In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
The midway point of any season of a serialized TV drama is usually when the stakes get higher and things get a little darker and more dangerous for the series’ protagonists. The mid-point of Buffy Season Two was when Angel lost his soul and began to make life miserable for Buffy and the Scooby Gang, so it’s to be expected that at this point in Season Three, the stakes should be raised (no pun intended) for the title Slayer and her posse. While the episodes reviewed today don’t quite offer as shocking a twist as “Surprise” and “Innocence” from the previous season, they do provide some substantial changes for several characters that will no doubt affect the season’s forward progress toward its finale.
Before the big season-changing events take place, however, we are treated to one of the most fast-paced and blissfully fun episodes so far in “The Zeppo,” which centers on Xander’s status as the most useless member of the Scooby Gang. After proving himself somewhat ineffectual in numerous vampire battles and not having Willow’s talent for witchcraft to fall back on, Xander begins to feel like he’s not contributing much to the group, a feeling that is confirmed by his vengeful ex Cordelia, who calls him the “Zeppo” of the group. This is of course a reference to the least funny and least famous member of the Marx Brothers, a bit of pop culture knowledge that someone like Cordelia would not have in a world that isn’t controlled by Joss Whedon). In an effort to revamp his image, Xander shows up at school the next day driving a mint condition 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible, which automatically attracts the attention of a cute blond girl who has a thing for cars. While the rest of the Scoobies are preparing for yet another Doomsday scenario, Xander takes his new lady friend out to the Bronze, where he runs afoul of school bully Jack O’Toole (Channon Roe) by accidentally running into his parked car. He eventually gets on Jack’s good side by refusing to rat him out to a cop that shows up to break up their scuffle, and he “rewards” Xander by recruiting him to drive him and his friends around all night. We soon find out, however, that all of Jack’s friends are freshly dead, and Jack is charged with resurrecting them by reciting a spell at their graves. Once Jack’s gang is reunited, albeit ghoulish and slightly rotted, the frightened Xander is forced to chauffeur them as they make their devious plans for the night.
While Xander is off on his adventure, Buffy learns from Willy the Snitch that a group of demons known as the Sisterhood of Jhe is planning to open the hellmouth that night and heads to the library to help Willow and Giles find out a way to stop them while Oz, in werewolf mode due to the full moon, is locked up in the book cage and acting even more agitated than usual during his “phases.” In order to make sure Oz doesn’t escape, they are forced to tranquilize him and move him to a more secure location. While driving Jack’s undead posse around, Xander overhears their plans to “bake a cake” and takes them to a local hardware store, where they break in and steal a number of items used to make an explosive of some kind. Xander tries to make a break for it but is caught by the group, who determine that if he really wants to be a member of their gang, he needs to die and be resurrected, just like Jack reveals he has done. Xander breaks free of the gang and hoofs it, eventually running into Faith, who is on patrol. After helping her fight off one of the demons from the Sisterhood, they both take refuge in Faith’s apartment, where a horny Faith seduces Xander and then promptly kicks him out. Xander briefly reflects upon how quickly his virginity was taken before trying to find Buffy to warn her about the bomb that Jack’s gang is planning to set off somewhere in town. He finds Buffy at the mansion, in the middle of a tearful moment with Xander, and awkwardly excuses himself. While racing to the library in his car, the zombie gang catches up to him, and one of them grabs a hold of the car door. Xander learns from the zombie punk that they have planted a bomb in the boiler room of Sunnydale High.
While Buffy, Giles, Willow, and Angel battle the newly-revived Hellmouth monster in the library, Xander arrives at the school with the zombies on his tail. One of the undead gang is crushed by a falling soda machine, while another is ripped apart by the Sisterhood demons that reawakened the Hellmouth monster. Xander enters the boiler room and finds Jack there, who has armed the bomb. Xander bluffs Jack into defusing the bomb, stating that he has nothing left to lose and telling him that being blown up is a lot less fun than being a zombie. When Xander exits the boiler room, Jack swears revenge on him before exiting via another door, where he is then torn to pieces by Werewolf Oz. The next day, the gang celebrates yet another successful closing of the Hellmouth, while Xander is satisfied that he has proven his value to the group, even though it was noticed by no one else.
“The Zeppo” is one of the funnier episodes of the season to date while still providing some important plot details and giving Xander a much-needed boost in confidence. I was extremely amused that the bigger threat (the opening of the Hellmouth and the Scoobies’ plans to prevent it) plays out mostly in the background while Xander’s wild night takes up the majority of the episode’s runtime. It was a nice way to show that, while he may not be the most obviously useful member of the team, he is able to contribute in his own unique way, even if it doesn’t get recognized by anyone else. Given his complicated love life this season, his deflowering at the hands of Faith is sure to be a major plot point going forward. “The Zeppo” is a great example of how the show as a whole manages to treat every episode, even the potential throwaway self-contained ones, as important entries within the season as a whole while at the same time injecting a great deal of entertaining chaos and humor to keep things exciting for the viewer. 5 out of 5 Donut Runs.
Things get a little more serious in the next episode, “Bad Girls,” which contains a few major changes for the show as a whole. For starters, we are introduced to Buffy’s new, Council-approved Watcher, Wesley Wyndham-Price (Alexis Denisof), a younger and far stuffier Watcher than Giles. As expected, Buffy does not recognize Wesley’s authority, often asking for Giles’ advice rather than going to her new Watcher. Buffy reacts to this unwelcome change of mentor by engaging in acts of rebellion with her fellow Slayer, Faith. These acts include blowing off class to go on patrol, breaking into stores to get weapons, and knocking police officers out. Faith justifies these actions by stating that, as Slayers, they don’t have to live by the rules of normal society, and Buffy starts to enjoy emulating Faith’s devil-may-care attitude towards slaying, much to her friends’ chagrin.
A battle with a group of sword-wielding vampires named the Eliminati puts the two Slayers on the trail of a grotesquely obese demon named Balthazar, who is in search of an ancient amulet that is the source of his power. He makes mention of a rival who is about to gain ultimate power, whom we soon discover is Mayor Wilkins, who is preparing for what he calls his “Ascension Day.” Balthazar charges his vampiric minions to capture Giles and Wesley and bring them to his lair, where he threatens to torture them until they reveal the location of his amulet, which Buffy had found during a previous battle and given to Wesley. Giles remains cool headed while the less experienced Wesley starts freaking out. Meanwhile, Buffy joins Faith on another vampire hunt, having inadvertently hurt Willow’s feelings by blowing her off yet again. While battling a group of vampires, Faith accidentally stakes and kills a mortal – Sunnydale Deputy Mayor Allan Finch (Jack Plotnick), who was lurking about in the shadows.
The Slayers, both shocked by what happened, both flee the scene, and Buffy soon runs into Angel, who tells her about Giles and Wesley’s abduction. They both arrive at Balthazar’s lair and battle his minions, and Buffy eventually kills Balthazar by electrocuting him in a pool of water. Before dying, however, Balthazar warns the gang of his enemy, stating that once he comes to power, they will all wish that Balthazar had killed them all. As we find out in the next scene, Mayor Wilkins has already become unkillable, which will definitely mean bad luck for the Slayer, and when Buffy is finally able to confront Faith about the murder she committed, Faith shocks her by stating that she doesn’t care.
The aptly-titled “Bad Girls” marks a crucial turning point in the overall story of Season Three by giving us more information about the Mayor’s nefarious plan and establishing Faith as an amoral antithesis to Buffy’s more noble approach to slaying. Her nonchalant attitude toward Finch’s murder is sure to drastically change her relationship with Buffy that was already fairly rocky, and it will be interesting to see how her character continues to develop as this season draws to a close. Another intriguing factor introduced in this episode is Wesley, who shows an uncanny knack for research and theories but, unlike Giles, is completely useless in the field. All of these aspects are sure to make for a thrilling ride for the remainder of this season and are a testament to how the show continues to keep things interesting for this ever-expanding cast of characters. 5 out of 5 Self-Repairing Heads.