In the sixteenth episode of the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, who knew that a Xander-centric episode would be so fantastic? If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
Look, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is not without its problematic issues. It is inherently about one man violating the consent of EVERY single woman in the entirety of Sunnydale, possibly the world. Is it perfect? No. Is it my favorite episode of the whole show so far? YES IT IS.
Xander Harris, I have been waiting for so long for this day to come. You’ve been written with one note, and you’ve been running with that for twenty-seven straight episodes. And now, this long character arc has come to fruition in a terrifying and hilarious way, and I am so happy to have experienced it.
It was nice from the get-go to explore the idea of Cordelia and Xander’s relationship. The writers have been growing it with each episode, and in the process, Xander has been making minuscule changes in his behavior. Nothing terribly huge or significant, but I’ve noticed it. I had a feeling this episode would move things forward when Xander asked for Buffy’s opinion on a locket he got for Cordelia for Valentine’s Day. That’s not something you get someone you’re ashamed of.
But then there’s a brilliant misdirect that exists for so long that I believed this episode would be about something else. We see Amy again, who hasn’t been around since “The Witch,” and then there’s the entire plot with Buffy and Angel. Would this episode focus on Amy returning to the story? Would the threat of Angel’s Valentine’s Day plan be the narrative center of the episode? Would we see more of Angel’s competition with Spike for Drusilla’s affection? Or would Giles and Buffy attempt to amend their relationship with Jenny Calendar? Any of these were pretty compelling to me, and it’s what gives Xander’s story so much weight in the end. Because while there are pieces of all of these in the main story, it’s not the main story at all.
That happens when Cordelia breaks Xander’s heart. It really is a terrible thing for Cordelia to choose Valentine’s Day and the moment after Xander gives her a pretty awesome gift to dump him. Do I understand why she did it and why she chose that moment? Sure! And I think the story contains the motivations for her character pretty well, even if the viewer might not agree with them. We get to see how her friends rebuff her just for dating Xander and willingly putting herself lower on the social ladder of Sunnydale High. Plus, if she was concerned about this relationship, she was, at the very least, considerate enough to stop leading Xander on if she was going to dump him eventually.
All this doesn’t not erase Xander’s pain. And for the first time ever, I felt genuinely awful for him. I’ve been dumped a few times before. My first boyfriend dumped me over MySpace (SERIOUSLY!!!) just a week after Christmas (and after I’d spent hundreds of dollars on him for gifts) and while he was on vacation. I know timing isn’t everything, but it’s something. No matter what Cordelia’s intentions were, it sucked seeing the guy hurt like this, especially since I liked him so much when he was with Cordelia.
Aaaaaannnnddd then Xander blackmails Amy. OH BOY. Like, way to take a sympathetic situation and utterly destroy it, dude! But what I found fascinating about this choice is twofold. First, it shows that Xander is reverting back almost instantly to the behavior he started off with before he ever kissed Cordelia. While he has every right to feel sad and dejected, he has to take it a step further. That’s the second thing: the show takes what was awful about Xander in the past (his creepy opinions of attractive women) and then actively uses that against him.
I know it’s meant to be both funny and creepy at the same time, but I was just so impressed that the love spell plot is essentially Xander’s attitude about Buffy and Willow, but taken to its logical conclusion: Xander has always wished that every woman was attracted to him. The thing is, that’s not what I thought was happening. I expected that something would backfire, either intentionally on Amy’s part as punishment for Xander blackmailing her, or merely by accident since she wasn’t that experienced of a witch. When Cordelia doesn’t respond to Xander’s attempts to come on to her the day after Amy casts the spell, I thought this would be a pretty predictable story.
And then Buffy starts hitting on Xander.
And then Amy starts flirting with Xander.
And then another student is flirting.
And then WILLOW IS IN XANDER’S BED.
AND THEN NOTHING IS FUCKING SACRED ANYMORE.
This episode had me cringing and laughing, often one after the other. Here is Xander’s dream, made literal, and he can’t make it go away. This is what it’s like, and this is what he’s always wanted, right? Oh god, it is so horrifying and it is so beautiful in the worst way imaginable. It’s one of the most awkward things I’ve ever seen on television, and a lot of rests on the fact that the context of these women hitting on Xander is just so wrong. Plus, the execution of this could have failed so miserably, but the entire cast does such a fine job of taking their characters to this uncomfortable sexual place. Look at the glee on Alyson Hannigan’s face! LOOK HOW SULTRY SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR AND ROBIA LAMORTE ARE. They sell this idea so masterfully, and it’s what makes this such an entertaining thing to watch. Oh god, when Jenny started hitting on Xander, I just lost it. (I also think I enjoyed this so much because I’d just finished “The Reichenbach Fall” and nothing felt good and I needed help.)
But the moment that really sold this story to me, and the one that made me like Xander the most, was when Buffy, appearing only in a rain coat, tries to seduce him, and he flat out refuses to take advantage of her. It doesn’t excuse his earlier behavior, sure, but that moment of clarity – you do not take advantage of a woman – is such a powerful moment for him. Look, Xander’s written as a gross, immature high school dude. That’s what his character is. Yet there’s something just so lovely to me about the fact that even someone like Xander just knows that he should not do anything to Buffy while she’s in a state where she cannot consent. On top of that, we have Giles, who acts as a clear critic of what Xander’s done, almost disgusted with his particular brand of self-serving decision-making.
Oh, and then Buffy is a rat? Okay, that’s fucking weird. She’s in this episode for like ten minutes tops, isn’t she?
Anyway, while there’s a lot to laugh at here, the story gets gradually more creepy as it progresses. There’s some laughter and grimacing to be had when Buffy’s mother starts hitting on Xander, but I was totally in love with how “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” takes this concept and turns it into a horror movie of sorts. It’s unsettling to watch all these women rush into the Summers’ home specifically because it’s overwhelming. At the same time, though, I can’t deny how silly it is, especially when we get a glimpse of Jenny desiring Xander or every time we see the lunch lady with her rolling pin. This is a comedy, and a damn fine one at that.
But at the end of it all is a genuine, touching moment, and it’s not one that goes straight for being cheesy or a joke. I got a sense that Cordelia’s opinion of Xander would change when she expressed joyous shock that Xander actually wanted the love spell to work on her, not the entirety of Sunnydale. It was inevitable then, that when Cordelia’s friends started insulting Xander, that she would gain the courage to finally tell them to shut the hell up. This is such a huge moment for her character, both because it’s so believable, and because Cordelia has this moment of self-worth. She’s worth more than her friends think of her, and goddamn it, she’s going to be with Xander if it makes her feel good.
oh my god I am just so full of feels for these two. This show is going to destroy me, isn’t it?