“Sleeper,” by David Fury and Jane Espenson
You know it isn’t a good thing when your friendly neighborhood slayer comes rapping on your door at way too early on a workday. It’s five point two seconds after Buffy’s convo with Webs the Dead Person ended. Now she’s looking for Spike, who isn’t home. Where is he? Well, he’s found a new basement hang-out, one that’s a little less shabby than the high school, and he’s burying the blonde from last week there. He looks sane, as such things are reckoned, as well as remorseless. Plus he’s humming what we in Canada think of as the Friendly Giant theme song.
From there we go to England, and a Watcher with a Potential named Nora. Oh, never mind. She’s dead and he’s stabbed.
Willow, after her encounter with the First, has bolted straight home. There she finds the carnage left after Dawn’s epic fight with the Evil Unseen Something. Dawn tells her she saw Joyce.
Willow says it wasn’t her, or probably wasn’t her, and explains about her own visitation.
As they talk, Dawn edits her version of the convo with dead Joyce, leaving out the part about how Buffy won’t choose her. She wants to believe she saw her mother, even if that means buying into the bad news. Willow isn’t sure they can trust either messenger, since the encounters were obviously engineered by the Big Bad.
Across town, Xander and Buffy are processing Webs’s declaration that Spike sired him. It occurs to them to wonder if the Initiative Chip is still working. Spike arrives home, and they dance around the topic of their respective evenings. He’s polite and non-committal and doesn’t have any visible blood on his teeth. In the end, nothing gets said. Buffy runs home to check on Dawn and Xander ends up begging Anya to keep an eye on Spike.
Anya is, as she often is, wonderful. She points out all the reasons why this is an idiotic idea and wants to know if they’ve searched Spike’s room for trophies. Like, you know, scalps.
Buffy gets home, sees the living room, and freaks out. Willow catches her up on last night’s events (she has already put Dawn to bed). “This thing knows us,” she says. They ponder that. It doesn’t seem promising.
Despite her objections, Anya is officially a trooper. She sits at Chez Xander, waiting for Spike to come out and be all vampy, and then she realizes that’s simply not proactive enough for a can-do gal like her. She slips into his room, with a stake, and goes looking for scalps. This gives us the chance to see that Spike may have a bad dose of the soulful Williams, but he still sleeps in the altogether. Some of you really enjoyed that, didn’t you? As for me, I’m all: Wow, Anya is so brave!
She’s still looking when he grabs her hand, in a scary way, and asks what the hell she’s up to. She tells him she’s there for sex. With a stake. Kinky sex! Yeah, that’s it!
It’s flat-out hilarious. Spike lets her down gently. Anya keeps making noise until he forgets about the room search, or seems to. Then she flounces off to the living room to pretend to pout. After a bit more awkwardness, he heads out, and she phones Buffy. If the scalp-hunt resumes, we don’t see it.
The two of them—Spike hunting, Buffy following—head out to a crowded courtyard, somewhere market-like, no place I’ve seen before on the show. Suddenly Spike hears the song, which is actually an old folkie thing whose principal refrain is “How could you use a poor maiden so?” Buffy loses him in the crowd, or seems to. Spike’s newest friend is being all sexy and seductive when she catches up.
Buffy—or, rather “Buffy”—tells Spike, basically, to go for it. And he does, with panache. And fangs. Hmmm, guess that’s the First he’s seeing. Again.
Spike then goes home to his bedroom for some postprandial naptime. He needs to get a lock on his bedroom door, I’m thinking, because Buffy turns up there next, flings him out of bed, and accuses him of murder. He protests his innocence, not the chip-inflicted can’t get it up kind of innocence we’ve been enduring since S4, but a shiny new don’t want to kill because of the soul, pure as the driven snow, srsly! kind of innocence. He’s not interested, he claims, in adding to his bodycount.
This turns into an argument about whether Buffy’s jealous because he’s picking up women and then… um, forgetting what happens next. Rather than dwell on the fact that he doesn’t know if he shagged or devoured his recent casual acquaintances, he resorts to making Buffy screamingly uncomfortable by reminding her he got the soul for her sake.
But as Spike becomes conscious of the fact that he doesn’t remember what happened after he initially talked to the market woman, he gets worried.
Buffy heads off in search of evidence, ending up in a convo with the Girl Scoobies about whether the things the First said to them, in its various Cassie-Mom disguises, were true or not. Anya tells them she said true things all the time when she was evil. Dawn continues to wrestle with the question of whether Joyce/faux Joyce can be trusted on the whole “Buffy won’t choose you” thing.
Then they search-engine up a query about dead people with neck trauma, and instead find disappearances. Of, mostly, women.
Spike is by now trying to fish up some of the missing pieces of his memory and has a flash of the dead blonde from last week. He heads out of the apartment. Xander tries to stop him and gets punched for his trouble. Ow! Hey, the chip worked! Nobody is conscious to notice.
Soon the Bloody is at the Bronze, asking the bartender and anyone else about the woman he remembers. He climbs up to the catwalk—oh the memories, eh?—and segues into some quality drinking. A woman approaches him, skillfully deploying the time honored vampire pick-up line, “What was your sign? Hey, wanna eat some Bronzegoers?”
When Spike declines, she says: “You didn’t seem so shy when you were biting me.”
It turns out them is fighting words, and eventually he stakes her, knocks her off the catwalk and darn near onto the bandstand. Poof! Dust explosion. The young people of Sunnydale pretend they didn’t see anything. The band hates playing vampire towns.
Very nearby, Buffy is checking with the Bronze bouncer. This sounds like a superhero name, doesn’t it? Bronze Bouncer, Facebook friend of Silvery Surfer and assorted metallic beings! What I want to know is since when does the Bronze have a bouncer? Despite my skepticism, he confirms that yes, Spike’s been quite the player lately.
The player is, at this point, thoroughly freaked out. He actually phones Buffy in a panic and arranges a meet. The First appears to him, as him, and says he’s not behaving according to specs. Nevertheless, Spike takes Buffy to his new favorite basement, babbles a bit at “Spike,” and then ’fesses up: he thinks he did perhaps kill some people after all. And buried them here.
Why, she asks, but he doesn’t know.
At this point the First gets all singy. It’s irrational, but I feel as though this is cheating. I preferred the creepiness of the moment when the busker’s song changed to Spike’s mystic homicidal trigger. In comparison, this just seems lazy. Be that as it may, Spike attacks Buffy. A minute later, while she’s trying to talk him down from Crazy Tower, vampires start clawing their way out of the basement floor and grab her.
Ooh, she’s helpless and oh so delectable! The First urges Spike to take a bite. Instead, he has a little lap at the blood on her shoulder. It’s a call-back to “Buffy vs. Dracula”—her blood makes him remember everything. The memories cause Spike to spaz out, giving her time to kill his collection of newly sired Spikettes. William’s dreams of dominance on the undead bowling circuit are dust before they’re even truly realized.
The First gloats about how Buffy’s going to kill Spike now. He’s pretty okay with that. He offers her his chest and asks her to stake him fast. He also mentions a song.
She declines to kill him, though he begs her to do the right thing.
“There’s something playing with us,” she insists, and he asks if she can help him. The First is deeply unimpressed by it all.
But Buffy has a plan now: use Spike to find out about the as-yet unmasked Devourer from beneath. She has to sell the gang on this, of course, and she does so by pointing out that whatever’s been playing them all, it’s bad, getting worse, and seems to have an all-access pass to the remnants of Spike’s brain.
“Sleeper” is an episode with a lot of momentum behind it. Spike, who up until now had seemed to be circling some kind of drain, is catapulted into motion—past the chip, past the soul, and back into killing. It’s a chilling demonstration of the First’s power, one that shows that you don’t need to be able to touch the world, physically, to have an effect upon it. We see the seeds of trouble yet to come being sown between Dawn and Buffy, and though I’m not the biggest Spuffy shipper on the block, or even within these conversation threads, I really admire how steadfast Buffy is here in trying to find ways to take care of Spike. She didn’t ask for the burden of another souled vampire—and they are awfully burdensome, in their way—but she’s doing her best to make up for past mistakes by shouldering him.
For dessert in “Sleeper,” we get Giles!! Who is finding the dead Potential and her punctured Watcher, Robson. Robson isn’t quite finished yet, and offers up some direct, if opaque, dying words: “Gather them. It’s started.” He doesn’t have time or breath to add “Feed my fish,” or “I left the gas on,” or “Look behind you, Rupert.”
As Giles is reassuring him, a Firstite comes up behind him with an ax and murderous intent. This leaves us all on the cliffhanger: Eeek!
Next: Interrogations All Around
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”!)