(OMG SORRY I TRIED. THIS EPISODE KILLED ME.)
The funny part is, I actually enjoy this episode. I like Ampata, I like Xander being all sweet and in love with someone he doesn’t feel like he has to hide from his friends. I love Eskimo!Willow catching Oz’s eye.
I just don’t like pretty much anything else about it.
This episode just sort of feels out of place after the gloriousness of “School Hard,” is the problem. I feel like they should have lumped “Some Assembly Required,” this episode, and “Reptile Boy” together, pre-Spike, and then jumped in with the main season arc after getting the slightly mediocre episodes out of the way. Although I haven’t seen “Reptile Boy” in a while, and I can’t remember if I liked it or not–I feel like it was one of the few Buffy episodes that legitimately creeped me out?
Anyway, my point is, much as I like the idea of this episode, and no matter how cute I find Ampata and Xander eating Twinkies on the bleachers, this episode is solidly meh.
I’m going to leave aside questions of cultural stereotypes and appropriation for now, although this episode is guilty of those things to some degree. And if you want to discuss whether or not Ampata was evil, head over to The Passion of the Nerd on youtube and check out his video for this episode, because he brings that idea up and has some good thoughts on it. I’m coming at this from a storytelling stand point, and from that angle, this episode is just weak.
The two threads that should have been pushed–the Xander/Ampata romance and Xander finally feeling like he’s found someone he’s both attracted to and who likes him as a person; and the Impata-as-Buffy-mirror plot–get fumbled over a limp storyline about an Inca Princess who was sacrificed for her people, and the plot gets steadily more bogged down in Buffy/Ampata parallels that go nowhere for the next twenty minutes until Giles figures out the seal thing and Xander almost dies. Twice.
I could actually get behind some of the Buffy/Ampata paralleling, here, but the writers never make that feel like the point of the episode. The point always feels like it’s supposed to be the Xander/Ampata love story. Why else would you start a show with and keep the focus on their romance like that, unless it was meant to be the focus? I also felt like there was supposed to be more of a contrast between Xander and Ampata and Cordelia and Sven. The way that Cordelia wants a fling and Xander wants something more seems like a deliciously ironic bit of foreshadowing for their relationship over the next two seasons, admittedly though, only if you’re watching for a second or third time. It’s also a little, tiny bit heartbreaking if you’re thinking about the way Cordelia never actually ends up getting the deeper, more fulfilling romantic relationship she wants before her eventual death (Grusalug doesn’t count. I refuse to count Gru. Refuse. And I’m sure we’ll get more into that when I start in on the Angel episodes).
Anyway, the reason this episode doesn’t really stand out for me as one of the best or worst of the season is the same reason it’s taken me months to get this review up–it’s got some really great ideas, but it does nothing with them and ultimately the only reason I even remember this episode is because I have a thing for mummies, Egyptology, and early American civilizations. It’s never a great episode, there aren’t even really any great, stand-out moments. But it’s also never a horrible episode, and it’s got actual potential.
Now thank eff I can finally move on. More Spike, anyone?