Recap / Buffy the Vampire Slayer S3E12 "Helpless"

Travers: ""Not quite. She passed. You didn't. The Slayer is not the only one who must perform in this situation. I've recommended to the Council, and they've agreed, that you be relieved of your duties as Watcher immediately. You're fired."
Giles: "On what grounds?"
Travers: "Your affection for your charge makes you incapable of clear and inpartial judgement. You have a father's love for the child and that makes you useless to the cause."

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/btvs_s3_ep12_helpless.png

Buffy and Angel go a few rounds of fighting until Buffy pins him and holds a bread-stick to his heart. It quickly becomes awkward, as Angel's words inadvertently remind them of their sexless relationship, as well as the unresolved sexual tension between them. The situation itself becomes even more awkward when Angel, feeling slightly anxious, asks Buffy what she would be doing on her birthday and if she had a date. Buffy points out that she does have a date, describing him as "very handsome, older man who likes it when [she] calls him Daddy. Slightly amused at first, Angel realizes it's with her father, but then checks to make sure if she was really talking about him, seeming a bit tense and jealous. Clearly amused at Angel's puzzled look, Buffy nods and reveals that she plans to go to an ice show with her father on her 18th birthday. This makes Angel feel better.

That night in the library, Rupert Giles quizzes her on crystals, demanding that she focus her attention on them. Later, while on patrol, a vampire nearly kills her with her own stake as her powers unexpectedly fail her.

Back at the library, Buffy tries throwing knives at a target, but misses terribly. When Giles walks in, she asks if he knows what might be happening to her. Meanwhile, Quentin Travers, the head Watcher, is setting up a "test" for the Slayer, assisted by two men named Hobson and Blair. She is to be locked up in a building, without any powers and defeat a powerful and insane vampire—Zachary Kralik. Giles meets with the head Watcher, and expresses his ambivalence about this test - it is supposed to strengthen Buffy, but also seems cruel to him. At home, Buffy is disappointed to find that her father canceled their date at the ice show, because he chose work over his daughter. Later at the library she tries hinting to Giles that he could take her to the ice show, however he fails to catch on and has Buffy stare into another crystal to "find the tiny flaw at the center." When she falls into a trance, he injects her with a syringe before bringing her out of the trance, after which he agrees to send her home.

In the school yard, Buffy tries to rescue Cordelia Chase from an aggressive suitor, but he knocks her down leaving Cordy to fight the guy off herself. At this point, Buffy really begins to worry, and enlists the help of her friends to figure out what's wrong, however their research goes nowhere. Buffy visits Angel and he gives her a book for her birthday. She tries to sound enthusiastic about it, but losing her powers has really begun to bother her. He tells her about how he saw her before she was the Slayer and how he loved her from the second he first saw her.

At the Sunnydale Arms, where Kralik is being held, the vampire manages to rip the seams of his strait jacket. While Blair is getting his pills and water, Kralik kills him and turns him into a vampire. When Blair wakes up, he frees Kralik. Giles goes to find Travers at the Sunnydale Arms building, but instead finds that Kralik is free and Hobson is dead.

While walking home alone, Buffy is first confronted by two men looking for a lap dance and then Kralik. Blair chases her until Giles drives by and picks her up. At the Summers' home, Buffy's mother hears a noise out front and goes to check it out; she then finds Kralik wrapped up in Buffy's jacket.

Giles shows Buffy the syringe, and explains that it's a special mixture that is designed to take away her strength temporarily, and that he's been injecting her with it for the Cruciamentum, a test that every slayer must go through when/if they reach their eighteenth birthday. The objective was to test Buffy's other skills such as intelligence and resourcefulness by sending her to the Sunnydale Arms where she would be locked in with Kralik and would have been expected to kill him without her powers. Buffy is very hurt and tells him she doesn't know him anymore and that he should stay away from her or she'll kill him. Giles assures her that the test is invalidated because of what he has told her and that he will protect her from Kralik. Cordelia shows up to lend some books, but realizes something is happening and decides to leave. Buffy asks Cordelia to drive her home and Cordy, seeing Buffy is in an emotional state, agrees. When she arrives she finds a picture of her mother in the hands of Kralik. Buffy changes her clothes, grabs weapons and supplies, and heads out to find her mother.

Quentin seeks out Giles at the library. Giles explains that the test should be canceled because Buffy has been told of it and it has already gone wrong with Kralik's escape. Quentin replies that it is too late for that because Buffy has already entered the field of battle. Giles expresses himself about the Council's orders and leaves to find Buffy, hoping to help her.

At the Arms building, Blair attacks Buffy, but she pushes a bookshelf over on top of him and escapes. Kralik finds and chases her until his need for his pills becomes unbearable. Buffy steals them away, and slides down a laundry chute, where she finds Joyce tied up. Kralik breaks through the door, looking for his pills and water. After he swallows the pills, he's surprised to find out that Buffy tricked him into drinking holy water before he is dusted from the inside, Buffy tries to free her mother, but cannot because the knots are too tight. Blair reappears and lunges at Buffy, but Giles also shows up and stakes him.

Back at the library, Travers congratulates a beaten and bloody Buffy on her accomplishment, but Buffy is very bitter over the deception and the fact they let Kralik get away and target her mother and tells Travers that he should leave town before she gets her powers back. However Travers isn't finished as he states that while Buffy passed the test, Giles didn't as he didn't remain objective. Travers tells Giles that he's fired because he's grown too close with the Slayer—he has a father's love for Buffy, which he describes as "useless to the cause". Travers then states a new Watcher is going to be sent to train Buffy, and warns Giles he will be dealt with if he tries to interfere or undermine their authority. As he leaves, Travers again congratulates Buffy on her success. However Buffy, her voice full of contempt, simply responds with "Bite me". After Travers leaves, Giles further proves his devotion to Buffy by helping to clean her wounds which she allows him to, now fully aware of his depth of feeling for her.

The next day, Buffy celebrates her birthday with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and her close friends. The gang learn about the previous nights events, and Joyce is very impressed with how Buffy killed Kralik while Willow is in shock that Giles was fired, despite Buffy assuring her that nothing is really going to change since he'll still be the school's librarian, and thinks about writing an angry letter. When Buffy, minus her strength, can't open the peanut butter jar, Xander offers to help, but he can't do it either.


Tropes:

  • Chekhov's Gun: Kralik's pills. More specifically, the fact that he needs to down them with a nice glass of water.
  • Clothing Reflects Personality: Buffy shuns her trendy vampire-attracting clothes for the Dungarees of Doom when going to fight Kralik.
  • Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: "Hide and seeek, hide and seeek..."
  • Comically Missing the Point: Angel is casually (trying to, at least) ask Buffy if she has a date on her birthday.
    Buffy: Actually, I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him 'Daddy'.
    Angel: (looking relieved) Huh. Your father. [beat] It is your father, right?
    • Buffy coldly tells Giles, "I don't know you," Cordy takes her literally and believes some demon has given her amnesia, as well as wondering from their serious expressions if the world's supposed to end again and whether or not she should bother writing her paper if that's the case.
  • Deadly Graduation: Though the moral compromise is not from the act of killing, but whether Giles will allow the Test to go ahead without interference.
  • Disappeared Dad: This episode marks a change from Buffy's father simply being estranged from Joyce, to one who refuses to turn up even when Buffy needs him such as during Joyce's funeral.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Buffy reacts this way when she learns that Giles has been the one causing her weakness.
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: The Scoobies are hitting the books to find out what could be affecting Buffy.
    Willow: Aha! A curse on Slayers. Oh, no. Wait. I-it's lawyers.
  • Expy: A Wicked Cultured cannibal Serial Killer in a straitjacket. Hmm, sounds familiar.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Buffy gripes about being the responsible Slayer while Faith is out having fun — in "Bad Girls" after Giles is replaced by a less competent Watcher, Buffy starts exploring her delinquent side with Faith.
    • Buffy's disillusionment with the Watchers' Council starts here, eventually leading to her resignation in "Graduation Day, Part One".
  • Friendship Moment: A subtle one where Buffy asks Cordelia for a lift, having point-blank refused to get one from Giles. Not understanding the context but seeing Buffy is in pain, Cordelia agrees without questions or snarking.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: After a rather... intense training session with Angel, Buffy is sat down with Giles revising the effects of crystals, and is rather fidgety. At one point she twiddles a rather long and thin crystal, and when Giles asks her if she's alright she responds:
    Buffy: I guess that... I just have some... energy to burn.
    • Buffy teasing Angel that she's seeing an older man who "likes it when I call him Daddy". Angel's worried for a moment.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Buffy escapes Kralik by slipping out of her red coat when he grabs it. Unfortunately the vampire uses that same coat to trick Buffy's mother (see Playing Possum).
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Giles finding Hobson's body; he drops his stake and runs out of the house retching.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy
  • Guile Heroine: The purpose of the Test, to ensure a Slayer has smarts rather than just Super Strength and luck. In this case, Buffy defeats Kralik by putting holy water in the glass of water he uses to swallow his pills.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Holy water, if ingested, is lethal to vampires.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: Buffy doesn't want to celebrate her birthday because bad things will happen. Of course bad things happen anyway.
    Buffy: The important thing is that I kept up my special birthday tradition of gut-wrenching misery and horror.
    Oz: Bright side to everything.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: Giles is also being tested; he shows himself to be too close to his Slayer and therefore loses his right to be her Watcher.
  • Hypno Trinket: Giles hypnotises Buffy by getting her to look at a crystal under the guise of her studies. While she is zoned out, he gives her an injection that takes away her superpowers.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Xander enjoys Buffy's weakness because he can do manly things like open peanut butter jars for her, then finds he can't open the jar either.
    "Willow, can you give me a hand here?"
  • I Have Your Mother: Buffy finds a polaroid attached to the door frame showing Kralik clutching a terrified Joyce, with the word COME written on the back.
  • I'll Kill You!:
    • Buffy sends a vampire on an amusing Prat Fall down a children's slippery slide.
    Vampire: I'll kill you for that!
    Buffy: For that? What were you trying to kill me for before?
    Giles: I am deeply sorry, Buffy, (reaches out to her) and you have to understand__
    Buffy: (shaking with rage) If you touch me, I'll kill you.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: The entire teaser — from Angel's and Buffy's romantic dinner turning into a UST-loaded sparring session, Buffy fiddling with a phallic-like crystal eager to get on with the slaying, to a vampire pinning Buffy under his body while trying to stick a wooden stake into her.
  • Invoked Trope: The Cruciamentum Test is Damsel in Distress + Alone with the Psycho = Final Girl.
  • I Call It "Vera": Buffy refers to her stake as "Mr. Pointy", no doubt in memorium of Kendra doing the same thing.
  • Just a Kid: Travers refers to Buffy as "the child" even though she's now a woman, having turned 18.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Oz and Xander suggest this is why Buffy is getting weaker, then get into a geek argument over which type of Kryptonite is involved.
  • Lack of Empathy: Travers' "perfectly controlled test" gets two of his own men killed, endangers a civilian (Joyce), and nearly kills the Slayer. He has no reaction whatsoever to any of it.
    Travers: I understand you're upset—
    Buffy: You understand nothing. You set that monster loose, and he came after my mother.
    Travers: You think the test was unfair?
    Buffy: (stunned) I think you better leave town before I get my strength back.
  • Little Dead Riding Hood: When Kralik first attacks Buffy, she's walking home wearing a red coat. Lampshaded by Kralik later.
    Kralik: Why did you come to the dark of the woods? (opens Buffy's bag of weapons) To bring all these sweets to grandmother's house?
  • Love at First Sight / Romantic Hyperbole
    Angel: I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps... and... and I loved you.
    Buffy: Why?
    Angel: 'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe... to warm it with my own.
    Buffy: That's beautiful. (hugs Angel) Or taken literally, incredibly gross.
    Angel: (grimacing) I was just thinking that, too.
  • May–December Romance: Angel gives Buffy an old edition of Sonnets from the Portuguese. It's clear that while Buffy recognizes the romance of the gift, she has trouble appreciating it.
    Buffy: It's thoughtful and sweet and, uh, full of neat words to learn and say like "wilt" and "henceforth..."
    Angel: Then why'd you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?
  • Mars Needs Women: Kralik intends to change Buffy into a vampire so he won't be alone.
  • Mommy Issues / Freudian Excuse: Kralik's mother abused him when he was a child, so he killed her, ate her, and murdered at least a dozen young women before being institutionalized. Then he was made a vampire.
    (cheerfully) "I have a problem with mothers. I'm aware of that!"
  • Neck Lift: Kralik does this to Blair to prevent him calling for help.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Giles is fired as Buffy's Watcher; he won't be reinstated until "Checkpoint" in Season 5.
  • "Not Important to This Episode" Camp: Faith's plot-necessary absence (otherwise Buffy would have got her help re saving Joyce).
    Buffy: Sorry. It's just with Faith on one of her unannounced walkabouts, I feel like somebody should be patrolling.
  • Not So Stoic: Giles begs Buffy to let him earn back her trust, his voice shaking, tears in his eyes.
  • Off Screen Crash: Buffy is throwing knives at a dartboard in the library, completely missing the bullseye. Giles suggests Buffy take a break from patrolling if she's off her game. Buffy says she just needs to train harder, and throws another knife. Cue glass-breaking sound.
    Buffy: I'm gone! (turns and leaves)
    Giles: (without looking at the damage) Thank you.
  • Out of Character: Buffy is supposed to be as weak as a regular person but somehow manages to topple a full bookshelf onto a vampire in a split second.
    • A vampire takes several mouthfuls of holy water, swallows them and only several seconds later notices that it burns like hell.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Has more of a horror movie feel as opposed to the usual action-y approach of the series.
  • Parental Substitute: After Buffy's Disappeared Dad fails to take her to the ice show, Buffy drops a big hint that Giles could take her instead.
  • Papa Bear: After Giles disobeys protocol by telling Buffy about the test and later coming to her aid, Quentin Travers admonishes Giles that he has "a father's love" for Buffy rendering him "incapable of clear and impartial judgement".
  • Playing Possum: Kralik lures Joyce out of the house by wrapping himself in Buffy's red coat and ambushing Joyce when she runs out to check why 'Buffy' is lying unconscious on the verandah.
  • Power Loss Makes You Strong: The whole purpose of the test, unless you believe the fan theory that the test is designed to kill off Slayers before they become adults and therefore more independent of the Watchers Council.
  • Precision F-Strike
    Giles: I don't give a rat's arse about the Council's orders. There will be no test.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Lampshaded by Buffy.
    Buffy: If I was at full Slayer power, I'd be punning right about now.
  • Red Shirt: Both Blair and Hobson.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Buffy enters a room to find the walls covered in polaroids of her Bound and Gagged mother.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Buffy's first fight is in an Abandoned Playground, with all the 'leave childhood behind' metaphors that implies.
  • Secret Test of Character: Buffy isn't even supposed to know she's being tested; just locked in the house with the vampire by Giles. Turns out Giles is being tested too.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Kralik, and he intends to make Buffy just like him, saying to Joyce that when Buffy wakes up a vampire, "Your face will be the first thing she eats."
  • Screaming Woman: Buffy being chased by Kralik on the way home. Needless to say no-one stops to help in Sunnydale.
  • Shout-Out: To the Slasher Movie genre that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was meant to subvert.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: The Cruciamentum Test involves locking a Slayer without her powers in a house with a particularly deadly vampire.
    Quentin: A Slayer is not just physical prowess. She must have cunning, imagination, a confidence derived from self-reliance. And believe me, once this is all over, your Buffy will be stronger for it.
    Giles: Or she'll be dead for it.
  • Spot of Tea: Quentin drinks tea from a china cup while calmly discussing Buffy's impending peril.
  • Staircase Tumble
  • Tearjerker: Giles injecting Buffy with the chemical that stripped her of her powers, planting a seed of distrust that wouldn't blossom until "Lies My Parents Told Me".
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Buffy tries to ward off Kralik with a cross. Kralik presses it to his body and enjoys the pain, telling her to move it lower.
  • Transhuman Treachery: Blair, one of the watcher's employees, does an on screen one after Kralik feeds on him. We actually see his body go through the metamorphosis of becoming a vampire (his bite marks disappear from his neck, his face gains the vampire brow, etc) before he quickly sides with Kralik.
  • The Triple: "I'm way off my game. My game's left the country. It's in Cuernavaca."
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Lampshaded with Buffy and Angel's training fight.
    Buffy: (smiling) Satisfied?
    Angel: I'm not sure that's the word.
    Buffy: (taken aback) Okay. I didn't mean 'satisfied' like...
    Angel: No, I, I wasn't trying to...
    Buffy: (awkwardly) 'Cause we're not having satisfaction in the personal sense.
  • Use Your Head: When Buffy finds herself pinned by the first vampire, she escapes by headbutting him.
  • Valley Girl: Angel points out that Buffy spent most of her life being normal, but that only makes Buffy worried.
    Buffy: Before I was the Slayer, I was... Well, I, I don't wanna say shallow, but... Let's say a certain person, who will remain nameless — we'll just call her Spordelia — looked like a classical philosopher next to me.
  • Visual Gag: The Watchers use a very long spoon to feed Kralik his pills, as in the saying "When you sup with the devil, use a long spoon." It's not long enough.
  • Vomiting Watcher: Giles' years of experience fail to help when he finds Kralik's handiwork.
  • Wham Episode: Giles's and Buffy's father-daughter relationship goes from subtext to text as he gets fired by the Watchers Council.
  • Who Are You?: Buffy asks this of Giles when she finds out he betrayed her. It's a fair question — we see more of this Giles who's willing to betray Buffy for the greater good in "The Gift" and "Lies My Parents Told Me".
  • Written-In Absence: Faith has gone on one of her "unannounced walkabouts" again. Given that her presence would have upset the entire test, it would have been far more plausible if Giles had sent Faith away on some pretext.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Given that we only have Buffy's word that Faith's walkabout was "unannounced," that could absolutely have been what happened behind Buffy's back.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: Buffy and the vampire she's fighting at the beginning of the episode. Until her strength starts to fade along with her punning abilities; suddenly the vamp is the only one making wisecracks.
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