Leave it to Nathan Fillion to breathe new life into this flagging season. Caleb’s able to do in one episode what The First failed to do in 17 as “Dirty Girls” finally starts to make this apocalypse feel apocalyptic. To be fair, the sudden appearance of a new baddie does nothing to help the season’s structure *cough* Jasmine *cough* but that structure was fairly flat to begin with and the evil, superpowered, misogynist priest is more than worth the trade.
Conceptually, The First is a great villain; the source of all that’s bad in the Buffyverse makes for a fine final foe for our heronine. In execution, it’s been one of season seven’s biggest problems. With one other exception, Buffy’s villains have always been great, proving worthy adversaries for the Slayer alongside personalities worth watching in their own right. The First does neither of these things. A formless villain is a difficult thing to pull off to begin with, but it’s only established personality trait is a penchant for manipulation. That’s hardly enough reason to tune in each week, nor does it have much thematic significance for the show.
Enter Caleb. Buffy’s best Big Bads have all served as anti-feminist foils; the abusive boyfriend, the paternalistic authority figure, the self-indulgent bimbo, the objectifying man-children. Caleb steps into this tradition and removes all pretense. He hates women. Because they’re women. The matter of fact misogyny he spouts in the cold open makes for the perfect introduction to the character. The burning, the stabbing, the push out the car door are all awesomely brutal but it’s the “Do you think it’s because you’re a whore?” that makes the character something special. Caleb brings something new to the realm of Buffy villains, a kind of blasé malice that can’t be countered
Andrew describes faith as “A set of principles or beliefs on which you’re willing to devote your life” This is what Caleb has. Misogyny isn’t just something he believes, it’s part of who he is. There’s just no reasoning with that. There’s no shame or doubt here, just confident acceptance of the most hateful falsehoods as self-evident truths. Combine that with a performance almost good enough to make us forget Captain Reynolds and you’ve got a final boss worthy of Buffy.
I don’t think that anyone’s sorry to see Caleb steal the show but, in some ways, his presence manages to elevate The First simply by being the thing that he answers to. As I said, The First works in concept if not in practice, and having a tangible evil individual take centre stage allows it the luxury of being conceptual. The First is the thing that Caleb puts his faith in, it’s the ultimate expression of all of his undeniable hatred. Or maybe he’s an expression of it. “Evil” is far too broad a category to make for a good character trait, and the nature of The First makes it impossible for it to be more specific. Caleb gives us a brand of evil that we can sink our teeth into. It’s enough to make us want to see these two lose, which is more than this season’s had going for it thus far.
It is SO about time somebody got hurt. After months of being told how dangerous The First is, Xander… loses an eye? It’s actually pretty tame when you think about it, but the scene itself is suitably grisly and, by Buffy standards, one of the core cast suffering serious injury is enough to make us believe that shit just got real.
As Faith episodes go, this one’s… pretty weak. There’s some good tension between her and the Scoobies (Dawn in particular) but much of the heat has gone out of her rivalry with Buffy as she’s now firmly on the side of the Angels. Still, a weak Faith episode is still pretty entertaining.
Speak of pretty entertaining, Faith’s fight with the Vulcan has to be one of the more hilarious things the series has ever done.