The Zeppo
Written by: Dan Vebber
Directed by: James Whitmore Jr.
Air Date: Jan 26, 1999

“The Zeppo” gets a perfect score, from me. I freakin’ love this episode. It takes everything good about a Buffy episode – namely the threat of the supernatural, the angst of teenagers in high school, the action, the comedy, and the monsters – and shoves most of that aside as the B story. Usually every episode of television follows the A-plot and B-plot device, that is to say, the A-plot is the focus and the B-plot is the background character stuff to fill in the gaps. This time the B-plot is center stage, with Xander taking up more of the plot than an end-of-the-world-Hellmouth-opening story that is so dire, all the characters aside from Xander think they are about to die and that the world will end. What Xander doesn’t know won’t kill him, but what he’s dealing with himself just might!

The #1 thing about this episode that makes it so great is that it finally showcases and pokes fun at many of the obvious flaws with the narrative choices the “BtVS” writing team stick to. The chief things being Xander’s wuss-like nature amongst super heroes and the fact that every week the world almost ends. This script calls these things out and then uses the gag of it all to make light of itself, as well as tell a damned funny story. Showing how weak Xander is in the first fight sets him up for a demanding night on the town filled with danger, sexual situations, and real character growth. It provides a great vehicle (no pun intended) for the character to go through some changes and realize his place within the group of Scoobies.

His story, trying to stop some zombie high-schoolers from blowing up Sunnydale High, is goofy at first, with tons of jokes and situations where Xander tries to get out of his predicament by using a noncommittal Giles, Buffy, and then Willow. These characters are busy taking care of a problem of their own and don’t want Xander to get hurt, thus they ignore him completely as he struggles to simply get some help. He eventually tries to help Faith, but that just leads to… well, “adult situations” that he take the appropriate Xander-length amount of time to process. Then, when he realizes no one is going to help him but himself, he takes charge and eventually saves the day while Buffy and co. save the world. And neither party is aware of the other party’s dilemma. Its classic comedy and quality writing.

The best parts of the episode are the times when Xander encounters his friends mid-drama. It provides for real character development of the other Scooby members without them being front and center. His conversation with Willow outside the magic shop shows a deeper level of love reforming between the pair (not a romantic one, but the deep-rooted friendship they once had). But of particular note is the moment where he interrupts Buffy and Angel having a heart to heart with dramatic music swelling over their lines. Before he shows up, its heavy handed and gut wrenchingly pathetic, these two characters continuing to love each other and not want the other to die. But Xander’s sudden involvement and subsequent dismissal reveals just how aware the writers were of this and how they pulled the scene off to great comic effect. They know some of their mushy moments are a bit too mushy. They know.

This all leads to two showdowns with two different enemies in two different locations in the school. Xander chases around the zombie team and Buffy, Angel, and the rest try to kill the demon that almost escaped when The Master tried to open the Hellmouth back in “Prophecy Girl“. While neither are connected, that doesn’t stop them from crossing over into each other with great effect. The zombie’s “wow…..” at the library window says it all. And the final confrontation between Xander and Jack in the basement is one of Xander’s finest “badass” moments, and one that actually ended in his favor, unlike the one-liners and interrogation sequences he found himself fucking up previously in this very episode. Its tense, its comical, and its got heart.

“The Zeppo” earns its perfect score from me for being one of the more memorable episodes of the show, and one of the most unique. In a series featuring musical episodes or silent episodes or, hell, amnesia episodes as (insanely high quality) gimmicks, an episode about Xander is pulled off with great appeal and worthy of complete love from viewers. It has all the right punches pulled and manages to move at a brisk pace from minute one. And it features the writers poking fun at themselves and at the show in creative and non-offensive ways. Just another reason season three is one of my all time favorite seasons of the show.

Episode Rating: 100

Additional Notes:
-Willow is getting more involved with spells as time goes on
-Oz saying he is “oddly full” after having eaten zombie Jack the night before is a nice touch, and Seth Green’s deliver throughout the episode is perfect
-Xander isn’t retarded, just challenged in things like math and spatial relations
-Poor Giles doesn’t get his jelly doughnut
-Cordelia had Xander pegged, but then I guess she probably got to know him pretty well
-“…….I can’t believe I had sex”

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