Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 4, Episode “Superstar”
Broadcast April 4, 2000
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Riley: Marc Blucas
Spike: James Marsters
Jonathan: Danny Strong
Buffy and the Scooby Gang make their way to a nest of vampires that’s too large for them to handle alone. Hastily they return to the large mansion of Action Man Jonathan Levinson, who swings around behind his desk like Howard Hughes. “I take it you need my help.”
Jonathan, clad in black leather, amazes everyone by leading the gang to victory at the vampire nest, and then emerges to eager photographers. Next he taunts unfanged vampire Spike, while Buffy hangs back like a dim girlfriend.
Willow gives girlfriend Tara the rundown on the evening while the two work on a collage of cute Jonathan photos, while Buffy and boyfriend Riley still suffer from closeness issues after Faith’s recent betrayal sleeping with Riley while inhabiting Buffy’s body.
Buffy consults with Jonathan, who alternates signing copies of his latest book (“Oh, Jonathan!-- An Autobiography”) with advising her to forgive Riley. Next, Jonathan dons his camo to consult with the Initiative about the hostile cyborg Adam, offering hitherto unreached insights into the creature’s makeup.
At the Initiative, Jonathan consults Riley on his relationship with Buffy while preparing to shoot apples off the heads of three Initiative agents. At the Bronze, Buffy and Riley finally reconcile while the whole gang sways as Jonathan joins the orchestra for his rendition of “Serenade in Blue,” after which he drives Anya into a sex-craze with his stunning trombone playing, “off the new album.”
The concert breaks up when Karen, a girl whose book Jonathan signed, runs in. A hideous creature with a strange triangle mark on its forehead has attacked her. Jonathan listens to her story and tells the gang its no big deal. He’ll handle it on his own.
Nearby, in the headquarters of evil messiah/cyborg Adam, a vampire derides Jonathan the Great “These are lies,” Adam observes, “None of this is real. It’s intriguing, but it's wrong.” Somehow the world has been changed, but “these majiks are unstable, corrosive, and will inevitable lead to chaos.” But heck, Adam likes chaos, and he’s interested to see how it all works out.
While Jonathan broods by his mansion fireplace, baring the mark o the beast for us while he prepares to join his twin model friends in bed, Buffy tells Willow and Tara that she thinks Jonathan is holding something back.
Later, the same beast attacks Tara.
Tara holds off the beast with magic and escapes into a closet. Next morning, Tara recuperates in Willow’s room, and Buffy quickly establishes that it was the same creature Jonathan dismissed as harmless.
Buffy visits Xander’s basement apartment, where she surveys Xander’s Jonathan comic books and Jonathan card collection and asks Anya about how it could be that Jonathan is the best at everything. “I mean, he fights better than I do, and I’m the Slayer.” She quizzes Anya about alternate realities.
Buffy tells the gang that she’s convinced Jonathan has them all under his spell. They don’t believe her, until Riley comes to her defense. (“She sees things we don’t.”) Buffy shows the gang a picture from the Jonathan swimsuit calendar-- on his shoulder is the mark of the beast.
Jonathan walks in on this meeting and gives them all an “explanation:” he has a history with the creature, but when he faces it, his mind becomes confused. He has his mark tattooed on him to prevent underestimating it again. “Well, that does explain everything,” Riley says.
Buffy urges Riley to go hunting the monster with her, and he nervously agrees.
They approach Spike for information and Buffy’s real personality begins to surface, as she successfully plies information from Spike after Jonathan backs off.
The Scooby Gang study the possible spells Jonathan might have cast, until Willow finds the triangle rune Jonathan and the beast bare. The spell turns the caster into a paragon to be worshipped by all, but it also creates a monster that embodies the worst of all nightmares. If the creature dies, Jonathan and the world will revert.
Just then, Buffy and Jonathan find the monster in a cave next to a bottomless pit.
Xander doesn’t want the world to change back-- he’s happy with his place as friend of Jonathan.
Meanwhile, in the fight wit the monster, Buffy’s abilities are manifesting themselves more completely and Jonathan is losing his cool. By the time Buffy is back to her former fighting glory, Jonathan has one cool act left-- to toss the monster down the pit.
The world reverts to its former status. The world is slowly forgetting the effects, but Jonathan and Buffy have time for apologies. Jonathan gives Buffy some last advice on her relationship with Riley. But he’s already forgotten the cool things he said.
What a trip this episode was, from the revamped opening credits to reflect the coolness that is Jonathan, to the jazzy guitar and orchestra a la Monty Norman’s James Bond theme that plays whenever Jonathan swings into action. There's a risk any show takes when they dare to play the "alternate world" card, but I tend to enjoy them more often than not. Buffy has done it before, of course, notably in the episode with the alternate Buffy who never came to the Hellmouth. This episode is more like something out of Star Trek, in which more sensitive characters become aware of the oddness of their own reality and have to convince the rest of what surely must be a strange instinct. Actually, it's always amused me that genre is the one place where existentialists can turn out to be empirically right.
The details are beautifully rendered. This is Jonathan's imagined world, so naturally we see Jonathan posters everywhere, as he peers down like Big Brother. Jonathan himself is a walking action figure, appearing in the same episode in black leather "Angel" outfit, a thousand-dollar suit, army camo, and a Bogart-style dinner jacket before a full orchestra. Jonathan makes Buckaroo Banzai look underemployed: he’s a medical doctor, a best-selling author, a socialite millionaire playboy, a military consultant genius, a vampire hunter, a pro basketball player, a victorious World Cup Women’s Soccer coach, and the star of The Matrix. He invented the internet.
But because this world is really built around Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Buffy has to be dampened by the effects of Jonathan's spell, and this is as prime a weakness as the monster the spell unleashes. (One wonders if she ever cast a spell, so faithfully does the universe revolve around her. Oh, wait, Joss Whedon cast that spell.)
From the very beginning, with the raid on the vampire nest, Buffy has her doubts-- she feels sure she should be able to think and fight better. This never was a neutral world; it's a Buffy world with a Jonathan filter.
I feel compelled to note, though, that I remained a bit disturbed by the concept overall: it's no surprise that Jonathan or any other loser would cast such a spell, but it troubles me that so much humor comes from what seems to be the self-evident ridiculousness of the worship of the character Jonathan Levinson. Surely no one would worship a short, Jewish nerd with a high voice when we have tall, sexy, strapping Aryans like Buffy and Riley to be our heroes. And they are, week in and week out. “Did anyone else feel way too tall?" Riley asks, understanding that he was lost in a nightmare. "I felt way too tall." Because, of course, taller is better. Hmm.
But that's nit-picking. This was a brilliant episode.
Riley: “These spells. These really work? You can really turn or your enemies inside out, or ‘learn to excrete gold coins?’”
Anya: “That one’s not so much fun.”