Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 3 Episode 13

The Zeppo

Aired Tuesday 8:00 PM Jan 26, 1999 on The WB
out of 10
User Rating
651 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

When Xander realizes that he isn't needed by the gang as much as he'd like to believe, his quest to prove he's cool leads him to an unforgettable night that finds him consorting with fast women, raising the dead and rolling with a dangerous crowd that could put Sunnydale in a world of hurt. Meanwhile, Buffy, Giles and the rest of the crew engage in a furious battle with the Sisterhood of Jhe, an all-female demon apocalypse cult that intends to reopen the Hellmouth and bring about the end of the world.moreless

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  • The Zeppo

    In one of the most unique episodes of the entire series things that are normally important to the show are made meaningless. Most episodes of BtVS and television in general adopt a standard A-B plot scheme (sometimes it's A-B-C). The A plot is always the focus of the episode; the most important thing. The B plot is usually some small character issue that's relegated to the background. It seems obvious that the A plot of this episode is going to be this pending apocalypse, but very quickly we start to notice that something is very wrong and it appears to be the fault of the director. The apocalypse thread isn't getting the screen time it would normally warrant and instead the entire episode is about Xander! It turns out the A plot is Xander's journey for self confidence and the B plot is an apocalypse via the hellmouth. This is weird and twisted stuff which will make for a different review. Instead of hitting on specifics I think I'm just going to let my thoughts flow as they come and see what happens.

    There's one scene in particular which sums up the entire episode, and I'm not sure yet if it sums it up in a positive or a negative way. This moment is when we jump in the middle of a melodramatic moment between Buffy and Angel crying about death and impending doom. Then Xander walks in, asks if he can help, then walks off and lets the melodrama continue. I think the intent is to let the audience mock and laugh at all the Buffy and Angel angst we've had to endure this season. While this is amusing to me on some level I kind of feel awkward about mocking what the show's like some of the time.

    I think there's an important distinction I must make between this kind of Buffy and Angel angst and the bunch we usually see. In this episode, we come into the middle of the melodrama. We don't know what's going on, we don't understand their motivation for feeling as dire as they do, so there's no way we can sympathise with them. This gives the viewers of the show a chance to stand back from the usual fare and get a genuine chuckle at their angst. I don't think I need to feel bad about laughing at Buffy and Angel here. If I dropped into the middle of a big sequence of Romeo and Juliet without any explanation of their motivations, I can be assured that I'd probably find it equally ridiculous and laughable.

    So I think with that distinction better laid out I can appreciate this episode more. We somehow are able to 'mock' the series without actually mocking it. That takes some careful writing and directing to pull off, so kudos to writer Dan Vebber and director James Whitmore Jr. Fortunately, the fun 'mocking' ploy isn't even the core of the episode. What we also get is so much character development for Xander that the impact won't fully sink in for many years to come.

    While I really enjoyed seeing Xander's personal adventure I think it still could have been done a lot better. Having reanimated corpses be the catalyst for this ride is ultimately too corny to work. There are some genuinely amusing lines, sure, but the added corniness is not necessary to get the point across. I like what happened with Jack before the corpse stuff started and the ending bomb scene could have still been pulled off had Jack been human. This is the biggest mistake of the episode.

    Early on Xander tries to convince Buffy and the gang that he's useful in their weekly demon skirmishes. He obviously doesn't do a very good job because everyone agrees to keep Xander out of the fighting for a while. The next day Cordelia amusingly lets her fury loose on him in a way that reminds us of her S1 days. She obviously has personal motivation to be snarky with him for what he did to her. Buffy later sends Xander to buy donuts for the group and that doesn't help matters either.

    All of this leads Xander on a mission to discover what the "essence of cool" is. His first subject is Oz, who as Xander points out, is "more or less 'cool'." Oz doesn't seem to be able to provide Xander with any concrete answers, but Xander does come to the proposal that being cool means having a 'thing;' something that people can identify you with. Fast forward a bit and now we see "car guy" Xander. He thinks that maybe this stylish old car will make him 'cool.' Well, in some ways it does. Right away an attractive blond girl comes onto him and wants to go riding around in the car. He ends up taking her to the Bronze where he then sits there bored out of his mind. Xander gets a taste of being 'cool' and discovers he doesn't like it at all. He is so bored of hanging out with a 'cool' person that he even jumps up in excitement when Angel walks in and wants his company!

    After some crazy antics with some reanimated corpses Xander eventually picks Faith up after a fight and they head off to her apartment. This is where Faith's logic kicks in: fight with no kill leads to sex. So she comes onto Xander and he doesn't do much to resist. I must admit that I'm a bit surprised Xander would have sex with someone he doesn't know very well. Sure he got excited about her stories about being nude and rassling aligators in "Faith, Hope, and Trick" (3x03), but this is a big jump from that. We saw Oz show sexual restraint with Willow in "Amends" (3x10), but I guess Xander's the type who will have sex with just about any girl who jumps on his lap and isn't under a spell. I can't say I respect him for that but it does make for some amusing future storylines (Anya in S4 for example).

    Xander learns things about himself and he has a growing confidence within, but it takes him a long while to fully seize that confidence and lets it rise to the forefront. We see this again and again from this episode to "The Replacement" (5x03) to "Hell's Bells" (6x16). Xander shows a moment of self confidence here when he confronts Jack in the basement of the school and gets him to defuse the bomb. He shows even more maturity when he doesn't feel the need to tell the Scooby Gang what he did and again when he lets Cordelia's snarky comments go without a response. It's important to realize that this is just a temporary attitude, at least in this episode. People don't change overnight, it takes time and many reminders before we finally "get it." This is what happens to Xander throughout the series as he slowly does 'get it.' I feel that by S7 he finally begins to grab a hold of his life and lets that confidence he's always had inside him finally play a more prominent role in his personality. Lets not forget that by series end he's still only in his early twenties. Buffy's cookie dough speech in "Chosen" (7x22) applies not just to her but to all the main characters.

    This is a unique episode that dances on some very fine lines and comes out mostly successful. I'm not a fan of the reanimated corpses plot thread but everything else ranging from the A and B plot swap and Xander's moments of self confidence all sit well with me. On top of all that there are some fantastic lines given to Xander which constitute some of his best in the entire series.moreless
  • A great ep from a series at it's peak

    The Zeppo

    The Good;

    All of it, pure genius and a chance for Nic Brendon to shine like a beacon.

    The Bad;

    Not much, the zombie makeup could be a bit better but that's about all. Buffy's hair looks like it's been through the machine that makes crinkly chips. Surely Jack's bomb is not sophisticated enough to be boobytrapped, why doesn't Xander just yank the wires out? Like Spike in Lover's Walk and the swimteam in Go Fish isn't it a bit irresponsible to just let O'Toole go at the end?

    Best line;

    Willow; Occasionally I'm callous and strange (as we'll find out in Seeing Red)


    O'Toole (threatening Xander with his knife) Are you sacred?

    Xander (desperate) Would that make you happy?

    But the winner is;

    Xander (wondering why Oz is cool) Is it the way you express yourself in short, non-commital sentences?

    Oz; Do I?

    also good is Xander's 'I like the quiet', he's prepared to die to save his friends.

    Character death;

    The Magic Box has a new owner but not for long.


    Various members of the undead gang when they were alive plus Oz twice by Willow

    Tied up;

    nope unless Faith and Xander indulged in some during the heat of passion

    Knocked out;

    Angel according to the dialogue plus werewolf Oz

    Women good/men bad;

    Actually a sisterhood of female demons this time around.


    Decapitation by letterbox, death by soda machine

    Kinky dinky;

    Faith shamelessly uses Xander for her own pleasure then chucks him out the door afterwards. Not that he's complaining! (and I'm sure millions of guys and not a few girls would agree). Xander seems to imply that he's never had sex before. We don't exaclty know how old he or Faith are so it could be statuatory rape, like Buffy/Angel (the legal age is 18 in California). Faith does this after the pain of Xander resetting her shoulder, linking pain, violence and pleasure (in Get It Done we discover why Slayers have this dark sexual side). Buffy seems to imply that Xander's car is a penis metaphor, love how her mind works. Xander's girl is lovely although Cordy's opinion of her is probably correct. Willow dreams of being naked, attacked by demons and late for a test.

    Calling Captain Subtext;

    Xander is quick to point out to the cop that although he and Jack are wrestling it's 'Not in a gay way'. Check out page 17 of the Sunnydale High Yearbook for a very interesting picture of Willow from this episode posed with a couple of SDH cheerleaders. Some of the dialogue about making Xander 'part of the gang' has a distinct Carry-On feel about it.

    Guantanamo Bay;

    Xander interrogates the zombie-gang by dragging one behind a car and threatening another with a bomb. Buffy goes to beat up Willy but finds someone has beaten her to it.

    Scoobies to the ER;

    Giles this time with a banged up arm and head wound.

    Where's Dawn?

    Presumably Buffy got Dawn and Joyce out of town as she did in Graduation Day pt2

    Questions and observations;

    The title comes from one of the lesser known Marx brothers. I suppose they could also have called it 'The Ringo'? (they do refer to Yoko later). Raising the dead appears to depend on the alignment of the stars as we later see in Bargaining although the magic is obviously different as Buffy is alive whilst Bob and co are zombies. Xander and Cordy still have a rapport despite them having fallen out. Cordy mocks Xander for his lack of superpowers but one day she will have her own in spades. The seeds of the season 7 ep Potential are sown here. The scene between Oz and Xander is wonderful, they have obviously made up although what would Oz have thought of Will telling Xander she loved him outside the Magic Box? Giles and Buffy both like jelly doughnuts. Amazingly the SDPD make themselves useful, rescuing Xander at the Bronze. Sunnydale obviously has it's share of criminal gangs in addition to all the evil. Uncle Rory is mentioned again. The series is confident enough to make fun of it's own cliches but the more serious point is that the Buffy/Angel relationship has not much room left to go. This is the last comedy ep before we start the evil-Faith storyline where things get a lot more serious. Xander uses the SDH soda machine to kill one of the gang, is this why it always gives the wrong drink from then on? He's pretty handy with the axe but then he wanted to be a fireman. Thankfully Oz still can't remember stuff he does as a werewolf but that'll change by season 4. Interestingly in this ep Angel is referred to as a the 'key' to opening the Hellmouth just as his blood awakened Acathla.

    10/10, one of the best eps for a series at it's peak.

  • xander feels left out...

    Xander feels left out of the ground in this episode as he keeps asking if the gang need his help, each refusing everytime he asks.... This mediocre episode brought the brilliance of season three of Buffy The vampire Slayer as the plot was stupid and pointless. Buffy and the gang (excluding xander and Cordelia) have to face the beast that resurfaces from the hellmouth which was "all-of-a-sudden" and random, having an apocalyptic episode during the course of the season.

    Cordelia lightened up the show's performance, just being herself (snipp and b!tchy) as we love her....

    Dan Vebber was not strong at writing like the other writers thorughout the season, hence bringing this shameful episode that ruined 60 minutes of my life...moreless
  • Trivializing the Apocolypse

    A Xandercentric episode! In the series, there truly aren't enough of these. In a way, it's good, because it makes the very few of them that much more special. Without a doubt, The Zeppo is the most heavily Xander favoured episode there is. This is the second time Xander has directly saved Buffy's life, and the first he directly saved Willow, Faith, Giles, Oz, and Angel's lives. And, somehow, all the things of a normal episode that usually make this show so good were trivialized so Xander's story was more important. The roles truly reversed. Angel and Buffy had one of their famous moments, when Xander walks in and totally ruins it. But the moment wasn't even that important, even though in any other episode it would have brought tears to the viewers eyes. This time, it was more of a "who cares?"

    And, of course, the end of the world. Another who cares? The gang is desperately trying to save the world as the hellmouth is opened again, and it just doesn't matter. Xander's story is the main focus this time around, and even though the rest of the gang is facing their toughest foe to date, it just doesn't matter.moreless
  • The Zeppo

    The Zeppo was a Buffy The Vampire Slayer original. This episode was complex, challenging viewers to get engaged and connect with the characters while paying attention to the seperate story lines. The main focus in this episode was on Zander and his exploits. Shortly after a battle with deadly demons where Zander almost got seriously hurt, he started feeling outcast by the gang because they don't need his help. He feels like they all have super powers to contribute but he has nothing. In his adventures we see Zander finding himself through experiences and how he relates to them. In the mean while there is an Apocolypse coming and the Hellmouth will open. I love how they cut from Zander in a funny or semi serious moment to Buffy and Angel in a Deep Drama Moment. The story lines were both really good and a pleasure to watch. I thought I didn't like this episode from what I remembered until I just watched it, and it was definitely a great one!!!moreless
Darin Heames

Darin Heames


Guest Star

Scott Torrence

Scott Torrence


Guest Star

Whitney Dylan

Whitney Dylan


Guest Star

Saverio Guerra

Saverio Guerra


Recurring Role

Eliza Dushku

Eliza Dushku


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (12)

    • Goof: In one scene during the fight in the basement between Xander and Jack, you can see the bomb timer tick to 10 seconds, but when the scene changes from out of the close-up, the time is back up to 12 seconds.

    • Nitpick: Obviously Xander wants to get away from Jack and the others, yet he blows a perfectly good opportunity when the group breaks into the hardware store leaving Xander alone in his car.

    • When Faith makes her first appearance in the series, she tells the Scooby Gang that slaying can really turn a slayer on. In this episode, Faith proves this when she first tells Xander that she's "all wound up" from fighting, and then proceeds to have her way with him in bed.

    • Goof: Throughout the scene where the bomb is counting down its last minute, we see several shots of the timer. When the shots change, you can still hear the timer beeping once per second. If you count the number of beeps compared to the visuals of the timer, they don't match up at all throughout the scene.

    • Goof: In the last few minutes of this episode, when Xander and Jack are in the basement, at the very beginning of the fight, after Xander says, "I'm not leaving until this thing's disarmed," in both the long shots and the subsequent closeups, you can clearly see that it's not the actors themselves fighting.

    • Nitpick: When Jack raises Bob from the grave Jack claims Bob's been gone for eight months when it is clear that the grass (being a brighter green than the surrounding) was newly lain turf, nowhere near eight months old.

    • Nitpick: When the dead guys are chasing Xander in the school and they split up...it looks like they are in the cafeteria, but the guy in the letterman's jacket goes down a flight of stairs to get the axe and then proceeded into the cafeteria. Not possible.

    • Goof: The shot of outside the high school right after the opening credits is the same one from when Owen is walking away from Buffy in "Never Kill A Boy On The First Date"...you can see Owen (in the purple shirt) walking away.

    • Nitpick: Immediately before arriving at the hardware store, both Xander and the driver behind him run--as in, they don't do a California roll through, but they totally blow--a clearly marked stop sign. For Xander, this behavor makes some sense, given the company he's keeping, but the other car?

    • Goof: When Jack is threatening Xander with his knife after the car accident, in side shots the point of the knife is under Xander's left ear but when the shot switches to the front, the knife's point is under Xander's chin.

    • Goof: The establishing shot of the cafeteria lunch line at the start of Xander's coolness chat with Oz is footage from season 2's "I Only Have Eyes For You". Watch closely and you can see Buffy, Willow and Xander sitting at a table in the background.

    • Goof: Boom Mic is visible briefly when Giles is talking in the library, just before he says that he's going to try to contact the spirit guides.

  • QUOTES (23)

    • Faith: A fight like that, with no kill? I'm about ready to pop
      Xander: Pop?
      Faith: You up for it?
      Xander: I'm suddenly very'up'; It's just...I've never been 'up' with people before.
      Faith: (kisses him) Relax. Take your pants off.
      Xander: Those two thoughts are antithetical.
      Faith: Don't worry; I'll steer you around the curves.

    • Xander: (imitation whine) But, gee, Mr. White, if Clark and Lois get all the good stories, I'll never be a good reporter!
      Giles: Hmm?
      Xander: Jimmy Olsen jokes are pretty much going to be lost on you, huh?
      Giles: Sorry, afraid so.

    • Bob: How long I been down?
      Jack: Eight months. I had to wait till the stars aligned.
      Bob: Oh, eight months. I got some catching up to do. Whoa! Walker, Texas Ranger. You been taping 'em?
      Jack: Every ep.

    • Xander: You're in a band! That's like a business class ticket to cool with complementary mojo after takeoff! I gotta learn an instrument. Is it hard to play guitar?
      Oz: Not the way I play it.

    • Lysette: Is that your car?
      Xander: Why, uh... Yes! It is!
      Lysette: '57 Chevy Bel Air... 283 CID... Solid lifter... Fuel-injected
      Xander: Uh... very possibly.
      Lysette: How does she handle?
      Xander: Like a dream about warm, sticky things.

    • Buffy: "Sisterhood of Jhe, race of female demons, fierce warriors.." Ew. "..celebrate victory in battle by eating their foes." They couldn't just pour Gatorade on each other?

    • Willow: Are you okay?
      Xander: Tip-top, really. If anyone sees my spine laying around, just try not to step on it.

    • Buffy: And, you know, with the pain and the death, maybe you shouldn't be leaping into the fray like that. Maybe you should be... fray adjacent.
      Xander: Excuse me? Who, at a crucial moment, distracted the lead demon by allowing her to pummel him about the head?
      Faith: Yeah, that was real manly how you shrieked and all.
      Xander: I think you'll find that was a bellow.

    • Faith: Relax. Take your pants off.
      Xander: Those two concepts are a bit antithetical.

    • Xander: You gave your knife a girls name, how very serial killer of you!

    • Cordelia: Ooo, look, it's Mr. Excitement. On another life-or-death doughnut mission, or are we just cruising for bimbos again, giving them lessons in lack of cool?

    • Willow: Xander. Boy, you're lucky you weren't at school last night. It
      was crazed.
      Xander: Well, uh, gimme the quiet life. I'm gonna grab a snack. Anyone want?
      Giles: No, thank you.
      Xander: Oz?
      Oz: No. I'm oddly full today.

    • Cordelia: Ooh, is some evil going on? Must be big for them to trust you with this daredevil mission.
      Xander: Cordelia. Feel free to drop dead of a wasting disease in the next twenty seconds.
      Cordelia: Oh, again I strike the nerve. I am the surgeon of mean.

    • Buffy: What is this?
      Xander: What do you mean, what is this? It's my thing.
      Willow: Your thing?
      Xander: My thing.
      Buffy: Is this a penis metaphor?

    • Buffy: Should I burn them?
      Willow: I brought marshmallows! ... Occasionally, I'm callous and strange.

    • Jack: What are you, retarded?
      Xander: No. No, I had to take that test when I was seven. A little slow in some stuff, mostly math and spatial relations, but certainly not challenged or anything.

    • Buffy: Willow, you okay?
      Willow: Yeah, I'm fine. The shaking is a side effect of the fear.

    • Buffy: Remember the demon that almost got out the night I died?
      Willow: Every nightmare I have that doesn't revolve around academic failure or public nudity is about that thing. In fact, once I dreamt that it attacked me while I was late for a test and naked.

    • Cordelia: 'Cool.' Look it up. It's something that a sub-literate
      that's repeated twelfth grade three times has, and you don't.

    • Xander: I happen to be an integral part of that group. I happen to have a lot to offer.
      Cordelia: Oh, please.
      Xander: I do!
      Cordelia: 'Integral part' of the group? Xander, you're the, the useless part of the group. You're the Zeppo.

    • Cordelia: It must be really hard when all your friends have, like, superpowers -- Slayer, werewolf, witches, vampires -- and you're, like, this little nothing. You must feel like Jimmy Olsen.

    • Xander: I need a thing, something no one else has. What do I have?
      Oz: An exciting new obsession. Which I feel makes you very special.

    • Xander: Why is it that I've come face-to-face with vampires, demons, the most hideous creatures hell ever spit out, and I'm still afraid of a little bully like Jack O'Toole?
      Cordelia: Because, unlike all those other creatures that you've come face-to-face with, Jack actually noticed you were there.

  • NOTES (10)

    • This episode is sixth in Joss Whedon's list of his top ten favorite episodes according to his personal letter included in the Australian Chosen Collection Box-set. The episodes on this top ten list are not ranked, but are put in order of which episode aired first.

    • Music:

      While Xander is driving his uncle's car -- "Dodgems" by Sound Stage Ltd
      Xander and Lysette are at the bronze -- "G Song" by Supergrass
      Xander is driving the zombies around town -- "Easy" by Tricky Woo
      At the end of the episode -- "For the Glory" by Extreme Music

    • Sunnydale apparently does have gangs (not just made-up "gangs on PCP," which is a popular excuse for the tragedies in Sunnydale). One of them is the Jackals.

    • Xander has an Uncle Rory who seems to have a drinking problem. He owns a 57 Chevy Bel Air, which he rented to Xander since he stacked up so many DUI's (for those of you outside the USA a DUI is a ticket for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol). This Uncle Rory is briefly shown somewhere in the season 6 episode "Hell's Bells".

    • In addition to having frog fear, Willow also has nightmares about public nudity, academic failure, and the demon that came out of The Hellmouth.

    • According to Nicholas Brendon this is the episode that changed Xander's character.

    • In this episode, Xander loses his virginity to Faith.

    • Xander's exploits in this episode are reminiscent of some of the events in the film American Graffiti.

    • Channon Roe is no stranger to playing an undead gang leader. He was Cash, head of the Gangrel clan of vampires in the 1996 TV series Kindred: The Embraced.

    • Channon Roe worked with Seth Green in the 1998 movie Can't Hardly Wait, and will work with Nicholas Brendon again in the 2000 movie Psycho Beach Party.


    • Xander: Hello, nasty!
      This is what Xander says when he goes down to the school basement and discovers the bomb. "Hello Nasty" is the title of a 1998 album by the Beastie Boys.

    • Bob: Walker Texas Ranger. You been tapin' 'em?
      Walker Texas Ranger was a popular CBS drama starring Chuck Norris as the Texas Ranger, Cordell Walker, who fought numerous criminals throughout the show's eight-year run, from 1993 to 2001.

    • Xander: I've never been up with people before.
      It's not clear if Xander made the reference intentionally but Up With People is a youth organization that performs traveling shows to "build understanding and cooperation among people of different cultures". Faith is in a way introducing Xander to a whole new world

    • Buffy: They couldn't just pour gatorade on each other?
      Gatorade is a popular sports drink and it is traditional to pour jugs of it over your teammates after a win. Buffy suggests the demon sisterhood could emulate athletes in celebrating victory by pouring gatorade on each other rather than eating their foes.

    • Cordelia: You're the Zeppo.
      A reference to Herbert "Zeppo" Marx, the youngest of the five Marx Brothers. Zeppo was certainly the least memorable of the comedy troupe, having always been in the shadow of his more famous brothers Harpo, Chico and Groucho.

    • Jack O'Toole: You wanna be startin' somethin'?
      As Xander's response indicates, the line is also a Michael Jackson song.

    • Xander: But gee Mr. White, if Clark and Lois get all the good stories, I'll never be a good reporter. ... Jimmy Olson jokes are pretty much gonna be lost on you, aren't they?
      Mr. White, Clark, Lois and Jimmy Olson are all character's from the Superman comics. Xander compares himself to Jimmy Olson when it is suggested that he hang back from the battles. Jimmy Olson was a cub reporter at the paper and often worried about getting experience when all the best stories went to Clark and Lois.