“Bring On The Night” (season 7, episode 10; original airdate 12/17/02)
“Showtime” (season 7, episode 11; original airdate 1/7/03)
Well, this is… different. The two Buffys this week work together as one extended story—spilling out from the episodes just before and presumably spilling in to the episodes to come—and though Buffy has certainly worked in this kind of extended one-thing-after-another narrative form before, both “Bring On The Night” and “Showtime” don’t have quite the same feel as past Buffy multi-parters. Those felt like taut action-adventure movies. These feel more like Angel.
The problem with that is that Angel has a cast, a narrative structure, and a creative team geared for stories that spill across multiple episodes, with cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Buffy? Not as much. A big reason why I enjoyed the first third of season seven is that it was so back-to-basics: high-school hijinks, a monster-of-the-week, a lot of cast interaction and quips, and a Big Bad popping its head up periodically in the background. “Bring On The Night” and “Showtime” taken together are sort of self-contained, in that they’re largely about confronting and dispatching the threat of the “ubervamp” Turok-Han that was loosed at the end of “Never Leave Me.” But they don’t have the grandeur or vitality of, say, “What’s My Line” or “This Year’s Girl”/“Who Are You,” do they? I watched these two episodes on consecutive nights earlier this week, and even with my notes sitting right in front of me now, it’s hard to remember much about either of them.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I remember The Potentials—those slayers-in-training who are flocking to Sunnydale to avoid being killed by The First’s robed “Bringers.” I gathered from skimming the comment section that you lot aren’t fans of The Potentials, and I have to say: they don’t make a strong first impression. I appreciate the WWII-movie-style diversity of these young ladies, with their strong accents, strong personalities, and eclectic backgrounds. And I appreciate the potential of The Potentials, as an extension of the democratization of Slayer-Power that’s been an ongoing Buffy theme. But right now they’re overly hapless and burdensome; I’m with Dawn when she gripes that she’s “not sure more scared Slayer wannabes translates as ‘help’.” Perhaps this is just the first stage of an arc that will see The Potentials become empowered in moving, inspiring ways, but they’re sure got a long way to go.
Oh, and I also remember Giles. It’s always good to see Giles, even if she shows up with The Potentials in tow, saying, “Sorry to barge in, we had a slight apocalypse.” As necessary as it’s been to see Buffy and Willow and Xander and Anya and Dawn trying to figure out the mysteries of Sunnydale on their own, it’s reassuring to have Giles puttering alongside, toting files on The First that he swiped from the Watchers Council HQ before it was destroyed, and making the tough call to pass through a dimensional portal to consult with the mysterious Beljoxa’s Eye (over Anya’s objections). Sometimes I complain about the shoddy effects-work on Buffy, but I kind of liked that Beljoxa’s Eye was essentially a floating rubber monster. And Giles was apparently right to ask it for information, as the eye explains that everything that’s going haywire lately is due to Buffy’s resurrection. (I will refrain at this point from bringing back my season six meta-reading of Buffy’s troubled revival as a metaphor for the writers’ feelings about the show still being on the air. But it’s tempting.)
And yes, of course I remember Andrew, who remains the season’s breakout star. Andrew spends much of “Bring On The Night” still strapped to his chair, commenting on the investigation into The First, whom he finds disappointing as a villain. (“Evil names should be like Lex, or Voldemoort.”) He also defends his killing of Jonathan, insisting that his friend is “in a place of joy and peace,” and adds that while he went over to the dark side, it was “just to pick up a few things.” I find Andrew’s situational ethics fascinating, especially as they’re yoked to his seeming inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. It’s clear that Andrew’s naivete softens Xander a bit too, who may see a little of his younger, pre-demon-fighting self in Andrew. In “Bring On The Night,” Xander snaps at Andrew’s version of Jonathan’s death, saying, “You got tricked by a fake ghost.” But the two of them also bond over Wonder Woman comics, and later Andrew asks him, “So how long have you followed Buffy? She seems like a good leader. Her hair is shiny. Does she make you stab things?” In “Showtime,” meanwhile, Andrew makes more of an effort to join the Scoobies, telling Dawn that he can help fight the bad guys because, “I was an evil genius!” Dawn coldly responds, “Buffy said if you talked too much, I’m allowed to kill you,” which Andrew deems as “cool.” (Like I said: I’m not entirely sure Andrew knows what “kill” means in the real world, even though he’s seen people die with his own eyes… and at his own hands.)
I also have to admit that there’s a pretty cool twist in “Showtime,” as Willow gets a call from The Coven, informing her that there’s another Potential around who hasn’t checked in yet. When Buffy and Xander investigate, they find the Potential dead, and see that it’s Eve, a girl they thought was already staying with them. It turns out that the Eve who’s been crashing on their floor is actually The First, who’s been gathering information and sowing dissension in the Scooby/Potential ranks.
There’s also a nifty flashback in “Showtime,” as Buffy fights the Turok-Han while the Potentials watch, and Dawn realizes that when Willow and Xander and Buffy left the living room earlier in the episode, they were planning this little demonstration—this “show”—to get the Potentials to see that they’re not overmatched by any demon that The First can conjure. “I’m the thing that monsters have nightmares about,” Buffy hisses at the Turok-Han before finally finding a way to kill a creature that mere staking won’t dust. Buffy’s more successful method? Beheading with wire. And here endeth the lesson.
There’s a lot of action in “Showtime,” and I found myself thinking at one point about how much better the fight scenes have gotten since season one, and how if Buffy The Vampire Slayer had been more like this from the beginning—more geared toward rough-and-tumble monster-fighting, narrow escapes, and overall bad-assery—then perhaps my reaction to these episodes would be different. Because on their own terms, as horror/action TV, they’re just fine. They have some wit, and excitement, and imagination.
But I tend to think of Buffy as a show that strives—not always successfully, granted—to make each individual episode special, by exploring a theme or coming up with a clever storytelling trick or introducing a striking villain. And I’m afraid that when I reflect on “Bring On The Night” and “Showtime” in the years to come, I won’t recall them as the episodes where Giles came back and Andrew was funny and The First fooled Buffy by posing as a Potential. Instead I’ll think of Spike chained in a dungeon for multiple interminable scenes—in two straight episodes!—of The First trying to recruit him to its side. And I’ll think about how the well-oiled machine that is the core Buffy cast has been supplemented by a house full of strangers, very few of whom can act.
- Not much advancement on the Principal Wood front in these episodes, though Buffy does catch him walking through the Sunnydale High sub-basement (a.k.a. the corridor of evil), toting a shovel. Later they talk about the nature of evil and about his favorite movies. He loves mysteries, we learn. A Scooby at heart?
- Xander feels that he’s doomed to replaced the front windows in the Summers home for all eternity. What I want to know is: Don’t the neighbors ever complain?
- Anya is not impressed by claims that The First is the baddest of the bad: “How many times did I hear that line in my demon days? ‘I’m so rotten they don’t even have a word for it. I’m baddy bad bad bad. Does it make you horny?’ Or terrified. Whatever.”
- Willow briefly gets excited during her research: “Hey, the first!… bank of Delaware, sorry.”
- Buffy, meanwhile, is conducting her own research, by Googling “evil.”
- Dawn’s is disappointed that she doesn’t get to rough up a comatose Andrew as much as she wants to. (“Anya gets to hit him,” she whines.)
- Willow’s spell to find The First turns her into a terrifying, possessed creature momentarily. I can see (possibly) a little last-season character-arc developing here. In order to complete the journey of the series, is each character going to have to overcome their biggest weaknesses, which in Willow’s case would be her persistent failure to control her powers?
- We get another visitation from Ghost Joyce in “Bring On The Night,” and no indication if it’s really First Joyce. Which Joyce did Dawn converse with a couple of episodes back?
- The Potentials don’t quite get Xander. (“Let’s ease them in to the whole jokes-in-the-face-of-death thing.”)
- Andrew declares that he’s not just bored, he’s “Episode One bored.”
- To get to Beljoxa’s Eye, Anya has to call in a favor from a demon she dated once, which leads to some “bitter ex” remembrances. (“You wore pink.” “Those were entrails.”) Anyway, Anya’s human now, which means the demon “wouldn’t touch you for all the kittens in Korea.”
- Willow has tasted evil. It tastes “a little chalky.”
- Chloe The Potential sums up what her tribe brings to the table in these six words: “Give up. Can we do that?”
- Next week: Angel, “Habeas Corpses” and Buffy, “Potential”