Mon
Mar 3 2014 2:40pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: “Am I The Good Slayer Now?”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

“Dirty Girls,” by Drew Goddard

A young woman is fleeing the Bringers and she flags down a knight in shining pick-up truck, as portrayed by Nathan Fillion. You’d think this would be a good thing, even if he is dressed as a preacher with unfortunate hair.  He gives her a gentle talking-to about being out at night, and for a time everything seems obnoxiously wholesome.

They establish that he’s named Caleb and she’s named Shannon, and everything seems to be going supergreat until he asks if the Bringers were after her because she’s a whore. 

Wha?

Everything out of Caleb’s mouth from there on is deeply offensive, and Shannon discovers in short order that 1) she can’t get out of the truck; 2) he’s in league with the Bringers, and 3) our friend Nathan enjoys a little bit of torture. He burns the image of his ring into poor Shannon’s neck, and says he’s got a message for Buffy. Then he stabs her, whispers in her ear, and tosses her out of the motor vehicle. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

As it happens, Willow is driving the exact same road. Did we know Willow could drive without using telekinesis? She finds Shannon right away... and a certain lethal someone is there, discovering her first diced Potential, with her. Welcome back, Faith. Sunnydale welcomes your tourist dollars. Please respect local ordinances regarding littering and homicide. 

In the overcrowded digs at Chez Slay, Xander is reassuring a scared young Slayette that Buffy knows what she’s doing. Or, rather, that’s what it looks like. We start to realize the sweet young thing is really in the market for something more slinky than a bit of comfort. Soon Xander has a full-bore erotic dream on the go, complete with girl on girl pillowfights. This is all playing out in what is probably an excruciatingly rare moment of actual sleep.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Sadly, the homoerotic fun gets interrupted by the actual Slayettes, who need unromantic help of the toilet-plumbing variety. I am marginally disappointed that not one of them has the initiative required to wield a plunger themselves.

Willow and Faith take poor Shannon to the hospital, and check in with each other about what’s been going on lately. Faith is unimpressed to have been kept out of the loop on the First’s merry Slayer-slaughtering spree. If only she and Buffy were Twitter friends. If only Twitter had existed at this point. Imagine the hashtags!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Being Faith, and typically restless, she heads out to the graveyard to look for Buffy... but finds Spike instead.

Spaith? Fike? Hmmm, doesn’t mesh. Good thing they never get together romantically. Be that as it may, the two have an entertaining exchange of blows and words over who’s good, who’s bad, and who reformed first, darn it all. Buffy arrives, Faith kills a vampire—borrowing a stake, just as she did when we first met her.

They all head off to the Summers house, where Dawn and Giles are less than keen to see the prodigal. Also in the category of Giles and unhappiness, Spike’s continued existence is raining on Rupert’s parade.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

It’s a neat little reunion, especially the Dawn/Faith stuff. Eliza Dushku and Michelle Trachtenberg have to pack all sorts of shared memories of their season three past—encounters that didn’t actually occur, but which probably included lots of Faith being mean to Dawn about Buffy—into a second or two of intense glaring. It works quite well for me.

(Though now, I admit, I’m imagining an episode where Dawn gets mad at Buffy and runs off to Faith’s sleazy hotel, where Faith, showing her usual excellent judgment, takes her out to get her belly pierced and then they stumble over a minor zombie migration.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Elsewhere, Caleb is taking Communion and babbling about wine. He’s talking to the First, who is back in her best Sunday outfit as faux-Buffy. This is new: she’s just another made-to-puncture girl to him until Firstie encourages him to take a good look. Then he realizes he’s looking at a projection of the Slayer. 

Ooh! It’s a big moment for him. Like many such events, at least on TV, it triggers a flood of exposition. Caleb reminisces about having blown up the Watcher’s Council—hey, that was you?—and organizing the Bringers. Wait, they’re organized?

This, I assume, is partialy a way of explaining why Caleb hasn’t turned up in Sunnydale before now. But it’s also possible his sense of direction is poor.

Our baddies express confidence that Buffy will be receiving the Shannon-O-Gram any minute now and will come to meet her doom.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

After this, we get a sudden, welcome and delightful callback to “Storyteller,” in which Andrew narrates a dramatic montage of scenes about Faith, the Dark Slayer. Yes. I used welcome and Andrew in the same sentence. It’s a lighthearted precis of her career on BtVS so far, at least until we segue into a hilarious Faith vs. Spock battle. Is this one of those things that got added to the mix when the monks were writing Dawn into everyone’s memories? Trekker monks can be so whimsical.

No, alas. The Slayettes break in again, ruining another perfectly good fantasy, to explain to Andrew that Faith killed a volcano expert, not a Vulcan.

The point is Faith’s a killer, Andrew replies. Beware.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Back at the high school, Buffy has gotten around to checking in on Robin. She still wants him on her team, but would like him to leave his unattractive tendency to kill Spike at home. He agrees that they’re okay, and then he fires her.

It’s not as petty as it sounds. The high school is not a good use of her time, what with war coming and all. He also mentions that Sunnydale is emptying out—people are leaving, and kids are skipping school.

Still. Why not paid sick leave, Robin? The bankers may have up and left the city, but I’m betting they still expect mortgage payments.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Empty town, full house. Faith is discovering that a home packed with teenagers is a horror unto itself. She and Spike share a cigarette and she tells him she’s got the post-prison horn-dog blues. She also reminds him about their having met, back when she swapped bodies with Buffy. 

Flirting—and flirting it definitely is—is interrupted when Buffy comes home, and the awkwardness that follows that is interrupted when it turns out Shannon is awake. She tells them about Caleb, shows them the burn on her neck, and says his big ol’ message was “I have something of yours.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Several characters point out this could mean anything from an imprisoned Potential to an overdue library book.

Well! Robin suggested that Buffy test her green Potential troops, didn’t he? And his judgment is so very excellent. Okay, maybe it isn’t excellent, exactly, but he was wrong last week. It must be his turn to be right.

Buffy decides that they’re all going on the attack, to confiscate whatever it is Caleb’s got.

Down in his lair, a.k.a. the Wine Cellar of Wickedness, a young blonde woman approaches Caleb. He gets preachy with her, like he does, then guts her. It’s the First again, and she turns back into Buffy. It’s perhaps a little strange, but she says she takes requests. Being insubstantial must be horrifically boring.

What we get from this exchange is that we learn Caleb is a serial killer—he was merrily slaughtering young women, for vaguely religious woman-hating reasons, long before he met the First.

The Scoobies don’t know this, but even so they aren’t enamored with Buffy’s attack plan. They question and carp, and she insists on marching the whole gang into battle all the same. All very well and good, but Caleb didn’t stamp an address on Shannon, did he? Someone needs a bigger ring.

Soon Buffy and Faith are tracking a Bringer through the woods. They needed some one on one time, didn’t they? Buffy asks why Faith came back, and asks about Angel too. But before we get an entire recap of recent events in L.A.—this episode is packed, but there’s a limit on how much we can absorb—the two of them find Caleb’s evil vineyard.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

As this is happening, Xander’s home prepping the Slayettes for the attack. Rona, as is her wont, is vocally pessimistic about the plan and their chances. If these kids were the Colonial Marines, Rona would definitely be Hudson. Which maybe makes Xander Bishop, this week. Drawing somewhat from the dream he had this morning, he makes a far better speech than any of the ones Buffy or Giles has delivered to date this season, gently taking the Potentials to task for whining, and wrapping up with “Buffy cares more about your lives than any of you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She’s earned it.”

It’s heartwarming. The man is so on point! I’m not sure it’s likely to get him any teen girl pillowfight action, and it definitely won’t get him back into Faith’s pants, either, but in every other way this is a shining Xander moment. Gosh, I sure hope nothing bad happens to him.

Inspired as never before, the group heads off to Caleb’s lair. Buffy lays out combat assignments, and they go in.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Battle is joined! Bringers attack, and the Slayettes hold their own. Wine barrels suffer numerous indignities. Then Caleb shows up and punches Buffy across the room. 

Yes indeedy, Nathan Fillion is another insurmountably tough cookie. It’s hardly a surprise, right? He had to be at least as hearty as Noseless, the little Turok-Han who, ultimately, Couldn’t. The First has him powered up and he’s more than a match, physically, for either and both of our slayers.

As a result, things go badly. He slaps the Potentials around for awhile, busting Rona’s arm. When Team Slay sends in reinforcements, he starts killing girls. Buffy calls a retreat, and Xander is coordinating same when... 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dirty Girls

Oh, dear. Caleb putting out Xander’s eye is every bit as awful as I remember. Yuck, yuck, yuck. And he looks so happy as he’s doing it.  Interestingly, it’s Spike who charges to the rescue.

We get a Caleb voiceover at the end of this episode, as Buffy looks over her wounded in the hospital and then returns home to her demoralized girl army. He says he’s telling a story, but he’s really just praying to the First. About how he’s eventually going to kill the whole lot of them.

Things are definitely moving towards a showdown. Or maybe even several showdowns.

 

 Next: “I don’t know if you’ve been keeping score, but we just got our asses kicked.”


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, in early March!)

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.

44 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
First off,

FAITH'S BAAAACCKKK!!!!!!!

Okay, now that's out of my system

In the overcrowded digs at Chez Slay, Xander is reassuring a scared young Slayette that Buffy knows what she’s doing.

That's Xander's apartment, which I guess is Suite Slay not Chez.

Flirting—and flirting it definitely is

Faith REALLY needs to stop trying to get her Fuffy on by getting between Buffy and whatever random meatstick she's around at the time. First Angel,then Scott Hope, then Riley, and now Spike!
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
I know Caleb is typically the most hated villain, but he works well thematically. It would definitely have served the story better, if we'd been aware of this human who was working with the First. The explosion of the Watcher's Council wasn't enough to lay hints about his existence.

Perhaps some of those first few Bringer hunting scenes could have also included the Bringers checking in with some shadowy figure in the background.

When you compare the Caleb reveal to the shock to your system when you finally discovered who Alpha really was in Dollhouse, you can see that Whedon learned from how this one flopped.

SMG's performance only becomes more stellar this episode, when you can compare the dichotomy between peppy and cheerful FirstBuffy, and tired and downtrodden realBuffy.
Shariq Ansari
3. DarkeSword
"Am I the good slayer now?" is perhaps one of my favorite lines from the show. Faith's sheer incredulity at possibly being the "good" one is hilarious.
Nicoclaws
4. Nicoclaws
I finally got up to date with your rewatch after a three month rewatch on my own. Got to tell you I enjoyed reading your reviews after each episode. Thank you for doing all this !
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
Nico, I'm so glad you caught up!

Aeryl... I see what you mean about Alpha, though I'd never considered it before. I didn't know Caleb was the most hated (by fans, one assumes) villain. He is an underuse of Nathan Fillion, I'd say. He's so passin'-thru! Build-up would have helped.
Jack Flynn
6. JackofMidworld
If these kids were the Colonial Marines, Rona would definitely be Hudson. Which maybe makes Xander Bishop, this week.

Alyx, if I didn't already love you -- er, I mean your writing, this would'a clinched it.

Speaking of love, as I've probably mentioned numerous times before, I loves me some character growth, and Faith and Spike have arguably grown the most in all the Whedonverse, so having them together chatting made me sooo happy.

Almost as happy as you dropping Aliens quotes into an article about them ;-)
Chris Nelly
7. Aeryl
@5, I mean, they did pretty much the same thing with Ben is S5, a tertiary background character who became BAM important as it went along.

I use Alpha, because the actor that was finally established as the character, was not the same actor who portrayed the initial glimpses you got of him in the early season. So I can understand that Joss didn't know Fillion would be available to take the role when they had the Watcher's Council blown up, but some indication that there was a human adversary would have sold this part better.

I don't know if he'd count as worst ever if you took a poll, but the animosity against Caleb is deep.
Jenny Thrash
8. Sihaya
Somehow we all still love Fillion even while we hated Caleb, though we'd all only gotten one season of one show with the actor. The reaction was all "Hey, it is so good to see.... wha? Well, crap!" It was an obvious waste of good talent.
Sydo Zandstra
9. Fiddler
Right before Caleb takes Xander's eye, he says "So, you're the one who sees everything? Let's see what we can do about that."

I always thought that was a reference to the end of the episode 'Potential', where Dawn tells Xander that his power is to see what's going on with his friends.

Nifty.

Also, welcome back Faith! :D
Dylan Sprague
10. Ithilanor
I really like Caleb as a villain; Fillion does a great mix of charm and creepiness. I agree that this is an underuse of him, and having him come into the season earlier would've been better. Also, yay Faith! She makes this part of S7 so much more entertaining and interesting.
Nicoclaws
11. Alex C.
First off, great summary of all the things that happen in this episode, Alyx. This one is packed-to-the-gills, and you still found room to make me chuckle - no small thing, considering how chuckle-unfriendly the final phase of season seven is.

The last five episodes of BtVS are a bit of an odd duck, in my opinion. There's a very palpable sense hanging over them of the series beginning its final lap around the field, showing some unmistakable signs of tiredness, but determined to put in a last burst of speed with the finish line coming into view. Despite their problems, I think that by and large they're very good episodes (correction: four of them are good episodes - we'll get to what's wrong with "Empty Places" next week), mostly because there's so many great things going on with the characters.

I know that Caleb is pretty unpopular with a large portion of the fanbase, but I really like his presence in the season, which I see as an instance of the show going back to its roots. For most of the show's first five seasons, the main bad guys tended to be stock figures out of the horror genre, imbued with characterization for the story. The recurring villains of the first two seasons - The Master, Darla, Spike, Drusilla, Angel - were awash with the tropes of vampires; The Mayor was a wonderful encapsulation of the unhelpfulness of public institutions ('cause the guy they work for is literally demonic); Maggy Walsh and Adam brought us a rendition of the Mad Scientist and Frankenstein's Monster; and Ben & Glory was a nice nod to Jekyll & Hyde.

That tendancy was disrupted by the sixth season, which gave us first an oddity in the Trio, and then Dark Willow, who came off as more of an ode to X-Men than to witches in fiction (apart from a nicely timed reference to The Wizard of Oz).

With Caleb we're back in old territory - stock figures don't get much stockier than this take on the mad, murderous preacher. Granted, his characterization is paper-thin, despite Nathan Fillion giving it his best shot. Still, he manages to hold down his end as the First's heavy-hitter, the last bad guy standing to give Buffy a physical run for her money.
Nicoclaws
12. Dianthus
Random thought #1: Another fan I know once said she was more concerned with consitency of theme than consistency of plot or character. My thought in response - one out of three ain't good.

Random thought #2: Trusting Spike has, on balance, worked out pretty well for Buffy.

Speaking for myself, count me among the fans who hate Caleb. The character strikes the same sour note through his whole run, IMO. It's almost like they weren't even trying. The Mayor's my favorite, with Glory 2nd. Adam was kinda dull, but at least it was fitting.

Can't say I was super excited to see Faith again, but, whatever.

Gah! Buffy's response to finding Faith and Spike together. Granted it's Faith, but da-yum. I wonder if this was written about the same time the writers found out there wouldn't be a (TV) s8. It's ok for Buffy to go out on a date with another guy, but Heaven forbid Spike should be talking to Faith. Poor guy reacts like a kicked dog. Tell me again she's not jealous or possesive.
I read somewhere that Marti thought Spike a better fit for Faith, considering their checkered pasts. She's entitled to her opinion, of course, but it's suggestive to me that she really didn't understand what was going on btwn Buffy and Spike.
Alyx, I really wish you hadn't used that one screencap, tho' I s'pose it shouldn't come as any surprise. Gah, again. I was actually spoiled for that scene (sorta), but it's still pretty nasty.
Nicoclaws
13. Alex C.
Faith is discovering that a home packed with teenagers is a horror unto itself. She and Spike share a cigarette and she tells him she’s got the post-prison horn-dog blues. She also reminds him about their having met, back when she swapped bodies with Buffy. Flirting—and flirting it definitely is—is interrupted when Buffy comes home...

I really do have to wonder if Buffy had that moment at the back of her mind when she and a certain someone met again at the end of the penultimate episode of the season.

There's a lot of things to love about Faith's reappearance on the show, but this entire scene she shares with Spike might have been the best (along with the Mayor's reappearance in "Touched", and her talk with Buffy in "End of Days"). I love that they referred to "Who Are You?" almost as much as Faith's incredulity (seems to be her main mode in this episode) at the fact that Spuffy actually became reality.

... in every other way this is a shining Xander moment.

Amen to that.

The later seasons of the show were the ones where I really warmed to Xander. He was always a good character, but as a personality I seriously disliked the guy, especially in the second and third seasons. It was at some point in S5 that that began to change, and he actually seemed to merit the title "Heart of Team Slayer".

It's a shame that his role in the last season was so muted, although perhaps understandable given the problems that the actor was having in his personal life at the time.

“Buffy cares more about your lives than any of you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She’s earned it.”

Considering the (very well done) ending of the episode, and what's coming next, this is just utterly poignant.

The A-plot of this episode does a fine job of summing up both what's right and what's wrong with Buffy's approach to date as leader of Team Slayer (Expanded). We know from what we've seen from her before (and will see again from her before the series is over) that she's got all the right stuff to be absolutely great at this job - if she would only remember that it's there, and she can use it.
Nicoclaws
14. Alex C.
@12. I don't think that Buffy's response to finding Spike and Faith together (and looking almost post-coital) was that bad. There's definitely an edge to it, but considering Faith's history with her previous boyfriends, it's not untirely unmerited.

Apparently that particular scene was written by Joss Whedon.

In response to you Random Thought #1, there's not much to say about the plot consistency, but the character work and the theming are both excellent, so that's at least two out of three - not so bad.
Nicoclaws
15. Dianthus
From Spike's POV, the incident in The Bronze (Who Are You?) is the first overt, sexual move either party has made on the other. Up until this scene, neither of them has ever acknowledged a sexual attraction btwn them. That bit was quite the game changer.

@14 YMMV.

Are you seriously suggesting Buffy was thinking of Spike and Faith together when she saw Angel again? WTF?!?
Nicoclaws
16. Sophist
"Apparently that particular scene was written by Joss Whedon."

My understanding is that Marti wrote it. Joss did write much of the rest, though.
Nicoclaws
17. Dianthus
Everything "Fuffy" said she'd do to Spike, Buffy did, and he allows it, rather than insist Buffy stop hurting him by abusing him and hiding their relationship. He's too afraid of losing her to seriously issue ultimatums or complain.
In Who Are You?, we see this same behavior in Joyce, who is willing to let Buffy control the extent of their relationship, rather than insist that Buffy stop neglecting her.
Tara, too. She'll take whatever crumbs Willow offers.
Their willingness to accept less than they want suggests that they have trust and faith in the loved one and the power of love. It's arguably about believing (rightly or wrongly) that better days are ahead.
Nicoclaws
18. Alex C.
@15. Woah. Calm down. It was a joke.

I have a very definite idea about Buffy's headspace during her brief reunion with Angel in "End of Days"/"Chosen", and Faith has absolutely no part in it. Nor does Spike, for that matter (until he explicitly comes up in the conversation.

I actually really like that scene, for a number of reasons, although I think that I'm one of the very few fans who feels that way.

@16. I couldn't cite a source for you, but I'm fairly certain that I recall reading somewhere that Whedon was behind it. IIRC, it was about that time that it was certified that there would definitely not be a Faith the Vampire Slayer spinoff show.

@17. Pardon me, but I think that that's a seriously bent way of looking at all three relationships.

There's no doubt that S6 Spuffy was a mutually abusive affair, and on balance I think it's fair to say that Buffy was hurt by it far more than he was. To say that Spike abstained from complaining about the pain (which he seemed to get off on) and the secrecy (while he was manipulating her) because he was afraid of losing her (when he didn't even understood the nature of their relationship) is grossly at odds with much of what we actually see of them together.

And while I certainly wouldn't say that Tara/Willow didn't have its problematic aspects, I think that it can be said quite safely that Willow gives her girlfriend an awful lot more than crumbs.

As for Buffy and Joyce circa S4, saying that there was any 'neglect' going on there is just weird. It's not neglect for a young woman to have less contact with her mother when she's off doing her first year of college than when she was living at home - it's healthy and normal, and both women are obviously on board with that.
Nicoclaws
19. KMK
@6.JackofMidworld

I've always thought Wesley had the biggest character growth of anyone in "Whedonverse" I watch Angel as Wesley's character arc and it becomes an even better show. (I know he doesn't arrive until midway through season 1, but you can view the first half of that season as laying the groundwork for him).
Constance Sublette
20. Zorra
@7 --
I don't know if he'd count as worst ever if you took a poll, but the animosity against Caleb is deep.
Mine is so deep I can't stand Fillion in anything and really hated Mal in Firefly. But then -- that latter, that's really just Mal. Blasphemers R Us.

Love, C.
Nicoclaws
21. Sophist
Ok, I just re-watched the DVD commentary and Drew Godard says that Marti wrote the Faith/Spike scene in the basement.
Nicoclaws
22. Alex C.
@21. Thanks, looks like I misremembered.

Mea culpa.
Jack Flynn
23. JackofMidworld
19 KMK - Wes definitely went thru some serious growing up and was such a different character the last season of Angel as compared to when he showed up in Sunnydale. I'd count him towards the top of the list of fave characters (if you haven't seen Angel yet - SPOILER!!!!!!! his last scene with Illyria and her scene after broke my heart - HERE ENDETH THE SPOILER); one of the things I loved about Angel was that...how to put this...Buffy and the Scoobies were growing up, going from teenager to adults, but employees of Angel Investigations were already grown up (Connor excluded), but were pretty broken and flawed adults and, as a flawed adult with kids and mortgage and car payments and baggage and issues and whatnot, I think I felt more connected to them than to the Scoobies - and that's not a swipe at BtVS, love it, or wouldn't be here typing this, obviously, and somehow or other this response has grown legs and taken off on its own...I know there was a point here, somewhere...oh, there it is - Wesley went (IMO) from being a good guy to a better guy to a badass guy to a dark hero, where as Fike/Spaith went from being bad guys to dark heroes to actual heroes (see also, certain blue-tinted badasses with red demonscale armor)...tales of redemption always get to me.
Nicoclaws
24. Maac
Actually it took me a long time to love Fillion, because of Caleb. It played into why I didn't see Firefly until it came out on DVD, to my regret. (I taped it on VHS a lot but never watched.)
It's a testament to Fillion that I had completely forgotten that until just now. I had utterly blocked out they matter of Xander's eye as well, it seems (though not the vague memory of poor Shannon).

I need chocolate now.
Alyx Dellamonica
25. AMDellamonica
I wonder how many of us would love Mal if he'd been even darker, as Whedon apparently had wished to make him?
Jason Parker
26. tarbis
On the one hand Caleb was an enemy that had a personality and could be punched which this season sorely needed. On the other he came in late with no foreshadowing and a personality that amounted to a cliched retread of "Night of the Hunter." Overall the character was a failure, but probably not the worst thing to come out of Mutant Enemy.

Also it felt like Caleb's presence caused every other character's IQ to drop by ten points. Follow the minion who is walking in a straight line without trying to hide to an isolated location. Then lead a force in without scouting out the building for a trap. It would have taken a minute or less of dialogue at Chez Slay to recap something as simple as peeking in the windows. Even impulsive teenage Buffy tried (with mixed success) not to run into places blindly. Once Caleb is dead characters start making an effort to use their brains again.
Nicoclaws
27. Alex C.
@26. Eh, I think that they do a bit better than that on this particular occasion.

Even if it turns out to be a debacle, Buffy does manage to tick most of the obvious precautionary boxes:

- She and Faith scout the place out in advance before getting the rest of the group
- She leaves the less experienced Potentials behind with the company of Willow to make sure they'll have protection
- She only takes a subset of the team inside at first, in anticipation of the highly like event of it being a trap

The whole thing still turns into a major cluster-f***, but there's at least a nod there toward sensible tactical planning. Buffy is reckless in wanting to confront Caleb straight away, but she does at least have a rationale for most of what she's doing that's at least partway plausible in the context of the episode.

Besides, it's not really out of line with most of her previous escapades, which pretty much always consist of "confront the bad guy, rely on skill and wit to defeat him, or get out in one piece if it's too hot to handle". Without foreknowledge that Caleb was a top-level bruiser, Buffy's plan doesn't come off as all unreasonable, even if the consequences are tragic.

The IQ droppage doesn't really show up for me until Faith takes over the group, when she completely fails to take even the precautions that Buffy took in this episode.
Nicoclaws
28. Alex C.
Also, it's not much use peeking through the windows when the bad guys are hiding in the basement.

Basically, the intelligence - within the context of the show - of Buffy's actions in this episode rises or falls on the correctness of her desire to go and confront Caleb. Up to an extent, she screwed up, but her instincts about the importance of finding out the secret that he's hiding are right on the money.

The real tragedy of the situation is that the surviving Potentials (and even the Scoobies to an extent) take the whole mess as proof that she doesn't care about them, when in fact the opposite is true.
Jason Parker
29. tarbis
@27-28. I'll give credit for the characters checking boxes 2 and 3 on your list, but the episode does not indicate they hit the first one. I'll even give that basic surface level scouting would not have revealed the situation, but it would have shown that Buffy wasn't just trusting her gut and that she was willing to risk herself before risking the group. If I were in the small combat group I would definitely want a field leader who tries to act on information instead of instinct and whose actions didn't suggest my role was bullet sponge.

Faith's later plan is terrible, and more terrible because she saw how badly this one went down. Still the only plans we'd seen Faith come up with and try to execute at that point were lie about killing the deputy mayor and kidnap Wesley for Angel bait. Only one of those came close to working. Buffy we've seen with a much better track record on making and carrying out plans, even if the best plans often came from the Scoobies.
Chris Nelly
30. Aeryl
@29, Yes it does, there is a scene, where Faith and Buffy scout the vineyard. They talk during this scene, Alyx even mentions it in the review.
Jason Parker
31. tarbis
@30. There is a scene where Buffy and Faith follow a Bringer to the vineyard. The clearest shot of the building in that scene is a wide angle that shows most of the structure has neither character in frame and is so far back they wouldn't have been able to spot an ADT sticker. No later dialogue lays out that either of them came closer to the building than that shot and neither was shown carrying a pair of binoculars or a scope. If you want to call finding a building to equal scouting out a building feel free, but that sounds more than a little to generous in my ears.
Chris Nelly
32. Aeryl
@31, What else were they supposed to do? How extensive do you expect "scouting" to be. When does move from being "scouting" to "engagement"?

To feel that the scouting they did was lacking is fine, but I was addressing your statement that the episode does not indicate they hit the first one. I'll even give that basic surface level scouting would not have revealed the situation.

The episode did indicate that they did hit the first one, just not to your satisfaction(which is fine), but then you say the surface level scouting(which they did) would not have revealed the situation(which it didn't). So I'm just curious as to how much further you think they should have gone before returning for the gang?

The only further thing to be learned is that Caleb had superpowers. What other way could the group have feasibly learned that, without risking their most experienced fighters? They suspect but haven't confirmed that the First won't have Buffy killed until last, but that supposition is not a good enough reason to risk Buffy.
Jason Parker
33. tarbis
@32. Circle the building for one. If the situation is clear then close part of the distance and listen. Watch the building for twenty minutes or so to see if anything more comes in or goes out. They could even leave one of them there to keep watch over the building from cover, because cell phones had been introduced as tools in the first episode of the season. Simple reasonable stuff that amount to more than standing fifty or a hundred yards away (the scale of the building was a little unclear) saying, "That's a vineyard."

From a production point of view dub one of the actresses saying "let's take a closer look" over the shot of the building and then mention they got close enough to spit on the building and it looked quiet at later point in the episode. Ten seconds of additional screen time that you can get by chopping a one second out of ten other scenes.

The extra scouting would not have been effective story-wise (new villain must win the first encounter to be considered credible), but it would have been due dilegence on the characters part and not used much in the way of screen time. Truly effective intelligence gathering would have been finding the building, invesitgating it on foot, watching it, and having Willow cast the demon detection spell to get an idea of the forces inside. But all of that would have eaten up time and budget in an episode with two guest stars and a lot of narrative ground to cover.
Chris Nelly
34. Aeryl
Also, I don't know if anyone on the Buffy watch is paying any attention to the Game of Thrones stuff, but OMG Dead Eddie from The Freshman is playing a major new character and my brain has exploded from that fact.

Check it out here, if you are interested
Nicoclaws
35. Sophist
That's amazing, Aeryl. Thanks.

Maybe a foot rub would have helped with the brain thing.
Michael Ikeda
36. mikeda
Re: @26-@33

What strikes me about the first attack on the vineyard is that it is more carefully planned and prepared than usual for Buffy. She has an unusually detailed (for her) plan of action and she actually does some scouting rather than just plunging in.

(Ironically it might have been better if she hadn't tried to preplan and instead had just sent everyone in at once.)
Nicoclaws
37. Alex C.
Re: @29-@33

All that Buffy and Faith were looking to do in their scouting was find the location; the finer points of reconaissance that tarbis suggests in @33 (circle the building, listen, watch, move in slowly, etc) can mostly be safely presumed to have gotten covered when they came back with the rest of the team and made their actual approach.

We get more than enough talk of perimeters, back-up groups, being wary for traps, etc, to get the gist that they're not rushing in blindly here. Some additional nods to caution (like having Willow do a spell) would have been welcome, but at that point you're just eating up more time in what is already a crammed-to-the-gills episode.

As far as Buffy not just trusting her gut, and being willing to risk herself before the team go, I think that the episode does enough, at least by the standards of the show, to ascertain that she can be given at least some credit on those fronts.

Buffy we've seen with a much better track record on making and carrying out plans, even if the best plans often came from the Scoobies.

Actually, regarding the latter point, I would say that the show is fairly consistent in having Buffy be the primary font of planning most of the time, at least on the occasions when the Scoobies do come up with something resembling a plan of action. From episode to episode, they all take their turns at fielding key information and ideas, but when push comes to shove it's Buffy who is characterized as having by far the sharpest instincts of the group, and the most consistent tendancy to concieve key insights into whatever enemy or situation they're facing at the time. Which helps make it more believable that they bumble so badly after they send her away.
Nicoclaws
38. Alex C.
@36.

(Ironically it might have been better if she hadn't tried to preplan and instead had just sent everyone in at once.)

I don't think that just rushing in would have done any better, but we do see in the course of fight that Buffy already has at least an inkling of what to do with Caleb - when she goes at him for a second time she starts trying to dodge his blows, anticipating what she'll do in the much more successful engagement in "Touched".
Alyx Dellamonica
39. AMDellamonica
In story terms, the fight was always going to end in a disaster and Xander losing an eye, right? And the Slayettes had to have some sense of legitimacy to their complaints. It seems to me that if Buffy had micro-surveyed, gone in with bazookas and still lost, the team kicking her out of Chez Slay would have seemed completely unfair.

Which is, I suppose, an argument for balance. She made some effort to keep everyone safe and do a good job, and she was nevertheless a bit reckless.
Nicoclaws
40. Alex C.
@39. I think that's basically right.

The mutiny at the end of "Empty Places" was something that had to happen, for a whole lot of reasons, but the way that it plays never fails to leave a bad taste in my mouth. The Slayettes did have some legitimacy in their complaints about Buffy, but what grates at me is the way that the other members of the group go about it.

What's important to consider is why Buffy was reckless in this episode, which also lies at the heart of what goes wrong in the next episode. It's her desperation to do anything that she can towards beating this enemy - which is the only way in the long run that any of these girls can have a shot at being safe - and when she finally comes across the answer, when she has her epiphany about the secret at the vineyard, it's ironically the very thing that causes her to overreach.

If I'm honest, the real reason that I dislike the ending of "Empty Places" so much has less to do with the ugliness of the mutiny - which was necessary for the story to work - and more to do with the effect it had on my affections for a number of the main characters. Specifically - Anya, who I previously loved, but who after that episode was emotionally dead to me, to the point where I honestly didn't care at all about her death in "Chosen".
Michael Ikeda
41. mikeda
Alex C@40

The thing is, the course of the argument in "Empty Places" is almost entirely driven by Buffy. It's Buffy who chooses the time and place and Buffy who keeps escalating the argument. Until ultimately she escalates herself entirely out of the house.
Nicoclaws
42. Alex C.
@41. Yes, that is true. At the end of the day Buffy is responsible for throwing away the loyalty of the group. Therein lies the tragedy of the moment - at the very time when she has the insight that ought to carry the day, her own mistakes mean that she can't get them to follow her any more.

One senses that had she gone about presenting and arguing for her idea in a different manner, she might have been able to persuade them - but instead she does it in entirely the wrong way, for reasons that are convincingly rooted in the character issues that have been steadily raised and fleshed out since the beginning the of the season.

That doesn't take away the bad taste though, and a big part of that is that despite there being genuine fault on both sides, the course of the argument leaves her bearing almost the entire brunt of the blame alone... at least until the next episode, when Spike comes back to tip the scales a bit in the other direction.
Constance Sublette
43. Zorra
@ 40 -- It was Giles that I felt that way about.

I could not believe he'd say what he said to Buffy.

Love, C.
Chris Nelly
44. Aeryl
@43, Yes, but The Yoko Factor established very well that Giles is not above being petty, and to me what that REALLY was about, was the night she shut the door in his face after Spike's confrontation with Wood.

There's a whole lot more to talk about, but it's only a few more days so I'll hold off. But all the Scoobies have ulterior motives that AREN'T talked about in that fight.

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