‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: "Witch"

09Apr09

“Witch” is probably my favorite episode of season one. Yes, I like it even more than “Prophecy Girl” even though it isn’t nearly as substantive. I’m surprised that Dana Reston, the screenwriter of this episode, didn’t write any more episodes of Buffy. Like most of the episodes of season one “Witch” isn’t strong on plot, but it makes up for it with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s drunken giddiness and an abundance of quippy dialogue.

Just a taste of the delicious quotability:

“I laugh in the face of danger. And then I hide until it goes away.”

“There’s a veritable cornucopia of, of fiends and devils and, and ghouls to engage…. Pardon me for finding the glass half full.”

“Okay, into battle I go. Would you ask her out for me?”

“Pretty much like we’re goin’ out.”
“Except without the hugging or kissing or her knowing about it.”

“Why should someone want to harm Cordelia?”
“Maybe because they met her? …Did I say that?”

“Someone doesn’t like cheerleading?”
“Or likes it too much.”
“Amy!”
“Amy.”
“So, you guys are leaning towards Amy?”

“Well, I know that I’ll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with my arms.”
“Ooh, these grapes are sour!”

I also love that Cordelia has to turn her back to the cheerleading tryouts because she is so disgusted by how good Amber is. It’s a great character moment. There’s also a couple of lines in this episode that I find hysterical, but sometimes people give me a weird eye when I laugh at them. I love Willow’s explanation that Amber (Grove not Benson) got detention for, “Regular smoking. With a cigarette, not, like, being smoky,” because, well, could you imagine that phone call to her parents in the other instance? “Yes, Mrs. Grove, this is Principal Flutie. Amber is being held after school today for detention because she was emitting smoke in the hallways. I don’t know how you do things at home, but I have very strong feelings about students spontaneously combusting in my school.” The directions for the spell that say, “Heat ingredients and apply to witch,” also crack me up because, well, come on. “Heat ingredients and apply to witch.” It’s funny. It’s like she’s a carpet stain or something.

The only part of the plot that really bothers me is Cordelia going blind. First, Buffy should have realized Cordelia was losing her sight when she saw the outfit Cordy was wearing. Shiny floral patterned green shirt tied at the waist with pinstripe pants? Second, would that driving instructor really make his student, who had flunked the test three times, drive when she says that she doesn’t feel like it? Not a smart move on his part. Third, Cordelia’s failing vision would not have impeded her ability to step on the accelerator or the brake so that dramatic crazy driving that leads to Buffy saving Cordy from being hit by a truck sequence feels really implausible. But those white contacts Charisma Carpenter wears when Cordy’s blind always creep me out.

I think “Witch” is the episode when I really start to like Buffy as a character. The show as a whole piqued my interest with “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest,” but those episodes didn’t have any moments when I really fell in love with the particular characters, with the exception of Xander whom I love when he says, “The only thing I can think is that you’re building a really little fence.” The opening scene of this episode when Buffy asks Giles, “You don’t like the color?” made me fall in love with Buffy, and her loopy cheerfulness and slightly off-key rendition of “Macho Man” are delightful to watch. Even this early in the series, it’s refreshing to see Buffy so angst-free and chipper.

The relationships between the main characters really solidify as well. The love triangle between Buffy, Xander, and Willow becomes sparklingly clear just in case you weren’t paying attention during the first two episodes. Willow and Xander become Buffy’s “Slayerettes,” a name I dislike more than “the Scoobies” but only slightly more. The ill effects of the blood stone vengeance spell compel Buffy to trust Giles, and Giles reveals how protective he already feels toward her. Their exchange “Did we find?” “We found,” also underscores an intimacy that they’ve formed. Buffy both resists and desires a relationship with her mother, who is caring but flawed. Joyce comes across as less new agey, and despite the whole hiding the fact that she’s a Slayer thing, Buffy is surprisingly candid with her mother. I probably would never say to my mom, “Mom, I’ve accepted that you’ve had sex. I am not ready to know that you had Farrah hair.”

While witchcraft itself straddles the line between good and evil throughout the series, the first bonafide witch depicted on the series is most definitely evil. Poor naive Willow has no idea that she’s looking into her future when Amy’s mom strangles Xander and then assaults her. The witchy effects could have used some help here. The swirly lights that finally take care of Amy’s mom aren’t bad (remember, the special effects budget was whatever loose change Joss Whedon could find in the seats of his car at this point), but some of the practical effects could have been better. The cauldron looks like it’s boiling green tempera paint and Anthony Stewart Head looks pretty silly when he winces at immersing his hands in his magical brew and it doesn’t do anything at all. They couldn’t have made it bubble a little more or smoke or something? Not regular smoking, like with a cigarette, but actually being smoky.

Of course, the wonderful Elizabeth Anne Allen makes her first appearance as Amy. It’s amazing to me that Amy, who feels like such a part of the Buffyverse, only appears in eight episodes. As a human, that is. Given that Allen really only plays Amy for about five minutes in this episode, I was a little surprised when she pops up again in “Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered.” And then another season goes by and she appears in “Gingerbread.” …I really wish she could have been around more often.

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