If you can overlook the poor quality of the snake demon, Shadow is another good episode. Joyce’s illness is the emotional core of the episode for Buffy. I may be reaching, but I see Joyce’s “shadow” as a metaphor for the shadow of uncertainty cast on Buffy’s journey. If I’m right about that, the season’s focus on split personalities makes it natural that Joyce’s illness is in the brain.
Interestingly, what’s hidden in the “shadow” is Dawn. We get this from Glory’s spell (my emphasis):
GLORY: (To the snake demon) The power is yours to see what is unseen. To find what is shrouded in shadow. Already, you know what I seek. I have given you form, now find for me the key.
Shadow opens the morning after Fool For Love and it turns out Spike isn’t the only fool for love. Riley’s inability to keep up with Buffy is really getting to him. Spike successfully preys on the exact point of Riley’s insecurity, and we see that Riley has no real response even if Spike’s claims about Buffy are dubious: “Buffy's got a type, and you're not it. She likes us dangerous, rough, occasionally bumpy in the forehead region. (patronizingly) Not that she doesn't like you ... but sorry Charlie, you're just not dark enough.” Of course, had Riley not spent his morning making the tomb go boom, he might have actually been there for Buffy.
Riley also criticized Buffy for not taking him along when she went after Glory, but that’s exactly what he did in FFL, as Xander tells him directly. “Riley gets darker and darker throughout this season, and I think [going after the vampires all by himself in FFL] was kind of a turn for him.” (Doug Petrie)
Going back to Sandy is strong evidence that Riley was, as he admitted to Xander, “just a little crazed”. It certainly was crazy, for more than one reason. While Buffy was waiting all by herself in the hospital and while Dawn could have used some protection in the Magic Shop, Riley was indulging his insecurities with a vampire. Letting Sandy bite him was stupid. Buffy would see it as a betrayal, just as Riley did (with less justification) when she “let” Dracula bite her. I mean, imagine how Edward would react if Bella went out and let herself get bit by someone else, or even just made out with him in a car. J
If getting bit was stupid, staking Sandy, vampire though she was, for doing what he wanted is a new low for Riley. I’ll revisit this point when we get to Into the Woods.
There’s an irony in all this, one that Dawn’s comment to Riley brings front and center. Buffy was emotionally invested in Angel, though she had sex with him just once and spent most of S3 not even kissing him. We see Buffy much more physically demonstrative with Riley, yet he’s convinced she’s not feeling the emotional connection. “She doesn't get all worked up like that over you.” And that’s the other half of Riley’s problem. It’s the same tension we’ve seen since the dueling attitudes toward love we were given by Mr. Platt in Beauty and the Beasts and Spike’s famous “Love isn’t brains” speech in Lover’s Walk.
Riley desperately feels left out by Buffy, but can’t recognize that he’s demanding to intrude on both her Slayer duties and her personal trauma. Buffy needs to be strong for Joyce and Dawn. It’s very hard to take on that role while being “weak” so that Riley can be the one to comfort her, which is what he seems to want. Besides, Buffy has always been prone to hold her emotions close and not confide in others. Riley’s demanding something from her that’s contrary to her basic nature.
Riley’s holding a double-edged sword: he’s upset because she won’t give him the passionate attention he craves, but he’s so focused on his own needs that he isn’t giving her the support she needs. From the viewpoint of an unbiased observer, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he’s being selfish under the circumstances. As Xander tells him, Buffy can’t fight Joyce’s tumor, so needs to confront something she can fight (note that she actually can’t fight Glory – there’s a metaphor there). Riley is actually ducking the real confrontation because he’s unwilling to face up to his own fears.
Trivia notes: (1) Since Dawn asked, a CAT scan is, as Buffy said, similar to an x-ray. The letters stand for “computed axial tomography”. (2) The two recent de-invitation spells Spike mentioned were done in BvD (Dracula) and Real Me (Harmony). Spike actually got his invite in Becoming 2 and that has never been revoked even though he was far from harmless for much of the time. (3) Spike’s “sorry Charlie” refers to the commercials for StarKist Tuna. (4) Anya’s strong reaction to Xander’s wish for a cult of bunny worshipers relates to her fear of bunnies which we saw in Fear, Itself. (5) This is the episode where we learn Glory’s name. (6) When the cobra turns into the monster, Dreg shouts “He is arisen.” That phrase is a take-off from Matthew 28:6, which refers to Jesus. (7) Giles didn’t have the Aleister Crowley album the customer wanted. Crowley was a famous occultist and mystic. AFAIK, he never made an album; it’s a joke. (8) Buffy strangling the snake demon reminds me of Princess Leia with Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi.