[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Rebecca Rand Kirshner | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 01/21/2003]
“Potential” is a decidedly mixed bag. Although I liked more than I didn’t like, the episode just didn’t come together for me. Surprisingly, though, the Potentials themselves aren’t what pulled this episode down. It actually makes sense to focus on the Potentials for an episode. Its downfall is really the split focus between Buffy training the Potentials and Dawn’s hope, fall, and renewal of her self worth. Oh yeah, and Amanda’s thrown in there somewhere. While each aspect individually does a decent job, I don’t feel they connected with each other very well; I felt like I was watching several entirely separate episodes at times.
The episode picks up right where “Showtime” [7×11] left off in regard to its theme of changing the game on the enemy and taking the fight to them. Buffy takes full command of the Potentials here, where before she was unsure of what to do with them. Buffy’s comments to them about the nature of the Slayer, based on her own experiences, is very cool to see. She says, “Death is what a slayer breathes, what a slayer dreams about when she sleeps. Death is what a slayer lives.” This, of course, harkens back to a major theme of Season 5. Remember “death is your gift?”
This is a Buffy that has seven-plus years of experience and knowledge behind her and is imparting that information onto the next generation. It’s all good knowledge, but I’m not sure Buffy’s approach is the best it could be. It seems she’s going with the overly authoritative style of leadership for the time being. I have to admit that I think a more casual conversational style would have probably connected with the Potentials more quickly and ensured a more dedicated group. As it stands now, Buffy’s training these people in a very workmanlike manner, which is not going to inspire their good graces. Of course, it could be argued that this is a good thing. In my opinion, though, I don’t think this situation warranted it. Points for effort though!
Apparently the First is in remission because of the Ubervamp’s dusting. I have to say that this reeks of a serious lack of writing creativity. Blatantly telling the audience that the First is out of the game for a little while may buy the writers some time to not have to top themselves in the doom department for a while, but all the tension that has been built up has now just left the room because of it and it makes me a little more than sad to see it. All the momentum accrued since “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] has now fully disappated, when it should really just be continuing to ramp up. This may have even been a good time to throw Caleb into the season. Regardless, this is a big plotting mistake that I think largely perpetuates this mid-season slump.
As I mentioned in the introduction, each piece of “Potential” pretty much works on an individual level. In particular, I really enjoyed the training excercises Buffy put the current group of Potentials through. The opening scene, using Spike as the predator, was fun to watch, as was Buffy having trouble keeping herself away from getting a little too cozy with Spike in front of the trainees. Later in the episode, there’s a well edited sequence where Buffy’s pummeling a newly risen vampire and giving some good strategic fighting techniques while Dawn and Amanda are using their environment and ingenuity to fend off a vampire of their own.
Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the actress on Freaks and Geeks so much, but I like Amanda. Although not amazingly well developed here or anything, we get enough of a background to want her to survive. More importantly, though, I was happy with how her situation with the guy who picks on her somewhat parallels what Buffy went through with Spike last season. Amanda asks Buffy “Is it weird? We’re mean to each other, and we like each other.” Buffy’s entertaining response is “Well, it depends. Sometimes that’s how people relate. Being mean to each other. Even mortal enemies. Then with the- And that leads to no good, absolutely no good. And much confusion. And then it’s over. Absolutely, seriously, definitely over. And that’s confusing too. The over part. Which it is. Over! So, maybe.” This gives us a little bit more insight into what’s going on in Buffy’s head in regard to Spike. In a nutshell, there’s “much confusion.”
Probably my favorite aspect of the episode is how the situation with the Potentials affects Dawn and her sense of self worth. This is a wonderful little character aspect that is thrown into the plot. Our first hint that Dawn will even be remotely important in the episode is when Buffy tells some Potentials that “you’re all special. Most people in this world have no idea why they’re here or what they want to do. You do. You have a mission, a reason for being here. You’re not here by chance. You’re here because you are the chosen ones.” Immediately following this speech, the scene quickly cuts to Dawn looking sad, indicating that she feels she is one of those people Buffy is referring to that isn’t remotely special or needed; Dawn is not “chosen.”
Having us believe Dawn’s the new Potential really works, both from a plot and a character perspective. First of all, it kind of makes sense that she might be a Potential, what with her sister being the current Slayer and all. But, even more importantly, it makes sense on a purely character level. For a short time Dawn thinks she has what she’s always wanted — to be special and to have a reason to more actively be involved in Buffy’s life. There’s this divide going on between the Potentials, or “the important people,” and everyone else. One thing I love about the episode is that it turns this notion on its head. Yes, the Potentials are important, but so is everyone else. Each contributing person is important in their own way, which is what the end of the episode so beautifully summarizes.
Everything comes together when Dawn hands her weapon — her power — over to Amanda. Xander, doing what he does best, properly props Dawn up because of this selflessness. I know Buffy’s busy, but she could at least devote a little bit of time to having a heart-to-heart with Dawn and make an attempt to appreciate what it’s like for her. Thank God Xander’s around to fill in this role for her! His speech to Dawn at the end of the episode is simply sublime, and very reminiscent of an inspirational speech he gave to Buffy back in “The Freshman” [4×01].
Xander tells Dawn, in the stand-out moment of the episode, “Yeah. They’re special, no doubt. The amazing thing is, not one of them will ever know, not even Buffy. … How much harder it is for the rest of us. … Seven years, Dawn. Working with the slayer. Seeing my friends get more and more powerful. A witch. A demon. Hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit, but come a full moon, he had a wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful. All of them. And I’m the guy who fixes the windows. … I saw what you did last night. … You thought you were all special. Miss Sunnydale 2003. And the minute you found out you weren’t, you handed the crown to Amanda without a moment’s pause. You gave her your power. … They’ll never know how tough it is, Dawnie, to be the one who isn’t chosen. To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because nobody’s watching me. I saw you last night. I see you working here today. You’re not special. You’re extraordinary.”
This wonderful dialogue not only sweetly gives Dawn a bone, but it also summarizes Xander’s life as one of the Slayer’s best friends for seven years. Dawn, in response, gives Xander some due kudos as well. She tells him, “Maybe that’s your power. … Seeing. Knowing.” I think Dawn nailed it. What a very ‘final season’ insight into our flawed yet beloved Xander. When Dawn makes that comment, the many times Xander has been there for his friends come flying through my head, from that speech to Buffy in “The Freshman” [4×01] to his insightful outlook on her relationship with Riley in “Into the Woods” [5×10] to his world-saving speech to Willow in “Grave” [6×22].
In conclusion, I have to reiterate what I said in the introduction: “Potential” is a mixed bag. The episode doesn’t mesh its various components together very well and it seriously silents the tension that had been built up. There’s also several other plotting mistakes that just have no reason to be there. On the positive side, though, there’s some wonderful character work for Dawn along with a reasonably entertaining plot involving Potentials in training. When all is said and done, though, “Potential” has its moments but just doesn’t quite gel.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Vi being freaked out that Spike has her.
+ Buffy being a little overly concerned about Spike while on top of him. I can’t fault the Potentials for being a little interested in what that’s all about.
+ Buffy’s honesty to the Potentials about the likelihood of their deaths.
+ Clem! Pure gold on what Buffy asks him to do. I love Kennedy’s comment: “You think she dated him too?”
+ Buffy and Spike going on about how nice his crypt was. Haha.
+ Anya’s off-handed comment about the Buffy/Dawn blood connecting never really making any sense.
+ The Potentials enjoying a moment of victory over taking on a vampire.
– Spike hits Rona and his chip doesn’t fire off.
– Buffy claims that her death could make one of the Potentials the next slayer. Although it’s possible Buffy’s not sure how this works, it seems much more likely that this was just a slip-up. Faith’s death would cause a new slayer to be called, as the line was passed to her when Kendra was killed in Season 2. It’s possible that Buffy’s death in “The Gift” [5×22] caused another slayer to be called somewhere in the world, unknown to everyone we know. More likely, though, is just that Faith holds the line now. This should have been represented more clearly this season — the writers should have thought this through.
– Dawn leaving the house with all that’s going on out there? Come on now… Dawn should know better than that by now. I can understand wanting some quiet time on the porch outside or something, but don’t go running off down the street.
– Willow and Xander were able to notify Buffy and get to the school far too quickly to help Dawn and Amanda.