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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch S01E12: “Prophecy Girl”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will never be quite successful at her attempts to cook quinoa. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
  9. Angel is a dick.
  10. Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
  11. Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
  12. Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
  13. Science and technology are not to be trusted.

WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.

“Prophecy Girl” opens with a guitar riff that sounds suspiciously like Anna Ferris’s “Forgiveness” song from Just Friends. Xander is saying:

Xander: “You know how I feel about you. It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? There’s never been anyone else for me, but you. And we’re good friends, and it’s time to take the next step. Would you, um… date me?”

And Willow looks like this:

You can do better, Will.
But Xander isn’t giving his heartfelt speech to Willow, he’s practicing it on her. He’s planning to ask Buffy to the dance- or to be his partner in tagging migratory species, he gets kind of off track somewhere along the line.
Let’s examine Xander’s Nice Guy-ness here. I know a lot of people who read these recaps love Xander, and feel I’m unfair when I call out his Nice Guy habits. I also realize that the character of Xander is a teenage boy, and sometimes teenage boys can be selfish, immature jerks. But he’s not a real teenage boy, and he didn’t have to be written like a selfish immature jerk. His little speech to Willow is a prime example of how a writer could have made Xander a realistic teen boy without resorting to glorifying the rape-culture role of the Nice Guy:
  1. You know how I feel about you. If Buffy knows how she feels about him (and she does, he’s right, it’s obvious. Especially after he gave her an inappropriately personal engraved bracelet), why is this speech necessary? If she knows and hasn’t acted on those feelings in kind, then it’s also obvious that Buffy doesn’t want to date Xander. But that’s not entering into his thinking at all.
  2. There’s never been anyone else for me but you. This puts a sense of obligation on Buffy; if she rejects Xander, he has no one to love, and he’ll die alone, so she better put him out of his misery, ignore the selfishness of this statement (which doesn’t consider whether or not there may be someone else for Buffy), and love him in return.
  3. It’s time to take the next step. He’s not asking, he’s telling. “I am done being friends with you, I’ve served my time, you now owe me sex.”
The entirety of Xander’s appeal to Buffy is a guilt trip. “You make me feel things. You are the only one who makes me feel things. Now you owe me.”
This is Nice Guy dating logic in a nutshell. #5.
Xander very wisely decides that his speech is not the way to go. He’s going to just ask Buffy to the Spring Fling dance. Good move, Xander. But he can’t ask her tonight, because she’s not at the Bronze. He asks Willow where Buffy is, and Willow tells him Buffy’s out, doing the usual.

This is the usual. Also: spot the stunt double is easier in screencaps.
Notice the steamed up car in the background? That’s where Cordelia is. She’s fulfilling the role of the girl from the urban legend who hears the scary noise outside the car. Buffy is there to stop it from becoming an urban legend, and the juxtaposition of the scene is that while other teenagers are having a normal teen life, Buffy’s life is consumed with keeping them all alive to enjoy themselves in steamed up cars. She dusts a vamp, then observes that it’s the third one she’s killed that night, and Giles would be proud.
Where is Giles? Isn’t he supposed to be “watching”? He’s reading through the book Angel brought him. He finds a passage that sounds particularly ominous:

Giles: “‘The Master shall rise, and the slayer…’ My god.”

 So, whatever he read in there, it was super bad. He doesn’t get much time to recover from his shock of bad news, though, because his tea cup goes all Jurassic Park, as an earthquake rattles Sunnydale.

You know who loves earthquakes? Villains. Villains love earthquakes:

Look how happy he is!

The Master believes this is a sign that his time is now, and we get a sense that he’s going to strike while the iron is hot. Good thing, too, because we were almost out of season.
The next morning, Giles is looking not so great. Like, stayed up all night and is still wearing the same clothes not so great. When Buffy comes in, he has a moment of disbelief when he sees her, and I’m sure his expression of relief totally bodes well for whatever it was he was reading in that book.

Buffy tells Giles about the weird number of vampires she saw on patrol. Actually, the word she used was “hunt.” This will cause a rare-for-this-series continuity error in later seasons, where Buffy is adamant about a distinction between slaying and killing, and the word “hunt” is not on her list of friendly terms. Though Buffy says that she had a close call with a vamp, Giles doesn’t seem to care. Maybe he’s distracted because the library is all fucked up after the earthquake. Maybe he doesn’t function well on lack of sleep. But for whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to care very much that Buffy could have died, and she notices. When she makes a remark about meeting her “terrible fate,” Giles reacts with sudden panic, until she clears up that she was talking about biology class. As she leaves, Giles looks like this:

I think he’s fearing looming unemployment here, if you get my drift.

If you’re a Slayer, and your Watcher looks at you like that… let’s just say it’s not a good look.
Buffy, Willow and Xander come out of their biology class, which apparently fell short in the entertainment department:

Willow: “Even I was bored, and I’m a science nerd.”

Buffy: “Don’t say that.”

Willow: “I’m not ashamed. It’s the computer age. Nerds are in.”

This aired in 1997. Willow is a psychic.

Xander gives Willow his secret “get the hell out of here so I can ask Buffy out” signal, and then Xander asks Buffy out. He doesn’t go with the Nice Guy speech he was practicing, and that’s good, but… it doesn’t go the way he probably wanted it to go. For example, Buffy’s face goes like this:

Remember when we were talking about Giles making bad faces? This is a Buffy bad face.
So, how does Xander cope with the rejection? Not well:

Buffy: “I don’t want to spoil the friendship that we have.”

Xander: “Well, I don’t want to spoil it, either. But that’s not the point, is it? You either feel a thing or you don’t.”

Buffy: “I don’t. Xander, I’m sorry. I just don’t think of you that way.”

 Xander: “Well try. I’ll wait.”

Buffy: “Xander-“

Xander: “No. Forget it. I’m not him. I mean, I guess a guy’s gotta be undead to make time with you.”

Buffy: “That’s really harsh.”

Xander: “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t handle rejection well. Funny, considering all the practice I’ve had, huh?”

Buffy: “Xander, I’m sorry. I don’t wanna- “

Xander: “You know what? Let’s just not.”

He’s a vampire, so this works on several levels.

Dear Men In General: If this is how you handle rejection… don’t. Xander’s behavior here isn’t an inability to process rejection, it’s an inability to not be an entitled asshole. He wants to date Buffy, so he assumes it’s somehow owed to him. I think the audience is supposed to feel like both parties are hurting here. But what we’re seeing is a guy being a total dickhole to a girl.
This isn’t the only time we’ll see Xander behaving as though his female friends exist for his sexual objectification.
In the library, Giles is making a phone call when Jenny Calendar comes in. She knows something is up, based on her technopagan connections and also because she has eyes and can read a newspaper. Some horrific shit is happening in Sunnydale, including cats giving birth to snakes, lakes boiling while families frolic in them, and a baby being born with its eyes facing inward (although that could just be a birth defect; it would hardly be the worst one out there). Oh, and this truly epic Van Gogh photo bomb:
For a total of three ears in this picture.

Jenny: “I’m not stupid. This is apocalypse stuff. Throw in last night’s earthquake, and I’d say we’ve got a problem. I would say the end is pretty seriously nigh.”

Giles: “I don’t know if I can trust you.”

Jenny: “I helped you cast that demon out of the internet, I think that merits some trust.”

Good point, Jenny. She tells Giles about a monk who’s been spamming the internet with talk of a prophecy about The Anointed One. Giles tells her to contact the monk, and Jenny points out that Giles hasn’t given her a lot of details to go on, and he’s all, “Just do it!” and I’m like, “Yes, Sir!” but Jenny Calendar isn’t as susceptible to gruff Giles orders as I am. She’ll do what he’s asking, but he has to explain why later, and she’s really not thrilled at being spoken to like that.

In the hallway, Cordelia is making plans for the Spring Fling dance with… wait, did she dump the guy that got beat up by a baseball bat in the last episode?

Pictured: Not the same guy, I’m pretty sure.

Damn. She wasn’t fucking around about the whole yearbook pictures thing, was she?
Cordelia spots Willow in the hallway, and they have an awesome exchange in which Willow is amazing:

Cordelia: “Willow! I really like your outfit.”

Willow: “No you don’t.”

Cordelia: “No, I really don’t. But I need a favor.”

This is one of the reasons I like Willow so much. She doesn’t play along with Cordelia’s bullshit, or try to act impressed that Cordelia is talking to her. Cordelia asks Willow to help set up for the dance, because Willow is apparently awesome at sound systems due to being awesome at computers. Or something. I don’t get that logic. But the important part is, Willow doesn’t fawn all over Cordelia and that makes me like her even more.

Willow spots Xander moping in an empty classroom, so she goes to comfort him. And of course, he totally appreciates her support and deals with his rejection gracefully:

Willow: “How’d it go?”

Xander: “On a scale of one to ten? It sucked.”

Willow: “Oh.”

Xander: “Well, I guess it could be worse. I could have gangrene on my face.”

Willow: “Well, what’d she say?”

Xander: “Apart from ‘no’ does it really matter?”

Yes, I think it does, Xander. Because the reason Buffy gave you wasn’t, “You’re a douche and I never want to see you again.” She didn’t say, “Ugh, gross, how dare you!” and pepper spray you in the face. She said she didn’t think of you that way, but that she valued your friendship. A girl wants to be your friend? You’re right, it really could be worse.

Oh, hey, here comes Xander, making it even more worse:

Xander “The polls are in, and it’s time to make my concession speech. Hey, I know what we’ll do! We can go. Be my date, we’ll have a great time. We’ll dance, we’ll go wild, what do you say?”

 Willow: “No.”

YES. This is another reason that I like Willow. She’s kind and she’s a bit meek, but she doesn’t let people walk all over her (unless it’s a plot point and vampire!Willow shows up later). And she sees Xander’s “be my date” proposal for exactly what it is: a consolation prize. Willow has heard all of Xander’s romantic practice lines. “Concession speech” was never a part of them, and she doesn’t want that for herself. She tells Xander she doesn’t want to go to the dance with him knowing that he would rather be with Buffy. Then she tells him she’ll see him on Monday, and leaves Xander spouting more Nice Guy lines in the empty classroom.

Later, when night has fallen over Sunnydale high and people are still letting their kids hang around there for some reason, Buffy goes into the bathroom and… wait, she just put that on the sink?

You can’t just casually leave that there, Buffy.

Just moments before, we saw that there were still students at the school, so Buffy is taking kind of a risk here, leaving her stake out in view of God and everyone. But there are more important things to think about, like OMFINGCHRISTWHATTHEHELLISTHAT?!

This would be the worst time for someone to plug up the drain with paper towels.

Buffy goes to the library to tell Giles about the gory plumbing problem the school is suddenly having, when she sees Angel got there first. She’s excited to see that he’s there, but she slows her roll as she approaches the door to Giles’s office and overhears what he and Angel are talking about:

Angel: “It can’t be, you’ve gotta be wrong.”

Giles: “I’ve checked it against all my other volumes, it’s very real.”

Angel: “Well, there’s gotta be some way around it.”

Giles: “Listen, some prophecies are a bit dodgy. They’re mutable. Buffy herself has thwarted them time and time again, but this is the Codex. There is nothing in it that does not come to pass.”

Angel: “Then you’re reading it wrong.”

Giles: “I wish to God I were! But it’s very plain. Tomorrow night, Buffy will face the Master. And she will die.”

Not good news. Let’s see how Buffy is taking it:

Okay, that doesn’t look too promising. She starts laughing all crazy-like, alerting Giles and Angel to her presence. Fun bit of trivia, Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t like laughing on camera, because she thought she sounded too fake. She was way right. But we still all love her and NOBODY ELSE COULD HAVE EVER BEEN BUFFY FAKE SOUNDING LAUGH AND ALL FOREVER.

Buffy: “So that’s it, huh? I remember the drill. One Slayer dies, next one’s called. Wonder who she is. Will you train her? Or will they send someone else?”

Giles: “Buffy, I-“

Buffy: “They say how he was gonna kill me? Do you think it’ll hurt?”

Ow. My heart.

Angel tries to comfort Buffy, but she tells him not to touch her and decides the best way to go is to quit being slayer. She resigns, and when Giles tells her no one else can beat the Master, that there are signs, she doesn’t take it… well. She hurls a book at him, screaming:

Buffy: “The signs? Read me the signs! Tell me fortune! You’re so useful sitting here with all of your books! You’re really a lot of help!”

Once Buffy seems to be out of books to throw, Angel steps in and gives it a try:

Angel: “I know this is hard.”

Buffy: “What do you know about this? You’re never gonna die.”

Angel: “You think I want anything to happen to you? Do you think I could stand it?”

But Buffy isn’t having ANY of it. She insists she’s quitting. Giles starts to warn her about the dire consequences of the Master rising, and Buffy won’t listen:

Buffy: “I don’t care! I don’t care. Giles, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t want to die.”

Buffy throws the cross necklace Angel gave her on the ground and storms out, and Angel and Giles can only watch her go, probably not because they’re paralyzed with emotion, but because Buffy could kill them both with her hands and she is way angry.

At home, Willow looks longingly at a photo of her and Xander, and picks up the phone to call him. He’s at home, in a filthy room, listening to Patsy Cline. He picks up the phone, then hangs it up, and takes it off the hook. PS. OMG LOOK AT THE PHONE:

OMG, it’s rotary!

Buffy is in her room, looking at the scrapbook of good times she’s had since she came to Sunnydale. I would have assumed the scrapbook would be somewhat emptier, what with the whole “Hellmouth” thing going on, but whatever. Joyce comes in and asks Buffy what’s the matter, and Buffy begs her mom to take her away from Sunnydale. But Joyce, unaware of Buffy’s Slayerness, assumes that Buffy is reacting this way because no one has asked her to Spring Fling. She reveals that she bought Buffy a beautiful dress to wear to the dance. She tries to convince Buffy to go with a heartwarming story:

Joyce: “Homecoming, my freshman year of college. I didn’t have a date, so I got dressed up and went anyway.”

Buffy: “Was it awful?”

Joyce: “It was awful. For about an hour.”

Buffy: “Then what happened?”

Joyce: “I met your father.”

I hate to interrupt this anecdote, but didn’t Buffy’s parents, you know… get divorced recently? I know that divorce doesn’t magically erase all the good memories and love you had for the other person in your past, but damn. If I were a child of a recent divorce, this would drive a stake through my heart (rimshot). And also, do they have dances in college for real? I went to community college, so I don’t know from sleep-away camp style college. Somebody fill me in on this one.

Buffy makes a comment about how having her whole life ahead of her must have been nice for her mom, and we don’t see Joyce immediately rush her daughter to the hospital for suicide watch because it cuts to a new scene. I really, really hope Joyce had some discussion with Buffy after that remark, because so far, she’s batting a thousand in the parenting department.

The next morning, Cordelia and Willow are walking through Sunnydale high because Cordelia’s date- who she is totally falling for in way she obviously didn’t fall for the poor guy who got beaten with a bat in the last episode- didn’t show up at the Bronze with the AV equipment. Willow and Cordelia spot the guy and a friend sitting in a classroom watching television.

“You know, I’m just hanging out with my dead friends.”

When she opens to the door to give her boyfriend a piece of her mind, he falls out of the room dead, and Willow goes inside to find lots of dead students and a creepy, child-sized handprint on the television, which is showing cartoons.

My kids are on summer vacation, so this is how you’ll find my body.

Buffy is getting all prettied up when her mom rushes in and tells her that there’s something on the news, and it has to do with Willow. Buffy goes to Willow’s house, where she finds Willow absolutely traumatized:

Willow: “I’m trying to think how to say it, to explain it so you’ll understand.”

Buffy: “It doesn’t matter as long as you’re okay.”

Willow: “I’m not okay. I knew those guys. I go to that room every day. And when I walked in there, it wasn’t our world anymore. They made it theirs. And they had fun. What are we gonna do?”

Buffy: “What we have to.”

That’s really all it takes. Buffy loves her friend so much, and she’s so shaken by how upset Willow is, that she’s willing to go face the Master and die.

Because Buffy is a fucking hero.

Pardon me, this is the part of this episode where I get a tissue and delicately dab at my eyes and pretend like it’s allergies and not crying. I’m sorry, but I can’t force myself to do the dishes if I don’t want to, and here is Buffy, ready to march into death because she has to if she wants her friends to live in a world where the monsters don’t win.

In his subterranean hidey hole, the Master tests the force field around him and, seeing it’s weakening, sends the Anointed One out to fetch Buffy.

In the library, Giles is getting all his weapons out, while Jenny Calendar gives a little rundown of events that will A) clarify what’s happening for any viewers who are stragglers or not paying attention, and B) lets us know she’s in on the Slayer secret club now:

Jenny: “Okay, so, this Master guy tried to open the Hellmouth, but he got stuck in it, and now all the signs are reading that he’s gonna get out, which opens the Hellmouth, which brings the demons, which ends the world?”

Giles: “Yes. That about sums it up, yes.”

Jenny: “The part that gets me though, is where Buffy is the Vampire Slayer. She’s so little.”

That’s one of my favorite Jenny Calendar lines ever. She can totally get all the demon stuff, that makes sense. Buffy being the Slayer is what blows her mind.

I’m going to point this out now, because it ties into my overall #2: Did anyone else notice how Jenny and Buffy have the same speech patterns and irreverent black humor about the supernatural? It’s almost a subheading under #2 for me, that Jenny is a grown up and acceptable version of Buffy for Giles to be interested in. And the weird thing is, it might not even be intentional on the part of the writers, because in the Buffyverse, there are basically two modes for female characters who are given personalities- quirky or bitchy. Some characters swing between the two, but at any given moment, those are their personalities. Since Jenny isn’t bitchy, she has to be another quirky girl, so that could be how she’s ending up just like Buffy. It’s the template.

But moving on, Jenny tells Giles that Brother Luca, the monk who first warned the internet about the Master, has disappeared, and his last email was just a verse from the Bible, the one about “a little child will lead them,” or whatever nonsense was used to justify the Children’s Crusade back in ye olden days. They realize that this means the vampire that Buffy killed in the funeral home wasn’t the Anointed One, and is probably a kid. But Buffy won’t know this. Jenny says they have to warn Buffy, but Giles says:

Giles: “Buffy’s not going to face the Master. I am.”

Then Buffy walks in and she’s all:

Buffy: “No you’re not.”

And she’s wearing her Spring Fling dress and Angel’s leather jacket, and it looks awesome.

Giles is not having it when Buffy says she’s going to find the Anointed One and let him bring her to the Master:

Giles: “I’ve made up my mind.”

Buffy: “So have I.”

Giles: “I made up mine first. I’m older and wiser than you, and just do what you’re told for once! All right?”

He tells Buffy there’s nothing she can say to stop him from going off to death at the Master’s hands in her place, and she says she knows. Then she punches him and knocks him out, so we’re, what, ten out of twelve episodes now that he’s gotten knocked unconscious? Good luck remembering all your smarty pants library stuff with multiple brain injuries, Rupert!

Jenny runs to Giles’s aid, and Buffy tells her to think up something cool and say that she said it when he wakes up. Then she puts her cross necklace back on and picks up a crossbow.

Jenny: “You fight the Master, and you’ll die.”

Buffy: “Maybe. But maybe I’ll take him with me.”

Outside the school, Buffy sees the Anointed One standing all alone. He asks her to help him, but Buffy knows who he is. She tell’s him it’s okay, and with the pretense dropped, they walk off into the commercial break hand in hand.

Like two best mates, but one is leading the other one to certain doom.
Back in the library, Xander and Willow have just found out from recently-conscious Giles that Buffy went to face the Master and her demise. And Willow and Xander do not react well to the presence of Jenny Calendar:

Jenny: “Uh, I’m sorry to bring this up, but we also have an apocalypse to worry about.”

Xander: “Do you mind?”

Willow: “How come she’s in the club?”

The kids really do not care about the end of the world. They just care about the end of Buffy. And this is a weird logic we will see the characters go through over and over again. It’s a thing I’ve always gotten hung up on in the storytelling with this show. “[Character] might die! But the world might end! Let’s all forget that [character] is in this world and will die anyway, but also the whole world will die and one of those things is way worse than the other.” I guess I can’t say I would react differently, having never been in a situation where I had to choose between losing a loved one or allowing earth’s inevitable destruction, so I can’t say what I would choose either way… but I’m hoping I wouldn’t wrestle with it at least once a year for seven years, if you get my drift.

Buffy reaches the Hellmouth via sewer tunnels. Later in the series, it will be easily accessible from the Sunnydale high basement, and sometimes bursting directly up through the library floor.

Angel is in his apartment, brooding:

Brood! Brood like Heathcliff, you chiseled-featured bastard!

…when Xander shows up and tells Angel that Buffy has gone to fight the Master. Angel says that the Master will kill her, but he doesn’t sound real concerned about it. He’s all prickly and stand-offish with Xander, even as Xander is asking for help for Buffy. Angel knows Buffy is going to die… so why doesn’t it seem like a good idea to help her? #9, Angel. #9.

Xander cuts off Angel’s trash talking with a cross to the face and tells him what’s what:

Xander: “How can I say this clearly? I don’t like you. At the end of the day, I pretty much think you’re a vampire. But Buffy’s got this big old yen for you. She thinks you’re a real person. And right now, I need you to prove her right.”

Angel: “You’re in love with her.”

Xander: “Aren’t you?”

Back in the library, Jenny Calendar points out that they don’t know where the Hellmouth is going to open. Buffy fans know, don’t we? They ask a distracted Willow to help them research it, and we cut to Buffy entering the Hellmouth with the Anointed One. He leaves her at the entrance, and with tense music playing, Buffy ventures in to face the Master, alone.

Buffy: “You know, you really ought to talk to your contractor. Looks like you got some water damage.”

Master: “Oh good. The feeble banter portion of the fight. Why don’t we just cut to the- “

Buffy cuts to the, all right. She shoots the Master with the crossbow, but he grabs the arrow before it can pierce his heart. While Buffy bickers with the Master and Xander bickers with Angel, Willow, Giles, and Jenny realize that the other vampires will be going to the Bronze- where the Spring Fling dance is happening. The Master gets the jump on Buffy, just like in the dream she had, and Willow and Jenny try to get to the Bronze to warn everyone, but are met with a Night of The Living Dead-style army of shambling vampires who are headed straight for the school.

The Master explains to Buffy that just by showing up, she’s let the prophecy happen; her blood will give him the power to get free, and then the apocalypse, etc. If she hadn’t shown up, none of the bad stuff would have come true. He bites her, drinks her blood, and then leaves her face down in a pool of water.

And this is why people don’t like going to Michael Stipe’s halloween parties, guys.

Xander and Angel arrive and find Buffy dead:
Looking at that pose, we clearly having the mourning romantic hero and the tragic, doomed heroine, right? This is some real Brontë shit going down here, right? Well, in comes Captain Nice Guy to save the day, because Angel can’t perform CPR because he can’t breathe.
Back up the canon truck a sec.
Angel smelled gas in the last episode. Which means, he has a sense of smell. He can also smell Buffy when she’s around, and in season two or three (I forget which) he can smell a werewolf. So, he can at least choose to breathe, right? I mean, we see the vampires on this show smoking all the time (because smoking is evil and associated only with evil people, cigarettes being a good indicator of a person’s inherent evilness and not symptomatic of our addiction culture that makes people crave poison for profit), so they have to at least be able to breathe if they will it. Why can’t Angel do CPR?
I am disappoint.
Back at the school, Cordelia shows up just in time to rescue Jenny and Willow, while in the Hellmouth, Xander continues CPR. Just when they’ve given up hope, Buffy comes miraculously back to life, spitting up cave water, and breathes, “Xander,” in a total Nice Guy fantasy resolution jack-off porn voice.
The thing is, I’m also torn. Because if Buffy got together with Xander after this, I would have been really mad. But she doesn’t. So… is this subverting the Nice Guy Gets The Girl trope? Or making it worse? I’m really not sure.
Cordelia takes the fastest route to the library:
When you need somewhere safe to get away from vampires, you should definitely make huge holes in that place with a car.
Willow, Jenny, Cordelia, and Giles barricade themselves in against the vampires, but they don’t notice Slenderman’s dick poking up through the floor:
Why is it always tentacles with this show? YOU KNOW WHY.

The Master stands atop a building, I’m assuming from the skylight that it’s the school, and surveys the city of Sunnydale. Back in the Hellmouth, Buffy gets up, despite Xander telling her she’s still weak (god, why did Xander have to deliver that line? Now I’m going to overanalyze it), but she tells them she feels different and strong. She’s ready to take on the Master.
I bet Buffy’s change of heart comes from the fact that she’s already died, and now that the mystery is all cleared up there’s nothing to fear anymore? Either way, while her friends are in the library fighting for their lives, Buffy struts up to the school to the strains of her own theme music, and she’s ready to rumble.
And also, Cordy bites a vampire. Good job, Cordy.

Slenderman’s dick grabs Willow’s ankle, and before anyone can get help her, the library floor busts open and it’s PENIS MONSTER TIME.
I told you #7 was gonna happen!
I’m not going to point out the fact that there are three young “maiden” type women in the library when this fight goes down, and there just happen to be three dick monsters. Because I understand that, like real penises, two is too few and four is just too many.
Buffy finds the Master on the roof, and he’s understandably surprised to see her there:

Master: “You’re dead.”

Buffy: “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.”

Master: “You were destined to die. It was written!”

Buffy: “What can I say? I flunked the written.”

She’s pretty and bad at school! I’m so glad they worked both of those in there.

Hey… who wrote this episode, anyway?

I can go on at length about why Joss Whedon as feminism’s Sci-Fi/Fantasy savior is such a huge pile of steaming bullshit, but I won’t. Because I feel like this episode kind of says it all. He wrote and directed it. He had control over the message in it- that Nice Guys deserve the love of the girl they’re objectifying, that they’re the true heroes these girls can’t live without, and that being a “strong” female means getting scared and killed, then rescued by a dude, and that experience builds character, so the “strong” female can confidently downplay her intelligence in her fight with the bad guy.

Look, I understand the draw of Whedon-brand ™ feminism. I really do. It’s actually a great stepping stone, and it got a lot of the women of my generation to look past our culturally limited representations of feminism in the media, but I feel so… I don’t know. Let down that geek culture raises up Joss Whedon as an example of a feminist hero. Why can’t we embrace a woman who delivers these messages? The simple answer to that is, female creators still don’t get a lot of attention or shelf-life in the genre. Before we can fix that, we have to admit to ourselves that if a man who crafts an entire television show around the concept of human women as mindless programmable sex dolls is our idea of a feminist icon, then we still have a lot of fucking work to do.

Buffy fights the Master on the roof while Giles fights the penis monster in the library and Jenny Calendar tries to keep Willow from being pulled into the Hellmouth. Giles is thrown through a table, the breaking of which creates a sharp wooden protrusion right under the skylight Buffy and the Master are fighting near, so yes, yes it is a Rube-Goldberg vampire murdering device, why do you ask?

You pretty much know what happens next.

After all the carnage is over and the penis monster recedes and the vampires run away, the gang gathers round the Master’s bones and decides to go to the dance at the Bronze. Season one over!
And everyone really liked Buffy’s dress.

This has been a really hard episode for me to recap, because until I started examining it, “Prophecy Girl” was one of my all-time favorites. But now, all I can see is the Nice Guy revenge fantasy of proving how heroic and noble and much more better for the girl Xander is than the guy she’s actually into, and how in the end he inevitably proves himself the real hero- again, not the guy Buffy prefers. This suggests further that Buffy is an object; even in the confines of her own story, she’s being judged and shamed for not doing the “nice” thing and going for the “nice” guy. The script is subtly telling the audience, “Okay, she’s going to get the brooding, handsome prince-type guy, but we all know she should really be with the guy who loved her patiently from afar and saved her life, so she owes him.” And note, Buffy shirks her obligation to Xander’s Nice Guy love, and never finds true happiness with the guy she turned him down for. Buffy’s punishment for choosing “wrong” is never having lasting happiness in her love life. That’s pretty harsh. #6

I used to ship Buffy and Xander a little bit, but never again. What has been seen cannot be unseen.

There’s also a lot of Sleeping Beauty/Persephone imagery in this episode, and when meshed with the Nice Guy thing and the giant three-donged penis monster, it somehow makes Buffy even less empowered.

Because of impending vacation, season 2 recaps will start up again in the first week of July. I’m so looking forward to season 2, you have no idea!

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  1. Another thing in this episode that made me have Bad Feelings towards Xander: he was practicing his speech on Willow. Who has a crush on him, as we all know. I'm pretty sure he knows too, he's just doing the same thing as Buffy and not mentioning it because he doesn't like her that way. But if you know someone's into you, you'd have to be pretty heartless to tell them all about how you're actually into their best friend and hey, mind if I practice asking her out on you? Plus, knowing that he should understand how Buffy feels in this situation, since he's in a mirror situation with Willow, that doesn't make him look all that great.

    June 10, 2013
  2. KQ

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I love Joss but I have so many of the same issues as you do, and I am always attacked for pointing out the same things you have in this recap. Thank you.


    June 10, 2013
  3. I kinda still really like this episode? It's probably nostalgia-filter, but I remember watching this one when it came out, which would put me at a grand ole age of… 4 and a half. I mean, I'm not gonna argue with a lot of the problematic aspects. I can see them and TOTALLY AGREE with a whole lot of them, if not all of the ones you pointed out, but I kinda still just… like this episode a lot.

    I actually have a lot of fondness for “I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.” because it just SEEMS like something Buffy would say.

    There's one other thing I was gonna say… OH. Right. The 5th season finale, Buffy's logic is that if the world ends because she won't sacrifice her sister, at least the last thing Dawn sees will be Buffy fighting to protect her. And I think I like that, because it's sorta a callback to this, really, where Buffy is ready to die for her friends, but also because it shows that Buffy can be selfish. I like seeing that selfishness sometimes. Makes a character human.

    June 10, 2013
  4. I am also so excited for you to recap season two, like you don't even know! lol

    June 10, 2013
  5. In the beginning of this episode, after the earthquake, the Master turns from his cackling and says something like 'What do you think, 5.1?' and it's the best joke ever. Living in Southern California, I can tell you that is exactly what every single person does after an earthquake. I totally lost it at that line.

    Also, I have to say, I didn't watch this when it was on TV and only saw it within the last… year or so. Hearing people talk about Joss Whedon like our biggest friend of feminism in media and THEN seeing Buffy? It was pretty disappointing. Yeah, the main character is a girl, and maybe at the time it felt like a big step to audiences, I dunno, but I feel like it really isn't that remarkable in terms of being empowering for girls.

    June 10, 2013
  6. I'm gonna throw down some thoughts abut the feminism stuff here, which may or may not come out making sense:

    1) Just like so many other characters start out as stereotypes (Cordelia as the “mean girl,” Giles as the “hopelessly academic librarian,” Willow as the “socially ostracized nerd”), Xander starts out as the stereotypical self-centered douchey teenage boy. Writing him as a pro-feminist pro-equality self-aware character wouldn't have worked as well: it would have denied him his later character growth, and it would have really limited those “real” moments of high school dialogue which make the series great.

    Yeah, he's an asshole a lot of the time. So are a lot of teenage guys, even the ones who are pretty decent the rest of the time. He's selfish – so are most teenagers, and it's something he struggles with as the series goes on. But his doucheyness (that should totally be a word!) forces other characters – especially his female classmates – to deal with a constant low-level of conflict throughout each episode, which fuels THEIR character growth. I posit that Willow wouldn't have matured emotionally as well as she did by the end of high school if she hadn't been dealing with Xander's douche-ism.

    2) “[Joss Whedon] had control over the message in it – Nice Guys deserve the love of the girl they're objectifying, that they're the true heroes these girls can't live without, and that being a “strong” female means getting scared and killed, then rescued by a dude, and that experience builds character, so the “strong” female can confidently downplay her intelligence in her fight with the bad guy.”

    I'd disagree with some of these. This episode does subvert the trope in that Xander *doesn't* get his preferred girl, even though he did every Nice Guy maneuver in the book. (And, in counterpoint, Cordelia is pulling the same “Nice Guy” stuff left and right to get guys to do stuff for her – so both genders are represented with that trope.) Buffy shows she can live without him just fine, thank you, and then she goes on to have other relationships at least partially on her own terms later in the series. (Not that those are problem-free either, but if they were it wouldn't be as interesting to watch . . .)

    The “strong female” thing – again, this is a trope we see male characters fall into at times, also. How many times does the hero initially get beaten by the bad guy, get (physically and/or emotionally) patched up by a female love interest when he's at his low point, then go on to win the final battle? Again, there are plenty of problems with the “women can only be in healer/supporting roles” part of that trope, so I don't have problems with Joss Whedon flipping the genders and using it here. It's obvious Xander doesn't have anything over Buffy – he's not super-smart, he's not super-talented, he's not super-strong, he's not super-suave . . . he's just the comic relief guy who can't quite make things come out the way he wants but who eventually matures somewhat in later seasons. I don't see him reviving her as him “saving the day” as much as him taking the opportunity (in a creepy, Nice Guy way) to get some physical contact. If he hadn't been there to jump in, Angel could have super-speed carried her out and Giles totally would have done it instead.

    June 10, 2013
  7. What a pity the season 2 recaps won't start sooner but nevermind have a nice vacation:-)

    June 10, 2013
  8. Anonymous

    The neat thing about media critique is that you can still really, really like something, even though you acknowledge its problematic aspects.

    I hear this a lot when I criticize TV shows, movies, music, or video games—that I just can't appreciate it. Truth is, I tend to critique the things I actually like MUCH more than things that I don't. And I still like them.

    June 10, 2013
  9. I personally always interpreted the scene where Xander saves Buffy as a gender role swap as well. Usually it is the girl who heals and the boy goes on to defeat the bad guy.

    Also, the show always seems to hint that Buffy is a stronger slayer than those before her because she relies on her friends for help and support. They make her stronger. Xander saving her life made her stronger because as a team they are stronger. It could just as easily been Willow that saved her in this instance, but I like to believe that Joss wanted to give Xander a redeeming moment. Xander saves Buffy because he loves her, and not because he expects her a reward.

    I love these recaps so much! They are so much fun!

    June 10, 2013
    • “Usually it is the girl who heals and the boy goes on to defeat the bad guy.”

      If Buffy had gotten her ass kicked and Xander had bandaged her wounds and done other nurturing things, I’d agree that this was a reversal of the trope. But Xander didn’t HEAL Buffy. He SAVED her.

      A dude can bandage himself if there’s no woman to do it. Buffy could not have performed CPR on herself. She’s only alive because Xander made it so. Biiiig difference.

      August 14, 2013
  10. Jo

    I have a TERRIBLE problem with the dress. I'm all for symbolism and stuff, and it's obvious that in represents Buffy's purity in a “sacrificial lamb” kind of way, Pershepone imagery and so on.

    But it just doesn't make any sense for her to fight in it! While she was doing that super awesome air-kick, the Master could have just grabbed the skirt, pulled Buffy down and be done with it.

    (I'm the kind of person that complains that super-heroine suits are too body-tight to be actual useful armors, so it might just be a personal problem. It would have been cool if the dressed ended up all cover in blood, though, as a way of saying that Buffy has been tainted by the horror of battle and death and such.)

    Also, my mary-sueness alarms went off during the dialogue between Angel and Xander. I'm not saying Buffy is one, it's just that dialogue sounded a lot like that trope in wich Generic Mary Sue gets all the guys in the fic.

    Or maybe this dialogue inspired the ones in the Generic Mary Sue's fics? Who can tell?

    June 10, 2013
    • Yeah. It always bothered me how often Buffy went out patrolling with her hair loose, too. Peripheral vision is important, yo!

      August 14, 2013
  11. So glad to read that the next season recap will start in July! On of my fellow church choir members (who is an English professor at a local university) was telling me yesterday that I REALLY need to watch Buffy because it's SOO awesome and her favorite TV series ever. I told her about this recap and that I'd been thinking about watching it, since it's been sitting in my queue for half-of-forever. Here's my excuse to get the first season watched before July!!

    Like I needed more reasons to watch another vampire series…

    June 10, 2013
  12. THANK YOU FOR POINTING OUT THE BREATHING THING. I have always wondered about the weakness of that line. Now I can see that it subverts science and serves to usher in awful themes at the same time!11!!!
    Besides the smoking and smelling, you also need to be able to move gas in and out of your lungs to TALK, guys. So in order to say “I don't breathe,” YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY BE BREATHING.
    This episode shall forever be known as the science and feminism double fail.

    June 10, 2013
  13. The breathing nonsense also seems like a stupid thing to write in because THE VAMPIRES ARE PLAYED BY HUMAN ACTORS WHO BREATHE NORMALLY. And because of that goddamn scene I never stopped noticing it, through all 7 seasons. Also, CPR will not save you if you died from blood loss.

    The best way to cook quinoa is in a half-and-half mix with white rice, and just cook it like you normally cook rice. It's more virtuous than plain white rice, but more palatable than a big pot of straight quinoa, and kids will usually eat it without too much complaining. You can change your destiny! Regarding quinoa.

    June 11, 2013
  14. Buffy doesn't die from blood loss. She basically got nipped but then he drowned her.

    Also quinoa is like destroying certain countries.

    June 11, 2013
  15. Anonymous

    Hi Jen! Love you and love your recaps!! Had to comment on one thing though. I hate Xander's asking out scene and especially hate his reaction. But can I also throw out that as a guy, I hate Buffy's response as well. No, you aren't afraid to ruin the friendship or any of the BS you said. You aren't attracted/into Xander in the way that would result in a relationship. That is fine. But be open about it. I HATE when girls do this, “But we are suchhhh good friends, I don't want to spoil things” I dated my best friend for 2 years, we broke up (just realized it didn't work) and guess what, we are still best friends (probably closer now because we slept together all those times) If there is an attraction, the friends thing won't stop you. Would have liked that moment more if Buffy was just like “Sorry Xander, I love being friends with you and all, but I am just not into you in that way.” Rant over. Thanks for kicking ass at everything you do Jenny!!

    June 11, 2013
    • AnonZ

      But she DOES say that (Buffy: “I don’t. Xander, I’m sorry. I just don’t think of you that way.”). That aside, a lot of people use the “let’s just be friends” line in an attempt to assuage a guy’s ego, and it’s not because we’re being disingenuous, but because some men react with anger and/or violence when faced with rejection. And yes, this kind of response is frequent enough that women have the right to use caution when saying no.

      March 15, 2019
  16. Anonymous

    Quickie on college dances. I went to Ohio State. Lots of dances. All of frats and sororities have them, but so does the student government (which you have to buy tickets for. I lived in the stadium dorms when they actually had them still in Ohio Stadium (which is pretty awesome info to astound OSU fans with the knowledge of…I lived in the football stadium). Anyway it was a scholarship dorm and we had a formal every year to celebrate those who made it into the honararium, UPU. We held it in the pressbox, which sounds more lush that it was.

    June 11, 2013
    • lady macbeth
      lady macbeth

      There were dances at Ohio State?! WHAAAAAA? (Class of ’07)

      April 5, 2015
  17. I always interpreted Xander saving Buffy as the idea that it's the normal, everyday people that can save the world. Xander isn't clever or particularly brave and he has no special powers. He's sort of a stand in for the regular guy who finds himself in an extraordinary situation and has to step up and be heroic, which is something that actually happens in real life.

    Which is not to say that I disagree with your nice guy analysis. Xander's still a big douche.

    June 11, 2013
  18. Anonymous

    Sorry, that would be honOrarium. Good thing chemistry doesn't necessarily require good spelling, or I'd not have made it in UPU:)

    June 11, 2013
  19. Anonymous

    That slow motion fall might be my favorite stunt of the whole series. It just looks so damn impressive.

    June 11, 2013
  20. It reminds me of the line from the movie, where she kills Rutger Hauer with her “keen fashion sense”.

    June 11, 2013
  21. Jen

    As someone who finds “I value our friendship too much to date you” to be really annoying myself (and I'm a woman), the unfortunate fact is that women are conditioned by society to spare other people's feelings, ESPECIALLY men's feelings, and especially especially when we don't want to date them. There's a lot of pressure to “let them down easy”, because if we're blunt (“Sorry, I'm not into you, I'd rather be friends”), we're being “bitches” and we're guilt tripped. But then if we try to let them down easy so they don't feel so bad about being rejected, we're bitches AND liars, even though we're constantly told to “be nice”. Even the closest friends and the seemingly nicest (lowercase n) guys might turn out to be total assholes the second we don't want to date them.

    So while I totally agree with you in that I really wish Buffy had felt comfortable saying “I'm just not that into you” right out of the gate, I'm really more irritated with the society that encourages that sort of behavior in a teenage (or adult!) girl than I am with Buffy, I guess? I wish we lived in a world where people who said “I'd rather be let down gently” actually MEANT that, because when people like Xander come in with that attitude, what they mean is “if you let me down 'easy', I will try to talk you out of rejecting me” and that's… ugh. It's fucking terrible. What Buffy said was BS, but I think it's really understandable BS, and I cringe because I empathize with her.

    Of course, I might just be particularly touchy because MY chosen method of letting them down easy is “not interested, I'm a lesbian” and I STILL get responses like “you haven't met the right guy” or “invite your girlfriend!”, and when I blatantly turn men down they still insist on sexually harassing me or they yell at me for “being a bitch”. So while I actually agree with you that Buffy's response is really irritating, her response also makes me dislike XANDER instead of her because of his mopey little hissy fit over it.

    June 11, 2013
  22. Loved the recap, and I look forward to you starting on Season 2. I'm particularly looking forward to your recap of S2E3. 😀

    June 11, 2013
  23. Neurite

    Actually, Buffy even gets around to explicitly telling Xander she just doesn't feel that way about him. Yes, she starts out with the “don't want to ruin the friendship” line, and that is weak and BS, but when Xander calls her on it and says “You either feel a thing or you don't,” she straight up says “I don't. I just don't think of you that way.” It takes her a little, but she gets there.

    June 11, 2013
  24. Daisy

    I went to a small private college and then a large public university and we had dances at both. The non dressy ones at the small private school were usually free or low cost (like donating cans of food), but we also had an annual spring formal that was similar to prom as well as a homecoming dance where everyone dressed up. Each sorority/fraternity also had at least one formal event each semester.

    At the larger public university, there were a few casual/informal dances for the entire school but not a school-wide formal. Most of the different organizations including the dorms (not just fraternities and sororities) had annual formals so there were opportunities to get dressed up if you wanted to.

    June 11, 2013
  25. Daisy

    I have been in situations where I was attracted to a friend (as well as other situations when I wasn't attracted to a friend) but really didn't want to ruin the friendship by dating. The thought of losing a really close friend because of whatever cliche dating bull shit might happen down the road terrified me.

    There were times when I wasn't attracted to a friend but wanted to be as gentle as possible rejecting him for the same reason: I didn't want to lose him as a friend.

    These are people who I was not just casual friends but people I was very close to, so I was really afraid of changing the dynamics and making things awkward not just between us but for our mutual friends as well.

    I agree though that as females we are taught we should be nice and try not to hurt someone's feelings, but it wasn't until college that I learned there are some guys who just do not accept no. I don't mean that in a scary rape kind of way (although I suppose it could lead down that path) but guys who were persistent even after being rejected. To me, it was offensive and annoying. I said no. Go away. I actually remember one guy saying, “Well, no means maybe and maybe eventually means yes.” I was like are you fucking kidding me? Maybe I just have too much pride, but if someone rejects me, my solution isn't to hang around in the hopes of wearing them down.

    Some people can be ridiculously persistent. One guy who I worked with tried to kiss me at happy hour. I could tell he was going to make a move, so when he started to move closer, I said, “Do not try to kiss me,” and his response was to say, “Why not?” and then move in even closer. I just told you no, dude. BACK OFF. But no, then he tried again. I said, “I already told you that I'm not going to kiss you, so knock it off.” He just laughed and tried again. I kept backing up and he kept moving forward. I had to duck under his arm and walk over to the other side of the room to get away from him. I was just shaking my head over the fact that I rejected him very bluntly three times and he was not going to give up.

    June 11, 2013
  26. Neurite

    I am right there with you… I love love love lots of Joss Whedon's stuff, and I understand why so many of his fans react so vehemently to any of this criticism. It's hard to hear that someone who produced works that we love so much (and that are even full of lots of great messages also! the Willow/Tara storyline may have tons of problems, but still, queer main characters in a mainstream TV show before that was A Thing!) may have some not-so-cool sides.

    But… watching his shows, I first noticed that a lot of his strong female characters are centered around “women beating up/overpowering men”, which sure, can be an interesting and potentially empowering role reversal from what we often see in fiction (and, alas, real life), but is also kind of one-note and… well… especially given that it always seems to be tiny, skinny, conventionally attractive girls/women doing the beating up (Buffy, River Tam, etc.)… which yeah, you could argue that that's because it subverts expectations even more… but I don't think it's a stretch to see the fetishism in it.

    Add some Joss Whedon moments that rang plenty of bells with this kinkster (anyone else attend the ComicCon Firefly panel where Whedon forgot to announce Jewel Staite and decided that the best way to apologize to her was to drop to his knees and have her lead him onto the stage on an invisible leash? Yeeeaah…), and it makes you wonder if feminism is really the only driving force that makes him write these “strong women characters”. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to kink-shame here – happy kinkster myself, you go with your pervy self Joss – and I don't necessarily have a problem with an author writing their kinks into their works, either. I just don't think that the result always justifies the author being hailed as SciFi's Great Feminist.

    And my sinking feeling intensified when I realized that, for the heroine to get the justification and anger to strike out violently, she always first undergoes plenty of horrible, soul-crushing suffering, physical and mental, and the shows pretty much always revel in depicting that in intense, graphic detail (you can see it to some extent in Buffy, especially as the show progresses, and even more so River and Echo). And yes, it's gratifying to see her eventually turn that around and dole out vengeance to her enemies. But the story line “woman/girl suffers horrifyingly until she snaps and violently punishes her torturers” is not exactly unproblematic, especially if one gets the feeling that her suffering is fetishized as much as her violent revenge.

    Again, I say this as someone who absolutely loves most of Joss Whedon's works. I agree with Anon below, it's totally possible to love something even as you realize that it is seriously problematic in some ways. A writer does not have to be The Glorious Knight Of Feminism And Proper Politics to be a fantastic writer. I love me some Joss, I just side-eye the claim that he's the feministest feminist that ever feministed.

    June 11, 2013
  27. M. Bryn Schut
    M. Bryn Schut

    Boy, you hit the nail on the head with this one. Xander always bugged me when I watched the show as a teen, but it wasn't until I rewatched the show as an adult that I realized how problematic he was. Joss Whedon has said in interviews that Xander is basically his author avatar, or the character that is “most like him.” Terrifying concept, really.

    I went to a Popular Culture Association Conference in March and presented a paper on Whedon's female characters and their supposed “strength.” I definitely aligned with you in terms of how great Buffy was to give us a model of a female protagonist, but how sucky it is that they've never really evolved past “waifish girl beats up men twice her weight class, then falls sobbing into arms of protective male.” I visibly cringe every time I read the words “strong female character.” And yet still I love Whedon…

    The Slayage Conference is supposed to be happening in Sacramento next year, which is awesomely close to me. I'm going to try to write and present a paper on mental illness in the Buffyverse.:D

    Sorry, rambling. Two hours of sleep turns me into a babbler. I just love your blog so much and get so excited to comment on them and know you actually read them. It makes for a nice change in this anonymous world of ours. Keep up the great work, Jenny!

    June 11, 2013
  28. I try not to get too science nitpicky on TV shows, especially shows that are in no way science based, but this episode really really bothered me, even when I was 13. If Angel can talk, then he can damn well breath. That's how talking works. You inhale air into your lungs and as you exhale it your vocal cords make noise. TALKING MEANS BREATHING. Go ahead. Try to talk without breathing. Even if he's not “breathing” in the sense that he needs the oxygen, he can inhale and exhale and sigh huffily/broodily/exasperatedly, and that's all you need to perform CPR.

    It was such a forced scene to try and give Xander some kind of creepy “win,” but it meant nothing. All I get is a phenomenally loud record-scratch moment.

    June 11, 2013
  29. Derpravity

    “You have to do it. I have no breath.”

    This line from Angel, just after he's been running around PANTING HEAVILY. I'd find it easier to swallow if vampires in the series, and particularly Angel, never appeared short of breath, or as you pointed out, smoked.

    I could probably deal with the contrivance if it was for the sake of a sweet “muggle friend made useful” moment, but after an episode of listening to Xander's bitching about being rejected as if he really had some sort of entitlement to her, it's just too much. It's validating a shitty male fantasy. It would've been a lot more progressive for Xander to have to get over his need to be able to rescue Buffy, rather than being rewarded for always seeking to rescue her.

    Thanks for doing these recaps. I do love this show, but there are a bunch of troubling themes that're really worth critical examination, and you're doing a wonderful job of it. Keep them coming!

    June 11, 2013
  30. Yeah I saw it part of the concept that Buffy operates differently to the other slayers, she has friends who help and support her. As in the last episode of Season 4 where the first Slayer insists on 'no friends'.

    Having civilians involved is against the Watcher Council's operating methods, but without those friends, and the help of a vampire, the Slayer would have died and the Master would have taken over Sunnydale. That's how I see it.

    June 11, 2013
  31. Derpravity

    Jesus, I wish anecdotes like yours weren't so… everyday. There's a kind of mundane horror to living in a culture where guys can be confident and comfortable enough in attitudes like that “no eventually means yes” idea to even state them to a girl they're after.

    I don't think it's all just a dudebro attitude problem either, there're plenty of chicks who seem to prefer things this way.

    I'd really just like to see people in general think more critically about the roles they take up, and hold themselves accountable for the societal attitudes they replicate.

    June 11, 2013
    • Wartgin

      One of the things I figured out early on thanks to parents and first real boyfriend insisting on me knowing and being clear about what I wanted was that it would be a massive change if all the games stopped. The guys whine about not getting any sex if they didn’t push (because all the girls think they have to resist initially or be called sluts) but if they stopped pushing at the first no then the girls who really do want sex would learn they have to say yes when they want it and there wouldn’t be the common argument in defense of rape that there was a miscommunication.

      November 21, 2020
  32. If Xander wasn't such an entitled teen boy about asking Buffy out, would Willow have been able to respond to Xander the way she did about being the 'consolation prize'?

    I really liked how Willow wasn't willing to settle for second place, despite being in love with Xander for a long time. I liked how that character aspect was shown and without Xander being a douche, she probably wouldn't have had that chance.

    June 11, 2013
  33. Generally it's hair hanging loose that bugs me, as well as obviously unsuitable outfits. I tie my hair back constantly because it gets in the way doing housework. I can't imagine i'd want it swinging around while I'm in the middle of hand to hand combat.

    June 11, 2013
  34. Yay Wendy! I agree with all that you've said. I fully believe that the tropes that have been used in the show have been used quite deliberately… so they CAN be subverted 😉

    June 11, 2013
  35. The breathing thing is a good point. I also have to question how it is that vampires can get erections without heartbeats. I know that's quite puerile, but it's always, always bothered me.

    June 11, 2013
    • Natasja

      My personal headcanon is that they didn’t have CPR when Angel was alive, and until Buffy, he never had reason to learn it.
      You have to admit, “I have no breath” sounds way better, from a delicate male ego standpoint, than “I have no idea what to do with a drowning victim, even though most people learn this as soon as they graduate from the kiddie pool.”

      Kind of a ‘I need your help but I’ll eat live coals before admitting it, especially to you’ moment.

      February 14, 2015
  36. Thank you! From the first moment I heard that line, all I could think was, “Oh ya? THEN HOW ARE YOU SPEAKING RIGHT NOW.” It was the weakest excuse I have ever seen to force Xander to have to do the saving.

    It's the same reason I have a lot of issues with zombie movies/shows. Where is all the meat they are eating going? If the rest of their body is rotting away, I feel like I can pretty safely that they don't have a functional digestive system. But I digress.

    June 11, 2013
  37. I disagree with your interpretation of the rescue. I think it's more of a subversion of the Nice Guy – a traditional Nice Guy would be pouting or licking his wounds after being rebuffed, and probably wouldn't be interested in her once he figured out that there was no way he was going to get any of that. Instead, even though she rejected him, he still does the right thing by helping her. It's a subtle rewriting of the Nice Guy script and serves more as a 'real guys take care of their friends even if they're girls you can't bone' reminder for guys than a 'hey, if you do everything right she'll come around and sleep with you after all' ending that these things usually get.

    June 11, 2013
  38. Anonymous

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    June 11, 2013
  39. nyx

    More than the lack of breath, I have a HUGE problem with the uselessness of crucifixes.
    It only hurt Angel when he saw Xander pull it out? He didn't feel it? he can't smell them or something?
    Buffy wears a crucifix but it has an effect on a vampire only once (when she stuffed it into some female vampire's mouth).
    And how did Angel buy it? Or even steal it? If he can't look at them, how did he know what he was carrying around?
    (Cue Eddie Izzard asking if a cross made out of fingers works)

    June 11, 2013
  40. I… I never warmed up to Xander. He came on way too strong to Buffy in the beginning for me to sympathize with. I mean, I could understand him working up the nerve to ask her out if he'd known her for longer or something, but what do I know. I'm a chick, I don't know how guys deal with this stuff. And I've never asked anyone out. Mostly because, in high school, everyone thought I was a bitch (including some of my fellow lacrosse teammates). Or they were just scared of me and thought I was either Wiccan or worshipped trees. And, while I will admit to a brief Wiccan phase, I've never worshipped a tree.

    That's neither here nor there. The point is, Xander coming on so strong in the first season made me not like him. I liked the girls and Giles a lot, but not so much Xander. This, coupled with how much I liked Xena (and Autolycus), should have clued me in on how I identify much sooner.

    I miss rotary phones. Or those push-button phones that you could slam down or leave off the hook. They used to be so much more dramatic. Hell, you can't even angrily slap your cell phone shut anymore. Just stab ineffectually at the “end” button on the screen.

    No wonder I'm always so angry. I can't take out my frustrations on a phone anymore.

    My sister and I used to have a rotary phone each. My mom kludged a phone line together connecting them between our rooms and we used to use it to talk to each other in the middle of the night. Kind of like a pair of tin cans and a bit of string, but cooler.

    I went to the Art Institute (two of 'em) and we had nothing. Except for Mortal Kombat tournaments in the student lounge. But only at the Fort Lauderdale campus. We never did anything fun in DC.

    AI Fort Lauderdale was so much cooler than AI Washington. I miss Florida.

    Whenever I write a response to your posts, I tend to get all ramble-y and nostalgic. Sorry about that.

    Back on topic, I really miss Jenny Calendar.

    (because smoking is evil and associated only with evil people, cigarettes being a good indicator of a person's inherent evilness and not symptomatic of our addiction culture that makes people crave poison for profit)

    I'm so evil. Speaking of smoking, one of my favorite things in season two is how Spike gets rid of the Annoying One. And speaking of Spike, I loved his character until season five. I liked him best as the snarky bad guy with the gorgeous girlfriend who listened to the stars. Then “Spuffy” happened and I got tired of the drama. I pretty much only watched after season four because I felt obligated or something.

    Before we can fix that, we have to admit to ourselves that if a man who crafts an entire television show around the concept of human women as mindless programmable sex dolls is our idea of a feminist icon, then we still have a lot of fucking work to do.

    THIS. SO MUCH OF THIS. Also? Oh my GOD, how I hated that show.

    “Okay, she's going to get the brooding, handsome prince-type guy, but we all know she should really be with the guy who loved her patiently from afar and saved her life, so she owes him.”

    Patiently? If he was really a “patient” guy, he would have gotten to know her better—enough to know that she would make her own decisions regarding how much she liked him.

    Sorry, I just really don't care for Xander.

    I do, however, like season two.

    June 11, 2013
  41. Not only do they show them panting, but it's kind of essential to breathe when you talk. I could understand if they explained breathing as reflexive and that they could hold their breath for a really long time if they wanted to, but that CPR plot point always had me going: “Wait.”

    June 11, 2013
  42. @Laina Four and a half? Holy crap, I feel old.

    June 11, 2013
  43. Erin

    Forget talking–you wouldn't be able to MOVE. Sorry for the huge biology geekiness here, but I have to use my overpriced degree for something, right?

    Cellular respiration uses oxygen to produce ATP, which is necessary for pretty much everything your body does. When the body stops producing ATP, a fun little phenomena called rigor mortis sets in. I'm sure there's some argument that since vampires aren't really alive, something else is fueling their bodies, but that is a human body with human muscle cells that require ATP to contract and release. Since the vampires are not stiff as a board, THEY MUST BE BREATHING!

    Dear god I'm a nerd. Ok, done now.

    June 11, 2013
  44. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for pointing out how creepy Whedon's Male Feminist Savior of Sci-Fi complex is! It's not just self-congratulatory and annoying, but it really shows how low the standards for the genre and its audiences can be. I get the feeling that people assume that any female character who is either violent or loud can be automatically classified as “strong” regardless of the context or usefulness of that character's violence/posturing. (See also: Kate vs. Sun on Lost) Whedon's work is extremely hit-or-miss for me partly because of this. I LOVE Firefly, the Avengers and Dr. Horrible (despite Dr. Horrible failing the Bechdel Test) but really can't stand either Buffy or Dollhouse, in part because they're both really sexist shows.

    To be honest, your recaps are the first time I've been able to find anything appealing about BtVS because most defenses of the show are along the lines of “Whedon is perfect! Whedon is God! Shut your filthy whore mouth!” and that just turns me off entirely. But reading your passion for the show combined with an acknowledgment of its problematic aspects has pointed me towards what my friends love about it so much. I think it's like the X-Files: if you watched it when it aired in the 90s, it was a deep, formative experience and the BEST SHOW EVAR!!! Then when you rewatch it as an adult (in my case–I was a kid in the 90s) you realize it was far from perfect but still fun in a campy, nostalgic way. But if you watch either show for the first time now, the appeal is completely lost. So…thank you for helping me understand my friends!

    June 11, 2013
  45. This is the problem with having a bio degree and watching anything with undead, you pretty much just have to say “ok, MAGIC,” and move on.

    June 11, 2013
  46. I see this episode as a kind of half-way house for Xander's character growth. On the one hand, he is still obviously in love with Buffy during this episode and thinking if he does all of the Nice Guy things, he'll get the girl. On the other hand, I still agree with what you pointed out. I think a true Nice Guy, after being so rebuffed by his love interest, would feel like he no longer owes her anything. But Xander still stepped up and did the right thing, especially because he sought out Angel to help even though he obviously hates him because he knows Buffy likes Angel. I think it is also telling that starting in season 2 Xander starts to pursue other girls, and I think this episode in a lot of ways represents his acceptance of Buffy's rejection while not rejecting her as a friend he still really cares about.

    June 11, 2013
  47. I still contend that Xander's Nice Guy™ logic is entirely realistic b/c way too many guys irl think that way. That being said, I completely don't mind him being written as a Nice Guy™ if he would ever be held accountable for his bullshit. The problem is that most of the time, he never is.

    But perhaps I'm so adamant on this b/c I dealt with a Xander type irl who behaved in exactly the same way to me as he does to Buffy. He prob watched this episode and reflected on what a bitch Buffy was too. The joke? Most people I knew irl–including women–thought *I* was the bitch for rejecting him.

    I love how easy SMG's stunt double is to spot in early Buffy eps.

    I liked that Willow didn't act like a desperate wannabe from Mean Girls in the early seasons, too. Unfortunately, I started to like her a lot less in the later ones.

    I went to a state university and we did not have dances, no. My sorority had date parties, which I guess were similar, but maybe in Joyce's day it was different?

    lmao at the Giles K.O. countdown. Honestly though, this is ridic. Couldn't Buffy like, spike his tea or something? But I guess that'd take too long.

    I never bought the whole “Angel can't do CPR” device, either. It makes no sense, considering what you said–they talk, they breathe, they smoke. Some Twilight logic right there.

    And I am now scarred by the penis monsters. the things you see as an adult lol

    Re: Xander as a love interest, I can't wait till you get to S4 and talk about Riley. He's the closest Buffy gets to a “normal guy” love interest and not surprisingly, is the only one Xander seems to approve of.

    The problem with Whedon's feminism is that it's very superficial feminism. People are like yeaaahhh action girls, feminist! But when you start digging deeper, his brand of feminism doesn't really hold up. I can understand BtVS being somewhat groundbreaking in 1997 (although it still garnered its share of feminist criticism back then), but in 2013, it's very dated, and not just in terms of technology and fashion. It's completely understandable that people would see a lot more problems with it watching it now, and it's frustrating as hell that Whedon stans just cannot get that.

    June 12, 2013
  48. I know just what you mean about the dress. The imagery was just so obvious I eyerolled a bit when I first saw the episode (I'm old and was in my teens/early 20s when the show aired). I did like the addition of the leather jacket, though.

    I also know what you mean about the Mary Sue alarms. They went off for me, too, but I didn't mind quite as much since Buffy was a great character so I can at least understand the draw? It's not like she's some bland personality-free cipher like most Mary Sues. But I'm glad the show didn't continue in that vein.

    June 12, 2013
  49. lmao I love all the science nerdery in this thread. It reminds me of the Twilight Lexicon of WTF back in the day on Fandom Wank.

    June 12, 2013
  50. I completely agree with Jen. I've had the same experience. It's a natural human impulse to want to let someone down gently, and unfortunately most men seem to see the slightest bit of tact as encouragement. Hell, even if you're blunt, they'll keep coming at you b/c they believe they'll eventually wear you down (and to be fair, this trope shows up many a time in movies and TV–the nerdy “nice guy” thaws the beautiful “ice queen”). Joel McHale once made a joke along the lines of no matter what you say, a determined guy will just think, “Hey, she's still talking to me! That means I have a chance!”

    That being said, when Buffy realized the “ruining the friendship” excuse wasn't working, she was more blunt with him, to her credit. And he basically responded like a brat, so I can understand why she was afraid of being straight with him.

    June 12, 2013
  51. I went to UC Santa Barbara back in the 90s, and we didn't have school dances. Frats and sororities had date parties, but that was it. I guess it depends where you go to school? Also, I assume Joyce went to college in the 70s so things might have changed since then.

    June 12, 2013
  52. I agree. I think going to get Angel despite him being Xander's romantic rival did a lot to redeem him. That the writers had to make Xander save the day kind of negated that, imo.

    June 12, 2013
  53. Anonymous

    Hi All, OP here. Thanks for the feedback and I see exactly where you are coming from. It is ridiculous that people have to go through this. Women should not have to live in fear of turning someone down. And Jen, it is so awful that you get responses like that. My cousin is a few years older then me but not by much. She is very attractive and also a lesbian. I love going out with her, because she is the best wingman ever, plus we have always been really close because we grew up near one another. One night we were out at a bar and some drunk as hell guy was hitting on her. She told him, thanks but I'm a lesbian. He then grabbed her ass and told her “I've got 12″ that will convince you otherwise”. She was in shock. I was too BUT I then flew into a hulk like rage and beat that drunk horribly (in retrospect that was not the right response but I was fucking pissed, and to be honest, if she hadn't been in shock she probably would have done it first.) Cops arrested him for assault and she pressed charges but still now she is always freaked out that some asshole might respond like that.

    June 12, 2013
  54. Erin

    I filmed a kung fu movie not long ago, and my hair was down for the whole movie. Oddly enough, it really wasn't that much of a problem. I've always yelled, “Oh, COME ON!” when someone has their hair down during a fight scene on TV, but I don't even think it bothered me when I was filming.

    Admittedly, those were choreographed fight scenes, so it doesn't quite parallel a real fight where long hair gives your opponent something to grab. But I had kicks, leaps, tumbles, and throws, and I don't think my hair impeded any of them. Weird, no?

    June 12, 2013
  55. I really wish Whedon had thought up something like “the breath of the undead can't give life”.
    I have no problems with vampires not needing oxygen (although that weird bit in season 7 is problematical) because they're supernaturally animated, but they're clearly able to move air in and out of their lungs.

    June 12, 2013
  56. Erin

    Myeck, that would have been perfect. I would totally have parked the biology degree for a line like that. MAGIC!

    June 12, 2013
  57. Anonymous

    I think the Weldon feminism needs to be called out. If one more person tells me that they read the Anita Blake characters because she's a “strong woman” I'm going to puke.

    This has turned personal for me since in the last couple of years I've had a few sisters in bad relationships. They claim that they CAN'T be abused because they are just so cute and spunky. They get FEISTY in their hourly reports to their husbands, dammit! How can I be so close minded to not see that they have twuuuuu wuuuuuvvvv on their hands? Sure their husbands make them sob, sob, sob, but they insult him right back (and don't leave him because what would people think if they were single?)

    June 12, 2013
  58. On top of everything else that's wrong with the whole “Angel not breathing” thing, there are scenes in the show in which David Boreanaz is audibly panting, for pete's sake. Future vampire writers really need to come up with something better than “Vampires don't breathe.”

    June 13, 2013
  59. Alex

    “And how did Angel buy it? Or even steal it? If he can't look at them, how did he know what he was carrying around?”

    Trial and error? “Locket, pentagram, diamond, locket, OH GOD IT BURNS! I'll take this one.”

    June 13, 2013
  60. Well, there is a definite Thing that I've noticed in the kink community with male subs fetishizing fem dommes to the point of being super misogynistic — to them, the domme is an object via which they will be sated, not an actual person; they constantly ignore rejection from said domme, trying to convince her that really they'd be just the perfect sub if she only *gave them a chance*.

    Also, Xander is supposedly Joss' self-insert character.

    So that all explains a heck of a lot.

    June 15, 2013
  61. I had to set like 3 15-minute timers to do my increment of “Writing my final paper” and EVERY TIME I just read this recap instead.

    I'm not blaming you; my brain is easily distracted when it's absolutely dying from the amount of stress pressing down on it. I'm just glad I had this blog to distract me instead of something else. ^_^

    Welp. off to do my 15 minutes of cleaning.

    June 15, 2013
  62. Anonymous

    I was going to comment saying that I can never watch Marble Hornets again, but that's simply a lie.

    June 17, 2013
  63. CBW

    “Penis monster recedes”? You missed a golden opportunity for cock-related humor, here!

    October 9, 2013
  64. TokenOfficeGoth


    Okay I can’t even finish here because I had to stop at the Xander thing to say: Xander is the worst. The absolute worst. He is every bit the “Nice Guy TM” with Buff, and then goes on to mangle every other relationship in his life by being a self absorbed creep.

    He’s hostile when Cordelia refuses to forgive him for cheating on her with Willow (the girl he suddenly wanted just because she was sexually unavailable to him), then goes on to try to use magic on her to ESSENTIALLY rape her (a la sixth season Warren) but he’s never even taken to task on that one. THEN he starts dating Anya just because she’s there and she’s agreed to sleep with him (which I don’t buy, she’s FAR too awesome for this selfish, immature jerk). Though he never particularly seems to like her and is still obsessed with Buffy, he decides to marry her because it’s the “logical” next step in growing up–he then professes his love (which we’ve never really seen in evidence) WHILE ditching her at the damn alter because he’s a coward and when he proposed he didn’t realize marriage was supposed to be a forever kind of deal. THEN, just like with Cordy, he has the audacity to a) be angry at Anya for having sex with someone who isn’t him after they broke up, and b) has the further audacity to tell her “sooner or later that excuse stops working” and essentially force her to forgive him. Oh, and throughout he degrades every woman who’s having sex, but not currently having sex with HIM, as a slut. He sure does love underage Dawn though. It’s sick. He’s sick. He’s toxic to every single woman he encounters and we’re always supposed to feel sorry for him.
    If Whedon & Co’s plan was to make him the embodiment of everything women should steer clear of they succeeded–but as I suspect EL James wasn’t going for a public awareness campaign on domestic abuse with 50 Shades, I don’t think this was intentional either.

    I’m sure you’ll get to all that though. I just can’t help it. I hate that guy.

    October 22, 2013
  65. Donna F
    Donna F

    I didn’t watch this when it aired, so I’m watching now as I read the blog and I’m enjoying the experience. My very literal brain has a tough time with the whole suspension of disbelief thing. Not about vampires and monsters and such, but about stupid little details that poke at me for the rest of the episode. These are the ones I can think of from season one:
    1. When poor Principal Flutie died, they spent some time zooming in on a pic of him on his desk. A pic of himself. On his desk. On my desk I have pics of my husband, my kids, my grandkids and my dog. Not one pic of myself.
    2. In the Nightmares episode when Giles lost his ability to read, why was he able to read Buffy’s tombstone?
    3. Many times when the teens say things that teens just don’t say like “she has a yen for you”.
    4. In the last episode, Buffy fought the master twice, died, and was left lying in a puddle of water, but her prom dress was absolutely perfect afterward.
    So that’s what happens with anything I watch or read. I have to make myself let go because it really is so trivial. Then I can appreciate what was enjoyable about it.

    October 31, 2013
  66. Mel

    I can’t believe no one has commented on Jen’s brilliant line:
    “Because I understand that, like real penises, two is too few and four is just too many.”

    This is the purest of gold I have ever read. I love you Jen. From now until forever. If we met I would be the Kate to your Ana 😉

    December 14, 2013
  67. Malcolm Dunbar (@MalcolmXDunbar)
    Malcolm Dunbar (@MalcolmXDunbar)

    I hate the ideology that because a man writes something that seems to automatically make it anti-feminist, in nature. A person can’t help their gender, and pretty much dismissing someones thoughts as being meaningless precisely because of their sex seems so contrary to the entire ideology of feminism.

    I think there are a lot of criticisms here that just seem to be reaching. You could make the argument that Xander feels that he deserves Buffy, because he has feelings for her, or (more logically) it could simply be that Xander is a teenager who has teenage emotions, especially in this particular moment of context. Who hasn’t been in the position of believing they will never feel anything like they felt with their first high school crush? Maybe what he feels for Buffy is something that he believes transcends anything he will ever feel for another person (this isn’t something only men experience, young women do as well when they are teenagers, yet it’s not demonized as being expressed as some sort of privilege). That’s realistic writing for a coming of age story and teenagers in general. They are always feeling strong emotions for the first time that they feel they will never ever again in the future. That’s youth.

    What I also find dubious in these critiques is men having feelings regarding a certain female character is sexist and misogynistic, because of a dream or heightened expectations that can’t really be controlled, but what about all those Molly Ringwald films of the 80’s which glamorize a girl “getting the popular guy” in pretty much the same light? Are those just as bad, wrong, evil, massive forms of injustice too? I mean in the end don’t they also end up treating him like a trophy? Isn’t that sexist too? I mean tit for tat man. I personally don’t believe so. This is artistic, entertainment more or less, so I see it as realism in fiction. People have these kind of feelings, and it’s common story telling to have the main character (woman or man) get their significant other. So I have to call this out as being a ridiculous reading and analysis of the text. I don’t believe it has anything to do with obligation or some insidious message being made to bring down women.

    Overall, it’s just a common trope of the “good person, gets their desired”, the fact that Buffy and Xander stay “just friends” even though they are main characters shows a subversion of that. Also saying Buffy is being punished over the entire series for not choosing Xander is a bit unbelievable, especially since the show did a good job of showing all the ways Buffy can’t experience happiness because of her super hero identity.

    February 3, 2015
  68. Susan Atkins
    Susan Atkins

    Apologies if someone has already posted this and also for being this late in the game, but…didn’t Willow give Xander the bracelet that he regifts to Buffy?

    February 11, 2015
  69. kayk

    1. Standard horror genre.
    3. Standard television. If parents were responsible on TV then nothing would ever happen.
    6. Women are portrayed as strong as and as flawed as men… that is equality.
    7. I don’t see it. Maybe it is you.
    8. Standard real life. Lets worry about guns in our schools instead of the thousand legitimate threats your kids face daily (the back yard pool or mold in basement)
    10. Harmony isn’t strong, she is fragile and weak willed like the real life people she is based on.
    11. Team sports are about exclusivity and suck funding from public schools. They are evil.
    12. Which parts are racist? The lack of Mexicans in Southern CA?

    March 4, 2015
  70. Anon123

    Quinoa is freaking impossible, don’t blame yourself. I always find little bits of gravel in mine while eating it–bulk or boxed, any brand–and it puts me right off. How the heck can they legally sell food with teeth-breaking rocks in it (or at least with hard crunchy bits that don’t soften at all when cooked)?

    April 25, 2015
  71. Jane

    I always feel like Joss Whedon’s gross Nice Guy portrayal of Xander is a direct result of never getting over the ending of Pretty in Pink.

    July 15, 2015

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