Shiny Shelf

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Sleeper

By Mark Clapham on 30 November 2002

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

Thankfully avoiding any tricky-to-justify narrative breaks where the characters live their lives for a week or so while failing to address the burning questions, ‘Sleeper’ picks up straight from the end of ‘Conversations with Dead People’. Remember how in Season Six, all the characters kept secrets from each other to prolong the plotlines and emphasise the terrible disfunction of it all? Well, here the opposite is true, with Willow and Buffy both telling everyone what has happened to them straight off the bat. Even Dawnie admits to seeing her late mom, although she doesn’t quite fess up about Joyce’s warning. It’s a nice change of pace to have all the characters being so open, as is the new caring, nurturing, more tolerant Buffy. And here she has a lot to need to be tolerant about, what with Spike butchering his way around Sunnydale on the sly.

As regular Shelfers will have gathered from our review of ‘Beneath You’, James Marsters is doing great things with the soul-stricken, deranged and tormented Spike. Here we get two specific variations; the new model Spike who is quiet, thoughtful and polite, and a predatory, efficient killer Spike. This latter variation is not a return to the murderous Spike of old – there’s no pleasure in the actions now, he’s an automaton, killing in the service of his invisible master. That each of these variables is absolutely distinct is a testament to Marsters’ abilities as an actor. A consistently entertaining and engaging performer, he is now developing new levels of ability. The mournful, tormented Spike in particular is an impressive creation, with an entirely new set of body language and mannerisms, everything about him apologetic for his existence. By the end of the episode he’s in tears once more, broken not just by the knowledge of his past crimes but by the controlling voice that has forced him to kill again.

Which brings us to the Big Bad, which in this episode is mainly played by Marsters himself (Sorry, did I say two Spikes? Make that three if you count this delusionary one, who only Spike can see.), seems to be completely intangible, perhaps only existing within the perceptions of whomever it torments, acting entirely through its agents. Spreading mistrust throughout the Scooby gang seems to be its current agenda, and it’s willing to let either Buffy kill Spike or Spike kill Buffy, knowing that either way the survivor will be emotionally ruined. At the moment we’re only getting to see parts of the plan in action – let’s hope that when the whole is unveiled it satisfies high expectations. The threat has been built up as big, big big – its ambitions can’t turn out to be moderate at this stage in the game.

‘Sleeper’ takes the background story to the next level, as our heroine and her pals decide to use the puppet-like Spike to get closer to whoever is pulling the strings. And if that isn’t bad enough, there’s a final scene relating to another plot thread altogether which implies very, very bad things. Now, having tormented us with a cliffhanger like that, surely the next episode will give us some small shred of closure to tide us through the Christmas period?

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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