Some Assembly Required

In the world of journalism, “Some Assembly Required” would be a fluff piece.  Something nice that you skim over on your way to the sports pages or the crossword puzzle.  This is not the kind of episode with the hard-hitting, emotional depth of some of the other episodes this season.  But it’s also not horrible, the way I think of episodes like “I Robot, You Jane,” or “Teacher’s Pet.”  Mostly, I think the episode suffers from pacing issues.

There are, however, some really great things about this episode, and they almost all can be summed up with two words:  Cordelia Chase.

I’ve mentioned before my deep, abiding love for all things Cordelia, and while her hidden depths are hinted at here, what I really love is her resourcefulness and her attempts to balance her knowledge of the supernatural world with her popularity.  I also completely adore her flirting with Angel in this episode–Buffy and Angel are sweet, but my heart belongs to Angel and Cordy.  The way she clings to his arm and rubs her face on his shoulder after they find the bodies in the dumpster was so hilarious.  It also reminded me that a lot of what initially drives Cordelia’s attraction to Angel is the fact that winning him would mean finally defeating Buffy.  She’s clearly over this by the time Angel moves to LA, but it’s a fun dynamic to their initial interactions.

The other fun thing about this episode is watching Giles struggle to ask Jenny out.  Buffy’s so cute, her little “I have a thing, you have a thing” speech she makes up for Giles and her instructions on how to invite someone out and be casual are so on-point.  I love how she’s so dismissive of the whole thing, like it’s hardly more difficult than slaying a vampire or researching demon assassins.

The actual plot of this episode I don’t think of as bad, actually.  I like the idea of a modern-day Frankenstein bringing his brother back to life and dealing with the moral implications of what he’s done.  He’s defeated death, but his brother is also now isolated and unable to do what he loved best.  He has no companionship, aside from his brother and his brother’s awkward friend.  And now he’s being asked to kill in order to create the companion his brother feels he needs–someone who will be similarly ostracized and outcast because of the very nature of their existence.  Paced differently, and with different lines, this could have been a really great riff on Frankenstein.  More emphasis on the brothers, less on the skeevy body harvesting.  But Joss and the writers just weren’t quite there with the understanding of what they could do with single-episode characters.  This could be an episode up there with “Conversations with Dead People,” but the writing team didn’t quite push in the right directions.  It’s almost there.  It’s so close.  But it falls short.

This could also have been a really cool horror story, had the emphasis shifted to the body-snatching grotesquerie of creating a human from corpses.  I think at some point Joss (or whoever wrote this episode) did realize this potential–there’s the scene with Cordelia in the dumpster when she’s hiding from Angel, and that whole scene has some really excellent horror beats–but the realization came too late, and there just wasn’t time to infuse more of that creepy tension through the plot.  We know Joss can and will do utterly creepy with his show in the future, so it’s kind of disappointing that they didn’t do that here.  Mostly, I’m going to have to write this one off as early-season filler.  Could be worse, but there is better coming.  So much better.

Spike Countdown:  1

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