[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: David Greenwalt | Director: David Greenwalt | Aired: 10/13/1997]
“Reptile Boy” can be summed up quite nicely by Xander: “Okay, so tonight: Channel 59, Indian TV, sex, lies, incomprehensible story lines.” Or how about Buffy’s “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea”? No? Well, there’s always Giles’ “Yes, and you were very nearly devoured by a giant demon snake. The words ‘let that be a lesson’ are a tad redundant at this juncture.”
Okay, okay, those quotes aren’t entirely representative of what “Reptile Boy” has to offer, but it’s still another rocky Season 2 entry. “Reptile Boy” very much feels like a companion piece to “Inca Mummy Girl” [2×04]: similar flaws, similar themes, and the continuation of Buffy’s character arc this season. Even more so than the previous episode, though, “Reptile Boy” eventually starts to feel like a giant Public Service Announcement (PSA) about the dangers of underage drinking. Add in the ridiculous snake monster at the end and the viewer is simply done. It’s all yet another example of Season 2’s early struggles to consistently handle its themes with the right amount of subtlety.
Despite its frequent lapse of subtext, there are some relevant aspects of Buffy that are explored. The biggest area of interest is Buffy’s growing sexual fantasies about Angel, which are getting so strong that she’s starting to get a bit lost in him — or at least the image of him that she has constructed in her mind. In an early conversation with Willow she even admits to having dreamt about him for the “third night in a row” and that “stuff” happened (ha). Buffy adds, “I’m just thinking about him so much lately”, even admitting “I’m brainsick. I can’t have a relationship with him.”
Angel warns her as well about the danger of things heating up between them when he says, “This isn’t some fairy tale. When I kiss you, you don’t wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after.” On some level Buffy is aware that this relationship will end, and it will be painful, yet she can’t seem to put a stop to it before it passes the point of no return. Angel spells out that there will be no happy ending with him, and that things could get out of control. Buffy’s response? “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?” Oh, Buffy, no. Not in relationships that are healthy and last. Buffy has some very naïve notions of what a great relationship looks like, which likely stems from a lack good role models and an absent father. To Buffy’s credit, though, her experiences this season will result in significant personal growth.
Everything about “Reptile Boy” is coated in sexuality — as we’ve come to expect out of Season 2 — but no more so than in the verbal fight scene between her and Angel that culminates in what seems like a ridiculously over-the-top line out of Buffy: “When you kiss me I want to die.” Taken literally, this comment doesn’t make a lot of sense unless Angel’s kisses are so incredibly torturous that Buffy can no longer bear the pain of it all. Heh. Looking at the quote metaphorically, though, reveals a strong thematic meaning. Per Wikipedia: “La petite mort, French for ‘the little death’, is an idiom and euphemism for orgasm.” In simple terms, kissing Angel really turns her on! There’s also a neat connection to “Inca Mummy Girl” [2×04] here: Ampata was sucking the life out of people with her kiss — a literal kiss of death. Hmm…
“Reptile Boy” continues the sexual undertones by showcasing fraternity boys abusing and mocking young women, Cordelia thinking the best way to get a man is to laugh at everything he says, and a very phallic snake demon. And what’s Buffy’s response to all of this? Oh, just chopping off the head of the phallic symbol. Nah, Season 2 doesn’t have sex on its mind at all. One thing you can’t fault Season 2 for is a lack of thematic focus, that’s for sure!
“Inca Mummy Girl” [2×04] spent a decent bit of time on the themes of sacrifice and duty, which are both nicely carried over into the plot of “Reptile Boy” through Giles’ increasingly restrictive demands on Buffy’s life. Giles tries to make his argument more compelling by stating that not having much of a social life is kind of liberating — you know your purpose and don’t have to work to figure it out like everyone else. There’s a freeing quality in that, no doubt, but it’s not something that comforts 16 year-old Buffy right now. In a last ditch attempt to convey the importance of her duty, he goes overboard by demanding she train even harder when things are quiet and minimize contact with her friends. No wonder why Giles will be so excited when Kendra comes to town. Giles clearly still has a lot to learn about Buffy, and that some of the things he sees as flaws may actually be strengths. This is not to say that he’s always wrong, because he often makes some excellent points that Buffy would be wise to consider.
Thanks to Giles pushing too hard, Buffy takes her understandable frustration as a license to act out and do something she thinks is mature but is actually quite childish and selfish. This kind of thought is very common among adolescents. It’s also something shared by the villains of these last couple episodes. Notice how Ampata was the Inca Mummy Girl and not the Inca Mummy Woman? The same goes for Reptile Boy rather than Reptile Man. The actions of Ampata and Tom are not those of mature women and men, but those of adolescent girls and boys, which is the mind-space the Scoobies are in right now. This is why Buffy agrees to go with Cordelia to a college fraternity party. The look on Buffy’s face at what she’s agreed to is one of shock — probably more shock than Cordelia even expressed. Buffy’s in a defiant mood, but she’s also scared to go and knows this party is not a good place for her to be.
When Buffy’s first introduced to the two college guys, her reaction in interesting. The first guy hits on her directly, which is a total turn-off. But the other guy, Tom, is a little more smooth. He makes fun of the other guy, has a joke up his sleeve, and is put together a little more modestly. This package is more attractive to Buffy, which is why she takes off her sunglasses and is willing to share a conversation with him. You know who Tom reminds me of though? Parker in Season 4. Young Buffy can be susceptible to the guy who appears to make an effort. These guys tend to show who they really are in time, which is a reminder of how important patience and non-sexual interaction are in the early stages of getting to know someone. Patience, unfortunately, is not a quality Buffy is generally known for, which will get her into trouble at times.
“Reptile Boy” holds itself together decently until the focus shifts to the fraternity party Buffy and Cordelia go to. At this point we almost immediately see our good friend Peer Pressure make an unwelcome appearance. The script even has Cordelia uttering a cliché of teen show phrases: “Come on Buffy, it’s just a smidge [of alcohol].” Richard then follows that up by trying to make Buffy feel inferior for not being into “grown up things.” I do enjoy how Buffy keeps picking up the drink and putting it back down, trying to work through all the competing thoughts in her head. As this is happening, the soundtrack at the party switches to a new song that opens with “Bend and I’ll break you,” which is a nice touch.
As a side note, anytime someone tells you that you’re “too mature,” it’s probably best to politely walk away from them. I’ve heard that line before myself. The response that lives in my head? “Oh, okay then, so I guess I should immediately run off and do something dumb! Now that will certainly bring my life more joy. *Does the Jerry Seinfeld epic eye roll*”
Obviously in a non-supernatural show Buffy getting drugged like this would have likely led to rape (and almost did anyway). What these boys are doing is barely even masked in metaphor, which is an approach that rarely works for a low budget fantasy show. While the ultimate messages and display of consequences are positive, the lack of subtext is more likely to generate eye rolls than improved decision making in the audience.
Perhaps the most subtle aspect of “Reptile Boy” is the role Tom plays in it. When we think of the title, “Reptile Boy”, we’re supposed to point at the rather obvious (and silly-looking) snake man. But, in reality, it’s really in reference to Tom — a guy whose words are very deceptive, like a snake. He represents the most dangerous kind of evil: charming, smooth, and attractive. The chained up girl is completely right: “he’s the one you have to watch out for.” This was done well.
This entire experience has at least a temporary effect on Buffy’s advances on Angel. We learn about this through Cordelia, who earlier was going off about how college guys are the best but has suddenly changed her tune by the end: “Younger men are the only way to go.” When Angel finally offers Buffy a coffee date, she pauses before saying, “Yeah, I’ll let you know.” Buffy has, for now, regained control of her sexual impulses, but they aren’t one to sit idly for very long. It was also nice to see both Angel and Giles lay off a bit of the stress they’ve put on Buffy as of late. After all, it’s Buffy’s connections to the world that contribute to her strength.
It’s clear that “Reptile Boy” has a respectable amount of depth, but most of it is conveyed in a heavy-handed manner that stifles it. Additionally, the plot is pretty much a snooze and the emotional stakes are minor. I like how “Reptile Boy” fits into the season thematically, but it’s another episode that’s just not all that exciting, particularly in its second half. This is definitely not a good episode, but I can’t casually disregard it either, which is pretty much the same boat I was in with “Inca Mummy Girl” [2×04]. Thankfully, this won’t be a problem soon. “Halloween” [2×06] is next!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Cute opening scene with Buffy, Willow, and Xander chilling out together.
+ Buffy’s training sequences with Giles always amuse.
+ Giles play-acting a swordfight. Oh Giles.
+ Angel pulls a Xander in the way he reacts to her attempt to coax him into a date. He speaks for her, saying, “You don’t know what you want.” Although Angel’s not wrong for showing apprehension about their future together, he goes about showing it in the worst way possible. Additionally, he’s a hypocrite, because he feels exactly the same way about her.
+ A poster in the hallway saying, “Not all people who drive drunk die,” with a picture of a guy who looks like a zombie on it.
+ For all of Cordelia’s attempts at making herself appealing to a college guy, they pretty much just brush her off for Buffy. You can see that Cordelia’s actually hurt by getting treated like a piece of meat.
+ Willow freaking out over having to tell Giles and Angel that Buffy is at the frat party, but then turning it around as an indictment on the two of them for giving her such a hard time. Awesome scene. Willow’s starting to stand up for her opinions more, which is great to see and is a nice setup to her experience in “Halloween” [2×06].
+ David Boreanaz’s stiff acting is still a problem.
+ I can totally see Xander following Buffy to the party to watch out for her, but the episode puts him through a series of hammy sequences that are really stupid.
* Cordelia pokes fun at Xander by essentially saying that his college prospects amount to ‘pizza delivery’. Ouch, but you know what? That’s kind of… exactly what happens. Cordelia may lack tact, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong.
* The banter between Cordelia and Xander is beginning to heat up. We know where they’re headed…