[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson and Douglas Petrie | Director: Nick Marck | Aired: 01/23/2001]
This is a wonderfully pleasant episode and is Buffy‘s first serious take on the subject of power, which of course is a major theme of S7. Aside from a couple small isssues, this is solid material that both offers a bit to think about as well as being very entertaining. Even with major appearances from the Watcher’s Council and Glory, “Checkpoint” stays focused on Buffy and how she takes another fine step into adulthood while discovering more about her power as a Slayer which, of course, is a big theme of the season. I really love how she’s portrayed as still being childish in many ways (“They’re gonna expect me to… to be like a Slayer and, and know stuff, but I’m just me and I don’t know anything, and they’re gonna go away, and they’re not gonna tell me how to fight Glory, and I’m not gonna be able to protect Dawn.”) but when push comes to shove she steps up on her own and acts as an adult that is extremely formiddable and, dare I say, powerful (“I have it. They don’t. This bothers them.”).
As Buffy will come to fully realize in S7, “It’s about power. Who’s got it. Who knows how to use it” (“Lessons” [7×01] ). “Checkpoint” begins the extent of that knowledge and gets Buffy to begin that level of understanding in some clever ways. Throughout the episode we’re shown different shades of how power can be used to accomplish things. One side of the coin is the Watchers Council who, as Buffy finds out thanks to Giles, use their political power to get things done the way they want it done. They storm in with their supreme cockiness, shoe away customers, and make their authority known. The review is obviously very reminiscent of the test in “Helpless” [3×12] . The other side of the coin is Glory, who uses her sheer physical power to force what she wants, displaying extreme cockiness in her power over “Mousey.” Both of these entities attempt to use their respective powers to threaten Buffy into getting what they want. They’re also both accustomed to getting what they want.
At first the intimidation from both sides is quite effective against Buffy. The Council has her doubting her ability to impress them in the odd way they want things done, and Glory has Buffy just plain scared–enough to drop her mom and sister off at Spike’s crypt, a huge change in their relationship which Spike immediately points out and a bit later I will too. After the Knights come into the picture as well, it pushes Buffy to acknowledge something that just never occurred to her before: she actually has power over them. If she didn’t, they wouldn’t even need to use their powers. So Buffy fights back which culminates in a rousing conclusion in which she utterly defies the Council, and then flips the coin back onto them. There is more writing excellence at work here.
Some specific examples of these displays of power include Glory telling Buffy, “If I wanted to fight, you could tell with the being dead already” along with Quentin’s speech about Buffy’s ‘place.’ Glory is verbally expressing her power over Buffy while Quentin essentially tells Buffy that she’s disposable but the Council always remains–they have the power. It’s obvious here how Giles feels. He’s more attached to Buffy now that he’s ever been, which makes sense based on how close they’ve been all season due to the training and the shared secret about Dawn. He really sticks up for her until the council speaks of what they’re capable of doing. In “Helpless” [3×12] Giles ultimately decided to go against the Council’s test, standing up for Buffy even though it costed him his job. The Council also recognizes his attachment to Buffy and uses that piece of information to threaten Buffy into cooperating. Buffy tells the Watchers “you don’t have that kind of power.” They are quick to respond, “we do, and a great deal more.” In the training room Buffy, like usual, has to do things her own way so she fails the Council’s test. The test, however, has no practical purpose, hence Giles’ comment, “I’ve trained her to win.”
On an entertainingly different note I was very entertained by Buffy’s school endeavors. Yawning in class and tapping her pencil out of boredom. This just reminds me of how glad I am I’m done with the game that is academia. Also amusing is Buffy suggesting that Rasputin might have been a vampire or a demon (haha). That evening we see Buffy taking out her academic frustrations on the demon world, which is very happily lovely, classic Buffy. The “interviews” were all also extremely entertaining. Everyone is trying way too hard to not make Buffy look bad. I particularly enjoyed Lydia getting all flustered over meeting Spike in person.
While talking about Spike, it’s important to recognize some important signs that pop up here. Buffy tells Spike she doesn’t need a boyfriend. Which, by the way, good for her! But Spike doesn’t quit that easily and snipes back, “don’t need, or can’t keep.” He says, “Maybe that’s your problem, maybe you push ’em away. Or is it the other? Maybe you cling too much. Or maybe… your beauty’s fading. The stress of slaying, aging you prematurely. Things not as high, not as firm … Or maybe you just don’t hold their interest.” All of Spike’s rambling does eventually get Buffy thinking. After her encounter with Glory, Buffy still goes to Spike to protect Joyce and Dawn, even after their earlier oral jabs. Spike’s response is hilarious, “well there’s a boatload of manly responsibility flying out of nowhere.” Putting aside the amusement, this also proves that Spike is just as much aware of how much trust Buffy’s putting in him as we, the audience, are. This marks an important change in the relationship between Buffy and Spike. Despite her apparent disgust of him, when it comes down to it she does now trust him with the things that matter most to her, and that says a lot.
On the pure plot front not much happens in this episode, although we do get the Knights of Byzantium. The Knights add an extra layer to the season’s plot arc, but unfortunately the writers neglected to use them until “Spiral” [5×20] which, honestly, was way too little, way too late. Their use here, though, is mysterious and effective in adding yet another thing Buffy has to worry about.
After all Buffy’s been through by the end of the episode, she lays it on the Watchers and proves to them that she has the power that matters. Here’s the goods: “You guys didn’t come all the way from England to determine whether or not I was good enough to be let back in. You came to beg me to let you back in. To give your jobs, your lives some semblance of meaning … You’re Watchers. Without a Slayer, you’re pretty much just watchin’ Masterpiece Theater. You can’t stop Glory. You can’t do anything with the information you have except maybe publish it in the Everyone Thinks We’re Insane-O’s Home Journal. So here’s how it’s gonna work. You’re gonna tell me everything you know. Then you’re gonna go away. You’ll contact me if and when you have any further information about Glory.” After Quentin agrees to Buffy terms, she then sits down at Quentin’s level and is ready to talk with him. This initiative shows great growth in Buffy’s character and ability as a leader capable of handling things completely on her own.
To sum matters up, I really enjoyed “Checkpoint” and found that is has quite a bit of lasting value. It’s mix of humor and challenging character growth is a cut above the rest, which isn’t something I say lightly when it comes to episodes of this show. Aside from a couple minor issues and the fact that even though this episode is important, it really doesn’t feel all that important, “Checkpoint” nails all the right chords.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy getting freaked out over the news of the Council visiting.
+ Ben shutting Jinx and Glory down.
+ Glory wants Ben to get the key for her. She still doesn’t want to have to do it herself. For the first time since “No Place Like Home” [5×05] we see her get fed up with waiting and take some action.
+ Spike and Joyce sharing some more amusing moments together. Wonderful!
+ Buffy’s confident Quentin will tell her that Glory is something she’s familiar with. QUENTIN: “She’s a god.” BUFFY: “Oh.”
– What’s with Buffy always having to stand up in class? I never stood up on the rare occasion I’d offer an answer.
– Why do the Watchers even do all this crazy ####? Unfortunately the answers to that question are never explored in a meaningful way.