Lois McMaster Bujold's Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan said that when you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. This week's Buffy was all about consequences springing from actions. And, perhaps, on forgiveness or atonement, or what happens if that's not quite possible.
Last year, three characters we mostly like performed reprehensible actions - Xander left Anya at the altar; Spike nearly raped Buffy; Willow nearly destroyed the world and did kill Warren. All were awful, all made me hurt and cringe and cry. All left the other parties damaged. Anya was so hurt she reverted to old patterns, and the results have been very bad indeed. She's dealt out, even in her current ineffectual manner, more pain than Xander gave her. To whit, she was humilated badly, but she also got, as she deserved, all the sympathy.
All last season, the Spike/Buffy foreplay has been violent, and frightening, and starting with Buffy saying "No" before allowing him to. Service. Her. This does not excuse what he did. She made it clear that this time her "no" was serious, and he chose to ignore it. Unlike Anya, though, Buffy hasn't chosen to let this make her bitter. She hates Spike. She has every reason to hate Spike - I loved that his touch brought *that* back, not any other times they'd had sex. And she just went on. Perhaps because she defeated him. Or maybe because that's what Buffy does, or should do - go on.
So Spike turned the consequences on his himself. His rape made him choose another action - to get a soul. And he has one, and it's tearing him apart. He can't get forgiveness from Buffy. He can't get it from himself. He can only. Try to find a way to not be the sort of person who could do it at all. And a soul isn't the answer - Warren was evil. He was an attempted rapist and a murderer. And he certainly had a soul. (I suspect that Warren did use Andrew for sexual relief, too, making him believe he was loved.) I don't think Spike knows what it is. And now he's nuts.
And now there's Willow. Willow hasn't paid for anything yet. She's spent the summer with Giles and the Coven and learned about herself in ways she couldn't do on her own. She's still waiting for consequences. And there's no one to ask forgiveness of, either. No way to atone for a murder. The best she can hope for is for her friends to not shun her completely. And so, she's lost in limbo, with only the knowledge that she's needed to bring her home.
Anya can't forgive; it's not in her nature. Buffy can't forgive, either, so Spike finds his own way. Willow is looking for redemption in a world that can't give her any.
Bleak world Joss is giving us. Bleak, but powerful and with much potential.