Buffy's feeling lousy about everything. I mean everything. She's working for a local fast food restaurant and a manager who's studying for his MBA at night, and who blows hard about politics while Buffy's simply trying to grind through the day. Buffy's responsible for house payments, tuition, and all other sorts of bills adults confront on a day-to-day basis. At night, she slays vampires who are repulsed by her smell. Her friends, and even Dawn, plan excursions to The Bronze without her, because Buffy's been a drag ever since she came back from the dead. While her friends frolic in The Bronze, Buffy cleans a grass stain from her coat. The next morning, she oversleeps and misses trash collection. Buffy's trapped in a sadomasochistic relationship with Spike, a soulless vampire. Each sexual encounter leaves Buffy feeling worse about herself. Overall, she's just sad, frustrated and lonely.
The Doublemeat Palace manager finally lets her work the counter instead of the grill. Buffy's first customer takes her by surprise. Riley Finn stands in front of her, dressed in black, with a scar on the left side of his face; it's like the sun came out on a dismal day for Buffy Summer. She doesn't form a coherent sentence and responds to what he says with bizarre non-sequiturs--"I have a cow on my hat"--and so on. Riley left Sunnydale over a year ago,. Their relationship ended badly. Buffy would've told him to stay, but she missed him by a couple of seconds. Now, her life is shit, and Riley's isn't. Later, she asks if he waited until the moment his life hit perfection to return and rub it in Buffy's face. Riley didn't. Buffy's question is a symptom of her own sense of self-worth. Riley's in town hunting a demon with his gorgeous badass wife, Sam. They needed the Slayer to track down a demon but fail to tell her the mission is "Do Not Kill." So, Buffy screws up, just like she screws up dinner earlier in the episode and has screwed up her life up to now.
Riley's presence is the topping on a horrible sundae for Buffy. Xander delivered a totally awesome monologue in "Into The Woods" about why Buffy needs to chase after Riley before he leaves Sunnydale for good. Riley's a solid and stable man--a rock even. Riley came into Buffy's life months after Angel left for LA and weeks after Parker used her for sex. Riley's the boy who got away. Buffy lost her mother and Giles, can't beat three geeks, has weird sex with Spike on The Bronze inside balcony, and works in fast food. Riley's married and a member of a badass black-ops demon fighting team with kickass benefits. Sam could've been Buffy if Buffy didn't push him away. Riley and Sam tag team on demons, which is what Buffy and Riley used to do. Sam's perceptive and sensitive; she possesses a keen insight into people she's just met. She helps Xander plan the wedding, comforts Willow about her magic addiction, and even relates with Buffy about Riley. Buffy's silently stung when she hears about Riley getting over her. It hurts Buffy that she was the girl Riley needed to move on from to find the love of his life.
A bad couple of days hits a breaking point when Riley finds Buffy in a crypt with Spike, naked. Buffy's so ashamed. Riley went to the crypt because Spike's been harboring killer demon baby eggs, so Buffy's reminded once more about Spike's lack of soul. The demon baby eggs are taken care of, and Spike gets his ass kicked. Riley doesn't rush to judgment; he doesn't make her feel as small and useless as a piece of trash; instead he helps her feel better. The episode's titled "As You Were" for a reason: Buffy needs to return to the person she was before life became so hard to bear. The whole episode builds to Buffy and Riley's final conversation. Beforehand, and before Buffy knows about Sam, she perceives Riley as her savior; she eyes him like they'll rekindle what they lost last year. Their romance is dead, though, but Riley's love for her isn't. The mark of a mature person is his or her capacity, or ability, to love. Riley tells her not to worry or dwell upon her occupation, fast food smell, or any of the myriad of things getting her down. Her ex appreciates the life he has currently. He knows life could turn his life upside down in a second. Its up and downs are part of the deal of living. Riley advises Buffy to remember one thing only, all the time, whenever she's up or down: herself: that she's a hell of a woman.
The following morning, Buffy ends her destructive sadomasochistic relationship with Spike. Riley reminded her of herself, of the deep strength she possesses to not only fight demons and vampires and save the world, but to fight herself against temptations and impulses and things that will make her feel less than whole, in other words, to save herself too. She leaves the crypt with a smile and walks into the sunshine.
Douglas Petrie did a tremendous job writing and directing "As You Were." The episode feels self-contained like a play. The first act doesn't feature the usual fireworks. It's slow and meditative and careful to establish how low Buffy feels before ending on Riley's return at Doublemeat Palace. The second act's devoted to Riley and Buffy as Buffy wonders whether they can be together again. Buffy's feelings come across in little way like the way she looks at him, touches him, and speaks. The act ends on the wife reveal. The killer eggs exist because Buffy and Riley need to accomplish something. The goodbye scene with Riley and Sam and the Scoobies is terrific because of how Petrie blocked it. Buffy stands to the side and actually disappears during the hugs and kisses. An overhead shot from the perspective of Riley and Sam shows Buffy standing far apart from her friends. Buffy's alienation is excellently depicted in "As You Were." If the whole season could've had the tone of "As You Were," I might not shudder every time I see the DVD box.