[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Matt Kiene and Joe Reinkemeyer | Director: Ellen S. Pressmen | Aired: 10/06/1997]
“Inca Mummy Girl” is generally considered one of the weaker episodes in the entire series, a description that is fair but maybe a tad harsh. It’s a generally lightweight stand-alone episode that does have thematic relevance, but tosses most of it away by being redundant and heavy-handed. Sacrifice is the big topic at play, particularly sacrificing a chance at love for a duty to others. Xander also gets involved in the action in a way that makes us at first frustrated, then a little sad, and finally proud.
Let’s, in fact, begin with Xander, who starts “Inca Mummy Girl” being incredibly patronizing to Buffy by going off about the male exchange student that is to be staying at Buffy’s house for a little while. For one, Buffy already turned down Xander’s advances the previous year. Secondly, this really shows a sad lack of faith in Buffy’s ability to make competent relationship decisions when Xander has neither the evidence nor maturity to be making such assumptions. Now, from his perspective, I get it: he’s still got a thing for her and doesn’t want some random guy getting in her pants.
It’s interesting how Xander idolizes her beauty and strength while being constantly judgmental of her. Xander’s jokey tone makes it easy to cast off his comments as harmless, but it still goes to showcase an underlying disregard for his friend and jealousy of her companions. He’s also a bit of a hypocrite considering his own recurring pattern of demon dates! These are all flaws he’s going to have to work hard to overcome, even more so when he’s proven “right” later in the season in his suspicion of Angel.
Buffy, on the other hand, has too many of her own struggles to deal with to even notice Xander’s constant offhand remarks. “Inca Mummy Girl” is, if anything, a warning for Buffy of how her brutal life can transform her into something dangerous and unrecognizable. This is because Ampata is essentially Buffy from another time — a girl who was chosen to sacrifice her life for her people. Ampata even has her own Watcher called a Guardian (who, interestingly, shares a title with the proto-Watcher Guardian of “End of Days” [7×21]). Let’s just say that it’s no surprise that Xander is attracted to Ampata! “You’re always thinking of others before yourself,” Ampata tells Buffy. Then, unfortunately, she has to add on — transforming subtext into text — “You remind me of someone from very long ago: the Inca Princess.”
Putting aside the weak writing for a moment, look at what that princess has become: a desperate being looking to suck the life-force out of others to save herself! The circumstances of her demise may have been unjust and brutal — which, again, directly parallels Buffy being called to a harsh, short life — but that’s clearly no excuse for all the innocent people she’s killing now. Ampata serves as an example to Buffy that if she allows her growing desire for intimacy to trump her prudence and calling, unintended consequences will arise. Ampata tells Buffy she had to give up so much for others, even at the expense of love. But we can see that the alternative is much worse: love at the expense of life! Everything Ampata represents metaphorically plays into the build-up towards the big moment in “Surprise” [2×13], after which Buffy will come to see her choices as not so different from what Ampata is doing now.
I appreciate how, in an episode about sacrifice and being chosen, “Inca Mummy Girl” seems to go out of its way to showcase just how self-involved all the kids are. It’s not surprising of course, but it’s still fun to see how much maturing they have to do. Buffy is only half-listening to Willow’s frustrations over Xander, Willow is oblivious to Buffy’s struggles as the Slayer, and Xander only cares about getting something going with a pretty girl.
This is the type of moment where I remember why I love the show so much: these characters truly grow and mature not just in their physical appearance, but in who they are as people. Despite their shortcomings, we also see flashes of what they can (and will) become. In the case of “Inca Mummy Girl”, we see their self-centeredness contrasted when Buffy gives up going to the dance for slayer duties, Willow lets her crush on Xander go, and Xander offers up his own life to Ampata to spare Willow. These kids have their hearts in the right place, which is one of the things I love so much about them.
If there is one scene in “Inca Mummy Girl” that really sticks with me, it’s when Ampata decides to try to suck Xander’s life from him. Despite my lack of investment in Ampata and the overall stakes, the scene still manages to elicit some real tension and is actually very well staged. I particularly love the S2-style intimate lighting and Christophe Beck’s gripping score.
The coda to the episode is quite nice as well. While Buffy can sympathize with Ampata’s motives, Xander correctly points out that Buffy is far more selfless than her. Buffy sacrificing her life in “Prophecy Girl” [1×12] is nicely brought up by Xander, and then gets the favor returned when she throws back that he was there to bring her back. Buffy may make her own mistakes in life, and there are some interesting connections regarding her guilt over them (e.g. “I Only Have Eyes for You” [2×19]), but she will never resort to killing others to stay alive (e.g. Dawn in “The Gift” [5×22]). Smiles all around!
I can’t bring myself to truly dislike “Inca Mummy Girl”, but I can’t exactly call it a memorable episode either. It’s notable for warning Buffy about the consequences of steering away from her path to adulthood, sticking Willow in an adorable Eskimo costume, and subtly bringing Oz and Jonathan into the show. Unfortunately, it’s so obvious in its intentions that there are moments which don’t respect the intelligence of the viewer. The theme, pertinent though it may be, is also somewhat redundant of the ground covered by the Season 1 efforts “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” [1×05] and “Angel” [1×07]. Overall it’s a mixed bag at best, but at least it makes an effort and is generally enjoyable.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Xander explaining to Buffy that he only sees Willow as a friend. As harsh as this was for Willow to overhear, it’s probably good it happened because it will help allow her to let go of him and be open to Oz, who just so happens to be introduced in this episode.
+ I love the way the Scoobies all quickly come to the realization that the mummy rising from its tomb is the most obvious answer to the question of the missing student. It starts out as a joke before they soon remember the world they live in. Very funny.
+ Cordelia saying she won’t be a prop-up doll for Devon even as she admits that’s exactly where she will be sums up Cordelia so well. She’s got depth, but she plays the social game anyway.
+ Xander explaining how to eat a Twinkie is him at his most charming.
+ Xander reminding Willow how much of a friend she is to him.
+ Xander asking Ampata if she’s a praying mantis. Haha.
+ The first appearance of Oz’s band: Dingos!
+ Willow’s Eskimo costume is awesome! I can totally see why it would pique Oz’s interest.
+ The subtle introduction of Oz to the show. Spike shows one way to introduce a new major character, but the subtle approach works wonders too!
+ Poor Jonathan is Ampata’s first target at the dance. Jonathan’s first words to her (“you’re hands are so… rough”) are reminiscent of Xander’s words to the praying mantis in “Teacher’s Pet” [1×04], which was brought up by Xander earlier. Love the references.
– Rodney growling is a little much.
– Xander talking to Ampata like she’s a child is annoying, but certainly not out of character.
– The actor playing the bodyguard is, charitably stated, not good.
* Buffy is shown as feeling increasingly frustrated by all the restrictions being placed on her. This finally reaches a boiling point in the next episode, “Reptile Boy” [2×05], in which Buffy decides to act impulsively in defiance of the authority figures in her life. It doesn’t end well.