my preliminary thoughts on Buffy, I mentioned that I thought the prominence of gender themes in Buffy is usually overstated. After looking at the first season, my assertions to this effect still seem to hold. It's not that the first season had nothing to say about gender issues, because it certainly did, but rather that it was usually buried pretty deep, and in the brief moments where it was brought to the fore it was usually in service of a larger meta-commentary on horror and fantasy genre tropes. By contrast, "Some Assembly Required" is teeming with gender issues, in a way that no episode before it was.
"I guess you'll say
What can make me feel this way?
Talkin' 'bout my girl
The plot of the episode involves the harvesting of body parts from deceased teenage girls to build a new girl. Like the best Buffy monster-of-the-week episodes, we begin by thinking that the two teenagers are creating the woman so that they can... well, own her, and use her as some kind of sex slave, whereas the truth is that they are trying to create a female companion for the male they've already brought back to life (the brother of one of the students). This goal is still to possess, though, as the brother continuously refers to his desire to have a girl of his own. This is reinforced by the use of the song "My Girl" by one of the boys (the slightly more unhinged one, Eric).
At the same time, the episode features some interesting gender role reversal in the story between Giles and Jenny. Giles assumes that, as the male, the burden is on him to make the first move, but while he's stuttering his way through trying to ask her for a date, she insists that she doesn't have time to hear what she has to stay, and invites him on a date so he can get out what he has to say. The subplot between them is sweet and funny, but also interestingly role-reversed. Even the roles of Giles and Buffy are reversed from "Never Kill a Boy on a First Date," with the key difference that Buffy lets Giles go on his date with no fuss at all from her. It's only disappointing that the moment wasn't played for more comedy.
So because of the interesting thematic issues and the really well-played monster of the week, I'd rate this episode pretty highly, overall. Much more than the season two premiere, it shows that the writers have approached the season with a much clearer and more developed vision for the show.
- While we're on the topic of gender, there's a scene where Giles and Xander digging up a grave while she and Willow just sit there. When Xander suggests "you femmes actually pick up a shovel," Buffy retorts "Sorry, I'm an old-fashioned gal. I was raised to believe that men dig up the corpses and women have the babies." Very funny, but I'm kind of with Xander on this one. I mean, Willow can sit it out if she wants, but Buffy does have super strength, does she not?
- This episode features the return of the "in every generation" monologue which precedes every episode, except now it's ready by Tony Head (Giles) instead of... er... some guy. This is better, but it's still kind of pointless.
- Speaking of pointless, Angel puts in token appearances at the beginning and ending of the episode but has nothing to do with what's going on. His scenes serve to cement the relationship between Angel and Buffy via his jealousy of Xander, but I'm not sure we needed that.