Revisiting Buffy season 7 – episode 16

Could Storyteller be Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7's one redeeming episode? Maybe... or maybe not?

Willow and Kennedy in 'Storyteller'

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the trio were Buffy’s arch nemeses..ese, Warren was flayed alive, the other two fled to Mexico, the First Evil could be any dead person it liked, Andrew killed Jonathan, the Scooby gang took Andrew hostage, all the Potential Slayers turned up, and Principal Wood was a Slayer’s son.

The show opens in a sophisticated library-like room, or like the smoking room of an aristocractic family, only full of Star Wars merchandise and comics instead of hunting trophies. Andrew is seated in a huge, ostentatious chair, in full Hefner mode with a jacket and a pipe. He greets his “gentle viewers” and says he’s going to tell us the story of “Buffy, Slayer of the Vampires.” He also pronounces “vampires” in a really odd way, like “vam-PIRES”. He narrates a fight scene between Buffy and a couple of vampires in the graveyard, but is interrupted by Anya, and suddenly we’re in reality: he’s filming himself talking in the bathroom. Anya tells him to “just masturbate” like everyone else, and the credits roll.

There are two ways of looking at this episode. Either it’s a silly and fun way to waste an episode on the way to the finale, or it’s a welcome change from the norm. Considering we seem to have been going over and over the same old themes for ages now (wahh, big nasty is coming and someone’s going to die and Buffy’s in charge but everyone needs to pull their weight and WE’RE AN ARMY DAMMIT until next week, when we’ve all lost motivation again…) I enjoyed this episode because it was something a bit different, and also because it tied up some hanging plot elements that had been bothering me, though I’m still impatient to get to the end and quit all the endless build-up.

So, we discover that Andrew was filming Buffy fighting in the graveyard, despite her objections. He says that he’s documenting everything as a record for future generations, and manages to win over virtually everyone by appealing to their vanity. The only thing that’s weird about Andrew’s documentary is that sometimes we’re seeing “reality”, sometimes we’re seeing Andrew’s filmed and edited version of reality, and sometimes we’re seeing Andrew’s fantasies, even though sometimes it’s as though we’re supposed to be seeing Andrew’s documentary. For example, the introductions of characters show Buffy, glowing, walking through her kitchen in slow motion with a gentle breeze playing in her hair, before she falls into the arms of a shirtless Spike, and a slow-motion Anya fills the screen instead. Er, but obviously Andrew didn’t film anything remotely like that. The crux of the episode is that Andrew creates a fantasy narrative out of his everyday life in order to avoid dealing with it or taking responsibility for it (kind of like the Blair Witch Project) so that’s what the fantasy elements are there for, and they’re entertaining, but it’s also sort of confusing.

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It’s fun, though, to get a different perspective on what’s happening. Andrew cuts away when Buffy starts speechifying, explaining to camera that her motivating speeches tend to go on for too long and get too boring. He recounts his own evil past, including a spiffed up version of the fight against Dark Willow in which he singlehandedly fends her off. Heh.

Despite telling Dawn and Amanda they don’t have to go to school, Buffy herself goes, and Andrew doesn’t, even though the scenes at the school get a few interjections of Andrew’s narration. See, confusing. Anyway, at Sunnydale High, a girl is turning invisible, a mirror tells another one that she’s fat, a boy feels like he’s going to explode, and Wood has been hit in the head with a rock. Basically, loads of the things that happened to students while Buffy was at school happen, but all at once; the Seal of Danzalthar is getting a bit hyperactive and causing loads of trouble. Buffy explains everything to Wood, and then the boy who felt like exploding does explode. Oops.

Andrew films Willow and Kennedy kissing, which means they’ve got over the problems in the last episode, somehow, but Andrew’s more interested in filming the wonderful work Xander’s done fixing Buffy’s windows. Heh. That’s nice. There are a couple of other jokes in the episode which are similar – Spike menaces Andrew, telling him to get the camera out of his face if he wants to keep his throat intact, and then does a retake when Andrew tells him the light was in the wrong place, for example. But the best thing Andrew films this episode is a discussion between Xander and Anya, at first knowingly being filmed and talking about why their wedding didn’t happen, and then when they don’t know they’re being filmed, talking about how much they still love one another. It hits me right in the heart.

Buffy tells Wood about her vision of all the ubervamps, while he examines the Seal. When he gets too close, it possesses him, rolling his eyes up and making him talk in a weird voice. A piglet runs past as Buffy realises Andrew might know more than he’s letting on about the Seal. The pig was a nice touch.

Willow finds a magic crystal that will help Andrew pull out any helpful memories he might have; he drags his heels, but eventually gets on with it, recounting an episode when he and Jonathan had nightmares they didn’t understand about Bringers and Potentials and ubervamps while on the run in Mexico, and then The First Warren showed up, instructing Andrew on a knife he’d need to kill Jonathan with. Andrew gets another fantasy sequence here, in which he, Warren and Jonathan prance about, wearing togas, in a sunny meadow. Hee.

Willow asks Andrew where the knife is now, and it turns out he’s been using it as a steak knife. Ewwww. The knife has engravings on it, which turn out to be words written in a demon language Andrew can translate, even though previously he’d just thought it was a pattern, which seems unlikely to me, but I’m willing to let it go given that Dawn had magic translation skills in the previous episode. Figuring that the Seal might respond to this language, Buffy hauls Andrew off to the school, where a riot has evidently taken place – or, in fact, is still taking place. While Spike and Wood fight off the possessed schoolkids, Buffy and Andrew go to the Seal, where more schoolkids have carved out their eyes, a la Bringers. That is incredibly gross and disturbing. Eeek.

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Back at Buffy’s house, Xander and Anya have had sex in the basement, obviously caught up in their we-still-love-each-other excitement. But now it’s over, they realise… it’s really over. It was sex for old time’s sake, and now they’re really and truly broken up forever and ever. Ouch, ouch, ouch. This scene really hurts, it’s kind of brilliant, if endlessly upsetting.

In the school, Spike and Wood fight the schoolkids, though Wood tries to stake Spike in the process. Luckily, he fails. Downstars, Buffy is menacing Andrew, who has told at least two different versions of the story where he kills Jonathan and it’s not his fault. Buffy tells him that his blood will be necessary to close the Seal, and that good people will die in the fight, and all sorts of other things that finally, finally get through to him. Weeping, he explains that he knew all along that the First wasn’t really Warren, but that he did what it said anyway, trying to pretend he thought it was Warren.

The fact that he murdered Jonathan, all by himself, finally sinks in… but when Andrew’s tears hit the Seal, it closes, and all the kids stop being possessed. I remember when this episode aired there was discussion about whether making it tears instead of blood was a cop-out, but I actually like it this way. There isn’t any easy tit-for-tat redemption for Andrew; he is a murderer, and hiding behind his geekiness or his storytelling won’t do anything to change that. Hurrah for consequences! Buffy refuses to be drawn on whether or not she would really have stabbed him if his tears had failed to close the Seal, and when Andrew tries to explain everything to the camera, he’s lost for words, and shuts it down instead. I love this; really, really well-written, really interesting character-work. It’s still a bit of a stalling tactic, but somehow this episode felt like it moved things on far more than a billion of Buffy’s self-righteous speeches ever could have.

Find Sarah’s review of episode 15 here.