Buffy vs Dracula
Written by: Marti Noxon
Directed by: David Solomon
Air Date: Sept. 26, 2000

Dracula

I’ll just open by saying Rudolph Martin kills it as Dracula. This episode did not require Dracula to work, narratively – any old vampire with knowledge of the series’ lore would have worked. But Martin just takes the role and runs with it, never coming off as too cheesy or ham-fisted but still having a ball with the character, his mystery and his overall charm and appeal. You believe Buffy and Xander (and Joyce!) would become his thrall just from his vocal patterns, his looks, and his language choices. It any one device works in this episode about exploring more of Buffy’s darkness post-“Restless”, its Dracula. Thankfully, so much more works, too.

The episode – and thus the season – starts out strong. The cast is getting bigger, with Emma and Amber showing up in the credits a little more prominently, now. But then its on to the aforementioned darkness. See, Buffy’s run in with the First Slayer has brought forth a bit of the dark side within her, so now when she can’t sleep she doesn’t patrol: she hunts. The chase sequence that opens the episode paired with the slaying of that no-name vamp is brutal and efficient. This is immediately undercut however by the episodes worst scene, a beach sequence, complete with football, chicks in swimsuits lounging, and Riley asking for a hamburger by saying “cow me.” its as embarrassing as it sounds. It has one cool bit, though: Willow’s magically created fire stays lit during the rainstorm. Because its magic. Nice.

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I’ll skip talking about the majority of the Dracula-related stuff: his arrival is classic, his castle is classic, his ability to transform into animals and smoke is classic, and his enthralling Xander who then eats bugs is classic. As are the Three Sisters. Its all done as classic because, hey, the legends are true! Again, Drac is just a device, and he works well. No, the real story is Buffy’s changes and Giles’ feelings of uselessness and inadequacy. The latter tells Willow that he’s skipping town and now he’s suddenly OK with scanning ancient texts into a computer (what a difference a few years makes, huh?) so they have everything they need, when they need it. She spends the rest of the episode trying not to tell anyone and also trying to convince Giles to stay. Its cute and true to character.

Dracula appears (and disappears! and turns into a bat!) and it changes everything. Buffy’s hilarious “Get out!” and Anya treating him like a celeb she once rubbed shoulders with is funny, but the most telling reaction is Buffy’s and – by extension – Riley’s. She’s drawn to the darkness that Dracula exhibits, much like she was drawn to Angel, The Master, and eventually Spike, all in different ways (don’t think she’d sleep with The Master, is all I’m saying). Riley sees this immediately, is the first one to notice her acting differently after his late-night visit and bite session with her later on in the episode. Riley isn’t getting the drugs from the military anymore and he is going to feel less and less influential in the Scooby Gang’s fight as the season progresses, but even more so, he’s already starting to feel like he’s been placed on the back-burner, and its good character stuff. Blucas doesn’t get much credit for his role on this show, but he plays an honest, decent guy with heart and deserves a bit of praise. Good job, man!

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See, Dracula has control over Buffy due to their shared origins within the darkness. Here, he can be seen as a metaphor, the darkness that could (and sometimes will) control her. She can’t resist it, even though she “ignored” it last season. And when he bites her, you know its partially because of mind control, but also because she wants him to. Its why she goes to his castle after Xander tricks her into separating from the group. Its why she puts the stake down and listens, and eventually sucks the blood of Dracula. The darkness within her awoke last season and she can either let it go or continue to resist it. But once she tastes that blood, she gains the other option: the power to let it in and use it rather than succumb to it. Dracula is of-put by this, but Buffy uses the opportunity to kick the ever living shit out of him. I love, though, that in this fight, Dracula exhibits strength no other vampire has had. When Angel punched Buffy back in “Sanctuary”, she didn’t fly across the room. Dracula IS a different animal.

The episode ends with Xander refusing to be a “butt-monkey” anymore (seriously, they say it twice), Buffy needing Giles’ help to be a better Slayer, Giles feeling useful again, and Riley feeling vindicated. The end scene with Giles and Buffy is made all the better when you realize that she is asking for his help and to be her Watcher again in part to Dracula repeating the line Tara/The First Slayer said at the end of the finale last year, about her thinking she knows what she is and not even beginning to really understand it. Its a powerful callback that sets the tone for the rest of the season and, in many ways, the rest of the series.

And then Dawn shows up.

Episode Rating: 87

Additional Notes:
-“Dark Master….bator…” and “Unholy Prince…bator….” are the best lines of the episode, easily.
-More Joyce is always good Joyce.
-The music all episode is solid and well used
-Dracula owes Spike money
-I love that Dracula can’t be killed. And I love that Buffy watches him try to reform a second time and he just goes vapor
-I also love that Dracula gets used in the eighth season comics, later
-Riley never noticed a “big honkin’ castle” before
-Giles in the “chick pit”!

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