Season five awakens in Riley’s arms, and for a change we aren’t being treated to the beginning of one of Buffy’s prophetic dreams. She goes out a-slayin’ and is mighty damned efficient as she takes down this week’s first disposable vamp. She’s also, perhaps, a little aroused. Everything seems cheery as she climbs back into bed and gives Riley a big old snuggle.
Next day, the bubbly good mood continues: there’s beach time, and energetic frolicking with the week’s disposable football. We haven’t seen the Sunnydale beach in awhile; it’s nice to know it’s still there. As WillTara and XandAnya prove themselves less than keen on the athletics, Willow uses magic to start a campfire.
Poof! Fire! And then double-poof—downpour!
“It wasn’t me!” Willow cries, and it’s true. Over the summer, a certain undead someone has been having a castle delivered, brick by brick, to a reasonably priced residential development property, with view, just across town. The structure’s built now, and the rain is a celebratory atmospheric flourish as workmen deliver the piece de resistance. . . a big box full of dirt.
The box’s contents, much like the late and not recently lamented Mr. Trick, have a hankering for the taste of underpaid labor. The box guys get the chomp.
And where is Giles? Willow’s helping him set up a new computer, with an eye to scanning tomes. (Do they not remember what happened in “I Robot, You Jane”?) She gently objects to what looks, to her, like an enormous piles of make-work. After swearing her to secrecy, Giles says he’s going back to England; Buffy doesn’t need a Watcher anymore, and he’s tired of the slacker lifestyle. Willow argues that they need him and he poo-poohs this too.
Then we check in with Joyce, who’s had Buffy at home all summer and, apparently, loved every minute of it. No going to England for her—she’s gonna be around forever! Oh, Joyce—thank goodness we can get safely attached to you without worrying that you’re gonna take it into your head to move across the Atlantic. Mother and daughter are having a nice quiet dinner, talking over how it’ll be even quieter at Chez Slay when Buffy goes back to the dorm and agreeing they should make a regular dinner date. In a sense, what we are seeing here is Buffy’s last meaningful moment as an only child.
But we don’t know that, and neither does she, plus she’s got that kill-something itch to scratch, so off she goes to the graveyard, dressed in a pair of tight leather pants that look like something from Faith’s wardrobe. (Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stunt double, I will note, looks especially amazing in them.)
Fight, fight, poof. Another would-be biter is dust, and then Buffy gets an ovation from history’s famousest vamp.
Squee, it’s Dracula! Buffy and he have a little exchange about whether either of them knows what a Slayer is. They’re both pretty sure they do. “Your power is rooted in darkness,” Drac tells Buffy. Maybe he’d say more, but Willow and Xander show up, saving the Dark Master(bater) from a sad descent into being Transylvania’s answer to Basil Exposition.
Drac is definitely a four’s a crowd guy. He’s really looking for one on one Buffy time, and when Xander starts mocking him, he turns to a bat and flaps off.
At the subsequent debrief at Casa Giles, the trio is just a tad starstruck. There’s talk of Drac’s penetrating eyes. Tara is momentarily jealous, and it turns out Anya remembers the guy fondly from her demon days.
This does nothing to endear the Unholy Prince(bater) with Xander. He and Anya have a little envy-fueled scrap and then, two seconds later, he runs into Drac again. He’s all ready to take him on, mano a vampo—not a great idea, Xander, actually—but Drac whips out his mind whammy and instead of making with the fisticuffs, Xander is suddenly all, “Yes Master” guy.
Or, as he will eloquently put it later, butt monkey.
It turns out Drac is three for three on making the romantic partners of Scoobydale nervous: Riley is unsettled enough by his arrival that he goes to ask Spike for intel. While he’s finding out that Drac’s keen on the finer things in unlife, like special dirt and bugeaters, the vamp himself is having a leisurely waft through Buffy’s bedroom window.
“I have yearned for a creature whose darkness rivals my own,” he says. Yeah, that’s the way to a girl’s neck.
Oh! Actually it is. It’s only thanks to Drac’s rigorous portion control—not to mention his ardent desire to play with his food—that Buffy survives the night.
There’s another Scooby meeting the next day. Xander’s hyper, babbly, and mixing spiders with jelly doughnut. Buffy’s hiding her neck wound. Willow is trying to convince Giles that he’s profoundly indispensible.
Riley discovers the neck wounds: “You’re under the thrall of the dark prince!” Somehow this turns into a whole big thing about how it’s all about Angel, and how Buffy has a thing for broody immortals. Some of which is kinda true.
They swing into action. WillTara gently and sweetly remind Joyce to stop inviting vampires into the darn house already. Giles and Riley go looking for Dracula, and Xander is left to guard Buffy, which turns out just as Drac has planned:
“I’m supposed to take you to the Master now. It’s this whole deal where I get to be immortal. You cool with that?” Xander says.
Buffy’s totally on board.
Unfortunately for Drac, who has never been much for due diligence, the castle he had shipped to California was apparently the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, because as soon as the Scoobies cross its threshold, comedy breaks out all over the place. Riley is inexplicably transformed into Mister Wit, Giles falls into the fondling basement, and even Drac’s attempt to get Buffy to buy into his whole “eat you and change you to a creature of darkness and embark on a bloody reign of terror” agenda is fraught with giggle-worthy lines and adorable attempts, on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s attempt, to resist.
With all these chuckles abounding, it’s little surprise that it all falls apart for the Dark Bater when he gives Buffy a taste of his blood. This, to his surprise, nullifies the mental hold he has on her. Fighting happens. Dracula gets staked.
Drac’s toast? Really? Wow. Good going, Buffy!
In the wake of the dusting, the former spider-eating man-bitch, a.k.a. Xander, makes his big declaration: “I’m sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis!”
It’s a hilarious little monologue, but it’s also an important step on Xander’s journey, as we’ll see soon enough.
And wait! Drac’s not toast! He reconstitutes and gets staked again.
“I’m still standing right here!” Buffy tells him, as he tries to become solid a third time. I laughed. I hope you did too.
Once the gang is clear of Comedy Castle, things take a little turn toward the serious. Giles is gearing himself up to tell Buffy he’s off to England when she asks him to begin training her again. The fact that Drac knew more about her power than she did disturbed her, as did his observation that she’s been hunting for the fun of it ever since they did the enjoining spell. She wants to know more, to up her game. Can she be better, stronger, faster?
Of course Giles agrees—who wouldn’t?
“Buffy vs. Dracula” is a delightfully weird episode. It is my absolute favorite Riley story, thanks to the three things he says to Giles: there’s the “big honking castle” utterance, as a warm-up, but “No more chick pit for you,” and “You were gonna nuzzle ’em to death?” pretty much justifies the existence on this earth of Marc Blucas and his fictional alter ego.
I also like the comfortable and established BuffRiley relationship we see here.
Vampires have been steadily losing stature as a credible threat in the Buffyverse. The Master, in S1, lived up to the idea of Big Bad: he killed Buffy, after all. Nobody doubted the menace of Angelus. Now in S5 we’ve reached the point where Spike has been chipped by mere mortals and history’s most notorious fanged one gets dispatched, twice, in a throwaway episode that’s largely played for laughs.
“Buffy Vs. Dracula” essentially confirms that if Buffy’s going to continue defeating world-shattering threats, they’re going to have to be generated by something bigger than vamp-kind.
It’s interesting that despite the yucks, it’s meeting Dracula that kicks her into deciding to make an intense recommitment to her calling. As a younger teen, Buffy always did her duty but also tried to escape the bonus work, when she could, to make room for fun and boys and downtime. She tried to convince Kendra there was more to life than training. Now, though she’s far from turning into a workaholic, you can’t deny she’s looking to focus more on her career.
I love this development, this evidence of seriousness, and I always wished more had been made of it: that an explicit line had been drawn between Buffy’s decision to buckle down, here in S5, and the events of “Chosen.”
But a lot of things do happen between Dracula and the collapse of the Hellmouth, I admit, to distract Buffy from a quiet life of study, staking and martial arts practice, and one biggie hits the screen at the very end of the episode, when Joyce asks her to take Dawn along with her on a Rileydate.
In stereo, we get the chorus of sisterly dismay: “Mom!”
Next: Dawn of the… Dawn?
A.M. Dellamonica has so much 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.