Did I call “Band Candy” the high watermark for Buffy comedy? I may have spoken too soon because “The Zeppo” is all kinds of awesome. Season two’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” gave us a glimpse of Xander’s skewed perspective on the Buffyverse and this follow up plays it to the hilt by not having any mystical interference account for the change in tone; the only difference here is the eyes we’re looking through. There’s also a pretty solid story about identity issues and manhood going on here, but I’ll save that for the Final Thoughts while I relish just how much fun this series is able to have with itself.
Xander’s always been the Buffy character most closely aligned with the audience, a fact the opening explicitly reminds us of as it highlights his lack of supernatural powers and geek-cultural literacy. He’s such a non-entity here that his absence from the battle is conspicuous only to the audience; the Scoobies don’t notice he’s missing until well after it’s over. Xander’s not actually a part of this story and his status as an observer rather than an actor is further underlined as the gang marginalizes him from the rest of this week’s world-saving. All this, combined with his preoccupation with his own adventure, prevents him from being part of the usual rhythms of a Buffy episode and thus allows him to perceive some of their excesses.
The skewed perception has the other Scoobies appearing as exaggerated versions of themselves. Giles is up first as he summons the spirit guides in order to learn what sort of apocalypse is happening this week. Rupert normally performs his research through more mundane means but the knowledge he’s able to gain from books must seem almost mystical to someone like Xander. Making Giles’ consultation with the oracles literal rather than figurative not only highlights the power-differential brought about by his knowledge, but skewers the way Buffy often relies on “research.” Giles’ ability to find the answers from week-to-week invariably corresponds to the needs of the plot. The Scoobies always seem to learn just enough at just the right time to make their tasks possible without making them easy, almost like magic.
There’s never been any question about how much Buffy’s power sets her apart from Xander, and its effectiveness doesn’t tend to vary from week to week. Instead of convenient answers she gets sent up for her excessive drama. I’ve complained a lot about her relationship with Angel and the tear-filled eyes, soft lighting, and bloated score in their had me in stitches. The best moment comes when Xander politely interrupt’s their self-absorbed melodrama and they both stare at him like he’s dropped an N-bomb in church. Buffy and Angel’s relationship is fundamentally ridiculous to any rational observer and it’s nice for the show to admit that.
The only Scooby that remains consistent in Xander’s world is Willow, which makes sense considering their relationship predates their introduction to the Buffyverse. This fact is as comforting for the audience as it is for Xander. Technically, Willow “just being Willow” undermines this episode’s whole “eye of the beholder” perspective, but I think that’s what we actually want from it. As fun as it is to play around with perspectives, it’s reassuring to know that our understanding of the characters and relationships is accurate and that “The Zeppo” is best understood as a delightful departure rather than a game changer.
Well, this review certainly feels a bit rambling, probably due to the fact that I wrote it in 5-10 minutes spurts. Oh well, hopefully next week I’ll have more time.
While I chose to focus on the meta-commentary for this write up, “The Zeppo” is equally awesome for its commentary on manhood. “Is this a penis metaphor?” Yes, yes it is.
While I enjoyed how the Xander-Willow relationship played out against our expectations, I think that both characters were in need of a boost after wallowing in the mud. Willow at least had Oz’s forgiveness to let us know that it’s still ok to like her. It’s about time we were reminded why Xander’s awesome.
Speaking of why Xander’s awesome…
“Who, at a crucial moment, distracted the demon by allowing her to pummel him about the head?”
“I’ve never been… up with people.”
“You gave it a girl’s name. How very serial killer of you.”
“Mental note, less talk.”
“Long gone. Probably loaded with supplies. Gotta think. I can’t believe I had sex. Okay, bombs. Dead guys with bombs.”