An extraordinary feast is served up in this first Buffy script from Drew Goddard, although it comes close to tasting too rich.
Quite apart from the jaw-droppingly marvellous bonus track from Once More With Feeling, there's an hilarious glimpse into Anya's Viking-era life; an opulent revelation about her role in a Russian revolution; and a CGI spider that may be scarier than any previous TV arachnid.
First-time writers are sometimes liable to smother their efforts with unwieldy devices, but the recipe here has been whipped into a powerful whole. Yes, once again, the chance to resolve an issue of life and death is evaded rather hastily, slightly dulling its impact. Apart from that, Selfless is the season's most vivid episode to date.
Anya stories are usually light-hearted, fluffy (though not like a bunny) and fun. There's bits of that here, in the amusing flashback sequences, but the story framing them is as dark and nasty as anyone could want.
In stark contrast to sweet homemaker Aud in the quiet Village of Bizarre Dialogue, current day Anya is caught up in a social whirl of bloody demonic vengeance and lovingly cherished grudges. The flips from florid fantasy to grim reality make the emotion of this episode all the more convincing - there's true desperation in the cry, "I take it back," whether said by Anya or her vengee.
It's great - hard, sharp stuff, until, as usual in this series, it all goes wrong in the last few minutes. After what we've had so far, why go out on a load of girly crying without any point to it.
The cameo appearance of D'Hoffryn is a lovely treat - it's a huge pity we've never seen more of this excellent character. He should get a spin-off. "Vengeance and the City", perhaps.
As far as we can tell, this episode was filmed during the great leather trouser shortage of 2002. It's the only explanation for the peculiar outfit Sarah Michelle Gellar is wearing. Her trousers start off in classic Buffy leather style, but seem to give up halfway down her bottom and turn into something far less shiny. Perhaps they needed the remainder to add extra vents to David Boreanaz’s jackets?
It was probably a mistake to attempt an encore to Once More With Feeling half way through, but otherwise this is an impressive debut from newcomer Drew Goddard, who seems keener than most these days to experiment with the show’s format. His task is made easier by the always adorable Emma Caulfield, who has been the most watchable character on the show for some time now.
I shall mourn the loss of Kali Rocha’s Halfrek, whose pithy remarks and flamboyant attitude might have made for some delightful sparring opportunities with Andy Hallett’s Lorne over on Angel.