Superstar
Written by: Jane Espenson
Directed by: David Grossman
Air Date: April 4, 2000

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Its a weird day when you are over halfway through a season and you still haven’t spent much time developing your primary, season-long antagonist and instead devote an entire episode to a throw-away character who has no consequence on anything that has happened prior to this and has very little effect on anything that comes after. I’m not complaining, right away: I feel I’ve made my stance on Adam known and, well, I can’t help but feel that the writers for this show have done the same. He shows up in this episode and has his most interesting moments thus far, but really, he’s just as bland and one-note as always. So, while this episode isn’t the greatest, it gets by because it doesn’t move the arc of the season along that it should, namely the “Big Bad” – instead, it moves the character arcs forward with great times for every character to play off Jonathan.

I imagine Danny Strong had a great time with this one. He’s been a bit player in so many past episodes, now, that having a front-and-center roll (which he’ll have again in a larger capacity sooner or later) must have been a blast. From the onset of this episode, the world has changes in Jonathan’s favor: he’s cool, he’s popular, he’s loved by the masses. He’s also an accomplished demon killer, all the baddies fear him. No one cares about Buffy, the Slayer. She’s second-fiddle to super-spy-level Jonathan. I mean, she hasn’t put out albums of music, written a book, coached Olympic teams, or put out a swimsuit calendar (that I’ve been able to find, anyhow…). She didn’t invent the internet. And while the levels of “cool” Jonathan has achieved in his dream world does go a bit overboard by all accounts, it is still funny to see the universe bend around him. People interrupt him to get things signed, he just busts out a trumpet and plays live at the Bronze, and the press is there to hound him after a vampire attack goes his way. Its a stark contrast to the life Buffy has prior to this and – obviously – during this alternate universe episode.

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But, while the Jonathan stuff is all fun and good, the episode only has a few real great moments that stick out as overwhelmingly positive. First and foremost, the Buffy/Riley relationship hurdle. The episode, as a whole, is about self-doubt and between the major thematic representation of the entire episode and Jonathan being a little baby, the Buffy/Riley thing is key and at the center. Even though it was just the last episode, Jonathan is such a powerful, smart man that he solves the major problem – namely him sleeping with Faith – in one episode. Its both convenient from a writing standpoint (they don’t have to focus on the issue for the rest of the season) and awesome (they don’t have to focus on the issue for the rest of the season). But, past this, the rest of the characters – Willow, Xander, Giles, etc. all suffer from an overall lack of confidence. They don’t fight the big fight anymore, so their skills and abilities aren’t as developed, they aren’t as sharp.

The other key thing they all doubt, though, and one thing that carries over from the previous episodes, is how to deal with Adam. Ever since he’s shown up, everyone has talked him up (all tell and no show, writers!). They don’t know how to fight him, or even guess at his plans. Here, though, the Initiative gets to find out his weakness, one that will be exploited in future episodes – his core. He can be killed if he is cut off from his internal power source. We find this out – surprise! – because Jonathan hacked Walsh’s files and found the blueprints for the “Big Bad”. Though this won’t be brought up again for a bit, this moment seals Adam’s fate, far before anyone would have guessed. Speaking of him, he gets his first cool moment of a scarce few: he isn’t affected by Jonathan’s spell. He “knows every molecule” of himself or some shit and thus has his memory remain intact. He also can sense that the magic is fragile and ready to crack, thus he isn’t even worried about it. He’s only on screen for maybe two minutes: what a bummer to be that actor and have to spend hours in makeup for this role. Ugh.

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Adam was right, though; there is a monster on the loose that is hunting down anything in its path and Jonathan won’t stop it. Buffy and co. trust he will until it attacks Tara and she has to resort to POCKET SAND to save the day. The monster is dumb looking and not that threatening. Buffy would normally be able to stop it on her own, but since she lacks the strength of character (and of arm) to do it, she needs Jonathan, who won’t. This starts her on a journey of discovery that results in her having to convince everyone to agree with her that the universe isn’t as it should be. Eventually, it works, but only after Buffy and Jonathan go after the monster that binds them to this alternate universe together. The gang fears the worst, that he’ll kill her to keep his perfect world intact and there will be nothing they can do to stop it.

But in an awesome turn of events, Jonathan understands he can’t keep it going any longer, not if someone gets hurt. So not only does he not kill Buffy, he coaches her into killing the monster. This brings the Super-Jonathan universe to an end and showcases this background character’s greatest trait: he cares and doesn’t want to let anyone die, indirectly or otherwise. It will come to define him in the future, as well. The end conversation about what the differences between the universes is cut short by nerdy Jonathan returning to say sorry to Buffy, who – bless her heart – takes it in stride. No one died, afterall. She lays it out for him: stuff takes time, takes pain. Takes sacrifice, sometimes. And grand gestures rarely ever work. He understands and fades away, once more, but not before cementing his prior advice… that Buffy should now take her own and work on her relationship with Lord Commander Doofington the Third because its worth it. Its a sweet episode with very little to advance the plot, as I’d said, but everyone comes out wiser on the other end.

Episode Rating: 82

Additional Notes:
-Best line: Willow, after figuring out that Buffy had been right all along: “Buffy was right. Buffy was right?”
-Followed by Anya telling her that saying that doesn’t really sound right
-Universe of only shrimp? Universe with no shrimp?
-Anya has one character motivation: sex. Guess what we explore next episode?
-I liked Riley asking if anyone else felt tall
-Good work, Danny Strong. Good work.

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