“First Date,” by Jane Espenson
Flashback to Giles getting an ax swung at his head, by a Bringer, while he talks to a half-slain Watcher named Robson. It turns out the Bringer had squeaky shoes, and thank goodness for that. Giles, though, plays up his own excellence and razor-sharp instincts in sharing this little vignette with the Potential Slayers. He and they and Buffy are in a graveyard, training in a pack, and as he continues to expound about his honed state of combat alertness, Spike tackles him from out of nowhere.
Spike hadn’t heard that Giles wasn’t the First, see, and as they climb to their feet there’s a bit of Brit on Brit head-butting. Giles calls Spike a berk (a term I have only ever heard Giles use) and demands to know why the Initiative chip didn’t jolt everyone’s favorite leashed vampire straight into Painesville for attacking him.
Buffy admits she had the thing pulled while the Initiative was in town. The Slayettes, especially the new one who doesn’t speak English, stare on in confusion. Someone needs to make them a multilingual cheat sheet entitled Major Sunnydale events since 1997. People we killed, boinked, and ran out of town on a rail.
Later, at the house, Giles indicates his extreme unhappiness about the dechipping. Buffy’s more worried about Principal Wood—she’s chosen now to be concerned about why he was lurking in the school basement with the shovel. She’s adamant that Spike can become a good man.
“I wanted more for you,” Giles says, and now he’s talking less about the prospect of Spike eating the Slayettes and more about Buffy’s romantic and emotional well-being.
Speaking of romance, Xander is at the hardware store, meeting a nice woman. (Well. Not really nice, as we’ll see. Hmmm. And not really a woman either. ) Oblivious to her flaws, he turns on the charm, gives her advice about rope and asks her out.
Buffy heads off to work and goes snooping in the principal’s office. She gets caught almost immediately, fibs her way out of it, and finds herself agreeing to go to dinner with arguably evil Robin. Once she’s out of his office, he takes a bloody dagger and sticks it in the cabinet she was just about to open. It’s part of a big collection of shiny weapons. Cue ominous music!
The dinner plan leads to one of those wonderful BFF BuffWillow talks about whether—assuming Robin isn’t a horrible, Potential-murdering minion of darkness—Buffy might be attracted to him. Xander bursts in partway through, to announce that he, too, is among the dateworthy. Cute banter ensues.
Over in the kitchen, Andrew is attempting to program the microwave when First Jonathan appears. Andrew tries to ward him off with a cross, unsuccessfully. Jonathan tells him that, being a murderer, he has little chance of making the Scooby squad. Ha! Andrew points out that Anya, Spike and Willow are all murderers, and they’re in the club.
So, Jonathan says, gliding past that: Wanna kill the Potentials?
Andrew’s initial reaction to this is a creditably emphatic nuh uh, but faux Jonathan is insistent. He points out that back when she was turning into Warren, Willow brought a gun into the house. It’s not going to be the failed stabbing of Piggly all over again, he promises. No, all Andrew has to do is corner and trap the Slayettes in the basement and start shooting.
Which, to me, still sounds difficult.
Anya, meanwhile, is unhappy with the news that Xander has a date. She’s trying to get the blood—or possibly Dawn-spattered pizza—out of Buffy’s blouse whilst working up a jealous rant about whether Xander is serious about seeking other romantic options. Then Spike turns up, and claims he’s totally okay with Buffy dating. The exchange between the two of them, naturally, is a bit awkward. It’s also well-intended on both sides.
Lyssa turns up on time for her Xander date. She may be bad, but at least she’s punctual. And, for the second that they’re on-screen together it seems to be going well. Willow, Dawn and some of the Slayettes are, meanwhile, trying to dig up info on Robin so that Buffy can assess his potential for villainy.
Sadly, there’s nothing much to find that predates his arrival in Sunnydale. Which is ominous in and of itself. Easily as suggestive as the shovel thing and the handy office knife cabinet. It’s looking wicked over in Robinland.
Everyone is far too busy to keep an eye on Giles, and this, surprisingly, turns out to be a shame. He has broken out the Sharpies and made another set of drawings—reminiscent of his overhead projector slides from “Hush”—and used them to upset new Potential Choa-Ahn badly with pictures of Noseless the Turok-Han ripping girls in half. Talking about this turns to him discovering that Willow has a new girlfriend and Xander and Buffy are stepping out, too. He gets huffy, and reminds them that they should be putting their energy into fighting the First.
Speaking of whom, Andrew is lurking around seeming to obey its evil dictums, spying on the Potentials, and searching for that gun of Willow’s.
Buffy’s evening out gets off to a bad start. Robin leads her down a dark alley, claiming it’s the route to a nice little French bistro. What’s actually in the alley? Vampires. Buffy dusts a trio of them and then makes ready to accuse Robin of setting her up. Then he toasts the other two. He helps her up and points out the restaurant.
So... he’s not evil?
Across town, over coffee, Xander and Lyssa are processing his failed wedding. She’s very sympathetic, and questions whether his seeing Anya all the time is healthy for either of them. What a swell girl!
Robin, it turns out, is a freelance demon hunter. Of course he knows Buffy is the Slayer. He maneuvered both himself and her into their current positions at the high school for logical, Hellmouth-related reasons. He gaily laughs off the idea that it was Buffy’s ace counselling skills that got her the job there at SHS. He knows a big fight is coming and he wants to help.
Buffy, logically enough, wants to know why. We don’t have three seasons left to unlock his secrets, so he spills his backstory with alacrity: his mother was a slayer, and a vampire killed her when Robin was an adorable and precocious (we assume) four-year-old. He has vamp-hunting skills because his mother’s Watcher raised and trained him.
Buffy’s takeaway on this is, mostly: “Slayers can have kids? Dude.”
Over at the house, Andrew has found the gun. He asks Jonathan a bunch of questions: how and why the Slayettes have to die, why the First doesn’t just use Spike to do the deed, and whether the First has any weaknesses. Once he’s turned the conversation in that direction, First Jonathan quickly realizes Andrew’s just playing along. In fact, he’s wearing a wire.
He bleeds gorily and beats him with an incorporeal guilt stick: tells him Jonathan is suffering. He insists that Andrew has to keep on chuggin’ down the evil road. Then he appears in the room where Willow and the others are trying to listen in. He still looks like Jonathan, but he’s even more decayed.
Threats are uttered. Everyone is duly scared.
By now, Xander’s date has taken him down to the Sunnydale High Subterranean Seal of Supervamps. (That thing is just like Audrey Two; it’s always hungry.) Lyssa, using the very rope Xander advised her to buy, is going to string him up and bleed him dry.
And so the Scoobies are debriefing about their failed attempt to capture the First on tape when they get a text from Xander about his latest apocalyptic dating failure. Spike heads off to fetch Buffy—despite his claims to the contrary, he’s only too happy to bust up her evening out—and finds her having chemistry and dessert. He, she and Robin zoom off in the car to save Xander, which makes for a deeply uncomfortable vibe.
Lyssa gets as far as sticking Xander in the gut before they show up. She’s tough: Buffy and Spike take her on while Robin cuts Xander down. The seal opens just a little: Robin gets his foot grabbed. But it’s not enough, and the emerging Turok-Han loses an arm when the thing snaps shut.
(Robin also gets enough of a look at the Spuffy dynamic to guess that he doesn’t have a shot, romantically, with the Slayer.)
Everyone goes home and Xander declares he’s going gay, as all the women who take him seriously as a date prospect seem to be demons. “I’m mentally undressing Scott Bakula,” he declares. This makes Andrew happy. For once he and I are on the same page. (On it are the words “Praise Scott Bakula. Oh Boy!”)
But Giles poops all over this party. He waves his flash cards. Bad stuff is going down. “It’s time to get serious!”
Spike is ready to be serious. He has taken the First’s declaration to Andrew that it isn’t “time for him” to mean he should flee the jurisdiction. Buffy says no. She’s not ready for him to not be with her. He asks, reasonably enough: So what about Robin?
What about Robin? Well, he’s washing up after the fight when his mother (or, actually, the First) shows up for a chat. He tells her to get out, but she offers up a golden intelligence nugget: the one about Spike having killed her.
That’s sure to complicate matters, isn’t it?
“First Date” is what we’ve taken to calling a wheel-spinner here in these columns. It nudges a few game pieces around the Good versus First board. Robin gets promoted from Mystery to Ally, and the First makes another move against House Slay. It’s also, like many Espenson-penned episodes, a bit of a comic break from the darkness before and yet to come.
It’s not hilarious, or world-shattering, but it’s okay, and the cliffhanger is a good one. We’ve only just learned Robin’s a stand-up guy, and now the First, in its ongoing campaign to rid the good guys of Spike, has made another solid move to take him out of the picture.
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”!)