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The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch, S02E20, “Go Fish”

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In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone has still not learned her lesson about buying Cheez-Its to keep in her office. 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.
  14. Mental illness is stigmatized.
  15. Only Willow can use a computer.
  16. Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
  17. Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
  18. Oz is the Anti-Xander
  19. Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
  20. Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
  21. The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
  22. Smoking is evil.
  23. Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
  24. How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
  25. Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
  26. Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
  27. Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
  28. Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
  29. The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
  30. This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.

Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments.  Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.

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. 

CW: Rape

I’m looking forward to this recap, because this is an episode that I actually haven’t watched all that much. It’s nothing personal against the show, it’s just that it’s another one of those monster-of-the-week episodes that isn’t interesting enough to stack up to the episode before and after it. You get to this part of your rewatch and go, “You know, I can just skip over this one, because the two-part season finale is next.” So, let’s see how I feel about this one after not having watched it for probably ten years.

It’s night time on the beach, and the Sunnydale High kids are throwing a victory party for their swim team, despite the fact that’s a) cold outside, b) prime vampire chow hours, and c) again, it’s night time in Sunnydale, what is the matter with you people? (#8) Xander objects to the cold and to the idea of the swim team being an actual team, and Cordelia accuses him of being jealous. Xander cops to that, saying it’s unfair that guys previously considered dorks are suddenly the star athletes of their school.

Cordelia: “Well all I know is my cheerleading squad wasted a lot of pep on losers. It’s about time our school excelled at something.”

Willow: “You’re forgetting our high mortality rate.”

Xander: “We’re number one!”

Cue sad music, so we know that we’re cutting to Buffy. At this point in the season, while I know why she’s sad and what purpose it’s serving in the narrative, I can’t help but laugh when the party mood suddenly goes all morose piano and Buffy staring longingly out at the ocean.

Because she’s on her own, separated from the heard, that’s when the male pounces, sputtering bullshit about the ocean:

Buffy: “It’s just so…”

Swim Team Guy: “Eternal. A true mother giving birth to new life and devouring old. Always adaptable, nurturing. Yet, constant. And merciless.”

Buffy: “Boy. I was just going to go with big and wet.”

The swim team guy, whose name, we learn, is Cameron, tells Buffy that he sometimes trains in the ocean so he can swim against the current. Buffy is more receptive to this than his vaguely sinister ocean poetry, and tells him that she feels like she’s swimming against the current, too, but in a metaphorical type way. Cameron flirts and Buffy seems to be into it, until someone calls for help. It’s Jonathan, the kid who basically gets bullied and has a bum life until it ends in season seven. He’s getting his head dunked under water by some of the swim team athletes, who seem to be interpreting their win as a license to be a-holes.

Which leads us to the theme of this entire episode, which is #11: Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.

Buffy chokes the swim douche and saves Jonathan, who isn’t so thrilled to be rescued by Buffy. Cameron, however, tells the swim douche he deserved what he got. Another member of the team leads swim douche away from the party to cool off. Swim douche is mid-complaint about how creepy he finds Buffy when he stops, seemingly hypnotized by the ocean. He disappears, and his friend goes for help.

Then we cut to this pile of still-steaming, empty skin:

you weren't using that anyway

Then we see the vague form of something creepy slink down a drainage pipe.

Back at Sunnydale High, Willow is still teaching the computer class. My head canon is that there’s a teacher shortage in Sunnydale on account of how they always die, and no one from other districts will accept the job because it’s too high risk.

Anyway, one student, Gage, isn’t doing his assignments. He’s playing solitaire with naked lady cards that I don’t recall coming standard with Windows 3.0. As the bell rings, Principal Snyder comes in and congratulates Gage on the victorious swim meet. Then Snyder sets his sights on Willow. He asks her how class is going, and tells her that they’re having a hard time finding a new computer teacher (see, told ya). He asks her to cover through finals. When she accepts, he praises her for being a “team player”:

Snyder: “A team player wants everyone on the team to succeed. Wants everyone to pass.”

In other words, Snyder wants Willow to pass Gage despite the fact that he refuses to do any classwork or even bother to show up for tests. Snyder is angry that Willow has given him a failing grade so close to the state championships. Willow argues that she’s just trying to grade fairly, and Snyder tells her that since Gage is such a great athlete, he’s under more pressure than everyone else.

You know, putting a student in a place of power over their peers is a bad idea. If Willow wasn’t Willow and wasn’t concerned about being fair, she could academically ruin any classmate she wanted to.

Unfortunately, this also means that she can be manipulated by an administrator who has power over her, which is exactly what Snyder is doing, though he never explicitly tells her to change Gage’s grade.

Xander is as outraged as anyone should be to hear that a classmate is getting special treatment from teachers:

Xander: “That is wrong. A big fat spankin’ wrong. It’s a slap in the face to everyone one of us who studied hard and worked long hours to earn our D’s.”

Cordelia doesn’t agree:

Cordelia: “Xander, I know you take pride in being the voice of the common wuss, but the truth is, certain people are entitled to special privileges. They’re called winners. That’s how the world works.”

There’s brief banter about Thomas Jefferson that kind of makes Cordelia the winner of the debate, even though she’s taken a morally repugnant stance: because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, Xander’s citing of “All men are created equal” isn’t a very solid argument.

Xander laments that Buffy isn’t at school to back him up, and we cut to Buffy and Cameron driving up to school. And Cameron is still talking about the ocean. Buffy is visibly bored, and interrupts him by telling him how great it is that he hasn’t been romantically pressuring her. Cameron responds by sexually harassing her and trying to lock her in his car. Then she slams his face into the steering wheel twice, which is the appropriate response in a situation like this. Unfortunately, this unfolds just as Snyder walks past.

Hey! In season three don’t they make a big deal about how seniors can go off campus for lunch? Buffy is a junior. Why doesn’t she get in trouble for cutting class?

In the nurse’s office, Cameron is getting his broken nose iced while Buffy argues with Snyder. She tells him that she was the one being attacked, not Cameron, but Cameron says Buffy led him on and suddenly changed her mind. He uses the way she’s dressed as an example of her slattern ways. The swim coach comes in and diagnoses Cameron as not having a broken nose on sight. Uh…the nurse is like, right over there. Anyone want to ask her opinion, since she’s a medical professional and not the coach of a high school swim team?

Snyder’s only concern is whether or not the team will still have a chance in the championships. The coach tells him that he needs Cameron to get better right away, since one of their other swimmers is missing. Buffy asks what happened to him, but Snyder tells her to butt out. The coach tells Cameron to go to the steam room to keep his sinuses clear, then tells Buffy she should stop dressing the way she does. And Buffy makes this face:

wtf

In the library, Buffy vents to the Scoobies, who aren’t listening and are actually annoyed by her ranting. It’s played off humorously, as though Buffy’s anger at the unfairness of being slut shamed by a school staff member after being sexually harassed by a smug little shit who’s going to get away with it is somehow self-absorbed and trivial. (#6), (#27)

Come on guys. You’re supposed to be our friends.

The Scoobies tell Buffy that the missing swimmer’s skin and cartilage was found on the beach.

Buffy: “So something ripped him open and ate out his insides?”

Willow: “Like an Oreo cookie!”

I like Willow’s enthusiasm over someone getting skinned, because of what goes down in season six. Obviously this was unintentional foreshadowing (because season six and season seven are so badly fitted to the show as to be an afterthought. There’s a reason why. I won’t cover that until we get to it), but it tickles me anyway.

Buffy says it doesn’t make sense that the creature would leave the skin behind, and Xander agrees:

Xander: “Yeah, the skin’s the best part.”

In the steam room, Cameron the rapist hears a noise, and outside in the locker room, a sinister shadow looms. Cameron is a little groggy, so this should lead to monster goings on, but it’s just the coach coming in to tell him that he’s been in there long enough.

Xander takes a break from research to go and get a soda, and accidentally bumps into Cameron in the hallway. Cameron tells him to watch where’s going and calls him a loser, prompting Xander to mock Cameron for getting his nose mashed in. But he immediately brings it around to how even though Cameron is on the swim team, he isn’t entitled to sex with Buffy. While that’s true, it seems like Xander centers an awful lot of his knight-in-shining-armor behavior around a ha-ha-you-didn’t-get-to-sleep-with-Buffy attitude. It comes off as a twisted superiority complex, like he’s mocking them for falling out of the competition while he still has some kind of chance. (#5)

Cameron says he’s hungry, and Xander tells him the cafeteria is closed. But Cameron gets those sweet, sweet swim team entitlements, so she goes anyway. Once he’s in the cafeteria, he smells something gross. Xander’s still deciding what pop to get when he hears a clatter and a scream. He runs to the cafeteria and finds tables and chairs overturned, but no one there.

Well, except for another skin pile:

Cameron's skin all ripped open.

 

And this guy:

A creepy monster with oily looking black skin and rows of teensy fangs.
OMG, are you a xenomorph? I love your movies!

In the library, Cordelia is playing the role of a police sketch artist, while Xander criticizes her for not getting the horror just right.

A pretty good drawing of the monster Xander saw

Can we discuss Cordelia’s hidden talent for a minute? She drew that picture from Xander’s verbal description alone. That’s an incredibly difficult thing to do; there’s a reason some police sketches have you shaking your head when they actually catch the guy. Cordelia doesn’t get any credit for her cool skill in the series. At least Giles cuts Xander off mid-critical rant to ask him if that’s the monster he saw. Xander has to admit that yeah, it’s pretty close.

Giles: “Are you sure?”

Xander: “Well, it was dark, and the thing went through the window so quick, and I was uh, a little shocked when I saw it, and…”

Cordelia: “Go ahead. Say it. You ran like a woman.”

Xander: “Hey, if you saw this thing, you’d run like a woman, too!”

Ugh, #6. I’ve always found it strange how in a show that’s entire plot is about a young woman who is supernaturally strong and brave, fear is often linked to femininity. Especially in reference to Xander, who is arguably the biggest, Shaggy-level fraidy cat of the series and one of our few male protagonists.

Buffy and Willow show up with news. The two students who’ve been killed by this sea monster are the best swimmers on the team. The gang hypothesizes that the reason the students have been killed is that someone who hates the swim team is out for revenge. And the first person they can think of? Jonathan, the official school loser of Sunnydale.

Wait a minute. There’s no doubt that Jonathan has reason to hate the swim team. They did gang up on him and try to playfully drown him. But this is a team that’s going to the state championship, right? Why wouldn’t the very first suspect be someone from the opposing team? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Jonathan gets blamed for a lot of stuff in this series. He’s the first person looked at when someone is threatening to kill everyone in the high school in season three, but it ends up that he was just trying to kill himself. Like, that’s how bullied he is, that he tries to kill himself because of it. Later, he does a spell to gain Buffy’s approval by basically rewriting reality and becoming Slayer-like himself, at which point the gang shuns him. In season six, he becomes evil, but he’s like, the least evil of the three bad guys in that season. I’m starting to think that Jonathan isn’t a bad guy, but circumstances–and everyone’s assumption that because he’s disliked, he’s naturally going to exact violent revenge all the time–warp him a little.

You know what? Jonathan is getting a number on our list.  #29: The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.

Buffy decides that since the two best swimmers on the team have already been murdered by a sea creature, she should probably keep an eye on the third best swimmer. She’s not very covert about it, and Gage, the dude she’s trying to protect, definitely notices that she’s watching him. Meanwhile, Willow interrogates Jonathan. We learn that Jonathan tried out for the swim team in the past and never made it, because he has asthma.

Willow: “So. You delved into the black arts and conjured up a hell beast from the ocean’s depths to wreak your vengeance…didn’t you?”

Jonathan: “What? No. I snuck in yesterday and peed in the pool.”

In the hall, the coach is lamenting to Snyder that the deaths are affecting the team. Snyder wants that championship, so he says that of course the two dead boys would want the team to go on and win, but the coach tells him that unless they get another swimmer by that afternoon, they’re not even eligible to compete. Xander, who currently has no task in the supernatural investigation, overhears this.

That night at the Bronze, Buffy is watching Gage like a hawk and HOLY FUCKING DICKBALLS, THAT IS WENTWORTH MILLER.

wentworth miller

Buffy is one of those odd shows that has a lot of guest stars, but not a lot of guest stars that went on to bigger and better things, so it’s worth pointing out when one of them does. And he didn’t even go on to bigger, better things in the Whedonverse, like a lot of Buffy guest players did. He got his own show and writes movies and everything.

Gage confronts Buffy about following him, and she tells him she’s just into banging dudes who swim. He doesn’t buy it, so she tells him the truth, that swim team guys are being killed and he’s probably next. But Gage believes everything Cameron said about Buffy, and doesn’t want anything to do with her.

As Gage leaves the Bronze muttering about how Buffy is this huge bitch, Angelus comes out of the shadows and sympathizes with him, trash talking Buffy until he can catch Gage off guard and bite him. Buffy runs out after Gage, because even though he’s a huge bag of dick-flavored brussels sprouts, she still has to do her duty. She finds Angel spitting out Gage’s blood, and he hurls the poor, helpless swimmer into Buffy to knock her down so he can make his escape.

Rather than pursue Angel, Buffy stays with Gage. He asks Buffy if Angelus is the thing that killed the other swimmers:

Buffy: “No, that was something else.”

Gage: “Something else?”

Buffy: “Yeah. Unfortunately we have a lot of something elses in this town.”

Gage is suddenly real interested in having Buffy protect him. He asks her to walk him home.

This is another example of #8. How do you attend Sunnydale High and not realize that the school has an unusually high mortality rate?

Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia are at swim practice to look after Gage, who checks to make sure Buffy is there and even gives her a little wave. Not so cocky now, huh, Gage? Cordelia and Willow can’t figure out why Angel wouldn’t want to drink Gage’s blood, but Buffy has a theory that there was just something about Gage’s blood in particular that Angel didn’t like. She thinks it’s steroids, and the other girls think it makes sense. After all, the team suddenly did start winning out of nowhere, and they’re all being hardcore jerks constantly. Willow thinks that the monster could be attracted to the steroids in the swim team’s blood, but their theorizing about all of this is interrupted when…

A dude's legs and crotch in an itsy bitsy speedoreasonably muscular bare torso

And of course the hormone-enflaming slow upward pan reveals that it’s really Xander, who, upon seeing his lady friends watching him, grabs the nearest floaty board and uses it to shield his modesty.

Xander: “I’m undercover!”

Buffy: “You’re not under much.”

Xander explains that he tried out for the swim team in order to figure out what’s going on from the inside. Cordelia is gripped by a powerful mix of status and lust as she realizes that she’s dating a guy on the school’s most successful sports team, and Willow tells them that her interrogation of Jonathan was a bust. She explains that he peed in the pool, just as Xander jumps back into the water.

This scene is a fan favorite, probably because hey, how many television shows aimed at teen girls in the ’90’s gave us a much crushed-upon male character nearly naked? In fact, it does so more than once, as we frequently see Angel, Riley, and Spike shirtless throughout the various seasons. And while the guys are always pretty ripped, they’re not bulked up hyper-masculine versions of what men think women like to look at. So I’m adding #30: This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa. Let’s all stop to take a minute to appreciate how rare it is for a show to blatantly objectify the male character’s bodies for the gratification of a straight female audience, while never (that I can recall), filming sequences of female nudity in the same way.

In the steam room, Xander starts cracking wise about what steam rooms even are, while monster claws come up through some grates. Afterwards, he tells Buffy that Gage is in the locker room, and it’s her turn to keep an eye on him. Buffy’s wandering the hallway when she hears Gage screaming. She runs into the locker room and sees the sea monster, then watches as Gage’ s skin splits open and another sea monster comes out of him.

Gage screaming at his monster hand.
Well, that clears that mystery right up.

Buffy fights the monsters, but she gets clawed. It gives the slimy duo a chance to escape down the aforementioned grate while the coach helps her.

In the nurse’s office, legendary character actress Conchata Ferrell tells Buffy that she probably doesn’t need stitches. Wow, there is a lot of talent in this episode that I didn’t notice on previous watches. Probably because I didn’t watch it that often. Giles is there, too, because again, nothing weird about the middle-aged male school librarian having an unusually close relationship with a young female student, especially when we just saw an episode in which an inappropriately close relationship between a teacher and student led to tragedy, but whatever, Sunnydale High. (#8)

Giles asks the coach how he didn’t notice this was going on, but I feel like the whole conversation is kind of unreasonable:

Coach: “How could this happen?”

Giles: “Are you saying you don’t know?”

Coach: “You work so hard, you start to win suddenly. You think it’s just you. You’re inspiring the boys to greatness. But in the back of your mind, you start to wonder.”

Giles: “You never asked any of the boys if they were taking anything?”

Coach: “Maybe I was afraid to.”

Okay, but Giles? What was the coach supposed to ask? “Hey, boys? Are you taking some kind of potion or something that would turn you into a sea monster?” I mean, this kind of thing isn’t a side effect of normal steroids. If it was, professional baseball twenty-five years ago would have been massively weird. Also, we already know that the people living in Sunnydale seem to have no awareness of the supernatural shit happening around them, so why would the coach have even considered the possibility?

In the computer lab, Willow is looking up “school medical records” to see what various ailments the recent sea monsters had. Is this a thing? I can’t imagine that it would be. But it serves the plot, so whatever. They all had injuries and illnesses that indicated steroid abuse, but as Xander points out, turning into a fish person isn’t necessarily a well-known side effect. Buffy sends Xander to find out what his teammates are taking and how, while Buffy and Giles go on a monster hunt with a tranquilizer gun. They’re walking around the sewer when one of the fish things spots them.

In the steam room, Xander is talking way too much to the otherwise silent swimmers. Then he blatantly asks for steroids. The guys tell him that the steroids are in the steam. Then we cut to the pool, where the nurse warns the coach that what he’s doing is wrong and he’s hurting the boys. So they both know what’s going on. The coach decides that now that she’s not on his side, she’s gotta go. So he feeds her to the fish monsters by tossing her into the sewer through some kind of utility room hatch.

In the library, Xander is freaking out because he’s been in the steam a lot. While everyone is worried because Xander might turn into a sea monster and that would be bad for him, Cordelia is more concerned with what it might mean for her social status should her boyfriend transform into a monster. They decide that their priority should be finding out what’s in the steam, so the hospital can come up with an antidote.

Oh yeah. I’m sure that’ll fix everything. A small local hospital will just magically come up with a cure for fishpeopleitis.

Willow says she’ll go talk to the nurse (good luck) while Buffy’s going to interrogate the coach. He evades her questions for a while, then relents. He tells her that the USSR experimented with turning their swimming team into shark hybrid things. The coach is disgusted at Buffy’s lack of school spirit and pulls a gun on her, ordering her to jump into the monster pit. There, she finds the body of the nurse floating in the water, all bitten up.

Buffy: “So what, you’re just going to feed me to ’em?”

Coach: “Oh they’ve already had their dinner. But boys have other needs.”

In other words, Buffy is now at risk of monster rape? Why is that even necessary at all? Being eaten isn’t bad enough? We have to involve male entitlement to female sexuality in this? How, in the past ten minutes, has this otherwise pretty good episode gone violently off the rails?

I suppose we could look at it as the coach punishing Buffy for her perceived sluttiness when she turned down Cameron and bashed his face into the steering wheel, and this could have been an okay turn if the two incidents had been linked explicitly. But now we’re so far removed from the threatened sexual assault in the first act, it really needed to be referenced here to make it work. Also, it would have helped if Buffy’s friends had been concerned, rather than annoyed, at the outrageous way she was treated by the coach and Principal Snyder earlier in the episode. As it stands now, coach’s off-handed rape threat seems to be thrown in as a way to make Buffy’s predicament “worse” than being killed, as we culturally view rape as an act that removes the sexual value of a woman. I’m tagging this an example of #6, even though it could have been transformed into something better with a few extra lines of dialogue.

It’s worth pointing out that David Fury, despite having some cracking episodes under his belt, has also written other episodes where rape is casually mentioned for shock value or actually happens and is dismissed, as is the case in “Bargaining, part 2” when a male demon threatens the female Scoobies with death by rape in the most graphic and disgusting terms possible for prime time teen television, and “Gone,” in which an invisible Buffy forces herself on Spike without prior consent.

Back at the pool, Xander is being a hypochondriac over his possible impending fishness. He runs to the locker room to check his neck for scales, and soon a fish monster appears and jumps into the pool. Believing him to be a transformed Xander, Cordelia is beside herself:

 Cordelia: “God, this is all my fault. You joined the swim team to impress me. You were so courageous. And you looked really hot in those speedos. And I want you to know that I still care about you, no matter what you look like. And, and we can still date! Or, or not, I mean, I understand if you want to see other fish. I’ll do everything I can to make your quality of life better. Whether that means little bath toys, or whatever.”

Xander appears beside her and tells her that yeah, it’s not him, and the monster leaps out of the water at them.

I like how Cordelia is both selfish and selfless at the same time. She disregards the fact that Xander totally didn’t join the swim team because of her–he was doing it to investigate–but she also takes the time to reassure him that she still cares and wants a relationship with him, even in fish form. This is such good characterization, letting us see another side of Cordelia while staying true to what we’ve seen of her so far. That’s just fantastic writing, because it’s too easy to say, “This character is this way…gotcha! She’s actually this way.” Instead, it’s “This character is this way…and she’s also this way.”

In the library, Giles has rounded up all the swim team members and locked them in the cage. Yet another instance of Giles doing something that, if we didn’t know he was a Watcher, would be extremely creepy. “Yeah, I’m just a male authority figure locking these virile young boys in this cage. Nothing weird about that.”

One swim team member is missing, but Xander and Cordelia know where he is. What nobody knows is where Buffy is, and that is in the sewer with the fish monsters.

Buffy: “Great. This is just what my reputation needs. That I did it with the entire swim team.”

AUUUUGH, why?! Why equate rape with sex? Why equate sex with having a bad reputation? WHY WAS THIS ELEMENT EVEN INTRODUCED AT ALL?! (#6)

The monsters begin circling, and Xander finds the coach watching Buffy in the monster pit. While Xander fights the coach, Buffy fights the monsters, who are closing in on her. Xander reaches down and helps pull Buffy up while the monsters keep clawing at her, thus saving her from rape. That’s right, the character who once tried to rape her and has never admitted to knowing that he raped her is now the hero who saves her from rape. What the fuck is even happening?

Buffy and Xander are safe and gasping for air beside the sewer hole when the coach attacks. He’s not great at attacking, though, and ends up in the hole. Buffy offers to save him, but he tries to reason with the fish guys, who attack him.

Buffy: “Those boys really love their coach.”

So basically, the coach’s punishment for turning the boys into fish monsters is rape. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? (#6)(#27)

What’s even weirder is that earlier in the episode, Buffy tells the coach that he should be in prison, being beaten by guards. They could have gone for a rape joke there, as they have in the past when prison has been mentioned. I wonder if it was in there and got cut specifically because of all the other stuff?

I also wonder if Fury thought the coach, who accused Buffy of being a slut and suggesting she was “asking for it” was getting a dose of some kind of poetic or karmic justice. That’s a particularly weird notion we have about rape in our culture, that it should also be punished by rape.

But you know, we also do the same thing with murder so I’m not sure why I’m surprised.

Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Cordelia are hanging in the student lounge area, talking about how Xander has to have plasma transfusions to get all the fish monster out of his blood. Cordelia tells him that he doesn’t have to be on the swim team next season, that she would be happy if he was a football player, too. Giles shows up and tells them that animal control weren’t able to find the fish monsters, but Buffy isn’t worried.

Buffy: “I don’t think we’ll be seeing them anymore.”

Giles “Where do you think they’ll go?”

Buffy: “Home.”

Cut to a scene of the ocean that Cameron was waxing so poetically about before, and the three former swimmers bobbing around in the waves.

So…that’s the episode. What even was happening?!

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41 Comments

  1. Laina
    Laina

    I was wondering when you were gonna mention it was Wentworth Miller! I think that’s about the best part of this episode, honestly.

    October 1, 2015
    |Reply
    • Lieke
      Lieke

      He’s one of the best parts of this episode. At one point I even briefly considered that something romantic was happening between Gage and Buffy until he turned into a fish. On the whole, though, this episode is made to look worse than it is because it is surrounded by pretty awesome eps.

      October 1, 2015
      |Reply
  2. Jo
    Jo

    I work in records management where I digitize old school records. If their records were digital, I would be SERIOUSLY impressed. All the student medical records I’ve seen have been folders of the kids’ nurse files from elementary to high school haha

    October 1, 2015
    |Reply
  3. Anon123
    Anon123

    “In the library, Buffy vents to the Scoobies, who aren’t listening and are actually annoyed by her ranting. It’s played off humorously, as though Buffy’s anger at the unfairness of being slut shamed by a school staff member after being sexually harassed by a smug little shit who’s going to get away with it is somehow self-absorbed and trivial. (#6), (#27)”

    Idk, I gave this a little more benefit of the doubt at the time–I thought the angle was, “Buffy’s been doing so much general moping that the group is passive-aggressively ignoring her now that she has a real complaint.”

    “Ugh, #6. I’ve always found it strange how in a show that’s entire plot is about a young woman who is supernaturally strong and brave, fear is often linked to femininity. Especially in reference to Xander, who is arguably the biggest, Shaggy-level fraidy cat of the series and one of our few male protagonists.”

    This was the 90s feminism I grew up with–“Girls can be strong! But boys? Don’t be weak, because then you’re a girl!” The thinking makes literally no sense, but at least it seems like maybe we’re finally starting to grow out of it? A little?

    “#29: The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.”

    *holds hat over heart* Jonathan, you didn’t entirely deserve your fate. All you ever did was be Xander without being a main protagonist. Also, your transformation into a bad guy is similar to many sane people’s internal reactions to Joss Whedon and his “feminism” over time. There’s definitely a tipping point between, “Wait, you did/said WHAT?” and “Okay, now you’re just evil,” is what I’m saying, and Jonathan toppled ignominiously over that brink years before Joss. FORESHADOWING. (That’s how foreshadowing works, right?)

    P.S. “A huge bag of dick-flavored brussels sprouts” is the new “cum-burping gutter-slut.”

    P.P.S. Wewt for “#30: This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa”!!!

    Wait…time out on the postscripts. “That’s a particularly weird notion we have about rape in our culture, that it should also be punished by rape.” Brainwave: Is this connected to only certain forms of rape being “legitimate”? That many people/men can’t or won’t conceptualize why, for example, it would be unpleasant to revoke consent mid-coitus but have sex continue–therefore, if we can’t “punish” people by inflicting such a fate, the original crime wasn’t a crime at all?

    I’m not articulating this well, but it seems like a subtle twist on the usual thinking about why people believe in “legitimate” rape as a concept.

    October 1, 2015
    |Reply
    • Laina
      Laina

      OH MY GOD you know what, this got me thinking. SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY but

      Xander is here and doesn’t seem to really care about Buffy’s experience with Cameron, right?

      Later, Xander is the one who finds her when Spike attempts to rape her, and he’s probably the most angry about it. Is it only “legitimate” rape when it’s someone who could actually overpower her, therefore it doesn’t matter who tries? Like as long as she can fight it off, nah, there are no long-term ramifications. No need to be offended.

      October 1, 2015
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      • Lieke
        Lieke

        I feel that Xander’s outrage has a lot to do with his general outrage about Buffy’s relationship with Spike (and Angel). These are guys who have had a physical relationship with Buffy whereas Xander has not. And Xander feels that Buffy should NOT have been having a physical relationship with either of them. He claims that he objects to them because they both did evil things once upon a time.

        So, there’s not only the ‘Spike has actually hurt Buffy’ dynamic at play, (something which Cameron couldn’t have done) but also just a ‘fuck that guy’ attitude that Xander has displayed throughout the series with basically every guy Buffy dated. With the sole exception of Riley – the most boring good guy to ever have lived. And even that relationship took Xander about a year to accept.

        October 2, 2015
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      • Lieke
        Lieke

        Somewhere in there I forgot the point I was trying to make.

        Point: I think a lot of Xander’s anger over Spike’s attempt to rape Buffy stems from the fact that Spike had a chance with Buffy. I’m looking at this in the least charitable way right now, but it appears to me that part of why Xander is angry about Spike hurting Buffy is because Spike was his competition. They both wanted Buffy’s affection and Spike got it several times.

        Contrast this to Cameron who (once he revealed his douchy nature) never stood a chance with Buffy. Xander dismisses Cameron’s act, because Cameron can’t force Buffy to have sex with him and Buffy doesn’t want to have sex with him. So, haha, no threat!

        Spike, on the other hand, has had sex with Buffy AND is strong enough to force Buffy to have sex with him, so he’s a double threat. To Xander, of course.

        I feel like I’m still not explaining this well, but I can’t really think of a way to be clearer, so I’m just gonna leave this here and hope that you understand.

        October 2, 2015
        |Reply
        • Heatherbell
          Heatherbell

          If we take that thought a bit further, I’d also say that Xander’s anger also comes from the fact that Spike is much stronger than him. Which means that, should Buffy ever actually be in danger from Spike, Xander can’t hop on his horse and white knight her to safety.

          October 2, 2015
          |Reply
          • Lieke
            Lieke

            Yeah, that too. And – in typical Nice Guy fashion – Xander probably views Spike’s strength as another cockblock. After all, if Spike wasn’t stronger than Xander, Xander could save Buffy and she would then have sex with him as a reward.

            Dammit, when I watched the show for the first time I really loved Xander.

            October 2, 2015
      • Biev
        Biev

        Please look up what legitimate means and stop pairing it with the word rape!

        October 9, 2015
        |Reply
      • I’d also maybe add that in Season 6, Xander had come to terms with, ya know, not ever being with Buffy. (Whedon gave him all the relationships he might have wanted, and let’s not delve into what it says about the show that the Nice Guy ends up with a revenge demon or the Sexual Evil Buffy, or whatever.)

        At this point, he actually saw her as a person, not a potential conquest. She had become an actual human being… with super powers, yes, but human. Just Buffy. – So I feel like it’s less about how much she could have defended herself, but that any woman who is first and foremost a woman to Xander doesn’t deserve trivial things such as concern, genuine affection or empathy. If you’re a woman first, and then a friend or whatever, then what’s done to you? Well. Meh. He’s spiteful like that, IMO. But I really dislike Xander, so this might be my bias talking.

        October 23, 2015
        |Reply
  4. I liked Jonathan, but I had a softer spot for Andrew … because I did community theater with Tom Lenk as a kid. In my head, they run off together and live happily ever after.

    October 1, 2015
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  5. Rebecca P.
    Rebecca P.

    Oh gross, I didn’t even hear the “Those boys really love their coach” line as suggesting they were now raping him. I interpreted it as them killing/eating him, and her line being ironic because even though he’d continued to care for/look out for them, they were now too monstrous to be able to return any sort of feeling like that for him.

    I do agree with you about the rest of the rape-related parts of this episode. Just overall unnecessary/awfully presented.

    October 1, 2015
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    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth

      Same here, I never considered that line might mean rape instead of murder. Ewwww.

      Come to think of it, there is a disturbing amount of sexual violence in Buffy (for a supposedly feminist show), especially in the 6th and 7th seasons. I’m not opposed to sexual violence being depicted in fiction, but I strongly dislike how it’s used in Buffy.

      October 2, 2015
      |Reply
      • Bitca
        Bitca

        I saw this ep when it aired, & am still pretty sure the evil coach got ‘et, ~not~ boned, by the swim team. It’s hard to believe Noxon intended Buffy’s offhand, ‘gee, they really love him’ remark to signify anything more than a cheap “mm-mm, good!” joke.

        March 6, 2016
        |Reply
  6. H2
    H2

    “and “Gone,” in which an invisible Buffy forces herself on Spike without prior consent.”

    THANK YOU! I tried to explain this to someone once and they tried to tell me that it wasn’t non-consensual b/c [reasons]… I don’t recall what their reasons were, but they weren’t very good ones. Maybe things like ‘girls can’t rape guys’ or ‘Spike didn’t say ‘no” or something. I’m sure this will come up more when we get to that episode, but I had to point out that YES… this!

    Carry on. =)

    October 1, 2015
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  7. Barbarella
    Barbarella

    ‘This scene is a fan favorite, probably because hey, how many television shows aimed at teen girls in the ’90′s gave us a much crushed-upon male character nearly naked?’

    I don’t recall girls crushing on Xander?? I mean, this scene probably *started* girls crushing on him.

    October 1, 2015
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    • BuenaSuerte
      BuenaSuerte

      I know there were girls (probably also some guys) crushing on Xander because my friends in high school were all the time mooning over the cute boys in this show and his name came up a lot. I didn’t watch Buffy until my late 20s because all I heard when the show was on was “OMG XANDER” “I like Oz!” “Look I got a claddagh ring like Angel gave Buffy!” and I assumed it was a goopy romance-y thing. No one told me it was FUNNY. I finally tried it on the basis of “well, he did Firefly and Dr. Horrible, so…” And of course I skipped right over Angel, Xander, and Oz and went straight for Giles. Because, damn.

      October 2, 2015
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  8. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK
    Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK

    Xander didn’t actually rape Buffy when he was a(n) unnatural hyena; but that does bring up the idea that, as Buffy’s so strong, everyone around her believes they’ve no reason to worry about her being raped (until the idiotic Spike attempt, and he’s as strong as she is). I’m thinking of “Helpless.” In that, Buffy’s walking home after dark and a couple of human men catcall and threaten her with rape, and all she can do is–be a normal girl and hunch her shoulders and hurry home, when what she’d do as the Slayer to them would probably be a punchin’. By extension, all the females around her are also safe because Buffy’s strong enough to protect them from rape.

    Maybe the writers had real trouble dealing with a female character who was too strong to be overpowered and raped and KNEW IT. Buffy’s confidence in wandering around after dark isn’t just because she can handle monsters–she can also handle rapists. And very few women can do that.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
  9. Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK
    Quint&Jessel, Sea of Azof, Bly, UK

    I do gotta say, I always enjoyed the topless man shows in this wonderful Buffy world.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
  10. Jemmy
    Jemmy

    I have to agree re Jonathan. He’s not an evil person per se. He had some really horrible treatment over the years and fell in to a bad situation with the rest of the trio.

    Maybe I just have a soft spot of near invisible people who are only noticed to be mistreated.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
  11. Another 90s show that catered to the straight female gaze an awful lot, and awfully blatantly, was Xena. Topless gods, topless warlords, topless just-hanging-around guys, all those leather pants. I liked it much better than Buffy–I’ll admit that was because, like BuenaSuerte, I rolled my eyes at my friends swooning over the series and put off watching it until really late in the run. By the time I got to it, I couldn’t appreciate it as much. Too old and cynical by then 😀

    But the recaps help me re-appreciate it. I don’t think I’ve come out of lurking before the say thank you for these (and all the other recaps!).

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
    • Kate
      Kate

      I just finished watching Xena a month or so ago. I hadn’t seen it before but god I love it so much. It’s delightful and so much fun and I love all the characters and the villains are amazing, especially Callisto. Sorry, I’m still in the honeymoon phase with this show.
      I’m not sure if it’s a better show than Buffy but definitely less problematic. Like, Xena never sex shames or tears down other women to lift herself up (which Buffy does do quite a lot). Xena and Gabby’s relationship is the mothership of otps. They’re so adorable and their love is so powerful. Joxer is like the anti-Xander (most of the time) in that Gabby is never pressured to “give him a chance” and isn’t framed as a bad person for not doing so. Plus even though Ares is a gross character in many ways, I kinda like that he’s not portrayed as a brute who can’t control himself (which is how Ares is characterised in Greek mythology). That would have been deeply problematic given he’s portrayed by a part Tongan actor and would play into some damaging stereotypes about Polynesian masculinity. He’s villainous in a calculating and manipulative way, which is different at least.
      Not to say there aren’t some big problems with race and orientalism.
      Sorry, I’m still in the honeymoon phase with this show and I’m literally taking every opportunity to gush about it.

      October 7, 2015
      |Reply
  12. P.S. – And Jonathan and the other two. Gah. Their arc left me sad and angry at the construction of the series and the use of the characters rather than sad and affected by the events themselves (buying into the story).

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
  13. Because she’s on her own, separated from the heard,
    ^ herd*

    Cameron responds by sexually harassing her and trying to lock her in his car. Then she slams his face into the steering wheel twice, which is the appropriate response in a situation like this.
    ^ Yes.

    Cameron says Buffy led him on and suddenly changed her mind. He uses the way she’s dressed as an example of her slattern ways.
    ^ *TWITCHES AND MAKES NOISES OF RAGE*

    Buffy’s clothes are actually appropriate for a 16-year-old girl, and they’re clearly not against the dress code or she would have been called in for dress code violations >={ Fuck Snyder.

    In the library, Buffy vents to the Scoobies, who aren’t listening and are actually annoyed by her ranting. It’s played off humorously, as though Buffy’s anger at the unfairness of being slut shamed by a school staff member after being sexually harassed by a smug little shit who’s going to get away with it is somehow self-absorbed and trivial. (#6), (#27)
    ^ Fuck those people, too.

    Cordelia is an amazing ball of talent and she must be loved and protected ;_;

    Xander: “Hey, if you saw this thing, you’d run like a woman, too!”
    ^ …Cordelia IS a woman?????

    Coach: “Oh they’ve already had their dinner. But boys have other needs.”

    In other words, Buffy is now at risk of monster rape? Why is that even necessary at all? Being eaten isn’t bad enough? We have to involve male entitlement to female sexuality in this?
    ^ WHY IS THE COACH, A MALE AUTHORITY FIGURE, EVEN SUBJECTING AN UNDERAGE FEMALE STUDENT TO THIS??? I MEAN, IT WOULDN’T BE BETTER IF SHE WAS AN ADULT, BUT THIS IS JUST SO FUCKED UP!

    I’m also going to have to disagree with you about anything really making that “better”. It’s fucked up no matter which way you turn your head and squint, really.

    AGREEING SO HARD WITH YOUR “AUUUUGH” LATER ABOUT RAPE BEING EQUATED WITH SEX AND BUFFY FUSSING OVER HER REPUTATION

    Xander reaches down and helps pull Buffy up while the monsters keep clawing at her, thus saving her from rape. That’s right, the character who once tried to rape her and has never admitted to knowing that he raped her is now the hero who saves her from rape. What the fuck is even happening?
    ^ To be entirely fair, he doesn’t know he’s saving her from rape and not death.

    Buffy: “Those boys really love their coach.”

    So basically, the coach’s punishment for turning the boys into fish monsters is rape.
    ^ WHY THE FUCK IS BUFFY CRACKING WISE ABOUT IT? A;SKDFLAWEGR PIAWUE TAW;HT AOREGAWERUADGKHLSJRHGA

    So…that’s the episode. What even was happening?!
    ^ Fury took shrooms, maybe? I don’t know, man, I think it was wholly unnecessary because what did it even add to the plotline? The overall plot of the season was maybe nodded to when Angel had that bitchfest with Cameron, but other than that, this just seemed… unnecessary, which is probably why we skip over it.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
    • Person
      Person

      Mostly YES to all of this, but one thing here:

      Xander reaches down and helps pull Buffy up while the monsters keep clawing at her, thus saving her from rape. That’s right, the character who once tried to rape her and has never admitted to knowing that he raped her is now the hero who saves her from rape. What the fuck is even happening?
      ^ To be entirely fair, he doesn’t know he’s saving her from rape and not death.

      What Xander knows is really irrelevant to what the viewers are presented here. It’s how he was used that matters, since it’s not like he’s the one who wrote the episode and picked his own placement in the story. Even if he thought he was saving her from a gaggle of soul-stealing pumpkins, what the audience got was a character who never comes clean about knowing he tried to rape his friend that one time being the one to pull her out of the rape pit this time. And I say that as someone who didn’t even care about this particular choice when I watched it. I did, however, feel horrified by like ALL of the others once we got to that scene. Oh my god why the fuck even.

      October 3, 2015
      |Reply
  14. I think that here:
    Buffy: “Great. This is just what my reputation needs. That I did it with the entire swim team.”
    She is just scared and trying to cheer herself up with some humour. It’s a grim ”joke”. Viewers were not supposed to go hahahaha.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
    • Person
      Person

      That doesn’t make it okay to put a line in the character’s mouth that equates rape with sex. It doesn’t matter what particular variety of joke it was meant to be – it fails regardless.

      October 3, 2015
      |Reply
  15. Artemis
    Artemis

    I went into this thinking that this was an episode I remember especially well, because I also read the novelization of it, but I had somehow forgotten all the rapey stuff? Of course, when I was 14 or so being sexually harassed and slut-shamed were so normal to me that it probably didn’t stand out.

    But anyway…does anyone else remember those weird tie-in novels they released? I definitely owned at least one, and I think got others out of the library, but instead of, like, expanding upon the story in any way, they were all basically collections of short stories that just retold episodes. Like, the dialogue was word-for-word the same. Also I feel like they were just smushed together in random order, or organized by theme or something? I may just be mis-remembering, but I am almost 100% certain that they weren’t in the same order as the actual TV episodes.

    October 2, 2015
    |Reply
    • kokairu
      kokairu

      I do remember seeing those at my library! Never read them though. I ordered what I thought was one recently, but it turned out to be a tie in comic instead.

      October 3, 2015
      |Reply
      • Max
        Max

        I remember one where they had to fight tiny vampire dairies and Spike taped toothpicks to his fingers to stake them.

        October 10, 2015
        |Reply
        • Max
          Max

          Ugh, fairies. Not dairies.

          Also Xander tried to fight them off with donuts at one point.

          October 10, 2015
          |Reply
  16. kokairu
    kokairu

    The biggest retroactive recognition of a guest star that I experienced in this series is Amy friggin’ Adams popping up in season 5 as Tara’s cousin :O

    October 3, 2015
    |Reply
  17. Leigh
    Leigh

    I think the constant dismissle of Cordelia and her talents should be their own number.

    October 6, 2015
    |Reply
    • Alex
      Alex

      Seconded.

      October 6, 2015
      |Reply
      • Thirded. Cordelia shows all the time that she can do stuff, the Scoobies just do not care because it is Cordelia. It’s a subtle running joke at that point.

        October 11, 2015
        |Reply
  18. I think I caught a typo… or I am missing part of the sentence. 🙂
    “But Cameron gets those sweet, sweet swim team entitlements, so she goes anyway.”
    Who is she? Because he is talking with Xander before that?

    October 6, 2015
    |Reply
  19. SosaLola
    SosaLola

    Xander was possessed when the attempted rape happened in The Pack. He should not be blamed for something he had no control over. By that logic, Buffy also tried to rape Xander in BB&B. Why didn’t she apologize for it? She was not in control of her actions? So was Xander. Xander, in a normal state of mind, wouldn’t have raped Buffy. He could have taken advantage of her in BB&B but he didn’t.

    Another point: let’s say Xander wasn’t possessed by a hyena and did try to rape Buffy free willingly. If in later episodes, Xander saw Buffy about to get gangraped by monsteres, should he not have saved her? Should he leave her alone because he once had tried to rape her as well? What logic is that? Regardless of his past mistakes, if one of his friends was in danger, his first instinct is to save them!

    And yeah, Xander’s only main concern when Spike attempted to rape Buffy was that Spike got into her pants. Your Xander is one dimensional creepo. So glad I watched the damn show instead of reading biased reviews.

    July 28, 2017
    |Reply
  20. Gerald Fnord
    Gerald Fnord

    Based on my high school experience, members of organised sports teams are worse than are depicted in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. I didn’t worship them or sports in general, and got very good grades, so got constant harassment and eventual threats of rape from the raging homophobes (I was a male sexually interested in girls alone, but to them not being interested in sports meant ‘faggot’.) They were supposedly graded on a ‘sports curve’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were just altered, though I don’t know that.

    The references to rape by characters in the show are, as you rightly said, reprehensible, but again I found their attitudes entirely true-to-life, including rape as punishment for perceived sluttiness, rape as worse than death, and death or rape as punishment for rape─I wish these attitudes weren’t around, but there are so routine that the only pleasant light to cast is to note that they used to be nearly universal.

    I liked the way almost-{Angelus victim} shows some sense and drops his original pose once he’s been frightened, it allows one to have a little hope for him (though not for long, this is a Whedon show).

    Willow’s interrogation of Jonathan is part of the running joke of her having unseen reserves of toughness at which she’s not quite competent. It’s all very funny until someone loses a skin….

    One thing to note: this episode is one of a series in which “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” features a classic Universal Pictures monster: Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Gill Man (“Creature from the Black Lagoon”), and first implicitly and then eventually most directly of all, Dracula.

    May 20, 2019
    |Reply

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