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Monday, August 20, 2012


[Updated May 1, 2013]

Checkpoint is the feel good episode of S5. Who among us can resist a good smackdown of the Watcher’s Council? Better yet, Buffy does that by raising an issue which will be crucial for the series henceforth: “Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them.” Yes, it’s about power. That word gets used 9 times in the episode. But exactly what “power” consists of or what it might mean is subject to lots of interpretation; we get one here, but there will be others.
Why is the episode called Checkpoint? In my view, it’s because Buffy has nearly reached adulthood. The purpose of the “review” is to confirm that she’s ready for it. That’s the challenge Quentin puts to her: “you're dealing with grownups now”. Quentin demands proof that Buffy’s “prepared for it”, referring to information about Glory, but also, I think, meaning the challenges of adulthood more generally. That was the point of the Cruciamentum in Helpless, to which there are several references here, and it’s the same tactic the Council still employs.

There’s a clear feminist point being made here as well. All those telling Buffy how weak and powerless she is – that is, how unready she is to be treated as an adult – are men (except for Glory; as a God, she doesn’t count). If you notice, one of the women of the WC (sounds like a calendar, I know) makes coffee for Quentin when he sits down to give Giles his ultimatum at the Magic Shop.
The physical test is actually a metaphor for Buffy’s situation this season:
TRAVERS: Philip will attack the dummy. The Slayer's job is to protect it. Do you understand?
BUFFY: Protect the dummy.
TRAVERS: As if it were precious. 

His use of the word “precious” takes us back to Joyce in Listening to Fear:
JOYCE: And she's important. To the world. Precious. (Buffy nods) As precious as you are to me.
Buffy smiles and nods again. Joyce nods back.
JOYCE: Then we have to take care of her. Buffy, promise me.

Quentin forced Buffy to defend the dummy while blindfolded. So far this season, she’s had to protect Dawn, blindfolded by her lack of knowledge of what she’s fighting against in the form of Glory.
Ultimately, though, this isn’t a test of Buffy’s physical prowess or her knowledge, it’s a test of Buffy’s confidence in her readiness. When she talks to Giles in the Magic Shop she’s uncertain: “Am I gonna be able to get through this review? … They're gonna expect me to ... to be like a Slayer and, and know stuff, but I'm just me and I don't know anything….” What she discovers in her confrontations with Glory and the Knights is her confidence in her own power.
Buffy gives the WC proof of that confidence when she calls their bluff. She’s the one holding all the cards, and she knows it. When she first encountered Quentin she called him “Mr. Travers”. In her speech at the end she and he were on a first name basis. She’s ready to be an adult.
Buffy learns a lesson too. No sooner does she tell Spike that “I never need you” than she needs him to protect Dawn and Joyce.
I’m deliberately leaving discussion of the Knights until we learn more about them.
Trivia notes: (1) Note yet again the parallel between the school subject/lesson and the events of the episode: Buffy realizes that the Council is trying to play the same power game as her professor. (2) Buffy has her dates wrong on the Vikings. It was roughly 1000, not 1400. (3) On the TV show Forever Knight, Rasputin actually was a vampire as Buffy implied to the professor. That would also be implied in the AtS episode Why We Fight. (4) Metaphor check when Xander references Primeval: “I was the heart part of a super-Buffy.” (5) Joyce asked Spike about the character of Timothy Lenox from the soap opera Passions. We know from several previous episodes that Spike loves that show. (6) Bangers and mash, for the non-Brits out there, is sausages and mashed potatoes. Blood sausage is actually made with blood. (7) Buffy’s reference to the “Everyone Thinks We're Insane-O's Home Journal” is presumably a play on the Ladies Home Journal. (8) At the end of the episode, Quentin reveals that Glory isn’t a demon, she’s a God. There was a big clue to that earlier in the episode: “GLORY: (to Buffy) … You should get down on your knees and worship me!”


  1. No comments on this one, so I'll pitch something in. As if we needed any further proof that the Watchers Council is entirely corrupt and exists simply for it's own edification, we have the fact that the entire sum of knowledge that they have to contribute to Buffy's fight against Glory comes down to three words: "She's a god."

    Yes, instead of just saying this over the phone or by email or by telegram, they have to fly at least 7 people over from England for multiple days to interview and bother every single member of Buffy's team for hours - time that could ACTUALLY be spent in forming strategies to fight Glory, defend against the Knights Who Say "Strike Us Down and Thousands Will Replace Us... and oh, by the way, NI!", or just straight up vampire killing.

    In view of this incredible waste of time, money, and resources, the WC deserves to be ignored by Buffy and...

    SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! tears should be shed when they get blowed up real good in Season 7.

    1. I pretty much agree with this. If they had been seriously and legitimately concerned about Buffy's ability to handle Glory, such that they needed to "test" her, then she demonstrated her ability by the end of the episode. That she had to do so outside of their phony tests simply reinforces their bad faith.

      That said, SPOILERS

      they did apparently bring some additional material with them because Giles quotes it later.

    2. True, true. The WC just REALLY irk me, especially at this point in the series when Buffy is struggling with so damn much, with a road that doesn't get any easier. Bastards.

  2. Even in this episode we know the WC have more information-Travers says there’s “a lot to go through” and Buffy says “just tell me what kind of demon I’m fighting”...which is when we get the “she’s a god” line

  3. Apologies-I did hit reply to add the previous comment but that hasn’t worked it seems!

    I noticed, in line with some comments on a previous episode, that in the early scene in the graveyard, Buffy is wearing a leather coat again. In fact, her outfit in this scene is almost exactly the same as Spike’s!

    1. The real clue is when she wears leather pants. :)