This episode focuses on this a lot. Every character is preoccupied with something. Xander is preoccupied with his crush on Buffy. Buffy is too preoccupied with other things (cheerleading, Amy craziness, general life?) to notice his crush on her (or at least to acknowledge it). Joyce is preoccupied, Giles is preoccupied, and of course Amy’s mother is the most preoccupied of all. Interestingly, all of these characters ultimately fail (or at least, struggle) in their preoccupations.
I love the opening scene. It’s supposed to be comedic, of course–Giles being 100% disapproving of a nice, safe, normal activity Buffy wants to do–but it’s also very sad to me. Buffy wants so much to have one thing in her life that’s normal, hers, and untouched by the craziness of her regular life. This (wanting a normal thing) is actually an act of rebellion for a Slayer, and it’s sad. Of course, Giles actually ends up being right: cheerleading kills, dudes. But more on that later. Buffy’s preoccupation consists largely of attempting to be normal: have friends, join the cheerleading squad, make her mother proud of her. But her occupation is the Slayer and that’s where things get muddled. Buffy can’t escape her destiny no matter how hard she tries.
Amy’s (well, who we believe to be Amy, anyway) preoccupation is clear. All cheerleading, all the time. She is apparently highly influenced by her controlling mother who demands the same level of success from her daughter that she had in high school. This narrative is a common one: the stage parent. It’s clear that Amy’s mother’s behavior is abusive. She forces Amy to train for six hours a day (how that’s even possible, I don’t know! Is she waking up at 3 am every day to train?), she locks up the fridge and eats only broth if she gains an ounce, and has apparently been this way for Amy’s whole life. Yet Amy seems to revere her mother an unhealthy amount and becomes so preoccupied with following in her footsteps that she ignores all logic. (There’s a reason for this, of course, but again! We’ll get to that later.) I’ll say here that I do appreciate that Buffy outwardly rejects her own mother’s attempts to make her more like a version of her high school self. I think Buffy has a strong sense of what she wants and who she wants to be, and it can’t always work out in her favor but at least she’s not using a super-cheesy cauldron to disfigure her competition, right?
Joyce is preoccupied with her job. I don’t really hold this against her, but it IS sad to see Buffy so obviously wanting more attention from her mom–maybe even the level of attention that Amy receives from hers–and Joyce not reciprocating.
Xander’s crush on Buffy is nearing obsession territory at this point. And poor Willow! My heart breaks for her when Xander says, “You’re so cool! You’re like a guy!” I’ve been there, the “girl friend that knows about guy stuff,” and it totally sucks. Later on, Buffy calls Xander “totally and completely one of the girls!” and you can just SEE the relief on Willow’s face. It sucks for both of them, really. They’re in this triangle of friends-only-ness. On that note, I don’t really understand how Buffy receives a bracelet from Xander that says “Yours Always” and is just like, oh cool! friendship! But…whatever. I’m gonna go with the theme here and blame it on her preoccupations, okay?
So plot-wise, a cheerleader spontaneously combusts at tryouts and nobody does anything about it except Buffy who tackles the girl with a school flag. LOL at Willow, by the way. “[A pile of ashes is] all that would have been left if it hadn’t been for Buffy!” WHY WAS THIS AUDITORIUM FULL OF PEOPLE COMPLETELY USELESS. Xander and Willow jump at the chance to help Buffy figure out this craziness, and she’s understandably hesitant to accept their help. Buffy is used to being secretive and, well, inevitably friendless because of that. Plus, you know, they kind of did just watch as their classmate burned. Jokes aside, I do think it’s interesting that Buffy (and Giles) do accept help from these fairly run-of-the-mill classmates. As of right now there isn’t anything particularly useful about Willow or Xander. Willow is intelligent and can hack computers, and Xander is…annoying?…but basically they help because of their intense desire to help and that’s rather endearing.
Once Cordelia goes blind, the Scoobies (well, mostly Giles) establish that witchcraft is behind all of this, and they all agree that Amy is probably behind it all, given her obsession with getting on the cheerleading squad. Again, all of this is a fairly typical narrative? Girl pressured by her overbearing stage-mom, girl does deceitful/immoral things in order to get ahead, etc etc. Based on her shocked reaction, they decide she probably doesn’t know what she’s doing, and then comes the creepiest scenes thus far in the show. When Amy enters her home and talks so…creepily and condescedingly to her mother (who just stands there looking terrified), commands her to do her history paper, and all but confesses to the spells….ugh, it’s so CREEPY.
I’m impressed that even when Buffy is attacked with the hilarious-and-then-scary drunk spell, she doesn’t want to blame Amy. She understands the pressure a parent can put on their child and sympathizes with Amy’s plight. However, the creepy factor is multiplied by a thousand when it’s revealed that AMY’S MOTHER TOOK OVER HER DAUGHTER’S BODY IN ORDER TO RECLAIM HER GLORY DAYS. Aghhh! “She said I was wasting my youth. So she took it.” SO FUCKING CREEPTASTIC.
And then during the game Giles attempts to undo all of Amy’s spells and Amy’s mom senses it and tears out of the gym and ugh, every evil look shoots off and strangling Xander WITH HER THOUGHTS….it’s all so scary. Luckily we get to see Buffy kick her mom’s ass once their bodies are switched and all’s well that ends well. By that I mean, all’s well that ends with your psychotic mother trapped in a cheerleading trophy.
GILES TOTALLY LIES BY SAYING THAT WAS HIS FIRST CASTING, BY THE WAY. Lying lying Daddy Giles!!!
Despite my general dislike of Joyce, I do like how this episode ends: Joyce telling Buffy she would never, ever want to be sixteen again, and Buffy beaming and saying “I love you, Mom.” To Buffy, the fact that her mom has flaws but is nowhere near as bad as Amy’s mom is comforting and the best news after such a crazy experience. Joyce may have expectations of Buffy, but Buffy knows that if she doesn’t meet them, her mom will still love her and…you know, not switch bodies with her and stuff.
- Giles: “Why would someone want to hurt Cordelia?” Willow: “Maybe because they met her? …..Did I say that?”
- Spell-induced drunk Buffy. My fave. ❤
- “Guess what? I feel better.” *punch*