In the ninth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia’s heartbreak over Xander’s infidelity causes her to make a wish that Buffy never came to Sunnydale. Whoops! If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I like “The Wish.” I think it’s a creepy, surreal, and sometimes hilarious take on the concept of parallel universes. I will enjoy any episode that focuses on Cordelia. Never in my life did I think I’d see Willow and Xander as vampires. All of these things are good, and I won’t back down from this.
But Marti Nixon makes, in my opinion, two critical mistakes that bring this episode down from HOLY SHIT FUCKING AMAZING to Well, that was fun. They don’t ruin the story, but I certainly liked it less because of these things:
1) The shift away from Cordelia Chase
I’m happy that this story picks up immediately from the end of “Lovers Walk,” which is also known as “The Episode That Will Destroy Your Heart For The Rest of Your Life.” It’s a smart choice because that last episode is such a monumental chapter in these character’s lives. The cold open focuses initially on Xander and Willow, and, for the first time in the show’s history, gives us a scene where they are both just as irritating as the other. I wasn’t sure why the show insisted on showing us how hard this situation was on Xander and Willow, especially since I did not feel the slightest bit of guilt for their situation. I did not feel sorry for them. They brought this on themselves. Both frame the break up as a tragedy for them, and good god, it’s so annoying.
I came to recognize that this was done on purpose. People do this all the time, and once the show switches over to Cordelia, it makes sense why were shown these scenes in that order. Xander and Willow are upset, sure. Things are awkward. But we see that Cordelia is completely and utterly heartbroken, and it’s this implicit reminder that we should be feeling bad for her. The contrast is so jarring because she’s the one who looks like a wreck. And why shouldn’t she? She sacrificed her social standing to date Xander. She changed more of her outlook on life and her attitude than Xander ever did. She’s the one who truly lost in this situation. We see that when Harmony and her former group of friends reject her almost immediately upon her returning to school.
So I understand how, in that moment of rage and sadness, Cordelia tells Anya that she wishes Buffy had not come to Sunnydale. Is it an irrational wish? Of course it is. She’s blaming Buffy for what’s really the fault of Xander and Willow. That’s what I thought the whole point of this was: the show was revealing the flaw in Cordelia’s logic. By creating a parallel world where this wish is real, Cordelia quickly realizes that SHE HAS MADE A HUGE MISTAKE. Okay, I also must admit that Cordelia’s mistake is really entertaining to me. There’s so much detail to this alternate world! Daylight curfews; no bright clothing allowed; no student driving; A MONTHLY MEMORIAL AT SCHOOL.
It only gets better. THE MASTER IS BACK. WHAT THE FUCK! Giles leads a group of kids called the “White Hats” and they slay vampires! LARRY IS A VAMPIRE SLAYER BLESS YOUR HEART LARRY.
And then Cordelia is eaten by Xander and Cordelia. Is it a shocking plot twist? It most certainly is. The show technically kills off a main character. (Actually, by the episode’s end, every main character aside from Giles is killed. Weird.) But I don’t know if the twist has any value aside from being shocking. The whole point of this alternate universe is to show Cordelia that she needs to assign blame where it needs to go. That’s half the entertainment and half the humor. It’s the whole dynamic of it. As soon as she’s killed, the story loses it’s life. It’s still fascinating to watch in a way, especially since I’m left wondering how it’ll all be resolved. It’s neat to see who else makes a cameo appearance, too. But this was a Cordelia-centric story, and you just eliminated her point-of-view halfway through.
Things switch to Giles for the most part, and while I won’t deny seeing him as the hidden Watcher rushing to save Sunnydale, it’s just not the same. But in order to explain this, I need to bring up my other point:
2) No one remembers anything
Before I get to my thesis, let me just say that I love the scene at the plant. That machine is one of the most fucked up things this show has ever put on the screen, and the final battle with Buffy, Angel, Larry, and Oz is brilliantly shot. There’s so much emotional weight to it, too! Watching Xander and Willow be staked is haunting and unsettling, even if we know that they’re not really dead. Buffy’s death is just plain upsetting to me. (Interesting that the Codex still comes true in this reality. DUN DUN DUN.) When Giles destroys Anyanka’s amulet, I waited to see how this would be addressed.
It’s simply erased. Logistically, it seems to make sense. Giles said that destroying Anyanka’s power center would un-do all the wishes she granted, so that’s technically what this does. So I get that this had to happen in one way of thinking.
In terms of these characters, though? It stinks. I hate it. No one learns anything. No one remembers anything. Nothing happened. No one grew, no one became a better person, and the only person who could have possibly gleamed a message from all of this is the audience. I think I would have preferred a barely tolerable explanation that kept the ramifications of that parallel world in someone’s mind. I suppose that since Cordelia died in her wish, it was inevitable that all of this wouldn’t matter. But I’m just not a fan of stories that don’t matter. Why tell them if they just disappear and if they have no lasting effects?
Still, I liked “The Wish,” if only for the chance to see more Cordelia and to watch Marti Nixon bring this fucked up version of Sunnydale to life. It makes up for the ending of the episode, though I may never heal from Xander and Willow being sexy, leather-wearing vampires. How weird.
Death Count: Look, I don’t fucking know. None of it counts! It all doesn’t matter! So what are your thoughts on this? Do I count the bazillion characters who die on screen?