Dec 3 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Slaying is Hard. Let’s Go Shopping!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

Buffy and her friends are out in the graveyard, where vampirekind is having a party night: they’ve got numbers on their side, a snack in the larder, and the Slayer seems a little off her game. On the upside, she’s got extra-crinkly hair and an uber-girly coat, so when she concludes that five is simply too many vamps for her to kill—well, somehow it’s deeply kittenish.

Off they all scamper to the Mansion that Magic Built, in which we find an enchanted creature: the one, the only, the totally amazing Jonathan Levinson! This is, you understand, how it has always been. And how it always will be. We’re so happy to see you, Jonathan! You look good! Be in the credits, please.

Yay, he is! The show’s still called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but that’s a formality: we know who this is all about. Jonathan, Jonathan, we love you so!

Written by Jane Espenson, “Superstar” creates another alternate Buffyverse. It’s the warm sunny day that serves as a counterpoint to the dark and woeful badness of “The Wish.” Put another way: it’s simply fun.

As we fen mull over the fact that there’s clearly something mystical afoot, the gang grabs Jonathan and heads for Chez Giles, where a plan is duly hatched. It’s all very cheery. Giles adores getting beaten at chess. Willow accepts getting out-thought by Jonathan, and Buffy learns a valuable lesson about punching the left-handed. Then they jolly their way off to the crypt, where the score is Jonathan three, Buffy two, vampires ka-poof! Buffy is disconsolate because she missed a vamp; Jonathan tries to cheer her up. She knows she could do better, but nobody really cares.

Next we have a run in with Spike. He’s still evil and still chipped. He and Jonathan snarl at each other like old enemies. In Spike’s eyes, Buffy is just a wacky sidekick named Betty. Everyone’s cool with this except Buffy and her growing inferiority complex.

A little passes. We cut to Tara’s apartment, where she and Willow are making up their very own sexy Jonathan stalker shrine and talking about how Buffy and Riley are dealing with the weirdness of last week’s events. Being reduced to a Scooby within her own gang hasn’t saved Buffy from Faith’s having stolen her body. Jonathan might be amazing, simply amazing, but he didn’t stop Faith from deceptively boinking Buffy’s InitiaBeau.

What’s the point of an alternate universe if it can’t save you from mystical pseudo-adultery?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

And how is the reconciliation going? Hmmm, looks awkward. Riley’s gentle and affectionate; Buffy’s running away.

Fortunately, she has a well-clad Jonathan shoulder to cry on. Among his other many amazing talents, the man has a doctorate from Freud on Jung School of Superhero Relationship Therapy. He tells Buffy how she’s feeling, sticks her with the coffee bill and then—because a hero’s work is never done—rushes off to brief the Initiative on some Adam stuff he’s been studying. From this we learn that Adam can’t be beheaded because he runs on uranium. (Gee, Dead Scientist Maggie, why couldn’t you have given him a nickel-cad battery and a USB charger like everyone else?)

Riley, naturally enough, also needs relationship counseling. Jonathan tells him that since Faith has mad sex skillz and Buffy’s two steps removed from a virgin, there’s maybe some jealousy going on there. Riley’s all: “Buh! But I like Buffy! I’m not comparing! Honest!”

I believe him. You probably do too. Because, you know, Riley. Honest as the day is long. But hey—where’s Jonathan? Isn’t he the point here?

Karen, one of his biggest fans, agrees. She’s watching his mansion and hoping for a glimpse. Instead she gets attacked by a moderately scary looking demon.

Where is Jonathan as this is happening? Not home saving Karen, I’ll tell you that much. Talk therapy will only get a couple so far, and he’s taken it into his head to heal our two wounded bunnies’ hearts with a song and dance number. In other words, the whole gang is at the Bronze, being fannish, while Jonathan sings a love ballad just for BuffRiley.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

This makes it all so much better. They dance, and it’s nice . . . at least it’s nice until Karen shows up, all bleedy and needy, and the gang has to swing back into action.

(I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, Karen. Go you for surviving the demon attack!)

Karen’s description of the beast casts an aura of furtive guilt over Jonathan. Buffy’s slayersense starts tingling, but even she doesn’t really question it when he says he can take care of the problem himself. He is, after all, Jonathan!

Adam has by now also noticed Jonathan . . . and dismissed him. He’s somehow filled with a bizarre idea that Jonathan isn’t the greatest thing since full-fiber Wonder bread. His vampire minions shake their heads in astonishment but, wisely, don’t argue.

Since Jonathan didn’t actually kill the monster as promised, it attacks Tara. Ow, poor Tara!! You are kind of villainbait, aren’t you? First the Gentlemen and now this. And we all know what’s coming. Now I am sad.

Still tingling with awful suspicions, Buffy goes over to Xander’s place to ponder his collection of Jonathanobilia. She quizzes Anya about alternate realities and wishes and shrimp, and what she learns is so serious that she calls for a Scooby meeting to air her concerns.

The group isn’t buying in. Jonathan is, after all, perfect. Jeez, Buffy, come on! Riley goes so far as to say it all sounds like nonsense before expressing his total faith in her. They should consult the books. No, wait, they should consult Giles’s copy of the Jonathan Swimsuit Calendar. Ermagerd, he’s got the same mark as the monster!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

Luckily, there’s a logical explanation for everything, and that explanation is the monster confuses Jonathan. That’s its power. Whew! Nobody wanted to contemplate the alternative. Buffy, enjoying her new stubborn streak, uses the tiny bit of cred she earned by being right to oblige Jonathan to go after the thing with her. They bully Spike into telling them where it is; Buffy starts to come into her own in this scene, to discover a bit of confidence. It’s pretty wonderful.

While they hunt, the Scoobies, left out of the fun, go looking for the mark on Jonathan’s shoulder. It turns out, much to their distress, that he’s done an augmentation spell. On himself! He’s not so much Jonathan! as he is Jonathan. Or maybe... jonathan:(.  The demon is his not-so-awesome opposite, a side-effect of the spell.

This means maybe Jonathan can keep things the way they are . . . if he kills Betty. I mean Buffy.

But here’s the thing: he’s not that bad a guy. Lonely, desperate for affection, yes. Slayercidal . . . no way!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

So the Slayer slays the demon and Jonathan reverts to his earlier state, alone and unloved, giving up his sharply tailored suits for an incredibly unattractive yellow striped t-shirt. Buffy gives him a much-deserved lecture about treating people like sock puppets—I feel betrayed by his deception, don’t you?—and life being work. He counters by telling her he was right about Riley, back when he was all wise and stuff.

“Superstar” is yet another funny episode that serves as a palate cleanser, washing away the angst generated by the two-episode return of Faith. It gives Buffy and Riley a chance to hash out their weird sex stuff in a way that makes the reconciliation funny and sweet rather than jangly, tedious and difficult. We get a little time to see Tara assimilating into the group, and learn a few things about Adam: that he alone sees through Jonathan’s spell, for example, is pretty interesting.

It is also, some would argue, a clear sign that the Scoobies are transitioning into a permanent state of being enviably cool. When BtVS began, lip service was paid to the idea that our main teens were outsiders, remember? Buffy had her violent school-burning ways and a bad reputation. Willow was a socially awkward genius, what with the hacking and her penchant for wearing toques, and Xander was an ill-dressed poor kid. We were meant to ignore their telegenic good looks and buy into the idea of them as social outcasts, downtrodden near-freaks.

But at the prom we saw public acceptance, at Sunnydale High, of Buffy’s role as the class savior. In “Graduation Day,” she capitalized on that acceptance by leading the big battle against the Mayor. The pretence that the slaying operation wasn’t a totally amazing thing was eroding; and by now, it’s pretty much gone. Hello—the five of them are better at it than the whole U.S. Army. That’s extreme cool.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch on Superstar

Though their profile isn’t as high with the campus population as it was with their graduating class, Buffy and the gang are nevertheless evolving into their own little clique of cool and powerful adults. Willow is especially sensitive to the group’s boundaries and membership—she often and openly wishes to exclude Anya, and we see her struggling to introduce Tara to the gang in a way that’s comfortable for everyone. Now in “Superstar” we see Jonathan, who feels out and out excluded. He sees the Scoobies for what they are and he wants to be part of them.

The sensible thing for him to do, probably, would have been to try to get himself included by contributing to the fight against evil. This is what Riley and Tara and even Anya do. Jonathan’s a decent mage; he’s not useless. He could help. But contributing’s not what he’s after. He takes the shortcut by making himself the leader of their merry crew.

I have seen it argued that shows about bands of social rejects always make this transition—that the characters become insiders, in some sense, and that when they do the shows lose their edge. I’m pondering whether I agree.  What do you all think?

Next: Smut!!

A.M. Dellamonica has three novelettes up here on 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.

Now you can read her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

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Dr. Thanatos
1. Dr. Thanatos
Couldn't help but think of this episode when Mr. Strong won his Emmy this year. After all, he's Jonathan!
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
And Jonathan's singing voice is brought to you by....Tucker Wells. Or the actor who played Tucker Wells, Brad Kane.

That's right, Andrew's brother.
Jack Flynn
3. JackofMidworld
Missed last week's entry so I got to read TWO rewatches today! Woot! Anyway, I think I'd have to agree to theory on the transition (otherwise there's not character growth, if they never change). When it's done right, though, they don't become the "insiders" but the elite, but they're still outsiders. Alphas and Heroes (and even Vampire Diaries) play to this, where some of the heroes inspire as much fear in the norms they were trying to save as the enemies they're fighting against. If you think of it, though, it makes total sense. When you're fighting giant alien baddies, you totally want the Hulk in front of you, but who in their right mind would want to hang out with Bruce Banner when there's the chance he'll Hulk out if his team misses a field goal?

(and that's a cool bit of trivia about Jonathans' singing voice!)
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
I really like Adam's speech here, the whole "I am aware with every molocule of my being" thing. It was the first time I felt like he was a credible big bad.
Robert Evans
5. bobsandiego
Brad Kane wa also the singing voice for Alladin in the film of the same name.
There's some nice tidbits on the audio commentary for thie episode. Joss pitched the opening the writers, and then let them decoed where to take the story. Also Jane mentions that whenever someone come up and compliments her ona joke in an episode it is nearly always one that joss instered, but one of her favorite joke penned by her own little hand was in this episode "Xander, don't speak latin in fron of the books.' and it is one fo my favorites too...
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
I say that somtimes when someone injures themselves in front of me.

Stub your toe? Don't speak latin in front of the walls.

Paper cut? Don't speak latin in front of the papers.
Alyx Dellamonica
7. AMDellamonica
I haven't been keeping up with Danny Strong - I am thrilled to hear he's won an Emmy, Thanatos!
Don't speak Latin in front of the books is a favorite joke of mine, too. (Though it does make me feel as though anyone in this universe can do some magic.)
I confess to some heavy duty Bruce/Everyone shipping after this summer's movie, Jack, so my answer to you, Jack, on (...but who in their right mind would want to hang out with Bruce Banner...) is Tony! He can afford to replace the stadium, so no big.
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
Yeah, he won an Emmy for Game Change, the HBO Sarah Palin movie. He's writing the Hunger Games finale, Mockingjay.

And yes, I think we ALL ship Bruce/Tony after this summer's movie. The first commentary I read about the first Iron Man 3 trailer related to the giant bunny scene in the Malibu house mid explosion. It wondered if the giant bunny was a gift for The Other Guy.
Dr. Thanatos
9. Gardner Dozois
This is a very good comic episode, back for a moment to the tone of the earlier half of the season. Changing the credits for this episode to incorporate Jonathan was a stroke of genius. Lots of funny stuff here, from Xander being embarrassed that he has a Jonathan swimsuit calendar to Anya's explanation of the Shrimp World to Spike calling Buffy "Betty" to "Don't speak Latin in front of the books."

It was interesting that Adam was the only one to be able to see through the spell.

This episode reinforced my saddness at Jonathan's eventual fate. He could have wished himself into being the Dictator of the World, but he really only wants to be one of the Good Guys, and it's clear that he'd love to be part of the Scoobies. He's too fundamentally decent to kill Buffy even to continue his fantasy world, and it's clear that he is Redemable. It really should have been him instead of the icky Andrew, who never shows a flicker of remorse or redemability, who got to go on to be a Watcher and help the Slayer. He deserved better than he got.

When he won the Emmy and went up on stage, both my wife and I said, "Look, it's Jonathan!"
Dr. Thanatos
10. Gerry__Quinn
IIRC, the information about Adam's uranium heart was correct, and I do not recall any other source of it. So Jonathan's spell created some awesome investigation effects, which led to the defeat of Adam!

Pity about the Twins, though.
Dr. Thanatos
11. mazarin
I always think of this as the " Buckeroo Banzai" episode. Which is a compliment.

I mean, really, isn't Jonathon actually Dr Buckeroo Banzai?
Lee VanDyke
12. Cloric
Alyx, anyone can do magic in the Buffyverse. As we'll discover in a couple seasons, it was Xander who summons the Dancing Demon (now I've forgotten his name).
Chris Nelly
13. Aeryl
Sweet is his name.

While it would have been heartwarming for Jonathan to have joined the Scoobies post season 6, the honest answer is by the time Andrew stabs in, Jonathan's story is done. That's what his monologue is about, he has grown, changed. Where do you take a character after that? To quote The Operative, there is nothing left to see. Andrew had to join the Scoobies so he could learn those things.
Dr. Thanatos
14. wiredog
They futzed with the credits in the pilot, too, which had Xander's friend looking like a major character. Until he got vamped, and staked...
Dr. Thanatos
15. Gardner Dozois
But Andrew didn't learn those things--he remained a smug, smarmy, creepy little shit right up through the last time we see him onscreen, in a last-season ANGEL episode. I remain unshaken in my opinion that Jonathan was much more Worthy than Andrew, and should have been the one to get to be a Watcher.
Rob Rater
16. Quasarmodo
They had Jonathan scenes inserted into the credits, but I don't remember them listing the actor's name along with a major full screen shot of him, as all the other regulars have, which I really wish they would have, to basically take the alternate reality "all the way".
Constance Sublette
17. Zorra
But Andrew didn't learn those things--he remained a smug, smarmy, creepy little shit right up through the last time we see him onscreen, in a last-season ANGEL episode. I remain unshaken in my opinion that Jonathan was much more Worthy than Andrew, and should have been the one to get to be a Watcher.
Absolutely! I just don't get how that happened. Was it that one actor was available and the other wasn't, so Jonathan's character got whacked and Andrew's got ascended? Yuck. Ick. I still feel that way.

Love, c.
Chris Nelly
18. Aeryl
I don't think they are allowed to change the actors in the credits like that, something to do with SAG credits and the like. George Lucas had a huge shitfit with them about the opening for the SW movies, and lost his DAG membership over it and had to pay a fine to keep the crawl opening.

I'm sure we will discuss Andrew a great deal in the upcoming reviews, but he did get a whole episode showing him learning to live with the reality of what he had done, and there was the fact that he stuck around. After Storyteller he could have split town whenever he wanted, nobody cared if he left of not, actually, they probably would have preferred if he left, but he chose to stay. That demonstrates growth. Did he get a lot? Well no, no more than anybody else that season.

The comics give him even more growth, but they never fundamentally change who he is as a person, he still fucks up and causes bigger problems trying to solve it. They've stayed true to who he is(he and Buffy even bond over Bond)
Chris Nelly
19. Aeryl
No, in the commentary or interviews, I forget where, Joss has said that Jonathan's story was done, he had nowhere else to take the character that would have made for dramatic TV. He was redeemed, time to die.
Dr. Thanatos
20. Gardner Dozois
Since he was part of the crime-performing Three Nerds, or whatever they called themselves, and died trying to summon up an Uber-Vamp (although, admitedly, not playing quite the role he thought he was going to play), I don't see where he was already redeemed.

And they never made any effort to redeem Andrew at all, at least onscreen.

A much more satisfactor arc would have had him turning against the Three Nerds, sickened by Warren's excesses, and playing some at least incidental part in their defeat, thus leading to his eventual joining of the Forces of Good and eventually becoming a Watcher--which is where I thought they were going right up until the moment that Jonathan died. Still think that's where they should have gone.
Andrew Love
21. AndyLove
My favorite quote from this episode is from Xander

Xander: So, we're saying he did a spell just to make us think he was cool? Giles: Yes.
Xander: That is so cool.
Alyx Dellamonica
22. AMDellamonica
Cloric--yes, I know. (Though in the brain of me--and nowhere else in canon--Xander didn't do that spell. He took one for the team, and by Team I mean Dawn. I just found that admission of guilt unconvincing.)

I'm with Gardner on Andrew vs. Jonathan... the smarm just never worked for me, and Jonathan had been so much more integrated into the story.
Jack Flynn
23. JackofMidworld
Maybe it was supposed to be a bigger payoff? Having a character we had some investment in getting killed for the greater evil, instead of a two-bit character that they'd recently introduced? This is Joss we're talking about here...

And I bow down before the Ship Masters (Captains?) - Bruce/Tony for the win!
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
They weren't trying to summon the Ubervamp, well Jonathan wasn't. He wanted to reveal it to Buffy, and having already dug it up, would take less convincing.
Dr. Thanatos
25. Dianthus
Andrew! Gah! I spit at him. In the current "season" of BtVS (in comic form) he totally violates Buffy's agency as a human being in the name of their friendship. We haven't seen him since, and if we never see him again it'll be too zarking soon.
This is a cute ep, and I would've liked to see more of Jonathon afterward. Perhaps, knowing how desperate he was for friendship one of the former "losers" could've taken pity on him, and invited him into the club. Ah well.
Emma Rosloff
26. emmarosloff
Man, major love for this episode. Jonathon may get the short end of the stick in Season 7, but at least he gets an episode like this. Danny Strong totally owns it, too. Just so much fun to watch, particularly with the rest of the cast gleefully playing along.

I think it's a testament to Jonathon's character (despite his decision to do the spell in the first place) that not only is he not willing to hurt Buffy to serve his own ends, he's actively interested in helping her mend her relationship with Riley. If he just wanted to be the cool action hero, he wouldn't have taken the time. Yeah, he wants to kick ass (who doesn't?), but really he just wants to be their friend; an integral part of their lives.

There are many a hilarious moment in this episode, as you all pointed out. What I love (as always) is Joss's sense of self-awareness -- the opening credit sequence with Jonathon sprinkled in, the callbacks to previous slayage of Big Bads (ala Jonathon) and other important Buffy moments that became his, and the way all the characters are tweaked just right so that you totally buy this alternate reality, as goofy as it is.

Along the lines of self-awareness, it's a great window into the world of the Scoobies from the outside, what they must look like to the people around them. They really have become a force to be reckoned with, and it's fun to get an outsider's view.

Poor Jonathon. I have to agree with jackofmidworld, though -- since when has Joss ever been fair? Jonathon's not the only one who gets short-changed in the end (trying really hard to avoid pointing out the obvious height puns... they're not intended, really). Tara gets shot in a tragic accident, Willow goes berserk (so she's redeemed in the end, but she still ends up with a forced love interest, which was no fun at all), Spike burns in a blaze after Buffy says "I love you" and doesn't really mean it, changing her official status to "single" yet again (although Spike does come back in Angel, yay! But that doesn't end well, either), Anya's killed in the final fight and Xander's a sad single as well after totally botching that relationship. The others come out more or less okay, but as Giles matter-of-factly points out, there's another Hellmouth out there, so really, sinking Sunnydale didn't change much in the grand scheme of things.

I do agree with all of you -- it would've been much better if Jonathon had become one of the Scoobies. But given how it all ends and the myriad of other heart-wrenching things the characters experience during the series, Jonathon's death is about what I'd expect.

For now though, let us relish in his awesomeness. He is, after all, Jonathon.
Dr. Thanatos
27. Gardner Dozois
I just now realized that this episode is a valuable training ground for the audience, as far as preparing them to accept the big Dawn Retrofit, familiarizing them with the idea that not only can the universe totally change, but it can change in such a way that it will seem like IT ALWAYS WAS THAT WAY, with memories retroactively changing to fit the new reality. Their "remembering" Jonathan defeating past Buffy Big Bads is the same way they'll "remember" Dawn always having been Buffy's sister, and having formed relationships with her. It's a very sophsticated concept actually, worthy of Philip K. Dick.

I know that Whedon is known for killing off characters and not letting happy relationships stand, but what annoys me about Andrew rather than Jonathan getting to be the Watcher is that all the GROUNDWORK for Jonathan's Redemption had been laid over the course of several seasons, so that once it happened you could look back over previous Jonathan-centric shows and see that that had been being set up all along. There's none of that with Andrew. I respect and admire Josh Whedon, but he's not immune to making mistakes--and that was one of them (of several).

The REAL question, Emmarosloff, is--if there WAS a Jonathan Swimsuit Calandar, would you buy one?
Emma Rosloff
28. emmarosloff
You make a fair point, Gardner. That is frustrating, because there's no payoff for all that groundwork being laid -- the audience ought to be rewarded for paying attention, for closely following those plot threads. Otherwise it's jarring and we end up feeling short-changed, for buying in and rooting for the character in the first place.

I don't disagree that the ulmighty Joss has his short-comings. As I've said in many previous comments, he loves to twist the knife, and not just where the characters are concerned, but the audience, too. There's something kind of bold and maddening about it -- he's this loose cannon. You love him, but you can't trust him. And while this is total speculation on my part, I almost think he enjoys wielding that power, at least, some part of him does. It's like he's playing God with our emotions. I get the sense that when it comes to his narratives, he doesn't like to be beholden to anyone, not even his most devoted of fans, and so he exerts this power, every now and again, just to let us know who's in charge. If anything, it's a little abusive, but boy does he keep us entranced.

And I would absolutely buy that swimsuit calender. It'd be like a nerd calling card. Anyone who got the reference would be a friend of mine.
Alyx Dellamonica
29. AMDellamonica
There has to be a fan out there who's made the swimsuit calendar. I bet you a nickel!

Awesome point, Gardner, about the groundwork for Dawn. Ooh, that's smart!
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
emma, if you haven't watched Dollhouse, I totally recommend it, there is a character in there that is a complete commentary on that idea.

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