We begin with a whuump and Buffy is knocked down, reaching for purchase, to brace herself even as her hand is reaching out to the audience. Then a black slash breaks to Caleb who's imparting his know-it-all message. Buffy keeps forgetting the lesson that you "can't kill what's inside you." Buffy's coping mechanisms are so jumbled that she's often resorted to the most basic forms of fight-or-flight and denial mixed together. She tries to deny her calling as the Slayer, she runs away from her calling as the Slayer, she actively fights against her calling as the Slayer. Acceptance occurs in brief moments ("Me." - Becoming Pt 2) that are quickly shattered. The smile of Chosen is displaced by the opening events of Season 8. And Buffy's been trying to avoid "what's inside" ever since. She "can't kill" the darkness inside her ("I am the dark." - Buffy Long Way Home); she can't fight it and she doesn't know how to accept it - so she runs. Set-up to explain her actions in Espenson's Retreat arc and Buffy's journey to Tibet.
Of course, Buffy's also now in a room similar to where she had a vision of her future self broken and bloodied, experiencing "betrayal, the closest, the most unexpected." Betrayal of self, betrayal of those she trusts most, betrayal of her own power? Could that image of Buffy lying on the ground crying in pain be because her Slayer power has betrayed her, the darkness she tries to hide from but can never be rid of? What happens if she finally gets her wish and is no longer "the dark"? She can't kill what's inside her, but can it be excised?
Title! Titles that mean something. It's "always darkest before the dawn"? Contrasts of light and dark. The light and dark of a Slayer, of Buffy. Of a warrior for the light who is born of darkness. The light humor of her dream here contrasting the darker fears and guilt that birthed it. Foreshadowing, that it's going to get much darker before the light returns...
And we segue from Buffy's surprise at Caleb's return in her dream and slash over to a close-up of Buffy's eyes at hearing Spike accusing her of "leaving [her] lads in the lurch." I love Whedon because these lines resonate on many levels. Buffy left her enemies (Caleb, Warren, Amy) in the crater, she left Spike in the Hellmouth, she left both Angel and Spike in the lurch by setting up a decoy for them to chase in The Girls in Question. And what glorious meta for Buffy leaving her "lads in the lurch" when "in the lurch" means to be in a vulnerable and unsupported position (Merriam-Webster's). *coughs* Canon *coughs* Buffy/Joss has left her/his lads "in the lurch" over at IDW for the past few months, to be sure, a vulnerable and unsupported canon position for Buffy's lads. Which then carries over to Buffy leaving her lads "in a Hell dimension", resonating in the most obvious way because Buffy sent Angel to Hell back in Season 2, but also because Buffy/Joss left her lads in a Hell dimension in After the Fall. And her eloquent response to these accusations is Whuh...
So Buffy's self in her dream overcomes her shock at seeing Spike and Angel to express how much she's missed them. Except she doesn't even separate them into different individuals - they're both "you" and she doesn't hesitate with her feelings because it's a dream. Her dream!Angel-and-Spike say that she can't tell them apart - "it's the outfits" - but in reality they have become so similar in meaning and affection to her. Both are absent from her life, missed and a source of guilt over being the death of them (Becoming, Chosen). Dream!Angel is apparently "being too nice", both to Buffy and to Spike. Is this perhaps manifesting guilt that Buffy's wronged Angel and he's been too nice and understanding to her about a lot of things (the cookie dough speech, the not trusting him message of Damage, the run around in TGIQ, Slayer Org. not helping Fred, etc.)? Not that Buffy herself might necessarily be aware of all this, but from a meta level of guilt in ways Buffy has affected Angel.
"I'm just soft on bottle blondes" of course shows the attraction to Buffy and Spike here, but let's not forget when Cordelia became a bottle blonde in AtS Season 3 and Angel was most definitely "soft on" her. In fact, he was downright pathetic at times (sorry, my own personal judgment of the dork!Angel:saint!Cordy correlation). Then we do have one more blonde - Darla. Oh yeah, Angel has a type alright. Kinda makes you wonder why Spike dyed his hair to begin with back in the 70's - was he missing his grandsire? Heh. I know, I know, it was a thing back then.
As has been popularly noted, no special preference is shown in the way Buffy views Angel and Spike. They're one and the same to her. So whatever decision she's making, either she's so thoroughly confused herself that she will never make that decision or she'll have to choose them both because they're the same in her mind and heart. Alone or Spuffel apparently.
Her mind thinks she deserves to be alone. As Caleb says, she's a "dirty girl" who only reaches out to Angel and Spike when she's "feeling needy" ("Will you just hold me?" - Touched, "I'm seriously needy right now." - Forever) but later puts them back in their box when she retreats inside herself. So alone, then. And the fantasy of Angel and Spike going at it with "oil involved" has transformed into them going at it not over her, but completely without her. Now she's the one left in the lurch. Buffy's always been the object of romantic interest. Pursued and forever loved by Angel; pursued by Riley; pursued, obsessed and made the living inspiration for Spike. And now, she's not. Has Buffy burned too many lovers up in Hellmouths or sent them to Hell or left them in Hell? Can this possibly get worse?
Not only is she shut out of the lives of Angel and Spike, the "most important men in her life", (who are busy getting busy and throwing their coats off in the corner - both very symbolic images of their characters - Spike naked without his duster, Angel naked without his billowing coat of mystery) but she's being forever joined in matrimony to misogynistic Warren and agrees in her vows to honor and obey him by the other most misogynistic villain, Caleb. And Tara is her maid of honor, the one who is encouraging her down this path, the manifest guilt and responsibility Buffy feels over Tara's death. Willow's looking on sickly in the audience on the groom's side, no less, while her future dark self is hugging her dominantly. And Xander is standing by as best man to Warren, perhaps the way he's been standing by Buffy as she's been robbing banks? He's standing stalwart in support of Buffy, but shouldn't he be standing on the light side, leading her out of the darkness and towards humanity, not encouraging her towards inhumane and criminal acts?
Meanwhile, Buffy's dream!self is completely excited at marrying her life to the demonic, jumping in with an oversimplified abandon that she perhaps once felt for running her Slayer organization? An oversimplified view that carried her down to the demon's level, marrying her to them when she thought she was working towards destroying them?
And we finish with a cartoonish Xander to contrast a zombie!Buffy. Xander couldn't be more disconnected and without understanding of Buffy's situation than in this panel where she's surrounded by black, leaning over a bowl of sustenance but unable to eat (perhaps symbolic of her being disconnected from her true source of power - her humanity within and her connection to humanity). Hungry, exhausted, nearly dead inside. Alone. "Everybody die always" reads superficially as her joking condemnation for no one understanding her pain, but it also speaks to her fear and guilt that she's the cause of "everybody die[s] always". That she's the cause of Willow's death in the future. That she's the cause of Angel and Spike's former respective deaths. That she's the cause of the deaths of all the Slayers who were activated by the spell in Chosen. Death is her art. Death is her gift.
As Willow would say, oh poor Buffy's brain. Poor Buffy. Tormented and alone. Nobody gets her and the ones who would understand her massive guilt and responsibility are off somewhere, in the lurch, in a clinch amongst themselves. No insightful vampires are around who might understand her darkness, her being tormented and alone. Woe.