“Spiral,” by Steven S. DeKnight
“Spiral” is one of those episodes that starts right where its predecessor left off. Dawn’s secret has been exposed, and so Buffy scoops her up and runs like a terrified antelope. It shouldn’t work, but Willow slows Glory briefly. Then, after running at super-blurry cheetah speed to catch up with them, she foolishly pauses for the traditional pre-victory exchange of taunts… in the middle of a busy road.
This turns out badly for Glory when a big truck smashes right into her, and very well indeed for Buffy when the impact then causes Ben to take over custody of the shared BenGlorious bod. It’s nice for us because we get Ben in a dress again. There are worse things, though it’s not a fabulous dress.
As you’ve all pointed out, Buffy needed to take off for Europe with the Dawnster ages ago. Or at least five minutes after Joyce’s funeral ended. This is only just occurring to her now, as she and the others debrief at Xander’s.
Giles attempts to look on the sunny side: “You’re safe for the moment!”
To this, Buffy’s all: “Um, no.” She points out the obvious—Glory has kicked her can every time they’ve clashed.
Anya, endearingly, suggests they drop pianos on Glory, Bugs Bunny style. But Buffy’s idea is they should continue with the overall flee like the wind theme. Anya likes that even better.
Back at the Condo of Unspeakable Evil, Ben is now chit-chatting with a female member of the Scabby Gang. She’s complaining about having to wash the eighteen wheeler out of Glory’s dress, not-so-subtly asking about the Key and taking time out to find Ben hot. I was momentarily annoyed—of course the minute they need someone to sew, there’s a Scabby Girl—but I did laugh when she was perving on the poor doomed boy.
There is an answer to Ben’s problems, and it’s to kill Dawn before he gets cast aside like a husk. Babe Scab asks if he has the will to kill the Key.
So, does he? It’s not like he’s going to get an opportunity, is it? Self-pity is definitely a better option. While Ben’s pondering that, the gang throws a few weapons together and Spike picks them up in a sun-screened campervan.
As if coping with a sudden onset road trip and the reintroduction of Spike into the inner circle isn’t enough for the Scoobies to deal with, we are now obliged to remember that there are old-school warriors in the mix as well. Two badly disguised Knights of Byzantium are back at the hospital, liberating their brain-sucked buddy Orlando. Orlando knows Dawn’s identity, remember, and he happily spills the truth. “Pretty little shiny girl!”
And just like that, many many extras in medieval garb are grimly marching on Sunnydale like it’s the second march against Saracen. They’re carrying pikes and arrows and riding horses!! I know I already made fun of the Knights of Byzantium. But really, horses?
It turns out that I couldn’t get past that, and it also turns out this was fantastic.
My enjoyment of media isn’t always dependent on whether it’s good. There’s a huge degree to which my expectations figure into the equation. I know I’m not alone in this. When I watch something like Merlin, a show whose average episode makes about as much sense as a national election, I go in dialed low. There will be attractive people in revealing clothes, I tell myself. Tony Head will chew scenery! Merlin will hide his magical abilities, the villains will always turn out to be an easy day’s ride downhill from the castle… and the dragon will look for chances to be pretentious and unhelpful.
Somehow, it’s pretty easy to have fun.
I come to BtVS, on the other hand, with my narrative filter set for “The Zeppo” and “Graduation Day.” This does not serve me well when I’m watching “Go Fish.”
But when I saw the Knights who Say Key ride/marching on Sunnydale, this time, it was so dumbly, darkly hilarious that my mental switch snapped itself down to Merlin levels… and I have to tell you, if you aren’t looking for sense or characterization or the wit that characterizes so many BtVS episodes, watching a bunch of horse-riding guys from the Middle Ages run down a campervan, with straight faces no less, is deeply wonderful.
Xander is barfaliciously carsick! They have to frontload that the camper can’t move above the land speed of a golf cart, because otherwise it’s Step On It, Giles and the story is over. Instead, we get Buffy fighting the knights on the camper roof and it’s a decent fight sequence. Anya even fends off a knight with a frying pan! She wishes they’d taken that right turn at Albequerque. Yayyy!!
Then Giles gets it in the mid-section, just like Wash in Serenity. There’s a spear through the front window and he’s very badly hurt. The campervan crashes and the fun grinds to a halt.
The Scoobies evacuate and head to an abandoned gas station. Buffy’s trying to come up with another plan when the knights show up again. There are a lot of them. Boss Knight gets pretty close to Dawn before Willow puts up a barrier. She’s getting pretty handy with the locking people out spell.
I am seeing as I watch this how the year of facing down her Blindingly Scrumptious Luminescence robs Willow of any real chance of not becoming Dark Willow a year later. Yes, she makes her own choices—especially when she grabbed up the scary books looking for the immense power she deployed in last week’s revenge attempt. But we cannot deny that the team needs Super-Willow right now. A god isn’t someone a Slayer can defeat alone.
Willow had to power up.
One might even argue that Buffy’s true destiny, as a Slayer, is the unlocking of Willow’s enormous cache of magical yowza, and the revision to the code of the Slayerverse that they enact together in “Chosen.” One can easily imagine see a retelling of this story where Buffy is just the facilitator, the warrior/bodyguard who protects the developing sorcerer until she can mature and hack the Buffyverse’s Good/Evil protocols at their source.
Anyway, the trapped and imperilled Scoobies interrogate Boss Knight. He advocates destroying Dawn. “The link must be severed,” he says. “It is too dangerous be allowed to exist.”
Dawn hears all of this, of course. It’s great for her ego.
And speaking of self-esteem, over at the hospital, Orlando’s fellow brainsucked zombies decide if he can get out, they can get out.
Between bouts of bleeding and groaning, Giles gives Buffy snaps for placing her heart above all else. He tells her how proud he is and how wonderful she is. To save him, Xander and Buffy negotiate with the Knights, who agree to allow some medical assistance through their lines.
Sadly, Buffy then phones Ben, of all people, and asks him to come treat Giles. He decides a field trip would make for a lovely break from wondering if he can bring himself to kill Dawn . . . and shows up promptly.
After a marvellous Xander/Spike scene—of which there aren’t nearly enough—Boss Knight starts offering up information. He tells us about Glory being from a dimension of unspeakable torment. He reveals that a newborn male was created to be her prison on our world.
“Kill the man and the god dies.” This evens up one part of the situation—now Buffy has the chance to consider killing a (relative) innocent, too.
Dawn asks about herself. Why didn’t the monks destroy the Key? Boss Knight says they thought they could harness its power for the forces of light. This is pretty much why Nick Fury kept that shiny blue cube thing, isn’t it?
There’s one happy second where it appears Glory just wants to use Dawn to get back home. That sounds so very okay to Buffy until he adds that all the dimensional gates will open when she does so. But Jeez, guys. If they’d known six months ago maybe they could have chipped in for a nice safe bus ticket, or a chance to chat with Anya’s wish-granting former boss D’Hoffryn.
Too late now, I guess. Buffy promises Dawn she won’t let anything happen to her.
That’s not strictly true, though, is it? Ben changes into Glory and kills Boss Knight. (I was tired of him anyway, weren’t you?) She grabs Dawn and breaches Willow’s barrier, killing all those pesky Giles-stabbing soldiers. Then she runs off.
And Buffy totally collapses like a flan.
Next: Reinflating Slayers—not for the faint of heart!
A.M. Dellamonica has tons 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 Gale, too—“The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)