Written by Rebecca Kirshner
Directed by James A. Contner
Rona and Vi creep through a cemetery with stakes. Rona gets knocked down. Spike is attacking! Then he goes for Vi, who screams instead of particularly fighting back. Spike wants a report on why they would’ve died just now. How is he able to hold Vi like that without his chip going off? She’s complaining from the tightness of his grip. Molly and Kennedy are taking notes. Vi and Rona admit their instincts tell them to run. Buffy advises them to trust their instincts. They need to make sure they’re fighting on their terms, not their enemy’s. Buffy demonstrates with Spike. He’s still a big banged up from the First’s battery of torture, and Buffy checking his wounds makes it a fairly tender moment, at least on his end. It’s hard to tell if she’s just legitimately wants to check his broken ribs. It’s Molly’s and Kennedy’s turn sparring.
At the house, the potentials are giggling and chatting about their training, but Buffy kind of kills the mood by throwing an axe and telling them they’re facing death. Okay maybe this is the episode where Buffy starts becoming a less awesome leader. Her approach doesn’t seem likely to inspire confidence and loyalty. It seems the First is regrouping, but that just means it’ll come back stronger eventually. They need to be ready. Dawn listens somewhat forlornly to Buffy’s speech to the potentials, which is taking a more inspiring turn. It’s about destiny and being special and stuff now.
Later, Xander calls Buffy at work because apparently one of the potentials walked in on him in the shower. Seriously, why isn’t he using his own apartment? He isn’t even sharing it with Spike anymore, is he? So there’s no reason it’s not the best place for him to sleep and shower. Amanda, one of the kids who visited Buffy in “Help,” is back. She’s worried kids pick on her because she’s weird. She thinks she might have a crush on this guy who picks on her. It’s sort of a mutual antagonism situation. This definitely has Buffy thinking about her and Spike, but she seems to be categorizing them as the bad variety of antagonistic dynamics. She rambles incredibly vaguely until Amanda is even more confused than she was before.
At the house, Xander, Vi, and Rona are shouting at each other. Buffy gets back and breaks it up. Willow has news. There’s another potential Slayer in Sunnydale. Andrew is trying to be part of the team. Willow is going to do a tracking spell to locate the potential, and Buffy is going to take the other girls out for more training.
The potentials are selecting weapons and debating their comparative merits while Dawn tries not to feel left out. Kennedy joins them for weapon selection. Dawn gets worse and worse at pretending she’s not feeling left out. Buffy and Andrew march into the kitchen. Andrew is trying to convince Buffy to let him come along, because he’s like Vegeta after he became a good guy. Wow, I shouldn’t be so surprised that Andrew would make a DBZ reference. Weird that I didn’t remember it, though. Buffy, the potentials, and Spike all head out.
Dawn and Andrew help Willow with her spell. Andrew is annoying with Willow’s snakeskin. And then with imagining what it’d be like if people shed their skins like snakes. Dawn is trying to figure out who’s the most likely Sunnydale native potential Slayer. The way the spell’s going to work is that it’ll create a glowy light that will find the potential and light her up like a beacon.
Spell time! It’s a pretty stinky smell (because it involved a hard boiled egg and a fire), so the Scoobies suspect it might’ve gone wrong. Also the light can’t seem to make up its mind about where to go. Dawn goes to open the doors to air the house out. Then the ball of light shoots over and slams Dawn into the door, and she’s all glowy. Hmm. As much as she’s been feeling sidelined by Buffy for all the potentials (though she’s been handling it with much more maturity than she would’ve in S6), she isn’t happy that she might be a potential herself. Anya, Willow, and Xander are all pretty impressed, but Dawn doesn’t want to have a destiny that requires Buffy to die for her to fulfill it (again?). Xander says something rather thoughtless in response to Dawn reminding them Buffy’s out with all the important people: “You’re important now.” Now? She wasn’t important before? Harsh, man!
Dawn’s worried about what this means. The Harbingers will be coming after her, and what if they know where to find her because of that glowy spell? Andrew missed out on the spell but gets filled in when he comes to ask about their popcorn supply. Dawn doesn’t want to tell Buffy yet. Dawn reveals her fears related to what Joyce told her. Anya really needs to stop trying to be encouraging, because she’s terrible at it. Dawn goes upstairs. The others discuss whether or not this is a good thing for Dawn. Andrew spouts off a surprisingly heartfelt speech about how being the Slayer is a powerful metaphor for womanhood or something. Willow seems touched, but Xander wants Andrew to go back to making unsolicited nerd culture references.
Upstairs, Dawn is listening to their conversation. Willow is still pretty sure the apparition of Joyce was really the First. Xander doubts Buffy wants this destiny for her sister. Dawn looks in the mirror and tries to let the idea of being chosen sink in. The others agree they shouldn’t try to rush Dawn. Yeah, maybe Dawn shouldn’t have stopped listening, because she’s about to go rush herself.
Buffy and Spike have brought the potentials to a demon bar, where they immediately draw attention. The girls want to take advantage of their setting to violate a few underage drinking laws, but Buffy points out that the main items on this bar’s menu are geared towards demon digestive systems. Very unappetizing. (Not that normal alcoholic beverages seem appetizing anyway.) Clem spots Buffy and sort of ruins her spiel about how they can’t trust anyone in there. But then he makes up for it by doing something with his face that seems to involve snakes sticking out of it. It scares the crap out of the girls.
Dawn is walking along the street by herself when she finds Amanda, who is doing the same thing. They exchange polite conversation and then start to go their separate ways when Amanda pauses to make sure Dawn’s okay. Amanda might not be okay herself. She has a scrape on her forehead. She’s not sure Dawn would believe her about it, but Dawn persuades her to tell. She tore a sweater at school, and she was trying to change clothes when she got attacked by a vampire. Amanda’s happy Dawn believed her. The problem is that Amanda left the vampire trapped at the high school. She wanted to get Buffy’s help, because she’s heard rumors. Dawn wants to try dealing with it, just the two of them, because Buffy’s busy.
They go to the school and sneak in a window. She jumps really bad when the window slams shut behind them. Amanda’s worried about the scrape she got from the vampire’s tooth. Will she be a vampire? Dawn explains how that actually works. Amanda suggests that instead of killing the vampire, they sic it on the marching band because they’re such jerks to the swing choir. Dawn doesn’t dignify that with a response.
The vampire seems to still be in the room Amanda trapped it in. Dawn’s starting to feel more confident about this potential slayer thing. She opens the door, which...opens very easily. So the vampire wasn’t trapped, then. Oh, wait, he’s just bracing himself on the ceiling, waiting to jump them. He jumps down and they scream and run. Naturally, all the outer doors are locked. But Dawn breaks out a fire extinguisher and uses it as a bludgeon. Nice. That only stalls him for a few seconds.
Buffy and Spike have brought the potentials to a crypt now, and it’s home to a nest of vampires. Buffy makes a comment about how no matter how vampires vary in their appearances and living conditions, the demon inside is the same across the board. Spike seems rather affected by that, but he only comments that his own crypt was nicer than this one, which leads to a foot-in-mouth moment for Buffy. The potentials pretty much know Buffy and Spike used to have a thing by now. Buffy has them look for signs of vampires. They find a body. Which is a new vampire now.
Dawn and Amanda are still running. They hide inside a chem. Lab. Time to barricade the door. They struggle to move a large steel cabinet in front of the door. Maybe don’t use something with wheels as a barricade. Here comes the vampire. Dawn tries to keep Amanda from getting too scared. She has a plan!
Buffy fights the vampire while talking to the girls about how this works. You have to know your environment and how to use it. Anything to give you the edge. Her speech is a voiceover to Dawn fighting the vamp in the lab. She throws some Erlenmeyer flasks at it, then a beaker of acid. Then she breaks a flagpole over her knee and uses it as a quarterstaff, but he knocks her down. Uh oh.
After Buffy finishes her speech, she drops the stake and she and Spike leave the crypt. It’s up to the four potentials to kill the vampire now. They’re all locked in.
Xander, Willow, and Anya finally realize that Dawn wasn’t sulking in her room. She’s gone! Willow will do a locator spell. They’re worried the Harbingers might find her first, though.
Dawn screams for Amanda to help her, because the vampire is about to finish her off. Amanda is curled up in a terrified ball. Then a bunch of Harbingers break in and go straight for Amanda. Hmm, so maybe Dawn isn’t the potential after all. Dawn was just getting used to the idea. The Harbingers are about to stab Amanda when Dawn turns on the gas valve on one of the lab tables. Hang on, did she also have a source of flame? Because those don’t automatically shoot fire halfway across the room. That would be rather counterproductive to safe high school science. Okay, I checked, and it looks like she did grab a striker before she opened the valve. Good. Finally they do science right!
Dawn and Amanda flee while the Harbingers and the vampire enjoy their third degree burns. I hope someone remembers to shut off that valve, though. Once the girls get at least one corridor away, Dawn tells Amanda that it’s her destiny to fight evil, and she can do it. Buffy, Spike, and Xander are here to save the day, and here come the Harbingers. Amanda, surprising herself greatly, knocks them aside easily with the flagpole quarterstaff, then succeeds in staking the vampire with it. Buffy and Spike finish off the Harbingers. Amanda is seriously reeling from all the craziness that’s happened to her today. Apparently she got hit by that bright light. She was on the other side of the door, which is why it seemed like it hit Dawn.
The next day, the other Potentials are excitedly reliving slaying that vampire in the crypt. They’re particularly impressed that Amanda took one out by herself. They seem to get some kind of rush of purpose and instinct when they face monsters; it’s not like having actual Slayer powers, but it’s more than what regular girls get. Dawn watches them talking about this. She seems a bit dejected. Buffy strides up and Dawn pretends she’s okay; she’s going to go do research. Buffy accepts that plan without further questions and invites the potentials downstairs to train.
Xander and Dawn are the only ones left in the living room. Xander knows just what to say to make Dawn feel better about not actually being a potential Slayer. He’s been the everyman for six whole years now, watching all his friends get more and more powerful while he managed to just acquire a handyman skillset. He’s very impressed by how Dawn didn’t even hesitate to inspire Amanda to take up the destiny she briefly believed was her own. It’s okay to just be a Muggle. It doesn’t make you any less extraordinary. It kind of takes even more courage to fight.
Holy crap, a Dawn-centric episode that’s actually handles Dawn well and makes her very sympathetic! I’m so glad S7 Dawn has been consistently awesome so far. One other thing I really like about “Potential” is that this isn’t the first glimpse we’ve caught of Amanda. She was in that initial montage of Buffy helping students on her first day as a counselor. I love that kind of sneaky setup. I am, however, iffier on Buffy’s side of the story. Is it just that she was confident four armed potentials could take out one brand new vampire? Because that seems like a seriously risky trial-by-fire move. It worked, I suppose, but it still feels pretty dodgy. And while Dawn is pretty awesome, I find Amanda rather obnoxious. Also, where did Giles go? Why is Spike Buffy’s primary co-trainer instead of Giles, who has many years of experience training Slayers? Especially when Spike still has his sleeper agent trigger? Spike should be chained in the basement until they’re sure that’s gone, not helping Buffy train the girls who are the First’s...uh...first targets.
The weirdest thing about Buffy’s side of the episode is how she is suddenly having sexual tension with Spike. That was not happening in any of the previous episodes of the season. I checked, and it looks like this particular writer, Rebecca Kirshner, is very prone to writing more romantic Buffy/Spike than circumstances warrant she wrote “Tabula Rasa,” “Hell’s Bells,” and “Touched.” Heck, she even wrote the episode that got the Buffy/Spike train moving with “Out of My Mind,” which was her first episode of the series. Up until now, Joss Whedon’s episodes have been the only ones I could really recognize, but Rebecca Kirshner is starting to stand out for how she puts her shipping tendencies just slightly above the general continuity of the story. Even though Buffy believes in Spike, she should still be wary around him, if only because of the First’s trigger.
Aside from that one rather unpleasant slip that implied Dawn only became important once she appeared to be a potential Slayer and the baffling nature of his housing arrangements, Xander is pretty great in this one. It’s fun to watch him constantly lose his patience with Andrew. (It’s like different characters take turns with that. First it was Willow, then Xander and Anya, then Dawn and Anya, and now it’s back to Xander. Holy crap. Guys. I think I just figured out Andrew’s value to the group. He’s the Jerry, like in Parks & Rec! A hapless dork who unites the rest of the group by providing a shared source of irritation.)
Can Anya try to be encouraging all the time from now on? Because that was hilarious. She may have come a long way from the Anyanka we met in “The Wish,” but she still hasn’t grasped the concept of subtlety or how not to make someone want to curl up in the fetal position when you’re trying to make them feel better about their lot.
This is the kind of Dawn portrayal I wanted all through S6 but didn’t get. Yes, she’s a teenager, but she isn’t a teenage stereotype who mostly stays on the sidelines of episodes until she’s suddenly causing problems for Buffy with her angst. She quietly struggles with feelings of inadequacy, fear, and uncertainty. You know exactly what she’s going through without her having to scream at people or be super resentful for all the wrong reasons.
What’s the deal with Spike’s chip? He definitely caused Vi and Rona pain, but it didn’t seem to go off. Is this one of those wonky loopholes like in “Fool for Love” where because “intent to harm” isn’t there, he can cause harm anyway? He knows he’s not going to deal them any real damage, and he also knows this training is something they need, so he’s able to trick the chip into not going off? It seems weird either way.
Willow is confident enough in her magic to do multiple spells in this episode, but not confident enough to be sure they’re working until there’s actual proof of it. She’s been the most powerful character on the show since about halfway through S5, but now she actually feels like Buffy’s second-in-command. I like it.
“He’s not evil, but when he gets close to it, he picks up its flavor, like a mushroom or something.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.