FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Out of Mind, Out of Sight
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: It has been established on many an occasion that Cordelia is a Grade A bitch with a cutting wit, a dash of vanity and just a smidgeon of empathy. But only a bit.
Somewhat ironically given the title, I'd completely forgotten this episode existed and was fully prepared to go into the first season finale this week. But no, here we are with an episode guest-starring the great Clea DuVall who can also be found as a sci-fi nerd in The Faculty (a film which, if you haven't watched, you should go do so right now. Well, when you've finished reading this at least). DuVall plays Marcie, a girl who is so outcast from Sunnydale society that she turns invisible. Naturally, instead of using her newfound powers for good, she goes all vengeful, beating up fellow students and focusing in on Cordelia as the embodiment of her dispossession.
The fact that I'd forgotten about this episode should not be seen as a sign of its quality, but rather of my terrible memory when it comes to episodes that focus on Cordelia that aren't The Wish. It's actually quite a good exploration of the dangers of isolation at school. The idea of being an outcast is something that recurs again and again throughout Buffy, particularly in relation to everyone's favourite Slayer, but also around the various other members of the Scooby Gang, each isolated in their own way.
The prospect of quite literally fading into the background is a nightmare we've all had and some of us have even unfortunately experienced which makes this episode all the more chilling. For Marcie, it's as a result of pretty much her entire year at school ignoring her and forgetting she even exists. It's H.G. Wells via Stephen King with the focus on Cordelia becoming May Queen and giving them all an image to remember.
There's a few cool firsts in this episode which start setting up everything for Season 2 and beyond. First up is the key character development for Cordelia. I commented back in my review of The Puppet Show that it was really great just seeing her be a bitch for a while, but here we start to get more of the character she eventually becomes. Her scene with Buffy in which she confesses how lonely she can be and the very genuine 'thank you' at the end of the episode demonstrates that she's actually not all about the uber-cow we continually see flashes of, but of a person who is just doing her best to fit in. It's a while before she stops caring about that completely, but the beginnings are here.
That being said, she does get some excellent moments in which to be her usual callous self. A personal highlight is her dissection of The Merchant of Venice in which she declares that Shylock's persecution is irrelevant because he's so self-involved and his demand for a pound of Antonio's flesh is just 'icky'. Her reading of the play isn't exactly what you'd call academic, but it plays well into the rest of the episode as Cordelia finds herself as both Shylock and Antonio do, in the shifting roles of persecuted and persecutor. And there's the whole carving flesh issue that Marcie decides to take on.
The other key first is the increasing role Angel plays in the proceedings in this episode; he and Cordelia both form essential parts of the Scoobies in the next season. David Boreanaz even gets bumped up to a regular with his own credits spot. I really love his first scene with Giles as both approach it cautiously (they are the two key men in Buffy's life after all) and are both focused on her safety, something which will become an interesting dynamic in the next episode. The episode also lays out the importance of prophecies in Buffy's world, particularly for her. She fights a lot to get her own agency back from those wanting to take it away from like the Watcher's Council, but this episode starts to hint at the lack of control she has.
Finally, another first revelation here in that the government seems to know all about supernatural goings-on when they show up at the end of the episode to take Marcie away. Governments dealing with things they don't understand and can't control is a Major Theme across Whedon's work, cropping up later in Buffy with the introduction of the Initiative in Season 4 (Firefly and Dollhouse feature this too as well as The Avengers). However, this also marks my major gripe with the first season. In several episodes, we get cliffhanger endings regarding the episode's bad guys which never crop up again. Here, it's Marcie entering a school to be trained in nefarious techniques, but it was also in Teacher's Pet with the eggs under the desk and a couple of others. It just seems a bit lazy to create a bit of intrigue. The X-Files did it too, so there is a precedent. I'm just not a fan and it cheapens the endings of the episodes which are more character-based.
One more thing, has anyone else noticed the distinct lack of vampires this season? I've never noticed just how few appear this time around.
Quote of the Day:
Buffy (to Marcie): You know, I really felt sorry for you. You've suffered. But there's one thing I really didn't factor into all this. You're a thundering loony.
Sunnydale Who's Who: It's the first episode in which Mercedes McNab's Harmony is named before going on to become a fan-favourite recurring character - you may also know her from the Addams Family films. She's the girl scout selling cookies in the first, and the pilgrim Wednesday threatens to burn at stake in the second.
Becky's look at Nightmares is available here.