Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 3 Episode 12


Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Jan 19, 1999 on The WB
out of 10
User Rating
601 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

For her upcoming 18th birthday, Buffy declines the Scooby gang's offer of a big party, hoping to celebrate with quiet reflection and a traditional trip to the ice show with her father. Suddenly, Buffy finds that her Slayer abilities are fading, perhaps completely. Is this some natural event in the lifecycle of the Slayer, or is it something more sinister?moreless

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  • Helpless

    An emotionally gripping episode that tests the previously thought solid relationship between Buffy and Giles to the extreme while also being one of the better 'horror' episodes in the entire series' run. On a show with a less capable show-runner, this episode would have been a solid but forgetful episode. With Joss Whedon in charge things go in, once again, completely new directions. Relationships, jobs, locations, and even life itself isn't a given on this show. Each of those things could change for any of the characters in an instant, as the death of Jenny Calendar in "Passion" (2x17) and the firing of Giles here demonstrates. This is what stand-alone episodes are supposed to do!

    The episode begins with Buffy and Angel training together. It's really fun seeing them playing around in an innocent way, but as soon as she jumps on top of him things heat up extremely quickly. This unreleased sexual tension makes her want to go out and patrol right away. Buffy doesn't get her sexual fix so now she wants to go kill something. Faith's "hungry and horny" theory continues to gain points. This eventually leads to the scene at night where Buffy gets dizzy in the middle of a vampire fight. Her stake then gets turned around and she almost gets staked herself. This action is unusual and exciting to see. Note that she actually does get stabbed with her own stake in "Fool for Love" (5x07).

    Buffy later explains to Giles what happened. He of course knows what's going on and lies to protect the truth of the "the test" from her. The 'test' itself is interesting to consider but is ultimately nonsense. Is this excercise really helpful and will it make Buffy stronger? Perhaps in some ways, but it's still a violation of her body and fundamentally wrong. Not only that, but Quentin Travers seems to toss aside Giles' concerns about Buffy's life. The most likely way the Slayer can fail this test is to die. Is that the purpose? Either the Slayer is strong enough or let a new one be called? All this seems completely ridiculous to me. If a Slayer is still alive by her eighteenth birthday that should be proof enough of her ability. It would have been useful to know more about the specifics of the test because I see it as something that would never be done by an organization trying to help in the fight against evil, especially not in today's world.

    The slow removal of Buffy's strength is underpinned by the father-daughter theme running through the episode. Buffy gets all excited that her dad is coming to take her to the ice show. She soon discovers that he bailed on her. After this huge disappointment she decides she has had enough of her dad's antics and realizes that he won't ever be there for her. At this point she does her best to accept that fact and move on with her life. Occasionally, though, we see just how much her father's absence in her life has hurt her. She makes her feelings painfully clear in "Forever" (5x17) when she says, "I can call my bastard father again to tell him that his ex-wife, our mother is gone." Even as late as "Normal Again" (6x17) we see her wishing her parents were still together, in love, and there to take care of her.

    With her father's neglection exposed she next turns to Giles to be that father figure for her. He's completely distracted by his 'job' to notice her cries for fatherly love. It's pretty touching that she'd even ask him to go with her and shows just how far these two have come together since the beginning of the series. Unfortunately this makes it extra painful to see him put her in a trance so he can stick a needle in her. Poor Buffy just can't win today and I feel terrible for her.

    When it begins to look doubtful that she'll get her powers back, Buffy begins to consider life without powers again. In reality this is actually what she's always wanted and explains this to Willow. The problem is that she knows about the supernatural world now and can't turn her back on fighting it, powers or not. She realizes with some finality that she'll never have a normal life, even if the Slayer responsibilities were pushed aside, so she can finally be at some kind of peace with her life. This is why she's so quick to ask Giles if he's found out anything about her weakness. We don't actually see Buffy complaining much about living a normal life after this episode.

    All of these threads come together in the saddening library scene where Giles shocks Buffy with the news that he is poisoning her with muscle relaxants to make her weak. All that painstaking trust that was built between these two people has been violently destroyed in this massive betrayal of Buffy's body and trust. She literally is having trouble even believing what Giles is telling her, and I can't blame her.

    This is the very first time Buffy catches a glimpse of this part of Giles' personality. Giles is always willing to do whatever is needed for the "greater good." While he never fully supports this 'test' he does go along with it until things begin to get out of control. He ends up ignoring council orders and goes to help Buffy fight the vampire because he realizes that the test is actually stupid and isn't for any "greater good." However, we see this "do what needs to be done" side of Giles come out again at several important junctions in the series, most notably in "The Gift" (5x22) when he kills Ben and again in "Lies My Parents Told Me" (7x17) when he stalls Buffy so that Wood can kill Spike.

    I really enjoyed the entire ending "hide and seek" horror section where Buffy is trying to rescue her mom without her powers. It's all genuinely creepy including the very well-acted moment when Buffy pulls out a cross, shaking but determined, and then the vampire grabs her arm and puts the cross on his stomach and keeps pulling it lower and lower getting some kind of satisfaction out of the pain. Buffy is naturally scared and disgusted by it and runs off.

    All of the above would have made a really good episode, but courtesy of Whedon we get even more. Giles gets fired because, as Quentin puts it, he has a "father's love" of Buffy. Hearing what Giles gave up to help her begins to heal the wounds of his betrayal. After Quentin leaves, Giles comes over to Buffy and in a tender moment, takes the wet cloth Buffy was using to wipe the blood off her forehead and cleans it for her. Buffy will never be able to 'fully' trust Giles again after this episode even though much of it is recovered from his after-the-fact actions.

    To sum it up, I thought this episode was great. It had loads of darkness, raw emotion, and lasting importance which were all brought to life by the wonderful acting of Anthony Stewart Head and Sarah Michelle Gellar. My only complaints involve wondering why the vampire needs to take pills and some pacing issues. Otherwise this is another top-notch episode to add to the amazingly consistent third season.moreless
  • Hey there little red riding hood...


    The Good;

    Fabulous ep, really pulls the rug out from under you and puts Buffy in serious peril, very scary. Lovely Amy ref, love the final scene and Joyce's pride at Buffy's cleverness.

    The Bad;

    The whole idea of the Cruciantanem is stupid. If the Slayer isn't up to the job then surely she just dies anyway and they get a new one? Surely Buffy would go to her friends for help? How does Kralik know that Buffy is aware where to come to when he send her his invitation? Wouldn't it be better for the Council to have Wes standing by to relieve Giles rather than leave it a fortnight? Willow's mustard yellow tights are awful, I think Tara threw them out as we don't see them past season 3. .

    Best line;

    No contest "Bite me!" but I do also like the Buffy/Angel exchange;

    Buffy; "That's beautiful...or taken literally really gross"

    Angel; "I was just thinking"

    Character death; 2 humans and 2 vamps

    Tied up; Joyce

    Knocked out;

    No but Buffy mesmerised

    Women good/men bad;

    Lots of it. Buffy is let down by her father and betrayed by her father figure (the scene where she dumps her father's present in the bin is particulary heartrending). Kralik killed and ate his own mother (hopefully after he became a vampire?) Kralik menacing Joyce is very scary and his idea of turning Buffy even more so (although would even a sired Slayer be evil?).

    Kinky dinky;

    How long have you got? Buffy and Angel 'getting all sweaty' as Xander would say. Buffy refers to dating an older man who likes it when she calls him daddy, probably her father but Angel would like to be sure. I must say I missed the whole 'phallic crystal fondling' first time around, David Fury had to point it out to me.You could even say that the whole Giles' drugs Buffy routine is tantamount to child abuse, he dopes her then penetrates her with the needle. Kralik meanwhile actually seems to like pain from Buffy burning him with the cross

    Calling Captain Subtext;

    If there were ever an ep where Cordy and Buffy were to get together this is it. Note Cordy's outraged pounding of the guy who pushes Buffy and her leaving Buff home.

    Guantanamo Bay;

    The Watcher's Council show their true colours and they're pretty damn ruthless

    Scoobies to the ER;

    Going to start a new topic because in virtually every ep one or more requires hospital treatment;

    Buffy pretty banged up and without Slayer healing for once

    Where's Dawn?

    Still at the house when Kralik snatches Joyce? At Kit's? Girl Scouts? After school classes? Or taken hostage with her mother?

    Questions and observations

    Interesting to hear David Fury's initial story idea, that Buffy hallucinates the Scoobies and Joyce as vamps. Nice to hear he was a fan before he got to write it. I also heard they couldn't do it because Kristine Sutherland was allergic to the vamp makeup. No Faith this ep? A shame, liked to have seen her. Presumably Kralik's pills are for mental illness rather than for anything physical which would have been cured when he became a vamp like Spike's mum/Darla. The guy he turns is one of the crew from ST;ENTERPRISE. You always knew Buffy would beat him but her method is very ingenious (after all, Little Red Riding Hood defeats the big bad wolf). Presumably more time elapses between Buffy trying to untie Joyce and him breaking through the door than is shown onsecreen. Remember Buffy hasn't even seen Kralik wash down the pills so Joyce must have told her. Personally I always liked the eaten-away-from-within effect and it was always obvious to me. Cordy's paper is on Bosnia which dates this ep pretty accurately (nowadays kids would be writing about Darfur).

    8/10, very, very good, almost a classic

  • Happy Birthday Buffy!

    This episode shows a powerless Buffy facing off with a crazy vampire. Buffy did some momentously stupid stuff in this episode, if she knows she doesn't have power why was she so careless. She is just walking about in the dark like nothing can hurt her when in reality everything can. Giles is my favorite part of this episode as he has to deal with doing what he is told and doing what he thinks is right as he is forced by the council to hurt his slayer. The scene where Buffy is asking him to take her to the ice show is a little heartbreaking because of her lack of a father figure in her life. Her killing of the vampire shows off her wit and cunning like it was suppose to, but her reaction to Giles was harsh because she didn't see what he had to go through.moreless
  • Helpless

    Helpless was a very interesting episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In this episode we see another side of Giles, and are introduced to members of the Watchers Council as they prepare their test for Buffy on her 18th birthday. The game they have prepared turns deadly and Buffy has been stripped of her powers, temporarily. Using her wit, Buffy saves her mom, and the day as usual. There is some tension left between Buffy and Giles as she feels totally betrayed. Buffy didn't know what was going on at first, and she was getting really down about it. It was interesting to see her dealing with not having her powers.moreless
  • Season 3, Episode 12.

    Buffy's 18th birthday is approaching, and she plans to spend it ice skating with her father like she does every year. However, Buffy's strength is fading, possibly completely. Is this natural for the Slayer, or is there a dark force behind this?

    This episode had a very interesting concept. It was nice to see Buffy desperate and hopeless and helpless. It was so weird. Cordelia made it farther in beating that guy than Buffy did. LOL. Sarah Michelle Gellar looked pretty good in this episode. I liked how Buffy finally found out that Angel watched her before she became the Slayer. This was a pretty cool episode. :)moreless
Jeff Kober

Jeff Kober

Zackary Kralik

Guest Star

Harris Yulin

Harris Yulin

Quentin Travers

Guest Star

Dominic Keating

Dominic Keating


Guest Star

Kristine Sutherland

Kristine Sutherland

Joyce Summers

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (10)

    • Goof: When Giles is injecting Buffy, he rolls up her sleeve so he can puncture her skin, but he never rolls it down. When Buffy leaves, you can see the sleeve is rolled back down, but neither one of them moved it.

    • Nitpick: In previous episodes when vampires have come into contact with holy water the burning and pain experienced is immediate. Yet Kralik not only touches holy water to his lips without reacting but continues to take several swallows and starts talking to Buffy before any effects are seen or felt.

    • Goof: Kralik takes a Polaroid picture of himself with Buffy's mother. These cameras use mirrors to reflect the light inside the device and so the vampire shouldn't show up on film.

    • Nitpick: After Buffy stakes the first vampire from the teaser, they cut to a shot of outside the school...you can tell that it is the same shot from "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" when Cordelia is rejected from her group because you can see Harmony in the background and you can see the same people walking and sitting down on the side of the screen.

    • Nitpick: Why doesn't Buffy ask for Angel for help against Kralik? She isn't obliged to play by the rules of the Council's test and her mother's life is at danger.

    • Nitpick: So Buffy sees the photo of Kralik with her mother, and then packs up her anti-vampire stuff. Except she's changed her clothing and put up her hair between shots. Guess that was more of a priority for her.

    • Goof: Buffy places a book on a table and stands up, as she does the book begins to slide towards the floor, when the shot goes wide the book is now laid perfectly flat on the table atop another book.

    • Goof: During the teaser, the boom mic is visible in the top left hand corner of the screen when Buffy kicks the vampire onto the merry-go-round.

    • Nitpick: After seeing Angel, Buffy is chased by Kralik and the other vampire and she screams for mercy. But just before she collided with Kralik, there were two guys mocking her... wouldn't those guys at least hear her scream for help? I guess in Sunnydale, with the Hellmouth and everything, you learn not to get involved with other peoples' problems.

    • Nitpick: Why doesn't Buffy realize she has needle marks on her arm. Wouldn't she feel or see them and suspect someone has been drugging her?

  • QUOTES (18)

    • Angel: Buffy, you could never be helpless or boring, not even if you tried.

    • Kralik: She'll go to sleep, and when she wakes up, your face will be the first thing she eats. I have a problem with mothers. I'm aware of that.

    • Cordelia: What's going on? Oh, God. Is the world ending? I have to research a paper on Bosnia for tomorrow, but if the world's ending, I'm not gonna bother.
      Giles: You can't walk home alone, Buffy. It isn't safe.
      Buffy: I don't know you.
      Cordelia: Did something take her memory? He's Giles. Giiiiillles. He hangs out here a lot.
      Buffy: Cordelia, could you please drive me home?
      Cordelia: Of course. But if the world doesn't end, I'm gonna need a note.

    • Angel: It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps. 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....Or taken literally, incredibly gross.
      Angel: I was just thinking that, too.

    • Buffy: Before I was the Slayer, I was... Well, I don't want to 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.

    • Buffy: It's sweet and thoughtful, and full of neat words to learn and say like"wilt" and "henceforth".

    • Buffy: What if I just become pathetic? Hanging out at the old Slayer's home, talking people's ears off about my glory days, showing them Mr. Pointy, the stake I had bronzed.

    • Xander: An ice show. A show performed on ice. And how old are we again?
      Willow: I went to Snoopy on Ice when I was little. My dad took me backstage, and I got so scared I threw up on Woodstock.
      Buffy: I know you guys think it's just a big, dumb, girlie thing, but it's not. I mean, a lot of those skaters are Olympic medal winners. And every year, my Dad buys me cotton candy and one of those souvenir programs that has all the pictures-- and okay, it's a big, dumb, girlie thing, but I love it.
      Oz: It's not so girlie. Ice is cool. It's water, but it's not.

    • Willow: Aha! A curse on Slayers. Oh, no, wait. It's lawyers.
      Xander: You know, maybe we're on the wrong track with the whole spell, curse, and whammy thing. Maybe what we should be looking for is something like, um, Slayer kryptonite.
      Oz: Faulty metaphor. Kryptonite kills.
      Xander: You're assuming I meant the green kryptonite. I was referring, of course, to the red kryptonite, which drains Superman of his powers.
      Oz: Wrong. The gold kryptonite's the power-sucker. The red kryptonite mutates Superman into some sort of weird...
      Buffy: Guys. Reality.

    • Buffy: I'm way off my game. My game's left the country. It's in Cuernavaca.

    • Buffy: Wow, that was funny looking. Could you do it again?
      Vamp: I'll kill you for that.
      Buffy: For that? What were you trying to kill me for before?

    • Giles: This one?
      Buffy: Amethyst.
      Giles: Used for?
      Buffy: Breath mints?
      Giles: Charm bags, money spells and for cleansing one's aura.
      Buffy: Okay, so how do you know if one's aura's dirty? Somebody comes by with a finger and writes "wash me" on it?

    • Angel: A thing? A date?
      Buffy: Nice attempt at casual

    • Buffy: Bite me.
      Travers: Yes, well. Colorful girl.

    • Buffy: The important thing is I keep up my special birthday tradition of gut-wrenching misery and horror.

    • Buffy: If I was at full Slayer power I'd be punning right about now.

    • Quentin: You think the test was unfair?
      Buffy: I think you better leave town before I get my strength back.
      Quentin: We're not in the business of fair, Miss Summers, we're fighting a war.
      Giles: You're waging a war. She's fighting it. There is a difference.

    • Buffy: Actually I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him Daddy.
      Angel: Your father... It is your father, right?

  • NOTES (11)


    • Cordelia: Did something take her memory again?
      Referring to the season 2 episode "Halloween" in which Buffy "became" her costume of a 17th Century woman and forgot who she was, and who her friends were.

    • Visual: Angel's gift to Buffy.
      Angel gives Buffy "Sonnets from the Portuguese" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her birthday. It was originally published in 1850 in a two volume publication entitled Poems. It contains the famous poem "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways."

    • Kralik: Why did you come to the dark of the woods? To bring all these sweets to grandmother's house?
      Kralik refers to the story of Little Red Riding Hood in which a wolf accosts a young girl who is carrying a basket through the woods to her grandmother's house. The fairy tale has been around since the early 19th century and has been written in many different languages with many different versions.

    • Quentin Travers: Cruciamentum is not easy for Slayer or Watcher.
      The name of the rite of passage that every Slayer must complete is the "Cruciamentum", which is a Latin word meaning "torture" or "torment".

    • Xander: Maybe what we should be looking for is something like slayer kryptonite.
      The primary weakness of the character Superman is kryptonite, a radioactive substance created from Superman's homeworld when it exploded. Various forms of kryptonite will render him helpless, kill him, or have other strange effects depending on the color of the stone.

    • Buffy: Brian Boitano doing Carmen is a life changer.
      Brian Boitano is one of the most well known male figure skaters who has won many professional and international titles, including the 1988 Olympic gold medal.
      Carmen is an opera composed by George Bizet in 1875, based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée written in 1845.

    • Buffy: It's in Cuernavaca.
      Cuernavaca is a city in Mexico.