Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | July 2, 2012

Robin’s Review: S4, E17 – Superstar

Synopsis: Buffy, Anya, Willow and Xander struggle to deal with a nest of vampires. So they head to find Jonathan at his mansion and he saves the day. Jonathan is a superstar in Sunnydale and advises the Initiative about Adam while also helping Buffy come to terms with what Faith did. Buffy and Riley are struggling with that issue as Tara becomes integrated into the group. On her way home from the Bronze she is attacked by the same demon that earlier Jonathan claimed was no big deal. Buffy is suspicious and works out that something about this world is amiss.

The Good: Uh oh.

The Bad: This was a major miscalculation on several levels. The most important being that this undid much of the good work done by the Faith two parter. I found it impossible to take the Riley-Buffy interactions seriously when a poster of Jonathan as a basketball star was hanging on the wall.

Worse than the surreal part was that we learn that life has been fundamentally altered by Jonathan’s presence. So what we saw with Faith no longer actually happened. Buffy was passive and timid in this world and it was hard to imagine her standing up to Faith with the skill and bravery we saw last episode. With all that swirling in my mind it really damaged the Riley-Buffy scenes. The sense that this was a major moment in their relationship was utterly overshadowed by the endless silly gags about Jonathan being a super hero. The writers also decided to use a sledge hammer to make the point that relationships are complicated and can’t easily be fixed. Jonathan reiterated it at the end of the episode that felt distinctly un-Buffy.

That is how I would also describe the construction of the Jonathan story. So many of the great Buffy episodes are about characters undergoing some kind of transformation (the Faith two parter we just saw along with The Zeppo, The Wish, Innocence and Doppelgangland to name a few). But in all those cases it was a character we both knew and cared about. We don’t know Jonathan and I suspect some viewers will have only vaguely remembered him (it’s been seventeen episodes since he last appeared). There was therefore no context to his transformation beyond him being a short geek. The results were predictable and repetitive with him being presented as a cross between Super Man and James Bond while everyone else (male and female) swooned over him.

The dull setup meant once Buffy began to play detective (after Adam told us exactly what was happening) things got really tedious. To watch all of the Scoobies doubt Buffy as she pointed out the obvious was almost painful, something the show very rarely is. I also don’t think we needed a story about Buffy overcoming doubts about herself. We saw the same idea in the season premiere and as it was only brought on by the spell it seemed particularly pointless.

I think the timing of this episode was all wrong too. Not only did it flatten the Buffy-Riley and Buffy-Faith stories but it also meant we missed out on seeing Tara introduced to the gang. It’s also a bad idea to have two concept episodes back to back. It makes both less effective.

The Unknown: With only a few episodes until the finale Adam is in desperate need of some more screen time. I’m also growing tired of Anya. Her three character traits (selfish, demonic and sexual) are becoming a bore.

Best Moment: The one joke that worked nicely was when Jonathan put on a blindfold and prepared to shoot apples off the heads of some scared looking Initiative soldiers. It was a nice exaggeration which took the basic level of the gag a step further.

The Bottom Line: When a mistake just grows and grows you begin to wonder what happened to the editors who would normally have stopped this from happening. This is the third sub-40 score I’ve given this season. It’s impossible not to be disappointed by Season Four and that’s partly because of the superb episodes the show can still create.



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