Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a beloved cult television show that heralded many characters and themes still accessible to modern audiences if they are willing to overlook a lot of Xander Harris’ (Nicholas Brendan) words and actions. Xander Harris is the Buffy character who has aged the poorest out of all the members of Buffy's (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Scooby Gang due to his casual misogyny and entitled behavior. However, Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3, episode 13, “The Zeppo,” perfectly encapsulated why, despite his flaws, Xander was a vital member of the Scooby Gang who provided an essential element to the show.
Xander Harris was introduced in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 1, episode 1, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” as a typical sixteen-year-old student at Sunnydale High School. He and his childhood friend Willow (Alyson Hannigan) immediately befriended Buffy Summers and aided her in her duties as the Slayer to stop the forces of darkness from devouring the world. Throughout the first few seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander was often insensitive and inconsiderate of his friends, especially in seasons 1 and 2. Xander shamed Buffy for dating the vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) instead of him, often took advantage of Willow’s crush on him, and repeatedly insulted Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) in sexist ways. While Xander was characterized as the funniest member of the Scooby gang, his jokes were often inappropriate or disrespectful to his friends' boundaries. Beyond that, his criticisms of his friends' choices were self-entitled and self-righteous.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3, episode 13, “The Zeppo,” saved Xander from becoming completely unlikeable by demonstrating his potential as a true friend and made him a hero in his own right. “The Zeppo” followed Xander’s perspective as the only human member of Buffy’s gang without any particularly extraordinary skills or resources. The episode's name, "The Zeppo," likened Xander to the forgotten Marx brother and implied he was ultimately unimportant and forgettable. As the rest of the gang gathered to stop another apocalypse, Xander cruised around Sunnydale in his borrowed car and searched for what made him special. Along the way, he found a gang of mischievous zombies, led by Xander's longtime bully Jack O'Toole (Channon Roe), who intended to blow up Sunnydale High School with Xander’s friends still inside. Xander defeated the zombies on his own and heroically stood his ground against Jack O'Toole, and none of his friends ever found out. From this episode onward, Xander was much kinder to his friends, much less casually sexist, and his immaturity gradually lessened. “The Zeppo” transformed Xander from one of the show’s worst characters into a genuinely compelling protagonist by diminishing his worst attributes and focusing on his strengths.
Xander Stopped Being a Romantic Menace To Buffy, Willow & Cordelia
Xander’s romantic life on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a disaster from the start. Throughout the show, Xander was disrespectful to his romantic attachments. However, in "The Zeppo," Xander refrained from judging his friend's romantic life and instead focused on himself and what he needed to do to help his friends. For example, when he had a sexual encounter with Faith (Eliza Dushku), he refrained from being entitled or sexist and then immediately focused on helping his friends. Later when Xander came across Buffy and Angel in a serious discussion, he didn't try to chime in with a joke or interrupt them. Xander asked if he could help, then gave them space when they needed it. This demonstrated he learned something after the events between him, Cordelia, Oz, and Willow. At the end of the episode, rather than insult Cordelia, he merely walked away. After Xander saw how the zombie's toxic masculinity led to nothing but chaos and destruction, he realized that he didn’t need to assert his masculinity to be a good man; he just needed to be brave and loyal when it mattered most.
Xander Understood His True Superpower
Buffy the Vampire Slayer contained powerful main characters, so the audience may have questioned why Xander was in the Scooby Gang. "The Zeppo" answered this question by allowing the audience to empathize with Xander's extremely vulnerable position as a young man trying to understand how to be a good person while trying not to be killed by monsters. Yet, he still chose to fight alongside Buffy. Xander realized his worth because, although he couldn't slay like Buffy, cast spells like Willow, or research like Giles (Anthony Head), he could choose to stand up for his friends and do the right thing.
By the end of "The Zeppo," Xander realized his strength is in his dedication to his friends, as his refusal to abandon them and his acceptance that he was willing to give his life for them are what saved the day in the end. In a world filled with superpowered women and monsters everywhere, Xander demonstrated how emotional vulnerability was a strength, not a weakness. Instead of dominating or destroying the world around him like the zombies or other Hellmouth villains, he chose to be loyal and brave for his friends, which ultimately bought him victory and purpose.
Xander Became A Better Person Because of "The Zeppo"
Although Xander still occasionally made inappropriate comments or jokes about his friends' love life in future episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "The Zeppo" put Xander’s entitled crush on Buffy and his complicated romantic relationship with Willow to rest permanently. From this point onward, Xander’s primary ambition was to be a loyal and dependable friend and ally against the forces of darkness. After "The Zeppo," Xander provided many pep talks to multiple characters, like Buffy and Dawn, to reassure them of their importance. He even bought Cordelia her prom dress in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3, episode 19, "The Prom," without expecting any forgiveness or reward for his chivalry. Then in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6, episode 22, "Grave," it was Xander's friendship that saved Willow. Xander would never have gained such emotional intelligence and a sense of security in himself without the events of "The Zeppo" validating his self-worth and bravery, which carried over into later Xander-centric episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Xander was far from a perfect Buffy the Vampire Slayer character, but after "The Zeppo," he was more likable. He still made many mistakes and occasionally reverted to his immature self, especially in his relationship with Anya (Emma Caulfield). Overall, his self-entitled behavior was replaced by a steadfast devotion to his friends, free from self-serving romantic expectations. The events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 3, episode 13, helped Xander realize that driving a cool car or dating a pretty girl doesn’t make him more masculine, but selflessly standing up for his friends makes him a hero.
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