Mon
Jan 6 2014 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Looking for Blood in All the Wrong Places

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

“Never Leave Me” by Drew Goddard and “Bring on the Night” by Marti Noxon and Douglas Petrie

This phase of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s seventh season is moving at breakneck speed: once again, with this episode, we pick up directly after what passed the week before. XandAnya, Willow and Dawn are trying to repair the damage from the First’s recent spooktacular visit to the Summers home. Instead of whistling while they work, Anya and Dawn are being vocal about their misgivings about Buffy’s “Let’s bring Spike home and not kill him immediately,” plan.

Elsewhere, the First is using Andrew as a reluctant agent, egging him on by appearing to be Warren and urging him to... well, at this point we aren’t sure precisely what the goal may be.

One of the things we do learn about the First, in case we all hadn’t processed it earlier, is that it can’t can’t take solid form. Andrew and Fake Warren compare this situation to its media antecedents, bringing up Obi-Wan Kenobi and Patrick Swayze in Ghost. They entirely leave out Al from Quantum Leap, so I am officially miffed.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Andrew, Jonathan

Whatever Andrew may think of playing minion to insubstantial wickedness, he’s pretty sure he can’t bring himself to commit any more homicides. The First promptly does a quick-change into Jonathan, claiming that getting murdered was the best thing that ever happened to him. He also reveals that Jonathan, who was anemic, simply didn’t have enough blood to adequately marinade the Seal of Danzalthar.

Upshot: the evil plan requires more blood, but Andrew is having wee whiny qualms about sticking a knife in any more humans.

Elsewhere—back in her ruin of a house, actually—Buffy is tying Spike to a chair. They’re not in kinky Spuffy mode, alas, but he nevertheless tells her to make sure all the knots are nice and tight. She also sends Dawn over to Robin Wood’s office, to report her in sick, and phones the never-useful Quentin Travers to see if he knows where Giles might be.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Travers

Ah, those Watchers. Travers hangs up after promising to be all kinds of helpful,  and then cheerily announces to his fellow wanky librarians that Buffy is out of the loop. Still, finding Giles would be good, he agrees. Who knows what he might be getting up to?

It isn’t long before Spike starts struggling with hunger pains, or bloodlust, or withdrawal. This effect, I like to speculate, is accentuated by his tendency to eat women who’ve been boozing it up. He’s not going to provide any information while he’s jonesing, though, so Willow heads off to the butcher’s shop to pick up some fresh blood.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

In the school basement, meanwhile, it turns out that Andrew not only isn’t up to killing another person, he can’t effectively stab a piglet either. Off he goes, therefore, to buy meat and pig’s blood. He’s just leaving when he bumps into Willow. Remembering the black-haired berserker state she was in last time he saw her, not to mention her overpowering urge to rip the flesh from his bones, he flees for his life.

Andrew is no better at running away than he is at porcine butchery; she catches him. Then he alternates between begging for his life and trying to justify what happened to Tara. He proceeds to stick his foot so far down his throat that even though Willow starts out by protesting that she isn’t going to kill him, she’s got to be reconsidering.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Willow, Andrew

Good wins out. She grabs up the blood—Hooray, free blood! More money for lattes!—and takes Andrew back to Chez Slay, where he joins in the “Tie a murderer to a chair day” theme party they’ve got going. They put him in one of the bedrooms and XandAnya start working “Good Cop, Bad Cop” on him. Hey, it’s a break from cleaning up wreckage.

One thin plasterboard wall away, Buffy feeds Spike the bagged blood. When he’s calmer, he says he only remembers flashes of his recent killing spree. And that he’s been losing time. He didn’t realize the Initiative chip had stopped working. He gives Buffy some details on how he got his soul back, at first laying it on heavy about the physical pain. Then he adds that all that was nothing compared to the suffering caused by his love for her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Anya Xander

She accuses him of self-pity, and they talk about how she used him to deal with her post-resurrection fit of self-loathing. He claims he understands her now. She’s rather cold as he tells her this... cold enough that I briefly found myself wondering if she was the First. But no.

Xander, still good copping, goes in and suggests that Andrew should be very afraid of Anya’s vengeance powers. We get a little subtexty as he talks about how she did in “some guy” by replacing his heart with darkness and despair. The strategem works—Andrew’s about to crack. Unfortunately, this is not what the First especially wants.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Andrew, Spike

So, as Buffy has a quick check-in with XandAnya, it swings into disembodied action. When she comes back, Spike is talking to himself and having a little sing. The First is in the room now, disguised as another Spike. Acting under its orders, Spike asks for more blood, as a way of distracting her. Then he shatters the chair, oh so easily. Ropes? What ropes? He knocks her aside, then tries to grab and eat Andrew, the idea being to shut him up before he can spill all he knows about the Seal of Danzalthar.

(And also, maybe, to ensure there isn’t a single un-trashed room in the house. Evil can operate on many levels at once.)

Real Spike gets a little taste of Andrew before Buffy stops him. Then he’s horrified. Fake “Spike” is simply disappointed. What’s the point of being the source of all evil if you can’t even kill your own annoying toadie?

The gang hashes over what happened and Xander realizes that Spike is probably conditioned with a post-hypnotic trigger. Buffy orders research.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Robin Wood

Over at the high school, Robin Wood finds Jonathan’s body in the basement. There’s still no word on the pig.

Robin’s coming late to the story, but he still gets a rather leisurely introduction. After all, we still don’t know at this point if he’s good or bad. The expression on his face doesn’t say:  “Oh, what a tragic waste of human life!” But it also doesn’t say: “Whee! A delicious fresh corpse! Just what I needed for my latest necromancy spell and that pate I’ve been meaning to make.”

What’s his secret? It’s like they mean for us to wonder.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Spike

Having busted up the one surviving piece of decent sittable furniture in the Summers home, Spike gets downgraded to chains in the basement. Buffy comes to wash Andrew’s blood off his face, ever so gently, and she explains about the trigger. Spike says she ought to kill him. No? He tries to be extra repellent, so she’ll do it. He even accuses her of keeping him alive because she likes men who hurt her.

But Buffy declines. He’s alive because, essentially, he’s trying to be a better man. And she believes he can. This is a huge deal, for her and for him. She’s not returning his love, but she’s recognizing its effects.

That’s when the pile of rubble she likes to call a house gets attacked.

As Robin buries Jonathan’s body in an unmarked grave, outside of town (near some oil rigs, oddly enough), the Scoobies fight off the latest home invasion. Or try to. They save Andrew, but the baddies grab Spike. I feel Dawn makes out quite well in the melee, as such things go. When her luck runs out, Xander is very heroic in saving her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Dawn

The upside of it all is that Buffy recognizes their attackers—they’re the Bringers. Or the Harbingers. The First’s pals. Isn’t it nice having everyone on the same page?

Over at Watcher Central, they’ve also figured out that it’s the First who’s after them. After them in a big way, as it happens. The Harbingers are scoring wins, casualty reports are coming in and Quentin Travers is rallying the surviving troops for some strategic running away. We’re off to the Hellmouth, he announces gaily.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

Then, fortunately for Buffy’s fraying nerves, if not the whole darned world, the London office blows up. Bye, Quentin and Company. I hope you left your personal fortunes to someone who could use them. Like, you know, Buffy Summers.

Down by the still-hungry Seal of Danzalthar, Fake Spike is having his deliciously corporeal Harbingers tie Real Spike to a torture wheel so they can bleed him. They carve runes in his chest and gravity does the rest. The seal opens, and out comes a supervamp.

Who says, basically: “Rrarr.”

Part two of this story, “Bring on the Night,” starts with an echo of its predecessor. Xander’s sweeping up glass in Buffy’s living room and wondering if he’ll be replacing the front window for all eternity. If he’d made it to college, he could have said something about Sisyphus. Everyone else is attempting to work their Google-fu on the First. All they really know is it tried to get Angel to kill himself. Nobody even mentions that it did so dressed as Jenny Calendar.

At some point Dawn takes time out to slap Andrew. I enjoyed this.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Joyce

Buffy asks for a book and the person who hands it to her is... Joyce! Naturally, it’s a Fake Joyce. She tries being nurturing, but Buffy’s on to her game. Then Joyce says she can’t win.

Elsewhere, Spike is getting dragged around the Sunnydale Caverns of Evil (now under new management!) by the noseless vampire and taunted by Fake Drusilla. “Soon as the new moon comes, you’ll have your carnage,” she promises Noseless. In the meantime, she lets her new pet play with Spike.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Dru

When Andrew finally comes around, he’s a little boggled that Buffy saved him. The group tells him this is no random act of unconditional kindness. The point is that now he’ll spill his guts. He does, and even leads them down to the Satanic Manhole Cover, as Xander calls it. They find the First’s torture wheel there, all covered in Spikejuice and redemptive suffering.

Buffy orders the team to rebury the seal and they’re all leaving when they run into Robin Wood. Everyone’s got a shovel. They make strange excuses about the gardening gear, talk about work, and then go their separate ways.

Back at the house, Willow is trying a locator spell. It goes badly; she’s momentarily possessed, and then completely freaks out, for fear of reverting to evil. Two seconds later, Giles turns up, leading a trio of Potentials.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Willow

They’re through the door before anyone can hug or touch Giles. He explains that there were other girls, ones who were murdered by the Harbingers. Their Watchers are toast too, of course, and we flash back to the peril Giles was in when we last saw him. They don’t show how he escaped. We’re left to wonder if he’s actually, maybe, an Evil Giles.

The shape of the First’s plan begins to emerge. It is trying to wipe out the whole Slayer line, down to the last Watcher and baby Slayer. It wants their books, their spells, their weapons, every single world-destroying amulet, and the heads of Faith and Buffy, preferably on pikes. And they have a head start. Everything’s gone except a few files, and a couple musty tomes that Giles stole from London before the Watchers went boom.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

Partway through this scene, Andrew chimes in with a dramatic utterance and gets gagged. I find myself incredibly annoyed by him. Tom Lenk does his best in this role, and I know there are people who like the character, but at this point he’s abrasive: weaselly, whiny, and a total waste of screen time.

Giles restates the First’s limitations: being non-corporeal, only being able to appear as someone who has passed away (loophole there on Buffy, since she’s died twice). It’s not evil, he tells them, so much as it is the source of evil.

As for the Slayettes: Kennedy is freaking out, Molly’s not far behind her, and Annabelle is trying for a Teacher’s Pet award by sucking up to Giles and Buffy bigtime.

With all that going on, it’s something of a relief to return to the comparative peace and quiet of the source of all evil’s hideyhole, where Noseless is drowning Spike and FirstDrusilla is attempting to school him on how crazy babbling really should sound. His Gibbering William persona has nothing on her. I really enjoy seeing Juliet Landau again in this episode.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Giles

One of the few things that are likeable about Giles’s absences is that it’s becoming traditional, in a way, for him and Buffy to go off together and debrief whenever he comes back. She isn’t sleeping with Spike this time, so today’s reunion isn’t quite the laugh riot that the last one was. Still, I enjoy seeing them connect, and bask in each other’s company and their mutual affection.

Back at home, logistics are being tackled and sleeping arrangements negotiated. Kennedy is deciding that she will be Willow’s roommate, while the others are figuring out how and how much and what to feed the Potentials.

Next, Buffy and Giles return to the Christmas Tree lot from “Amends” and find the tunnel entrance. Soon enough she’s scrapping with Noseless. She stakes him, and he responds with the ancient vampire equivalent of “Oh, Pshaw. This little thing?”

The fight goes badly, but because Buffy is smart, she runs... and manages to escape, too, if only because the sun is coming up.

She and Giles head home, where Giles balks at telling her about Noseless in front of the potentials. Buffy argues they don’t have time to be precious, and so he says the thing’s proper name is a Turok-Han. Basically they’re ubervamps—even Buffy uses that term.

Now it’s Giles, rather than Xander or Fake Joyce, telling her she should sleep.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

Instead she goes to work, where Robin Wood catches her trying to look up evil on the internet. She claims to be looking for horror movies, and he says he prefers mysteries. They don’t get into the obvious but awkward question of what they were each doing in the basement with shovels the day before.

Back at the Fake Drusilla, the First is trying to woo Spike over to the side of evil and he’s not going for it.

Buffy, who is seriously sleep deprived and almost as bruised as Spike after her go ’round with Noseless, dozes off. Once again, she sees Joyce, who argues that Buffy needs to rest and heal. She’s kind and lovely and tells Buffy that Evil is everywhere, and therefore unstoppable. On that cheery note, Buffy wakes to find she fell asleep during a student conference.

That evening as they wait for sundown, the Slayettes kick up about whether or not they’re ready to weapon up and join the fight. Kennedy is especially unhappy about being unarmed. Snotty little Annabelle, who had previously been all “Obey the Slayer,” runs away... right into Noseless’s stinky grey maw.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

Buffy finds her body fast enough, and Noseless is waiting. She’s still horrifically outmatched, and so leads him into a construction site. He follows. She drops a flat of pipes on him, which would be sufficient to profoundly overkill any ordinary vamp, but no. He’s fine, and ready to resume the pounding. It’s Buffy versus Glory all over again. He pulps her, and then declines to finish her off, opting instead to go back to the caves for more Spike abuse.

“Do you know why you’re alive?” Fake Drusilla asks Spike. “Because I’m not done with you.”

The two of them argue about whether Spike has any potential to be good. Buffy’s belief in him is the only thing sustaining him.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On, Spike

And speaking of belief, Buffy finds herself home, hurt, and listening as a worried Scooby gang talks about whether she’s going to be entirely useless against Noseless and his kin. If there’s a vampire out there who can’t be defeated by a Slayer, aren’t the rest of them toast?

But no. Buffy tells them they’re going to fight and win. “There is only one thing on this earth more powerful than evil, and that’s us. Any questions?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Never Leave Me, Bring It On

These episodes do a lot of heavy lifting. They set out a basic structure for the rest of the year: Buffy becomes leader of a small but growing army of Potentials. Giles returns, for good or ill Andrew joins the fold, the Watchers’ Council and any help it might offer are taken off the table. Finally, Spike is given a chance to willingly rejoin Team Evil. Refusing, and suffering as a result, is another key step in his redemptive journey.

We see that Robin Wood isn’t the kind of guy to pick up the phone and call the Sunnydale P.D. when he finds an anemic alumnus cooling in the basement with a fatal knife wound.

The introduction of a vampire Buffy can’t easily defeat, on the other hand, isn’t really a new development. She has long since grown beyond the point where a purley physical challenge is significant: we expect her enemies to be brawnier than she is at this point. It does, however, make things tricky when she’s got all those Slayettes to keep alive, not to mention a soul-addled vampire to rescue.

But that’s a story for another day, isn’t it?

Next: Eye of Beljoxa, Tongue of Newt

 


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.

32 comments
Constance Sublette
1. Zorra
Kennedy antagonized me from the very first second.

Too much suffering Spike maybe.

It remains annoying that we never learn how Giles escaped his killers.

Principal Wood and his mystery is more than interesting, and the only thing that is, in a certain sense, because we've seen all this before in other seasons in other permutations. But Principal Wood, we have not before seen.

Nevertheless, considering everything, including particularly this is season 7 in the inconstant and horrendous context of keeping something going from one half season to another without any guarantees, the writers did a great job.

Love, C.
GarrettC
2. GarrettC
The potentials showing up was the turning point of this season for me. There is no shortage of lovely moments upcoming, but they tend to be isolated. The potentials only ended up adding negatives, even if I like some of the actresses a lot. They begin the torrents of speechifying. They introduce endless opportunities for existential angst and regular-istential bickering. Kennedy isn't as bad as the hate for her suggests, but she's so perfectly the anti-Tara that she's not even exactly an actual character. She's also at the center of a conversation about lesbianism later in the season that I find pretty ploblematic.

@Zorra: We do learn exactly how Giles escaped his attackers. We even see it in what appears to be a reliable flashback.

It's disappointing that Joyce stops being a thing after this. I've said it before, but I like to imagine that what we've seen is a tale of two Joyces. Dawn's Joyce appears the same way we see the First appear for everybody else, and does the same thing the First does to everybody else: Tries to plant seeds of uncertainty. But Buffy's dream Joyce seems genuinely helpful. When she says you can't defeat evil, she's telling the truth. Evil is a fact. You can only hope to contain it. When she tells Buffy to get real sleep, she's showing the same concern and the same good sense that Xander and Giles do when they tell her exactly the same thing.

The Turok-Han are also a source of disappointmen, for several reasons. I always disliked that they were such cheap Lord of the Rings knockoffs. The Buffy-verse had previously established a "look" for the "full" vampire, when Angel visited Pylea. Of course, the Turok-Han are only ancestrally related in an ancient sort of way, but building in a greater resemblance there would have been much more gratifying. They're also disappointing because their strength is so carelessly abused. Joss rationalizes how weak the T-H army is in the final battle as a function of metaphor, which, okay, sure, whatever. But it's also baldly inconsistent, and easy to get around. Can't Willow's spell, releasing the Slayer line from the limitations imposed on them by men, simply unlock the *true* Slayer potential in all of them, a potential that had been oppressed/suppressed in even Buffy and Faith to that point? Hey! Problem solved!

I'm also frustrated by the First's plans regarding Spike. It has always made a great deal of sense to me that the First knew that its two greatest adversaries were Willow and Spike. Willow, who could unlock the potential of the Slayer line, and Spike, who would weild the amulet that would close the Hellmouth. Early in the season, the First's plan is clearly to eliminate both, first by trying to get Buffy to kill a "relapsed" Spike, and by trying to get Willow to kill herseld, and then by trying to get Robin to finish Spike off. If even one of them is dead, Buffy loses (with the possible exception of Angel wearing the amulet--but the First has already failed to kill Angel, right?). The goal is explicitly to get Spike out of the picture. So, with Spike captured and killable, it keeps him around? For TV reasons that never actually get explained or dealt with? "I'm not finished with you"? Puh-lease.

It's not all bad, of course. I actually really like the follow-through later in the year on Willow's grieving process. Robin Wood is a consistent bright spot in the season, even if the "is he evil? nope!" gag is something that seems pretty un-Buffy-like. There have been Big Bad misleads, but the ones that seemed evil to begin with actually turned out to be evil, only less so than the real Big Bad (Spike, the trio, Mr. Trick). I don't think there's been one that seemed evil but then actually turned out to be good. That kind of mislead is more of a Firefly Pilot sort of trick.

Crud, I'm complaining again.

Ummm... Dawn is shockingly tolerable this season. It's nice to get Faith back as we go, even if her execution isn't nearly as sharp this time around. The finale is rather good and appropriately final. Nerf Herder gets some on-screen action. All positives here.
GarrettC
3. Peter Galen Massey
I'm a big fan of Buffy, and this is an impressive level of review and analysis. Thanks!
Sydo Zandstra
4. Fiddler
Zorra,

IIRC the follow up scene on the one is shown in the episode where Giles takes the Slayettes to a desert trip, and the Scooby Gang thinks he must be the First impersonating him.

Or did you mean him escaping from England?

Kennedy. I never warmed up to her. Maybe it's the poshy spoilt English brat background, or just that she was very eager and instrumental on replacing Buffy with Faith later on.
Rob Rater
5. Quasarmodo
They liked their episode ending speeches in S7.

I'm a little surprised that with the First infiltrating their ranks, that they never implemented a ritual of touching whenever they ran into one another in the house. A forearm clasp or something. Whenever you're walking around the house, and you run into someone else, no matter how short it's been since you last saw them, clasp forearms, bump fists, something. You'd completely eliminate the possibility of being fooled by the First impersonating someone else in the house.
GarrettC
6. sofrina
@5 - secret handshake. great idea, actually.

@2 - i've always thought of this joyce as one of buffy's prophetic dreams. she is being told to do something vital to her cause, and as long as she resists things keep falling apart. it isn't until buffy finally heeds that advice that she's able to make the crucial connections to turn this war around.
GarrettC
8. Dianthus
I was a big Quantum Leap fan as well.

Buffy accusing someone else of self-pity is just so the pot calling the kettle black. She spent most of s3 angsting over Angel and most of s6 as a walking ball of misery. Asking Spike when his chip stopped working (which we know it didn't) is just stupid, considering what shape he was in, of which she's well aware.

I maintain that Spike's always understood Buffy pretty well. Now, tho', he's gotten his own taste of self-loathing, and he understands why she treated him the way she did, and why she was so reluctant to listen to him. As for her coldness, well, no one likes being reminded of their mistakes, I guess.

"I believe in you, Spike." Ah, what a moment. It's about time, girl! She also tells him she doesn't hate like that anymore; not him, not herself. It's kinda crazy, tho'. She didn't want Angel to break her heart, or Parker to be a douchebag, or Riley to bail on her (at the worst possible time).

I was (briefly) happy to see Lydia again. Too bad she went Boom! with the other Watchers. I like to think she survived (in some freakish twist).

Can we form a line for slapping Andrew? Like in Airplane?

Why, for pity's sake, would you try to drown a vampire? They don't need to breathe. Someone, don't remember who, said we should imagine it's Holy Water. Ugh. No thank you. Not only are we given no reason to think it's Holy Water, Spike inhales some, and that woulda just dusted him.

I have to second most of Garrett's comments here. We'll get some lovely isolated moments, but the Potentials are mostly just background noise.

I didn't actually hate Kennedy at this point, but it'll happen. As if one turd in the punchbowl (Andrew) wasn't enough.

Dru's gibbering usually had a sideways sort of sense to it. Her comment from FFL, for example:
"The King of Cups wants a picnic, but today is not his birthday."
The King of Cups (Tarot) refers to Spike. The King is a masculine authority, but Cups is a feminine suit. We see Spike leaping over obstacles, confronting the fearsome Angelus, and forcefully taking Dru in his arms, but we also see him in make-up (guy-liner), jewelry, and nail polish. He fights with a woman and takes her coat.

I love the fact that the Scoobies are so ready to throw in the towel here. Geez, you guys. Way to be supportive.
Buffy doesn't make a very good leader. I was taking a class in business mgmt in school around the time this aired. That hardly makes me an expert, but even I could see from such limited exposure that leadership wasn't really her thing. You could argue she was being forced into the role, and there's some truth to it, but she's just not a Great Natural Leader. Unfortunately, they had her in that position in s8 of the comix, too. I don't think the writers (of either season) really understand leadership. It's a lot more than just endless speechifying. Even the other characters got sick of it after a while. How do they think we felt?
Genevieve Williams
9. welltemperedwriter
I think Dianthus has a point. The show never seemed quite sure what to do with the Potentials once they showed up and they mostly wound up as cannon fodder. Buffy speechifying instead of leading was realistic enough--you're right that it's not her strong suit--but it got to the point where enough was enough. There's some pretty good scenes where she's teaching them how to do stuff, and I wanted to see her growing into the role at least a little--not becoming General Patton in a few months or anything, but starting to understand that this was different from fighting alone or having just her crew around her.

I haven't watched Season 7 in awhile, but I remember it as being incredibly talky. And Preacher Mal (whatever that character's name is, I can't remember) is like a cartoon villain.
GarrettC
10. Dianthus
@9. Thanks!

Caleb (evil preacher) was a huge disappointment for me as well. These are the same folks who gave us Mayor Wilkins, after all. I loved the Mayor. Evil, sure, but goofy and good to Faith (in his way). Even Glory was marginally sympathetic. She just wanted to go home.
Caleb's got about as much depth as the paper he was written on; cartoony and awful. I hadn't seen Nathan Fillion in anything else yet, either. He's wasted in such a boring role.
Jenny Thrash
11. Sihaya
#2: I agree with you about Joyce. I mean, she picks up a book and hands it to Buffy. She may be a dream, but she's not a hallucination. She's a different Joyce.

#10: 100% on board with you about Caleb. I was so looking forward to that baddie. So disappointed. I *like* broad villains - Vincent Price made the case for them decades ago. But Caleb was like a tofu loaf - all ham with no actual meat.
GarrettC
12. Sophist
"I agree with you about Joyce. I mean, she picks up a book and hands it to Buffy. She may be a dream, but she's not a hallucination. She's a different Joyce."

After BotN aired, Jane Espenson clarified that DreamJoyce was also the First Evil. She could "touch" books because it was a dream.
GarrettC
13. Alex C.
Great (double) review Alyx!

This is the point in the season where, unfortunately, after some excellent build-up over the first ten episodes, the overall quality of the season starts to go downhill, mostly (but not exclusively) because of a widening gap between the main ideas underpinning the story and the success of their dramatic execution.

The First Evil is as good an example of this as any. It has a few good moments over the rest of the season - siccing Wood on Spike, showing up in the guise of the Mayor to spook Faith, and pretty much any scene where it chews scenery in the guise of Evil!Buffy (because SMG is lovely to watch as a scene-chewing villain, it turns out), but this is pretty much its high-water mark. Dare I say it, it was a Big Bad that never lived up to its potential (or should that be Potential?).

If we take a step beyond simply pointing out the flaws in Season 7, and think about what might have been done to fix or mitigate them, I actually think that there was a fairly simple change that could have killed two birds with one stone on the seasonal villainy front: have Caleb introduced early, instead of late, in the season.

One of the reasons that I think this character fell flat when he finally showed up, was that he smacks of being the Little Bad, who ought to have dominated the first half of the season (ala Spike/Drusilla, Mr. Trick, Dr. Walsh, and the Trio) instead of showing up at the end to steal attention away from the Big Bad.

If he had been introduced much earlier, then it would have been fairly easy to re-jigger the story so that he (instead of the First) is behind most of the things that happen in the first two acts of the season. Give him some more and better character development/background, perhaps some extra sorcerous powers to be even more of a threat. Nathan Fillion is easily a talented enough actor to have pulled off such a role, if it had been created for him.

Buffy defeating him would then have become the traditional mid-season mini-triumph (which saves us from having to go through all that nonsense with the uber-vamp instead). Only then - Surprise! - the First Evil is revealed in the last third of the season to be the true Big Bad. With fewer episodes to work in, and with much more thought put into the potentially creepy uses of its power (get rid of the silly "Is Giles the First?" sub-plot - that was just groan-worthy), the FE could have been a really effective villain.

Instead, unfortunately, Mutant Enemy continued the trend whereby, after perfecting the Big Bad formula in the early seasons, they were never quite able to get the hang of it again. Angelus and the Mayor were both handled just right - thereafter, Adam was a poor replacement for Dr. Walsh after the actress left the show unexpectedly; the writers pulled the trigger too early on Glory; Dark Willow was spoiled by the drug addiction stuff; and the First Evil is lost in the messiness of Season 7.

Any thoughts, anyone?
GarrettC
14. Alex C.
A point should also be made, I think, about Buffy's leadership of the Potentials (naked plot device that they are). Contra some of the comments above, I think that the problem is not so much that she has a surfeit of Natural Leadership, but rather something that's already been foreshadowed in "Selfless" and "Conversations With Dead People", and will continue to be developed up to "Touched", and eventually "Chosen": she's actively engaged in refusing to connect with people, and accordingly resorts instead to either egging them on or tearing them down with speeches that even she herself obviously doesn't believe in.

Along the way, we'll see that she mostly makes the right calls about how to fight the enemy that they face (telling Willow to start using big magic again, keeping Spike around despite the doubts from most everyone else, forcing Andrew to show remorse for his actions in "Storyteller", going after the Scythe that Caleb's trying to hide, and eventually coming up with the idea to Empower the Potentials), but in the process manages to lose pretty much everyone else except Spike, who winds up being the deeply ironic (and utterly lovely) source of her salvation - which is the main reason why I think that their farewell to each other, and not the empowerment of the Potentials (can I stress again how much of an abysmal plot device they were) ought to be seen as the true emotional/triumphant climax (in more senses than one...) of the season.
Alyx Dellamonica
15. AMDellamonica
A touching ritual makes a lot of sense, and you'd think in such a crowded house it would almost be impossible not to get touchy now and then.

The Potentials do complicate things in terms of taking over the story without offering a lot of payoff. The speeching wears down my goodwill a little more each time the group falls into it. And yet, I love where "Chosen" ends up.

Hammy or no, I'm looking forward to getting to Nathan Fillion.
GarrettC
16. Alex C.
@15. That sums it up pretty well for me too.

The fact that Season 7 ultimately succeeds in carrying the story of the show to a good and satisfying ending on so many fronts - for Buffy, Willow, Spike, Faith, Sunnydale & the Hellmouth, the legacy of the Slayer, etc - is one of the main selling points, I think, for why it ought to be considered a respectable season of Buffy despite all the flaws. In fact, I think that those flaws would matter a lot less if it weren't for the fact that this was the last season, and it was disappointing for the show not to finish on a note that lived up to its previous highs.

The Potentials make up a really awkward addition to the mythology of the show (Why is it that only some girls can be chosen as Slayers? What is the point of having so many of them, and entrusting them all with Watchers?), and I think it's obvious that they were concieved solely for the purpose of the ending in "Chosen". That would have bothered me less if they had been developed well as characters, but the only ones whose names/faces I could remember while watching the show, I was indifferent to at best, and actively disliked at worst.
Chris Nelly
17. Aeryl
@13, (because SMG is lovely to watch as a scene-chewing villain, it turns out)

You forget this is a woman who got her start in soaps and originally auditioned for Cordelia. Playing First!Buffy was like coming home for her!

SMG's performance as the First was the most phenomenal performance of the season, IMO. I started reading about some of the internet stuff about Buffy at the time this season aired, and one rumor that kept going around, was that SMG was tired of the role.

And I agreed! Look at her as Buffy. She looks exhausted, her voice starts breaking and cracking all the time. OTOH, look at her as the First. Effervescent(effulgent, even?), smiling, bouncy hair. The dichotomy between the two portrayals is so incredible, that I literally associated Buffy's exhaustion with rumors about SMG, and in my mind, it was almost as if a different actor was playing the First, it's that GOOD.

@14, I completely agree with you that Buffy has a hard time connecting, but that is what makes her a bad leader. I am much the same way, friendly and warm, but I hesitate to really connect with people in RL and that's always made me shitty in management positions. This inability to connect and inability to lead carries over into the comics, and it's a great continuation of Buffy's flaws.

As far as the Potentials go, they are supposed to be abrasive and unlikable. Much like Buffy was to Giles in Season 1. It fails, because Buffy was either proven right, or shown to have learned something when she's wrong, and that consideration is never given to the Potentials. Instead, they are almost always wrong, and never learn better.

The examination of "why only some" is kinda silly to me, it's literally the basis for the entire show (one girl in all the world). And it's been canon since Season 2 that the Watchers watched Potentials. Kendra grew up knowing she could be the Slayer and prepared for it her whole life, so I think it's unfair to say they only came up with for the ending in Chosen. And it was also demonstrated with Kendra, that they did that so the Slayers were easier to control, if they'd been indoctrinated from childhood.

It's also established that Faith had contact with her first Watcher before she was ever Called. The idea was always that Buffy slipped under the radar of the Council, or because of her white suburban middle class upbringing, was considered unapproachable(Can you imagine?!?! Like Dumbledore explaining things to Tom Riddle, but only more horrific with America's helicopter parents), or unlikely to be called.
Constance Sublette
18. Zorra
Thank you all who have pointed where to find how Giles escaped when knocked out. I've re-watched this series so often and have never seen it. (Have I had to get up and check on my dinner cooking at these points every time I've watched this? TMI -- I do most of my dvd - streaming watching during the dinner phase of the day -- prepping, actually cooking, etc. Some people have cocktail hours, I have tv watching hours.) I'll look again, thanks to you.

Love, C.
GarrettC
19. Alex C.
@17. Brilliant points, all round.

SMG's increasingly haggard appearance (as real!Buffy) in the latter part of the season is just one of the multiple indicators from which I think the audience is meant to infer (particularly after "Get It Done") that Buffy is barely sleeping these days, if at all. Which is entirely understandable, under the circumstances - even on the rare occasions when she does manage to get some shut-eye, she's only getting more nightmares about the First and its victims.

What does bother me (because it undermines my sympathy for the characters) is how obtuse the rest of the Scoobies are when it comes to picking up on the signs that their friend is burning herself out so badly. This isn't something that's unique to Season 7 - they were just as clueless in S6 about figuring out that she was clinically depressed, and as far back as S5 we have the incident where they failed to realize that she had been replaced by a robot!

To a certain extent I can accept this as underlining the point: Buffy is closing herself off emotionally, and breaking her connections with people. My problem is that she ends up shouldering all of the blame for this, just like she always has, all the way back to Season 3 and "Dead Man's Party". If there is an upshot to this, I think it's a large part of what ends up making the Buffy/Spike relationship so compelling as it develops: despite the fact that he so often misunderstood or hurt her, in the later seasons he was the only one of the main characters who really did make that persistent effort to connect with her (in more ways than one...), until she did, in the end, finally reciprocate.

...

I take your point about the compatibility of the Potentials with the previously established mythology of the show. Still, all told they really felt like an intrusion on the story, even aside from their lacklustre portrayal. I almost wonder if the story might not have worked just as well if none of them had ever come to Sunnydale, and they were only ever shown being killed by the Bringers around the world, and then being Empowered at the end.
Alyx Dellamonica
20. AMDellamonica
I almost wonder if the story might not have worked just as well if none of them had ever come to Sunnydale...

Well... I'm not sure. It's a logical part of Buffy's growth that she comes to lead the Slayer organization. It's not a one-off blow up the high school battle, but permanent leadership. Without a few Slayettes to bring that home, would it work?
GarrettC
21. Alex C.
@20. It depends on whether or not you think the Slayer organization, and Buffy's leadership of it, is central to her arc as a character. As I've mentioned a few times before, I don't really see it this way. There's a lot of (not always very convincing) talk about leadership and empowerment thrown around in the 7th season, but my opinion is that this is far more an element of the plot than the crucial point of it.

Instead, I think that the real role that the Potentials play in the story is mostly about how Buffy finally shatters the constricting role of the Slayer that has dominated her character and life for seven years, by changing on the most fundamental level possible what the Slayer is (i.e. alone and singular). At long last she finally gets to tear down the barriers that she's been building around her battered heart ever since the end of Season 2 (remember how the entire thrust of "Becoming" was driving home how alone she was then?) and take control of her life and power - and she does this by affirming the power in other people (particularly Willow, Faith, and Spike). And it's because of this that she can finally say those words that she was having so much trouble with all the way back in "Intervention".

A lot of the greatness of "Chosen", I feel, comes not just from how brilliantly it acts as a culmination to character growth reaching all the way back to the early seasons, but also from how deliberately open-ended it is regarding the fate of the main character (i.e. she gets to make it for herself now). Yes, there is a canon endorsed by Joss Whedon which says that she became the leader of an organization of Slayers, which I find to be a highly satisfying idea of what she did next (although I disregard the god-awful comics as being unworthy of attention).

But I would find it just as satisfying if she went back to school, or travelled the world, or became a professional ice-skater. And those are all possibilities. No matter what she does, needless to say, it will involve being a BAMFing Slayer who fights "Vampires, Demons, and the Forces of Darkness" at least part of the time. But she gets to choose, because she has become a self-actualized adult in the best style of the campbellian Hero's Journey tradition. And I love that.
Chris Nelly
22. Aeryl
@20, I know you have been turned off the comics, but S8 is really all about exploring that "logical outgrowth" and the damage it does, because leading that Slayer organization only acts to continue to isolate Buffy.

I really like S8 because I find it to be an allegory about the anti-feminist backlash we've been experiencing(I peg it's start to about 1992, when that prospective First Lady who didn't bake cookies showed up). And part of that backlash comes from trying to make the Slayers an institution, with Buffy as it's head, when they should have been a more "grassroots" organization, and the world suffers from that hubris. S9 continues the allegory by demonstrating how empowerment for some women doesn't mean empowerment for all, and examining the ways feminism has failed some women.
Constance Sublette
23. Zorra
@22 -- The anti-feminist backlash on a national level, as opposed to personal -- it was always there! -- was led by the Reagans coming into national power. Susan Faludi had already documented this in 1991, when she published Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.

It didn't start with Hillary any more the national revival of white supremacy and bigotry as part of the agenda of the right began with with the Obamas moving into the White House. That was also part and parcel of the Reagan winning strategies, as laid out by Lee Atwater.

And it was in the Nixon administrations that the actions and strategies were laid out and acted upon to de-regulate corporations, health insurance and hospitals.

Most of these sorts of things begin long before the mainstream sees them or even admits they are happening.

Love, C.
Chris Nelly
24. Aeryl
It was when Hillary arrived that I began to hear the word "feminazi" which to me is the ultimate symbol of the backlash, the equation of a movement dedicated to expanding human rights to the Nazis.

My political awakening was about the same time, so that just might be why I associate the two. But I remember Barbara Bush was as forthright as Hillary, but was never judged the same way.
GarrettC
25. Alex C.
@22, 23 & 24. Great points and insights all.

The trouble is, that no matter how good or compelling an allegory/metaphor is, there's only so far that it can take you if the fictional story that it's harnessed to is neither of these things.

Taken strictly on their own terms, I suppose that a case could be made for the story contained in the comics. Either way, I find that I simply don't care enough for them as a continuation of the Buffyverse to consider them in that light, irrespective of whether or not they come with Whedon's stamp of approval. I think this would probably have been true even if they had been better written - the story of Buffy strikes me as being poorly suited to comics as a medium.
Chris Nelly
26. Aeryl
It's definitely a YMMV thing. Buffy was the first comics I ever got into, it was a habit frowned upon in my youth and by adulthood I had other things, so I didn't really enjoy comics as medium prior to Buffy.
GarrettC
27. Alex C.
@26. I've never really been much of a person for comics either (for similar reasons to those you mention), but that's not the main reason that I say they're a poor medium for a continuation of Buffy. I think the comics illustrate just how much the actors deserve credit for the appeal of the characters - a factor that I don't think can be replicated by reducing them to mere illustrations.

It's definitely a YMMV thing.

Agreed.
Alyx Dellamonica
28. AMDellamonica
@20, I know you have been turned off the comics, but S8 is really all about exploring that "logical outgrowth" and the damage it does, because leading that Slayer organization only acts to continue to isolate Buffy.

I am actually quite sorry to hear that!
Chris Nelly
29. Aeryl
It made sense to me, because it's illustrated pretty quickly that the Slayer army is just another oppressive institution like the Watcher's Council, that they just exchanged one evil for another, and that Buffy being the Head Slayer was just as isolating for her as resurrection was in S6, and leadership is in S7.

I can think of how it could have been a "Happy Ever After", like all the new Slayers return to their previous lives and recruit from their friends and family to recreate the Scoobies. Buffy, Willow, Xander, Dawn and Faith go to England and live on Giles' horse farm, and go to London regularly to patrol or go out and introduce the newly called to their new lives. The End.

But then there wouldn't have been a story to tell, IMO, so they had to have the characters in a situation that created this story. And I think it's fascinating examination of how you have to compromise to maintain the power to effect meaningful change, which is what Buffy's trying to do.

But again, that's not everyone's cuppa.
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
I have no comment on the accuracy of this list, but I thought I'd just leave this here.

117 Buffy Characters, Ranked From Worst To Best
Chris Nelly
31. Aeryl
For example, that list just told me that Spike's last name is Pratt. Is this confirmed, because that's too funny.
Constance Sublette
32. Zorra
I liked the conclusion we finally got to see in the, I think penultimate episode of Angel's final season: Buffy had retired, was dancing, being courted by sexy sorts, having fun, in Italy! She had grown up and moved on from her past. It was OVER. That's exactly what she'd earned, so was exactly satisfying.

Though, for most of in real life, even when we overcome great trials and ordeals, that's not what happens in our lives. But then, we are not and never were The Slayer. :)

Love, C.

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