Dec 30 2013 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: My Sire Can Beat Up Your Sire

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike, First

“Sleeper,” by David Fury and Jane Espenson

You know it isn’t a good thing when your friendly neighborhood slayer comes rapping on your door at way too early on a workday. It’s five point two seconds after Buffy’s convo with Webs the Dead Person ended. Now she’s looking for Spike, who isn’t home. Where is he? Well, he’s found a new basement hang-out, one that’s a little less shabby than the high school, and he’s burying the blonde from last week there. He looks sane, as such things are reckoned, as well as remorseless. Plus he’s humming what we in Canada think of as the Friendly Giant theme song.

From there we go to England, and a Watcher with a Potential named Nora. Oh, never mind. She’s dead and he’s stabbed.

Willow, after her encounter with the First, has bolted straight home. There she finds the carnage left after Dawn’s epic fight with the Evil Unseen Something. Dawn tells her she saw Joyce. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Dawn, Willow

Willow says it wasn’t her, or probably wasn’t her, and explains about her own visitation. 

As they talk, Dawn edits her version of the convo with dead Joyce, leaving out the part about how Buffy won’t choose her. She wants to believe she saw her mother, even if that means buying into the bad news. Willow isn’t sure they can trust either messenger, since the encounters were obviously engineered by the Big Bad.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Buffy, Xander

Across town, Xander and Buffy are processing Webs’s declaration that Spike sired him. It occurs to them to wonder if the Initiative Chip is still working. Spike arrives home, and they dance around the topic of their respective evenings. He’s polite and non-committal and doesn’t have any visible blood on his teeth. In the end, nothing gets said. Buffy runs home to check on Dawn and Xander ends up begging Anya to keep an eye on Spike.

Anya is, as she often is, wonderful. She points out all the reasons why this is an idiotic idea and wants to know if they’ve searched Spike’s room for trophies. Like, you know, scalps.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Willow

Buffy gets home, sees the living room, and freaks out. Willow catches her up on last night’s events (she has already put Dawn to bed). “This thing knows us,” she says. They ponder that. It doesn’t seem promising.

Despite her objections, Anya is officially a trooper. She sits at Chez Xander, waiting for Spike to come out and be all vampy, and then she realizes that’s simply not proactive enough for a can-do gal like her. She slips into his room, with a stake, and goes looking for scalps. This gives us the chance to see that Spike may have a bad dose of the soulful Williams, but he still sleeps in the altogether. Some of you really enjoyed that, didn’t you? As for me, I’m all: Wow, Anya is so brave!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike, Anya

She’s still looking when he grabs her hand, in a scary way, and asks what the hell she’s up to. She tells him she’s there for sex. With a stake. Kinky sex! Yeah, that’s it!

It’s flat-out hilarious. Spike lets her down gently. Anya keeps making noise until he forgets about the room search, or seems to. Then she flounces off to the living room to pretend to pout. After a bit more awkwardness, he heads out, and she phones Buffy. If the scalp-hunt resumes, we don’t see it.

The two of them—Spike hunting, Buffy following—head out to a crowded courtyard, somewhere market-like, no place I’ve seen before on the show. Suddenly Spike hears the song, which is actually an old folkie thing whose principal refrain is “How could you use a poor maiden so?” Buffy loses him in the crowd, or seems to. Spike’s newest friend is being all sexy and seductive when she catches up.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike, First

Buffy—or, rather “Buffy”—tells Spike, basically, to go for it. And he does, with panache. And fangs. Hmmm, guess that’s the First he’s seeing. Again.

Spike then goes home to his bedroom for some postprandial naptime. He needs to get a lock on his bedroom door, I’m thinking, because Buffy turns up there next, flings him out of bed, and accuses him of murder. He protests his innocence, not the chip-inflicted can’t get it up kind of innocence we’ve been enduring since S4, but  a shiny new don’t want to kill because of the soul, pure as the driven snow, srsly! kind of innocence. He’s not interested, he claims, in adding to his bodycount.

This turns into an argument about whether Buffy’s jealous because he’s picking up women and then... um, forgetting what happens next. Rather than dwell on the fact that he doesn’t know if he shagged or devoured his recent casual acquaintances, he resorts to making Buffy screamingly uncomfortable by reminding her he got the soul for her sake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike

But as Spike becomes conscious of the fact that he doesn’t remember what happened after he initially talked to the market woman, he gets worried. 

Buffy heads off in search of evidence, ending up in a convo with the Girl Scoobies about whether the things the First said to them, in its various Cassie-Mom disguises, were true or not. Anya tells them she said true things all the time when she was evil. Dawn continues to wrestle with the question of whether Joyce/faux Joyce can be trusted on the whole “Buffy won’t choose you” thing.

Then they search-engine up a query about dead people with neck trauma, and instead find disappearances. Of, mostly, women.

Spike is by now trying to fish up some of the missing pieces of his memory and has a flash of the dead blonde from last week. He heads out of the apartment. Xander tries to stop him and gets punched for his trouble. Ow! Hey, the chip worked! Nobody is conscious to notice.

Soon the Bloody is at the Bronze, asking the bartender and anyone else about the woman he remembers. He climbs up to the catwalk—oh the memories, eh?—and segues into some quality drinking.  A woman approaches him, skillfully deploying the time honored vampire pick-up line, “What was your sign? Hey, wanna eat some Bronzegoers?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike

When Spike declines, she says: “You didn’t seem so shy when you were biting me.”

It turns out them is fighting words, and eventually he stakes her, knocks her off the catwalk and darn near onto the bandstand. Poof! Dust explosion. The young people of Sunnydale pretend they didn’t see anything. The band hates playing vampire towns.

Very nearby, Buffy is checking with the Bronze bouncer. This sounds like a superhero name, doesn’t it? Bronze Bouncer, Facebook friend of Silvery Surfer and assorted metallic beings! What I want to know is since when does the Bronze have a bouncer? Despite my skepticism, he confirms that yes, Spike’s been quite the player lately.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper

The player is, at this point, thoroughly freaked out. He actually phones Buffy in a panic and arranges a meet. The First appears to him, as him, and says he’s not behaving according to specs. Nevertheless, Spike takes Buffy to his new favorite basement, babbles a bit at “Spike,” and then ’fesses up: he thinks he did perhaps kill some people after all. And buried them here.

Why, she asks, but he doesn’t know.

At this point the First gets all singy. It’s irrational, but I feel as though this is cheating. I preferred the creepiness of the moment when the busker’s song changed to Spike’s mystic homicidal trigger. In comparison, this just seems lazy. Be that as it may, Spike attacks Buffy. A minute later, while she’s trying to talk him down from Crazy Tower, vampires start clawing their way out of the basement floor and grab her.

Ooh, she’s helpless and oh so delectable! The First urges Spike to take a bite. Instead, he has a little lap at the blood on her shoulder. It’s a call-back to “Buffy vs. Dracula”—her blood makes him remember everything. The memories cause Spike to spaz out, giving her time to kill his collection of newly sired Spikettes. William’s dreams of dominance on the undead bowling circuit are dust before they’re even truly realized.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike

The First gloats about how Buffy’s going to kill Spike now. He’s pretty okay with that. He offers her his chest and asks her to stake him fast. He also mentions a song. 

She declines to kill him, though he begs her to do the right thing.

“There’s something playing with us,” she insists, and he asks if she can help him. The First is deeply unimpressed by it all.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike, First

But Buffy has a plan now: use Spike to find out about the as-yet unmasked Devourer from beneath. She has to sell the gang on this, of course, and she does so by pointing out that whatever’s been playing them all, it’s bad, getting worse, and seems to have an all-access pass to the remnants of Spike’s brain.

“Sleeper” is an episode with a lot of momentum behind it. Spike, who up until now had seemed to be circling some kind of drain, is catapulted into motion—past the chip, past the soul, and back into killing. It’s a chilling demonstration of the First’s power, one that shows that you don’t need to be able to touch the world, physically, to have an effect upon it. We see the seeds of trouble yet to come being sown between Dawn and Buffy, and though I’m not the biggest Spuffy shipper on the block, or even within these conversation threads, I really admire how steadfast Buffy is here in trying to find ways to take care of Spike. She didn’t ask for the burden of another souled vampire—and they are awfully burdensome, in their way—but she’s doing her best to make up for past mistakes by shouldering him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Spike, Willow, Xander, Dawn, Anya

For dessert in “Sleeper,” we get Giles!! Who is finding the dead Potential and her punctured Watcher, Robson. Robson isn’t quite finished yet, and offers up some direct, if opaque, dying words: “Gather them. It’s started.” He doesn’t have time or breath to add “Feed my fish,” or “I left the gas on,” or “Look behind you, Rupert.”

As Giles is reassuring him, a Firstite comes up behind him with an ax and murderous intent. This leaves us all on the cliffhanger: Eeek!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sleeper, Giles

Next: Interrogations All Around

A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction 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. (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.

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Jack Flynn
1. JackofMidworld
Back when this first aired, I was of the mindset that Joyce was actually Joyce and was trying to protect Dawn from the big dark whatever that the First had actually 'sent' looking for her, especially since that whole "Buffy won't choose you" bit could mean any number of things. Sadly, I can't remember if I stuck with that theory or not (memory's the first thing to...uh...something-something, I think?).

Giles and the Axe-man, though, that seriously freaked me out, especially in the episodes that followed.
2. Sophist
"What I want to know is since when does the Bronze have a bouncer?"

There was a bouncer at the Bronze in The Harvest (he gets eaten by Luke). But I'm pretty sure the bouncer here in Sleeper was working at another club.
3. vjj
Man, Seasons 6 and 7 of Buffy were just pure crap. The drop in quality from Season 5 was just unbearable.

The problem always was, if Whedon doesn't have his full attention on a project, it just deteriorates into nothing. Agents of SHIELD being the best example.
4. Dianthus
This is another one of those episodes which, for me, is kinda 'meh' overall, and that "one bite stand" line. Ugh. However, I do love the scene btwn Spike and Anya. Spike in 'blushing bride' mode is totes adorbs. Also, the scene btwn Spike and Buffy in the basement. Spike offering himself up for the staking, taking responsibility for this new round of killings, even tho' he hasn't been in full control of his actions....powerful stuff.
Becoming a vampire is abdicating responsibility. We've seen Spike taking on more and more responsibility (mostly for Dawn, but also in his response to the AR). Here, he's all in.
The Bronze Bouncer (TM) only knows what he's seen. Otherwise the idea of this Spike (after everything he's been thru) as some kind of 'Playa' is a joke, IMO.
It's a sad day, too, when you have to remind the person you love that she is (partly) why you got your soul. This just Does. Not. Happen! as a rule. Spike's done something no other vampire's done in the history of ever, but the others are just so blase about it. Even for folks who've been in Sunnydale as long as they have, and despite the meta, it's always seemed strange to me.
As you say, tho', Alex, at least she's finally to the point of helping him.
5. Dianthus
Spuffy ain't easy, it's true. It reminds me of a line (an old joke) from The Thomas Crown Affair: How do porcupines mate? Spikes and stakes; birds of a feather. Buffy and Spike need each other. Listen to this exchange from The Replacement -
* Buffy: "This stops now. I'm taking you to the doctor."
* Riley: "The one from the government, you mean? Like the ones who did this to me in the first place?"
* Buffy: "He's the only one who understands what's wrong with you. He's the only one who can help." (emphasis mine)
That's right, Buffy. The only one who can help you with your heart problem is someone like the guy who originally caused it.
For Spike, Buffy is his salvation. In Out of my Mind -
"Buffy, I love you. God, I love you so much."
In Fool for Love, he pokes her in the side, where she's been injured (Christ-like). We'll get more of this at the beginning of s6, when he sees her hands as she comes down the staircase.

What I find most frustrating about it is Buffy's black and white world view. She can't seem to get over it, despite all experience to the contrary. Her friend Ford, Angel(us), Joyce, Giles, Spike himself (often shown in half-light)...She will, eventually, but damn if it doesn't take her long enough.
6. GarrettC
Jack @ 1: I'm of the opinion that this first part of the season is a tale of two Joyces. The Joyce who talks to Dawn is really only sowing distrust. There's no way this information can benefit Dawn, and it doesn't quite make sense that even a dead Joyce could be legitimately prescient. I believe the commentary confirms that Joyce was conceived as the First, and that Dawn was actually being protected from its influence by that Big Nasty Thing she expelled.

Later, we see another Joyce that shows up in Buffy's dreams, when she keeps nodding off during her three or four day run without a real rest. I don't recall the First operating through dreams, and Slayer dreams have access to forces that would make contact with actual Joyce make sense. That Joyce just wants Buffy to get some actual sleep, which seems ENTIRELY helpful to me.

Unfortunately, both threads get dropped pretty much immediately and the season does nothing with them. I think the first ~half of this season is really strong, but as soon as the potentials show up it becomes largely about people giving speeches and the Scoobie fracturing without actually resolving those fractures and guest spots that don't work (Ashanti, Fillion, even--unfortunately--Dushku), all at the expense of follow-through on this largely very good set-up.
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
Anya pretends to pout? No, Anya's full on ticked. Even though she wasn't actually there to get Spike's spike, she's still mad. That's the best part of that scene.
Jack Flynn
8. JackofMidworld
@Garrett - the 'tale of two Joyces' does make sense.

As far as Joyce being prescient, well...the Buffyverse is a world where getting vamped comes with an automatic download of kung fu skills, and an ex-high school queen bee can channel visions from the Powers That Be, so why wouldn't they use a familiar face if they can? Also, there was that not-so-random snowstorm that saved Angel back when the First was messing with his head after he came back from the hell-dimension, so it made total sense to me...and yeah, these are the kinds of leaps of logic that occur in my head on a daily basis :)
9. Alex C.
@5. Dianthus -
What I find most frustrating about it is Buffy's black and white world view. She can't seem to get over it, despite all experience to the contrary.
Could you provide some (non-Spike related) examples of Buffy's "black and white world view", because I don't think such a description fits the character (by this point in the show) at all.

She's hard-line about destroying any sort of demon that threatens the lives of innocents (which makes sense, given her past history), and about never killing humans herself (unless she really, really has to), but as far as the whole humans=good, demons=bad shtick goes, Buffy's been pretty flat on that since at least season 4 (wherin, if you recall, this was one of the main sticking points in her clashes with the Initiative in general, and Riley in particular).

As for Spike, I think that it's obvious that Buffy hasn't viewed him in "vampire=evil" terms since some point in season 6. She's very standoffish to him even for some time after he gets his soul back, but as was strongly hinted at in "Conversations With Dead People", that was for reasons that had as much to do with what she did to him as what he did to her - something that will be touched on again in the next episode.

There's a lovely article I found devoted to the "evolution of demon morality in Sunnydale" that I found, here. Check it out, it's worth a read.

Also worth a read: this lengthy analysis of "Sleeper". Touches on some of the writing and structural problems in S7, but also gets at some good reasons for why a lot of the Buffy/Spike material is very compelling all the same.

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