Written by Carl Ellsworth
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Welcome to Pop’s Pumpkin Patch, where you can buy the perfect carving pumpkin and be entertained by scenes of battles between Slayer and vampire! These battles are even filmed by covert vampire cameramen, so if you miss seeing them in person, you can watch them on your own time at your creepy abandoned factory.
At the Bronze, Angel is waiting for Buffy (light blue looks way better on him than beige), but Cordelia comes and sits at the table instead. Cordelia is back to dating Devon, but not so much that she won’t flirt with Angel. I’m not sure why Angel is cracking up so much at Cordelia’s inane conversation, but whatever. Buffy (with straw in her hair) arrives in time to see this, and she reacts in much the same way as when she saw Cordelia dancing with Owen. She attempts to flee, but Angel spots her and follows. Cordelia swings by to insult her, and Angel tries unsuccessfully to repair the damage and salvage their date. Buffy’s in a funk about being “not a normal girl,” and she leaves before he can make much progress.
At school, Snyder is forcibly recruiting trick-or-treat chaperones, including Buffy. (He thinks Buffy is a delinquent, but he’s still going to make her be a chaperone???) Willow and Xander too. Buffy’s annoyed because she was planning on getting the night off. Vampires don’t do Halloween. Nice of them.
Xander goes to get a soda from an ancient soda machine when a big jock comes to ask him if Buffy is “fast.” Xander is about to stand up to him despite the inevitable beating he’ll receive, but Buffy intervenes. She didn’t realize this would bruise Xander’s manly pride. Willow asks Buffy about her date. Buffy is still sulky about how Cordelia is so much better at the dating scene than she is, and she’s worried that she’s not really Angel’s type. They decide to sneak into Giles’s office to read about Angel in the Watcher diaries.
This involves Unsubtle Buffy distracting Giles with accidental truths about how very attractive Jenny finds him, while Willow grabs the merchandise. It works, because Giles is equally smitten with Jenny. (Dangit, where is Jenny? It’s been three episodes now since we saw her. Have they not still been going out just because she’s been offscreen? Grrr.)
In the girls’ bathroom, Buffy and Willow are sitting on the sinks (how is that comfortable?) and looking at a drawing of an elegant lady from the Georgian Era. Willow says that Angel was 18 and still human at the time. FALSE. In 1775, Angel had already been a vampire for 22 years. And the math would still be wrong if Angel actually was 241 in 1997, because that would’ve made him 19 in 1775. This is not hard math, writers! (Which is why I will not stop nitpicking about it.)
Buffy feels inadequate compared to the lady in the drawing, and now she’s fantasizing about being a Georgian noblewoman. Cordelia arrives to rub Buffy’s date night failure in her face and warn her that she is formally entering the competition for Angel’s affections. Buffy and Willow clue her in about Angel being a vampire. Cordelia gathers that he’s still a good guy, however, so she still intends to win him away from Buffy. Good luck with that!
At the costume shop, Willow picks out a ghost costume, but Buffy thinks she needs to go the sexy route instead. Xander will be a soldier. Buffy apologizes for protecting him from Larry, and he is appeased. She spots a very magenta Georgian Era ball gown and is spellbound. The English proprietor of the shop encourages her to buy it, and she sees an opportunity to surprise Angel by dressing up like a girl from his good old days (and therefore one-up Cordelia). English Proprietor Guy gives her a very good price on it.
At the creepy abandoned factory, Spike is watching the video of Buffy’s battle at the pumpkin patch. He’s studying her fighting style like he did in “School Hard” so he can kill her. (Oh hey, Spike’s here! So is this an arc episode? Wait, what even is the arc? It’s sort of hard to tell when the villain is an anarchist. That wasn’t supposed to be a pun.) Drusilla senses that something is about to happen that will make the Slayer vulnerable.
Turns out English Proprietor Guy isn’t just a charming shopkeeper. He’s an acolyte of Janus, the Roman god of duality and change (after whom the month of January is named, incidentally), and he’s doing some kind of creepy ritual.
At Buffy’s house, she’s wearing the very magenta gown and a rather pretty brown wig. She has coerced a very reluctant Willow into wearing a Sexy _____________ costume (feel free to fill in the blank as you see fit; I have no idea what she was going for so I’m not gonna bother). The best thing that can be said for this costume is that Willow’s hair looks amazing. Buffy goes down to let Xander in. He’s all soldiered up, and he’s very impressed by Buffy’s costume. She’s psyched for him to see Willow, who…is now wearing the ghost costume over her Sexy _____________ outfit. You have to take baby steps with the shy girl, Buffy. Come on.
Buffy, Willow, and Xander are assigned their students, and—what the hell is wrong with this boy’s parents?
What is he supposed to be? A moose? Mr. Potato Head? The butt of all his classmates’ jokes for an entire year? He sorta maybe almost looks like Arthur the aardvark, but why on earth would his whole body be the face, and why are the eyes bloodshot?
Larry continues to mock Xander for needing Buffy to protect him. A short distance away, Cordelia (dressed as a Sexy Cat) goes over to Oz. (HELLO OZ! IT IS SO VERY LOVELY TO SEE YOU AGAIN!) She’s annoyed that Devon keeps flaking on her. Oz still doesn’t think Cordelia is his type. When he gets up, he bonks right into ghost costume Willow and they have an Awkward Hallway Shuffle (but a very cute one) until finally succeeding in going in opposite directions.
Let the trick-or-treating commence! English Proprietor Guy is still working on that ritual. He completes it as a little old lady is admiring the costumes of Willow’s trick-or-treaters. A strange wind blows across Sunnydale, and all of a sudden, everyone starts turning into their costumes, and the suburban streets descend into pandemonium. Little kids turn into demons, Willow turns into the ghost of Sexy ___________, Xander turns into a real soldier, and Buffy turns into an extremely poorly researched and equally poorly acted Georgian Era noblewoman (and she doesn’t even keep her same pretty up-do; now her brown hair is just down and sorta bushy). I’m going to call this Xander “Private Harris” and this Buffy “Lady Elizabeth.”
As the only one who still has her same personality, Sexy Ghost Willow has to wrangle the others and take charge. Private Harris fires his M-16 at some demons and Sexy Ghost Willow tells him to stop, because those are still kids in costumes. When Lady Elizabeth sees demons fighting, she faints. She also panics when she sees cars, which she thinks are demons. She’s completely useless. Sexy Ghost Willow leads them to Buffy’s house. Lady Elizabeth looks at a photo of Buffy, but when Sexy Ghost Willow tries to get through to her, she throws a snooty tantrum about how she’d never dress like a peasant or something.
Private Harris scares demons away from the house by firing his M-16 in the air. He goes outside and saves Cordelia from some kind of Bigfoot thing. Cordelia is still herself somehow. Private Harris offers her his military jacket since her costume is all ripped, and she seems both surprised and briefly smitten by this gallantry.
Sexy Ghost Willow is going to go find Giles while the others hold the fort at Casa Summers. Lady Elizabeth thinks only the men should fight and that they shouldn’t take orders from women. Can’t someone offer her a fainting couch?
In the midst of all the chaos, a delighted Spike is walking the streets. Angel arrives at Buffy’s house. Private Harris and Lady Elizabeth don’t recognize him. Sexy Ghost Willow arrives at the library, entering through the wall and making Giles do the most hilarious jump.
Cordelia explains what’s up to Angel and then tries to flirt, but he’s still more concerned with Buffy’s safety even if she doesn’t recognize him. The guy who was dressed as Dracula before is now an actual vampire, but apparently not enough to make the invitation rule work, because he’s inside the house! Angel fights him, but when Lady Elizabeth sees Angel in vampface, she screams and runs away.
At the library, Sexy Ghost Willow and Giles are trying to figure out what happened. When Giles comments on Willow’s costume, Willow’s defensive retort about Cordelia’s costume leads them to the answer: only people who bought their costumes from English Proprietor Guy transformed.
Angel, Cordelia, and Private Harris are on the street looking for Lady Elizabeth, who is running through alleys, terrified. Spike overhears them talking and rounds up some little demons to help him hunt her down. The first one to catch up to Lady Elizabeth is Pirate Larry.
Giles and Sexy Ghost Willow get to the costume shop, and English Proprietor Guy emerges from the shadows with snark. He and Giles know each other! His name is Ethan Rayne, and he called Giles “Ripper.” Fascinating.
Private Harris beats up Pirate Larry, which gives him closure because of Xander’s issues with Larry. Lady Elizabeth sees Angel coming and freaks out, but Cordelia explains that he’s a good guy, so it’s okay. Willow runs up and warns them about Spike and the demons heading their way. They all flee.
Back to Giles’s confrontation with Ethan. Ethan drops some lovely hints about Giles having a super shady past. He doesn’t get a chance to say too much about it before Giles starts beating the tar out of him with un-Giles-like brutality (or is this actually more Giles-like?).
The Scoobies barricade themselves inside a warehouse, but Spike and the demons break through easily. Giles is still calmly pulverizing Ethan to get him to break the spell. Spike closes in on Buffy while the demons hold everyone else in place.
Ethan finally caves after yet another kick to the gut from Giles. Just as Private Harris is about to shoot Spike with his M-16, Giles smashes the Janus statue and then Private Harris is just Xander holding a toy gun. The costume wig comes off in Spike’s hand, and Buffy beats him up, very happy to be herself again.
Ethan skedaddles before Giles can do anything else to him, and everything’s back to normal. Buffy and Angel leave the factory together, cutely, and Xander tells Cordelia there’s no point trying to get between them. Willow wakes up back in her body. She pulls off the ghost costume and strides confidently away in just the Sexy _____________ outfit. Oz drives past in his van in time to see her cross the street, and he is entranced anew, repeating his line from “Inca Mummy Girl.”
At Buffy’s house, Angel waits in Buffy’s room while she changes back into her ordinary clothes. When she comes out, he reassures her that he finds her way more interesting than the girls of his time. They kiss! It's a very sweet, domestic scene.
Ethan’s costume shop has been abandoned, but much to Giles’s chagrin, we clearly haven’t seen the last of him.
“Halloween” is both a lot of fun and beautifully character-driven, but it isn’t quite perfect. The most glaring problem is Lady Elizabeth. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a fabulous actress, but there’s clearly a reason she never gets cast in period dramas. I can’t even tell what kind of accent she’s attempting. Sometimes she sounds British, sometimes she sounds like she’s from the Deep South. But even if her acting had been as good as it always is when she’s regular Buffy, the writing doesn’t give her much to work with as that character. It’s a shame, because her costume persona could have been really fascinating. Instead, she’s just a fairly half-assed embodiment of all the reasons Buffy is better off as the Slayer than as a normal girl. (Is it too much to expect other writers to be as obsessive about doing the research as I am? Should I give them a free pass because they made this episode in the dark ages before Google and Wikipedia existed?) Now, I suppose it’s possible that the spell didn’t actually download Buffy with the realistic personality of an 18th-century noblewoman and really just picked out what she thought an 18th-century noblewoman would’ve been like and tried to expand those feeble scraps into a personality. That would explain a lot of Lady Elizabeth’s problems. It also sort of matches how Private Harris is more like the kind of soldier Xander would’ve seen on TV than an actual soldier. Anyway, Lady Elizabeth aside, I love the “everyone gets turned into their costumes” gimmick. I love the first glimpse of Giles’s backstory. I love that Spike and Drusilla are finally back in the picture, even if only in a minor way. (Actually, they’re surprisingly the less interesting villains compared to Ethan, even though it’s his first episode, and the ease with which Buffy defeats Spike at the end sort of lessens his credibility as someone who’s a real threat to her. Though I suppose it’s consistent with Joyce managing to scare him off by hitting him over the head with the flat of an axe.) I love that Oz clearly recognizes his Eskimo girl even though she’s dressed as Sexy ______________ this time. Ultimately, the episode starts out as an exploration of duality and extremes. It looks like the characters will each have to choose the better of their two extremes, but in the end, they really find that it’s more of a continuum, and the right place to be is somewhere in the middle.
Buffy and Angel are dating now, but based, I think, on Angel’s past aloofness, she’s very worried that holding onto him will be just as hard as getting him in the first place. Plot A makes her late for their date, and then she sees Cordelia, her foil, being awesome at Plot B and way more smooth around Angel than she is. This opens up a different kind of regret over her Slayer destiny than she’s felt in the past: she thinks being the Slayer is making her unlovable in a romantic sense. Her two extremes are basically a choice between being good at Plot A (strong but a social disaster) or plot B (weak with social finesse). Instead of talking to Angel about it, she wallows in it even deeper by checking out those old Watcher diaries, and then she tries to become Angel’s “type” with that costume, which comes with a persona that looks a lot like an 18th-century Cordelia (a rich, snobby brunette). Luckily, Angel’s actual type is Buffy: she’s strong but not untouchable, and she has some social graces but isn’t perfect. All she needs to do to keep Angel interested is be herself.
Xander’s subplot actually ties in okay with the end of “Reptile Boy” when he vented all his frustration over being bullied and dismissed all his life by pummeling the frat guy. I like when Xander’s subplots aren’t about his crush on Buffy. This one’s still about not being respected by other guys (and not being able to handle being weaker than his tiny female friend). His extremes are being the weak sidekick nobody takes seriously versus the strong hero admired by all. He sees himself as the former and longs to be the latter, which is why he dresses up like a soldier. Then he actually becomes the strong hero extreme. As Private Harris, he reverses the situation that happened at school: instead of Buffy saving him from Larry, now he’s the one saving Buffy. Like Buffy, he finds he prefers the freedom to be his real self over being forced to wear an idealized mask. Xander might not be the hero of the story, but it takes a lot of strength and bravery to be the guy without superpowers who stands with the hero in life-or-death situations. Wait a second, is his character arc this season about learning how to like himself even if he’s not the kind of guy Buffy would be interested in? Because he definitely seemed cockier in S1, until she rejected him. He’s been way more insecure ever since. Hmm…
Willow starts out the same shy wallflower she is most of the time, willing to support Buffy in her romantic pursuits but not to do any pursuing of her own. Her extremes are shy versus sexy. She picks the ghost costume, which represents her self-image as someone in the background who has no real influence over anything in her life (shy extreme). The costume Buffy puts her in is obviously the sexy extreme. At first, shy wins, but when the circumstances force Willow to take charge, she’s actually very good at it. It’s more of what we saw when she yelled at Giles and Angel in “Reptile Boy.” In the end, she struts her stuff in the sexy outfit, but it doesn’t represent the beginning of a drastic wardrobe change. Like Buffy and Xander, she’s found a middle ground. She’s more comfortable with herself. Some of the anxiety that made her so shy is gone, and she might be less terrified about putting herself out there in the future.
Giles! Even though there’s no Jenny in this episode and he doesn’t interact with Snyder, Giles’s story is definitely the most interesting. He was never two-dimensional before this, but no well-written character has ever been made less interesting by having a shady past. It’s a welcome and deeply intriguing addition. His extremes are “sniveling, tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer” and the Ripper. In addition to being awesome, the two gifs I included in the summary represent both extremes, and it’s interesting that the Ripper-esque behavior is what ultimately frees the kids from their costume-induced extremes. Unlike with the kids, Giles had no costume, and his dichotomy doesn’t really get a clear resolution by the end. There are still a lot of questions. How do he and Ethan Rayne know each other? What shady crap did they get up to in the past? How bad must the Ripper have been for Ethan to be so skeptical of Giles’s new life as a Watcher and librarian? What earned Giles the nickname “Ripper”? Has Giles been wearing a costume this whole time? It remains to be seen whether the real Giles is the one we’ve come to know and love, the Ripper, or something in between.
Does Cordelia actually have a boyfriend, or does she just casually date a lot of guys and assume that each one waits humbly for his next turn with her because there’s no way he can do any better? I never really understood how Xander/Cordelia happened before, but I’ve been paying attention this time, and there has been significant buildup in that direction ever since the first S1 episode in which he was the only Scooby she interacted with. I don’t know when it stopped being a coincidence and started being deliberate, but I suspect it might’ve been either this episode or “Reptile Boy.” Cordelia is the most self-possessed of the teenage characters, so it’s only fitting that she’s the only one who doesn’t have a cursed costume.
Buffy’s story revolves almost entirely around Angel, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot himself. Now that he and Buffy are dating, he wants her to be happy, and the first thing he needs to do to achieve this is make sure she knows he likes her for who she is. It doesn’t occur to him that this is something she actually needs to hear, because the idea of not being happy with who Buffy is completely foreign to him. Liking her for her was automatic the first moment he saw her. When he does reassure her at the end of the episode, it’s sweet and it’s what she wants to hear, but it’s not perfect. “I hated the girls back then,” he says. Considering what a man-whore Liam was, I can only assume that Angel meant he never met a girl he would’ve wanted to settle down with. The noblewomen were “simpering morons,” in his opinion. Harsh. It wasn’t their fault if they were acting according to society’s expectations. What with all the incorrect dates, I seriously doubt Carl Ellsworth was writing this dialogue based on knowledge of Angel’s later canonical background, but if I squint, I can see a way it makes sense. As the son of a failing Irish-Catholic merchant in the early/mid-1700s, Liam wouldn’t have had nearly high enough status to court noblewomen, the majority of whom were probably daughters of the hated Protestant English nobility. They would have looked down on Liam. Maybe he took particular offense because he couldn’t see that they really had any qualities that made them inherently better than him. They were only “better” because their fathers were crushing his culture and placing them on top of it, not because they deserved it.
“Do you know what I miss? Leeches.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.