Periscope Depth

you were a vampire, and baby I'm the walking dead

No introductory paragraph this time. Just more Buffy.

GINGERBREAD
Eh, all right. I understand – and even respect – the coy wink that the show turns toward adult authorities in Sunnydale. Buffy can cut classes with few consequences, and the police throw their hands in the air when bodies show up exsanguinated. So to turn that around and have the town get in an uproar over two dead children – compared to however many died in “Dead Man’s Party” or “Beauty and the Beasts” – cuts at the quick a little. Of course, as it turns out, this uproar has enchanted origins: the ghosts of two German children, who reappear every 50 years to thin out the real world of some witches. Though that draws the question of why Buffy and her friends are immune to the enchantment’s effects, but anyway.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • It makes no narrative sense that Buffy flips out over two dead children (“you mean someone with a soul did this?”) when, as recently as “Band Candy,” she was torching demons that ate live babies. I couldn’t buy this at all. Especially considering the children were largely intact. But maybe I’m just a jaded TV viewer – after watching three seasons of The Shield in rapid succession, my first reaction to seeing two dead kids was “but they weren’t molested, were they? missing any limbs?”

  • “What is this?” “A doodle. I do doodle. You, too; you do doodle, too.” GAH FUCK IT’S IN MY BRAIN.
  • “Fairy tales are real?” the werewolf asks of the witch, the vampire slayer and the old British man who casts spells.
  • “All right. You want to fry a witch? I’ll give you a witch!” … ugh. All it needed was a sinister cackle and an invocation of some dark power, like OH GOOD HECATE well that was terrible.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • The principal relishing his newfound power. ” ‘Blood Rites and Sacrifices.’ Chess club branching out?”
  • Willow’s interaction with her mom wavers between corny and funny, but lands mostly on the side of clever.
  • “You have been such a champ.” “We should do lunch!” “I’d like that.”
  • Buffy’s accidental staking of the giant German demon at the end of the episode.

Overall Grade: Mediocre.

HELPLESS
Very neat. When Buffy starts to lose her super strength on her 18th birthday, she fears it means an end to her Slayer career. But it turns out Giles and the Watchers are poisoning her to test her – intending to lock her in an abandoned house with a vampire serial killer. I seriously feared for a few minutes that the test might go off as planned (it’s the sort of thing I think Whedon might do), but complications arise. Buffy not only has to stake the vampire, she has to kill his new subordinate and save her mom as well.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • “I’m way off my game. My game’s left the country. It’s in Cuernavaca!” Ech.

  • Angel confessing that he’d been in love with Buffy for years. This may be my ignorance of canon speaking, but weren’t Buffy and Angel enemies in Seasons 1 and 2?
  • Giles getting fired as Watcher because he cares for Buffy too much. I don’t see how this is a disadvantage. A Slayer getting attached to her Watcher, sure – the Slayer is more important, and anything that could act as a liability should be cut out. But what’s wrong about a Watcher being fond of his Slayer? What’s the worst thing that could happen? It’s an artlessly introduced conflict and it rings false.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • Buffy taking out the vampire with a glass full of holy water. I wondered for the first half of the episode why the Watchers were so considerate as to give Kralik a glass of water to wash down his pills with. But it’s a nice third-act gun on the wall for Whedon to play with.
  • Cordelia giving Buffy a ride home. I respect that as a character choice.
  • “I’ll kill you for that!” “For that? What were you trying to kill me for before?” I laughed.
  • Buffy walking home and getting leered at. She probably wouldn’t have kicked their jaws off if she had her super strength, but she would have carried herself with more confidence. It made me conscious of how the women in my life – who probably get leered at or catcalled pretty regularly, and don’t have super strength – have to handle themselves.
  • Kralik, and the whole chase through the abandoned house, make a severely creepy sequence.

Final Verdict: Good stuff.

THE ZEPPO
Not as bad as I feared an all-Xander episode would be. I worried at first that it would be another “War Stories” – the unfunny comic relief character complaining that no one takes him seriously, staging a temper tantrum, and finally getting respect through contrived means. But it didn’t work out that way. Granted, Whedon completely bobbles the pacing for the first half of the episode. But when the plot gets moving in two directions at once, with Buffy and the gang closing the Hellmouth while Xander rushes around to find a gang of arsonist zombies? It’s exciting.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • Xander picking up the blonde girl, and promptly losing her after the next commercial break, doesn’t advance the plot in any way. It doesn’t offer any entertaining bits of characterization, either. I’m not sure why she’s there, other than to stretch the episode out needlessly.

  • Xander and Faith having sex. Faith getting turned on to the point of uncontrollable lust by a fight with a demon is offensive. It smacks of The Rules according to Dane Cook: a girl in the right circumstances becomes a helpless automaton.
  • “The Zeppo.” Why would Cordelia make a Marx Brothers reference?

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • The second half of the episode, when the plot starts coming together, does something I did not think possible: it makes Xander the normal one. Giles is an absentminded professor, oblivious to the zombies following Xander. Willow’s a flighty, emo witch. Faith’s a walking Maxim pull-out, and Buffy and Angel are practicing for their daytime Emmy. Xander’s flustered but driven need to solve his own real problem – the bomb hidden under the school – seems sane in comparison.
  • “Is it hard to play guitar?” “Not the way I play it.”
  • Again, Whedon hangs a third-act gun on the wall in a way that completely reverses expectations by having Oz take out Jack O’Toole. I laughed out loud at that.
  • And the stand-off over the time bomb played out very well. Whedon figured out what it takes to make someone cool: have him react calmly to pressure without saying very much. He even carries it over to the end with Xander’s final confrontation with Cordelia. Too bad it doesn’t last into future episodes.
  • I liked the conceit of never really seeing what the gang dealt with while Xander was running around.

Final Verdict: My second-favorite episode of this batch of five.

BAD GIRLS
Uneven but interesting. Faith turns out to be a bad influence on Buffy, encouraging her to greater heights of larceny and violence until the inevitable happens. Meanwhile, the Mayor ramps his scheming up into overdrive and a new Watcher shows up to relieve Giles.

The villains of the week didn’t do it for me – a “duelist cult”? what, do they worship epees? – but it made for interesting swordfights, of which I always approve. I think the gang’s distaste for Wesley Wyndham-Price (OH PERHAPS HE’S BRITISH) came on a bit thick. The man’s a stranger, sure, and he’s there to replace Giles, but he’s not particularly incompetent. Just young.

I’m ambivalent on the unwitting murder of the Mayor’s aide as the catalyst for the second part of the episode. It seems a little too … easy. Faith doesn’t watch what she’s doing and totally offs a guy! Sure, I guess, but … eh.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • In this episode, Whedon makes Faith dumb. Not impulsive, not spunky, but stupid. Ignorant of the consequences of her actions. And this is explicit. At one point Buffy tells Faith, “Wait! Stop! Think!”, to which Faith responds, “No, no, no!” What is that supposed to mean? “No, I don’t want to think”? Later, breaking into a sporting goods store for some illegal firepower, Faith forgets how to use nouns: “Want, take, have.” I know making characters temporarily dumb is a staple of sitcom logic, but this is particularly disgusting.

  • “I’m torn between the fast-growing fields of appliance repair and motel management. Of course, I’m still waiting to hear back from the, uh, Corndog Emporium …” I had no reason to think that Xander’s character would change. But I hoped. I really hoped.
  • Is there any reason Buffy doesn’t want Willow to tag along with her, other than “the plot couldn’t handle it”? I might buy that Buffy was too embarrassed to be seen with Willow when Faith was around, except Buffy doesn’t seem entirely comfortable around Faith.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • Balthasar. Ich. Loved it. How an immobile ball of lard got to be top dog over the most athletic vampires I’ve seen yet baffles me, but whatever. He’s got character.
  • The Mayor and Mr. Trick. The two of them can do nothing wrong. “Nobody can tell Marmaduke what to do. That’s my kinda dog.” And the Mayor’s checklist! Priceless.

Final Verdict: It suits. Good lead in to …

CONSEQUENCES
Kept me on the edge of my seat. Buffy and Faith deal with the fallout from their unwitting murder. Twists and turns abound – the story drives forward at a quick and engaging clip.

What I liked most about this episode: I couldn’t anticipate where the plot was going. In most episodes, Whedon either telegraphs the plot twists well in advance, or springs them on you then gives you enough time to dwell on them. Here the story just kept moving. First Faith narcs out Buffy, but Giles actually believes Buffy, then Xander lets slip that he got nailed by Faith, then Xander almost …, then Angel clonks Faith on the head, and then … wow.

Are You Fucking Kidding Me?

  • “First word: jail, second word: bait.” What makes this funnier than just saying “jailbait”? It’s longer, less clever, and it doesn’t allude to anything funny.
  • Giles is right; new watcher Wesley has no reason to assign the Slayers to investigate the deputy Mayor’s murder. There’s nothing remotely supernatural about it (to an outside observer). It’s a decision made purely to make the plot go.
  • Oh, and the Watchers’ means of securing Faith once she gets captured don’t work for shit. All it takes is one (vaguely) threatened hostage and she’s free again. Nice work, guys.

All Right, I’ll Admit, That Was Cool

  • I can’t say I “loved” Faith raping Xander, because, well. But it was definitely a way more shocking, and therefore interesting, choice than anything else that Faith’s done in the last five episodes. Put it this way: I buy Faith raping Xander more than I buy Faith growing so unbelievably aroused that she has to sleep with the first thing she sees, and oh look it’s Xander.
  • “She may have many talents but, fortunately, lying is not one of them.” Giles sees through Faith’s story in an instant. Not that Buffy having to prove her innocence would have been a bad arc by any stretch, but it’s very cliched. This takes it in an interesting direction. Now the tension comes not from Buffy having to prove herself, but from Buffy and Giles keeping Faith at arm’s length.
  • Angel’s intervention with Faith. He is, in fact, the best suited to speak with her: he’s the only one who knows what it’s like to enjoy a murder. The dialogue could have been a little punchier, but I could make that complaint about every scene in this series.
  • Mr. Trick siccing the cops on the Slayers. That plot twist came at just the right time to kick the episode into a higher gear.
  • Xander letting slip that Faith screwed him. I worried that Whedon would try to drag that secret out for another 3 or 4 episodes (like Xander and Willow’s affair), but this was the best time for it. And, as with Giles earlier, everyone gets it without needing to spell it out.
  • “I guess that means you have a job opening.” Ambivalent on the end of the episode, but its unexpectedness nudges it into the Awesome hole. Faith going from “slayer of demons” to “aiding and abetting demons” is a bit of a stretch, but she was never in this to save the world anyway. And when you don’t feel like you have anyone in your life to trust, you make some really shitty choices.

Final Verdict: Fun, tense and plotted with razor precision. More like this, please.