After the magnificent fresh start Spike represented last week, it’s a huge disappointment to be right back in the monster-of-the-week Season 1 rut, mining old horror tropes for inspiration. This is a fairly standard tale of a mummy coming back to life, although it is helped by the comparison between Ampata and Buffy, both of whom feel like they have been robbed of their youth.
“She was just a girl and she had her life taken away from her.”
There is a moment of sadness when Joyce points out how well Ampata is fitting in after just two days, and the look on Buffy’s face tells the tale of how she feels like she doesn’t fit anywhere. The other interesting contrast is a more subtle one, and that’s Xander and Oz, who obviously invite comparison due to their connection with Willow. Xander makes it very clear that he isn’t interested in Willow. We know it, Buffy knows it, and Willow is left in no doubt of it either after she overhears his conversation with Buffy. In contrast, Oz sees Willow and experiences something akin to love at first sight. Xander also experiences something similar when he sees Ampata, although there are fundamental differences that actually throw Xander into a very bad light.
We are reminded first of Xander’s obsession with Buffy. Despite having long since been rejected in a way that was kind but should have left him with no lingering doubts, he is still acting jealous about Buffy, and that’s really starting to wear thin. The shallow nature of his desire is made perfectly clear when he immediately forgets about his attraction to Buffy when Ampata shows up. This is teen attraction at its most basic, with the guy moving on to the next pretty face in the blink of an eye. In contrast, Oz is clearly a more mature thinker. He is not remotely interested in Cordelia but is attracted to Willow’s cute quirkiness. As a debut of a new character, it’s brilliant, because Oz is immediately established as somebody with depth of personality. Some of the damage done to Xander in the eyes of the viewers is healed when he saves Willow and we are also reminded at the end of the episode how Buffy owes him her life. Despite his infatuation, Xander never considers sacrificing Willow so he can get what he wants, even for a second. It turns out his heart is in the right place after all. The poor guy doesn’t get much luck with women, though…
“You’re not a preying mantis, are you?”
No, but she is dead. Buffy is a series that often shows desire as something dangerous, which clouds judgement and causes collateral damage. This is a prime example. If Xander goes after a pretty girl, and hurts Willow in the process, we know it’s not going to end well. The arrival of Oz really needs to herald the end of this will-they-won’t-they with Xander and Willow though. Barring one scene at the start of the second season, it has always been a won’t-they, and it’s time for the series, and Willow herself, to move on.
A side-note to finish: for those who love world building in a genre series, it’s striking how early in the run we are building up a strong cast of recurring characters, some of whom might seem incidental or even one-offs to start with, and then gradually prove themselves to be vital to the series. Apart from Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia and Angel, we have also had Joyce starting to play a more significant role, plus Snyder, Jenny, Spike and Dru added into the mix. The first season also saw the introduction of at least three other major players for the future, although we might not realise that yet. Now we have the debut of one of the most important characters in the series, and I’m not even talking about Oz. Sometimes the unlikeliest people can turn out to be the most significant, especially in Buffy’s world… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
I’m starting to do the same thing with Buffy that I did with Babylon 5: I check to see who the writer is for each episode. After last week’s story, I was hoping for some acknowledgement of what transpired thus proving we’ve moved to a higher quality of storytelling. Alas, Inca Mummy Girl fails to give us that. It’s not completely bereft of continuity however. Xander asks his latest love interest if she is a praying mantis, which did remind us that the series does inhabit a living universe, while also maintaining that comedy we all love. On the flip side, do cultural exchange programs typically intermix male and female students? I remember hearing about that when I was a kid and it was always a male would be paired with a male. (I might have been interested in the idea if the offering was a bit more… Sunnydale!)
So the episode failed spectacularly in building off the events of the last episode, but it scored high in other areas. Whedon seems to be able to give us actual teen drama but I didn’t know other writers would too. Willow’s dilemma about whether to pine for Xander or not is actually deeply moving. She’s in a rut, realizing she will never have his heart that way. It’s really sad to see but the win comes when he protects Willow from the monster at the end of the story. Of course, we can see Willow won’t be pining for much longer since everyone knows Austin Powers’ Scott Evil (Seth Green) isn’t going to cameo simply to fall for Willow for one episode. It’s pretty clear that Oz will be back and we see the hint of a future for Willow.
It’s hard to say which of the main cast really carried the episode. I’d say it’s carried entirely by Ampata, but Willow does have a great arc developing and I really like her character. She also has the best line this time with why Xander doesn’t like one kid, “because of the time he beat you up everyday for five years.” (The time!) Xander doesn’t do badly for himself with his humorous retort about the “country of white trash” regarding Buffy’s clothing. And speaking of clothing, could the dichotomy between Willow and Cordelia be more pronounced? Willow the brain is dressed in an anorak while Cordelia the beauty is dressed in … well, very little. As much as I still like Giles, I really find him to be sort of tedious as a character, unfortunately. He seems to stumble though all his lines like a nervous Nelly the Librarian. And there are other tedious things too; things that I feel should have been picked up by the producers, like when Buffy first opens Ampata’s trunk, the audience sees what she misses: a desiccated corpse with its head briefly visible to one side of the case. Later, when Buffy opens it again, the head is on the other side! Must have been a rough death!
On the other hand, the gruesomeness of the episode wins a lot of points for me. That initial pre-credit moment where the mummy’s eyes open was intense! Mary Whitehouse complained about Doctor Who?! She’d be hosting a full scale rebellion over that scene! Barring arachnids, what is more creepy than opening eyes that are just empty holes?!?! Later, when Buffy defeats Ampata, and her arms just pull off (Xander’s run off-screen was funny) but that added more to the horror of the episode. This story is bookended by some really disturbing imagery… and I loved it!
So with all my ups and downs, I found this episode had potential to be something amazing. It explored a horror trope with compassion. Ara Celi, who plays Ampata, is beautiful (like the rest of the cast of this show – one of the best looking casts I’ve ever seen, in fact) but it’s more than that; this was about a creature that struggled with killing. Its need to stay alive forces it to do what it was doing. In the process, we find out that she was a chosen one herself. And that’s also part of the downfall of the episode. See, this episode could have become something really amazing if Team Buffy tried to help Ampata rather than kill her because she was not all human anymore. Imagine if she became a recurring character. I mean how incredible could it have been if she stayed on; a monster on the side of the good guys, killing bad guys by kissing them. Willow may be pining for Xander; I’m pining for the story that brings the monster into the fold. Alas, all we seem to do is tick another monster off the list of horror tropes; we just put this one in a category that cared a little more.
Consistently silly, often poorly thought out, but surprisingly charming, I find myself interested to see more. Although it could be the cast! I just wish the quality of the stories would improve. In fact, if this show doesn’t improve in quality, boy, I might crawl under a rock like a lizard. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Reptile Boy