Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Season 3, Episode 12
Helpless Main
Air date January 19, 1999
Written by David Fury
Directed by James A. Contner
Episode Guide
"The Zeppo"
Sarah Michelle Gellar Buffy
Nicholas Brendon Xander
Alyson Hannigan Willow
Charisma Carpenter Cordelia
David Boreanaz Angel
Seth Green Oz
Anthony Stewart Head Giles
Guest Starring
Kristine Sutherland Joyce
Jeff Kober Kralik
Harris Yulin Travers
Co Starring
Dominic Keating Blair
David Haydn-Jones Hobson
Nick Cornish Guy
Don Dowe Construction Worker
"Helpless" is the twelfth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and is the forty-sixth episode in the season.

As Buffy Summers turns 18, the Watchers Council makes her take a test that temporarily renders her Slayer powers useless.


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 a building, 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 another 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, Buffy's mother 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 explains that it's a special mixture that is designed to take away her strength temporarily. He reluctantly admits that he's been injecting her with it for the 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 lend 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.

3x12 Helpless

Giles must inject Buffy

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.


  • This is the first time a vampire nearly kills Buffy with her own stake. The second instance is in "Fool for Love", where she actually is stabbed.
  • This episode marks the beginning of Buffy's estrangement from her father. Eventually, Hank begins a relationship with his secretary, and severs all ties with his former family until season 6 when he appears to be in contact with Dawn via phone.
  • Buffy is disappointed by both of her father figures in this episode: her father does not follow through on their tradition of attending the ice show, and Giles betrays her trust.
  • This marks the first of many severe falling outs that Giles and Buffy continued to have throughout the years up until his death.
  • Giles reveals his parental feelings towards Buffy.
  • Angel finally admitted 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 was shown in "Becoming, Part One" and explained by Whistler in "The Hero of His Own Story".
  • Buffy talks about getting Mr. Pointy, Kendra Young's stake, bronzed.
  • Head of the Watchers Council, Quentin Travers, is seen for the first time. He will reappear several times, usually in opposition to Buffy's methods and activities.
  • Giles being fired from the Council paves the way for Buffy's rebellion against the Council, and her decision to operate outside their authority. The separation of Council and Slayer - and Giles' own situation with the Council - will not be solved until "Checkpoint".
  • This is the only episode that shows what happens when a vampire drinks holy water.
  • The 12th or 13th episode of each season is traditionally when Buffy celebrates her birthday; her birthday takes place in episode 13 of season 2 ("Surprise"), episode 12 of season 4 ("A New Man"), episode 13 of season 5 ("Blood Ties") and episode 14 of season 6 ("Older and Far Away"). Buffy's birthday is not shown celebrated in season 1 (it presumably occurred before the beginning of the half-long season) or in season 7, presumably because in "Older and Far Away", Spike suggests Buffy not celebrate her birthday anymore.
  • Buffy says her father takes her to the ice show for her birthday every year, but there was no mention of the tradition a year earlier in "Surprise". Hank most likely took her, off-camera, on one of the few days surrounding the birthday.

Body Count

  • Unknown vampire, dusted by Buffy
  • Blair, sired by Kralik and dusted by Giles
  • Hobson, drained by Kralik and Blair
  • Kralik, burned after drinking holy water

Behind the Scenes


  • This story had the working
    Buffy Helpless Promo

    Buffy Helpless Promo

    Original WB Promo for "Helpless"

    title "18" as it is set around Buffy's eighteenth birthday.
  • David Fury reveals in the commentary of this episode that the name "Zachary Kralik" came from his own nephew's name.
  • The scene where Buffy is chased through the alleyway is reminiscent of Sarah Michelle Gellar's chase scene in I Know What You Did Last Summer.
  • According to commentary from David 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.

Deleted Scenes

  • Buffy lists some good things about being a normal girl in this exchange cut for length:
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

  • The book Angel gave to Buffy for her birthday was Sonnets From the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
  • Buffy: "Brian Boitano, doing Carmen, is a life changer." Brian Boitano is a 1988 Olympic gold medalist, and one of the world's most celebrated figure skaters. He has won more than 60 other titles, including 23 international gold medals, two World titles, two Pro/Am titles, 17 professional titles and four U.S. National titles.
  • Carmen was originally a novel by Prosper Mérimée, written in 1845. The story of a tragic romance between a Romani and a Spanish military officer served as the basis for the 1875 opera of the same name by French composer Georges Bizet.
  • Oz and Xander are debating about Superman's kryptonite: "Maybe what we should be looking for is something like um... Slayer Kryptonite." "Kryptonite" is 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 was correct, and it was Xander who had gotten it wrong.
  • Quentin, to Giles: "Cruciamentum is not easy for Slayer or Watcher." Cruciamentum is a Latin word meaning torture or torment.
  • There is a fairly overt connection to the story of "Little Red Riding Hood." Kralik hides in Buffy's hooded red jacket, and he also has lines which are reminiscent of the story ("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.").
  • Cordelia had to write a paper for school on Bosnia, probably referring to the Yugoslav Wars during 1990s.
  • This episode pays homage to the horror/thriller film Don't Look Now, where a couple's love and resolve is tested after their child drowns.

International Titles

  • French: Sans défense (Defenseless)
  • German: Die Reifeprüfung (The Final Examination)



  • This episode is Giles-centric.
  • Jeff Kober, who plays Kralik, returns to play Rack in Season 6. 


Kralik - (to Buffy, as she is about to reach the end of the hall) "If you stray from the path, you will lose your way." (He reaches out and puts his hand on her cheek; she tries to push him away, but he’s too strong and bends down toward her neck) "I won’t take it all. I won’t take it all." (She strains hard to keep him at bay. Suddenly Kralik has one of his attacks; he grabs his head and begins to scream. Buffy tries to get past him, but he shoves her into the wall, stunning her. He pulls out his pill bottle and struggles to get it open. Buffy regains her head and grabs the bottle out of his hands; she runs down the hall away from him.) "No! No! No!"
Angel - "Um, am I seeing you this weekend? Y-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. (chuckles slightly before reverting to a tense expression) It is your father, right?"
Buffy - (nods, amused) "He's taking me to a ice show. It should be big fun. I could use some fun."
Kralik - (to a bound and gagged Joyce) "I'll have your daughter. I won't kill her; I'll just make her like me. Different. She'll go to sleep, and when she wakes up, your face will be the first thing she eats. (stops and considers something) I have a problem with mothers. (chuckles) I'm aware of that."
Buffy - "Just feel better when I get my strength back." (tries to open the jar of peanut butter)
Xander - "Give you a hand with that, little lady?"
Buffy - "You’re loving this far too much."
Xander - "Admit it. Sometimes you just need a big strong man.(struggles to open it) Uh, Will, gimme a hand with that?"
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."
Angel - "I saw you before you became the Slayer."
Buffy - "What?"
Angel - "I watched you, and I saw you called. It was a bright afternoon out in front of your school. You walked down the steps ... and ... and I loved you."
Buffy - "Why?"
Angel - "'Cause I could see your heart. You held it before you for everyone to see. And I worried that it would be bruised or torn. And more than anything in my life I wanted to keep it safe ... to warm it with my own."
Buffy - "That's beautiful. Or taken literally, incredibly gross."
Angel - "I was just thinking that, too."
Buffy - "I'm way off my game. My game's left the country. It's in Cuernavaca."
Buffy - "Okay, I just got swatted down by some no-neck and rescued by Cordelia. What the hell is happening?!"
Giles - "I'm sure it'll sort itself out."
Buffy - "You're not getting the big picture here. I have no strength. I have no coordination. I throw knives like..."
Giles - "A girl?"
Buffy - " me! Somebody, please! Aah! Help me, please! Somebody! Somebody please help me!"
Buffy - [to Giles] "Who are you? How could you do this to me? [...] You stuck a needle in me. You poisoned me(!) [...] I don't know you."
Buffy - (as she watches Holy Water melt Kralik from the inside out) "If I was at full Slayer power, I'd be punning right about now."
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