Episode Title: Helpess
Original Air Date: January 19, 1999
“If I was at full Slayer power, I’d be punning right about now.” – Buffy
One of the great things about revisiting this show with a more critical eye is that it really makes you realise how certain seasons play out which seemingly so far has been completely different than I remember. This is also something which can be certainly said for this season were I was sure at this point the Mayor was much more involved than he currently is. Of course this isn’t a bad thing, especially knowing what is still to come and more so when we get classic episodes like this one.
Here we find Buffy approaching her 18th birthday and looking forward to going to an ice show with her father, which she is also using to distract herself from the feeling that her Slayer powers appear to be fading more so when she is almost killed by a vampire attempting to use her own stake on her. Little does she now that her fading powers are all part of a test being setup by head Watcher Quentin Travers who plans to test the now weakened Buffy by locking her in a building with the powerful and insane vampire Zachary Kralik played here with gusto by Jeff Kober and making it little surprise they would bring him back as rack in Season 6, another advantage of heavy make up I guess.
This episode really shakes things up especially the first time you watch it, as it poses the question as to what Buffy would do if one day she was no longer the slayer? As we see here its less than a perfect situation especially as even if she is no longer the Slayer it doesn’t mean that Vampires and other monsters aren’t still lurking around Sunnydale and its interesting to see Buffy feeling kind of loss at the possibility of being normal once more, despite on numerous occasions in previous episodes voicing how she wish she could go back to having a normal life. I especially liked the fact that she has the epiphany while trying to save Cordelia from the forceful advances of some random meathead jock at school only for him to push her away with ease.
As the episode villain Kralik is a fascinating character aswell as another of those great one shot villains that pop up throughout the series only to be killed off before the fans were done with them. Perhaps because he is so deranged that he has to be kept in a straightjacket and fed pills via a long spoon that is sold under the premise that he would have been a tough fight had Buffy been full powered rather than having to face him in her weakened state perhaps only adding to the attention as you try to figure out how she will survive this encounter. The solution to which possibly being one of the top Buffy kills ever. Kralik of course only adds to the situation by kidnapping Buffy’s mom and holding her hostage to draw Buffy into fighting him, which adds another intresting angle to his character as its noted that he was a psycho prior to being turned into a vampire and it seems that vampirism only heightened hi psychosis as he is seen taking taunting polaroid’s of his work.
While the powerless Slayer plotline would have been great on its own, this episode equally serves to remind us all of the father role that Giles plays in Buffy’s life outside of him being her Watcher, something the Watcher’s Council certainly frown on as Quentin comments that he feels that Giles has gotten too close to her. More so when he has a change of heart about Buffy taking on the test and actively opposes it, a decision which see’s him hear being fired from the Watcher’s Council in a subtle yet quite important change up in the Buffy verse. Here we also get to see the start of Buffy’s father distancing himself from his original family as here he makes excuses about not being able to take Buffy to the Ice show.
While this episode is largely great it does have a couple of niggling issues in that Buffy is without her powers that no one mentions anything about Faith taking on her Slayer duties who once more is notably absent here. We also get a creepy moment in which Angel confesses to being in love with Buffy before she was the Slayer when he first saw her when she was 16, which considering that he is a 200 year vampire makes it less of a romantic moment when you stop to think about it, much like why does Edward hang around a school in “Twilight”? Thankfully these are only things which become apparent when you start over examining the episode.
A really great episode which manages to subtly introduce some major changes to the Buffy universe, in particular highlighting the importance of Buffy and Giles relationship all while shaking things up from the usual find monster kill monster formula with a simple what if premise in this case “What if Buffy had no Slayer powers?” and here combined with a truly memorable villain really gives us something special here
Next Episode: The Zeppo