Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Richard Cartwright
Rachel Lovinger
May 07, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Oops! The Scoobies misjudged their leader

There’s no time to waste in the third-to-last ”Buffy” episode, so let’s get one thing straight: The Scoobies were wrong, and Buffy was right about what needs to be done to get an edge over the the First. As a result, everyone except Buffy is getting deeper in trouble, which isn’t to say it was a mistake to throw Buffy out last week. In fact, they did her a favor.

Before Buffy can get things back in order, she has to get over the crippling insecurity that hung over her after a few of the potentials were killed in the line of duty and all her friends and loved ones cast doubts on her leadership. Relief comes largely from Spike who, after berating the ”ungrateful traitors” at casa Summers, seeks out Buffy and tells her eloquently and convincingly why he loves her. In the process, he proves, once again, that he’s earned the right to be respected and — yes — even loved by her. He also reminds the Slayer who she is and helps her recover from the self-doubt that was making her so weary.

It may seem sad that the Slayer had to cut herself off from everyone, but the truth is, she works better alone. Freed from the burden of protecting, training, leading, and inspiring all the accumulated hangers-on, and armed with Spike’s confirmation that Caleb is guarding something important at the vineyard, Buffy steps up and outsmarts the evil preacher. In ”Buffy,” where dialogue is often as much metaphor as communication, she takes control right away with her opening line, which tauntingly echoes their first confrontation (”Heard you got something of mine”). Then, when Caleb runs out of clever oration and resorts to calling her a whore, she mocks his pathetic name-calling (”You really should watch your language. If someone didn’t know you, they might think you were a woman-hating jerk.”). The advantage has shifted to Buffy and then she finds her Excalibur.

Just to underscore how wrong everyone else is, every part of the episode that doesn’t involve either Buffy or Spike is disappointing filler. The gang captures and interrogates a Bringer. Yawn. The First appears to Faith as the Mayor. Bo-ring. Everyone engages in doomsday snogging. Anti-climactic. And — whoops — Faith leads the potentials into an explosive trap even bigger than the tragic first conflict at the vineyard. Last week it looked as if members of the Sunnydale crew were better off without Buffy. But, at least until they rally behind her again, it seems that she’s better off without them.

With Buffy back on top of her game, holding the weapon that should give her the winning edge, she’s ready for another tricky encounter: the reappearance of Angel (David Boreanaz) in the last two episodes. Can the show’s creators appease the ”Angel is Buffy’s one true love” faction without alienating the growing contingent that’s rooting for Spike? And, in the process, will Buffy hold onto her reinstated confidence and power?

What did you think of ”Buffy”?

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