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In honor of the “Faith & Pop Culture” honors seminar I’m co-teaching with a colleague from the history department in about five minutes, the BtVS re-watch continues:

B1.3 “Witch”
Sometimes I forget that there are still people who have never seen Buffy (what?!), so I guess I should state that I’m not going to avoid “spoilers” for these or future episodes or seasons. I’m trying to recall how I responded to the series when I first saw it, but that’s really impossible.

In “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/”The Harvest,” Giles twice points out almost gleefully that the location of Sunnydale over “boca del infierno” means Buffy will battle more “forces of darkness” than just vampires. “Witch” demonstrates vividly how personal many of these metaphorical “personal demons” will be.

Also, by repeating some of the same thematic tropes as the pilot, it serves as a kind of second pilot, for those who somehow failed to catch the premier: Buffy again attempts to be “normal” by joining the cheerleading squad, which Giles views as a “cult.” At the tryouts, Buffy saves the unfortunate flaming Amber by more or less normal quick thinking and action.

The Buffy/Willow/Xander team is fully formed now, with Willow describing them as “the slayerettes” and Xander boasting that he laughs “in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away.” Buffy tries to argue that they should not get involved.

Joyce is “distracted,” but perceptively notes that if Amy’s mother can train with her six hours a day, she “doesn’t have enough to do.” There’s parental involvement, and then there’s over-involvement/identification.

Xander’s infatuation with Buffy is  giving her an ID bracelet engraved with something romantic which Buffy completely ignores, while Xander continues oblivious to Willow’s interest in him, telling her that she’s his “guy friend that knows about girl stuff!” Willow is not amused.

When Cordelia is eliminated from cheering by a blindness spell, Giles asks, “Why would someone want to harm Cordelia?” and a glimpse of dark Willow is revealed again when Willow answers, “Maybe because they met her? Did I say that?”

In the science lab, Willow has no trouble removing the frog’s eye to serve as “eye of newt”—is this a continuity error with the scene in season two in which she says she has “frog fear”? But I love that scene! For a first draft, season one remains remarkably good.

Attempting to save Buffy from the witch’s spell, Giles reveals unexpected spell-casting skills of his own, but is knocked out—again! He claims it is “my first casting,” but we will discover in season 2 that it is definitely not.

Buffy asks Joyce:

Do you ever wish you were sixteen again?
Joyce: Oh, that’s a frightful notion!

We will, of course, see sixteen-year-old Joyce in season 3 “Band Candy”

And we leave Amy’s mother trapped in her own cheerleading trophy—the Dante-esque idea of hell as getting what you wished for, forever, without change.

B 1.4 “Teacher’s Pet”
“Teacher’s Pet” literalizes another metaphorical high school student fantasy to show its true monstrosity. It opens with the series’ first fantasy/daydream sequence: Xander the vampire-slayer/rock star, a concept that will be worked out in greater detail in season 4’s “Superstar.” We’re in science class again, with the same Dr. Gregory who was quite pleasant in “Witch”—and now he’s the first really sympathetic adult/teacher in Buffy’s life, other than her mother and Giles. He shortly dies a horribly death.

At the Bronze, the band plays another foreshadowy song:

The first date’s the worst date
It’s hard to know just what to do
I take you to dinner, you don’t eat
You just play with your food
And there’s something familiar
That in words you say
It’s hard to believe
It’s happened again
I already met you…

Xander tries to impress Blayne & other guys with his “girlfriends” Buffy and Willow, but is completely upstaged by Angel. More gender ambiguity for Xander, who appreciates Angel’s “buff”ness (also probably a pun on Angel’s connection to Buffy). Angel gives Buffy another gift—his leather jacket, traditional h.s. symbol of coupledom, and reveals that he’s been wounded by “fork guy.” This seems kind of random and we are wondering who’s the monster?

At school the next day, Giles’s comments on Southern California weather definitely resonated with me in 1997:

Giles: God, every day here is the same.
Buffy: Bright, sunny, beautiful. However can we escape this torment.
Giles: Really.

Miss French (of course!) arrives to substitute for the missing Dr. Gregory and reduces Xander to even greater blithering idiocy. The fact that she doesn’t seem to notice is proof that she’s not natural. Or not a real teacher, perhaps.

Buffy patrols the park. Isn’t it surprising that Sunnydale has so many homeless people? Shouldn’t they have all been turned into vampires by now? Future episodes won’t make this mistake. It turns out that the fork-handed vampire’s primary purpose in this episode, other than reminding us that Buffy slays vampires, is to reveal how scary Miss French really is.

In contrast with her predatory seductions, Principal Flutie mouths touchy-feely platitudes—but without any actual touching, “because there’s no touching at this school. We’re sensitive to wrong touching.” Does that explain why Miss French invites the boys to her home for extra credit projects, causing Xander’s rock-star fantasy to flashback briefly, counteracted by the revelation that his middle name is “LaVelle.”

Willow’s computer hacking is overlooked by Giles who “wasn’t here, didn’t see you, couldn’t have stopped it.” In addition to being a sexual predator, “Miss French” also turns out to be an identity thief. The claw-vamp is used as a blood-hound—something else we’ll see again.

Like “Witch,” this episode ends with a glimpse of something remaining, a hint that this threat could return.

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