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Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Helpless

Buffy: "I'm way off my game. My game's left the country. It's in Cuernavaca."

This was a dark one. A lot more serious and nasty than usual.

Coming of age/initiation stories usually tend to give the youth a ritual task or tasks to complete (killing a psycho vamp on her eighteenth birthday). The youth is often advised by a wise person who teaches him/her power over magic or whatever (Giles), and the youth in the process of coming of age and completing the task will often symbolically or literally defeat and/or leave behind their parent or parents (no more Daddy and the ice show). This episode followed the pattern of classic coming of age stories — except that Buffy didn't know what was happening, and Giles' part in it was a betrayal of their relationship. I was very uncomfortable with Giles doing anything to Buffy that Buffy didn't know about. Giles, of course, felt the same way.

Whatever we may think of the test (and I thought it was cruel and dangerous and it certainly did in some young acolytes, didn't it), it did accomplish what the Council intended it to do. Buffy was terrified and helpless when she initially lost her strength and agility, but was forced to use her wits to defeat the vamp and save herself and Joyce at the end. Doesn't change the fact that Giles participating in it without telling her was wrong.

The best part of this episode was the way it made Giles finally acknowledge his love for Buffy. That scene at the end where he was wiping the blood off her forehead got to me. The Buffy-Giles relationship is one of the things I like most about this series. The two complement each other so well (Giles' research supports Buffy's implementation, Giles' maturity balances out Buffy's extreme youth, and so on). They've always shown the utmost respect for, and responsibility for, each other, and now they have moved to another level. Buffy does indeed face the fact that she has an unsatisfactory relationship with her biological father – but she can replace it with a better relationship with a man who has proven in every way that he is a much better father for her.

Bits and pieces:

— Interesting future plot possibilities, Giles being fired. I'd like to see them force another Watcher on Buffy. It'll be fun.

— I certainly don't see Slayer conferences in the library changing any time soon. Of course, Giles may not be able to afford spiffy three-piece suits and twelfth century manuscripts on the salary of a school librarian. Librarians don't make a lot, take it from me, and I know Sunnydale High isn't paying for those special books.

— The Council Guy was Harris Yulin, who was utterly wonderful as the Cardassian in the (arguably) best Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, "Duet." I really enjoyed his exchange with Buffy at the end. "Bite me."

— Convenient for Faith to be out of town. Too easy to ask Angel for help, I guess. And what about Faith? Has she already had the test, or is she younger than Buffy?

— Cordelia was great. She's such a fun character. Angel was fun in this one, too. Although should they be wrestling when they're trying not to have sex?


Giles: "This one?"
Buffy: "Amethyst."
Giles: "Used for?"
Buffy: "Breath mints?"
Giles: "Charm bags, money spells, and for cleansing one's aura."
Buffy: "Okay, so how do you know if one's aura's dirty? Somebody come by with a finger and write 'wash me' on it?"

Willow: "I went to Snoopy On Ice when I was little. My dad took me backstage and I got so scared I threw up on Woodstock."

Angel: "You really like it?"
Buffy: "Of course I do. It's sweet and thoughtful and... full of neat words to learn and say like 'wilt' and 'henceforth'."
Angel: "Then why'd you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?"

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: "'Cause 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."
Buffy: "That's beautiful. (pause) Or taken literally, incredibly gross."
Angel: "I was just thinking that, too."

Cordelia: "Oh, God. Is the world ending? I have to research a paper on Bosnia for tomorrow, but if the world's ending, I'm not gonna bother."

Quentin: "Congratulations again."
Buffy: "Bite me."

Buffy: "You know, nothing's really gonna change. The important thing is that I kept up my special birthday tradition of gut-wrenching misery and horror."

Dan and I finally agreed on giving this one three out of four stakes,

Billie Doux reviewed all of Buffy and Angel, so she knows the plural of apocalypse.


  1. I realise I'm waaaaaay late with the comment, but I'm rewatching season 3 at the moment and I like to read your fab reviews as I watch each episode ...

    ** And what about Faith? Has she already had the test, or is she younger than Buffy? **

    I read a great theory (wish I could remember where) that Kakistos was Faith's test and it went horribly wrong when her watcher was killed. I like this back story idea a lot. I always see Faith as being a little older than Buffy, so this would fit the timeline. It would also explain a lot of Faith's emotional issues :-)

  2. I really love this episode. It's the one that frightens me the most, I guess. Sometimes the subtext in Buffy "rapidly becomes text", and they are dealt too heavy-handedly (like the witch hunt last episode, or frat boys in Reptile Boy). In this one, the subject of rape and the helplessness that comes with it is never mentioned per se (except when Giles tlaks about the big vampire's past), but it can be felt throughout the episode.

    In the teaser, Buffy is almost penetrated. Later, when those gross guys ask for a lap dance, she's wearing a Riding Red Hood. Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale against sexual predation. To add to the intertextuality, Zachary's lines inside the boarding house resemble those of the Big Bad Wolf. And it's not only young girls he preys on: lacking a grandmother, he victimizes Joyce as well.

    The worst part is that it's socially accpeted, according to the series. It's inflicted on women by undermining their power and taking it as a fact of life. It's disgusting how Quentin can be so cavalier about all that violence.

    Fotunately, we have Giles to act as our "hunter in the woods" and partially save them at the last minute. He's the control group of the episode, to show that not all men are pigs. Fortunately, because I don't like to think of myself as one.

  3. This is a wonderful episode that upsets me every time I watch it. I agree that Giles goes too far; I wonder why. We know that he has never really followed the "Handbook" when it comes to Buffy, so why he thought he had to here is something I wish the writers had dealt with a bit more.

    Having said that, I love the scene at the end. As in so many coming of age stories, when one realizes that one's parent is a flawed human being, the relationship only becomes that much stronger.

    We've seen it before, but one of the things I really like about Cordelia is her ability to sense when something is very wrong. She comes into the library in full mode, yet as soon as Buffy asks her for a favor, she quietly agrees to help her. I do like her parting shot about a note, however.

  4. I also found this episode very difficult to watch, perhaps because, as Gus says it reflects the vulnerability of "real" girls to predators. I particularly enjoyed Cordelia taking on the boy who was harassing her when Buffy's attempt didn't work. It is a good message that brains, assertiveness and belief in your own abilities can protect you even when you don't have superpowers. I think this was a good counterpoint to the message of the series which is about a particular kind of woman power. Xander also embodies this for the group - he is just a guy.
    I think that Giles went along with this horrible test because he knew if he didn't then he would be fired which is exactly what happened. And that would leave Buffy in an even worse position. I think we sometimes find ourselves in those no win situations and it isn't fair to blame someone for making a decision when left with no good choices. Giles finally did choose and it cost him his job. On another note, exactly why do they need a test? Pretty much every encounter is live or die - doesn't that constitute a good enough test? If the slayer doesn't have a wide range of skills they're pretty much dead anyway. Seems just a petty and cruel exercise for grown men to impose and girls!

  5. This is an amazing episode. It's the one I always point to when people hate on Buffy (the character, not the show). With her slayer powers gone, she's weaker than every other character in the show. Xander and Cordelia don't have any form of superpower, but they're at least used to facing evil with their regular, human strength. Buffy's all...what? My hand hurts!?

    Yet she still goes for her mother. Nothing's going to stop Buffy from doing the right thing, not even certain death.

  6. This was a really tough episode to watch, but a great one. I hated seeing Buffy so weak, but I hated even more that Giles was making her that way. I agree with drnanamom that the whole test just seems cruel to me. The only reason I could imagine needing a test like this would be if it meant the slayer passed into no longer needing a watcher or some sort of advanced training. But none of that seems to be true.

    I ain't believe Giles was fired and I am intrigued as to how that all plays out in the coming episodes. I can't see Buffy taking to a new watcher very easily.

    I did love Cordelia's part in the early rescuing. She's back! (And as helpful/selfish as ever!)

  7. I really like this episode. Like you all, I found it kind of tough to see Buffy so frightened and weak. Interesting for me, because Buffy isn't really my favorite character. I like her well enough but I generally have trouble relating to her.

    This time though, I felt Giles' betrayal quite personally. I'm glad he at least found his moral center enough to tell her about the test before it was scheduled to begin.

    I've been thinking about the way Giles is a father figure to Buffy. Even though Giles let her down so much worse than her real father in this instance, he stayed present and refused to leave even after he was fired. That definitely earns him parental redemption points from me. Parenting is so much about showing up.

    Although I think you guys that mentioned it are right, I try not to think too much about things like why the test is considered necessary. I really can't see any good reason for it. Just like I can't see why the council is located so far away even though Sunnydale is this seething cauldron of evil. Of course, given what a jerk the council member we met was I'm just as glad not to have them around more.

  8. I'm with those who think this episode is hard to watch. But, like ChrisB, I love Cordelia supporting Buffy without question. I think it's one of the best girl-power moments in the series, in fact.

  9. I'll add my vote to this one being hard to watch, Giles' betrayal especially. That the reason seems to be all about a pointless ritual rather than of any benefit to Buffy makes it all the worse. I feel so sorry for Buffy, let down by her father as she turns 18 she looks to Giles, who then lets her down in such a spectacular way that is potentially unforgivable.

    But it is a great episode.

  10. Wow, this was indeed nastier. The Cruciamentum is such a sick idea (but a great plot idea, though). It’s safe to assume that several slayers died during the test, so what’s the point of it, really? The Watcher’s Council is with a doubt very, very stupid.

    Go, Buffy, for facing the Cruciamentum on an even more disturbing version. I love the unconditional love she has for Joyce, and her bravery for going into the house alone and facing the vamps. I could nitpick and say that Buffy should’ve asked for Angel’s help, but it was about Buffy winning the fight alone. Also loved her bitchy comebacks at Quentin. Again, go, Buffy!

    Buffy and Giles have been terrific characters this season – great writing and acting –, and their relationship has been stronger than ever, so it was fitting to recognize the father/daughter bond they have by endangering and then solidifying it. I really have no words to describe how much I love them and their interaction.

    So are Buffy and Angel back together? I don’t get it… They broke up on “Lover’s Walk”, but there was the snow thing on “Amends” and they certainly have a we-are-not-just-friends vibe going for them. If they’re back together I feel like there’s a development missing here, because the issues Spike and Buffy brought up on “Lover’s Walk” are still there… Oh, well.

  11. I believe Buffy and Angel got back together at the end of Amends. They never said it, but it was implied and they hung out after that.

    I'm not sure that Faith did go through the Cruciamentum. She is supposed to be older than Buffy and it's possible that she turned 18 before she became the slayer.

  12. My impression always was that Faith was younger than Buffy, even if not by a whole lot. The show goes out its way to make the dialog explicitly state that Faith was a drop-out. If she already had been 18 before coming to Sunnydale, there wouldn't be any reason to do that. Plus, Buffy refers to Faith as her "bestest little sis" at one point. If Faith were the older one, I would expect that to be "big" instead of "little" - even when being sarcastic.

    Also, in the 12 centuries that this test has been standard, my bet is that many more than "several" slayers have been killed. Actually, I think that at least that many had been killed before the test, but because of the effects of the drugs. My impression was was that *that* is the point / reason behind the test - not that any of the council ever would admit it.

    The overall effect of the drugs is not just a matter of making the slayer "like a normal person". In the first place, when your body isn't behaving / responding the way that you're used to it doing, the results end up worse than they would be otherwise. That disconnect is why teens who've just had a significant growth spurt tend to have their coordination level effectively go down for a while.

    Second, the drugs also caused dizzy spells and completely destroys coordination (I mean: Buffy's knife throwing wasn't just not slayer-supernatural, I've toddlers with more directional control when throwing.) The effect was like giving a normal person 5 or 6 shots of tequila right before a coordination test - physically, though not mentally.

    I mean, it's been made clear that a non-trivial percentage of slayers don't make it to their 18th birthday, anyway. Everything about this "test" looks to me like it is *designed* to make sure that VERY few of them ever last beyond that age. And I think that is a purposeful part of the Council's strategy the degree of control that they want over the slayers. Slayers getting to, and much beyond, 18 would figure to correlate with the slayers getting more self-confident, more independent, and less easily controllable. And the number of slayers active at any given time is the same regardless of what their casualty rate is. So, they devise a standard "test" is designed to be failed in order to keep the ages of slayers young enough to be controlled easily.

  13. The Council purposely got that vampire because of his, I suppose, seizures. Wonder what Kralik was suffering from and I was kind of baffled how a vampire could be suffering from a human disease, if he's a vampire, he shouldn't have the disease anymore. That's like Billy Fordham still having his brain cancer after he was turned.


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