\m/15-Minute Hellmouth\m/: Buffy the Vampire Slayer DeepWatch: Season 1, Episode 3: “Witch” (airdate: Monday, March 17, 1997): Part 2 of 3

15:01 – 30:00

The last time we met to talk in Sunnydale, California, we had just found out that a girl named Amy Madison was the witch behind the stunt that made Amber Grove’s hands flame-on during the cheerleading tryouts. Amy didn’t make it on to the cheerleading squad, but was picked as a third alternate. Buffy didn’t make the squad either, but she’s on the list as first alternate. She also didn’t seem as upset about not making the squad as Amy was.

As Act I ended, Amy was in the attic of her house, casting a spell upon Cordelia, who did make the squad. She wrapped Cordelia’s own hair scrunchie around a doll’s head, then dropped the doll into a bubbling cauldron of green, viscous liquid. We can’t be certain what this spell is intended to do to Cordelia, other than removing her from the cheerleading squad. Of course, as third alternate, two others would have to be similarly affected before Amy could achieve her goal. Beginning with Buffy.

Act II begins in the kitchen of the Summers residence again. In an episode that is about—at least in part—mother-and-daughter relationships, we get another mother-daughter scene with Joyce and Buffy Summers.

Joyce brings her junior-year yearbook in for Buffy to see. Buffy mentions that she had “Farrah hair,” a reference I could understand. I probably had Farrah hair in the ’70s as well—that blown-dry, feathered look. Before I hit puberty, more than one man told me how pretty a girl I was. That’s a longer story—

Of course, Joyce says it’s “Gidget” hair, not “Farrah” hair. Okay, that skews slightly older than I am. I feel like Joyce and I are more contemporaries than that.

Joyce is trying to help her Slayer daughter, though. Joyce was on the yearbook staff when she was Buffy’s age. Since the cheerleading thing didn’t work out . . .

Buffy says, “Not really my tip, mom.” I missed the phase when ‘my tip‘ was an approved idiom. What does it even mean? The Internet is curiously mum on the subject. It’s curious when the Internet is mum on any subject. I’d research it more diligently, but that’s not really my tip.

Buffy goes on to say that nerds pick on the kids on the yearbook staff. Which I thought was a cruel remark to make to her mother, who was trying to find common ground with her daughter and console her for not making the cheerleading squad at the same time.

I will warn you that I go back-and-forth on my feelings towards Joyce Summers, depending upon how she’s written in the episode. I don’t think I’m alone in this. However, I was far from sixteen-years-old when I first watched this series (even further these days), so sometimes it was easier for me to see things from her perspective. This was one of those times. I know things about Buffy that Joyce doesn’t yet, but still Buffy often strikes me as insolent and petty, especially in some of her exchanges with her mother.

Joyce, her feelings hurt, says, “Some of the best times I had in school was working on the yearbook.”

Buffy, doubling down on the ‘ingrate teenager’ vibe, says, “This just in: I’m not you! I’m into my own thing.”

To which Joyce replies, “You own thing, whatever is is, got you kicked out of school, and we had to move here to find a decent school that would take you!”

Harsh, but not untrue. This hurts Buffy’s feelings, and while I can identify with that feeling, I also think she deserved it. A little bit. As Buffy leaves without saying anything back, Joyce berates herself for her shaky parenting skills.

In the hallway at Sunnydale High School, Cordelia walks past Xander without insulting him or acknowledging his presence. Xander complains to his faithful sidekick Willow that this is the “invisible man syndrome.” A blessing, when it comes to Cordelia, but a curse when it comes to Buffy. He feels like he’s become a part of the scenery, like an old shoe or a rug that you walk on every day.

Willow begins to make an analogy to an old, chewed-up pen, after she removes hers from her mouth. But, predictably, Xander cuts her off to get the focus back on himself again.

An aside: Xander makes a comment that he gets the point, Willow doesn’t “have to drive it through my head like a railroad spike.” In Season 2, after we’re introduced to Spike, we learn that his name changed from William the Bloody to Spike for his penchant of using railroad spikes to torture his victims through the years. This was a callforward. Probably unintentional, but still—

Xander makes up his mind to seize the day and ask Buffy to go to the dance with him. For some reason, he feels that Willow is encouraging him to do so, although she has not. At first he chickens out and asks Willow to do it for him. Then, he girds up his loins and attempts to do it himself. You don’t want to leave your loins un-girded-up.

Only, Buffy is distracted by Cordelia’s behavior. Her ignoring Xander and Willow wasn’t just an excuse for Xander to go on his “invisible man” rant. There’s something wrong with Cordy. Buffy thinks she’s trying to open a locker that’s not her own.

As Xander is in the middle of asking her out, Buffy faces him and says they can make this up later. She has to go. She’s going after Cordelia, because she senses that something is wrong.

As Buffy leaves, Xander makes bomb falling and exploding noises. Willow continues to chew on her pen.

Cordelia wanders outside to her Drivers Ed class. She tells her instructor that she doesn’t want to drive today. The instructor says that she’s already failed the class twice. She needs to pass or she’ll be taking a bus to college.

Buffy is still stalking Cordelia, hanging back as Cordy gets behind the wheel of the car. Cordelia drives like a maniac and then crashes through a fence. When she gets out of the car, she is almost run down by a delivery truck. Buffy is there to save her.

Cordelia’s eyes are completely white, like Ping Pong balls, with no irises. She is blind,

By the way, the delivery truck that almost killed Cordelia did take the door off of the Drivers Ed vehicle. Not only did the truck driver not stop, he didn’t even slow down. I know, we didn’t need that unnecessary reaction scene, but doesn’t this test the limits of credibility a bit? Does the proximity of the Hellmouth just make certain delivery truck drivers turn into cold-blooded psychopaths?

Later, the gang sits around the table in the library, while Giles drops a little knowledge on them. The librarian has decided that they are dealing with witchcraft. Blinding your enemies is a classic witchy spell.

Together, Buffy and Willow make the leap in deduction that, since the victims so far have been cheerleaders, it’s obvious that Amy Madison is the witch behind it all. She’s desperate to get on the cheerleading squad.

I’m not certain that I can follow the logic of this deduction. Surely, there were other girls who didn’t make the squad. We know for certain that there was at least one other alternate between Buffy and Amy. Why is she not a suspect? What about the girls who didn’t even make alternate? Maybe, like the viewer, Buffy was already suspicious because she never met Amy before this episode.

Willow decides—rather logically, I think—that the first thing a person interested in witchcraft would do is check out books on the subject from the library. Willow gets on the computer and begins clicking keys. Xander seems nervous about this, says it’s a waste of time. Of course, we soon find out that Xander has checked out books on witchcraft because he likes looking at the semi-nude engravings.

Or does he? Could Xander Harris be dabbling in witchcraft as well, the way Willow does in later seasons? Maybe trying to create a love spell? That would be consistent with Xander’s characterization so far.

Giles finds a spell that will prove conclusively that Amy is their witch. He says they will need some of Amy’s hair, a little quicksilver and some aqua fortis.

Willow says, “Well, that’s just mercury and nitric acid. You can get that in the science lab.”

Giles reads the spell directions aloud. “’Heat ingredients and apply to witch, and if a spell has been cast in the previous forty-eight hours, witch’s skin turns blue.’ Hmm.” He shuts the book. “Oh,” he adds, “and you’ll need some eye of newt.”

We cut to Dr. Gregory’s science class, where Xander struggles to remove a frog’s eye with tweezers. This would be the eye of newt.

Willow ends up helping him. She and Xander begin mixing the ingredients for the spell while Buffy distracts Amy and removes some of Amy’s hair from a brush in her bag. Amy seems to notice, but pretends not to.

After the Scoobys finish preparing the concoction, Buffy takes a test tube full of the liquid over to Amy. Buffy feigns an accident and pours some of the mixture on Amy’s arm. The liquid turns blue on contact, proving that Amy is the witch.

Suddenly, another female student, Lishanne, begins shaking her head violently. She no longer has a mouth, just smooth skin where it used to be. Buffy is shocked. But, when she looks at Amy, the witch-girl looks surprised as well.

The Scoobies talk about it later in the halls. They know that Amy is a witch. But, they are confused as to why she was freaked out by what happened to Lishanne, especially if she was responsible for it.

Buffy decides that the most logical course of action is to talk to Amy’s mother. “I wonder if she knows what she’s created,” Buffy says.

Okay. Wait a minute here. Even if I allow for the crossfiring of synapses that led Buffy and Willow to the conclusion that Amy was a witch in the first place, I can’t make Buffy’s sudden decision to talk to Amy’s mother make any kind of rational sense.

The writers already established that Amy’s mom might be a little controlling and domineering. She is certainly behind Amy’s aching need to become a cheerleader. That much we know. How does talking to her about her daughter being a witch naturally follow?

I know that the story needed the Scoobies to talk to Catherine the Great in order to move the plot forward and provide a plot twist. That’s the only reason I can see. I will admit that I may not be the best judge of human behavior.

The next scene is at Amy’s house, but the Scoobies aren’t there yet. The front gate has a gargoyle face on it. Amy arrives home from school. There is an interesting dynamic between Amy and her mom. Amy orders her mother to write her history report for her, then begins griping about not making the cheerleading squad. You can tell that this isn’t the first time this has been a topic of discussion in the Madison house.

“I should be on that team by now,” Amy says to her mother. “But instead, Miss Buffy and friends are sneaking around stealing bits of my hair.”

Amy opens her left hand, revealing that she’s holding the bracelet that Xander gave to Buffy. “I’ll be upstairs,” she says to her mother.

Here’s where Act II ends.

Act III begins the next morning in Buffy’s bedroom. A quick camera pan shows us a teenager’s messy room. Buffy is still asleep. Her alarm clock goes off, and she smashes it with her Slayer strength.

Joyce Summers is squeezing juice out of some oranges as Buffy comes dancing into the kitchen, wearing her cheerleading uniform and singing “Macho Man,” as one does. She seems to be in high spirits. Perhaps even drunk.

Later, Buffy is in the school gym for cheerleading practice. She still seems a bit high. While practicing a routine, Buffy stomps on Joy the head cheerleader’s foot. Joy yells at Buffy to get it together. They have a game in less than four hours.

That may be the sound of a dramatic clock being set to ticking. Maybe not.

Willow and Xander enter the gym, and Buffy is uncharacteristically giddy in her happiness at seeing her friends.

Xander says, “Is it me, or is Buffy a bit looped?”

A worried Willow says they better get her out of there. Xander agrees. But, they’re too late. Buffy throws Joy into the gym wall by accident. A flustered Joy tells Buffy she’s no longer on the team. Then, she tells Amy she’s now a cheerleader. Amy got what she wanted.

As the Scoobies leave the gym, Buffy drunkenly tells Xander that she loves him because he’s not like other boys at all. In fact, he’s one of the girls. Any other boy who gave her a bracelet would want to date her.

Poor Xander. He has been friend zoned.

Then, Buffy collapses into the arms of her friends.

In the Library again, Buffy is lying back in a chair while Willow holds a wet washcloth to her forehead. “We’ve gotta get her to a hospital,” Willow says.

“They can’t help her,” Giles says. “This is a bloodstone vengeance spell. Hits the body hard like a quart of alcohol, and then it eradicates the immune system.”

I can’t let bloodstone vengeance spell pass without comment. “Bloodstone” was one of the tracks on Judas Priest’s 1982 album Screaming for Vengeance. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But, it is conceivable that there was a fan of the new wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) on the show’s writing staff.

Giles says Amy wasn’t trying to get Buffy out of the way like the other girls. This spell is meant to kill her. Willow and Buffy both want to know how much time Buffy has left.

Giles says, “Couple of hours . . . Three, at most.”

And this is as good a spot as any to arrive at the 30-minute mark. We’re still in Act III, but IV has to be coming soon.

Join me next time for the final part of the episode “Witch.”

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