The Zeppo

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"The Zeppo"
Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode
Buffy 3x13.jpg
Newly confident after his secret adventure, Xander is untouched by Cordelia's insults
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 13
Directed by James Whitmore, Jr.
Written by Dan Vebber
Production code 3ABB13
Original air date January 26, 1999
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes

"The Zeppo" is episode 13 of season 3 on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Makeup in a Series.[1] Feeling left out by the gang, Xander ends up accompanying a student named Jack O'Toole. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang are trying to stop an apocalypse.

Plot synopsis[edit]

While the Scooby gang slaughters demons in an underground nest, Xander ends up getting hurt and buried by rubble. Buffy suggests he stay out of the fighting. Xander is desperate to find his place after his breakup with Cordelia and the alienation from his friends. When another student throws him a football, he misses and it hits Jack O'Toole's lunch, resulting in Jack threatening to beat him up. Cordelia, having witnessed the entire event, tells Xander he is useless and extraneous, since all of his friends are slayers, werewolves, witches, and watchers, while he is nothing. She tells him: "You're the Zeppo." Meanwhile, Giles informs Buffy that the end of the world is near. A group is planning to reopen the Hellmouth and bring forth the demons it contains.

After a discussion with Oz about what makes someone cool, Xander gets himself a car that he believes will give him something unique. While getting doughnuts for the rest of the researching gang, Xander meets Lysette, who likes his car and wants to go for a ride. As it turns out, the car really is the only thing she's interested in. At The Bronze that night, Xander rear-ends Jack sitting in a parked car. Jack threatens Xander with a knife. A cop shows up, Xander covers for Jack and the two and Lysette leave to go get the rest of Jack's friends - who, being dead, need to be raised from their graves.

At the library, Buffy, Willow and Giles are researching, while Oz - in werewolf mode - is freaking out in his cage. Willow thinks it's because he can sense trouble. Giles leaves to try and contact some spirits and hopefully get their help with stopping the Sisterhood of Jhe, a group of fierce demons (of the same sort as the ones that the gang killed in the cave a few days before) that plans to end the world.

Xander, drafted as "wheelman", takes Jack and his friends to get supplies to "bake a cake." While the dead boys are getting the supplies by breaking into a hardware store, Xander spots Willow leaving the magic shop and tries to talk to her, but she hurries off to go help Buffy. When Jack and friends decide to initiate Xander into their club by killing him and then raising him again, he runs and escapes in his car. He rescues Faith, who was fighting off a demon, by hitting the demon with his car. He takes her to her motel room where she seduces him. She then kicks him out, clothes in hand, quickly after.

Meanwhile, back at the library, Willow and Giles, struggle to get Werewolf-Oz away from the Hellmouth, which will soon be opening. They sedate him and lock him in the basement.

Xander, finding supplies in the car that indicate Jack and his friends have built a bomb at Sunnydale High, is unsure what to do. He seeks out Buffy, who is having an emotional encounter with Angel, who is set on risking his life to defeat the demons. He realizes they don't have time to help him, so he takes action: he finds the gang and drags one of them with his car until he confesses the bomb is in the school basement. He heads towards the school to stop it. There, he walks past the apocalyptic events that the Scooby gang is fighting in the Library, and heads to the boiler room. Jack shows up, and they fight. The fight is inconclusive, but Xander is able to position himself between Jack and the exit door such that he can delay Jack's exit enough so that Jack has no hope of escaping before the bomb explodes. Xander asks Jack who is more afraid of death. Jack points out that he's already dead, but Xander responds that "'walking around drinking beer with your buddies'-dead is a lot different from 'being blown up and swept up by a janitor'-dead". When Jack confronts Xander about dying, Xander merely remarks, "I like the quiet" and stares at him calmly. Jack defuses the bomb with seconds to spare. Jack turns to leave, swearing revenge. He then opens a side door, releasing werewolf-Oz, who immediately attacks him. Meanwhile, Buffy, Angel, Faith, Giles and Willow are at the library fending off the giant multi-headed monster and the members of the group of female demons. They succeed in closing the Hellmouth.

The next day, everyone comes to school as usual as if nothing had happened. The slightly bruised Buffy, Willow, Giles, and Oz sit at a table reeling at how close the world came to an end the night before. Oz, despite knowing he was locked up as a werewolf, cannot understand why his stomach feels "oddly full". Just then, Xander comes by to chat with them. After a few seconds of talk, Xander decides to keep his harrowing night to himself. As Xander walks away, he runs into Cordelia, who once again taunts him as before, but Xander, newly confident, merely smiles and walks by.

Production details[edit]


"The Zeppo" is a twist on the show format, which normally consists of an action-packed "A-story" and a character-development "B-story". Here, Xander's feelings of inadequacy develop into the A-story while a stereotypical epic episode of Buffy and the others saving the world is pushed to the background to become the B. Most of the apocalypse story elements come across as background events, happening offscreen, only in small bits, or being talked about afterwards by the characters.

Cultural references[edit]

  • After Xander runs into Jack during lunch, Jack asks, in a calm but threatening manner, "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'?". In an attempt to lighten the tension, Xander begins to sing that song.
  • Buffy reads that the Sisterhood of Jhe celebrate victory in battle by eating their foes, and comments in disgust, "They couldn't just pour Gatorade on each other?" referencing the tradition in athletic competitions to celebrate a victory by pouring buckets of the sports drink over the coach.
  • Both Xander and Cordelia compare Xander to Jimmy Olsen, another unappreciated sidekick (to Superman) without any special powers.
  • The title of the episode refers to Zeppo Marx, who was the straight man among the Marx Brothers and long considered to be the most unexceptional member of the act. Xander is treated in the same way in this episode.
  • When Xander finds the bomb in Sunnydale High he says "Hello Nasty", which is the name of an album by the Beastie Boys - the album features the song Putting Shame in Your Game, which is heard in this episode.

Arc significance[edit]

  • Xander loses his virginity to Faith, but the boost to his self-esteem is undermined by Buffy's statement about Faith in "Consequences".
  • The multi-headed monster is the same monster that attacked Giles, Willow, Cordelia and Jenny in the library when the Master's ascension opened the Hellmouth in "Prophecy Girl". The Master's death caused the monster to retreat back into the Hellmouth.
  • Although Xander will never acquire special powers, the importance of the emotional strength his support lends the group will be demonstrated by his assumption of the role of "Animus" (heart) in the superbeing created by merging the psyches of Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles in the season 4 episode "Primeval".
  • This episode, in addition the Season 5's "The Replacement," establishes that Xander is neither completely helpless nor useless. However, this episode illustrate how his usefulness is often overlooked by his peers.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Noel Murray of The A.V. Club wrote that "The Zeppo" had become a favorite episode of his, saying, "What I loved about 'The Zeppo' is how Xander's feelings of abandonment pervade the structure of the episode, which is filled with moments that are (intentionally) dramatically unsatisfying."[2] In Entertainment Weekly's list of the 25 best Whedonverse episodes—including episodes from Buffy, as well as Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse—"The Zeppo" placed at #23.[3] TV Squad's Keith McDuffee listed "The Zeppo" as the fifth best episode of the series.[4]

This episode has proved influential on later television writers. In his "Production Notes: Doodles in the Margins of Time" in 2007, Doctor Who executive producer Russell T Davies cites "The Zeppo" along with Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Lower Decks" as an influence on his 2006 Doctor Who episode "Love & Monsters".[5] The episode provided a television format which came to be known as the "Doctor-lite episode", an annual tradition for Doctor Who since 2006.[6]


  1. ^ "Past Winners Database: 1998-1999 51st Emmy Awards". The Envelope: The Ultimate Awards Site. Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2007-09-13. 
  2. ^ Murray, Noel (26 June 2009). ""The Zeppo", etc". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Bernardin, Marc; Vary, Adam B. (24 September 2009). "25 Best Whedonverse Episodes". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  4. ^ McDuffee, Keith (24 October 2005). "The Five (by Five): Best episodes of Buffy". TV Squad. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Review: Doctor Who 2x10 - Love and Monsters". The Medium is Not Enough. 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2010-07-24. 
  6. ^ "'Doctor-Light': The Doctorless 'Who' Stories". Digital Spy. 2008-06-22. Retrieved 2010-07-24. 

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