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Monday, January 21, 2013

Potential

[Updated May 3, 2013]

Potential is a very important episode, though not really a favorite of mine. I suggested in my post on BotN that you should be asking yourself the question, what is a Potential, metaphorically? Andrew, of all people, tells us the answer here: “It's like—well, it's almost like this metaphor for womanhood, isn't it? The sort of flowering that happens when a girl realizes that she's part of a fertile heritage stretching back to Eve…”


So the Potentials are women, but they’re typical women before they’re empowered – think Buffy at Hemery High as we saw her in Becoming I. They show us all the faults of women, not as such, but in a condition of powerlessness. I see the Potentials as representing the less attractive aspects of womanhood precisely because they lack power. You’re supposed to find them pretty flawed – remember that Buffy described herself in Helpless, the obvious predecessor to Potential, this way: “Before I was the Slayer, I was... Well, I, I don't wanna say shallow, but... Let's say a certain person, who will remain nameless, we'll just call her Spordelia, looked like a classical philosopher next to me. Angel, if I'm not the Slayer, what do I do? What do I have to offer?”
Powerlessness creates incentives to behave in a child-like manner. There’s no point in behaving as an adult if you can’t, or aren’t allowed to, do much of anything. But there’s also the continuing metaphor of Slayer/adulthood that we’ve watched with Buffy for 7 years. The Potentials are potential adults, but they aren’t there yet.
This leads naturally to wondering whether Buffy is preparing them for adulthood, and if she is, whether she’s going about it in the right way. There’s no doubt that she’s using some traditional methods, but she modifies them. For example, did Buffy re-enact the Cruciamentum with the Potentials? Not in my view. I see several important differences: there were 4 potentials, not Buffy all alone; they had weapons, whereas in the intended Cruciamentum Buffy would have had none; the vampire was ordinary, not Kralik; and she and Spike were just outside, presumably ready to intervene if necessary.
I’ll let you decide if her changes were good or bad; I think they’re good. Her speech to the Potentials, though, struck a number of viewers the wrong way, even if more in tone than in substance:
BUFFY: You're all gonna die. But you knew that already. (paces in front of them) 'Cause that's the cool reward for being human. Big dessert at the end of the meal. Don't kid yourselves, you guys. This whole thing is all about death. (stands still) You think you're different 'cause you might be the next slayer? Death is what a slayer breathes, what a slayer dreams about when she sleeps. Death is what a slayer lives. My death could make you the next slayer. (walks back to retrieve her axe from the target) Oh, goody. Rapt attention. I love that so much. …
So when I kicked its ass, the whole Firsty circus decided to back off for a while. Good news? Means we probably don't have to worry about it pulling Spike's strings for a while. (stands still) Here's the half-empty. Time away means time to regroup. And part of that regrouping is coming back stronger than ever. The odds are against us. Time is against us. And some of us will die in this battle. Decide now that it's not going to be you. (walks closer to the girls) I know you're all tired, far away from home, anxious. But you're all special. Most people in this world have no idea why they're here or what they want to do. You do. You have a mission, a reason for being here. You're not here by chance. You're here because you are the chosen ones.”

Beginning with this speech, Buffy’s response to the challenge posed by the First became increasingly controversial. To be honest, I didn’t notice anything about this episode. I saw the show through such a Buffy-centric lens that I almost reflexively defended whatever she said or did. I thought Buffy was generally encouraging in the teaser and I had no problem with the “Cruciamentum”. However, lots of viewers began criticizing her actions and the debate got increasingly heated as S7 went along. Since this is early and the discussion pretty restrained still, I’ll give you a flavor of it:
Cjl: “Field Marshall von Buffy keeps trying to put everything in absolutes (good/evil, demon/human, etc., etc.), but she's reacting to the extremity of the battle with the First Evil, and losing sight of the ambiguities she learned over the first six seasons. I think this is exactly what the First Evil wants.”
Peggin: “I don't think this is about Buffy losing sight of those things. IMO, she's teaching the Potential's exactly what they need to know in order to stay alive. She doesn't want to put the Potentials' lives in danger by having them start out with the idea that, "Gee, this vampire might turn out to be a good guy -- maybe I shouldn't stake him." Buffy knows of exactly one vampire in the history of the world who has ever switched sides voluntarily. Making this an issue for the Potentials, making a point of the fact that it's even a remote possibility that any given vampire could turn out to be a good guy, is only going to get them killed, and fast.
Look at it this way -- if you were in charge of Army boot camp, and you had personal experience of seeing exactly one enemy soldier wave a white flag and ask to join your side, would you bring that up to the new recruits you were just training? When they go into battle, do you want them hesitating before they pull the trigger, just in case the other guy might not really be the enemy and wants to join your team?...
I've seen quite a few comments to the effect that Buffy is on some kind of power trip, and it's obviously just going completely over my head. I don't see her going all power trippy. I see her letting a whole bunch of strangers live in her house. I see her teaching others to use their own power in order to keep themselves alive and in order to fight evil. How does any of this point towards Buffy treating power as an end in itself?”
Cjl: “She's obsessed with "winning" the game she's playing with the First Evil when she might be better off not playing. … As the season has progressed, she's gradually pushed aside the real reasons why she's fighting … and adopted an increasingly ruthless, win-at-all-costs policy.”
FinnMacCool: “It may be true that she can't beat the First Evil (I repeat: may be true, that still isn't a certainity), and it may be true that the best she can do is simply contain the First, but she shouldn't TRY just for containment. She should try with all of her might to destroy the First Evil forever, even if it is impossible to achieve anything more than balance, as you say. Because balance isn't caused by trying to control the unbalanced force. Balance is caused by two equal forces opposing each other. So, while Buffy might end up keeping the balance only, it will be a result of her attempts to destroy the First.”
Cjl: “We've all grown rather disturbed over the past few weeks [he means starting with BotN] at the increasing disconnect between the Buffy we've all known and loved for six years, and the hardened, take-no-prisoners slayer who's trying to whip her troops into shape like a veteran military commander.

I think we're more concerned with the possibility that Buffy has lost sight of why she's fighting, about her increasing isolation from her friends and her sister, about her losing track of the ambiguities she's learned over the course of the series. She isn't approaching the problem of the First Evil from a "how do I protect the ones I love" perspective; she's approaching it from a "how do I kick this thing back to Hell" perspective. She seems more interested in beating the First Evil with the application of Raw Power; and with that attitude comes the danger of becoming the demon you're fighting.”
Finn MacCool: “As for Buffy being less personal and more like a military leader recently, I have a couple points for you to consider: first, she's usually been in commander mode only when around the proto-Slayers, and to them she really is more of a commander and not nearly close enough to be a friend; and second, her actions towards Clem and Spike reveal that she isn't really hardened emotionally or being unambigous, rather she's acting that way because being the tough but still emotionally vulnerable Buffy we all know would disenhearten the scared and confused proto-Slayers and not inspire much confidence in her as a leader. Buffy only became commander girl after the potentials came under her care and one of them was killed because she didn't believe Buffy could protect them. At the moment, Buffy can't afford to show the more human side of herself because that would only lead to further loss of morale among the proto-Slayers, and possibly more deaths as a result.”
OnM: “Pay less attention to what Buffy overtly says, and more to what Buffy covertly does, and you will see that her behavior towards the protos really is not as formally militaristic and role-playing rigid as it might first appear. Yes, she initially gets their attention by throwing a battle axe at a target, and then gives a very Patton-esque speech to the 'troops'. But, she also makes a significant effort to appeal to the latent passion stirring within the souls of her students, trying to get across to them the nature of what it means to be a Slayer, to have a destiny or a calling. She states, seemingly coldly, that "some of us will die" in the battle to come, but immediately follows that remark with "decide right now it isn't going to be you". Tough love, yes, but it is love. There really isn't the luxury of time for anything else right now, and once again the weight is on Buffy's shoulders. If the protos manage to survive the coming apocalyptic battle, there will be time enough to start teaching them the discriminating nuances and subtleties of existence in a grey world when demons can be forces for good and humans can become the most horrific of enemies.” 

This debate would become a central feature for much of the rest of S7. Keep it in mind as we go through the next 7 episodes.
Moving on to other, and equally important, issues, the title of this episode seemingly refers to Dawn as a Potential. That was, in a way, a shout out to fans who’d speculated on her having some special power since the end of S5, based at least partly on the “same blood” thing (which Anya, in another nod to the audience, “doesn’t get”).
Dawn turned out not to be a Potential, of course. We could see that even before she realized it and told Amanda. The superimposed fight scenes with Buffy in the crypt and Dawn in the classroom are nicely paralleled with dialogue and flash cuts to let everyone see that Dawn does pretty much everything wrong until the Bringers inadvertently rescue her. Here, for example, is what Buffy says:
“Know how to stay calm, centered. Every move is important, every blow's got to be part of your plan 'cause you make that one mistake, and it's over. You're not the slayer.”

As she’s speaking these words, here’s what we see of Dawn:
Dawn runs to the front of the classroom where she grabs the flagpole with the California state flag on it. She struggles to break the flagpole in half on the edge of a lab desk, but finally does splinter it. She leaves the part that the flag is on and starts swinging the jagged wooden pole at the vampire a few times, then loses her balance and falls to the floor. The vampire pounces on her.

The scene then cuts back to Buffy, and we hear her say, “You're not a potential. You're dead.” Dawn would be dead if the Bringers hadn’t chosen that moment to enter the room.
But while Dawn isn’t a Potential, she does represent, metaphorically, Buffy’s potential, as we’ve seen since S5. The title has a double meaning and it’s important for the season.
Don’t get me wrong: Dawn does something noteworthy in the episode even if she’s not a Potential. It wasn’t noteworthy because she has hidden powers, but because when faced with the fact that Amanda was the real target, Dawn relinquished her claim of her own free will. She stepped aside when she needed to for the sake of the cause. More than that, she went back to doing her job without any complaint. That was a very adult thing to do.
Xander’s praise of Dawn gets a lot of love in fandom, but I have some issues with it. For one thing, the whole context is odd. He’s contrasting himself and Dawn as “powerless” compared to Buffy, Willow, Anya, and Oz. He says, “Working with the slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. A witch. A demon. Hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit, but come a full moon, he had a wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful. All of them.”
But in all these cases the power is far from an unmitigated good. Take Oz, for example. The werewolf is a metaphor for unrestrained id. It didn’t benefit Oz, it caused him to lose the woman he loved and to leave Sunnydale. Anya may have been powerful, but only when she was evil. And while Buffy and Willow both are able to accomplish good with their power, both face serious consequences as a result of it.
Given the context, this, for example, is just wrong: “How much harder it is for the rest of us…. They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn't chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it.” Nor does Xander understand that being “chosen” isn’t necessarily something good; he’s forgotten how often Buffy has resisted the idea that she was chosen. And if I were quibbling, I’d add that none of Oz, Willow, or Anya was “chosen”, so they do know what it’s like not to be “chosen”.
Quibble aside, it’s the words “harder” and “how tough it is” that really grate. Sorry, but Xander’s life isn’t tougher than Buffy’s – and that’s who he’s really talking about – any more than mine is tougher than Martin Luther King’s. It’s a shame, really, because Xander doesn’t have to overstate the case in order to make his point.
Since my evaluation of his speech might seem harsh and even graceless, I’ll add some dialogue from people who disagreed with me at AtPO. Note that some of their points are ones I agree with and made above:
Solitude1056: “I don't think Xander was patting himself on the back so much as letting Dawn know that he's in the same boat of seeming ordinaryness, but that he's figured out that being ordinary, and trying anyway, may be the most extraordinary act of all. I never thought, for even a second, that he was reassuring himself or trying to convince himself. I don't think he needs to convince himself that he contributes - TtG/Grave showed him once and for all that it's possible to save the world despite being 'powerless'. What I do think he was doing, though, was applauding Dawn. He was doing what any parent would do for a child they're proud of, especially in a case where the child has given up something or acted otherwise nobly. It's the old speech about "I know that deep down you wish you'd done ____ rather than ____. I know it was hard to make that sacrifice, and I'm proud of you."
Shambleau: “Xander spent the summer telling the Summers girls his story of saving Willow and the world "with my WORDS" ad nauseum, so I see that as support for Sophist's belief that there's a component of tooting his own horn in that speech. It may be slightly unseemly, yes. It's also human and understandable. He's flawed even when he does something wonderful, but that doesn't diminish him in my eyes. I want to strangle the big lug sometimes and then he'll do something so full of heart I feel like bowing down before him. Here you can read a little of both aspects of his nature into the speech he gave Dawn, if you're so inclined. It doesn't affect my reaction, though. The speech still has me dosing myself with allergy medicine, for those watery eyes, you know.”
Random: “I admit that I cringed just slightly at the undercurrent of backpatting initially, but I realized that we were listening to Xander here....

What he was offering Dawn was the Wisdom of the Zeppo(tm). He was telling her, plain and simple, that the courage (which he never claimed for himself, mind you) to cast off your disappointment at being ordinary, not-Chosen, and nevertheless give everything to the support of the cause was an extraordinary one. He was saying, and legitimately to some extent (as I said, I shared your doubts), that following the path of the Chosen ones without being Chosen yourself was harder than when you know you're special, Chosen. He "saw" Dawn -- he saw, a person capable of stepping aside for the sake of the war, a person who does what they can, when they can, and even when she tasted greatness, she understood that the greatness was in service of humanity, not her own ego...so she stepped aside. Xander doesn't envy Buffy or the potentials for their lives, or their lives to come. He merely notes that choosing to play on the field when everyone around you is larger, tougher, better at the game, requires a fortitude and courage that the naturally brilliant athletes (to carry the metaphor) will never quite understand. To know you're the least capable player on the team and still go out and give it your all...there's a peculiar honor in that form of courage.
Eh, I'm soft on the doof, I know. Buffy has the toughest life of them all (and she's my favorite anyway) but Xander and Dawn have it harder than her in that one regard: they must deal with the fact that they will always be second-string...and still forge on.”

Just to clarify my position after I got some criticism in comments, I think that Dawn did a very good thing and that Xander was also doing a good thing in praising her for that. I just wish Xander could have praised Dawn without implicitly patting himself on the back and dissing Buffy while doing so. I’d say more, but I have to go kick a puppy now.
Dawn’s return praise of Xander is also dubious on the merits. As both D’Hoffryn (“And the young man, he sees with the eyeballs of love.”) and Anya (“Xander, you've always seen what you wanted to.”) mentioned in Selfless, “seeing” isn’t really one of Xander’s strengths. In fact, much of the time he’s clueless (e.g., in STSP when Buffy suggests using Spike to track Gnarl). Nevertheless, it’s a nice thing for Dawn to say.
One final point. Andrew’s use of the snake skin may seem like just part of his weirdness, but you have to wonder if Willow didn’t see it as a reference to Warren. Andrew says later that he hates his free will, but if he’d compared himself to Willow rather than Spike he’d have had a better case.
Trivia notes: (1) Buffy called the Ubervamp “the Chaka Khan”, for which see the link. (2) Buffy mentioned snausages, which are a commercial dog treat. (3) Keeping up with Andrew’s geek references is really hard. For those in these 2 sentences, see the links: “I'm like Vegeta on Dragonball Z. I used to be a pure Saiyan, and now I fight for the side of Goku.” (4) Dawn mentioned the “glamazon” in her gym class. A “glamazon” is a tall, beautiful, athletic (h/t Bruce) woman, with the implication of belligerence. (5) Andrew wanted to know when they were going to replace the microwave. The microwave was destroyed in CWDP. Just one of those little touches that I love; the writers knew they could count on their fans to remember that. (6) When Clem shows the Potentials what he can do as a demon, that’s a reference to the movie Beetlejuice. (7) Amanda’s description of Buffy as a “high functioning schizophrenic” is probably another inside joke for the fans, this time a reference to the events of Normal Again.

20 comments:

  1. This is why we can't have nice things!

    Ok, not really, but wow, way to dump on one of the most uplifting moments of the show, wow.

    Not that I don't see, or even disagree with, the things you say. At the same time, I agree with others that Xander's speech is more about dedication, I also thinking you are selling him a little short. Out of all of Buffy's final battles, the only one he really wasn't invested in physically was S2. He has put himself on the line as Buffy has. Now, she deals with emotional aspects in relation to being the Slayer that he doesn't have to deal with, but I don't think that takes away from his speech at all.

    A lot of people use the sports analogy when they talk about this topic, but for me Xander's speech reminds me of a friend of mine from school who was in most of my classes. She really wanted good grades, and she studied all the time, whereas I goofed off all day and did my work five minutes before it was due and still got goo grades. And then in class, the teachers were always praising ME, the lazy bum not the student who actually put the time and effort into their class. Xander's speech was for those people, and I will always love it.

    I don't know why, but I was never one of those who thought that because genetics, Dawn would be a Slayer. That would imply she's a clone of some sort, and one way it was quickly established that they are not clones, is how well Dawn does in school. She's a bookworm, scholarly type, very different from Buffy. I always saw being a Slayer as appearing in people with different spiritual qualities(not that Slayers couldn't be bookworms, although I know my analogy reads that way), and Buffy and Dawn were two different people spiritually.

    Sokka and Katara are related, but they are not both benders. Bumi is related to both Kya and Tenzin, but Bumi's not a bender either. Kinda like that.

    SPOILERS FOR S7

    Continuing on about Xander's speech, what Dawn was getting that Atta-girl here for, is for, like you said, relinquishing her power, which is the choice Buffy must make as well. Relinquishing her specialness, to share it with everyone. So it also works as her metaphorical self telling her metaphorical potential what choice she needs to be making.

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    1. Your spoiler point is exactly what makes the episode important: it foreshadows Buffy's epiphany in the finale.

      Yeah, I know I'm coming off like Scrooge when I criticize the speech. I just think the same result could have been reached with less self-congratulation and more understanding. As I said, I tend to reflexively defend Buffy, and that's particularly true when it comes to Xander.

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    2. I know, but today over at Tor the review is for The Replacement, and I remember how he threw himself in front of Buffy to protect her from Toth's ray, and I get so defensive for him.

      SPOILERS for S7

      I meant to comment on the whole "Xander sees". It's been a while I'm sure you'll quote it when we get to Dirty Girls, but Caleb never specifies what Xander sees. I think its more of commentary that Xander is always looking for something to see, sometimes what he sees in truth, mostly like you said, he sees what he wants. But he is always looking. That's why I think the line is apt.

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    3. Oh, he has some great moments. It's interesting the different ways viewers react to characters. I know people who just detest Willow; everything she says or does drives them crazy. Others love Cordelia, even in S1, which I think is just weird. With Xander, his faults happen to be ones which particularly grate on me, whereas Willow's faults are, for whatever reason, easier for me to overlook. I think it's a personal thing.

      That's an interesting spoiler point. I'll have to think about that.

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    4. There are people who don't like Willow? Inconceivable!!!

      Xander, on the other hand, I can understand. His actions in Beginning and Dead Man's Party alone (not to mention his speechifying in Into the Woods) turned me off Xander early on. I do find him funny and endearing on occasion, and I've always admired his courage. But his judgmentalism is just so hard for me to take that I have a difficult time taking him seriously whenever he tries to get, well, serious.

      If I recall, I've never found Xander's speech to Dawn here to be necessarily self-serving, and it is a nice moment. But I do agree that it misses lots of big points and generally misreads the situation. Xander is doing a very good thing to comfort Dawn here (and that relationship has always been nicely portrayed), and I think his motivations are admirable. But his own frustrations bubble up through, which where I think he mistakes or misstates the way things actually stand. Ironic that in a speech about "seeing," Xander seems not to see things as they actually are. But then, that's just so Xander.

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    5. Nicely said. Yours is probably a better way to phrase the problems with Xander's speech than mine.

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    6. @Aaron: I thought it was inconceivable, until I tried to introduce one of my friends to this show (who am I kidding, I've tried to introduce ALL of my friends to this show). Anyways, he had previously watched How I Met Your Mother and developed a seething hatred for Lilly (AH's character) on that show. He then transferred that hatred to Willow and never liked her. It was the worst.

      One a side note, since watching How I Met Your Mother, I love Lilly. But I could be transferring my love for Willow.

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    7. @Mark, thanks, but I'd hardly say "better." One thing about Xander is that, more than any of the other characters, he seems to inspire widely different reactions from viewers, which, I guess, one could say is a credit to the complexity of his character (and also that, regardless of the character's attitude and behavior, Nicholas Brendon generally does a pretty great job playing him). I'm with you in seeing the show primarily via Buffy, which means Xander infuriates me when he gets preachy. But I know to others who see Buffy as merely one amongst many, Xander's "wisdom" is a bracing dose of reality. That, along with his heroism, makes him appealing, I guess.

      @Rachel, I guess I can see that. I've only see a few eps of HIMYM, so I can't really comment on Lilly's character, but I'm certainly familiar with judging a character based on previous encounters with the actor who plays her. I've done it myself a lot (but still, Willow???).

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    8. Part of Xander's metaphorical role is to serve as Buffy's self-critical side at times. As metaphor, this works pretty well and I have to remind myself that when he's being most obnoxious, that is, in some sense, Buffy being hard on herself. It's just that in story line terms, his judgmentalism is grating to me.

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    9. Having read through most of your reviews, I'm going to have to say that I find a very strong anti-Xander bias. I think the guy just bugs you. That's okay, it is what it is.

      I, OTOH, have a strong pro-Xander bias. Actually I have a strong "Scooby-team" bias. So I overlook all of their faults pretty equally.

      But I think you judgmental of his speech stems from this bias to be honest.

      Joss wrote that speech. It was an intentional "message" about being normal in a sea of super-powered. I thought it was excellent. Yes "super" brings bad with the good. But the show is about the super-person (Buffy) and her friends. They would never have made a show about Xander. And that's kind of the point -- he's forever the Beta to the multiple Alphas in the room. It's hard to be that sometimes and he's letting Dawn know that the way she's handling it is extraordinary. It's a very mature speech to someone who needed it desperately.

      How about setting aside the anti-Xander bias for a moment and just letting him have this one?

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    10. No question but that Xander bugs me some times. I can't help that reaction, but I do realize I have it and I try to account for it by providing other perspectives as I did here. I actually agree with most of what you said -- it's not the message per se (which was a good thing), it was the way Xander said it.

      I'll go kick a puppy now.

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    11. "I'll go kick a puppy now."

      Hee. I actually think you try to accommodate too. I'll just leave it that I think the intent of both the script and the actor was to convey sincerity but appreciate that it doesn't always come across as intended.

      *sets down torches and pitchforks, goes back into her hut*

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  2. Just a small nit to pick...
    Glamazon implies tallness and beauty, true, but you missed the other equally important part of the definition, which is that it implies a certain muscularity or athleticism. For example, the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova are Glamazons, but Heidi Klum is not.

    Bruce from Missouri

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  3. Huh, I never thought to compare what Buffy did in this episode to the Cruciamentum. Interesting! I like your points and I agree that even though there's a basis for comparison Buffy definitely made the whole situation more fair. Plus, part of the point with the Watcher's Council was the whole "you're waging a war, she's fighting it" thing, and even if Buffy may see the Potentials as "instruments" in some ways, she's still fighting the battle alongside them. She's got a different perspective than the Watcher's Council.

    Nevertheless, like many others I'm not so into all the 'imparting' that happens this season. Sometimes the speeches are effective, sometimes it's fun to see Buffy pass on her experiences to the next generation, but I agree that General Buffy isn't as fun as vulnerable, cute, but kick-ass Buffy. Thanks for including the very thoughtful discussion comments regarding her character this season, and her changing approach to fighting evil. Lots to consider, and I appreciate that it's all up for debate. I'm looking forward to your future posts on the subject, too.

    SPOILER

    Following "Get it Done" I think it makes a lot of sense that Buffy distances and hardens herself even more, and not just because she's the Slayer. She's over-compensating because she's doubting her decision to give up the power that the Shadow Men offered her. Buffy has six years of experience leading the SG, whose abilities she trusts and understands. They're a pretty well-oiled machine at this point. But she doesn't know how to lead this group of girls so of course she's going to make mistakes.

    I think the issue with this season is that thematically a lot of interesting and important discussions are raised, but the execution and 'phlebotinum' become inconsistent and messy after the first eight episodes or so.

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  4. Thanks! I'm going to be talking a lot about these issues, including your spoiler point, starting with my post on Get It Done tomorrow.

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  5. I'll go ahead and weigh in on the 'Xander's speech' debate. Keep in mind that I have not seen past "Potential", so my opinion isn't colored by what he may or may not do in the remaining episodes of the series. Also, I just finished watching, so my thoughts on it are "fresh", and haven't had a chance to percolate and simmer as part of an overall "how good of a person is Xander?" judgment on his character.

    I give Xander points for this- out of everyone in the house, he was the only one who took the time to ask himself "how is Dawn feeling right now?". Everyone else was (justifiably) too caught up in the speed with which events were happening at this point in the story.
    It seemed to me that Xander wasn't expressing the way he feels about his role in the SG in the present, but how he felt at times in the past seven years. And out of all the members of the SG, his position as a "non-superpowered" member of the team, made him uniquely qualified to address what he thought might be Dawn's emotional reaction to not being "Chosen". On this score I think he was right.
    How many times in our lives has someone offered an opinion or advice to us, and we, at least in part, reject such an attempt at empathic connection because we felt that the person offering that connection simply hadn't shared enough of our life experience for their point of view to seem valid to us. "Come back when you've walked a mile in my shoes. Then we'll talk."
    Xander was saying "I HAVE walked in your shoes, Dawn."
    The change in Xander this season has been notable. He's calmer, more secure with himself, his place in the world, and especially as an invaluable member of Buffy's inner circle. He's grown up, in other words.
    I think there were at least two levels to Xander's talk with Dawn.
    On one level, he's empathizing with Dawn, and praising her for her maturity during the fight at the school, and empowering Amanda when she needed it with nary a thought to what she was "giving up".
    On another level, you could read his talk as a form of communicating with his younger self. There was an element of "It Gets Better" in what he says to her. It was a talk I'm sure Xander himself could have used in his younger years. In speaking to Dawn, he spoke to his adolescent self.

    So yeah, count me in the "Yay Xander!!" column for that scene. *sniff*

    Also, props to Michelle Trachtenberg for her nuanced portrayal of Dawn's emotional journey in this episode. She showed that Dawn's feelings about being a Potential (and finding out she was mistaken) were a lot more complicated than just "Yay I'm special!!" to "Boo I'm not!!"

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    1. All your points are fair, and I agree completely with your first one. My problem with his speech is the self-congratulatory tone he can't seem to leave out sometimes. Delete a few words, and I'd be singing his praises too.

      Man, you're going through the episodes really fast.

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    2. One small correction to my above post- Buffy asks Dawn if she's OK when they're back at the house. Dawn deflects answering Buffy in a meaningful way, instead offering up her research skills to aid in the problem at hand. Buffy accepts Dawn's sunny reply at face value, and dismisses her to focus on training the Potentials.

      It's Xander who rightly guesses that Dawn's reaction to the episode's events might not be as simple and sunny as she made it seem.

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    3. "Man, you're going through the episodes really fast."

      Heh. You're talking to someone who watched the first 4 seasons of "Lost".......in 9 days.
      (I watched the last 2 seasons as they aired, and spilled thousands of words discussing the show from a character and thematic viewpoint at the Lostpedia forums. I wish there were more bloggers discussing that show the way you discuss Buffy, but to date I haven't found any.)

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