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After spending the first two episodes unpacking the baggage from season two, it's finally time for some major developments that herald the new storyline for season three. Which is not to say, of course, that no baggage remains to be worked through, because it's certainly still around in this episode. Find out more after the jump.
The introduction of a new Slayer isn't as big a shock the second time around: as Cordelia surmises, Kendra's death has led to the calling of another Slayer, which makes a certain amount of sense. There's some healthy rehashing of "What's My Line" as Joyce wonders whether Faith's arrival means that Buffy doesn't have to be the Slayer anymore. It makes sense that Joyce would have questions like these: she wasn't around last time we the issue was raised. And just when Buffy's gotten over the feeling that her friends no longer need her (see "Dead Man's Party") here comes Faith to bring all that up again.
"The girl's not playing with a full deck, Giles. She has almost no deck. She has a three."
But even while Faith raises the same questions Kendra did (mostly regarding her efficacy as the slayer) she does it by being the anti-Kendra: instead of being far too by-the-book, she's a loose cannon. This is communicated in lots of obvious ways, from her vocabulary to her attire, but most importantly in her combat style: while Buffy is usually all business, Faith prefers a pummeling to a straight slaying. Sure, Buffy's been rougher than necessary on a bad day, but this is how Faith acts as a matter of course. There are all sorts of issues raised around Faith, and very few of them are put to rest by the end of the episode. Sure, she comes through in the end in terms of taking down the bad guy, so we accept her. But only begrudgingly. She's still a wild card and a threat to Buffy.
As far as Angel's return is concerned, I won't even try to argue that it doesn't cheapen the end of season two because it plainly does. But at the very least, It's done well: the false ending (fade out on the claddagh ring, then fade back in again) really takes you by surprise (I'm reminded of a similar trick pulled in Doctor Who's "Forest of the Dead"). Joss is up to his old tricks again: Just when Buffy's finally ready to move on from Angel and begin a relationship with the pleasantly normal Scott, Angel returns. It's how Joss operates: as soon as you've gotten comfortable in the situation, he turns it on its head. It's reminiscent of How Buffy learns at the moment she kills Angel that he has regained his soul, and in fact that revelation is referred to here as Buffy confesses it to Giles. This revelation (which, to the audience, is nothing of the sort) would have been a fine ending to the episode, but it ends up working even better as a preface to Angel's return.
There's a lot going on in the episode, then, which is lucky because Kakistos makes for an unmemorable adversary. Meanwhile, the series gains a new recurring villain in Mr. Trick, and he's simply no Spike. But he's memorable and interesting in his own way, certainly more so than Kakistos. Either way, it's clear even at this early stage that the writers are planning big things for the season, which is exciting and makes this episode greater than the sum of its parts.