Revisiting Buffy season 7 – episode 18

A new threat rolls into Sunnydale in Dirty Girls... and he's really, really disturbing, though not entirely for textual reasons

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: everything ever happened. This might be the longest previously-on ever: Faith was a rogue Slayer; she was unstable; she killed a man and she didn’t care; the First Evil was Jenny Calendar; the First couldn’t take corporeal form; Spike had a soul; Willow went to LA; Giles and Wood tried to kill Spike; Buffy told Wood she’d let Spike kill him if he tried it again; Buffy rejected Giles’ advice.

A group of Bringers is chasing an unknown girl through some unknown woods. She finally breaks cover onto a road, where a car just happens to be approaching. Flagging it down, she jumps into the passenger seat and urges the driver to drive away, fast. The driver is Nathan Fillion, dressed as a priest, talking in an abominable Southern accent. And, oh, hey, it’s every post-Texas Chainsaw Massacre horror movie ever, because the girl, Shannon, hasn’t been rescued at all; evil priest Caleb is actually far more dangerous than the Bringers outside. There’s a quick Firefly shout-out as Shannon calls him Father and he replies “Call me Caleb; never was nobody’s daddy” and then everything goes very, very wrong. Caleb rambles on for a while about how Shannon is a dirty girl, born without a soul, then he brands her with a bizarre symbol using his ring, then stabs her in the stomach and throws her out onto the road.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has become really, really dark and scary these last few episodes. Somehow, a man picking up girls and then murdering them, or a girl hanging herself, are much creepier than any of Buffy’s supernatural monsters have ever been, probably because they’re so real. The only other episode I can recall being so truly disturbing was season 4’s Where The Wild Things Are, where the ghosts of abused children possessed some college kids. Buffy‘s always prided itself on using monsters that are metaphors for real human experience – the whole “high school is hell” thing springs to mind – but when the real parts are just included as real, without any supernatural dressing, it gets really distressing and horrible. There’s an added layer of ick in Caleb’s case, though, because I’m used to thinking of Nathan Fillion as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, of Firefly, so for him to show up in Buffy as an evil, misogynist murderer, speaking in a dialect which is far more similar to that of Firefly than the mangled grammar Buffy characters employ, is really quite upsetting. I suspect that’s actually a large part of the point – Firefly had been cancelled when this was filmed, and Adam Baldwin and Gina Torres both show up in Angel as bad guys, so I think there’s a deliberate subversion of their Firefly big damn heroes going on here. It’s probably a compliment, therefore, that it freaked me out so much, but, shit, this is really, really disturbing and nasty and horrible.

Anyway. Caleb tells Shannon to give Buffy a message for him before throwing her out onto the roadside where, conveniently enough, she’ll be picked up by Willow, who’s on her way back from LA. And in the car with her is, drumroll, Faith! Hurrah!

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Post-credits, Xander has a dream sequence about two of the Potentials seducing him while the rest of them have a pillow fight in their underwear, and then he’s woken up by the real Potentials asking him to fix the toilet, and there’s an erection gag, and this sucked so I’m going to do my best to forget all about it.

Willow and Faith watch anxiously as the girl they found on the roadside is tended to in a hospital. Faith asks Willow why, given that the First is tracking down and killing off the entire Slayer line, she wasn’t ever alerted; Willow says they thought she’d be safe in prison, although the real answer is “because we all forgot you exist, plus most of us hate you for trying to kill us anyway” and Faith wants to go and find Buffy, though Willow is worried about how Buffy will react to seeing Faith. She tells Faith that Buffy knows she’s coming, though that sort of feels like a lie.

We cut to Spike chasing a blonde girl through the cemetary, only to be interrupted by Faith attacking him. There’s a lot of confusion about who’s evil and who isn’t, which isn’t anywhere near as good as Wood’s confusion over the multiple things inside Spike’s head, and then Buffy shows up to settle the argument – Faith and Spike are both reformed, and the fleeing girl was actually a vampire. Back at Buffy’s house, Giles and Dawn are not pleased to see Faith, and I have to wonder why she thought they would be. Spike fills Faith in on Giles’s plan to kill him, which confuses her even more about who’s good and who’s evil nowadays.

There’s a quick scene with Caleb rambling on about white wine and the Last Supper before the First visits him as a manifestation of Buffy and he expositions that he blew up the Council and has been organising the Bringers; there’s a bit more misogyny as he says he’s going to use “woman’s first sin” against Buffy, and blah, blah, blah, Caleb is really uninteresting when he’s not being scary.

Back at Buffy’s again, Andrew is telling all the Potentials about Faith’s history, which he knows because otherwise who else was going to tell them? He gets confused by the word “volcanologist”, though, and pictures Faith fighting Spock, which is actually really quite funny. Though it’s humour that’s immediately stepped on by a quick Chao-Ahn-doesn’t-speak-English joke, which, ick.

Buffy goes to talk to Principal Wood in his office to tell him she still wants him on her side, in spite of everything that happened with Spike, and he responds by firing her, because there are more important things she needs to be dealing with.

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Meanwhile, Faith sneaks off to the basement for a cigarette, which seems unlikely when she could just step outside, but it gives her an opportunity to bond with Spike, who’s in the basement because it’s daytime. They get to talk about their various evil exploits, and Faith tells Spike that they’ve met before, when she and Buffy swapped bodies. Spike remembers, because she said she’d make him pop like warm champagne, or something, and Faith says the real Buffy would never say something like that, to which Spike responds that she really has been out of the loop. Heh. For some reason, I quite enjoy the absurd conversations that happen when a character is brought in who doesn’t know what’s going on and has to try to catch up with all the bizarre and quite unlikely things that have happened to the Scooby gang in their absence. However, before Faith and Spike can get too cuddly, Buffy arrives… and then Dawn interrupts that awkward scene by saying that the Potential in the hospital has woken up.

At the hospital, Shannon shows Buffy the burn on her neck and delivers Caleb’s message – he’s got something of hers. Buffy immediately goes home to rally the troops, vowing to get back whatever it is, even though Giles tells her to calm down and think rationally – it might be something completely pointless, and this is probably a trap. Buffy, though, thinks it’s probably another girl, a pretty plausible theory, and so arranges an attack.

Caleb at the vineyard is reliving his past murders by getting the First to manifest as the dead girls and then roleplaying their deaths all over again. All young, pretty girls, too, because Caleb’s a misogynist, in case you didn’t catch that the first 999,999,999 times.

Buffy and Faith track a Bringer to the vineyard, and then bring in the cavalry – as many of the Potentials as might be ready to go into battle, plus Spike and Wood. Xander issues the girls with weapons and instructions. In a really horrible bit of foreshadowing that made me cringe, he explains that if they have to face anything demonic, they should go for the central bits: “Brain, heart, eyes. Everything’s got eyes.” Waaahhh! Xander, please stay home, you are totally not cut out for this battle, you moron. Rona spouts off a bit about how Buffy’s putting them all in danger (I am really sick of Rona) and Xander gives an inspirational speech about how awesome Buffy is that’s totally better than any speech Buffy has ever given, and then they’re off.

Inside the vineyard, there are lots of Bringers, and then Caleb shows up and beats the crap out of everyone. He reveals that it was a trap, saying he does have something of Buffy’s now (although actually he already did, though it won’t be revealed for a few more episodes) and then punches her across the room. Then he throws Spike across the room, breaks Rona’s arm, smacks Faith down, breaks another Potential’s neck in one horrifying snap, and stabs another one in the guts. Buffy tells Xander to get everyone to retreat, but before Xander himself can retreat, Caleb grabs him and gouges his eye out with a thumb.

I have no idea how good the special effects are in this part because I can never watch it. Eyeballs, just, no. And poor Xander.

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Buffy visits everyone in the hospital as Caleb provides a closing voiceover, all pomposity and nonsense about nasty, foul women, particularly Buffy, who will all be swept clean away in the coming glory – the First Evil. Caleb does not make a whole lot of sense, it has to be said, but that voiceover was creepy. I think his blatant misogyny is yet another piece in the puzzle that will eventually reveal the finale, where girl power saves the world, but he sort of feels shoe-horned in here, as if Joss brought in Caleb because Firefly had just made Nathan Fillion redundant. I’m not sure he really plays any kind of vital role in the series, though I may yet be proven wrong in the next few episodes. This episode, with the exception of a couple of scenes I’d rather ignore, is great in that it’s really creepy, and really gets under your skin; the major injury to a primary character is a massive deal, too, showing that everyone’s going to be vulnerable in the fight to come, but I couldn’t exactly say I enjoyed it. Then again, I don’t think that was the point; there are only four episodes to go, and the series is working extra specially hard to prove that this time, the apocalpse is going to be particularly apocalypsey. Uh oh.