infinitejest: (buffy: the wind speaks)
[personal profile] infinitejest
Episode Title: "The Witch"
Written by: Dana Reston
Episode Number: 1.3

The usual spoiler warning applies.

Witch Lore

This episode gives us our first look at witchcraft in the Buffyverse, which threatens to come off as hokey in the first shot. The dried herbs hanging all about, the contemporary dolls being used for nefarious magickal purposes-- all this I can handle. It's the cauldron bubbling with the fluorescent green goop that gets me. I'm thankful that, although they stuck with needing various herbs and bizarre things for spells, they never went back to crazy dayglo green goop again.

Also, this episode establishes the need for words in many spells. Again, this isn't something I mind too terribly, although it did lead to some mildly embarrassing dialogue on the show. And I'm glad they moved beyond this (a bit in this episode and a lot later in the show-- I fondly recall some episode where Willow is invoking some spirit and says something along the lines of, "Screw it. I don't speak Latin so well, but that's not the point," etc).

Catherine, Amy's Mom: "Give me the power. Give me the dark. I call on you, the laughing gods, let your blackness crawl beneath my skin. Accept my sacrifice: Cordelia. Feed on her."

With this incantation, they establish that, in the Buffyverse, all Gods are present and accounted for. Yea verily, there are countless gods that we didn't even know existed prancing pretty on this show. I really appreciate this inclusion of multiple pantheons; however... I think it was inconsistent to allow practicing witches to call on whatever gods they want to. Now, if you think of gods as aspects, I can deal with the usage of several different gods. However, this show seemed to imbue them with very different properties, so keeping them separate. Gods are jealous creatures, and you'd think they'd demand much more sacrifice when used so by a not-even-casual adherent. Er, anyway, getting ahead of myself a bit here. I better stop before I start talking about their basic conflict regarding how spells are worked-- through the will of an outside power (gods) or through the will of the witch (what Willow gets into with Rack and what she finds when she moves past that blackness).

The spells are suitably creepy, for the most part. I would have thought causing a girl's hands to combust would be much more of a simultaneous spell than a delayed spell, but... well, they intimate that it's actually the "laughing gods" determining what happens to each girl, rather than the witch. (After all, Amy's-mom-in-Amy looks genuinely shocked when she sees LaShawn's face smooth where a mouth once was.) Actually, this really irritates me, because they intimate that the spell against Cordelia was more direct:

Giles: "Witchcraft. Blinding your enemy to disorient and disable them is, it's classic!"

I really wish they'd make up their mind on who is perpetrating the result of the damn spell. So far, I'm deducing that the "laughing gods" caused the hand combustion and the mouth disappearance. However, the blinding of Cordelia and the weakening of Buffy seem much more direct.

Okay, let's talk about this Bloodstone Vengeance Spell. I actually thought it was pretty cool, at first. Buffy wakes up, acting rather drunk. I didn't realize it was affected drunkenness at first-- I thought they were going for an idiotic lack of tongue-guarding. However, her behavior at school is much more drunken: the silliness, the lack of coordination, forgetting to moderate herself when handling schoolmates, her floppiness on Xander and Willow. It's when Giles explained what it was that I felt they blew it:

Giles: "This is a bloodstone vengeance spell. Hits the body hard like a, a quart of alcohol, and then it e-eradicates the, uh, immune system."

The eradication of the immune system doesn't kill you immediately. I can buy that this spell is like drunkenness-cum-hopped-up-HIV, but don't tell me that it's going to kill her as soon as it's run its course. She's going to be just fine until she picks up a common cold or whatever. Still, I guess that doesn't add enough of a sense of urgency to the show... not like Sudden Death anyway. And the explanation was good enough for your garden variety viewer. Still, it makes me grumble.

Supposedly the only two ways to reverse spells are to either get ahold of the Witch's personal spellbook or cut off the witch's head. This is something else I'm glad they forego in later seasons, because it's ridiculous. At this point, I think they were still trying to go with all witches having grimoires where only therein lay the answers. Maybe they realized how limiting that would be later and so put the entire spellcraft out into a library of books, accessible to whomsoever can get their hands on them and possessed of a vast multitude of spells and counterspells.

The spell Giles utters, with all the lapsed time taken out:

"The center is dark. Centrum est obscurus. The darkness breathes. Tenebrae respiratis. The listener hears. Hear me! Unlock the gate. Let the darkness shine. Cover us with holy fear. Show me... Corsheth and Gilail! The gate is closed! Be sated! Release the unworthy! Release! Release! RELEEEEASE!"

I'd like to know who Corsheth and Gilail are, but it seems like they're just mystical entities made up for the show. (Perhaps the phlebotenum for the episode?)

I appreciate that they're trying to spice their spells up with Latin, but at least they could make the Latin say something other than what they've said just as effectively in English. And it's probably a good thing that I've allowed my Latin to fall into disuse over the past five years or I'd check up on their translation.

So, Giles says this is the first spell he's ever done: a blatant lie in light of later seasons. I think we can just safely ignore that comment from him.

I'm not sure how I feel about anyone who picks up a book being able to do a spell-- in one way, it adds an element of danger to the world. By accessing and playing with knowledge that you don't understand, you can get into very real and very uncomfortable trouble. It also gives words a certain degree of power that I appreciate-- of course, we know that words have power to shape and influence. Here, they've given that influence a heavier stick in the minds of the audience. I just wish they'd shown more of a difference between how well a spell works depending on who picked up the book and read from it. This wish of mine continues throughout the show.

Although Amy's mom is a capable witch gone mad from envy and vanity, she does not appear addicted to the magic. She chokes Xander with her powers when Xander and Willow attempt to waylay her in the hallway; however, she then punches Willow as it's just as effective a tactic. She also used an ax on the door, instead of magic (which may have been because she was using power to try and keep herself in Amy's body, come to think of it).

Also, they prove in this episode that the power does often lay inside the witch and not always in the spells. She chokes Xander, levitates an axe and levitates a table without any words.

The result of the last spell she did truly left me with chills.

Catherine: "I shall look upon my enemy! I shall look upon her and the dark place will have her soul! Corsheth, take her!"

Buffy brings the mirror to bear, the spell backfires, and she ends up trapped inside her own cheerleading trophy on display in the hall-- ah, poetic justice. And so undeniably creepy, to think of her always there, impotent and raging.

They established from the beginning the eyes going completely black when you've tapped too deep into the magic, which I like. They use this to awesome effect later in the series, both when Willow is addicted and then mad.

A last note: they also subscribe to the lore that you have to have something personal to the subject of the spell to add to the mix in order for the spell to work. So, Cordelia's hair-band or whatever, Amy's hair... and Buffy's bracelet? She only had that thing for like a day, and accepted it a bit dubiously. I just sorta hoped that would have affected the spell, seeing as how it wasn't something she'd really established ownership over yet. Anyway, that's very theoretical stuff-- how much we actually own the things we own, and how that translates regarding how much effect they'd have on us if used in a spell against us. Er, yeah, right. I'll stop.

Oh, wait, another last note. I loved that they used the science classroom (during class, no less!) to do a spell. They demonstrate here how capable and matter-of-fact Willow is in removing the eyes from the frog-- nice foreshadowing of her later abilities. However, they kinda mucked up this spell, too... Giles said that it would turn the skin of the witch blue, but then we just saw the liquid turning blue when it hit Amy's arm.

Spells worked in this episode: hand combustion, mouth disappearance, blindness, bloodstone vengeance spell, recent casting spell, retraction spell.


Buffy: Buffy's character is much the same as we've already seen established. I'd like to point out how giving she is, though. She's always trying to reach out to people, like when she immediately befriends Amy and tries to get through to her about not deserving her mom's shit. And when she's supposedly minutes away from death, she's still trying to convince Amy that it's not her fault, not even thinking about saving herself. Furthermore, even though she doesn't like Cordelia, she notices when something is wrong with her earlier in the episode and immediately goes out of her way to help her.

We also see Buffy trying to reach out to her mother, albeit in a selfish way. She wants her mother to be interested in her, and so tries to draw her attention via cheerleading and how Amy's mom helps her. This leads to further misunderstanding-- she doesn't understand why her mother wouldn't want to spend all this time with her ("Sounds like her mom doesn't have a lot to do.") and is hurt when her mother is distractedly matter-of-fact about her extra-curricular activities:

Buffy: "It was cheerleading."

Joyce: "Oh good! I'm glad you're taking that up again, it'll keep you out of trouble."

Buffy: "I'm not *in* trouble."

Joyce: "No, not yet."

Buffy is hurt. Her mother looks up from her clipboard and notices.

Joyce: "I mean, you stopped cheerleading just before the trouble, so it's good you're going back." (Thanks TWIZ TV.)

Irritating side-note: Buffy is supposed to be an amazing gymnast, but her cartwheel is terrible in the cheerleading tryouts.

Oh, yes, and we see in this episode that Buffy has once more embraced her role as Slayer. She's put it to the fore, but she hasn't given up on having a normal life: "I will still have time to fight the forces of evil, okay? I just wanna have a life, I wanna do something normal. Something safe."

Willow: In this episode, we only discover further depth to the feelings Willow has for Xander. We already know this, of course, they just continue to plumb the depths in her reactions to him giving Buffy the bracelet and her glee in letting Buffy tell Xander exactly how much like a girl-friend he is. (Especially considering Xander's earlier quote of how Willow is like his guy friend who knows about girl stuff.) We see how good of a friend/how much of a doormat Willow is, how understanding, when she takes Xander's whingeing about asking Buffy out and tries to advise him as well as possible (in spite of her own feelings).

Also, we find out that she's heavier into hacking, which I take as evidence of Willow's addictive personality. The things she can do that make her feel special, she tends to get into a little too deeply.

Xander: They keep on playing up Xander's feelings of being out of place and ignored, showing his desperate attempts to stay included.

One of the best summation quotes of Xander's feelings with regards to life with Buffy around:

Xander: "This is the invisible man syndrome. A blessing in Cordelia's case. A curse in Buffy's."

As he desperately tries to stay included, he's very upbeat and helpful to Buffy. He also pioneers declaring them a team:

Buffy: "I need to get the skinny on Amber. Find out if she's had any colorful episodes before."

Willow: "That means hacking illegally into the school's computer system. At last, something *I* can do!"

Xander: "I'll ask around about her."

Buffy: "You guys don't have to get involved."

Xander: "What d'ya mean? We're a team! Aren't we a team?"

Willow: "Yeah! You're the Slayer, and we're, like, the Slayerettes!"

Giles: Giles continues to be very informative, with either his capacious brain or his odd library having the answers. He is both oddly informed and oddly bereft of information concerning witches and witchcraft. This episode establishes him as a spellcaster, though references this having been his first casting (which isn't true in regards to later episodes).

When Giles confronts Amy-as-Catherine, we also catch the first glimpse of that side of him which will later be revealed as Ripper. The intensity there in his desperation to save Buffy is sobering and effective.

He's also coming to realize here that his Slayer is not simply going to listen to him and obey him as a matter of course. He's got a real livewire on his hands and he's still responding to it with exasperation rather than respect or understanding:

Giles: "This is madness! What can you have been thinking? You are the Slayer! Lives depend upon you! I make allowances for your youth, but I expect a certain amount of responsibility, and instead of which you enslave yourself to this, this... cult?

Buffy, wearing a cheerleader outfit: "You don't like the color?"

Giles: "I d-- Do you, um... do you ignore everything I say as a, as a rule?"

Buffy: "No, I believe that's your trick. I told you, I'm trying out for the cheerleading squad!"

Giles: "You have a sacred birthright, Buffy. You were chosen to destroy vampires, not to... wave pompoms at people. And as the Watcher I forbid it."

Buffy: "And you'll be stopping me how?"

Giles: "Well, I... By appealing to your common sense, if such a creature exists."

Buffy: "I will still have time to fight the forces of evil, okay? I just wanna have a life, I wanna do something normal. Something safe."

Joyce: We see less of a concerned Joyce here, and more of the obvious separation between her and her daughter. Joyce obviously has a life: their house is overwhelmed with crates at one point as her first gallery showing is coming up. She's justifiably distracted from her daughter while going through everything and trying to keep it in order.

Still, she's aware enough to notice when her daughter takes her to task for being absent-minded: "Your platitudes are good for all occasions." I think I'd notice that coming from my daughter, as well.

She tries to help Buffy out by suggesting alternative activities when Buffy doesn't make the cheerleading squad, but Buffy shuts her down by semi-nicely telling Joyce that she has to do her own thing. Joyce makes a blunder in pointing out that Buffy's "thing" got her kicked out of her last school, leading to the moment at the end of the episode when she just flatly admits that she doesn't understand Buffy. But she's still there for her.

Amy: Amy is portrayed a victim in this episode: if we're honest with ourselves, we only see a small bit of Amy at the end. Remember, most of the episode is just Amy's mom running around as Amy (though Catherine masquerading as Amy and complaining that she just can't be as good as her mom, demanding to know how much more she can practice, etc., is very effective... it shows us how harsh we can be on ourselves due to the influences of parents). Also, I contend that Amy's dated dialogue in this episode was meant to be a product of her mom being in her body and not knowing more contemporary lingo (she uses phrases like "hokey" and "kind of a drag").

Anyway, the Amy at the end comes across as kind and ready to move on from the emotional damages of her past. It's too bad she apparently didn't learn her lesson at all... well, that's not fair. It's more that she grows into the role of the victimizer instead of choosing to end the legacy, which is something that can happen with abused children.

Also, it's worth noting that her mother was a pretty good actress, pretending to be Amy. Amy herself wasn't a good actress at all.


They continue playing up the theme of there being a huge generation gap preventing adults from understanding children and vice versa. However, I'm more interested in the other theme at this time: that of victimization, fairy tale style.

This story is a fairy tale at its root. Beautiful and accomplished woman becomes trapped by her circumstances (saddled with a husband and a baby). Beautiful woman comes to resent her life, and is wronged when she's cast off for another woman. She pours her resentment into her child, eventually stealing her daughter's youth and beauty out of the desire to recapture her glory days. As a witch, she begins a string of gory spells in blind pursuit of her goal and is foiled by a person with genuinely good intentions. She's locked in a prison of her own making for all eternity, and her daughter, returned to herself, walks free into the Wood.

I like how they handle the theme of victimization. While the rest are quick to blame Amy for the terrible and disfiguring spells they think she's committing, Buffy says:

"It's not Amy's fault. She only became a witch to survive her mother."

This is a loaded statement. It points out that a victim can often be driven to do terrible things to escape that victimization (i.e., go against their true nature or commit crimes in order to become that which is desired by the abuser), but it also points out what can happen to the victim over time. Even when the actual abuse stops, it never really stops. It's still going on inside the victim, and this leads to a choice, sometimes one that has to be made again and again: will the victim become the victimizer, become that which she hates, or will she rise above what was done to her and prevent the legacy from continuing? I've been faced with this before, and I was strong enough to rise above it. Sadly, Amy later proves not to be so strong.


The sign for the Cheerleading Try-Outs denotes that it's 1996.

Buffy says "Jeepers," which always makes me giggle as it reminds me that SMG played Daphne in Scooby Doo: The Movie.

Buffy destroys her alarm clock, which is just like those in every cartoon you'll see that features a similar action.

This is the first appearance of Giles' beat-up old clunker.

Also, this episode introduces the first concept of Buffy/Willow/Xander/Giles-as-team. Giles and Buffy are a team, of course, with Giles as Watcher and Buffy the Slayer. The other two don't fit into that equation, but they immediately jump in to help when there's danger looming. Xander is all about shaking down information and Willow's all about searching out information through illegal hacking. (Side note on Willow: So they notice later when she gets into magick too heavily, but they don't notice now that she's getting into hacking a bit too happily?) They don't call themselves the Scoobies yet... Willow suggests the Slayerettes, which doesn't stick (thank GoD), but still decisively defines them as a team.

Giles' Knock-Out Count

This episode allows the debut of the "Giles' Knock-Out Count" section. Much later in the series, I was struck by Giles' comment to the effect of, "Well, I've been knocked out. Now I know I'm back in Sunnydale." Although he got knocked out a lot, I never realized how much of a running gag it must have been backstage of the show. So I've decided to keep track on the re-watch.

So, this would be Knock-Out #1. Catherine sends a table rocketing across the floor, which crashes into Giles and shoves him hard against the wall. He crumples to the floor, unconscious.

Favorite Quotes

Giles:"You have a sacred birthright, Buffy. You were chosen to destroy vampires, not to... wave pompoms at people. And as the Watcher I forbid it."

Giles: "But that's the thrill of living on the Hellmouth! There's a veritable cornucopia of, of fiends and devils and, and ghouls to engage. ... Pardon me for finding the glass half full."

Xander: "Oh, huh, I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away."

Xander: "First vampires, now witches. No wonder you can still afford a house in Sunnydale."


Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Movie
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Origin comic
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.1: "Welcome to the Hellmouth"
Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1.2: "The Harvest"

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