Monday, May 7, 2012

Buffy: Sleeper (7.8)

Sleeper plays like an old-fashioned mystery novel, Buffy in detective mode as she prowls the city streets determined to find evidence that Spike is actually killing again. With Spike himself prowling for victims of his own, a fun cat-and-mouse game ensues, only made awkward by Spike's seemingly truthful insistence that he has no recollection of blood-sucking murder. This is another episode maintaining that sense of intense foreboding highlighted in Conversations with Dead People, the Scoobies all working out that something that seems to know them on an intimate level is messing with their heads. It's the end of the series, and the big bad is ready to turn the screws...

James Marsters has always been wonderful, but he's particularly effective when he's forced to play around with Spike's vulnerabilities. Spike is pulled through the ringer here, thrust into disorienting chaos as he's triggered to kill by an entity that appears as both himself, as well as the ones he loves. The scene in which 'Buffy' appears out of nowhere and encourages him to murder a young woman is remarkably chilling, this big bad getting off on creating this kind of sadistic psychological torment. Unlike the Scoobies it terrorized last week, Spike is overtly damaged and vulnerable at this point, and instantly falls into it's trap.

But Buffy is smart, and knows that she'll need to get close to Spike to maneuver around the manipulation. The Buffy/Spike relationship has hit an interesting point in time. Their morbid infatuation with one another is gone, the deeper crises averted -- giving way to a mature sense of mutual understanding between them. It's similar to Buffy's season five encounter with Angel as well as her reunion with Riley last year, in that she's moved onto a far more grounded and less chaotic angle in the relationship. But unlike those aforementioned get-togethers with Angel and Riley, Spike isn't otherwise attached and primed to quickly leave town, forcing the two of them to almost embrace the changes in their relationships. And it works, Buffy seeing the wounded victim in Spike and growing determined to help him.

Sleeper is full of wonderful set-pieces, from Aimee Mann's hilarious cameo to the great fight sequence on the balcony at the Bronze, straight through to that intense coda in the vamp-filled basement. There's also a strong vintage Angel vibe to Buffy's pursuit of Spike, the scenes set on Sunnydale's streets particularly reminiscent of Angel following a newly-human Darla back in season two of his show. The book-ended London scenes are also impressive, but suffer in retrospect when you realize how horrible that whole story turned out to be.

We're about to hit that point when season seven spirals out of control, but these eight episodes remain some of the most tightly-scripted and consistent hours in Buffy history. I love the ensemble and how they bounce off each other, and how the writers continue to find lightness in some really dark material. It's classic Buffy, and it only makes you sadder that you're about to see all this come to an end soon. A

Guest stars Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles); Robinne Lee (Charlotte); Rob Nagle (Robson)
Writers David Fury, Jane Espenson Director Alan J. Levi


  1. Spiralling out of control?! Uh-oh! This has been a gripping start to the series, I've been sitting here getting excited about the rest of the series, it's hardly in and been so good, what could go so badly! I'll have to see I suppose..
    That's what's so good about Buffy's interactions with Spike, she's balancing a lot but still keeping things moving. Nice twist that it was actually that creepazoid that's been tormenting Spike and not just his own turmoil.
    Right. I'm going to find out now if Giles keeps his head! D:

  2. on a funny and unnecessary note my word verification was 'relingko dtectio' thought I'd share because of all the espionage!

  3. I think I overstated the "spiraling downward" thing when I wrote this. I've finished the season since, and it's nowhere near as terrible as I probably implied it was. There are still areas that bug me and certain storylines that wind up entirely lazy or illogical, but the general thrust of the year is rewarding and the final message of the season (and series) works really well. So, yeah, sorry for implying misery. Heh.

  4. i've always liked season 7, parly because it was a breath of fresh air after the really dark season 6. And also because i really like the Spike plot throughout, where we get to see him be human, and not just a pathetic evil but not vampire. Also, i love the billy idol joke in this episode

  5. I love that part! They did manage to bring the humor back, especially in the early stretch of the year.