In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone is just about done with the Michigan State Department of Treasury and their shitty, shitty website. She will also recap every episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer with an eye to the following themes:
- Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
- Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
- Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
- Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
- Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
- The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
- All the monsters look like wieners.
- If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
- Angel is a dick.
- Harmony is the strongest female character on the show.
- Team sports are portrayed in an extremely negative light.
- Some of this shit is racist as fuck.
- Science and technology are not to be trusted.
- Mental illness is stigmatized.
- Only Willow can use a computer.
- Buffy’s strength is flexible at the plot’s convenience.
- Cheap laughs and desperate grabs at plot plausibility are made through Xenophobia.
- Oz is the Anti-Xander
- Spike is capable of love despite his lack of soul
- Don’t freaking tell me the vampires don’t need to breathe because they’re constantly out of frickin’ breath.
- The foreshadowing on this show is freaking amazing.
- Smoking is evil.
- Despite praise for its positive portrayal of non-straight sexualities, some of this shit is homophobic as fuck.
- How do these kids know all these outdated references, anyway?
- Technology is used inconsistently as per its convenience in the script.
- Sunnydale residents are no longer shocked by supernatural attacks.
- Casual rape dismissal/victim blaming a-go-go
- Snyder believes Buffy is a demon or other evil entity.
- The Scoobies kind of help turn Jonathan into a bad guy.
- This show caters to the straight female gaze like whoa.
- Sunnydale General is the worst hospital in the world.
- Faith is hyper-sexualized needlessly.
- Slut shame!
- The Watchers have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
- Vampire bites, even very brief ones, are 99.8% fatal.
Have I missed any that were added in past recaps? Let me know in the comments. Even though I might forget that you mentioned it.
WARNING: Some people have mentioned they’re watching along with me, and that’s awesome, but I’ve seen the entire series already and I’ll probably mention things that happen in later seasons. So… you know, take that under consideration, if you’re a person who can’t enjoy something if you know future details about it.
Hooray! We’ve reached what I consider to be one of the scariest episodes of the entire series. It highlights the helplessness of children and teens when their parents subscribe to dangerous ideas!
Buffy wanders alone through a wooded area at night, wary, stalking something. Bushes rustle, and Joyce emerges, scaring the daylights out Buffy. Joyce wants to watch Buffy slay, which Buffy is not thrilled about.
Joyce: “But it’s such a big part of your life, and I’d like to understand it.”
This is one of the rare instances where we see Joyce acting counter to #3, even if she is pulling a major #8. When a vampire does appear, Joyce takes on the role of a cheerleader, until she notices that the vampire in question is a guy she recognizes from the bank. The vampire gets away, and Buffy tells her mom to stay put. While Buffy runs off, Joyce goes to a nearby playground to wait, where she finds this:
That’s two dead children, with symbols drawn into their hands.
After the credits, police swarm the scene, while a traumatized Joyce stands by helplessly. Buffy tries to reassure her mother by promising to find whoever killed them, but Joyce says that nothing will make it right. They hug, and Buffy tells her to try to calm down.
Cut to Buffy in the library, shouting at Giles that she will not calm down. Her mother is super messed up by seeing these dead kids. She tells Giles about the mark on their hands, and Giles suggests it might not be a supernatural creature that killed them, but people who committed a ritualistic murder. Buffy asks him to find a “loophole” in the rule that says she can’t kill humans, which stuns him. He suggests that she’s emotionally affected by the tragedy because of her mother’s involvement, which she does not want to hear at all.
At lunch, Xander and Oz are in line next to each other. Xander tries to make conversation with Oz, which is awkward enough on most days, but probably worse when you’re the person Oz’s girlfriend cheated on him with. Oz is a cool guy, though, so he kind of goes with it. Willow joins them at a table, with Amy, the witch from earlier episodes, who’s never around but just kind of there now. I love when that happens on shows, where a recurring character randomly pops up and you’re like, “Ah, they have something to do with the plot this week, I’ll wager!”
Willow reminds everyone that Buffy’s birthday is coming up, which means the worst episode ever is also coming up. So, I’m super happy when Buffy arrives and asks them if they heard about the kids who got murdered and how her mom found the bodies. Then Joyce shows up to ask Buffy if she’s made any headway on the case of the murdered kids. Buffy tells her Giles’s cult theory, and Joyce immediately jumps to witches, which makes Amy and Willow visibly uncomfortable.
Joyce: “I know you kids think that stuff’s cool. Buffy told me you dabble.”
Joyce goes on to say that anyone who would kill children isn’t “cool,” like the group needs that explained to them. She’s visibly shaken, so Buffy gets her out of there. Xander mentions how detrimental this whole thing is going to be to Joyce’s support of Buffy’s Slayer duties, to which Willow responds that she feels lucky that her mom doesn’t pay attention to anything she does.
In the hallway, Joyce asks Buffy if her friends are going to help find the cult, but Buffy tries to get her to maybe stop talking supernatural murder in the hallway. Joyce accuses Buffy of being embarrassed of her, and Buffy tries to explain that she’s compartmentalized her home business and school business, and Joyce is kind of obliterating that compartment system.
Joyce says she’s been moved to help, and she’s called everyone she knows, who called everyone they know, and there’s going to be a vigil at City Hall. Even the Mayor is going to attend. Buffy is worried that too many people are being brought into this mess, but Joyce says maybe not many people will show up.
Cut to City Hall, which is absolutely packed. Even Willow’s mom is there, and she notices for the first time that Willow cut her hair. Willow mentions that she cut her hair in August. So, welcome to January, totally unobservant mom. In comparison to Willow’s mom, Joyce is Mrs. Fucking Cunningham.
Giles is at the vigil, too, and he and Joyce have yet another odd interaction:
Joyce: “It’s been a while.”
Giles: “Right. Not since, um. Not since…not for a while.”
Willow’s mom: “There’s a rumor going around, Mr. Giles.”
Giles: “A rumor? About us?”
Oh, Giles. That sounds in no way suspicious.
Willow’s mom tells Giles that the rumor is about witchcraft being the cause of the murder. Willow tries to blow it off as a silly notion, but her mom has been doing research on the rise of magic use among teens. Before she can get too far, the Mayor takes the podium and gives a very convincing speech about how bad how Sunnydale is a good town and how hard he’s going to fight to make sure it stays that way. He turns over the mic to Joyce, who drops a bomb:
Joyce: “Mr. Mayor, you’re dead wrong. This is not a good town. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but silence is this town’s disease. Too long we’ve been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn’t our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and the witches and the Slayers. I say it’s time for the grown ups to take Sunnydale back. I say we start by finding the people who did this, and making them pay.”
So, when she says the stuff about Slayers? This is what Buffy and Willow and Giles look like:
Shit is bad here. Now everyone in town knows that a Slayer is a thing, and Buffy was trying to keep that pretty low key.
Later that night, we see Amy and some other witches all gothed out and doing a spell that involves a human skull and all sorts of nasty looking jars. And oh no…
Also not great?
Because that is the exact symbol that was in the dead kids’ hands.
At school the next day, one of the witch kids, a guy who wears black lipstick and eyeliner, gets bullied. Not because of the eyeliner, though you get the feeling that’s been the case in the past. Today, it’s because the bullies think he’s a witch and involved in killing the children. Amy steps in to try to defuse the situation, but it only escalates. Buffy scares the bullies off (her reputation apparently precedes her now), and Cordelia has feelings about that.
Cordelia: “Everyone knows that witches killed those kids, and Amy is a witch. And Michael is whatever the boy witch is, plus being the poster child for yuck–”
Cordelia: “If you’re going to hang with them, expect badness.Cause that’s what you get when you hang with freaks and losers. Believe me. I know. That was a pointed comment about me hanging with you guys.”
Through this entire exchange, Giles is standing behind Cordelia, patiently waiting for the fight to be over. I love when he gets stuck listening to high school drama bullshit and just waits it out. When Buffy shouts after Cordelia that witches didn’t do it, Giles tells her that yeah, they actually probably did. He just needs a book that Willow borrowed from him so that he can confirm it.
Buffy heads off to find Willow, and asks Xander where she is:
Xander: “How can I convince you people that it’s over? You assume because I’m here, she’s here. That I somehow mysteriously know where she is.”
Buffy: “Those her books?”
Xander: “Yeah, she’s in the bathroom. But the fact that I know that doesn’t change that I have a genuine complaint here. Look, I’m getting sick of the judgement. The innuendos. Is a man not innocent until proven guilty?”
Buffy: “You are guilty. You got illicit smoochies, you gotta pay the price.”
This exchange finally puts into perspective for me exactly why I hate the Xander-Willow cheating arc. Because when they do get caught, Willow is sad and feels bad, because that’s her character. But there was really nowhere they could go with Xander. He’s the funny guy, so somehow, this had to turn out funny. What happens instead is that he sounds pissed off that he got caught, not actually bad for what he’s done.
Buffy notices Willow’s notebook has the same symbol drawn in it that they found on the dead kids. Willow tries to pass it off as just a doodle, but they’re interrupted by a commotion in the hall. The police are raiding lockers for witchcraft items and taking away kids that have stuff. Amy says they’ve already found her spellbook, just before the police take her away. Meanwhile, Xander is freaking out because he has Playboy magazines in his locker:
Willow: “I have stuff in my locker! Henbane, hellebore, mandrake root–”
Xander: “Excuse me. Playboys. Can we turn the sympathy this way?”
Oh my god, shut up, Xander. You’re standing in the middle of a literal witch hunt, with your friend the witch. Worry about someone else for a change.
Willow tells Buffy that she did a spell with Amy and Michael to protect Buffy. It’s a birthday present. IT’S GOOD TO KNOW THAT AT LEAST SOMEONE IS GOING TO BE CONCERNED WITH PROTECTING BUFFY ON HER BIRTHDAY THIS YEAR THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
They find the stuff in Willow’s locker, and Snyder takes her away. In the library, Giles is being raided. The cops are taking every book, and Snyder shows up to gloat. He tells them about an organization called M.O.O., Mothers Opposed to the Occult, founded by none other than Buffy’s mom.
Willow comes home to find her mother going through some witchy stuff on the coffee table. Her mother explains that she’s not surprised to see Willow involved in identifying with archetypes. She feels Willow is developmentally fine, which Willow isn’t really digging. She doesn’t want to be thought of as a demographic but as herself. Her mother says she’s worried that Willow is delusional for believing she can do spells:
Willow: “Mom, how would you know what I can do? I mean, the last time we had a conversation over three minutes it was about the patriarchal bias of the Mr. Roger’s show.”
Willow’s Mom: “Well, with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets–”
1) King Friday was a kind and noble ruler who had only the best interests of the citizens of the Land of Make Believe at heart.
2) This is the kind of thing that makes me think #6. The cold, uncaring feminist mother figure is a really insidious stereotype, and once you notice it, you’re going to notice it in a lot of places. Willow’s mom is a psychologist, so obviously that’s a strike against her; fictional psychologists are generally evil, meddlesome, or don’t have their own lives together. She also uses the big, scary words of an intellectual, which also informs us that she is, by virtue of her intelligence, unable to be a warm, human woman. Contrast her to Joyce. Joyce, like Willow’s mom, isn’t around much and doesn’t seem to be very involved in her daughter’s life. But she runs an art gallery. Art is an acceptable thing for a female character to be involved in. It’s all about intuition and creativity, things we unconsciously consider “female”. But intellect is a man’s domain, so it’s used as shorthand here for an uncaring mother who’s too concerned with ideas and thoughts outside of the home. Therefore, we can still see Joyce as a caring parent, while Willow’s mother is self-obsessed. There are dozens of ways they could have made Willow’s mom cold and unfeeling without using feminism and intellect as shorthand for “bad mom”.
In a fit of teen pique, Willow insists that she’s a rebel, that she sacrifices goats and worships the devil, all to try and get some kind of reaction out of her mother. The reaction she gets is a grounding and being forbidden from hanging out with Buffy.
Meanwhile, back at the M.O.O. command center:
Joyce knows about Willow’s witchcraft and forbids Buffy from ever seeing her again. She also promises that Giles will get “some” of his books back if they’re appropriate. Buffy tries to explain how important it is that they have the books so that they can fight whatever evil is out there and did this, but Joyce is focused on her fear:
Joyce: “Sweetie. Those books have no place in a public school library, especially now. Any student can waltz in there and get all sorts of ideas. Do you understand how that terrifies me?”
Boom. This sums up the entire witch hunt effect, which we can actually see happening in America and France and other countries right now. Because people fear for their own safety, they don’t care about the safety of others. They just seek to destroy, either physically or metaphorically, the people they perceive as being the problem.
On the other hand, I’m not a fan of banning books from libraries, but I agree that Giles doesn’t need to be keeping potentially dangerous and rare books in a freaking school library.
Joyce tells Buffy that reacting without a plan is fruitless, and killing monsters and evil and vampires isn’t really helping the town at all. In other words, Slayers don’t do anything. Nice one, Joyce.
Buffy: “And maybe next time that the world is getting sucked into hell I won’t be able to stop it because the anti-hell-sucking book isn’t on the approved reading list.”
Joyce: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put down–”
Buffy: “Well, you did. Doesn’t matter. I have to go. I have to go on one of my pointless patrols and react to some vampires. If that’s all right with M.O.O.. And nice acronym, mom.”
When Buffy leaves, Joyce says she’s just trying to make things better. And suddenly, the dead kids are there, talking to Joyce:
Dead Boy: “You are.”
Dead Girl: “There’s bad people out there.”
Dead Boy: “And we can’t sleep.”
Dead Girl: “Not until you hurt them.”
Dead Boy: “The way they hurt us.”
The playground where the dead kids were found has turned into a shrine with candles and pictures and stuffed animals, the way that shit happens. Buffy is looking at it when Angel shows up. He gives her a much-needed friend hug because he knows she’s in a bad place. They talk about why Sunnydale has reacted so strongly to this death. Buffy finds it a little hypocritical that innocent people die every day, but it’s only when kids die that they care. She tells Angel that she thinks her mom might be right: slaying might not be actually fixing anything because evil is never going to just run out. Angel tells her that it’s important to keep fighting, even though they’ll never win.
Angel: “We do it because there are things worth fighting for. Those kids. Their parents.”
Buffy: “Their parents…”
In the library, Giles is being forced to use a computer. Which means he’s basically just stress eating and screaming at it. Also known as a normal work day in Troutland. Xander and Oz have found Giles’s books. They’re at City Hall, all locked up. Buffy comes in and asks them all what they know about the dead kids. They all realize they don’t know anything about them, not even their names. They don’t even know where the pictures of the kids came from.
The problem is that Willow, the only person who knows how to search on the internet, is grounded and can’t come to the phone. Oz contacts her via computer, though, and she’s able to do all the searching on her laptop in her bedroom. I call #15. Even though Oz remembers to send her a message, that’s the extent of his expertise. Only Willow can run even a cursory search of the internet to look for information. The search finds the same kids in the same circumstances in the 1940s and 1800s.
Giles: “A hundred years? How is this possible?”
Says the guy who has literally commanded demonic forces through dark magic. Come on, Giles.
The kids show up dead every fifty years and sow chaos in small communities. And their names are Hans and Greta. But that’s all they find out before Willow’s mom comes to her and tells her that she absolutely believes everything Willow told her about witchcraft.
Willow’s mom: “Now, all I can do is let you go with love.”
Then she leaves and locks the door behind her.
Is it legal in California to have locks on kids’ bedroom doors where you can lock them in? I don’t think that’s legal in Michigan.
Giles thinks that this is a case of the Hansel and Gretel story being somewhat true:
Giles: “Some demons thrive by fostering hatred and, and persecution amongst the mortal animals. Not by, not by destroying men, but by watching men destroy each other. They feed us our darkest fear and turn peaceful communities into vigilantes.”
Buffy: “Hansel and Gretel run home to tell everyone about the mean old witch.”
Giles: “And then she and probably dozens of others are persecuted by a righteous mob.”
Before they can do anything about it, eyeliner kid runs in with a bloody face and tells them his father attacked him. The town is gathering at City Hall for a trial, and Amy has already been taken in.
Back at Willow’s house, her mom comes to her door with other people wearing M.O.O. insignia:
Willow’s Mom: “Time to go. Oh, and get your coat, it’s chilly out.”
Willow: “Go? Go where?”
Willow’s Mom: “I said get your coat, witch!”
So things are right on schedule with the vigilante process.
Buffy and Giles hurry to tell Joyce what’s happening, but they’re quickly chloroformed by Joyce and the other M.O.O. members. Buffy sees the dead kids before she falls unconscious. They tell Joyce that they’re afraid of the bad girls and she should make them go away forever. Xander and Oz arrive at Willow’s house and find her gone and her room ransacked. She, Buffy, and Amy are at City Hall, tied to stakes surrounded by all the books that are going to be burned. One thing I’ll say for this witch hunt, they’re being super efficient.
At Buffy’s house, Giles wakes to find Cordelia slapping him repeatedly. Then she complains about her hand hurting from slapping him so much. Because Cordelia is amazing. So, if Cordelia hates her former friends so much, why is she there? Because her mother confiscated her black clothes and scented candles, so now the situation negatively affects her. And it’s a good thing she’s here because she gets to deliver one of my favorite Cordelia lines:
Cordelia: “How many times have you been knocked out, anyway? I swear, one of these times you’re gonna wake up in a coma.”
Oz and Xander rush to City Hall, where concerned dads chase them down. Buffy comes to and finds herself tied to a stake, ready to burn. She tries to reason with her mom, telling this isn’t what she really wants.
Joyce: “Since when does it matter what I want? I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead, I got a Slayer.”
OUCH. We’re going to touch on this later.
Willow’s mom passes Joyce a torch, and they make plans to get together and have lunch, in the casual way you do when you’re about to burn your children alive. They light up the books and Amy saves herself by transforming into a rat and slipping the ropes. That leaves Willow and Buffy to fend for themselves. They threaten to turn everyone in the crowd into rodents and fish, and one man suggests they should all leave. That’s when the dead kids appear to them all and demand they fulfill their promise to get rid of the bad girls.
Giles is stuck on the car ride from hell with Cordelia, instructing her to make a potion while he tries to remember an incantation that will force the demon to appear in its true form.
Giles: “And, uh, drop a toad stone into the mixture.”
Cordelia: “This? It doesn’t look like a toad.”
Giles: “No reason it should. It’s from inside the toad.”
Cordelia: “I hate you.”
I know everyone loves watching Giles barely tolerating Xander, but I really wish we would have had more scenes of him having to deal with Cordelia one-on-one.
At City Hall, Oz and Xander crawl through the ventilation system to try to reach Buffy and Willow. Buffy begs Joyce to stop, but Joyce can’t see that she’s under the influence of the demon. Giles and Cordelia rush into City Hall and find the doors to the room where all the burning is happening are locked. Giles rips a bobby pin out of Cordelia’s hair to pick the lock, while Cordelia mocks him for his juvenile delinquent past.
I kind of want to know why anyone thought burning at the stake was a great idea inside a building. If my obsessive compulsive disorder has taught me anything, it’s that buildings are extremely flammable and you need to be constantly vigilant. I get up in the night sometimes to check outlets, just to see if they’re hot. I can’t imagine making a fire inside a building. Especially not one that’s big and hot enough to burn a human being. Like, how is everyone in that room not dying of smoke inhalation right now?
Buffy sees Giles run into the room, and she looks so hopeful and relieved to be rescued. Keep this image in mind when we get to THE EPISODE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED:
Let’s talk about #16, shall we? We have seen Buffy bend metal with her bare hands, but she can’t struggle free from some rope?
Cordelia grabs a fire hose and drives the crowd back with it, until Buffy reminds her that a better use would be to put out the fire that’s burning two people alive. Giles does the incantation to make the demon reveal its true form, and it’s not great:
This is like the final form of Station from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2 had a demon baby. Only when the demon isn’t cute anymore does everyone realize that hey, it is kind of weird that dead kids were controlling their actions. It tries to keep doing its “protect us” schtick, but it’s not as convincing anymore. Now that it’s convenient to the plot, Buffy is able to break the stake she’s tied to. She leans forward and there’s a big, wet crunch.
Buffy: “Did I get it? Did I get it?”
Yeah, I think you got it.
Then Oz and Xander crash through the ceiling to rescue them.
We cut to Willow’s house, where she and Buffy are doing a spell to try and change Amy back from her rat state. Buffy asks if Willow’s mom knows they’re doing the spell, and she doesn’t. It seems that the parenting in Sunnydale has returned to the usual:
Willow: “She’s doing that selective memory thing your mom used to be so good at.”
The spell doesn’t work, and Amy is still a rat.
Buffy: “Maybe we should get her one of those wheel things.”
And that’s it. That’s where the episode ends. These girls were almost burned to death by their own mothers, but that’s never dealt with. And Buffy. Let’s get back to what Joyce said about Buffy.
The demon did not make Joyce suddenly hate the fact that her daughter is a Slayer. This is a common theme throughout season three. She doesn’t like that Buffy is the Slayer. She never seems to stop wishing Buffy didn’t have to be the Slayer. That’s not support, it’s begrudging acceptance. And now she’s tried to burn Buffy at the stake. Sure, Buffy knows that the burning thing was a result of the demon’s influence, but she heard her mom say that she wishes she had a different daughter. And we never see any resolution on that. Just, ha ha, Amy is a rat. It’s so disappointing. Even a short scene of Joyce telling Buffy that no matter what the demon made her say she loves her and is proud of her would have gone a long way in making Joyce a more likable character.
Other than the tragic omission of a resolution to the I-wish-I-had-a-different-daughter thing, this is a solid monster-of-the-week episode, and it’s awesome that it finally breaks #8. It also shows us that #8 is preferable to the alternative. When people in Sunnydale actually see what’s going on, they react…poorly.
Next up, the worst episode of the entire series. Somebody hold me.