FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Witch
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy Summers has arrived in Sunnydale, stopped one apocalypse, found a Watcher in Giles and managed to make two friends and two enemies, only one of them vampiric. The other's Cordelia.
Witch, the third episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's seven season run, is not one of its best. In fact, I've seen a fair few people make a solid case that it is one of the worst and I'm not wholly disagreeing. However, I do have a soft spot for Witch and will defend it because, without doubt, it is no I Robot, You Jane (more on that later in the season). The episode follows Buffy's attempts to grab hold of a normal life by the pom pom and inspire people to cheer with chirpy dance moves and the ability to chant in high-pitched rhyme. Yes, Miss Summers is trying out for the cheerleaders, that bastion of high school comedy dramas, and trying to make her mark at Sunnydale High. However, there may just be something a little magical going on as the school's cheer squad start coming down with mysterious ailments.
The cold open here is a fairly standard affair it seems at the beginning; Buffy is peppy and upbeat, despite being told off by Giles for trying out, Willow is supportive and Xander is trying to not get distracted by all the girls in mini-skirts. Needless to say, it doesn't last as talented cheerleader and potential Laker Girl spontaneously combusts during her gymnastic routine. Buffy steps in with a handy banner and stops the girl from going completely up in flames. Giles has got his Exposition Tweed on once again and he tells us that spontaneous combustion is incredibly rare and usually results in a pile of ashes. It turns out that this is the work of a particularly spiteful witch who is desperate to get on the cheerleading squad and with new friend Amy showing increasingly erratic behaviour and a hitherto unseen passion for cheerleading, suspicion falls on her.
It does turn out to be Amy, who is not entirely herself, but has in fact been bodyswapped by her mother in a more demented version of Freaky Friday. The first episode not to be written by Joss Whedon, the main writer credit goes to Dana Reston and her sole Buffy contribution isn't wholly terrible, it's just a bit like being bludgeoned repeatedly over the head with a pom pom. Its heavy-handed approach to the 'we all turn into our parents' saying means that sometimes, a lot of the subtlety in parent/child relationships is lost.
We have scenes in which Joyce tells Buffy to do what she did in high school and reacting angrily when Buffy disagrees or surrogate father figure Giles remonstrating her for doing something as irresponsible as taking up cheerleading. Then of course, there is the central body-swap, the living, terrifying embodiment of turning into your parent/reliving their glory days fear which does tap into that anxiety. It just then hammers it home with all the gentleness of an axe without little to no exploration of the actual consequences of this. Contrast to the second season's Innocence and the emotional fallout in that episode to the nice sweet scene with Joyce at the end of Witch and you'll see exactly what I mean.
However, I did say I was going to be defending Witch and, despite the previous paragraph, I still like the episode as one of the more irreverent entries into the series. Yes, it's a fairly run of the mill Monster of the Week, but it actually proves to be an important foundation in widening the world of Buffy mythology and several developing storylines that crop up throughout the entire series run. Not one vampire appears for the entire run time, introducing audiences to the idea that Buffy's job isn't just to fight the fang gang, but also 'the forces of darkness' that is spoken about in the show's introduction.
Also, it is here that we meet Amy for the first time, who goes on to have an impact on the lives of the Scooby Gang. We get a sweet insight into the unrequited love of both Xander and Willow as they look longingly after Buffy and Xander respectively. It may not be the best standalone episode, but it gives good filler, easing the audience gently into this world where witches use their powers to get on the cheerleading squad and a librarian proves to be a dab hand with magic. So no, it's not completely awful.
Quote of the Week:
Xander: "I laugh in the face of danger! And then I hide until it goes away..."
Let's Get Trivial: Keep an eye out for the re-appearance of 'Catherine the Great' in Season Two's Phases.
Demonology 101: The relationship between Willow, Amy and magic goes on to become increasingly important as the series develops. It's also the very first dabble into the supernatural for Miss Rosenberg.
You can read Becky's look at previous episode, The Harvest, here.