Buffy, Faith, Willow, and Giles are fighting a trio of demons, new ones. After a tough battle they defeat them, partly due to Willow's clouding spell. Giles says his sources have dried up, now that he's fired, but he will try to find out why these demons are here and what they want. He expects more of the same to show up. Then Xander crawls out from where he was thrown during the combat. Everyone suggests that Xander not get involved in the fighting. He's clearly hurt and compares himself to Jimmy Olsen.
At school, some guys are throwing a football around. Xander wants to play, but when they throw it to him he misses and it knocks over Jack O'Toole's drink. Jack is a psycho. When Xander goes to get the ball, Jack threatens him. Xander is clearly afraid. Cordelia sees this and tells Xander he's a wuss, a Jimmy Olsen, a Zeppo. That he lacks cool. She says he's the useless member of the group.
At lunch, Xander is talking to Oz about why he isn't cool. He knows Oz is cool, but he's not sure why. Oz thinks Xander is obsessing. Meanwhile, Giles has discovered that the demons are the sisterhood of Jhe and dedicated to the end of the world. They will reopen the hellmouth and let loose the demons. Buffy tells Willow and asks for help. As they are walking to the library to do their research, Xander pulls up in his new car. It's his thing. The thing that makes him unique and cool. Buffy wonders whether that's a penis metaphor. He's renting the car from his uncle Roary, who can't drive because he was DUI. They tell him about the big evil brewing. He offers to help.
Xander is picking up doughnuts for the gang. Cordelia sees him and realizes that this is his contribution to the team. She makes fun of him and tells him that the car doesn't change anything. He is still expendable. At that moment, a very pretty girl comes up and admires his car. He offers to take her for a drive and she's up for it. Cordelia clearly isn't pleased.
Xander takes the girl to the Bronze and is clearly bored to death by her car talk. She dates cars, not guys. When Angel comes in Xander is thrilled. Angel says he has seen portents. Xander tells him they know about the coming apocalypse. He offers to go with Angel to see Buffy and the others. But Angel tells him he should stay out of harm's way. The girl suggests they take another drive. Outside, they encounter Jack O'Toole again, smashing into his car.
Buffy, Willow, and Giles are doing research. Oz is locked up in his werewolf phase and really acting up. Buffy says if they don't find something soon she will go to Willy's (he's the bartender who runs the joint that caters to vampires and assorted demons). Giles says he will contact the spirit guides who can foresee the future. He stops for a jelly doughnut, but the girls have eaten them all (Xander did get four and Buffy had three). Giles suggests Xander go on another doughnut run, but Buffy says no. She wants him out of harm's way.
But Xander is very much in the way of harm. Jack is threatening him with a very large knife, called Katie. Xander does what he always does, uses humour to try to defuse the situation. Jack tells him the difference between them is fear. That Jack has less fear than Xander. Xander says it's the knife. So Jack gives him the knife and dares him to use it. The girl says she wants to go for a drive. While Xander is talking to her, Jack jumps him, grabs the knife, and is going to stab him. But a cop shows up. Jack says they were just fooling around, rasslin'. Xander backs him up. Jack is touched by Xander's support and decides he's okay. He suggests the three of them go for a drive and pick up Jack's buddies.
Jack takes them to a cemetery where he successfully raises a friend from the dead. This scares the girl who runs away. It seems Jack's uncle practises a little magic. Jack's gang are all dead, but he intends to raise them and have a little fun. So, with Xander as a wheel man, they head off to other cemeteries. At Restfield cemetery, Giles is communing with the spirit guides. But they refuse to help. Xander sees him and asks if he needs help. But Giles says it is best if Xander stays out of it. He also says the coming menace is great and that they may all have to fight. He thinks they will need a few weeks to prepare.
Cut to Willy bleeding on the floor of his bar. The sisterhood was there looking for Angel and Buffy. Tonight is the night the hellmouth will open. And they plan to make sure nothing stops them. Willy doesn't think they can be stopped and he tells Buffy she and Angel should go somewhere alone and enjoy their last night on Earth.
Xander is driving Jack and his three raised dead friends. They are arguing about what to do. Finally, they decide to bake a cake. This means a stop at a hardware store. As Xander parks outside, they smash the window and rob the place. Xander sees Willow across the street and goes to talk to her. She's picking up supplies for a protection spell. She tells Xander something is happening that night, but won't tell him what. She then hugs him and tells him she loves him before leaving.
Jack suspects Xander wants to bail on them. The gang decide Xander should be initiated. Xander is willing to go along with this and asks what he has to do. Jack pulls out Katie and says die. Xander changes his mind. He manages to get into the car and drive off. They go back into the hardware store to steal some more stuff.
Faith is fighting one of the Jhe demons, and she seems to be on the losing side. Xander drives up and smashes into the demon. This doesn't kill her, but it does give Faith a chance to jump into the car and they escape. Xander takes her to her motel. Faith is very worked up from the fight. She comes on to Xander, who confesses to being a virgin. Soon, they are having sex. And soon after, she's kicking him out and taking a shower.
Back in the library, werewolf Oz is going nuts. He can sense the mystical events that are taking place. They sedate him and move him out of the library. When Xander gets to his car, he looks in the bag of stuff stolen from the hardware store. He realizes it's the makings of a bomb. He drives back to the hardware store hoping to find Jack and the others. But they're gone. He decides he needs help and goes for Buffy. He finds her and Angel at Angel's place. They are proclaiming their love for one another and having their usual fight over who will sacrifice his/her life for the other. He tries to talk to them, but realizes they are concerned with much bigger evils than Jack. He offers to help, but they reject him.
Giles and Willow are working on a binding spell in the library. Giles tells Willow that when they are ready, he wants her to stand out of the way and let him do the final recitation himself. Meanwhile, in the school basement, Jack and his gang are setting the bomb.
Xander is driving around and sees Jack and his gang walking down the street. He drives slowly by and grabs one of them. Holding him to the car, he speeds off dragging him along. He demands to know where the bomb is and how to defuse it. He finds out it's in the high school boiler room, but a low sign knocks off the gang member's head before the defusing instructions. Xander heads for the high school followed by the remainder of the gang.
The gang chases Xander through the school, passing the door to the library where the hydralike demon has arisen and Buffy and the others are facing it. The gang split up. One of them finds Xander, but he knocks the undead down and topples a vending machine on him, crushing his head. The third gang member shows up and Xander starts chasing him. But they run into some of the sisterhood of Jhe and become the chased instead. The demons lose Xander but follow the raised dead gang member and destroy him. Meanwhile, Buffy and the others are having a tough fight against the monster.
Xander makes it to the boiler room and sees the bomb. There are two minutes left on the clock. Unfortunately, he really doesn't know how to disarm it. But that doesn't matter, since Jack is there. The two fight. As the seconds tick by Xander points out that Jack can't get past him and out of the building in time to avoid the explosion. Jack says that means Xander will die, too. Echoing the scene when they met outside the Bronze, Xander says it comes down to who has the less fear. When Jack asks Xander if he's ready for death, Xander replies "I like the quiet". We get a quick cut to the library where all Hell is breaking loose, literally. The entire group is flailing away at the demon. Back in the boiler room, Jack breaks and defuses the bomb. Xander tells him never to come back to the school. After Xander leaves, Jack tells himself that he will wait until Xander is unprepared and get his revenge. But when he opens the door, out comes a finally awakened Oz/werewolf who attacks and destroys him.
The next day, Buffy, Willow , Oz, and Giles are talking about their battle. Buffy tells Giles that what he did was the bravest thing she has ever seen. Willow says that they saved the world but no one will ever know. Xander shows up and they tell him how lucky he was not to be at the school the previous night. He says he prefers the quiet life. He offers to get snacks, but they refuse and he goes off to get something for himself. Cordelia sees him and starts picking on him again. This time, he just smiles and walks off. He's cool and Cordelia is definitely bugged.
In case some of you don't know, Zeppo was one of the Marx brothers. He was in some of their comedies, playing the romantic lead in films without a romantic lead. As far as a film career went, the other brothers carried him and nobody much remembers Zeppo. Being a Zeppo is being a useless appendage, kept out of loyalty and nostalgia.
In Gingerbread and Helpless (Eighteen), I spoke of Buffy maturing. Well, that's definitely what happens to Xander here. He fights a man and has a woman, other than shaving that's pretty well all the male rites of passage we have. And I'm reasonably sure he shaves.
When Xander talks to Oz about his search for coolness, Oz says he's obsessing and that he is in the middle of an identity crisis. Oz is right. Xander doesn't become cool because of the events in this episode. He just realizes that he always was. He becomes comfortable with himself. That's what he sees in Oz and Angel. A level of self comfort.
Xander has always evaluated himself in terms of his relations with others. Originally, he was the loser who hung out with Willow. This didn't bother him. He and Willow were able to poke fun at Cordelia and he saw himself as part of a group. He was even treasurer of the We Hate Cordelia club. Later, Buffy arrived and he became part of her ensemble. Maybe he was the guy getting the doughnuts, but he was still a guy who got to hang with the slayer. Then he starting seeing Cordelia and he became the guy dating the campus queen.
Willow found Oz. Cordelia dumped Xander. And now Buffy is telling him to stay away, for his own safety. All the things that defined him have been taken away from him. And every time Xander tries to get back to that comfortable groove, he's rejected. This happens repeatedly by: Giles, Willow, Buffy, and Angel. He's even kicked out by Faith. When Xander approaches Angel in the Bronze or Giles in the cemetery, he isn't just trying to get away from the car crazy girl or Jack, he could have always walked away from them. He's trying to get back to where he was. But you can't go home again.
Things get better for Xander when he strikes out on his own. First, he's forced into a move by Jack threatening to kill him. This leads to him finding and saving Faith and having sex. But it's all pretty accidental. Xander just wound up in the right place in the right time. He's reacting to events, not making things happen. This is a step up from having others direct him, but it still isn't cool. Although he does fulfill his fantasy of sex with a slayer.
Once Faith kicks Xander out, he starts doing things by himself. Or at least he takes the initial step. Realizing that Jack and his buddies plan on bombing something, he decides he has to stop them. When he doesn't find them immediately, he slips hack to his old mode of thought. He goes to Buffy for help. But once at Angel's, he makes his first really major decision. He doesn't tell them what's going on. He realizes they are involved in something much bigger. And he realizes that this is something he has to handle.
He still isn't entirely in control. He encounters the gang by accident. But he makes the first move to coolness when he grabs one of the raised dead and drags him along, quite literally dragging the location of the bomb out of him. It's an accident that destroys that gang member. It's a little effort and luck that destroys the second. It's all good luck that has the sisterhood of Jhe destroy the third. But it is in the final confrontation with Jack that Xander really comes into his own.
Earlier, he used humour in his confrontations, I think in a deliberate imitation of the slayer. But against Jack he gets deadly serious. Cordelia told him that he was the only member of the group without special powers - Willow/witch, Oz/werewolf, and Buffy/slayer. He knows that he doesn't have the strength to defeat Jack. But he can beat him by having more courage. Echoing their meeting at the Bronze, Xander says it all comes down to has the less fear. And he wins. Xander realizes that there is something special about him. That he may be an ordinary mortal, but he can still be brave and heroic. Now he can face down Jack.
When Jack asks Xander whether he's ready to die, Xander replies he likes the quiet. The next day when Willow and Buffy tell him he was lucky not to be at the school, he says he likes the quiet life. When Cordelia confronts him, he is quiet. Xander has learnt to be happy with who and what he is. He doesn't need super powers to confront the monsters in his life. He's able to put up a pretty good fight without them. And he doesn't particularly want them. Simple mortality has its advantages. In Helpless (Eighteen), Buffy was supposed to learn that she was the slayer with or without her strength. That being the slayer is more than being physically strong. Xander has learnt that being cool is more than having powers, playing the guitar, or driving a car. And learning that, he becomes cool.
There were times during this episode when it reminded me of Rebel Without A Cause, with Xander as the infinitely cool James Dean. But finally, I think the episode is more like Dirty Harry. Xander's "who has less fear" line reminds me of Harry's "You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk". And both are echoes of earlier scenes. Maybe I'm stretching it, but Dirty Harry provided one of the cinematic defining moments of confrontation between good and evil. And Harry was definitely cool.
Besides courage, Xander demonstrates some other admirable character traits in this episode. Although the car crazy girl he is out with is very pretty, he finds her boring and really wants to get away. He's not so shallow as to want to be with her just because of her looks. But he's not mean enough to outright dump her either. When he gets doughnuts, he orders extra jelly. Maybe the doughnut run isn't a big thing, but he's considerate enough to get the kind people want. He's actually remembered that Giles likes jelly. Not only is he quiet about his defeat of Jack, but he doesn't even hint at what happened with Faith. I doubt Xander could have kept that secret for 10 seconds a year ago. In Band Candy, Xander noted that he had eaten lots of the bars but wasn't acting any more immature than usual. I don't think he could say that any more.
Finally, if Xander was a virgin, I'd bet Cordelia is too. If she were going to do it with anybody, it would have been Xander. I have to imagine the best business in the world is the home repair business in Sunnydale. You must have jobs lined up around the block. The school budget must be 80 % repairs. And now, a couple of nits. When Xander leaves Jack, isn't he slightest worried the psycho will simply reset the bomb? And when Willow retrieves Oz, doesn't she, or he, notice the remains of Jack's body?
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