Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “The Zeppo” (January 26, 1998)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
Xander finds himself cast out of the Scooby gang and goes in search of his cool. Will he find it before the world ends in a subplot?
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Joyce: Kristine Sutherland
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Faith: Elizabeth Dushku
Oz: Seth Green
Angel: David Boreanaz
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
We open with the slayer gang down in the gutters-where-the-dead may-arise, taking down a horde of oddly new demons. Willow helps with her magic while Faith and Buffy do the slaying, and Xander appears once its all over, having been knocked out by the demons. Buffy and Giles tell Xander he’s going to get himself killed; he should hang back behind enemy lines in the future.
Having been effectively demoted, Xander mopes around school, where he’s a nobody and still manages to provoke the ire of a psychotic bully, O’Toole. Defeated, Xander wanders right into the humiliating insults of Cordelia. “He’s a psycho, which is still a lot cooler than being a wuss. You’re a nothing... you’re the useless part of the group, the Zeppo.”
Further, he has no cool. Oz, a musician, is no help. What does Xander have? He goes out in search of a “thing.”
Meanwhile, Giles and Buffy talk about the coming of the Apocalypse Cult, which is planning to reopen the Hellmouth – located in the library-- and bring the end of the world. It’s Ozwatch time, too, and Oz is locked up. Buffy and Willow worry and fawn until Xander drives up in a new car, a classic Chevy. But Buffy’s not enthused: “Evil. Maybe more than I can handle.” So she sends Xander for donuts.
Cordelia wanders by the donut shop to harass Xander more, but Xander escapes with a random car-obsessed blond in the jump seat.
The bimbo is a bore, so when Angel appears at the Bronze, Xander offers to help fight the Apocalypse, but Angel tells him it’s “best to stay out of harm’s way.” (“But... I can help!”) Xander and the bimbo leave and immediately have a fender-bender with the psycho O’Toole, who threatens him with a Bowie knife. When the cops arrive, Xander covers for O’Toole, earning the psycho’s respect and the official role of chauffeur. (The car O’Toole was in was not his.)
No luck for the Slayer gang, meanwhile, although the Fate of the Entire World rests on their efforts.
At the graveyard, the bimbo runs away while Xander watches O’Toole bring his old gang back from the dead.
Xander crosses paths with Giles while the librarian tries to learn the secrets of the Apocalypse from the Spirit Guides, a mystical bunch of oracles who look like a pink cloud, but they say “no.” Xander, meanwhile, can’t seem to dump his new friends, and Giles rejects his help. Meanwhile, the End of the World looms.
Xander’s dead friends rob a hardware store while Willow wanders n from the Buffy plot with spell materials. But she has to run (“I love you” she says ominously,) and once she’s gone, Xander finds himself offered membership in O’Toole’s gang- via death. Xander’s not up for death, so he manages to escape, driving away.
Xander rounds a turn and drives right into an Apocalypse demon Faith is fighting, killing the demon. He takes Faith home and she’s so wound up from the interrupted demon ruckus that she seduces Xander, who until this scene was a virgin. (“Did I mention I’m having a very strange evening?” Then she throws him out because she needs to take a shower.
Back at the school, Giles and Angel move Oz down to the boiler room to clear out the library for the giant end-of-the-world-stopping spell.
Xander wanders back to his car, remembering that the Dead Gang had intended to build a bomb. So he’d better figure out where the bomb will be hidden. He tries to ask the help of Buffy and Angel, but he finds them in a soft-focused, breathily dramatic scene of Incredible Importance (“This is worse than anything we’ve ever faced!” “I can’t watch you die again!”) and Xander leaves.
Oh, and the Dead Gang are also at the school with their new time bomb, which Xander learns by dragging a gang member from his car, Until gang member’s head comes off against a mailbox, fulfilling the need for a mailbox to be destroyed in any piece with a classic Chevy.
Back at the library, the Apocalypse bursts through the Hellmouth looking like a cross between a giant iguana and a Venus flytrap. Meanwhile, the Dead Gang chase Xander through the school, because he’s looking for the bomb. Demons tear apart one gang member while Xander dispatches another, until finally he ends up down in the boiler room with the bomb, a few minutes to spare, and O’Toole. Since neither of them can make it out of the school before it blows, Xander calmly tries to convince O’Toole to disarm the bomb (this is a different death we’re talking about.)
Meanwhile, a battle royale rages in the library, with everyone swinging axes and the giant flytrap/iguana creature snapping and, apparently, causing lightning to flash.
O’Toole caves and disarms the bomb with two seconds to spare. Xander says, “Good boy. I don’t think I want to be seeing you on campus anymore, Jack.” Then, as Xander walks away, O’Toole opens the broom closet and gets eaten by Oz.
Next day, the Slayer Gang have a gaggingly dramatic post-mortem meeting, all of them covered in scratches and bandages. (“The world continues to turn.” “No-one will ever know how close it came to stopping.”) They tell Xander he was lucky not to be at school last night, and Xander says he likes the quite. Cordelia wanders by, gives him a hard time, and he smiles, and walks away.
Once again, it’s the writing that distinguishes Buffy. You have to be impressed with a series that dares to openly itself. This episode is unique and experimental in its satire: Story A is an odd little journey of self-discovery for Xander, and that’s the story we keep following. Meanwhile, Story B is an apocalyptic roller coaster we barely glimpse. As such, anytime we wander into Story B, we’re struck by how silly and overblown the world of Buffy can seem. This, in a word, is brave.
The episode refers twice to Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and it’s an apt comparison. What is Xander’s place in the Slayer Gang? Even Willow now has witchcraft powers to help out, Oz is a werewolf (and plays guitar.) What is Xander? Xander goes for donuts. Here, he’s even cut out of the action, barred even from the usual research sessions.
Xander’s search for his cool is inspired. He wanders, nay, surfs through a series of misadventures: attracting a random bimbo with a new car, acting as driver for a zombie gang’s burglary, roughing up a zombie for information, fighting his way to a hidden bomb, and talking his way out of certain death in a contest of wills with the school psycho. And he loses his virginity. This is a big night.
So in the end, when the Slayer Gang is congratulating itself, Xander doesn’t mention any of it. He just walks, and smiles. Somewhere in there he grew enough that he doesn’t need to talk about it. It’s a tactic that works well on Cordelia, incidentally, and Xander’s self-satisfaction is palpable. (Even if Cordelia’s had a rough time this season, she’s been slamming ex-boyfriend Xander pretty hard.)
THE ZEPPO never does resolve what will be done with Xander as pertains to Buffy’s trials and tribulations. But it does make a resolution: Xander will be fine either way.
A note, by the way, about Nicholas Brendan. Brendan continually impresses with his comic timing, and we’ve seen him take on varied personalities. (Last Halloween, he became Barry Sadler, apparently.) But here, Brendan pulls off a rare thing- a complete and yet narrowly constructed transition from Xander-the-nebbish to confident Senior. Personally, I think Xander the nebbish is likeable enough; his shock at the schoolyard psycho’s hostility is utterly believable and remarkably mature. But the Xander we see at the end is a different man. It’s easy to impress people with acting when you’re playing crazy or mentally challenged, it’s a harder task when you’re playing Joe average.
Nice to see that Cordelia and Xander still think alike- Xander is momentarily thrilled that Cordelia also thinks of him as being like Jimmy Olsen. Will Cordy and Xander be back? Probably not, but eventually they’ll be friends. Not that he deserves her.
Final note: the zombie gang is hilariously drawn; these are walking dead versions of Butch’s gang from STAND BY ME. Inspired writing, that.
On what to do with dead demons:
Buffy: “Should we burn him?”
Willow: “I brought marshmallows. (Pause.) Occasionally, I’m callous and strange.”
“It’s not like I haven’t helped before. I've done some quality violence for those people.”
-- Xander, annoyed that the Slayer Gang doesn’t want him around.
“Now I’m involved in a crime. I’m the criminal element. Having a car sure is cool!”
- - Xander, finding his way
“Being blowed up isn’t walking around and drinking with your buddies dead. It’s little pieces being swept up by the janitor dead, and I don’t think you’re ready for that.”
- - Xander, talking a psycho zombie into disarming a bomb for him