“Him,” by Drew Z. Greenberg
Xander is showing his apartment to a potential roommate… one who turns out, a moment later, to be Spike. This may be the single most self-sacrificing thing he’s ever done for Buffy or the world, and I’m talking about a guy who offered to let Willow kill him.
Spike knows he’s not wanted and tries several times to volunteer himself out of the homesharing gig. But Buffy is determined to get William out of the school basement. His proximity to the Bidet of Evil is clearly one of the reasons he spends so much time jabbering. She is okay enough with having feelings for him that she wants him to get better.
(Or, maybe, she’s that tired of having to parse useful clues out of the babble.)
As they process this, Dawn asks a fabulous question: What does it mean exactly, that Spike is all soul-having?
The question comes but doesn’t go: next day, at school, Dawn is still asking. Buffy doesn’t have a very good answer, beyond pointing out that he went away to get his soul because something in him felt bad about the rape attempt. Dawn points out that Xander had a soul when he dumped Anya, and then segues into a “love makes you oldsters crazy!” rant. Oh, you silly adults. Why do you even bother?
Just then a boy wanders into her line of sight. He is so completely blond and amazing that romantic background music starts to play and Dawn falls off the bleachers midway through her first ever attempt to undress someone with her eyes.
Buffy’s crusade to help her cadre of former lovers and sometimes-evil friends doesn’t stop there. A friendly check up on another of the Scoobies reveals a demon trying to commit premeditated Anyacide. She slays him handily. Anya then tries to give her the boot, but Buffy insists that she needs support, friendship, and possibly an ax-wielding bodyguard. By way of salvaging her pride, Anya concedes that the group is better off with her than without.
This makes Buffy, Dawn and Xander the three team members who haven’t been substantially evil, set off against Spike, Anya and Willow. If Giles and Angel were around, the eight of them could get up a very small curling bonspiel.
And Dawn does have a newfound interest in sports. Now that she is experiencing true, true love, she is coming to suspect that the path to the boy’s heart—his name is R.J., by the way—is to be in with the cheerleading and athletic types. She gives this her all and they freeze her out, in the time-honored way of popular kids alienating those whom they’ve deemed spazzy.
But if at first you don’t succeed, right? She heads home, digs up Buffy’s cheerleading uniform, goes to auditions and devotes a horrifyingly specific cheer to R.J. Then she falls on her ass. After that humiliating spectacle, there’s no more scope for try, try again. There’s nothing a girl can do but slice up the dress of cheer and cry her heart out.
Buffy and Xander utterly fail to console her. Xander thinks longingly of the days when she was just crushed out on him.
Next day, Dawn stalks her way back to R.J. and overhears that he’s not starting in the next game. She promptly follows the replacement quarterback and shoves him down a flight of stairs.
This gets her a ticket to the principal’s office. Dawn claims the kid fell, and Robin Wood decides, at least provisionally, to believe her. And yay! Aggravated assault does apparently pay, because R.J. notices her, to the extent of not only thanking her for taking heat from the principal but asking her out. Dawn takes this to mean she should claim to Buffy she has a library date before putting on a wee tiny shirt (perhaps lovingly woven from the remnants of the cheerleader’s uniform), curling her hair extravagantly, and going out for a night of sexy dancing.
Sadly for everyone, there is only one club in all of Sunnydale. And so, later at the Bronze, Willow, Xander and Buffy are debriefing about how it’s going with Spike when they spot the teenaged mating antics and then—horrors!—recognize the celebrants.
Buffy freaks out in a classic parental way over the skimpy clothes and lying. She even says she’s glad Joyce died before she could see the teenaged trampery, which is taking it a bit far.
Dawn stomps off out the back way, into All You Can Eat Alley (that’s what the vamps call it, I swear!) She is accosted by… surprisingly, not a monster. It’s one of the cheerleaders, and she’s not even remotely demonic. No, she’s just violently jealous. The two girls get into a fight, which Buffy breaks up.
Next day at work, Buffy intercepts R.J. after he’s gotten a pile o’ detention from Robin Wood. She starts to give him a hard time about the girls, only to get distracted by his masculine charms. Is that music playing again? Could it be there’s something magical about this young man?
That evening, she tells Dawn that R.J. thinks she’s coming on a little strong.
“I’m the pushy queen of slut town!” Dawn wails. No, honey, that’s Faith. Gosh, I miss Faith. If only there was some way she could rejoin the team.
This fable about Dawn coming on strong is Buffy’s big stratagem for getting her sister out of the way, kindly, so she can yank R.J. out of class and seduce him. Her timing blows, as does her ability to pick a love nest without transparent windows. Dawn is conducting a room by room search for the guy, and soon enough she sees R.J. playing hot for Slayer in an empty classroom.
Minutes later, Xander finds Dawn freaking out in the schoolyard. She tells him what’s happening and he manages to separate Buffy from the quarterback before one or the other of them ends up pregnant. Then he gets the girls home, where he points out the obvious to Willow and Anya: somebody is under a love spell.
Buffy and Dawn are, of course, incapable of seeing reason. Dawn feels betrayed. Buffy feels sure that only one of them has been enchanted, and it’s not her.
The research team finds out that R.J. has a brother, and Xander and Spike go to see him. The brother is a pizza delivery human, in no way athletic, attractive or charismatic. He claims his brother used to be a hopeless nerd before he blossomed.
And the blossoming? It turns out that was triggered by the family’s magical heirloom, a letter jacket that belonged to the brother before R.J., and their father before that.
Willow and Anya are as yet unaware of these developments. They’re researching ways to break the love spell when R.J. shows up, hoping to pick up where he and Buffy left off. Who can blame him? They tell him to leave, but it’s too late. They are enchanted by the magical swaying of his departing tush. Minutes later they’re squabbling in the entryway about which of them he loves the most when Buffy and Dawn come downstairs and discover there’s yet more competition for the heart and other organs of their one true love.
The disagreement explodes into competitiveness: Willow decides she’s going to convert R.J. to a more lesbian-appropriate gender. Buffy decides she’ll kill Robin Wood, dispenser of detention. Anya takes it into her head to rob the bank and any other cash registers that come her way. And Dawn, feeling (correctly) that she can’t compete, goes and lies down on the railroad tracks.
We get a split screen, in the style of action hit 24, as they embark on their respective missions.
Willow’s attempt to transmogrify R.J. is interrupted by Xander and Spike. She tells them about Buffy’s plan, which leads to crazy comedy antics as seen through Robin Wood’s window: he’s diligently working as behind him, Buffy and Spander are fighting for control of the team’s favorite rocket launcher. Most of this episode is only good for a light chuckle, but this is pretty funny.
Willow has by now regained enough of her wits to to do a locator spell on Dawn. Buffy has to race the train to save her, and it’s exceedingly heroic. She climbs one train, rides it like a big skateboard, then leaps down to the tracks and jumps her sister out of the way.
The shock of almost having lost Dawn snaps her out of the R.J. lust-fugue, at least a little. She then essentially tells Dawn she can have him.
Nobody wonders what mischief Anya might be up to as Xander and Spike go steal the jacket.
“Him” is a Dawn-centered episode in many ways, but it’s not an important one. It is one of those stories that offers light comedy as a break from the main grind of the seasonal arc, but that arc hasn’t really got going yet: we don’t need much relief. Maybe this is why it is only mildly amusing. Its other function is to bring the Scoobies back together as an evil-fighting unit. Willow and Anya are both back in the fold, doing research and even spells, and the Summers house is taking on the not-very-secret superhero base role, one formerly occupied by the Magic Box, Chez Giles, and the Sunnydale High School library.
I rather like that they need to find a new place to fight evil from every couple of years. An argument could be made that, had Sunnydale survived, the Scoobies should have bought the Bronze and installed a library upstairs. Think of the commuting time they could have saved.
“Evil is afoot! Quick, look downstairs!”
The wrap-up is anti-climactic, because R.J. isn’t a monster—he doesn’t even know where his mojo came from. He’s just a clueless high school boy who happened to win a booby prize from the Hellmouth. The gang burns the jacket, and everyone admits how embarrassed they are to have performed these great deeds of attention-seeking in pursuit of one undeserving teen. Everyone, that is, except Anya, who takes the gangs out for ice cream on the proceeds of her crime spree.
Next: We See Dead People.
A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on Tor.com! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)