magick, the disappearing Slayers and the strength of the attackers they've already faced – the gang decide that they're likely facing off against magickally enhanced Slayers and that this conduit is key to dispelling their extra power. Ruth won't be able to help them do that, but she can help them find it.

The gang break for a while as they prepare to work out specific battle strategies. During this time, Kennedy pulls Willow aside and informs her that Giles has offered Kennedy the opportunity to be the primary Slayer for the new European facility in England ... and that Kennedy has accepted. Willow is upset, but Kennedy helps her to understand why she's made her decision. The two promise to stay in close touch and always be available whenever the other needs anything.

The meeting reconvenes, and it's not long before the gang realize that what they need is more information before planning any assault. Giles determines that one person should go, to minimize detection. Buffy vehemently opposes the idea, pointing out that all this time, Giles has been saying that Slayers don't work alone anymore. The Watcher snaps back that the ideal and the reality don't often mesh. With Buffy unable to think of anything better, a new battle erupts over who will be the one to go in, each of the Senior Slayers arguing that they are the natural pick. The squabbling is rudely interrupted by a flash of light, the opening of a portal and the sudden arrival of Judith.

For a moment, everyone is stunned, but then Xander launches the opening assault with a surprise attack from behind. Judith is hardly moved and she nearly kills Xander for his trouble. This serves as a cue to the others, and the Slayers attack while Giles sounds the alarm to bring in more girls.

When Judith is joined by two more of the recently dubbed "Super Slayers", an already chaotic situation gets much worse. Buffy, Kennedy and Faith are divided by the three opponent Slayers, aided wherever possible by the steady stream of Juniors arriving. Ruth has her hands full maintaining a protective barrier around herself, Dawn and the unconscious Xander ... rendered unconscious again by a sucker punch from Giles when the carpenter was unprepared to remain on the sidelines. Willow is afraid to use her powers, given her lack of fine control and the close quarters, so she and Tara try to find some way to seal the room and ensure no more Super Slayers can teleport in.

Slayers are being injured left, right and center, but that's not all – one of the Super Slayers pins the Junior, Kelly. With the girl helpless, the Super Slayer's fist begins to glow a bright blue and she plunges her fist into Kelly's chest. The Junior is completely absorbed into the Super Slayer.

Faith meanwhile has been battling Judith, although the latter seems perfectly content to simply toy with Faith. It's only when the Junior dies that Judith begins to show anything other than contempt and boredom, revealing that she and her compatriots were sent specifically to absorb Buffy, Faith and Kennedy. Judith, at least, plans to carry out her part. Having beaten Faith down and driven off the Juniors who were assisting her, Judith closes in for the kill. Her fist begins to glow and she attacks ... only to have the killing strike blocked by Hazel. Faith watches as Hazel slowly begins to disintegrate, finally disappearing without a trace. Infuriated, Faith begins her attack on Judith anew; the Super Slayer, still woozy from the absorption, begins to falter.

Kennedy meanwhile almost suffers the same fate, but she's protected just in time by Willow. With her preferred quarry inaccessible, the Super Slayer turns on Willow. Willow is still wary about using too much power and risking hurting everyone around her, friend or foe. As a result, her shields won't hold. Just as they collapse, Tara steps in with her magicks, but they simply can't compare to Willow's, and the Super Slayer makes short work of them. Tara tries, but she simply can't find the power necessary to stop the Super Slayer. But then something happens – Willow spasms, and then Tara seems to almost glow with power. There's no sign of strain as she completely immobilizes the Super Slayer.

The battle between Faith and Judith has turned more intense, and it looks as though Faith will win. Judith knows it, too. Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, Judith escapes through another portal, as does the Super Slayer Buffy was battling. The third and final, however, was trapped fast by Tara's magick. She relaxes her hold only when Giles asks her too, and he immediately shoots the Super Slayer with a dart filled with something which appears to slow her down and weaken her. Another shot, plus a well-aimed blow to the jaw by Kennedy, and the final attacker is captured. Faith derives little pleasure from that, however; she's too busy trying to tear into the wall with her bear hands, destroying the section where Judith was last seen. Buffy approaches and manages to get through to Faith, but rather than say anything, Faith simply leaves. The group stand around the shattered remains of the library.

In the aftermath, the Super Slayer has been chained up. It turns out that Giles shot her with the few remaining samples of the drug used in the Tentio di Cruciamentum test – a drug used by the Old Council to temporarily depower Slayers while putting them through a brutal test on their 18th birthday. Unfortunately there won't be enough to make any difference in the final battle, but it's serving well to keep this Super Slayer under control. Information is what is sorely needed now, but the Super Slayer is being uncooperative. When Buffy is on the verge of turning to violence, Giles intercedes, ushering everyone out of the room for a break. Everyone, that is, except for Hannah. "Get me answers," he tells his ex-wife, and then leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

8x21: "Duality"

Buffy tracks a distraught Faith throughout Trillium, always just a few steps behind. It becomes clear that Faith is looking for something – something she can kill. For the moment, Faith is sticking to evil things such as demons and vampires and isn't branching out into humans, but Buffy becomes increasingly concerned that she needs to find Faith before it's too late and the Slayer's restraint slips. Eventually, Faith allows herself to be caught, turning her need for violence toward Buffy instead. All the while, Faith spits that it's everyone's fault Hazel is dead: Faith herself, Buffy for coming up with the plan to active all the Slayers, Giles for not stopping it, Willow for following through with it ... it's everyone's fault but Hazel herself, as Buffy points out, despite the fact that it was Hazel's decision to sacrifice herself for Faith. Faith questions whether she even deserves to be teaching other Slayers, since she can't even seem to get the "don't die" rule through to them. When Buffy points out that Faith is really upset that she taught Hazel how to do her job too well, Faith nearly loses it. Eventually Buffy puts things in terms that Faith is ready to hear at the moment: Would you rather stay out here, or would you rather bring the fight to those who deserve it?

The captive Super Slayer has remained uncooperative ... voluntarily. Hannah is able to extract some information, but the bulk is retrieved by Giles. The methods they used remain unclear to the other Scoobies. Giles is haunted by images of what he's done to the young girl, and the fact that he knows fully well that he would do it again if he must. Additionally, Xander confronts Giles about sucker punching him during Judith's assault. While Xander may understand the reasoning behind Giles' actions, he makes it abundantly clear that he won't allow anyone to shove him to the sidelines to be the cheerleader. Xander's outburst gives Giles an idea for just the sort of thing Xander can do to help.

As to what information Giles and Hannah learned, they know that there are approximately fifty Slayers under Robespierre's command, with 10 to 15 being as powerful as the ones who invaded Slayer Central. They also know that the girls arrive and leave the facility by way of portals, so the captive doesn't know its exact location. The real problem lies in depowering the Super Slayers and keeping them that way. To that end, Willow has a plan.

When Judith absorbed Hazel, it was clear that some of Hazel's personality traits were transferred as well. This leads to the theory that there are multiple personalities, complete with powers, within each Super Slayer. With Willow's connection to all the Slayers, she and Tara will enter the captive's mind and try to separate away the stolen powers and personalities. Their hope is that this will leave the Super Slayer with only her innate powers. If successful, they can enhance the spell later to affect all of the Super Slayers, leveling the playing field considerably. The others are wary and uncomfortable with this dangerous plan, but with few other options, agree.

Willow and Tara sequester themselves in the Sanctum and enter the captive's mind, finding themselves in a featureless void that eventually reveals itself to be a huge maze of mirrors. They eventually come to the section where the absorbed Slayers are trapped and theorize that the need to break the mirrors to free them. Before they can try, however, Madrigan appears, first in the mirrors themselves and then stepping out of them to become as real as Willow and Tara. He greets them with respect, but speaks casually, as though they were old friends. The girls press for answers but receive none. Using magick, Madrigan separates the two witches, knocking them both into a different mirror.

When Tara wakes up, she discovers that she's alone and begins looking for Willow. She find her, but rather than the Willow Tara was expecting, the only reflections she can see through the mirrors around her are of Dark Willow. Madrigan appears and begins to show Tara all of the things that Willow did after Tara died, mixing in fact with is own twisted creations. Pressing Tara, never letting up, he insists that the power-obsessed Willow is just around the corner, and that her yielding to it is an inevitability. What's more, Madrigan points out, he knows that when it comes down to it, Tara will do what she must, and the dagger Tara nearly used on Willow appears in her hand. As though speaking prophetically, suddenly Dark Willow emerges from a mirror, and Tara is face-to-face with the reality.

As with Tara, Willow is alone and immediately begins to search. Madrigan appears to her as well, taunting with how much Tara has already suffered, because of Willow and by Willow directly. He reveals some of what Tara went through with her resurrection, talking about how relatively easy it was to bring her back since she hadn't yet moved on. He gives Willow the bottle where Tara's soul was trapped for months, and shows Willow snippets of her painful reanimation. Insisting that everything she has gone through is ultimately Willow's fault, he emphasizes that damage by showing Willow her worst nightmare: a Tara completely consumed by dark magick. This dark vision of Tara also steps out from the mirrors, doing her best to seduce Willow in more ways than one.

With both witches facing off against evil counterparts, they manage to shove the doppelgangers back into the mirrors, finding strength in their belief in the other to never allow these monsters to emerge again. Tara throws her dagger at the mirror, shattering it just as Willow does the same with the bottle in her hand. As the mirrors break, they see each other – the real things this time – and finally come together, reunited. The moment is brief however, as there is the lingering issue of Madrigan to contend with. The witches banish him with ease however, and shatter all of the remaining mirrors in the process, including those imprisoning the Super Slayers.

At the Circle's headquarters, Madrigan jerks awake. He considers the encounter to have been a complete success, since Willow and Tara are now over their fears and are guaranteed to begin using their magick together again. Seneca is less than approving, thinking that Madrigan shouldn't have revealed himself so soon, but since neither Willow nor Tara truly learned anything about him, he figures that all he did was up the timetable.

Willow and Tara also wake up in the Sanctum, alive, well, and together.

8x22: "Win, Lose or Draw"

Everyone arrives back at Slayer Central for the final preparations. Xander confirms that everything is coming together on his end, with Ruth already working on the final parts he'll need. Willow and Tara report on their success, but as always, there's a hitch. Dawn wants to help out as well, but Buffy refuses to allow her sister to come into the battle with them. When Dawn protests, Tara convinces the teenager to help her and Willow with some final spell research. With everyone's assigned tasks, the group split again to make the few remaining preparations before battle.

Preparations aren't something Faith is interested in however, and Kennedy finds her in the library. Faith makes it quite plain that she doesn't want any help and she doesn't want to talk, but Kennedy can't be so easily dissuaded. When Faith confesses that she's going to kill Judith, she expects some form of rebuttal or a protestation, but Kennedy surprises her by understanding and confessing that if Faith wasn't going to do it, then Kennedy sure as hell would.

Buffy accompanies Xander to his workshop, and the two chat amicably while Xander prepares. He tells Buffy how Giles' plan is for Xander (with Hannah as backup) to slip away from the fight, find the conduit that's powering the Super Slayers, and quite thoroughly destroy it. With the information Willow and Tara have for Giles, this is an even more crucial part than they had originally realized. While the witches can and will be able to dispel the stolen power, with the conduit putting out a constant stream of magick, those powers begin to return almost immediately. Willow and Tara will have their hands full simply trying to hold the renewing magicks back, while simultaneously shielding themselves from another appearance by Madrigan. On top of that, there's the problem of getting their army to Robespierre's facility. Ruth will be able to point them in the right direction, but they will only be able to expend so much power in teleporting everyone, while keeping enough in reserves to work on the Super Slayers. In short, this isn't going to be easy.

Ruth and Quinn find Dawn researching ways for the witches' power to be used more efficiently in the upcoming battle. Dawn is doing her utmost, despite knowing only too well that it's truly busy work. She confronts Ruth about a few topics, insisting that Ruth knows more than she's saying. Ruth agrees to this, but explains that people have to be ready to hear the truth before it's worth telling. Dawn proclaims that she's ready to hear some truth, and Ruth smiles.

Robespierre meanwhile is trying to find Madrigan to no luck. He questions the presence of an orb – the conduit the Scoobies are looking for – but is assured by one of the mages left behind that it was placed there by Madrigan himself and is vital to their overall success. Robespierre is infuriated that he can't reach Madrigan, but the Circle leader has currently made himself unavailable.

For the Council, the time is now. Their army of about a hundred strong are gathered in the courtyard of Slayer Central, waiting for the portal to open. Willow and Tara are having trouble getting it done, however, without tapping into the reserves they must keep for the battle. It's then that Ruth turns to Dawn. Unseen by anyone, Dawn reaches out her hand and closes her eyes ... and the portal opens.

Buffy and the others arrive at the Assemblage headquarters. The battle begins quickly after, and it's only too clear that the Super Slayers have a distinct advantage, in power if not numbers. The Council does its best to hold off the small but steadily increasing enemies, waiting for the spell to kick in that will depower the girls. Faith isn't particularly concerned about plans, however. She wants one thing and one thing only: Judith. And she finally gets her.

Back in Trillium, Willow and Tara are struggling, but finally manage to succeed – at least somewhat. Taking this opportunity, Xander and Hannah slip away, knowing that now more than ever, time is of the essence. Using a crystal that Ruth has imbued with the energy signature, Xander is able to track down the conduit. They soon find it, and the mages tending to it. Whereas Xander simply knocks his out, Hannah kills hers with brutal efficiency. Xander prepares to destroy the orb while Hannah examines it. She notes strange, unreadable, unrecognizable symbols on the pedestal; when Xander looks at them however, they're easy to read. It says "The Baani". Then Xander accidentally touches the orb, and is hit with a beam of power so intense, it sends him flying back and crashing into a wall.

The power surge in the orb also affects Willow and Tara, and they lose their grip on the holding the power at bay. Whereas the Council was finding themselves with the supper hand mere moments before, they are once again on the losing side. This is especially bad news for Faith, as Judith only too eagerly dishes out the punishment she was receiving.

The witches desperately try to push back the power, but simply don't have enough strength. Until Willow asks Tara for her trust. When Tara gives it, Willow digs deep, into the black magick she is so afraid of. The power touches both Willow and Tara, and together they are able to banish the Super Slayer power.

This was the break the Council needed, and again the tide turned. With the Super Slayers no longer quite so super, they don't stand a chance against the superior training and numbers of the Council. This includes Judith, and Faith is only seconds away from killing her opponent after telling Judith that final blow isn't for Hazel but for Faith herself. It's a blow Faith doesn't get to land, as she's suddenly shot with a crossbow from behind by Robespierre. Seizing on the advantage, Judith quickly turns things around. She takes great delight in causing Faith as much pain as possible, both physically and emotionally, and she almost kills the other Slayer when Buffy is there and knocks Judith away.

Giles meanwhile spots Robespierre and gives pursuit. But the Assemblage leader is slippery and he runs into his office. Knowing now that defeat is an inevitability, he tries desperately to contact Madrigan via a scrying mirror and demand safety. He manages to contact the mage, but Madrigan has no intention of saving Robespierre. Quite the contrary, he delights in pointing out that Robespierre has served as the perfect scapegoat, giving the good guys something tangible to fight and win against. When Robespierre reminds Madrigan of the Antediluvian, Madrigan simply replies that he's had another way to it for months now, thus rendering Robespierre entirely useless for anything else. Just as Giles breaks the door down and enters, Madrigan sets Robespierre alight. Within seconds, Robespierre is dead – but not before he is able to warn Giles not to "let him get it". Then Robespierre, his followers, and selected papers and equipment throughout the complex are completely destroyed – every tangible link between the Assemblage and the Circle gone.

Xander regains consciousness in short order, surprisingly seeming none the worse for the blast. With a serious grudge against the orb now, he relishes its destruction, and the impact is felt throughout the battlefield. Willow and Tara, as though physically struck by the power backlash, collapse. All of the Super Slayers, without possibility of regaining their stolen powers, stagger and are easily dispatched.

Just as powerless, Judith no longer can put up any struggle. She is broken and beaten, no longer any kind of threat. As Buffy turns and walks away, she hears a sharp crack behind her and turns to see Faith dropping Judith's lifeless body to the ground. "Now it's over," Faith says.

In some undisclosed location, a grille set into a thick, steel door, Madrigan chats amiably to the Antediluvian. He commiserates with the Antediluvian's situation, explaining that although Robespierre is dead, there's another path to freedom. He goes on to muse about prophecies, and how it's really all about setting things up in a row, then knocking the first one down and watching the rest fall into place. "Choice 'a' or choice 'b' – that's all they've got," he confides before leaving. Somewhere, someone screams and screams.

The Council forces manage to locate an exit and emerge, much to Giles' surprise, in London, only a few blocks away from the new Council headquarters. Wood and Hannah rush there to get help for the wounded. The gang take stock of their situation after the battle, receiving a phone call from Trillium with the news that everyone there is okay and enjoying another victory. Only Faith remains uncertain, seeming lost and confused that Judith's death hasn't actually made her feel any better. Ambulances and local Council members rush to the scene and begin tending to Faith and the other wounded while the Scoobies try to decide what to do next. Their options seem almost limitless, but Buffy isn't into multiple choice and avoids all the offered answers, simply choosing a direction and heading down to see what she can find. "You coming?"

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