Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Helpless (Eighteen)

Summary

Buffy and Angel are working out. As usual, there is some tension associated with their being together. Angel asks Buffy if she has plans for her 18th birthday. She says she is going to the ice show with her father. Buffy goes to study with Giles. They are working with vibratory crystals, but her head just isn't into it. She keeps playing with an extremely phallic looking crystal. When she realizes this, she drops the crystal. She tells Giles she wants to go on patrol because she has a lot of nervous energy to work off. On patrol, she is fighting a vampire, but is suddenly overcome by weakness and dizziness. The vampire almost kills her.

The next day at the library Buffy is doing some target practice but discovers her aim is terrible. She tells Giles but he says it is probably just an oncoming flu. Later Buffy explains her family tradition. Every birthday, her father takes her to the ice show. She admits this is a little "girlie" but she likes it. She doesn't want a party, although Xander is very keen one, since recently her parties always end with monsters and deaths. When Buffy gets home she finds a balloon and flowers from her dad. He can't make it this year. He has sent the tickets. Joyce tells Buffy she will go with her, but Buffy is really upset and says no.

We cut to the Sunnydale Arms where three strange guys are doing some strange things, like bricking up doors. There is also some weird coffin looking thing in the room. They act mysterious and say they are preparing for something. The eldest tells the others that the time is near, that the slayer is almost ready.

Buffy is working on crystals with Giles again. But she is hinting strongly that she would really like Giles to go with her to the ice show. He seems distracted. He has her stare at one crystal which seems to hypnotize her. While she's under, Giles gives her an injection. He then wakes her and sends her off to nurse that flu.

At school, Buffy sees Cordelia fighting with a would be boyfriend who got stood up. Cordelia says he should expect that, she is on the rebound. The guy gets physical and Buffy goes to intervene. But he easily knocks her down. Cordelia starts beating the guy and driving him off. Buffy is shocked. She immediately goes to Giles. He tells her not to worry. But she realizes she is now no stronger than any ordinary girl.

Giles meets the older man we saw earlier. It turns out he is a member of the council called Travers and they are planning some test for Buffy to coincide with her 18th birthday. Giles argues against it, he says the council doesn't deal with slayers directly and is out of touch with reality. But he isn't given any choice. After he leaves, they open the coffinlike box to reveal Kralik, a vampire, inside. He is in a straitjacket. They give him some pills.

At the library, Buffy, Xander, Willow and Oz are doing research trying to find out about her loss of power. The guys get into an argument over a Superman metaphor, comparing Buffy's situation to the man of steel's encounters with kryptonite. They argue over which colour of kryptonite does what. Buffy calls them back to reality. Willow tries to console her. Giles comes in but says he doesn't know anything new.

Back at Sunnydale Arms, Travers is missing but the two younger men are there. One of them goes to give Kralik his pills. But the vampire loosens one arm enough to be able to capture and bite him. Buffy is at Angel's place. He gives her his gift, a book of love poems, Sonnets from the Portuguese. For those not into poetry, this is a series of love poems by Elizabeth Browning for Robert Browning. They include the famous "How do I love thee, let me count the ways". This doesn't cheer her up. She is worried that if she doesn't get her slayer powers back, her life will be over. Angel tells her she had a life before being the slayer. He tells her he saw her then and fell in love with her. He says he loved her heart and wanted to warm and protect it with his own. Something they both feel is romantic and, if taken literally, kind of gross.

We go back to Kralik who has turned the man he attacked into a vampire. The newly risen vampire frees him and together they kill the other guard. Later that night, Giles goes to the Sunnydale Arms and discovers what has happened. Meanwhile, a weakened Buffy is walking home alone. A couple of guys harass her asking how much a lap dance costs. Then she's pursued by the vampires, Kralik and his new protege. Giles drives by and rescues her. However, Kralik does get her coat.

At the library, Giles explains everything to Buffy. She is shocked and angered at his complicity. She feels betrayed. Cordelia comes in saying that she has to research a paper on Bosnia, unless the world is ending. Buffy is going to leave, but Giles says it isn't safe for her to go alone. She tells Giles she doesn't know him. Cordelia asks if her memory has been affected. Buffy asks Cordelia to drive her home, a tear coursing down her face. Cordelia goes with her, but says if the world isn't ending that night, she'll need a note.

Buffy's mother hears a noise outside, crying. She goes to see what it is. On the ground, she sees a body wrapped in Buffy's coat. When she picks it up, she sees it is a vampire who captures her. When Buffy gets home, her mom is gone and Kralik has left her a photo of her mother with a message telling her to come. She packs her weapons, including the crossbow, a stake, and holy water; and sets off for the Sunnydale Arms. Kralik is determined to go ahead with the test, but he's playing by his own rules.

Kralik has Joyce tied and gagged. He tells her part of his life story and it is clear he was insane before becoming a vampire. This explains the medication. His mother abused him badly and he now has a thing against mothers. He intends to vampirize Buffy and have her kill her mother. Buffy shows up.

Travers goes to see Giles. Giles tells him the test is over, that he has told Buffy everything. Travers says he shouldn't have done that, but it doesn't matter. Buffy has gone to kill Kralik, he was watching, and so the test is beginning. Giles rushes off to help.

At Sunnydale Arms, Buffy fights with the guard who is now a vampire. She manages to knock him down by toppling a bookcase on him. Then she confronts Kralik. She pulls out a cross, but this barely bothers him. She runs but Kralik chases and catches her. But before he can do anything, he has one of his attacks and tries to take a pill. Buffy steals the pills and flees. She manages to get to the room where her mother is prisoner, but she doesn't have the strength to free her. Kralik breaks in and grabs the pills from Buffy. He then takes them, using a glass of water sitting on an end table to wash them down. Only the water is the holy water Buffy brought and Kralik is vaporized. The other vampire comes in followed by Giles who stakes him.

Back at the library, Travers tells Buffy she passed the test. She is mad at him, but he doesn't seem to care. He tells her they are fighting a war and fairness doesn't enter into it. He also fires Giles. He argues that Giles feels like a father to Buffy and his care for her makes it impossible for him to act impartially. A new watcher will be appointed and Giles is warned not to interfere. Giles, however, says he will stay as librarian. Travers leaves and Giles tends to Buffy's wounds.

At Buffy's, she, Joyce, Willow, Xander, and Oz are going over the events of the past few days. Willow can't believe Giles has been fired. Buffy points out he will be staying. She tries to open a jar of peanut butter, but is too weak. Xander takes it, eager to have a chance to be the strong man. But he can't open it either.

Analysis

Sometimes people ask me why I like Buffy. This is the kind of episode I like to point to. You've got a debate over the powers of differently coloured kryptonite, a discussion of figure skating and Brian Boitano skating to the opera Carmen, and love poetry by Elizabeth Browning. Is there anything on the planet with a wider cultural reach?

I don't think Buffy has ever realized how much some people care for her, or how much she cares for them. Since moving to Sunnydale, she has been the slayer more than Buffy. Her relationships have been built around that identity and she has come to doubt whether she has another. It's interesting that she tells Angel she was shallow before becoming the slayer. While she has been imbued with strength and physical skill, clearly her intellectual accomplishments are her own. And her courage is a definite character trait. Others see that and are attracted to it, not to her physical strength. But I guess Buffy is no different from most teenage girls. She is obsessed with her externals and believes that unless she adheres to others' image of physical perfection, she will not be loved.

Time and again, she learns she is wrong. When she confesses her fears to Angel, he tells her the truth about his first sighting of her. About how he came to love her for her spirit, not her body. Since a spiritual union is all they can really have now, that's a good thing. Angel emphasizes her heart, her internals, and ignores the externals. He reminds Buffy that she is a complete person, not just the slayer.

She also has this reinforced when she asks Cordelia to drive her home. There's a moment here where Cordelia seems to come out of her self obsession. She looks at Buffy, sees how scared she is, a tear running down her face, and says "of course". Cordelia is often the most superficial of characters, in this very scene she misses the true meaning of Buffy claiming she doesn't know Giles. But she is also sometimes the most perceptive of the characters. In Invisible Girl, the episode in which Cordelia first became part of the gang, she talks about how she understands loneliness. That sometimes she can be surrounded by a crowd of people yet still be completely alone. That sometimes people are so interested in being around her that they don't actually notice her. That's the kind of perception she brings to bear here. No, not much gets said. Yes, Cordelia uses humour to defuse the situation, something the slayer often does. But there is an instant of bonding. Buffy has been betrayed by Giles, Cordelia by Xander. They have much more in common than they might think. It's no accident that in her conversation with Angel, Buffy compares herself to Cordelia.

Finally, we have the sequence of scenes with Giles. First, Buffy trying to get him to go to the ice show with her. Clearly, she sees him as her father substitute. Then Buffy angrily rejected him when she learns what he has done. She is shocked because deep down she has always felt Giles loved her unconditionally, the way a parent does. She realizes that he is following the rules. Both her fathers have let her down. Her real father by failing to take her to the ice show and Giles by his betrayal. In both cases, they put their jobs above her needs and desires. But ultimately, she discovers she was right about Giles. In the end, he cares more for her than his role as watcher, the council, or the whole concept of the slayer. He lays it, and his life, on the line. And he loses his job. But he seems more concerned with Buffy than with that. And she doesn't need Travers to tell her that Giles has a father's love for her. He has proven that with his actions.

Travers wanted to put Buffy to the traditional slayer test. Kralik decided to go along with it, but to change the rules. By doing that, he also changed the result. Yes, Buffy did show that there is more to her than strength. But she also learnt that there is more to her life than slaying. She has learnt the true depths of her friendships and loves. She was ready to die to save her mother. Giles was ready to die to save her. Cordelia and the others were ready to help her not because she was strong, but because she was Buffy. In Gingerbread, I spoke of Buffy's maturation and growth. I think she has come even further in this episode. Last week, she performed as an adult. This week she achieves an emotional integration that even a lot of adults lack.

There is also something here for Giles. He has finally lived up to his rebel youth. He defies the council, finding his own spiritual strength. And he manages to convince Buffy of his true feelings for her, the most important thing to him at the time.

Enough of the serious commentary. I rarely laugh out loud at tv, I did at this episode. The scene, in case you haven't guessed, was the discussion of kryptonite and its powers. As Xander and Oz get heavily into this, Buffy, a vampire slayer sitting next to a witch who is sitting next to a werewolf, says "Reality".

I also have to comment on that very phallic crystal Buffy was playing with and her need to work off nervous energy. It's interesting to note that she quickly puts down the crystal when she becomes conscious of what she is doing. This is just another external manifestation of her maturation. She is aware of her own sexuality and aware of how she projects it. Interestingly, Giles seems not to pick up on this. Not all that unusual from a father figure. Fathers, traditionally, do not perceive their daughters as sexual beings.

Finally, I do have a couple of nits. First, Buffy may not have slayer strength, but she's still a fit young woman. She was way too weak here. And is Sunnydale such a bad place that a teenage girl can't walk home alone at night without being molested, I'm talking about the nonvampires here. Why does a vampire, who is dead, need to take medication? Faith's absence was conveniently explained away, and it seemed a poor way to deal with such a plot point. Finally, it had to take some time for Kralik to vampirize the guard. I mean, it's a whole sucking thing as Buffy has told us. So, didn't the other guy get the least bit suspicious?

It would take a lot more nits than that to spoil this episode for me. It was one of the most enjoyable hours of tv I've ever had.

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