The gang that slays together stays together, but Buffy doesn’t get closure and fails to kill the vamp-nest. The Scoobs need someone better than Buffy – no, not Faith: Jonathan. Urgh, he’s in the credits! No, not Jonathan: Riley. The big lug.
The beauty of this episode is that it’s not a stand-alone ep in the usual sense - the story is advanced as we learn more about Adam, we see Tara finally hanging out with the gang (although no-one pays her any attention), and Riley and Buffy, after some wise words from Jonathan, make up, following the Faith debacle. It’s a pity Jonathan isn’t in every episode, we’d be saved a lot of whining from the Buffster and pouting from the Big Lug.
So, anyway, Jonathan is a sports/music/literary/technical superman, as well as being an evil-fighting comic-book mr lover-lover hero. We know it’s not a dream, because the dreamer would have to know a lot about each of the Scoobs; we know it’s not an alternative reality because everything is the same, except that Buffy is a whole lot weedier, and it takes Adam to point out that it’s only a spell. Interestingly, it is Jonathan who points out that Adam’s existence is non-biological and that his power core is uranium. The anti-Jonathan, the demon who is everyone’s nightmare, could be a version of Adam. Buffy, in the normal world, is the superhero(ine): the best of everything and Adam, with his intelligence and super-strength and evilness, is the worst. Jonathan is so great that he even settles arguments between Xander and Anya, and seems to have both gaying and un-gaying powers (on one hand, Xander wanting to have sex after seeing Jonathan sing, Giles owning the Jonathan swimsuit calendar, and on the other, Willow and Tara being more interested in Jonathanstar than each other).
Mind you, you’d have thought Jonathan would have some better ambitions than being the exalted champion of Sunnydale, starring in The Matrix and coaching the women’s football team. Making himself a few inches taller for one thing. But his aspirations, like his stature, were always small; his goals are practically the same when he teams up with Warren and Tucker’s brother to take over Sunnydale in S6 (co-incidentally, it is Tucker voicing Jonathan’s song during the jive night at the Bronze). Buffy, despite her Faith-esque hair, is still feeling somewhat put out by the second slayer and her antics. It’s this perhaps, along with her natural intelligence and – to an extent – ego, that makes her suspicious of Jonathan. She had someone take over her life in the last ep, she doesn’t want it happening again. She is also motivated, as ever, by the attack on an innocent - Tara being mauled by the demon (now that Willow is powerful and confident, there needs to be a new chick in danger). After all, Tara saw through Faith-as-Buffy in the previous ep, Buffy needs to do the same now. As in The Wish, this alt. reality also has a weakened Buffy in it – then she was a fighter with no other life, here it was Jonathan who fought the Master, the Mayor (presumably Angel protected Jonathan rather than Buffy, but Jonathan’s gaying-up powers weren’t enough to get Angel to lose his soul….I think I’m straying into fanfic territory here) and presumably Spike as well. Thus, Buffy, never having beaten Spike, does not feel superior to him and has no snark to hurl at him. For his part, Spike is obsessed with Jonathan and not Buffy: he doesn’t even remember her name.
Buffy’s experiences have made her into the Slayer she is today, however imperfect that person may be. Her suspicion of Jonathan, expressed to an unconcerned Anya, is that he’s a little too perfect. She knows that perfection does not exist and her understanding of the role of the Chosen One (“I’m the Slayer – that’s supposed to mean something, right?”) is like the moment in dreams when you realise that although the asleep-world seems to make sense, there’s a part of you that is logically thinking: “But hang on, why does?...” This imperfection spills over into her love-life as she realises that she has to work at her relationship with Riley, just as Jonathan has to make an effort – back in the real world – at becoming someone. You don’t get change overnight - life is complex and flawed.
In the end, Jonathan redeems himself as he is prepared to save Buffy, kill the monster and therefore lose his unreal reality. And Buffy is prepared to forgive him, moralise at him and not invite him over to sit with the gang. Still, nobody’s perfect.