Dawn: No! You've been avoiding me.
Buffy: I'm not! I have to do these things, 'cause... 'Cause when I stop, then she's really gone.
At the Sunnydale Funeral Home, Buffy picks out a casket for her recently deceased mother. Dawn is concerned about whether Joyce would be satisfied with the chosen casket, since she's the one who'll be in it forever. Later, the Scooby Gang gather for dinner at the Summers' house to discuss funeral plans. Buffy mentions that ever since her mother's demise, their father has not yet come in contact with them. Dawn feels left out when she discovers that before her mother went into surgery, she and Buffy spoke about funeral choices, just in case.
As Willow and Xander leave Buffy's house, they run into Spike, who's trying to deliver a bouquet of flowers. A brief argument takes place when Xander misinterprets this as Spike trying to take advantage of the situation to get closer to Buffy, while Spike swears that he was actually trying to pay his respects to Joyce, as she was the only one of Buffy's "lot" that ever treated him with some decency. When it becomes clear that Xander won't be convinced otherwise, an irate Spike throws the bouquet down and storms off while Xander continues to berate him. Afterward, Willow discovers that Spike didn't leave a card with the flowers, and the two, though surprised, recognize the sincerity of the gesture. Later that night, the remaining Summers women sit in their room, trying to cope with and contemplate the situation.
Joyce is buried the next day. After the sorrowful funeral, Dawn leaves with Willow and Tara, finding it hard to return to her own home. Buffy, though, stays at the cemetery, until nighttime comes. Angel arrives at that time and apologizes for not being able to come sooner. Both rest under a tree, while Buffy expresses her regrets that she wasn't more useful. Angel gently tries to reassure her, telling her that she isn't to blame for this and that even though she doesn't feel like it now, she is a strong person. After admitting that it's not such a good idea for Angel to stay longer since she might end up taking comfort in him, Buffy kisses him. The kiss quickly got out of hand and they soon break apart. Buffy points out that she was right and that it would be better if he leaves. Angel apologizes for this, though Buffy assures him that she is grateful that he came, and he remains with her for the last few minutes before sunrise.
Meanwhile, Willow and Tara try unsuccessfully to cheer up the dreary Dawn, or at least get her mind off things, but they recoil in shock when Dawn expresses her wish to perform a resurrection spell for her mother. The two witches refuse to help her, explaining that it is wrong to use witchcraft to meddle in the matters of life and death. Post-coitus, Anya and Xander discuss her ability to create life. When she thinks about it that way, it makes sex a little more meaningful and death a little less sad. In the meantime, Giles lingers sadly in his apartment, listening to a record he once played for Joyce (in "Band Candy").
Meanwhile, Ben is approached by Jinx outside the hospital. Ben swears that he will not help Glory and he is tired of her games, but accidentally makes a comment that leads Jinx to conclude that the Key is human. Not wanting Glory to learn this fact, Ben stabs the minion with his own knife. However, Jinx survives and manages to make it to Glory and inform her of his discovery, much to Glory's happiness.
The next day, Willow and Tara leave for class, but not before Willow magically pulls out a specific book for Dawn. When she inspects it, she finds it contains a section about resurrection spells. Later that day, Dawn goes to the Magic Box to gather some ingredients. She sneaks up into a restricted area to steal a few books and potions. That night, she collects dirt from her mother's grave, but Spike catches her in the act. He knows what Dawn is doing and subsequently offers to help. Though Dawn initially regards it as an attempt to get in good with Buffy, Spike makes it very clear that Buffy is not to know of his involvement and he is helping her because he doesn't like seeing the Summers women "take it so hard on the chin."
Dawn and Spike goes to a mysterious, amiable magic expert named Doc. After giving her the rest of the information needed to complete the spell, the two leave to collect the final ingredient for the spell—a Ghora's egg. Ghoras, large three-headed reptilian demons, live in dark and filth, so Dawn and Spike head into the sewers. Confronting the Ghora, Spike distracts it while Dawn successfully steals one of its eggs; in the process, he is badly injured by the Ghora, though he kills it in turn. Later that night, Dawn returns home to perform the spell.
Concurrently, in their dorm room, Willow tells Tara that she wants to start a journal, ever since Joyce's death, after receiving the sudden epiphany that life is short. Tara then realizes that a witchcraft book is missing, and Dawn might have taken it. Realizing what Dawn is about to do, they call Buffy to alert her.
Buffy finds Dawn, just as she finishes the spell. The two get into a vicious argument. Dawn believes that Buffy does not even care about their mother's death, as she is just running around as if the whole thing is a chore. Dawn states that Buffy hasn't even cried—and kept pushing Dawn away, inadvertently or not. As tears roll, and footsteps approach the Summers home, Buffy states her case, and explains that she's just been keeping herself busy so that she does not have to deal with the situation; she runs around and works because if she stops, then Joyce is really gone.
Suddenly, a shadowy figure passes the window, and the girls hear a knock on the door. Buffy hopefully whispers "Mom..." and proceeds to open the door. Just then, Dawn realizes that some things just aren't meant to be, and as Buffy whips the door open, Dawn rips apart a portrait of her mother used in the spell, voiding the enchantment. At that moment, opening the door to nothing, Buffy breaks down, finally facing the reality of her mother's death. Buffy falls into Dawn's arms, holding her for the first time since Joyce's died and both sisters break down uncontrollably, united in their grief they collapse to the floor in one another's embrace, Dawn telling Buffy that "It's okay!"
Tropes in this episode include:
- Affably Evil: Doc
- An Axe to Grind: Spike vs. the Ghora Demon.
- Angst? What Angst?: In-Universe, Dawn accuses Buffy of having this reaction to their mother's death, since Buffy hasn't even cried and is just running treating the whole thing like some kind of chore. In reality, Buffy has been bottling up her emotions to deal with her grief and trying to stay strong for Dawn's sake.
- Armour-Piercing Slap: Buffy slaps Dawn when she accuses her sister of treating Joyce's funeral arrangements like "just another chore."
- Award Bait: The scene of Buffy's anguish near the end might as well have "For Your Emmy Considerations" subtitled under it.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Spike is accused by Xander of leaving flowers to get in Buffy's good books. Spike retorts that it's because Joyce was the only one not to treat him like a freak. Xander remains skeptical until Willow notices that he didn't leave a card—if they hadn't seen him, the flowers would have been anonymous.
- Black Eyes of Evil: Dawn warms to Doc when he helps her free of charge, then freaks out when his pupils disappear while he's shaking her hand.
- The Bus Came Back / Character Overlap: Angel turns up simply to comfort Buffy.
- Came Back Wrong: Implied with Joyce. This episode is also the first one that explicitly names the trope.Buffy: People come back... wrong.
- Cassandra Truth: As detailed under Because You Were Nice to Me above, Xander cannot be convinced that Spike's attempt to pay his respects to Joyce is anything but trying to get in good with Buffy until after Willow discovers that Spike didn't leave a card.
- Character Development / Pet the Dog: Spike helps Dawn because "I just don't like to see Summers women take it so hard on the chin" (as opposed to last year's "The Yoko Factor," when he enjoyed making Buffy miserable).
- Chekhov's Gunman: Doc reappears in the season finale to shed Dawn's blood and open Glory's portal.
- The Confidant: Buffy tells Angel that she might have saved her mother's life if she'd come home just ten minutes earlier.Angel: You said they told you it wouldn't have made a difference.
Buffy: They said... "probably"... wouldn't have made a difference. The exact thing they said... was "probably." I haven't told that to anyone.
- Damaged Soul: The resultant Joyce revenant would've suffered from this.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: The raising ritual.
- Did You Think I Can't Feel?: Buffy's response when Dawn accuses her of not even caring about Joyce's death. Hearing that, Buffy breaks down in tears and reveals she's actually been in Heroic Safe Mode until that point, because it's the only way she can deal with the grief.
- Dramatic Thunder: A distant peal of thunder is heard when Dawn casts the resurrection spell.
- Due to the Dead: Buffy and Angel spend a vigil over Joyce's grave. Counts as Fridge Horror too, given that it's Sunnydale and Staking the Loved One is always a possibility.
- Estranged Soap Family: Buffy can't contact her Disappeared Dad in Spain—the number is no longer good and calls to several other locations turn up nothing.
- Foreshadowing: Several of these for Season 6.
- The ethics and consequences of raising someone from the dead.
- Dawn turning to Willow/Tara as a surrogate family when she thinks her sister is emotionally distant.
- Willow's hesitation in explaining why bringing back Joyce would be wrong and magically pulling out the book for Dawn to notice are signs of her abusing magic and then justifying it.
- Tara is surprised Willow has started to keep a journal.Willow: Life goes by so fast, if you don't write stuff down it just gets... lost. And I want to remember.
Tara: Down to every last bagel?
Willow: Down to every last every thing I do with you.
- Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Xander and Anya, and lampshaded by her.
- He Knows Too Much: Ben stabs Jinx to prevent him talking to Glory, but he survives.
- Heroic Safe Mode: Buffy is in this state throughout the episode, suppressing her emotions and keeping herself busy because it's the only way she can deal with the grief over Joyce's death. Sadly, Dawn misinterprets her actions as not even caring
- I Miss Mom:
- Dawn tries to solve this problem by raising the dead. Never a pitfall-free solution to this problem.
- Climaxes in a real Tear Jerker scene when Buffy confronts Dawn over her use of dark magic. Dawn accuses Buffy of not even missing her, prompting Buffy to break down in tears, revealing that she was just trying to stay strong for Dawn's sake. Dawn is so moved and Buffy is so distraught after opening the floodgates to her grief that they end up switching positions on the resurrection spell, with Buffy rushing to greet "mom" at the door and Dawn deciding to undo the spell at the last second and let their mother rest in peace.
- In the Hood: Ben complains of Glory sending her 'Jawa rejects' to talk to him.
- It's Always Sunny at Funerals: Joyce is buried on a bright sunny day.
- Leitmotif: The Buffy/Angel love theme "Close Your Eyes" plays as they kiss.
- Money Fetish: Anya gets alarmed when Giles offers to let Dawn work the cash register.Anya: She gets to fondle the money?
- Motive Misidentification:
- When Spike shows up at the Summers house with a bouquet of flowers, Xander automatically assumes he's trying to score points with Buffy and can't be convinced that he's trying to pay his respects to Joyce. It isn't until Spike storms off that he and Willow discover that he didn't include a card with the flowers.
- Later, Dawn also accuses Spike of trying to score points with Buffy when he agrees to help her bring Joyce back. Spike makes it clear that Buffy is not to know of his involvement at all.Spike: I just don't like to see Summers women take it so hard on the chin, is all.
- My God, What Have I Done?:
- When Dawn accuses Buffy of showing no grief over Joyce's death, Buffy strikes her in a fit of anger, only to then recoil in horror, her face clearly screaming this trope as she realises what she's just done.
- Dawn gets her own moments later when she sees, far from being emotionless about Joyce's death, Buffy has been bottling up her emotions because it's the only way she can deal with the grief. Dawn's expression as Buffy steadily breaks down into grief-stricken sobbing goes from cold anger to tearful horror as she realises just how much her older sister is hurting.
- The Nicknamer: Ben refers to Glory as "The Most Unstable One." After being ordered about by Dawn, Spike dubs her "Bitty Buffy." Glory's minions refer to her as "Your New-and-Improvedness."
- Not So Dire: Continuing the subversions of this trope in the previous episode, "Forever" opens with Buffy stalking through a dark room full of caskets, lifting the lid of one and peeking inside... and then we realise she's not hunting vampires, but picking out a casket for her dead mother.
- Nothing Is Scarier: We never see what resurrected Joyce looks like. We only get a somewhat twisted shadow behind the curtains.
- Ominous Knocking: Dawn attempts to resurrect her dead mother and is implied to have created a malevolent undead version of her. We don't see much of the undead mother except for a few flashes, but we hear a knocking on the door. Buffy tries to resist for a while and goes to open it, at which point Dawn finally thinks better of it and breaks the spell.
- Overnight Age-Up: Played with. Buffy stands at her mother's grave as night falls, and the shift in color pallet from the aforementioned bright sunny day to darkness makes it look as if she ages 20 years in a few seconds.
- The Real HeroesBuffy: I can stick wood in vampires... but Mom was the strong one in real life. She always knew how to make things better... just what to say.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: The Ghora Demon is an enormous three-headed Sewer Gatoresque demon.Spike: Hey! Heads up! [Ghora demon lifts up three heads; Spike gets an Oh, Crap! look] Right, heads it is.
- Ritual Magic: Dawn is able to do the spell even though she's not a witch—Doc does warn her that a powerful witch is required to do it successfully though.
- Saying Too Much: Ben tells Jinx he won't help find the Key, because he refuses to harm an innocent. He realises too late that he's just tipped off Jinx that the Key is in human form.
- Sex for Solace: Angel has to leave Buffy to prevent this from happening.
- Shout-Out: To The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs.
- Sinister Silhouettes: As Buffy and Dawn argue, Joyce's shadow can be seen through the curtains moving towards the door.
- Songs of Solace: Giles is shown alone in his house listening to "Tales of Brave Ulysses," which he played for Joyce in "Band Candy".
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Willow after she tipped off Dawn which book to look in for information on resurrection spells. Despite Willow's clear floundering, Tara remains oblivious and trusting.Tara: [having discovered the book is missing] God, what else did she take?
Willow: Nothing! I-I think. I think n... she took nothing else. But maybe she did, and we should probably look. Because who knows? I-I don't.
- Tome of Eldritch Lore:Spike: I know good and well what you're up to. That book you've got is infamous.
- Villainous Demotivator: Glory tells Jinx not to bleed on the carpet and asks him to be patched up so she can hear his story again without all the annoying moaning. She does forgive him for his inadequate grovelling due to his injury though.
- Walk-In Chime-In: Spike does this to Dawn in the graveyard while she's fixated on gathering dirt from her mother's grave.Spike: I hope it's just dirt you're after. (Dawn starts in shock) Spell wants anything more than that, you're into zombie territory, and you don't want that.
- You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: Xander's word-for-word reaction when he sees Spike approach Buffy's house with a bouquet of flowers. He's firmly convinced that Spike is trying to take advantage of the situation to get into Buffy's good graces... only to discover after Spike storms off and tosses the flowers down that the flowers were anonymous and Spike really was trying to pay his respects to Joyce.