An extremely silly monster-of-the-week episode sadly sandwiched between the masterful I Only Have Eyes for You and the two-part s2 finale, disrupting the flow and tension of the Angelus storyline. I didn’t hate it as a stand-alone, but it really leeches from the build-up to the season’s end, much in the way that Out of Mind, Out of Sight did right before Prophecy Girl in s1. I wish that Whedon and his showrunners had kept a closer eye on the story arcs, especially as they rounded into their completions. *
Another ode to classic Hollywood monsters. This week, The Creature from the Black Lagoon gets its due after previous nods to Freddy Krueger (Killed by Death), Frankenstein’s Monster (Some Assembly Required), The Mummy (Inca Mummy Girl), and The Wolf Man (Phases). Locker room terror returns with a gusto this week. Swim team boys in tiny towels sit for long, Soviet-steroid steam baths set to ominous music. Then Buffy braves the boys’ room and battles the flirtatious-turned-harassing-turned-monster/fleetingly potential new boyfriend – while another swimmer sheds his human skin to become a hideous, scaly aquatic creature. She ends up dodging not one Creature from the Grey Locker Room, but two! The library cage houses the entire swim team – minus the four boys who’ve turned into sea monsters. We haven’t seen it used as a holding cell since The Dark Age and before that The Pack. In both those instances, the cage proved insufficient in containing crazed creatures, but here the team seems more complacent and therefore perhaps less apt to rip the metal apart. Soon, Oz’s time of the month will require call for regular repurposing for temporary incarceration.
The star swimmer is Wentworth Miller, years ahead of acting in Prison Break and writing the ludicrous, twisted, wonderful Stoker. He’s almost impossibly adorable and sexy here, living up to his character’s name: Gage Petronzi!
The last of the four swimmers to morph into a sea monster, Sean, is played by Shane West. As much as I love Wentworth Miller, I really dislike Shane West. He’s bland and unattractive, and I’ve never understood his appeal. He almost single-handedly wrecks Maggie Q’s Nikita for me just with his presence. So, no thank you on the tiny white towel for him, but Wentworth Miller and the other swimmers balance that scale.
So much to-do over speedos! I guess having grown up on a swim team has demystified and de-eroticized the suits for me to a large degree, so Xander’s much-hyped appearance in one had very little of the impact on me that it may have on the rest of the audience.
The faculty death rate spikes this week. First, the devious swim coach shoves the steroid-scandal complicit nurse played by Conchata Ferrell into the drainage system where she is killed by the sea monster swim team. Later, the coach himself takes a tumble into the underground tunnels. Buffy’s pronouncement, “They sure love their coach,” seems to be in reference to their appetite.
The coach also sends Buffy down into the drainage system. (The pump room is indeed hazardous.) But it’s not to be devoured, at least in the literal sense. He explains that the boys have already eaten (the nurse), but they have “other needs.” Is this to titillate us sexually? Buffy soaking wet and nearly ravished by teenage sea creatures? It felt out of place to me. Besides, I didn’t see any penises on the sea monsters. Almost no Angelus this week, which is a major problem. They have to shoehorn him in just to teach us that Wentworth Miller’s blood tastes terrible – steroid alert!
As long as that throwaway scene was all David Boreanaz was getting paid for this week, they could have lengthened is post-Bronze stroll with Wentworth Miller and included some pre-biting flirtation or double-entendres. But that would have been bad for Miller, who would never have gotten the lead Prison Break as a gay actor.
Nitpicking: How exactly does an apparently not very bright swim coach of a small town high school team with a losing record stumble upon and then figure out how to administer a steam-based steroidal compound developed by the Russians during the Cold War before the collapse of the Soviet Union? Don’t get me wrong – I love this idea. However, I think we needed a bit more on how it all transpired. Maybe Conchata Ferrell should have adopted a Russian accent and been a dissident chemist!
Jonathan! He’s a suspect in the bizarre (mistaken) death of the first swimmer who sheds his skin at the beach victory party in the beginning. Note also, Jonathan does not appreciate being publicly rescued from his tormentors by a tiny blonde girl, much in the way that Xander felt resentful when Buffy did him the same favor with Larry in Halloween. Jonathan is not so feisty, however, when under lamplight interrogation by an over-enthusiastic Willow, whose excitement dissipates when she learns that rather than cast demonic spells, Jonathan just peed in the pool. The three monsters wading out to sea at the end was a fun, loopy way to end, though I would have had them greeted in the surf by the first boy who crawled out of his skin at the beach. Was it me or did the steroid angle feel preachy? I sort of remember ‘roid rage as being a major warning during the 90s. And this was 1998, when we were subjected to ENDLESS home run stats from later-to-be-exposed steroid consumers Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Timely, yes, but also reeking of an after-school special. Also, the Soviet steroidal steam didn’t even work. The meager shoulders on those guys in the steam room wouldn’t have gotten them past go in a regional meet. The kids are starting to address the fact that Sunnydale High students may not have the best track record for survival. Willow turns this into a positive after Cordy laments that she cheers for teams that never excel in anything: