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Monday, December 12, 2011

Some Assembly Required

[Updated April 29, 2013]

Some Assembly Required is, I get the impression, viewed by most fans as a light, funny, but not very good or important episode. I half agree with this – it’s light and funny, but, per usual, I think it’s also telling us something important.

There’s a strong couples theme to the episode, so let’s start with that. Giles wants to date Jenny; Jenny subtly asks Giles out; Angel approaches Buffy, but is insecure enough to worry about Xander; Cordy hits on Angel, yet again; Xander’s still jonesin’ for Buffy and likewise Willow for him. That all sounds pretty normal and natural.
The dialogue tells us that at least some of this attempted coupling is the result of not wanting to be left out. Fittingly enough, Xander, Buffy’s metaphorical heart, explains it at the end:
“Xander:  Well, I guess that makes it official. Everybody's paired off. Vampires get dates. Hell, even the school librarian sees more action than me. You ever think that the world is a giant game of musical chairs, and the music's stopped and we're the only ones who don't have a chair?
Willow:  All the time.” 

There can be good reasons for being left out – I left out the passage where Cordelia tries to thank Xander and he blows her off – but nobody wants to be left out even if they’re at fault.
Ok, so what does this have to do with Chris, our Doctor Frankenstein, or his monster, Daryl? Well, Daryl wants to be part of a couple too. His desperate desire to find a mate is what drives the plot of the episode. By the design of the show, we should see Daryl as telling us in metaphor about the challenge Buffy faces. Daryl is a metaphor for the human drive to find a mate.

The way I see it, Chris and Daryl are, in metaphor, one person. Chris is the ego and Daryl the id. Consider this dialogue in that light:
“Chris:  Maybe you could... you could go out...
Daryl:  No!
Chris:  Let people know.
Daryl:  They can't see me. Chris, you've always been smarter than me. You were always the brains. You're the only one who can help me now.” 

Chris is the smart one, the ego – what could possibly be more egotistical than believing it’s ok to raise the dead? Daryl is hidden away in the basement (duh!), deformed and unseen. Daryl’s power was in his physical expression, not his mind. Chris, being all ego, needed and wanted Daryl, just as we all need our own id: “He always looked out for me. Stood up for me.” And the id is what’s telling the ego that it doesn’t want to be alone: “He's all alone. Everybody loved him. And now he's all alone.”
The Freudian analysis has a third component as well, a superego, which “comprises that organized part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticizes and prohibits his or her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. ‘The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt.’”
Chris and Daryl have gotten this far out of control because there’s no superego keeping watch on them. That role should be played by their mother, but she’s absent because she has given herself over to the id. She’s spending all day watching reruns of Daryl’s football career.
If mother/Chris/Daryl are the metaphorical superego, ego and id of a single person, then we should, as always, understand that metaphor as being about Buffy in some way. Daryl’s “love” for Cordelia was twisted and wrong. In order to get the object of its desire – a desire caused by the fear of being alone – the id would actually kill the object of its “affection” and unleash yet another monster on the world. In this case, the message is pretty clear: don’t let the id take control of the situation.
This is the theme of the season. That’s right – an episode often described as a “standalone” episode is actually laying out the season theme for the viewer in metaphor. Part of the show’s brilliance is this subtle prefiguring, which lays the groundwork for the events to come. It’s actually doing more, too. There are plotlines set up which will come to fruition later, but I won’t mention those in order to avoid spoilers.
Trivia notes: (1) SAR seems loosely based on the movie Bride of Frankenstein (1935). (2) Cyrano de Bergerac was famous for his ability to charm women with his words, which he used for the benefit of a friend in Edmund Rostand’s eponymous play. The reference is perfect because Buffy is telling Giles what to say in order to ask Jenny out.


  1. WOW!

    You know, I've watched these episodes countless times, and it's still just amazing to me the things you can still find after so many viewings.

  2. One thing I realized on going through the later seasons was that there weren't any standalone episodes. Once I started thinking about how each episode might fit into the season theme, I convinced myself that there was a logical purpose to each one even in the early seasons. That gave me a whole new perspective on the series.

    Then again, there's always IRYJ.... :)

  3. i have to agree with aeryl, in that i've watched these 10+ times, and it's amazing how you've found the thread that links it all to the season arc - (though, you're also right that iryj will never fit in anywhere! :) school hard is one of my fav's (pops in and out of my top ten - which is way too crowded!) can't wait to hear your take on it.

  4. Me too, I love "School Hard"! Not just b/c it has the best character introductions(which it does) and has the best Snyder weasel scenes(it does) and the best snarky Cordelia(it does), but because it has the best Cordelia zinger of every episode.

  5. School Hard is one of my favorites too. I've written the post already. You'll which find it too cryptic, but I'll lay things out in more detail in a comment (which will be VERY spoilery).