Written by Thania St. John and Jane Espenson
Directed by James Whitmore Jr.
Buffy is out on patrol, wearing a blue peacoat that isn’t quite as pretty as the red one, but has a very nice cut.
Buffy is disgruntled when instead of finding a vampire, she finds her mom, who is keen to turn this patrol into quality mother/daughter time. A vampire attacks (he’s someone formerly from Joyce’s bank), and while Buffy fights him, Joyce walks over towards the playground and sees two dead children. The little girl has an odd symbol painted on her hand. She’s beyond horrified.
After the opening theme, the playground is crawling with cops. Joyce is not looking like she’ll get over this anytime soon. Buffy tries to console her, but Joyce says that even though Buffy might be able to find the thing responsible, she won’t be able to do anything for those kids.
While Buffy may have been putting on a calm, reassuring front for her mom, she’s actually very upset, which we see when she tells Giles about it at the library. Buffy draws the symbol from the kids’ hands for Giles. He thinks they might not be looking for a demon; it may be an occult sacrifice, done by human sorcerers. Buffy is disgusted. She very much wants to get her hands on the people responsible.
Xander and Oz are in the food line at the cafeteria. Xander seems to be attempting to smooth things over with Oz, but he’s super awkward about it. Oh hey, Amy’s in this episode. She sits with Oz, Willow, and Xander. Apparently it will be Buffy’s birthday next week. Buffy joins them and tells them about the two dead kids. Willow gets side-tracked by the revelation that Buffy’s mom is involved enough in her life to show up during patrol. Clearly not something Sheila Rosenberg would do for Willow.
And speaking of Joyce, she’s at the school! She’s basically obsessed with this case now. Buffy tells her what Giles told her. Joyce makes the connection between “occult” and “witches,” which makes Willow and Amy very uncomfortable. Buffy and Joyce leave the cafeteria. Buffy finds it very weird to have her mom at school. Joyce is determined to help, and she’s already been doing that by calling everyone on her Rolodex to tell them about it. She’s not talking about helping with research; she’s talking about starting a vigil and getting local politicians involved.
That night, City Hall is packed with people who have candles and picket signs with pictures of the dead kids. Willow’s mom is there. She is extremely out of touch with her daughter’s life. Joyce joins them, and then Giles runs into them. They greet each other very awkwardly. Sheila mentions that witches are rumored to be behind it. She’s been doing academic research on adolescents and occultism.
Mayor Wilkins gives a brief speech, welcoming everyone there and describing Sunnydale as a good town with people who won’t sit back and let this happen. He invites Joyce up to speak, and she denies his claim that it’s a good town. It’s full of monsters. People disappear and suffer “neck ruptures” all the time. She’s trying to put a stop to Sunnydale’s pervasive willful ignorance. Is this going to be a game-changing episode? Are all the civilians going to know about stuff from now on?
In a shadowy room, there’s a creepy altar of some kind. A boy in goth clothing is there. So is Amy. And…so is Willow. They’re all working together on some kind of spell, and its focal point is the same symbol that was on the dead kids’ hands. *dramatic chord*
The goth kid gets harassed at his locker the next day for being involved with witchcraft. Amy tries to get them to back off, but they don’t until Buffy shows up and smiles pointedly at them. Buffy goes to meet Giles, but Cordelia intercepts her and assures her that defending the likes of Amy and Goth Boy will only land her in trouble. Giles has found evidence that that symbol is indeed linked with witches.
Buffy goes looking for Willow, so she asks Xander where to find her. He’s indignant that everyone seems to assume he always knows where Willow is. He’s sick of the judgment for his and Willow’s affair, which has been over for at least a month now. Buffy ignores his whining, grabbing the book she needs from Willow’s stuff. When she picks it up, she sees the symbol on Willow’s notebook, just in time for Willow to come back from the bathroom. At the same moment that Buffy explains that the symbol was on the murdered children, the police and Snyder start conducting a locker raid. Amy and Willow are both in serious trouble, but Cordelia is only concerned about her expensive imported hairspray, and Xander is only concerned about Snyder finding his Playboys. *rolls eyes* Willow tells Buffy that the symbol is harmless; she, Amy, and Goth Boy were only doing a protection spell for Buffy’s birthday (which only works if she doesn’t know about it, so oh well now).
In the library, the officials are taking away most of Giles’s occult books. Buffy tells him what Willow said about the symbol. Snyder comes in and Giles gets in his face. It’s very attractive, but not very effective. Snyder tells them that if they don’t like it, they can take it up with MOO (Mothers Opposed to the Occult). Buffy has never heard a more ridiculous acronym in her life, which is fantastic because her mom’s the one who came up with it.
When Willow gets home, her mom is waiting for her, with all of Willow’s magic paraphernalia laid out on the coffee table. She’s not surprised about Willow’s interest in magic because she’s in an age group of which that is typical. She seems extremely distant and incapable of seeing Willow as an individual. This only makes Willow angry enough to lash out and try to prove she’s really a witch. She wants Sheila to actually act like a mom, even if she’s only acting like an angry mom. It sort of works. Sheila bans her from seeing Buffy.
And that’s mutual. Joyce bans Buffy from seeing Willow. Also, MOO is becoming increasingly reminiscent of the Party in 1984, if you crossed it over with urban fantasy. They think leaving Giles’s occult books in a public school library is only inviting trouble from students. Which, considering that the villain has never been a student who used Giles’s books to do bad magic stuff, is statistically complete nonsense. Joyce also thinks that Buffy isn’t doing much good as the Slayer because Sunnydale doesn’t seem to be running out of vampires. This one really affects Buffy. She leaves to go patrolling (even if it will be pointless), and the camera pans to show the…ghosts? of the dead kids, who are talking to Joyce, egging her on in the effort for justice. Uh oh.
Buffy goes to the playground where the kids’ bodies were found, and there are a bunch of candles and flowers and things there as a memorial. Angel finds her there, and he gives her a hug. He’s heard about what’s been happening. Buffy tells him what her mom said about her fight being fruitless. Angel gives her some of the same advice she gave him in “Amends.” The importance of keeping fighting, even if you can’t ever win. Something he says gives Buffy an epiphany.
At the library, Giles is wrestling with a computer. Xander and Oz arrive to tell him they found out his books went to City Hall. Then Buffy shows up and asks some very good questions that have occurred to no one since the kids’ bodies were found. Who are their parents? What are their names? Where did the pictures on the posters come from? Oz thinks she has a good point, and he takes over for Giles on the computer. He uses it to reach Willow on her laptop, since she’s grounded from the phone.
With Willow’s help, they find records of the same kinds of child murders happening every fifty years, going back centuries. And the victims are always the same two kids. The oldest account includes names: Greta and Hans Strauss. As in, Hansel and Gretel. Aha! So the premise of the episode is a twist on a fairytale! Awesome. I love it when real folklore is involved.
Before they can get much farther with the research, Sheila takes Willow’s laptop away. Now she actually does believe Willow is a witch. Willow is happy…until Sheila makes an ominous statement about “letting her go,” that is.
At the library, the rest of the Scoobies are still putting the pieces together. Hansel and Gretel may actually be demons that feed on fear and hysteria. They’ve been triggering witch hunts all through history. A very beat up Goth Boy comes running into the library to tell them that MOO has been taking people suspected of witchcraft to City Hall, including Amy.
And their next target is Willow. Sheila and a gang of them come into her room to take her.
Buffy and Giles go to her house to tell Joyce what they found out. A bunch of MOOs are there, and some of them grab Giles and knock him out while Joyce chloroforms Buffy. Before Buffy passes out, she sees the two kids talking to Joyce about getting rid of “the bad girls.”
Buffy, Willow, and Amy are all tied to stakes in the middle of City Hall on top of piles of Giles’s books.
At Buffy’s house, Cordelia smacks Giles repeatedly in the face until he comes to. She’s there to get help from Buffy because the town-wide witch-hunt is now personally inconveniencing her (her mom confiscated her black clothes and candles), and she draws the line at being personally inconvenienced. She hangs a lampshade on how often Giles gets knocked out. They head out together.
Xander and Oz reach City Hall and briefly pretend to be eager to join the angry mob, but that doesn’t work, and some of the mob starts chasing them.
Buffy wakes up and tries to convince Joyce to let her go. Joyce is too far gone. She and Sheila bond over burning their daughters at the stake, and then Joyce sets some of the books on fire. Amy uses the spell she cast on Buffy the previous February to turn herself into a rat so she can escape. Buffy is indignant that she left her and Willow behind. Willow tries to psych everyone out with idle threats, and Unsubtle Buffy joins in. Unexpectedly, it’s scary enough that a couple of people start edging toward the door, but the murdered kids appear and remind them they promised to kill “the bad girls.”
Giles and Cordelia are on the way to City Hall in Giles’s car, and Cordelia is grinding ingredients for a spell together with a mortar and pestle.
Xander and Oz are trying to find a way into the main assembly room. They break open an air vent and start crawling towards the sound of Willow’s yells. The flames are getting higher. A lot of Giles’s books are going to be completely ruined.
Giles and Cordelia arrive, but the door into the main assembly room is locked. Giles unceremoniously yanks a bobby pin out of Cordelia’s bun and uses it to pick open the lock. Cordelia breaks the glass in front of the emergency fire hose and starts spraying the crowd with water (until Buffy reminds her that it’s more important to douse the flames than it is to get the crazy people wet). Giles starts shouting a German incantation. Cordelia succeeds in getting the fire put out, but now all of the books that weren’t already burned will have water damage.
Giles finishes the spell, and the two children merge into one very tall, horrifying demon. Cordelia does not approve of this development. The demon’s thrall over the members of MOO has broken, and they run away. Buffy tries to break free from the stake she’s tied too, but all she manages to do is snap it (and herself) forward. She can’t see what just happened, but she accidentally shoved the pointy end of the stake through the demon’s neck. *snerk* Hooray!
Cue Oz and Xander falling out of the ceiling onto the pile of burned/soaked books, ready to save the day.
At some later point, Willow and Buffy are working on a spell together in Willow’s room. Sheila has magically forgotten all about what happened, except what Willow said about dating Oz, so he has to come to dinner with the Rosenbergs. The spell Buffy and Willow are doing is the one to turn Amy back into a human…and it fails. Roll credits!
I kind of love “Gingerbread,” even though it ends up having about as much effect on the status quo as “Ted” (i.e. none, even after setting up big potential changes). I’m not counting failing to de-rat Amy as a change to the status quo, because they only use that as a joke and Amy was too much of a peripheral character. Anyway. I like the continuity from “Amends.” It makes Angel’s scene tie really nicely into this episode even though he doesn’t get more involved than that. I like that Amy comes back, especially since she was mentioned recently. I like Giles working with Cordelia, because nobody else plays off Giles quite as hilariously as Cordelia, and it’s only ever happened once before, in “Killed by Death.” I like the way Plot B (the spectrum of parental involvement to parental interference in their teenagers’ lives) merges with Plot A. I like the way the Mayor is present, but only as a civic leader. It helps explain why a guy mixed up in so much shady crap could get elected. I do think it’s a little disappointing that the citizens of Sunnydale went back to a state of willful ignorance and/or mass amnesia after Giles broke the demon’s thrall, because it would be fascinating to see the show’s setting transform from blindness to awareness.
Even though everything mostly goes back to normal by the end of the episode, I still think this was a good one for Buffy and Joyce. Buffy needed to see for herself how much Plot A stuff scares her mom (which is what happened in the opening scene), and Joyce needed to realize that even though Plot A is terrifying for her, Buffy is very capable of handling it. Also, it’s interesting how much of an impact Joyce’s pessimism about Buffy’s ability to have an effect as a Slayer has on her. We saw in “The Wish” just what an enormous effect Buffy has had, but Buffy was offered no such insight. When the people she cares about don’t believe in her, her confidence takes a serious hit. Which is another reason why Angel’s one scene in this episode was so powerful. He gives her the confidence boost she needs to get back in the game. If only the other characters could witness these kinds of Buffy/Angel moments every once in a while. I think it would really change their perspective about them.
This is the first (and, I believe, only) time we meet Willow’s mom. Sheila’s complete emotional unavailability explains a lot about the way Willow approaches her friendship with Buffy. I forgot to take that into account when I was being grumpy about Willow’s treatment of Buffy in “Dead Man’s Party.” Buffy is Willow’s sole source of female companionship and support. With her mom so absent, it makes a lot of sense that Willow would have a tendency to focus on her own problems a lot of the time when she’s talking to Buffy. Ugh. I wish I could punch Sheila in the face. It’s kind of remarkable that Willow loves education so much (both the teaching side and the learning side) when it seems like her mom (and maybe also her dad) is a career-obsessed academic.
Cordelia finally has something to do! Alas, now that she’s abandoned the Scooby gang, she’s back to being mostly shallow and taking potshots at the Scoobies whenever she runs into them. Oh well. It’s totally worth it for her interactions with Giles. And she actually gets to do half the work of saving the day! Nice. I wonder if it was around this episode that Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt thought Cordelia would make a nice addition to Angel. Many of the reasons she’s so hilarious played against Giles would also apply with Angel.
I’m not quite sure what to do with the Xander/Oz reconciliation subplot. It starts out tense as Xander awkwardly attempts to prove that he’s no longer a threat to Oz’s relationship with Willow and just wants to be friends with everyone. Oz doesn’t really seem to respond to that, but the rest of the boys’ scenes are the two of them working together, and there’s no sign from Oz that he isn’t okay with this. Xander lets Oz take the lead, which is maybe why the tension is gone by the end? I wouldn’t expect a long meaningful conversation between someone as socially awkward as Xander and someone as monosyllabic as Oz, so maybe the point is in the way they act around each other. Xander metaphorically shows his belly to werewolf Oz. Between the two of them, Oz is the alpha, which is good enough for them both to move on, with Oz as Willow’s boyfriend and Xander as Willow’s best friend.
I absolutely love it whenever hints of Giles’s Ripper past shine through, and it seems like that happens most often when Buffy’s life is in danger. Also, lest we forget, Giles will always hate computers. Hehe. One of the best things about this rewatch is finding out how much I adore Giles. I always liked him before, but I’m so much more aware of why I adore him now. It’s great. His poor books, though.
I’ve mostly covered Angel already in the overall impressions paragraph and the one about Buffy’s characterization, but that was mainly for how he fit in with the rest of the episode and how he affected Buffy. His scene is also good for showing that Buffy’s words didn’t only affect him for the last few minutes of “Amends.” What she said alone might not have been enough to prevent him from greeting the sunrise, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t listening. He’s taking the idea of continuing to fight no matter what deeply to heart.
“'Session interrupted’? Who said you could interrupt, you stupid, useless fad! No, I said fad, and I’ll say it again!”
“How many times have you been knocked out, anyway? I swear, one of these times, you’re going to wake up in a coma.”
“Wake up? Oh, never mind. We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel.”
“Now, let’s be clear. The brain damage happened before I hit you.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.