Monday, April 30, 2012

Buffy: Him (7.6)

I have a real fondness for this episode. It's really the final Buffy episode to be entirely standalone in nature, every additional hour this season at least semi-revolving around major story arcs. It's also the last episode to really utilize the re-opened Sunnydale High, a weird decision considering the major push it's had since season seven began. There's also a gorgeous musicality to Him, strengthening the whole 'high school genre' angle -- great pop songs as Dawn dithers over her new crush, a cute ballad as Dawn hunts for Buffy's old cheerleading outfit (aww, Witch), as well as that moving Coldplay song as she sees Buffy and RJ getting intimate. Now, you kind of need to think Coldplay are lame, but that entire scene and the music playing over it just clicked together in this teenage, melodramatic burst of feeling. Aww.

Him is all about adolescence, and I think that plays into my own admiration for it. Before the script gets wrapped up in zany jacket comedy, there's real tenderness to Dawn's awkward fumbling at school, desperate to be liked by the popular kids and generally noticed by the object of her affection. Michelle Trachtenberg appropriately gets ragged on a lot, but she's really wonderful in these scenes, cementing Dawn's burgeoning adulthood while still retaining the endearing nuttiness that made us all fall for her older sister seven years ago.

In just a couple of minutes on screen, Dawn runs through the varying emotions we experience at her age: that instant infatuation, the overly-calculated interaction between you and your crush, the horrible heartbreak, the feeling that your entire life is falling to pieces because of someone you'll barely remember post-graduation. It's all insanely relatable, and Drew Greenberg's script zeroes in on all of that in a really perceptive and engaging way.

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, Him becomes cartoon insanity. And I mean that in the greatest possible way. The dialogue between the brainwashed Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Anya is crazily funny, the four actresses bouncing off each other with awesome put-downs, sitcom delivery and genius set-pieces. From the theme song to A Summer's Place that plays over each 'possession', to Buffy's arrogant assumption that she's the only girl unaffected by the spell, through to Anya's line about loving 'AJ', and Willow's subsequent attempts to work around the whole penis thing and turn her betrothed into a girl -- it's all so ludicrous and silly, but works so well. Thrown into the mix are Xander and Spike's awesome team-up, punctuated by that expertly lame conclusion where they run at RJ in the middle of the street and just steal his jacket.

Superficially, Him is similar in tone to Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, but I always thought that both episodes were worthy of considerable acclaim. They come at a similar angle from vastly different perspectives -- while that season two masterpiece pulled comedy from Xander's heady interaction with an enormous array of different females (remember Drusilla coming onto him!?), Him is more concerned with the after-effects of ridiculous crushes, using the absurdity as a metaphor for the recklessness of first love and how it makes us lose all of our common sense.

Elsewhere, I liked the brief moment between Buffy and Dawn where Buffy tried to articulate her feelings for Spike. You can understand why she'd 'feel' for him, even after everything that he's done. It's certainly not love, but Buffy is at least self-aware enough to no longer deny that she definitely has feelings for him, even if she can't explicitly understand them.

I should also add that Sarah Michelle Gellar looks extraordinary in this episode. Maybe it was the bangs, but I don't think she's ever looked so gorgeous. There's clearly something about 'brainwashed into experiencing sexual attraction' episodes that bring out the superhuman goddess in her. Him is carried by nostalgia for most of the hour, but is also a surprisingly tender masterpiece in its own right. A+

Guest stars Thad Luckinbill (RJ Brooks); Brandon Keener (Lance Brooks); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Drew Z. Greenberg Director Michael Gershman


  1. Wasn't till it got all crazy I started to enjoy it, I was wondering what the hell was going on and why it needed to be an episode but, of course, they know what they're doing. The whole build up from the principle's office window scene with the smooth Jazz till the jacket burning and Anya switching off the radio was so so funny!
    It was melodramatic but surely the song was also put in there to explain the genuine emotions you described third paragraph. Plus tying into the messages that you can't help love. I see what you're saying but it's too effective as a song to be outright ironic. Even though I suppose irony is the name of the game!
    I don't know how many times we need to see Buffy stumbled upon though- whether visible, robotic or not!

  2. I think melodramatic was maybe the wrong word to use. I meant overwrought in a really strong way, like young adult television, you know? I loved that scene, though. It just clicked together and the song only added to the emotion, instead of detracting from it.

    And great observation about Buffy constantly getting caught in the act. Maybe she's an exhibitionist. Heh.