2.16. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered
This episode is mostly known for the wacky love-spell-gone-wrong comedy, but I find it a bit overrated as comedy and actually like the parts before the spell much better. The stuff with Xander and Cordy’s relationship is really good for the first 20 or so minutes, and another plus is that the darker B-plot with Angel is woven nicely into the fabric of the episode together with the comedy parts. Once the spell kicks in, it’s fun, but I don’t find it nearly as funny as Band Candy
, Something Blue
or Tabula Rasa
. But it’s the resolution of the Xander/Cordy storyline that bothers me, and takes half a point off from my rating. Cordy breaks up with Xander out of a shallow reason – her social status in school – but the reasons she takes him back, not just in spite of, but because of his stupid, irresponsible actions, are very misguided.
It’s a Valentine's Day episode, and it opens up with Xander showing Buffy the necklace with a heart that he bought for Cordy. He talks to Buffy about his relationship with Cordy – they're good friends despite both of them acknowledging that the only other person he's romantically interested is Buffy, even though he's clearly accepted that she doesn't return his feelings and they're both OK with it. Xander is complaining about his relationship troubles, and even replies to Buffy's comment that slaying is a bit more perilous than dating with „You aren't dating Cordy“. Is it me, or was this a bit thoughtless and insensitive, considering what happened with Angel? Willow made a thoughless remark in Phases
when she said she was worried she'd be the only girl in school without a real boyfriend, but at least she realized her mistake immediately and apologized. Maybe Willow and Xander are both so used to Buffy dating Angel that they still tend to forget what's going on.
Buffy and Willow apparently have been openly mocking Xander for dating Cordy, but Buffy is not as judgmental as Willow and just tells him that she thinks he's too good for Cordy and could find someone better. Cordy's friends are less understanding: Harmony, who's appeared in a few times before but this is the first time she has a bigger role, is obviously trying to replace Cordy as the Queen Bitch of Sunnydale High, is taking the opportunity to ostracize Cordy for dating a „geek“. Xander/Cordy is the high school version of the „inappropriate“ secret relationship we'll later see with Buffy and Spike in S6. It's interesting that Cordy is in a relationship that is „lowering“ her social status in the school, while Willow is in a relationship that's raising it, and she's openly happy to have a boyfriend in a band. And it's a very new experience for both girls. At this point it becomes clear that both Xander and Cordy are starting to take their relationship seriously and realize that they have real feelings for each other. Xander is the one to say it first, when he gives Cordy the present in the Bronze: that maybe their relationship is not just about „tawdry teenage lust“ and that there might be something more even if they don't quite understand why, as he wonderfully puts it, „maybe something in you sees something special inside me, and vice versa“. Cordy is moved, but has already made the decision to break up with him because her status as the most popular girl is more important to her. Or at least that's what she thinks at this point. By the end of the episode, she will decide to choose Xander instead and refuse to bow to the conformity, which is huge character growth for her. (Too bad it's marred by the context of what made her decide tha...) But breaking up with him in front of everyone in the club is a humiliating experience for Xander, and leaves him brokenhearted and angry – how much of that is because of losing Cordy, and how much because everyone in the school is pitying him or mocking him, is not quite clear – while she is accepted back into her group of „friends“, if one can call them that. Which makes him do a monumentally stupid thing and get Amy to put a spell on her so she would want him badly and so he could break up with her and get a revenge by breaking her heart. One moment that's very revealing of Cordy's real feelings is when Xander asks her to give him back the necklace, and she pretends that she is keeping it in her locker, when she is actually secretly wearing it beneath her buttoned-up blouse; then she keeps the pretense by claiming she finds it ugly and cheap.
We get to see where Giles and Jenny are at the moment: the revelation about Jenny’s secret has lead to Giles not wanting to see her again – in the reversal of the situation from The Dark Age
, when his dark secret made her reluctant to see him again. But he goes even further, by calling her Ms Calendar instead of Jenny. Giles may feel personally betrayed, but it seems that it’s more out of his loyalty to Buffy.
In the meantime, Buffy’s Valentine’s Day gets even worse, when she gets a present from her former boyfriend/current creepy stalker, a bunch of flowers with the note “Soon”, which would, ironically, look very different if she got it from someone else, or from Angel when he still had a soul. Angel(us) doesn’t actually get to do anything to Buffy or her friends in this episode, but the feeling of terror is still there, when Giles even warns her to stay from the streets for a few nights. She’s fought him before, he apparently doesn’t want to kill her, and she risks getting killed every day anyway, so what does Giles mean? He says Angel would probably think of the awful things he likes to do for Valentine’s day as “signs of affection”, and Angel(us) later says he wanted to do something for Buffy or rather to
Buffy… The obvious answer is rape. And probably some torture, too. In a funny moment, Giles also talks about him nailing a puppy to the wall (a little meta comment on how villains are portrayed in fiction?), but Buffy doesn’t seem to keep pets, and it seems like killing Buffy’s friends, Angel’s usual MO, wasn’t what he was initially planning, because later when he happens to come across Xander in Buffy’s house, he says that killing her friend is so much better than his initial plan.
The Spike/Dru/Angel(us) triangle is shaping up, with Angel(us) now blatantly trying to steal Dru’s “affections”, most likely more to rile up Spike than because of Drusilla herself. He’s openly mocking Spike’s present condition, saying that Dru gives him “pity access”, and offers Dru a much “better” present, or one closer to her heart: Dru likes the necklace Spike gives her, but it pales in comparison to her reaction to a fresh human heart ripped out of a “quaint little shop girl”. It’s one of the early signs that as soulless, Spike is more “human” than Angel(us), his present is a regular human one while Angel’s is monstrous, and much closer to Dru’s tastes. Dru still isn’t openly responding to Angel’s attention, but isn’t rejecting it, either. One of her most darkly funny moments is when she says “Don’t worry, Spike, Angel always knows what speaks to a girl’s heart” while staring dreamily into the human heart on the table in front of her.
Angel says that simply killing Buffy would lack “poetry”, once again indicating that he prefers to torment his victims and thinks of it as an “art”. Spike’s sarcastic answer that ripping out her lungs could be poetic if he found something that rhymes with “lungs” is doubly funny now when we know he used to be a (bad) poet.
The episode turns into comedy halfway through, when Xander gets Amy to do the spell. Amy hasn’t been seen since Witch
, and this is the first time we learn that she can also do magic and has been using it to get away with not doing her homework. (This is what the callback to Witch
in the previous episode was setting up.) She’s not all that ambitious at this point. And still not very good at it, since it backfires and makes all the women who cast their eyes of Xander fall for him in a ridiculously obsessive fashion, except for Cordy, who was protected by her necklace (is that the metaphor for saying, by having real feelings for him, the way he is? Even Willow’s romantic feelings for him are fading at this point as she is falling for or already in love with Oz). What follows is somewhere between utter silliness and a clever satire of the idea of romantic love as mad, blind and all-consuming. As first Buffy, then Amy, Willow, Jenny, Drusilla, Joyce and every woman in the school including the lunch lady come onto Xander and start acting completely obsessed with him, it feels like Xander’s fantasy turned nightmare, because it’s not so nice being an object of desire when you’re being forced and your wishes are disregarded, and when the other person wants to kill you for rejecting them, or kill someone they see as a rival. What keeps it all from being silly is that the episode is making the point that, as Giles says, an obsession/infatuation, immature and selfish, is not the same as real love. Infatuations can be pretty random and based on things that have nothing to do with who the person really is, or with caring about that person and wanting them to be happy. The dialogue pokes fun at romantic cliches: Jenny and Amy arguing sounds like a shipper debate (“We look into each other’s souls” – “No one can love two people at the same time. What we have is real”). A crowd of crazed women attacking Xander for rejecting them and attacking Cordy, lead by Willow with an axe, is the climax of the craziness, and it’s like a parody of the images of smitten fans and pop stars. It’s not just that the people under the spell are made to be obsessed with someone, it’s that they are acting like erotomaniacs, in a deranged, selfish and violent way that is very out of character for most of them.
Of course, the whole point of spell episodes is to make people act OOC and get a lot of comedy moments out of it. But my like or dislike of those episodes depends a lot on just how much OOC the characters are. Some degree of OOC behavior under spell is believable – which is the difference between, say, Something Blue
, and Him
. In the latterm Buffy is doing something she’d never do no matter how much in love, try to kill a human (an innocent human as well) just to prove her love, which is why that episode is absurd and more creepy than funny. The spell stories are great if they reveal something hidden about the characters, some tendencies they have, and just silly if they are doing random wacky things or just acting the opposite of what they are really like, just for the fun of it. BBB
is somewhere in between, though maybe closer to the former. Drusilla is completely in character – the way she’s seducing Xander before trying to sire him isn’t that different from how she approached William/Spike. Amy does a dangerous spell to turn her rival, Buffy, into a rat, which might foreshadow how selfish and irresponsible she will get with magic (in Smashed
, she thought it was OK to put a love spell on a woman in the bar so she would fall for Willow, which is similar to what she’s doing in BBB). Harmony and her ex-Cordettes are again judging Cordy and shunning her because of Xander, but this time, ironically, it’s for dumping him. Harmony is the only person who in some ways becomes more sympathetic and less shallow when under the spell, telling Cordy she should have never dumped Xander whatever her friends think, which is a good point. The way she is accusing Cordy of not treating Xander right makes me think of Crush
when she’s angrily talking to Drusilla about how she hurt Spike by leaving him. I’m not sure I’m buying Buffy as a sultry-voiced seductress about to do a private dance; that’s not really her style when she is being sexually aggressive. However, the part that did feel in character was her look of anger and hurt when she says “Is this a game? You make me feel this way and then you reject me?” Willow acting seductive is also… unusual, though she does try to be seductive with Oz in Amends
, but it is more awkward than here. But, in hindsight, her behavior after the rejection is quite revealing – when she yells at Xander that she’d rather see him dead than with “that bitch”, it’s an exaggerated version of her reaction in Innocence
, and the sight of a homicidal Willow with an axe, being the most violent of all of Xander’s stalkers, doesn’t feel OOC at all after you’ve seen in later seasons how vindictive and violent love-gone-wrong can make her. It works because SMH and AH play those scenes so seriously.
We also get to see an unexpected side to Oz, even though he isn’t under any spell, when he comes over and punches Xander to the ground, and then calmly explains that he felt an overwhelming urge to hit him, because he made Willow cry. It’s a sign that Oz is more passionate than he seems but is used to keeping his emotions repressed. Speaking of Oz, what a relief that he has gone back to his natural hair color, it suits him much better.)
Buffy turning from the rat back into a girl and worrying about a “slight case of nudity” is among the funnier parts of the ep. Another one is Angel’s shock when Dru acts smitten with Xander and says she’s finally found a “real man”, and Angel’s comment: “Maybe I really did make you crazy”.
But then there is the ending, which is just… wrong. In the end, Xander gets rewarded for his incredibly stupid, irresponsible use of magic (in OMWF, he won’t get rewarded but won’t be punished in any way either, despite more serious consequences. The only bad consequences are Giles calling him on it (he knows better than anyone that one should be more responsible with magic, since he wasn’t as a young man) and Willow not being able to talk to him for a short while.. Buffy tells him that what he did was bad, but he also showed that he is not completely governed by hormones, because he didn’t take advantage of her when he could. Which is true, but she is basically praising him for not raping her when he had a chance, which sounds like she didn’t have a very high opinion of him before. (Maybe realizing he lied about not remembering what he did in The Pack
had something to do with it?) It seems that nobody on the writing staff realized all the implications of the situation. Buffyverse has a disturbing amount of dubious consent moments. Fortunately, at least there was no sex in this episode, but if it had been…If Xander had decided to take advantage of a woman under the spell, it would have been rape, because they were in no position to give consent and he knew it. At the same time, the way women were coming onto Xander and not taking no for answer was quite disturbing, and if it had turned into sexual assault, then the women would be both perpetrators and victims (which I guess could be said for Xander in The Pack
as well, since he was possessed by the hyena spirit when he assaulted Buffy).
Most importantly, Xander is rewarded by getting Cordy back. Now, this could be seen as dramatic irony, especially since Cordy doesn’t know that the reason he wanted to put a love spell on her was to dump her and have his revenge, not to have her back. But, what is additionally wrong about this is that she thinks it is sweet
that he wanted to put a love spell on her and get her back by taking away her ability to consent to a relationship?! By comparison, in season 6, Willow's mindrape of Tara is treated as a bad thing, as it should be, and Tara leaves Willow over it. There’s also the plot about the villains, the Trio, trying to brainwash women, including Warren’s ex Katrina, into being their sex slaves, and Katrina tells them straightforwardly that this is rape, which they didn’t seem to quite grasp. Buffy at one point, in Seeing Red
, acts furious for a moment when she mistakenly assumes that Spike was going to put a love spell on her, and they both act like it's a really bad accusation, which it is - and he's a soulless vampire! Did it take 4 years for Noxon (who wrote BBB) and the rest of the staff to realize the full implications of taking away someone’s consent through a spell?
Xander: Well, this is new territory for me. I mean, my valentines are usually met with heartfelt restraining orders.
Xander: Do you know what's a good day to break up with somebody? Any day besides Valentine's Day! I mean, what, were you running low on dramatic irony?
Willow: I want you, Xander. I want you to be my first.
Xander: Baseman! Please tell me you’re talking about baseball!
Willow: Is it because of Oz? Don’t worry about him. He’s sweet, but he’s not you.
Xander: Yes, he is! And you should go to him… ‘cause he’s me!
Cordy: You're a sheep. All you ever do is what everyone else does just so you can say you did it first. And here I am, scrambling for your approval, when I'm way
cooler than you are 'cause I'm not
a sheep. I do what I wanna do, and I wear what I wanna wear. And you know what? I'll date whoever the hell I wanna date. (Xander smiles)
No matter how lame he is. (Xander’s smile fades away)
Pop culture references:
The title comes from a famous Rodgers and Hart song. Cordy says “Who died and made you Elvis?”
Xander during the casting of the spell, though it’s not like we see a lot of him That’s 2 shirtless scenes for him, 1 for Oz, 4 for Angel (in 5 episodes), but none of Xander’s and Oz’s scenes were obviously meant to be sexy the way that Angel’s were.
Not much to report here: he’s still in the wheelchair, still able to just snark some more about Angel’s unwillingness to kill Buffy, and he isn’t even oin top snarking shape here. Maybe I should be keeping an Angelus Badass-o-Meter
instead? In this episode, Angel’s bark is more dangerous than his bite. He doesn’t even kill anyone, doesn’t do anything to Buffy except make threats, and it’s proven he can’t kill someone if Dru decides to stop him.
Everyone is still calling him Angel: Giles, Buffy, and Drusilla.
When Xander says to Willow he doesn’t want to use force, she seductively says: “Force is OK”. When did Willow get so kinky? Is that just spell-induced behavior?
What the slashy heck:
Angel(us) makes a grim joke that he feels “very close” to Xander, as he’s about to bite him.
Angel’s message “Soon” foreshadows the next episode, Passion
, in which Angel(us) finally starts killing and tormenting people close to Buffy.
Xander’s goal was to get revenge on Cordy by dumping her and breaking her heart. He will get his wish in season 3, when Cordy gets her heart broken when she finds him kissing Willow, and then gets mocked and shunned throughout school as “the castoff of Xander Harris”. It’s funny that Xander makes a joke that he could only find another girlfriend in a parallel dimension, but that’s exactly the case in The Wish
, where vampire Willow is vampire Xander’s girlfriend in the parallel dimension.
Amy turns Buffy into a rat in this episode; in season 3 Gingerbread
she’ll turn herself into a rat and stay that way for 3 years.
At the end of the episode, Harmony tells Cordy how happy she is that a popular guy has called her to the dance – if two other girls say ‘No’. That’s exactly what she will be to Spike, third choice for a girlfriend. She never had a very high self-esteem. She’ll also betray Cordy again in season 2 of AtS.