Helpless
Written by: David Fury
Directed by: James A. Contner
Air Date: Jan 19, 1999

“Helpless” is a great episode. It has the perfect mix of action, character, drama, and comedy, all within 45 minutes. It showcases Buffy at her weakest, caused by Giles and the Watchers Council messing around with her powers, leaving her vulnerable for the first time in a long time. Buffy’s longed for a normal life, and here she gets it. But, without great power comes great responsibility. The same responsibility that she had before. Turns out, the evil in the world is still out there, even if she’s removed herself from what she thought was its visibility.

There are some great moments throughout the episode, most of them featuring Buffy relenting the fact that she’s finally gotten her wish. One moment in particular is when Cordelia is getting assaulted by a man and Buffy tries to help her out. Where she is usually ten times the strength of these high school brutes, now she’s just a thin little girl, easily (and quite violently I might add) tossed aside as though she were nothing. The fear and anxiety in SMG’s face from this moment forward is noted as being the most scared she ever really manages to look, at least as far as the series is concerned up to this point. Its a trying time for Buffy, part of the test the Watcher’s Council intended, but she doesn’t respond to it the way they thought. If only they knew how she would treat them in the future seasons, then this wouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The real moment of weakness for Buffy, though, is when Giles admits his guilt and his part in the test. The look of pain and ultimate betrayal on SMG’s face in that single moment speaks more than the lines of overdramatic anguish the script calls for. I get that she’s mad, hurt, and confused… I don’t need her muttering about killing Giles is he touches her. The scene still works, though, because of its actors, and SMG bounces off Anthony Stewart Head – and vice versa – with little work. Its a touching and powerful moment because these two haven’t really had a moment of dissent occur between them, not really. Here, though, we see the first cracks in their relationship appear. And they won’t be the last.

The introduction of Quentin as the head of the Watcher’s Council is a nice touch, and I always love it when the show brings forth touches of the deeper mythology of the Buffyverse. Being shown that there really is a Council is welcome because it adds extra depth to the entire Slayer/Watcher relationship, particularly because the cruel test they drag Buffy through is a sign of the methods we can now be damn sure Giles hasn’t been utilizing. When he gets fired at the end of the episode, you can see that he knows he hasn’t been following directions very well, and that – likewise – neither has Buffy. There is a moment, then, between these two characters that speaks without any dialogue, with Giles continuing to take over as the father figure in Buffy’s live (her dad is a real dick). Its great stuff like this that reminds me of why I love this show.

The serial killer vampire that is the final portion of Buffy’s test is a nice addition, representing – in many ways – the incredible levels of uncertainty the Slayer job has in store for anyone, not just Buffy. He’s played well, too, never being too goofy or over-the-top. Just when he’s about to be too corny, the scene switches back to Buffy’s tragic turn of events and the story continues to be solid. The way Buffy finishes him off, too, is awesome. She showcases a great level of “on-her-toes” thinking that requires no use of her strength or agility. Just some Holy Water and a bit of luck. I worry that making him too insane kept him from seeing things coming, or developing a better plan against a weakened Slayer, but maybe that was the test. Who knows.

“Helpless” ends with Buffy on the road to recovery and her anger toward Giles mutated into the start of her resentment of the Watcher’s Council. In another few episodes we’ll see that Buffy doesn’t take kindly to new blood in her life, trying to take on the role of “mentor” or what have you, and we’ll also see her dedication to – and love for – Giles strengthen. Her resolve has been tested and she’s proven herself loyal to the cause, and able bodied and minded enough to see the job done right. Trying times are in store for more than just Buffy’s mom, and she’ll need this new found confidence to get everyone through it. Alive, that is.

Episode Rating: 92

Additional Notes:
-Angel tells Buffy that he’d watched her back in L.A. before she was the Slayer. She never finds this creepy. She should find it creepy
-Xander, trying to prove how strong he is in Buffy’s weakened state, fails at opening a jar. He asks Willow for help in a comical end note for the episode
-Quentin is a real dick
-The photo room (pictured above) is a nice touch, but how long did he have her, and how long was he shaking it “like a Polaroid picture”?? Hey, ya!
-Buffy wears those overalls whenever she’s weak, sick, or really sad
-Did I mention that Buffy’s dad is a real dick? I did? Well, let me mention it again:
-Buffy’s dad is a real dick

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