The Witch

This episode was probably the point at which I knew that I would love this show. That’s a pretty solid recommendation, considering it was pretty much the first episode after the Pilot. (I’m still not sure if Welcome to the Hellmouth and the Harvest were aired as one episode or two – if you know, please tell me!)

It starts with Giles at his most British, berating Buffy for not taking her slayer duties seriously. Instead, she’s enslaving herself to a cult! A cult, you say? Yes! The cult of cheerleading!

I do like me some cheerleaders. Ever since Bring It On proved that cheerleading was, in fact, awesome and not a relic from the 50s that just won’t die, I’ve been a fan. Just look at some of the amazing cheerleaders who have graced the big and small screens:

Eliza Dushku cheerleading!? Almost as good as Eliza Dushku slaying vampires!

But I’m a Cheerleader is just a given, although it really doesn’t have much cheerleading.

Well worth the $2 I paid to see it at the budget theater.

Technically, Lyla’s a Rally Girl, but I’m pretty sure that just means “cheerleader”

There are plenty more, but let’s end on a high note with Ninja Cheerleaders.

Buffy wants to join the cheer squad because she wants to do something “normal” in her spare time. She’s accepted that she’s going to be the Slayer, and she’s willing to take on that responsibility, but this is her attempt to also carve out a small section of her life that is dedicated to youth and innocence and the high school social scene. Giles naturally objects, but Buffy’s “And you’ll be stopping me how?” stumps him. He’s her watcher, not her owner. From the very beginning he’s unable to control her to the extent the Council or Rupert prefers, but that is precisely why Giles and Buffy’s relationship is so special.
So Buffy brings Willow and Xander over to tryouts. Xander is oogling at girls stretching, which Willow both calls him on and gives him shit for. It turns out that Xander has bought Buffy a bracelet engraved with “Your Always” because Xander has a big ‘ol crush on the Buffster. Willow’s face when he gives her the bracelet says it all

We don’t know how long Willow has had a crush on Xander. Maybe since she was 12. (Except no…sorry, that’s reserved for Naomi Campbell and should not be tainted by anything having to do with Xander.) Maybe she’s just realizing it because he so obviously has feelings for Buffy. Either way, she is aching for him to notice her as something more than a friend, but he has eyes only for Buffy. Unfortunately for Xander, he doesn’t have the balls to go through with it. What might have been a sweet gesture, he masks with 1) It’s good luck for tryouts 2) All the bracelets were engraved like that. And then he bitches about how she doesn’t notice anything? Boy, if you want to get noticed, don’t go out of your way to give the girl a nice present and then wuss out.

(What is that shirt Willow is wearing? Seriously, you do see 5 year olds with that exact material and pattern.)

Surprise! Cordelia also wants to be a cheerleader!

I really like her bra. And I swear I mean that in a fashion type way, not a skeevy perv way.

Amy’s trying out for cheerleading too! She and Willow used to binge on brownies when they were little (that should’ve been a clue to the overdosing that’s about to happen later) but they’ve drifted apart.

The first girl to try out is doing some mad ballin’ dance moves. Amy says she trains with one of the best cheer coaches, but quickly adds that she trains with her mother 6 hours a day. Buffy looks horrified and makes a quip about matricide.

Then the girl’s pompons (we had a big debate at work about whether it was pompom or pompon – wikipedia supports pompon and you know wikipedia is always right) smart smoking.

Willow: “That girl’s on fire!”

Cordelia: “Enough with the hyperbole.” Zing.

Giles explains that it can’t be a vampire – spontaneous human combustion really isn’t their thing. But, he says, the advantage of living on a Hellmouth is that there’s never a shortage of otherwordly phenomena to investigate. His eyes start gleaming and he starts grinning like a schoolboy. Ripper, anyone?

Joyce is stressing because there’s a big to-do at the gallery, and for whatever reason, she got priceless artifacts shipped to the house. Not positive, but I’m pretty sure those usually are carefully watched and installed at the gallery. Whatever, any excuse Joss Whedon needs to have Buffy gaze at a “fertility statue” is fine with me.

Joyce is glad Buffy’s taking up cheerleading again though. It’ll “keep her out of trouble.” Yeah, because cheerleaders were never the ones “in trouble” in all those 50s movies.

Tryouts continue the next day, but disaster strikes when Amy cartwheels all over Cordelia and knocks her over. Amy’s pretty upset – her mom used to be the bomb diggity and she just doesn’t have what it takes to follow in her shoes. Le Sigh, life is hard when you have an overbearing obsessive broth-eating mother who steals your body.

The list is posted the next day, with Xander squeeing harder than all the girls combined. Amy and Buffy are alternates. Luckily, Cordelia did make the team, or else she’d have to go all Lima Heights Adjacent on Amy’s ass.

How do you know when something creepy is going on? When you see a Mystery Hand wrapping up a naked barbie and dumping it in bubbling green goo!

I personally love the cheesiness of a lot of the monsters and demons in Buffy. No, it doesn’t look real. Yes, a lot of it is truly ridiculous. But without some of the campy stuff, the real stuff, the part of Buffy that cuts through to the bone of human experience, would seem just too earnest and too preachy. This bubbling cauldron tells you that even though there’s some serious stuff going on in this episode, it’s also all in good fun.

Speaking of serious stuff, Joyce tries to convince Buffy to join the yearbook staff after failing at cheerleading. Joyce and Amy’s mom both want their daughters to follow in their footsteps, to do what they did in high school and follow them down the path of righteousness. For Buffy, it’s too late – she’s already started forging her own destiny of Slayerdom. For Amy, it’s also too late, but because her mom is a huge bitch who stole her body. Joyce means well – she’s just scared and confused about what’s really going on with her kid.

The barbie doll dumped in goo apparently was an attack on Cordelia, because she’s walking through the halls like a zombie. Xander notes that this is a positive improvement, since it means she’s ignoring him. Unfortunately, Buffy is too – treating him like a rug or some piece of background scenery. If you ask me, he’s still smarting that she doesn’t need him for the things girls traditionally need men for – opening jars, lifting heavy things, protection, etc. Willow at least has a brain. Xander has…a bracelet that says “Yours Always.” Loyalty is a necessary quality for any member of a scooby gang – he just hasn’t grasped that yet. He makes up his mind to ask Buffy out then and there, but she’s also noticed Cordelia acting weird, so she hurries off to the rescue. Xander, always 5 steps behind, thinks this is still all about him.

Good thing Buffy’s paying attention though, because Cordelia completely wigs out in driver’s ed. After crashing the car, she stumbles blindly into the street, and after  Buffy throws her out of the way, her eyes are all rolled back in her head, creeping me the fuck out.

Can we back up for a second? Do schools actually run Driver’s Ed classes like this? My school’s class was during the summer, and I didn’t take it anyway, but whenever I see representations of Driver’s Ed in tv/movies, it’s always ridiculous. The students are supposed to weave around cones in a parking lot? This teacher didn’t even have an emergency brake! My favorite driver’s ed scene of all time? Agent Cody Banks.

The only thing in the movie that trumps that Driver’s Ed teacher is Angie Harmon as a kiddie CIA handler. That is one very special suit and we should be grateful that it exists.

There’s clearly something weird afoot, and in SunnyDale, that means it’s time to head to the library. Willow theorizes that the only impetus someone would need to blind Cordelia would be meeting her, but unfortunately that doesn’t explain Amber’s spontaneous combustion that day before. The only obvious link is cheerleading, which obviously points straight to Amy. Buffy can sympathize – just this morning her mom was trying to foist the Yearbook on her – but only too a point. The girl is disfiguring Barbie dolls after all. In order to test their theory about whether or not Amy is, in fact, a witch, Willow jumps on the computer to see who’s checked out Witch books. And here is where Willow gets her sexyface on:

I mean it; that girl is a hott researcher. Unfortunately, the trail is blocked by Xander, who checked them all out because he’s too cheap for porn. Giles, however, discovers a potion that will reveal a witch in their midst!

I assume the Scoobies will pick up some stealth later. During chem lab, Buffy steals some of Amy’s hair while Willow extracts the eye of Newt and mixes a potion. Buffy then spills the test tube all over Amy’s arm to see if it turns blue. The thing is though, while this is going on, yet another cheerleader has a creepy sense-deprivation episode: this one’s mouth was sewn shut.

Amy also looks a little confused and scared, which leads the Scoobies to conclude that 1)either she didn’t know what was happening or 2) she doesn’t realize the extent of her power. The obvious solution is for Buffy to confront her legendary cheerleading mother and tell her what her delinquent witch daughter has been up to. Now, this sounds a bit ridiculous to us viewers, but I suppose if you’re a relatively naive 16 year old girl whose mother would be appalled if she knew what was happening and absolutely would take steps to stop it, I guess you have no reason to doubt that another 16 year old’s mother won’t react in exactly the same way. Unfortunately, we know Buffy’s got it wrong as soon as Amy walks through her front gate:

My first reaction to Amy’s mother was that she was one of those really sad, depressed moms who didn’t have the energy to do anything so they watch their stories all day. My second reaction to Amy’s mother (after Amy demands that she write her history report) was a big ‘ol WTF? And then once Amy twirls around the bracelet Xander gave Buffy and sneers that she’s going upstairs, my next reaction was “Xander, go die in a fire.”

Cut to some really creepy looking clowns at the foot of a bed. Is that Buffy’s bed? Good lord, I would have nightmares too! It’s clear Buffy’s under some kind of spell this morning, although luckily not the eye-rolled-back-in-head one. She’s singing Macho Man, drinking all the juice, and being unusually cheery and agreeable. Plus she’s all tricked out in her cheerleading sweater, which is cute. Kind of.

Her good mood continues into cheer practice, but where the spirit is willing, the body is weak. Or too strong, in this case. She throws a girl into the wall and Buffy’s cheerleading career is over. Luckily, Amy’s on hand like the little creepster she is to take her place.

Buffy collapses in the hall – apparently Amy’s cast a bloodstone revenge spell on her, which will kill her within a few hours. The only way to break the spell is to destroy the spellbook or cut off Amy’s head. (It’s kind of sick and wrong that just killing the witch won’t do it – you actually have to decapitate her!) So Buffy and Giles head out to Amy’s house to find the book. Amy’s mom is sitting on the couch munching down some brownies and AHA! The Real Mrs. Madison would be starving herself on broth right now. Something is not right.

Amy sucks at the “pretending like everything’s fine” game because she keeps making little verbal slips, which makes it very easy for Buffy to correctly conclude that they have switched bodies. Now this turns into something quite a bit nastier than what Buffy was going through with her mom. Instead of wanting to imprint herself on her daughter and make her do yearbook, Amy’s mom decided that she would just rather take charge herself and deprive her daughter of any life whatsoever. Not only does she rob her of her youth, she also forces her to write history reports and presumably keeps her locked in the house all day. Amy’s mom, on the flip side, is very good at pretending to be Amy. Aside from the weird “I love my mom so much that I spend 6 hours a day being coached by her” statement, everything she said was pretty normal and believable. And it’s not like she didn’t know vaguely how Amy behaved, because she’s not like whoring around with her new 16 year old body. This makes it all doubly sinister because not only did Amy’s mom steal her daughter’s body and youth, but she clearly knew and understood her well enough to be able to fake it in her life all this time.

The hanging barbies are really super creepy. I think I’ve used the word creepy in this post like 15 times already. But in my defense, this episode simply gives me the willies every time. They find the spellbook and it’s back to the school chemistry lab!

Amy is living out her dream, cheering for the Fighting Razorbacks, but she knows that all is not right when Giles starts the break the spell and she falls off the top of the pyramid. Willow and Xander try to stop her, but she bitch slaps Willow to the floor (DEMON! HOW DARE YOU???) and storms down to the chem lab to find Giles breaking the spell.

She’s about to axe-murder Buffy, but their bodies switch just in time. Unfortunately, everyone forgot that once that happened, there would still be a freaking witch in the room with them, and she’s very pissed off. She tries to send Buffy’s soul to the dark place, but the Buffster is more than just superhuman strength and agility – she’s brains as well. She reflects the spell back at the witch with a mirror, and Amy’s mother is no more.

Joyce and Buffy have a nice heart to heart to wrap up the episode. Joyce admits that she just doesn’t get Buffy and she never will by virtue of the fact that she’s 16 and is going through a lot. It’s sweet. Buffy’s mostly relieved that her mom has no desire to be 16 and will not be planning to steal her body. I love the “Would you ever want to be 16 again.” “…not even if it made me understand you,” because it points out the difference between Buffy’s mom and Amy’s mom. Joyce’s motivations are always centered around Buffy. She’s her child, she her world, and even if she doesn’t always express it exactly right, she cares deeply about her and puts her before everything else in the world. Amy’s mom obviously put herself before Amy and everything else in the world. But she gets to spend eternity locked inside a cheerleading trophy.



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