The episode does introduce an interesting dilemma for the Scoobies, when they come to mistakenly believe that the killer might be a regular human. At this point in the show, the characters still had a very black and white view of demons, exemplified by Giles: "A demon is a creature of evil, pure and simple. A person driven to murder is more complex." Later on they will learn that even the demons are not nearly that simple, but human villains will continue to be treated differently, because they are not the Slayer’s jurisdiction, and the human justice system is equipped to deal with them, which is not the case with supernatural threats. And there’s another reason why the idea of the human killer is more disturbing to them – it hits closer to home, and it means that the threat is not that easily recognizable – as Willow put it, “It could be anyone.” The villain in this episode turns out to be a demon after all, but in the next two episodes (“Nightmares: and “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”) the main villains are actually humans (even though it initially appears that they are demons).
Giles is more relaxed and friendlier with the Scoobies in this episode, joking with them and even following Xander’s advice at one point. Cordelia seems to consider the word “Buffy” synonymous with “freak” (she says she wouldn’t want to be considered some kind of “Buffy” and later later mocks Buffy that she and the dummy could tour in the "freak show").
Recurring characters introduced: Principal Snyder, a really great love-to-hate antagonist character in Buffy’s high school years. If Flutie was the caricature of a liberal headmaster constantly concerned with appearing PC and friendly, but unable to actually understand the students at all, Snyder is a caricature of a conservative, authoritarian one who hates kids (he even says it outright) while at the same time is a complete sycophant to the people in power (as we see later with the Mayor). In retrospect, it seems that the Mayor put Snyder in that position so he could provide a cover-up for any supernatural incident in the school, and possibly to keep an eye on Buffy. Armin Shimerman is as great and funny in the role as he was playing lovable rogue Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who was pretty much Snyder’s complete opposite. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if Snyder’s character is that exaggerated – everyone has probably had this kind of stern, authoritarian, always angry teacher or principal at some point. He reminds me a lot of a teacher from my high school, whose popular nickname was “SS”. Giles in this episode calls Snyder “Our new Fuhrer” (a reference to fascism/Nazism for the second episode in a row).
1st place: At the end of the episode – the curtain suddenly goes up to show the frozen tableau consisting of Giles, Xander, Willow with an axe, Buffy holding a dummy in her arms, and the beheaded demon in the guillotine.
Snyder: I don't get it. What is it? Avantgarde?
2nd place: the second ending – the equally awkward and embarrassing spectacle of Buffy, Xander and Willow performing Oedipus Rex on stage for the talent show. Willow running off from the stage, apparently improvised by Alyson Hannigan, is great because it’s both funny and in character for Willow (whose stage fright we get to see more of in the next episode, “Nightmares”).
Snyder: There are things I won’t tolerate: students loitering on campus after school. Horrible murders with hearts being removed. And smoking.
Cordelia (talking about the murder and making everything about herself again): All I could think was, it could be me!
Xander: We can dream…
Giles: I say it’s a welcome change to have someone else explain these things.
Pop culture references: The Shining, Usual Suspects
Oedipus Rex is about the impossibility of fighting destiny: Greek tragedies were based on the idea that human life has already been determined by higher powers, the gods, and trying to change one's fate only contributes to its happening. This theme is central in the season finale, “Prophecy Girl”. Fate and prophecies play an even bigger role on AtS, much more so than on BtVS.
There's a lot of dramatic irony when Snyder says that Flutie was eaten because he was such a bleeding heart liberal: Snyder will get eaten too – by none other than the authority figure he was serving.
Sid first mistook Buffy for a demon; we will learn in season 7 that Slayer powers are of demonic origin.
Willow saying anyone could be the villain, even her, sounds different after you've seen season 6.
Some moments from this episode will later get referenced in “Restless”: Giles as the producer of a play (in Willow’s dream), which recalls Giles working on the talent show; Giles having the top of his head cut off (in his own dream).
For the talent show, Cordelia sings (horribly off-key) “The Greatest Love of All”, about self-love. In season 4 of AtS, amnesiac Cordy will sing it to Lorne to remember who she is.