The Xander Years: Vol. 2
Author: Jeffrey J. Mariotte
This novelization continues the focus on Xander centered episodes. I think a really solid collection of stories could have been made in taking the best episodes from each book (“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” and “The Zeppo” being the two standouts, with the next best episode being either “Go Fish” which is a great episode but not necessarily very Xander centered, or “Inca Mummy Girl” which isn’t a great episode but is very Xander focused. Alas, the two collections on their own aren’t great but each has at least one great episode each.
“The Pack” (Season One, Episode 6) is not the great episode. Truthfully, there’s not a great episode from the first season as the overarching story was pretty bland (the Master was very lame) and most of the monster of the week episodes were fairly predictable. Here Xander and some other kids get possessed by evil Hyena spirits and act out accordingly. Besides hanging out like a pack and becoming territorial, they engage in other hi-jinks like eating the school principal. This one doesn’t add anything the series overarching plot, or even have a ton of Xander who is mostly part of the monster of the week the rest of the group is trying to deal with.
“Go Fish” (Season Two, Episode 20) is a very fun episode by comparison, but also not one that pushes the plot of the series forward or particularly Xander focused. Here the school swim team is finally competing for a state championship, but before they can go to the meet the best swimmers are apparently being eaten by Creature from the Black Lagoon creatures. In an effort to discover what’s going on, Xander joins the swim team. There are some great moments with Buffy trying to get in close with some of the idiots on the team, and an interrogation scene between Willow and Jonathan that has always been one of my favorite scenes on the show.
“The Zeppo” (Season Three, Episode 13) is one of the most unique and memorable episodes of the series. Much like “The Body,” “Hush,” or “Once More With Feeling,” “The Zeppo” feels different from the rest of series. For the rest of the scooby gang, Buffy included, the plot is about a demonic threat that is trying to open the Hellmouth and possibly destroy the world. That plot takes up about 10% of the episode, with the rest of the story following Xander around. By this point in the series, Buffy’s ring of friends could be described as vampire, witch, werewolf, watcher, slayer and Xander. As the only one without special skills to bring to the group, when the apocalypse is near Xander is shuttled on errands to keep him safe and out of harm’s way.
The story doesn’t quite fit within the rest of the series, where Xander is always right in the thick of things but it still feels true because of how the rest of the characters have progressed around him. Instead of fighting off the demons, Xander finds himself fighting undead bullies, having a sexual encounter with Faith, and being apocalypse adjacent in the final moments. One of the best moments is when Buffy and Angel are having a conversation about their possible death moments away and Xander interrupts to bring up his current set of problems. The whole thing straddles the line of parodying how ridiculous the series can be while still being ridiculously fun on its own.