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"Helpless" is the twelfth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the forty-sixth episode in the series. Written by David Fury and directed by James A. Contner, it was originally broadcast on January 19, 1999, on The WB network.


COMING OF AGE — For her upcoming 18th birthday, Buffy eschews her friends' offer of a big party, hoping to celebrate with quiet reflection and a traditional trip to the ice show with her father. But unbeknownst to Buffy, preparations are being made for a life-threatening rite of passage that drains the slayer of her powers and then entraps her with a powerful vampire foe that she must defeat in a defenseless state in order to pass the test.[1]


Buffy and Angel go a few rounds of fighting until Buffy pins him and holds a breadstick to his heart. It quickly becomes awkward, as Angel's words inadvertently remind them of their sexless relationship. The situation becomes even more awkward when Angel, feeling slightly anxious, asks Buffy what she has planned for her birthday, and if she has a date. Buffy points out that she does have a date, describing him as "very handsome, older man who likes it when [she] calls him 'daddy'." Angel realizes she's referring to her father, but has Buffy clarify that her "date" is indeed with Hank. Amused at Angel's confusion, Buffy nods, and reveals that she plans to go to an ice show with her dad on her 18th birthday. This makes Angel feel better.

That night in the library, Giles quizzes her on crystals, demanding that she focus her attention on them. Later, while on patrol, a vampire nearly kills her with her own stake as her powers unexpectedly fail her.

Back at the library, Buffy tries throwing knives at a target, missing it completely. When Giles walks in, she asks if he knows what might be happening to her. Meanwhile, Quentin Travers, the head Watcher, is setting up a "test" for the Slayer, assisted by two men named Hobson and Blair. She is to be locked up in the abandoned Sunnydale Arms, without any powers, and defeat a powerful and insane vampire named Zachary Kralik. Giles meets with Travers, and expresses his ambivalence about this test — it is supposed to strengthen Buffy, but he finds it unusually cruel. At home, Buffy is disappointed to find that her father canceled their ice show date, choosing work over her birthday. Later at the library, she tries hinting to Giles that he could take her to the ice show, though he fails to catch on. He has Buffy stare into a crystal to "find the tiny flaw at the center." When she falls into a trance, he injects her with a syringe before bringing her out of the trance, after which he agrees to send her home.

In the courtyard at school, Buffy tries to rescue Cordelia from an aggressive suitor, but he easily knocks Buffy down, leaving Cordelia to fight the guy off herself. At this point, Buffy really begins to worry, and enlists the help of her friends to figure out what's wrong. Much to their dismay, the research goes nowhere. Buffy visits Angel] and he gives her a book for her birthday. She tries to sound enthusiastic about it, but losing her powers starts to bring down her spirits. Angel tries to assure Buffy she'll be ok if she does lose her powers as she lived without them before, but Buffy now feels it's too late for that... she's seen too much and knows what lurks in the dark and doesn't feel safe not being able to fight it. She also admits that before she became the Slayer she was incredibly shallow and superficial and asks what she has to offer as herself. Angel tells her about seeing her just before she was the Slayer on the day she received her calling, and how he loved her from the second he saw her.

The gang continue their research to try and find out what has happened to Buffy, but it goes nowhere while Giles grows more uncomfortable at what he's doing to Buffy. At the Sunnydale Arms, where Kralik is being held, the vampire manages to rip the seams of his strait jacket. While Blair is getting his pills and water, Kralik kills him and turns him into a vampire. When Blair wakes up, he frees Kralik. Giles goes to find Travers at the arms building, but instead finds that Kralik is free and Hobson is dead.

While walking home alone, Buffy is first confronted by two men looking for a lap dance and then Kralik. The latter chases her until Giles drives by and picks her up. During the chase, she accidentally drops her jacket.

At the Summers home, Joyce hears a noise out front and goes to check it out. Thinking Buffy is injured on the stoop and covered in her coat, Joyce removes the hood to find Kralik hiding underneath.

Giles shows Buffy the syringe and and explains that it's an organic compound designed to take away her strength temporarily. He admits that he's been injecting her with it for the Tento di Cruciamentum — a test every slayer must go through when/if they reach their eighteenth birthday. The objective was to test Buffy's non-Slayer abilities by sending her to the Sunnydale Arms, where she would be locked in with Kralik and expected to kill him without her powers.

Buffy is very hurt, not only because he was drugging her, but also because he didn't say anything despite her suffering. She tells him to leave her alone. Giles assures her that the test is invalidated because of what he has told her, and that he will protect her from Kralik. Cordelia shows up to borrow some books, and Buffy asks her to drive her home. When Buffy arrives home, she finds a Polaroid picture of her mother in the hands of Kralik. Buffy changes her clothes, grabs weapons and supplies, and heads out to find her mother.

Travers seeks out Giles at the library. Giles explains that the test should be canceled because Buffy now knows about it, as well as Kralik's escape. Quentin replies that it is too late to cancel, because Buffy has already entered the field of battle. Giles leaves toward the arms building, hoping to help Buffy.

At Sunnydale Arms, Kralik chases her until his need for his anti-psychotic pills becomes unbearable. Buffy steals them away, and slides down a laundry chute, where she finds Joyce tied up. Kralik breaks through the door, looking for his pills and water. After he swallows the pills, he's surprised to find out that Buffy tricked him into drinking holy water, which dusts him. Buffy tries to free her mother, but cannot because the knots are too tight and she has yet to regain her strength. Blair reappears and lunges at Buffy, but Giles shows up and stakes him.

Back at the library, Travers congratulates a beaten and bloody Buffy on her accomplishment. However, Buffy is very bitter over the council's deception, and the fact they let Kralik get away and target her mother. Travers isn't finished, though: he states that while Buffy passed the test, Giles failed, because he didn't remain objective. It is clear that Giles is too close to his Slayer. Travers tells Giles that he's fired because he has a father's love for Buffy, which he says is "useless to the cause." Buffy is stunned, not only at Giles being fired but now understanding the depth of his feelings towards her. Travers informs the duo that a new Watcher is going to be sent to train Buffy, and warns Giles he will be dealt with if he tries to interfere or undermine his/her authority. As he leaves, he again congratulates Buffy on her success. Buffy, her voice full of contempt, simply tells him, "Bite me." After Travers leaves, Giles helps Buffy clean her wounds — which she lets him do, forgiving him in light of the sacrifice he made for her.

The next day, Buffy celebrates her birthday with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and her close friends. The gang learns about the previous night's events, and Joyce is very impressed with how clever Buffy was in killing Kralik. Willow is in shock that Giles was fired, and Buffy reassures her that Giles will be around; after all, he still has his job as a librarian. When Buffy, minus her strength, can't open the peanut butter jar, Xander delightfully offers to help, but is also unable to open it. He asks Willow to give him a hand with it.


  • This is the first time a vampire nearly kills Buffy with her own stake. The second instance is in "Fool for Love," when she actually is stabbed.
  • Buffy and Willow talk about Amy's transformation into a rat, an event that happened in the previous episode, "Gingerbread."
  • Angel finally admits to Buffy that he was there when she first became the Slayer and that he fell in love with her at first sight. Flashbacks of this event were shown in "Becoming, Part One" and explained by Whistler in The Hero of His Own Story.
  • Buffy talks about getting Mister Pointy, the stake Kendra gave her in "Becoming, Part One," bronzed.
  • Quentin Travers is seen for the first time. He will reappear in two more episodes, "Checkpoint" and "Never Leave Me."
  • Giles being fired from the Council paves the way for Buffy's rebellion against the Council and her decision to operate outside their authority ("Graduation Day, Part One"). The separation of Council and Slayer — and Giles's own situation with the Council — will not be resolved until "Checkpoint."
  • This episode takes place on January 19th, Buffy's birthday. Traditionally, the 12th, 13th, or 14th episode of each season is when her birthday is celebrated ("Surprise," "A New Man," "Blood Ties," and "Older and Far Away").
  • Buffy will deal with temporarily not having her powers again in Retreat, when she gives her magic to the earth in order to conceal herself, and in Ordinary People, after she sacrifices them in order to be freed from the Safe Zone.



Organizations and titles[]





Death count[]

  • Unidentified vampire, staked by Buffy.
  • Blair, sired by Kralik and dusted by Giles.
  • Hobson, drained by Kralik and Blair.
  • Kralik, burned after drinking holy water given by Buffy.

Behind the scenes[]


  • David Fury revealed that the name "Zachary Kralik" came from his own nephew's name.[2]
  • According to Fury, the original idea for this episode included Buffy being drugged by the Council and hallucinating, imagining her friends and family as vampires. However, this was abandoned, as it was too close to the premise of "The Wish." Also, Kristine Sutherland couldn't stand the vampire makeup.[2]
  • Jeff Kober, who plays Kralik, returns to play Rack in season 6.
  • The diegetic audio from the last scene continues for a brief moment into the closing credits, a technique also used in the episodes "I Robot, You Jane," "Lie to Me," "Homecoming," "Pangs," "Doomed," and "Out of My Mind," among others.


  • "Helpless" had an audience of 4.6 million households upon its original airing.[3]

Deleted scenes[]

  • Buffy lists some good things about being a normal girl in this exchange cut for length:[4]
    Buffy: "I mean, there's a plus side to being a regular girl. The whole not-bleeding-killing-and-dying experience."
    Willow: "As for example."
    Buffy: "Then there's buying outfits without worrying if they're good for bleeding-killing-and-dying in. There's a lot of good to it."

Pop culture references[]

  • Angel gives Buffy the book Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850), a collection of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  • Buffy mentions Brian Boitano, a 1988 Olympic gold medalist and one of the world's most celebrated figure skaters.
  • Buffy also mentions Boitano performing the 1875 opera Carmen by French composer Georges Bizet.
  • Oz and Xander debate about Superman's kryptonite, the term used to designate any surviving fragment of the exploded planet Krypton, Superman's home planet. There are five distinct varieties of kryptonite: green, red, gold, blue, and white. The first three varieties are toxic to Superman: green kills, red mutates, and gold drains powers. Therefore, Oz is correct, and it is Xander who gets it wrong.
  • Kralik talks with Buffy with lines reminiscent of the story "Little Red Riding Hood": "Why did you come to the dark of the woods? To bring all these sweets to grandmother's house?" "If you stray from the path, you will lose your way." Additionally, Kralik hides in Buffy's hooded red jacket.


  • Christophe Beck — "Betrayal"
  • Christophe Beck — "Kralik's House"
  • Christophe Beck — "A Father's Love"

International titles[]

  • Armenian: "Անօգնականը" (Helpless)
  • Czech: "Bezmocná" (Helpless)
  • Finnish: "Avuton" (Helpless)
  • French: "Sans défense" (Defenseless)
  • German: "Die Reifeprüfung" (The Final Exam)
  • Hungarian: "Reménytelenül" (Hopeless)
  • Italian: "Compleanno di terrore" (Birthday of Terror)
  • Japanese: "無力なバフィー" (Helpless Buffy)
  • Polish: "Bezradność" (Helplessness)
  • Portuguese (Brazil): "Indefesa" (Helpless)
  • Romanian: "Neajutorat" (Helpless)
  • Russian: "Беспомощная" (Helpless)
  • Spanish (Latin America): "Indefensa" (Helpless)
  • Spanish (Spain): "Indefensa" (Helpless)



Behind the scenes[]



Angel: "Um, am I seeing you this weekend? You probably have plans."
Buffy: "Right, birthday. Um, actually do have a thing."
Angel: "Oh. A thing. Date?"
Buffy: "Nice attempt at casual. Actually, I do have a date. Older man. Very handsome. Likes it when I call him 'Daddy.'"
Angel: "Oh, your father. It is your father, right?"
Buffy: "He's taking me to the ice show."
Buffy: "Wow, that was really funny-looking! Could you do it again?"
Vampire: "I'll kill you for that."
Buffy: "For that? What were you trying to kill me for before?"
Angel: "You really like it?"
Buffy: "Of course I do. It's sweet and thoughtful and... full of neat words to learn and say like 'wilt' and 'henceforth'."
Angel: "Then why'd you seem more excited last year when you got a severed arm in a box?"
Buffy: "I'm sorry. Uh, it's just suddenly there's this chance that my calling's a wrong number, and... it's just freaking me out a little."
Angel: "That's understandable."
Buffy: "Angel, what if I have lost my power?"
Angel: "You lived a long time without it. You can do it again."
Buffy: "I guess. But what if I can't? I've seen too much. I know what goes bump in the night. Not being able to fight it... What if I just hide under my bed, all scared and helpless? Or what if I just become pathetic? Hanging out at the old Slayer's home, talking people's ears off about my glory days, showing them Mr. Pointy, the stake I had bronzed."
Buffy: "If I was at full Slayer power, I'd be punning right about now."
Giles: "You're waging a war. She's fighting it. There is a difference."
Travers: "Mr. Giles, if you don't mind..."
Giles: "The test is done. We're finished."
Travers: "Not quite. She passed. You didn't. The Slayer is not the only one who must perform in this situation. I've recommended to the Council, and they've agreed, that you be relieved of your duties as Watcher immediately. You're fired."
Giles: "On what grounds?"
Travers: "Your affection for your charge makes you incapable of clear and impartial judgement. You have a father's love for the child and that makes you useless to the cause."


  1. "The Mortuary." Buffy.com. Archived from the original on February 15, 2001.
  2. 2.0 2.1 David Fury. The Complete Third Season on DVD: audio commentaries for "Helpless." 20th Century Studios, January 7, 2003.
  3. "Nielsen Ratings for Buffy's Third Season." Nielsen Ratings for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, & Firefly. Archived from the original on July 5, 2008.
  4. David Fury et al., The Script Book: Season Three, Volume 2. Simon & Schuster, September 2003.