Written by David Fury and Elin Hampton
Directed by David Semel
The gang is at an evening beach party with a bunch of other Sunnydale High students. Xander doesn’t approve, because it’s too cold for beach parties. The party is in honor of the swim team, which is apparently hot stuff. Xander is super jealous and covering it by pretending the swim team is stupid.
Buffy is sitting by herself closer to the beach, and she’s joined by one of the swim guys. He’s unsettlingly poetic about the ocean, and that’s his pickup strategy. Despite his weirdness, she’s a bit charmed. She’s still hesitant about dating, but he promises he won’t try anything. Nearby, Jonathan is being tormented by some of the other swim guys, so Buffy goes and rescues him. He appreciates it as much as Xander did in “Halloween,” and the swim guys she chased off are pretty pissed at her. Two of them walk along the beach, griping about her, and one of them is mesmerized by the ocean. The other guy loses track of him, and the next we see of him is his skin lying steamy on the beach with nothing inside it, while some kind of bipedal sea monster makes its way into a nearby storm drain.
At school, Willow is still teaching Jenny’s classes. They’re doing pie charts today, except for Gage, one of the swim guys, who is playing porny Solitaire. Snyder comes to tell her he wants her to keep subbing for the rest of the school year, and she tries to report on Gage, but Snyder is more interested in the swim team winning the state championship than in holding the swimmers to decent academic standards. Willow is deeply troubled that Snyder is forcing her to be dishonest. She tells Xander and Cordelia this on the way down the hall, and I just noticed that her outfit is super weird.
At least Willow was never supposed to be trendy, I guess.
Meanwhile, Buffy is getting a ride to school from Ocean Poetry Guy, who has become extremely tiresome with all the endless ocean talk. He is also no longer interested in not trying anything. He locks her in the car and tries to make a move, to which she responds by twisting his arm and smacking his face into the steering wheel. *cheers Buffy on* Alas, Snyder sees the tail end of this. In the nurse’s office, Ocean Poetry Guy does a lovely bit of slut-shaming over Buffy’s outfit. The swim coach comes in and because he, like the gym coach in S1, is an American High School Coach Stereotype, heartily joins team “Buffy’s outfit meant she deserved sexual harassment.” Gross.
In the library, Buffy complains irritably about Ocean Poetry Guy’s jerkishness and the overall sexism of the whole situation. The Scoobies are researching to try and figure out what could have eviscerated that one swim guy, whose empty skin was found earlier that morning.
In the steam room, Ocean Poetry Guy is licking his wounds (not literally) and basking in the steam. Something is in the locker room, and it turns out it’s…just the swim coach. That’s boring.
Xander goes to get a drink from the vending machine and bonks into Ocean Poetry Guy. He mocks him for the injuries Buffy gave him. Ocean Poetry Guy scowls and goes to the cafeteria. At the drink machine, Xander hears him scream. When he goes to investigate, he finds Ocean Poetry Guy’s steaming skin on the floor. He’s trying not to hurl when he turns around and sees a giant black fish monster.
In the library, he’s describing it while Cordelia sketches it. (Cordelia can draw?) She mocks him for running in terror when he saw the monster. Willow and Buffy arrive with the news that the two guys who’ve been eviscerated were the best two swimmers. Cordelia is bummed about the school’s plummeting prospects in the swim championship. Now they’re trying to figure out who the suspects are. It’s the first time they identify Jonathan by name!
The gang divides up assignments. Buffy’s assignment is to tail Gage, who is now the top swimmer on the team. Unsubtle Buffy strikes again! That is my favorite Buffy. Willow interrogates Jonathan. It’s pretty hilarious. She’s trying to be all tough, and he has no idea what’s going on. She thinks she’s about to get him to confess to summoning sea monsters, but he just admits that he peed in the pool. (Oh, Jonathan. I love you.)
Snyder and Coach Stereotype discuss what to do about the attacks on the swim team. They’re more concerned about finding someone to fill out the team than making sure the attacks stop. Xander overhears this conversation.
At the Bronze, Unsubtle Buffy is still tailing Gage. He finally calls her on it. She pretends she’s following him because she wants to do “science experiments” with guys on the swim team. He doesn’t buy it. She then tells him the truth, which he also doesn’t buy. He finishes off by insulting her—apparently one of the last things Ocean Poetry Guy did before getting skinned was to spread rumors about how Buffy is a psycho tease. This is not a reputation Buffy appreciates having, and she lets Gage walk off, looking hurt.
Outside, Gage is still muttering about Buffy when Angelus shows up. They rant about Buffy together until Angelus vamps out and bites him. Buffy comes outside in time to see Angelus drop Gage, spitting out his blood, looking revolted. Interesting. She tries to fight him, but he knocks her down and skedaddles. All of a sudden, Gage is perfectly happy to have Buffy as his bodyguard.
It’s swim practice the next day. Buffy, Willow, and Cordy are watching (with popcorn). Gage keeps pausing his laps to wave and smile at Buffy (which is hilarious). The girls talk about how weird it was that Angelus spat out Gage’s blood. Buffy thinks it might be because of steroids, which would explain both their winning streak and maybe even why the monster keeps targeting them. Cordelia is distracted by another Speedo-clad swimmer coming out of the locker room. It’s Xander! He actually pulls of the Speedo pretty well, considering he’s supposed to be a dork, not a jock. Buffy is amused, and Willow and Cordelia are in full swoon mode. Xander decided to try out for the team so he could be their inside man.
In the steam room after practice, Xander is trying to strike up conversation with the guys. Outside, claws poke up through the grate of a drain. Xander leaves the locker room and literally tags Buffy in, which is adorable. In the locker room, Gage is noticing the same gross smell that preceded the last two monster attacks. He’s trying to figure out where it’s coming from, when out in the hall, Buffy hears him yell. She runs inside and finds the sea monster standing over Gage. Gage collapses, in extreme pain. Then he tears his shirt open and…also his skin. The monster isn’t attacking the swimmers! The monster is a former swimmer! Gage has now fully transformed, and Buffy is trapped between the two monsters. She tries to fight them off, but one of them takes a bite out of her. Coach Stereotype shows up and opens the drain, and the monsters both dive in.
In the nurse’s office, the nurse patches Buffy up. Giles and Coach Stereotype are there too. Coach Stereotype denies any knowledge of what’s been happening. The Scoobies check out the swimmers’ records and find symptoms of steroid abuse in their health reports. So the steroids aren’t just making the swimmers unpalatable to vampires; they’re what’s turning the boys into monsters.
Buffy and Giles head down to the storm drain to look for the monsters, which lurk out of sight. In the steam room, Xander continues his attempts at recon. Now he’s trying to figure out where the steroids are coming from. To his horror, one of the guys tells him that the steroids are in the steam.
Not only does Coach Stereotype know exactly what’s happening to the boys, but so does the nurse (who is a terrible actress). She wants to stop doing this to the boys. Coach Stereotype indicates his disagreement by dumping her into the storm drain under the locker room. A little snack for the boys.
Xander brings his news to the rest of the Scoobies. He’s in full panic mode. Cordelia is more upset about how her reputation will suffer if her boyfriend goes from loser to monster. Xander doesn’t appreciate her particular brand of sympathy. Willow goes to talk to the nurse and Buffy goes to talk to Coach Stereotype. He admits to being inspired by creepy Soviet Union experiments with fish DNA, which somehow he was clever enough to take to the next level. (Wait, why is he a high school swim coach if he’s smart enough to do groundbreaking genetic engineering research in his free time?)
What Buffy didn’t realize was that the only reason Coach Stereotype told her his evil plan was because he had no intention of letting her go. He pulls a gun on her and forces her into the storm drain. The nurse was their snack (her chewed-on corpse floats past); Buffy is meant to be their unwilling “science experiment” partner. Gross.
At the swimming pool, Xander frets to Cordy about how maybe he’s turning into a fish monster. Then he runs back into the locker room to check the mirror. A fish monster comes out and jumps in the pool, and Cordy thinks it’s Xander. She gives a half-hilarious, half-touching speech about how she’ll still be there for him. Xander walks up next to her and points out that the fish monster is not him, and they run away.
In the library, Giles has locked the rest of the team in the book cage. Xander and Cordelia report on the one unaccounted-for member of the team, who is the new fish monster. Buffy is missing.
In the storm drain, Buffy nervously waits in the water for the fish monsters to show up. Xander comes to ask the coach where Buffy is, and the coach has a super obvious tell of looking at the storm drain grate. Xander beats him up while Buffy fights off the fish monsters. Then Xander reaches down to pull Buffy out. The fish monsters try to pull her in, but eventually, Xander gets her all the way out. Coach Stereotype rears up to attack them and ends up falling into the hole instead. Buffy tries to help him, but the fish monsters tackle him.
The next day, Xander tells the girls his schedule, which will involve detoxing by way of plasma transfusions. Giles informs them all that the fish monsters have disappeared, but Buffy isn’t worried. She’s confident that they’ve gone to the ocean. And she is correct! The episode ends on a shot of the fish boys bobbing up and down rather unimpressively in the ocean.
“Go Fish” is dumb. I’m not sure I’d call it worse than “Teacher’s Pet” or “I Robot, You Jane,” but here at the end of a season with fantastic villains like Angelus and Drusilla, a silly monster-of-the-week episode with awkward themes and no connection to the main arc is a serious nuisance. It doesn’t really do much to further anyone’s character arcs. Instead, it’s another one that focuses on a bunch of one-shot characters we don’t care about. It has its entertaining moments and the twist where the boys were actually becoming monsters rather than getting eaten by monsters was pretty clever. However, what with all the gross sexism of Coach Stereotype and the swim team (which makes it even harder to sympathize with the plight of the swim guys), and the extremely obvious message of steroids=bad, it’s one of the closest things season two has to a Very Special Episode. The coach casually tosses Buffy into the storm drain to get gang-raped by four fish monsters, and her only reaction is to be glib. And what did Buffy mean when she said “they really love their coach” after he fell in the hole? It’s another example of the Buffy writers bringing up a subject only to be super awkward with it. I guess the slightly deeper message here that it’s unwise to use Plot A solutions (fish DNA steroids) for Plot B problems (the state swim competition), and that’s certainly one we’ll see again, but on the whole, “Go Fish” is probably the most skippable episode of S2.
Like I mentioned in the previous review, Buffy came out of “I Only Have Eyes for You” having dealt with her self-blame issues enough to be willing to reenter the dating scene. Sort of. She at least doesn’t spurn harmless initial advances from cute guys. But she’s also not going to take crap from anyone, which is why she smashes Ocean Poetry Guy into his steering wheel when he tries to get handsy. All the stuff about Ocean Poetry Guy besmirching Buffy’s reputation to the other students was sort of just played for laughs, though, which is a shame. That kind of thing happens a lot in real life, and I’m not sure having Buffy give one rant about it until her friends’ expressions shut her up was the best way to handle it.
Xander plays a large role in the story here, and I will gladly give him points for bravery. I think this is the first time in quite a while that an episode has done anything with Xander’s insecurities about whether or not other men respect him. What strikes me as odd is that Xander is only interested in assuming the “jock” role as part of his undercover recon mission. If he’s so interested in gaining the respect of guys his age, then why not actually participate in one of the school’s sports in earnest? Is he just afraid that any such efforts would be counterproductive because he’s not good enough at sports for it?
This is the first instance of Interrogation Room Willow! She is one of the funniest versions of Willow. We also continue to see her in this teaching role. While she’s certainly made great strides this season towards being able to speak her mind, she’s still very cowed by Snyder when he twists her arm into being dishonest about Gage’s grades.
Cordelia spends most of this episode being the voice of Xander’s insecurities, which seems a bit harsh seeing as she’s been his girlfriend for months. Also she’s backtracked a bit into ditzy comic relief, but not quite as bad as in “Passion.” She’s been too self-absorbed to appreciate how Plot A problems affect other people many times before, so it doesn’t feel like a disservice to her character.
I don’t think there was really anything new for Giles in this one. No reference to Jenny at all, and he just does his usual Giles thing. (But since I love his usual Giles thing, I’m pretty much fine with that.)
Holy crap was Angelus wasted in this one. They could’ve used any run-of-the-mill vampire if all they needed was a steroid litmus test. It really sort of kills the momentum built up by all the previous episodes.
“Ugh! What is that foulness?” (Ahahaha, Gage you are such a dweeb.)
“This doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, the skin’s the best part!”
“Any demons with high cholesterol?” *flat stare from Giles* “You’re gonna think about that later, Mister, and you’re gonna laugh.”
“Sure, the discus throwers got the best seats at all the crucifixions.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.