Monday, May 21, 2012

Buffy: Potential (7.12)

This is a minor improvement on the last two weeks, but Potential still winds up being something of a chore to get through. There's a lot of running, a lot of whining, all building to one ultimately moving final scene. Dawn's place in the narrative of season seven was something that needed to be explored, especially since she was initially positioned as a key player way back in Lessons. But, in an indication that the wheels are flying off in the writers room, all the intriguing development she was getting just a couple of months back has been rapidly pulled back, Dawn becoming just another member of the Buffy ensemble given nothing but filler dialogue most of the time (see: Xander, Anya, Willow).

But at least she has that last scene. Potential isn't very good at all, but the revelation that Dawn is actually pretty ordinary creates something quietly moving. It takes strength to stick around in this group, arguably more when you're just a regular person. Xander is somebody who hasn't had the greatest of development in the last couple of seasons, but his moment here creates a neat bookend to both The Zeppo and The Replacement. While those episodes were very much about Xander trying to become his own person and figure out his place within the Scooby group, here he has fully grown and discovered his gift.

It's also a strong development for Dawn. As much as she gets whiny and petulant a lot of the time, it must be disheartening to come into the world in such a fantastical, supernatural way and be around so many superpowered people -- only to wind up being an ordinary teenage girl in the end. But it's strength of character that she gains, and while I wish Dawn was more present for the rest of the season (and even that says so much about how far she's come), this was a welcome closer to her journey over the years.

Amanda is probably the most engaging potential so far, given something resembling a personality and played by an actress who is actually capable of conveying a character. The rest of the slayerettes continue to bug, and it's disappointing to see Buffy turn into preachy drill sergeant here. Apart from the Chaka Khan line, it's just not interesting or funny enough a story to work. I should also add that Buffy and Spike's romantic fumbling is horribly awkward, with the contrived groping and straddling, followed by the embarrassed discomfort straight after. It's like something out of daytime TV.

Potential works in some areas, and I liked how the show portrayed the fears and danger of being a potential slayer through Dawn's experience here, but the hour struggles to be anything more than that. There's a reason the Dawn/Xander scene is the only thing anybody remembers about it. C

Guest stars Tom Lenk (Andrew Wells); Iyari Limon (Kennedy); Clara Bryant (Molly); Indigo (Rona)
Writer Rebecca Rand Kirshner Director James A. Contner


  1. Great review, and I loved what you said about other characters being sidelined, but there was a few moments I enjoyed other than the final scene (which was amazing). That hall scene with Dawn and Amanda in particular, when she passes the stake over to Amanda, was a huge moment for her, and one of the first times I realized she was becoming a favorite of mine. Like you said, it's a huge reflection on how far she's come since she first appeared.

    I totally agree with what you said about Buffy and Spike here, though. It's just plain awkward.

    1. "It's like something out of daytime TV."
      sums up pretty much all the "drama" here on in.

  2. Oh! That "passing the torch" scene was indeed a strong moment, and marked her character growth really well. I ended up liking Dawn a lot this season, which I think was something that Michelle Trachtenberg was responsible. Didn't she request that they write Dawn more mature this year?

  3. She did? I actually didn't know that. Maybe she just wanted something better to work with then just whiny brat material. Who can blame her, right? I never kept up to date with all the behind the scenes stuff when it aired, so I'm still learning stuff about it up until this point.

    I actually think she gets a bad rap as well. People often assume her as bad as some of the scripts she takes on, and associate her with Dawn's early idiocy, which isn't fair. I loved her in Gossip Girl in particular.

  4. She did. I actually remember this vibe that she had grown a little tired of the show, or maybe it was just her reaction to her season six material, which wasn't good at all. I remember her complaining that sometimes Dawn's dialogue was written with intentional bad grammar or something, in order to project that she was still so young. But then she requested more maturity in the character, and it's why she's so much more successful in the final season.

    To add to your second part, she hasn't actually made any impression at all on me in the post-Buffy stuff that I've seen her in, like Mysterious Skin or Black Christmas. Which is probably good, because I don't remember her being bad in those parts. She definitely has the tendency to put on that horrible, shrill "angry" voice (or she did), but I imagine she's matured as an actress since. I haven't seen any of her more notable recent work, like Ice Princess or Gossip Girl, to really judge.

  5. Gonna beat Maya here! smilie

    I have recently watched all Charmed seasons again, and followed all your reviews alongside. I was disappointed with (mainly) the last 3 seasons and it was great fun to read your (and Panda’s) analysis –is-is (hah!). Sometimes I read them before watching and occasionally I skipped an episode because of it.

    One thing that resonated was your admiration for Buffy and Angel. Also flawed seasons/episodes, but at least never a cop-out and always focus on the characters, while the actors continued to give them their all. So true! But in order to appreciate your reviews on the Buf I had to watch all seasons as well. Boy, that was/is fun! Esp. in tandem with the blog. (just a few more to go and I am savouring them) Yes, there are several small frustrations and disappointments , but I am amazed how much better this show is than Charmed, and I did not fully realise that on first airing. You and Panda (and maybe Nadim) have mentioned that you will probably have to go on with Angel now. I am not there yet, eventhough I also loved that at the time, I was disgusted with the whole W&H element at the end and could not connect with it anymore. And after Cordelia left it took the heart and soul of the story for me. So I think I will pass all together.

    Your reviews are very insightful and very well written (for one so young smilie) and it has been a blast! Thanks.

    Now about this episode. I refrained from commenting before (did a few on the Charmed blog) as you usually had said it all, but this element of the Potentials – I had completely forgotten about them! It sucks so much and is so out of line with the Buffy mythology, I just have to put in my 2 cents.
    When Buffy was called she was THE Slayer straight away – no potential training, no Watcher up until then – same goes for Faith. A mystical line theme makes no sense when there are loads of potentials waiting and already being trained. That might work for an army, but not for a Calling like this. Besides, one never knows when the Slayer dies, so the potentials could be ‘out of date’ by then. If one goes with the idea of potentials, the fact that all these girls are the same age would mean that Buffy is expected to die any time. Or … were they already potentials the first 2 times she died? Some were quite young then – oh yea, one of them said she was training since she was 8.
    Good point about Faith being the next Slayer after the 1st time BTW. It was never fully explained why Buffy still stayed no. One. Then with the 2nd death Faith was still in place, so no new one called – was she even nominated? can’t remember what happened with her over on Angel - and if so why was Buffy able to take over again when resurrected? Anyway, I have always been able to suspend my disbelief over these (and other) illogical elements, but they really screwed up with the potentials. With several unbelievable plots we could at least understand what the writers were trying to achieve or highlight – I see no artistic or imaginative reason here whatsoever. Apparently they would not get their superpowers, unless after they’re called, so they are just regular teenagers here, and some not even trained yet. What can they add to the fight? And like you said, we don’t have time to connect to them, so even as cannon fodder we couldn’t care less. And right on – they take so much away from the regular cast. I just don’t understand why Joss let this happen. Did he ever explain the idea somewhere? Maybe he realised that the premise of one Slayer worldwide but stuck in one location did not make sense and with so many demons all over the globe an actual army did? Was he preparing for a spin-off?

    Amiche - Ireland (thanks for reading)

  6. First of all, thank you so much for all the compliments. It's incredibly rewarding to hear such positive feedback, even more so to know that there are people out there reading my stuff and liking it enough to come back over and over. So thank you for the confidence, Amiche.

    To follow up some of your points, I agree with what you wrote about "potentials" messing up continuity. There are a litany of holes here and there throughout the season, primarily because Joss wanted an army motif, and care wasn't put in to make it all that logical on closer inspection.

    With Buffy taking over again post-death, I think it was more because it was always her responsibility. Faith was in prison at that point, but Buffy still considered it her duty and solo gig. Where it gets confused is by claiming that her death would actually have any effect. Buffy is superficially the slayer because she has the means and interest to take that title, but officially her presence is meaningless. It's Faith who is technically "active", and only her death would result in another slayer being called. It's all kinds of messy.

    Really interesting points, though. Always cool to have a little Buffy-related discussion. Heh.

    Thanks again, Amiche.

  7. Just rewatched this episode tonight and I forgot how moving the end scene was, and for the first time since the season 6 finale, Xander actually had a good moment. It's a shame he got pushed so far back the last couple seasons.

  8. Agreed. I'm not a huge Xander fan compared to everybody else, but re-watching the early seasons it's really noticeable how far he was diminished over time. And then you get a scene like the one that ends Potential and you remember how much he brings to the show.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Nick.