Buffy falls prey to a cult of cock-worshipping frat boys.
At least that’s what I read into this cautionary episode about the dangers of associating with clean-cut, polite fraternity brothers who offer you a sympathetic shoulder and a drink or two.
Only you end up getting roofied and chained to a cavernous cellar wall along with your bitchy school nemesis and a relentlessly caustic kidnap victim to await sacrifice to a hissing, darting, snake demon that more than casually resembles a penis growing erect. (See photo.)
Buffy’s had trouble with boys before, mostly nerds, as in I, Robot… You, Jane and Some Assembly Required. Now, however, she has stepped a bit out of her league by acquiescing to Cordelia’s demands to accompany her to a frat party – where there will be drinking!
Buffy, lying to your mother is one thing, but lying to Giles about your whereabouts? Catastrophe is the only possible consequence.
I’m not so harsh on this episode as I’ve read elsewhere, but I’m not so forgiving either. We’re continuing our detour away from Spike and Drusilla that began with last week’s Inca Mummy Girl, frustrating me to no end since I really crave that continuity. The monster-of-the-week episodes really need to allot five minutes to the season’s story arc.
Cordy and Xander don’t so fare well in this one either.
The writers are on a fucking teeter-totter with Cordelia, trying in sputters to convince us that there’s a there there – as in her somewhat unconvincing loneliness speech from last season’s Out of Mind, Out of Sight and from When She Was Bad, when she more believably warned Buffy about being such a fucking jackass.
Just four episodes later, however, Cordy’s not just her standard snotty, superficial, and insulting, she’s suddenly become a voracious gold-digger that puts Eartha Kitt’s songstress persona to shame.
For the record, I found Cordelia’s new strategy for success with boys, unleashing the phoniest, most unnerving laugh this side of a Diff’rent Strokes laugh track, to be humorous. We get plenty of exposure to the new laugh, from Cordy showing off to her acolytes (but where’s Harmony!?!) to her employing it directly on the frat boys, who register only confusion and uneasiness on its delivery.
Xander, in the meantime, gets emasculated in a most literal sense, getting busted as a crasher at the frat party and forced to dress in drag with a bra and wig, performing a mortifyingly awkward dance to the guffaws of the partiers.
Lucky for him, the only series regulars who witnessed this were in the audience, though Willow did query about lipstick once she saw him in better light just before the rescue.
If Xander and his futile, endlessly repeated jealousy over Buffy and other boys weren’t irritating me so much, I might eke out more than a bit of sympathy for him, but as of now, I felt more sorry for Nicholas Brendon, who looked rather pained in the fraternity party scenes.
Oh, those frat boys. They’re pretty but suitably bland – until they start their sacrificial ritual, at which point they become pretty and suitably evil.
BtVS likes to trick the audience by switching up the bad guys from the anticipated – as with Darla in Welcome to the Hellmouth (an immediate surprise), and also with the mother in Witch and the goofy magician in The Puppet Show. Here they present us with a good cop/bad cop pairing of Tom, (soft-spoken, apologetic, polite bordering on Mormon-esque) and Richard (a strutting, preening dick who we know to be on the dark side from the intro).
From there we’re just waiting it out for them to spring on us that not only are they both bad, but that Tom is the ringleader, the frat-cult king. The reveal comes when he interrupts Richard who seems on the verge of raping a roofied Buffy, insisting that she is only for their sacrifice to their frat’s patron demon, Machida.
But was anyone actually surprised by the revelation of Tom as villain? Usually I enjoy the BtVS deceptions, but this time I’m not sure if my suspicious nature kept me a step ahead of Buffy or if the audience was supposed to be in on it all along – as in, “Buffy, you’re being foolish with those college boys. Don’t fall for Tom’s earnest countenance. He only wants sex. Or a sacrificial offering!” Were we supposed to be a bit detached from her so that we could feel moralistic and supercilious?
We at home know bad boys in frat boy clothing!
And once again these bad boys work together! We’ve seen it before – in those geek duos of I, Robot… You, Jane and Some Assembly Required – and we’ll see it again much later with The Trio. Now however, it’s not the geek set but the Greek set who Buffy must contend with – handsome, wealthy, socially cunning, and more worldly than Buffy. What’s more, they have an entire cellarful of fraternity brothers to back them up!
Not so with Buffy’s female opposition: the sexy substitute praying mantis lady, the cheerleading witch mother, the invisible girl, and last week’s Inca Mummy Girl. The ladies don’t have so much as a lookout, much less a basement full of bros egging them on for their evildoing.
And as for masculine bonding, the frat worships Machida, the phallic demon who rises from the bowels of the basement to consume his three-course meal of kidnapped high school girls in chains.
I gather that Machida is one of the least-liked monsters from the series, but I found him hysterically funny, both in the cheapness of his appearance and the outrageousness of his cock symbolism. According to dvd commentary, they’d toyed with making Machida a recurring villain, a moment that never came to pass about which fans are still breathing a sigh of relief seventeen years later.
I argue that Machida might inspire enough homoerotic and misogynistic terror and camp delight to earn a recurring spot on the show. His frowny, fangy mouth bothers me significantly as it to begin with; imagine if it started forming sibilant words and phrases!
So as I ponder the overall merit of this episode, which at times feels like an after-school special about date rape, and at others a twisted peek at the misogynistic, homoerotic bonding of frat boy scions who submit their morals to extend the privilege they were born into. I’m less enthused by the former and considerably more by the possibilities of the latter. The Delta Zeta Kappa brothers would have fit perfectly into the misogynistic mess of s7, but we won’t hear from them – or Machida – again.
- Jonathan gets a name. Cordelia, having learned her lesson about older boys, sets her sights on Jonathan, who we met last week after he nearly fell victim to the Inca Mummy Girl. Really, Cordy’s just turning the tables so that rather being literally chained by Greek boys, she is metaphorically chaining a sniveling geek boy to a hope that will never be realized. Cordelia likes to be in control.
- The dialogue between Buffy and Angel at the cemetery – about kissing – ranks as near the worst of the entire series thus far. I get that they needed to create a rift that would make Buffy amenable to attending a frat party with an Angel surrogate, but the tortured melodrama about fairy tales and kissing and dying caused me to cringe and wish they had found a less over-ripe exchange to sow the discord.