03 May, 2011

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Consequences



w Marti Noxon
d Michael Gershman

I won’t give Ms. Noxon nearly enough credit in this Commentary, though she very much deserves it.  Suffice to say her great script drives the roller coaster.  While Bad Girls is the first rush down, Consequences is the first turn, the bare settling, the chug back up the track.  It’s a breather, but only a short one, giving us just enough time to comprehend what’s happened;  the resetting of a timebomb, threatening us with what we realize was there all along.  And we still have to face.
As I say, both episodes are really a two-parter, so let’s get right back into it.  Faith left us with, “I don’t care” so that’s where we’ll start.  (Oh those walls of hers!)  Faith herself doesn’t believe she doesn’t care, and Buffy knows it;  but, as Milton wrote some four hundred years ago, “Long is the way and hard that out of hell leads up to light.”  Buffy, as our hero, can’t shake what’s happened, as her dream personifies:  she’s drowning in it.  She knows how quickly Faith is falling;  more importantly, were those the walls she herself built, how quickly she’d be dragged down with her.
As I began the Zeppo Commentary with how much I love What If episodes, the last half of Season 3 is, as I wrote, sort of a big What If, isn’t it?
What if The Slayer was bad?
As Bad Girls gave us the setup, Consequences is the payoff.  And it’s a dark one.  Not just for Faith (natch) but for Buffy too.  Because Faith is the personification of Buffy’s Dark Side.  So, really, we’re getting a glimpse of the shadow, the silhouette, in Buffy’s mind.
Magnifying that idea specifically, there are two big scenes in this episode.  For nearly three seasons, we’ve had glimpses of it -- certainly Slayer Vs Buffy-As-Normal-Girl, but also Slayer Vs Slayer (the latter as far back as When She Was Bad) -- but now that Buffy’s inner demons are personified in Faith, we get to hear those thoughts.  The first big is in the street –

FAITH
Buffy. I'm not going to "see" anything... I missed the mark
last night. And I'm sorry about the guy, really. But it happens.
(then)
Anyway - how many people do you think we've saved by
now? Thousands? And didn't you stop the world from ending?
In my book, that puts you and me firmly in the plus column.

BUFFY
We help people. That doesn't mean we can do whatever we want-

FAITH
Why not? This guy I off’d was no Ghandi. We just saw - he was
mixed up in dirty dealing.

BUFFY
Maybe. But what if he was coming to us for help?

FAITH
What if he was? You're still not looking at the big picture, B.
Something made us different. We're warriors. We were built
to kill-

BUFFY
(cutting her off)
To kill demons. But we don't get to pass judgement on people,
like we're better than everybody else-

FAITH
We are better.
(this stops Buffy)
That's right. Better. People need us to survive. In the balance?
Nobody's gonna cry over some random bystander who got caught
in the crossfire.

Buffy looks stricken. Finally-

BUFFY
I am.

Faith just looks at her. Shakes her head.

FAITH
Your loss.

This is key because most likely Buffy has had this exact … if not conversation with herself, the thought has to have crossed her mind.[i]  It’s first personified in “Want Take Have” in Bad Girls, then magnified here.  Indeed, Buffy and Faith are better, in a sense.  Stronger, faster, all that.  The difference, though, is Buffy chooses to use her powers to help people. 
The second big is on the docks at the end.

FAITH
What bugs you is - you know I'm right. You know in your gut.
We don't need the law. We are the law-

BUFFY
No.

Faith moves in closer. Sees that she's getting to her.

FAITH
Yes. You know exactly what I'm about. Because you have it
in you, too.

BUFFY
No. You're sick, Faith-

FAITH
I've seen it, B. You've got the lust. And I'm not just talking about
screwing vampires-

BUFFY
(warning)
Don't bring him into this-

FAITH
It was good, wasn't it? The sex? The danger? Bet a part of you
even dug him when he went psycho-

BUFFY
No-

FAITH
See - you need me to tow the line because you're afraid you'll go
over it, aren't you, B? You can't handle watching me living my
own way and having a blast - because it tempts you. You know it
could be you-

That's it. Something snaps in Buffy. She rears back and POPS Faith a good one. Faith falls back, but she's smiling as she puts a hand to her bleeding mouth.

FAITH
(taunting)
There's my girl...

Nail on the head.
Because Faith has a point.  This is what every Slayer, indeed Buffy, must fight internally;  now, as I say, these inner demons are personified in Faith.  Though, interestingly, Buffy hits first.  Pushed to it, sure, but “her own way,” as Faith taunts her, pushes back.  And can you blame her?  They’ve been verbally dueling a while now, so one of them was bound to take it to the next level.  But that it’s Buffy who first resorts to the physical?  Well, even Luke in Jedi, hearing Vader will go after Leia, loses it.  And, dear readers, don’t ever get between Buffy and Angel.  I wrote a Spec of Smallville many years ago (that show’s Season 2) where Clark and Random Bad Guy are facing off and Random Bad asks him, “Everything you can do and you choose to help these people?  Why?!”  And Clark says, “Because I can.”  Indeed:  Buffy can.  And does.
But is Faith truly lost?
For me, there are three key moments where Faith’s conscience kicks in, and she, however fleetingly, allows a crack in the wall.  The first, and I think most significant, is in Bad Girls where, after killing The Deputy Mayor, she returns to the scene to view it, let it sink in.  (This is probably the turning point, where she decides to let the walls build.)  The second is in this episode when she and Buffy are snooping around The Mayor’s office and there’s this –

CLOSE ON PHOTO

A shot of the Deputy Mayor with the Mayor at on official function of some kind.  The Deputy Mayor is smiling, proud.

FAITH
                                    He came out of nowhere.


BUFFY
                                                      (sympathetically)
                                    I know.

At this Faith’s eyes go cold and she returns to the search.

FAITH
                                    Whatever.  I’m not looking to hug and cry and learn and grow.
                                    I’m just saying it went down quick, is all.

Buffy, a little stung, decides to let it go.

More letting it sink in – and no pun intended considering how our episode began – it’s what I was saying about Faith choosing to go down this path.  Even here, Buffy doesn’t gloat or pry or do anything but agree with her.  And Faith knows it.  Catches herself and – “shields up!” – can’t buy that there’s any way out besides that which her past allows – no-mother, no-Giles, no-friends. 
The third, and fairly most obvious moment is in the end fight where Trick is about to dine on Buffy and Faith stakes him, saving her.  Faith could have escaped, let it happen – we see her pause – but instead she chooses to do the right thing and save our hero.  There is an episode coming up named – I’m just naming it here, that’s not a spoiler, right? – Choices.  I often thought that one of this two-parter should be called that, given how many happen in them.  But there are certainly consequences to be faced, and fair enough.
The biggest of which (sigh) is Willow.  I’ve often said that no two actresses working today cry better than Gillian Anderson and Alyson Hannigan.  (Am I surprised both their first and last names have the same syllables?  But I digress …)  Our dear Willow has had to cry so many times in seven seasons, but one of the real hit-homes is in this episode, when she hears of Xander having sex with – losing his virginity to – Faith (and this, remember, two episodes later).  It’s setup by a comical moment, the double “Oh” between Buffy and Giles, as they realize what’s happened, undercut by the solemn, “I don’t need to say it” Willow gives;  she having realized it first.  And then the cut-to her crying in the bathroom.  Ugh.  Did I mention the sigh?
The other big consequence is, after the same significant scene, the simple cut-to Xander laying on the stairs of the library thinking about what’s happened.  Not that he’s slept with Faith, not that he’s lost his virginity, but that Willow now knows, again two episodes (call it two weeks) later.  They talk every night, so two weeks?  Willow, his best friend since they were six, who he knows has been in love with him for as long (pre Oz), who he knows must have cried after hearing the news.  Once again, with as big a switch-up as Whedon & Co throw at us with turning Faith, and the consequences that births, it’s the simple everyday relationship issues that hit home the hardest.  
                       And work the best. 
                       I mentioned the sigh, right?
As remiss as I would have been not to mention Wesley’s introduction in Bad Girls, I have to mention his key moment in this episode.  Upon learning of Faith’s indiscretion, he takes it upon himself to SWAT Team her back to The Council.[ii]  Whereas so far in these two episodes we’ve only seen him as the brainy bumbler, this gives him a moment of substance, some grounding to believe that there’s more to him than just the comedy.  As well rounded as all the characters are in the Whedonverse, so indeed is Our New Watcher.[iii]
And last but not least, from a production standpoint, I have to mention the great Michael Gershman, who directed this episode.  This is his second Directed By episode – after Season 2’s Passion (another Best Of The Series) and we’ll see him direct next on Season 4’s A New Man – and I think he does a wonderful job.  You know his name as he’s been Buffy’s Cinematographer (and will be for eighty-some episodes);  and, as Mr. Pateman pointed out so well in his first Commentary of our Rewatch, successfully helped establish the look of the show. 
Couple of things, if I may.
First, I found it interesting in Gershman’s DVD Commentary of this episode that there were never storyboards for the show.  An aside, really, but I found it interesting. 
                       Secondly, please note the three long camera moves in this ep:  through the crime scene to Angel looking on;  following Angel out of the mansion into the courtyard to see Buffy;  and off Giles’ office to Wesley listening in.  Why significant?  Because most decisions made on any TV Show have something to do with time.  The less time spent on something generally means less money spent (all the way to the Network Cut of a show, as they want to cram as much Advertising in as possible).  For a myriad of reasons for another much longer article, you just don’t see long shots like this in a TV Show;  one of the reasons being how long it takes to light enough Set for that long a shot.  But as Gershman was the Cinematographer on the show – knew the sets and what it took to light them – he could plan-for and get-away-with them as Director.  Again, perhaps an aside, but I find it interesting.
As Ms. Stuller wrote so well in the Season 1 Prophecy Girl Commentary about The Hero’s Journey:  redemption resolves.  Unfortunately, as we see in this episode’s final scene, Faith chooses to continue down the dark path, turning herself over to The Mayor;  not in any heroic sacrifice, but, in a sense, turning over her very soul.  Does she really feel that alone?  Are her walls that fully built?  The roller coaster rushes on, redemption left to wait, as it seems Milton’s hard way into light is indeed still a long one before us all.



[i] Not to mention, um, “Death is your gift,” anyone?
[ii] Foreshadowing the Council “Wetworks” Team in Season 4’s Who Are You?
[iii] I know I mentioned this before, but oh the arc he’ll continue on, in the remaining episodes of this season and especially Angel.  I wonder how long Whedon & Co initially planned to keep him around, considering he’s gone from Sunnydale in Season 4 and doesn’t show up in L.A. (on Angel) until that show’s tenth episode, Parting Gifts.  In any event, I’m glad he returns, because he is our dear Wesley.

The Great Buffy Rewatch: Bad Girls


w Doug Petrie
d Michael Lange

While The Zeppo is a stand-alone episode, barely if at all dealing with the mythology of the season, Bad Girls and Consequences – they’re really a two-parter, aren’t they? – are very much the mythology of the season.  In fact, they’re the season’s very turning point.  While up through these episodes we’ve been chugging up the track of that first big hill, the rest of the season is the roller coaster ride.  And, wow.
As I say, I’d forgotten just how significant especially Bad Girls is, but felt better when the writer himself, Doug Petrie, said the same in his DVD Commentary Track.  But think of it.  The Mayor full-fledgingly (it’s a word) stepping into his role;  the introduction of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (as it’s spelled in Petrie’s script, though we’ll also see it Wyndam-Price and Wyndham-Price);  Angel and Wesley meet;  another character (Balthazar) references The Mayor’s importance;  we’re introduced to Faith’s longbow;  and The Mayor becomes invincible.  (All in just forty-four minutes!)
There is always The Big Bad of the Season, and Season 3’s is of course The Mayor, but the more significant enemy – certainly to Buffy personally – is Faith.  Throughout the first three seasons, though it will certainly carry throughout the entire series, Buffy has had to balance her personal life with the life of The Slayer.  But what Season 3 looks at specifically, certainly from Bad Girls forward, is what happens when the life of The Slayer takes a different path.  (Our great What If episode The Wish looked at this as well, but singularly, and from its Elseworld point of view.  Now – much like the cool of The Zeppoit’s really happening.)
What makes Buffy the hero she is are a myriad of influences, most significantly the people in her life.  Remember Spike in School Hard?  “A Slayer with family and friends.  That sure as hell wasn't in the brochure.”  Joyce as her mother – and this is the topic of a much longer article, but consider the impact Joyce had on Buffy’s life for the fifteen years before she became The Slayer.  Giles as her Watcher and father figure.  Willow and Xander as her friends.  Angel (period).  Even Oz and Anya.  But just as significant as having her family around her proves, it’s the woman Buffy – Slayer aside – is inherently.  Like Peter Parker, another hero we know is inherently a good person, Buffy enjoys quipping with her enemies in a light-hearted manner.  She still wants to finish High School, go to College.  She still wants to fall in love, shop, pay her bills.  She still wants to be a normal girl.  (Still very much a part of who she is.)  So imagine stripping it all away from her.  How she was raised, the family around her, her sense of humor, the girl inside the woman.  Would she still be as good a hero?      
Or, to put it as simply as possible … what if The Slayer was bad?
This is the fun Whedon & Company get to have with Faith.  And as unnerving as it is, fun is indeed a key word.  Because few people enjoy – find pure giddiness in – being evil as much as The Mayor and Faith.  (Especially The Mayor.  Like Sue Sylvester on Glee, reveling in The Dark Side, it’s why The Mayor is often a – without question my – favourite Big Bad.)  As old a device as this is in Story – every Superman has his Bizarro – there’s always something enticing about delving into the dark mirror of our hero.
It starts innocently enough – “Count of three isn’t a plan, it’s Sesame Street” – but soon delves deeper – Buffy cutting class through the window (which, frankly, the teacher didn’t notice?) and dancing at The Bronze – then very deep indeed with the accidental killing of The Deputy Mayor[i].  And I think accidental is a key word, not just for their innocence sake, but for Faith’s turn specifically in that she knows she has a way out if she talks to Giles, but chooses to let the walls she’s built up keep her from doing the right thing.  (The walls Buffy herself may also have if not for her mother, friends, et cetera.  Again, this is the turn we see in The Wish, but I digress.)  Faith isn’t drawn to The Dark Side for money or power or anything Evil offers her[ii], but is thrust there as accidentally -- as innocently -- as Buffy.  And this is where Whedon & Co write her so well:  Faith’s very walls simply let her flounder there.  (But more on that in our Part 2, Consequences.  For there’s more to talk about in this episode.)
Re Buffy herself, and this reiterates what I was talking about good writing always staying within character, one might argue that her being our hero – an inherently good girl – well, she wouldn’t do some of the things she does in this episode:  lying about the Deputy Mayor’s death, stealing from the hardware store, injuring the cops to escape from them.  But she does them all within the frame of her being who she is.  I particularly like the moment after the car crash where she checks the cops to make sure they’re okay.  This could easily have not been written or shot (or it could have been cut for time) but including it solidifies who she is.  She may be delving into her own Dark Side for one episode – and fair enough – but she’s still our girl.  Besides, who can blame her for almost being drowned a second time?  Considering the Season 1 finale, Petrie says it’s a bit like “baptism by fire.”  And perhaps she deserves burning off a little steam.  I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but what ultimately solidifies her remaining our hero is the end of Consequences where there’s this exchange –

BUFFY
I really thought we were gonna lose her.

GILES
She still has a lot to face before she can put this behind her. But yes,
she has a real chance. Because you didn't give up on her.

            The difference between Buffy and Faith is clear.  Faith feels alone.  But as Buffy has her mother, Giles, and friends, she can also be a friend.
            This is, too, perhaps the topic for a longer article – Cops In Sunnydale – but it’s interesting to see when and where we see Cops in the series.  Two significant episodes right in a row are Bad Girls and Consequences where they’re all over the place.  I’d feel bad for not at least mentioning it, so here we go.  I’m ashamed not to give credit to whomever mentioned this in the Season 1 Commentary, but there’s Giles’ line, “People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't.”[iii]  And there’s the reasonable buy-in that, as we now know The Mayor is “a black hat” (as Faith will say in the next ep), that he might send the police after our heroes a bit more vehemently than before.  Still, I’d like to one day read that longer article.
Before we get into Consequences, I’d be remiss not to touch on the introduction of our dear Wesley.  And I hope you agree he is dear.  I certainly think of him that way.  When Doug Petrie originally pitched the character to Whedon, he says, “Originally I had thought of a Michael J. Fox type, kind of a George Stephanopoulos American young aggressive go-getter,” which I think would have been a fun balance, but then we’d miss the doubly British moments like this --

WESLEY
It's not all books and theory nowadays. I have in fact faced
two vampires - under controlled circumstances, of course.

GILES
Well, you're in no danger of finding any here.

WESLEY
Vampires?

GILES
Controlled circumstances.

Then both of them closing that scene by cleaning their glasses at the same time?  Indeed, “Giles The Next Generation,” as Cordelia says in the next episode, just shines.  Petrie also notes in his DVD Commentary Track that giving Wesley the brainy bumbling also allowed them to take most of that away from Giles, who, for two-and-a-half years, played that role.  This, of course, more solidly places Giles in the role of the quieter, cooler father figure to Buffy, greatly solidifying that bond.
            There are an abundance of insides in this episode – inside jokes, references and the like.  Willow being admitted to Wesleyan (Whedon’s alma mater);  the Gleaves crypt where Balthazar’s amulet is buried, Gleaves is Petrie’s wife’s maiden name;  Balthazar being thought of as a Blade rip-off (though Petrie admitting he’d never seen Blade and instead ripped-off Marvel’s The Kingpin);  The Mayor’s cleanliness obsession a friendly jab at Executive Producer David Greenwalt;  and it was while shooting this episode – the scene in which Angel charges in to save Giles and Wesley – that Greenwalt said, “Yeah, I think there’s a Series in him.”[iv] 
No doubt about it, this is a big episode.  Sadly, I barely scratched its surface.  For me it’s really about Buffy and Faith, a very special relationship, of which this is just the beginning.  More specifically, this is Faith’s fall from grace.  So the questions linger.  How long will it be before she claws her way back up?  Can she?
Or are her walls too strongly built?



[i] This too is a larger topic for another article – and may very well be dealt with in The Body or The Gift or Seeing Red – but human death is an odd thing in The Buffyverse.  Demons are off’d left and right.  And we accept demons killing their fair share of humans, but then some are singled out very particularly – Joyce, Ben, Tara – and then to the gravest effect.  (Certainly Joyce whose The Body may be the best episode of the series.)     
[ii] At least not until The Mayor fatherly showers her with the knife, apartment, Playstation and, in what may be the key moment in their relationship, the flowerly sundress in which he sees her prettier than she ever sees herself. 
[iii] Recalled in the Angel episode The Prodigal when Angel tells Kate Lockley, “People have a way of seeing what they need to.”
[iv] While Angel had been prepped since the end of Buffy Season 2, his exit at the end of Season 3 was still up in the air, and it’s apparently during the shooting of this episode that Whedon and Greenwalt officially decided to pull the trigger.  

The Great Buffy Rewatch: The Zeppo

            These three posts -- The Zeppo, Bad Girls and Consequences -- are part of Nikki Stafford's The Great Buffy Rewatch on her blog, Nik At Nite;  which, as such the Buffy fan that I am, I was honored to be a part.  They'll be broken into three posts, one per episode, with Spoilers as Endnotes, in case any of you are newbies to The Scoobies.  See what I did there?  Nothing?  Is this thing on?  (Cough)  Right then, moving on ...

            I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew.
            When I first read that Guest Commentators would be co-hosting The Great Buffy Rewatch, I knew I somehow had to be a part of it.  But how?  I wasn’t sure.  I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Nikki in person, just over email, but the little contact we’d had made me believe I could at least email her about it.  So I did.  And of course she was as wonderfully gracious as you’d expect;  as most of you already know.  That I – just another fan – could join what many consider the great Buffy academics around.
            Which brings me to the biting and chewing. 
First of all, who was I to join such academics?  Sure, I’ve worked in Hollywood all my professional life – including a stint on Dollhouse – so perhaps I had a certain “in;”  could give an insider’s opinion.  And I write about The Whedonverse every once in a while.  And I’m definitely a fan, having watched all of Whedon’s series live as they aired, including hosting get-togethers for Buffy and eventually along with Angel those wonderful Tuesday nights long ago.  But would any of this give me cred among the real academics?
            More biting, more chewing. 
For second of all, by the time I garnered enough courage to throw my hat in the ring, all the episodes were already taken.  Had I missed my chance?  Well, I did see there were a few double-ups, so I thought, “Well, I’ll offer a couple of weeks and see what happens,” pretty sure I could write a little something entertaining, hopefully interesting, and succeed in my own original goal:  to simply be a part of this exciting year. 
I saw the Zeppo week and remembered how much I love that episode (I’ve always had a soft spot for Xander[i]) so I thought, “Yeah!  Zeppo!  That one will be fun.”  But what I didn’t immediately think about was Bad Girls and Consequences being in the same group.  I tried to remember what happened in those.  (Before this Great Rewatch, I hadn’t seen Season 3 in a couple of years.)  “Let’s see, that’s where Faith kills The Deputy Mayor.  And one of them is where Wesley shows up.  Anything else?  Eh, I’ll figure it out.  Yeah, I can do a write-up on that group.”
For the sake of this review, of course, I rewatched Bad Girls and Consequences again and, um, there’s a lot that happens in them.  (As I smack myself in the head) They’re kind of the crux of the rest of the season.
Uh oh.  Had I picked the wrong group?  Especially considering my academic audience?
Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
Camera pushes in on me staring wide-eyed at my laptop, furiously typing away and –
            Opening Credits.

The Zeppo
w Dan Vebber
d James Whitmore Jr.

I have always been a fan of “What If” stories.  Taking established settings and characters and viewing them under different circumstances.  We recently saw Buffy’s own best example with The Wish.  And while The Zeppo feels like one – or, as I like to think of it, more like Back To The Future Part 2 where Marty revisits the adventure in the first movie while simultaneously being on another;  seeing the events of one storyline from the different point of view of a simultaneous one – what separates it from being categorized as Elseworld is that it’s really happening.  This isn’t a What If, but happening in our setting to our characters.  And that’s something even cooler.[ii]
And “cool” is the theme here, isn’t it?  It’s precisely how Xander isn’t portrayed at the beginning of this episode;  and, for the most part, how he hasn’t been portrayed in the series thus far.  There are moments when Nicholas Brendon is given the chance to play cool – say, The Soldier in Halloween (but this is a spell cast on the character) – and even moments of Xander playing it cool – say, his punching out The Clown in Nightmares or reenacting The Soldier in Innocence – but he’s never really been able to be cool yet.  Well, in The Zeppo he gets his comeuppance in spades.  For all the buttmonkeying he’s been put through[iii] and, as I say, for how this very episode begins, Xander goes from Zero to Hero in one of the best stories not just of the season but, in my opinion, of the very series.[iv]
Let’s talk about that, how great the story itself is.  The two stories.  The first is the End Of The World Apocalypse that’s bigger than most of the episodic bads we face.  This is a Big Bad, as big as the two Season Finales we’ve seen thus far.  As built up, wonderfully melodramatic as it is, it indeed feels like a Season Finale, including the scene between Buffy and Angel in the mansion that Xander awkwardly breaks into.[v]  (I particularly love the music cues here, the score beneath Buffy and Angel that cuts out when Xander’s there then resumes when he leaves.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, because …)  The second story is of course the one playing out behind these scenes;  the one in which, really, our primary adventure takes place.  In which Xander saves the day – and all our heroes’ lives.
On his own.
It all begins when he’s sent off for donuts, a seemingly unimportant task until the great callback with Giles when he tells Buffy and Willow he’ll try and contact The Spirit Guides, and asks what happened to the jellies.[vi]  And that’s just one example of the brilliance in this episode, and what I meant by it feeling like a What If, or at least slightly removed from our regular timeline.  It’s packed with moments like that.  And while the basic story is split in two – the Apocalypse and Xander’s Adventure – Xander’s Adventure is split in two as well. 
First is the what I’ll call “brilliant wackiness” of it.  Cordelia calling Xander The Zeppo (is she really enough of a Marx Bros fan to quip a reference like that?);  Oz mocking Seth Green’s guitar playing; the cut from Oz playing light-of and Giles astutely serious that “it’s the end of the world;”  Xander (always sex-on-his-mind Xander) – remember in Innocence, “I’m seventeen.  Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.” – all but flat-out turning down Lysette to hang out with Angel (of all people);  the cool-in-the-face-of-death quip (and my favourite line in the episode), “Mostly I feel Katie” (though “Yeah, I think it’s Bob” makes a great best-line argument);  losing his virginity to (of all people) Faith;  his (in a very cool moment) grabbing the one baddie, dragging him with the car, about to get the information he needs and WHAM … well, you know;  Oz, his memory simply “oddly full,” at dispensing Jack;  all of it crystallized by the perfectly delivered, “Did I mention I’m having a very strange night?” 
It is strange, brilliantly wacky -- as I say, slightly removed -- and that’s what makes it work.  It plays like a dream, a fairy tale, but – and this really makes it work – at the end of the day, it’s really happening. 
Xander is this cool.[vii]
But the other half of Xander’s Adventure is a serious story and, in most ways, a conventional one.  There’s the Zero To Hero arc, sure, but with wonderfully conventional dramatic moments.  (And I mean conventional here in a good way, giving us what we expect in any story by going above and beyond what we want from as good a show as Buffy.)  One instance is the donut setup/callback itself – and I believe this is why, the episode running short or not, Whedon added this scene (missing from the original script) – where the seemingly irrelevant task means so much (this time Xander is the one out of the loop, mirroring everyone else being out of the loop on his adventure).  But the biggest instance is the state of fear.  Remember the setup outside The Bronze where Jack calls Xander out?  “Fear. Who has the least fear.”  And then the magnificent end when Xander turns that exact phrase back on his nemesis.  (Quick aside.  All of the script pulls throughout my Commentary are from the Shooting Script, not necessarily how they air in the finished episode.)

JACK
You'll die too.

XANDER
Yeah, looks like. So I guess the question really is … who has
less fear?

JACK
I ain't afraid to die. I'm dead.

XANDER
Yeah, but this is different. Blowed up isn't walking around and drinking
with your buddies dead. It's 'little bits swept up by the janitor' dead, and
I don't think you're ready for that.

JACK
Are you?

Beat.  Jack.  Xander.  Clock.

XANDER
(smiling calmly)
I like the quiet.

            “I like the quiet.”  As Ferris Bueller would say, “So choice.”  It’s the exact kind of Errol Flynn line we don’t expect from Xander – or the show, per se – but looooove when he says it.  Because it falls right in line with the duality of the piece.  The dreamlike reality.  One more facet in the brilliant wackiness that is the entire episode. 
            (Speaking of asides, am I the only one that thinks the moment where Xander is chasing Dickie in the school hallway, only to be turned around and chased by The Demons must be an homage to Star Wars?  And speaking of Dickie, I do love the moment where he’s the only one to see what’s going on in the library.  “Wow,” he says!  So funny.  Okay, moving on.)
“But Xander’s totally brushed off by his friends,” a friend of mine said to me while we were discussing this episode one time.  But it’s not really a brush-off, is it?  Or, rather, it’s the kind of brush-off only real friends can give.  Because they don’t want him out of their hair like an annoying sibling, they want him out of the way because they’re genuinely concerned for his well being.  The best of these is Willow passing him outside The Magic Shop[viii], then coming back to tell him she loves him.  And I particularly like Buffy’s reaction to Xander in the mansion scene.  She waits for him to say what he needs to, even when he ends up saying nothing – she doesn’t come off as annoyed;  it’s simply bad timing -- and when he asks if he can help, she just shakes her head, appreciative (I believe) that he’d even ask. 
I remember the first time I saw The Zeppo, when it first aired, I thought, “A ha!  The bomb’s in the basement of the school, right under the library (we’d dropped straight down from Giles – “Who knows what’s going to come up from beneath us?” – to first see it).  Xander will save the day by using the bomb to destroy the tentacled monster the others are fighting!”  (The same tentacled monster we first saw in Season 1’s Prophecy Girl;  I love Giles’s simple, “It’s Grown.”)  Well, how happy I was to be wrong.[ix]  Because even better is Xander saving the day – indeed saving all our heroes’ lives -- and they never know.  The episode is bookended by the wonderful Cordelia scenes[x] in which, at the beginning she berates him in wonderfully witty repartee – “Cool.  Look it up.  It's something a subliterate who's repeated the 12th grade three times has and you don't.” – and at the end, she can only look at him, bewildered, while continuing to ask, “What?  What?  What?” 
            “I like the quiet,” Xander said. 
So it’s no surprise, then, that it’s his silent smile, his back to Cordelia as he walks away, that’s the coolest ever.


[i] Which makes me hate Hell’s Bells with a furious passion, but we’ll get to that later.  (I don’t even blame Xander.  I love Xander.  But Whedon.  WHEDON!  If I ever meet that guy at Willy’s after one too many, well … While I’m not giving Commentary that week, oh do I have a few thoughts to share.)
[ii] I’ve had this same argument about Restless.  It too feels like a What If episode, but it’s not.  Sure, it’s their dreams, but it’s happening within the construct of our real timeline (they remember their dreams at the end of the episode).  Different than, say, spell-cast sagas – the swooning “Isn’t he just?” of Superstar or the “Who are we?” of Tabula Rasa (in which how can you not love when Giles and Spike hug as father and son?).
[iii] And will continue to be put through, he himself fed up with that very label in Buffy Vs. Dracula.
[iv] One of my arguments against “bad writing” in a series (not standalones like features, I’m talking episodic storytelling;  a series of features, comics, especially television) is writing against character.  Having a character all of a sudden do something that is completely not who they are.  One of Buffy’s greatest strengths as a series is never failing here (including Willow’s Oz to Tara evolution in Season 4).  Sure, Xander is the loveable buffoon, as he will be again, but it’s in his character to do the right thing, so his being the hero here indeed works.  In fact, for me, Zeppo sets the stage for Grave when, again, Xander stands alone against all hell breaking loose.
[v] We’ll see a similar Buffy-Angel exchange “for real” in this season’s two-part finale, Graduation Day.
[vi] This scene isn’t in the Shooting Script, so it must have been written while they were shooting – by Joss?  Feels like his work.  (Perhaps the episode came in short so it was added?  In any event …)  If you’ve never been to the great site Buffy World, please do;  it’s the best source for all the Buffy and Angel scripts online (that I know of).  And this “missing scene” is just one of the fun things you find when reading a script.  A particular favourite is in Marti Noxon’s stage direction in Bargaining Part 1 when The Biker Gang arrives in town.  She writes, “The open highway. Razor leads a pack of demons, who roar down the road on their hogs. (or motorcycles. Motorcycles would be better.)”  It’s just stage direction, nothing to be seen on screen, it’s just for those reading.  I love when writers do that.
[vii] Foreshadowing the funny – and touching – The Replacement in which Xander’s cool is literally split from him, for everyone to once again realize it’s been part of him all along.  (And who doesn’t love the Snoopy dance?)
[viii] A decent recurring character of its own, from Jenny Calendar buying the Orb of Thesulah there in Passion (easily a Top 10 episode, also directed by Consequences’ Michael Gershman) and Giles becoming its proprietor in Season 5, to its demise at the end of Season 6.  (Anya, even in the afterlife, still cries at all its money lost.)
[ix] We won’t see a bomb in the library save the day until Graduation Day Part 2, and what’s really waiting to come up from beneath there until the series finale Chosen.
[x] While so many people talk about Willow’s character arc throughout seven seasons – and fairly so – what about our little Cordelia?  How much she’s changed from the first couple seasons of Buffy to the woman she’ll become on Angel!