Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/read

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by DevilEyes, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. D Man

    D Man Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2004
    Location:
    Tropical Minnesota
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    ^^^Oh man, thanks for posting that! :lol: I like Mark's site, but it's not a place to go for serious reviews. He basically refuses to be critical about anything at all these days. The phrase "But that's OK!!!!!!" pops up way too often. Anyways, looking forward to seeing you back in this thread!
     
  2. Wereghost

    Wereghost Part-time poltergeist Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2009
    Location:
    Ireland
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    Limerick intermission. ;)

    Some of those are really good.
     
  3. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2009
    Location:
    basking in the warmth of the Fire Caves
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    THREAD NECROMANCY! YAY!

    So... this is pretty embarrassing to say, but I started this rewatch a few years ago, believing I will post regularly and finish it within a year. But then, a lot of stuff was happening, I was moving, got a new job, was distracted by a lot of things and didn't find time to write my reviews (which always turned out to be pretty long and time-consuming)... And thus it was that, once upon a time, I made a long, long break, after I had posted the review of episode 3.10 Amends. Then I decided to rewatch the show once again, posted a review of the movie and overviews of seasons 1 and 2, again... and then another break happened, this time some 2.5 years long!

    I almost lost hope I'd ever finish this rewatch... but I never give up on my projects, I just postpone them. It was just a matter of something making me get off my butt... or rather, making me get on my butt in front of my computer and forcing me to write. And finally, that something happened several months ago, when my dear friends and fellow Buffy fans on the Buffyforums.net forum started a collective Buffy rewatch, which I have been participating in, with each of us picking an episode, two or three each season to review, as a starting point for discussion.

    If you want to join in, register, if you don't, you can lurk and read our reviews and discussions:

    Buffy rewatch season 1: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/showthread.php?19768-BtVS-rewatch-SEASON-1
    Buffy rewatch season 2: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/showthread.php?19794-BtVS-rewatch-SEASON-2
    Buffy rewatch season 3: http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/showthread.php?19870-BtVS-rewatch-SEASON-3

    This has given me the boost to get back to Buffy, rewatch it from the beginning, and try to continue where I've left.
    There's no need to write new reviews for the episodes I've already covered - for most of them, the new rewatch did not change my opinion significantly. You can find the review of the Buffy movie, "The Origin" comic, all season 1 and 2 episodes as well as season overviews, as well as the first 10 episodes of season 3, in this thread, as well as on my Livejournal under the "Buffy rewatch" tag, and most of them are also on Dreamwidth under the "Buffy rewatch" tag.

    I've also written several new and improved reviews for some of the season 2 and 3 episodes I've already reviewed here:

    2.10 What's My Line, part 2 http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/showthread.php?p=698008#post698008
    2.19 I Only Have Eyes For You http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/showthread.php?p=698008#post698008
    2.22 Becoming, part 2 http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/s...watch-SEASON-2&p=698722&viewfull=1#post698722

    3.04 Beauty and the Beasts http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/s...VS-rewatch-SEASON-3/page3&p=699835#post699835
    3.09 The Wish http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/s...VS-rewatch-SEASON-3/page3&p=699835#post699835
    3.10 Amends http://www.buffyforums.net/forums/s...VS-rewatch-SEASON-3/page6&p=701262#post701262

    Now that I've caught up with where I was when I made this embarrassingly, shockingly long break, I intend to continue with my reviews. I've rewatched almost to the end of season 3, and I will be posting the reviews for the second part of Buffy (episodes 3.11 - 3.22) of season 3 over the next week or two. After that, I hope to settle into posting an episode review each week - a reasonably realistic schedule, and parallel with the Buffyforums group rewatch, which is also one episode a week. (Though I must say in advance that this may mean no episode for two weeks and then a couple in a row, for instance - since my job is such that I can have free time at times and then be terribly busy once I get the new translation task and a tight deadline - it's all unpredictable.)

    Right - so, let's start, or rather continue, with episode 3.11.
     
  4. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2009
    Location:
    basking in the warmth of the Fire Caves
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    3.11. Gingerbread

    I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Gingerbread. There are lots of things I really like about this episode, but there also some aspects of it that severely bug me. I think my opinion of the episode is still mostly positive, but I can see why it has quite a few haters.

    Jane Espenson’s first episode of Buffy is a pretty effective and biting satire. Granted, its satirizing of the conservative elements of society, such as the associations of “concerned parents” intent on censorship, about mass hysteria and witch hunts (and in this case, it’s even literally a witch hunt), complete with bullying of the outcasts by some students, and violations of privacy through the raids of pupils’ lockers by the police in search of drugs (in this case, “witch” stuff), organized by the student-hating, disciplinarian principal Snyder, is not terribly original… but I’d be lying if I said it’s not still enjoyable to watch. (And you have to laugh when you hear that Joyce’s concerned parents’ organization is called MOO – Mothers Opposing the Occult – worst acronym ever?)

    But this episode also brings up an issue that I don’t think I’ve seen often dealt with (and this is what I like best about the episode) – the phenomenon that nowadays the best way to manipulate the public through feelings of outrage and to cause irrational witch hunts is to use images of children –specifically, cute, angelic-looking, white, and, preferably, blonde children – which maximizes the outrage the public can feel about those who are alleged to have harmed them. (Recently, the excellent Danish film The Hunt also dealt with the irrational and terrifying behavior of a contemporary community when one of its members is falsely accused of sexually molesting children – on really flimsy evidence, which doesn’t prevent everyone from jumping to the conclusion that he’s guilty.) Buffy herself is, at first, as outraged as her mother and everyone else by the murder of the “children”, but later, seeing the community’s behavior, starts wondering why everyone is this outraged this one time, even though people are being killed every day, and delivers my favorite line in the episode when Angel tries to explain the reasons behind people’s behavior (referencing another recent victim):

    Angel: They were children. Innocent. It makes a difference.
    Buffy: And Mr. Sanderson from the bank had it coming?

    Espenson drives the point home through her fun reinterpretation of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale as a real life story which was really an example of an evil demon using an illusion to present himself as a couple of cute children, in order to cause mass hysteria in various communities, and make people turn on each other.

    There’s also some harsh satire in the portrayal of Willow’s mother Sheila (who appears in the show for the first and the last time, though she will be mentioned later), a caricature of a “liberal” intellectual (probably a psychologist) whose abstract talk about adolescent behavior (apparently her area of expertise) is in sharp contrast to her complete neglect and lack of interest in her own daughter. (She takes several months to notice Willow’s change of hairstyle, and can’t get the name of Willow’s best friend right, constantly calling her “Bunny”.) Willow’s lack of self-esteem certainly becomes easier to understand once we’ve met Sheila.

    But while Sheila is portrayed as straight-up bad mother, Joyce is a more complicated case. She really cares about Buffy, wants to be a part of her life, and feels frustrated because she’s excluded from a big part of Buffy’s life – slaying. It’s also understandable that Joyce doesn’t like the fact that her teenage daughter is risking her life every night. And in this episode, she makes an effort – a very brave, if also very ill-advised and clumsy effort – to get closer to Buffy and understand her better, by visiting her while Buffy is doing her Slayer duty. However, after Joyce reacts very strongly to finding what seem to be dead bodies of the two unknown children, and feels compelled to do something about it, her behavior starts becoming more and more disturbing. The first moment where Joyce crosses the line is already at the meeting of her new organization, presided by the Mayor (who has a very small role in the episode, but once more proves to be a skillful and charming populist), when she warns the other citizens that the town is not a good place and what “we have lost it” (who is “we”? Normal people?), and that “it belongs to the monsters and witches and Slayers.” She lumps her daughter, who’s fighting against evil, with the forces of evil. We later find out that she has probably been under the influence of the demon all along – and the influence was probably growing and making her act more and more irrationally; but the influence didn’t create those feelings in her, it seems to have only augmented them. It’s unclear how strong the demon’s influence is at this point; it’s evidently really strong a bit later, when we see that Joyce doesn’t blink twice at the fact that the two “dead kids” are talking to her and telling her what to do (and this seems to have been going on for a while). Despite the comedic tone of much of the episode, it becomes really dark by the time that Joyce, Sheila and a bunch of other parents are calmly and self-righteously preparing to burn Buffy, Willow and another witch (magic practitioner), Amy, at the stake – behaving as if they’re just grounding them or delivering some other regular form of punishment. The most disturbing moment is when Joyce tells Buffy, who’s tied up at the stake and begging her to stop doing it: “I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead I got a Slayer.” And you know that this is exactly how Joyce always feels, deep inside, even though she normally would not say it. (It becomes even more disturbing when you remember the “Have you tried not being a Slayer?” scene from the season 2 finale, which drew heavy parallels between Buffy revealing to her mother that she’s a Slayer, and a teenager coming out of the closet to their parent.)

    The way Gingerbread portrays the dark side of parenting is quite ballsy. It’s suggesting that, for many, the care and protectiveness of abstract, dead, “perfect” children (who represent the ideal of the sweet and innocent Child – which is helped by the lack of any information about them) is a compensation for the failures to accept their real, flesh and blood, living, “imperfect”, “disobedient”, “abnormal” children, who get labelled as “bad”.

    Now, onto the problems I have with this episode. For one thing, I find the premise – that there hasn’t been a child murder in Sunnydale for a long time, despite the extremely high mortality rates and the abundance of supernatural monsters (in addition to the human ones – there’s no reason to think that there’s less of them in Sunnydale compared to everywhere else) rather unrealistic. Buffy’s initial reaction is pretty naive – she asks Giles, with outrage, “Someone WITH A SOUL did this?!” Come on, Buffy – you’ve never heard of human serial killers, child molesters, child murderers?

    Another, even bigger problem just how extreme the behavior of the parents gets – specifically Joyce, and the way it’s eventually brushed aside as just a result of the demon’s influence. I don’t know how to feel about Joyce’s characterization in this episode. On one hand, it’s good that the show was willing to reveal the dark side of Joyce’s middle class mom who wants a “normal” daughter and has trouble accepting her as she is… but I feel that they may have gone too far with it. Burning your daughter on a stake and talking about it as an acceptable and desirable parental punishment, while chatting casually about dinner plans… that’s going a little bit too far. Watching this makes me think - this is why it was often so hard to like Joyce, before the show did its best to make her more likable in season 5. I think it should have been made clearer to what extent she was responsible or not responsible for her actions, and, most importantly, there should have been a follow-up scene of Buffy and Joyce talking about it. Even The Pack in season 1 had more follow-up to the Hyena!Xander storyline. Here, Willow just says that Sheila will do the “selective memory thing” that Joyce used to when ignoring all the supernatural things that have happened. But what about Joyce and her actions? (Sheila’s actions would require more comments if it wasn’t obvious that we’re supposed to dislike her.) We get no comment on that whatsoever, in this or any subsequent episode.

    Other notes

    Though it doesn’t have much to do with the overall plot of season 3 (Faith is not in it, the Mayor has just a cameo), the episode fits in this season since it’s another one that deals with the theme of Sunnydale community, which season 3 focuses on much more than the previous two.

    There’s another continuity nod to Band Candy, with the continued awkwardness and embarrassment between Giles and Joyce, because of their teenage-hormones-driven tryst; and some follow-up on the revelation about Willow/Xander, although Xander’s awkwardness is a little OTT in the episode (something that often happens in Espenson episodes in order to heighten the comedic effect). However, Xander and Oz teaming up to try and save Willow and Buffy probably means that they have made up and put the “clothes fluke” behind. Cordelia is on the fringes of the group, but starts slowly coming back to the fold when she teams up with Giles.

    Cordelia asking Giles how many times he’s been knocked unconscious is a meta moment of the show acknowledging the silliness of this happening repeatedly. As Cordelia correctly points out, it wouldn't be surprising if he had brain damage by this point.

    We find out that Willow has been doing a lot of magic lately – together with her new friends, Amy and Michael – a boy who is introduced in this episode, and will never be seen again in the show. Amy has now dyed her hair black and has a Gothic look, just like Michael. This is the first, and I believe the last time in the show that practicing magic is connected to the Goth subculture – which is used in the scene in the school where Michael is bullied and suspected of murder by a group of boys; a clear case of attacking someone just for being different. It’s not completely clear if the reason is just Michael’s practice of magic, or even his Goth look – or if it’s also because of his androgynous look. After all, Amy also practices magic and wears Goth clothes and makeup, but they are not attacking her.

    Poor Amy – unlike Willow, she’s repeatedly portrayed as something of a screw-up when it comes to magic. In Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, her spell backfired; something even worse happens here, when she turns herself into a rat in order to escape the mob (it’s unclear if that was her intention, or if she wanted to turn the mob into rats) – and then there’s no one to turn her back into a human. (This is a call-back to her turning Buffy into a rat in BBB.) She will remain a rat for three years – until season 6 episode Smashed (with a brief change back and forth during season 4 Something Blue) – which is quite tragic, but will be treated as a running joke on the show.

    Funniest lines:

    Xander: Look, everyone expects me to mess up again. Like Oz. I see how he is around me. You know, that steely gaze... that pointed silence.
    Buffy: 'Cause he's usually such a chatterbox.
    Xander: No, but it's different now. It's more a verbal nonverbal. He speaks volumes with his eyes.

    Xander: Wait, Hansel and Gretel? Breadcrumbs, ovens, gingerbread house?
    Giles: Of course. It makes perfect sense.
    Buffy: Yeah, it's all falling into place. Of course that place is nowhere near this place.

    Buffy: Is she? Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? Okay, so I battle evil. But I don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. Like that kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.
    Angel: Dike. (Buffy looks at him, shocked.) It's another word for dam.
    Buffy: Oh. Okay, that story makes a lot more sense now.

    Giles: We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel.
    Cordelia: Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened *before* I hit you.

    Cordelia (after seeing the demon in the form of the two cute little children morph into one huge, scary 7 foot demon) : Okay, I think I liked the two little ones more than the one big one.

    Pop culture references: Apart from fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk, there’s also a reference to Apocalypse Now – by Snyder, who says “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning” (which is interesting, since Xander will have a dream about Snyder-as-Kurtz in season 4 finale Restless), as well as the 1960s TV show Mister Rogers: apparently, Sheila Rosenberg likes to discuss “the patriarchal bias” of that show with Willow, “with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets”. O-kay.

    Destroying the English language: or, as I like to think, deconstructing it – Buffy says: “"My mom had said some things to me about being the slayer. That it's fruitless. No fruit for Buffy."

    Foreshadowing: Angel (who has a one scene cameo in the episode) and Buffy have a nice conversation where he paraphrases what she told him in Amends: “There's a lot I don't understand. But I do know it's important to keep fighting. I learned that from you. (…) We never win. (…) Not completely. But that’s not why we fight. We do it because there are things worth fighting for. Those kids… their parents…” It resonates with the themes of AtS and Angel’s famous speech from season 2 of AtS: “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do”, as well as the series finale of AtS.

    Cordelia’s funny line to Giles: “One of these times, you’re gonna wake up in a coma!” becomes (unintentional) foreshadowing in hindsight, knowing what eventually happens to Cordelia on AtS.

    Rating: 3


    -----------

    Next up: another "parental betrayal" episode, the second in a row - this time, Giles betrays Buffy by obeying his bosses and taking Buffy's powers away, in episode 3.12. Helpless.
     
  5. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2009
    Location:
    basking in the warmth of the Fire Caves
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    3.12. Helpless

    This isn’t one of the very best BtVS season 3 episodes, but it can be argued it’s one of the most important ones, for several reasons: it completely changes our views on the Council of Watchers; it irrevocably changes Giles’ status/relationship with them, and therefore represents a crucial moment in his arc; and it also deals with an issue that may be at the heart of the show’s themes: what would happen in Buffy lost her superstrength?

    It’s also worth mentioning that this is the second episode in the show where Buffy is celebrating her birthday, and it’s continuing the tradition started by Surprise/Innocence that something terrible must happen on Buffy’s birthday.

    Non-superpowered Buffy

    Even though it’s developed into something much more complex than that; Buffy the Vampire Slayer was conceived as a story of empowerment that reverses the usual gender dynamic in horror fiction: a girl who would be the typical victim of monsters in most horror films is the one who kills monsters. But there’s one very legitimate criticism of BtVS’s premise: if your heroine must have superhuman physical strength to be empowered, well, how does that help the empowerment of real life women, who do not have any such powers, and are usually significantly physically weaker than men? What does it say about our idea of empowerment in general, if it requires a person to be incredibly physically strong, or more powerful than “normal” people, and if the empowerment must be reflected in kicking, punching and killing?

    This is why I like the fact that Helpless temporarily takes away Buffy’s powers and puts her in the position more similar to that of most women. It shows her being threatened, powerless, scared; but ultimately, she is not helpless, she just has to dig deeper, puts herself in more danger, and make more of an effort to defeat the monster. Her first shock is when she loses her strength in the middle of a fight with a vampire. Now, I think Buffy should still be able to use her training and martial art skills to a point, even without strength; and she does just that, head-butting the vampire and provoking him to impale himself on her stake. But, since the shots Giles is giving her are also messing with her coordination, she seems to be increasingly unable to use her skills as well. Not to mention that Buffy is actually physically weaker than most females, since she’s very small and thin, her athleticism and dexterity is also hindered by the substances injected in her blood, and she needs time to adjust to the shock of such a huge change in strength level. When she tries to defend Cordelia from an asshole in school who was being very sexually aggressive with Cordelia and not taking ‘no’ for an answer, Buffy gets easily punched out – and in a reversal of roles, it’s Cordelia’s time to start protecting Buffy. It’s painful to watch Buffy too scared to even talk back to a group of assholes in the street who are making offensive sexual remarks at her, but it’s realistic that, without superpowers, she’d be terrified walking home alone at night and walking across several such men, as most women would be.

    It’s then really satisfying when she manages to kill the villain of the episode, insane psycho vampire Zachary Kralik, ultimately by using her wits and – since he needs to take some kind of pills - tricking him into drinking them with holy water, which burns him inside. Now, this proof of Buffy’s intelligence, courage and resourcefulness is, in a way, something that was not necessary: we’ve seen Buffy use her intelligence and resourcefulness many times before, we’ve seen her courage, determination and responsibility. She used a clever trick to kill Luke, a vampire who was stronger than her, back in episode 1.02, and in most of the episodes she’s been the one to figure out what’s going on, even though Giles and Willow were the bookish ones, and therefore considered the clever ones by the characters in the show. Nevertheless, there are still fans who have this completely wrong idea that Buffy is a “dumb blonde” who relies just on her strength (and this is not far from how she’s written in the comics), so it’s good to have it confirmed that she can kick ass even without superstrength.

    Another reason why this episode is important is because Buffy wasn’t always sure how she felt about being a Slayer and wished to be a “normal girl”. But here, she gets to be reminded what it’s like to be without Slayer powers, and she hates it. She’s not the same girl she was before she was called. It’s not just because she hates being personally powerless and having to be scared of various assholes – she also hates not being able to protect others.

    An interesting ‘What if?’: what if Buffy had really lost her powers permanently, which she was scared would happen before she learned what was going on? I don’t think she would be able to go back to “normal life”, knowing what she knows about monsters, Hellmouth and forces of darkness, and having been used to fighting them. She could be training others, using her experience. She could also participate in monster-killing activities as a part of a group with other Scoobies: in the season 3 opener Anne, the non-superpowered Scoobies (Xander, non-wolf Oz, Willow who was not practicing magic, and briefly Cordelia) were doing relatively well killing ordinary vampires (they were supposedly killing 6 out of 10) during the summer when Buffy was in LA. Willow, at least, isn’t much physically stronger than non-superpowererd Buffy. It would be however much more effective if they had at least one superpowered person; I don’t know how Buffy would take being second fiddle to Angel, and she certainly would not like being second or third fiddle to Faith.

    The Council of Watchers and Cruciamentum

    There’s another way in which the metaphor of “Slayer powers = empowerment” has become more complicated and questionable as the show progressed: as this episode emphasizes, Slayers are teenage girls fighting a war, risking their lives and dying young, while being supervised, trained and controlled by a patriarchal organization made up of a bunch of traditionalist middle-aged and old people who mostly don’t have to risk their lives. Which is a lot like real life wars, if you replace “teenage girls” with “(mostly) teenage boys/young men”. Furthermore, the Council of Watchers pays salaries to their employees – but not to Slayers, who are given huge responsibilities and required to perform, but are given no wages: I suppose they’re given food and accommodation if they are separated from their families and raised by their Watchers, like Kendra, but others are expected to make a living however they can; Buffy, so far, at least hasn’t had problems with that, being from a middle-class family and living with her mother, but nobody seems to give a damn that Faith lives in some crappy motel room.

    There’s an even darker aspect to the Council of Watchers, which we learn about in this episode: a traditional test/rite of passage for every Slayer on her 18th birthday, called the Cruciamentum (Latin for “torment”), which consists of taking the Slayer’s powers by secretly injecting her with muscle relaxants and adrenaline suppressors, and then locking her up in a building with a particularly dangerous and nasty vampire and expecting her to kill him without any help… and all that without even telling her beforehand.

    Well, that’s obviously really messed up. And it also doesn’t make sense, if the idea is to test Slayer’s abilities and prove that she’s not just relying on strength – since tests are normally something you are told about and get a chance to prepare for. It looks more like “an archaic exercise in cruelty”, as Giles calls it. It’s often said that Slayers live short lives – I wonder what percentage of them die during the Cruciamentum. Which, again, is not beneficial to the “cause” since it means losing a more experienced Slayer and having to train a new, young, inexperienced one. Trying to make sense of it, fans have speculated that the real reason is the Council’s need to have an excuse to get rid of more mature Slayers who may have become too strong, experienced and independent. But that doesn’t explain the lack of interest the Council has otherwise shown for Buffy and Faith, who are both quite unconventional Slayers.

    I’m not sure that the writers have really thought this one through, except as a plot device to create temporary conflict between Buffy and Giles, and permanent conflict between Giles and the Council. It’s also the point in the show where the Council of Watchers stops being an organization that doesn’t get involved in the story and serves as a butt of jokes, often referenced but never actually present, and becomes a much darker organization that’s often antagonistic to our heroes, and pretty much stands for “old-fashioned, patriarchal assholes” in the show.

    One thing remains the same, though: they still seem really incompetent. More about that below.

    Little Red Buffy and Big Bad Kralik


    For the second episode in a row, the fairy tale references are explicit. This time it’s "The Little Red Riding Hood" – from Buffy wearing a red hooded cloak, to Zachary Kralik, the Big Bad Wolf figure, wrapping himself in Buffy’s cloak when he goes to kidnap her mother, and uttering lines directly referencing the fairy tale. Kralik kidnaps Joyce, leaves photos of himself and Joyce to threaten Buffy and lure her in, and Buffy goes inside the boardinghouse on her own (presumably out of fear he would kill Joyce if Buffy came with reinforcements) to save her mother. From that moment on, Helpless feels a lot like a slasher movie. It is one of the darkest episodes of the show, in the literal sense – the boardinghouse is poorly lit, and Kralik is hunting Buffy through the dark rooms and corridors. Buffy is closer to the classic slasher heroine here – without her superpowers, she is not super-confident as she usually is, she is the one who is physically much weaker and likely to be the victim; which is why this works even better than the rest of the show as the manifestation of Joss’ idea the show was based on: girl being chased by a monster, girl turning around and kicking the monster’s ass.

    Kralik is one of the most terrifying MOW on BtVS, largely thanks to guest star Jeff Kober, who’s really great at playing villains and creepy guys. (He’ll come back in season 6 to play Rack – the recycling of the actor is a bit more acceptable since he’s constantly in vampface in this episode.) Vampires generally seem to be metaphors for evil people – serial killers, sexual predators, people who ruthlessly use others, psychopaths with no conscience – but with Kralik, it’s all doubled as he was also an insane serial killer when he was human. As with the Gorch brothers previously (though they were a much more humorous example), we get more evidence that evil psychopathic murderers, when turned into vampires, practically don’t change at all, just becoming immortal and super-strong versions of themselves. Kralik’s personality, insanity and serial killer MO seem to be things he has carried over from when he was human; he also seems to have retained a dependency on pills. It’s not clear if it’s physical or psychological – the latter would make more sense, since we already know mental illness is something a vampire retains from the time they were human (Drusilla was another example), but you would expect physical ailments to be made non-existent through vampire superpowers/physical status.

    This is particularly interesting because of its ramifications to the mythology of the show, as it further disproves the idea that vampires are “nothing like the humans they were” or that “when you die, a demon sets shop in your body, and it walks and talks like you, but it’s not you”, which is supposed to be the official Watcher stance, but seems like the BS that is used in order to make it easier for people to kill vampires, especially those they knew as humans or who were even their loved ones. That was, for instance, what Giles told Xander in episode 1.02. of the show, to make it easier for him to stake Jesse (“remember, you’re not looking at your friend, you’re looking at the thing that killed him”), but in season 2, he was describing how dangerous and bad the Gorch brothers were by talking about the crimes they had committed when they were human. It seems that the Watchers themselves may be perfectly aware that line of thinking is BS. In fact, the Council seems to have picked Kralik specifically not just because he was so nasty, but because of his pill addiction, believing they would be able to control him that way. They’ve proven themselves to be really incompetent, underestimating Kralik and leaving just two guys to guard him, in two shifts – which practically means that he’s guarded by just one guy at a time, which leads to Kralik killing and turning one of them (Blair, played by Dominic Keating, aka Malcolm Reed from Star Trek: Enterprise), and making him free him, help him kill the other Council employee, and become his minion.

    What’s especially interesting is that Kralik is a serial killer who murdered and ate his mother, who had abused him in horrible ways when he was a child, perhaps even castrating him. What he wants to do with Buffy is not just to kill her – but to turn her into a vampire, like himself, and let her kill and feed on her own mother. (In his own words: “I have a problem with mothers. I’m aware of that.” At least no one can deny that he’s a self-aware serial killer vampire.) The Big Bads of BtVS have often been an epitome of the dark side of some aspect of Buffy and the themes her arc was grappling with that season (this is most obvious with Faith, but we can also see it with the Master in season 1 – tradition and father issues, Spike, Drusilla and of course Angel in season 2 - romance/sexuality, the Mayor – community leader, or Glory – family/‘home’). In this light, it’s really interesting that this happens right after Gingerbread, the episode in which we saw Joyce act in a really disturbing way (granted, under the influence of a demon) and try to burn Buffy at the stake, telling her she’s a bad girl and a disappointment; and that Buffy is now fighting to save her mother, putting herself in grave danger going against him on her own with no superpowers. This Red Riding Hood does not need a Huntsman to save her – Giles does arrive in the end, but only to kill Blair; it’s after Buffy has already tricked Kralik into drinking the holy water.

    Buffy and Giles

    This is the second of the two back-to-back episodes where Buffy is betrayed by a parent figure. In Gingerbread, it was her mother, here it is her father figure, Giles. In addition, Buffy is previously let down by her biological father, Hank: she was looking forward to spending the day going to an ice skating show with him, but he cancels it, to Buffy’s deep disappointment. Hank is not actually seen in the episode, and will be completely absent from her life for the rest of the series (except as a part of a vision/alternate reality in season 6 Normal Again).

    The relationship between Buffy and Giles, and Giles’ conflicted feelings between the demands of his job and his desire to protect Buffy, are central to this episode. Considering how awful the Cruciamentum is, and that it requires Giles to deceive Buffy and take her powers without her knowledge, his betrayal seems really bad. Giles hasn’t always followed the Council’s rules and has always been willing to give Buffy leeway, so why does he obey the Council in this, the worst of all of their rules, even though he thinks it’s wrong and openly criticizes the ritual to the representative/senior authority figure of the Council, Quentin Travers? The crucial difference seems to be that the ritual is a test for the Watcher, too, rather than just for the Slayer (which Travers explicitly confirms): apparently, Watchers are required to be cold, unfeeling and ruthless with their Slayers, loyal to the Council rather than to the Slayer. Giles’ previous history and his close relationship with Buffy as well as her unconventional behavior have been probably put him under particularly close scrutiny. And this time Giles has an authority figure from the Council, Quentin Travers, right there to inspect his behavior and decide if he’s suitable for his job.

    I don’t know if this is enough to justify Giles going through with deceiving Buffy and giving her shots to take her powers away for the ritual, but at least he does at least partially redeem himself later by admitting the truth to Buffy – only after he learns that Kralik has escaped, though. If it hadn’t been for Council’s extreme incompetence, which Giles could use to criticize them for, he may not have found the strength to make the decision to go against their orders. In his favor, he does feel really guilty. However, that doesn’t help Buffy see him more favorably, at first – she is shocked and rightfully feels betrayed. SMG is always great in poignant dramatic scenes, and she does some great acting in the scene where Giles comes clean, and Buffy is brought to tears: “You?! (…) You bastard! (…) Liar! (…) Who are you? How could you do this to me?” (I’ve always loved the fact that, while Buffy may be an action girl with witty lines, but she is also a heroine who cries for loss, grief and betrayal during big emotional moments.)

    Although Giles does more to try to redeem himself, going into the building to help Buffy and killing vampire!Blair (which could also be seen as Giles metaphorically exorcizing his dark side, since Blair is a Council employee gone wrong who helped a vampire endanger a Slayer), what helps Buffy forgive Giles is that, in the end, the two of them present a united front against Quentin Travers. Giles tells it to Travers as it is when he points out that the Council is not “fighting the war”, as Travers claims: “You're waging a war. She's fighting it. There is a difference.” The real twist comes when Travers, after congratulating Buffy on passing the test and exhibiting courage and resourcefulness, announces that Giles has failed the test and will be fired because he cannot be impartial and clear-headed: “You have a father’s love for the child”. This is, ironically, what really helps mend the relationship between Giles and Buffy.

    The perception of Giles and his status on the show has been quite contradictory: in season 1, he seemed to be the epitome of stuffy, old-fashioned, upper-middle-class Brit, but we’ve since gotten to see other layers to him, including his surprising Ripper past. In Buffy’s eyes he was “old and stuffy”, in Faith’s he is “young and cute” – especially compared to what she’d expect from a Watcher, for Quentin Travers – someone older, sterner and more traditional – Giles is too emotional and personally attached to be a satisfactory employee (while some fans have a problem with him being too detached and “Big Picture” guy), and Gwendoline Post was able (like Maggie Walsh will in season 4) to really get under his skin by criticizing his intellectual abilities and knowledge. From now on, Giles’ position will be even vaguer, since he’s not even employed by the Council anymore, but his status within the group will, at least for now, remain the same, due to the strong ties he’s formed with Buffy and the other Scoobies.

    In the subsequent season 3 episodes, it seems that their relationship is, if anything, even stronger than before. Still, I wonder if everything has been fully forgotten or forgiven. At the start of season 3, in Dead Man’s Party, Giles was the only one who did not argue with Buffy or voice anger over her disappearance in the season 2, when she left Sunnydale to spend months in LA without telling anyone where she was. As Xander said in that episode: “You can’t just bury stuff, it will come right back to get you.” Giles and Buffy tend to do just that with the resentments against each other; Giles just once voices his anger at Buffy over harboring Angel (in 3.07. Revelations), reminding her that Angel had tortured him sadistically for hours in season 2, and accusing her of having no respect for him or his job; but even then, he can’t bring himself to bring up the death of Jenny Calendar. When the relationship between Buffy and her mentor broke down in a rather bad way in season 7 Lies My Parents Told Me, I wondered how much of it was due to buried resentments on both sides – Giles’ over everything that happened with Angel, including Buffy not being able to kill him in Innocence, Jenny’s death, and Buffy skipping town after sending Angel to hell; Buffy’s over the events of Helpless, and Giles’ abandonment in season 6.

    Continuity

    Since Giles gets fired in this episode, another Watcher is to come to Sunnydale to replace him – a setup for the introduction of Wesley in two episodes time. Which makes me wonder, why the hell hasn’t the Council bothered to send someone when they learned of Faith’s Watcher’s death?

    Speaking of Faith, it’s another episode without her, but this time at least a reason is provided why she’s not here - she is conveniently on “one of her walkabouts” – whatever these are. If Faith hadn’t gone rogue, she would have also gone on to be subjected to the Cruciamentum, but she would have known about it beforehand, which Slayers are not supposed to. It’s odd that the Council is not concerned about that. Then again, they don’t seem to be giving Faith much thought at all, until she kills Alan Finch later and starts giving everyone trouble.

    The Bangel of it

    The Buffy/Angel scenes are the weakest part of this episode. This is the point where it’s starting to be obvious that the writers didn’t really know what to do with Angel or the Bangel relationship in season 3, and that, instead of a well thought-out arc, it’s just threading water before Angel gets to leave in order to have his own show. Not that there haven’t been episodes that seriously dealt with the relationship in a poignant way, without ignoring what happened in season 2 or treating it as some abstract obstacle to the couple’s happiness (Beauty and the Beasts, Amends), but for most of the season, Buffy and Angel’s relationship is following the “a step forward, a step back” repetitive pattern of breaking up/telling each other it’s over because they can never be together (Lovers Walk) but then continuing as before a couple of episodes later, or Angel is just hovering in the background as Buffy’s supportive love interest who gets a scene or two where he and Buffy are either having some really cheesy scenes that are supposed to show sexual tension (the shirtless Tai Chi/training together in Band Candy and Revelations) or even cheesier scenes where Angel is giving Buffy an earnest/sensitive look and uttering the kind of lines that make little sense, but that a teenage girl in love would love to hear from her boyfriend.

    Helpless features both kinds of scenes. The latter is especially bad: as Angel gives Buffy a birthday present – the book of Victorian poetry (specifically, it is “Sonnets from the Portuguese” by Elizabeth Barrett-Browning; I know just one poem from it, the most famous one, “How Do I Love Thee”, which is IMO corny as hell), which I guess is supposed to confirm his old-fashioned-cultured-guy cred, even though I don’t think the present is something Buffy would particularly enjoy; she asks him if he would like her if she wasn’t a Slayer, pointing out that she was a rather shallow girl before she was called. Angel reassures her that she was already a very special and amazing person even before she became a Slayer – and utters the worst lines in the episode:

    Angel: I saw you before you became the Slayer.
    Buffy: What?
    Angel: I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps... and... and I loved you.
    Buffy: Why?
    Angel: Because I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe... to warm it with my own.

    Dude, what?! Not only is this “love at first sight”, “I saw your heart right there on your face” thing complete nonsense in itself, but it also comes off as both phony and creepy, because we saw that scene in a flashback in season 2 – and what we saw was Angel watching the 15-year old Buffy sucking on a lollipop, gossiping with her friends, and being scared that she’s been caught shoplifting for lipstick. If he had said he fell in love with her afterwards for her strong, brave and mature beyond her years personality that he got to know, or that he felt natural empathy and connection when he saw how lonely and sad she felt as an outcast after she was called, or even if he had said: “I thought you were really hot and you kind of looked like Darla, so small and blonde and sassy” that would have made some sense (well, that last one wouldn’t have gone well with Buffy)… but this is utter BS.

    But, on the positive side, it leads right into the best lines in the episode:

    Buffy (overwhelmed): That's beautiful. (Hugs him; then frowns: ) Or taken literally, incredibly gross.
    Angel: (grimacing) I was just thinking that, too.

    So, if Bangel is descending into parody at this point, at least the writers were aware of it. The next episode, The Zeppo, will openly treat it as parody.

    On the positive side, there’s some rather charming banter between the two (Angel commenting on Buffy’s lack of enthusiasm over her birthday present and referencing the Judge in Surprise: “So why did you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?”) and a funny exchange in which Buffy teases Angel, referring to her planned quality time with her father: “Actually I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him Daddy” (now, that sounds like something Faith would say while not referring to her father; and it’s also ironic since Angel is an older man who could be Buffy’s great-great-great…grandfather) and Angel has a very dorky moment in which he’s first startled, relieved: “Oh, your father…” and then concerned: “It is your father, right?” I’m not sure if that’s enough to make up for the silliness of Angel’s lines above.

    Also on the positive side, the unresolved sexual tension between Buffy and Angel leads to some amusing phallic symbolism, with Buffy being full of energy and distracted during her training, and playing with and stroking a particularly long crystal!

    Recurring characters introduced: Quentin Travers, senior Watcher, played by Harris Yulin (known to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for his amazing performance as Maritza from “Duet”), who will come back for one-off appearances in season 5 and season 7.

    Ooh, kinky: It’s not the first, nor the last time we see that particularly evil and dangerous vampires exhibiting certain degrees of masochism, but Kralik takes it to the next level. Most vampires are terrified of a crucifix, not for any psychological or religious reasons, but because, in Buffyverse, it burns their skin. The Master showed his badassery and ability to face fear by holding a crucifix and tolerating the pain without flinching or screaming; Angel in the eponymous season 1 episode didn’t even notice the crucifix was burning him due to being wrapped up in kissing Buffy; Spike in season 7 Beneath Me in an extremely emotional scene will embrace a large crucifix without appearing to even notice the pain, for complex emotional reasons. Kralik, however? He just laughs when Buffy tries to scare him with one, grabs it and starts masturbating with it (or at least rubbing it against himself – of course, we don’t see the details, since the show was on WB).

    Pop culture references: Buffy is once again compared to Superman – Xander refers to whatever took away Buffy’s powers as “Slayer Kryptonite”, which leads to a super-nerdy debate between him and Oz on different types of kryptonite, which I won’t even pretend to have been able to follow. There is also a lot of talk about ice skating (SMG is apparently a fan, which was incorporated into the story in season 2 Surprise as Buffy’s favorite hobby), something I know even less about. An ice skater is mentioned doing a version of “Carmen”, and Willow mentions “Snoopy on Ice”.

    Rating: 4
     
  6. RoJoHen

    RoJoHen Awesome Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2000
    Location:
    QC, IL, USA
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    This topic disappeared for so long that I assumed you must have finished watching the show! :lol:

    The thing I've always thought about the Buffy/Angel relationship is that it works really well if you ignore its origins. There's a little too much suspension of disbelief to think that these two fell in love as immediately as they did.

    That's why I actually think Angel and Cordelia are such a fantastic couple in AtS. You see their friendship grow over time, and the romance feels like a natural extension of that friendship. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
     
  7. DevilEyes

    DevilEyes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2009
    Location:
    basking in the warmth of the Fire Caves
    Re: Once More, With Feeling: my big Buffy/Angel canon rewatch/reread/r

    3.13. The Zeppo

    This is one of the show’s most unusual and original episodes. But while most of the BtVS episodes with an unusual format belong to its best (Hush, Restless, The Body, Once More, With Feeling, Conversations with Dead People), The Zeppo is, at the same time, a great episode and a very bad episode – depending on whether you look at in isolation or within the continuity of the show.

    The originality of the episode comes from the inversion of the normal format: it is heavily filtered through an unusual perspective; the big epic events, in which Buffy and the Scoobies (Giles, Willow, Oz, Angel, and Faith) prevent apocalypse, are relegated to the B-plot, while the main plot is centered around Xander, who is feeling marginalized from the group and is being treated as more or less useless or inept to help with the ongoing danger (though in a polite, friendly way). Xander is dealing with his insecurities, feeling that he is useless since he has no superpowers or clearly defined role (something Cordelia calls him on), and is at the same time he’s obsessed with the idea that he has to find a way to be “cool”. (It’s interesting that this episode, where Xander deals with the problem of not having superpowers, comes right after Helpless, where Buffy was dealing with a loss of her powers.) Meanwhile, his friends are mostly ignoring him because they’re too busy dealing with the apocalypse, while Cordelia is taking every chance to relentlessly mock him. The main antagonist in this A plot is Jack O’Neill, local thug who bullies and scares Xander. Xander starts off his quest with a pathetic attempt to be “cool” by borrowing a car from his uncle Rory, which then unexpectedly brings him into unwanted contact with Jack and his gang of undead thug buddies. He is at first terrified of them, then wins their trust and the unwanted chance to be initiated into their gang (all he has to do is… die), but then finds courage and determination to stand up to them and stop them from blowing up the school. The climax takes place in school at the same time as the Scoobies are fighting the demon baddies in another room – and while no one ever finds out about his heroic act, he is a changed man at the end of the episode, confident and feeling good about himself, without needing to tell anyone what he did.

    Joss Whedon has listed this episode as one of his favorites, and named it as inspiration for the entire TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., because it focuses on a character who’s otherwise a marginal character and not one of those seen as main heroes, and offers their perspective. Now, this is all fine and dandy, and the episode really does an excellent job with this format. If I had never seen another episode of BtVS and only viewed The Zeppo by itself, I’d probably think it was great.

    But the problem is, looking at the episode within the continuity of the show, the premise doesn’t make any sense. It requires that we think of Xander as this marginalized character who is seen as useless and inept to deal with the dangers and never allowed to participate in the fight against demons and world-saving activities of the Scoobies – which is not true and never happens in any other episode of the show. If they wanted this kind of story, they should have done it with someone like Jonathan, or some other minor recurring character, maybe even Cordelia. But Xander has always been an integral part of the group, and despite his lack of superpowers, has fought vampires besides Buffy or helped her save the world many times – in fact, all the Scoobies have been doing it for years even though, most of the time, most of them had no superpowers; Willow only started practicing magic at the end of season 2, and wasn’t even using it when she, Xander and Oz were killing new vampires in Buffy’s absence during the summer; Oz is still an ordinary human most of the month, and on these three nights when he’s not, he is not useful at all, but needs to be locked in the cage.

    Maybe it would work better if the episode had made the case that this is a new development – if something had happened to make everyone so protective and worried about Xander’s safety, such as a more serious injury. Or if it was all about him feeling excluded due to the changed dynamics within the group – he’s not in a relationship anymore and Cordelia now just comes around to taunt him; Willow is now focused on her relationship with Oz, and is scared of being too close with Xander after their fling, so Oz wouldn’t take it the wrong way (even though, oddly enough, Oz is completely fine with hanging out with Xander, and Xander sometimes seems to see him as the only one he can talk to); and due to Xander’s complaints and rants against Buffy regarding her relationship with Angel earlier in the season, there’s probably still some remaining tension there (although it’s mostly been smoothed over after Xander’s apology in Amends). And Giles has always had his order of preference/importance: Buffy > Willow >>>>> Xander. But still, Xander is far less of an “outsider” of the group compared to Faith, or Angel, who is only close to Buffy, and even Oz, who is friendly with everyone but really only focused on Willow. More importantly, social awkwardness doesn’t explain why everyone is sending him away from the fight, or considers him only fit to bring them donuts. Perhaps we should see it as a distorted version of reality due to Xander’s POV, but again, that doesn’t explain the Scoobies’ attitude.

    Another thing that really contradicts the rest of the show are the comedic resurrections of Jack and his gang. Yes, this episode is a comedy, and the resurrections are purposefully made to look incredibly easy (Jack was raised by his granddad after spending 10 minutes in the ground, and then goes on to raise all his buddies who have been dead for longer periods – by simply speaking a few words over their graves and having them rise immediately) for comedic effect. I also realize that comedic effect is also the reason why the undead thugs, though they are physically gross and on various levels of decomposition, are acting as if everything is normal, why they are apparently mentally and psychologically unchanged; not only did they retain human mental abilities – well, as much as they had them in the first place – and not only are their personalities apparently unchanged, but they’re all happy dudebros without any sign of psychological trauma, not even from being killed or from having to dig themselves out from their graves. Sure, it’s funny, but it’s still really annoying, considering the fact that the series otherwise makes a big deal about how dangerous and difficult resurrections are – which will go on to be a major plot point in season 5, when Dawn wanted to resurrect her mother but it was implied Joyce would have been probably been raised as some terrible zombie monster, in season 6 when Buffy was successfully resurrected (by the super-witch Willow, in a complicated ritual involving animal sacrifice, and they weren’t even sure it would work) but suffered massive psychological trauma, and when Osiris straight up told Willow Tara could not be resurrected. If resurrections went on like they do in this episode, you’d wonder why everyone in Sunnydale isn't doing it.

    Nevertheless, if we ignore the continuity issues, this is a really funny, well-written episode. The B-story about the apocalypse is a great self-parody of the show: everything that happens is similar to the things that’s happened in other episodes, but it’s like a mishmash of all the most epic, dramatic plot lines and moments, amped up and thrown together. There’s an exposition scene where Giles is explaining who the villains are; a heartfelt conversation between Buffy and Willow where they’re reinforcing their friendship while Buffy is telling Willow how worried she is and how much she needs her help; a warm scene between Buffy and Giles; more research in the library; Oz is locked up because it’s full moon; later he gets free in werewolf form and Willow has to shoot him with a stun gun (another thing that’s already happened in the show), apologizing for it; Giles is performing a ritual and contacting some mystical beings; Buffy goes to see Willy the Snitch; there’s some vague plot about Angel’s life being in danger; and an incredibly melodramatic scene between Buffy and Angel, where they’re arguing about what to do and whether Angel will risk his life, with them telling each other “I love you”, Buffy insisting she can’t watch him die again, and a little dig at Angel’s paternalistic tendencies (Buffy: “I don’t know what to do” – Angel: “Well, let me decide for you!”). It’s made even funnier when the mood suddenly changes when Xander walks in on them, tries to tell them about the bomb, but feels like he’s interrupting and leaves, and they immediately continue where they left off, and the scene goes back to the same style. All these scenes aren’t that different from the usual plot points of BtVS, almost all of the usual “epic” ingredients are there (except for the fact that, in normal episodes, Xander also participates in those scenes and has his share of heartfelt conversations etc., but this episode is trying to ignore that…), but the way the story is told in short snippets, where we’re lacking the context, makes it all look even more OTT to the point of silly. There’s the dramatic music and characters making exaggerated statements about the near apocalypse that’s happening almost entirely off-screen – the evil is “biggest, maybe bigger than I can handle”, “this is worse than anything we’ve ever faced”, and in the end when they’re discussing the way they had beaten the bad guys off-screen, Willow says she’ll “never forget that thing’s face – its real face”, while Buffy is telling Giles that something he did was “the bravest thing I’ve ever seen”.

    The A-story is also very well-written and has some of Xander’s funniest and most likable moments – e.g. when the terrified Xander is reacting to Jack’s macho threats and insults in his dorky, wordy way, by treating them as normal conversations:

    Jack: What are you, retarded?
    Xander: No! No, I had to take that test when I was seven. A little slow in some stuff, mostly math and spatial relations, but certainly not challenged or anything.

    Their interactions throughout the episode show Xander gradually growing braver, more willing to call Jack on his crap:

    (after Jack threatens him with his knife, which he calls “Katie” – prompting Xander’s comment: “You gave it a girl's name. How very serial killer of you…)
    Jack: (sneering) Your woman looking on, you can't stand up to me? Don't you feel pathetic? (traces the knife around Xander’s neck)
    Xander: (nervously) Mostly I feel Katie.
    Jack: You know what the difference between you and me is?
    Xander: Again... Katie's springing to mind.
    Jack: Fear. Who has the least fear.
    Xander: And it has nothing to do with who has the big, sharp...

    Later on, when a more confident and brave Xander gets his real heroic moments, saving the school and everyone in it (which includes the Scoobies, who are fighting the apocalypse-bringing villains in the library), his attempts to act like an action hero get undercut whenever he tries to give a big movie speech: there’s a classic BtVS moment of dark humor when he’s interrogating one of the undead thugs while driving at full speed, and doesn’t get to learn a crucial info because he asks: “Alright. Now I'm gonna ask you this once, and you better pray you get the answer right. How do I defuse…?” but the impact of a mailbox he drove by knocks the guy’s head off, leaving Xander to conclude: “I probably should've left out that whole middle part.” A bit later he tries to deliver a badass line to another one of the thugs, who runs off before he could finish, which angers Xander: “Hey, I wasn’t finished! Note to self: less talk.” It’s all a combination of subverting the heroic tropes and playing them straight; Xander does get to deliver his big speech to Jack in the crucial moment, but in a matter-of-fact way, without cliché movie lines, finally asserting superiority over Jack by proving that he and not Jack is the one who is ready to risk his life, and less afraid in the situation where they both could die, which is how he forces Jack to back down and defuse the bomb. Furthermore, Xander shows Jack the difference between being actually brave, and being just a cowardly bully.

    Xander’s speech also includes Lampshade Hanging of the fact that the show plays fast and loose with the concept of being “dead”, which apparently includes vampires who drink, smoke, have sex etc.: “this is different. Being blown up isn't walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It's little bits being swept up by a janitor dead, and I don't think you're ready for that.” But at the same time, just as slaying vampires is OK while killing psychopathic murderous humans is not, Jack being “dead” is why, when he finally gets eaten by werewolf!Oz, this is played for comedy (Oz refuses food since he feels oddly full – he doesn’t remember what happened, but the viewer knows it) – which is pretty gross and disturbing, come to think of it. Somehow I don’t think the show would pull the same joke if Jack was a “living”, breathing human thug, even though he was portrayed just like one.

    The one genuinely important event in this episode, the one that has consequences for the rest of the season is, is Xander losing his virginity to Faith. Even though we had already known that Xander was attracted to Faith (though that hasn’t been brought up in a long time), it happens out of the blue, in the middle of Xander’s crazy night, when he accidentally runs into Faith as she’s fighting a demon, helps her escape with his car, and they find themselves in her motel room. It turns out Faith was telling the truth when she said slaying makes her horny – sexuality and violence are interconnected for her, she got off on the fight, and didn’t get to climax through a kill, so she quickly seduces the very confused Xander, who was there as an available human vibrator. Xander’s admission that he’s “never been up with people before” is also a confirmation that he and Cordy never had sex, in spite of their intense physical attraction; this is why I think it’s likely Cordy is a virgin, too (her comments in AtS season 1 also suggested that), since I don’t see why else she wouldn’t initiate sex with him.

    I like the fact that the show reversed the stereotypical gender dynamics here, with Faith being the aggressive, experienced one who’s only after sex, and Xander a confused blushing virgin with illusions to what their tryst meant. Earlier, Xander was initially happy that a hot blonde got interested in him because of his car, but quickly got so bored by her, once it turned out that cars were all she cared about and talked about, that he was practically begging Angel, of all people, to stay and talk. Xander is, on one hand, a horny teenage boy who can’t say no to a hot woman, but at the same time, even though he may not think of himself that way, he needs sex to be about something more – as we see in the following episodes, he deluded himself into thinking that he and Faith had a “connection” and that it meant something. We don’t really get any reaction from Xander in this episode – though we may assume having sex for the first time helped him gain more confidence for the rest of the night, he looks neither particularly happy, proud, or, well anything; which fits with his later description (in one of the of following episodes) that the experience was “like a blur”.

    Pop culture references: The title of the episode is reference to Zeppo Marx, one of the Marx brothers; Cordelia compares Xander to him. There’s also yet another Superman reference – Xander and Cordelia are on the same page, as both compare Xander to Jimmy Olsen. Bob aka undead thug #2 (played by Michael Cudlitz, who is these days fighting zombies in The Walking Dead) asks Jack if he has taped episodes of Walker: the Texas Ranger for him while he was dead; bad taste in TV is obviously a part of their characterization. Michael Jackson is also mentioned, when Jack is threatening Xander: “You wanna be startin' somethin'?” and Xander tries to divert the conversation to the MJ song of the same name.

    Mythology: Nothing in this episode should probably be taken seriously regarding the mythology of the show – see: the amazingly easy resurrections of Jack’s gang. Other “info” includes the existence of a cult that exists only to bring about the apocalypse, and the existence of Spirit Guides that Giles contacts because of the super-serious situation, who “exist out of time, but have knowledge of the future”. (That kind of sounds like the Prophets from Deep Space Nine.)

    Apocalypses averted: If my count is right, this should be the fifth. The previous ones were: The Master trying to rise in The Harvest, the Master rising in Prophecy Girl, Dru and Spike putting the Judge together in Surprise/Innocence, and Angel and Dru trying to wake Acathla in Becoming I/II (technically, that would be the only “real” end of the world, since the known universe would have been sucked into hell, while in other cases, the world would have continued to exist, but would have been drastically changed, with vampires ruling over the world, or the humanity would have probably been mostly or completely destroyed by the Judge). But this is the first and only one that is a B-plot and mostly off-screen, and where the perpetrators were random demons rather than major villains.

    Fashion watch: Throughout the episode, Buffy has strange frizzy hairstyle that she’s never been seen with before – maybe another sign of things being off in this episode.

    Shirtless scene: Xander during the sex with Faith and right afterwards, when Faith promptly gives him his clothes, says bye and chucks him out.

    What the slashy heck: There not much slashiness as far I can see, but Xander still seems concerned about saying things that could be interpreted that way – he tells the cop he and Jack were “just blowing off steam…Two guys rasslin'…But not in a gay way.”

    Best line:
    Buffy: Uh, what do we do with the trio here? Should we burn them?
    Willow: (smiling) I brought marshmallows.
    (Everyone looks at her.)
    Willow: Occasionally, I'm callous and strange.

    Taking into account the good and the bad, in the end result I find this episode to be somewhat above average, so it gets:

    Rating: 3.5