Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gingerbread

We are halfway through the third season of Buffy, and the relationship dramas that have been explored during the first half of the season are now resolved, leaving just a few loose ends to be tied up. One of those loose ends is the broken friendship between Xander and Oz, who haven’t interacted at all since Oz caught Xander kissing Willow. Naturally it’s very awkward between them, but they are forced to get past their problems by the need to be useful members of the group, able to cooperate with each other in an attempt to rescue Willow and Buffy.

Another loose end is Cordelia, whose relationship with Xander is over and she has separated herself entirely from Buffy and her friends. Were this state of affairs to continue, she would really have no function within the series any more, so she is forced back into the mix. This is about Cordelia learning that as long as she’s in Sunnydale she isn’t going to be able to remain aloof from her former friends, without making it much more likely that she will end up dead. She has tried to return to being the Cordelia she used to be, and it isn’t working. The genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

The third damaged relationship in this episode is one that broke a long time ago, and has been healed in a way that isn’t ideal: Buffy and her mother. Joyce continues to be incredibly irritating and foolish, turning up with a packed lunch for Buffy while she is out patrolling, distracting her and endangering them both. There is still a slightly uncomfortable role reversal going on as well, with Buffy trying to comfort Joyce as if she’s the mother and Joyce the child:

“I’ll take care of everything, I promise. Just try and calm down.”

We have to give Joyce a free pass for what follows, because she is under the influence of a demonic force, but it’s a reminder that the Problem of Joyce remains. Allowing her to learn the truth about her daughter was a bold move on the part of the writing team, and is atypical for a fantasy series featuring somebody with super powers, but having done that it’s very difficult to fit her sensibly within the narrative any more, without things seeming a bit awkward and silly. She is painted in a better light here in comparison to Willow’s mum, who is a terrible parent all the time, not just when she’s under the influence of the demon. Willow sums it up for us when she says, “I’m not an age group, I’m me.” Her mum talks to her like she’s a research topic, not a daughter. It makes us realise that Joyce could be worse, but she’s still the least sympathetic of the regular ongoing characters on this show.

The story this week is about a witch hunt, following the usual modus operandi of the show. Yes, witch hunts used to be a real thing, but nowadays the term is almost always used metaphorically, and that metaphor is explored by translating it back into the literal. Willow and her friends are discriminated against due to their appearance, activities and beliefs. We get to see how dangerous that kind of xenophobia can be. But little is ever black and white with this series. We also get the uncomfortable feeling that if you stripped away all the extremism in the reactions of the adults, all the book burning and mock trials, they do have a point, and there are two moments that indicate that. Firstly, Willow pushes back against her mother’s disciplinary efforts by going far too far with her description of her powers and beliefs, and it’s a stark reminder about what messing with the occult really means and exactly what, or who, she is “worshipping”. She is meddling with dangerous stuff. Secondly, Amy does actually cause harm to herself in the end with her witchcraft, turning herself into a rat and getting stuck like that. Without resorting to witchcraft she would have been saved along with Willow and Buffy.

But this seems to be an episode designed to make us feel uncomfortable and to challenge our assumptions. The thing is, when Snyder asks, “just how is Blood Rites and Sacrifices appropriate material for a public school library?” the frustrating thing is he has a point, and this is what happens when the mundane asserts itself, and does so at the heart of Buffy and Giles’ world. The involvement of the police is also a big shock because it just seems so wrong for the show. The last time that happened it resulted in Buffy’s departure from Sunnydale. The real world is starting to crash into the fantasy world of Buffy in a way we have never seen before, and we also have an acknowledgement of the real-world cost of the battles Buffy has been fighting, with the adults having nearly all lost a friend or family member over the last couple of years. The everyday is pushing back against the fantasy, and that might just end up being the big theme of the season, what with the Big Bad this year being the town mayor. There are two sides to Sunnydale: the reality of everyday life, and the battle between good and evil that plays out in the darkness, underground, and in a school library. The mayor has control of the aspect of Sunnydale that might seem mundane, but as we can see with the confiscation of Giles’ books he actually has the power to make things very difficult for our heroes. What use can a slayer be against the forces of… law and order?   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

When I saw the title of this story, I knew it would be a story about a witch… but while I might have been right conceptually, it was completely different from what I expected.  That sort of thing is impressive because I typically have a good idea about what drives different horror stories.  So the fact that Buffy keeps me on my toes impresses me to no end.  The funny thing is, whenever I talk to people who never saw Buffy, they have the same reaction I did.  “God, no!  No way…!”  But I’ve been suitably impressed by the show and I look forward to this series every night now.  Gingerbread, like so many episodes, opens up in the neighborhood of Cringeworthy.   Joyce decided she wants to bond with her daughter by … watching her murder dangerous monsters??  I mean, Joyce hasn’t been a great role model for moms everywhere, but this is taking it a bit far.  Then she stumbles on some dead kids and things take a seriously dark turn!   We move out of the former neighborhood of cringeworthy due to bad writing and into cringeworthy for very uncomfortable plot lines!  For a start, Buffy is ready to murder those who killed the kids, even when faced with the potential that these are not monsters in the literal sense but rather human beings doing terrible things.  But then there’s the obvious murder of a child that is the very basis of the episode.  Dark stuff indeed.

To compound matters, the story takes on a “Sunnydale Witch Trials” vibe where the adult inhabitants all go hunting their own kids, determined to weed out the witches and burn them alive.  The mindless mob mentality is driven into bloodlust with Buffy, Willow and Amy all tied to stakes that are set on fire.  The episode is very strong, playing on things like invasion of privacy under the flag of “security”, but ultimately it’s an invasion of civil liberties because of a rumor.  Joyce makes statements about silence being the “town’s disease” because people have stayed silent for too long.  (I actually thought that was going to be the message of the episode: don’t stay silent!  Speak up and make a difference!  Ah, not so much!)  MOO, or Mothers Opposed to the Occult, does have a point though.  A flaw I’ve commented on with this series is the books Giles keeps in his library.  Finally that’s being addressed!  “These books have no place in a public school library!”  Joyce also makes another good point: Buffy is very reactionary.  Proactive work is not part of her skillset!  And as the audience, we are almost forced to agree with her words.  She’s not wrong, but the story is clever: the very weapons they need, those books, have been taken from Giles.  (I wonder if next episode will see them all magically returned.  If this show has proven anything, it’s that it actually does pay attention to its own continuity so I’m guessing not!)  And there isn’t much to be done about vampires that one could be proactive about.  The problem doesn’t have an identifiable source, so you can’t be proactive.  I don’t know about you, but I was almost fooled into believing Joyce!!  Easy to get roped into these ideas, I guess… that’s scary too.

But the climax of the episode is held together by a mistake.   Buffy, Willow and Amy are put on stakes surrounded by books (presumably some of Giles’) which are set on fire.  First, the books burn at an insanely slow and decidedly unburning fashion but… and this is the big thing… since they were set up in a school (or town hall, or wherever they were), where’s the sprinkler system?  That was the one thing that I kept thinking: the sprinkler is going to save the day.  Instead, Giles and Cordelia come to the rescue, which, yeah, I loved too because they were fun together and I want Cordelia back in the fold, but how much cleverer would it have been to have the solution be something mundane?  Come to think of it, that’s not the only silly idea.  The two children found have no names.  Now, from the audience’s point of view, I get the cleverness of that revelation, but before the spell started to seep insidiously into the minds of the Sunnydale adults, that would have come up.  Someone would have started to research who the dead kids were.    Admittedly, we could possibly believe that these two kids had to be researched and in fact listed as John and Jane Doe, but then their truth may have been discovered anyway.  So it’s held together by a premise that doesn’t quite work.  But that didn’t stop me loving the episode and actually bursting out laughing with an ending that may never leave my mind!

And that brings me to the comedy.  This show manages to tackle real issues and/or write some compelling stories but it does that while maintaining a sense of humor.  I thought the “rumor?  About us?” that Giles blurts out was funny… I had no idea how good the comedy was going to get.  “You’re going to wake up in a coma!”  Cordelia is stunned by how often Giles gets knocked out and it occurs to me that he does get knocked out a LOT.  Surely the man does have, as Cordelia suspects, brain damage!  I also laughed when Willows non-mom (because she’s a crap mother) hands Joyce a torch and says “torch”.  Was Joyce unsure of what a torch looked like?  I mean she’s also a lousy mom, but surely she can identify a torch??  Buffy’s confusion about the boy who stuck his finger in a duck was great, as was the final moment as Buffy and Willow try to restore Amy from her rat-form to humanity.  “Maybe we should get her one of those wheel thingies.”  But the part that caused me to actually get light headed from laughter was that when the two kids turn into one tall demon, that creature runs towards Buffy, who at that very moment manages to break the wooden beam she’s tethered to.  The resulting murder of the demon was absurdist humor at its peak.  “Marvelous” scarcely covers how I felt!

Now I do hope I’m not disappointed with the next episode because even the end of this seemed weird.  Did all the parents actually forget what just happened?  We don’t see enough to know, but at this point, one suspects there would be some fallout from these events!  Still the show manages some important subjects while keeping a good story together with some amazingly great characters.  That’s a win in my book.  And to think: I get to laugh at the same time!  In some cases, like with this episode, I laugh so hard, it leaves me helpless…  ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Helpless

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Reviews, Entertainment, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Gingerbread

  1. corvino44 says:

    I think Buffy should be described as “reactive”, not “reactionary”, which suggests that she wants to go back to an earlier political and/or social era. She doesn’t do that, but fights to preserve the status quo of democracy, and no Fascist demons trying to rule everyone, and people being alive, and whatnot. But hooray for a new post! Having happily discovered the Junkyard the week before Christmas, I burned through all the Buffy ones you’ve written so far, and now must wait impatiently for one a week. Thank goodness there are so many Doctor Who episodes you’ve already covered and I haven’t yet read, and I haven’t even started on “The Outer Limits” and “The Prisoner” and such.,

    Liked by 2 people

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      Oh my goodness, you’re write! I wrote “reactionary”! Sometimes no matter how many times you proof a thing you write, you miss blatantly obvious things. I’d ask Rog to update that, but that would take away from this discussion and frankly, I love reading what you post! Needless to say, you’re absolutely right: reactive. It’s what my job is most of the time; we’re trying to shift to proactive, but it’s not easy!.
      Having said that, I’m utterly gleeful that you are enjoying our site. It’s been a daily blog since 2017, so I hope you have plenty of reading time and enjoy working your way through it all! Thanks for some really wonderful feedback. ML

      Liked by 1 person

      • corvino44 says:

        How lovely! Thank you! So glad you like the few things I’ve written so far. I have many more comments to make, and I do indeed have lots of reading time, so I will enjoy and converse further.

        Liked by 2 people

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