The Inca Mummy Girl is an anti-Buffy. She’s The Chosen One, too, just not chosen to be The Slayer; instead, she was offered for a specialty sacrifice like 500 years ago, which would have made her one of the last before the conquistadores arrived. I think I could excuse more of this weaker episode had they invested more in the mummy character, who bursts with potential unfulfilled. Though she certainly qualifies as the monster of the week, Inca Mummy Girl not an absolute villain as we’ve had in the past; moreover, she’s not even like the non-demon teen menaces we’ve met before. Her murderous nature comes not from vengeance, like Marcie, the invisible girl from Out of Mind, Out of Sight; nor is it born of salaciousness or wickedness, like Dave from Some Assembly Required. No, she’s just a girl, like Buffy, who wants a chance as a lovestruck teenager who goes to parties and doesn’t have to worry about ancient curses.
Compelling though she may be, we have to reach far to extend sympathy. Mummy Girl may have a soul unlike our regular vampires, but she doesn’t seem to experience much remorse for sucking the life out of her victims any more than, say, Darla (even though she might not appear so effervescently joyous in doing so). Inca Mummy Girl, or Ampata, as she becomes after an extreme form of identity theft, is all about self-preservation, and love (or its approximation) with Xander can’t hold her back any more than a sword-wielding, out-of-thing-air bodyguard.
Plenty of outrage has already been expressed elsewhere about the racist and xenophobic aspects of the cultural exchange program and Ampata as a visiting Latina sexpot. I just don’t feel the critique on that count so deeply. Sure, the cursed mummy is silly and inauthentic, but would I say this about any other of the visiting villains, including ones to come like Anya the Scandinavian demon.
And yes, I suppose it’s a cultural appropriation to a weak degree, but more from 1930s Hollywood b-horror films than from the actual Inca. (And the name Ampato, from the site of a real Inca mummy finding, confuses the matter further, since in the show it really belongs to the very unfortunate exchange student, not the mummy.)
Finally, without question, the get-ups that the kids wore to The Bronze were inappropriate and fetishy (I spied at least one geisha-looking girl in Cordy’s cortege), but they ran across the board geographically, with Swedish Sven being among the most cartoonish in his Viking helmet. Willow in the Inuit coat is on one level offensive, but because she is Willow, also uncomfortably adorable. Yet she would be the first character to question wearing traditional cultural clothing as costume, so I’m left feeling dubious at to the authenticity of this inauthenticity.
The racism that comes through more clearly to me is that this is the only representation that the show accords to a Latina character – I believe in the entire series – which seems impossible given that it takes place in southern California. Since no one else exists to counter Inca Mummy Girl, she stands sadly alone, and therefore, by default, exotifies the Latino presence in the Buffyverse through her phony throwback b-movie horror character. If Whedon is not going to give us anything else, we have to work with what we’ve got.
Of course we never see the actress Ara Celi again. I suppose it would be hard to keep her around since she’s not a vampire and she did attempt to suck the life out of Willow, Giles, a soon-to-be introduced Jonathan, and even Xander; plus the trope more or less dictates that her Dorian Gray run has to end – and granted, it does with the unexpected bonus of both her arms snapping off. I just wish that Ara Celi had a crack at a regular stint on a show like BtVS, but she only gets the call to play a one-shot mummy. I argue that it’s a pretty good role, but then, it’s the only role they’re offering.
Another complaint: Yet one more lovelorn Xander episode. I’m sick of this line and of him making unfunny wisecracks whenever Buffy mentions Angel – and now with the ill-fated exchange student. Xander, you’ve become grating. Move on.
I’m heartened, however, that Willow is on the verge of getting a love interest in Oz because I’m sick of her sad puppy dog eyes whenever Xander says anything about his desire for almost anyone but her. She is moving on; she just doesn’t know it yet.
But my biggest problem with this specific episode? Where the fuck are Spike and Drusilla? Last week’s introduction promised a game-changer for the series, yet immediately we experience a lull. I had thought this pattern of vacations from the seasonal arcs was more specific to s1 and The Master, but apparently the irregular rhythm extends into s2 and perhaps beyond. I think we could still have our monster of the week with just a few scenes spliced in of Spike watching telly (he’s got one already!) and Dru scolding Miss Edith – for a better sense of continuity.
I supposed they saved a few bucks by not having to pay James Marsters or Juliet Landau for the week. I didn’t really miss Angel in this one, but they must have had to pay out something to David Boreanaz since his name appeared in the credits, right? He could have at least shown up at the dance at The Bronze.
No, hold it. My greatest complaint here is that they neglected to incorporate Yma Sumac into the soundtrack and story. She holds the undisputed crown for Inca exotification, and the real fault here is that they didn’t even tip their hats to her. Shit, in 1997 she was still around! She could have taken that bodyguard role to a whole new dimension. Behold:
- Yes, the episode formally introduces Oz, an important moment, but we also get our very first taste of Jonathan. Ampata very nearly gets a taste of him as well, but thankfully he manages to get out of this screen with instant mummification to continue as one of my favorite recurrent characters in the series.
- Does Giles actually think that the typical Peruvian teenager would be able to decipher obscure Inca symbols? He shows even less worldliness than Cordelia.
- The bodyguard looks ridiculous, and his first appearance wielding the sword at the museum confused me greatly. The brief fight choreography seemed improvised by a five-year-old boy in make-believe battle.
- The history museum has the most lax security imaginable. Everyone, come up and touch the 500-year-old mummy with your very own hands!
- Why is the cultural exchange program’s school dance held at The Bronze?
- Why doesn’t the mummy use her powers? She projects her voice into the minds of humans, as she does with Ampata to lure him closer at the bus depot before sucking away his life force and and bodily fluids. She might have used this to her advantage when she was rapidly regressing back to her mummy state at The Bronze.
- The identification of Rodney through his braces on the mummy marks a top creepy-comical moment from the series thus far.