2.20. Go Fish
This is the kind of standalone episode that would fit well in season 1 – an obvious but still effective metaphor about some particular aspect of the dark side of school life (Witch
, The Pack
, Out of Mind, Out of Sight
). This time it’s a heavy-handed “don’t take steroids, they’ll frak you up” message, with a realistic portrayal of other unpleasant things that surround school sports: ruthless, over-ambitious coaches (something that The Pack
already touched on), the entitlement and arrogance of the members of the sports-team (including the pressure put on the teachers to give them better grades even if they are blatantly disinterested in studying or homework), sexism and rape culture. Well, “realistic” apart from that thing where this particular brand of steroids (mixed with fish DNA) makes the swimmers literally turn into fish monsters similar to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (which actually gets name-checked). Incidentally, it just occurred to me that this kind of story about humans turning into mutans after being injected some other species’ DNA is exactly the kind of story I hate when Star Trek
does it – but BtVS is a whole different story, since it’s not a science fiction show and never pretends to take the “science” of it seriously; it’s a fantasy and it’s all about the metaphor. First we see at the athletes have been acting as aggressive jerks because of the steroids (psychological effects, just the same as in real life), then we see them turn physically into monsters (the disastrous effect of steroids on the body).
Another reason why the episode would fit easily in season 1 is that it’s light in tone and full of quips, despite some seriously messed-up things that happen in it. And this is the problem with the episode: it disrupts the flow of the season, just before the big two-part finale, and it doesn’t really feel like it belongs in the midst of the “Angelus” arc. Phases
and Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
managed to be lighter standalones that still had dark subplots that kept the tension going; Killed by Death
was a bit less successful; but his episode fails in it. Angel(us) appears in one forgettable scene, isn’t particularly scary and doesn’t seem like the guy who’s about to decide to destroy the world. He just has a talk with Gage, talking about Buffy as his psycho ex-girlfriend, before trying to bite and sire Gage, apparently because he’s recruiting people who could help him with killing Buffy. Has he run out of minions or what? And the point of the scene is just to reveal that there’s something wrong with Gage’s blood because Angel is disgusted with it, and to make Gage have a change of heart when he understands that Buffy is the one to protect him from the forces of evil.
You gotta love the way Gage (one of Wentworth Miller’s early roles) immediately asks Buffy to walk him home (gender inversion again! And a U-turn from the previous sexism shown by the swim team). But just as we start to care about him, contrary to the expectations he turns out to be one of those people Buffy couldn’t save, since it was already too late. I don’t think I saw the twist coming the first time (though the title is a bit of a clue, if you get that it’s a pun: the Scoobies are going “fishing” for information, but at the same time it literally describes what happens to the swim team), that rather than getting eaten by a fish monster the boys are becoming monsters. One of the best moments is before the reveal when there’s ominous music and a dark figure approaching Gage – which we think is the monster, but it turns out it’s just the coach… who, as we’ll later learn, is the real monster in the story. (Double bluff!) I also like how deluded and insane the coach is – that he’s convinced he really is doing the best for his boys and that there’s nothing in the world more important than winning a game against another school.
Buffy’s decision to never date again didn’t last longer than an episode – she agrees to go out on a date with Cameron, one of the swim team members, and not because she’s incredibly into him, but just because he seemed nice at first (he starts off by condemning his teammate’s bullying of Jonathan), was rather good-looking and showed an interest in her. But it doesn’t go well since she finds him really boring, constantly talking about nothing but swimming. And then, like so many of the guys Buffy tries to date because they seem nice, he turns out to be a jerk (only in this case, the further exposure to the steroids might have been a reason for his change in behavior) – and a date-rapist. Of course, Buffy breaks his nose before he can do anything, but for the majority of women, who don’t have her supernatural strength, that scene probably would have ended differently. What follows, though, is something that sadly lots of women go through – she’s blamed by the authority figures for daring to defend herself, and for “leading on” her attacker in the first place and “dressing inappropriately”. They would have no doubt have said the same if she had been raped, particularly when the rapist is a star athlete. But while I appreciate the brutal realism here and I can see Snyder and the coach acting that way, the part I find hard to believe is the reaction, or rather lack of it, of the Scoobies (see Worst scene).
There are some moments in this episode that feel particularly disturbing and uncomfortable exactly because those seriously frakked-up things (one attempted gang-rape and one actual rape or murder) are treated lightly and with jokes. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, i.e. if it was done intentionally (good writing) or not (bad writing). After the coach throws Buffy in the pool to be gang-raped by his fish-monsters, while she’s desperately trying to save herself, she makes a joke to herself that her reputation will suffer even more if people say she “did it’ with the entire swim team. I think this was gallows humor on Buffy’s part – and a reminder that, if she got gang-raped, a bunch of people would probably be saying that she was “asking for it”, like it happens to so many girls. So that is probably an example of the former. But then when the coach ends up in the pool himself, and is either getting gang-raped or eaten of-screen - or most likely first the former, then the latter (Buffy’s remark that “the boys really love their coach!” seems to be hinting at the former, but the script mentions “sounds of eating”), it’s portrayed light-heartedly – Buffy and Xander do seem shocked, but Xander is almost grinning and Buffy makes the above mentioned remark. It’s not the first time that a villain has gotten a “just rewards” punishment – the zoo-keeper getting eaten by the hyenas in The Pack
, Amy’s mother getting transformed into a statue in Witch
– and Buffy can’t be blamed since she did try to save the coach … but this time it seems like the episode is playing it like the audience is supposed to be enjoying the fulfillment of a revenge fantasy. I can’t say that I felt sorry for the coach, but I certainly didn’t feel that what happened to him was something to laugh at or enjoy, either – and the idea that someone would is rather creepy. (But then, look at the way the world media have been enjoying the horrific Gaddafi torture-and-death-snuff….)
A couple of interesting things about this episode: Jonathan appears once again, predictably as a victim, bullied by the swim team guy who was the first to go fish. He gets angry at Buffy for saving him (just like Xander in Halloween – being saved by the girl is what they see as the ultimate blow to their reputation) and later takes revenge at the team – by peeing in the pool. (The Sopranos
would later have a very similar plot in one of the episodes). This is the 6th episode Jonathan has appeared in so far:
- Inca Mummy Girl: Ampata’s intended victim, saved accidentally when Xander showed up
- Reptile Boy: Cordelia takes him on a ‘date’ to the Bronze to console herself
- What’s My Line, part 2: taken as a hostage by the ‘policewoman’ from the Order of Taraka, clueless about what’s going on
- Bad Eggs: one of the students possessed by the Bezoar eggs,
- Passion: he and another student come to the library to look for books
- Go Fish
I talked about the high mortality rate of the school in my previous review – and it’s mentioned in the very first scene of this episode!
Cordelia: It's about time our school excelled at something.
Willow: Hmm. You're forgetting our high mortality rate.
Indeed, let’s see:
Dead staff members
- Dr Gregory, the biology teacher eaten by the insect lady (Teacher’s Pet)
- Principal Flutie, eaten by his students… err, wild dogs (The Pack)
- Jenny Calendar (Passion)
- Ms. Frank, the teacher shot by the janitor (I Only Have Eyes For You)
- Nurse Greenleigh, thrown by the coach Marin into the pool to get eaten by his boys/monsters (Go Fish)
- Coach Marin, eaten/raped to death by his boys/monsters (Go Fish)
- Plus “Ms. French”, who was the insect lady.
- Boy killed by Darla (Welcome to the Hellmouth)
- Jesse (The Harvest)
- Dave and Fritz (I Robot, You Jane)
- Emily and Morgan (The Puppet Show)
- Kevin and two other boys (The Prophecy Girl)
- Sheila (though she was sired and we don’t know if she ever got staked; but she’s dead as far as her family, friends and school know) and probably others during the attack on the school (School Hard); one of the victims was probably a parent, or maybe teacher (the ‘no veal’ guy killed by Spike).
- Rodney Munson (Inca Mummy Girl)
- The real Ampata, the exchange student – seriously, how did they explain it to his family in Peru?
- Ford (Lie to Me)
- Theresa (Phases)
- The four members of the swim team, who didn’t die but did become monsters and swam into the sea – as far as the school knows, they probably are listed as dead, or at least disappeared
- Marcie Ross, who must be still listed as disappeared, even though she’s really with the secret government organization.
Snyder really must be doing one hell of a job to cover up all this!
Nothing that stands out, but there are lots of one-liners. Willow’s remark about the mortality rate; Xander’s comment that the athletes were always privileged: “The discus throwers got the best seats at all the crucifixions”. Cordelia again gets to voice her specific views about what society should be like:
Xander: "What about that nutty 'all men are created equal' thing?
Cordelia: Propaganda spouted out by the ugly and less deserving.
Cordelia is still used to express all the wrong views, and gets to be almost cartoonishly and comically callous once more, when – just like Snyder – she only cares for the apparent deaths of the swimmers because it would hurt the school’s winning chances. But later she is humanized (though again in a comical way) by showing feelings for Xander, when she believes for a moment that Xander has turned into a monster:
Cordelia: Oh my God, Xander! It’s me, Cordelia. I know you can’t answer me, but… God, this is all my fault. You joined the swim team to impress me. You were really courageous. And you looked so hot in those Speedos.I want you to know that I still care about you, no matter what you look like. And-and we can still date. Or-or not. I mean, I understand if you wanna see other fish. I'll do everything I can to make your quality of life better, whether that means little bath toys or whatever..
The worst scene is definitely when Buffy is telling the Scoobies about Cameron and how she was treated as the bad guy, and they are completely disinterested and looking at her with annoyance, like why is she even talking about it instead of getting to the serious business of helping them with the research. Giles even asks her that outright. It just seems out of character for Giles, Willow and Xander. And the light tone seems to suggest that we’re supposed to agree with them. Like it’s such a trivial matter that someone was going to sexually assault Buffy. I suppose, since she can take care of herself and she wasn’t traumatized because she was in no danger since the guy was a non-superpowered human weaker than her, this means that assaulting her is no big deal, like it doesn’t even merit to be considered an unpleasantness that they can find a few minutes to listen about. If I get a black belt in martial arts, will I become “too strong” to get raped/killed, so if someone attacks me, the police won’t need to arrest him and I’ll need to shut up about it?
A few other stupid lines: Cameron’s lame explanation why he won’t beat up Xander: „You're lucky I'm hungry“. What, he couldn’t punch him and then go to the cafeteria? Buffy’s line after Gage figures out she’s lying about being a swim team groupie: „obviously my sex appeal is on the fritz today, so I'll just give it to you straight.” Eh? It’s not a question of sex appeal, but of her totally unconvincing lie.
Cordelia’s insult that Xander “ran like a woman” would certainly be the worst line in the episode if spoken by someone else; but since Cordelia is still a spokesperson for anti-feminist views, it’s in-character. Plus the stereotype is mocked in the same scene when she goes on to tell Xander he should “practice how to run like a man
Buffy bad liar:
Her attempt to pretend that she’s a “swim groupie” to explain why she’s following Gage.
Buffy-speak/Destroying the English language:
This time Buffy is starting to use Giles-speak („from whence it came“) and is shocked to realize that.
Xander gets a scene just in his speedo, with the slow motion and sexy music as the camera is going upwards and revealing his muscular legs and well shaped chest – before revealing who he is, provoking surprise in Cordelia and snickering and fun from Willow and Buffy. Funny that Cordy finds it easier to show her appreciation of his body while she thinks he’s a stranger, then when she knows he’s Xander, as if she can’t consciously think about Xander as hot, even though she’s obviously attracted to him since they’ve been making out for months. (But as this proves, they haven’t seen each other naked.) Of course, we also see Gage and a few other swim team members in their speedoin the locker room, but without the same “sexy” treatment.
This makes 3 shirtless scenes for Xander, 1 for Oz, and 6 (in 5 episodes) for Angel (he was shirtless in a scene from I Only Have Eyes For You
which I forgot to mention, where he’s washing himself, disgusted by having had love in him – but unlike his other shirtless scenes, it wasn’t meant to be sexy).
What the slashy heck:
Xander says it’s great to be in a room full of sweaty half-naked guys (!).
Pop culture references:
Abbott and Costello, The A-Team, Jaws, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Blue Lagoon,
all referenced by Xander. (Or rather, Cordy confuses Blue Lagoon
with the Creature from the Black Lagoon
, which makes Xander correct the mistake and explain that “the creature from the Blue Lagoon
” is Brooke Shields.)
After having seen season 6, it just doesn’t feel the same when you’re watching Willow “interrogate” Jonathan and ask him if he wanted to get a revenge by using black magic to summon evil.