It’s Career Day at Sunnydale High, which for Buffy Summers means taking superfluous aptitude tests and getting her nose rubbed in bitter, bitter reality. She’s sixteen, all her peers are contemplating possible futures, and with her birthday on the horizon she’s already years into the only real job she’ll ever get to have. And those folks at Destiny, Inc. are cheap employers, what with the no salary, no hazard pay, no medical benefits thing. It’s hardly a surprise when she starts thinking that her lot in life kinda, well, stinks.
And that’s all before Giles decides to take her to task for On the Slay slacking.
Spike, meanwhile, has ideas about inducing her to take the standard Slayer early retirement package, which consists of being extremely dead and out his way. He’s fallen back on the Master’s playbook—or maybe his actual contacts database—by hiring the Order of Taraka to bump Buffy off. Offloading the mayhem, see, frees him up to focus on curing Drusillla. It’s not a bad strategy. Sure, it means he’s given up on killing the Slayer personally, which is a little sad, but on the other hand he hasn’t forgotten what matters to him. I admire this about Spike, honestly. He’s an eye-on-the-ball kind of guy and he knows when to delegate.
With a conventional career apparently off the table, Buffy takes a look behind door number two, her Love Life! Lurking there is her undead, centuries-old broody boyfriend and a mountain of his best baggage, crammed full of ripped up body parts packed in guilt. Oh, yeah, there’s an oasis of normalcy, right? She and Angel have one of their first real discussions about the relationship and their chances for a future. They don’t come to any conclusions except that they really like each other, Buffy used to be a figure skating fan and maybe they should hit the rink the next day.
But you can’t triple-lutz your troubles away that easily, and Taraka-types (Tarakans? Tarakkers?) are making their orderly way to Sunnydale to fulfill Spike’s contract. There are big scary guys and icky bug-men and a well-armed fake cop. That girl named Kendra shows up too, along with the other assassins, in a misdirect that leaves us to guess she’s one of the killers. This seems to bear out when she spies on the Buffy/Angel skating date.
Sure enough, she decides to divide and conquer, leaving Angel to die in a patch of sunlight before she goes a-Buffy hunting. A big punch-up ensues, and then, surprise! We learn that Kendra, like Buffy, has been Chosen to slay creatures of the night.
“What’s My Line” is one jam-packed story. And it’s not all action—we also get major romantic developments. Willow finally meets Oz, who cements his soon-to-be-Scooby status by getting attacked by a paranoid Buffy—hey, there are assassins lurking everywhere, Giles and Angel both said so!—and then getting shot. Xander and Cordelia embark on their rigorous secret making-out regime, too.
While all that’s going on, Spike, who went to the same underling motivation seminar as Giles (and possibly Principal Snyder) successfully badgers his geekly bespectacled minion into an epiphany. Dalton works out that they need to steal a specific artifact to decode the relevant spell, so off they go to the reliquary to collect it. (As an aside, this relic, which Xander wittily dubbed “Cross-o-Matic” or “Amazing Mister Cross,” looked to me like a bona-fide piece of a Rambaldi device. Anyone else? I pretty much expected Sidney Bristow to show up and nab it from them midway through the story.)
Kendra is the big plot development, the gooey center of all this romance and combat candy. She’s living proof that Buffy’s resurrection in “Prophecy Girl”—thanks again, Xander!—has irrevokably altered the Slayer game. When she drowned, Kendra was called. This is the spark, the first sputter of the fuse that begins with Buffy’s initial death and culminates in the events of the final episode of season 7. It also cuts her free from the whole destiny thing, in a way. Though she never seriously considers it, there’s a sense in which Buffy is now a volunteer. She was chosen and died on duty. She’s done her bit and there’s a new sheriff in town. She could, technically, quit.
Or—and I’m not the only fan who’s thought of this—they could temporarily kill Kendra, then temporarily kill Faith, and so on, and so on…
But my point is that from here on in, we could argue that Buffy’s actively choosing to stay in the evil-fighting game.
It’s interesting to see her with a Slayer peer. Kendra is a by-the-book kinda vampire hunter, obedient to the Watchers and up on all the latest Slayer bulletins. She’s also picked up an unfortunate dose of Vulcan stoicism. Buffy’s a little threatened on the one hand and moved to be a mentor on the other. This transition from fighting to sibling rivalry to bonding happens at lightning speed, though, because it turns out the answer to fixing Dru is killing Angel. Spike is so up for that. And Dru’s happy to cooperate as long as she can put a few holes in Angel first. Battle ensues! Two slayers, no waiting!
This episode resolves in much the same way as “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” did—the Scoobies think Dru and Spike are dead. Everyone’s all “Yay, no dark power rising in Sunnydale this year, let’s hit the beach!” There’s a double fake-out in play, because Dru is suddenly all strong, crazy and evil (while Spike is dirty, busted up and moaning). We’re encouraged to figure Dru for the Big Bad now. Time will show, of course, that she’s no less a warm-up act than her honey.
And apparently the Order of Taraka doesn’t trust her to pay’s Spike’s debts, because they just plain bug out.
Anyway, the gang thinks they’re gone, Kendra’s headed home, and everyone’s earned themselves some… well, “Ted” and “Bad Eggs” aren’t really downtime, are they? I’ll talk about them next week.
A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com—an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.