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Monday, March 26, 2012

The Zeppo

[Updated April 30, 2013]

The Zeppo is probably the most obvious of the POV episodes I listed in my post on The Wish. If you weren’t persuaded that The Wish is best seen as Cordelia’s view of the world, then watch it again now that you’ve seen The Zeppo. Or maybe the Buffy/Angel relationship really is as overwrought, nay melodramatic, as it appears to Xander here. And maybe the apocalypse is pretty much a parody.
No, it seems clear to me that in this episode we’re seeing the world through Xander’s eyes. Sometimes we’re even seeing what he fantasizes: that he’s the real hero in the SG notwithstanding his role as Everyman. In an interview for Entertainment Weekly (August 21, 2013), Joss described the episode as “a very deliberate deconstruction of a Buffy episode in order to star the person who mattered the least.”

I want to be sure that I’m not misunderstood on this. I’m NOT saying the actual events of The Zeppo didn’t happen. There really was an apocalypse to defeat; Xander really did have sex with Faith; Xander really did confront Jack in the school basement.  So those events happened, it’s just that the way we see them has been filtered through the lens of Xander’s beliefs, attitudes, insecurities, and desires. That’s why Buffy and Angel seem melodramatic in the mansion – Xander sees them that way. That’s why Willow assures him she loves him and hugs him. And Faith probably is much as Xander sees her, but it’s still true that we’re seeing Faith through Xander’s eyes.
Point of view is a tricky thing. We want our own view of the world to be objective. Think about it, though, from the assumption that there is no God, no higher power. In that case, there’s no such thing as an “objective” view. There are only the views of each individual, interpreted in their own minds. The events are generally real; we all agree that 9/11 happened, we just see the events in slightly different ways and we draw conclusions about the consequences based on our own beliefs, etc.
As I said in the post on Revelations, this has important consequences for the show generally. We see the show through Buffy’s eyes, mostly, but we can always ask ourselves if others might see events or even her in a very different way. This will become a major issue for many fans in S6 and S7.
Xander’s had a long hard fall from his peak in Revelations. Back then he was feeling on top of things, fully justified in his hatred of Angel and self-righteous about Buffy. Then he very seriously overstepped all moral bounds by siccing Faith on Angel, and just one episode later got caught cheating on Cordy. He’s had a very hard time finding his place again. It’s not just that we see this in his desperate search for something that will make him cool, it’s that he gets rejected by pretty much everyone. Buffy wants him “fray adjacent”; Giles and Angel dismiss him; Faith uses him and kicks him out.
He ends up playing Clint Eastwood.
You will be shocked, shocked to learn that I think there’s an existentialist point to this. Xander’s search for what might make him “cool” ended up being a search for what was authentically him. He tried on other roles: car guy; criminal; sexual partner. None worked, but at the end he found something that he truly could do, namely save the lives of others through his courage (heart, you know). That’s how he can create his authentic self. There is a structural reason why we’re seeing this theme at this point in the season, just as there was a structural reason why Bad Eggs appeared when it did.
There’s probably a joke here as well. Remember that the creation of one’s authentic self comes only after one recognizes the world as absurd. That word had a technical meaning for Camus, of course, but it has a colloquial one too. Xander’s view of the world which we see here probably qualifies as “absurd” in the colloquial sense, so Joss may have been having some fun on this point.
Trivia notes: (1) The Zeppo of the title is Zeppo Marx. (2) The Michael Jackson song Xander mentioned to Jack is “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. (3) Xander’s car was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. (4) Up With People is an international education organization known for its musical performances.


  1. Riffing on your observation re: absurdism, I can also see Xander as both Estragon and Vladimir waiting for an elusive Godot to give his life direction. But perhaps The Replacement episode gives me the benefit of hindsight.

    1. Heh. Given The Replacement, perhaps we can say he's both.

  2. Seeing the world from Xander's POV is hilarious. It allowed the show the chance to make fun of itself, which was especially funny in Xander's viewing of the Buffy/Angel scene.

    Interesting tidbit: In this episode, there was a full moon, so Oz locked himself up. This episode came right after "Helpless," while last year, "Phases" directly followed "Innocence." The show is pretty good at keeping its lunar cycles consistent.

    In my comments before, I've mentioned what I perceive to be Xander's struggle with his masculine identity. It's interesting to see the gender perception in his world. I think there's phallic imagery in the knife in the scene with him and Jack. Also, at the end up the episode, the heroic deeds of Giles and Angel are highlighted, but Xander doesn't feel it important to share his. I think here, he seems to have resolved some of those gender identity issues.

    I think what I just stated is pretty obvious to viewers and thus not worth mentioning, but it is cool to see the way that is tied to his self-authetication, as you put it, in the overall themes of the season. Finding that in himself, and not in traditional gendered things like sex with Faith demonstrates some maturity on his part as well.

  3. All well and good, but I feel compelled to mention the most notable aspect of the season thus far, namely- what the hell is going on with Buffy's hair??!!

    I know at this point in her career, SMG was feeling her newfound fame at being the young star of a successful television series, but her shapeshifting glamourpuss antics in the hair (and makeup) realms are threatening to break the reality of the show in a way that vampires and, don't.

    1. You're still a ways off, but an upcoming episode will make fun of that.