In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
While each season of Buffy that I’ve seen so far has followed a fairly straightforward story arc, there have been numerous “one and done” episodes peppered in, with varying results. Some of these standalone episodes have been some of the best individual episodes of the series that I’ve seen, while others, like the dreadful “Beer Bad” and most of the “one and done” episodes from Season One, simply have not. Season Four has been a bit of an anomaly in that I’ve found myself enjoying the standalone episodes more than the overall story arc, mostly because the villains and monsters featured in these tales have been a lot more interesting than Season Four’s “Big Bad,” the Franken-Cyber-Demon known simply as Adam. Aside from a brief appearance, Adam is thankfully absent from the two episodes covered this week, which aside from being quite good in their own right all but guarantees that I’ll enjoy them. I don’t care about Adam, if you haven’t guessed.
The first of these episodes, entitled “Superstar,” focuses on the Scooby Gang’s nerdy former Sunnydale High classmate Johnathan Levinson, whom Buffy famously stopped from killing himself late in Season Three and who presented her with the “Class Protector” award at the prom. The majority of the episode takes place in an alternate reality of sorts that Jonathan had created via a spell that made him an expert in nearly every facet of life, from athletics to music to even demon-slaying, and in turn makes him the idol of every resident of Sunnydale, right down to the commanders of the Initiative. We can tell that this episode takes place in current Buffy continuity because the Initiative is still on the hunt for Adam and much is made of the relationship troubles that Buffy and Riley still have after he accidentally slept with Faith while she inhabited Buffy’s body. Jonathan attempts to help Buffy repair her wounded relationship by giving her some heartfelt advice that helps them reconnect.
The blissful existence that Jonathan has created for himself is threatened when a rogue monster with an odd triangular mark on its forehead begins attacking random students at UC Sunnydale. Upon seeing the mark when the creature’s first victim draws it, he is noticeably disturbed but plays it cool, stating that the demon will probably not return, but as the attacks continue, he’s forced to help the Scooby Gang hunt for it. We later find out that the same mark on the monster’s forehead is also on Johathan’s shoulder. The only being in Sunnydale who is unaffected by Jonathan’s spell is Adam, who senses a “disturbance in the Force,” so to speak. Buffy, still the Slayer in this reality but nowhere near as confident in her abilities, begins to question Jonathan’s motives for downplaying the beast’s attacks, especially after Tara is nearly killed by it. She organizes a meeting with the rest of the Scoobies in which she posits a theory that Jonathan has somehow created an alternate reality where he is the most popular, intelligent, and capable person on campus. The majority of the gang is unconvinced, with Xander especially unwilling to entertain the thought of his idol being anything less than perfect, but a quick glance at a photo of Jonathan in a swimsuit calendar that Giles puzzlingly has in his possession reveals the very same mark found on the monster. Jonathan then arrives at the meeting and makes up a phony story about tattooing the monster’s mark on his shoulder to remind him not to underestimate it this time.
He accompanies Buffy on a mission to find the monster, briefly encountering Spike on the way, whom Jonathan forces to give them information on its whereabouts. Back at Giles’ apartment, Willow looks up augmentation spells and determines that Jonathan must have used it to change reality, much to Xander’s dismay and disillusionment. They find out that the side effect of casting the spell is that it creates a creature fueled entirely by evil to counterbalance the user making himself or herself a paragon of good. They also find out that if the monster is killed, it will reverse the effects of the augmentation spell. When Jonathan and Buffy encounter the monster, Jonathan sacrifices the perfect life he made for himself by helping Buffy kill it, therefore restoring the town to its true reality. The next day on campus, Jonathan apologizes for his actions but tells Buffy that she should still take his advice on how to patch things up with Riley, which obviously works, because the episode ends with the two reunited lovers making out.
While “Superstar” is not the most dramatic or significant episode of Season Four, its story gives more depth to the character of Jonathan, who was always more of a background player until late into Season Three. I like it when shows with an ensemble cast spend a little time letting us get to know some of the more overlooked characters (except of course for Nikki and Paolo on Lost, who were completely awful), and this one did a nice job catching up with a character just trying to find his identity post-high school, albeit doing it in the least scrupulous way possible. It’s obvious in this episode that Jonathan looks up to Buffy, since in this alternate reality, he pretty much takes credit for everything she’s ever done. Some of his other made-up accomplishments, such as starring in The Matrix and graduating from medical school at age 18, are obviously more absurd but effectively show his incessant need to be seen as an exceptional person. As far as episodes that give us alternate versions of Sunnydale, “Superstar” isn’t quite as exceptional as “Wish” was, but it was a fun and surprisingly substantial detour from the still- uninteresting main plot of Season Four. 4 out of 5 Shrimp-Based Chaos Theories.
That lighthearted and entertaining episode is followed by the creatively unconventional “Where The Wild Things Are.” Despite the title’s similarity to the classic children’s story, there are no large monsters for Buffy and the gang to fight, and the only present threat is an invisible force powered by the insatiable sexual attraction that Buffy and Riley have for each other. Sex, or the lack thereof, is the main theme of this episode, which begins with an extremely inappropriate conversation between Xander and Anya about their sex life in an ice cream truck while Xander’s on the job. This argument leads to a brief falling-out between the not-so-happy couple, and Anya winds up at the Bronze, bonding with Spike over their mutual heartbreak. Meanwhile, Buffy and Riley pass the time between patrolling for Adam by sneaking away to get it on any chance they get, and their lame excuses continually amuse the rest of the Scooby Gang and Riley’s Initiative buddies.
During a party at Riley’s frat house, also known as the Lowell House, he and Buffy engage in a marathon lovemaking session just as thing start to get weird. Some of the partygoers begin to get sexually aroused just by touching a wall, while others begin to experience overwhelming feelings of shame, such as a pretty coed named Julie whom Xander chats up at the party but who winds up locked in a closet, hacking off her hair. While sitting on the steps with Willow, Tara acts uncharacteristically offended when Willow tries to touch her hand and runs off, and when Willow goes looking for her, she sees a disturbing image of a boy submerged in a bathtub. Convinced that some supernatural activity is occurring in the house, Xander, Willow, and Tara leave to find Giles, accompanied by Anya, who arrived late at the party to continue her spat with Xander. The gang finds Giles entertaining the patrons at a local coffee house with an impressive acoustic version of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” and convince him to research the history of the frat house, which is now completely covered in vines from the outside and deserted except for Buffy and Riley, who are still boning.
Giles finds in his research that the frat house was once a home for disturbed teenagers, and he and the rest of the gang track down the woman who ran the home. Upon speaking with her, they find out that she tortured her adolescent charges for what she construed as impure thoughts and actions, which leads Giles to believe that the ghosts of these repressed and disturbed teens are now haunting the frat house and are fueled by the sexual energy released by Buffy and Riley. While Giles, Willow, and Tara enact a spell to repel the spirits, Xander and Anya hack their way inside the house and finally reach Riley’s room, ending their lovemaking session and basically putting a stop to the spirits’ rampage.
“Where The Wild Things Are” is a refreshingly unique episode, partly because the more active players within the story are the supporting characters who work to save Buffy, who has saved their lives on several occasions. I also enjoyed how it focused on sex and relationships as a main theme and carried it through to the very end. Anya and Xanders’ fight at the very beginning centered on her worries that their relationship is over based on the fact that they haven’t had sex as much as they did early on, which Xander later reassures her about by saying that a stable and lasting relationship has to be based on something other than pure physical attraction. This statement is somewhat reinforced by the threat inadvertently caused by Buffy and Riley’s marathon lovemaking. The idea of a frat house being haunted by the ghosts of disturbed and repressed teens is an interesting one, and while I wish that the episode had more time to explore what the spirits had gone through before doing away with them, they definitely go down as one of the more interesting threats featured so far in this season. I also love how the episode furthers Giles’ development as he continually tries to reinvent himself now that he is no longer a Watcher or a librarian. With just four more episodes to go in the season, it’s likely that these entertaining diversions will have to end so that the main story of the season can be resolved. Here’s hoping that Whedon and company actually manage to make this Adam character interesting so that the season will end on a high note. “Where The Wild Things Are” earns 4.5 out of 5 Felicity References.