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'Buffy' nostalgia recap: Shadows, shadows everywhere

Season 5 | Episode 8 | “Shadow” | Aired Nov 21, 2000
Like so many Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode titles, “Shadow” has layers of meaning. The premise of the episode is so straightforward and bare-bones that, in describing it, it almost feels as though nothing happens. Joyce goes in for a CAT scan as doctors attempt to find the cause of her headaches and fainting spells. Aside from that, any description of the episode feels like recounting things that happened almost every week in season five: Spike does something creepy in the name of his love for Buffy; Riley feels emasculated and behaves in a way that makes fans of the show hate him; Dawn tries to help and makes things worse; the Scoobies research the Big Bad; Buffy struggles to balance her responsibilities as a friend, sister and daughter with her responsibilities as the Slayer.

But that’s really the best description of the episode because it’s in those seemingly-common moment that every faced their own shadows. Let’s break it down.


The episode title, “Shadow,” applies most literally and directly to Joyce, who is finally diagnosed. Her CAT scan reveals a shadow, a dark spot on her brain that could be just about anything, but turns out to be a tumor. The news of Joyce’s shadow rocks Buffy, who, for the first time, is faced with the potential death of a loved one at the hands of something she can’t punch to death. It’s worth mentioning, on a reflective note, that when this season originally aired, I was never scared for Joyce. I never imagined that she would actually die or, at least, that the tumor would actually be the thing to take her out. Rewatching is bringing up a lot of memories of my own naivety.


Buffy’s shadows are ever-present and obvious and the beginning of a theme that season six would go on to beat into the ground: Buffy is a shadow of her human self. She wants to be there for her mother and sister on a very human level, but her position as the Slayer doesn’t allow it. Her personal issues ultimately lose out to her responsibility to fight the Good Fight, meaning she’s not allowed to properly grieve the news of Joyce’s diagnosis. She can’t let anyone see her breaking down, as she says directly to Riley, who just wants her to be a normal girl, break down about her family’s bad news, and lean on him for support.


Speaking of RIley, his shadows are dark and growing darker by the second. He wants to be strong and I think he genuinely believes the desire is an altruistic one. He thinks that he just wants to be able to “Be There” for Buffy and that she’s not letting him “Be There” and that that means she must not really love him. There are a lot of flaws in this logic, the most fundamental of which is the idea that Riley’s desire to be strong is in anyone’s interest but his own. He doesn’t want to be strong to help Buffy; he wants to be strong to protect Buffy and in his very rigid and traditional view, that requires being stronger than Buffy. It’s a problematic view of the world, of Buffy as a person and of his own worth as a human being that leads Riley to start letting vampires bite him just for the thrill of it. It’s a weird plot, but it definitely made it easier for us to all say goodbye, Iowa. Not that it was going to be hard anyway…


As two of the most annoying characters on the show, Riley and Dawn have a lot in common. In “Shadow,” they hang out and Riley tries to cheer her up about her mom’s horrible health problems, explaining that the Summers women are strong and everything will be okay. In turn, Dawn tries to cheer up Riley about his relationship with Buffy, explaining that he’s really good for her because he doesn’t make her cry all the time like Angel did because she doesn’t get “all worked up” about Riley. It’s a classic Dawn moment, allegedly trying to help and instead making things a million percent worse.

But Dawn’s trope of being the annoying younger sister is also starting to change. Her shadow is the one the monks put over everyone when they inserted her into the Slayer’s life for protection, and it’s fading. Glory has officially made contact with the Scoobies (although they didn’t realize it at the time, mistaking her for a regular old Magic Box customer), and with scary demons stopping cold when faced with a Dawn scream, it’s only a matter of time before Buffy has to ‘fess to Dawn’s supernatural status to the rest of the gang. It’s a whole thing.


Spike’s shadows are the truly dark and twisty variety (sorry, Meredith Grey, but you’ve got nothing on Spike in the dark and twisty department). His romantic obsession with Buffy is growing and he’s dancing the line between normal, villain creepy and actual, real world, scary stalker crazy. Okay, actually, he’s crossed that line. He breaks into Buffy’s house to smell her clothes and is thrown out by Riley (but not before planting more “Buffy doesn’t love you” seeds in his impressionable brain). Soon, Spike will graduate to villain creepy scary stalker, a combination that takes all of the worst elements of his undead lurking, big picture bad guy planning and pathetic clothes-sniffing stalker tendencies and combines them in a stew that yields the Buffy sexbot. Yuck. I mean, yeah, the BuffyBot is hilarious and surprisingly useful in non-sex ways down the line, but still…yuck.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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