Directed by David Solomon
Buffy and Willow criticize their bright green dresses and talk about the rehearsal dinner from the night before. It was explained that Anya's friends are circus people, which explains their very odd appearances; surprisingly, the Harris family bought it. Willow has the honor of best man and Buffy, Dawn, and Tara are bridesmaids. Anya hugs both girls in excitement about their gowns, which she of course loves.
Xander tries to get dressed with his family and Anya's demon friends invading his apartment. Xander's parents arrive: Mrs. Harris rants about not being in the wedding pictures, and Mr. Harris expresses his distaste for the circus people on Anya's side. Xander's cousin Carol asks Xander if Anya's demon friend Krelvin would be interested in dating her. Outside on the streets of Sunnydale, an old man appears out of thin air and walks off purposefully.
Buffy forces Xander into his cummerbund and works on his bow tie while offering her happy wishes to Xander on his special day. Tara and Willow button Anya into her dress while the bride-to-be rehearses her vows, excitedly talking about how happy she is. Xander's uncle Rory shows off his "date" to Dawn, but his date is actually just one of the caterers. D'Hoffryn arrives along with Halfrek and Dawn greets them at the door. D'Hoffryn offers his very alive wedding gift in a box to Dawn.
Dawn continues to mingle through the crowd and encounters Spike with a goth date. Finally ready, Buffy and Xander proceed toward the crowd of mingling guests while reviewing the tasks necessary to keep Xander's parents out of trouble. Xander greets people and is suddenly assaulted by people complaining about problems. Xander's drunken father offers a toast to the waiting wedding attendees and insults the demons on Anya's side of the "family". Clem and another demon talk about how annoying the man is, but before a fight can break out between Mr. Harris and one of the demons, Buffy pulls the drunk man away.
The old man in a trench coat drags Xander away from the others and explains that he is Xander Harris from the future (despite the fact the old man has blue eyes and Nicholas Brendon has hazel-brown eyes, something Xander never seems to wonder about), and the wedding cannot take place. As proof, he shows the younger Xander the Sphere of the Future, a crystal ball that will show Xander his future. In a vision, Xander sits watching TV, yelling at Anya while their son runs around teasing Anya's part-demon daughter. Anya explains that she's going to make money while he sits around wounded and worthless. An argument breaks out as they talk about how he got injured helping Buffy, although that didn't save her life. Xander then sees himself with Anya and their two now-teenage kids eat at a restaurant while the teens fight and Anya bitterly notes Xander's drinking.
Years later, in their kitchen, Anya yells at Xander for ruining her life and blames him for her misery. He yells back, raising a frying pan - but the vision of the future abruptly ends as he hurls the pan at her. Xander, shocked by the visions, is warned by the old man not to marry Anya.
Buffy finds Spike alone and the two talk about the wedding and Spike's attempt to make her jealous with his date. After he finds that his efforts worked, Spike realizes it's best to just leave and takes his date away.
Willow runs into Xander in the kitchen and offers the final "best man" talk then leaves him to practice his vows. Anya continues to go over her vows in front of Tara, who advises against using the word "sex poodle". As the music begins, Buffy arrives to get Anya, but Willow pulls her out of the room and breaks the news that Xander is gone. Stalling while Willow looks for Xander, Buffy uses the excuse that the minister is also a doctor and the ceremony will be delayed while he performs an emergency c-section.
Anya tries her vows one more time while elsewhere, Xander walks away in the rain. Mr. Harris and Mrs. Harris head back to the bar, complaining about Anya ruining the wedding. Buffy tries to stall the crowd with charades and juggling as Dawn chats outside with a teenage demon and both compare their embarrassing family and friends. Impatient, Anya heads out towards the wedding crowd, determined to get on with the wedding. The news that Xander is gone is accidentally spilled to Anya as Dawn talks to the demon teen and Anya freaks out.
Mr. Harris and other demons begin to argue and then a huge fight breaks out between the two sides of the wedding guests. Tara gets caught up in the battle, but Willow rescues her. Cousin Carol directs Anya to the man in the trench coat and Anya talks to him about what he did to scare Xander off. She finds that the man is really a demon she cursed many years ago who seeks revenge against her. He showed Xander false images about his future to ruin Anya's wedding.
She begins to cry and the demon strikes out at her, prompting Buffy to get involved. Buffy starts to attack the demon and Xander arrives to help save Anya. Anya explains to Xander that he saw only lies in those visions, but Xander isn't exactly relieved. Buffy and Xander finish the demon off and the crowd cheers. Fighting continues, but Anya breaks it up and everyone returns to his or her seats. Xander and Anya talk privately before the ceremony and Xander explains that he can't marry her.
Motivated by the fear of turning into an abusive drunk like his father, Xander refuses to allow himself the opportunity to marry Anya and ever hurt her in that way. Anya tries to convince him otherwise, but fails and Xander leaves her, forcing Anya to broken-heartedly walk down the aisle alone.
Buffy, Willow, and Dawn sit around at the house and talk about what happened with Xander and Anya. They feel sorry for both of them and wonder where Xander is. Meanwhile, Xander checks into a motel by himself. Sad and depressed, Anya sits alone until D'Hoffryn offers her sympathy, comfort, and her job as a vengeance demon back.
- Action Dress Rip: Buffy tears her radioactive dress to fight the demon Stewart Burns. Doubles as a callback to that one time in a bank.
- The Alcoholic: Anthony Harris
- Awful Wedded Life: What Xander sees in his future.
- Best Woman: Xander picks Willow as his best "man". Of course, her being a woman does not stop her from flirting with one of the bridesmaids. She does try to use it as an excuse to get out of her horrible bridesmaid dress, though.Willow: I'm supposed to be best man. Shouldn't I be all ...Marlene Dietrich-y in a dashing tuxedo number?Buffy: No.Willow: Oh. [pouts]Buffy: That would be totally unfair. We must share equally in the cosmic joke that is bridesmaids-dom.
- Bitter Wedding Speech: Xander's father makes a bitter speech about his own wife before the wedding. The fact that his parents have such a bad relationship is strongly implied to be one of the reasons Xander winds up leaving Anya at the altar.
- Blatant Lies / Dissimile: Buffy claiming the minister is late because he's also a doctor who had to do an emergency C-section.Buffy: He's half-minister, half-doctor, he's a, um, ah, um, mini...tor. Not of course to be confused with a minotaur, because he's all, you know, man, this doctor-minister-man. No bull-parts whatsoever.
- Brick Joke: Buffy mentions that Xander's dad threw up in her purse during the wedding rehearsal. Later she hauls Mr Harris away from the bar and he says, "Didn't you own a sorta square, pinkish purse?" Buffy: "I did."
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: During Anya and Xander's wedding, a demon shows up disguised as Xander from the future to destroy everything, most horribly making it seem like Xander doesn't love Anya. It turns out this demon was actually once an adulterous human whom Anya punished back in her days as a vengeance demon. Anya, who had probably done horrible things to thousands of them (or more) in her life time, has no memory of this. This is an unusual case, since Anya comes out as sympathetic rather than the demon.
- Continuity Nod: Willow hints at what happened another time she and Xander were alone in formal clothes:Willow: It's a good thing I realized I was gay. Otherwise, hey, you, me and formal wear...
- Before Buffy even thinks about taking on Demon Stewart Burns, she promptly rips her dress for better maneuverability.
- Create Your Own Villain: The demon is a former philanderer Anya cursed when she was a vengeance demon.
- Creator In-Joke: Rebecca Rand Kirshner reveals in her DVD commentary of this episode that Anya's reference to herself as a "sex poodle" was a reference to colleague Jane Espenson who had been using the name herself.
- Crystal Ball: Essentially what the old man uses to show Xander the future.
- Domestic Abuse: Future!Xander (actually the demon Stewart Burns) shows Xander he will become an abusive husband. Anthony Harris is verbally abusive of his wife Jessica.
- Description Cut: "Sometimes two people, all they bring each other is pain." Cut to Buffy talking to Spike.
- Diabolus ex Machina: Xander is told a lot of nasty things about his marriage with Anya by an old man who claimed to be Xander himself from the future. He then finds out that "old Xander" is an impostor demon, and that everything it said was a lie. He actually participates in fighting the demon and the Scoobies manage to kill it. Then Xander decides to leave Anya at the altar, anyway.
- Double Entendre: Plenty from the Harris family. Buffy takes Xander's suggestion of a pre-marriage quickie better than that of his father.Mr. Harris: Hey, what do you say we slip in the back room and I show you my—Buffy: You finish that sentence and I guarantee you won't have anything to show.
- Downer Ending: Xander leaves Anya at the altar.
- Dramatic Thunder: Used for the Not So Dire moment, but also for foreshadowing.Anya: This is the happiest day of my life. (thunder rolls)
- Exact Eavesdropping: Dawn reveals that Xander has run off, not realising Anya is in earshot.
- Fake-Out Opening: The episode opens with Buffy and Willow staring at something hideous offscreen as thunder and lightning rumble outside. Their dialogue implies that they're looking at a demon. Turns out it's much worse - Anya's hideous bridesmaids dresses.
- Frying Pan of Doom: Played seriously when Future!Xander uses one on Future!Anya when she chews him out for being a terrible husband.
- Future Me Scares Me: Xander fears he'll end up an abusive drunken layabout like his father, hated by his wife and children.
- Hope Spot: After the supposed Xander from the future reveals his ruse and his real demon form, the real Xander comes back, and is the one to finish the demon off. Xander knows the visions he was shown were fake and Anya is in high spirits... and then Xander admits he isn't ready to get married and walks off again.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: Anya's bridesmaid's dresses are neon green with ruffled trim. Willow tries to argue that she should have been allowed to wear a suit as she's Xander's Best Woman but Buffy insists she has to share the horror along with Dawn and Tara.Spike: It's nice to watch you be happy. For them, even. I don't see it a lot. You glow.
Buffy: That's because the dress is radioactive.
- Improvised Weapon: Buffy strangles the demon with a length of tulle and Xander crushes its head with an ornamental pillar.
- Ironic Juxtaposition: Anya perfecting her vows against a distraught Xander walking in the rain.
- Jacob Marley Warning: Xander meets his future self who tells him he will be unhappy marrying Anya. Subverted when it turns out future Xander is actually one of Anya's victims pretending to be Xander.
- Love Confession: Subverted; Anya finally perfects her marriage vow when Xander has already made the decision to call off the wedding.Okay. For the last time. "I, Anya, want to marry you, Xander, because... I love you and I'll always love you. And... before I knew you, I was like a completely different person. Not even a person, really... and I had seen what love could do to people, and it was... hurt and sadness. Alone was better. And then, suddenly there was you, and... you knew me. You saw me, and it was this... thing. You make me feel safe and warm. So, I get it now. I finally get love, Xander. I really do."
- Lyrical Dissonance: "Here Comes The Bride" playing as a tearful Anya walks alone down the aisle.
- Mundane Utility: Using Slayer strength to fasten das cummerbund!
- No Body Left Behind: Averted, so Willow suggests covering the dead demon with flowers.
- Not So Dire: The episode begins with Buffy and Willow, accompanied by Dramatic Thunder, discussing how horrible "that thing with the arms" is. It turns out they're discussing the dresses they're supposed to wear for Anya's wedding.
- Operation: Jealousy: Spike brings a Goth girlfriend to the wedding to make Buffy jealous. Buffy tells him that it worked and Spike, no longer angry at Buffy, just leaves quietly.
- Platonic Life-Partners:Willow: Do you know how much I love you?Xander: Mmm ... 'bout half as much as I love you.
- Poor Communication Kills: Both Anya and Xander pay the price for not expressing the doubts they had as far back as the beginning of the season, and which came out into the open in "Once More With Feeling". Similarly, it is never fully clear that Anya gets why Xander leaves her at the altar - not because he doesn't love her, but because he's afraid of what he might do to her.
- Runaway Groom: Xander dumps Anya at the altar, although that's just cold feet; there's no Other Woman involved. There were exceptional circumstances, too: an old man claiming to be Xander himself from the future showed up, showing young Xander horrible visions implying he would kill Anya if the two of them got together (which merely augmented his fear from his parents' own unhappy marriage). It turns out this old man is lying; he's actually an old enemy of Anya's trying to ruin her wedding out of revenge, but by the time this comes out Xander is too freaked out to go through with it. Both Anya and Xander are depicted sympathetically.
- Revealing Hug: When Xander hugs Willow.
- Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Future!Xander appears to warn Xander not to go ahead with the wedding as it will ruin both Anya and Xander's lives. Subverted when Future!Xander turns out to be a demon seeking revenge on Anya.
- Shipper on Deck: Buffy believes that Xander and Anya's marriage is a good omen for finding her own One True Love.You were my light at the end of the tunnel. Turns out it was an oncoming train.
- Ship Tease: Willow and Tara make googly eyes. Buffy and Willow flirt with the handsome tux-wearing man of the hour. Spike and Buffy's quiet post-breakup conversation shows they still have feelings for each other.
- Smash Cut: Xander seeing the images in the crystal ball.
- Tempting FateXander: Now nothing on Earth can stop this wedding.
- That Came Out Wrong:D'Hoffryn: Hymen's greetings.Dawn: Hy— what?D'Hoffryn: Hymen, the God of Matrimony. His salutations upon you. May the love we celebrate today avoid an almost inevitable decline.
- Unusual Ears: We see visions of Xander's supposed future. In these visions, his vision-daughter is sporting a pair of clearly non-human floppy ears, indicating that she's part-demon.
- Verbal Backspace: Buffy admits Spike flaunting his ho-biscuit bothers her.Spike: I'm sorry.....I mean: good!
- Wedding Smashers: Xander and Anya's wedding is crashed by one of her former victims, looking for a little payback.
- Weirdness Censor: Taken Up to Eleven with Anya trying to pass off her demonic relatives as "circus folk".
- Wham Episode: Xander breaks up with Anya on the day of their wedding.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Even the fans who accept Xander leaving Anya tend to think his leaving her to explain to the guests makes him look like too much of an asshole.
- Written-In Absence: There was a deleted scene where Willow and Dawn discuss why Giles couldn't make it to the wedding - he's busy hunting a demon in England, though he does send flowers.