This is the first Monster of the Week episode of the show, and the first episode with no vampires in it at all. At the beginning at the episode when we cut from the scene between Giles and the cheerful Buffy to a dark creepy room, I expected to see Master's lair for a moment until we saw the dolls and the cauldron. It's also the episode that first introduces the idea that there are all sorts of supernatural dangers in Sunnydale due to it being on the Hellmouth. I liked the way "Witch" used a supernatural element to tell stories about the darker sides of adolescence/ high school life, which would become the staple of season 1; in this episode it's about pressures to succeed and popularity contests (which cheer-leading basically is) and parents putting pressures on children to fulfill the dreams of their own youth (or relive their own youth); "Nightmares" gives us a similar story about pressures put on boys to be successful in sports, only that time it's not a parent but another older authority figure, a coach; in "The Pack" it's the pack mentality and bullying, and in "Out of Mind, Out of Sight" about school outsiders.
Giles and Buffy already have a father-daughter vibe by this point, in the opening scene where he is berating her for going to cheerleader tryouts instead of focusing on her Slaying. There was an interesting character moment for Giles when he seemed to speak with glee about the abundance ("cornucopia") of monsters in Sunnydale, and said that he was thinking of the positive side of things. :)
I guess that by this time nobody planned to give Giles the "Ripper" background in black magicks... but how do we reconcile (i.e. fanwank) his statement that he had his first spell in this episode? I suppose he was lying or just trying to forget that part of his past.
I almost forgot how talkative Xander was in the early seasons. Yes, he always is but he dialed down the constant jokes later on, in this episode he's like a motormouth! The abundance of Buffy-Speak, or rather Xander-Speak (since Xander is responsible for most of it, thought not all) was more obvious here than in the first two episodes.
Recurring characters introduced: Amy. It’s so strange to see what a normal and sweet girl she was at the beginning. I had also forgotten that she and Willow used to be friends in junior high, they go way back, and that Amy and Buffy were quite friendly at this point. In the last couple of seasons Amy has become as crazy and evil as her mother was.
Later on when Amy becomes a witch she will serve as Willow's dark mirror and a friend who leads her astray in season 6, but "Witch" focuses on the parallel and contrast between Amy and Buffy. Buffy seems to relate to Amy and her mother issues, but while Joyce has problems understanding her daughter, which she herself admits, she is trying, and she comes off as a really sympathetic mom figure to offset Catherine’s evil witch mother. (BTW, Buffy at one points mentions slaying vampires; Joyce's reaction should have been stronger if Buffy used to be in a mental institution because of these kind of 'fantasies', as we later learn?)
I can never understand the point or allure of cheerleading, to me it looks ridiculous, and I was relieved that Buffy decided it wasn't for her anymore at the end of the episode. I guess at first she just wanted to have something 'normal' that belonged to her pre-Slayer life, but after the Amy drama she realized how competitive that world was and it didn't seem like a relief from the pressure of her Slayer life anymore. It's funny that Cordelia with her still narrow view of the world believes that everyone wants to be a cheerleader as much she does and that they must ve devastated that they didn't make the team, when Amy never really even wanted it for herself and was just trying to please her mother.
Buffy again shows how smart she is - Giles and Willow might be the intellectual bookish ones, but Buffy is the one who connects the dots and solves the mystery.
Buffy saves Cordelia’s life again, in back to back episodes. Maybe I should have a regular feature "Cordelia damsel in distress", she does seem to get attacked a lot. The show regularly subverts the gender stereotypes about heroes saving damsels. Later on Xander is trying to be the hero and save Buffy, which of course doesn’t work because Buffy has already saved the day.
Xander’s crush on Buffy, hinted at in the pilot, gets to be more in focus in this episode, but Willow's crush on Xander is still not obvious, though we get some hints of the unrequited love triangle when Xander gives a backhanded compliment to Willow, telling her she is like one of the boys for him, and then later gets served the same by Buffy who tells him he is like one of the girls for her. But unlike Xander, Buffy has the excuse that she was under a spell that made her act manic and drunk-like..
There are a few quite creepy moments in this episode, particularly the scene where a girl has her mouth disappear. We don’t see or hear about her later, but I guess the spell probably got reversed when Catherine got trapped in a figurine of herself? Catherine’s fate was cruel but it was a fitting end both because it's not just poetic justice but literal justice in a way (she is in a very secure 'prison' she can't get out of and she can't hurt people anymore), besides being symbolic of the way she had been trapped in the old image of herself she couldn’t let go. I wonder what happened to her later – did she die when the figurine probably got destroyed with the school in the season 3 finale?
Xander: I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away.
Amy: Well, I know that I'll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with my arms.
Giles: Why should someone want to harm Cordelia?
Willow: Maybe because they met her?
Xander: Was she wearing it? The bracelet, she was wearing it, right? Pretty much like we're going out.
Willow: Except without the hugging or kissing or her knowing about it.
Buffy (about Giles): I'd say he should get a girlfriend if he wasn't so old.
Foreshadowing (?): The episode introduces the following elements: magic and witches; body swaps – we’ll see more of that in the show; (not so) spontaneous human combustion (during a dance!). Considering the events of this episode, Xander’s suggestion in OMWF that evil witches might be behind the events wasn’t unfounded - and he didn't have a reason to apologize for calling witches evil, since Scoobies already knew about at least one witch who was evil, Catherine Madison. Amy is being suspected of being a witch but she’ll later become one. Catherine’s eyes go dark just like Willow's will in season 6. There is a very ironic moment when Willow, at this point still rather clueless about witches, is trying to distract Amy by asking her if she actually rides on a broomstick.
Also, Buffy asks her mother: “Do you wish you could be 16 again?” (Hello, “Band Candy”!)
On hearing the story about Amy’s parents – high school sweethearts, the homecoming kind and queen who got married after the graduation – Buffy first thinks it is very romantic, until Amy tells the much uglier rest of the story, about her dad's lack of success, financial troubles and finally leaving them for another woman. This may be seen as the first hint that Buffy’s dream of the perfect high school romance will not end well.
This is also the first episode where we see people acting under a magical influence – while Amber combusts, Cordelia goes temporarily blind and another girl loses her mouth, Buffy gets to act in a manic way, as if she were drunk.
(Magical influences - 1)
Pop culture references: The Invisible Man, Human Torch, Mommie Dearest, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Gidget, Farah Fawcett
I've recently participated in a discussion on Buffyforums about how many times Buffy says “I love you” – whether romantically or in a friendly/familial way – during the course of the show. Someone said that it would be interesting to count it, since Buffy doesn't throw those words easily around, especially later on when she doesn't show her feelings that openly. Including this episode, I've managed to count about 11 or 12 times by memory during the 8 seasons, most of those in a non-romantic, and 7 people she tells it to, including her mother, Giles, Willow, Xander (a friendly way), and Dawn. But I thought it would be interesting to keep count, so I'm starting it:
Buffy's ILYs: 2: Joyce (Buffy tells her ”I love you, mom” after a heart-to-heart talk, happy that her mom, unlike Catherine, doesn't want to steal her daughter's youth); earlier while she’s acting manic, she hugs Willow and Xander and says “I love my buds” and starts happily telling Xander she loves him as a friend – only as a friend, to his disappointment. At this point Buffy is still very bubbly and open, even when not under a spell, and these are very Buffy's most later ILYs, which usually come in big dramatic moments and life and death situations.
This is one of the standarly good season 1 MOW episodes, which gets it:
How do you rate the episode: