There's a kind of hush over Sunnydale. All the vampires, ghouls and monsters have mysteriously gone quiet of late. It's possible that they've packed their bags with buckets, spades and Sombreros, and gone on holiday.
Perhaps it's this lack of monster excitement that has caused Buffy's latest lack of inspiration. She's reduced to watching crackly dubbed TV in the evenings or daydreaming about her beloved Angel in surround sound technimonochrome.
Giles has evidently picked up on Buffy's lethargy, chiding and berating her like a father scolding his daughter when she can't be bothered to do her homework. “Just because the paranormal is more normal and less para of late is no excuse for tardiness or letting your guard down,” he huffs. Among the crimes of the century are Buffy yawning through weapons training and skipping hand to hand combat completely.
In Buffy's world, skipping hand in hand with Angel would be a far preferable pastime. But at the rate things are going, that's never going to happen. There's a strange scene early on in this episode in which Buffy and Angel start bickering like little old women about how they can never have a real relationship. Aside from the fact that Angel's a positively ancient 241, he's channelling all his frustrations into spewing forth some of the most clichéd dialogue this side of a Westlife lyric. “This isn't some fairytale,” he bleats. “When I kiss you, you don't wake up from a deep sleep and live happily ever after.” To which Buffy counters with the even sicklier “When you kiss me, I wanna die.” No wonder the scene ends with a close-up of Angel pulling a weird, gurning facial expression that suggests that he needs to find the nearest sick bowl.
The lack of Angel action and the lack of fun all add up to yet another episode in which Buffy whines and moans about her calling as The Slayer. “Once in a great while, I wanna have some fun,” she sighs. Sadly, for me, fun isn't on the agenda when it comes to ploughing through Reptile Boy. It's one of those episodes that no one seems to like. Now while I normally try and champion the underdog story (Hello Timelash), on this occasion, my patience has been tested to the limit.
The biggest problem with Reptile Boy is, ironically, the biggest problem with Buffy in this story. Neither is even trying to do as good as they can. Buffy's lethargy can sum up this flimsy tale of a band of moronic frat boys sacrificing girls to a suspicious looking snake thing in order to attain wealth and power. Dr Freud could spend years dissecting this one.
Watching a band of fraternity goons is never fun. As far as I'm aware, here in Britain, we don't get fraternities – possibly we do, if A. They're so secret, they hold clandestine meetings in sewers or B. They just passed me by because I have never got the notion of coolness. Anyway, as far as I can make out, the nearest equivalent would be a gang of snotty rich kids meeting up to bray about their wealth, while quaffing champagne and guffawing at anyone who doesn't earn more than £100,000 a week. I'm sure that these meetings would include Tories, bankers, rugger buggers and airhead socialites, given that the guest list at the Delta Zeta Kappa Prat House seems to cater for all these demographics.
The rugger buggers are represented here by two odious American Football types who don't seem to have any names of their own – just 'Tackle' and 'Linebacker'. One of these goons appears to have no teeth. Elsewhere, we have two stereotypical frat boy bores: Tom, an apparently genial but dull sort who turns out to be a closet nutcase – and Richard, a smarmy poseur with great big floppy curtain cut hair that's as big as his 48” TV.
Not one guest character makes it out alive of this mess with any semblance of likeability or even personality. They're just cut-out stereotypical over-privileged bully boy jerks, and even the actors playing them seem aware of this, given that their hearts evidently aren't in giving a performance that isn't beyond 100% cardboard.
Taking pot shots at over-privileged oiks is like shooting fish in a barrel, but I wish there was more to Reptile Boy than this. The main “action” seems to alternate between dreary hi-jinks at the frat party and endless talky scenes in the dingy cellar below. The party itself looks like the dullest way to spend a couple of hours, with lots of boorish shouting, lame music and superficial bleating. Even the entertainment's comprised of 100% humiliation as poor Xander finds to his cost.
Nicholas Brendon must have been less than delighted when the script clattered through his mailbox to find that he'd have to dance in drag. It's not the most comfortable of scenes to watch, but then it probably wasn't the most comfortable of scenes for Brendon to act in. About the only saving grace of this sorry sub-plot is that Xander gets to beat the crap out of the annoying frat bores who subjected him to such a humiliation.
As for the cellar scenes, they're lacking in drama and tension. Most of what passes for action seems to be Cordelia screeching like a loon while captive girl Callie rolls her eyes back and forth to the point where they look like they're made out of glass. It's hard to take these scenes seriously. The snake thing looks ridiculous and manages to out-Pit Erato in the dodgy looking monster stakes. These scenes take on a new level of kitsch, as the frat boys chant and march around in over-sized capes to the mantra of “MACHIDA! IN HIS NAME!”
Machida, as it is known, can apparently boost a rich man's bank balance if it feeds on hapless young girls. Quite how is conveniently never explained. We're only told at the end that Machida's demise has resulted in falling profits, tax raids and suicides among former Delta Zeta Kappa members. Even harder to take is the rumour that Machida was possibly considered as a recurring monster. Thankfully, this was never to be, given that the on-screen realisation wasn't quite up to scratch.
Another chief failing of Reptile Boy is that it doesn't cater well for the regulars at all. Buffy's constant whining about how being the Slayer has put the lid on her social life is now sorely trying the patience. Xander gets to be the butt of everyone's jokes. Giles is the archetypal strict parent, even to the point where he taps his watch while Buffy makes conversation for a micro-second. Cordelia, meanwhile, is back to her shallow, vacuous worst. She thinks that fake laughter is the way to capture men's hearts and that all that matters in a potential husband is a bank balance that's bursting at the seams. “Think of all the poor people I could help with my money,” she insists to Buffy. Judging by the way she abandons Buffy at the party with a room full of misogynistic weirdos (who drug her drink), I'd say that compassion still doesn't figure too high on Cordy's radar.
It's annoying that these characters have shown progression this season, and yet it's all been undone in just one story. Cordelia showed signs of maturity in When She Was Bad, but here it's back to the bitchy Season One airhead.
Giles has been no stranger to that thing called love, so it seems a bit odd that he's constantly on Buffy's case during a quiet spell. About the only character to emerge with a scrap of dignity is Willow, who rightly chides Giles and Angel for their attitudes towards Buffy (“You, I mean, you're gonna live forever. You don't have time for a cup of coffee?") – but even then, she hardly figures in this episode.
Coffee, incidentally, is a must have when watching this story. It's one of those dull tales that threatens to send me to sleep whenever I see it. I've only managed the feat this time with the aid of an industrial sized jar of brown grit, hot water, milk and enough sugar to ensure that I have less teeth than the American Football guy who makes Xander dance around in drag.
And there's the problem. Buffy The Vampire Slayer is not a show that I would ever equate with the word boring. 99% of the time, it offers exciting, surprising and challenging drama in a mature and intelligent fashion. Reptile Boy, on the other hand, dumbs down to the point where the subtitles should be scribbled in wax crayon. What's worse is the fact that the story is so mind-numbingly ordinary and unimaginative: a string of lazy 90210-esque clichés thrown together with little regard for good characterisation, wit or charm. Even the regular cast seem less than enthused, although they do their level best to make the most out of such a patchy script.
The production is adequate enough, although the realisation of Machida is poor – too bad that the planned shot of it chowing down on the annoying Delta Zeta Kappa leaders couldn't have been realised, since it would have made for a far more fitting end than 15,000 years in jail.
While Inca Mummy Girl had its moments of charm, alas, Reptile Boy can't even come up with the barest hint of likeability. It's a stale leftover from the first season with very little to recommend it, drowning in its own dullness and superficiality.
Here it stands in all its doltishness.