Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Helpless   Rewatch 
June 17, 2015 9:27 PM - Season 3, Episode 12 - Subscribe

Unbeknownst to her, Buffy faces a traditional test on her 18th birthday. Weakened of her slayer strength by Giles, she must survive an encounter with an unstable vamp.
posted by yellowbinder (10 comments total)
 
Such feels! Buffy and Giles are really putting each other through the wringer this year, aren't they. It hurts.

Buffy's overalls of extreme sadness are back! As seen in the post-dead Ted pre-robot Ted period. I wonder if they come back, this was the only other episode I could think of.

I am not often down on Willow's fashion but dear god. I can't believe Buffy Fashion Roulette never landed on this one while it was active.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:52 PM on June 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


This episode is one reason I have a somewhat less-than-sentimental view of Giles. He knows it's archaic and pointless and cruel, but he still goes through with the drugging and de-powering. He's got a ruthless streak to him, and he doesn't limit its use to bad guys like Ethan Rayne or Principal Snyder.

I think a lot of my affection for Giles is based on Tony Head's projection of kindness and warmth, because when I start to think about some of the stuff Giles does (as opposed to just watching Giles), I am much less favorably inclined towards him.

So Angel likes poetry (enough to give a book of poems to Buffy for her birthday), Spike was a poet--surely someone's written a Vampire Poetry Slam fanfic somewhere?
posted by creepygirl at 10:34 PM on June 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wonder if that book of poems includes the word "effulgent"
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:04 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


So last episode was “mom tries to kill Buffy” and this episode is “surrogate dad tries to kill Buffy.” Not a great pair of episodes for Buffy’s trust in adults. Buffy’s actual father really is a horrible parent, but to his credit, at least he’s not actively trying to murder his daughter. This episode is really had for me to rewatch, because I hate watching Giles do terrible things, even though he always does have that “other people can be heroes, I have to do what’s horrible but practical” thing about him. The problem is when he applies that to something impractical in a moral and logical sense.

The saddest part of the episode for me, which is silly, is when Buffy is desperately trying to drop hints that she wants Giles to take her to the ice show in lieu of her dad, and he totally shuts her down unthinkingly (probably because he feels like the jerk that he’s being and is distracted by his jerkish duties). Just take her to the damn ice show, Giles.

That's what gets me the most, but the scene where she finds out what he’s done is objectively even worse. Just brutal. Cordelia’s genuine and concerned “of course” when Buffy asks her for a ride home (though tempered by a final joke) is a nice touch. At least he tries to fix it. I guess they have to pretty much immediately introduce Wesley so that we can forget some of this stuff, as Giles looks vastly better in comparison.

There’s also the disappointment of having our wish fulfillment taken away, with Buffy suddenly being helpless in the face of regular (not even supernatural) male aggression.

As a random thought, Faith’s birthday is listed as December 14, 1980 and the episode was broadcast January 19, 1999…so I guess she just doesn’t get a Cruciamentum because she’s between “official” watchers or something? (Obviously after Buffy knows about it and there’s remorse involved, they’re not going to do another one, and she is on an “unannounced walkabout,” but still).

Oz, you are deep, but “Ice is cool! It's water, but it's not” was not one of your finest moments.

Angel’s speech about loving Buffy when he first saw her…well, at least they make a joke about it being gross…again with the age thing bothering me more and more, and things that could have sounded romantic sounding creepy. I suppose that pales in comparison to the creepiness of Kralik and the Polaroids and…yikes. Really genuine creeps in those scenes, very effective. With Jeff Kober, Buffy adds another to the pile of reused villain actors (he’ll be Rack later). I find it weird to see him in other things, like as the landlord in New Girl.

I wonder if that book of poems includes the word "effulgent"
As long as it rhymes with “grown a bulge in’t”

I am not often down on Willow's fashion but dear god
Crazy birthday cake, indeed.

I guess I should have saved my random Harris Yulin encounter story for this post, but oh well.
posted by ilana at 2:25 AM on June 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


The saddest part of the episode for me, which is silly, is when Buffy is desperately trying to drop hints that she wants Giles to take her to the ice show in lieu of her dad, and he totally shuts her down unthinkingly (probably because he feels like the jerk that he’s being and is distracted by his jerkish duties). Just take her to the damn ice show, Giles.

No, absolutely. This is key, because this is Buffy fully accepting Giles as a father surrogate, while Giles hasn't done this yet. For Giles, this is all about him finally deciding that what is important to him isn't his duty to the council, but his love for his pseudo-daughter. He is cruel here, enacting a cruel practice (and a really goddamn stupid one.. more on this later), but you can see clearly (on rewatch) how much he hates doing it, and how pleased he is to have any excuse to finish it.

The central fight in the house is a pretty scary one, going for a slightly old school horror premise (why exactly the council needed a serial killer vampire for this test I do not know), and it's pretty intense, using Joyce as the hostage for the first (and last?) time. It's effective, and a mode of story telling the show doesn't use that much: we saw it a bit in the terrible "Killed by Death" but generally speaking the show eschews horror other than in favour of action fantasy.

I mentioned how stupid the ritual is, and I have to get back to this, because, as I mentioned in the previous thread, a running theme of this season is the fallibility of institutions, represented by the Mayor and the Council. The Watcher's council were hardly mentioned in seasons one and two, with an acknowledgement that Kendra had a watcher but that was about it. Now it is a large, ancient institution with inbuilt traditions. But this test is really, really stupid. While Slayers being able to defeat vampires without their powers makes a certain amount of sense, doing it to every slayer when they hit eighteen seems to demonstrate a cavalier disregard for the lives of the women who attempt to save the world, not to mention that it seems to assume that all slayers become so before turning 18. This is added to the problem that if a slayer passes your damn test you've now made a superhuman really mad at you.

I suppose the solution to this is that in most cases the Council exercises a much greater deal of control over the young women under their command, and Buffy (and, I suppose, Faith) mark a massive exception, but again the show fails to think this through. Presumably the way the council has had control over it's slayers is by financial and legal control, so why has it not done so in this case? What precisely is it that makes Buffy so different, or are we supposed to assume that every single slayer previous was found many years before they were called.

The reason this failure to think these things through annoys me is that the show wants to criticise large institutions which carry out practices out of inertia, which is absolutely a fair point, but if you want to criticise such things you have to think about how those form, and how those institutions operate. Institutions with such archaic structure seem unlikely to just send a lone operative (Giles) off for two years and then interfere so directly. They grasp at power for powers sake because that's how things like this survive. Perhaps the answer is that the council is actually a rather small, petty group of losers, but this seems to contradict a lot of what the show wants them to be! Oh well, this all needs to happen to set up Wesley and Faith, so maybe I shouldn't complain too much.

-There's no way Buffy had time to switch that water for holy water
-Angel confesses that he fell in love with 15 year old Buffy in this episode
-The bit where Giles says that Buffy threw "like a girl" was really gross and I could have done without it
-Faith is off on one of her unannounced walkabouts. Better than just not mentioning her I guess.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2015 [4 favorites]


Presumably the way the council has had control over it's slayers is by financial and legal control, so why has it not done so in this case?

The more I try to work in the arts, the more I see Buffy's lack of remuneration as a metaphor for people expecting you to do what's meaningful to you for free. It's your calling, why should you be compensated? Give the money to the administrators.

It literally is the unpaid internship from Hell.
posted by ilana at 1:50 PM on June 18, 2015 [6 favorites]


Jeff Kober is definitely on the short list of actors that movies and tv shows use to bring the creepy, but especially on Buffy, here as Kralik and later as Rack, he brings a particularly deep and disturbing shade of creepy.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:50 PM on June 18, 2015


I had an insane crush on Jeff Kober during China Beach.

That is all I have to say on the subject.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:31 PM on June 19, 2015


I have a weird kind of half-formed theory in my head about how the Council and what they do to Buffy is kind of a metaphor for what the artistic creator does to their creation. So Joss comes up with these characters and then he (and other writers) start putting them through painful, frightening, life-threatening scenarios just for the entertainment of other people. The character has no choice about it. And anyone who's ever made up people and written things about them will know that the more time you spend with them, the more people-like your characters get to be. It can make you feel kind of sadistic. And yet your only choice is just not to write, which can seem like not an option if you are really driven to create. But then you read (or watch) your creation, a relatively innocent teenage girl, having traumatic event after traumatic event thrown at her, getting beaten up and victimised by supernaturally powerful men... it could be argued there's something sadistic about you as a creator.

At least Giles and the Council are ostensibly doing it to make sure that Buffy can really cope with anything, which I guess you have to be able to do if you are making sure your weapon-person is really capable of saving the world. Which is kind of a nobler goal than just doing it because your art demands it of you.

Okay, I did say it was a half-formed theory, I'm not sure how well it holds up but I thought I would put it out there. It's kind of related to unpleasant feels I get when I'm reading something like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its ilk, in which female protagonists and the trauma they endure is described in such loving, painstaking detail that it's hard not to feel kind of sick at it, or wonder about the mind of the author. Buffy is most definitely not as extreme as that, but I still wonder sometimes. I still haven't gotten around to watching Dollhouse mostly because I wonder if it will take that uncomfortableness to the next level.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:17 AM on June 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a weird kind of half-formed theory in my head about how the Council and what they do to Buffy is kind of a metaphor for what the artistic creator does to their creation.

Ooh, I like that theory. I've often thought that Joss's avatar in the series wasn't Xander, but D'Hoffryn ("Never go for the kill when you can go for the pain,") but Joss as the the Council is a fascinating idea.
posted by creepygirl at 9:05 AM on June 20, 2015


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