Mark Watches ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’: S01E03 – Witch

In the third episode of the first season of Buffy, the group encounters their first non-vampire foe, and I encounter my first complete WHAT THE FUCK moment of the show. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

HELLO DEAR BUFFY FANDOM. DO. NOT. SPOIL. ME. Some of you missed this message AGAIN, so I will keep doing this: Is what you’re about to put in a comment in any way referencing any single thing I have not seen yet? Put it in rot13.com or DO NOT POST IT. THANK YOU AND PLEASE CONSULT MY SPOILER POLICY FOR MORE CLARIFICATION AND EXAMPLES.

A bit of an update about server stuff: My very own server is almost here and after that, I can allocate resources as needed whenever there’s a spike in views and we won’t have the trouble we’ve had. I mean, there were a lot of people here for Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender, but this is some serious memory/bandwidth usage. Anyway, y’all overloaded my servers for 48 hours straight and I’m in the process of moving. There might be an hour or two later today where the site does not exist, but that’s necessary to move it all over. Thanks for reading, and I promise this will get better!

*****

YES. YES. OH, YES YES YES YES YES. Is this real life? IS THIS WHAT I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR? Sorry, don’t care, I love a good, creepy plot twist, and this one is a DOOZY. It takes the character of Amy and gives the first half of her story this incredible new context, and Dana Reston, who wrote this, also manages to include some great subplots regarding femininity, familial expectation, and the dynamic between Buffy and her mother. I’d say that this is certainly the first truly awesome Buffy episode that I’ve gotten to experience. AND IT’S ONLY THE THIRD EPISODE. That’s so spectacular!

I think it’s hilarious that I wondered in my previous review if Buffy would attempt to integrate herself into Sunnydale High and LO AND BEHOLD, SHE IS TRYING OUT TO BE A CHEERLEADER. What I got wrong, though, was Buffy’s intention. I’d assumed she might try this in order to make herself appear normal as opposed to feeling normal. I misread this: Buffy isn’t trying to hide. She’s trying to be just like everyone else. I’ve spoken about it before, but I really feel icky when people try to criticize the concept of normality. Yes, it can be used in increasingly gross ways when privileged folk try to say that marginalized people aren’t normal. I don’t like that shit either. But as someone whose high school experience was bizarre and kind of painful, normalcy was something I desired more than anything. I wanted a boyfriend, I wanted a real date to prom, I wanted to have money to afford going out, and I wanted to have a family that loved and cared for me. To me, those things were normal.

Okay, I know I’m projecting like hell onto Buffy but YOU WILL ALLOW ME THIS SMALL MOMENT. I love that she wants to do cheerleading just because. She’s not super amazing at it, either, but it makes her happy and it makes her feel normal. I especially loved her small spat with Giles. In a way, I felt like there was an unspoken subtext that he was criticizing her choice because it was so girly, and that was unbecoming of a Slayer. Guess what? She doesn’t care, and she’s going to slaughter vampires and wear dresses as much as she wants to. And that’s kind of awesome to me?

The cold open feels very The X-Files to me, in that it takes a seemingly “normal” occurrence and renders it completely absurd. Yeah, I was genuinely shocked when Amber spontaneously combusted. What the fuck?

The impetus for the story here in “Witch” impressed me because it’s so dense. We deal with more of Cordelia’s nastiness towards other students, which causes me to hope even harder that she gets any sort of development beyond the school bully. THERE’S POTENTIAL THERE, OKAY? The cheerleading plot brings out Xander’s hormones in full force, so much so that he actively engages the idea that he should ask Buffy out. And I’m totally opposed to Xander/Buffy solely because I already associate him as a best friend and it seems weird. The conversations that Buffy and her mom have are just as interesting to me, too. It’s nice to see a mother on television who is trying to understand her daughter. Of course, for us, we have the luxury of omniscience. We know that Buffy’s behavior isn’t because she’s any sort of troubled teen or a poor student; she was unfortunately born as the Slayer. (I am sort of curious to see if the show will ever flashback to her first Watcher and her discovery of her destiny.) But Buffy’s mother’s story represents that divide that exists between parents and their children, of the mother who is clueless as to the motivation of their offspring. Even if this is a show about a girl who kills vampire, her story is very human in nature, and it’s a welcome addition.

But the primary mystery is the identity of the witch and the motivations for her appearing at the school. The group believes Amy might be causing it inadvertently because of the pressure her mother puts on her to succeed. I’ve got no shame admitting that one of my trope weaknesses is any story that deals with parents putting too much pressure on their children to succeed. WELCOME TO THE BULK OF MY LIFE. I grew up with a mother who literally would tell me that if I wasn’t valedictorian, I’d be an utter failure. The first time I brought a quiz home that didn’t earn an A, I got grounded for a week. Even after I ran away from home because of this (and many other things) when I was sixteen, I couldn’t escape the messages that had been drilled into my head. I was valedictorian of my high school, though it ended up being on my own terms instead of hers. Still, I’m sure some of you are familiar with this! It’s such an awful experience because school is stressful enough as it is. You don’t also need your parents insulting you and doubting your worth as a person in the process. That’s one of the things I like about “The Witch.” The characters openly accept that this is something that can cause a person to lash out and I love that. It’s true! I mean, yes, granted I did not set cheerleaders on fire. But Amy’s mother, who was a popular and talented cheerleader in her day, has made her daughter’s life miserable because of the unrealistic (and unfair) expectations she has for her.

It seemed obvious to me that Amy’s mother was behind this until the spell Giles has them do in the science class. First of all, WAY TO NOT BE TOTALLY OBVIOUS ABOUT GETTING AMY’S HAIR. Oh god, you really are going to have to get better at this. But then…she tests positive for casting a spell? And she seems genuinely surprised when a girl next to her suddenly doesn’t have a mouth? Confused, I was then totally flabbergasted when we meet Amy’s mother for the first time, and she’s not the strict, overbearing, and frightening person we’d been told to expect. In fact, the dynamic between the two suggested that Amy was the one who was a tyrant in that house. On top of that, she’s also definitely the witch. Oh god, she lied about her mother and now she has Buffy’s bracelet THIS IS A DISASTER.

I mean, it is, but oh my god. It’s the most beautiful disaster of all time. Turns out that when Buffy gets hit with a Bloodstone Vengeance Spell, she becomes incredibly fucking funny. Bless you, Sarah Michelle Gellar. This is also the first moment for me where I was completely impressed with the acting, and Gellar knocks it out of the park. The whole point was to be as weird as possible, and her knack for physical humor is what sells it to me. But credit must be given to Whedon and Dana Reston, who have done a fantastic job building the character of Buffy Summers in just around two hours, so much so that I know that she’s acting out-of-character for her normal self. That’s what works out so well.

But let’s just talk about the reveal that this whole episode hinges on. Honestly, even in hindsight, I don’t think there was a single clue here that could have led me to figure out that Amy was in her mother’s body. Oh my god HOW FUCKED UP IS THAT. Like….sweet summer christ, that is so ridiculously evil. It forced me to think about how creepy and unsettling Amy really was the whole time. THAT WAS HER MOM IN THE BEGINNING. THAT WAS HER MOM LOOKING AT HERSELF IN THE TROPHY CASE. oh god THAT WAS AMY’S MOM ASKING HER DAUGHTER IN HER BODY TO DO HER HOMEWORK. oh my god this is one of the creepiest things ever HOW DOES SOMEONE THINK OF THIS SHIT.

Honestly, this is just a strong episode from start to end, and I found myself gripped by trying to figure out how this would be resolved, especially with Buffy incapacitated. Truly, this was mostly Giles’s time to shine. Now I sort of want backstory on him. Where did he come from? Did he always know that he was a Watcher or was that bestowed on him as well? That’s for another day, I hope. For now, though, this was a really fun episode that was much creepier than I expected it to be. And though the effect is not very good, the mental image of Amy’s mother, forever trapped in that statue, is disturbing as hell.

Damn, that was good, though.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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