Sunday, 20 March 2011

Buffy: 3.12 ‘Helpless’

Short promo for this episode

Writer: David Fury
Director: James A. Contner

What's the sitch?

It’s Buffy’s birthday again. And that means things aren’t gonna go well. Our girl is turning 18 and she is hoping for her dad to come and take her to see the ice show as he promised. Unfortunately he cries of with work commitments leaving a dejected Buffy to drop some not-so-subtle hints to Giles for him to take her instead. But Giles ignores these hints as he has other far heavier things on his mind. You see Buffy has slowly, over a few days, been getting gradually weaker. And on the day of her 18th birthday she loses all of her slayer powers, reducing her to being a normal girl. And it is Giles who is responsible. He has secretly been hypnotising and drugging her to temporarily take her power away in order for her to undergo an arcane and cruel right of passage where she’ll be locked in a house with a psychotic vampire and expected to defeat him, while temporarily lacking her slayer ability. Unfortunately the said psycho vamp called Zackary Kralik goes and escapes before the test can be held. Feeling intensely guilty at what he’s done to her, Giles admits his deceit to a devastated Buffy who feels seriously betrayed by Giles, her real father figure. To make matters even worse, Kralik, a pre-vamped nutter with a mother fixation, goes and kidnaps Joyce and takes her back to the house where the test was to be held, leaving behind a message for the now seemingly helpless slayer to come save her mom if she can. Buffy does indeed save Joyce and she also slays Kralik using her natural guile and smarts but not before undergoing one heck of a beating at the insane vamp’s hands. Giles, having told Buffy about the test, has nullified it and the visiting Chief Watcher and Giles’s boss, Quentin Travers, fires Giles as punishment.

What's the sitch beneath the sitch?

As in the previous episode, ‘Gingerbread’, parents - specifically fathers this time – get a bashing from Joss and co. Buffy’s father lets her down again and is basically out of her life entirely now, leaving Giles to be her one true father figure…which makes Giles’ betrayal of Buffy by drugging her and putting her in needless danger all the more awful and hard for her to bare. Thankfully though, Giles hates what he’s done and puts a stop to it. This of course puts him at odds with the Watcher’s Council. As Travers points out, Giles has developed a father’s love for Buffy and will protect her to the very best of his ability – even if it means going against his own calling. This is what leads to his being fired.

Who's giving us the wiggins this week?

Psycho vamp Zackary Kralik, Giles (kinda), a couple of watchers who get vamped, and top watcher dude Quentin Travers.

Why it rocks

Father figure. The theme of this episode - fathers and their relationships with their children - is strong and meaningful and the focus on Buffy and Giles and their father/daughter relationship vs. their Watcher/Slayer one is great.

Fairytales again. Yep, two episodes in a row and Buffy remains in fairytale land. This time it is Little Red Riding Hood. Kralik is the wolf pursuing Buffy who is even wearing a bright red hooded cloak. Kralik then uses that same cloak to fool Joyce in to thinking he is Buffy. My, what big teeth you have, Mr Kralik. And speaking of…

Zackary Kralik. He is one creepy nasty vampire. Jeff Kober, a big and intimidating presence who towers over little SMG, plays him as a smart yet demented Hannibal Lecter type complete with his own small Lector-like cell and psycho restraints.

Tony and Sarah. Tony Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar are simply wonderful here. The parental bond between Buffy and Giles is so strong that the heartrending betrayal Buffy feels when she finds out what Giles has done will surely get to you. Just watch her face as Giles admits what he’s done to her. Nobody does emotional pain quite like SMG. And at the end Buffy’s allowing of Giles to silently bathe her wounds in an accepted act of contrition is so very tender and touching.

Smart Buffy. She defeats Kralik using intelligence and trickery rather than brute force proving that she is indeed far more than just a strong girl who can beat people up real good.

Harris Yulin. The veteran character actor, a familiar face to many, is great as head watcher Quentin Travers. He does a flawless British accent and is cool and condescending to all around him, and especially to Buffy, who, by episodes end, is taking no crap from any officious watcher type. His patronising congratulations to the beaten, blooded, traumatised girl being met with a steely “Bite me!” Heh! Go Buffster.

Buffy says, “Bite me!” See above for more on her deliciously delivered retort to Travers.

Why it sucks

Why the heck would the Watcher’s Council put their slayer through such a dangerous test where the likelihood is she’ll be killed? It’s kinda stupid…but then a lot of traditions tend to be stupid and no longer relevant to modern life.

Kralik is a vampire and yet still requires regular pills to help ease his violent headaches. Um, when you’re a vamp I thought you were supposed to heal and not to suffer from physical ailments? But then I suppose it could be to do with his insanity or maybe even be psychosomatic. After all Drusilla retained her psychic abilities after being vamped and also remained insane, so who knows?

Buffy running for her life and pleading for help from anyone nearby is messed up and rather too similar for my tastes to SMG’s role in the shite horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer which came out just over a year before this episode originally aired. Maybe it was a homage or something.

Faith is once again MIA :(

It's Buftastic

“Bite me!” The source of many a future Buffy related T-shirt and poster.

Dialogue to die for

Buffy: "Actually I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him Daddy."
Angel: "Your father... It is your father, right?"

Buffy: "OK. So how do you know if ones aura is dirty? Does somebody come by with a finger and write 'Wash Me' on it?"

Buffy: “I dunno. I think it might be time to put a moratorium on parties in my honour. They tend to go badly. Monsters crash. People die.”

Quentin: “Congratulations again.”
Buffy: “Bite me.”

Buffy: “You know, nothing's really gonna change. The important thing is that I kept up my special birthday tradition of gut-wrenching misery and horror.”

And another thing

This is the only time in Buffy that holy water is used to kill a vampire.
As a child Willow once threw up on Woodstock, backstage at "Snoopy on Ice."

Harris Yulin who plays Quentin Travers is a venerable character actor who has appeared in many stage productions, films and television programmes in a career spanning almost fifty years. Some of his best known film roles are in Scarface, Ghostbusters 2, Clear and Present Danger, The Hurricane and Training Day. On TV, as well as Buffy he’s appeared in numerous shows including Kojack, Wonder Woman, Deep Space Nine, The X-Files and 24.

Jeff Kober who played Zackary Kralik also played a recurring vampire role in the short lived 1996 TV series Kindred: The Embraced.

Dominic Keating who played one of the watcher heavies looking after Kralik went on to play Malcolm Reed in Star Trek: Enterprise.

How many stakes?

Bad dads. 4 (out of 5)

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