Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 Episode 3 - The Witch

Written by Dana Reston; Directed by Stephen Cragg

The Witch is the third episode in Season one of Buffy and while it is not one of the best episodes in the season, it is very funny and marks the beginning of supernatural happenings at Sunnydale High.

This episode centers around a character named Amy, a student at Sunnydale High who wants to be on the cheerleading team to make her mum Catherine (who was the best cheerleader in the history of the school) proud. However, someone starts hurting individual members of the team, and Buffy and co. think it might be Amy trying to worm her way in so they decide to stop her before she actually does kill someone. The twist is, Catherine is an evil witch, and has used her powers to swap bodies with Amy in order to ‘relive her glory days’. However, when Buffy intervenes, she sets her sights on her instead.

The opening scene is particularly humourous, as Whedon contrasts the 90s’ pop culture that Buffy represents with the 19th Century British stereotypes that Giles embodies. One of the best things about Buffy is that it pokes fun at the culture in which it’s set and doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is demonstrated in The Witch, with the villain’s motives being based around something as trivial as cheerleading.
I personally didn’t think this episode was as well written as the previous two episodes, some of the lines seemed a little cheesy; it was almost as if Whedon was trying too hard to tap into the psyche of sixteen year olds, resulting in dialogue that was slightly jarring at times.
However, Whedon depicted the love triangle between Buffy, Xander and Willow very effectively, reminding the viewers of the fragile emotions high-school romances always seem to contain. It was also refreshing to have some unrequited love in amongst the drama as it allows the audience to relax and remember they are watching a show about teenagers and their everyday lives which are interrupted by monsters, not the other way around.

The emergence of Giles as a father-figure to Buffy is a key part of this episode, and the writers managed to work it into the storyline very effectively. Giles adopts a role as a father-figure, which works especially well as he knows all about Buffy’s little secret and is the only male authority figure in her life. Giles saves Buffy’s life whilst risking his own in this episode, displaying the beginning of a bond that is stronger than simply Slayer and Watcher. The relationship between these characters is very endearing and seeing a different facet of Giles’ personality enables the audience to humanise him, as well as demonstrating that he is more than just a source of information for Buffy’s destiny.

The most important feature of this episode is that it makes a point of stating that Buffy is not a vampires-only show; it is a show that will examine various mystical creatures, something that Whedon wanted viewers to be aware of early on in the series. In fact, it is the unique approach to the supernatural that made Buffy stand out among other television shows of its time. In the Buffy universe the problems that teenagers face become literal monsters. The Witch was the first episode to illustrate this concept, taking the age-old problem of parents living through their children to a supernatural level. This episode, although not fantastic by itself, was necessary for Buffy to make the transition from a show about vampires, to a show about the (often exaggerated) evils of real life, with some vampires thrown in.

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