FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Go Fish
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Not a huge amount relevant to this episode. Angel's still evil, I guess.
Heading for the State Championships, the Sunnydale High swim team are taking advantage of their prestige, but soon one of their number is found eviscerated on the beach and one in the cafeteria. Xander spots a fish monster leaving the scene of the crime and decides to go undercover to investigate whilst Buffy protects the next swimmer on the list. Go Fish is probably one of Buffy's more science-fictiony episodes and it does attempt to provide a commentary on the lengths American schools will go to to enable their teams to win as well as the personal lengths athletes will go to. It's also still as bad as I remembered.
Flirting with B-movie territory, thanks in part to the obvious man in a fish monster suit, Go Fish is an episode about various kinds of body horror. First up, the swim team themselves obviously turn into giant gill monster fish things, leaving their human skin behind. Writer Marti Noxon has often spoken about the central metaphor of steroid usage and it's largely the most effective aspect of the episode, if not the most subtle. The swim team become overly aggressive and arrogant, almost territorial, as their success grows. However, it soon becomes clear it is as a result of bodily corruption so bad that Angel spits out Gage's blood and lets him go. We know it must be serious when Evil Angel doesn't want to kill someone.
The horror, then, is about the corruption from within, demonstrated brilliantly in the scene in which Gage transforms into a fish monster right before Buffy in the boy's locker room. It's a superb job of the make-up department and I can't help but wince every time Gage starts ripping open his own chest to see scales underneath. Even the aforementioned obvious man in a suit look is handled well, all scaly and oozy, despite the resemblance to the fish monster things from Stingray. The idea of your body out of your control is a common horror trope, particularly analogous to cancer or other bodily degenerative diseases. Here, the swim team's bodies are in the control of their coach, continuing a Soviet experiment that clearly didn't work out too well.
However, this isn't the only type of body horror explored in this episode and it's arguably the less subtle of the two. When taken out on a date with Cameron, swim team star and all round monologuing douchebag, Buffy finds herself having to fend off unwanted sexual advances; he locks her in the car and tries to force himself on her. Thankfully, Buffy manages to sprain his wrist and break his nose and escapes the situation. Though clearly not at fault, Cameron, the coach and Snyder all blame Buffy because of the way she dresses. Later, Buffy is thrown to the fish men because 'boys have other needs'. Basically, Buffy is about to be gang-raped by fish monsters. In both situations, her bodily autonomy is taken away from her and they are the most psychologically disturbing moments in the episode. Linking back to the episode's theme of the lengths American schools will go to to protect their own teams, I'm reminded of the recent Steubenville rape case and the way in which the footballers were treated not only by the town, but by the press. Go Fish aired 16 years ago and this aspect of it is still relevant. That's not only scary, it's depressing.
It's not all depressing body stuff though. In fact, one of the most hilarious moments of the episode comes with the big reveal of Xander in Speedos. Depending on your feelings towards Xander, this may be one of his character highlights. It's a scene that showcases the sparkling dialogue that Noxon is brilliant at as well as the chemistry between the four high school leads. At Xander's proclamation that he's undercover, Buffy snorts and declares 'not under much'. Meanwhile, Cordelia and Willow can barely contain their glee. It's little moments like this, and the constant fish-related puns, that stop this episode from being entirely unsubtle metaphor and helps us to keep in mind that the show can be so much better.
If it does have all this stuff going on, then why do I think it is a bad episode? The trouble with Go Fish is it just feels completely out of sync with this stage in the season. This is the episode before the big two-part finale and it's a retrograde step, especially considering how well I Only Have Eyes For You set up the dynamics of the Buffy/Angel relationship. It says absolutely nothing about the central characters and does little to build anticipation going forward. Since Surprise, we've had such an excellent run of episodes, both arc-related and Monster-of-the-Week so I always find it disappointing when I get to Go Fish because it feels like it should be in the first half of the season and not the back run of episodes. In fact, as my 'Previously...' stated, there's nothing really in this episode to tie it into anything else. Substitute Angel for a random vamp and it could even be a first season episode.
Next week, thankfully, the show will return massively to form and I'll have more stuff to write about. I am never not an emotional wreck at the end of the Becoming two-parter. Why does Season 2 make me cry so much?!
Quote of the Week:
Buffy: I think we should lock up the rest of the swim team before they get in touch with their inner halibut.
Let's Get Trivial: This is the last episode in which the opening 'Into every generation...' speech is used.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Gage is played by Wentworth Miller, he of Prison Break fame and recent scribe of the magnificent Stoker. Also look out for a small part from Shane West, who didn't really do much after the double whammy of a Nicholas Sparks movie and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as another member of the swim team in one of Xander's steam room scenes.
You can read Becky's look at I Only Have Eyes for You here.