Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Buffy Rewatch Week 17: Spoiler Forum

Hello and welcome to that place where you can discuss Buffy and Angel freely without fear of spoilage. I'm going to run Michael Holland's Zeppo piece below, which is full of spoilers (which I, thankfully, don't have to white out this time!) Unfortunately it's not going to be as pretty and formatted as the pieces in the post above this one, simply because due to the length of it I've spent about 4 hours editing, formatting, and whiting out the spoilers just in the one above, and I'm exhausted (and didn't really write up my own notes because I ran out of time). So this one will be sans italics and block quotes and all that purty stuff. But you can still read it just fine, I'm sure. ;) Enjoy!! It's a great piece.

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. (In David Kociemba’s great article, “Buffy Vs Her Very Mind Itself,” he discusses Normal Again and notes, “Long-running series that work hard to create an active viewing experience are peculiarly able to exploit such narrative techniques.” And few shows have done as well as Buffy in laying such solid groundwork so as to be able to venture into What If territory. Not to gloat, but our show is clever enough to take it one step further as yet another episode, Dopplegangland, will then play off The Wish in our real timeline.) And while The Zeppo feels like a What If – 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. And that’s something even cooler. (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?)
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 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 -- and will continue to be put through, he himself fed up with that very label in Buffy Vs. Dracula -- 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. 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.
Let’s talk about 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. We’ll see a similar Buffy-Angel exchange “for real” in this season’s two-part finale, Graduation Day. (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 when Giles tells Buffy and Willow he’ll try and contact The Spirit Guides, and asks what happened to the jellies. [This scene isn’t in the Shooting Script, so it must have been written while they were shooting. By Whedon? 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.] And the jellies bit is 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, “Mostly I feel Katie;” 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. (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?)
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. (“We’re your arch nemisis-es,” as Warren will say in Season 6’s Gone. Makes me laugh every time.)

You'll die too.

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

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

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.

Are you?

Beat. Jack. Xander. Clock.

(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, then coming back to tell him she loves him. [And what a recurring character The Magic Shop will be! From Jenny Calendar buying the Orb of Thesulah there in Passion 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.)] 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. (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.) 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 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?” (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!)
“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.


Unknown said...

So who knows what apocalypse we're on at this point? I can't think. . .we had season 1 The Master almost ascending, averted by Buffy grinding his bones to dust and making bread:) Then Season 2 Angel opened Alfalfa and Buffy skewering him like a martini olive. And does this make 3?

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Spoilers! (I would tell Nikki how that's a Doctor Who spoiler, but - Spoilers!)

Willow says "Occasionally I'm callous and strange." I think skinning Warren alive qualifies.

Cordy taunts Xander the way Spike will (to all the Scoobies) in Yoko Factor.

Referring to Uncle Rory's car - "Is this a penis metaphor?" That same comment will come up in regard to Giles' new wheels.

O'Toole named his knife like Jayne (Firefly) named his gun (Vera.)

In season 7, Xander will say he's the one who sees - he sees the treat of O'Toole and his gang when the others are too focused elsewhere to. If the bomb had gone off, they'd be dead anyway.

In BG, they discuss what they'll be doing post high school. Xander was the most successful of all of them at the end of the series.

Wes and Spike have the most complicated story arcs on Buffy/Angel. But as Spike goes into the light, Wes goes into the dark. When Wes listens to Giles and Buffy's discussion, we can see a first taste of that darkness.

Xander puts his hand over his eye and reminds me of his eyepatch.

Faith strangles Buffy is like Buffy beating Spike in Dead Things - both are projecting their self-loathing onto the other person.

I'm assuming the only thing keeping the Watchers from staking Angel is his upcoming series.

Page48 said...

@Colleen/redeem147 re: "Willow says "Occasionally I'm callous and strange." I think skinning Warren alive qualifies"

I wanted Willow to bring Warren back to life just to skin him alive again...and again.

Tom D. said...

Willow says "Occasionally I'm callous and strange."

I kinda love that line because occasionally so am I. (Anyone else, or is it just me?)

So who knows what apocalypse we're on at this point?

Depends what counts as an apocalypse. Did the Master's rise at the end of season 1 really amount to an apocalypse? It wasn't clear how/if he was going to actually destroy the world. Look at The Wish, where the Master triumphed -- the world didn't end, the only thing that happened was that Sunnydale got even more dangerous. On the flip side, you could perhaps count the Judge in mid-season 2 as a potential apocalypse that got stopped. (Except that the military would have blown him up with a rocket sooner or later, if Buffy hadn't done so first.) Acathla is undoubtedly an apocalypse. So I'd say The Zeppo is really just the second averted apocalypse.

I loved Nikki's observation about Xander's "I like the quiet" and how much pain he's really carrying around. This rewatch has given me a much better view of Xander than I had before.

Xander was the most successful of all of them at the end of the series.

Being a carpenter is all very well, but I'd say Willow being a tremendously powerful witch is the most successful by a wide margin. (The end of season 8 is a whole 'nother story, though.)

Colleen/redeem147 said...

Being a carpenter is all very well, but I'd say Willow being a tremendously powerful witch is the most successful by a wide margin.

I meant in the sense of the conversation they were having. He's the most successful in a job way. Buffy and Willow have both dropped out of university. Xander is a foreman.

Once Sunnydale falls in the hole, it's kind of moot.

Page48 said...

In terms of financial success, I think the Slayer, (the Chosen One, no less), could write her own ticket, if the whole Slayer industry would just step out of the closet.

Slayer action figures, Slayer cards, Slayer movies. Maybe even a TV show about the Slayer. Well, a TV show might be pushing it.

I always attribute Xander's success as a contractor to a very charitable team of writers.

Suzanne said...

Rewatching The Zeppo gave me a new appreciation for it. I have to say that I didn't like it very much the first time I saw it even though I knew it was a favorite among fans. This time around, I really saw a lot to love and was appreciative of what it did for Xander's character. I thought both commentators this week did an excellent job of analyzing the wonderful affect this episode has on Xander and his character arc. Lastly, I really appreciated the humor in this episode and the way it seemed to poke fun at itself with the melodramatic scenes involving Buffy and Angel as well as the fight with the monster.

However, I still can't get past the opening premise! It seemed very forced to me that all of sudden Giles, Buffy, and Willow thought that Xander was such a liability to them and that were suddenly so concerned for his safety. There had never been one hint of this in past episodes even though Xander has had his scrapes. In fact, Xander had been the one to save the day more than once. Somebody said that the show is very good about not having characters do things that they normally wouldn't do. Even though I agree that Xander was fully in character in this episode, I believe the other characters, especially Buffy and Willow were out of character when the were suddenly so concerned about Xander and decided that he shouldn't be involved. As much as I have developed a fondness for this episode on a second viewing, I am not sure I will ever be able to get past the opening sequence that leads Xander to the events of the rest of the episode since it seems so contrived to me. It seems even more contrived when you consider that their concern for his safety is never mentioned again in the episodes that come after this one.

It is a shame they didn't lead up to it more by dropping clues in a few of the previous episodes by having Xander experience a couple of close calls that the gang worries about one after another with this one in the beginning of The Zeppo becoming the last straw.

Tom D. said...

Watching Bad Girls this time around gave me a better appreciation of why some fans wanted Buffy and Faith to hook up. Everything Faith says about slaying making her horny; Buffy blushingly admitting that there's some truth in that for her too; the two of them dancing in the Bronze afterwards; Buffy jumping all over Angel when he shows up there. It seems like going out and slaying with Faith has a pretty intense effect on Buffy.

Given the events of season 8, a future Buffy/Faith hookup is still a conceivable (but improbable) future possibility.

Austin Gorton said...

Stupid real world, getting in the way of the re-watch...

I've never been a huge fan of "The Zeppo". I mean, I love me some Xander, but maybe I'm too much like those people who complained about missing out on the Apocalypse stuff.

And, like Suzanne said, it only works because suddenly the Scooby Gang is worried about Xander, despite his helping to avert every previous (and forthcoming) apocalypse.

Happy to see Wesley again. Like Nikki, he's my single favorite character in the Whedonverse (and one of my favorite fictional characters, period). Love watching his arc unfold.

Tom D. said...

Ensley snarked: So Sunnydale is a deep water port?

To be fair, we have previously seen Sunnydale's docks (in Surprise) and coastline (in Go Fish). So if there's a continuity error, it's really in Chosen -- Sunnydale shouldn't have become a crater surrounded by dry land, but should instead have become a new bay in the California coastline.

Also: In Consequences, Angel makes what I think is the first mention of the Sunnydale airport, which we will eventually see in seasons 6 and 7. (He says he'll go to the airport to look for Faith.)

Efthymia said...

At one point in "Consequences", they mention that the code word is 'monkey' --as in MONK-KEY?

(LOST has seriously damaged me...)