[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Ty King | Director: Bruce Seth Green | Aired: 09/22/1997]
After the scorcher of an opener that was “When She Was Bad” [2×01], it is disappointing to see the show settle back into what feels like a normal routine. “Some Assembly Required” represents an interesting place in the show’s evolution. In many ways this feels like a Season 1 episode: it’s got the silly plot, the guest villains that barely register and never appear again, the labored pacing, and the failed scares. Despite the fact that this is a mediocre episode, something’s still different about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on at first. Upon reflection, two things emerged: more relevant themes and much better character follow-through.
Thematically, “Some Assembly Required” feels right at home in the romantic, operatic Season 2; it is all about the push/pull in romance between your mind and your body. The plot is also a clear commentary on how often men objectify women, although this is unfortunately communicated through the cartoonish, one-dimensional Eric. Certain notable questions arise from these themes. Which should you listen to more: the mind or the body? Is it possible to responsibly integrate both aspects together? What happens when the desires of the flesh take control? These questions are all played out in metaphor through the brothers Daryl and Chris, metaphorically the body and the brain of one very frustrated and confused adolescent with a lack of parental guidance (as we see from the mentally absent mother).
The fates of these villains provide us with good answers to some of these questions. The body, or Daryl, ends up dying in a fire with his disgusting constructed “perfect woman,” grasping for love and connection in all the wrong places. The brain, Chris, ends up coming to his senses and at least helping Buffy stop the madness, but nonetheless still tries to rationalize his immorality (“I was just trying to look out for him, like he would have done for me”). Eric, the tool, ends up cowering in fear when confronted, then gets knocked out and saved, despite being a despicable person. Who fares the best out of these three? Clearly Chris, who — mistakes and all — doesn’t actually directly hurt anyone and comes around at the end. I think of this as communicating to the characters (and, of course, the viewers) that the mind must be in control of our decisions concerning love. To an extent, we can’t control how we feel in love, but we can still control what we do in love.
So, how does all of this relate to our characters then? Do they learn from it all? The truth is: not so much. At the end of the episode Angel points out several reasons why he’s not a good partner for Buffy (referencing that he can’t see her in the sunlight, which will be echoed when he leaves her in “The Prom” [3×20]) – this is the mind doing its thing. Instead of recognizing Angel’s legitimate concerns, Buffy sidesteps them simply because she has feelings for him. Even though Angel deserves props for at least consistently raising concerns about their relationship, he selfishly lets it continue anyway. Daryl may have been defeated, but what he represents lives on through Buffy and Angel. This doesn’t bode well for the two of them. The fear of being alone also seems to be a recurring element in the episode. Daryl expresses this concern quite loudly, which definitely resonates with Buffy’s internal conflicts and motivates her to push forward with Angel.
“Some Assembly Required” gives us something that no Season 1 episodes really did: follow-through. Right from the start of the episode we see Angel attempting to reconnect with Buffy after her emotional breakdown in the last episode. The characters not only reference the events of the previous week, but those events inform what they are dealing with this week. This is a very welcome change, and one that will happen on a regular basis going forward. But this trust must be reinforced on an ongoing basis or it risks being quickly lost. It’s these early Season 2 episodes that begin to show consistency in this area.
As for said reconnection attempts, it’s funny how Angel shows a little bit of jealousy towards Xander, a fun reversal of the usual situation. Normally you’d think that a guy like Angel would be more mature than to still be hung up on that “dance” with Xander, but this just highlights how, emotionally, Angel fits right in with the teenagers. It’s an understandable feeling, albeit a juvenile one. Even though Angel claims that Xander’s “just a kid,” he says it with an insecurity that suggests maybe he’s the one being the kid here.
An underlying question throughout the Buffy/Angel relationship is how Buffy can get to know Angel when Angel doesn’t even know himself yet. The fact that Angel can’t see that Buffy’s behavior in “When She Was Bad” [2×01] was an emotional anomaly unrelated to him shows just how unperceptive and immature he is. Even on his own show some of these deficiencies will persist, which I think stems back to his wild human childhood and daddy issues (see “Becoming Pt. 1” [2×21] and Angel‘s “The Prodigal” [1×15]). Angel will eventually grow up enough in Season 3 to see his relationship with Buffy for what it really is, but in many ways he needs just as much growth as the kids do – maybe even more. But that’s a conversation for another day (perhaps even another show). 🙂
As I pointed out in my review of “When She Was Bad” [2×01], Season 2 is very focused on coupling and sexuality, with a particular eye toward the adolescent treatment of said topics. So it’s of no surprise that the episode opens with Buffy and Angel having what almost looks like a relationship quarrel. This is immediately followed by Giles flimsily rehearing pickup lines for Jenny Calendar. Within the confines of just this episode, we get hints – both subtle and not – that the show is toying around with the idea of couplings for Buffy/Angel, Giles/Jenny, Xander/Cordelia, and Willow/Xander.
Where Buffy and Angel are caught up in puppy love, the budding romance between Giles and Jenny offers a different path. For as bumbling as Giles is, it’s his relationship with Jenny that will turn out to be — by far — the most mature and fertile of all the relationships that form throughout the season. Even though he, too, is not immune to a crush, he doesn’t let that crush consume him. Giles never shirks off his duty to Buffy, and he shares enough tangible interests with Jenny to sustain a longer relationship. In short: these are two adults with the potential for a real future together. The contrast with the kids couldn’t be clearer, and it’s an utter delight to watch the two of them interact together. This makes it all the more ironic (and funny) when Buffy and Xander lecture Giles about how to engage in the dating ritual.
After all of this analysis, it may seem like there’s nothing wrong with the episode! Unfortunately, for all “Some Assembly Required” has to say, it’s really uninvolving. Its biggest mistake is how it tries way too hard to generate emotion for Daryl and his plight. Outside of what it represents and has to say about the characters we actually care about, I just don’t care about the plot. Far too much time and melodrama is spent on these temporary villains, and it ends up making the episode a bore. Instead of feeling emotion about what’s happening, my eyes are doing some creative rolling. “Some Assembly Required” simply doesn’t earn its emotional beats, which makes a lot of the value of the episode too dryly academic.
At the end of the day we see just how much “assembly” our characters still need before they become adults. It’s going to require a lot of work, and will be quite the journey. “Some Assembly Required” is more substantive than meets the eye and thematically tight, but it still struggles with its plotting and ability to connect emotionally.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy playing with a yo-yo in a graveyard. 🙂
+ Angel’s ghastly coat!
– Daryl besting Buffy in a fight. Buffy’s strength is way too inconsistent, particularly in the early seasons.
* Cordelia was really impressed by Xander’s heroics and is genuinely thankful he saved her, but Xander totally can’t see that she’s warming up to him. This is the very first sign that these two could develop a relationship, which will gain yet more credence in “Halloween” [2×06] until they eventually couple in “What’s My Line? Pt. 2” [2×10] .