Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4E17 "Superstar"

Go To

Xander: So we're saying he did a spell just to make us think he was cool?
Giles: Yes.
Xander: That is so cool!
"Sounds like you could use my help."

Directed by David Grossman

Written by Jane Espenson & Douglas Petrie

Buffy and the Scooby Gang are hunting vampires in a graveyard. When they discover a nest, they decide there are too many vampires to fight, so they go to Jonathan's mansion to ask for help. Later, at Giles' place, Jonathan checks out weapons and even practices hand-to-hand with Buffy. Willow uses her computer skills to find a floor plan of the vampires' lair, but she can see only one way to enter it. Jonathan quickly finds a better way. With a plan in mind, Jonathan passes out weapons, hands out assignments, and wins a chess game with Giles.

At the crypt, Jonathan slays the majority of the vampires, leaving Buffy to feel inadequate, as she allows one vampire to get by her. Jonathan reassuringly tells Buffy that it's okay, "As long as you do your best." As they leave the crypt, Jonathan is ambushed by paparazzi. He senses Spike hiding in the shadows and calls him out to posture and trade insults. Jonathan wins the verbal battle with Spike, while Buffy is at a loss for words (amusingly, Spike refers to Buffy as "Betty" and does for the rest of the episode).


While putting pictures of Jonathan up on a wall, Willow and Tara talk about the fight earlier that night and Buffy's relationship with Riley.

At Riley's dorm room, Riley tells Buffy he is feeling better and is no longer taking the drugs that the Initiative was feeding him. His superiors tell him that the food at the Initiative is no longer doctored, but to be sure, Riley no longer eats it. Buffy jokes about her poor basketball skills as a way to cover the fact that any time he tries to touch her, she moves away. She leaves, cutting the conversation short.

Buffy meets Jonathan at the Espresso Pump to get relationship advice. Jonathan thinks Buffy is still angry with Riley for sleeping with Faith while she had swapped bodies with Buffy. Jonathan advises Buffy to forgive Riley for not realizing that he was really sleeping with Faith, instead of her. While they are talking, one of Jonathan's fans, named Karen, asks him to sign a copy of his book for her.


Colonel George Haviland is the new commander at The Initiative, but he yields to Jonathan, who is consulting with the Initiative on how to find and destroy Adam. Jonathan has noticed that Adam never eats. By examining Professor Walsh's diagrams, he has learned that Adam has a uranium-235 derived power source in his chest. Jonathan explains that Adam cannot be killed by decapitation; he must be annihilated completely.

Outside Jonathan's mansion, the fan from the coffee shop, Karen, is trying to get another glimpse of the amazing Jonathan and uses binoculars to peer in his windows. While spying, she is attacked by a grotesque, long-armed monster in the rain, but manages to escape and run away, terrified.

At the Initiative headquarters, Riley seeks advice from Jonathan about his relationship with Buffy. Riley echoes the same concerns that Buffy expressed to Jonathan earlier at the coffee shop. As he tells Riley not to worry, that "people don't always see what's in front of them," Jonathan nonchalantly dons a blindfold and raises a pistol to shoot apples off the heads of three Initiative commandos.

At The Bronze, Jonathan sings on stage, Rat Pack style, while Buffy and Riley take the dance floor. When Jonathan finishes his song and plays his trumpet ("something from the new album!" exclaims Tara), Xander and Anya, very turned on by Jonathan, leave to have sex. Buffy lets Riley know that she forgives him and wants to move on with their relationship. A still terrified Karen goes to The Bronze to find Jonathan, who comforts her and takes her to his mansion for her safety. Buffy and Riley follow.

At the mansion, Karen describes the monster, "it was ugly... big... ugly!" She draws a picture of a triangular symbol on its forehead. Jonathan recognizes the symbol, but underplays its significance. He says the monster is little more than an animal and not harmful, and promises to take care of the matter. As Jonathan leaves to take Karen home, Buffy looks puzzled, noticing his evasiveness.

Adam sits in front of several television sets at his lair. When he sees Jonathan on the screens, he knows at once that "these are lies" and that Jonathan has cast a spell. Adam claims to be "more awake and alive" than any human or demon has ever been. He sees no need to do anything about Jonathan because "these magics are unstable."

At Jonathan's mansion, twin blond Swedish girls, Inga and Ilsa, call for Jonathan to come back to bed. He drops his robe to reveal a triangular symbol on his shoulder, just like the one on the monster that Karen had described.

Buffy, Willow and Tara are walking on campus. Buffy says that Jonathan seemed scared when he recognized the symbol. Willow protests that Jonathan is never scared. To prove his bravery, Willow reminds Buffy that Buffy had presented Jonathan with a class protector award at their senior prom. Tara then leaves Buffy and Willow to go her dorm room. On the way to her room, Tara is attacked by the same monster that had attacked Karen. She confuses it with a spell and hides in a supply closet. The next morning, Tara identifies the demon by the symbol on its head, and Buffy has even more reasons to question Jonathan.

Buffy stops by Xander's place. He is not there, but Anya lets her in. Xander has a collection of Jonathan comic books and trading cards. Buffy questions how Jonathan could be so perfect. She asks Anya if a person could wish that the whole world would be different. Based on her experience as a vengeance demon, Anya answers yes. Anya then illustrates her point to Buffy by describing how an entire world could exist without shrimp, "...even entire worlds with nothing but shrimp!"

Buffy calls a Scooby meeting at Giles' place, where she expresses doubts about Jonathan. She does not know how he starred in "The Matrix" without ever leaving Sunnydale, or how he graduated from medical school when he's only 18 ("...effective time management," Xander proclaims to defend his idol). She asks the group if Jonathan might not be too perfect, but none of them can see her point. Even Riley thinks her ideas sound like nonsense, but "having learned to trust her," he encourages everyone to follow her lead, in spite of the scoobie's lack of trust in her abilities compared to Jonathan's. They look at Giles' copy of Jonathan's swimsuit calendar to see the monster's mark on his shoulder. Jonathan arrives and explains that he does have a history with the monster and becomes confused every time he faces it. He says that he had the monster's mark tattooed on him so that he "would not underestimate it next time."

Buffy suggests that the two of them go after the monster. Jonathan says it has probably left town, but agrees to try to find it with Buffy. While searching a cemetery, Jonathan and Buffy meet Spike. Buffy threatens Spike, telling him that the butchers in town respect Jonathan, and Spike might get "kinda thirsty" if he doesn't give them some information. Spike tells them several vampires have been kicked out of a cave by something "probably pretty big."Back at Giles' place, Willow finds the mark in a book and learns that Jonathan did an Augmentation spell to make himself a paragon of all that is ideal and great. The downside is that the spell must create an opposing force of evil to balance the new force of good. Giles concludes that if Jonathan's monster were killed, the spell would be broken and the world, including Jonathan, would revert to "whatever he was before." Anya says that Jonathan will not want Buffy to "get very far."

Jonathan and Buffy go to the cave mentioned by Spike. They see a deep pit. Jonathan reaches for Buffy's hand, and for a moment it appears he may intend to push her into the pit. Instead, he grasps her wrist and reminds her that they are hunting a monster. The monster appears and knocks Jonathan out.

At Giles' place, the gang considers what the world would be like if the spell were broken. Willow can't believe that Buffy was actually right, and Xander dislikes the idea. Giles says the world will be "pretty much the same" except that "our Jonathan" won't be in it, making them all sad. Riley is afraid that if Buffy can't kill the monster, they will be stuck "in this wrong world" forever.

Back at the cave, Jonathan recovers and attacks the monster, but with little effect. He tells Buffy that she will have to do the fighting; he explains that the more she hurts the monster, the more Jonathan will succumb to his true nature. Buffy's fighting skills suddenly improve. The monster almost knocks her into the pit, but Jonathan tackles it from behind and both of them fall in. Buffy grabs Jonathan's ankle, saving him, while the monster falls.

A band of white light passes through Sunnydale, erasing all the signs of Jonathan's celebrity. The next day, under a tree on the UC Sunnydale campus, the Scoobies reflect on how things are changed. Xander misses the way Jonathan made him feel about himself. Riley says that, in the alternate reality, he felt "way too tall." Buffy sees Jonathan standing alone at a distance and walks over to join him. Jonathan explains that he learned the spell from a boy he met during counseling after his attempted suicide. "He glossed right over the monster," Jonathan says. Buffy warns him not to "try to make everything work out with some big gesture all at once." She says "things are complicated; they take time and work." She basically gives him back the advice he gave to her earlier about mending her relationship with Riley.

Buffy and Riley are kissing on his bed, both happy that things are better between them. Buffy jokingly moans, "Jonathan."

Tropes in this episode:

  • An Aesop: At the end, normal schlubby Jonathan stops by to apologize, and Buffy offers him some advice. Jonathan retains enough of his memories to remind her that he gave her the same advice regarding her relationship with Riley.
    Buffy: Jonathan, you can't keep trying to make everything work out with some big gesture all at once. Things are complicated. They take time and work.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Spike does the creepy villain version.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Buffy goes off alone with Jonathan to hunt the demon. Then the Scoobies discover that if Buffy kills the demon, Jonathan's alternate universe will collapse. Ultimately subverted, as Jonathan really just wants to help.
  • Always Second Best: Buffy is nervous about the prospect of fighting more than two vampires, and the other Scoobies have trouble respecting her ideas because she's never really had a chance to prove herself. Understandable when you're overshadowed by the amazing Jonathan.
  • Always Someone Better: Subverted; Buffy realizing that Jonathan is everyone's Someone Better (even hers, and she's the Slayer) leads her to the conclusion that there's something wrong with the world.
  • And Here He Comes Now: Only the amazing Jonathan realizes that Spike is lurking behind a bush.
    Jonathan: Vampires only form nests to make hunting easier. They're not big on the cooperation. They mostly like to hang out all creepy and alone in the shadows. Don't you agree... [turns to look] Spike?
  • Anti-Magic: Adam is the only one not affected by Jonathan's spell, because he has absolute knowledge of every part of his body.
  • Audience Surrogate: Rather oddly, Adam takes on the role as he's immune to the spell and confused at this Jonathan person suddenly being so huge.
  • Awesome, but Temporary: Adam doesn't have to kill Jonathan, as the spell is inherently unstable.
  • Backstory Invader: Though Jonathan was a character prior to this episode, the way he inserts himself into the action created a template for later, straighter uses of this trope (such as Torchwood's "Adam").
  • Badass Boast:
    • Delivered by the man himself, Jonathan.
      Jonathan: Spike, you're the worst type of scum. The second you're back to your old tricks, well; let's just say before you even sniff out your first victim you'll be pretty indistinguishable from, oh what should we say, [smirks] instant soup mix?
    • Adam, too, with his "You are all just shadows" speech.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Who else but Jonathan?
  • Badass Longcoat: Jonathan does the billowy coat thing in the credits.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Jonathan looks like he's going to push Buffy into the abyss, but he pulls her back from it instead.
  • Betty and Veronica: When Riley wonders why Buffy is avoiding him intimately, Jonathan wisely points out that Faith was sexually experienced and Buffy is worried he'll be comparing.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Referenced when Buffy walks past a number of posters, all showing Jonathan with a stern look. In this universe, the man controls everything.
  • Big Fancy House: Jonathan has one in this universe.
  • Birds of a Feather: Xander feels the loss most when things return to normal.
  • Black Comedy: Buffy dusts a vampire and the quarrel she fires sets off the mobile phone in its jacket pocket.
  • Black Hole Sue: Used In-Universe when Jonathan uses a wish spell to fold reality around himself and turns himself into an invincible, charismatic hero, admired by everyone. Unfortunately, he forgot to read the fine print.
  • Bottomless Pit: In the monster's lair.
    Buffy: Wow! Fall down there and be dead for a while.
    Jonathan: [eyeing her] Yeah. Wouldn't want that to happen...
  • Brick Joke:
    • The Alternate Universe consisting only of shrimp. The payoff occurs several years later in the spin-off series Angel when Illyria is boasting of all the alternate dimensions she's visited.
      Illyria: I walked worlds of smoke and half-truths, intangible. Worlds of torment and of unnamable beauty. Opaline towers as high as small moons. Glaciers that rippled with insensate lust. And one world with nothing but shrimp. I tired of that one quickly.
    • Another one comes due in Season 7's "Lessons". Anya has a throwaway line describing the vengeance wishes she'd enact on wronged women's ex-boyfriends: "I'd wish he was a dog or ugly or in love with President McKinley or something." Three years later, chastising Anya for going soft, Halfrek says: "You were the single-most hard-core vengeance demon on the roster, and everybody knew it. Do I have to mention Mrs. Czolgosz?" President William McKinley was assassinated by a man named Leon Czolgosz.
    • Xander gripes that Anya said Jonathan's name during sex. When Buffy and Riley are kissing at the end, Buffy lets slip an "Mmmm, Jonathan!"
  • Broken Aesop: The moral seems to be "dreaming about being super-cool perfect is just selfish narcissism." The way it does it is by having Jonathan cast a spell that turns him into a Marty Stu. The moral has two halves; the first is that the spell creates an equally perfect evil opposite that torments people. This qualifies, since the only reason the evil opposite exists is that the writers put it there. The other half can be considered a type 1 version: in the real world, people aren't perfect, so claiming perfection is narcissistic. But if it really were possible to be perfect, claiming perfection is not narcissistic, merely realistic. "Genuine" perfection just isn't a good metaphor for imaginary perfection.
    • Though it does have some relevancy with the idea that, by making Jonathan so great at everything, the spell also made everyone around him a little bit worse (i.e. Jonathan being a great demon fighter means Buffy is now a less capable and confidant Vampire Slayer, unsure how to save the day without Jonathan's help). OTOH, if that's the case, then isn't it also a case for Willow, or Giles, or Buffy herself? Or anyone who is above average in something?
    • It also seems to be an example of the fairly standard Aesop No Challenge Equals No Satisfaction - since Jonathan didn't have to work for his achievements they were ultimately hollow and built on sand.
    • Also a Broken Aesop because Jonathan identifies Adam's one weakness (his nuclear power core), which is how Buffy later defeats him. The spell actually did give them an advantage they wouldn't have had otherwise.
  • Chair Reveal: How the episode introduces us to our real hero, Jonathan.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Jonathan tells the Initiative about Adam's uranium core, which becomes relevant in the final confrontation with the cyborg Big Bad.
  • The Chick: Spike is shocked when "Betty" suddenly slams him against the side of a crypt.
    Spike: Hey! You're not supposed to do that!
  • Circling Monologue: Spike and Jonathan do this to each other.
  • Convenient Slow Dance: Jonathan creates this so Buffy and Riley can make up. What a guy!
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Averted with Adam; even cutting off his head won't kill him.
  • Damsel in Distress: Tara is attacked by the monster, showing how she's taken over the role from Willow. She does manage to hold it off with a magic Smoke Out, then take cover and hide until it leaves.
  • Dark Messiah: A vampire jokingly calls Adam "the evil messiah guy."
  • A Day in the Limelight: The illustrious Jonathan. It's about time, too!
  • Different World, Different Movies: A movie marquee advertising Being Jonathan Levinson changes to "Closed for repairs."
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Retrospectively in the episode's attitude to earlier events. Faith's rape-by-body-swap of Riley is discussed entirely in terms of Riley proving himself to be a bad boyfriend and an imperceptive lout for not noticing the body swap, and the possibility that he might be in any way traumatized by it is never brought up.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Jonathan brainwashing twins into having sex with him is overlooked and at the end he just mentions that they left his mansion.
  • Dramatic Shattering: Jonathan crashes into the vampire crypt through a stained glass window.
  • Egopolis: Jonathan's face is everywhere in Sunnydale, from billboards to baseball cards. It's a beautiful sight.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Jonathan magically turns himself into an amazing paragon who effectively takes over Buffy's role as hero. Unfortunately, the spell also creates a homicidal monster not even he can beat.
    Giles: In order to balance the new force of good, the spell has to create the opposing force of evil - the worst of everything, everyone's nightmare.
  • Even the Guys Want Him:
    • Giles has Jonathan's swimsuit calender. It Was a Gift.
    • When Jonathan plays the trumpet, Anya wants to go have sex. Xander agrees.
    • Inverted sexually with lesbians Willow and Tara creating a Jonathan collage.
      Willow: Ooh, that's a cute one!
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Once again Buffy has curly hair, as she does when under a spell or otherwise Not Herself.
  • Eyes Never Lie: Lampshaded re. Faith's Grand Theft Me.
    Jonathan: I don't think this about you being angry with Faith; I think you're angry with Riley. I mean you have this amazing connection with him, and then at the one moment when it matters the most, he looks into your eyes and he doesn't even see that it's not you looking back at him.
    Buffy: There's no way he could know. I mean you don't just look at someone and say, "Hey that's not your body, get out of that body with your hands up!"
    Jonathan: I know you know that. But you have to believe it.
  • The '50s: Mostly during the Bronze sequence. Everything has an eerie "fifties" feeling. Note the Teddy Boy handing the mike over to Jonathan on stage. The tune Serenade in Blue, however, is a Glenn Miller tune, made popular as early as 1941.
  • Fanservice: In-Universe with Jonathan's swimsuit calendar.
    Buffy: [flipping through pages] No. No. No. Whoa. No.
  • Foreshadowing: Jonathan's desire to use magic as a shortcut to the good life causes him to become one of the villainous Trio in Season 6.
  • Hands-On Approach: Riley tries to show Buffy how to throw a ball through the mini-basketball hoop in his room. However, Buffy is still upset that Riley slept with Faith, so she just walks out the door the moment the sexual tension gets too high.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When the demon gets the drop on Buffy, Jonathan throws himself at it, sending them both into the abyss. Fortunately, Buffy grabs Jonathan's ankle to stop him from falling too.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Xander is doing a Badass Boast about the importance of dexterity during a Quick Draw, then turns down Anya's request to open a milk carton as he'll make a mess of it.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Spike caresses a frightened Buffy's hair in a very suggestive manner.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Jonathan, which is the reason he becomes the paragon of excellence.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Part of Jonathan's motivation; everyone loves him when he's good at everything.
    Buffy: Jonathan, you get why everyone is angry though, right? It's not just the monster. People didn't like being the little actors in your sock puppet theater.
    Jonathan: You weren't! You weren't socks! We were friends.
  • Improvised Weapon: Jonathan breaks off a stalactite and wields it Captain Kirk–style against the demon.
  • Lame Comeback: Buffy's Deadpan Snarker skills have been affected too.
    Spike: Yeah, back off Betty.
    Buffy: It's Buffy, you big bleached... stupid guy.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Jonathan crushed the bones of the Master, blew up a big snake made out of Mayor, and coached the U.S. Women's Soccer Team to a stunning World Cup victory.
  • Language of Magic: "You can't just say 'librum incendere' and—" PHWOOSH!
    Giles: Xander, don't speak Latin in front of the books.
  • Nice Guy: Jonathan is unfailingly polite to all his rabid fans (he even lets a chipped Spike know he's still dangerous), and gives Buffy and Riley advice to help patch up their relationship. Part of this is because that's how a superhero is supposed to act (the spell turns him into a paragon of good) but he also enjoys being friends with the Scoobies and clearly still appreciates Buffy saving his life in "Earshot".
  • One Head Taller: Spoofed during the Initiative's Mission Briefing, when all the soldiers tower over the amazing Jonathan.
    Riley: Did anyone else feel way too tall? I felt way too tall.
  • Out-of-Character Moment: When the comment "scampered away like a bunny" was made, Anya doesn't react. Jane Espenson notes that it is because at this point they hadn't decided to make Anya's fear of rabbits a running gag.
  • Perp Sweating: Jonathan roughs up Spike to no effect. Spike is surprised when Betty the Vampire Slayer does the same, pointing out that Jonathan could get every butcher in Sunnydale to stop selling to Spike, in which case he'd get very hungry.
  • Power at a Price: Jonathan's spell makes him everyone's greatest dream, but to balance the scales creates a monster which is everyone's worst nightmare.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner: Courtesy of Jonathan, naturally.
    Jonathan: Everyone, let's show these fiends that they came to the wrong town.
  • Quick Draw: Xander is shown practicing this with a stake.
    Xander: Quick draw's about more than speed. It's also about pointing a stake the right way. And there can be splinter issues.
  • Reality Warper: Jonathan improves the world greatly by making himself a glorious pinnacle of greatness by way of a spell. Unfortunately, he didn't realize what else his spell did...
  • Reset Button: Zig-Zagged Trope. The death of the demon reverts reality back to normal, and memories of the events fade away over the next few days. (Such a shame.) But Jonathan's advice to Buffy and Riley, and his theory about how to stop Adam, still hold up.
  • Retargeted Lust: implied. Anya asks Xander for sex while watching Jonathan on stage.
  • Saying Sound Effects Out Loud: Willow's description of her fight with the vampire nest.
    Willow: Twang! Poof! [Tara looks confused] That was the sound—the crossbow, vampire dusting...
  • Sexophone: Anya and Xander stare at the suave and cool Jonathan playing the trumpet.
    Anya: Xander, let's go have sex now.
  • She's Back: Living in a world where the Slayer is overshadowed by Jonathan has dramatically affected Buffy's self-confidence and fighting skills. But as she beats on the demon and Jonathan's staggering power wanes, Buffy starts to enjoy herself.
    Buffy: [smiling] I remember this. This good.
  • Shirtless Scene: Riley in his dorm with Buffy. But no smoochies ensue.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The James Bond tux and music.
    • A Central Theme of this episode, most prominently lampshaded by Xander, is that of "deprive the average human being of his life-lie, and you rob him of his happiness", known from the Ibsen play The Wild Duck. Once again, Whedon exploits his knowledge of Ibsen. The "average man" in question is, of course, Xander, but also Jonathan, who created a life lie for everyone to make himself happy.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: After taking on the nest of vampires.
    Xander: I think did great. We knocked em dead. Which they already were.
    Willow: We knocked 'em deader!
  • Smart People Play Chess: One of the first things we see the new suave Jonathan doing is beating Giles at chess while simultaneously teaching slaying strategy to the rest of the Scoobies.
  • Smoke Out: Tara does this with magic against a demon. She'd taken over the Damsel in Distress role, so was more interested in escaping demons than fighting them.
  • Special Edition Title: The spell even spills over into the Title Sequence, with scenes of Jonathan defusing an Incredibly Obvious Bomb and doing a Power Walk in a Badass Longcoat.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • When Jonathan advises the Initiative on how to fight Adam, he makes an astute observation: while they've known Adam to kill, he doesn't seem to eat anything. This led him to realize that his power source is mechanical, not biological - and this information helps Buffy kill him later on.
    • Buffy realizes that Jonathan's heroics don't square with established facts, despite everyone remembering them. There's no reason he should be that much better at vampire hunting than the Slayer, for example, and he starred in The Matrix without leaving town.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Fangirl Karen squees over Jonathan (as expected, of course), and stops by his house later, only to be the first to encounter the monster.
  • Sublime Rhyme: "Scampered like a big bumpy bunny."
  • Superhero: Unlike Buffy in the normal universe, Jonathan is respected and adored by the public, and works in cohesion with the police and the Initiative to fight demons.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Jonathan has a couple of blonde Swedish twins in his Big Fancy House. Those lucky twins.
  • Unnecessary Combat Roll: Jonathan pulls a couple while slaying the vampire nest. Being Jonathan, they work perfectly, allowing him to hit the last vampire before it escapes out the door.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Jonathan crooning a forties pop song. Pro athlete, military genius, star of The Matrix, and now he's Sinatra. Because he's Jonathan. He's just that cool.
  • William Telling: Jonathan is shown preparing to shoot apples from the heads of several Initiative soldiers while blindfolded, because he's that skilled.
  • Wrong Name Outburst:
  • You, Get Me Coffee: Buffy makes a cup of coffee for Jonathan. And what an honor, making coffee for the wonderful, talented, appropriately-heighted Jonathan!