Revisiting Buffy season 7 – episode 12

Misunderstanding leads to analysis of what actually makes a hero. Sarah could have done without the first 35 minutes of Potential...

Buffy potential

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dawn saw Joyce, Spike was insane, the First raised an über-vamp, the Potenials turned up, Eve was evil, and Buffy killed the über-vamp.

In one of Sunnydale’s twelve graveyards, two of the Potentials slink nervously around gravestones. Buffy, as it turns out, has enlisted Spike to help teach them how to kill vampires, by, er, illustrating how easy it would be for a vampire to kill the girls. Apparently, this is to teach them to trust their instincts – i.e. run away, if they have to. While demonstrating, Buffy and Spike get awkwardly snuggly, leading to some cracks about whether you’re supposed to make out with vampires before staking them, and then the credits roll.

After the credits, things don’t seem to be going much better with the Potentials, who are all bickering in the basement. Wasn’t Showtime supposed to have kicked them all into order? At least they seem to respect Buffy a bit more, I guess. Buffy gives them one of her terribly rousing speeches about how they’re all going to die one day, some of them sooner than others, and before they slit their wrists to get it all over with she encourages them to decide that this fight won’t bring them down. She is so, so rubbish at encouraging people. As demonstrated by the way she then rounds off her morning by patronising Dawn. Ugh.

The next scene takes us to work with Buffy, and again I say, she is so fucking rubbish at, well, talking to people, generally. First she’s ridiculing Xander over the phone, then when she actually does her job, she over-empathises with Amanda’s problem (she fancies a boy who picks on her, and wants to know if it’s normal to be mean to someone you like) to the point of incoherence. Earth to Buffy: it’s not always about you, you know.

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Some hours later, back at Buffy’s house, everyone is arguing again when a call comes from the seers in England that there’s another Potential out there: in Sunnydale. Willow volunteers to do a locator spell, because we’ve all given up on the magic-is-like-an-addiction thing apparently (not that I’m complaining, I hated that) while Buffy takes the Potentials out training again. This series is really struggling with logistics: since everyone now seems to be living in Buffy’s TARDIS-like house, the writers constantly have to make people leave in order to let other people talk or whatever. The strain is starting to show, too. Anyway, Buffy leaves Andrew behind, saying that although he’s not actually evil, he has a tendency to pick up its flavour when he gets too close to it, “like a mushroom”, which was nice, and Andrew, Dawn and Willow set about getting the spell ready. Xander and Anya randomly show up for the actual magic time: the spell is supposed to take the form of an orange cloud which will seek out and then surround the girl who’s the Potential Slayer. Of course, it goes wrong, merely hovering in Buffy’s living room making a horrible smell… until it smashes through Dawn and throws her against the front door. Oh no! Could Dawn be a Potential Slayer?

On the one hand, if we actually bother to remember where Dawn came from, it seems unlikely. On the other, as is actually pointed out onscreen, Buffy and Dawn are supposed to share the same blood. (Anya, brilliantly, says “Yeah, I never got that” at this point, and I am 100% with her.) Dawn, having seen the realities of being the Slayer through Buffy, freaks out and runs off to her room… but, oh, remember when Buffy was teaching Dawn to fight evil? That was good. Obviously that can’t happen now, because the Potentials are around and occupying all of Buffy’s apparently limited attention, which is irritating because EVEN IF DAWN ISN’T A POTENTIAL, SHE COULD PROBABLY USE SOME TRAINING. The stupidity of this pisses me off. As does the stupidity of Dawn climbing out of her window and running away from the house, supposedly overwhelmed. Yeah, why don’t you just run out into a world overrun with vampires and Bringers and all the rest of it without letting anyone know where you’re going? I can’t see a single flaw in that plan. Sigh.

Speaking of stupid plans, Buffy has taken the Potentials to a demon bar, where all the customers are eyeing them up as potential bar snacks. She gives them another speech about how everyone wants them dead, which, I think they got the point, Buffy, though her warnings are undermined when Clem shows up for a gossip. Hee, I like Clem. Buffy then gets Clem to scare the Potentials by showing them his demon face, because obviously everything that looks evil in Buffy is evil, and everything looks harmless is harmless. Totally how the world works, let alone the Buffyverse. Bah.

Meanwhile, Dawn has run into Amanda in the street, who tells her that she thinks she was just attacked by a vampire at the high school. Rendered stupid by her potential Slayerness, Dawn decides they should go back and fight the vampire, which goes about as well as you’d expect it to.

And then everything gets a little bit worse as Buffy takes the Potentials to a vampire nest in a crypt, managing to reveal in the process that she knows exactly how “comfy” Spike’s crypt was. Oh, Buffy. After having them take a good look around, Buffy and Spike lock the Potentials in the crypt with a vampire, supposedly teaching them to fend for themselves but actually probably because Buffy’s annoyed with having so many of them around the house.

Meanwhile, the Bringers have arrived at the high school, meaning Dawn and Amanda are now totally outnumbered, but luckily Willow et al have discovered Dawn’s gone, so the cavalry, in the shape of Spike and Buffy, has time to come to the rescue just as Amanda stakes the vampire. Woohoo!

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Regrouping at Buffy’s, it emerges that Amanda was standing on the doorstep when the orange cloud smashed Dawn into the front door; she’s the Sunnydale Potential, not Dawn. Once again, Dawn is relegated to wallflower, standing around in the background while the Potentials excitedly talk about their kills that evening. Finally, the scene which redeems this episode happens: Xander and Dawn have a heart-to-heart over the difficulties of being, well, normal, in such bizarre circumstances. Xander explains that he’s become used to watching his friends become more and more powerful while he remains the guy who fixes things, and it’s … just, tear-jerkingly wonderful. I love this scene. I admit it, I had a little sniffle. Particularly at the “You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.” line. I love you, Xander!!

In a bit of heart-wrenching foreshadowing, Dawn suggests that maybe Xander’s power is “seeing” and, wahh. If I put the DVDs in the freezer and never watch the rest of the series, nothing else bad will happen to Xander, right?