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Shocking new potential slayer revealed

Surprise! Dawn’s not a vampire slayer. Rachel Lovinger says, after all the misleading hints, the special powers go to Amanda — not Buffy’s little sister

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Michelle Trachtenberg, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Shocking new potential slayer revealed

Okay, I admit it. I was surprised by the latest episode of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Not just because the up-and-coming slayers — Rona, Vi, Kennedy, and Molly — are supposedly 15 years old. Nor because the gang gave us an unexpected treat by allowing harmless-yet-useless Andrew to stick around. (He provides the kind of dorky comic relief that Xander used to bring to the mix before he became too smart, sensitive, and responsible. So who cares if there’s no good reason why they don’t ship the murderous imp off to prison?)

No, the big surprise is that the newly discovered slayer-to-be is NOT Dawn, despite all of the clues, rumors, and spin-off speculations. Dawn parades through most of the episode wearing sad looks of disappointment — not only because she is missing out on the slayers-in-training fun, but also because she’s suffering a level of neglect usually reserved for the children of the rich and famous. Plus, there’s endless talk about who’s important and who isn’t (with Dawn glumly finding herself on the latter side of the fence). It always seemed inevitable that Buffy’s little sister will turn out to be the titular ”Potential,” that she’d finally come into the heritage that Buffy and many viewers expect with a sense of dread: Dawn, the next vampire slayer?

But then a funny thing happens. Once Dawn’s on that track, somehow it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. After all, she’s pretty sharp. She’s strong and brave. And she sure knows how to put on lip gloss. So it seemed as if a series of inconsistencies had been added merely to heighten the drama. (Did everyone forget that Dawn has trained with Buffy before? That she already knows what it’s like to have her life depend on constant Scooby Gang protection? That she has performed powerful magic? Or that she was once ”The Key”? Did Dawn, herself, forget that moments before Willow’s finding spell she was yearning to be ”special”?) In any case, I was ready to accept that it is, in fact, time for Dawn to step up and pursue her supernatural destiny.

Which is why the revelation of the actual slayer was such a shock. Amanda (”Freaks & Geeks”’s Sarah Hagan), the student who visits Buffy the Guidance Counselor to talk about a confusing crush, seems to have shown up merely to provide Buffy the opportunity to babble incoherently about her own historically violent and clearly unresolved relationship with Spike. The girl’s second appearance (after suspiciously trapping and escaping from a vampire, all on her own) looks as if it were calculated to let Dawn prove to herself that she IS capable of taking on the challenge of being a slayer.

Too bad it turns out to be someone else’s challenge. Stepping aside allows Dawn to show that she’s capable of being subtle, human, and mature, qualities that go beyond merely accepting the role of a hero because she was ”chosen.” Unfortunately, the only person who notices Dawn’s epiphany is Xander. His tribute to extraordinary ordinary people is melodramatic, but underwhelming. Even so, there’s still a positive outcome: If Dawn’s allowed to develop her potential as one of the few regular human beings of the ensemble, she’ll certainly become a more interesting character — and she could keep bringing interesting surprises to the show.

What do you think? Did Dawn’s struggle with mediocrity win you over?