3×05: Fredless

[Review by Ryan Bovay]

[Writer: Mere Smith | Director: Marita Grabiak | Aired: 10/22/2001]

“Fredless” is the first episode to focus on the Fang Gang’s newest member, Winifred “Fred” Burkle, and it’s a perfect episode for her. I don’t say this to mean that the episode is perfect – far from it – but it’s definitely fitting for her character as she is now: jittery, uneven, random and not as deep as you might think. Fred, as a character, is fun, adorable, entertaining and has a good set up to start off her progression, but like Gunn, doesn’t become overtly interesting until S4. But that’s a long way off. So where do we go from here? As a Fred-centric episode, this installment takes on the task of dealing with Fred’s Pylea issues.

It’s the first and most critical step that she needs to make now that she’s back in ‘our’ dimension (you know, the crazy one with death and demons, not the other one with those things), and it’s a good starting point for her character to launch it to. But was it earned? One of my problems with the episode is that her freedom from her ‘demons’ feels a little too easily won. Like much of S3, the episode goes for the heavy emotional hit but sacrifices any penetrating depth or abundance of substance. Fred’s breakdown and heartfelt confession is moving, but much of what happens around it is largely uninteresting.

The side-plot with the Durslar demon and the insect – whatever-they-were’s – was certainly a good enough plot in terms of servicing the main plot of the episode and helping the characters arrive at their final destination. This much is true. But it lacks intrinsic value, which is uncharacteristic of a show of this caliber, and has too little a payoff for way too much screen time. Likewise, the main plot engages in misdirection about Fred’s parents far past the point of interest in the subject. We know very quickly that either there’s something very wrong with them, or nothing at all (because of the way the episode is forcing the scary WRONG! angle).

By the time we get to the big reveal it’s not all that big or all that potent, but we’ve spent a good chunk of the episode on it anyway. This is the problem at the heart of the episode: It’s three quarters of an episode of uninteresting misdirection followed by one very good last quarter (and a bit) which would’ve assuredly garnered a much higher score if what preceded it had been worthwhile. What redeems it is a fairly good payoff in the last stretch of the episode, some genuinely funny, human moments and Fred’s development which is good – or at least good enough. Although the best scene is definitely the first, in which Cordelia and Wesley give Fred a history lesson on Buffy.

The issue we look at in regards to Fred is, as mentioned, the Pylea issues in her life. To move on these must be addressed, and that the writers do so as boldly as they do is to their credit. Plain and simple, the truth of the matter is that for all her cuteness and resilience, Fred was trapped in hell for five years; enslaved, hunted, imprisoned, possibly tortured and left alone to rot in a strange world. For the inherently human social psyche this would be damaging beyond measure. That she survived as long as she did, even in the state she ended up in, is a testament to her inner strength.

But the lasting curse of Pylea turned out to be, in a nice throwback to the theme of “Through the Looking Glass” [2×21], her perception of that world. Because of the creatures of that place – the demons, the arcane rituals – her psyche was able to survive (mostly) intact by viewing it as a fantasy; a terrible dream full of monsters, and dangerous, but fantastical and unreal creatures. Up to this point in L.A. she’s been living another kind of fantasy by simply believing in the previous fantasy so as to cope, slowly facing the harsh, real world which sometimes seems scarier than the demon one. Bringing her parents into the mix destroys the very foundations upon which she’s constructed these fantasies.

Even though the mislead is stretched out far too long, the reveal of her parents being perfectly normal and nothing to be afraid of was definitely the best idea. As she so jarringly puts it, their re-introduction into her life makes the fantastical real; if they are in fact here and know that she was gone and are aware of what’s changed and how long and et cetera and so on, it means that Pylea can’t simply be forgotten as a fantasy. And as hard she’s tried to live with Angel Investigations and Angel, her white knight, who too lives a fantastical life, she can no longer deny what she’d like to. This leads to her ultimate decision to stay.

Working with Angel Investigations, because of her value to and friendship with the team, and because of the reality of their day-to-day fight against evil, is indeed the best place for her to recover. For all its own unreal properties, the personal struggles of the Fang Gang have a very sharp edge of real humanity to them; being with them and useful to them is, in its own way, the best therapy for a little recovering Fred. And what a Fred she is this episode; Amy Acker does some fine acting in her heartbreaking confessions and moments of critical choice. That little moment when she symbolically painted over the drawing of her and Angel was earned entirely by her graces.

I also enjoyed the performances of the actors portraying her parents. They nail the down-home country feel and have excellent chemistry with the main cast. The scenes of interaction following the story climax between them and the series’ characters are heartwarming and funny. They conquer fantasy even quicker than their daughter does and gain a parental affection for the entire gang almost instantly; Wes and Gunn arguing like brothers and Fred’s dad talking like he would with an elder son with Angel are wonderful little moments. And in regards to Angel, it was nice to see the continuation of his development from “Heartthrob” [3×01], too. He’s moved on past Buffy and the larger-than-life, tragic tribulations of his past; his own fantasies of old.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Fred being ranty and jittery again. I’d never get tired of her.
+ The Burkles’ aesthetic contempt of Lorne, and his complete indifference to the whole situation.
+ The reference to “Alien: Resurrection,” which Joss Whedon wrote.
+ The cockroach bug demon things. Probably some of the poorest action scenes this series has seen.


[Score]

75/100

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17 thoughts on “3×05: Fredless”

  1. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 15, 2007.]

    I just wanted to say that I think you should have mentioned how Fred’s parents represent some of the only loving, functional parents in the entire Buffyverse. I haven’t really thought about this extensively, but I have to wonder why her parents are displayed in such a positive light while everyone else gets the shaft. Something to think about, anyway. 😉

    Otherwise, pretty good review. I, more or less, agree with you.

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  2. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on March 5, 2008.]

    Good review, Ryan. I especially liked the last scene where she is painting her room to start all over again. She´s leaving bits of her past behind to start anew.

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  3. [Note: Sanjuro posted this comment on December 4, 2008.]

    I think this episode would have been one of my favorite of the season if it hadn’t been for those goddamn cockroaches. I mean, I understand the budget issues, and the narrow timeframes of TV shooting, but Jesus H. Christmas. It looked like an arty porn film. But you know what, any Fred-centric episode is alright by me. Even The Magic Bullet makes me momentarily forget the dreadfulness of the Jasmine arc because it’s all about her.

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  4. [Note: Sanjuro posted this comment on December 4, 2008.]

    Oh, and I agree with Mike that the parents are even more interesting because they’re the most normal parents in the Buffyverse. I like how all the characters talk about it before she comes back. After all, Angel’s dad showed his love and concern through scorn, Wes’ dad is possibly the same but we never really know if he loves him, and Cordy’s dad is the reason she wound up with nothing and never got to go to college. And I don’t know if Gunn’s parents were ever brought up, but since he pretty much raised his sister I assume they were either killed, jailed, or simply neglected. It’s nice to see some parents who are certainly protective, but kind and normal about it.

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  5. [Note: Blue Light J posted this comment on August 5, 2009.]

    Once again, I liked the little moments with the classic Fang Gang being put together; in this episode you see Cordy really start to like Fred (“Do you really think she’ll visit?”). You see Gunn starting to notice her more. And I truly believe that when Fred comes back and splits the head and saves the day with her deductive reasoning, THAT is the moment that Wesley is smitten. You can see him light up, and then unilaterally vote her back into the group.

    One thing that gets me is that I always wish we had more time to explore the full-group dynamic of Angel. The “classic gang” starts in this episode, where Fred becomes a full-fledged member of the team. It only lasts until the end of the season, with the character of Cordelia essentially leaving the show after “Tomorrow.” With two exceptions (“Spin the Bottle” and “You’re Welcome”), we never really see them all together again. And because Wesley soon falls out and so much of Season 3 deals with fallout from the Tro-Clon, it feels our glimpse of these folks as a true “family” is cut short. Maybe that’s part of what makes “Waiting in the Wings” feel so touching, seeing them all together enjoying one another’s company.

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  6. [Note: Nathan.Taurus posted this comment on January 31, 2010.]

    Fred is again cute and adorable in this episode – like she could be any different.

    Her parents are so nice and loving (the miss-direction did go on too long) and come to the same conclusion as Cordelia that Freds device makes toast.

    Freds parents looking at Lorne as if he’s homosexual and saying people like that don’t last long down south, and his comment to Angel about him being okay even if he drinks those fruity beers.

    I loved Fred and Angel in her room saying goodbye and especially loved her remark about her cool axe gadget and her parents shocked look at her. Unfortunatley the next few eps are not as good and no, I didn’t much mind the cockroach demons. I was waiting for Gunn to step on one and say, “I’m sorry, was that your aunty.” (Men In Black)

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  7. [Note: Lunatic on a pogostick posted this comment on July 20, 2010.]

    I enjoyed the episode for the scene near the end when the gang all talk about how freds parents were well “parents” because untill then i hadnt considered the fact that all the other members of the gang have issues with there parents.I just thought it was a nice piece of insight into all the characters.

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  8. [Note: Z75 posted this comment on February 3, 2011.]

    A bit of foreshadowing occurs after they kill the roach and come back to the hotel. While Fred is being patched up, she touches the crystals on the beheaded demon. Of course this is what she does with similar crystals on the sarcophagus in season 5…

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  9. [Note: Keaton posted this comment on October 1, 2011.]

    2 funny, Buffy-like and not dramatically overblown episodes in a row!

    Wow, didn’t expect that.

    I still doubt that the series won’t fall back in its old habit to portray the completely uninteresting inner turmoils of Angel, Darla, Lilah, Gunn and all those other characters that you can’t identify with but I’m still grateful and hope to see more episodes like this one.

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  10. [Note: FlyingPenguin posted this comment on April 11, 2015.]

    B-, huh? I’m quite surprised by Ryan’s score for this episode. It both breaks and warms my heart every time I watch it, and I find it to be easily, hands-down, the best of the season up to this point. Also, I totally disagree with the sentiment that Fred “doesn’t become overtly interesting until S4.” I found these early phases of her dealing with the trauma of her five years in Pylea, all jittery and half-crazy but with those sporadic, fascinating glimpses of submerged brilliance, to be possibly the most interesting part of her story on the show. Seeing what she became in Pylea, extrapolating to imagine who she was before, and watching her struggle her way back to herself in little bursts, in between stretches of hiding in her fairy-tale mindset…

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  11. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on April 11, 2015.]

    I can’t believe I’m now just noticing that a “75” is a B- here. Anything lower then an 80 academically where I live is a C+ or lower, in this case a C. It might account for most of the differences in opinion in one of the forum topics on a score I gave vs. his. Our “grade” may have actually been closer then our scores suggest. Huh…learn something new every day.

    Anyway, I like that Fred got some development (albeit it was slowly creeping up to this prior to it, so she’s had parts throughout which is great). I just feel the episode wasn’t handled as well as it could have been. I can’t point to any one area or reason for it, but it just felt disjointed and a bit too contrived on the part of Fred’s reasoning for dodging her parents. The misdirection doesn’t help it either, especially since it was obvious it had nothing to do with what was being implied. It just tries to make the viewer out to be “less then intelligent” as if we’d believe there was something actually wrong with her parents, mostly because it’s hinted at too early in the episode to be anything but the opposite of what they want you to think.

    To expand on my reasoning about Fred’s, seeing your parents in this world makes it so that having been in that one was real? It’s not that I don’t entirely understand it but, it’s still a bit odd and hard to swallow. Then in a matter of 30 seconds she’s perfectly fine again. If that happened on BtVS everyone would be livid, and they should be. So naturally, it makes me livid she gets over something so supposedly traumatic just by letting out a cry and some emotion.

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  12. [Note: Pathbeyondthedark posted this comment on April 11, 2015.]

    Also, how incredibly dumb Gunn is in this episode is unforgivable.

    Angel: “You know that’s not really a prop?” *Gunn looks legitimately freaked out*

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  13. [Note: Pandorita posted this comment on April 10, 2016.]

    LOVED this episode! Cordy and Wesley’s impersonating Buffy and Angel are simply one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen so far in this show. And so damn true! That’s exactly how Bangel has always felt for me 😄

    This episode, if not mind-blowing as others with better score, is so full with little gems like that, that I can’t help but love it completely. It is very entertaining and enjoyable; I really feel there has to be more of these classic gang moments. Despite other great things this show has to offer, as plot, atmosphere, themes, etc; I honestly believe (just as I do with Buffy) that the real charm of Whedon’s shows are their characters, and their interactions with each others.

    Let me tell you I’ve watched Buffy completely before getting too much into Angel, because Angel himself as a character didn’t interest me much; and only did it because I was hungry for more Whedonverse, and I knew Spike would join the cast in the fifth season. But really, I’m sold now. I’ve come to love these characters just as much as I love the Scoobies, their dynamics, their growth… in BTVS I hated Wesley, kinda liked Cordelia, and didn’t care much for Angel. But now, I just love them, all of them. I’ve cried for Doyle, loved to hate Lindsey, throughly enjoyed Holland, and I’m starting to care a lot for Gunn and the newest acquisition to the gang, Fred. If only there was less Darla… I just can’t stand her, she bores me to death. And I hate what Angel becomes when she’s around. God, love really does turn him into a mopey mess. And I really hate mopey vampires, had enough of them with Louis while reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles!

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  14. Nice new digs. Actually, this is change, and I try to avoid change, so I’m going to go hide like Fred in my room and write all over the walls.
    Aw, Fred. I was so sad at her leaving and so glad she came back. That was a really nice scene when the gang was sitting around talking about her. Nice to see them together having a moment together.

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