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'Buffy' nostalgia react: How 'Helpless' helps you understand Buffy's world

Season 3 | Episode 12 | “Helpless” | Aired Jan 19, 1999

I’ve written before this season about the different kinds of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. There are fun standalone episodes, like “Band Candy,” and there are heavy, season arc–progressing episodes like “Revelations.” There are also episodes of the show that make you think, and build the world in really memorable ways. For me, “Helpless” is one of these episodes.

For anyone who doesn’t remember, “Helpless” is about Buffy’s 18th birthday and the test the Watchers’ Council decides to give her as a present. Giles is forced to inject her with some kind of serum that neutralizes her Slayer abilities; then she’s locked in a Saw-like torture prison with a crazy, drug-addicted vampire who is intent on killing her. Why? To prove that she can kill vampires without her super-strength. You know, the super-strength the universe bestowed on her to help her kill vampires. It’s like the Council is ageist and wants to weed out the senior-citizen Slayers (few make it to 18, after all).

“Helpless” gets its own category (shared with a few other episodes) because it’s not what I would call a “fun” episode, nor does it really pertain to the season’s plot about the Mayor and his upcoming Ascension. What “Helpless” does is establish some really interesting things about the world of Buffy, deepen the relationships between the characters, and push Buffy toward who she’ll become post-high school.

The World

I’m a sucker for episodes that engage in some extra world-building, and “Helpless” definitely does that. The Watchers’ Council is never really well defined, but “Helpless” is one of the episodes that gives us the greatest insight into their role in the Slayer’s path. Usually, they don’t seem to have much oversight at all, preferring to simply leave everything Giles. Other Watchers and Slayers have popped into Sunnydale over the years and mentioned that the Council “usually” does this or that, but Giles has always seemed either exempt from or ambivalent toward the Council’s rules.


In this case, it’s mostly Giles and Buffy’s relationship that gets put under a magnifying glass. Giles has clearly been a father figure to Buffy for a while by season 3, but “Helpless” gives us proof of how far their relationship has come on two levels. In Buffy’s “normal girl” life, her flaky father, Hank Summers, is supposed to take her on a father-daughter birthday to see an ice-skating show. Ice-skating shows are well-established as their thing. When he pulls a total Hank Summers and ditches her, she asks Giles to fill in for him. It’s the first time Buffy really, actually, literally asks Giles to step in as her father. Then, when Coucil frontman Quentin Travers is scolding Giles at the end of the episode, he points out that he can’t continue on as her Watcher because of the “father’s” love he has for his Slayer. Giles quits his job for Buffy, which makes up for his part in drugging her and putting her life in danger. Aww, but also, you know, not (it really is a bummer that Giles goes along with it at all).

Buffy Becoming Who She’s Meant to Be

Having been in the Slaying game for all of two years now, Buffy is over it. She’s died, banished the vampire to whom she lost her V-card to a Hell dimension, and nursed him back to health after. She’s seen a straightlaced, by-the-books Slayer (Kendra) die in the line of duty. She’s seen a wild-child Slayer (Faith) start to go off the rails. Now the Council, the ones who are supposed to be guiding her through her troubled life as a warrior for the forces of good, have almost gotten her killed as part of a seemingly arbitrary test. It’s no surprise that she’s over the traditional channels and hierarchy of her Slaying world. Buffy survives with the help of her friends, by using her smarts in the heat of battle and playing by her own rules. Buffy telling Travers “bite me” is the first step in her path to distancing herself from the Council and, eventually, becoming the leader of the future Slayers herself.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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