Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Witch   Rewatch 
January 22, 2015 7:26 AM - Season 1, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Yearning for a normal high school experience, Buffy tries out for the cheerleading squad. As her competitors suffer bizarre afflictions, she must hunt out the witch before it's too late.
posted by yellowbinder (14 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Excellent use of the Mortal Kombat theme song in this episode.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:36 AM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, it's totally Mortal Kombat playing while Amber's going up in smoke! I'm sure I knew that on first watch but that knowledge has been absorbed into the 90s kid morass. It's also totally what a cheerleading squad might play in 1997 so well done!

First appearance of Elizabeth Anne Allen as Amy Madison, who will make excellent appearances about once a season before taking on a more controversal role in Season 6.

It's a first season Buffy episode so it's not perfect, but I've always had a soft spot for this one. It's a nice mystery and our first strong high school problem metaphor expressed in dangerous supernatural terms. The curses are creepy, even if Buffy's just makes her a little loopy before death. I enjoy the actress playing Amy's mom, she does both frightened teenager and vengeful witch really well.

We get some nice recurring threads started/continued here. Xander's crushing on Buffy, Buffy wants to be more than a Slayer, Joyce struggling to be supportive but still ending up a bit oblivious. Buffy even tells her she's the slayer but it's like she's incapable of hearing nonsense.

Really I just have one question. What is up with that cat???
posted by yellowbinder at 7:50 AM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Witch is a really solid first season episode. It has the slightly weird transition that post-pilots often have in that a lot of time has passed: there are some references to how Giles is always doing something, which feels a little odd when we've only known him for one episode!

The witchy interventions are suitably creepy, and the plot mostly works. Knowing the twist going in Amy's dialogue works really well, particularly her view on her father. The theme we are hitting here is recapturing your youth, and maybe the absence of a parental figure. Watching from an adult perspective you can really appreciate how hard Joyce must be working to keep up her very nice home for her daughter, and it all comes together very nicely. It's also delightful how Giles gets to comment in disbelief that a witch is using her powers to cheerlead again.

I think the reason Season 1 doesn't work as well as later seasons is that it has a very gothic tone that could easily be off putting, a very particular aesthetic that the show mostly drops after this season.

Some random thoughts this time round

-Magic will never work quite like this again. The bloodstone vengence spell is ludicrously powerful, and apparently you can undo a witches spells by access to her book.
-Why was there a mirror in that science classroom anyway?
-Eyes in the statue are soooo creepy
-When Willow bursts in with a baseball bat Xander claims to have sorted the problem, then there is a lovely reaction shot which indicates that she believes him.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:58 AM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is the first episode that addresses a major theme in Buffy: the danger of wish fulfillment. This theme becomes the most overt when we meet Anya, but plays throughout Buffy from the beginning starting here. Of course here the wish fulfillment is about parental pressure to fulfill a specific role for the parent.

It also piggybacks onto a previous theme established early in episode one, that in the world of Buffy, appearances are deceiving. Of course, this will be continued onto the next episode.

One of the nice dialogue moments is when Xander tells Willow that she's like a guy friend who knows about girls. This dialogue is then pretty much word for word flipped when Buffy talks to Xander who reacts similarly Willow. It's a fun little moment.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:53 AM on January 22, 2015


I like that brownies are an indication of your true identity.

The thing that I never quite understood was that if Amy's mum was such an awesome cheerleader, how come she didn't automatically make the team? How could she have messed up so spectacularly in the tryouts? Yes, I know, not much of a story if she'd just gotten on the team, but as it is I think there was actually a core of vulnerability in her mum that she was actually enabled to express by occupying her daughter's body. That going back to cheerleading and being a teenager was at least as much about being able to abdicate responsibility for all the higher-stakes grown-up things like relationships, mortgages, etc.

Although yeah, if Amy's mum was Amy, and Amy-in-her-mother's-body just sat around all day eating brownies and watching daytime TV, how did they have any money? I'm thinking too hard about it, aren't I?

Also, I get that Xander is a teenage boy and that this was made almost 20 years ago, but it's really hard to watch him openly drooling over young women and making some rather gross comments. On the one hand, realism, since teenage boys do actually behave and talk in that way, but on the other hand, there's something rather monstrous about being a teenager, isn't there?

... penny drops ...

Ooooohhhhh.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:19 PM on January 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah Xander is pretty much a Nice Guy, with all the problems and baggage that comes with that today. You can find pages and pages criticising him these days. Different time though. While occasionally it's pushed for drama and because teenagers are indeed monsters, I don't believe we're really supposed to think poorly of him at all.
posted by yellowbinder at 4:41 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


But seriously what is up with that cat??? Did Amy's mom just keep it in that box? Was it just a magic booby trap? If so why not set it to cause real harm instead of a jump scare?
posted by yellowbinder at 4:43 PM on January 22, 2015


I don't think that Xander is the borderline psychopathic channer that some criticism makes him out to be. But watching it now, I find it harder to excuse his behaviour, or find it amusing. I don't like him very much. Probably says something about my current lack of exposure to teenage boys and that, like Joyce, I would NEVER go back. Bleah.

I think the cat must have been a product of Schroedinger's Spell: both there and not there until someone opened the box, whereupon it triggered the cat's existence. No real function, just quantum magic.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:50 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I didn't think the cat was actually inside the box, just lurking somewhere nearby and ready to jump out in a perfectly normal catlike way. Also, maybe the cat was Amy's no-good dad...

Anyway, lots of good foundational stuff for the series in this episode, and it's always struck me as nice that they went with a non-vampiric villain for the first post-pilot story. I always get a kick out of Giles' thinly-disguised series pitch at the beginning, with a specific emphasis on the Hellmouth's virtual smorgasbord of monster-business, just so all the kids at home know that it ain't just bloodsuckers here in the Sunny D.

This was also the first episode that showed the gang repurposing school facilities for magic and/or monster-fighting (making potions in chem lab, etc), as well as attempting to establish a firm group identity, with Willow throwing the short-lived "Slayerette" nickname out there. I forget exactly when it was that the Scooby Gang appellation became the preferred term of reference, but I recall "Slayerette" sticking around for a least a season or so in early discussions of the show.

I had forgotten about how the episode puts Buffy out of commission for much of the third act, but it still gives Sarah Michelle Gellar a decent variety of things to play: Being frustrated with a perceived lack of support from Giles and Joyce, acting marvelously loopy ("Macho macho maaaan...") while under the witch-whammy, and even a nice moment of intuitive insight when she susses out the Amy/Mom switcheroo.

For what it's worth, I'm also of the opinion that Xander has more than a touch of Nice Guy to him, but it does work as both an extremely usable character flaw (see next episode!) and as something for him to work past as the series progresses. If early Xander is kind of the Goofus representation of young masculinity, the development of the character in the later seasons at least stretches towards Gallant-ness.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:24 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing that I never quite understood was that if Amy's mum was such an awesome cheerleader, how come she didn't automatically make the team? How could she have messed up so spectacularly in the tryouts? Yes, I know, not much of a story if she'd just gotten on the team, but as it is I think there was actually a core of vulnerability in her mum that she was actually enabled to express by occupying her daughter's body. That going back to cheerleading and being a teenager was at least as much about being able to abdicate responsibility for all the higher-stakes grown-up things like relationships, mortgages, etc.

The second time I watched this episode I noticed this line Catherine-in-Amy's-body says right before the tryout:

"Why do my hands have to sweat when I get nervous?"

I took that to mean that she got nervous and choked in the tryout. Maybe that was the core of vulnerability there.
posted by creepygirl at 10:13 PM on January 22, 2015


The second time I watched this episode I noticed this line Catherine-in-Amy's-body says right before the tryout:

"Why do my hands have to sweat when I get nervous?"


I assume it's also the lack of muscle memory that is hampering Catherine, which I imagine makes up a large part of cheerleading (not being an expert myself....)

Yeah Xander can come across as a bit creepy and skeezy sometimes. Now at this point I don't so much blame him for it, although his Buffy obsession will soon become disturbing. But it's worth (although hard) remembering that he is meant to be 16, and not 25, as the actor is. The show will suffer from this mismatch in ages when Dawn is cast as a far older actress than she was intended to be in Season 5.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 11:59 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


The show will suffer from this mismatch in ages when Dawn is cast as a far older actress than she was intended to be in Season 5.

Michelle Trachtenberg was 15 when she started playing Dawn, so I'm not sure what you're saying here.
posted by kewb at 5:15 AM on January 23, 2015


Michelle Trachtenberg was 15 when she started playing Dawn, so I'm not sure what you're saying here.

Indeed, but (I don't think I'm making this up) she was meant to be even younger: around 12, and her early writing reflects this a little I think.

Looking at that link, that's not the best source... but I can't find a better one right now.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:27 AM on January 23, 2015


Speaking of odd ages, I looked up Elizabeth Anne Allen (because to be honest she makes me a little swoony with those eyes) and am surprised to find she's only a few months younger than me. Except about a million times better preserved, even when this episode was shot and she would have been 26.
posted by phearlez at 9:48 AM on January 23, 2015


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