Written by Dan Vebber
Directed by James Whitmore Jr.
The setting is smoky and ominous, with demons running around, as well as both Slayers, Giles, and Willow (who seems to be responsible for the smoke). The Slayers successfully slay, and—is Buffy wearing a hoodie that only has half sleeves? And why is her hair crimped? Ew.
After those four discuss their hard-won victory and how they were expecting to fight vampires, not a gang of demon ladies, they remember that Xander is also there. He got buried under some debris. Buffy is starting to think he shouldn’t be part of these fights. Giles agrees.
It’s school time, and some jocks are playing catch in the courtyard. Xander begs to be included, but then he fumbles. The ball knocks a psycho dude’s lunch out of his hands. Without so much as looking angry, he starts threatening to “cut [Xander’s] face open.” Holy crap why is Snyder wasting his time with Buffy when there are dudes like that at this school? Xander manages to finish that conversation without receiving a beating, but then Cordelia’s there to mock him for being the only member of the Scooby gang who doesn’t bring anything useful to the table. So begins Xander’s quest to attain a modicum of coolness. Ugggggh is this a Xander-centric episode?
Because the objective of Xander’s quest is to gain stats in coolness, he must consult Oz, who is a Level 4 Werewolf Bard with +11 Intelligence bonus and a +8 Charisma bonus, as he is the master of cool. Without trying to, Oz gives Xander the idea that he needs to choose a class. He may have reached Level 2 (mostly from shared XP on group quests), but all this time, he’s just been a Human Adventurer without a specialization, while Buffy is a Human Warrior, Faith is a Human Barbarian (Kendra was a Human Monk), Willow is a Human Mage, Angel is a Vampire Warrior, and Giles is a reformed Human Warlock. But what should Xander’s class be? (It appears that he’s forgotten about that one time he was transformed into Private Harris, Level 4 Human Soldier, at the expense of his original character backstory. That might’ve been something he could develop for coolness points if it had occurred to him.)
As he’s worrying about this, Giles informs Buffy that the demon chicks they fought the previous night are part of a cult bent on opening the Hellmouth and destroying the world. Oz joins them so he can lock himself in the cage for the full moon.
The next morning, Buffy and Willow discuss the slimy tentacle demon that came out of the Hellmouth in “Prophecy Girl,” which will come back with lots of bigger, badder friends if the demon chicks achieve their goal. The girls are all set to take these demons on, and they’re being unusually grave about it. So was Giles before. Xander comes blaring up in a turquoise classic convertible of some kind. Apparently he thinks this will qualify him for the Ranger class. I have my doubts. The girls aren’t confident that this will make him as cool as he thinks, and also they have an apocalypse to worry about. They send Xander to get doughnuts.
Cordelia shows up at the doughnut shop to continue mocking and belittling. She may not have a character class of her own yet (it will eventually be Cleric), but she’s maxed out her Charisma stats (I will never apologize for making that pun), so she feels confident that she’s entitled to mock him. She loses a little of this confidence when an attractive female NPC Human Ranger shows up to admire Xander’s car. They depart together.
Later, Xander and the NPC Human Ranger are at the Bronze together, and he’s reached the point where their dialogue is looping. We can tell he’s desperate to ditch her because he willingly engages Angel in conversation. Angel, however, as a Level 7 Vampire Warrior, is not in the same quest tier and therefore can’t stick around. Xander has little choice but to continue entertaining the NPC Human Ranger, which results him rear-ending a car that contains the psycho dude from earlier.
The more battle-competent party members are researching at the library. Giles leaves to attempt contacting spirit guides. He’s indignant that Buffy and Willow ate all the jelly doughnuts.
Xander tries to talk his way out of having to fight Psycho Dude, but he has zero Charisma, so he fails and ends up with a knife against his face. NPC Human Ranger isn’t helpful at all; none of the quests she assists with involve combat. Psycho Dude gives Xander the giant hunting knife to prove that even armed, Xander is too much of a wuss to fight him. A cop comes by in time to stop him from doing Xander serious harm. Xander pretends nothing happened, which endears him to Psycho Guy. Psycho Guy (who is a Chaotic Evil Cleric) decides to add Xander and NPC Human Ranger to his party. The other members of his party are all Undead Rogues. NPC Human Ranger flees in terror after Psycho Dude raises the first one.
Giles’s efforts to contact the spirit guides doesn’t go well, and Xander runs into him. He begs Giles to let him join the other Scoobies’ apocalyptic group quest, but he’s below the level minimum, so Giles says no.
Buffy is at Willy’s Bar, where Willy is extremely beat up and therefore willing to give out information for free. Instead of the few weeks Giles was hoping they’d have until the demon chicks put their apocalyptic plan into action, they actually have a few hours. Willy’s pretty convinced that the world’s about to end, so he recommends that she go find Angel and spend her last night on Earth with him.
Psycho Dude and his party debate about what quest to pursue first. They decide on the quest Bake a Cake. For this, they must obtain gear from a hardware store. Xander spots Willow coming out of the magic shop. She, like Buffy, Angel, and Giles, doesn’t extend Xander the group quest invite he so desperately wants.
Xander is determined to help the Scoobies anyway, but Psycho Dude isn’t happy when he learns Xander wants to leave. Psycho Dude and his pals think Xander doesn’t need a new class to become cool; he just needs to change races from Human to Undead. Xander protests that Psycho Dude isn’t Undead, but Psycho Dude lifts his shirt to show a large number of bullet holes. Xander prefers being a Human Adventurer who still isn’t sure what class to choose to being an Undead Ranger, thanks. He runs and manages to scrape the roll he needed to successfully flee with the car.
Next, he encounters Faith, who is fighting one of those demon chicks. He slams the car into the demon, Faith jumps in, and they drive back to Faith’s motel. Faith shows continuity from “Faith, Hope, and Trick”: slaying makes her hungry and horny. She rolls the die, and it comes up horny. Xander becomes Player 2 in this scenario by default, but all he gets out of it is a few XP and the achievement “No Longer a Virgin.” He’s sort of surprised it didn’t come with any level ups or stat boosts (or at least the “Big Spoon” achievement). Also, Faith wasn’t looking for a love interest, so that’s the end of that.
Wolf Oz is particularly agitated because of the Hellmouth activity, so they tranq him and stash him somewhere that isn’t about to become a mystical warzone.
Xander gets back in his car. He looks at the supplies Psycho Dude and his Undead Rogues gathered for their “Bake a Cake” quest, which are still in the backseat. The supplies include wires, timers, and flammable liquids. It is at this moment that Xander realizes
and he needs to find Psycho Dude before he and his friends blow up their target. He feels this is a job for a couple of Level 7 Warriors, so he finds Buffy and Angel at the mansion. They’re in the middle of a melodramatic conversation about the comparative merits of Angel being a martyr to guarantee success in the fight against the demon chicks, though, and Xander realizes he’s going to have to solo this quest. Also, he’s still not getting an invite to their quest.
Giles and Willow work on a binding spell to make sure the slimy tentacle demon won’t be able to gain much ground when it emerges.
Right under them in the basement, the Undead guys are entering the final stages of “Bake a Cake.” Xander is heading towards the school to try asking Giles for advice when he sees the Undead guys strolling away from it, so he decides to grab one of them and interrogate him instead. He learns that the school is the target and they set the bomb in the boiler room, but the guy gets beheaded by a mailbox before he can say how to defuse it.
While the Scoobies (minus Xander) deal with the slimy tentacle demon, Xander tries to make it to the boiler room. He manages to squash one of the remaining three Undead guys by tipping over a soda machine on him. Another one gets torn apart by a few of the demon chicks. Xander finally makes it to the boiler room, and now it’s time for his Boss Fight with Psycho Guy. Psycho Guy’s combat stats are much higher than Xander’s, but Xander ultimately wins with a bluff: which of them is less afraid of getting blown to pieces by the bomb? Psycho Guy’s Intelligence stats are low enough that he falls for it, but high enough that he is able to successfully defuse the bomb. Xander levels up! He is now a Level 3 Human Adventurer! (Still no class, but hey, level!) Xander strolls away. Psycho Guy starts muttering about how he’s going to make Xander pay for that, but he inadvertently aggros Wolf Oz. Judging from the screaming and ripping noises that follow, he didn’t win his saving throw.
The next day, Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Oz are reeling from that fight. The former three all have multiple injuries. Xander shows up, and they do not share stories about their respective adventures. Next, Xander runs into Cordelia. At Level 3, he has gained greater immunity to Petty Snark, which is Cordelia’s primary attack. He rolls higher than her and takes no damage this time.
I’ve never been a big fan of “The Zeppo,” largely because I’ve never been a big fan of Xander. Being even less of a Xander fan now than I was on previous watches, I was fairly certain I was not going to suddenly like this episode, and I was right (although reviewing it almost entirely RPG style definitely made it more fun). It’s funny, sure, but I just don’t care at all about Xander’s anxiety over not being cool. Basically, anybody who actively tries to be cool is automatically a dweeb, so that whole quest is self-defeating and pathetic. All the characters I root for are wrapped up in the apocalyptic subplot. Also, I find it kind of annoying how they’re painted in such a melodramatic, overly serious light. The whole point of this show is that it’s not overly serious. I read somewhere once (no idea where) that “The Zeppo” is supposed to be viewed as not just a Xander-centric episode but a Xander point-of-view episode. This might actually take care of some of my problems with it. Everyone else’s scenes are so much more melodramatic than usual because we’re seeing them through the highly subjective lens of Xander-vision. They’re so much better than him at all the Plot A stuff, so they’re all distant and larger than life. He feels like he contributes nothing, so they all dismiss him. He doesn’t hate Buffy/Angel as much as he used to, but he sees them as ridiculous and over-the-top in their romance, which is why their scene is the way it is. However, just because I like the interpretation that it’s a Xander POV episode does not mean I’ve changed my mind. I still don’t like Xander, so his POV is not the seat I want to be sitting in when I watch this show. Even if I don’t particularly like the episode, though, I can now say that I do find it interesting.
The Characters (As Xander Sees Them)
Can I really do character analyses for anyone but Xander in this one? I’m kind of thinking no. Especially if I’m going with the Xander POV interpretation. So, for this episode only, I’ll use this section of the review to talk about the way Xander sees the other characters, rather than what I think the episode says objectively about each character. Since this is essentially one long, fragmented Xander analysis anyway, I won’t need a separate paragraph for him.
Buffy is the hero. She saves the world a lot. Unfortunately, there are times when she’s too busy with her heroing to pay attention to Xander and his petty Plot B identity crisis. He’s just a normal human, so there’s a substantial gap separating them. Sometimes her pedestal takes her so high that she can’t even see him anymore, and he feels insignificant.
Willow is Xander’s oldest friend (since we’ve forgotten all about Jesse), but ever since she started dating Oz and dabbling in witchcraft, she’s been getting farther and farther away from him. Their affair created even more barriers. In this episode, her focus is entirely on Plot A, Oz, and magic. Xander can barely even approach her. She descends to his level long enough to give him a tight hug and say what she fears might be a Final Goodbye, but not long enough to confide in him or bring him in on the mission.
Cordelia is like the avatar of Xander’s insecurities. I find this kind of annoying. Shouldn’t she be the avatar of his guilt? More evidence to support my suspicion that he’s largely immune to guilt. Actually, that might be one of the underlying reasons why I can’t get on board with this episode. A Xander-centric episode where his arc is about dealing with his guilt about what happened with Cordelia might’ve actually been something I’d want to watch. But guilt doesn’t enter into the equation at all, leaving him with a much shallower episode arc.
Now that Xander and Oz have put Xander’s affair with Willow behind them and Xander has ceded alpha male status to Oz (out of the two of them—Angel and Giles are both in separate categories entirely), they’re still not exactly friends, but Xander definitely looks up to Oz as a kind of cool guy ideal. This is not an ideal that is remotely attainable for Xander. He seems to be aware of this, because at no point in his quest for cool does he even attempt to copy Oz. Instead, he goes looking for his own brand of cool. He doesn’t exactly find it, but he does manage to shed his insecurities about not having it (for now), which is a step in the right direction.
Giles is the one who comes closest to actually seeing what Xander’s up to while everyone else is trying to stop the world from ending, and yet he doesn’t spare Xander’s adventures with the gang of zombies so much as a second glance. That’s the only scene in the entire episode where Xander and Giles interact one-on-one, but Giles barely pays Xander any attention and Xander seems almost too intimidated by Giles’s expertise to want to bother him with his own problems.
As much hate as Xander has thrown in Angel’s direction, Angel doesn’t appear as a horrible monster in Xander’s POV episode. He’s heroic and untouchable, just like Buffy, and he has no time to spare on the petty concerns of a human boy. This is fascinating. Could it be that Xander only hates Angel because Angel represents so much of what Xander is not but wishes he could be? I think I’m onto something here.
“You yourself, Oz, are considered more or less cool. Why is that?”
“Is it about the talking? The way you tend to express yourself in short, noncommittal phrases?”
“I need a thing. A thing no one else has. What do I have?”
“An exciting new obsession. Which I feel makes you very special.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.