Until now I believe I’ve done a pretty good job setting aside the sour taste season seven left in my mouth and coming at it with fresh eyes. I’ve certainly had some problems with the past nine episodes, but they’re almost entirely about what’s on screen at the moment rather than what will be on it later. And then those girls walked through the door. Much as I might like to wear my objective pants, there’s just no denying that the Potentials sucked and their arrival kills what momentum the series had. There’s little about “Bring on the Night” in itself to warrant this response, quite the opposite in some respects, but there it is.
I recall how excited I was by Giles’ return the first time around. The void left by his departure was never really filled and this episode moves quickly to scratch that itch, delivering some on the Watcher/Slayer relationship and letting Tony Head exposit as only he can. There’s also the tantalizing promise that this is more than mere nostalgia. Giles looks tired here and I think that’s a deliberate choice rather than the actor just being a year older. What has he been through to gather these girls? How did he survive the Bringer attack? It seemed such a safe bet that there was more to his story than he told the Scoobies. Sad that his sole purpose just seemed to be to deliver the Slayerettes.
The potentials aren’t really worthy of such scorn at this point. Kennedy’s only mildly irritating, and while what’s her name is an idiot who gets herself killed, that’s what we’re supposed to think. Much like Giles’ return, they’re all about possibility. An expansion of the Slayer mythology is always welcome and this one promises to take season four’s scope to an epic level.
The only real misstep within the episode, besides the false advertising, is the Turok-Han. Pitting Buffy against an amped up version of her traditional foe is a great idea… In theory. The problem is that the uber-vamp doesn’t resemble vampires in any meaningful way. I’m not just talking about the design (which is just as awful as last week) I’m talking about the complete lack of substance. Vamps aren’t great villains because of the threat they pose (Buffy hasn’t sweated them in quite some time), they’re great villains because of what they represent. Vampires are twisted versions of humanity. Immortal, they can live in the perpetual now, never worrying about growth and change. Soulless, that “now” is one of appetite without conscience. And that appetite can be summed in that most basic of human drives, sex.
It’s natural that Buffy became less about vampires as time went on; sex gets less scary as you mature. But The Slayer’s recent experience with sexual violence would seem to make the time right to bring that back. Its not just an attempted she’s got to deal with, but months of thoroughly unhealthy sex life. That’s bound to make intimacy a frightening proposition again and is the perfect stage setting for a Big Bad Metaphor. But the Turok-Han isn’t sexy. In fact, it’s downright sexless. There’s no darker element of ourselves being explored here, no dark mirror being held up to Buffy’s life. Just a big ugly orc that beats the crap out of her. Thats scary only in its ability to go nowhere.
The creators seem to be aware of the problem and have The First take Drusilla’s guise in order to sexualize Spike’s beating. It works, for the most part, with the Turok-Han acting as “her” instrument in some truly excellent scenes. Its always nice to see Spike and Dru together. But it does nothing for Buffy’s relationship with the uber-vamp. It’s particularly frustrating because the solution was so simple: have the First takes Spike’s form and enjoy watching Buffy get destroyed. The violence gets appropriately sexualized and the Big Bad REALLY takes us back to the beginning. Instead, we get an admittedly solid fight scene with absolutely no substance. So much for those fresh eyes.
Remember what I said before about missed opportunities for leveraging the shows past? ”Seeing Red”is the only other time we’ve ever seen Buffy this vulnerable. Why oh why oh why wouldn’t they tie these events together?
Oh no, water boarding. Oh wait, Spike’s a vampire. A little uncomfortable perhaps, but hardly torture.
“She believes in me”. More paydirt for Buffy/Spike fans. I won’t pretend I didn’t enjoy it.
Say one thing for the Potentials, Dawn’s irritation is becoming a distant memory.