Anya pretends to seduce Spike -- yawn! ''Buffy'' delivers a disappointing rehash of past shows, with few hints of the future, says Rachel Lovinger
James Marsters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Michael Yarish

Anya pretends to seduce Spike — yawn!

After a string of powerful and entertaining episodes, this week’s ”Buffy” seems especially weak. Ostensibly, ”Sleeper” gives a forward push to the season’s main story arc, but it’s filled with details we already know — obvious plot developments and lame jokes. The entire episode could have been covered by one long ”Previously on ‘Buffy”’… followed by a slightly extended ”Scenes from next week” sequence.

From the ”Previously on ‘Buffy”’ file, it’s no big thrill to watch Willow, Dawn, and Buffy repeatedly debating whether the Joyce (aka Buffy and Dawn’s mom) who visited Dawn last week was their dead mother or a demon apparition — especially because the rest of us have been discussing it for the past week. In other non-developments, is anyone surprised to learn that Spike’s odd behavior is a result of manipulation by this season’s nemesis? We already know that Spike had mind-bending contact with the evil force, and we know that it likes to pose as familiar people in order to mess with our heroes. So what’s the news here? (Well, there’s one new-ish detail: The characters themselves are now referring to the evil force as ”The Big Bad.” I hate to say it, but this lazy self-referential nod is one of the surest signs that the show is preparing to wind down.)

The painful predictability of Anya pretending to seduce Spike when she’s caught snooping through his stuff is only matched by his shock-free response: a polite decline. This rehash of the duo’s unfortunate tryst from last season also calls to mind Spike’s first impotent attack on Willow, after he was neutered by the chip in his head. But this week’s Spike-Anya scene suffers by comparison, since it doesn’t live up to the impact of the previous Anya scene or the hilarity of the Willow encounter.

Of course, the new episode hasn’t left soulful Spike unscathed, and it’ll be interesting to see how he — and the Scoobies — deal with the fallout. Which is why the moment that Buffy decides NOT to kill him seems to start the ”Scenes from next week” portion of the show. Does that event really need to be followed by the long conversation about why helping him will also help the gang learn more about the evil they’re up against?

The filler between the few important events starts to feel like a lame-joke competition. There are two top contenders. In this corner, Spike’s recent conquest/victim, now one of the beautiful undead, asks him, ”Is that all I am to you? A one bite stand?” In the other corner, rock star guest performer Aimee Mann is forced to utter the line, ”Man, I hate playing vampire towns,” after the dusting of that same undead woman (briefly) interrupts her band’s act.

What’s going on here? ”Buffy” normally shocks and delights, but it feels as if someone important was asleep at the wheel when this episode was written. Is that why it’s called ”Sleeper”? In fact, the only moment with a slight element of surprise is when Giles shows up, only to have his fate left dangerously uncertain with an axe swinging at his head. If this were ”24” I’d say he’s probably dead. If it were ”Alias” I’d say he’ll definitely survive. But it’s ”Buffy,” so I’m happy to say that — even if only for this one moment in an otherwise predictable episode — anything can happen.

Do you agree that this week’s show is a letdown?

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