Dublin 1838A man named Daniel runs down a street, afraid of something or someone. He finally stops to rest in the entrance to an alley when the man following him, Angelus, appears in front of him. Apparently, Daniel had gambling problems and was in Angelus's debt, so Angelus decided to take his payment "his way". Before he kills Daniel, he tells him to be of good cheer, because after all, "It's Christmas!"
It turns out that this is a nightmare of Angel's. When he wakes up, unable to fall asleep again, he walks the streets of Sunnydale and runs into Buffy, their first encounter since ending their friendship. They exchange a few awkward words before Angel becomes frightened, seeing the ghost of Daniel staring at him. The next day, as Sunnydale High starts winding down for Christmas vacation, Buffy tells her friends about her freaky encounter with Angel. They fill each other in on holiday plans and then Oz shows up, ready to talk to Willow. He tells her that he knows that she and Xander have a history and how doesn't know if things between the two will ever be over. However he also tells her he misses her terribly, so is willing to give their relationship another shot. Cordelia Chase on the other hand is still cold and hostile toward the rest of the Scooby Gang and smuggly tells them that she'll be going to Aspen, "With real snow."
Buffy and her Mom go shopping for a Christmas tree and decide to invite Faith to Christmas dinner, but when Buffy suggests inviting Giles, Joyce becomes uncomfortable and immediately vetoes the idea. While at the lot, Buffy spots a bunch of trees that just died for no reason and the salesman offers to make her "a hell of a deal". Buffy then visits Faith at her run-down motel room, and invites her to Christmas Eve dinner, denying that it was Joyce's idea. Faith claims that she has plans, however Buffy knows she's lying but doesn't push the issue, just telling her that the offer is open.
Angel's nightmares continue to haunt him, and he finally resorts to going to Giles for help. Giles is initially amused when he hears that Angel is asking for his help, but lets him ask. However, wary of Angel and still bitter over Jenny's death and the torture he suffered at his hands, Giles keeps a loaded crossbow in hand, but still listens to Angel's explanations and questions how he is back on Earth. Their conversation is cut short when Angel sees Jenny, and runs off. Giles turns around, but doesn't see her.
In another one of Angel's dreams, he attacks a maid but as he finishes her off, he looks up and sees Buffy there in his dream. They both wake up, realizing that they're in each other's dreams. Buffy goes to Giles and they plan to research so they can find out what force is taking over Angel. Xander offers to help as well, partly to make up for being such a bad friend to Buffy where Angel is concerned, but also it's a better option than being at home. Willow joins in and the gang research for hours, with no joy. Willow tells Buffy that she is trying to think of a way to let Oz know she's truly sorry, and Buffy advises her that she needs to make sure that Oz knows he comes before Xander.
Angel is still unable to sleep and encounters Jenny's spirit at the mansion. He tries to apologize, but she doesn't want to hear it; she just wants to make him suffer. He is then visited by the many ghosts of his victims, including Daniel and the maid he had killed. Finally, nearly crazy from being reminded of what a monster he was, Angel begs for it to stop. Jenny offers him comfort and tells him to rest. At the library, Buffy also falls asleep and both she and Angel are in the same dream again. This time, the two are making passionate love on Buffy's bed. Looking over his shoulder, Buffy notices a creature with its eyes sewn shut just before Angel vamps out and bites her. They both wake up. Jenny tells Angel he needs to kill Buffy.
Giles has found out that the force that is taking over Angel is called The First. It's very powerful and impossible to kill. However, there are three priests (the creatures with their eyes sewn shut) which Buffy can kill, and hopefully put an end to the mental torment Angel is suffering from. Buffy and Xander visit Willy the Snitch, but he only says that The First may be underground. Oz arrives at Willow's house with videos from Big Lou's and finds she has a bit more planned for the night. He tells her he's not ready to take their relationship that far and that she doesn't need to prove herself to him, which she's fine with and they just kiss.
At home, Buffy and her mom are trimming the tree, and they both get a surprise when Faith shows up. Buffy goes upstairs to her room to find that Angel is there waiting for her. Blind with the need to find peace of mind, he fights the urge to kill Buffy. As Jenny, unseen and unheard by Buffy, continues to goad him into doing so, a frantic Angel jumps headfirst out the window as a horrified Buffy looks on. Buffy leaves Faith in charge of watching her mom, while she goes to Giles for immediate help. At the mansion, Jenny tries to convince Angel that he must kill Buffy and that she will be at risk as long as he is alive. With that, Angel resolves to commit suicide by sunlight instead, which Jenny says wasn't the plan, but it would nevertheless be acceptable.
After some more research, Buffy discovers that wherever the priests are, nothing will grow above or below. Buffy remembers the dead trees at the Christmas tree lot, though before she departs, Giles warns her that she may have to kill Angel again should he truly become dangerous. She goes there and in the middle of a circle of dead trees, she makes a hole in the ground which then leads to the priests. She tears the place and the priests apart, then encounters the First in Jenny's form. They attack each other verbally and then Buffy runs off to the mansion to save Angel from killing himself with the sun.
She finds him atop Kingman's Bluff, the sun only minutes away from rising. He tells her that he loves her and wants her so much that he'd be willing to lose his soul just to be with her. Buffy desperately wants him to come inside, but he believes very strongly that he is evil and he's got to be strong for once, and die. They yell, and hit each other, and cry and say how much they love one another. Buffy gives him his last chance to prove how strong he really can be and to come in from the sun. She tells him that if he really doesn't have a place on Earth then he can burn. Then, out of nowhere, snow begins to fall, covering the previously sunny and warm Sunnydale in a beautiful white Christmas, hiding the sun.
Willow and Oz wake up on Willow's bed (they were just sleeping) to the snow. Xander wakes up in a sleeping bag in his backyard covered in snow. Giles notices it from his apartment, while Faith and Joyce see it from the Summer's home. Buffy and Angel walk hand in hand together through the snow, united once again with Angel truly ready to rejoin the fight against evil and make amends for what he has done.
- Abusive Parents: We get our first mention of Xander's troubled home life, in a reference to him sleeping outside to avoid their drunken squabbles.
- Accidental Innuendo (In-Universe): Joyce is putting up the Christmas decorations; Buffy is thinking about her Erotic Dream.Joyce: So, angel's on top again?
Buffy: (startled) What?
Joyce: (holds up an angel and a star) Angel or star?
Buffy: Oh, uh... star. Star.
- Actor Allusion: The maid Margaret is played by Cornelia Hayes O'Herlihy, who played Princess Margaret in Gods and Monsters.
- Aesop Amnesia: Buffy's resolution in "Lovers Walk" to stay away from Angel gets thrown out the window when she has to intervene to stop Angel from committing suicide.
- Always a Bigger FishWilly: Apparently there's been a lot of migration out of Sunnydale from the lower inhabitants. Something's scaring them off, and these are things that aren't easily scared.
- The Atoner: Xander helps Buffy find out what's wrong with Angel, presumably to make up for his actions re Angel in "Revelations". Averted with Angel, whose sins are so numerous and terrible he believes he can't possibly atone.
- An Axe to Grind: Buffy finds a handy axe lying among the Christmas trees, and chops a hole down into where the Bringers are lurking. And then chops a hole in some Bringers.
- Badass Boast: The First talking about how evil it is. Buffy is not impressed.
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: Angel decides to kill himself. Jenny!First says "You're not supposed to die, that's not the plan." After Angel leaves she adds, "But it'll do."
- Beneath the Mask: Carrying on the themes raised in "Becoming", this episode deconstructs Angel the Mysterious Protector and Star Crossed Lover. He was a drunken hedonist as a human, now crushed under the guilt of hundreds of years of gleefully sadistic evil. A couple of years as Buffy's champion don't even begin to make up for that, even if he hadn't spent the time falling for the woman he was supposed to be protecting. Afraid that he doesn't have the strength of character to resist having sex with (and killing) Buffy again, he tries to kill himself.
- Blatant Lies: Faith turns down Buffy's offer of Christmas dinner, claiming she's already been invited to a big party. Buffy herself denies it was mum who put her up to inviting Faith. However Faith turns up anyway.
- Break Them by Talking: Done plenty of times by the First to Angel.
- But I Would Really Enjoy It: When Angel is struggling not to have his wicked way with Buffy, the First is whispering in his ear that Buffy wants him to do it.
- Catapult Nightmare: When Angel wakes up after dreaming of having sex with Buffy, then vamping out and biting her.
- Chekhov's Gun: The dead Christmas trees.
- Christmas Episode: Aside from the first appearance of the First Evil (which later became the Big Bad of Season Seven), it also brought two couples back together - Willow/Oz and Buffy/Angel.
- Christmas Miracle: It snows in Sunnydale after a forecast of sunny with temperatures in the high 70s Fahrenheit. Why? Because Buffy was trying to convince Angel not to kill himself by sunlight, and they needed a Christmas Miracle to save him from death-by-sunlight. This on a show with Devil, but No God. Of course, years later it's revealed a prime candidate for who saved him was Jasmine whose motives were hardly purely benevolent. Or maybe her motives were a bit too benevolent...
- Continuity Nod: Joyce claiming that Giles didn't want to share Christmas with them is undoubtedly due to the embarrassing events of "Band Candy".
- Cryptic Conversation: Buffy is searching through Giles' Tome of Eldritch Lore for information on the First."'A child shall be born of man and goat and have two heads, and The First shall speak only in riddles...' No wonder you like this stuff. It's like reading The Sun."
- Deus ex Machina: It begins snowing on Sunnydale, leaving the town in total darkness, and saving Angel from burning. Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Angelus murders a man because he can't pay his debts from a card game.
- Dissonant Serenity: Giles opens the door to find Angel standing there asking for an invitation. He keeps it together and walks into the kitchen, then comes out with a loaded crossbow. Oh, Crap!.
- Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Unless you're Buffy.The First: You think you can fight me? I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something that you can't even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. You'll never see me, but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate—Buffy: Alright, I get it. You're evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?The First: You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With.Buffy: Let me guess. Is it...evil?
- Driven to Suicide: Angel tries to kill himself by allowing the sunrise to immolate him. He's saved.
- Eldritch Abomination: The First briefly morphs into one before disappearing.
- Erotic Dream: The First gives Angel these to entice him into sleeping with Buffy and losing his soul.Giles: You had another dream, with Angel? What happened?Buffy: (long pause) We don't need to get sidetracked.
- Eureka Moment: Buffy realising the dead Christmas trees reveal the location of the Bringers.
- Evil Is Burning Hot: A heatwave envelops Sunnydale; as soon as the First Evil is driven off, the temperature drops rapidly, creating snow.
- Evil Plan: The First wants Angel to kill the Slayer, and in the process turn him back into the evil Angelus. Angel decides to prevent this by committing suicide, but this is also acceptable to the First, as it means Angel can no longer be a weapon against evil.
- Evil Sounds Deep: "DEAD BY SUNRISE!"
- Exact Words: Willy says he's picked up some information from the Underground. "You know, from things that live under the ground."
- Eyeless Face: Bringers, or Harbingers. They have a 'no eyes' kinda look.
- Failed Attempt at Drama: After Willow says she wants to sleep with him, Oz responds by standing up.Willow: Where are you going?Oz: No, I'm not going. Just a dramatic gesture.
- Final Boss Preview: The First Evil will return as the Big Bad of Season 7.
- Flashback Cut: Showing Angel as the drunken lout he was before being turned into a vampire.
- Forced to Watch: Angel has a second dream in which Angelus kills a housemaid, only to be shocked to see Buffy staring at him. Cue both Angel and Buffy waking up in their separate beds.
- Buffy says she won't stand around and watch Angel immolate himself if that's what he wants to do. Then it starts snowing.
- Foreshadowing: Angel drinking Buffy's blood comes to pass as the First predicts, albeit for different reasons ("Graduation Day, Part 2 ").
- What Buffy says to Angel "Strong is fighting! It's hard, and it's painful, and it's every day" is what he puts into practice in the spin-off series Angel. That series also continues the theme of higher powers (both good and evil) seeking to control or protect Angel for their own purposes.
- The First mentions that Liam was a terrible disappointment to his parents, something Angel relives in detail in his own series.
- A Form You Are Really, Really Not Comfortable With: The First appears in the form of Jenny Calender, killed by Angelus in "Passion", plus several other victims from before he was ensouled. The First also uses the Jenny form with Buffy, who has her own guilt issues in that area (Buffy failing to kill Angelus in "Innocence" led to Jenny's death).
- A Friend in Need: Despite their antipathy towards Angel, Giles and Xander work to save him.
- Friendship Moment: Affected by the Christmas spirit (actually because spending Christmas alone seems too depressing) the Scoobies try to patch up the differences that tore them apart. Oz reconciles with Willow, Giles and Xander help Buffy find out what's wrong with Angel, Faith accepts the invitation to dinner at the Summer's house. Cordelia however departs for Aspen with some snarky comments at the Scoobies (particularly Xander).
- Friend Versus Lover: To prove her relationship with Oz is stronger than her relationship with Xander, Willow decides to sleep with Oz.
- Frothy Mugs of Water: Played for Laughs as Willow has a couple of soda bottles in a champagne ice bucket, a sign that her attempt to seduce Oz isn't as grown up as she thinks.
- HA HA HA No: Giles is less than pleased when Angel (who in their last encounter was torturing him) shows up at his doorstep.Angel: I'm sorry to bother you.Giles: (stares, then bursts out laughing) Sorry. Coming from you, that phrase strikes me as rather funny. (chuckles) "Sorry to bother me."Angel: I need your help.Giles: And the funny keeps on coming.
- Hard-Work Montage: The Scoobies researching the problem (and eating pizza).
- Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Buffy wishes for a nice quiet Christmas. What was she thinking?
- Humanoid Abomination: The Harbingers.
- I Didn't Mean to Turn You On: After their erotic dream Angel encounters Buffy in her bedroom wearing a blood-red dress, her hair pinned up to expose her neck and her lower lip trembling from repressed emotion. He has to jump out the window to prevent himself from jumping her.
- I Have a Family:Margaret: (terrified) Sir! My son!Angelus: Oh, he'll make a fine dessert.
- Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Xander asks who else could have as pathetic a social life as he does. Cue Willow walking through the door.
- Informed Judaism: Willow has to remind the others that being Jewish she doesn't actually celebrate Christmas. She promises to show some Hanukkah Spirit instead.
- Interrupted Suicide: Buffy talks Angel out of killing himself (with some help from a Deus ex Machina).
- Intertwined Fingers: In the Buffy/Angel sex scene.
- Ironic Echo: Tormented by his guilt, Angel cries, "Oh god!" The First just sneers. "Cry out. Make a scene."
- I Wished You Were Dead: Inverted when Love HurtsBuffy: I love you so much... And I tried to make you go away... I killed you and it didn't help. (crying) And I hate it! I hate that it's so hard... and that you can hurt me so much. (sobs, then harshly) I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don't. (whispers) I can't.
- Just Like Making Love: Jenny!First urges Angel to pour out all his frustration into Buffy.
- Lady in Red: Invoked deliberately by Willow and accidentally by Buffy.
- Leave Me Alone!: Finding Angel distraught in her bedroom, Buffy urges him to let her help. As he's struggling not to throw her onto the bed and have his way with her, Angel snarls at her to leave him alone and leaps out the window.
- Lets Wait Awhile: Oz turns down Willow's offer to lose her virginity, aware she's doing it just to prove she really loves him.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: Although it's a red dress instead of the usual hoodie.
- Love Makes You Evil: Buffy informs Angel the First has been manipulating him. He says it doesn't matter as he still wants Buffy, regardless of the consequences to them both.
- MadonnaWhore Complex: Implied when Angelus is forcing his attentions on the maid; presumably the son she refers to was born out of wedlock.Angelus: Cry out. Call for help. I'm sure Mistress will believe your behavior beyond reproach. (sneers)
- Master of the Mixed Message:Angel: You have to stay away from me.Buffy: (bewildered) You came to see me to tell me that I can't see you?(He starts to move toward her. She backs away.)Buffy: Angel, something is doing this to you. You just have to control it, okay? I-I know that you're confused...Angel: (staring hungrily at her) I think you're the one who's confused.
- Mind Rape: The First's taunting and manipulation of Angel. He winds up so bad-off he tries to kill himself.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
- The Harbingers of Death.
- In-Universe when Buffy walks into Willy's Bar, whereupon the bartender greets 'The Slayer' very loudly. Several vampires make a prompt exit.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: The Scoobies have to find the Big Bad in fourteen million square miles of Absurdly Spacious Sewer, not including a lot of natural cave formations and a gateway to Hell.
- No Time to Explain: Buffy to Faith; Aesop Amnesia is averted when Buffy stresses that she will explain, all of it, remembering the lesson of "Revelations".
- Ominous Latin Chanting:Buffy: Alright, ten more minutes of chanting and then you guys have to go to bed.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Giles is not inclined to help Angel, until he flees out the door after seeing invisible people.
- Percussive Maintenance: Faith on finding her TV isn't working.
- Perp Sweating: Xander isn't very good at it.
- Please Don't Leave Me: When her arguments fail to sway Angel from killing himself, all Buffy can do is beg him not to leave her.
- Poorly Disguised Pilot: The episode introduced the audience to the idea that Angel had way bigger issues than just the conflict between the happiness curse and loving Buffy. This leads into Angel.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Angelus bullies a servant into agreeing to have sex with him, and then shows her his Nightmare Face.
- Ready for Lovemaking: Oz enters Willow's house to find a candle-lit room, Willow wearing a tight red dress, and Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe" playing on the stereo.
- Reality Ensues: The last time they met face to face, Angel was Angelus and tortured Giles for both information and pleasure. Even if he's not evil anymore and has proved as such, Giles is still wary of him; while he does invite Angel in and agree to help him, he keeps a crossbow handy just in case.
- The Reveal: Played with when we discover why Angel was brought out of the hell dimension — to kill Buffy. However Buffy is not willing to accept this explanation, and the fact that the First is willing to settle for Angel's suicide is an indication she's right.
- Say Your Prayers: One of Angelus' victims says the Twenty-third Psalm.
- Sex for Solace: What the First tempts Angel with — by sleeping with Buffy he can satiate his desire for her and then, by turning evil, be free of guilt forever.
- Sexual Euphemism: Willow offers to "do that thing" with Oz.
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Buffy pulls one on the Ultimate Evil!The First: Im not a demon, little girl. I am something you cannot even conceive. The First Evil. Beyond sin, beyond death. I am the thing the darkness fears. Youll never see me but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate -Buffy: All right, I get it. You're evil. Do we have to chat about it all day?
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: Oz says he's jealous of Willow's history with Xander.Willow: But it's a history that's in the past! Well, I-I guess most history is in the past...
- Snow Means Love: Buffy and Angel at the end of the episode. Definitely not Just Friends.
- Something Else Also Rises: When Willow tells Oz she wants to "do that thing", he's so surprised he stands up as a "dramatic gesture". When she reiterates the point, he has to sit down again.
- Suicide by Sunlight: Angel tries to do this, but a miraculous snow shower clouds the sky so the sun doesn't show.The First: You don't have the strength to kill yourself.Angel: I don't need the strength. I just need the sun to rise.
- Talking Down the Suicidal: Buffy doesn't actually succeed, but fortunately a Christmas miracle occurs instead.
- Talking in Your Dreams: The First is trying to drive Angel over his Despair Event Horizon, so sends him dreams of his past crimes as Angelus. To further torment him, Buffy also shares these dreams. Then because having sex with Buffy will turn him evil, they start having shared Erotic Dreams as well.
- This Is the Part Where...:
- When Oz forgives Willow for straying with Xander, she asks if they're supposed to hug now. They do.
- When Perp Sweating Willy, Xander asks, "Does the threatening come now?"
- Title Drop:Buffy: Angel, you have the power to do real good, to make amends.
- Twisted Christmas: Angel gets psychologically tortured by Satan into recognising his essentially evil nature, and is prevented from suicide only by divine(?) intervention.
- Two Scenes, One Dialogue:Giles: You realize if he [Angel] truly becomes a danger, you may have to kill him. Again. Can you do that?Buffy is silent. Cut to Angel in his mansionAngel: I can't do it!
- Ultimate Evil: The First
- The Un-Reveal: We never find out if the First or the Powers That Be were responsible for bringing Angel out of the hell dimension, or if the snowstorm was due to the sudden drop of temperature or another miracle by the Powers That Be. In the Angel spin-off it's revealed that the forces of both good and evil have a vested interest in his survival, so either party could be involved.
- Unwanted Assistance: Buffy tells Xander "Maybe you shouldn't help" after his hilarious attempt to threaten Willy the Snitch. Afterwards, Willy deadpans "You did great, by the way. I was very intimidated by you." Xander buys it.
- Xanatos Gambit: The First's plot becomes this in hindsight after watching episodes of Angel. It repeatedly Mind Rapes Angel and tries to get him to kill Buffy, but is content when Angel chooses to commit Suicide by Sunlight instead. Either way, it would be a severe blow to the forces of good; either the Slayer or a champion of The Powers That Be and the Shanshu Prophecy candidate would die:The First: You aren't supposed to die. This isn't the plan! But it'll do.
- Villains Never Lie:Buffy: Some great evil takes credit for bringing you back and you buy it?
- Violence Is the Only Option: Faced with an Angel who's going to pieces, Buffy urges Giles to give her something to pummel. Killing the Bringer priests and breaking the First's connection with Sunnydale may or may not have helped with the subsequent Christmas Miracle.
- Walking Wasteland: The Bringers cause the Christmas trees to wilt over their heads.
- Weather Saves the Day: Angel is about to commit Suicide by Sunlight when it suddenly starts to snow and the sun doesn't come up.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Buffy's speech to Angel at the end is desperately trying to convince him of this.Buffy: You're weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil power did bring you back, but if it did, it's because it needs you. And that means you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good! To make amends! But if you die now, then all you ever were was a monster!
- You Can't Fight Fate: The First tells Angel it's his destiny to be a sadistic killer.
- You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: And at this point in the series, Buffy really doesn't know. Then again she doesn't really care either.