Buffy is out on patrol and her mother shows up with a snack. She's decided on some mother/daughter bonding. Slaying, she points out, is a big part of Buffy's life and she was to be part of it. The now vampire Mr. Sanderson from the bank shows up and Buffy pursues him. While she's staking the vampire, her mother finds the bodies of two small children, murdered in the playground with mysterious mystic symbols drawn on them.
Often, closed captions reveal dialogue that wasn't included in the final version of the show. That's the case in the next scene. What we see is a silent scene of the police gathering evidence at the murder site. But if we have CC on, we read some pretty snappish dialogue between Buffy and a police officer. She tells him it was Mrs. Plum in the library with a ratchet. She then tells him to enjoy his doughnut. I think I can see why this dialogue was dropped.
It's clear Joyce is very upset. The next day, Buffy is eager to solve this mystery. When Giles suggests it might have been a ritual killing by a cult, and not by monsters, she's shocked that beings with a soul could commit such evils. But she wants Giles to find out all he can and she is ready to break the rule that says Slayers only kill monsters, not people.
At lunch, Buffy tells Oz, Xander, Willow and Amy (the season one witch who has appeared every once in a while) about the murders and her mother being there. Then her mother shows up. She is obviously very upset. She had nightmares about the crime. When she learns that Giles thinks a cult was involved, she jumps to the conclusion that it was witches, which makes both Willow and Amy uncomfortable. Especially since Joyce knows Willow dabbles in witchcraft. Then Joyce reveals that she has called all her friends and they are all upset. She has organized a vigil for that night at city hall. Buffy wishes her mother had kept this secret.
That night, Buffy and Willow attend the vigil which draws a tremendous crowd. Willow is shocked when she sees her mother, Sheila. Sheila has never taken an interest in anything Willow does. In fact, it is only now that she notices Willow has cut her hair, something she did in August. Joyce joins them as does Giles, who is clearly ill at ease around Joyce. They haven't seen each other since Band Candy. Sheila tells them that there is a rumour that witches are responsible.
The mayor gets up to speak. There is a shot of Buffy's face at this point which seems to express some consternation. The mayor says that he promises this will never happen again. He then introduces Joyce. She is supposed to lead them in a moment of silence. Instead, she says that silence is the problem. That they have to do something about the evil that surrounds them. That the town belongs to the monsters, the witches, and the slayers and that they must take it back. Next we cut to a scene where Amy, Michael, and Willow are casting a spell. And they are sitting around a symbol which is the same symbol found on the murdered children.
The next day at school, some kids are about to beat up Michael, who they suspect of being a witch. Buffy stops them, but Cordelia tells her the problem won't go away. That everyone knows witches killed those kids and that she'll suffer because she is hanging out with freaks and losers. Cordelia points out this was a comment on her own relationship with Buffy and her friends.
Giles tells Buffy that he needs a book Willow has and asks her to get it. She goes in search of Willow, asking Xander where she is. Xander is upset, saying that his tryst with Willow keeps coming back to haunt him. He feels Oz treats him differently now. Buffy tells him this is the price he must pay. She finds the book and she also sees that the symbol is there. She immediately becomes suspicious of Willow. Willow says the symbol is a protection mark and that she, Amy, and Michael were weaving a protection spell for Buffy,
Before Buffy can really talk to Willow about this their attention is drawn to Principal Snyder who is having all their lockers searched for witch paraphernalia. Both Willow and Amy are taken away. Buffy goes to the library, only to see the books are being confiscated. Snyder tells them MOO, Mothers Opposed to the Occult, is responsible. And Joyce is their leader.
Willow goes home to discover her mother is quite concerned about this witchcraft business. She believes Willow needs more discipline and is retreating into a fantasy life to garner attention. So, she grounds her. Willow is outraged and tells her mother she really is a witch. She even says she has a musician as a boyfriend. This is too much for her mother who sends her to her room and forbids her to see Buffy (although she keeps calling her Bunny).
At the same time, Joyce is forbidding Buffy to see Willow, who she believes is a bad influence. She feels the extreme measures being taken are justified. She also says that Buffy's slaying is ineffective, that it isn't solving the problem. That Buffy has no plan while Joyce does. Buffy leaves, angry. Joyce says to herself that she is just trying to make things better. The camera pulls back to reveal the two dead children sitting there and telling Joyce that she is doing the right thing. That the people who hurt them must be hurt as well.
While on patrol, Buffy meets Angel by the memorial to the murdered children. She tells him she doesn't understand why people are reacting so strongly to these murders when there were so many other deaths. He says the children were innocents. She argues that none of the others deserved what happened. She then tells Angel about her discussion with her mother. She wonders whether her mother was right, whether her battle is essentially fruitless. Angel tells her that fighting evil is necessary, even though complete victory is impossible. He tells her that they fight because there are things worth fighting for. Like the murdered children and their parents.
Buffy suddenly realizes that the parents of the children have never turned up. That no one even knows their names. She goes to Giles who is trying to use a computer. Oz and Xander show up and Oz helps. They contact Willow on her laptop. Together, they start doing searches. They discover that every 50 years, two murdered children (identities unknown) appear. The story goes back to 1649 when two children named Hans and Greta were killed. Giles says that some mythologists believe fairytales are based on actual events. They realize this is the Hansel and Gretel story. And the townspeople are turning against the witches. Giles says some demons thrive on spreading discord rather than killing mortals themselves.
Meanwhile, Willow's mother makes her shut off her computer and says she has realized she must give up Willow. A little later Michael shows up at the library to tell them that the townsfolk are rounding up the witches and taking them for trial at city hall. Amy has been taken away. Buffy and Giles go to her house while Xander and Oz go looking for Willow. But Willow has already been taken away by the townsfolk led by her mother. And when Giles and Buffy arrive, Giles is knocked out and Buffy drugged by her mother. We see the dead children again and realize they have orchestrated this.
Xander and Oz discover Willow has been taken and go searching for her. Amy, Buffy and Willow find themselves tied to stakes and about to be burnt alive. Meanwhile, Cordelia has found Giles and slaps him awake. She feels things have gone too far. Her mother has confiscated all her black clothes and her scented candles.
Giles takes Cordelia to go save Buffy and the others. Xander and Oz show up at city hall and start searching for the girls. As Sheila goes to light the fire, Amy uses her magic to turn herself into a rat and escape. The fire is lit at the exhortation of the dead children. Giles and Cordelia arrive and Giles picks a lock to get into the room where the girls are being murdered. Cordelia uses a fire house to drive back the crowd and put out the fire. Giles recites a spell which reveals the disguised demon in its true form. The two small children are actually one giant monster. It goes to kill Buffy who bends forward and drives the point of the stake she is tied to through its body, killing it. Xander and Oz fall from the ceiling, they've been crawling through the ducts.
Buffy and Willow are in Willow's room casting a spell. Willow's mom
has developed the convenient amnesia so many Sunnydale residents have.
So she is now unaware of Willow's witchcraft. But she does remember
Willow said she was dating a musician and Oz has to come to dinner.
The spell is intended to change Amy back from a rat to a human. But
it doesn't work.
If The Wish was It's A Wonderful Life and Amends (A Buffy Christmas) was A Christmas Carol, then surely this episode is Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Suddenly, everyone in town turns into a mindless automaton intent only in carrying out the destructive wishes of a demon. Those who don't conform are threatened with destruction. Of course, the episode is also a nice reversal of Hansel and Gretel, with the roles of the witches and children reversed.
In my review of Anne, I said that I thought it was the most frightening episode of Buffy because it dealt with things that really do happen. Runaway kids living on the street really are preyed upon by some pretty demonic people. This episode was just as scary. Fans of Buffy have always been amazed at how nobody in Sunnydale seems to notice anything strange or want to do anything about it. Well, now they have noticed and their actions are much worse than inaction.
What we're seeing here is the distinction between the kid and adult perspective on what evil is and how you deal with it. For kids, evil is something done by monsters. The solution is to kill the monsters. That's the perspective we've always seen in Buffy. Buffy makes this point when Giles tells her the killings were probably committed by a cult, by humans. Buffy finds it hard to believe that something with a soul committed such a terrible crime. In the end, she turns out to be right, but she is revealing a certain blindness. A casual glance at the newspaper or a history book reveals that humans (all of whom presumably have souls) are capable of really terrible evil. This is the same kind of blindness that, in a milder form, prevents her from realizing that anything happened between her mother and Giles in Band Candy. Like most kids, and maybe most people, Buffy creates slots into which everything and everybody fit. Joyce is a mother, Giles a librarian/watcher. These are not sexual beings so no sex can occur. Humans are essentially good, demons are essentially evil. So terrible crimes are committed by demons, not by humans.
The adult view is different. There are no demons and all humans are capable of everything. You solve problems not by direct confrontation, slaying monsters, but by creating controlling structures like laws. Joyce tells Buffy that her slaying isn't accomplishing anything. Of course, she's wrong. Buffy has saved people's lives and probably the whole world a couple of times. But for Joyce accomplishment means the elimination of the problem, not merely dealing with instances of it. Joyce plans to eliminate the problem by changing the rules. First, all the civil rights people have are set aside. We get illegal searches, seizure of private property without cause or compensation, censorship, the immediate assumption of guilt without the right to confront your accusers, and ultimately punishment without trial.
The adults conclude that the occult is inherently evil. In her speech, Joyce talks about taking the town back from "monsters, witches, and slayers". These are all mystical creatures, but not all are evil. But creating rules that root out only the evil is a tough task. Simply outlawing the mystical is a lot easier. Of course, the innocent die alongside the guilty, but plenty of justice systems are built on that principle. This allows for swifter, surer justice. And the mistakes are just the price of creating a safe, secure world.
Buffy sees the world as a simple place where demons are evil, people are good, and you solve everything by killing the demons. Joyce lives an equally simple world where the uncontrolled is evil, the controlled are good, and you solve everything by killing the uncontrollable. Which version of reality you subscribe isn't totally dependent on age. We see lots of kids ready to kill witches (Michael is attacked at his locker and Oz and Xander face off against a gang of teens) and Giles is an adult who sees things from Buffy's perspective.
Interestingly, only one character holds both views: Angel. He's several hundred years old but became transformed when he was basically a teenager. He knows demons exist, but he has developed the emotional maturity to understand how everyone feels. So it's no surprise that Buffy makes her big breakthrough when talking to him. And it's interesting that during that conversation she learns the true story of the boy who stuck his finger in the dike (not duck). When Angel explains this to her, he symbolically changes her from child to adult; something you could argue Angel did about a year ago in a more traditional manner. Like the kids who sing the hymn about "Gladly the crosseyed bear", Buffy has walked around with a childish understanding of the story based on her limited vocabulary. When she learns that dike means dam, the story makes sense to her. Just as the killing of the children makes sense to her when she starts thinking about practical matters, like their parents and their names.
I'd argue that Buffy has grown more in this episode than she ever did before. And this makes real world sense, she is about to leave high school and go to university. Those are steps from childhood to adulthood. She has had a lot of maturing experiences and we can clearly see them taking root. From the opening sequence, in which she offers comfort to her shaken mother, to her finding the vital clue that lets them discover what is really happening, Buffy is stepping up to the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood. She is demonstrating her equality to the two most important adults in her life: Joyce and Giles.
Finally, I have to say something about the vigil and the mayor's speech. I think evaluating an actor's facial expression is always risky, usually pointless. But I felt Buffy had a quizical look when the mayor stood up. I believe she caught sight of him in the sewer sequence in Band Candy. I think she was wondering where she had seen him before. This may be the first step on the route to her discovering the mayor's secret and destroying him. And his destruction will probably also mean the downfall of Mr. Trick and Snyder. And I'm really looking forward to the latter.
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