As the years go by, I become more of a fan of "Him." I first watched the episode on a Saturday afternoon in the early aughts. FOX used to air repeats of Buffy and ANGEL at 3pm or 4pm. Sometimes, FOX aired Buffy in the wee hours, like 4AM, which was when I first watched "Lover's Walk." I looked forward to those random Saturday airings. FOX seemed to run season seven on a constant loop. I think the show just ended in May during the time period I watched "Him" for the first time. I seem to remember Spike dangling from the ceiling as Bringers drained blood from his body, or I remember the scene when NotDru teased and taunted Spike. I digress. I didn't think much of "Him" initially. 17 year old Chris didn't mind sexy Dawn in The Bronze nor sexy Buffy in the classroom. Besides the Summer girls, "Him" did nothing for me.
My opinion started to change once I watched the seventh season two times. Season seven is bad. After "Conversations with Dead People," there are rarely any enjoyable episodes of the show. By the end of the season, I'm about as flat in spirit as Joss Whedon is on the audio commentary for "Chosen." The season wore me down. Rare exceptional episodes of the season like "Selfless" and "Conversations with Dead People" are dim memories. I missed the earlier seasons when every single episode was a blast. Every aspect of the series was rocking and rolling during those earlier seasons. The final two seasons are a departure from the show I loved. "Him" is like a puddle of fresh water in the desert; hell, it could even be labeled a mirage. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not comparing "Him" to "Selfless" or "Conversations with Dead People." The episode's harmless and fun, like the earlier stand-alones in seasons one through three, and even season four.
The episodes works in part because the writers made a conscious decision to return to the roots of those early seasons. Dawn's unable to grasp why Buffy would protect Spike after the awful things he did to her, soul or no soul. Xander left Anya on the altar with a soul, which makes Dawn question why the existence of a soul should change Buffy's opinion about Spike. The whole love business confounds Dawn. People act strangely when they're in love and they act mad when their love for another isn't reciprocated. Nothing about it makes sense to her. Buffy smiles, listens to her sister, and essentially tells her she'll understand when she experiences it for the first time. Lo and behold, Sunnydale High's high school quarterback, RJ, catches Dawn's eye and she falls off her seat.
Joss loved to deal with the problems of teenagers through a supernatural metaphor. The characters grew up and graduated. The stories and metaphors became heavier. Joss and the writers couldn't tell a story about young Willow finding love on a computer anymore. Dawn and new Sunnydale allowed for the opportunity to return to this kind of storytelling. Dawn becomes obsessed with RJ. She follows him around, tries to impress him, and even hurts his competition on the football team. Dawn is a crazy person because of her love for RJ. Xander and Buffy try to talk her down from the RJ tree, but she's perched up with no intention on climbing down. By the fourth act, Buffy, Willow, and Anya, are in love with RJ. The jacket has the power. The Hellmouth even influences outer-wear, as Xander puts it. Each woman attempts to prove they love RJ the most. Buffy intends to kill Principal Wood; Willow plans to use magic to turn RJ into a woman; Anya robs a bank; Dawn plans to kill herself so that RJ will remember the one girl who loved him enough to give sacrifice her life for him.
The final act is over-the-top but so enjoyable. The highlight is when Spike stops Buffy from using the rocket-launcher because our perspective of the fight is through Wood's office, which creates a silent film kind of atmosphere, as Spike tackles Buffy out of frame, and then they appear in frame as Buffy chases Spike back and forth. Principal Wood looks out the window after the vampire and the slayer disappeared. Dawn's in the most danger because she's most affected by RJ. Buffy saves her from being run over by a train, and Spike and Xander successfully steal RJ's magical jacket and burn it. The spell lifts. The girls return to normal.
Dawn feels stupid by the end. Buffy says she's off the hook because she can't help what a spell did to her. Dawn will feel really stupid when she's acting the way she did when it's not a spell, when it's just a genuine crush. Hopefully, Dawn wouldn't try to kill herself for a boy's love without a spell. "Him" is simple and effective because it takes the viewer back to a time in high school when he or she was head-over-heels for someone who probably didn't know them. We all acted stupidly when crushing on someone in high school. Buffy reminds her sister that acting stupid when in love isn't limited to high school; this kind of thing lasts well after high school.
Story-wise, Dawn needed the RJ experience to understand her sister's reasons for moving Spike into Xander's apartment to protect him from the voices in the basement. "Him" is a learning experience for Dawnie. The character doesn't get much else to do for the rest of the season, except for thinking she's a potential in "Potential," which features one of the best scenes in Buffy's history. "Him" could've been produced during the early seasons. I saw young Buffy in Dawn and I saw Giles in Buffy in their final scene. The dialogue is terrific. The actors were energized. There isn't any First or Potential Slayers or Spike killing folk yet. It's just 42 enjoyable minutes.