2.05. Reptile Boy
Another average early episode. Reminds me that the show didn’t get consistently good till season 3.
And another blatant metaphor. A fraternity is literally a cult, and frat boys, in addition to being, rich arrogant jerks who are likely to get girl drugged up and rape them – here they they drug them up to literally feed them to their reptile master, who is apparently responsible – or they think he is – for the money and power their families have had for decades. At least we can easily imagine in this episode that the official explanation was simply that they were serial killers, abducting and killing girls. The misogyny of the frat boys gets to be obvious with remarks such as “No woman shall speak to him!” (the reptile), and the reptile is of course huge and phallic-looking, another obvious metaphor for the male-dominated and patriarchal nature of the fraternity and the privileged class. Unfortunately for this episode, the reptile creature looks ridiculous and not at all scary. He’s less scary than the frat boys, the human villains of the episode.
So basically it’s a typical story of what can happen when two high school girls decide to go to a frat party, one because she’s vain and shallow and besotted with the older, rich boys, and the other out of resentment at her sort-of-father figure who’s not letting her have some fun, and her sort-of-boyfriend who keeps acting hot and cold and who’s just brushed her off. I guess one could also see Giles and Angel as patriarchal (if more positive) figures in this episode, and Willow gives them both a good tongue lashing for driving Buffy to her unwise teenage rebellion moment, which balances a little the theme of teenage rebellion ending up catastrophically (summed up in Buffy/Giles exchange: “I told one lie. I had one drink” – “And you nearly got devoured by a giant snake”).
Buffy is a terrible judge of character when it comes to men, isn’t she? Granted, Tom really did seem like a nice guy – but in Buffyverse this is usually a sign that the guy can’t be trusted. Whenever she tries to go for a nice, normal guy, he turns out to be evil, a manipulative jerk (Parker) or at least connected to evil in some way (Ben).
Buffy and Angel are continuing their will-they-won’t-they dynamic, and at this point Willow seems to have a lot more faith in the future of their relationship than either of them does – she says they’re “perfect for each other”. In their scene in the graveyard, they seem to be anything but. It’s yet another of their awkward, dysfunctional conversations that early season 2 is full of. Buffy isn’t sure if she can have a relationship with him, but at Willow’s encouragement asks him out on a coffee. Angel rejects the offer warning her that a relationship with him is dangerous and that he’s just trying to protect her. Buffy is, at this point, the one arguing in favor of passion (“Things might get out of hand” – “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?”); she will change a lot in the following seasons, mostly as a result of her relationship with Angel. He has excellent reasons to warn her – as we’ll see later in the season – and it’s interesting to note that while at this point he doesn’t have an idea that he could lose his soul, he is still aware of his darkness. But at the same time, he comes off as quite patronizing, especially when he warns her that their relationship is “not some fairytale” and compares her to Sleeping Beauty expecting to be woken up by the true love kiss by him. Why would be expect Buffy to think of herself that way? She’s not a passive princess, she’s the one doing most of the saving and protecting. The power dynamic between Buffy and Angel in season 2 is quite tricky, which may be why there are such different views of it across the fandom. At the surface, he seems to be in control in conversations like this – playing the older, mysterious, more experienced man and treating Buffy as a kid (which of course she is, but she’s also been forced to grow up and bear enormous responsibility) – which is why Buffy at the end of the episode takes back the power by nonchalantly dismissing his
offer to have coffee as something they might do “sometimes”, and walking away. But he’s also a guy without any job, friends, purpose or any kind of life outside of following Buffy around, and she’s the one who has all these things and who’s fighting the forces of evil, while he just comes up with occasional info or gives her some help in her work. (That’s what I really love the most about Angel: behind the brooding hero persona, he’s really such a loser.)
The power dynamic with Giles is quite tricky, too, but in a different way: he’s the voice of authority and duty, but we get to laugh at the scenes of Buffy kicking his ass all the time in training. However, despite her constant questioning and snark, she does depend on her Watcher and she does almost always do what he tells her to.
Xander is still obviously jealous of any guy Buffy might get interested in, but the tension between him and Cordelia is getting more intense, with the two of them constantly insulting each other. (How didn’t I see their hookup coming?) One of her insults really gets to him – that he’ll never be successful and have anything but a low-paid job. This feeling of inferiority about his family background and lack of prospects, which will haunt Xander for years, and his obvious jealousy and resentment at the rich and arrogant frat boys, is partly the reason why he goes ‘undercover’ to the frat party. The scenes where he gets stripped and dressed up as a woman in order to be humiliated (because, of course, for the frat boys there’s no bigger insult than to be compared to a woman) are quite painful to watch, but Xander finally gets to take it out on those who bullied him later on after Scoobies break into the party to save Buffy and Cordy.
Cordelia is being more airheaded than usual in this episode – with the way she’s awkwardly practicing laughing to a guy’s words the way she read it in a magazine she should, you have to wonder how she’s popular at all. And she acts like a parody of a stereotypical damsel in distress, again, and as a contrast to Buffy, right to the comedy moment when she throws herself at Angel, literally, calling him her savior, instead of Buffy who actually saved her.
Jonathan appears again (and this time he’s named), in another minor ‘lovable loser’ comedic role – this time on a ‘date’ with Cordelia and being bossed around by her in the café, because she’s decided she’ll only go out with young guys after her almost-got-fed-to-a-reptile date with a frat boy. Funny when you know that Cordy’s friends will mockingly suggest him as a date for Cordy to humiliate her, in season 3 after Xander’s infidelity becomes known in the school. So this is the second episode in a row where Jonathan is used by a beautiful girl as an unlikely date/substitute for some other guy (in “Inca Mummy Girl”, for Xander – and knowing that Cordy will start dating Xander, one might say the same for “Reptile Boy” as well). Who would’ve thought what a character arc he’d eventually get.
In other observations: the opening scene of Buffy and Xander braiding Willow’s hair while watching a Bollywood movie on TV is adorable.
It’s a bit unexpected that this is something they’d happen to watch, but I think it makes it more realistic that they sometimes happen to watch something completely unlikely and odd, than it would be if they were portrayed as having only stereotypical US high school interests.
Nothing particularly stands out for me in this episode. Maybe Willow’s summary of the Bollywood movie at the beginning of the episode:
Xander: Is she dying?
Buffy: I think she's singing.
Xander: To a telephone in Hindi. Now that's entertainment. Why is she singing?
Willow: She's sad because her lover gave her twelve gold coins. But then the wizard cut open the bag of salt, and now the dancing minions have nowhere to put their big maple... fish thing.
Xander: Uh-huh. Why is she singing?
Buffy: Her lover? I thought that was her chiropractor?
Willow: Because of that thing he did with her feet? No. That was personal.
Buffy: When you kiss me, I wanna die.
What does that even mean? It seems like we’re supposed to take it seriously, and David Greenwalt, who wrote it, says in the DVD commentary that he loves that line and that Whedon really liked it when he showed it to him. But it sounds like nothing but an overblown but meaningless ‘romantic’ statement mixed with some adolescent morbidity. It’s not like BtVS and AtS lack in over-dramatic, darkly romantic lines, but most of the times they make some sense in the context and I can see why the character said it. I didn’t get the impression that she wanted to die when they were making out at the end of ‘Angel’. How does she want to die? Why would she want to die? And she didn’t seem to feel a death wish at all at this point – and certainly not when smooching with Angel. Would that really be a compliment to him if she did?
I get that they were trying to paint a dark, dramatic picture of B/A – hinting that it won’t be a fairytale romance with a happy ending but destructive and tragic – but that line is just not something I see Buffy saying.
Buffy (not) bad liar:
This time she convincingly and successfully lies to Giles (!) so she could go the party – and Willow and Xander are shocked (because she lied to Giles, not because she managed to come up with a good lie).
Pop culture references:
Hulk; Godzilla; the first mention of the Bizarro world from Superman
(there will be more of it).
A bit of self-irony from the show: Willow asks Angel how he shaves when he can’t see himself in the mirror. Yeah, really, and I’d also love to know how he styles his hair?
Cordy mocks Xander about his job prospects as pizza delivery boy; Xander will really try being a pizza delivery boy in season 4.
We get introduced to two frat boys – obvious villain and apparent leader of the frat boys, Richard, a handsome but arrogant jerk, we know is evil since the first scene - and who really is evil, what you see is what you get; and Tom, who by contrast seems to be a nice, decent sensitive guy (and becomes Buffy’s date as a result)… but turns out to be even eviler and the real main villain. Sounds like the plot of season 2 in a nutshell.
I'm looking forward to the next 2 episodes, which are much, much better (Halloween and Lie to Me)!