Watching Buffy: s02e02 “Some Assembly Required”

Angel’s never-to-be-seen-again tan jacket: hot or not?

In terms of the overall 22-episode arc of Buffy season two, this episode is nothing but padding. It’s there to put some space between the last episode, which had the important job of making sure the door hit season one’s ass on its way out, and the next episode, in which the grand story of season two will begin. On the whiteboard for this season, this ep was probably marked “business as usual”.

Which gives us some irony. Business as usual can only mean “just like those season one episodes”, so we have the bemusing spectacle of the show defiantly promising not to do season one over again and then straight away doing an episode that could be right out of season one.

It’s a very standard metaphor-monster-of-the-week. A Sunnydale student resurrects his dead jock brother into a decaying zombie-like form, and then promises to build him a female companion out of parts. Aided by his creepy best friend, the student gets to work graverobbing, but targets Cordelia for the head, which leads to Buffy smashing the crap out of everyone and the zombie jock being destroyed in a burning building.

The metaphor this episode is brutally clear, and utterly in line with the core concerns of the show. It’s about male entitlement and the objectification of women. All three men are guilty of variations on the theme: Daryl feels utterly entitled to a woman and clearly doesn’t consider himself complete without one; his brother Chris promises his brother a woman in the first place, fully endorsing Daryl’s views; and Chris’s creepy friend Eric eagerly evaluates the bodies of women and attacks those he chooses as victims. It’s all utterly typical high school sexism, dialled up into the fantastic realm of Buffy, and while it’s ultimately a pretty forgettable episode it is clearly lining up some worthy targets.

And yes, the first season echoes are plentiful:

  • The monster being consumed by a burning school building is precisely the fear Principal Flutie expressed in Welcome to the Hellmouth – pity he’s not around to see it.
  • Cordelia wears her cheerleader outfit again, as seen in Witch, and we actually see the football team – Sunnydale seems like a real school again!
  • Cordelia gets abducted by the bad guys – twice in one episode. (To be fair, this happens a fair amount in future seasons too.)
  • The source of the trouble is Sunnydale’s supreme geek (this time the “reigning champ” of the science fair) – see also Fritz and Dave in I Robot, You Jane and, swerved, Morgan in Puppet Show. (It’s a bit weird how the show keeps going to this trope – don’t they know that geeks are their audience?)

Still, it’s obvious that all these echoes are fairly superficial. While the surface material is very familiar, the changes wrought in the previous episodes have stuck as the characters start being pushed into different emotional places. The flashes of humanity we’ve seen in Giles coalesce into the very funny and very charming sight of him nervously going on a date with Jenny Calendar. Angel and Buffy continue to deepen their relationship, as they talk through Buffy’s behaviour with Xander the previous episode and Angel admits his jealousy. Even Cordelia continues to accrue sympathy as her attempt to thank Xander gets completely brushed off. It’s all small-scale stuff, quietly laying groundwork for major emotional beats down the line, but it’s satisfying to see. This is a different storytelling mode to season one, where mostly the relationships between the characters were simply repeated every episode – now they are all moving.

Overall then, a pretty solid placeholder. The show knows what it’s doing now, and even its wheelspinning is funny and charming and thematically on point. There are much worse ways to fill out a season than this.

Other thoughts:
* the character of Jenny Calendar continues to be developed in the most excellent ways possible. The fascinating and diverse female ensemble on this show is great, with the male contingent both outnumbered and outshone.
* I have no further thoughts. There isn’t even really a 3/4 swerve this time. This was a perfectly acceptable and unremarkable episode of Buffy. Next!
* EDIT: I forgot to note the writer – Ty King & Joss Whedon are credited together. Okay.

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