“Helpless” opens with Buffy almost getting staked on patrol by one of the disposables, the sort of vampire she ought, by now, to be able to take with one hand tied behind her back and Faith actively interfering in the slay.
She prevails in the end and goes to Giles, as she always does, with a big cry for help. All he’s got to offer is maybe you’ve got the flu. This is entirely useless and she knows it—but hey, stuff happens. If Giles doesn’t know, maybe he’s having an off day. She heads off to update her friends on her birthday plans: go do big girly ice-skating things with her other dad, the one who’s actually her father. These plans involve nothing supernatural or emotionally painful.
Naturally, there is a birthday conspiracy afoot, and it comes together pretty fast: Quentin Travers of the Watcher’s Council has shown up with one unrecognizable beta male and Dominic Keating (otherwise known as That Obnoxious Spy from Enterprise) in tow. They and Giles are planning to lock Buffy up with a vamp who used to be a serial killer before he was turned. This is what passes for a surprise party when a Slayer turns eighteen. Presumably it’s also a good method of weeding out the less popular Watchers, since some of the Slayers who survive this particular rite of passage must behead their benevolent role models ten minutes later.
Everything goes much horribly wrong(er) than even the Watchers had dared to hope. The vamp gets loose, turns our friend from Starfleet Intelligence (um…) and goes off in search of Joyce and all the Polaroid film he can carry. Buffy is thus obliged to go hunting, despite her delicate condition.
As Team Watcher has obviously intended, she has not only lost her good right hook but also, by now, spiraled into a full-blown identity crisis. Anyone would, and Sarah Michelle Gellar is thoroughly convincing: she starts off uneasy, freaks out as her powers start to really fail her, and then gets dumped by her dad. The heartbreaking parts, though, are the her and Giles stuff: the bit when she asks him to take her to the skating thing, and her shock and horror when she realizes he’s betrayed her.
At that point, having to rescue Joyce from the creepiest vamp since Angelus is basically just lighting the candles on the OMG, FML birthday cake.
I might argue that birthday number eighteen is even worse for Buffy than having the love of her life turn evil. At least last year she got some sex out the deal, am I right?
No, really, am I right? Which Buffy Birthday is the absolute worst?
“Helpless” is a big test of the Buffy/Giles relationship. She takes a big step over the ‘we work together’ line when she asks him to the skating event. She’s also, naturally enough, furious when she finds out what’s happening. In an odd way, though, it’s Quentin Travers who repairs the damage, when he tells Giles that his part in the experiment was a big old fail and that he loves his Slayer like a parent. Would Buffy have forgiven Giles so quickly if he hadn’t got a snotty lecture and a pink slip? I’m not convinced.
One way or another, the firing of Giles paves the way for Wesley’s arrival, which is another important stepping stone on the road to graduation. Faith’s still looking for her own big daddy, after all, and Wesley’s mishandling of his brief Watcher tenure has everything to do with why she chose the Mayor.
Next: If Xander is Zeppo, who are Chico, Harpo and Groucho?
A.M. Dellamonica has two short stories up here on Tor.com. First up: an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. Her second story here is called “Among the Silvering Herd.” In October, watch for a novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.