Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gingerbread   Rewatch 
June 17, 2015 9:25 PM - Season 3, Episode 11 - Subscribe

Joyce makes a surprise appearance while Buffy's patrolling and finds the bodies of two young children. Haunted by the sight (and by apparitions of the dead Hansel and Gretel), she whips Sunnydale's adults into a witch hunting frenzy.
posted by yellowbinder (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I always felt like I liked this one a lot more than the general population's opinion. On rewatch it is super cheesy, but still fun. Cordelia and Giles are a great pair, after she breaks up with Xander she doesn't always have enough to do but is well used here.

Our annual Amy appearance! Always fun, although you'd think she'd plan her escape a little better. I always feel like Willow forgot about her down the line, when she eventually does try to de-rat her again I believe she does so easily.

So, Willow's mom is big news here. I love Willow's goat sacrificing speech, but I don't know that the character ever rang true to me. This is her only appearance, and Willow never talks about her parents, so introducing her as a tremendously distracted figure... I don't know. I just don't feel like we learn anything about Willow that really informs her character. We hear all about Buffy and Xander's disappointing parents so it's definitely a Buffyverse thing. Willow just doesn't seem affected by it.

Xander and Oz have a weird little story here that doesn't really get resolved. Xander is searching for Oz's approval all episode (for... not continuing to make out with his girlfriend), and while they do work together in the end it doesn't feel like a completed story for me.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:43 PM on June 17, 2015

I loved Cordy coming to the rescue here.

Amy turning into a rat was one of those things that just seemed like a minor gag at the time. I didn't expect it on my first watch, to be a point of continuity they'd keep coming back to in later seasons.

I always feel like Willow forgot about her down the line, when she eventually does try to de-rat her again I believe she does so easily.

By the time Willow does the de-ratting, she was powerful enough to have raised the dead and fought a hellgod to a standstill. I can totally believe that she tried the de-ratting a few times from this episode into early Season 5 but wasn't powerful enough then to manage it. The increase in her power was very fast in Season 5, and she had a ton of things on her plate during that rise to power (college, maintaining the Buffybot, world-saving, and once Buffy was dead, taking care of Dawn and leading the Scoobies). If she forgot about Amy during that time, that's sad but understandable from my POV.

Also, Willow was going off the rails with magic at the point, so it's possible it was a dark spell that she wasn't reckless enough to try until then.

Back to this episode: I really hate the "tried to burn her daughter and two of her friends at stake, whoops" reset button treatment here for Joyce. She knows enough now for the Sunnydale fog of forgetfulness to seem pretty darn lame from a storytelling perspective.
posted by creepygirl at 10:18 PM on June 17, 2015

I don’t love this episode, but I think that might be because the “people being unfairly accused of things” plotline is one of my least favourite plots in anything. Certainly Cordelia telling Giles that if he’s not careful, one day he’ll wake up in a coma, and Buffy saying, “did I get it” are amusing, though. (I agree that anything with Cordelia and Giles is quality. The toadstone, and Cordelia calling him "the little youthful offender"…heh.)

It would have been interesting to see Joyce more involved in Buffy’s “work” in a way that didn’t just set up the premise for this episode (that is, if Joyce tried to come along or be part of the team more in later episodes). I guess this one scared her off, but thinking about it more, it’s pretty surprising that she wasn’t occasionally volunteering to help research, or something. I guess Buffy wouldn’t have dealt with it well, and she probably wanted to stay away from Tempting Sexy Librarian. What with the rumours going around, and such.

Willow’s mother is an odd character. I chuckled at her decrying the patriarchy in Mr. Rogers, but it seems like even the most distracted academic would at least be proud of her daughter’s academic achievements, if nothing else. Parents in the Buffyverse are generally not a shining endorsement of the role (save, maybe, one set of parents on Angel).

Joyce telling Buffy that she just reacts to threats and needs a plan, combined with the abuse of authority that we see, is almost a little preview of the Initiative. The whole “it’s important to keep fighting” theme comes up here, as it will many times.

The climax is entertaining, but poor Amy. I guess her newly overprotective, brownie-baking father either doesn’t care anymore, or is traumatized off-screen.
posted by ilana at 1:26 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Parents in the Buffyverse are another one of those things you just can't think about too much, or the story falls apart. Like the whole deal with Buffy's father, where he just kind of disappears after the first season and even after Joyce dies we just get some throwaway mention that he's busy doing something else so he can't be bothered to show up or send his orphaned kids money or ANYTHING. I mean, OK, maybe he's the worst dad ever, but that kind of neglect and trauma seems like something that would rate more than a tossed-off line or two. Joyce is always kind of vague as a character, and the other Scoobs' parents are rarely mentioned and even more rarely shown. It gets weird.

The Buffyverse did so many things so well that we were willing to let a lot of stuff go unquestioned. But there are definitely places where Whedon and co. were a little lazy, like dealing with the parents of these teenagers who go out every single night and come home at midnight with their 1990s outfits torn and splattered with demon blood. I guess the writers felt like they couldn't deal with boring, real world stuff like the parents, without it becoming a big issue that would deeply change the whole show. As soon as one parent gives a damn, steps up and acts like a real parent, the Scoobs have a huge problem. (Ilana is right, that it would have made sense to involve Joyce more once she knew what was going on. She could have been a good researcher, and maybe covered for the other kids when their parents were a problem. It could have led to some interesting plots actually. But that never happened, for whatever reason.)

So episodes like this one never quite work for me, because they feint in the direction of dealing with one of the show's problems, but they don't really do anything about it. It's like, "Yeah, here's Willow's mom, and she doesn't care. So, that explains that! And, um, Buffy's mom is in this one too. See you next week! Grr, Argh!"
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:53 AM on June 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, wait. Are we supposed to avoid spoilers? Because that last comment was spoilery as hell, sorry.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:02 AM on June 18, 2015

I don't think we're avoiding spoilers. I've certainly mentioned future developments, if only because it's interesting to compare and contrast.

Joyce is always kind of vague as a character, and the other Scoobs' parents are rarely mentioned and even more rarely shown. It gets weird.

Yeah. I think that the show does it's best with Joyce, but often forgets her at episodes at a time. When she's there, as she is here, she's a strong presence, but when she's not the show just forgets about her. This is a problem all serialised television which needs to have a week long problem encounter. Faith is pretty bad for this, she gets written out of episodes with lines like "hey I haven't seen Faith much recently", which given her centricity to the series plot is actually pretty lazy. The show was better at keeping the Angel plot burning along in 2 than it is with Faith in 3.

So to engage with this episode. It's goofy and quite fun, and probably needed as a tonic between Amends and Helpless, both much darker episodes in tone, Christmas miracles aside. But it's also engaging with some of the ideas that the show doesn't discuss much. This is a town where a lot of people die, and maybe it doesn't have to be that way. Joyce's genuine concern is not completely illegitimate, but as so often happens in Buffy it's co-opted by magic, in some ways a bit of an easy way out. Here the lynch mob isn't a real one, it's created by magic, but in real life these sort of lynch mobs do exist. There's also the point made that maybe Buffy isn't doing much good as she good be, but that's rather nicely countered (for the audience at least) by the Wish being aired a few episodes earlier.

It's also a bit sad that the only time the people of Sunnydale decide to deal with the supernatural menace together (with the exception of graduation day I guess) is directly caused by supernatural intervention. It's also engaging with a constant theme in Whedon's work which is a distrust of institutions. MOO, the Mayor, the Watchers Council, the Initiative, even those knight guys in Season 5. There's a constant strain of individualism at the heart of Whedon's work which mistrusts any kind of large organisation, preferring smaller groups of exceptional individuals. Of course eventually those individuals might try forming a larger organisation, something Season 8 actually lightly touches on: after all, if these institutions didn't exist you probably would have to invent them.

Moving on from that, I really like the scenes of Willow with her mother here. As mentioned, this is the first and I think possibly only time we meet her mother, but I think it fits with what we know about her. Her mother is smart and has engendered that in her daughter, but also made sure she finds it hard to socialise or relate to other people. Willow, who has finally made a change from her former behaviour, having formed a solid social group, and is experimenting outside of her academic studies, is frustrated that her mother doesn't notice these changes in her, having formed an opinion about who her mother is and refusing to change it.

-Amy's ratting is funny, and the show obviously forgets she exists for a long time. My fanon explanation for why Willow can't derat her is that this was a specific spell that for whatever reason only Amy's family had access to. It wasn't until Willow worked out to summon the spell itself that she was able to do it.
-Do most municipal buildings in the US have a connected hosepipe all ready there? Also it's lucky they decided to burn them in the building really, which is a pretty stupid idea from a smoke inhalation point of view.
-Xander and Oz bursting in is just so great
-This is where the "wake up in a coma" comment is. I got confused on a previous episode.
-"What are you going to do, float a pencil at them?"
-Yet again, Willow's amazing search-fu finds the exact information required very quickly! I love the chatting via the internet bit. The future is now!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:41 AM on June 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are we supposed to avoid spoilers?

Rewatch threads are explicitly spoilertastic for exactly that sort of analysis. You're good.
posted by Etrigan at 5:32 AM on June 18, 2015

I liked that although Joyce is trying to do mother-daughter bonding, it's Buffy who winds up protecting her mum. After Joyce finds the kids, there's the scene with Buffy comforting her, hugging her and telling her to calm down - and then the cut to Buffy railing at Giles, who's just told her to calm down.

There's some potentially nice layers going on with the early hint that regular humans might have been responsible for killing the kids, and Buffy wanting an exception for the rule about not killing humans. Foreshadows Faith's fall. But also the bits that make the show's modus operandi completely explicit: they deal with the supernatural demons as metaphors for human demons. I almost wish they had followed that through and had the kids be real kids, with real consequences instead of the convenient mass amnesia. Mind you, if they had, I'd probably be complaining that it was too real, like I did with Ted. So probably just as well!

I had to tell myself that the books fuelling the bonfire weren't Giles's books. It was too upsetting otherwise!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:28 AM on June 18, 2015

I think part of why this one doesn't really pan out very well is the lack of clarity on precisely why the adults are in full Satanic-panic mode, and why they're going to such extreme lengths by the end of the episode. I come from a town that is no stranger to book-banning and intolerance for non-conformists, and I've read Hannah Arendt and know all about the banality of evil, etc. It just seems like there has to be more going on than just simple emotional manipulation in order for everything to be "OK" in the end. Maybe if the demon had true mind-control powers was literally puppeting the adults, it would have come off better. But as it is, it feels like Sunnydale has crossed a real moral rubicon entirely of their own free will, and you can't just come back from that. The reset button that needed to be pushed at the end of this episode was noticeably bigger than the ones typically required on Buffy, and I don't think it was pushed nearly hard enough.

This is Jane Espenson's second script for the show, which kind of surprised me. She's co-credited for the story alongside Thania St. John, who's written for several other TV series but never did another Buffy script. I have a sneaking suspicion that Espenson's contributions to this one might have been confined to punching up St. John's dialogue here or there, because it really lacks the breezier touch that I remember from her later eps.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:05 PM on June 18, 2015

I may be wrong, but I assumed the Satanic panic thing was part of the demon's effect on people. I also thought it was a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the plague of accusations/recovered memories etc of Satanic abuse in the 80s/90s, which never stood up to any kind of investigation. I don't know if anyone has ever followed up the aftermath of those outbreaks to see what the effects were on the communities that went through them, but it wouldn't surprise me if they just kind of died out and it became a sort of collective "let us never speak of this again" kind of thing. For once, in other words, Sunnydale's propensity not to talk about the weird shit actually seems to make sense. (I actually liked that bit of Joyce's speech: we've ignored too much for too long - how many of you know someone who's face was bitten off?)

Forgot to say before, I wonder if the here again-gone again thing with parental figures is a reflection of the multiplicity of writers on the show. It's a long and time-honoured tradition to get rid of the parents in fiction that revolves around teenagers or children, regardless of genre. Sometimes the parents have actually died or been killed, other times they're technically alive but absent. So it seems like some writers follow that tradition, while others see that there's actually huge potential for plot - both drama and comic gold - and try to involve Joyce or another parent. I am not sure why Faith comes and goes as a character though. I've been surprised this time through by how little we're actually seeing of her.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:51 AM on June 20, 2015

So it seems like some writers follow that tradition, while others see that there's actually huge potential for plot - both drama and comic gold - and try to involve Joyce or another parent. I am not sure why Faith comes and goes as a character though. I've been surprised this time through by how little we're actually seeing of her.

Yeah. In Season 2 the show made efforts to show Buffy and Angels relationship in every episode, as it was key to the series arc. Here Faith is often completely sidelined or doesn't appear at all, leaving most of the character work to happen in key episodes. I think the show still pulls it off, but it does make the Faith arc a little less effective: there's a lot more telling and less showing as to Faith's behaviour.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:11 AM on June 20, 2015

Budget: Faith is a recurring character, Angel is cast. They pay Angel every week, so it would be a waste of money to write him out. Faith only gets paid when they write her in, so it's convenient to keep her sidelined.
posted by rikschell at 7:28 PM on November 30, 2015

This episode hasn't really done much for me in the past, but rewatching in the current political climate it seems almost prescient. Fake news, upstanding citizens dragging kids out of their homes ... it was more disturbing this time around.
posted by bunderful at 4:59 PM on June 23, 2019

"This is a glorious day for principals everywhere!"
posted by MiraK at 7:33 AM on March 24, 2023

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