Once the premise of Halloween is established we basically get a lot of running around until Ethan’s spell is reversed, and that follows a slow build-up to the moment people get turned into their costumes. Despite this, it’s a strong episode and a pivotal one, and that is because of the significance of what happens here for each of the main characters. Their costumes are not random choices; they say something about their personalities.
Buffy’s is probably the least significant, but she is not so much in need of character development at this point, so that makes sense. It simply fits the running theme of the conflict between Buffy’s calling and her desire to be “a real girl for once”, while also trying to become what Angel might desire. In the end, she is completely wrong about what Angel wants, and figures out that “it’s good to be me”. This is a story with a clear moral: be yourself and be proud of who you are.
Whilst Buffy wants to be a real girl, Xander wants to be a real man, so he becomes a soldier, capable of protecting the damsel Buffy who wants men to save her. This fits in perfectly with his emasculation earlier in the episode, rescued by Buffy from a jerk who was about to punch him. Importantly, he does not forgot what happened to him here, so this is not a throwaway development. Buffy is not a series that does something significant to a main character and then simply forgets it.
Willow, meanwhile, is on the most fascinating character arc of them all, and for the first time she becomes the leader of the gang when Buffy is unable to save everyone. She initially tries to hide herself away, and that results in her missing Oz. By the end of the episode that has been resolved. She has gained confidence, done a great job of stepping into Buffy’s shoes for a while, and Oz spots her at the moment she decides to come out from the sheet she has been hiding under. Crucially, Oz has now seen both sides of her personality before even meeting her: the nerd and the badass. It’s no wonder he’s fascinated.
Also of significance are the ones who don’t get transformed by the spell. Cordelia’s costume already sums up her personality, so a change is not required. Like a cat, she is self-absorbed, selfish and manipulative. Then we have Giles, whose character arc is superficially similar to Willow’s except the badass side of his nature is already fully developed. It has just been hidden from us, and from the gang.
“I know who you are Rupert, and I know what you’re capable of, but they don’t, do they.”
Ethan is a great character, a kind of Moriarty-ish trickster, the Master to Giles’ Doctor, complete with a shared history. It’s a grudge match, and we get a hint of what Giles is capable of when he beats up Ethan to get him to reverse the spell. Giles’ nickname offers a tantalising glimpse into a secret dark past: Ripper.
We end with a Prisoner-esque “be seeing you…” and the psychological effect of Ethan messing with the gang is worthy of the Village, because something that is intended to weaken or destroy in fact strengthens. Unintentionally, Ethan makes every member of the group stronger by his actions. He’ll be back, but they’ll be ready for him… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Well it seems like Sunnydale just inherited the guy behind the masks in 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch. In that movie, the masks come to life too causing no end of havoc and almost putting Michael Myers out of a job. In Buffy, it’s the full costume that comes to life and controls the person wearing it into thinking they are the character that belongs in the costume. Ok, weird idea, but credit to Carl Ellsworth for a genuinely fun episode.
Oh, make no mistake, this isn’t without the standard oversight one expects from Buffy The Cheesy Drama. There are no glaring mistakes that caught my attention but I actually went back ten seconds when Xander’s diet drink came out of the machine because I had just been thinking when he made his selection that the school was wise not to include diet drinks in the soda machine. It’s the aspartame that gets me. Thinking I’d just overlooked it, I went back and verified: nope, he makes two drink choices, neither of them diet. So is that a big deal? No, of course not, but where’s the attention to detail? What about when Buffy and Willow are ogling the drawing of a woman and saying how pretty she is… yes, the drawing which is a fairly small drawing at that… and Buffy says it doesn’t say her name? Clearly reading isn’t a big thing in Sunnydale! It was pretty clear to me that her name was Sarah because it was written next to the image on the page. There’s even a last name but I didn’t make it out and I did not rewind to get it because, what’s the point? Again, big deal? No. But it’s just very weak to me. I came off a show that had season spanning continuity to watch a show that can’t maintain continuity for 1 full minute! I want greater attention to detail like Babylon 5 offered. This is 1966 Star Trek stuff! Remember when McCoy would go from shirt to shirt in scenes taking place in one place. It doesn’t ruin the story, but all you can do is laugh at it.
Now, the ability to laugh is something this show has in common with our spacefaring friends. Star Trek had a sense of humor and Buffy picks up that great tradition, making it fun to watch even when the stories are ridiculous. When Ghost-Willow walks through the wall nearly scaring Giles to death, I had made the mistake of taking a drink which almost covered my screen. That reaction was hilarious and he struggles to even say anything at that point. Although it’s hard to reconcile that against the version of Giles we will meet mere minutes later where we discover he’s called “the Ripper” by an old “friend”. I mean, Giles needed the shot in the arm, but it’s a sudden departure and it doesn’t jive with what we’ve seen up until now. Our stuttering librarian suddenly belongs on (appropriately) Ripper Street, like some Cockney brawler. No, that didn’t flow well at all, no matter how needed it was.
I still love the cast. I was wondering if the story would keep Angel’s true self hidden from Cordelia and I was surprised (and happy) that the answer was yes. I like that this could become a running joke if played well. I love her line about Buffy, who has forgotten who she is in Victorian dress: “She couldn’t have dressed up like Xena?” I think Spike, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired as a very dangerous adversary last time we saw him to an enemy Buffy dispatches easily… but opts not to kill. Maybe it was his lack of judo knowledge that gave her the idea to let him live. She seems only too happy to kill the martial arts vampires. Meanwhile I’m looking forward to Oz finally meeting Willow. It’s a fun plot device that’s clearly spinning around; it’ll be nice when the joke finally lands. (And he’s got to be cool; he drives a car with he steering wheel on the right!)
Obviously the question on all of our minds is, what happens when Buffy’s mom gets home and finds the front door barricaded? Or when she finds her 16 year old daughter in loose fitting sweats with a man in her room? Can the Vampire Slayer also defeat mom’s wrath? Look, the episode was very enjoyable and the sudden return of Buffy and all her friends was enjoyable; no denying it! But now we have some hints about Giles that fails to mesh with what we’ve seen before and I want to know where that is going. The real question on my mind is: will Rupert’s friend prove to be a fan of The Prisoner? Perhaps a Psi-cop? (I will point out that there does seem to be a resurgence in Prisoner fandom at this time with B5 and Buffy squeezing in a Be Seeing You where they could.) Will this show start showing attention to detail? “I just want you to know that I’m taking a lot on faith here.” You said it Xander, that makes two of us. Everyone says the show gets better. I hope they didn’t lie to me. ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Lie to Me