This might sound like heresy, but Frankenstein is a bit of a silly story, and that’s with a genius of a scientist creating life from body parts. When the scientist of the story becomes a couple of nerdy teenagers, trying to chop off somebody’s head and attach it to dead body parts as if it’s as easy as sticking together bits of cut up photos, things get really silly.
I think the story might have worked a bit better with a stronger focus on magically reanimating a corpse. The supernatural Hellmouth location is an effective sticking plaster for a lot of otherwise absurd story ideas, but instead the script plays fast and loose with what is even remotely scientifically possible in a way that feels at least a couple of decades behind its time. Those teenagers wouldn’t have the first idea how to go about the highly-skilled intricacies of attaching body parts together, let alone being able to quickly achieve in a basement what no scientist has ever managed. The interesting themes the writer explores can never quite detract from the feeling of watching something that feels like it has been written by a child with no interest in making us believe what we are seeing, as long as he is having fun with what he is writing.
The backstory that has led to these weird events is interesting, though, and very sad indeed. The twist at around the halfway mark works very well, with the undead brother of the beleaguered Chris wanting an undead girlfriend. Their mother has clearly lost her mind, and is living in the past. It’s all very bleak, and Chris works well as an antagonist who has wandered down a dark path due to his grief and desperation. His motivation is made very clear. Eric, on the other hand, is a revolting character who is more than willing to commit murder in order to satisfy his nerdy misogyny and create a sex doll out of body parts. He is a caricature, not a person, unlike Daryl who is lonely and doesn’t want to be the only one of his kind.
The trio’s twisted expression of the human mating impulse is offered up in stark contrast to some real new relationships, just getting started. The attraction between Buffy and Angel continues to be an effective slow-burn, while Giles agonising over asking Jenny on a date is the highlight of the episode. Jenny pulling the rug out from under his feet by asking him out instead is great fun, especially as she echoes Buffy’s advice about keeping her date proposal casual, while Giles grapples with words like “indecorous”. We also had a contrast between the Frankenstein-teens’ attempt to literally engineer a relationship, and Xander as the normal expression of an unlucky-in-love teenager. The one thing I really didn’t like about that was his put-down of Cordelia at the end. She has gradually and consistently grown as a character over the last four episodes, and Xander’s “do you mind, we’re talking here” while she was trying to thank him for saving her life felt like a cruel put-down for the sake of a cheap laugh.
I have never liked this episode, although I probably like it even less on rewatching, knowing the incredible heights this show will reach when returning to the topic of cheating death and its consequences. It also feels like we are still stuck in the first season rut, with yet another interpretation of a very tired old fantasy story. Something needs to spike this show into life… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Some Assembly Required opens with Buffy playing with a yo-yo and I thought, that’s a bit like how I feel about the show so far. I want to stop but I get pulled back even as I find other things to watch. It’s corny as hell but I keep coming back for more. I lose the momentum but then I start one and find I’m sucked right back in. The yo-yo is a great analogy!
Like so much with this show, the directors seem to believe that the camera is supposed to represent the eyes of the character but that fails to work. Remember last season when Buffy was in the classroom looking around and fails to see the body hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room? It’s done to surprise the audience but it fails on such a basic level of logic, that it hurts! This time, Buffy and Angel are arguing and Angel is looking right at the vampire who is coming to attack them. What, did our 241 year old vampire friend forget about vampires because of the first cute girl he’s laid eyes on?? (And as pretty as she is, Sunndale has a lot of beautiful women around, so what’s Angel’s problem??) Moments later, Buffy proves to only see what the camera sees and walks straight into an open grave. You know, because they don’t stand out! 6 foot deep, 8 foot long and 2-3 feet across… I can see how she missed that. Yeah, yeah, I did laugh but it’s so silly as to cross over into stupidity.
Then there’s Eric and Chris, the California version of Burke and Hare. They cured death! Like literally, 2 high school kids cured death. If they could resurrect Scarface, what’s to stop them resurrecting any of the dead kids from the last two seasons? Daryl, the Frankenstein’s monster of the episode, is basically himself just with some scars. You’d wonder why they didn’t ask him to go for a facelift! Then he could be back, his useless lump of a mom would be happy again and all would be right in the world. (Even if that might take some explaining, but if Eric and Chris really did cure death, that might win them more than the school science fair anyway!) I guess it was inevitable though; we had to have an episode that was about Frankenstein at some point. The checklist of horror tropes just got one more tick in the box.
Now all the complaints in the world can’t stop the fact that this show has a stellar cast. The three main female cast members have it all. They are beautiful, charismatic, intelligent and funny. I could not imagine the show without any one of them. Buffy gets a number of great lines (“I fear you”) and Cordelia is consistently hilarious. I love when she interrupts the “undead playgroup”. Willow is not as funny, but in many ways, more the brain behind the operation than even Giles the stuttering bookworm. Willow is always ready to hack a computer system while Giles wanders around his bookshelves of all the answers. Xander is frequently hilarious and manages to nail it as he replies to Cordelia’s pondering:
Cordelia: Why are these terrible things always happening to me?
Xander: *cough* Karma. *cough*
And Giles is… well, he’s Anthony Head, isn’t he? I mean, what isn’t he terrific in. I especially like the budding romance between him and Jenny. (Even though I know he was Giles first, I always think of him in the Doctor Who episode School Reunion!)
I’m not saying I’m not enjoying the show; surprisingly I find it highly watchable even if I wonder what school library has so many arcane tomes. I have yet to see the allure that makes this one of the best genre shows of our lives though. I want to see when the series suddenly spikes in quality. Perhaps it’s that this story wasn’t written by Whedon, who seems to be able to tackle real life issues in with the fiction. I’ll be patient. It’ll be a hard pill to swallow but I look forward to being “schooled”. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: School Hard