The gang and the requisite 12 extras—half of whom are wearing standard-issue Bayside tracksuits—burst into the Max, cheering for Zack, who has apparently just kicked ass at a track meet. Among the tracksuit wearers are Jessie, Lisa and Slater, which I guess means they're on the track team, too. Seriously? Well, I guess that at least explains how Lisa did so well in the Malibu Sands obstacle course, although it still doesn't answer the question of why Slater did so poorly.
Anyway, talk turns to the latest project for Miss Wentworth's class, which is researching your family tree. Lisa reveals that her great-great-great-great grandfather was a slave, which appears to shock the gang, even though I'm pretty sure they know Lisa is black. Slater's ancestors were bullfighters, which explains where he gets his penchant for flamboyant outfits. Jessie's ancestors are dead, and that's all she's saying. I wish that's all she'd say for the entire episode, but alas, we are not to be that lucky. Zack has no idea who his ancestors are (aside from Adam and Eve) because, predictably, he has not given a single thought to this project yet.
But he's in luck, because a giant antique trunk has mysteriously appeared at the foot of his bed, and in it is a photo of a Native American chief (or possibly Screech's Aunt Hannah, depending on who you ask). Based on something his mom might have mentioned once, Zack intuits that this must be his ancestor, and thus his project research is complete.
The next day in class, Lisa is giving a presentation about her ancestor, who helped free other slaves on the Underground Railroad. She even has a map of the Underground Railroad as a visual aid. Very impressive! Not so impressive is Jessie, who, under extreme duress, slurs that her ancestors were seafaring people who sailed around the world the end. With some prodding from Miss Wentworth, she finally admits that her ancestors were slave traders, and immediately starts genuflecting to Lisa, who's basically like, "Um, hello, idiot? I'm not a slave, and you're not a slave trader. Shut up!" Unfortunately, despite being reaffirmed by Miss Wentworth, this message doesn't quite get through to Jessie the first time. (Or the second or third or 10th or 20th. Dear God, here we go.)
Next up is Zack, who uses Screech as his visual aid, painting him in lipstick warpaint and giving him a tomahawk that he uses to chop up Miss Wentworth's apple. Unsurprisingly, Miss Wentworth is not too happy with Zack's totally offensive presentation (though, blantant racism aside, it really wasn't that much worse than Jessie's), especially when he tries to claim that Burbank is the ancestral home of the Cherokee tribe. She keeps him after class and chides him for being disrespectful, then orders him to go see a friend of hers so that he can prepare a real presentation by Friday, or else the big track championship against Valley is off the table.
Said friend turns out to be Chief Henry, an aging Native American surfer dude who, as far as I can tell, lives in Zack's garage, which the producers have attempted to disguise with some bookshelves, a couch, and a desk. Zack cuts right to the chase: He only needs enough info on the dude in the photo to make Miss Wentworth happy, and he doesn't have time to chat. Chief Henry loads him up with a stack of books randomly pulled off his bookshelf, one of which I'm pretty sure is a dictionary, and sends Zack on his not-so-merry way.
Zack has toted the stack of books all the way to Belding's office, I guess for dramatic effect, which seems like a whole lot of unnecessary effort to me. However, it appears to have the desired effect on Belding, who, for the first and only time in recorded history, takes Zack's side without being scammed into it and calls Miss Wentworth into his office to ask her to give Zack an extension. Considering that Zack's project was due yesterday, hasn't he already gotten an extension? Oh, and apparently he already had a month to work on the project in the first place. Miss Wentworth points this out, and lays down the law again: No project, no track meet.
Zack has no choice but to crack the books, which he's doing the next day at the Max. Having already finished their projects, Slater, Jessie, and Lisa decamp to another booth, where Jessie offers to buy Lisa a soda and a salad to make up for her ancestors' slave-trading. Because nothing says reparations like lettuce and an ice-cold Coke! Geez, at least spring for a burger and a milkshake. As Jessie continues to try to apologize for something she didn't do, Slater tries to work the groveling to his favor and is told, "Mind your own business, bull killer." He corrects Jessie that it's "bullfighter." What exactly does Slater think happens at the end of a bullfight? Anyway, Lisa agrees to let Jessie take her to the mall, although she doesn't seem sold on Jessie's proposed idea that she carry Lisa on her back. Yeah, I'd say that's going to be awkward for everyone involved.
Zack has located the photo of his ancestor in one of Chief Henry's books, so he heads back to his garage...er, Chief Henry's apartment to get the full scoop. Chief Henry tells Zack that the story of his ancestor isn't in any book. So why'd he give Zack half of his bookshelf, then? Also, how do we know Chief Henry's not just pulling this story out of his ass? Anyway, he spins some tale for Zack about his mighty warrior ancestor and his battles with the white man. Zack wonders why we can't all just get along. Tell it to Rodney King, dude. Anyway, apparently Chief Henry, using the mad beading skillz he picked up at UCLA, has made a special beaded headband for his buddy "Running Zack." Zack is touched, and blows off track practice to head with Henry to the beach and hear more about his ancestors.
The next day in class, Screech has donned his terrible Italian accent to tell us about his ancestor, a "dashing, debonair Italian lover and spy." Uh-huh. This goes on for way too long, so let's just say that Screech's attempts to hit on Lisa and another random extra during his presentation make it clear that none of his ancestor's skills with the ladies were passed down to this generation (though he does seem to make some inroads with Miss Wentworth...but I'm not sure that counts, since we all know how desperate she is).
Zack is up next, but he's not in his seat, which no one seems to have noticed until now. However, that's just because he's making another dramatic entrance, this time in full Native American chief regalia, which elicits a bunch of eye-rolls from his fellow classmates. However, by the end of the presentation, they are totally enraptured by Zack's tale of Chief Whispering Wind and how he surrendered to the white man to save his people. Also enamored is Miss Wentworth, who gives Zack the green light to go forth and run. Unfortunately, when Zack calls Chief Henry to give him the good news, he is informed by Chief Henry's...uh, social secretary (I have no idea who this person on the phone might be, given that the Chief is divorced and appears to live alone in Zack's garage) that Henry kicked the bucket that morning. You know, despite the fact that he was healthy enough to boogie board the day before. Perhaps it was a shark attack that did him in?
Later, everyone's at the Max for a pep rally, during which all the members of the gang who are on the track team get to make a speech, including Slater in a pair of way-too-short shorts and Lisa "Flo Jo" Turtle (whatever), who has ditched the tracksuit for an outfit from the Get Down and Go For It video for the occasion. Lisa also gets her own special cheer from Kelly, the lone cheerleader holding it down at this meager excuse for a pep rally. I thought Zack was the star of the track team, not Lisa? Alas, Zack is nowhere to be found, a fact that, again, no one notices for an inexplicably long time.
It turns out Zack is still in Miss Wentworth's class, mourning the death of his "close friend," Chief Henry. Uh, Zack, I hate to be the one to point this out, but you met the man two days ago and have spent a grand total of a couple of hours in his presence. Still, he is shaken enough that he tells Kelly he can't run in the track meet the next day.
That is, until Chief Henry visits him from the afterlife in a dream. I have to say, death really agrees with Chief Henry, or at least with his wardrobe—his standard ratty T-shirt and leather vest have been replaced with a white suit. (I'm willing to overlook the turquoise bolo tie; the guy is dead, after all.) After some chit-chat about the perks of death and the outcome of Zack's project, Chief Henry leaves Zack with the cryptic message that the answer to his problem (i.e., whether to run in the track meet or not) is in his hands. Hey, good thing Zack happened to fall asleep clutching his beaded headband, as it seems to tell him what he needs to know.
The next day in the hall, Jessie again is attempting to make up for her ancestors' wrongdoings, this time offering to pave Lisa's parents' driveway. Personally, I'd like to see that, but Lisa's holding out for a car. When Jessie says that's crazy, Lisa's all, "And you offering to carry me to the mall on your back wasn't, nutcase?" Finally, when Lisa threatens her with physical violence if she doesn't back off, Jessie blessedly shuts up.
Meanwhile, Belding is attempting to rally the troops, who are none too happy that their star runner has gone AWOL. Ah, but Zack's not finished with his dramatic entrances for this episode, and he makes one more in his tracksuit behind Belding, which elicits a loud cheer from the group. As they all file off to the meet, Kelly asks Zack what changed his mind. He shows us the back of his headband, which Chief Henry embossed with the words "Beat Valley." God, that guy must be a trip in the SBTB Bermuda Triangle!
Quote of the episode: Zack: My ancestors? Adam and Eve! Screech: I didn't know Adam and Eve's last name was Morris!
Grade Clare: C-. Look, it's bad enough when Zack has to learn a Very Important Lesson, but it's even worse when someone has to DIE for him to do it. Wouldn't another dance have sufficed? Also, it's a high threshold to meet, but I think Jessie may be at her most annoying in this episode.