FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Superstar
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Jonathan was a classmate, saved by Buffy when he wanted to commit suicide in the clocktower of Sunnydale High. Riley slept with Faith whilst she was in Buffy's body and Adam's still running around Sunnydale.
When Buffy and the gang feel like a simple vampire nest will be too much of a problem, they turn to the only person who knows how to help... Jonathan. Yes, that Jonathan. Something's happened to Sunnydale and Jonathan is now a superstar, plastered over everyone's walls, the subject of their collages and their master tactician for just about everything. However, the gang soon start to realise that this version of reality isn't quite right and that Jonathan may have been responsible for augmenting a new world that places him at the heart of it.
The episode is such a hilarious takedown of the male power fantasies lived out in stories such as Batman, Star Wars, or The Matrix (starring Jonathan, of course) where the seemingly ordinary guy gets to do the coolest things by night and become a, you guessed it, superstar. Jonathan can sing, dance, play the trumpet, fight, solve crimes, inspire couples to go off and have sex, all kinds of things frankly. Danny Strong, so solid throughout his appearances so far in the series, clearly has a ball playing this combination of all awesome characters ever, striding through the episode with tongue firmly-in-cheek.
Superstar offers a kind of utopian vision that earlier Bizarro episode The Wish couldn't. In that episode, we find out what happened if Buffy never came to Sunnydale; here, it's what Sunnydale would be like if someone better came along. Like inserting himself into the credits, he insinuates himself into everyone's life, particularly Buffy's, attempting to solve problems like her relationship with Riley. The episode thrives on this new world, mining comedy from the audience's familiarity with Jonathan and his effect on everyone around it.
It helps that the show wholeheartedly commits to it too. Jane Espenson's screenplay plays up just about everything she can get her hands of, from situating Jonathan in a Wayne Mansion kind of deal to bringing out the Scoobies' insecurities through their relationship to him. Christophe Beck gets to go crazy with the Bond referencing, the score full of big, bold brass, guitar riffs and power motifs whenever Jonathan gets to do something awesome. It easily could've gone too far the other way (Jonathan's face is literally everywhere in the episode), but Espenson brings a pathos to it that keeps Superstar earthbound, especially when everything returns to normal and Jonathan has to face up to what he's done.
Jonathan is the stereotypical nerd of the Buffyverse and the episode finds him living out his ultimate fantasies. And yet, there is always a cost in a kind of Dorian Gray type deal; the ugliness of Jonathan's work manifests itself in the form of a vicious demon that the gang has to defeat. He also struggles with other people getting hurt at his expense, something which he still balks at even when conspiring as part of The Trio, showing his conscience is still there. He even experiences the hollowness of the experience; this superstardom hasn't been earned but wrought by magic. And that never ends well.
The final fight is a work of comedy referencing genius too; anyone who's seen Danny Kaye in The Court Jester will recognise Strong's comedic performance as ever strike by the monster gives him strength and prowess and against it sends him scurrying to hide again. It's a tonne of fun, this episode, and it works to demonstrate the cost of magic, an increasingly important theme. It also gives us a look at Jonathan's increasing ability with magic, something which will return when he hooks up with Warren and Andrew to become Buffy's self-declared nemeses.
Quote of the Week:
Giles: [After Xander accidentally sets a book on fire with a spell]: Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.
Let's Get Trivial: The last three cut scenes in the opening credits with Jonathan striding forth, coat billowing behind him, is a perfect Angel mock.
Demonology 101: This is the first time we see an instance of thaumogenesis in the grisly, beardy demon. Thaumogenesis is the creation of a new being, a resultant process of an augmentation spell. There is always a price to pay to balance the effects of the spell. This will happen again in both Buffy and Angel.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Brad Kane provides Jonathan's singing voice. He previously played Tucker Wells in The Prom and is also known as the singing voice for Aladdin. A Whole New World indeed.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, Who Are You, here.