FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Xander and Cordelia are now officially a couple, Buffy and Angel are still at loggerheads and Willow appears to have moved on from her best friend with newbie Oz.
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered finds the gang approaching Valentine's Day with a mixture of both excitement and trepidation; newly single Buffy discovers that Angelus has a particular penchant for torturing his victims and their puppies on Valentine' Day whilst both Xander and Willow are getting ready for a Valentine's Day actually in relationships. However when the pressures of popularity get to Cordelia and she dumps Xander on the day itself, he takes drastic steps to get his revenge, employing Amy, now a practicing witch, to cast a love spell on Cordelia. However, Amy's still a fledgling and magic used for personal gain never goes very well so Xander actually enchants the entire female population of Sunnydale to fall obsessively, madly in love with him. Even Drusilla.
Over the past few episodes, it's become slowly apparent that Xander can be kind of a dick. Not just to the women in his life, but just in general. It's a fairly accurate phase for a teenage boy to go through and in that sense, Xander's flawed character does feel very genuine, even if it is slightly galling to realise that one of your favourite characters isn't quite how you remembered them. Whilst this episode isn't the apotheosis of Xander's dickishness (hello Becoming or maybe even Hell's Bells), it does showcase it supremely. The cruel intent to manipulate Cordelia understandably comes from a place of heart, but with Buffy's equating of magic with drugs, the idea of a love spell is essentially like vengefully Rohypnolling someone (there's a reference to Roofies in the episode itself).
That it backfires leads to some wonderful comic karma as well as a chance for Xander to redeem himself when forced to deal with the advances of various Sunnydale women, not least of all Buffy. The scene with Buffy goes some way to repair his reputation in my eyes because he knows she is not actually consenting to do the things she's offering, trenchcoat and all. The idea of consent was addressed in the earlier episode Reptile Boy much less successfully, offering a mixed moral message that tended to suggest it was Buffy's fault she was drugged and nearly eaten. It is handled slightly better here with Xander taking responsibility for his actions and it being made clear that it is the fault of the drugger, rather than the druggee.
Whilst this episode is ostensibly Xander-centric, I'd argue that it's actually more important for the long term development of Cordelia. In this episode, she dumps Xander unceremoniously because her friends, Harmony in particular, have decided that he's not cool enough or worthy of her. Unable to reconcile her popularity with her boyfriend, Cordy chooses the latter and breaks Xander's heart in the process. Although callous here, she later stands up to Harmony declaring her to be a sheep and making it clear that Cordelia Chase isn't afraid of anyone. It's the beginning of her journey that would culminate in Angel where she realises that she doesn't actually have to be mean all the time. It feeds into one of the dominant messages of Buffy of always being true to yourself and you will never be alone if you are.
Aside from the development of the Xander-Cordy relationship, the episode is also a comedic delight, a lot of the humour wrought from the seduction attempts of Sunnydale's various ladyfolk. They're also particularly hilarious in the post-Belieber/One Directioner era when teenage girls exhibit all the signs of crazy people). Drusilla wants to make Xander immortal so she can love him forever, Willow decides to kill him after he rejects her advances and Amy turns Buffy into a rat for the majority of the episode. There's even a hilarious moment for Joyce coming over all MILF before getting a little psychotic in her own home. The ladies of Buffy rise to the challenge and some of the one liners are particularly sharp. Buffy's exchange with Oz once she regains her human form remains one of their characters' best interactions whilst Giles' yelling at Xander carries a fair amount of satisfaction as well as humour.
One of the strongest aids to the humour of this episode is Christophe Beck's lively score. Music has always been an integral element of Buffy but Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered is perhaps the first where it really has a chance to shine. Beck uses strings to up the ante on the episode's playfulness, allowing them to form an accompaniment that is more akin to the scene-setting of a silent movie than the usual background filler of a teen TV score. It is also impressive how the tone of the score switches easily between the aforementioned playfulness into the darker escalation of tension that builds throughout the episode, particularly when Xander and Cordy are trapped in the basement. It helps to keep the pace on what could have been a repetitively structured episode.
Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered does suffer slightly by appearing after the sublime Phases and before the heartwrenching Passion; it's memorable more for the humour than its message. However, it does allow Xander to be both annoying and redemptive whilst giving Cordelia a time to shine. Another strong episode then and this season just keeps getting better. Shush. We're not at Go Fish yet.
Quote of the Week:
Cordelia: "You know what you are, Harmony? You're a sheep."
Harmony: "I'm not a sheep!"
Cordelia: "You're a sheep. All you ever do is what everyone else does, so you can say you did it first. And here I am scrambling for your approval when I'm way cooler than you because I'm not a sheep. I do what I wanna do and I wear what I wanna wear, and you know what? I'll date whoever the hell I wanna date! No matter how lame he is..."
Demonology 101: This is the first time the phrase Big Bad is used, a phrase which has become synonymous with the master threat of a television season, first coined by Buffy when she calls Angel 'the big bad thing in the dark'.
Let's Get Trivial: Buffy spends the majority of the episode as a rat because Sarah Michelle Gellar had to be in New York to host Saturday Night Live. The episode was written in a matter of days to accommodate this.
You can read Becky's look at Phases here.