“Checkpoint” by Doug Petrie and Jane Espenson
“Checkpoint” opens with the Scoobies meeting about Giles’s fact-finding trip to visit the Watchers. They’ve learned something and have decided to deliver the message in person, which thrills Buffy not at all. Dawn is trying to eavesdrop on them, no doubt hoping to glean a little knowledge about the whole key thing she overheard last week.
Buffy’s deeply stressed, about the Watchers, the eavesdropping, about the everything. But she’s doing better than Glory, it turns out, who’s so deep into one of her need-a-sanity-fix fits that she’s pretty much helpless. Dreg and Jinx feed her a local mailman, who staggers off in a demented state to look for his hat. Jinx then mentions that time’s getting short if she wants to use the Key. Glory’s all cheery, though; she figures Buffy knows where it is and she can just wring it out of her.
So, you know, not a dumb villain. I’d say she’s brighter than Angelus.
After the credits, Quentin Travers and six fellow members of the Royal PIA club show up and shut down the Magic Box. Anya has concluded she doesn’t want them to know she’s an ex-demon, and attempts to lie herself up a cover story. Travers and Co. are doing their usual thing, which is being snotty to Giles about his store, the inexperienced mages shopping at same, the quality of the tea, and especially the crap (as they see it) job he’s doing as Buffy’s volunteer Watcher. Then they gleefully announce there has to be a review before they will choke up the Glory info.
Buffy doesn’t know this for the moment because she’s in class, getting reamed out by a history professor who is unwilling to entertain the notion that Rasputin might have been some kind of unholy hard-to-kill fiend. From this I guess we can deduce that American educators can be snotty too. And that knowing history hasn’t exactly made Buffy more fit for academia.
(Which, in a sense, is too bad. I can see a whole alternate future version of this universe where Buffy gets a Ph.D. in something, possibly archaeology, and is, like, a tenured evil-fighter. You’d watch that, right?)
Professorman is annoying enough to send her off on a trip to the graveyard to pummel whoever shows up. This made her feel better when it was the snake-monster and the Queller demon, so it seems a reasonable anger management strategy. But Spike intervenes in the slayage. For this he gets told, among other things, that Buffy will never need him. Words to live by, or perhaps eat later.
(Spike strikes back with some cutting snark about how she can’t keep a boyfriend and is losing her looks. Nice.)
Also on the subject of pummelling, that’s what Jinx the minion gets when he asks Ben for Buffy’s home address. (Jinx the minion! Awesome band name!)
Buffy heads back to the Magic Box and gets the thrilling news that the Watchers want to evaluate her. Quentin lays out the plan and, before she can become too violently opposed, threatens to have Giles deported if she doesn’t play along. What a swell guy.
Then, having established to their satisfaction that they rule all roosts supernatural and know totally everything, the Watchers start interviewing Scoobies about Buffy. Anya continues to pretend to have been a human, lo these several years. WillTara reveal that they are lesbian, gay type lovers, and also are friends of Buffy. Xander tells them about the end of season four essence-combining spell in which he was the Heart, and their response is “Really, she needs that much help?”
Because, you know, the game is rigged. They’re there to find fault, not facts.
Spike, meanwhile, is having sexy flirtage with the female Watcher who wrote her dissertation on him. I say this is the funniest moment in the episode.
Then the real games begin. They blindfold Buffy and pretend they think she speaks jujitsu, setting up a wacky combat scenario in which, eventually, the practice dummy she’s supposed to be protecting gets axed.
Since that went badly, she heads home for dinner before the Inquisition portion of the exam, which is worth eighty percent of her final grade. . . and there she finds Glory waiting.
Apparently it wasn’t that hard to get her street address after all. Glory, of course, wants the Key, who is still Dawn. She’s come to tell Buffy to ante up. In the process, she actually gets a look at Dawn, but doesn’t see her essential keylike nature. There’s some threatening, but no violence, and then Joyce comes home.
“Pack a bag,” Buffy tells Mom, and sets about needing Spike after all by dragging her women to the tomb and begging the Bloody himself to watch over them. This works for Joyce, who has gotten addicted to Spike’s favorite soap opera, Passions. What Dawn does with the evening is anyone’s guess.
Back at the Magic Box, the Scoobies are sulking, the Watchers are being obnoxious and Buffy is tardy. But wait! Out in the alley, just for kicks, what do we have? Is it Jinx? Or Dreg? Or even a vamp of the week? No, it’s a flippin’ guy in sort-of-medieval armor. Bet you weren’t expecting that. I know I wasn’t. He’s brought several of his Knights of Byzantium friends to make it more convincing.
But not enough friends to defeat Buffy in armed combat.
Sir Orlando is, in defeat, a pretty chatty guy, you have to give him that. Perhaps sensing that we are all thinking: “What? A Knight?” he confesses all. The Byzantos have figured out the Slayer’s got the Key, which is apparently a killing offence. They’re going to number up and come for Dawn. He predicts victory.
What Buffy takes away from this encounter—besides his sword—is a wonderful wonderful epiphany. She trundles off the Magic Box and tells the Watchers how very mistaken they are if they think she’s gonna dance to their tune anymore. Do your jobs! Hire Giles back! And shut up! Did anyone not cheer when she threw the sword at Nigel?
Spike’s biggest fan objects to this paradigm shift on the grounds that WillTaraAnXander are children and Buffy replies: Witches, ex-Demon, and Xander’s just plain useful. Xander is proud to have clocked field time. They cheer openly when Quentin backs down.
And finally he opens his big Watcher file, which Buffy was polite enough to not pluck from his hand to reveal: Glory’s not a demon. She’s a deity.
Squee! That’s upping the stakes, isn’t it? Remember when the meanest thing in Sunnydale was an undead eleven year old?
The wheels do turn on our big plot with “Checkpoint.” Glory not only shows up but gets some face time with Buffy, and we and the Scoobies finally learn something about her. The Knights make their first appearance, Dawn gets a look at the thing that wants to kill her, and the only thing missing is Buffy should’ve asked the Watchers to give her a damned salary, too. And maybe to swing by prison and apologize to Faith. Covering Joyce’s hospital bills might be too much to ask, but I still feel would be awfully gracious.
Though not a primarily comic episode, the Scooby interviews are chucklesome. And even though, in dramatic terms, this confrontation has superficial similarities to the one between the Scoobies and the MacLays in “Family,” I can’t help but love that sense of a bill coming due. The Watchers have been needing comeuppance. That they get it direct from the sacrificial teen they’ve been happy to think of as ‘their instrument’ only makes it sweeter.
Next time: Another Bloody Birthday
A.M. Dellamonica has kaboodles 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.