Something that is making this current run of episodes so choppy is the fact that they all want to do far too many things at once. Even more so than last week, First Date features a vast number of subplots and continuing story arcs -- I counted at least four that were given a notable amount of weight here. Because of that, the show has stumbled into that formula where you can't really appreciate entire episodes anymore. There are obviously certain stories that continue to work well and tap into that trademark Buffy awesomeness, but lately it's become just as likely to find other stories within the same episodes that aren't good at all.
The only story worthy of considerable attention is Buffy's date with Principal Wood. The build-up is rewarding, notably during one of those rare moments with some Buffy/Willow friendship banter as they discuss Wood's maybe-evilness, as well as Buffy's taste in men ("[he's] like a hundred years younger than your type!") Additionally, they play up the chemistry between Buffy and Wood really well. Wood is revealed to be the son of a slayer, a strong new element of show mythology, and with that comes some adorable exchanges between both characters -- Buffy wondering if he has powers too, and implying that having her own child is something she's never thought about since she always assumed it couldn't happen.
Finally, that closing scene again throws a spanner in the works. Just when we seem to get a handle on Wood, we get that final revelation that once again turns him into something of a renegade. The Foxy Brown-slayer fight back in Fool for Love was such an iconic moment that it's rewarding for long-term fans that it's given additional layers in the show's final season. I also continue to like DB Woodside in the role, granting Wood a charming strength that Buffy understandably swoons over. And that final scene also showcased his ability to turn on the intensity. Nobody ever seems to give him a ton of praise, but he's by far one of the few intriguing newcomers this season.
The other storylines in First Date don't do a whole lot. Xander's date is standalone filler junk, notable only for a horrible guest spot from one-time R'n'B chanteuse turned faded mid-aughts memory Ashanti. The lone bright spark is Lissa's furry monster face after she's killed, since I never thought the often-quoted 'mentally undressing Scott Bakula' closer was particularly funny.
Andrew has a couple of amusing lines, but his interaction with the First-y Jonathan doesn't generate huge sparkage. I liked the initial plan to bring back a ton of dead characters this season, but when you see how its depicted on screen here, you wonder if it was such a terrible thing when schedules made the dream impossible. It also pushed the major flaw with the First Evil, in that all he can really do is try and spook you. There's not a whole lot of threat there, outside of flashy melting effects and ghostly voices.
Finally, Giles was a major drag. He begins the episode by confronting Buffy over her Spike reliance, and while it can be argued that she is a little too dependable on the guy, the chip proved to be useless in the end, and his soul is just as much a help as rapidly unreliable Initiative robot junk ever was. The whining continues with his contrived monologue at the end where he yells at the Scoobies for going on dates when carnage is right around the corner. Again, he does have a point (especially since Buffy's full-force 'bring the attack to them' speech a couple of episodes back has been entirely forgotten), but Giles hasn't done anything of use all season -- and the writers seemed to have dragged back his stuffy season one persona from the Buffy abyss, leaving him a whiny, unhelpful professor-figure who is quickly growing more and more distant from the surrogate daughter he seemed to understand so well just a couple of years ago.
First Date is messy, convoluted and overly reliant on strangely nonsensical plot devices (the text message 'signal': what?), but the Robin Wood story is mightily intriguing and allows Sarah to cut loose for the first time in a while. Furthering that theme, it's also nice to see small moments of lightweight comedy again, like in the Chao-Ahn stuff -- obvious, but a relief from the suppressive darkness of recent episodes. B-
Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Ashanti (Lissa); Danny Strong (Jonathan Levinson); Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Iyari Limon (Kennedy); Sarah Hagan (Amanda); Kristy Wu (Chao-Ahn); K.D. Aubert (Nikki Wood); DB Woodside (Principal Robin Wood)
Writer Jane Espenson Director David Grossman