In the sixth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, WELL THIS IS NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
I love Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday of the year, and I generally spend the entire month of October being as ridiculous as possible. I’ll go to haunted houses. I watch terrible horror movies to get in the mood. (I mean, I do that year-round, but I have marathons in October.) I don’t always dress up because I tend to want to have super over-the-top costumes, and some years, I’ve not had the time. I love ghost hunting. I love telling ghost stories. I love anything that makes me creeped out even if I don’t really believe in any of it. I LOVE HALLOWEEN.
I initially believed that “Halloween” was going to be the show’s first attempt at black humor. And while there are a lot of truly funny lines in this episode, I was pleasantly surprised at how serious it was. That being said, “Halloween” is an exercise in absurdity. While the plot with Spike is played pretty straight, it’s an unexpected addition. Instead, the writers take great joy in going right for the weird by having Halloween costumes that turn people into whatever they’re wearing. It’s one of those ideas that, stripped of context, I wouldn’t believe. In fact, if I’d read the synopsis beforehand, I might not have even wanted to see this episode.
However, it’s the way so many different ideas are woven through the story that helps make this work. If you’ll allow me, I’m going to split them up to discuss the various themes in “Halloween.”
XANDER IS A MANLY MAN
Well, he’s not really, but I actually found his problems with his own masculinity (or, actually, how it was perceived by others) to not be as annoying as it could have been. He is irritating to Buffy because he chooses to care about his reputation over showing gratitude towards her, so I don’t want to ignore that. But what I enjoyed about his story over the course of “Halloween” was that the writers explored the reason Xander felt this way. I can deal with characters behaving terribly if the text actually acknowledges the shitty actions, and I love it even more when we’re given context. For Xander, he’s obsessed with his reputation because the world he lives in values hyper-masculinity.
Well, let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not like this is a fictional society. Xander’s fear is one I know extremely well, and as someone who grew up as a slightly feminine gay man, my masculinity issues were raging. Even if I framed it in terms of reputation, as Xander does here, the real truth is that to me, I thought the world I lived in viewed me as less than a man. It didn’t help that my home life and school life both supported, upheld, and celebrated the most rigid of gender roles, which meant that I was bullied and picked on for every moment I unintentionally broke the role I was supposed to play.
While it’s a conscious thing more than not these days, it wasn’t a conscious decision to act feminine, to want to write poetry and horror novels, to prefer documentaries over football, to be a pacifist instead of violent and aggressive like so many of my peers. Add on top of that the fact that my behavior led most people to believe I was gay and you’ve got a wonderful environment that tried to teach me that I wasn’t a man.
I suppose it’s only fair to admit that I still struggle with bits and pieces of it, and I’m happy to face this issue despite that it can be so uncomfortable to me. So while I totally get why Xander is annoying here, from my perspective, I also get why he’s so unbelievably upset. I’m not excusing his actions; I’m just saying I understand them. It’s interesting then, that Xander is eventually made into a soldier when Ethan’s spell takes effect. It’s pretty much universally recognized as a “manly” thing, and it allows him to act out his frustrations with how Larry and others treat him. The thing is, by the end of it, acting that way doesn’t make him a better person, or a better man, and I like the idea that he’s just who he is. With that, he accepts Buffy for who she is, and that’s definitely not someone who’s trying to emasculate him.
BUFFY IS A GIRLY GIRL
Well, that’s what she wants to be. It’s Xander’s story, but told from Buffy’s perspective, and I DEEPLY ADORE THAT THIS EPISODE DOES THIS. After feeling inadequate at her first real “date” with Angel, Buffy believes it’s because she is not feminine enough. Her conflict throughout “Halloween” revolves around the idea that she mistakenly conflates femininity with attractiveness, that only girls who act their gender role get any of the attention. Of course, she uses Cordelia Chase as her comparison, and it’s unfortunate that it takes Buffy so long to see what a mistake this is. Cordelia is a very feminine girl, but Buffy perceives that this is what Angel really wants, when it’s far from the truth.
But that’s the trickiness with gender roles in the United States: they blur and distort our perception so badly that we completely misread situations. We fear the rejection that comes from people believing we aren’t “true” men and women. (And let’s not kid ourselves: trans* folk, and anyone with a non-typical gender, especially one out of the binary, face this so much more disproportionally than those of us who are cisgender.) The show doesn’t go that far, though, so I want to make it clear that I’m just reading a lot into this. Buffy does not have the “typical” girl experience in high school since she’s the Slayer, and “Halloween” is her chance to explore being more girly. Thankfully, the episode doesn’t come out to say that being feminine is bad; instead, it’s an attempt to show Xander and Buffy that they can be whatever guy or girl they want to be, and that worrying about gender perception can be a stressful, frustrating thing.
WILLOW IS MY FAVORITE
I think Willow’s story is just as important as Xander’s and Buffy’s. She, too, is concerned about perception. As Buffy tried to explain the “purpose” of Halloween to her, I was seriously grimacing, waiting for the inevitable, “IT’S THE DAY YOU CAN DRESS LIKE A SLUT!” moment.
And it never came! I mean….holy shit, that never happens. [Author’s Note: Echinodermata kindly pointed out that Buffy sort of says this when she’s says, “It’s the perfect chance for a girl…” OH WELL I TRIED.] Not only that, but Buffy chose to tell Willow that Halloween was a chance for her to explore another facet of herself. It didn’t have to be serious, and it didn’t have to represent the “real” her, but it could be something she was curious about. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing wrong with dressing in revealing clothing, and the writers provided an outlet for Willow to experiment with it, and that’s kind of awesome.
OMG Oz, just talk to Willow, please.
So I laughed really hard at this:
“What’s her name?”
“I don’t know, it doesn’t say.”
LITERALLY. IT’S RIGHT THERE.
SPIKE IS DOING STUFF
I like that this episode seemed like a mythology story at first, then it changed to a monster-of-the-week, then it was both at the same time. Brilliant. Also, clearly Spike has no qualms about using children, either.
CORDELIA, MY LOVE
God, I love that she’s around all the time and that she plays such a large part in so many of these episodes. I am eagerly awaiting the next bit of character development from her, as she’s sort of treading the same ground in each episode. She’s certainly more complex than she was in season one, but it’s like the writers won’t let her go beyond being the self-centered “friend.” I WANT MORE.
SUNNYDALE IS REALLY OBLIVIOUS
I am pretty much ready to accept that Sunnydale as a whole can detach themselves collectively from reality, refusing to acknowledge the weirdness that’s going on in their town. Still, it was really awesome to see that the spell Ethan set affected more than just the main gang. That first scene where everyone on the street just goes off is so fantastic.
GILES WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU
no look LOOK EVERYONE LOOK YOU CANNOT JUST DROP THIS SHIT ON ME CASUALLY IN THIS EPISODE. Giles, you have a backstory that I don’t know? AND ETHAN MAKES IT SEEM REALLY COMPLICATED AND POSSIBLY BAD AND WHAT THE FUCK IS GILES WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON EVERYONE.
oh god ETHAN WATCHES THE PRISONER DOESN’T HE. “Be seeing you.” seriously what is going on and what is Giles and what did this episode just do to me. YOU BETTER NOT RUIN MY GOLDEN VIEW OF GILES I JUST LOVE HIM SO MUCH OKAY.