Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 2.20, “Go Fish”

I want you to know that I still care about you, no matter what you look like. And-and we can still date. Or-or not. I mean, I understand if you wanna see other fish. I’ll do everything I can to make your quality of life better, whether that means little bath toys or whatever.

Let’s look at the last 4 episodes of this season:

I Only Have Eyes for You

Go Fish

Becoming (part 1)

Becoming (part 2)

One of these things is not like the others, and I’m sorry to say “Go Fish,” you are the odd man out. Like last week’s “˜I Only Have Eyes for You,’ this is also a monster of the week episode, but it lacks the emotional heft and thematic tie-ins that made “Eyes” such a fantastic entry into the canon. What “Fish” brings to the table is Xander in a Speedo and a surprising number of references to sexual assault.

The gang is out at a beach party for the school’s swim team, an outing that only Cordelia could have possibly organized, because Willow is a nerd, Xander is territorially jealous and insecure, and Buffy is wildly depressed, none of which lends itself to frantic high school partying. It’s a good thing the gang decided to break their tradition of hanging out in the school library, because Buffy meets a cute swimmer, and the gang gets to be around when one of the swim team members gets de-skinned.

No means no, jackass.

TNMAS, Buffy has gotten a lift from the cute swimmer, Cameron. They talk about normal high school stuff ““ school, sports, and whether or not Buffy is wearing a bra. Maybe that last one isn’t so normal. Cameron leans in for a little non-consensual grabbing and the Slayer slams his face into his steering wheel, breaking his nose and fracturing his wrist in the process. That act of protecting herself lands her in trouble with both Principal Snyder and the team coach. Neither of them is willing to believe her version of events and Cameron actually says that the way Buffy dresses means she’s asking for it. Given the death glower the Slayer gives him, it’s safe to say the only reason Cameron walks out of the room is because Buffy is unwilling to beat him to death in front of witnesses.

 Later that evening, the gang is hanging out in the library, getting lectured by Buffy about her treatment at the hands of the administration and researching de-skinning monsters or demons or vampires or whatever. Xander slips out to get some soda and runs into Cameron in the hallway, where he can’t resist getting a few digs in about Cameron’s rapey behavior. Moments later, Xander is attacked by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Coincidence? I think not.

This is actually a great classic monster shout out.

Also, now Cameron’s missing. So there’s that.

The eye witness description finally gives the gang an angle for their research. Since all the attacks seem to be centered on the winning swim team, Buffy is dispatched to keep an eye on the remaining top swimmer, Gage, who happens to be Wentworth Miller and is therefore easy on the eyes.

Buffy is good at many things but being subtle is not one of them. After Gage catches her spying on him at school and following him around at the Bronze, he confronts her about going all Single White Female on him. Buffy tries to lie, she does, but why bother? When she tells Gage that she thinks a monster is coming to kill him, Gage blows her off. Unfortunately for him, there is a closer monster available ““ Angelus is hanging out in the alley, looking for classmates of Buffy’s to terrorize. But the gulp of Gage’s blood proves to be disgusting ““ he spits it out on the ground before Buffy fights him off.

Gage smartly enlists Buffy as his own personal bodyguard.

Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia decide to keep an eye on Gage by going to team practice the next afternoon. Xander shows up too. In a Speedo. In a rare moment of insightfulness, Xander tried out to fill one of the open team slots so he could get the inside scoop on the steroids everyone thinks the team is taking.

The team is taking steroids, of a sort. The coach and the school nurse have been experimenting with Soviet Era gene manipulation and slipping their supernatural steroids into the sauna room steam. The guys are winning. The unfortunate side effect is that they are turning into carnivorous fish monsters. Buffy gets to witness one of these transformations first hand when she rushes to rescue Gage from what she thinks is a fish monster attack and ends up being a fish monster transformation.

The school nurse is bothered by the ethical implications of transforming teenaged boys into ravenous monsters in order to win a state title and complains to the coach that they need to stop doing it. In response, he throws her into the sewer under the school where he is keeping the teenaged boy-fish monsters so that they can eat her.

Buffy deduces that the coach is the sketchy link in the chain and decides to pay him a visit to question him further about what’s going on. He decides that Buffy is severely lacking in school spirit (she is), since she doesn’t understand that the fish monster thing is for the greater good and forces her into the sewer as well. Not for eating, as he points out, but because boys have “˜other needs.’ Thankfully, this is the only threatened gang rape by monsters in the show’s history.

I can only assume the number of times sexual assault comes up is because of the focus on the privileged sports team and the problems of sexual assault by athletes in high school and college, but it’s appearance in this episode is just so jarring.  Despite that Buffy is a small, attractive female, the show rarely chooses to emphasize practical considerations of being a small, attractive female in the real world ““ that is, it almost never discusses the threat of sexual assault or rape, and uses it as a dramatic plot device even less. Buffy is only deliberately threatened sexually by one other villain (by the temporarily possessed Xander in “˜The Pack“) throughout the course of the show. There is also the infamous “Seeing Red” episode in season six, but Spike’s actions are the culmination of the Buffy-Spike story arc and not a means of punishment or intimidation by a bad guy. There was something, dare I call it refreshing, about spending seven years with a female dominated show that didn’t need to use rape as a character development tool. (Unlike some shows, ahem.)

Xander tracks Buffy down just in time, pulling her out of the sewer before the fish monsters can get to her. During her escape, the coach falls into the sewer himself, where he is dispatched by his team.

Later, we find out that animal control (really?) didn’t find the boys in the sewers ““ they escaped. In the closing shot, we see three of them swimming out to sea.

Heads up coming up; Group rewatch of Becoming Parts 1 and 2! Stay tuned for details.

WOW: Seriously, Willow? Why does no one take her shopping?

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[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

4 thoughts on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 2.20, “Go Fish””

  1. Spoliers:

    “Thankfully, this is the only threatened gang rape by monsters in the show’s history.”

    Actually, I recall a threat of gang rape by monsters in the second episode of season six. Here is the really really gross quote: “We’re not gonna fight you. We’re just gonna hold you down and enjoy ourselves for a few hours. You might even live through it. Except that certain of my boys got some…anatomical incompatibilities that, uh, tend to tear up little girls. So, who wants to go first?”

    Yeah. Anyways, great review. This is probably my least re-watched episode for obvious reasons but the finale is pure gold.

    1. The demon biker gang — I knew I was probably forgetting about something. But I think I’m happier to have forgotten about something than to have loads of examples to choose from, you know?

      The Trio is also loads of sketchy with their mind control ray — I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to understand that Warren raped his ex-girlfriend when he turns her into that French Maid autobot. I thought about them last night when I was working on the review, but I think what happens with Warren and what happens with Spike are disturbing but don’t really function as either ‘punishment’ or lazy story telling on the parts of the writers. I hadn’t even thought about the lack of sexual assault much until rewatching Go Fish — it was just so shocking to hear everything that was being said to Buffy.

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