Buffy is in bed with Riley, unable to sleep. She slips out and goes hunting vampires. She finds and slays one, returning to bed without Riley knowing. The gang are at the beach enjoying summer vacation. Buffy and Riley are playing football (until she slays the ball) and Xander, Willow, Tara, and Anya are sitting and watching. Buffy and Riley come up asking for their burgers, but Xander hasn't been able to light the fire. Willow lights it magically, saying it's all a matter of balancing the elements. Then storm clouds appear and there is a sudden downpour, Willow screams she didn't do it. A truck pulls up to a castle and two men unload a crate which apparently has dirt in it. A vampire breaks out of the crate and kills them.
Willow is helping Giles set up his computer. He intends to scan all his books in. He tells Willow he's going to return to England. He wants the books online so they can easily reference them. He feels he no longer serves a purpose, that Buffy no longer needs him. Buffy is having dinner with her mother, but has to leave right away to go on patrol. She does say they should make a regular dinner date when she goes back to school.
Buffy finds and slays a vampire in the cemetery. A vampire materializes and watches. He tells Buffy he is Dracula and he has come to see her, the world famous killer. She says she's a slayer, he says there is a darkness at the root of her power. She tries to stake him but he dematerializes. Xander and Willow show up and at first don't believe he's Dracula but are soon convinced. He turns into a bat and flies away. At Giles' they are telling Giles, Riley, Anya, and Tara what happened. Willow and Buffy clearly found Dracula sexy which upsets Tara and Riley a little. Xander discovers Anya once met Dracula and she also finds him sexy and he's a little jealous. They decide to take things slow until they find out more. Buffy goes home to sleep, Willow and Tara are told to research Vlad the Impaler, and they agree to meet the next morning.
Walking home with Xander, Anya keeps talking about Dracula, really annoying him. She doesn't go home with him because it's whites night and the smell of bleach makes her nauseous. Dracula appears to Xander (he's been watching in the form of a wolf) and hypnotizes him, making him his emissary and promising him immortality. Meanwhile, Riley enters Spike's crypt to see if he has some information about Dracula. Spike knows him, says his magic is just gypsy trickery. He says they won't find Dracula in a crypt, but in a mansion with his special dirt and bug eating servants. They argue and Riley tells Spike he'd have no trouble killing him. Spike challenges him but backs off. As Riley leaves he tells him he'll never find Dracula. After he's gone, he adds 'not before he gets to her'.
That night, Dracula materializes in Buffy's bedroom. He tells her they are kindred. He says he's looking for a creature whose darkness rivals his own. His hypnotic powers seem to work on her and she lets him bite her and drink her blood. The next morning, she sees the bite mark when she dresses and puts on a scarf to hide it. When the gang gathers, she keeps it a secret and is subdued. Meanwhile, Xander acts like Renfield out of the Dracula movies, even surreptitiously eating a bug. Willow explains that Dracula likes to make a connection with his victims and act as if he is seducing them. Buffy leaves to find Dracula, but Riley pursues her and makes her take off her scarf. They realize she is under Dracula's spell. She swears she will always be Riley's girl. They decide Buffy will go home with Xander, Riley and Giles will search for Dracula, and Willow and Tara will go to Buffy's and cast a protection spell to prevent him from reentering the house. There, Joyce admits she invited Dracula in for coffee.
At his place, Xander locks Anya in the closet and takes a surprisingly docile Buffy to Dracula. There she is left alone with the count. She tries to stake him but he commands her to put the stake down and she obeys. Riley and Giles arrive at the castle and split up to search it. Dracula tells Buffy that he can teach her about her history, her power, what she is capable of. Riley encounters Xander who challenges him. Riley knocks him out and keeps going. Giles falls into a basement and is surrounded by the three sisters, beautiful vampires. Dracula offers Buffy the chance to drink his blood. She does and she has a vision of the first slayer and of herself hunting. Dracula's spell is broken, she says she now knows her true nature and begins to fight him.
Riley finds Giles, an almost willing victim, and tosses him a cross, rescuing him. Buffy finally stakes Dracula. Riley and Giles find her and Xander, angry at always being the one who has stuff happen to him, is free. They leave. Dracula rematerializes and Buffy stakes him again, saying she's seen his movies and knows he always tries to come back. He tries it again, but she's still there.
The next day she visits Giles. He's going to tell her he's leaving, but first she tells him about her hunting and that Dracula was right about the darkness. She wants to learn more, about her power and the other slayers. She's scared and she wants to learn to control this, to become stronger. She wants Giles to be her watcher again. Later, she is at home and tells Joyce she's going to the movies with Riley. She finds a young girl in the house and Joyce suggest she take her sister with her to the movies. Both girls shout 'mom'.
I'm going to come flat out and admit I'm not even really sure Dracula was there in the Buffyverse. First, he conforms to the traditional Dracula legend but not to the rules of vampirism that we've learnt from Buffy. This is waved off as gypsy magic by Spike. Second, both Anya and Spike claim to know him from the past - which seems an awfully big coincidence. Third, the slaying of Dracula turns into a joke and I'm not even sure it really happens with any finality. It's mostly an in joke about the Scream movies one of which Gellar appeared in. Fourth, Dracula is living in a castle which Riley, at least, doesn't remember existing before. Not unlike the way Jonathan remade the Buffyverse in Superstar. Fifth, and most important, Dracula echoes the words Buffy hears Tara speak in the final scene of the final episode of last season. And Tara is the voice of the first slayer. And when Buffy drinks Dracula's blood, she has a vision which includes the first slayer. Then, pretty much immediately after this, Buffy goes home to find her sister - another character who may not really exist. So is some kind of huge illusion happening in Buffyland or is everything 'real' except for the sister? I don't know and I'm both confused and a bit let down by this episode.
The whole Dracula story just doesn't work for me. With Dracula you can either play it completely straight (Coppola tries this in his film and while it's a bad movie the idea is good) or go completely over the top. The scene in Buffy's bedroom and later when she and Dracula are alone in his castle are pretty straight. The scenes with Xander are pretty over the top - although they adhere pretty strictly to the Dracula story. I have to wonder why no one noticed Xander eating bugs a la Renfield. I also have to agree with Xander that he does always get relegated to the comic relief roles in episodes like this and he's got a right to complain. That was a nice moment in which the character speaking about his life was also the actor speaking about his role. Let Riley be the butt monkey for once.
I liked the two opening scenes, the night scene before the credits and the daytime scene after the credits. At night, we see the slayer tossing and turning in her sleep, eager for the hunt. She slips out into the night, hunts and kills, and then returns to her lover's bed without his ever knowing of her nocturnal ramblings. Not only are we shown the restless, hunter side of Buffy (which is picked up on in her dialogue with Giles near the end of the episode), but we are also forced to see the adult nature of her relationship with Riley - they are actually sleeping together, really sleeping. The day scene on the beach was probably the brightest, sunniest scene we've ever seen on this show and in sharp contrast to the previous scene. The gang was acting normally for a change, without a vampire or demon in sight. Buffy and Riley are playing football and acting like normal young people. The dark, silent hunter of the night before isn't visible in the bright light of day.
The night time scene is clearly a link to Restless, last season's finale. There Buffy and the others were trapped in violent dreams. Here she is trapped in a violent, nighttime wakefulness. The beach scene, with its happy normality and brightness is clearly a link to the future Buffy wants. And the sudden storm, darkening the day, is the present she has to battle through. Maybe the storm was caused by Willow's spell (she did say the problem was balancing elements and maybe this implies the imbalance in Buffy between the primal slayer and the sophisticated citizen of the year 2000).
Maybe it was caused by Dracula, who clearly represents Buffy's unresolved desire, her natural yearning to give in to her power and fall into darkness, much in the way Faith did. She was tempted by Faith (most notably in Bad Girls) and again by Dracula. Each time she gives in a little. When Dracula points out she has been tasted, he refers both to the Master killing Buffy and Angel curing himself by drinking her blood. The first time she willingly faces the Master but doesn't want him to bite her. The second time she practically forces Angel to drink. These are both analogous to a loss of virginity (penetration and exchange of bodily fluids). Dracula carries on this metaphor by essentially seducing her, coming to her in bedroom and cloaking himself in the language of a lover. While she was repulsed by the Master she was in love with Angel and she clearly is ambivalent about Dracula. The Master is the darkness, Angel the light, Dracula the storm which separates and joins them.
It's also possible the storm was caused by another force, perhaps the same force which brings Dracula to Sunnydale and which suddenly interpolates a younger sister into Buffy's home. This final possibility is the most intriguing to me, because it assumes a structure to this season which has marked the best seasons of Buffy and which suggests a truly awesome enemy which will not be defeated by simple physical means. As the early hunting scenes demonstrate, simply slaying has become too simple for Buffy. She must now conquer not the demons of Sunnydale but the demons within her.
When Giles decides to leave, he is accepting Buffy as an adult. When he first met Buffy she was without any significant training. She had strength, but no knowledge or discipline. She was in a dark place and his job was to lead her into the light. But things got derailed in Helpless (Eighteen), when he betrayed both the Council and Buffy. This left Buffy in the twilight, forced to shift for herself. In this episode, Dracula almost pulled her back into the darkness. Much as she was almost pulled there in Bad Girls. She realizes that her journey to the light needs a guide, that she still needs someone she can trust to lead her. When Giles first appeared in Sunnydale, Buffy wanted nothing to do with him and he had to force her to accept him. When Joyce found out about him, she spurned him and blamed him for all that was wrong with Buffy, most notably in Anne. But now both accept him. Joyce has turned to Giles in the past and recognized his paternal care for Buffy. Buffy, even in Helpless (Eighteen), saw Giles as a father figure. She now makes it clear to him that she needs him and responds positively. This is a big breakthrough. Giles spent most of last season languishing and feeling old and worthless. Buffy didn't tell him about her problems (like Riley and the Initiative) and she didn't turn to him first when she had problems. But now, facing the biggest problem of her life, she does turn to him. This reinvigorates Giles whose mission in life is renewed. And it helps rebuild the support structure of friends and family which have made Buffy so strong. Her turning to Giles is also a final renunciation of what Dracula promised her: an understanding of her history, her power, what she is capable of. He wanted to be her dark watcher, but she has chosen the light and Giles.
There is a nice parallel between Giles believing Buffy doesn't need him and deciding to leave and Joyce noting how quite the house is without Buffy there. Both have dedicated a large part of their lives to Buffy and feel the emptiness of her growth and absence. Giles recognizes that this is essentially a good thing, Buffy does have to grow up, and says as much to Willow. But that doesn't make it any the less sad. Buffy senses this immediately and promises her mother that they will meet regularly for dinner during the school year, promising to maintain contact and not abandon her the way she did last year (as noted by Faith in This Year's Girl and Who Are You). But it takes the traumatic entrance and exit of Dracula to convince her to make a similar gesture to Giles. The storm of Dracula's appearance may cause a lot of damage, but it also clears the air.
Riley's confrontation with Spike was interesting and I guess formed a sort of parallel to Buffy's confrontation with Dracula. Riley seemed a little too eager in threatening to kill Spike. I have to wonder how Buffy would deal with his murdering Spike, who is essentially helpless now. She seems to have guilt at her hunting down of vampires (versus her more traditional slaying). It seems the violence within that she feels the need to control is also running free in Riley. With the Initiative gone he has no external control, no Gileslike watcher, to help govern his actions and direct him. I can see Riley going down the wrong path quite easily.
When the gang gather at Giles' in the morning, Riley notices that Buffy is acting strangely and challenges her. She confesses what happened and they try to modify their plan based on this. But Xander is acting equally weird and although everyone seems to notice, no one challenges him. While Xander's gripe is a comic one, there is something to be said for it. Had a little more attention been paid to him, Dracula could have been more easily defeated. Throughout this episode, Willow keeps trying to emphasize Giles' contribution, but Xander also contributes and some attention should be paid to him. He seems to be sinking back into the position he was in prior to The Zeppo.
"You think you know what you are, what's to come. You haven't even begun." These are the words Dracula speaks as he makes Buffy drink his blood. They are also the words Buffy hears Tara say (and she spoke for the first slayer) at the end of Restless. The repetition of those words make me suspect a greater power driving both the events of that previous episode and this episode and that Dracula is not a free agent but a pawn in some other beings game. This blood drinking scene is the seminal scene of the episode. Buffy says Dracula opened her eyes to her true nature, that of the slayer. She had a similar realization in Anne when captured by a powerful demon. Dracula has gone too far. He has pushed Buffy into a corner, denied her all access to lies and deception. And there she finds the truth. That she is the slayer and her role is destroying evil. So she turns on him. And she returns to her watcher and to her friends.
Some quick final thoughts. The comparisons between Angel and Dracula (your dark, brooding, sexy vampire) were interesting but not pursued sufficiently. They explained Riley's jealousy - he's never getting over Angel - but nothing much came of them. Spike refers to Dracula's magic as gypsy trickery and Angel regained his soul through the gypsy curse. Is there supposed to be a connection here and to Buffy? Is that gypsy curse still working?
Lines of the week:
"I think we've just put our finger on why we're the sidekicks." - Willow on the excuses the gang use for not taking action.
"Why else would I come here? For the sun?" - Dracula making a good point.
"Sometimes you just feel like giving up on men altogether." - Joyce saying the wrong thing to Willow and Tara.
"No more chick pit for you." - Riley on saving Giles.
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