Thursday, September 1, 2011

"The Zeppo" (Buffy 3.13): Xander gets up with people

Certain types of men seem to have a way of knowing the precise point when you're no longer willing to put up with their (as Kristen Bell puts it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall) "boo-shit," and choose that exact moment to be epically charming and irresistible. Put Xander in "The Zeppo" in that category. Xander's self-centered whining over his break-up with Cordelia was starting wear on me and my intrepid co-watcher Jenn. But then here comes this episode that showcases the best of Xand--bravery, loyalty, and self-deprecating humor. It also boasts exceptional visual wit, thanks to perennial Whedonverse director James Whitmore Jr (responsible for another of my top-five episodes, "I Only Have Eyes for You"), and top-notch verbal sparring, thanks to writer Dan Vebber. Vebber made his only other script in the Buffyverse count by penning "Lovers Walk," the episode that initiated Xander's shame spiral and gave us one of the best Spike speeches ever. Take a moment to enjoy:

Very nice. On to the Do's and Don't's of living fray-adjacent according to "The Zeppo"!

DON'T crimp your hair.
Especially in 1999. History will not smile on it.
We'll discuss the bedazzled hoodie later.

DO embrace an exciting new obsession.
Though Oz (I love you, Oz!) wryly deems Xander's preoccupation with his lack of superpowers and fear of being a weak link (a nerve that Cordelia delights in striking) obsessive, Xander's quest to find his own "essence of cool" leads him on an adventure that will have series-long implications for his role in the Scoobie gang. He decides he's going to be "car guy," which results in meeting Lysette, a girl with a serious automobile fetish. While out with her, he has a fateful fender bender with his own personal monster-of-the-week, the geniusly named Jack O'Toole.

 A confrontation involving Katie and two reasonable . . . frontiersmen.

DO play to your strengths.
Xander's gifts don't lie in physical intimidation. See above. What he is good at is helping out his friends, whether that means making a doughnut run or sideswiping a demon that looks sort of like one of those freaky twins from The Matrix.
 It's not just me, right?

Oh, and did I mention that said sideswiping saves Faith? And did I mention that her frustration at incomplete slayage and Xander's, well, being there, results in this little scene?
 Someone's been reading slash fic . . . 

For those keeping a loss-of-virginity score, this makes two down, one to go. 
DON'T take yourself too seriously.
Xander's (tenuous and temporary, as it turns out) acceptance of who he is and what he has to offer (a mini-theme this season that will become crucial in the next) is twinned with the structure of the episode itself, and that's where the brilliance of "The Zeppo" really starts to show. Xander's entire plotline takes place on the margins of what would normally be an episode in its own right--Buffy and the Scoobies saving the world (again). Xander's outsider perspective comically deflates several Buffy staples that in any other context we as the audience would be taking deadly seriously. We have Giles's speaking Latin to spirit guides, Willow making a late-night run to the magic store for protection spell supplies, and an enemy straight outta the Hellmouth from way back in season 1. But my favorite satirical skewering comes at the expense of Angel and Buffy having a patented Dramatic Dialogue, complete with Angel's teary-eyed willingness to sacrifice himself for her safety, and Buffy's refusal to let him do so, chin trembling and all. Basically, it's the scene I drooled all over from "Amends" but played as comedy, not tragedy.
 Either way, he's hot as hell.

The way the show owns what it is (un-ironic-Latin-speaking, protection-spell-containing, dramatic-dialogue-having) AND is willing to make fun of itself is one of a plethora of items on my List of Things I Adore about Buffy. And Xander's newfound sense of himself will come up big in season 4 when he takes his place as the "Heart" of the group. Which leads me to a closing spoiler alert: when we get to that episode, I will again be referencing The Matrix.

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