“The Killer in Me,” by Drew Z. Greenberg
This episode begins with Giles preparing to head out somewhere, all the while expressing concerns about whether the group will be okay in his absence. It turns out he’s taking the Potentials off to spirit quest with the First Slayer.
The point of it all, mostly, is that Giles is conspicuously not touching things—he has Dawn run a notebook out to Vi, while the Slayettes fight over who gets to drive the car. (Apparently Rupert’s California driver’s license is defunct.) He’s been not touching anything for awhile now, and when you’ve already seen this season once, it’s pretty obvious. If you haven’t, it’s been pretty elegantly done. As story elements go, it’s been noticeable, but not screaming in your face. (The style of this misdirection brings The Sixth Sense to mind, in my opinion).
After everyone’s gone, Buffy heads down to the basement, where Spike is chained up and enjoying the sweet silence that can only be generated by a lack of surplus teenagers in the house. He and she and we all get a break from Rona, Vi, and Amanda—where’s the downside?
Instead of falling into each other’s arms—I know, that’s not emotionally possible at this point—they explore the possibility that he’ll get all Firsty and slurp up one of the kids. But before things can stay dull, his Initiative chip starts firing in a big way. Ouch, ouch, screech! Gosh, could it be that someone’s not done paying for their crimes?
Some ill-defined time later, Buffy and Willow consider what to do about this latest development. They know nothing about the Initiative chip or its specs. Having established that, Willow makes a nice soothing cup of tea for Kennedy, who claimed to be too flu-infested to go on any Potential expeditions. She claims to have her own mission, and asks for help.
Kennedy’s idea of a mission, as it happens, is taking everyone’s favorite briefly-evil red-haired witch on a date. To the Bronze, naturally! She interrogates Willow about her gayness and asks for her coming out story, all while attempting to be supremely cute. She’s facing an uphill battle here. I mean, I can appreciate the effort she’s putting in, but is there anyone—Willow, Scooby, fan—who wouldn’t rather just have Tara back?
That said, the striving to be adorable isn’t entirely failing.
Dating is more fun than what Buffy’s got on her plate, which is Spike marinated in agony and nosebleeds, with a soupcon of what sounds suspiciously like “This is hopeless; let me die.” She phones out for assistance and ends up having one of those frustrating conversations, where the person on the other end of the line is pretending to be a confused florist. Come on, the Initiative. Just say: “Okay, honey, we’ll tell Riley. Is this an Apocalypse-level problem or more the mystical equivalent of a clogged toilet thing?”
Kennedy and Willow come home and start making out, and one thing the two of them have over WillTara, as a couple, is we don’t have to wait until they’re all but married before we see their lips lock. Women! Kissing! Except then Willow turns into Warren, which is a real comedowner. Who invited him?
Kennedy’s confused, and says as much, and a muddled Willow looks in the mirror. She sees Warren, too, and reacts with predictable revulsion. When she bolts downstairs, to XandAnya and Dawn, Andrew freaks right out. It’s the First, right? A reasonable assumption, as it has been Warren before.
The scene then descends into random, slightly comic, chaos: Buffy walks in and punches Willow, proving that whatever has turned up in her living room this time, it isn’t the First. (And also, possibly, that she hasn’t truly absorbed the idea that the First isn’t corporeal.) Spike’s chip fires, again, so he moans and writhes on the floor. Andrew gives in to the urge to hug Willow by the boobs.
It’s all too much. Willow flees, claiming she’ll get it all fixed. Kennedy follows along, hoping to help.
On a good day, if there was such a thing on her planet anymore, Buffy might have assigned someone more competent experienced or competent to assist Willow. But instead she and Spike are headed back down to the old Initiative caverns, in search of knockout drugs and data on the chip.
The only ones without anything to do are XandAnya... at least until the phone rings. There’s a moment where Andrew’s hoping it’s one of his comic suppliers, and Xander expresses an interest in the LXG title he’s got on order. Anya snorts.
This is not the first time the two men have connected, momentarily, over their love for things fannish and geeky. They get each other’s pop culture references; they read and enjoy the same stuff. I find these interactions awkward, almost off-putting, but they’re no more accidental than Giles not having his driver’s license. Part of the point is to remind us that Andrew’s not obnoxious and worthy of derision because he’s a fan. No, fans are good. Xander is one! He’s worthy of derision because he’s a sniveler and a murderer.
So, you know, fair enough.
But Xander’s fondness for comics, his ability to read Klingon, and his tendency to collect Babylon Five memorabilia has never been portrayed as his best quality. In fact, he’s got a bit of nerd shame over it: he catches himself whenever he and Andrew fall into this area of shared interest, and he looks self-conscious. Some of that may simply be about having anything in common with someone so fundamentally loathsome, but it predates his arrival at Chez Slay. And Anya doesn’t value it either: later, in the car, she dismisses the pair of them as “two big geeks.”
Xander has certainly done plenty to make Anya feel bad about herself, so maybe there’s an element of justice there. But I’m a little sad that of the two men, it’s Andrew who’s comfortable with his nerdy love of our culture, and Xander who feels a bit embarrassed.
Where are you all on this?
The phone call (Alyx said, getting back on point) is from that Watcher named Robson whom we saw getting attacked a few episodes ago. He tells Xander all about how he was attacked and then rescued by Giles. The worry, see, is that Giles is dead and the First is once again playing them. This should be an easy concern to dispel, but none of the Scoobies can remember Giles touching anything since he arrived.
Apparently he hasn’t eaten, put the toilet seat up (or down), or done anything useful or worthwhile during Potential-training besides, possibly, heckle.
The gang goes bolting off toward the desert in a panic, and to ice that cake we get a shot of Giles looking scary at a campfire. Did he perform the mystical hokey pokey that will let the pre-Slayers go on their quest, or did he send them to some kind of terrible doom? We don’t know!
Willow’s destination, meanwhile, is the UC Sunnydale campus Wicca group. Wow, she is desperate indeed if she’s calling upon the lemon bundt people. To their credit, they’ve come a long way since her single day among them. And look who’s in the club—it’s Amy! She’s deeply apologetic about dosing Willow with magic way back when. She even tries to fix the Warren spell. Wow, Amy’s so nice now!
The Warren within, however, is still a woman-hating jerk. When Amy fails, he slaps her.
This is bad. It means that Willow’s having taken on the appearance of Warren is just the beginning. She doesn’t just look like Tara’s murderer, she’s becoming him. This is deeply upsetting, of course. She runs, ditching Kennedy in the process.
Down in the Initiative tunnels, it’s turning out the army didn’t clean up after their final battle. There are monster bodies and dead soldiers everywhere. Stay classy, television armed forces. There’s at least one surviving monster too, and it grabs Buffy.
In the car headed for the desert, XandAnya, Dawn and Andrew are realizing they may be speeding toward the First with any actual plan for stopping it. This doesn’t keep them from going.
Left alone, Kennedy retraces her steps and finds Amy, who continues to sound wholesome and penitent for about a second. Then she slips up and refers to Kennedy as a Potential. Kennedy jumps on the clue and Amy’s nasty smirk returns.
(I’m not clear on who told Amy that Kennedy was a Potential. Is she working for the First, too?)
Down in the tunnels, the monster is beating on Buffy while Spike’s chip reduces him to dancing the headless chicken on the floor. The battle ends when the Initiative shows up—with matching outfits, firm jaws, and no gender diversity—and turns on the lights.
Warren, meanwhile, has run off and bought a gun.
Everything’s so tense! We need a comic break, don’t we? What if the Scoobies mob Giles to see if he’s corporeal? It’s sort of a puppy pile by the campfire: Dawn, XandAnya and—creepily—Andrew all verify for themselves that he’s among the living. Yay, Giles isn’t dead! It’s a bit of a cuddle moment and we’re all glad.
Down under the university, the Initative dudes tell Buffy they can repair or remove Spike’s chip. Riley has left the choice to Buffy. BtVS leaves us to wonder what she’ll decide. Except, of course, we can probably already figure that she’s not going to leave him on a leash.
In other news, Amy is still pretty wicked. She cast a penance hex on Willow. Kissing Kennedy triggered it because the spell is powered by Willow’s guilt, and so her unconscious chose the means by which she would be punished.
“This is all about power,” Amy tells Kennedy, in a tone of profound smug. Really, though, it’s about competitiveness and self-pity. She’s jealous because Willow has all kinds of things she doesn’t, chief among them forgiving friends and immense magical abilities. Also, Willow killed her mystic juice dealer, which has to be a bit of a burn.
The encounter ends when Amy teleports Kennedy to the Summers backyard, just as Warren is reliving last season’s arrival there with a gun. The two of them go back and forth as Kennedy tries to reach Willow through the wall of Warren. She’s tied in a bitter ball of guilt that is all about having forgotten Tara, in a sense, by kissing Kennedy. She’s feeling bad about moving on.
It’s easy to understand. Alyson Hannigan and Adam Busch both really sell it. Did I ever mention that Busch is terrific as this utterly loathsome guy?
Kennedy decides that maybe a good way to sort out the hex is to kiss Willow again! Magic being what it is, it works: the spell breaks. The healing power of womanly love melts away the misogynist. And nobody even bothers to go back to Amy to say “Nyah Nyah, Nyah.”
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”!)