“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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...
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!)