Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Warrior Woman Wednesday

Buffy attempts to maintain a semblance of normalcy in her life by participating in the cheerleading tryouts only to find herself in danger when a student starts practicing black magic in order to take out the squad.

The review for "the Harvest (Part 2)" can be read here.

This is the first episode of the series to be completely devoid of vampires, and was written in an effort to prove that the show would be about more than things that go bump in the night. Taking place almost entirely during the day, here Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) battles against witchcraft for the first time and also must fight against a human woman in possession of a great power, much like herself.

The theme of this episode is about parents trying to live through their children, both metaphorically and literally. Amy (Elizabeth Anne Allen) is pressured by her mother (Robin Riker) to try out for cheerleading despite Amy's lack of coordination or interest in the sport. Amy's mother, Catherine, had been an incredibly gifted cheerleader during her high school years, and desperately wants her daughter to know the same glory that befell her own youth. Finally, when Amy is unable to live up to the challenge, Catherine steps in to do the job herself, and it's this twisted determination that truly makes the episode memorable. Buffy's mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) spends a good portion of her time trying to convince Buffy to join the yearbook committee, as she had done in high school, and grows more frustrated every time Buffy refuses. It's only when Joyce comes to accept that Buffy's her own person, that she doesn't want to live the same life her mother did, that Joyce is able to relent and be a proper parent. The dichotomy between the two mothers in this episode is fantastically played and incredibly well written.

With a regular cast composed of teenagers, it's refreshing to see that they aren't as capable in any situation as someone more practiced would be. Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Willow (Alyson Hannigan) try to buy time for Buffy and Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) by confronting Catherine, and manage to be completely ineffective and useless, just as most teenagers would be in such a situation. For them to come into the scene after the fact, attacking Amy when the situation's already been resolved, is a nice close to the story, proving that their hearts are in the right place, but their skills are severely lacking.

Witchcraft, as depicted in this episode, is more cartoonish than it is frightening; the bubbling green goo in the giant black cauldron is too over-the-top to be taken seriously, and it seems to have been made almost too accessible, considering Buffy, Xander, and Willow are all able to successfully make their own potion during a science class.

Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) is all about keeping up appearances, and considering she had already failed her driver's ed course two times already, I find it difficult to believe that she would get behind the wheel of the car when she's quickly losing her sight. She's more than willing to tell the teacher that she "doesn't want to drive" that day, but there's no reason for her not to have asked to go see the nurse. Cordelia is the kind of person that would never want people to see her stumbling around due to the severe lack of sight she's experiencing, and I imagine she would be less pleased for word to get out that she had failed her driver's ed course a third time.

The acting in this episode is largely good, Allen is very menacing as Catherine, though she struggles a little to find Amy's voice, and Riker is equally good as both mother and daughter. The regular cast seems to have found their voices quite well here, and there really is no weak link among the bunch in this episode.

Director Stephen Cragg has his ups and downs in this episode, with a low point being the van that runs Cordelia down. Considering there's a car accident in the middle of the street, and a teenage girl wandering out aimlessly beside it, there's no reason that the delivery van wouldn't have tried to stop. Not only did the van have ample time to stop, as there was nearly thirty seconds of action between the car accident and the van's appearance, but it never slows down nor seems to take notice of Cordelia being directly in front of him, and it's a confusing sequence. Buffy's peppy attitude during the cheer routine, and her later flinging a cheerleader into the wall, is a very fun moment. The use of slow-motion during Catherine's routine is a poor choice here, despite the fact that I understand what Cragg was going for, and the effect during Catherine's final hex is largely bad when those of every spell before that were very subtle and on-point.

Dana Reston writes this episode fairly well, opening the show with Giles berating Buffy about her choice to join a cult only to reveal that that said cult is, in fact, the cheerleading squad. Buffy trying to connect with her mother the way she imagines Amy and her mother spend time together is very heartbreaking in light of Joyce's inability to remain focused on her parenting, and the contrast between both pairs of mothers and daughters is great to watch unfold as the episode draws on. The only negative in this script is the confusing timeline of Catherine and Amy, as several interactions between Amy and the rest of the cast imply that it is, in fact, Amy, while others are dubious enough that it could have been Catherine in hindsight. Amy's shocked reaction to most of the hexes imply that she was herself, but her having been the body that cast the spell implies Catherine's consciousness. Amy claims that she woke up as her mother "a few months ago," but there's no mention of whether they've been switching back and forth despite Amy having been herself only days before.

Joyce's style of yo-yo parenting, being completely oblivious one moment and then overcompensating the next, makes sense considering the nature of Buffy's activities and the show's need to keep them under wraps. Buffy being completely uninterested in Xander the way that he's completely uninterested in Willow is set up here, as is a return for Catherine, as she's revealed to be trapped inside the trophy. Hinted at here also is a past knowledge of witchcraft for Mr. Giles, though that could also have been part of his training as Buffy's watcher.

The review for "Teacher's Pet" can be read here.


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