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Welcome (Back) to the Dollhouse

Buffy Episode 7.6 Him
AirDate: 5th Nov 02

I stopped off on my way home on Monday night to briefly visit with my friend Daniel at his workplace. We chuckled at the goofy television remake of Carrie, and discussed the current state of Buffy and Angel. Daniel's an excellently obsessive fan, and it's always good to hear his take on things. Among the various points and concerns he raised, one in particular stuck with me: Say what you will about whether things are better or worse this year on Buffy, you have to respect the way Joss is willing to throw the book out every season and spin his show however he wants, regardless of anyone else's expectations. Too grim? Too wacky? Wallowing in nostalgia? Changing too fast? Tough. The brother's got a plan, and you can either trust him to tell the tale, or go watch… whatever's running on another network (does anyone even know?).

Episode 7.6, 'Him', is a perfect example. I'm expecting this one to receive the most divided opinions of any episode so far this season. As much as I value the humour on Buffy, in the hands of the wrong writer, a Funny Episode can come off as merely a goofy pit stop in an otherwise thrilling race. Those of you who regularly visit this page know that my favourite Buffy stories are the ones with the crying and the yelling where someone usually gets hurt. Sorry – I'm not LOOKING for these characters to get dumped and have loved ones die, but when it happens the episodes are really powerful, and powerful is good.

'Him' wasn't exactly powerful, but as a comedy I'd file it more in the category of Season 3's 'Gingerbread' and Season 2's 'Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered'. That last comparison is kind of a no-brainer, as not only were most of us fully aware that there's already been an episode where a love spell made people climb over each other to get to one initially lucky (and then not so lucky) person. On paper I might have had a problem with a straight-up flashback to a previous episode serving no real purpose (usually the flashbacks on Buffy are to scenes we've never witnessed before, filling in some missing piece of a larger story). But in this case it was one of a few examples of unconventional choices for a Buffy episode that in the long run worked and gave it distinction. I'll get to the best one in a minute (wicka-wicka-wicka-wicka-wicka-wick).

A lot of this episode played out like a Todd Solondz movie. When the laughs came they were often at the expense of a lead character's bruised ego, and we watched through our fingers as we attempted to hide from the awkward situation playing out before us. Dawn jumping through hoops to bond with RJ in the hall was uncomfortable, but her cheerleading tryout was a full-on train wreck of severely embarrassing proportions. Her subsequent breakdown and destruction of Buffy's uniform was similar to her hysterics from the previous couple of seasons, but this time it was for comedic effect and therefore much less irritating. As far as I'm concerned, Dawn (and Michelle, for that matter) has been terrific this year.

I say again – With all that footage of Dawn at school, where were Kit & Carlos? Should we just file them under G for Gone Forever? That would probably be a mistake, because Joss has a way of bringing back minor characters just as we've forgotten about them. I'm still clinging to the hope that some of the new faces we've seen so far this season are going to stick around and enjoy a little character development, as this show is sorely in need of some cast-expansion (Xander's physical expansion doesn't count). Give me someone new to like, or at least get Giles on a plane over to California for a while. In the meantime, at least we have the continuing barely-there-ness of Mr. Wood.

I'm past thinking Robin Wood (a merry man unto himself) is evil or has some secret agenda. I think he's a genuinely good and well-intentioned guy. If anything, I can see him eventually becoming the first principal at Sunnydale High to actually acknowledge that bumpy evil walks his halls. Maybe he'll even end up pitching in to help, once that thing that's beneath us starts devouring.

Speaking of That Thing, each week I wonder if the latest paranormal being or occurrence is somehow involved with our mysterious Big Bad. This time it occurred to me that RJ might be the latest face of the Season 7 heavy, and he was after Dawn for some devilish reason or another. From beneath you it deflowers, maybe? But once again the only mention of the Big Bad this week, affectionately named Morphy by Herc over at AICN (I promise I don't read his episode previews until AFTER the episode in question airs), was when Buffy extended the hand of friendship to Anya, first by saving her from the demon assassin and then reminding her that she's counted among the friends that Buffy would like to protect from the much-heralded toothy something. I thought it was a nice moment, but at the same time I can't help thinking that Buffy and Anya moved a little too seamlessly from 'Gonna get her' to 'All better'. For argument's sake, I guess Anya's been through enough highs n' lows in the past 1100+ years that this dust-up with Summers was small potatoes, and by this point Buffy must be pretty used to making nice with people she once laid a beating on.

Case in point: Her transplanting of Spike. It's time our favourite mushroom got dug up and moved to a healthier environment, and much to Xander's dismay, that environment is Casa Del Harris. This is definitely cause to celebrate, as Sunnydale's Oscar & Felix are roomies again, and big laughs will no doubt abound. I don't think any part of Xander likes having Spike stay with him, but despite Spike's grumbling I think he's secretly grateful for his deeeeluxe closet in the sky and someone to talk to other than the many faces of Morphy and the occasional rat. This was a key development in the middle of all the comedy, and another was the fact that we've learned Buffy has announced Spike's membership in the Vamps With Souls club to the rest of the Scoobs somewhere along the way. Now that Spike has access to hot water, he's apparently taken up cleaning himself again, too (From beneath you, he showers?).

It was also nice to see that Oscar & Felix are willing and able to take their act on the road. There's something very satisfying about having them hit the bricks together to play detective. If Dawn's enthusiasm for snooping and forensics makes her Nancy Drew (don't bust me if Nancy Drew didn't bother with forensics), then clearly we now have our Hardy Boys (I thought you just said they were the Odd Couple! --Ed.).

Also very prevalent in this episode were the latest additions to Joss' list of issues from high school that he still wants to address. I read an interview with him (or maybe it was one of the DVD commentaries), wherein he said he was a bit sad when the Scoobs graduated high school, because he had so many terrible experiences at that age that he wasn't anywhere near finished writing about them. So in this episode we got unrequited love, watching the quarterback pull all the girls, and a little dash of tasty revenge, as the former stud jock guy wound up a pudgy management trainee at Pizza Barn who still lives with his mom. I couldn't take my eyes off Spike in that scene, as it was so far removed from any situation he would normally find himself in. Too bad they didn't make it down to the guy's rec room for air hockey and… raisins.

What else was great in 'Him'? Let's bypass the hotness of Dawn at the Bronze (I am SO going to Hell) and instead focus on Willow's commiseration with Xander once they realized they were both lusting after the LAST person they ever expected to view as a sex object. Her "Right there with you" comment was the only line from this episode that made me shout "HOOOOO!" Then I put my arms in the air and waved 'em like I just didn't care.

I liked that everyone, writer Drew Greenberg included, got silly in 7.6. When things went split-screen to show the individual plans of Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Anya, complete with 70's wicka-wicka guitar, it was a whole new level of genre-specific parody that this series has never attempted before and, and just as was said at the beginning of the review, I respect their willingness to try something out of the ordinary.

I also loved Buffy's attempt on Principal Wood's life. It was funny to see the infamous rocket launcher from Season 2 make an appearance, and the whole Benny Hill sketch that went on outside Wood's window as he remained oblivious was the funniest part of the episode and possibly of the season thus far. Xander & Spike's elaborate plan to get the jacket from RJ at the episode's conclusion was another example of an almost Simpsons-like brand of humour.

So while episode 7.6 didn't give us much in the way of plot development (Anya's a Scoob again, Spike moved in with Xander, and everyone knows he has a soul) and it was totally lacking dramatic punch, I was sufficiently entertained by the love-spell silliness to call this one a checkmark in the win column. I'm electing to overlook the ongoing absurdity of Buffy's track record as a guidance counselor, since every week she does something that would get her fired from any school anywhere, and it appears that we're just going to have to accept that, like slaying, she operates above the law. She's always willing to break the rules or write a few of her own, all in the name of the greater good and getting the job done. In this way she's just like our Mr. Whedon.

Take care, everybody.

PS – As an addendum to my review for 'Selfless', Kit B gets credit for being the only person I know who was able to confirm that the Swedish spoken by Anya and Olaf was genuine and, from what she could tell, accurate. It's a testament both to Mutant Enemy's attention to detail and her own well-rounded base of knowledge. I confess that they could have fooled me with gibberish, my familiarity with Swedish being what it is.

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