In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will eat all the salt and vinegar potato chips without sharing. 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.
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.
Episode three opens with Giles putting his angry face on:
He’s in full on rant mode, pacing around the library like a caged tiger. Rowr. But anyway, he says:
This is madness. What can you have been thinking? You are the slayer. Lives depend upon you. I make allowances for your youth, but I expect a certain amount of responsibility and instead of which you enslave yourself to this, this cult?
And then it cuts to a shot of Buffy, and she’s dressed like this:
She asks Giles if the problem is with the color, and he gets all flustered because she’s his slayer, damnit, and she’s supposed to do whatever he says. He forbids her from forsaking her “sacred birthright” to become a cheerleader, and Buffy asks how he’s planning on stopping her. Yeah, how are you going to stop her, Giles? She’s like, the strongest human on the planet. In the first episode she ripped a door in half.
Buffy tells Giles that she’ll still be the slayer, she just needs to do something normal and safe. And then the scene shifts to a dark room full of hanging herbs, where a shadowy figure is dropping a necklace into what appears to be a cauldron full of boiling slime from You Can’t Do That On Television. Oh, and they have a Barbie dressed as a Sunnydale cheerleader, that’s probably a good sign.
I’ll get that witch a Barbie. Witches love Barbies.
Then we cut to the gym, where girls are walking on their hands and doing these amazing flips and shit:
Whaaaat? The cheerleaders at my school couldn’t do that! I feel cheated. I was in high school in 1996, I never saw anyone do that shit at a pep rally. The cheerleader wannabes are pretty fierce. Maybe they could be the slayer, and Buffy could just do normal kid stuff.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander walk into the tryouts, where Buffy tells them how Giles reacted to her yearning to be aggressively cheerful at bleachers full of people. She mentions that they haven’t seen any vampires in a week, then suggests that Giles should get a girlfriend (if he wasn’t so old).
I volunteer as tribute!
Xander makes some really gross teen boy comments about the girls who are there trying out. Look, I get it. He’s a teen boy. Shit happens. But I feel super bad for all of the girls, who are there to participate in a sport, and they have to try to give their best performance while the guys ogle them. He even says it in earshot of one girl, as well, marveling, “Ooh, stretchy” as he stands not two feet away from the target of his sleazery:
She can fucking hear you, Xander.
Xander gives Buffy a gift “for luck.” What’s the gift?
Just a token of your obligation.
If you can’t read the text, the bracelet is engraved with “Yours Always.” Xander uses Buffy’s try-out as an excuse to give her a gift that is really all about himself. While Buffy should be focusing on herself and her audition, she’s now forced to focus on Xander’s feelings and desires disguised as support. See also, #5.
Cordelia comes over and points out Amber Grove, who seems to be doing okay on the being limber front, and who Cordelia is openly threatened by. Willow says she thinks Amber turned down being a Laker Girl. So, you know right now that this is a girl with a serious reputation for being a cheerleader. Amber is the first name called, but the camera cuts to this student, who is looking around the room like goddamned velociraptor:
It can’t be just me, right? Everyone else can see it, too?
This is Amy. Amy knows Willow, and from their brief conversation we learn that Amy has lost a lot of weight, and she hates trying out for cheerleading. The gang and Amy watch Amber Grove’s tryout, and as Amy talks about the insane amount of training she’s done to prepare for this try-out, Buffy starts to look super worried:
But like… wait a minute. Buffy, aren’t you the slayer? Don’t you do acrobatic flips and shit all the time? Why would this be any different? Because it’s set to music? Couldn’t you just pretend there were vampires all around you while you were doing the routines?
On second thought, that might lead to a lot of cheerleader heads flying around, when Buffy accidentally punches them off with her super strength she seems to be barely in control of. And besides, these girls have enough problems. As they watch, poor Amber Grove’s hands catch on fire. Let me reiterate that: her HANDS catch on FUCKING FIRE.
Everyone notices Amber’s hands are on fire like, a lot a bit before she does, which is kind of weird. Weirder still, no one but Buffy makes any attempt to do anything. She puts out Amber, and the credits roll.
The scoobies are meeting in the library, where Giles talks about how human combustion is just one of the many perks of living on the Hellmouth. Buffy wants to investigate the shenanigans behind, you know, one of her classmates bursting into flame, and Willow eagerly volunteers to illegally hack into the school’s database. Buffy points out that neither of them have to be involved, and Willow says they’re like “slayerettes,” a behind-the-scenes support staff for the slayer. They’re going to solve the mystery of why someone got all on fire for no apparent reason.
At home, Buffy tells her mom about the try-outs, and how they were rescheduled because of the accident. Joyce barely listens, because she’s trying to crowbar open a crate in the middle of their kitchen. She’s just gotten a shipment of African art for the gallery, and this takes total precedence over her daughter trying to have a conversation with her. Buffy asks Joyce what she was trying out for, and Joyce admits that she has no idea:
And judging from her expression, Joyce just does not give a fuck, either.
Here’s the thing: I know what it’s like to be busy and be a mom at the same time. I get that it’s easy to forget stuff going on in your kids’ lives. But your daughter just got kicked out of her old school for burning it down. If she’s wanting to talk to you about her life at her new school, maybe pay attention? You might be able to avoid future arson.
But Joyce is all, nah, fuck that, and instead tosses the crowbar on the top of the crate and mutters that Buffy could help her out. So, basically, “I don’t give a shit that you’re trying to make an emotional connection with me, but you better be willing to crowbar open a box if I need you to.” Good job, Joyce. #3.
Despite being visibly hurt by her mother’s disinterest, Buffy does, indeed, help with the crate:
That’s right. With her mother standing, oh, ONE FUCKING CRATE’S WIDTH AWAY FROM HER, Buffy uses her super strength and opens the top of the box one handed, like she’s flipping the pages of a fucking book and JOYCE DOES NOT NOTICE. #3.
When Buffy tells her mom she was trying out for cheerleading, this happens:
Joyce: “Oh good. I’m glad you’re taking that up again. It’ll keep you out of trouble.”
Buffy: “I’m not in trouble.”
Joyce: “No, not yet.”
Wow. #3 much? Joyce does go on to say that what she meant was that Buffy quit cheerleading right before she started getting in trouble, so it’s good she’s going back to it, but still. That’s fucked up, Joyce. Then Buffy mentions that Amy trains with her mom hardcore on the whole cheerleading thing, and it’s a direct hint to Joyce that Buffy wants her mother to be more involved in her life. But Joyce dismisses it, saying that it doesn’t sound like Amy’s mom has much to do, then she leaves the room. This scene was super painful to watch, because throughout the whole thing, Buffy is trying to make a connection with her mom, while her mom continually and actively rejects her. I know I’ve said it a lot, but #3 guys. Seriously, #3.
The next day at the rescheduled try-outs, Amy knocks Cordelia on her ass during a group performance. And Cordelia is adorably outraged. Seriously, I have no reason to post this photo except for OMG, cuteness!
Charisma Carpenter is my everything, guys.
After try-outs, Buffy finds Amy in front of the trophy case, looking longingly at her mother’s photo and trophy. She talks about how popular and fit her mother was. The way Amy talks about her mom is kind of creepy. She tells Buffy all about how hard her mother has worked and how she did it all “without ever gaining a pound.” Amy expresses frustration the she can’t get her body to move right, and she choked in the audition.
Hey, wait a second…
Buffy is like, changed out of her try-out clothes. And Amy is still wearing her cheerleading outfit from like… yesterday? Is she wearing that thing every day? And no one is mentioning it? Awwwwwkward.
Amy heads to class and Willow catches up with Buffy. She recalls how Amy’s mother would freak out if she gained any weight, and would padlock the refrigerator, and Amy would go to Willow’s house to eat. That’s fucking horrifying! Did people know this was going on? That some crazy bitch was padlocking the refrigerator and feeding her kid only broth? That’s fucking insane! Why didn’t anyone do anything about that? Is there no DHS in Sunnydale? WTF? I’m marking this down as #8, because seriously, if some kid came over to my house and was all, “I’m here to eat because my mom padlocked the refrigerator and we can only eat broth so she doesn’t gain weight,” I would call the police. It’s literally the only thing anyone should do in that case. Get your shit together, Sunnydale.
Willow didn’t find anything in Amber Grove’s permanent record that might point to… whatever someone’s school transcripts might point to in the way of spontaneous combustion. I don’t know what they thought they were going to find in record kept by a school that will spend three whole seasons denying the existence of the paranormal until their graduation speaker turns into a giant snake and starts eating people, but obviously they weren’t going to open that bastard up and find “TOTALLY A MONSTER, GUYS,” written anywhere in there.
In the locker room, Amy is changing out of her cheerleading uniform (good, because I was slightly worried for here there for a second), while some creepy music plays. She looks around like something might jump out and attack her, and the music crescendos as she turns and is startled by Cordelia. Cordy backs Amy into the lockers and says:
Cordelia: “I have a dream. It’s me on the cheerleading squad, adored by every varsity male as far as the eye can see. We have to achieve our dreams, Amy, otherwise we… wither and die.”
Amy: “Look, I’m sorry ab – “
Cordelia: “Shh. If your supreme klutziness out there today takes me out of the running, you’re going to be so very beyond sorry. Have a nice day.”
Look, I’m not saying I made that girl’s hands catch on fire… but I’m going to act like I made that girl’s hands catch on fire.
So, we’ve established that Cordelia is not fucking around where this cheerleading stuff is concerned.
Outside the school, Willow is trying to talk to Xander about the thing with Amber, but Xander just wants to know if Buffy was wearing the bracelet he gave her. He says that if she was, it basically means they’re going out. Okay, nice guy. #5 I’m basically going to have to teach my daughter that any gift from a man is a trap, because this is exactly the kid of attitude we tolerate from men of all ages. “I gave you this thing. That means I am putting a downpayment on sex. Even though you do not want this thing from me, you must accept it, or be deemed rude and a bitch by society. By accepting it, even against your will, you are signing the sex contract. Hope that’s cool by you.”
At least Willow busts him out on his assumption that Buffy will just start dating him due to jewelry giving. She tells him he won’t know if Buffy is into him until he asks her out, and he absolutely crushes Willow by saying that she’s like his guy friend who knows girl stuff. Willow has been firmly friendzoned.
Buffy and Amy are waiting at the back of a huge group of girls who are all trying to get a look at the cheerleader try-out lists. As a ploy to win Buffy’s affections, Xander muscles his way through the crowd to get a look at the list. Cordelia tells Amy she’s lucky – not because Amy made the team, but because Cordelia made the team, and I guess that means she doesn’t have to murder Amy now? Xander comes back and congratulates Buffy on not only being named to the team, but for making first alternate as well. When he tells Amy that she’s third alternate, Amy runs off. Buffy excuses herself, and Willow explains to Xander that alternates didn’t actually make the team. They’re the backups for when one of the other cheerleaders inevitably catches on fire or gets eaten by a monster because it’s Sunnydale.
Look at Willow, she’s two seconds from saying, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Xander.”
I do kind of feel bad for Xander here. Okay, he didn’t know what “alternate” meant on a sports team. But really, until he goes undercover on the swim team in season 2, we don’t ever see Xander being sporty. He probably genuinely didn’t now, and now he feels like an idiot for breaking bad news to Buffy and Amy in an insensitive manner.
Buffy catches up to Amy, who is way more upset over this whole “alternate” thing than Buffy is. She invites her to come to her house to pig out on brownies, but Amy just goes on and on about how her mother would have done so much better. Then we cut to a charming little brick house that is the scene of the weird witchy shit we saw before.
Can you buy tiny Sunnydale cheerleading uniforms for Barbie? Or is this person sewing them by hand? That seems like a lot of work just for some bullshit spell nonsense to get on a cheerleading team.
The witchy poo person binds the Barbie doll’s face and asks “the laughing god” to do something to Cordelia. Wait, there’s a laughing god? He sounds awesome. What religion is that, because it might be enough to make me rethink atheism entirely.
The next morning, Buffy is making breakfast when her mom is all, “Check out my old yearbook.” Joyce thinks that since Buffy didn’t make the squad, she could be on the yearbook committee. You know. Like Joyce did. Buffy completely rejects the idea and tells her mom that she wants to do her own thing. To which Joyce says:
“Your own thing, whatever it is, got you kicked out of school and we had to move here to find a decent school that would take you.”
And then Buffy’s face looks like this:
Look, Joyce. I get it. You’re a newly single mom, trying to raise a daughter who, to you, is just a troublemaker who’s going to backslide at any minute. But you know how to fix that? Don’t treat her like a troublemaker who’s going to backslide at any minute. Literally everything Joyce is doing is wrong. She can’t encourage Buffy without giving her a verbal smack down. She constantly reminds her of her past failing. Yes, it was a major failing, but they moved to Sunnydale for a fresh start. Joyce isn’t willing to let her daughter have that fresh start, though. Only Joyce gets the fresh start. Buffy has to be constantly reminded of that time she fucked up, while being encouraged to make the most of her clean slate. She can’t possibly have any idea if she’s coming or going, here. She’s a kid, for christ’s sake. Be supportive, Joyce. Listen to her. Be interested in what she’s interested in, so you can monitor her progress at this new school. She’s begging you to be a part of her life, but you’re not interested until you can be a part of her life in the way that reminds you of your life at her age. That’s not healthy. It’s not healthy for Amy’s mom to be doing that, and it’s not healthy for you to be doing it, either. #3
Okay, Joyce does admit to herself that it wasn’t her finest parenting moment, so there’s that.
At school the next day, Cordelia walks past Xander and Willow in a freaky daze, but Xander finds a way to turn it around to be about him and how awful it is that Buffy doesn’t see him as a romantic interest. He doesn’t really notice that Cordelia is obviously under a spell or about to have a seizure or something. Willow likens Xander’s role in Buffy’s life to that of a chewed up pen, and Xander tells her he gets it, she doesn’t “have to drive it through my head like a railroad spike.” I’m going to believe that this is an intentional foreshadowing to a character in season 2. I’ll try to remember this when we get there.
Xander is geared up to ask Buffy out, but Buffy is more concerned with the fact that Cordelia is acting really loopy. She cuts him off and leaves to go after Cordelia, which Xander takes as a rejection. Of course. Because the slayer, the chosen one, who is supposed to notice stuff like people acting like they’re under Barbie spells, should have just set that duty aside to listen to Xander when he wanted to ask her out. It’s not a rejection, ass. It’s her job, and she even told you she was worried about Cordelia and she was going to follow her. #5.
Cordelia staggers drunkenly into driver’s ed and tells her instructor that she doesn’t want to drive. She looks like she’s totally intoxicated at the moment she takes the wheel, at her instructor’s insistence. Wow. This guy teaches everyone in Sunnydale how to drive? That must be why whenever there’s a tiny bit of supernatural anything, everyone drives their fucking cars off the road. Anyway, Cordelia nearly kills everyone in the car, then gets out and staggers into the path of a UPS guy, who is probably drunk himself because he has tons of time to stop and he doesn’t even slow down. Buffy pushes Cordelia out of the way, and she says she can’t see anything. Not only has Cordelia suddenly gone over all blind, she’s real, real creepy looking, too:
Ha! This is my favorite screencap ever. She looks totally casual about her eyes being all white. I assure you, she was actually freaking out. Charisma Carpenter is just so wonderful, even her frowns look like smiles.
Back at ye old library, Giles tells the gang that it’s definitely witchcraft. They talk out the problem and realize that the link is cheerleading… and they think Amy might be the witch, since she wanted it so much more than the other girls. Giles advises them to be careful, because if Amy is a witch, she can do some nasty shit. He doesn’t put it like that, obviously. This was a prime time show.
Buffy figures out that the first thing you’re going to do if you’re a teenager bent on becoming a witch is look for stuff about witchcraft in the school library. Okay, maybe it was because I went to a Catholic school, but we didn’t have a real big occult section in our school library. Did any of you public school people have an occult section in your library? Any of you who went to boarding school (that wasn’t Hogwarts)? Xander thinks it’s stupid to look up who checked out the witchcraft books, and Willow discovered that it was Xander who’d checked them out in the first place. He’s not the witch, though, he just checked them out to masturbate to the engravings. Ah, teenagers.
Giles tells the kids how to do a spell to turn a witch’s skin blue. They need mercury, nitric acid, and eye of newt. Good thing Sunnydale can’t afford separate biology and chemistry classes, so that the gang is conveniently able to get the chemicals they need, as well as eyes from the dissection frogs. Really? They couldn’t just break into the science lab after school? It’s somehow more believable that half the class would be dissecting frogs while the other half would be doing some crazy ass experiment with hydrochloric acid on the same day? That just seems like a recipe for melted frog.
They need Amy’s hair, too, so Buffy gets some from the hairbrush in Amy’s bag. She achieves this by asking Amy a stupid question to draw her attention, then drops something so she can get into Amy’s bag and steals hair from her brush all while using the most clearly guilty expression in an episode of a television show that isn’t Scooby-Doo:
They could have used this as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s audition for Scooby Doo, actually.
Buffy takes the hair back to Willow, who is brewing up the potion. That’s right, Buffy fans, this is the very first time we see Willow do magic of any kind. And it’s adorable:
See, there she is in the back there, doing magic! Awwww! Except for the part where she later becomes addicted to magic and people die… I guess this is more like watching someone snort their first rail of coke then. Never mind, I rescind my awwww.
Buffy is incredibly unsubtle when she tips the potion onto Amy’s bare arm. Wait, wasn’t there mercury in that? Not awesome, guys, you can’t just go throwing mercury on people. But the test comes up positive for witchness, and it’s pretty clear that Amy knows that Buffy knows. There’s no time for a confrontation, though, because enter No-Mouth McGee:
What the hell?! That’s horrifying! Why would they show us that? I guess it’s cool that she’s already got mime gloves, because she’s going to need them now that she can’t talk because her mouth is fucking gone like she’s in The Twilight Zone: The Movie. I guess we can deduce from the fact that this happened to her that she’s a cheerleader being targeted by Amy the witch. Otherwise, that is one fucking terrible airborne disease.
Because Amy was freaked out by the sight of the girl with no mouth, the group decides that she probably is the witch, but she just doesn’t know what her powers are doing. They make a plan to go talk to Amy’s mother. Then we see Amy walking home from school, and this is what her front gate looks like:
Amy and Willow have hung out before. If Willow had remembered, “Hey, Amy’s house has a creepy fucking devil face on the gate, we should look into that,” they wouldn’t have had to do all this other work. Good job, Willow.
Amy comes in the door, and her demeanor changes from looking around like a velociraptor to actually being a velociraptor. She calls her mom out of hiding, chastises her for watching television all day, then drops her bag and orders her mom to write her history report. She knows Buffy stole her hair. She’s also gotten something of Buffy’s:
Yup, it’s the bracelet Xander gave Buffy. Amy says she’ll be upstairs, which is, as we know, where all the witchy stuff and Barbies are.
Cut to Buffy waking up and smashing her alarm clock to pieces on accident. She’s super peppy in her cute little uniform. Her mother tries to apologize for that whole incident the day before when she continually reminded her daughter that she’s a fuck up, but Buffy is totally cool with it. She tells her mom that there’s “something about being a vampire slayer that the older generation – ” and Joyce asks her if she’s feeling well. Probably because she just started talking about slaying vampires.
Despite the fact that she’s acting like she just took a whole bottle of diet pills – and not today’s diet pills, I’m talking 1960’s, Mad Men style diet pills -, she heads to school, where we see her at cheerleading practice. She’s manic, even for a cheerleader.
Okay, so I know some of you like it when I point out little details that could help you in writing. Here’s a visual example of something:
Look at Buffy, second from the left. Look at her shoes. Even though you might not notice it on a conscious level the first, second, or seventieth time you watch the episode, you probably noticed it unconsciously. The subtle detail of her shoes being the only different shoes? It’s reinforcing to the viewer that Buffy is an odd person, she’s never quite going to fit in no matter how hard she tries, and it’s a cue that’s given on a level we might never connect, unless we knew to look for it. But you get the sense of it with little things like this.
Also, it makes it super easy to tell that it’s Buffy stepping on the foot of the girl next to her in just a second.
You know when you show up at a party or something, and one of your friends is already like, waaaaay too wasted, and you’re like… huh. This is the face you make:
Willow and Xander know something is up with Buffy, and they agree they should take her out of the situation before someone gets hurt. Except it’s too late, because while giving an assist on a cartwheel or a hand spring or some move I don’t know the name of because I wasn’t athletic like you, mom! Wait, what was I saying? Right, Buffy’s super strength causes her to hurl the head cheerleader into a wall. She gets cut from the team instantly, and when the head cheerleader barks, “Who’s our next alternate?” Amy is standing creepily right there, looking like this:
Them thar’s crazy eyes.
Seriously, does no one find it suspicious that the second Buffy starts acting crazy and gets cut from the team, Amy is standing there looking all velociraptorish like she do, just conveniently ready to assume her spot?
Buffy is totally suspicious, but no one is going to listen to her because she’s goofy like she just got bounced from a party at Stevie Nicks’s house in 1978. She tries to tell everyone that Amy is a witch, but Xander and Willow shuffle her out of there, pronto.
In the hallway, Buffy is all the hell over Xander, telling him she loves him and he’s her Xander.
Here is one place where the show does not display pseudo feminism, at all, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the series. Look at Willow’s face. She’s so into Xander, and this entire episode she’s had to listen to Xander go on and on about how much he wants to date Buffy. Now here’s Buffy, all over Xander in the hallway, and Willow still wants to help her friend despite the fact that she is romantic competition. ISN’T THAT FUCKING AMAZING? THAT NEVER HAPPENS! THAT’S INSANE!
Also, about two seconds later, Buffy explains why she loves Xander. It’s because he’s not like a guy, he’s one of her girlfriends. Welcome to the friendzone, asshole, you can keep Willow company in there.
Buffy collapses in the hall, and they take her to Giles, who is very helpful in making sure Buffy HEY WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE, GILES, WHERE SHOULD OUR EYES BE?!
You know the drill.
Giles explains that the other girls who have been affected by Amy’s spells were just incapacitated, but the spell she put on Buffy is fatal. If Buffy dies, she can’t tell anyone that Amy is a witch and interfere in her plans. Giles tells them they have a couple of hours before Buffy dies. Their options are to either try and get Amy’s spell book and undo all the spells she’s done, or cut her head off. Buffy rejects the latter, believing that it’s not Amy’s fault she became a witch. She’s just struggling with a contentious home life. But you know… I know a lot of people who have come from bad homes and never tried to kill anyone with magic, Buffy. You don’t have to be a martyr here.
Buffy and Giles head to maison d’witchcraft, where we see Amy’s mom eating brownies on the couch. She’s acting really strange, but Giles doesn’t notice, because he is in a STATE, y’all. He gets in Amy’s mom’s face and tells her that because of the pressure she put on her daughter to be a cheerleader, Amy is now meddling with dark forces, etc. He is PISSED, guys. This is the first time we’ve seen him really super angry over a threat to his slayer. In the first two episodes, he was sort of calmly detached, while being worried from afar. This is the first time we’ve seen him this angry at the idea of Buffy dying. His fear of Buffy’s inevitable demise (because as a watcher, he realizes that the role of a slayer is to fight until she dies and a new slayer is called) is a major part of his character development as the show progresses, and while it’s not proof of #2 in this episode, this scene lays the groundwork for the transition from “watcher” to “friend who cares about her” that will later develop into “OMG GIFFY OTP FOREVER!”
While Giles rages at Amy’s mom, Buffy notices this:
And she’s all:
The brownies, and Amy’s mom saying that she doesn’t care about cheerleading, makes Buffy understand. It’s Amy in her mother’s body. Cheerleading obsessed Catherine Madison switched bodies with her daughter in order to relive her glory days. This is a pretty cool scene, and leads into another writing tip: while Buffy does figure out the body switch plot device in this scene, she doesn’t do it until the audience has been given a reasonable amount of clues to arrive at that conclusion before the characters on the screen do. It’s a perfect example of showing, instead of telling. The brownies (remember how her mother was so scared of gaining weight? Why would she be eating brownies?), her odd behavior, the fact that she’s afraid of “Amy,” she refers to “dad” leaving them… most of the audience should understand before Buffy says, “Amy?” and that’s way more powerful than just having a character say, “Hey, this is what’s going on.” This scene also has one of the spookiest lines of the season:
“She said I was wasting my youth. So she took it.”
Amy tells Buffy and Giles that her mother targeted her for abuse after her father left them, and that she wanted to leave with him, but her mother wouldn’t let her contact him.
Giles breaks into Amy’s mom’s witch room and gets her book, then they head for the school, where a basketball game is already in progress. Giles carries Buffy into the science lab and sweeps all the junk off a table to lay her on it, and then he puts his jacket under her head for a pillow because he’s considerate like that. He tells Amy-in-her-mom’s-body that they only have a few minutes. So… why bother with putting your jacket under Buffy’s head? PRIORITIES, RUPERT.
It doesn’t take long for Giles’s spell to start working. While Buffy lays dying, Amy’s-mom-in-Amy’s-body flashes between seeing the crowd at the basketball game and seeing the stuff for the spell. Amy-in-her-mom’s-body says that the spell is working. When Amy’s-mom-in-Amy’s-body runs off the court, Willow confronts her and tells her she can help with all of Amy’s witch stuff. She’s really trying to distract her while Xander sneaks up on her, and that doesn’t go too well.
By “not well,” I mean Xander gets force choked.
Amy’s-mom-in-Amy’s-body punches out Willow and heads for the science lab, where Giles has nearly completed the spell. By the by, did I mention that for part of the spell, he has to submerge his hands in boiling liquid and keep them there? Because that’s what he does. He submerges both of his hands in boiling liquid and holds them in there as part of the spell, despite being in visible pain. Because #2 guys. Because #2.
AMIAB grabs a fire axe from the “in case of emergency” thing on the wall (seems a bit unsafe to have one of those in a high school hallway, doesn’t?) and breaks the door down. She heads straight for Buffy, aiming to, I don’t know, it seems like she’s going to cut her the fuck in half, when the spell finally works. Buffy is no longer dying, and Amy is back in her own body, looking kind of surprised to find an axe in her hands. Buffy is super happy to see Amy back to normal, until Amy’s mom tackles her, then knocks out Giles by throwing a lab table at him. She gets the axe from Amy and threatens to put her somewhere she can never cause trouble again. Uh, lady? What episode were you watching? Because Amy didn’t cause this trouble, you did.
Buffy and Amy’s mom fight each other, and Amy’s mom gets the drop on Buffy long enough to fire up a pretty impressive spell. Just as she shoots her magic load, Buffy knocks down a light fixture or some other reflective surface thing, beaming the spell back at Amy’s mom, who turns pink and disappears.
Oh, so THAT’S who’s making that crazy screeching noise during the theme song.
Giles regains consciousness after the real danger has passed. This will happen many times throughout the series, and becomes a bit of a running joke. However, it serves an important purpose. In a theory on storytelling called “The Hero’s Journey,” the idea is that a mentor can’t really stick around forever, otherwise the student will never fully grow into his or her heroic powers on their own. That’s why Obi-Wan, Dumbledore, and Gandalf all have to die, so that Luke, Harry, and Frodo can go forward as a leader instead of a learner. However, in a long-running series where you want to keep that character around, you have to find other ways of incapacitating the mentor. When I wrote my Blood Ties series, the mentor role was fulfilled by Nathan, which is why the poor bastard was always possessed or getting kidnapped and flayed alive or whatever. For Giles, it’s almost always going to be a concussion. Them’s the breaks.
Buffy tells Giles he was “a god” for saving her, and he gets all embarrassed, but not for long because Xander rushes in and grabs Amy, screaming, “I got her!” They’re explaining the situation to him when enter Willow, in full murder mode, wielding a bat. I assume she’s planning to use said bat to beat Amy’s fucking head in. Good job, Willow!
The scene cuts to Buffy in her room. Her mother comes in and admits she has no idea how to parent a teenager, so good self-awareness, Joyce. Buffy asks her mom if she would ever want to be sixteen again, a notion Joyce completely rejects, as any rational adult hopefully would. This scene is so pivotal to making this episode acceptable from a feminist standpoint. If we’re going to have the cliche of a woman so hungry to relieve her youth that she’ll do anything to get it, we need to also have a woman saying that being young again doesn’t interest her in the slightest. This tells us that it’s not ALL woman who want to be cheerleaders again, just that one really deranged one.
At school, Amy and Buffy are walking together, talking about Amy’s new life with her father. Cordelia butts in to taunt them about not being on the squad anymore, and Amy makes a crack about missing “the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with my arms.” Okay, was that really necessary? I get that Amy didn’t want to be a cheerleader, but it’s not okay to insinuate that all cheerleaders are dumb just because you’re not into the sport yourself. As Cordelia walks away, Amy apologizes to Buffy. She forgot she actually wanted to be a cheerleader in the first place. Way to own your mistake, girl!
Buffy and Amy pause in front of the trophy and picture of Amy’s mom in the trophy case. Amy says there’s been no sign of her mother, and says she doubts she’ll ever come back, given her plan to make Amy disappear forever with her last spell. As Buffy and Amy walk away, discussing Amy’s plans to get fat now that she has control over her own body again, the camera slowly pans to the face of the cheerleading trophy, which has strangely human eyes. We hear Amy’s mother whimpering as the screen goes black.
Overall, this episode is really tight. There aren’t any overtly anti-feminist themes running through it (although that’s one of my main issues with the series, that the anti-feminist themes pop up in places you wouldn’t expect), it has a genuinely scary villain and the actresses that play Amy/Amy’s mom are incredibly good at maintaining character continuity despite being two separate people trying to act as the two same characters. And it establishes an ongoing and deepening relationship between the four characters that comprise the main cast, as we see Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles work together to protect each other and fight evil. Definitely a good example of pacing and plot twists, too.