Go Fish S2 E20 (Buffy and the Art of Story)

Buffy and the Art of Story Podcast CoverThis week on Buffy and the Art of Story: Go Fish (Season 2 Episode 20 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

This podcast episode covers (1) how the episode undercuts its light tone by treating disturbing issues as a joke; (2) some of the most fun lines in Buffy to date – including “Oh forgive me your Swimteamliness”; (3) an unexpected Midpoint twist; and (4) major plot turns at unusual places.

As always, the discussion of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).

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About Lisa M. Lilly

In addition to hosting the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the bestselling four-book Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries, as well as numerous short stories. She also writes non-fiction, including books on writing craft, under L.M. Lilly. She is the founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com.

Episode Transcript for Go Fish

Hello and welcome to the podcast Buffy and the Art of Story Season Two. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories – or just taking them apart to see how they work – you’re in the right place.

I am Lisa M Lilly, author of the Awakening supernatural thriller series and the Q.C. Davis mysteries and founder of WritingAsASecondCareer.com

Today were talking about Season Two Episode Twenty Go Fish.

What’s Included

In particular we’ll talk about:

  1. how this episode treats disturbing issues as a joke, undercutting its lighthearted tone;
  2. some of the most fun lines in Buffy to date (including Xander saying, “Oh forgive me your swimteamliness”;
  3. a twist at the Midpoint that is especially fun and interesting; but
  4. major plot turns out unusual places that rob the episode (in my view) of a bit of its momentum and make it feel uneven.

As always, there will be no Spoilers except at the end to talk about foreshadowing, but I’ll give you plenty of warning.

Okay, let’s dive into the Hellmouth.

Is Go Fish Fun?

Go Fish was written by Elin Hampton and David Fury and directed by David Semel.

Before I go into the breakdown, when I said last Monday that we were coming up to Go Fish, a fun episode, I had forgotten the troubling aspects of it. Which are that both threatened and actual sexual assault and rape are treated lightly and played for jokes.

There’s nothing graphic here in my breakdown or in the episode itself, but I am flagging these issues in case it’s something that you don’t want to encounter as you listen to this episode. Especially if perhaps, like me, you forgot that aspect of the episode.

A Peaceful Start, Then Opening Conflict

We start out, for a change, not with conflict but with a very peaceful scene. A shot of the ocean. It is rolling. We see lovely waves, and there is really nice music in the background.

Then we get our opening conflict. Xander, Willow, and Cordelia are standing on the beach. And Xander says what a stupid idea it is to have a party on the beach when it’s this cold. He also says the swim team is not a real team. But Cordelia says it’s about time school excelled at something. To which Willow responds, “You’re forgetting our high mortality rate.”

So what a nice quick opening conflict.

We also see on bonfires on the beach and lots of students around. So now we know it’s a celebration for the swim team. And that it is apparently the first team that is winning anything at Sunnydale in quite some time. Plus Willow quickly reminds us how many people die in Sunnydale.

Buffy On The Beath

Buffy, however, is not with her friends. She is sitting on the beach looking out at the ocean. A swim team member (by the way, it’s the boys swim team), we’ll find out his name is Cameron, walks over. He says something about how beautiful the ocean is and how it’s eternal.

And Buffy jokes something like she was just thinking that it was big. He laughs, and she asks what he’s going to do now that he has had this big win. He says he wants to spend some time hanging out with her.

Someone calls out for help from behind them. Jonathan is being dumped into a tub of water by another swim team member. Buffy runs over, pulls the swim team guy off of Jonathan. Cameron says his teammate had it coming.

Cameron Seems Okay

So at first I am sort of liking Cameron. He clearly likes Buffy. He laughs at her jokes. While he’s a little annoying with his profound comments about the ocean, he doesn’t seem to approve of his teammates bullying. So he seems like a reasonably okay guy.

Jonathan, though, is mad. He tells Buffy he could’ve handled this without her help. And he says, “Mind your own business” and stalks off.

Buffy (turns to Cameron): See, it’s fun to hang out with me.

The Story Spark In Go Fish

An unnamed bully and another swimmer (whom we find out is named Gage) take a walk on the beach. The bully complains about Buffy. He can’t believe her. He falls behind Gage, who doesn’t notice at first. But he does notice that something smells terrible. He looks around.

And at 4 minutes 35 seconds into the episode the camera pans to skin pieces on the beach. Skin and steaming flesh.

And then there is a shot of the sea creature in what looks like a giant storm drain.

And we go to credits.

So that was our Story Spark or Inciting Incident which typically happens about 10% into any story. So here it is right on time at 4 minutes 35 seconds in. It is about a 42-minute episode. And it’s a great hook, no pun intended. (Given all the fish puns we have right before the commercial. Or rather the credits.)

Gage Goofs Off

When we return, Willow is teaching the computer class. And she walks through the room looking at the students’ efforts and their screens. Telling them they are doing good pie charts. Until she gets to Gage.

Willow: Your pie chart is looking a lot like solitaire. With naked ladies on the cards.

Gage: What’s your point?

The bell rings. Principal Snyder comes in as the class leaves. He tells Willow the board wants her to continue teaching the rest of the semester. They’re having trouble finding a substitute to replace Miss Calendar.

I mentioned in a previous episode how only in Sunnydale would a student be asked to take over and teach a class. I have to wonder if some of that is that high death rate Willow mentioned. Perhaps substitutes are not too eager to come to Sunnydale.

Being A Team Player

Willow, though, is excited. She says how much she likes teaching. And Snyder says he’s glad she’s a team player and he understands that there’s a problem with Gage.

Willow is relieved that he knows. She mentions behavior issues, and he doesn’t do the work and his test scores – well, there aren’t any test scores. Because he doesn’t take the tests.

But Snyder’s not interested in any of that. He’s concerned that she’s slapping a failing mark on a student on a winning team. That would disqualify Gage from swimming.

Willow says she’s trying to be fair. Snyder points out the Gage is a champion, he’s under a lot of pressure. Willow says, “You’re asking me to change his grade?”

Snyder claims he never said that. He just said that he thinks if she reviews her figures she’ll find something more appropriate for Gage in the area of the D.

What Winners Deserve

In the hall later, Xander is appalled. He says that’s a slap in the face to everyone who worked hard for their Ds.

But Cordelia says winners deserve more, that’s how the world works. Xander’s mad that Buffy is not there to share his outrage about swim team perks because she’s too busy being one of them.

We switch to Buffy and Cameron there sitting in his car talking. Or rather Cameron is talking. In the school parking lot.

He waxes eloquent about swimming and philosophy. She interrupts and thanks him, saying with a little bit of sarcasm, “I forgot how nice it is to just talk, or in my case listen, without any romantic pressure.”

Cameron Attacks

Cameron assures her he’s not about pressure. But then he turns on a dime and asks if she’s wearing a bra. When she reacts badly he locks her car door and says, “Relax, I’m not going to hurt you.”

And Buffy, in a line that I love, says, “Oh it’s not me I’m worried about.”

He says, “You like it rough,” and lunges for her.

She grabs him and bangs his face into the steering wheel. He yells out. Says, “You broke my nose.”

All this is Snyder passes the car. He stares through the windshield at both of them. Of course, he only saw the part where Buffy bangs Cameron’s nose into the steering wheel.

Everyone Blames Buffy

About 10 minutes in, in the nurse’s office, the nurse gives Cameron an ice pack. Buffy tells Snyder she wasn’t the attacker, she was attacked. So at least Buffy points out that this was an attempted sexual assault. Though later she’ll seem to be convinced – by the reaction of her friends no less – that it was really no big deal.

Snyder says that’s not how it looked to him. And Cameron claims that Buffy led him on and then went schizo.

Buffy: What you mean I lead you on?

Cameron: Look at the way she dresses.

The coach comes in. He’s relieved that Cameron’s nose is not broken because he needs Cam to win the championship, especially with Dodd gone.

Nearing The One-Quarter Twist Of Go Fish

We’re nearing the One-Quarter Twist, which should come, in well-structured story, from outside the protagonist and take the story in a new direction. Here, I am uncertain exactly where this happens or at what point.

But right now we are about 10 minutes 45 seconds into the episode. So timewise we are at the one-quarter point.

And Buffy asks what happened to Dodd. Snyder tells her it’s none of her concern. The coach tells Cameron to go take a steam, clear his nasal passages. And tells the nurse to take good care of him.

He then turns to Buffy and says, “And you. Try to dress more appropriately from now on. This isn’t a dance club.”

Blaming Girls

So on two levels this is awful of the coach. First and most important, it doesn’t matter how she dresses. It is not okay what Cameron did. Second, she doesn’t look dressed for a dance club. She’s pretty much wearing just regular clothes anyone might wear to school.

The way Buffy is dressed suggests to me that the writers are trying to point out that this is awful. This blaming of girls for how boys act.

On the other hand, the way that she’s dressed suggests maybe if she were dressed differently, it would be okay. I don’t think that is the writers’ intent. I think that they are trying to show that the coach is a jerk, as he is. And that a girl should not be blamed.

So the issue I have with how this plays out is really in the next scene.

Back In My Day

Side note: when I went to high school that is totally how that kind of thing would have been treated. It would definitely be blamed on the girl. Probably also true in the late nineties when Buffy was made. I hope it’s not true now.

Library Research

We switch to the library. Buffy is telling about what happened to Giles, Xander, Willow, and Cordelia. They have books all over the library table, clearly in the middle of researching something important.

Buffy winds up by saying, “I’m treated like the baddie just because Cameron has a sprained wrist and bloody nose,” and she doesn’t have a scratch on her. Which she says she admits does hurt her case a little. But he gets away with it just because he’s on the swim team. And in case they haven’t noticed, those guys get away with all kinds of things.

The others had no patience with her as they have noticed that. And she hasn’t until now. At least that’s the implication based on what we have heard before.

Buffy realizes that they are just staring at her in stony silence and says enough about her, what’s happening with them?

Buffy’s Friends Ignore The Attack

And Giles says, “Thank you for taking an interest.”

If the incident that Buffy was complaining about were something else (I don’t know what that would be, but not sexual assault) and she was going on and on about how unfair it was the way the team got away with things and the group reacted that way that would work really well for me. Because they have been researching and working hard. They all noticed the perks for the swim team. And Buffy missed it because she was dating one of them.

The problem I have with the scene is that it was an attempted sexual assault.

Distinctions From The Hyena Attack

You could argue that Buffy wasn’t in any real danger, so that’s why they are ignoring that aspect of it. And she was in far more danger in Season One, when Xander tried to assault her. Because he was possessed by the hyena and had superstrength.

I feel like that was different, though. At that point everyone was starting to suspect there was something wrong with Xander, that he been possessed. So it put that fight between Buffy and Xander more into the realm of what Buffy deals with all the time. Demons and vampires trying to attack her and assault her one way or another.

Here we’re talking about an experience she had with a boy she was dating. So I am disappointed that the writers wrote this such that the characters seem to be saying, “Well, Buffy, you’re so self-absorbed going on and on about being assaulted when we’re upset that the swim team, I don’t know, get better grades.”

Unintended Messages

I don’t in any way think the writers intended that. I feel like it is a result partly of the time in which it was written and how such things were treated then.

But it is a good example of why it’s important to step back and consider the subtext of what you are writing. See whether there are messages woven in there that you are not intending to be there.

Human Remains And Puns

At about 11 minutes 40 seconds in the others tell Buffy that human remains were found on the beach and they were Dodd’s. But it is not a vampire because he was eviscerated.

Xander: In in other words, this was no boating accident.

That’s a line from Jaws the movie. And it harkens back to Killed By Death where we also had the movie references. Also from Xander. So he seems to be the one who spends a lot of time watching old movies.

The group talks about how they are looking for a demon that eats a human whole except for the skin.

Buffy: That doesn’t make sense.

Xander: Yeah, the skin’s the best part.

Buffy: Any demons with high cholesterol?

Giles gives her a look.

Buffy: You’re going to think about that later, Mister, and you’re gonna laugh.

The One-Quarter Twist

I see the part about finding the human remains on the beach, and that they are Dodd’s, as the One-Quarter Twist here.

It is what takes the story in new direction. Even though, as audience members, we already knew all of this. We knew it was Dodd on the beach. We didn’t know his name. But we knew a swimmer on the beach was skinned alive. And that there was some kind of monster that was not a vampire.

However, Buffy didn’t know this. So this does change her direction. And sets her and her friends off to find out what’s happening.

The next scene is in the locker room. Cameron sits in the steam room. And like all Sunnydale locker rooms, everything is dim and in shadow. We see an ominous shadow approach the steam room. But it’s just the coach coming in to tell Cameron he’s had enough and he should hit the shower.

Xander Crosses Cameron’s Path

Xander is heading to the vending machine for soda. Cameron exits the locker room and bumps into him. He yells at Xander for getting in his way.

Xander: Oh forgive me Your Swimteamlyness.

He then taunts Cameron about Buffy almost breaking his nose. Cameron ignores him. He’s heading to the cafeteria because he’s hungry.

Xander: Oh, too bad. The cafeteria is closed.

Cameron: Not for me.

In the lunch room, Cameron sniffs and says, “What is that?”

From the hallway Xander hears Cameron screaming.

Plot Turn Questions

Xander runs in and sees overturned tables and then clothes and skin on the floor. He turns away, about to vomit, and sees one of these sea monsters. This is at 15 minutes 15 seconds in.

So it’s pretty soon after that one-quarter major plot turn. Yet it feels like it should be either that first major turn — because we find out, okay, it’s a sea monster – or the last major plot turn that explains things. Because we know not just about the sea monster, but that it is particularly after swim team members.

But instead this happens between our one-quarter and halfway points.

This is part of what feels a bit uneven to me about the plot here.

Revenge Killings

In the library, Xander describes the monster and Cordelia tries to draw it. She produces a pretty good likeness. Which makes me wonder is everyone in Sunnydale is good at drawing. We saw Angel is really a pretty good artist. Of course, he’s had hundreds of years to practice.

Buffy come in. Willow says Buffy was right, Dodd and Cameron were the first and second best swimmers on the team. Buffy says that makes Gage next because he’s the third best swimmer.

Cordelia: This is so sad. We’re never going to win the state championship.

Giles thinks these may be revenge killings against the swim team. So they talk about who hates the team members. Willow reminds them the team bullied Jonathan. Buffy tells her to go question him.

And Willow’s really excited about getting to take that interrogator role.

Giles tells Buffy Gage might benefit from her protection. She should discreetly watch him.

Focus On Gage

So now we’re getting to what I find to be one of the most fun parts of the episode. Buffy trying and failing miserably to be surreptitious.

In the student lounge area, she watches Gage. He’s sitting about 10 feet from her reading. And he looks over at her and she is so obviously watching him. She jerks her head back to her magazine.

Willow Questions Jonathan

In a classroom that’s otherwise empty Willow shines a light in Jonathan’s face. She’s standing, he’s sitting. She acts like a detective in an old-fashioned movie. She questions him about the team. He says he couldn’t be on it because he’s asthmatic.

Willow interrogates him until he admits that bothered him, and he hated the way the team members pushed him around.

And Willow says, “So you wanted revenge, didn’t you? Didn’t you?

Jonathan finally says yes. And Willow says, “So you delved into the black arts and conjured hellbeasts from the ocean’s depth to wreak your vengeance. Didn’t you?

And Jonathan says, “No. I snuck in yesterday and peed in the pool.

Xander Gets An Idea

We switch to the coach and Principal Snyder. They’re talking about the team. The coach says the rest of the team members will figure out what’s happening. Snyder reassures the coach that he feels their pain.

Snyder: I don’t know finer boys than Cameron and – that other one.

Snyder’s sure those boys would want the team to carry on competing and win the championship. But the coach says they can’t even compete unless they get another swimmer by today’s tryouts. Snyder thinks that’s no big deal. All the person has to do is wear a bathing suit.

Xander, who was sitting at a nearby table with his back to the audience, turns around.

Buffy Tries Stealth

19 minutes in we get more Buffy and Gage. They’re at the Bronze. Gage is playing pool by himself. Buffy watches him from the bar and then attempts to casually saunter closer.

Gage walks over and stands right in front of her. He tells her the “me and my shadow” act is getting old. And what does she want.

Buffy claims to be a swim team groupie. Gage is skeptical.

Buffy: Oh, yeah, you know there’s just something about the smell of chlorine on a guy. Oh baby.

Gage rolls his eyes and walks away and Buffy runs after him.

Today’s Sponsor

Today’s show is sponsored by WritingAsASecondCareer.com. There you can find articles about writing, marketing, publishing, and time management for writers. Especially for writers who are working full time at another career or who have other significant responsibilities.

You can also find books on writing, including Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel; Happiness, Anxiety And Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life; The One-Year Novelist; and Creating Compelling Characters From The Inside Out. And, of course, Buffy and the Art of Story Season One: Writing Better Fiction By Watching Buffy.

The Midpoint Commitment In Go Fish

We are now very close to the Midpoint where usually we see a commitment by the protagonist to the quest, a reversal, or both. Here, first we get a commitment. It’s not quite as extreme as we sometimes see in the show.

Buffy does to some extent throw caution to the wind and go all in. She just tells Gage what’s going on. And I see it as a commitment because usually Buffy is trying to maintain something of her secret identity. She is usually not telling people, hey, there’s a vampire after you. She’s just protecting them.

But here she says to Gage:

Buffy: Okay, okay, obviously my sex appeal’s on the fritz today, so I’ll just give it to you straight.

She then tells him something is out there killing people and she thinks that he’s next. But he tells her she’s twisted.

Gage: Cam told me about your games.

Midpoint Reversal In Go Fish

Gage leaves. As he walks out of the Bronze, he mutters under his breath about “that bitch.” Angel emerges from the shadows and says, “You gotta be talking about Buffy.”

Gage asks how he knows, and Angel says he sort of had a thing with her for a while. Gage says, “My condolences, dude.”

Angel pretends to commiserate with Gage. He says Buffy needs someone to knock her down. Gage says that would be sweet and does he have anyone in mind. Angel goes into vamp face.

Angel: You’re in luck my friend. It just so happens I’m recruiting.

So now we get, what looks like a Midpoint Reversal. It happens right at 21 minutes, 10 seconds in. (This episode is just over 42 minute so we are almost exactly at that Midpoint.)  Angel attacks Gage it looks like he’s going to die. And that will be this major reversal for Buffy who was there specifically to protect Gage.

With A Twist

But we get a twist.

And I really enjoyed this because it is a surprise. Buffy comes out. She hears Gage screaming for her and runs to him. But Angel has already backed off, and he is spitting out Gage’s blood.

We then get a fun moment. Buffy has her hair up. She pulls out a giant hairpin and threatens Angel with it. Her hair falls beautifully all around her shoulders. And Angel parodies one of those moments in the old movies where suddenly this woman who was supposedly dowdy because she wore glasses and had her hair up, lets her hair down and the hero just realizes how beautiful she is.

Angel: Why Miss Summers, you’re beautiful.

He grabs Gage again, throws him aside, and stalks off. I really enjoy this fake out with the reversal. I think that it makes that otherwise not superstrong Midpoint really work.

Gage Is Convinced

Gage asks Buffy if that was the thing that killed Cameron. And she says no, it was something else. And unfortunately they have a lot of something elses in this town.

She starts to leave but Gage asks her to walk him home.

At swim practice the next day Buffy is there with Cordelia and Willow so she can keep an eye on Gage. All the swimmers wear yellow caps and goggles. It’s hard to tell them apart. But Gage pauses in the middle of his lap to stop and wave to Buffy.

The three girls talk about Angel’s spitting out the blood and speculate that he didn’t like something in it. Maybe steroids. But Cordelia is distracted by a swimmer who walks in.

Cordelia: Oh, oh my. Now that girls is my kind of –

It’s Xander

And the camera shows the new swimmer starting with his feet and panning up his very well-muscled legs.

Willow: Xander!

Cordelia: Xander?

She goes over to him and yells at him that he has to leave because he doesn’t belong there. They’re gonna throw him out. But he says he’s undercover. And Buffy kind of smirks and says, “Not under much.”

He tells them he tried out last night and made the team so he can keep an eye on Gage when Buffy can’t. Very eagerly Willow says, “When you’re nude?” Buffy nudges her from behind, and she says, “I meant when you’re changing.”

The coach calls Xander over to the rest of the team.

And Cordelia says, “I’m dating a swimmer from the Sunnydale High Swim Team.”

Buffy asks Willow about Jonathan and whether he was involved. And Willow says, “oh no, he just sort of peed in the pool.” Buffy says, “Oh.”

Xander dives into the pool, and Buffy says, “Oh.”

The Steam Room

At almost 25 minutes in, Xander is in the steam room asking the other guys why they liked the steam so much. In the locker room there is a graet over a large vent. That grate starts to move.

Buffy paces outside the locker room. Xander comes out. He says Gage is right behind him putting on his sneakers. But it’s not the Velcro kind so give him a couple extra minutes. And then he says to Buffy, “Tag, you’re it.”

In the dim locker room Gage is in fact tying his shoes. He sniffs as if he smells something bad. And then smells both his armpits, then walks around the lockers, apparently looking for the source of the smell.

Buffy Sees The Sea Monster

From out in the hall Buffy hears him screaming her name. She runs in and a sea monster is confronting Gage. Before the monster touches him, though, Gage falls on the floor in terrible pain. Then his skin splits open and he emerges as another sea monster.

And we cut to the commercial.

That happened about 26 minutes 48 seconds in. It’s another example of a really major shift in the story. Now we know it is not some monster coming after the swimmers – they are turning into monsters.

It feels like it should be a major plot turn.

Major Plot Turns In Unusual Places

In most well-structured stories, the most major turns are at that one-quarter, halfway, and three-quarter mark. And this is kind of in between the halfway and the three-quarter.

So it’s not that you can’t have other major turns. That can be a really interesting thing in the story. And you want various turns throughout to keep ratcheting up the tension.

But when you have such significant ones at these kind of odd places, it can rob the one-quarter, halfway, and three-quarter points of their power and make the narrative feel a little uneven. That’s my view.

I didn’t know before I rewatched and looked at it for this, that this is how the major turns played out. But I really think it might be part of why this episode is never a fan favorite. And why it’s always one that I think, okay, Go Fish, I’ll watch it but I don’t feel super excited about it.

The Coach Is Not Surprised

Buffy fights off the sea monsters. They dive in through the grate, which apparently leads somehow into those giant tunnels below that are filled with water against storm drains.

Throughout the episode it will be a little bit unclear why we have big grates. And later a trap door in the school that just leads right directly to these drains or whatever it is.

In the nurse’s office, the nurse has bandaged Buffy’s arm. Giles tells the coach that the good news is, none of his team actually died. Buffy tells him the bad news is they’re monsters.

Not much of this episode contributes to this season or series arc. I don’t think any of it does. But it is interesting that there is a little bit of the development here in that we see that in Sunnydale people no longer seem surprised about monsters. And these Hellmouthy kinds of things happening. They may not know about the Hellmouth, but they know Sunnydale is a strange town.

Giles and Buffy don’t have to do anything special to make the case to the coach that his players have turned into monsters.

Coach Claims Ignorance

The coach says sadly he doesn’t know how this happened. He worked so hard. He hoped he was inspiring the team to greatness and maybe he was afraid to ask if they might be taking anything to help them along.

Buffy looks suspicious of the coach claiming innocence.

In the next scene Willow looks at school records on the computer. She says that members of the team had fractures, depression, and other issues linked to steroid abuse. And Xander says but is steroid abuse usually linked to turning into a fish?

Willow says there must be something else involved along with the steroids.

How The Sea Monster Within Reveal Fits

Buffy suspects the nurse has something to do with this because she treated everyone on the team. She tells Xander to try to find out what the team is taking and how they’re taking it.

This scene is about 29.5 minutes in. And it adds to my feeling that the sea monster from within reveal should have been a major plot turn. Because it does send them in a totally new direction in that they are looking for some kind of steroid or other substance the team is taking that is turning them into monsters.

So yes, they were already speculating about steroids because of Angel spitting up blood, but now they know there is something altering these guys DNA.

A Quick (And Unnecessary?) Scene

Buffy and Giles go into those watery tunnels with the tranquilizer gun to try to find the sea monsters. A sea monster follows them but they don’t notice. And that’s all that happens with that scene. There’s no follow up with them later hunting or shooting any of the monsters.

It’s a quick short scene that shows our heroes following up on a lead. Doing something that we would expect them to do.

And sometimes in a mystery or thriller your protagonist is going to follow leads that don’t go anywhere. You need that to happen, or it would be too obvious what would happen and there would be no suspense.

So I like that it does this quickly, and it’s a good example of how to do that in your story. On the other hand, this doesn’t really feel that much like a whodunit episode and the scene really doesn’t go anywhere. So I’m not sure that it adds anything here.

Xander’s Surprise In Go Fish

At about 30 minutes, 30 seconds in. Xander is back in the steam room. He hints around about ways to improve performance, saying he drank carrot juice, hoping someone will volunteer something. Finally, though, he just outright asks when do they get their next dose and who’s carrying?

The other guys laugh about aromatherapy and tell him it’s in the steam.

The Coach Turns On The Nurse

We switch to the nurse. She’s arguing with the coach in an area near the swimming pool. She wants to stop whatever they’re doing. He calls her quitter and says they just need to perfect the formula.

But she says they already lost three team members. The coach, though, tells her they are not lost, and he throws her through a trap door into the water below. It’s about waist deep.

So this is what I mean about it’s really unclear why is there a trap door somewhere near the swim room that leads down into this water that, I don’t know, is just under the school.

Anyway, I know it’s not meant to be a serious episode, so maybe it doesn’t matter, but I do think it adds to making this episode of a little bit muddled.

The coach is looking down at her through the trapdoor and he tells her he still looking after his boys. They’re still the team and the team’s gotta eat. And he watches from above as the sea monsters attack the nurse.

Not The Three-Quarter Turn In Go Fish?

And we cut to commercial. The attack on the nurse happened at 32 minutes 45 seconds in. So it is timewise the three-quarter mark in the episode. Which is part of why I say there isn’t a lot of momentum with the Three-Quarter Turn.

Throwing the nurse to his team is a pretty major thing to do – and if you’re the nurse it’s horrible. And it reveals to the audience both that the two of them were in on what was happening with the team and that the coach has no problem killing the nurse. But it doesn’t really spin the story.

Also the Three-Quarter Turn should grow out of the Midpoint in addition to turning the story in another new direction. And here it really doesn’t do that.

Buffy doesn’t find out about the nurse until much later, too late to affect the plot.

The Steam Turns The Story

In contrast, Xander learning about the steam does arise out of Buffy’s action at the Midpoint. That’s when she told Gage the truth, which led him to ask for her protection after Angel attacked him. And that is part of what leads Xander to joining the team and learning about the steam.

So it’s a bit indirect but it does come out of that. Plus the knowledge about the steam does propel the plot in a different direction.

So I think that quieter moment of Xander learning that is actually the Three-Quarter Turn.

More Fish Puns

Xander is in a panic. Buffy tries to reassure him.

Buffy: I wouldn’t break out the tartar sauce yet, you were only exposed once. Twice?

Xander: Three times a fish guy.

This is a play on the song Three Times A Lady. I put a link to a performance of it on YouTube in the show notes just for fun. It was kind of neat to revisit it. And if you have never heard the song, it’s worth a listen.

Xander continues to panic, saying what is he going to do.

Cordelia: You you you. What about me?

And she says it’s one thing to date a loser and another to date the creature from the blue lagoon. Xander, really irritated, tells her that’s Brooke Shields. Another movie reference. And that she means the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Buffy says they better lock up the rest of the swim team before they get in touch with their inner halibut.

Buffy Confronts The Coach

She then goes to the coach to find out what’s going on. And she gets right to the point and says, “What’s in the steam?”

The coach is surprisingly open about it. He tells her that after the Soviet Union fell documents became available showing that the reason their swimmers had won so many swim meets and championships was that they were taking a combination of steroids, shark fins, and other ingredients. But no one could figure out the exact formula. Now he has almost cracked it.

He is shocked when Buffy asks why he would do that. He says for the win.

She tells him there isn’t going to be a win because there isn’t going to be a team. And doesn’t he care what happens to the team members?

Coach: Boy, when they were handing out school spirit, you didn’t even stand in line, did you?

Buffy: No, I was in the line for shred of sanity.

The coach pulls a gun on her, and she says, “Which you obviously skipped.”

Buffy In Peril

Now it’s clear why he didn’t mind telling her what he was doing. Because he tells her to jump into that hole, that open trap door where he threw the nurse. Buffy jumps down into the water.

He tells her his boys count on him. She sees the nurses bitten up body and says, “So you’re going to feed me to them?”

And now we are coming to the second example of the episode treating the threat of sexual assault lightly. The coach says, “They’ve already eaten. But boys have other needs.”

A Sea Monster Mix Up

Cordelia and Xander are walking near the pool. Xander keeps feeling his neck and asking if it looks scaly. Cordelia tells him of course it does because he keeps rubbing it. Xander says he needs to go take a look in the mirror, and she should come into the locker room if he screams.

A moment later, Cordelia hears someone enter the pool area behind her. She jokes, “Any gills yet?” Whoever it is dives into the pool.

Cordelia turns around and sees a sea monster swimming underwater. As it goes across the pool she crouches at the edge talking to it. She says it’s all her fault. She knows he joined the swim team just impress her. And she reassure Xander that she still cares about him. They can still date. Or not. She understands if he wants to see other fish.

And she says shall do everything she can to make his quality of life better, including bath toys.

Xander startles her by walking up behind her and saying, “That’s not me.”

Locking Up The Team

In the library, Giles herds the team into the book cage. He tries to reassure them but runs out of things to say. Because he says, “Either we’ll find an antidote or…stay calm.” And he walks away.

Xander and Cordelia come in as Willow is checking off the last of the team members’ names. She says that Sean is missing. Cordelia and Xander say they found him.

Cordelia: He was in the pool skinless dipping.

The Climax

We switch to Buffy in the water. And she says, in another disturbing line, “Great. This is just what my reputation needs – that I did it with the entire swim team.”

At the climax at almost 40 minutes in, Xander comes to see the coach.

He asks what’s up, trying to be casual, but he is looking for Buffy. He sees the coach’s gun lying there. Below, Buffy fights the sea monsters under water. Above, Xander punches the coach.

Buffy is surrounded. Xander yells down to her, reaches down, stretching his arm. Buffy goes into a crouch under water and shoots up out of the water. She grabs Xander’s arm as she is kicking the creatures away from her.

She climbs out with Xander’s help.

The coach, though, has recovered somewhat. He lunges for both of them. They dodge and he flips over into the hole. Buffy grabs his arm and tries to hold him up out of the water, but he let’s go. She yells down at him to grab her hand. The coach, though, is trying to talk to his team saying , “Boys, boys.”

They close in on him and attack.

Poetic Justice Like The Witch

This resolution reminds me of The Witch. Amy’s mom, a human being, was a serious threat both to Amy and to Buffy. Buffy stopped her, but she didn’t kill her. She reflected the spell that Amy’s mom had cast back on her.

And it was poetic justice.

Here, similarly, the coach meets the same fate he meant for Buffy. So again it’s poetic justice.

Also, she tried to save him. His own hubris in believing he didn’t need her help, and that he could control his team, is what killed him. And his attack on Buffy, not Buffy herself.

So as in The Witch, again we see that Buffy does not kill humans. And in fact, even if they do evil things, we see here that she still tries to save them.

Falling Action In Go Fish

Now we’re at our Falling Action, which is where we resolve the loose ends and tie up any subplots. So first we get the last of our disturbing sexual assaults jokes. It also makes clear what happens to the coach. Because Buffy and Xander are looking down through that trap door. And Buffy says, “Those boys really love their coach.”

In the next scene, everyone is sitting in the student lounge area. Xander says he and the team are getting plasma transfusions. So we know they are going to be saved from turning into sea monsters.

Cordelia tells Xander that he really proved himself to her. And she reassures him he doesn’t have to join the new swim team because: “I’d be just as happy if you played football.”

Giles says Animal Control just left. The creatures disappeared. Willow asks if they need to hunt them but Buffy says no. She thinks they won’t bother anyone.

Giles asks where she thinks they went, and she says, “Home.”

In the last scene we see the sea creatures diving into the ocean.

That is the end of the episode.

If The Episode Were Written Today

In addition to thinking that if it were written today we would not get those sexual assault references, and they wouldn’t be part of the plot – or at least they’d be treated very differently – I also think today you would not see the coach pulling a gun on a student. You wouldn’t see the gun at all. As Buffy goes on we’ll see guns become less and less common.

I’m pretty sure we have seen them more in Seasons One and Two than we will in the entire other five seasons of Buffy.

A Self-Contained Episode With No Oz

Another thing to note about this episode is not only is Oz not in it, he isn’t mentioned. This really was a self-contained one-off episode. It was meant to be watched in any order. You didn’t need to know about Willow and Oz.

If you watched it before Halloween or before Phases, it wouldn’t spoil anything. You wouldn’t know that Willow had a boyfriend and that the boyfriend was a werewolf.

It also I think is because we want that little bit of tension sexual tension between Xander and Willow. As always, more on Willow’s side. But I think the writers probably wanted to be free to throw that in without having to deal with that Willow has a boyfriend now.

It is a little inconsistent with the season arc. Though I am willing to go with it because I think Willow, I feel like she’s written to always have that little bit of feeling for Xander no matter what else is going on. At least at this point in the show.

Next Week

That is it for this episode other than Spoilers. If you are not sticking around for that, thank you so much for listening. I hope you will come back next Monday for Part One of Becoming, the season finale. The following Monday of course I will cover Part Two of Becoming.

And the next week will be the season to round up. If you have thoughts about Season Two as a whole about Buffy generally, or anything else writing related, please feel free to email me Lisa at LisaLilly.com or tweet me at LisaMLilly #BuffyStory.

Spoilers

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And we are back for Spoilers.

Buffy Undercover

First, Buffy and undercover. In the pilot of Season Three Buffy will recognize that she is just terrible at undercover. So she’s not just having an off day as she suggests here when she’s talking to Gage. She is just bad at it.

In that pilot she goes to youth outreach center where she suspects that things are happening. And at first she tries to pretend she needs help. She says something like, “Oh, yeah, I’m all about the sin and the rock music….” And then she just gives up and says something like, “I suck at undercover” and just busts into the place.

Jonathan Jonathan

Another major foreshadowing here is Jonathan. I guess there’s three things. Being bullied, getting mad at Buffy for helping him, and then this petty revenge he takes.

And this foreshadows a number of series developments.

In Season Three will see Earshot, where Jonathan near the end he is got a rifle. He’s in a tower and it is largely because he is always being bullied or ignored. His revenge hints at what may happen in Season Six when he becomes one of the villains. And I wonder if Willow’s comment about him going to the dark arts, summoning a hell beast – does that give Jonathan some ideas?

Because later in the series we will see him using dark magic. First in Superstar to make everyone think that he is amazing. And then in Season Six when he becomes one of our villains.

I do like that there is this little interaction between Willow and Jonathan. That seems like a throwaway, but that really could be sowing the seeds for Jonathan starting to think how maybe there’s a better way to get revenge than peeing in the pool.

Character Arcs

I thought Jonathan – I think I’ve said this before – is one of the great character arcs in Buffy. And a terrific example of a character who at first just had walk on role. And they wanted to bring the actor back. So they kept often making him the victim.

Then you can see how they decided to take all of that and turn it into a great back story for a character who does these much more significant things. And almost all of that is hinted at here.

I don’t think at this point they had a plan for Jonathan.

I do think that there was a plan for the Willow, Cordelia, Xander relationship. Because it’s so interesting. Here in this lighthearted episode we have that line from Cordelia where Xander walks in to the swimming pool. And we had to just go with the idea that none of them recognize him at first.

And Cordelia says something like, oh my that’s my kind of – and Willow says, “Xander.” She cuts off Cordelia. When Cordelia’s saying “my,” and Willow jumps in there.

To me this foreshadows that ongoing issue with this attraction that Willow has for Xander.

Cordelia Foreshadowing

There is also Cordelia foreshadowing because of two things. First, her soliloquy at the pool to sea monster Xander. (She thinks it’s sea monster Xander.) It’s silly and funny, but it also shows that Cordelia has a depth of feeling for Xander. So when he betrays her, that is truly awful for her.

And in the Falling Action we see that despite that depth of feeling, and that she was willing to go against her friends and public opinion (and her own view of who she should be dating/who matches her status), she would really like it if Xander would join the swim team again. Or would play football. Would do things to bring him kind of to her social level.

So that, in Season Three, added to her heartbreak over the betrayal is that she went against her friends and her ideas of social class. And while I don’t necessarily think at that point that is what is at the heart of her pain, it does make it worse for her. Because her friends do not let her forget that she kind of lowered herself socially in their eyes to date, Xander. And they mock her mercilessly about it.

Coming Soon

All of which leads to The Wish. Where she makes a wish, and a vengeance demon grants it, and we get one of my favorite Buffy episodes. So I do think that all of that probably is intentionally foreshadowed here.

That is it for Spoilers and for this episode.

Thank you again for listening. I hope you will come back next Monday for Becoming Part One. Music for this episode was composed and performed by Robert Newcastle. The podcast Buffy and the Art of Story is a production of Spiny Woman LLC copyright 2020.