Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | November 24, 2011

Cordia’s Review: S3, E12 – Helpless

Season 3, Episode 12
Original airing: 1/19/1999

My Rating: 76

The Good: While the idea of a Slayer Test is a particularly stupid one, in my opinion (see The Bad), the overall concept of using this episode to highlight and explore the relationship between Buffy and Giles was excellent. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head’s performances were particularly amazing this week as they fully defined and acknowledged the extent of their relationship for the first time.

Buffy is a very sad girl this week and with reason, as her birthday once again spirals out of control. Her father blows off their special father-daughter date, which is nicely consistent with Buffy’s fears displayed way back in Nightmares (S1E10). She immediately asks Giles to take her to the ice show instead, but he’s too distracted by his own drama and the impending threat to Buffy to see it’s actually important to her.

The loss of her powers was also very well handled. It sends Buffy into quite the self-esteem spiral as she tries to find the silver lining in potentially being normal, but is mostly focused on what it means to her identity to lose her powers. She admits to Angel that she can’t just turn her back on the world of evil doings now that she knows it’s out there. She also wonders aloud why anyone, Angel in particular, would like her if she’s not the Slayer. Buffy has stated many times in the series that she wants to be more normal. And with the (apparently) permanent arrival of Faith, the question has been raised of Buffy “retiring” from Slaying. But having her powers taken from her is a very different issue and it’s well-explored in the episode.

Head plays Giles’ frustration and confliction very well. He’s a bit distracted and shifty-eyed early in the episode, but it’s relatively easy to overlook until it suddenly comes together when the audience sees him inject Buffy with the serum. Afterwards, his obvious knowledge is almost painful to watch as he promises Buffy everything will be okay without looking at her and fights for her behalf with Quentin Travers.

Quentin Travers arrives as a representative of the Watcher’s Council, giving us our first look at this elusive and mysterious group. It becomes glaringly apparent that Giles is the anomaly here. Assuming that Quentin is a standard Councilmember, we see it’s made up of old, stodgy Englishmen who live half way across the world from the current Slayer and have no real idea what she goes through every day. As Giles says, “You’re waging a war, [Buffy] is fighting it.”

The Bad: Wow, was Cordelia used poorly in this episode. She’s been popping up randomly for weeks now and it’s really starting to feel like they just have Charisma Carpenter on contract and figure they better use her somehow to justify her paycheck. Her joking in the library during the scene where Buffy learns Giles has poisoned her was particularly terrible. It ruined what would have been my favorite moment with unfunny, cringe-worthy humor. This is particularly disappointing after the way they used her so effectively in the last episode – Gingerbread (S3E11).

Am I the only one who thinks the conceit of this episode is a very stupid thing? I thought the overall idea of it the show was excellent (see the Good), but the very idea of taking a Slayer who is extremely successful, and has proved that by making it to the age of eighteen, and purposefully weakening her and risking her life against an insane vampire is just a stupid idea. The Watcher’s Council is obviously not smart. What happens if she dies and the next Slayer is awful at her job? Why in the world would you “test” a successful Slayer? I never bought into that.

Favorite Moment: After discovering Giles’ betrayal, Buffy tells him if he touches her she’ll kill him. Then she leaves the library with the chilling line “I don’t know you.” This could be a permanent break in their relationship, but we see it just beginning to heal when he takes the cloth from her to tend her wounds at the end of the show just after he’s been fired for caring about her too much.

The Bottom Line: While I kind of hated the premise of the episode, I loved what it did with the relationships.



  1. Allow me to begin this comment by clearly stating: My opinion of the Cruciamentum is highly influenced by later seasons, a volume of “Tales of the Slayers” that deals with other slayer’s Cruciamentum stories, interviews I have seen with Joss and others, and many many years over which to ponder this particular detail (and many many others).
    I don’t think the Watcher’s Council sees a slayer’s death as a risk. They know another will be called as soon as she is gone. THEY WANT HER TO DIE before she matures enough to realize she has the power. Not just Buffy. All slayers are viewed by the council as the “tool with which they fight” so this is a way for the Council to ensure the slayer stays cooperative.
    If the slayer dies another is called who is young and easy to control. If she lives, she lives only at the mercy of the council, after a very strong message from them that her life is theirs to use as they please. The only reason Buffy doesn’t have this expected reaction is because Giles sets an example by not participating.
    I believe the first time I saw this episode I agreed with you. I changed my mind. I agree with all your comments about Buffy/Giles though. 🙂

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