“Touched” by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
The wind-up of the last TV season of BtVS has truly begun by the time we get to “Touched,” which opens with an immense meeting that is all Scoob and no Slay. Everyone’s gathered except Buffy, Spike, and Andrew. Buffy, of course, got the boot last week, and Spike would have made the Scooby uprising far more difficult, what with his enormous powers of guilt-tripping. Andrew’s absence is simply a bonus.
The topic of this meeting, mostly, isn’t who do they fight or how do they win so much as it is who’s in charge, and how do they decide things? I hate this kind of thing in real life, and am practically getting hives just watching it now. Mercifully, Faith points out that they’re all exhausted and scared and should maybe adjourn to bed. Great idea! Except then the power goes out, creating a new bubble of panic.
The good news is the sudden onset darkness isn’t a prelude to an attack. The bad news is that the power company has given up on electrifying Sunnydale.
Elsewhere, Buffy is telling a gun-toting homeowner to get the heck out of Dodge while she takes over his house.
Over at the mission where many monks met their miserable murderous end at the mitts of Caleb, Spike and Andrew are waiting for night to fall so they can motorcycle back to the group. Spike is antsy because, as usual, he’s worried about Buffy. It’s safe to say a Scooby coup isn’t the ill he expects to befall her.
(I’ll buy that the monks don’t have a land line, but why not send Andrew out with twenty-five cents in search of a pay phone, Spike? What’s the worst that can happen, really? He doesn’t come back?)
Faith, meanwhile, has come up with the beginnings of a plan: catch a Bringer, squeeze it for info, use said info, and win! Kennedy kicks up a bit of a fuss, because she’d much rather go to the high school and throw body fluids at the seal of Danzalthar. But Faith is done with consensus building. She points out the obvious—she’s the boss of them—and starts talking strategy. Perhaps by way of empowering Kennedy, she sends her out with the Bringer-grabbing team—as bait!
It turns out that Bringers rip their tongues out, but Dawn has found a spell that will overcome that particular barrier to conversation. Go Dawn! Progress may be slow, but everyone seems to feel like things are moving forward.
And they are: plans are being enacted under the evil vineyard, too. Caleb and the First have an army of Bringers digging something out of the rock. Despite being blind, they’re not digging in the wrong place. Firstie warns Caleb that Buffy darn well better not get her mitts on whatever they’re excavating. I say leave it where it is, then. The only thing dumber than digging it up is erecting a neon sign saying “Check out what we found!” Or, possibly, telling the Slayer you have something of hers and then digging it up. Or maybe looking into the Ark of the Covenant. (Hey, at this point we don’t know what’s in there.)
At this point, Spike and Andrew return to Chez Slay and learn about the ousting of Buffy. Spike hits the group with an enormous dose of the truth as he sees it, calling them sad, ungrateful traitors and then exchanging a few recreational punches with Faith. Finally he stomps off and goes scenting after Buffy.
No, really, he tracks her by smell! The limited access to shower facilities at Ravello Drive has a sudden unexpected payoff.
The Scoobies, especially the Willow part of the gang, may feel a little guilty in the wake of Spike’s outburst, but what can they do? Recant? Apologize? No. They get on with making the Bringer speak. The spell takes over Andrew’s mind, and I have to say his low-key performance as a sock puppet of evil is just about my favorite bit of Tom Lenk acting in this season. He’s sort of malevolent and pathetic. Wormy—which Andrew is too—but in a very unAndrew-like way.
Bringers are not overly clever, so this one gives them a wide-ranging summary of their activities. One line item is “building an arsenal beneath the dirt.” That’s a promising target, right? The arsenal is located and a plan of attack comes together. Faith starts to realize that this time it’s her, not Buffy, who’s going to be the one ordering teenaged girls into a battle they won’t all walk away from. But hey, no pressure.
Spike finds Buffy, who is crushed by the gang’s rejection. She’s also not at all interested in his attempts to jolly her up. I see in this a bit of an echo of her catatonia at the end of S5—once again, she’s hit the edge of what she can endure, or at least she thinks so. And once again, it’s going to take a heck of a pep talk to snap her out of it. She is really feeling low.
But why have one demoralized Slayer if you can get them both in that state? The First comes to Faith, and naturally it’s wearing the form of the Mayor. I’m happy to see him, and I’m sure all of you are too. He tries to play on Faith’s not-so-fluffy feelings about Buffy, bringing up their past, and working to set them on each other.
Spike is no born cheerleader. Even so, he eventually becomes frustrated enough by Buffy’s don’ wanna, don’ hafta attitude that he breaks out into a passionate and remarkably well-written speech about how, essentially, he sees her, he knows her, and he understands exactly how awesome she is. Then he tells her to get some sleep, and she nigh-on breaks his heart by asking him to stay with her.
They snuggle up, kind of carefully, as if they’re both made of glass. Awww!
Robin finds Faith just as the First is leaving. She’s rattled, but she trusts him with the truth, and he’s able to help a bit. Then things get romantic. Before she pounces on him, she takes a second to ask if she’s out of line. Oh, Faith. That is so grown-up and responsible of you!
And, speaking of sex, Kennedy has arranged for her and Willow to get some intimacy time. Willow’s nervous at first, since it’s all too easy to imagine this going in a direction that will lead to her trying to destroy the planet or at the very least see if Andrew can hack life without an epidermis. Kennedy says she’ll keep her grounded and smoochies ensue.
XandAnya, meanwhile, do not have sex. Ditto Giles, Dawn, Andrew and most if not all of the Slayettes. Anya is hilariously bitter about how she’s not getting any.
And Buffy gets some sleep while Spike more or less treasures the moment and marvels at the trust.
We get a little interlude next, where the First, as Buffy, expresses a bit of envy over these (literally) touching moments. That ability to connect makes it jealous... even if its idea of connecting is to break someone’s neck. Caleb’s take on this boils down to, “Yuck, people are filthy animals who will give you cooties. Don’t be weird, okay?”
Come morning, final prep for the assault on the arsenal begins. Faith sends Willow, Xander, Dawn and Giles to check on Buffy. Dawn questions the why of this, but doesn’t outright object. Faith also treats Robin like every other disposable boy she’s every boinked: don’t call me, hon, and I won’t call you. Okay, so there’s still some learning to be done there.
At some point in the night Spike must have fallen asleep, because Buffy has crept out of the borrowed house, leaving him a note which presumably says “Your feet are still cold, and also I’m going back to the vineyard.”
What Buffy has figured out is that she is much much faster than Caleb. She hits him with a bit of a taunt and then sprints around the barrel room, letting him merrily bash fine French oak to wet fruity splinters. In time, he accidentally reveals a secret trapdoor to the sub-basement. Look! The Bringers have just finished unearthing and polishing her Slayer Scythe.
Ooh, she thinks. Pretty.
As for the arsenal assault, Faith does some good leading and the Slayettes take out a number of Bringers. Everything goes great until it turns out that Team Evil was smart enough to not only leave explosives on the scene, but to not include “We built a bomb” on Andrew’s random list of bad guy activities. Faith finds the device just seconds before it goes off.
Not long ago I threw a question to my various social networks: what is the dumbest show you will happily rewatch? (Mine, incidentally, was Alias.) Answers included Gilligan’s Island, Xena, Hercules, The Legendary Journeys, two thirds of the Stargates and Sinbad. (Feel free to share your candidates.)
A few people did say Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, and I have to admit I was surprised.
I knew there’d be some disagreement about the yardstick for dumb—don’t get me wrong. It’s an inherently subjective judgment. But I rather imagined that something most fans would agree on was that BtVS, even in its least stellar moments, was pretty clever.
This episode is a case in point. It’s a workhorse, but at this point in the ark—as you’ve all mentioned—things are getting plot coupon-y. The previously unmentioned Scythe has turned up to ease certain story problems—like the Turok-Han infestation and Buffy’s total isolation—along, and in one short episode Angel and his lips are going to turn up with a certain handy amulet. The cast has gotten unmanageably big, and the overall tone, the mix of fun and drama, is just not up to the standards of S2 or S3.
Even now, though, BtVS is talking about the importance of connection and trust, and misogyny. It’s digging into the various meanings of “It’s about power.” Anya’s making us laugh and Faith’s growing up. I would argue that, barring a handful of episodes, there was a lower than average level of dumb on seven years of this show than in most. And that’s why we’ve hung in, I suspect, through “End of Days,” which might arguably be considered another mixed bag, and on from there to the utter awesomeness that is “Chosen.”
But first, or rather next: Kaboom!
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!)