Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Zeppo

Giles: "There's something different about this menace, something in the air... the stench of death."
Xander: "Yeah, I think it's Bob."

Xander indeed has a very strange night. This was an unusual episode, even for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I thought it was different and clever. I laughed a lot.

I keep seeing previews of Buffy episodes and thinking I'm not going to like them, and then I see them and they're not at all what I expected. The preview for this one made it look like a possible take-off of Stephen King's Christine, the one about the possessed old car (and yuk), but it certainly was a long way from that. Instead, what we seem to have gotten was something like Next Gen's "Data's Day"; we got to see the gang from another angle, from Xander's no longer fray-adjacent viewpoint.

There was a lot going on here. We had Xander, as he foiled a plot to bomb the school basement (and incidentally, the Slayer party fighting evil in the library above). We had typical high school plot devices -- wanting to be cool and fit in, how to resist peer pressure, how to cope with bullies -- but of course with the Buffy twist, since the bullies were undead. I thought there was something unnatural about the blonde, too. Maybe it was just because she knew so much about cars.

We also had this dire emergency with the Apocalypse and the Hellmouth actually opening in the library, but we only get to see bits of it from Xander's perspective. We got the heavy Buffy/Angel scenes but without the background drama that makes it work -- it all looked different when we were with Xander just barging in, didn't it? We got glimpses of the monumental fight and references to how horrible it was, but only that.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is strong enough and well written enough to satirize itself and make it work, and we still had a major character doing some major character development, since Xander saved the world, outsmarted O'Toole, and had sex for the first time, but no one will ever know. And he grew. He didn't need to boast about it all. And in the end, Cordelia's needling no longer hurt him.

It was inevitable that a male member of the gang would be around when Faith... needed him. It'd be interesting to see what would happen if it were one of the other guys, wouldn't it? Of course, Faith would rather kill Angel than come on to him, and I'd like to think that Oz would be faithful to Willow... I wonder what Giles would do? It's a shame Faith isn't bi. Or maybe she is.

Bits:

-- Buffy averts yet another apocalypse.

-- That must have been the shortest "previously on..." that I've ever seen. "Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer... 'You're fired.'" And the fact that Giles was fired was mentioned in the episode early on, so did we need it? Or was it intended to be short and silly?

-- What is a Zeppo, other than the fourth, forgotten Marx brother? Or was that the point?

-- Another reference to the magic shop, and another owner.

-- It occurred to me while I was watching that if I'd never seen Buffy before, this episode would make virtually no sense.

-- Another dog reference: Willow: "Can't dogs sense when there's an earthquake, and they bark, or cows lie down, or something?"

Quotes:

Buffy: "You know, with the pain and the death, maybe you shouldn't be leaping into the fray like that. Maybe you should be... fray-adjacent."

Buffy: "What do we do with the trio here? Should we burn them?"
Willow: "I brought marshmallows. Occasionally, I'm callous and strange."

Xander: "But... It's just that it's buggin' me, this 'cool' thing. I mean, what is it? How do you get it? Who doesn't have it? And who decides who doesn't have it? What is the essence of cool?"
Oz: "Not sure."
Xander: "I mean, you yourself, Oz, are considered more or less cool. Why is that?"
Oz: "Am I?"
Xander: "Is it about the talking? You know, the way you tend to express yourself in short, noncommittal phrases?"
Oz: "Could be."
Xander: "I know! You're in a band! That's like a business-class ticket to cool with complementary mojo after takeoff! I gotta learn an instrument. Is it hard to play guitar?"
Oz: "Not the way I play it."

Buffy: "Do you remember the demon that almost got out the night I died?"
Willow: "Every nightmare I have that doesn't revolve around academic failure or public nudity is about that thing. In fact, once I dreamt that it attacked me while I was late for a test, and naked."

Xander: "What do you mean, what is it? It's my thing."
Willow: "Your thing?"
Xander: "My thing."
Buffy: "Is this a penis metaphor?"

Buffy: "'Sisterhood of Jhe. Race of female demons, fierce warriors...' Eww. '...celebrate victory in battle by eating their foes.' They couldn't just pour Gatorade on each other?"

Xander: "I am really sorry about that. But your car came out of nowhere."
Jack: "I was parked."

Bob: "How long I been down?"
Jack: "Eight months. I had to wait till the stars aligned."
Bob: "Oh, eight months. I got some catching up to do. Whoa! Walker, Texas Ranger. You been taping 'em?"
Jack: "Every ep."

Bob: "What? You're, you're too good to be dead? You got a problem with dead people?"

Faith: "You up for it?"
Xander: "Oh, I'm up. I'm suddenly very up. It's just, um... I've never been up with people before."
Faith: "Just relax. And take your pants off."
Xander: "Those two concepts are antithetical."

I originally rated this episode three out of four stakes, but this episode improves with age and it's time to upgrade it to four out of four,

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

20 comments:

Celeste said...

This is my absolute favourite (Canadian spelling, there) Buffy episode, partially because Xander is my favourite character. I love the way he grows through the whole series, so it's great to have an ep that's really all about him. Buffy's saving the world again is just background.

Billie Doux said...

This episode gets better with age. If I were reviewing it today, I'd give it four out of four stakes.

Tommi said...

The first time I watched this episode I loved it - and I still do! I find Xander so funny so it was great having an episode full of him. As another "fun" episode I would definietly say its one of my favourites! I loved how we saw the group from Xanders perspective. It worked really well and was very funny.
However - I am very surprised to see that a lot of people do not favour this episode on other reviews.

Gus Brunetti said...

Definitely one of my top 5. It has the best comedic timing of the series. The scene where Buffy, Willow and Giles discuss what they did was played as a drama, but inside the episode it was a hoot.

And everytime we saw the gang (except for Xander), it was like a parody of them, and we have that "oh, no, not again" sensation. Like the one between Buffy and Angel. It starts right in the middle, the music is already swelled up. It's like Xander is saying: we've seen this before, no need to sit through it again.

I just love it a lot.

Mark Greig said...

Xander has always been my least favourite of the core Scoobies. That said, I love this episode. Still one of my favourite comedy episodes.

Sooze said...

Just watched - and loved - this episode. From the very start "previously on" with that one short sentence (I laughed right away) to the very end with Xander just walking away from Cordy with that "at peace" and satisfied look on his face.
The whole thing was funny and clever.
Like Gus mentioned - the music swelling in the background when Angel and Buffy are fighting - and the second Xander steps in, it stops,and then starts immediately when he departs...I found that hilarious. They were definitely spoofing on themselves.

Anonymous said...

"Is it hard to play the guitar?"
"Not the way I play it."

That is one of my favorite exchanges with Oz. I'm not even sure why, it just cracks me up every time.

And I love this episode. I loved getting to see Zander be the hero not because he was just going along with the group or because he wanted to save face, but because he couldn't do nothing. He had to do something to stop those guys even when he wasn't going to have help. In my mind, this is when I was sure that Zander (despite his jokes about being cowardly) was one of the bravest of them all. He's the one without training or superpowers but he doesn't hesitate to jump in to protect the people he loves.

Mandy

Billie Doux said...

BUFFY RE-WATCH comments begin here! Remember, no spoilers for future episodes. Want to talk spoilers and foreshadowing? Post them here.

sunbunny said...

Yay! Love this one. Except for it's being the premier of Buffy's fluffy hair. :/ How many other shows can pull off a self-parodying apocalypse?

The music in this episode is just perfect. It totally sells the absurd switch from Xander's antics to the melodramatic apocalypse.

It should be noted that Xander literally saves the world. The school blows up, the Scoobies blow up, meaning the only thing that's keeping the Hellmouth from opening completely blow up. Xander saved the world with talking. But no one will ever know...

drnanamom said...

Also one of my favourite episodes and as others have said it's because - Xander is the hero (I love Xander, as you might have guessed from previous comments), it illustrates how very clever this show is, as sunbunny says, "how many other shows can pull off a self-parodying apocalypse?" (great comment!), and it is a counterpoint to the whole superhero thing -following up from last episode. Don't get me wrong, I love that this show has a woman as a superhero, but in the real world good things only happen when non-superhero people do the right thing even if it is dangerous. My favourite part of the episode is when Xander faces off with Jack over the bomb. He is willing to risk his life for his friends, without reward or recognition and that is what real cool looks like.

Jane said...

I liked this one. The flips between the Hellmouth battle and Xander's cake adventure were hilarious. Sunbunny, I agree, the use of music changes between the two plotlines was inspired.

Interestingly the combo of my two not-favorite characters, Xander and Faith, really worked for me too.

a.m. said...

Xander, Xander, Xander! Poor thing! He gets no respect! (And not just from Buffy and the gang, but maybe from me too...) I loved that he got to prove his bravery, even if the others don't know anything about it. He often throws his body in the way if big baddies, but, as in the beginning of this episode, that rarely does much good. This time he got to use his mouth--which he is an expert at! In fact, it might be his super power.

What a strange way to lose his virginity, but somehow fitting to high school and Xander. I loved the post-coital cuddling that quickly turned into nearly naked Xander being thrown out. I guess Faith warned us what she was like back when we first met her...

Also, this episode is another great example of Xander making interesting friends--they weren't insects or aliens but zombies still are another group to add to the list.

Of all the great scenes, my favorite was the post-battle round up around the picnic table. All of those bruises and side stories were spot on!

ChrisB said...

The first time I watched this episode, I was a bit meh about it. Now, I love it. I think it's because Xander slowly, slowly becomes one of my favorites and it is here that we see the beginnings of why.

I never really thought of it as a parody until I read the review. Of course it is, which somehow makes it even better.

dvyoung444 said...

This one is a joy from beginning to end. As far as the high school analogy goes, you can see it's basically how everyone else had such "serious" stuff going on in their lives (an apocalypse) while the stuff going on in yours was rather small and insignificant (a school bombing) Regardless, it still mattered. Even though it sucked being you.

Still, I have to fault this episode for not being around when I was in high school when the analogy could have actually come in handy. Instead I had to read Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" which did me no good at all.

Josie Kafka said...

The episode is great fun. I love Xander's totally obvious line: "I just had sex." Something about the way he says it is perfect; that's all anyone can say after their first time. :-)

Suzanne said...

I didn't get a chance to rewatch this one, but I have seen it twice. The first time I felt like Chris B., and like her grew to really appreciate it on rewatch. The one thing that still bugs me about it, though, is that they seem to have to exaggerate the gangs worries about Xander's weakness to isolate him for the storyline. It didn't ring true to me that he would have to stay behind and not help them. He has been in every dangerous situation with them before and has always been incredible helpful for a boy without any super powers, I have always found him to be very brave, too. I didn't like how they seemed to revise his character narrative to make this episode work. That being said, I still like this one a lot.

Annie said...

I agree with you on that Suzanne, it doesn't seem likely that they would keep Xander out of the loop like that or that Xander would have taken being left out so well. However it is worth it as the episode is great fun.
The scene with the boiler room and the bomb is fab.

Giles dismay at missing out on a jelly doughnut is probably my favorite non Xander scene.

Suzanne said...

Annie, I agree and I can live with now better than I could on first watch since I know how great the result was. On first watch, I was so annoyed by it that I couldn't even focus on the episode. I ruin it that way for myself (and probably for my husband) sometimes.

Miss Courtney said...

Zeppo is now in the Urban Dictionary defined as "One person in a group or gang that is either used, ignored, and/or stepped on quite frequently" and says it came into use after the show!

Lamounier said...

Great, fun, awesome episode. This was the favorite episode of a High School friend of mine.

Xander was tough to enjoy earlier this season, but he is in a much better shape now and this episode displayed all of his best qualities. One theme I love on Whedon shows is how the shy, the outcast, the one that seems weaker is the more courageous one when it counts. O'Toole can act like he is the tough guy, but Xander is the real brave one. And Nicholas Brendon rocked it. He drove the entire episode, made me laugh out loud several times and I was very proud of his Xander by the end of the show.

I’m still bummed about Cordelia appearing onscreen only to be mean, though. She is better than that, writers.