This is the first Cordelia-y episode of the series, and really, who doesn’t love Cordelia? I mean, even before she *~*grows*~* and everything. She’s such a ridiculous caricature of The Popular Girl in high school that I find it impossible to be angry at her, almost ever. Luckily, though, that’s not ALL she is (or she would be pretty boring) and this episode is the first time we really see that.
The episode opens with Cordelia being herself, i.e. walking down the hallway with a teenage boy who looks about 47 years old, talking about herself, running into Buffy and humiliating her in front of everyone, etc. The very next scene is typical Cordelia too–a class discussion which Cordy takes totally the wrong way. (By the way, class discussions in Buffy totally helped me in real-life class on more than one occasion.) But, in this same moment, we get a glimpse (a teenie one!) of a different side to her. She’s done the assigned reading, she’s asking her teacher for guidance on a paper, she’s making plans to stay after school for extra help. This never seemed weird or unnatural to me. Cordelia’s not dumb and has never seemed dumb; she’s too quick-witted with insults, at the very least, for that. This just confirms that she’s smart and, well, maybe speaks a little bit about her perfectionist tendencies.
And then her middle-aged boyfriend gets attacked by a giggling, floating bat in the locker room. GASP. You’d think students would just stay out of Sunnydale’s locker rooms by now. Nothing good ever happens there.
This episode isn’t completely about Cordelia, of course. It’s also a lot about Buffy and her insecurities. She feels excluded from Being Popular like she was at her old school, and she feels a little excluded from Xander and Willow, too. She doesn’t seamlessly blend in with either group. She’s been caught in too many strange situations to be in Cordy’s group and she’s only known Xander and Willow for a few months so she doesn’t have the history that they do. To be fair, I don’t think she WANTS to be in Cordy’s group…she just wants to belong somewhere and be liked. Who doesn’t?
We get a strange flashback from the POV of a yet-unidentified-character who’s following Cordelia and Harmony around listening to their boring conversation, and then we zip back to the present and Harmony is knocked down a flight of stairs by nothing.
(Can I just say, as far as invisible people go, Marcy is the worst one ever. I guess she’s emotionally damaged enough to not care or whatever but seriously, stop cackling like a hyena every time you jostle people around. It’s annoying.)
I find it very weird that Cordelia is “working on her May Queen” dress. In the school, no less. Cordy doesn’t seem the type to make her own dress, but okay. Buffy stays after school, too, because the Scoobies have figured that the Invisible-Still-Unidentified-Person has a grudge against Cordelia.
Giles is still at school too because in Season 1 he doesn’t have a house or something. And then Angel shows up! Remember him? He tells Giles he hasn’t fed off people “in a long while” but doesn’t mention his habit of, what? Stealing blood from hospitals? (Remember the bags of blood in his fridge?) Tsk, tsk, Angel. He also says that it’s “too hard to be around” Buffy, so I guess lurking around her father figure is second-best. They talk about the Master, too. Remember how he’s actually supposed to be a threat? Yeah, the writers are scrambling to tie up the season since the finale is the next episode. Angel promises to get a book for Giles (aww, they’re friends) and then he says, rather cryptically, “Looking the mirror and seeing nothing there? It’s an overrated pleasure.” Um, that doesn’t sound pleasurable to me at all, but okay.
Another weird flashback, and we meet Invisible Girl! Only by face, not by name. Then Cordy wins May Queen and delivers an amazing speech that we only hear part of. Willow gives Buffy the “Dead or Missing” student list, which exists and I love it for doing so. Buffy deducts that the Invisible Girl is a girl named Marcy because of a flute she heard (yeah, again, making massive intuitive leaps she doesn’t seem to possess when she, I don’t know, jump-kicks a robot and is surprised by his metallic body) and then goes to the band room and finds Marcy’s nest, which is actually pretty cozy. I used to nap in my closet sometimes. I put blankets down in there and had magazines and it was nice. And now I have fully and forevermore secured myself as being the weirdest kid alive, so anyway.
Marcy’s in the room, too, watching Buffy go through her stuff. Not only is Marcy a chronic giggler, but she’s a mouth-breather too, and Buffy doesn’t hear her for some reason. She also doesn’t notice the knife Marcy’s waving around her head. She’s losing touch a little bit.
Then Marcy tries to murder a teacher which…..okay, I get attacking Mitch and Harmony, but clearly Marcy’s insane. Buffy shows the others her yearbook. “Have a nice summer” is the kiss of death, that is true. I don’t really understand why Marcy has a ninth-grade yearbook. The only time it’s acceptable to buy a yearbook is when you’re graduating. Ah well. The Scoobies deduce that Marcy became invisible because that’s how the other students perceived her, and–look, this is all sad and everything, but I kind of hate Marcy? I just can’t relate at all to wanting to be popular that badly. I think if Marcy stopped trying so hard and just hung out with people like Xander and Willow, she would have been fine. Cordelia’s not nice, not at all secretive about it, and Marcy is surprised when Cordelia’s not nice to her? I’ve been in high school with literally NO friends, and it sucks, it does. But Marcy still annoys me a lot.
And then Cordelia surprises us all with beautiful poignancy.
Hey, you think I’m never lonely because I’m so cute and popular? I can be surrounded by people and be completely alone. It’s not like any of them really know me. I don’t even know if they like me half the time. People just want to be in the popular zone. Sometimes when I talk, everyone’s so busy agreeing with me, they don’t hear a word I say.
When Buffy asks why she works so hard at being popular then, Cordy says, “It beats being alone all by yourself.” I love her! I mean, I don’t get wanting to be popular, but I get that. Loneliness. And I get that everyone feels it, that it doesn’t matter how many people you’ve got in your corner, and maybe that’s part of why I never craved popularity? I don’t know, I probably wasn’t that smart as a kid and I probably just didn’t want to be popular because I hated everyone with a passion, but whatever, we can pretend I was as smart as Cordelia, okay?
What she’s saying really speaks to Buffy. After all, in LA Buffy was popular, but her parents were fighting and she became the Slayer and learned a lot about the loneliness Cordelia is talking about. I think here Buffy realizes that she’s lucky to have Willow and Xander, friends she can be honest with above everything else.
While Buffy’s playing bodyguard for Cordelia, Giles, Willow, and Xander decide to follow the flute music and try to grab Marcy. BAD IDEA. Marcy locks them in the boiler room and attempts murder for like the tenth time in the past thirty minutes by letting gas into the room. Meanwhile, Marcy ‘naps Cordelia (how she manages to drag her up into the ceiling, I have no idea) and drugs Buffy which is just rude. When Buffy wakes up, she and Cordy are restrained and Marcy’s about to do plastic surgery on Cordelia’s face.
They also receive Marcy’s last message, to complete the set: “LOOK. LISTEN. LEARN.” Although I don’t like Marcy or her ideals, I think the lesson here is important. Don’t be shitty to people. Don’t bully. Pay attention to people who might be hurting and try to help them.
What I like about this part is that Cordy can’t talk her way out of it. Marcy has no reason to believe Cordelia feels her degree of loneliness, and it wouldn’t be realistic if she had a change of heart. She’s crazy, remember? Or as Buffy says, “a thundering loony.” So Buffy kicks Marcy’s ass, after a little bit of difficulty. She actually hones her Slayer senses to do it, which is always nice to see. Angel breaks down the boiler room door to save Giles and co. And the episode ends with a ridiculous government-training-invisible-people-to-assassinate program which Marcy is adopted into.
Cordelia also goes out of her way to thank the Scoobies, which is lovely. Even though she immediately insults them and walks away when her boyfriend-who-should-really-be-arrested-for-soliciting-a-minor confronts her about it. Oh well. Give her time.