“Potential,” by Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Rona and Vi are out in a graveyard, looking scared and for good reason: something in here is hunting them.
Oh, wait, it’s Spike. He knocks Rona aside and takes a juicy bite out of Felicia Day…
…then it turns out, naturally enough, to be a training exercise. Buffy and the other Slayettes are on hand to debrief on why the two got killed. Rona whines about how it’s not a fair fight, since she and the others don’t have Buffy powers. (She could be whining about why she’s been ruled “dead” when all Spike did was give her a push, but that doesn’t occur to her.)
Buffy tells them all that that they have potential that ordinary girls lack—vampire-fighting instincts, basically— and talks a bit about learning to make the fight their own, even if what their finely tuned instincts are saying is “Run for the hills, wimp!” She and Spike get into a little demonstrative sparring, which turns into a tender gravestone-side moment where she’s worried she’s hurt him. And all but petting his manly bruises.
In the morning, the lecture series continues. The next unit at Slay School is entitled, “Stop giggling and listen up, kids, because you’re all gonna die.” Dawn is sitting on the basement steps, auditing the class.
According to Anya, Buffy says, the First is in remission, which simply means that killing the Turok-Han bought our good guys an episode or two of breathing space. Buffy wraps up with a long pitch to the Potentials about how they really are very special and awesome, and may well save the world. This sorta sucks for Dawnie, who isn’t chosen in any sense of the word. She takes this perceived unspecialness to heart, adding it to that thing spectral Joyce said: “Buffy won’t choose you.”
Even though on some level she must know big Sis is just trying to build confidence in the apprentices, it’s impossible not to feel a bit set down. That’s human nature.
Buffy is tragically overbooked. She zooms off to work, where Amanda, whom we’ve met before, asks her about weirdness, unpopularity, and boys. Her questions draw Buffy into a ramble about the perils of dating one’s mortal enemy, because the little encounter with Spike is still on her mind. “It’s totally over!” she insists. In fact, it’s obvious those feelings are both mellowing and getting more intense. Which is delightful for the Spuffy shippers, but it’s also less than useful for poor Amanda.
She gets home hours later to find the house disheveled, the Slayettes yelling at Xander and Andrew, and Willow a-brimming with the news that there’s another baby Slayer right here in town, a local girl that neither the First’s minions nor Team Slay have noticed.
Buffy worries briefly that this means she shouldn’t take the Slayettes out again for more training, but XandAnya and Willow say they’ll do what they can to figure out who the new Potential is. Dawn agrees that Buffy and the others have more important things to do. She then sucks up kitchen duty, while the Potentials burble over weapons and the possibility that they might actually get to kill something soon.
Andrew, meanwhile, is begging to come along on the outing. I will tell you all now that I am finding Andrew so abrasive and hard to take that I’m not gonna be spending much time on him, at least until we get to “Storyteller.” Feel free to call out your fave Andrew moments if I miss ’em. Anyway, Buffy says “Eww, no, you’re not coming.” Spike shows up, and the training party heads out. This leaves Dawn behind in the kitchen with Andrew. Any sensible person would be disheartened by that turn of events.
She could, one supposes, be grateful that she is no longer winning awards for “most obnoxious thing onscreen.”
Spell prep is next: Willow is organizing her components as Dawn speculates about which of her classmates is about to get Chosed.
Witchery happens. The basic point of the spell is that a shiny light will illuminate the Potential. It seems to have failed, in a sort of stenchy way, until Dawn goes to the front door to investigate a noise. Then light blasts through her—and the door, but nobody notices that. Instead Willow and XandAnya get all, “Bwee, Dawnie, you’re the Potential!”
Dawn gets flustered. Part of what she takes from this revelation is that Buffy would have to die for her to get the chosen job. Which: wrong! Faith would have to die! It’s one thing that the Slayettes don’t get it, but it’s starting to seriously annoy me that this conversation is happening in a room full of people who know that Buffy’s death called Kendra, and that the Slayer line continued through her. Have they forgotten that Buffy already died in S5? And we didn’t get an extra extra slayer from that, did we?
Anya then likens being the Slayer to being the Pope, which allows me a chance to raise something another fan mentioned to me awhile ago: the current state of things here in the real world, Popewise, mirrors the Buffy/Faith situation. After John Paul, we had a fairly upright and rule-bound pontiff—and there was allegedly only going to be one until he died and the next was called. But suddenly Pope Benedict stopped doing the job, and they got a wild and crazy Faith-style replacement.
Irrelevant tangents aside, Dawn asks for time to absorb this news, about her potential specialness, without telling Buffy. She mentions what spectral Joyce said to her, and wonders if Buffy will even be pleased to hear that she’s about to have a line on superpowers, endless combat, and an eventual painful death-by-demon.
Then, as often happens in the Summers house, Dawn goes up to her room and ends up listening as the others talk about her behind her back. She’s already freaking out, so it’s extremely unhelpful. In fact, it drives her out the window and into the ever so dark streets of Sunnydale.
Buffy and Spike have, meanwhile, brought the Potentials to a demon bar. The demon bar? Is it still Willy’s place? She’s just telling them the place is full of snarly hostile types when Clem walks up and hugs her. I love Clem.
She asks him, on the sly, to give the Slayettes a scare, and he shows them something appalling. It’s something to do with his face, but we don’t see it—we just see them reacting. Badoom ching!
Out on the monster infested streets, Dawn has bumped into Amanda. They’re about to go their separate ways when Amanda asks if she’s okay. Dawn sees that she’s got a cut on her forehead. It turns out a vampire attacked Amanda at school, and she was thinking of asking Buffy for help.
The two of them break back into the school. They’re all nervous, and Amanda wonders if they might not let the vamp go long enough to have it attack her arch-rivals in the marching band (she’s in swing choir). The joke fails, though we give her points for attempting banter so early in her slay career. Finally, they move on to the classroom where the vampire is allegedly trapped.
They open the door and it’s not there. Or, actually, it is—it’s up on the ceiling, being hidey. The two of them flee, and Dawn nails him multiple times with a fire extinguisher, which is pretty fantastic.
As they fight for their lives, we cut to a vampire nest with Buffy, Spike, and the Slayettes. Spike reminisces about his crypt. Lying on the floor of this particular messy place, though, is a vampire.
Amanda and Dawn have barricaded themselves into a science lab. Dawn tells her they’re going to get out of this alive. It’s a nice callback to earlier in the episode, when Buffy told the potentials to decide whether they’ll live or die.
The scene alternates between Buffy pummelling the vamp in the crypt while talking the Slayettes through the kill. Then, in time, her monologue continues as we watch a rather awesome Dawn versus vamp fight in the science lab.
When it all reaches a climax, Buffy and Spike lock the Slayettes in the crypt with one stake and the slightly softened-up vampire.
Willow and XandAnya have by now decided to talk to Dawn. You’re wayyyyyy too late, kids. Why has it never occurred to them, let alone to Buffy, that the same window she used for late-night escapes for all those years would work just fine for Dawn too?
Speaking of Dawn, she has just about lost the fight with the vamp when the Bringers show up. It’s a bit of a break, and as she’s recovering, the First’s minions grab Amanda.
Oh. She’s not as Chosen as she thought.
The good news is she’s already turned on the gas for one of the Bunsen burners, which makes it possible to ignite at least one of the Bringers. She and Amanda boot it out to the stairwell, where Dawn breaks the news to her. You. You’re the special one. Xander shows up in time to see Dawn handing over the stake. Buffy and the gang are a few steps behind. They help with the Bringers while Amanda dusts the vamp.
The aftermath puts the Potentials, all five of them, on the Summers couch debriefing about their respective first kills. They’re bonding with Amanda as Dawn listens to them. Buffy hauls the Potentials downstairs—after a clueless and rather cursory check-in with her sister.
What follows is the Xander/Dawn scene that a number of you have cited as an all-time favorite BtVS moment.
Xander says that none of the powered members of the gang, not even Buffy, will know how much harder the fight is for ordinary people. He saw what she did for Amanda the night before, and he tells her it’s extraordinary.
“Maybe that’s your power,” she says. “Seeing, knowing.”
(Neither of them asks if said Xander power requires binocular vision and/or depth perception.)
It’s a beautiful moment of connection, and he leaves her feeling both teary and, somehow, more resolved. Then he goes off to do something useful but not worth filming, and she goes back to looking up things about the First.
Next: Will we never be free of Warren?
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”!)