3×12: Helpless

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: David Fury | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 01/19/1999]

An emotionally gripping episode that tests the previously thought solid relationship between Buffy and Giles to the extreme while also being one of the better ‘horror’ episodes in the entire series’ run. On a show with a less capable show-runner, this episode would have been a solid but forgetful episode. With Joss Whedon in charge things go in, once again, completely new directions. Relationships, jobs, locations, and even life itself isn’t a given on this show. Each of those things could change for any of the characters in an instant, as the death of Jenny Calendar in “Passion” [2×17] and the firing of Giles here demonstrates. This is what stand-alone episodes are supposed to do!

The episode begins with Buffy and Angel training together. It’s really fun seeing them playing around in an innocent way, but as soon as she jumps on top of him things heat up extremely quickly. This unreleased sexual tension makes her want to go out and patrol right away. Buffy doesn’t get her sexual fix so now she wants to go kill something. Faith’s “hungry and horny” theory continues to gain points. This eventually leads to the scene at night where Buffy gets dizzy in the middle of a vampire fight. Her stake then gets turned around and she almost gets staked herself. This action is unusual and exciting to see. Note that she actually does get stabbed with her own stake in “Fool for Love” [5×07] .

Buffy later explains to Giles what happened. He of course knows what’s going on and lies to protect the truth of the “the test” from her. The ‘test’ itself is interesting to consider but is ultimately nonsense. Is this excercise really helpful and will it make Buffy stronger? Perhaps in some ways, but it’s still a violation of her body and fundamentally wrong. Not only that, but Quentin Travers seems to toss aside Giles’ concerns about Buffy’s life. The most likely way the Slayer can fail this test is to die. Is that the purpose? Either the Slayer is strong enough or let a new one be called? All this seems completely ridiculous to me. If a Slayer is still alive by her eighteenth birthday that should be proof enough of her ability. It would have been useful to know more about the specifics of the test because I see it as something that would never be done by an organization trying to help in the fight against evil, especially not in today’s world.

The slow removal of Buffy’s strength is underpinned by the father-daughter theme running through the episode. Buffy gets all excited that her dad is coming to take her to the ice show. She soon discovers that he bailed on her. After this huge disappointment she decides she has had enough of her dad’s antics and realizes that he won’t ever be there for her. At this point she does her best to accept that fact and move on with her life. Occasionally, though, we see just how much her father’s absence in her life has hurt her. She makes her feelings painfully clear in “Forever” [5×17] when she says, “I can call my ####### father again to tell him that his ex-wife, our mother is gone.” Even as late as “Normal Again” [6×17] we see her wishing her parents were still together, in love, and there to take care of her.

With her father’s neglection exposed she next turns to Giles to be that father figure for her. He’s completely distracted by his ‘job’ to notice her cries for fatherly love. It’s pretty touching that she’d even ask him to go with her and shows just how far these two have come together since the beginning of the series. Unfortunately this makes it extra painful to see him put her in a trance so he can stick a needle in her. Poor Buffy just can’t win today and I feel terrible for her.

When it begins to look doubtful that she’ll get her powers back, Buffy begins to consider life without powers again. In reality this is actually what she’s always wanted and explains this to Willow. The problem is that she knows about the supernatural world now and can’t turn her back on fighting it, powers or not. She realizes with some finality that she’ll never have a normal life, even if the Slayer responsibilities were pushed aside, so she can finally be at some kind of peace with her life. This is why she’s so quick to ask Giles if he’s found out anything about her weakness. We don’t actually see Buffy complaining much about living a normal life after this episode.

All of these threads come together in the saddening library scene where Giles shocks Buffy with the news that he is poisoning her with muscle relaxants to make her weak. All that painstaking trust that was built between these two people has been violently destroyed in this massive betrayal of Buffy’s body and trust. She literally is having trouble even believing what Giles is telling her, and I can’t blame her.

This is the very first time Buffy catches a glimpse of this part of Giles’ personality. Giles is always willing to do whatever is needed for the “greater good.” While he never fully supports this ‘test’ he does go along with it until things begin to get out of control. He ends up ignoring council orders and goes to help Buffy fight the vampire because he realizes that the test is actually stupid and isn’t for any “greater good.” However, we see this “do what needs to be done” side of Giles come out again at several important junctions in the series, most notably in “The Gift” [5×22] when he kills Ben and again in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17] when he stalls Buffy so that Wood can kill Spike.

I really enjoyed the entire ending “hide and seek” horror section where Buffy is trying to rescue her mom without her powers. It’s all genuinely creepy including the very well-acted moment when Buffy pulls out a cross, shaking but determined, and then the vampire grabs her arm and puts the cross on his stomach and keeps pulling it lower and lower getting some kind of satisfaction out of the pain. Buffy is naturally scared and disgusted by it and runs off.

All of the above would have made a really good episode, but courtesy of Whedon we get even more. Giles gets fired because, as Quentin puts it, he has a “father’s love” of Buffy. Hearing what Giles gave up to help her begins to heal the wounds of his betrayal. After Quentin leaves, Giles comes over to Buffy and in a tender moment, takes the wet cloth Buffy was using to wipe the blood off her forehead and cleans it for her. Buffy will never be able to ‘fully’ trust Giles again after this episode even though much of it is recovered from his after-the-fact actions.

To sum it up, I thought this episode was great. It had loads of darkness, raw emotion, and lasting importance which were all brought to life by the wonderful acting of Anthony Stewart Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar. My only complaints involve wondering why the vampire needs to take pills and some pacing issues. Otherwise this is another top-notch episode to add to the amazingly consistent third season.

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Seeing Cordelia fend off a guy who threw Buffy is shocking.
+ Finally seeing other members of the Watcher’s Council.
+ Angel’s explanation of how he met Buffy before she was a Slayer.
+ A bruised and betrayed Buffy shoving the flowers her dad sent her into the trash.
+ The creepy and sick vampire is a really good foe for a weakened Buffy.
+ Buffy pouring holy water into the crazy vampire’s pill glass.
+ Cute ending scene in Buffy’s kitchen. Xander can’t open the peanut butter jar either.

– The early scenes with Quentin Travers are really awkward.
– The scene where Giles finds the massacare at Sunnydale Arms goes on a bit too long.


Foreshadowing

* Buffy’s dad bails on her, apparently because of work. We find out later that he’s off in Spain with a secretary “living the cliche” and that he decides to completely abandon Buffy.


[Score]

95/100

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81 thoughts on “3×12: Helpless”

  1. [Note: bookworm posted this comment on April 4, 2006.]

    question: Buffy’s without power, she was attacked by a vampire couldn’t fight him, the life of her mother was at risk, everybody already knew that Angel was alive and that they were seeing each other. Why didn’t she go to him for help?

    I can imagine it’s quite difficult to locate Faith (they got along quite well at that point) and time’s a major thing, but all she would have needed to do was call Angel (or head over) and ask him to meet her there…

    of course, it wouldn’t have been that creepy and she wouldn’t have passed the test, but duh…

    I’m seeing a major change in her behaviour from s.2 “passion” until that point: in “passion” Buffy said: “Every time something like this happens, my first instinct is still to run to Angel…” and now she hasn’t any powers and she’s doing it alone, doesn’t (even) want HIM anymore to take care of her when lives of loved ones depend on her ability to fight vampires…

    and anybody is wondered that she doesn’t let Riley take care of her in season five, when she’s pumped up with power and he’s just with normal human strength???

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  2. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on April 8, 2006.]

    I just wanted to say that you pose a good question on “Helpless.” I don’t have the answer to it though. That’s just a decision the writers decided to make, likely for a bigger impact.

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  3. [Note: bookworm posted this comment on April 11, 2006.]

    it’s very likely (that Angel has a phone) because in Graduation Day Pt.1 he had contact with Giles, who wanted him to help Buffy with the volcanologist-thing. and I’m way sure that Angel didn’t pass by at the library.

    I’m quite on the “writers-impact”-side too. Maybe Buffy needed the proof for herself (way down) that she will be able to handle herself without the power, because she’s scared of the impacts of less strength.

    “What if I just hide under my bed, all scared and helpless? Or what if I just become pathetic? Hanging out at the old Slayer’s home, talking people’s ears off about my glory days, showing them Mr. Pointy, the stake I had bronzed.”

    Or maybe they really wanted to show an estrangement between Buffy and Angel (or Buffy and everyone).

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  4. [Note: Fallen posted this comment on April 11, 2006.]

    And they also had to find a way to begin healing the break between Buffy and Giles. She needs to go on her own to regain her own strength and she needs to get help from Giles to repair their bond. The writers think out the story that needs to be told, the growth that the characters need to make, and the plot follows.

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  5. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on April 11, 2006.]

    Yeah, but it’s hardly fair to say Buffy wouldn’t ask Angel for help if her life was in serious danger. It’s a plot hole, for sure.

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  6. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on May 10, 2006.]

    By the way, Mikejer, in your review for Helpless – which I more or less agree with – you said you wondered why the Vampire needed to take pills. I personally think the addiction was deliberately induced into th addiction by the Watcher’s Council, to give them a hold on him, and possibly to make the test for the slayer slightly more controlled, giving her a specific flaw to look for, and exploit. Possibly also to make it less easy for the Vampire to kill her if she lost. Of course, the test is barbaric, anyway, but it makes sense that the Watchers’ Council would have done something like that.

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  7. [Note: Grounded posted this comment on May 10, 2006.]

    I always assumed he was psychologically dependent on the pills from before becoming a vampire. I believe they mention he was in an asylum?

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  8. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on May 10, 2006.]

    Yeah, I think Grounded‘s right. But I do agree that they likely picked a vampire with a tangeable weakness for this test, so the Slayer has at least some resemblence of a fair chance. Still, bad test!

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  9. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on May 10, 2006.]

    I disagree here, mainly because when humans are sired, weaknesses of the flesh most of the time disappear. Mind problems do not, as is evidenced by Dru, but physical shortcomings such as illnesses and addictions do not seem to on the show. You could argue that the addiction was purely psychological, but somehow it seemed very physical to me.

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  10. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on May 11, 2006.]

    As I said, weaknesses of the flesh disappear after siring, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be induced. After all Spike had to use a wheelchair after “What’s my Line” and so its just as likely the Watchers’ Council could induce an addiction to pills.

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  11. [Note: Dingdong posted this comment on May 11, 2006.]

    This are the reasons I think they might have indced the addiction. As you might have seen in the episode, having him locked in the box was hardly the most reliable precaution.

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  12. [Note: robgnow posted this comment on April 15, 2007.]

    I would say its mostly psychological on Kralik’s part. Drug dependency can be a powerful mental block for anyone and we have to assume that when he was human his drugs made him feel better. But we also know that vampires can be affected by common enough drugs… knock out darts and alcohol just being two. It’s certainly possible that even if he ‘woke up’ with no physical dependency, he quickly ‘relapsed’ into needing them due to his psychological dependency; especially if you go out on a limb and say that his symptoms (i.e. that bellowing in pain) was psychosomatically induced.

    I generally don’t like having to explain things that writers should take the time to, but I’ve been able to justify Kralik’s flaws to myself. Especially since he’s not the point of the series, the Buffy/Giles relationship is.

    Rob

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  13. [Note: Austin posted this comment on October 5, 2007.]

    Interesting note that Angel gives Buffy an old (I think 1st edition) book and in real life SMG collects old books thought that was a nice touch

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  14. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on October 24, 2007.]

    Amazing episode and one who just gets better with each viewing. So many wonderful moments, like when Oz and Xander discuss the different types of kryponite, when Xander cannot open the jar or my favourite when Giles cleans the blood of her forehead. Wonderful acting, just wonderful.

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  15. [Note: Woohoo1729 posted this comment on December 10, 2007.]

    Great episode, and great review, Mike!

    Two issues: (1) I also questioned the effectiveness of the test upon initial viewings, but it makes sense for the twisted Slayer mythology–a slayer may make it to her eighteenth birthday due to circumstances other than her ability to slay vampires–maybe she’s locked up in jail or an asylum and cannot perform her duties, or perhaps she’s just flat-out refused to fight demons and has masterfully escaped the slayer duties. This would pretty much halt the slayer line for a good number of years. The Council just wanted a failsafe to deal with these situations. But obviously, these are just ways for me to justify the merits of the test; it is admittedly kind of hokey and probably thought up by the writers for the purpose of this particular episode.

    (2) I saw the pills as merely characterizing how mentally-unstable and therefore more frightening Kralik is. He’s crazier than your normal run-of-the-mill vampire! I feel like for all of its merits, one thing that BtVS kind of fails at is consistency in explaining the relationship between a vampire and his/her human persona.

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  16. [Note: Kyarorin posted this comment on March 16, 2008.]

    Considering that it’s the pills that get the people from the Watcher’s council killed in the first place, my guess is that they were part of a pre-existing condition he already had. They probably wouldn’t even need to subdue him that way in the first place. All they would’ve needed is a trank gun and two guys to ship him off.

    Other than that, I pretty much agree with all that has been said.

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  17. [Note: Katzchen posted this comment on September 24, 2008.]

    Re: the purpose of the test. I figured it was BECAUSE the Slayer was turning eighteen, becoming an adult; the Watchers’ Council needs the Slayer to be young, impressionable, and easily controlled so she can work for their agenda. Once the Slayer’s an adult, she might start to think for herself, not be so easily controlled, go against the Council’s wishes, so (to them) it makes sense to get rid of her before she can grow up and have the next impressionable, controllable young girl called.

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  18. [Note: Emily posted this comment on March 21, 2009.]

    “I see it as something that would never be done by an organization trying to help in the fight against evil, especially not in today’s world.”

    Mike, I think that’s part of the point- Giles said it was an outdated procedure, and that the council should get rid of it. But the old English farts sitting on their asses all day don’t comprehend that.

    Bookworm, I don’t think Buffy and Angel were ever estranged in the sense that they didn’t love one another and couldn’t depend on each other. I think that the circumstances of his curse and her destiny forced them apart (also the fact that David B. probably really wanted his own show). I think the reason why the writers didn’t have her go to him is because she needed to be able to do it on her own, like Harry Potter in the seventh book.

    I think they destroyed the tender moment between Buffy and Angel by giving SMG the line, “Or taken literally, incredibly gross.” Why would they do that? The show is not a comedy- it doesn’t [i]always[/i] have to be funny.

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  19. [Note: Nix posted this comment on April 6, 2009.]

    Emily: that sort of subversion of expectations (especially via excessive literalness) is a Whedon hallmark. (Also, to be honest, what Angel says is *so* ludicrously soppy that *I* was thinking ‘urgh’ shortly before Angel commented on it. If the viewers are likely to be thinking the same thing, why not turn it funny?)

    I’m fairly sure the Watcher’s Council entirely understand that the Cruciamentum is outdated. But, firstly, they don’t get rid of things merely because they’re outdated and don’t work (‘we’re talking about laws that have existed longer than civilization’), and secondly it *does* have the decidedly useful habit of knocking off Slayers before they get too old to easily control.

    At the bottom of it all, after all, one major purpose of the Watchers’ Council is *control of the Slayer* at almost any cost. Their forebears *created* her, and by damn they’re not letting her go: she’s the only strength most of them have got. Killing off Slayers prematurely, what of it? A new one will be along soon.

    Being completely dispassionate about it, the Cruciamentum could be considered a sort of Slayer selection filter. The especially skilled ones live through it (the time before they turned 18 being time to gain enough experience to stand a chance), while the subnormal and merely normal ones are, um, ‘cycled out’ so that a new one can pop up who might be better. So the procedure does, in a way, strengthen the ‘statistically average Slayer’ (assuming that Slayers that survive the process tend to live for a while, to counteract the effect of killing the subnormal ones off sooner, decreasing the average age and experience of the statistically average Slayer). It’s utterly vile and stupid, but that doesn’t mean that it might not work.

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  20. [Note: Darth Bunny posted this comment on June 20, 2009.]

    I know I’m likely to get objects thrown at me if this was a real discussion, but I believe the Council’s test does have real merit. Granted some things could and should definitely change, such as the rule against the Slayer being informed of the test. The test is however an excellent lesson about Slayers.

    Is a Slayer just super strength and the ability to throw darts at a single target? No of course not; as Buffy herself demonstrates later a true Slayer is self-sufficient. She can survive on her own without assistance. In essence, a Slayer is an adult! Its not a coincidence the test is held when the Slayer is 18, the age when most people can, as Willow pointed out, vote or be drafted, or vote not to be drafted.

    In this episode the test is vile because it is done without the Slayer’s knowledge. The test is outdated because it shows no understanding of modern day relationships or concern for the Slayer as a person. Ironically, the Council’s use of this test contradicts its purpose: The test is to prove that the Slayer is an adult, even though the test ensures most Slayers will not make it past their 18th birthday.

    However the goals of the test, to prove that a Slayer is more than just muscle and to ensure that the Slayer is indeed capable of being independent, are still admirable. Indeed, Giles and even Buffy herself use similar tactics later in the series.

    Giles helps Buffy with the other vamp in this episode, but in Season 6, he leaves the Scoobies because he’s convinced they won’t grow with him around. In season 7 when she’s training the potentials, she and Spike lock them in a room full of vamps. And since they’re still potentials, none of them had Slayer strength to begin with.

    It’s a little hypocritical to cry foul when the Council does this to Buffy here, but to play it off as something comical or even necessary when Buffy does it to a handful of girls four seasons later. But it is necessary because the goals are noble. The only thing bad about it this episode is the Council’s execution of such a test. Getting a father figure to violate a person’s trust without her knowledge is revolting. Forcing a person to become an adult and to realize that strength, real strength, comes from within however, is a noble if not dangerous goal. The point is, this ‘test’ is not as black and white as many on this site seem to believe.

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  21. [Note: Christian posted this comment on June 29, 2009.]

    Great ep. SMG’s acting is awesome. I think the whole episode just comes together very nicely. And I do agree that the “creepy” factor was high. I was really scared that something might happen to powerless Buffy.

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  22. [Note: Tara posted this comment on July 22, 2009.]

    To be honest, I think this episode deserves a P rating. Writing, character, plot and theme were all top-notch. There is a ton going on in this episode: Buffy and Angel’s increasing sexual frustration, the ongoing theme of Buffy’s father’s absence, the relationship between Buffy and Giles and where his loyalties lie, and Buffy’s realisation that being the Slayer is now a part of who she is. Even with all this thematically dense material, we get a highly tense and thrilling plot. The scene in the house is one of the show’s few truly scary scenes, and Kralik is downright unnerving as villain. In answer to some of the questions above, I also thought the Council’s keeping Kralik on pills was intentional on their part, for the Slayer to be able to exploit that particular weakness and give her a fighting chance (which does ultimately lead to his death).

    The emotional factor is incredibly high, and to have Buffy’s trust in Giles shaken this far into the show is a bold move on the part of the writers. It also sets up Giles’s later actions in The Gift and Lies My Parents Told Me. Although the rift here is being healed, it does sow the seeds for later discord between them. It’s additionally painful that Buffy discovers his betrayal just as her own father has bailed on her and especially needs some fatherly affection. That scene in the library breaks my heart every time I watch it.

    Definitely P worthy, in my opinion.

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  23. [Note: Nix posted this comment on November 5, 2009.]

    As if we needed it, there’s *another* flaw in the whole Cruciamentum idea. Imagine everything had gone right: Kralik hadn’t escaped, Giles’s part in it had remained concealed… a ‘normal’ Cruciamentum. How would Giles have explained it afterwards? How is *any* Watcher supposed to explain it? The vampire is hardly likely to conceal the truth, and would probably expose the Watcher’s part in the matter just to shake his intended victim — so *at its best* this ritual can only serve to damage trust between Watcher and Slayer. Or so it seems to me.

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  24. [Note: AttackedWithHummus posted this comment on January 3, 2010.]

    While I fully recognize the power and excellence of this episode I have only watched it a couple of times due to my personal discomfort in watching it. Unlike with “The Body” (5×16), which people often find too difficult to watch, I find this episode lacks the resonance “The Body” has and is simply not as good. I am put off by the very sensation I feel while watching Buffy in this state and so I need to be in the right place to watch it. That being said, there are many bits I love, most of them covered in the “pros” section or by commentators, but I would like to add an interesting one: the skater Brian Boitano (briefly mentioned in Buffy’s attempt to convince Giles of the ice show trip) is not only awesome, but was also born in SunnyVALE, California!

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  25. [Note: Izzy posted this comment on February 3, 2010.]

    Just a thought where is Faith in all this.She is a slayer but is not forced to keep up her training,or take this test.To me it seems unfair all the slayer responsibilities are given to Buffy and Faith does not turn until the Enemies episode. She never takes the test I don’t how old she was but it seems there was not much of an age difference between them.It’s like Giles or the high and mighty council does not care or acknowledge Faith as a slayer and do not care about what she does forcing Buffy to be THE slayer. I am not defending Faith in fact I really don’t like her to me it just seems unfair to Buffy to have to be the only one that had to go through it and letting Faith off the hook.

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  26. [Note: Smallprint84 posted this comment on March 15, 2010.]

    I liked this episode so bad. Pure horror as it should be. Also credit for Jeff Kober as Krelik, he played his role with a lot fun.

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  27. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on May 18, 2010.]

    Tara, I completely agree. This one absolutely deserves a P rating. It’s on par with “Passion”, “Innocence”, and both parts of “Becoming”. And the ending scenes are some of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen.

    Man, I hope this Council guy gets eaten or something. He’s a total jerk.

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  28. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on May 24, 2010.]

    Definitely one of my favorite episodes of the series. MikeJer, I didn’t think of Giles’s willingness to go along with the Council as evidence of his “do things for the greater good” outlook, but as evidence of his beholden-ness to the Council. Giles at this stage will still follow the rules, even if he disagrees with them, but in the course of this episode he learns that he CAN break the rules. He loses his job, but not his actual role in fighting the good fight, or his relationship with Buffy. This is an important growth episode for Giles, too, and in Season 3 he as well as Buffy “graduates” from the control of the Watcher’s Council.

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  29. [Note: Lizzie posted this comment on June 30, 2010.]

    Believe it or not, this is one of the episodes that makes me cry the most. The hardest thing for me is to be betrayed by someone you trusted with your life.

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  30. [Note: Andrea posted this comment on August 10, 2010.]

    I kind of love that Buffy goes tearing around Sunnydale, on a quiet residential street, just *screaming* for help, and not one person comes out to help her or opens their door. Of course they don’t come out: they probably hear that kind of thing all the time, and know enough not to come out and try to help. I like these little suggestions that people in Sunnydale know that there’s “something” off about that town. It’s interesting to see Buffy experiencing ‘the Sunnydale life’ from the POV of all the other screaming, helpless girls we’ve seen killed over the years. (Also kind of a ironic twist on Joss’s original spark for the show: the helpless blonde girl in the alley who always gets killed.)

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  31. [Note: Andrea posted this comment on August 10, 2010.]

    Also love that Giles and Quentin are taking tea on fine china in the creepiest, dirtiest old mansion you’ve ever seen as they discuss the violation and possible death of a young girl. Decorum, you know. Then later Quentin is enjoying a nice cuppa again while Buffy may very well be getting disemboweled in said mansion.

    Has anyone noticed that whenever Buffy’s feeling particularly horrible/depressed/feeling a little sorry for herself she puts on those denim overalls? Lol! I like that little touch of character detail, very true for a lot of girls, I think, who dress their outsides to fit their feelings inside!

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  32. [Note: nathan.taurus posted this comment on August 20, 2010.]

    The Good:

    Buffy rubbing the phallus like crystal and then realising and quickly putting it down.

    Xander and Oz talking about Superman.

    Taking the heart metaphor as incredibly gross. I thought the same thing straight away.

    Buffy running and screaming for help in a reversal role. She acted very scared.

    Giles and Buffy in the library when he comes clean.

    Buffy using her smarts to kill Kralik.

    The dramatic library scene. The way she winces when she touches the cut on her forehead.

    Xander offering to be the man and help Buffy with the jar and then needs help.

    The Bad:

    Agree. Why would Kralik need pills.

    The incredibly small crucifix necklace again.

    Andrea: Yes the denim overalls. She stole them from Willow.

    Trivia: Buffy throws the case at the wall while Giles is standing in the doorway. In ‘Prophecy Girl’ she was upset and threw books at the same wall and Giles and her were in the same positions.

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  33. [Note: Jasmine posted this comment on January 11, 2011.]

    I just went back and watched this episode again just to see that crystal rubbing scene.

    Oh dear…She even has a guilty smile on her face after setting it down.

    “I just have some energy to burn”. 🙂

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  34. [Note: nk posted this comment on July 25, 2011.]

    One of the few truly disturbing Buffy episodes – and after everything that happens, Travers still treats her in a patronising and condescending way at the end. I remember watching this for the first time and wishing she would tell the Council where to shove it, which of course made it all the more satisfying when she finally did at the end of the season.

    I’m not sure I ever could have forgiven Giles for his involvement in the test if he hadn’t lost his job over it. Because he does though, I think it ultimately makes his relationship with Buffy even stronger and richer because, like Willow in ”Choices”, he chooses to continue fighting alongside her out of love and friendship rather than any kind of duty or habit.

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  35. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 17, 2011.]

    This is an insightful episode, we see character development of Buffy. For the past seasons and in some scenes to come we see her desire to be a normal regular girl, Prophecy girl she quit out of fear (although she did accept her fate), her desire is continued throughout season two and others. Notably in The Gift she saves a boy and he questions how she did what she did, she’s just a girl and Buffy responds with ‘thats what i keep saying’ As far back as Welcome To The Hellmouth we see her dilute her calling as being something she can walk away from. This episode she gets what she wants. The result; Buffy wants to be the slayer, she wants to have the power and the abilities she has lived with for years. This is made prominent in a scene she shares with Willow and that her knowledge of whats out there would stop her from not continuing the fight even without her inherent slayer qualities. In short Buffy lives with a catch 22.

    This episode is conducive to the father daughter relationship existing between Buffy and Giles. With her own father’s absenteeism she is desperate for a bond to replace the hole in left. This episode subverts the once thought solid bond watcher and slayer have. The set up to this episode signifies Giles taking his role as watcher seriously and falling the job description to the letter. His violation of Buffy’s trust and respect shows us the Ripper side of Giles. The side willing to do or say the hard things for the greater good. A foreshadowing of The Gift, Once More With Feeling and his decision to leave Buffy to stand on her own and of course Lies My Parent’s Told Me. Watching Giles do this is a betrayal

    The emotional outburst from Buffy when Giles confesses to her what he has done is breathe taking. SMG’s performance as well as Antony Head is formidable. The scene acts as a catalyst to shatter the father daughter illusion Buffy thinks she will find in Giles. With the words ‘Who are you’ . The scene is one that can not be innocent of drawing you in to their plight, to resonate with them. The pain and anguish in their eyes is touching to see.

    The final scenes when Buffy goes to the house to rescue her mother are dramatic and the most horrific of the the entire series. The vampire is portrayed excellently to instil terror. This is probably one of the most spectacular and yet horrifying battle scenes, a powerless Buffy goes for her mother. Its the weak defenceless blonde girl going up against the crazed monster, on the contrary this girl is Buffy. She uses her wits and her skill to subvert and outmanoeuvre the vamp.

    I don’t know if trusting GIles would be something Buffy could do after what she learned he had done but his entering the field of play to save her and choosing to remain in Sunnydale when he is fired by the council because he has a father’s love for the child makes it possible for her. She has in a way what she needs, a father figure and its common knowledge that all parents mess up, they’re not perfect. She forgives him when she lets him wipe the blood of her face.

    In addition, Giles stands by Buffy in Choices when Wesley proclaims that rescuing WIllow is not the best option for the world. It seems that Buffy doesn’t tell her friends what Giles did. At least we never saw it and the gangs relationship with Giles never changes nor is there a comment or reference made in the future to them knowing, they do that he was fired but do they know the ‘gut wrenching misery and horror’.

    This episode is well paced and full of great dialogue, witty banter and hard hitting outbursts. This episode once again escalates the need to expect the unexpected in Buffy-Verse something we haven’t seen Jenny’s death in season two. Giles being fired and Buffy’s loss of her power are great to drive home this point.

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  36. [Note: x factor posted this comment on December 27, 2011.]

    If No Place Like Home garners a “P” grade, this episode should receive a PPPP+ grade. lol. Gemma covered it well, but i just want to reiterate just how amazing, wellpaced, engaging, emotionally satisfying, and entertaining this episode is. This episode is proof positive that you dont need forced contrived storylines, pseudo characters, or torture porn to generate intense drama and strong emotional reactions. Just a couple of powerhouse performances by SMG and AH, a terrifying villain, a deeply unsettling undertone of implied sexual violence without going overboard, a lively tertiary character, the trademark BTVS humor. Set up well with a powerful payoff – Buffy and Giles are even closer after their trials. Episodes like this make the whole B/G father/daughter dynamic when Joyce dies perfectly and completely believable.

    The Buffy/Giles relationship is the heart of this show, despite the writers attempts to ruin it in season 7. If you really think about it, when Giles is marginalized or totally absent (season 6, 7, and 4), this show is at its worst.

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  37. [Note: Odon posted this comment on February 5, 2012.]

    The purpose of the test becomes more apparent in Season 5’s “Checkpoint”, when Buffy realises they’re actually about the Watcher’s Council maintaining control. This is seen by the fact that not only Buffy but Giles was being tested; one suspects this isn’t the only occasion when a Watcher got too attached to his Slayer, so it’s a “loyalty test” for them as well.

    I like the surprised look on Buffy’s face when she hears Giles has a “fatherly love” for her. One suspects she’s never given conscious thought to the idea that Giles is her father substitute until now.

    Also Buffy threatening to kill Giles if he ever touches her again, then allowing him to tend to her wound at the end.

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  38. [Note: Sarah posted this comment on February 14, 2012.]

    “I see it as something that would never be done by an organization trying to help in the fight against evil, especially not in today’s world.”

    That’s the whole point – the Council runs on antiquated, anachronistic traditions that largely have not adapted to modern times. The fact that Buffy and Giles do things differently than previous generations is what makes them special – they’re redefining the fight against evil so that it makes sense and is relevant to modern times.

    This episode is brilliant in the way it further solidifies both Buffy’s belief in her calling and our belief as viewers. By challenging the whole basis of the Buffy-verse, this episode makes an even stronger case for it – I truly feel this episode is a stellar for that reason. It’s one of the episodes that made me a hardcore Buffy addict.

    I can’t help but see the themes of this episode as an excellent metaphor for criticizing certain traditions – whether religious or cultural (the cultural practice of female genital mutilation comes to mind speaking of Buffy being physically violated) – in the way that they often disregard modern circumstances in favor of blindly adhering to myth and custom.

    I also love that Buffy being forced to question her calling as a metaphor for someone who feels they have a calling for a certain line of work – whether art or medicine or whatever – naturally going through a period of failure or lack of self-confidence in which they question if they are truly able to live up to that calling.

    This episode is pure genius, Period.

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  39. [Note: Sarah posted this comment on February 14, 2012.]

    Also, in the last scene Travers says that the Council is not in the business of fair. He says “we’re fighting a war”, and Giles correctly jumps in with “you’re waging a war, she’s fighting it, there is a difference”. This goes to show how disconnected the Council is from the reality of this war because they aren’t putting their own lives on the line each day (much like how a certain former president of ours skipped out on his own military duty yet as president jumped into a war based on false pretenses, not seeming to care at all for the people actually fighting it).

    I find it completely believable that the Council would administer a test like this. All they care about is a false sense of control over the Slayer because she’s truly the one with the power (as she’ll come to realize in Checkpoint). The parallel to female genital mutilation becomes even more apparent.

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  40. [Note: Pineappler posted this comment on March 7, 2012.]

    Ah, this is really such a quintessential Buffy episode. I forgot how amazing it is. One second I found myself laughing at all the silly little antics and the next moment I found myself crying at how the trust Buffy had for Giles was shattered. I am pretty sure this episode is one of my favorites, but I do tend to say that after every episode I watch.

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  41. [Note: ck posted this comment on March 13, 2012.]

    The one thing that bothered me about this episode is how Giles takes Buffy’s slayer powers away. Travers defends the test by saying that this is the way things have been done since the beginning ( not a quote but the essence of what he said). Basically, this is the tradition so do it. Giles injecting Buffy using a syringe full of muscle relaxers, etc. did not seem realistic as a tradition because syringes can’t be more than 200-300 years old. The writers may have wanted Giles’s role to be as invasive as possible for the impact it would have on his relationship with Buffy, but I found that aspect unrealistic. I think the writers could have come up with a magical way for Giles to rob Buffy of her powers that would have worked just as well.

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  42. [Note: Antoinette posted this comment on March 28, 2012.]

    this is one of my favorite episodes of buffy! i think it exemplifies what buffy is. the episode had drama, suspence, laughs and romance. i love it!!! and isnt the guy who plays the psyco vampire the same guy that plays rack is season 6!?!?!

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  43. [Note: fan posted this comment on March 30, 2012.]

    did anyone else notice she was wearing the same thing she did in surprise but in white. and its exactly one year later. i wonder if there is a significance with the repeat outfits. theres the same thing with willow in season 6. she wears that denim jacket twice. once in a couple episodes before villians when she runs into tara outside the magic shop and then ofcourse in villians, two to go, and grave

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  44. [Note: Ryan ONeil posted this comment on October 19, 2012.]

    I’m wondering how much of the emotion of this episode is a flashback to the Angelus arc: had early-Season 2 Buffy been put through the test, she would’ve probably been so trusting of the people around her that her fury at Giles for betraying her would’ve been overshadowed by her disbelief that something like that could even happen in the first place, and she would’ve probably tried to convince herself that the poison was a kind of wax-on-wax-off thing like the council thought it was.However, starting precisely a year before the test, she had spent months learning that the people you love and trust can turn into brutal murderers, and she would be remembering it even more strongly on the precise anniversary of the nightmare beginning. Thus, instead of being too blindsided by Giles’s betrayal to process it completely, she processed very quickly and immediately went into violent fury.Also, in reply to CK (#47), I’m thinking that just the poison was what had been traditional for centuries and that syringes were just a new way of delivering it more reliably than having her drink something.

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  45. [Note: JEL posted this comment on December 10, 2012.]

    There is a nice Cordelia moment that might rank as a minor pro: When the distraught Buffy asks Cordelia if Cordelia could give Buffy a ride home, Cordelia says “Of course” without any hesitation and with a fair amount of compassion. I can’t imagine the first or second season Cordelia doing this, but it seems “right” at this point in the 3rd season. Someone made this point on some other site and now every time I watch this episode I pick up on this moment. (I’ve never thought the test here made any sense, but I just chalk it up to “why let logic stand in the way of a great story” and it does makes for a great episode.)

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  46. [Note: Alex posted this comment on December 11, 2012.]

    I love that moment too, JEL. I’m a big Cordelia fan and I like the way this little moment shows that while she may not be Buffy’s closest friend, she now has enough compassion and perception to help without question when it’s obvious that someone is really suffering.

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  47. [Note: Ryan ONeil posted this comment on January 13, 2013.]

    Personally, I think it makes a lot of sense that the Council does things that don’t make sense 🙂 It’s not bad writing on the part of the writers, it’s good writing of bad people.Plus, remember when Buffy was complaining about an upcoming test for school and asked why she couldn’t just join a tribe that inflicts bodily injury as a coming of age ritual? I really want to say that Anya had a role in this, becuase Buffy finds out that she actually is in a “tribe” like that :)That line was before this episode, right? It was the let-me-back-into-high-school tests, not the SAT’s?

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  48. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on January 14, 2013.]

    Having re-watched this episode, i can honestly say it is a great piece of writing, displaying characters in a negative light, showing the Council and in particular Quentin as black hats for the side of good. The test Buffy faces, is an archaic one, designed as Quentin says to test the Slayer, i think is a little more than just that. Not many Slayers live as long as Buffy and so i think this test is suppose to humble the slayers who do make it? Or maybe on a harsh note to ensure the slayers don’t live long and that new ones are created?

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  49. [Note: Arachnea posted this comment on February 24, 2013.]

    The first time I watched this episode, I thought this test was utter nonsense and a good way to alienate any trust a slayer could have in her watcher. But I didn’t care too much because the whole episode had so much resonance and consequences.

    But now it makes a whole lot of sense and I agree with some of the other commenters. The power of the Council is only in being able to control the Slayer. I always wondered why the slayers were so young: they were “made” like that in order to be controllable.

    I don’t know how many slayers have made it to 18, but it’s reasonable to assume that those who did stood very little chance to survive the test, thus having a fresh young slayer the Council can mold. The watcher should be able to determine wether the slayer is dependable or not, the test is just an excuse. The episode also explains why the council doesn’t want a relation of affection between watcher and slayer: they won’t let emotions get in the way to remain in total control.

    So a great episode indeed ! Although I know the episode was about Giles and Buffy, I would have liked some conversation with the Scoobies. She could have acknowledged how hard it can be for her friends to fight without any powers.

    Also, the subtle touch with Cordelia’s scene was very well done.

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  50. [Note: Josh Man posted this comment on August 26, 2013.]

    The whole point of the series on some level is a push back against the age old standards of a helpless female who must be saved by the capable, strong (preferably good looking) male. The opening scene of the series with Darla, appearing that the female is going to get used/abused by the male and then the tables quickly turn sets up that precedent, and of course, our blond, teenage, female heroine continues and builds upon that theme.

    This episode really plays with the idea of a push back against patriarchy. A few people have touched on this in the comments. Slayers are young females precisely because they can be controlled by the male dominated Watcher’s Council (although we have to this point seen a female Watcher, she proved to be evil, and therefore unfit for the role) ostensibly, controlling the slayer, the Man keeping the young female in line.

    This episode shows that the control hoisted upon the Slayer (ie women) by the Watcher’s Council (ie Patriarchry) is wrong, outdated, and, frankly, dangerous. Buffy subverts those in control of her by making her own decision to save her mother and passing the test without resorting to the normal (Watcher approved) tools of the trade, and by Giles, supposedly an object of the patriarchy, supposedly in league with them, coming to her aid and helping at the end to save the day. This is very rare in the show, as even when Buffy is seemingly incapacitated and in need of someone else saving her, she ends up saving the day. We see this in the episode just before this when she kills the demon while tied up for burning. Allowing Giles to actually show up and save her in this case is an indictment of the patriarchy that Giles is leaving behind in his support of the Slayer.

    Fascinating episode, and a great way to examine some of the deeper themes of the series.

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  51. [Note: ElectricNova posted this comment on October 8, 2013.]

    I thought this episode was okay but I don’t like the implications of it. The idea of a deadly slayer exam and Buffy losing her powers is good, but the execution leaves some to be desired. I like the watcher’s council getting more involved in the show though.

    A biological compound can take away mystical powers? And she seems to forget her training and martial arts skills as well? Even without the raw power she’d be very skilled. The fact that she immediatly gets beat up by a random jock after losing her powers seems to contradict the feminist message of the show… she has skill in several techniques and should at least not completely get floored by them.

    I don’t think she’d run around screaming for help either. What’s in those pills must be altering her personality or something.

    By no mans an I robot or Reptile boy though

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  52. [Note: Firewalkwithme posted this comment on October 24, 2013.]

    This episode would totally get the full score from me if there would be any follow through to Giles betraying Buffy. Yeah, he gets fired by the council because he cares about her but the way he´s incoperated in the next episodes is basically the same (zero consequences). While Giles´betrayal will be important later in the series to show that he will go behind Buffy´s back to accomplish a certain goal (“The Gift”, “Lies my…”) I wish they would´ve dealt with the falling out between these two more in depth this season.

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  53. [Note: telephoto1 posted this comment on December 10, 2013.]

    Great episode but I do tend to agree with previous comments about how Buffy seemingly forgets her martial arts training, etc… injection notwithstanding, you just don’t forget all that-so she should have been a little more effective in battle. Laying that aside, this ep is top notch all around, showing what we’ve already come to know by this point; Giles loves Buffy like a daughter and the father figure bond between Giles and Buffy trumps Giles’ devotion to duty as a Watcher. IMO Buffy realizes that at the end and that’s why she isn’t holding a grudge in subsequent episodes.

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  54. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on December 14, 2013.]

    Giles as a father figure: Buffy wants him to be perfect, but he is not. Like all parents, he makes mistakes, sometimes grave ones. On the other hand Giles is still there for Buffy, even without pay, and he stays until he thinks he must leave so that she will grow up, and he still makes visits and is in contact.

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  55. [Note: EdwardH posted this comment on January 19, 2014.]

    About someone mention how syringes were only 200 to 300 years old, syringes actually appeared during Roman times.

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  56. [Note: guttersnipe posted this comment on March 4, 2014.]

    I’m currently marathonning the whole series again (I followed it from day one of its BBC broadcasts) and with time something of a sea change has occurred in my viewing approach, in that I used to penalise certain episodes for logical inconsistency, especially with regards to the writers’ own rules of mythology and physiognomy. I can see now that my feelings on the matter shouldn’t hinge on the whims of a particular writer, rather dealing with the emotional register instead. I’m so glad to be past that stage, where I can truly see an episode such as this for the impact it delivers. I thought it was good; it’s magnificent.

    question: Buffy’s without power, she was attacked by a vampire couldn’t fight him, the life of her mother was at risk, everybody already knew that Angel was alive and that they were seeing each other. Why didn’t she go to him for help?

    That’s just a decision the writers decided to make, likely for a bigger impact.

    Indeed, I feel this is quite accurate. I’m very much of the opinion that a) Buffy’s fear of losing her slayer abilities had already partly informed her decision to take the quest onboard, to prove to herself (if no-one else) that she was equipped for her duty despite any external negatory factors, and b) Joyce’s kidnapping compelled her to act above a typical sense of rationale.

    I always assumed he was psychologically dependent on the pills from before becoming a vampire. I believe they mention he was in an asylum?

    I disagree here, mainly because when humans are sired, weaknesses of the flesh most of the time disappear. Mind problems do not, as is evidenced by Dru, but physical shortcomings such as illnesses and addictions do not seem to on the show. You could argue that the addiction was purely psychological, but somehow it seemed very physical to me.

    I would say its mostly psychological on Kralik’s part. Drug dependency can be a powerful mental block for anyone and we have to assume that when he was human his drugs made him feel better. But we also know that vampires can be affected by common enough drugs… knock out darts and alcohol just being two. It’s certainly possible that even if he ‘woke up’ with no physical dependency, he quickly ‘relapsed’ into needing them due to his psychological dependency; especially if you go out on a limb and say that his symptoms (i.e. that bellowing in pain) was psychosomatically induced.

    Yes, this works fine for me. I was actually ready to mention that Dru’s mental state “survived” the siring (perhaps courting offence by suggesting that insanity = brain damage) whereas Darla is cured of her syphilitic condition. Harking back to my original statement, I used to get annoyed that poisons etc affected vampires (the heart doesn’t beat, so blood doesn’t flow…) but I’ve since compartmentalised it.

    I know I’m likely to get objects thrown at me if this was a real discussion, but I believe the Council’s test does have real merit. Granted some things could and should definitely change, such as the rule against the Slayer being informed of the test. The test is however an excellent lesson about Slayers.
    However the goals of the test, to prove that a Slayer is more than just muscle and to ensure that the Slayer is indeed capable of being independent, are still admirable. Indeed, Giles and even Buffy herself use similar tactics later in the series.
    It’s a little hypocritical to cry foul when the Council does this to Buffy here, but to play it off as something comical or even necessary when Buffy does it to a handful of girls four seasons later. But it is necessary because the goals are noble.

    I can see the merit too. I don’t necessarily approve, but I understand.

    Definitely one of my favorite episodes of the series. MikeJer, I didn’t think of Giles’s willingness to go along with the Council as evidence of his “do things for the greater good” outlook, but as evidence of his beholden-ness to the Council. Giles at this stage will still follow the rules, even if he disagrees with them, but in the course of this episode he learns that he CAN break the rules. He loses his job, but not his actual role in fighting the good fight, or his relationship with Buffy. This is an important growth episode for Giles, too, and in Season 3 he as well as Buffy “graduates” from the control of the Watcher’s Council.

    Exactamundo. That’s part of the reason why this episode works so well; within its run Giles goes from professional to personal, and the cost of his job only makes the philial love stronger. That this occurs in conjunction with Buffy’s feelings of disappointment in her biological father is a masterstroke.

    I kind of love that Buffy goes tearing around Sunnydale, on a quiet residential street, just *screaming* for help, and not one person comes out to help her or opens their door. Of course they don’t come out: they probably hear that kind of thing all the time, and know enough not to come out and try to help. I like these little suggestions that people in Sunnydale know that there’s “something” off about that town. It’s interesting to see Buffy experiencing ‘the Sunnydale life’ from the POV of all the other screaming, helpless girls we’ve seen killed over the years. (Also kind of a ironic twist on Joss’s original spark for the show: the helpless blonde girl in the alley who always gets killed.)

    Nothing to add but a nod.

    Has anyone noticed that whenever Buffy’s feeling particularly horrible/depressed/feeling a little sorry for herself she puts on those denim overalls? Lol! I like that little touch of character detail, very true for a lot of girls, I think, who dress their outsides to fit their feelings inside!

    Yep! Was it Mike himself who christened them the Overalls of Shame? 🙂

    Also, in the last scene Travers says that the Council is not in the business of fair. He says “we’re fighting a war”, and Giles correctly jumps in with “you’re waging a war, she’s fighting it, there is a difference”. This goes to show how disconnected the Council is from the reality of this war because they aren’t putting their own lives on the line each day (much like how a certain former president of ours skipped out on his own military duty yet as president jumped into a war based on false pretenses, not seeming to care at all for the people actually fighting it).

    The Council remind me greatly of those World War I generals with a stipple-dot view of the battlefield – everything seems fine from their sanctuary, and we know who eventually receives the medals.

    I’m thinking that just the poison was what had been traditional for centuries and that syringes were just a new way of delivering it more reliably than having her drink something.

    Yeah. I should imagine the blue crystal has been a staple part, allowing the watcher to introduce the compound however possible into the stunned slayer. I’d like to imagine that at one point in time the Christian element was played up (“Cruciamentum”) via a drugged wafer that dissolves on the tongue.

    So a great episode indeed ! Although I know the episode was about Giles and Buffy, I would have liked some conversation with the Scoobies. She could have acknowledged how hard it can be for her friends to fight without any powers.

    I think that Willow has a shot at it when she says “actually, it could really open up…” – as a solid friend she could no doubt drum up new possibilities for Buffy if she really was to lose her powers for good. I dare say Ms. Summers would find that cold comfort at that stage, but Willow would try.

    A biological compound can take away mystical powers? And she seems to forget her training and martial arts skills as well? Even without the raw power she’d be very skilled.

    The crystals dizzy her though, don’t they? We see her stunned in that first vamp fight in a manner similar to the time distortion in “Dead Things”, so skill or no skill, she’s still zoning out in the middle of a slay.

    A couple of points to cap off, as I like how the some of this episode is actually been kind of informed in “Revelations”. In that episode we witness Faith trying to take down Lagos and getting swatted away like a fly. Knocked down, she just gets back up and tries again, before settling into a realisation that he’s just too damn strong (she’s lucky it had more pressing matters to attend to, otherwise she’d be dead right now). When Buffy is attacked by Lagos, she quickly comes to the conclusion he’s too tough to take on in a straight battle, so she evades his blows until she can grab his own weapon and behead him. So if there were any doubts before, Buffy’s the sharper slayer thanks to exploiting the enemy’s weakness. Sadly the Council aren’t witness to this, but we of course are. Also, I love that halfway through the season, Buffy and Giles have kept secrets from one another – she didn’t tell him Angel was back, and he didn’t tell her about the test. Both parties are hurt, and Buffy takes it harder. But her reasons were personal, his were professional, and I feel its a sign of maturity that she begins to understand this.

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  57. [Note: Patrick Arace posted this comment on March 8, 2014.]

    I think the single scene that has made me cry hardest in the course of my trip through Buffy was Angel’s description here of how he knew Buffy before they met – when I heard it, the scenes from Becoming pt I flashed forward and I was a mess of tears. It’s almost cloyingly sweet here in just the context of Helpless, but with the prescience gained from Becoming, it’s pure emotional crescendo and I wish you would have paid it more recognition in the review. Maybe in the rewrite? 🙂

    Helpless deserves a P in my book – as does Lover’s Walk – but I wouldn’t have pegged Graduation Day pt II or The Wish with Ps…maybe Season 3’s consistency makes choosing its very best trickier than with other seasons. Others would say Doppelgangland or Earshot or Consequences…

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  58. [Note: T.G. posted this comment on March 12, 2014.]

    I know I’m going to sound incredibly stupid. But why does the council even do the test? I know it explains it somewhere but….

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  59. [Note: ericas623 posted this comment on May 3, 2014.]

    Regarding why Buffy did not seek out help with rescuing Joyce, I interpreted it as a reaction to the urgency of the situation. Considering how she reacted to the ridiculousness of the test, I really don’t think she would put her mother’s life on the line in attempt to prove herself. Because her mother’s life was in jeopardy, she wasn’t thinking rationally and didn’t want to risk losing time to find Angel given the dire circumstances.

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  60. [Note: Lydia posted this comment on May 26, 2014.]

    I absolutely loved this one too! It wasn’t that amazing for me the first time I watched it, but the impact did hit me the second time around. For once, the horror of it all is executed in a stellar manner. I can’t seem to remember the bad vampire’s name but he was so god damn disturbing! I was cringing when he seemed to be out-rightly getting off on the pain that the burning cross provided him.
    Buffy’s reaction was acute. A mix of pure horror and repulsion. Add to it his weird speech about how he has an issue with mothers and that kind of funny yet extremely frightening picture he took (and then the room filled with more pictures) made him feel almost Angelus like. Of course, Angelus is much worse, but he almost reminded me of Angelus on certain levels. Nonetheless, the creep level sky rocketed during this episode. This is something that does not happen often in the series, for that itself, it deserves higher grades in my book.

    What adds to the effect is SMG’s amazing acting and Buffy’s reactions to temporarily losing her powers. As others mentioned above, I quite enjoyed the role reversal where we see Buffy running through the dark alleyways screaming for help. And even if I was mad at Giles for doing what he did, I was kind of happy to see an episode where Buffy loses her in built slayer abilities. She uses her instincts instead of muscle power here, and that proves that she is a unique slayer after all. I loved her interaction with Willow, the (‘gross’) heart speech with Angel, and the end where poor Xander couldn’t get the jar open! Also, I think Anthony Head did a very convincing job as an agitated yet conflicted Giles, I even felt a sense of melancholy in the scene where he sticks an injection in her. Although, I do wonder how Buffy didn’t feel the irritation those injections cause on the skin. Wouldn’t that have been a give away?
    Anyway, that’s a nitpick.

    Giles and Buffy have a unique chemistry that adds to the charm of the show. All the raw emotion pouring out right before Cordy walks in is just pure awesome. I also love the nice touch when Buffy asks Cordy to drive her home after being saved by her earlier in the episode xD. I would add to the pros the Overalls of Shame as someone mentioned earlier. I feel so bad about how Buffy’s birthdays, her sad acceptance about “monsters crashing” and “people dying” on these days specifically is so true and will continue to be true. Its horrible really, nobody deserves that, not on their birthday. I already hate Buffy’s father, she looked so darn excited about their ice skating plan!

    I do wonder where Faith and Angel were at the time when Buffy went on the prowl to look for her captured mother, but it proves to us that she really has matured and that her first instinct isn’t to go running to Angel anymore. It’s subtle, but quintessential character development right here. I’m going to assume she was running on pure urgency and instinct, all she knew was that her mom was in danger and that she had to save her. Rational thought doesn’t strike us at such key moments in our lives. The adrenaline rush she has that leads her to go and face that monster even without her slayer abilities is proof enough.

    Also, someone was wondering why Faith didn’t have to do the test and why everyone keeps waving her off as a Slayer. Well, I believe this is because Faith IS younger than Buffy in actuality. I’m not sure where this is mentioned, but it is pointed out somewhere down the line. I’m not aware of the age gap, it can’t be more than a year or two (perhaps even a few months gap) but it is clearly why Faith is not required to take part in this test yet. She’s not eighteen yet. Also, her Watcher’s dead and I believe the Watcher’s council already think of her as a Slayer gone wrong so they don’t bother, especially because they have someone they think they can count on for the time being, that someone being Buffy. Faith’s the Rogue Slayer who’s already made her dislike for the Council very prominent. I think she raised her hands and said she wanted no affiliation with the watcher’s Council a long time ago, they complied because they don’t find her to be morally suitable for the cause and they just sort of ‘let her be’. However, I think that they knew that they already had Faith so if Buffy were to die during this test, they would’ve probably just requited her and then sent her on the same mission on her eighteenth birthday if she were to make it. As The Council themselves aren’t exactly known for anything but their consistency and steely resolve.

    Anyway, this is another chef-d’œuvre from the antique of almost perfect episodes that is Season 3 of BtVs! It is definitely A+ worthy, if not a P.

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  61. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on May 26, 2014.]

    This is a good episode. However, I would have liked to have seen more character build-up to Giles’ decision to do what he did to Buffy. I don’t recall him showing much conflict (if at all) between his loyalty to Buffy and his loyalty to the council. I’m in no way saying this was out of character for Giles. I just would have liked to have seen more build-up to his actions in this episode on screen that way it would not have seemed so out-of-the-blue.

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  62. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on July 5, 2014.]

    Where does Kralik get the film to make so many Polaroids? And the time to take them and to tape them to the wall?

    How does he manage to put the picture of Joyce inside Buffy’s house for her to see it? It seems as if it is placed beyond the vampire force field.

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  63. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on July 5, 2014.]

    Another point of the way the test is done may be to damage the relationship between the Slayer and her Watcher. The Watchers Council tends to look down, way down, on the Watchers who are actually in the field. Many Slayers, of course, do not reach their 18th birthday at all, but if one does she may have a greater bond with her Watcher. By making him poison her, the trust is broken and the power that a successful field Watcher would have – which would elevate him above those hiding in the Watchers Council – is diminished.

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  64. [Note: Val posted this comment on November 1, 2014.]

    I didn’t read all the comments, so forgive me if this has already been mentioned. But I love the Little Red Riding Hood references throughout. Buffy wears a red coat during her vulnerable walk home. Kalik later uses the coat to trick Joyce (like the wolf dressing up as Grandma). He repeatedly refers to the story (I love when he cautions Buffy to “stay on the path”…so creepy). And then even the way he dies hearkens back to the wolf’s gut being opened up.

    This plus Gingerbread make for two fairy tale references this season.

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  65. [Note: KotBegemot posted this comment on May 6, 2015.]

    Well, I remember that I really liked this episode when I watched it for the 1st, 2nd and maybe even 3rd time. Of course that ridiculous test bothered me but everything else was so good – those Giles/Buffy moments and amazingly creepy Kralik – that I just didn’t mind and enjoyed the show.
    But now, this stupid, ludicrous, absolutely worthless test really bugged me. I mean really, REALLY bugged me. And everything else was still excellent but this time I just couldn’t ignore all the dumbness and pointlessness of this test. It so pissed me off my teeth were grinding. Arrrgh!!!
    And Giles. GILES! WTF?! Buffy was desperately throwing hints that he could go to the Ice show with her, that she sees him as a father – and what did he do?! He didn’t even listen to her, hypnotizing her with his stupid crystals. Of course I understand that it was hard for him too and he didn’t mean to hurt Buffy but at that moment I really hate Giles. Purely hated.

    And you know what’s really frustrating? It’s how stupid and useless this Watcher’s Council looks. I mean how poorly it was represented. Like bunch of idiots. I know that they are jerks and all, but they aren’t supposed to be insanely dumb.

    And when something really bugs you throughout episode you can’t help but starting to notice all those little plot holes and conventions like how Buffy could forget all martial arts and become even weaker than Cordelia for example. And it makes this test even more insane and useless. It’s a War all right. But you don’t throw your own soldiers before the battle to the pit with lions just to make them stronger. All of them just will be killed. Maybe 2-3 will survive but what’s the point? And in our situation there’s only ONE soldier (ok, two, but it’s an exception) and they shouldn’t spread to thin slayers just like that, these girls have enough dangers in their lives. Ok, there always will be another one after the previous dies. But isn’t it more productive to have more experienced Slayer than every 2-3 year kill her and replace with green newbie? Don’t see any gain for Council from it. To take control? By killing? Well, it’s too stupidly evilly-evil for Joss.

    Well, in a nutshell, it’s very good, i see it with my brain, but my heart really hates it.

    P.S. English isn’t my native language so don’t judge too harshly.

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  66. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on May 6, 2015.]

    What Scott said.

    Switching off your analytical engine is a pain once it’s revved up and ready to ride.

    But BtVS has always had wonky, incoherent, and silly plots. Since it’s not a priority of the series, I generally let them pass.

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  67. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on May 6, 2015.]

    As you mentioned that there are two slayers now it really begs the question why Faith was totally ignored in this episode. You’d think the council would maybe want to check up on this whole two Slayers thing, and since they already messed up with Kendra you’d think they’d at least check the second time this happened. After all if the Council are as big controlling dicks as we’re begin lead to believe you’d think that having two Slayers now would cause a serious dent in their control. Granted Wesley shows up a few episodes later but considering the events of Revelations and the fact that Watcher dude played by Ghostbusters II judge is already here they wouldn’t at least say hi. And even taking the Council out of the situation you’d think Faith would be helpful in this time of Buffy be compromised. Maybe pick up the slack. Surely her presence in this episode would have made more sense then in Homecoming at least. Priorities.

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  68. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on May 6, 2015.]

    Unrelated, but since you bring Quentin Travers up, I saw Harris Yulin in a production of Hamlet recently! A very bad production of Hamlet, but he was actually pretty good. A very convincing Claudius, imo.

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  69. [Note: Toraya posted this comment on October 2, 2015.]

    I love this episode. I don’t think anyone has mentioned what for me is the most chilling and horror-filled moment: a no-longer-superhero Buffy walking home in the night, getting crude comments from a group of males and being truly frightened. It chilled me because (unlike the monster stuff) it’s a reflection of real life for real-world females. We are surrounded by males on the street who DO talk like that, who ARE in general stronger than us, who DO pose a huge threat, who DO rape and sometimes kill us. That moment of “helpless Buffy” was a perfect reminder of how the world acts upon the 3.5 billion of us who are female but don’t have superpowers. It wasn’t the pleasantly chilling fantasy-horror of monsters under the bed, but the true fear that I (and I assume many other girls and women) have faced often.

    Kudos to Joss and SMG for a brilliantly crafted episode that carries weighty character development and nods toward the violence that non-buffy women face just walking down the street, and does it in a gripping and suspenseful way that nearly stopped my heart. Easily in my top ten of the whole series.

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  70. [Note: Krssven posted this comment on November 18, 2015.]

    Just rewatched this episode and I truly like it. I don’t have a problem with the test, because the reasons behind it are actually blatantly unconnected to what they’re doing. It’s all about control – the Council know the Slayer is actually the one with ‘the power’ and need tradition, form and adherence to order so that the people with the power never realise they have it. The Cruciamentum is a handy little ‘rite of passage’ that lets the council find a way for weaker (or less obedient) Slayers to die without actually murdering them. This is a different approach than the rogue Slayer issue that arises when Faith is incompetently arrested by Wesley later in the season. Faith essentially only turned rogue after this point. The test also ensures that any Slayer who has simply been lucky enough to survive, or hasn’t run into many challenges, is given a true test of her abilities. If she lives, then clearly she wasn’t living on luck alone. If she dies…another Slayer will be along soon.

    Anyone who particularly enjoys this episode, or wants to check out other Cruciamentum stories, should take a look at Tales of the Slayer. There are four volumes which all tell Slayer-centric short stories, with Volume IV all being Cruciamentum tales. I won’t spoilerise as they’re too good, but they are:

    The Rule of Silence: a marrano Slayer in 1481 Spain, whose ancestry makes her considered a heretic, is prepared for her test.

    Alone: an Irish slayer in Ulster in 1876 has to deal with anti-English and anti-Irish prejudices without realising she is approaching Cruciamentum, but doesn’t help matters when she pretends to be married to her Watcher.

    Sideshow Slayer: a Slayer in 1911 Minnesota is part of a travelling carnival, which the Council intend to use in her Cruciamentum.

    Survivors: in 1919 Chicago a Slayers’ Watcher has a severe mental illness but she must still face the Cruciamentum on schedule.

    Undeadsville: a Watcher in 1952 New York feels so disconnected from his beatnik Slayer he intends to ensure she doesn’t survive her test.

    Back to the Garden: in 1969 a Slayer that received her power relatively late joins a commune in Nova Scotia. Her Cruciamentum is also a test to see whether she is ‘worthy’ of being a Slayer at all.

    It’s all about the Mission: Nikki Wood (1970s Slayer that Spike killed) is turning 18 and her Cruciamentum approaches, but her Watcher (Bernard Crowley) knows that it is a bad idea, because she is pregnant.

    Two Teenage Girls at the Mall: set in 1981, this story is told from the POV of a fledgling vampire called Julie, whose sire has locked her in the same mall as a Slayer undergoing her Cruciamentum.

    I’d recommend all of these volumes as they all tell stories regarding Slayers. Crucially, you have no way of knowing within each story whether this adventure is just a Tuesday (ie business as usual) or is the situation where this Slayer in particular finally dies. Not knowing that really ties in to the Slayer mythos, especially in certain stories. Again, no spoilers but the tale involving India Cohen (Buffy’s immediate predecessor) from volume III is a particular highlight, as its an insight into the life of the person we know had to die in order for the series to actually happen.

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  71. [Note: HunterD posted this comment on November 23, 2015.]

    I’m re-watching the series for the first time since watching it on cable and just finished the Helpless episode tonight. I was absolutely struck by its commentary on what it is to be a young girl becoming a woman – the dangers of men and the importance of the father figure in guarding against said men. I watched it in awe, mostly at its message – its incredibly modern, feminist message and wondered how it came across to other viewers. Most probably see the fun, flirty sexual tension with Angel and the sexual frustration joked at with the crystal rubbing. But what about the growing fear and insecurity in Buffy as she learns she is “helpless” on her 18th birthday. How the men catcall her on the street – should she be afraid of them? How the vampire pins her down and turns the stake on her – what does that represent? Even Giles piercing her skin with the needle is a symbolic penetration against her own will. This whole episode looks at the sexuality of a young woman and the threat of men – the danger of rape and the danger of the patronization and systemic control of a patriarchy. The symbolism blows me away. The emotion this episode portrays of the fear, fight, and anxiety of what it is to become a woman is spot on, tragically, beautifully spot on. Hi there – you’re 18 now, that means you’re fair game, girly. Also, here’s this whole background world of systemic sexism you need to confront. Welcome to womanhood. Let’s hope you pass the test.

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