Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by David Grossman
Buffy is fighting a vampire. The gang is there, and now another vampire. Buffy seems a bit less capable than usual. She stakes one vamp in a sort of panicked way, even though these are just run-of-the-mill cold-open baddies. She runs after the other one, which fled into a crypt. The crypt is a nest, though. Several vamps in there. The Scoobies (including Buffy) leave. They feel like they need to call in some bigger guns. Wait, what?
They head to a mansion we’ve never seen before and anxiously ask someone sitting in a big chair behind a mahogany desk for help. The chair swivels around. It’s Jonathan. This is going to be amazing.
Version four of the S4 credits! Danny Strong isn’t actually listed as one of the regulars, but shots of Jonathan are woven throughout the whole sequence. Including a big billowy overcoat power shot at the end.
At Giles’s apartment, Buffy is practicing some of her fighting moves, Willow is looking something up, Anya is eating cereal, and Xander is practicing his quick-draw with stakes. Also Jonathan is there, and he has twin collapsible crossbows. Nice. Buffy is very grateful that Jonathan is willing to help with a vamp nest. He and Buffy do a little spar, and he wins with a left cross. (I don’t actually know what a left cross is, but he did some kind of punch with his left hand.) Willow shows him what she found about the cemetery using her hacking skills, and then he out-hacks her in like a second. She’s very swoony. He’s giving a call-to-arms speech (which is very complimentary to everyone), but pauses to beat Giles at chess.
They head back to the nest. Buffy leads from the door, and Jonathan bursts in through the window in the ceiling. Jonathan gets three of the kills, Buffy only two. The music is very Bond-like. Buffy is a bit bummed. She’s not sure she’s actually doing her best as the Slayer. Outside, a bunch of people are waiting to get pictures and autographs from Jonathan. Buffy’s hair looks really pretty curled like that. Much better than crimped.
Jonathan realizes that Spike is lurking in the shadows, and he calls him out for a face-off. More Bond-like music. They circle each other, trading insults. Spike doesn’t even know Buffy’s name. He calls her Betty.
Willow is hanging out at Tara’s dorm. They’re working on some kind of craft project while Willow tells Tara about the night’s adventure and about the fallout from Faith stealing Buffy’s body. It turns out the craft project is a collage of Jonathan! The best kind of craft project. Willow is confident that Buffy and Riley’s relationship isn’t in danger from the whole Riley accidentally sleeping with Faith thing.
Buffy and Riley are in his room. Riley has mostly recovered now from his injuries, but Buffy wants to make sure he’s off the Initiative’s special diet plan for good now. The Initiative still hasn’t been able to find Riley. He wishes they’d put him in charge of the project. Buffy has that same feeling about areas of her own life. (Areas now dominated by Jonathan.) He sits down next to her on the bed, and she promptly gets up. She tries to make a basket on the hoop on his door and misses. It seems Slayer strength, reflexes, and instincts do not an athlete make. He comes up behind her to help her out, but rather than allowing the intimate moment, she starts babbling and then she bails.
The next day, Buffy is talking about how Faith is the reason everything is awkward with Riley now. While she talks, she’s preparing a rather elaborate coffee, presumably for herself. Oh, no, it’s actually for Jonathan, who is her conversation partner. He tells her she’s not really angry with Faith, she’s angry with Riley for failing to recognize that it wasn’t really her. Also a fangirl comes up to their table, so he smiles and gives her an autograph. If Buffy wants to make things better with Riley, she’s going to need to forgive him for making that mistake. Another fangirl. She’s especially fangirly. She wants him to sign her copy of his book, and she’s careful to let him know that she spells Karen with a K. (Does anyone spell Karen with not a K?)
Buffy worries that she’s already blown it with Riley, but Jonathan assures her that she can make it work if she really wants to. Also Buffy pays for their coffees and there’s a Nike-esque billboard with him on it in the background.
In the Initiative facility, a colonel is doing a review of their operations, and he’s also heading up the search for Adam, with the help of a special technical consultant. Jonathan! Who is like a foot and a half shorter than all the other guys there. It’s amazing. Graham leans over to Riley and murmurs his relief that they’ve got someone who really knows his stuff. Jonathan unrolls an anatomy schematic of Adam. He points out how weird it is that Adam doesn’t need to eat. That’s because he has a non-biological uranium 235 power source. Which effectively makes him immortal. They’ll have to completely annihilate him in order to defeat him.
Karen with a K is no mere fangirl: she’s a crazy stalker fangirl! She’s on the grounds of that fancy mansion with a pair of binoculars. Where she gets attacked by a horrifying monster that has weirdly long arms.
Jonathan’s briefing is over, and now he’s giving Riley encouragement about Buffy. Buffy is just insecure that Riley might have liked it better when he was with Faith. He needs to tell her how much he cares about her. Then Jonathan puts on a blindfold and shoots apples off three soldiers heads.
We’re at the Bronze, and it’s suddenly a jazz club. That is so much cooler than the assortment of nerdy grunge bands that usually play there. Can this be the Bronze forever now? Please? Xander and Anya are there, and Xander is upset because Anya apparently moaned Jonathan’s name while they were having sex. They’re having this conversation within easy earshot of Buffy and Riley. Buffy feels that if it escalates to a fight, Anya would win. She’s probably right.
The lead singer on the stage steps aside and Jonathan takes over. (Fun fact: his singing voice is actually provided by the actor who played Tucker Wells in “The Prom,” who is also the singing voice of Aladdin.) He’s looking pretty snazzy. Riley invites Buffy to dance. She hesitates, then accepts. I love this music. As they dance, she gradually gets more comfortable. She assures him that she doesn’t need him to apologize anymore, but he does anyway. They resume dancing. And now Jonathan is playing a trumpet solo. Tara is particularly psyched about this. Apparently Jonathan has a big band album. That is amazing. This whole time, Xander and Anya have been watching the band, practically drooling. They decide to leave so they can go have sex.
Karen with a K comes running in. She’s rather beat up. Jonathan cuts off the music so he can help her. They go to his mansion. The police sergeant himself personally wanted to offer Jonathan his assistance. Jonathan has it under control, though. Karen describes the monster that attacked her. When she describes the symbol on the monster’s forehead, he suddenly loses his cool for a moment. He assures them that this monster won’t be a problem again, but Buffy isn’t entirely convinced. And wow I really like that pearl jacket she’s wearing.
Buffy and Riley both volunteer to take action against the monster, but Jonathan insists that it was only startled and probably won’t hurt anyone again. He can handle it himself. He leaves to take Karen with a K home, but Buffy isn’t entirely satisfied with his explanations.
In I believe the registrar’s office, Adam and one of his minion vamps have broken in and are taking advantage of the university’s resources. They killed an office worker on their way in, and Adam comments that he had a blood disease and would’ve died within the year anyway. The blood disease would have evidently made him unpalatable to a vampire, which is fascinating. The vamp tells Adam about the monster that attacked Karen with a K on Jonathan’s property. All the screens in front of Adam have footage of Jonathan on them. Adam doesn’t know who he is, to his minion vamp’s shock. Whatever sorcery is afoot that made Jonathan the center of the universe, Adam isn’t affected. His awareness stats are so high that he’s immune to all forms of mind-altering magic. Adam is confident that he doesn’t need to do anything about Jonathan, because the kind of magic that alters reality in this way inevitably breaks down on its own. Good to know.
Jonathan is having a broody moment in front of his fireplace. A Swedish girl in lingerie invites him to come up to bed. Then her identical twin chimes in. (Gross! Is Jonathan actually in a sexual relationship with them?) He lets his bathrobe drop, and we see a scar on his back that’s identical to the one on the monster’s forehead.
Buffy tells Willow and Tara about how Jonathan is handling the hunt for the monster by himself, so they don’t need to do recon or research or anything. Then Buffy tells them she thought Jonathan seemed a little scared. Willow thinks that’s absurd. Nothing frightens Jonathan. Buffy even said that in her speech when she presented him with the Class Protector award at prom. (Wow, dang. This thing goes deep.) They arrive at Tara’s dorm, and she and Willow touch hands before she leaves. Willow then observes to Buffy that things seemed to be going well with her and Riley at the Bronze. Buffy agrees, smiling.
In Tara’s dorm building, a monster is growling somewhere. Tara walks faster, but then it bursts through the door ahead of her and attacks her. She scrambles away, then does a spell to create obscuring fog. Go Tara! This gives her enough cover to escape into a janitor’s closet. The monster isn’t strong enough to break down the door (or smart enough to turn the handle), so she’s safe there.
The next day, Willow lets Buffy into Tara’s room, where Tara is curled on her bed, trembling. Tara describes the thing that attacked her for Buffy. Including the symbol on its head. Buffy grabs a notebook and draws the symbol Karen with a K drew. That’s the one. Willow has a hard time grasping the implications of Jonathan’s assurances of their safety being false.
Buffy walks down Main Street, past a series of posters of Jonathan’s face. She makes it to Xander’s place, where Anya informs her that he’s not there, so she can leave now. Buffy doesn’t want to leave, she wants to look at Xander’s Jonathan fanboy stuff. Anya is so very thrilled. There are comics and collecting cards about Jonathan. Buffy asks her if it’s ever seemed weird to her how perfect Jonathan is. How he’s better at fighting than the Slayer, how he starred in The Matrix, and how he already graduated from medical school at age eighteen. She asks about Anya’s demon days, when she could use her power to alter reality when granting wishes. And this gives us the first mention of the running Buffyverse gag about worlds of shrimp and without shrimp. Bahaha.
Buffy repeats her theories about Jonathan at Giles’s flat, where the whole gang has gathered. They’re not terribly impressed by her arguments. Also they weren’t aware that Buffy could start a Scooby meeting without Jonathan. Buffy keeps insisting, but Xander reminds her that Jonathan is the one who defeated all the Big Bads in Sunnydale, all the way back to the Master. How can he not be perfect? She brings up the possibility that their memories may have been tampered with, then makes the mistake of asking Anya to explain how that works. Giles thinks it’s all very far-fetched. So does Riley, but he’s still willing to trust Buffy. Excellent boyfriend form. He votes that they follow her lead. She’s happy and nervous, and she moves forward, telling them her theory about Jonathan deliberately downplaying the danger factor of this monster.
Buffy finally strikes gold with her theory when she gets a hold of Giles’s copy of Jonathan’s swimsuit calendar. (Hahahahahahaha.) She flips through the pages, making appreciative noises on some, until she finds one that shows Jonathan’s back, with the symbol scar.
Jonathan is there! Anya immediately fills him in on what they were just talking about, then looks confused when Buffy gives her a look. Buffy tries to explain herself in a way that doesn’t incriminate Jonathan too badly. When he offers to explain, everyone immediately moves to their best chairs for listening to him. When he says Buffy is right, they all look like their whole world is crumbling around them. The explanation he offers is that the monster has the ability to mess with his head, which is why he got its mark tattooed on him. As a reminder. Everyone but Buffy is super relieved and happy with this explanation. Buffy offers to go fight the monster with him. He clearly doesn’t want to, but the way she puts it, he doesn’t really have a choice.
Buffy and Jonathan go to the cemetery, where Spike strolls out to have another verbal sparring match with Jonathan. He’s surprised when Buffy takes point on the insults, though. He comes up to her and strokes her hair. Holy crap is this his follow-up to what “Buffy” told him last time? Is he trying to screw with her the way he thinks she screwed with him? FAITH WHAT HAVE YOU DONE. She stands there, not reacting, until Jonathan grabs Spike and shoves him against the mausoleum. He figures Spike would know where to find the monster since he’s on the hit list of most of the town’s demon population. His interrogation techniques don’t get anything out of Spike, though. But Buffy’s do! She threatens to cut off his supply of blood from butcher shops. He points them towards the demon, and they leave.
Jonathan compliments Buffy, but he’s clearly not super happy that they’re getting closer to the demon.
The gang is doing research at Giles’s flat. Riley has never done this kind of research before, in old leather-bound books. He’s having trouble believing that there are spells that can actually turn people inside-out, or that can make you excrete gold coins. (Anya advises against that one.) Willow explains that while magic does work, it takes a lot of concentration. And then Xander completely disproves that by making his book catch on fire by telling it to catch fire in Latin. Dude, is Xander secretly a Level 12 Mage? If it’s that easy to do magic, then why doesn’t that instantly become his favorite new hobby? Willow finds the mark, which is used in augmentation spells. Xander and Riley’s minds both seem to immediately go to the gutter. But this spell isn’t some spam email about penis enlargement, it’s a spell to make you the best of everything. The downside is that the spell also has to create the worst of everything. Which is why the monster exists.
Giles thinks they can end the spell by killing the monster. It won’t kill Jonathan, it’ll just turn him (and the world) back to normal. They all get quiet. They think Jonathan might try to sabotage Buffy’s attempts to kill the monster. Also they’re reeling from the “new” experience of Buffy being right. They’re worried about what the world will be like without Jonathan the Great and Powerful, but Giles doesn’t think much will actually change. Xander would like there to be a way for them to keep the Jonathan universe without Buffy getting killed by the monster. And they’re not sure Buffy can actually do it. From their perspective, Buffy has very little battle experience.
Buffy and Jonathan have arrived at the cave Spike mentioned it. There’s a bottomless pit in it. For a second, it seems like Jonathan might be about to knock Buffy into it, but he just grabs her hand to lead her farther into the cave so they can keep looking for the monster. But there’s no need for that, because the monster is right there! It knocks Jonathan across the cavern. Buffy fights alone until he gets back up. He tells her his strength doesn’t work very well against this monster, so she has to keep fighting alone. Whenever she deals damage to the monster, Jonathan reverts more and more to scared little nerd, but when the monster rallies, he takes a power stance with his Bond music. In the end, it’s Jonathan who knocks the monster into the bottomless pit, but he falls in too. Buffy catches him by the ankle and hauls him back up.
A light sweeps over Sunnydale, and everything Jonathan goes back to what it used to be. The next day on the quad, the Scoobies are having a picnic, discussing how weird it is that they just accepted that reality. Xander liked how he felt about himself in the Jonathan world. Riley admits that he felt way too tall in the Jonathan world. (Hahaha, that’s awesome.) Buffy sees Jonathan on the sidewalk, and she walks over to him. Mostly people have either forgotten the whole thing by now or are angry with him. His Swedish twins moved out. (Wait, does that mean he still lives in the mansion? Is that just going to get repossessed the next day or something?) It turns out that he got the spell from one of the kids he met in counseling after his attempted suicide. He apologizes. He didn’t want anyone to get hurt. She tries to help him understand that people aren’t only angry because of the monster. They’re angry because he messed with their heads, used them like puppets. He’s horrified by that suggestion. He considered them to be his friends! (And he did treat them very nicely.) If he wants to be liked and respected, he has to work for it.
He starts to walk away, then turns back to reinforce the advice he gave her about Riley. Things that are worth it take work. Relationships are complicated, but they’re worth it.
Buffy and Riley are kissing on his bed, and why is she wearing a pink shirt with a red skirt? She looks like a valentine. They seem to be over the Faith hurdle now. And then Buffy murmurs “Jonathan,” and he pulls back, horrified. Hahaha.
“Superstar” is an incredibly fun episode. I think I remember hearing that some people don’t like it, but those people are obviously wrong, because it’s amazing. Jonathan’s awesomeness is over-the-top in so many ways. I mean, that trumpet? Wow. It just keeps getting funnier. And Danny Strong sells it so well. It’s amazing how he can play the suavest James Bond type character ever, then turn around and be a forgettable little dweeb in stripy shirts and baggy jeans. And I adore the oldschool air of the Jonathan universe. As for Jonathan himself, with the exception of what he is heavily implied to have been doing with the Swedish twins, I don’t think this episode reflects too poorly on him. He could’ve been a complete jerk once he was universally admired, but instead, he spent most of his time saying encouraging things to people and actually fighting demons. He’s kind of the opposite of Xander. Xander has no real skills he can bring to the demon-fighting game, but he tries to help anyway. Jonathan thinks he can only be in the demon-fighting game if he has amazing skills. It doesn’t occur to him that he can actually do quite a lot just as himself, as long as he makes an actual effort.
I love the way Buffy slowly pushes through Jonathan’s false reality until she solves the problem. Her instincts, once again, save the day. And she definitely is the one who was most powerfully affected by the spell. Jonathan claimed all her amazing Slayer feats for himself, leaving her with very little remembered experience. He even took her battle puns! It’s almost like this episode was a more powerful incursion on Buffy’s identity than the one in which she was literally in someone else’s body, which is fascinating. And buried deep under Jonathan’s Plot A, she actually makes significant progress in Plot B.
I think the reason Xander got such a big self-esteem boost from Jonathan is tied to what I said in the general overview. He and Jonathan are actually pretty similar in the normal universe (in terms of being social rejects who don’t really excel at anything), so if Jonathan can be amazing, and Jonathan likes Xander as a person, then Xander has solid reasons to feel good about himself in that reality. However, I’m still getting hung up on that little “librum incendere” gag. Is it just that Xander fears he’ll wreak havoc if he keeps tinkering with magic that kills his curiosity? Because if I accidentally set a book on fire just by casually speaking Latin in its general direction, I would be enrolled in a Latin class within the hour. I’m just going to make it my headcanon that the book Xander was reading out of came pre-imbued with the magical energy needed to make its spells operational with minimal effort. That takes care of the possibility that Xander might unknowingly have been a wizard this whole time.
I’m not sure there’s much I can say about Willow in this one, because she’s so consumed by the Jonathan whammy. It’s so strange watching her not have Buffy’s back in Plot A. I guess I can talk about Tara, though. Since she has a Plot B connection to one of the Core Four and she knows about Plot A by virtue of being a witch, she meets those prerequisites. But they still aren’t telling anyone that she’s not just Willow’s friend. Buffy seems to have gaydar as shoddy as mine.
Riley keeps making me feel bad for vilifying him the episode after he does something that makes me want to vilify him. It’s happened twice now. Riley was a jerk when suffering withdrawal, and then he sincerely apologized. Riley failed to recognize that he was sleeping with a girl other than Buffy, and then he felt horrible about it and was very concerned with giving Buffy the reassurance she needed. Fine, I get it. Riley’s a genuinely good guy. When he makes a mistake, he doesn’t just say “well I was all screwed up because of those drugs the government was feeding me without my knowledge” or “well how the hell was I supposed to think that you were acting unusual because you weren’t actually you?”; he apologizes. He’s willing to accept blame and make amends. That’s pretty incredible. Riley might have won me over. For now. And it doesn’t mean I ship him with Buffy or enjoy watching their scenes. *folds arms and sticks nose in the air*
It has begun. Faith unwittingly opened a massive can of worms when it comes to Spike’s mindset regarding Buffy. I suspect lust would’ve eventually dominated his murderous intent towards her even without Faith’s help, but this certainly sped up the process. She planted in his brain the idea that Buffy secretly wants him but is too much of a goodie two shoes to act on that desire. He can’t physically attack Buffy, but he can see how long it takes before he can stoke that desire into something she might act on. I kind of wish Jonathan didn’t pick this episode to make everything about him, because it kind of skews Buffy’s reactions to things. It’s hard to tell what her lack of reaction to that creepy face/hair caress was. It looked like and uncertainty, because Spike has never, as far as she can remember, gotten that close to her before—he’s always squared off against Jonathan and barely paid her any attention. But what would it have been if the world was as it should be? Considering how many times she’s called Spike a pig already, I think she probably would’ve slapped him away and beaten him up a bit.
Giles having a Jonathan calendar is one of the funniest jokes in the episode. He gets sidelined almost as much as Buffy when Jonathan becomes the center of everything. If the Slayer is mainly a footnote in Jonathan’s Chronicle of Awesome, then what are Watchers for? It truncates not only his role but also his connection with Buffy. He’s still vaguely supportive of her, but far less so than Riley.
“We knocked ‘em dead…which they already were.”
“We knocked ‘em deader!”
“Giles! Do you have a Jonathan swimsuit calendar?”
*Buffy frowns, disappointed*
“Yes. …I-it was a gift.”
“Xander, don’t speak Latin in front of the books.”
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The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.