Mon
Dec 16 2013 1:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Dawn and the Amazing Lettered Dreamboat

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, RJ

“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?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Anya

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn

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 the Vampire Slayer, Him, Willow, Xander

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, RJ

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Spike, Xander

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn, Willow, Anya

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Robin Wood

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.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Him, Dawn

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”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
18 comments
Marty Beck
1. martytargaryen
Nice review! "romantic background music" = the theme to A Summer Place :-0

Rocket-Launcher-Tackle had me spit out my beer on first watch
Alyx Dellamonica
2. AMDellamonica
It nearly had me spitting on the second viewing... and I knew it was coming!
Cain Latrani
3. CainS.Latrani
Still, Buffy's bit at the end is so wonderful, especially these days when Twilight is all the rage.

Love this episode for that alone.
Dianthus
4. Dianthus
They really took the whole "back to the beginning" thing to heart with this ep.

Over at Fragments of My Imagination, the blogger Mark suggested a link btwn R.J.'s coat and Spike's that I hadn't caught. He thought it might even be meta-commentary on Spike's fans. Perhaps, but Spike has a lot more cool points than just a coat, IMO.
Faith (to Buffy): "...you know all the cool vampires."
This when Spike is shirtless.
OTOH, we'll see Spike go on a mini Hero's Journey-type quest for his coat in Get It Done.

We've covered Willow's misdeeds, Anya's...now we get to discuss Spike's and Xander's, but Buffy has yet to 'fess up.

Not for nothing...
Buffy (to Willow, regarding Riley) in Something Blue:
"I really like him, I do...I really like being around him...but can a nice safe relationship be that intense? I know it's nuts, but part of me believes that real love and passion have to go hand in hand with pain and fighting."

Rocket Launcher Tackle is the name of my new band.
Dianthus
6. hng23
If the jacket originally belonged to RJ's dad, who went to Sunnydale High with Amy's mother... there's something there, it's niggling at me but I just can't put my finger on the connection...
Dianthus
7. Alex C.
Surprisingly enough, this is one of the rare filler episodes that I enjoyed more on the re-watch than on the first watch.

There's not much to it beyond light comedy (with the exception of several of the sequences toward the end, particularly the rocket launcher, that were laugh-out-loud hilarious) and a bit of throwback to the early HS seasons, but that works well enough for me. The next episode is not only (imo) the second-best of the entire season, but also the one that launches the main seasonal arc in earnest. I don't think that it's too amiss to have a bit of a 'breather' episode before we go there, especially following on from the dramatic and emotional heavy-hitter that was "Selfless".

That being said, there are some nuggets of important stuff buried amidst the fluff n' fun.

Foremost of these is the Buffy/Spike relationship. From a storytelling/character writing perspective, I think that the writers made a good call in having Buffy mostly keep her distance over the first few episodes of the season - after what happened in S6, it would have been a bit too 'on the nose' for their reconciliation to proceed more swiftly or smoothly than it does.

The shock of his reappearance (and reensoulment) has lingered long enough though, and it's nice to see her taking some decided steps to deal with/help him, even though there's obviously a lot of emotional conflict there. Speaking of which - therein lies one of the many critical aspects of the key segment in "Conversations With Dead People" - we'll get a far more detailed look next week into what exactly it is that Buffy feels (and thinks she feels) about Spike (amongst other things) than her conversation with Dawn gives us in this episode. That'll be the last piece of crucial groundwork needed before the rekindling of that relationship can really get going.

Also on the subject of the emotional puzzle that is Buffy Summers - a small but interesting detail that I picked out of this episode. Out of all the girls that we see fall head-over-heels for R.J., Buffy is the only one who never mentions the word "love" in connection with him. Unlike the others, she neither claims to be in love with him nor hopes that he will feel that way for her - to go by what she says, it's just a matter of intense physical attraction/lust (that inspires her to try and murder the principal).

Going back to the humour of the episode - amidst the other laughs to be had in "Him", one I found to be nicely ironic was watching Buffy act as the older partner in a decidedly-inappropriate relationship. It's definitely a departure from her usual 'type'".

It's also great that the episode (and Buffy) stops in on Anya to check up on how she's doing. One has to think that D'Hoffryn's "attempt" to kill her here isn't for much more than show - she's just being kept on her toes, until the time comes to meet her fate.

On a less positive note, the plot thread of Willow's ongoing recovery from being evil has been dropped since the last episode, and isn't really going to be picked up in meaningful fashion for a while. In a number of ways, the show's handling of Willow's magical journey continues to be problematic in this season - although that's a topic probably best saved for the discussion of next week's episode.
Dianthus
8. Alex C.
Another small but noteworthy detail from the episode - since the last time the issue was addressed (back in S4, if I recall), Buffy has apparently finally learned how to drive.
Chris Nelly
9. Aeryl
To cut Buffy some slack, her ONE accident wasn't her fault anyways.
Anthony Pero
10. anthonypero
And to think, Warehous 13 has been on for five years making nothing but episodes exactly like this, and half as well.
Dianthus
11. Dianthus
@8. Buffy expressed concern about rebuilding Sunnydale High over the Hellmouth, but it doesn't occur to her that leaving Spike down there is a really bad idea? Helping him isn't just compassionate, or the right thing to do, it's smart. Xander's life is now in serious jeopardy. Spike's chip is still working, but it's not enough to stop him.
Also, Willow's back at Revello Dr. like nothing happened, but we just caught a glimpse of Dark Willow in the previous episode. She's still very much a danger to herself and others.

This goes beyond what happened in s6. Once again we get a contrast btwn her relationship with Angel(us) and her relationship with Spike. Angelus killed Jenny, tortured Giles, and tried to end the world. Still, she was helping Angel almost from the get-go in s3 (Beauty and the Beasts).

From What's My Line Part I:
Willow: "You and Angel are going ice-skating? Alone?
Buffy: "Unless some unfortunate evil pops up. But I'm in full see-no-evil mode."
Buffy has no other mode when it comes to Angel. Sadly, it's the opposite for Spike. She couldn't see the good in him in s6. Making her teary confession to Tara, she says "He represents..." She's not looking at him as an individual, or trying to understand him.
Angel and Spike represent two sides of Buffy. She needs to understand, acknowledge, respect and embrace both sides of herself. She's had some time already to consider what happened and why. She has not used that time wisely. More likely, she hasn't considered it at all.

Obviusly, Spuffy is far too complex to be dealt with in a single ep, but she hasn't been dealing with it at all until now. Understanding it doesn't mean I have to like it.
Dianthus
12. Alex C.
@9. The only one that we as the audience get to see, anyway.

I have a feeling that the misadventures of Buffy the Road Demon were extensive, but alas never graduated from the land of offscreen events.

In fact, now that I think of it, an episode in which Buffy finally overcomes whatever her block was and masters the art of driving safely might have made for a good filler episode, if they could have found somewhere in the last three seasons to stick it. Oh well.
Dianthus
13. Alex C.
@11. Sorry, but all I've got for you is strong disagreement, for almost every part of that comment. Let's go through it point-by-point.
Helping him isn't just compassionate, or the right thing to do, it's smart. Xander's life is now in serious jeopardy. Spike's chip is still working, but it's not enough to stop him.
Yeah, but they don't know that, and Buffy's not going to get her first clue that something is amiss in the land of Spike in ways that go beyond mere mental and spiritual anguish until the next episode.

In S6, Buffy's relationship with Spike was a major factor in taking the character to some of the lowest and darkest places that she ever went as a person in the show. And that was before the attempted rape. It's a testement to her tremendous strength of moral character, I think, that she didn't plunge a stake into his heart the first time she saw him in "Lessons", let alone start to (tentatively) re-connect with him over the ensuing episodes.
Also, Willow's back at Revello Dr. like nothing happened, but we just caught a glimpse of Dark Willow in the previous episode. She's still very much a danger to herself and others
Which is why we had that scene at the end of "Same Time, Same Place". Buffy's obviously very much aware of the possibility that Willow might revert to being Darth Rosenberg, and she's resolved to do her duty as the Slayer if that happens (this also ties into what happened with Anya in "Selfless"). The fact that Willow spent the summer with Giles and the Coven doing Dark Side Rehab helps a lot with it, but arguably a part of the reason Buffy lets Willow back into her home is precisely so that she can keep an eye on her.
This goes beyond what happened in s6. Once again we get a contrast btwn her relationship with Angel(us) and her relationship with Spike. Angelus killed Jenny, tortured Giles, and tried to end the world. Still, she was helping Angel almost from the get-go in s3 (Beauty and the Beasts).
That's a serious misrepresentation of what happens on the Buffy/Angel front in "Beauty and the Beasts". Buffy's immediate response to Angel's return wasn't to "help him from the get-go". It was to drag him back to the mansion and chain him up, before having a lengthy session with Giles' books and the guidance counsellor. It was only after the end of the episode, when Angel saved her life, and then threw himself on her mercy, that things seem to have 'cleared up' for Buffy about what to do with him. Even then, she wasn't exactly rushing back into his arms - she spent the next several episodes maintaining that she didn't want to resume the relationshhip, until Spike's brief reappearance (oh, the irony) finally broke down the last resistance on that front.

Also, you're forgetting something very important: the way that the return of Angel's soul at the end of "Becoming 2" played out. Buffy's last memory of Angel from before his stint in hell wasn't of him as the despicable Angelus, he was back to being her Angel - the guy who made her feel safe - confused, and with no memory of any of things that he'd done. Then she had to run him through with a sword and watch the shock, hurt, and disbelief on his face as he was sucked into hell. That's what she carried with her into the next season, and that's what was haunting her dreams for months before she finally made her peace with what happened - only to have him come back.

Contrast that with her last memory of Spike in S6 - kicking him into her bathroom wall after he tried to rape her, and then scurrying out of the house.

It's obvious that Buffy's been thinking a lot about Spike in the time since then (more on this below), and to an extent has come to terms with what happened between them. But the reasons she reacts differently to the Dramatic Return of her two boyfriends ought to be self-evident.
Buffy has no other mode when it comes to Angel. Sadly, it's the opposite for Spike. She couldn't see the good in him in s6. Making her teary confession to Tara, she says "He represents..." She's not looking at him as an individual, or trying to understand him.
That confession happened in "Dead Things". Two episodes later, we have the scene at the end of "As You Were", wherein she calls him 'William' for the first time - an essential acknowledgment of his personhood, which she had been denying.

It's worth remembering that it took Spike quite a while to begin seeing Buffy as a person, rather than just another Slayer, and later as an object of first rivalry, then hatred, and finally lust - he was still working out a lot of those issues well into S5, and even in S6 was still majorly uncomprehending of a lot of the most important aspects of who she is (eg. his obviously mistaken belief that she needed to embrace her inner darkness to heal as a person - actually the precise opposite of what she needed).

I also think that you're being uncharitable wrt to Buffy's "modes" when it comes to dealing with Angel. The central importance of the romance subplot in S3 was precisely that she began to properly shed a large part (though not all) of her starry-eyed romanticization of him. She carried her experience with Angel over into her relationship with Spike, and it forms a large part of why I think that (after "Normal Again") she had a far more mature and intelligent grasp of their relationship and where it was going than he did - see what she says to him in "Seeing Red", and later in "Never Leave Me".
Angel and Spike represent two sides of Buffy. She needs to understand, acknowledge, respect and embrace both sides of herself.
Sorry, but I don't buy this argument. Spike has a very important role to play in Buffy's self actualization over the last seasons of the show, but it has more to do with what she learns about herself from her experiences with him than with the development of their relationship in and of itself (which I view as a seperate issue). It's not dissimilar from the role that Buffy plays in Spike's self actualization.


As for the two of them coming to understand, acknowledge, respect, and embrace each other, where were you when "Never Leave Me", "Showtime", "Lies My Parents Told Me", "Touched", and "Chosen" were on?
She's had some time already to consider what happened and why. She has not used that time wisely. More likely, she hasn't considered it at all.
Sorry, but this particular part is wrong, plain and simple.

Buffy has obviously been having a lot of reflection about what happened between her and Spike, and on what it means that he has recovered his soul. The trouble is that she doesn't have anybody that she feels comfortable sharing those thoughts with, which is why we as the audience have not yet been made privy to them. That's pretty much the entire point of the long, meaningful, and brilliantly written conversation that she has with Holden Webster in the next episode - Buffy finally getting a chance to say things for the audience that it's hard to imagine her saying to anyone else at this point. What we learn from that conversation goes to the heart of what Buffy thinks at this point about Spike, their relationship, what went wrong with it, and the roots of the emotional conflict that still underpins the intense ambiguity of her feelings toward him (which will be gradually stripped away over the ensuing episodes).

The further conversation that Buffy has, this time with Spike in "Never Leave Me" is further, near-incontestable proof that she (as well as he) has not only been thinking about what happened between them, but has been doing so very wisely indeed.
Obviusly, Spuffy is far too complex to be dealt with in a single ep, but she hasn't been dealing with it at all until now. Understanding it doesn't mean I have to like it.
The trouble is that your understanding of it strongly conflicts with a lot of what we actually see of it onscreen.

You're confusing Buffy 'dealing' with the issue of their relationship with her 'helping' Spike with his current predicament. The way that she handles the latter is entirely understandable. Spike's reappearence, and the revelation that he had his soul back both shocked her, and while she was still processing those developments, she was also caught up dealing with other more pressing (as far as she knows) concerns like Willow and Cassie. In Selfless, she starts to help him by telling him that he needs to get out of the basement, and then when he fails to do that on his own, she takes further action by sending him over to Xander's.
Dianthus
14. Alex C.
Interesting piece in Vulture about the storytelling decisions that went into the 6th season of Buffy, particularly relating to the Trio:

http://www.vulture.com/2013/12/oral-history-buffy-nerd-trio-jonathan-warren-andrew-tara-willow.html

Worth a read.
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl
That's how I look at it. Buffy should be rational about this, and have recognized sooner that the basement is bad for Spike and acted accordingly. But, Buffy is only human, and is a trauma survivor. Trauma she suffered at the hands of Spike. It's completely understandable that she's not quite capable of being rational about Spike yet, soul or no.
Dianthus
17. Ashley M.
@13: Alex C. I agree with and love your analysis so much that I wanna marry it. It looks at the logic from a character perspective which is pretty much what the show focuses on. I truly don't understand or appreciate how much negative criticism Buffy gets over her treatment of Spike in these initial episodes of S7. It's either terrible that she waited so long to help the century and some old vampire who assaulted her not so long ago, or on the other side of the argument, she is terrible and deficient for helping her former lover, who was soulless during his assault on her and attempted to remedy his own deficiency by getting a soul, at all. I can see some logic in both schools of judgement, but I think it does a disservice to the characters and the story being told to expect a different reaction from the one Buffy actually has on screen. Many fans hold our heroine to an unfair standard it seems in that when she doesn't act in accordance with their specific views on a situation they view her as lesser.

#15: Well said! Buffy is only human and NOT perfect, which I think is something the characters on-screen and some of the fans off-screen forget...

That said, I really have enjoyed this episode on re-watch, I didn't like it when I first saw it, and a highlight for me were: Xander's reluctant acceptance of Spike and their team work. I ship Spuffy, but I love these two together, it's truly never a dull moment when they are together in scenes!
Dianthus
18. Alex C.
@17. Thank you. And very well said yourself.

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