First, I want to apologize for this post being late. It’s just like me to promise to keep a schedule and then immediately break it. In my defense, last week I got a new puppy and a head cold–the combination of which, apparently, renders me useless.
Anyways: yay! This episode is so good. SO GOOD. Not only is it entertaining as hell, but it’s so classically early-Buffy. The theme of “Halloween” is insecurity (Buffy’s, Xander’s, Willow’s) and this episode plays with those insecurities in hilarious ways.
The episode opens with Spike recording Buffy fighting a vampire, which always seems off to me. Would Spike really do this? Later on, we totally know Spike to be a spontaneous, impulsive type, so this is…weird to me. I guess maybe it was more so he could remain unknown to the Slayer for now. Whatevs.
The next scene is in The Bronze, where Cordelia is flirting with Angel and we actually see Angel smile for a change. I
am totally not a Cangel shipper, but they’re cute here. Until Buffy comes in, sees and starts to leave, and Angel scampers to her. Buffy is a bit messy from the aforementioned vamp-fighting, and Cordelia embarrasses her, and Buffy is sad. Basically, the gist of this scene is that Buffy is feeling insecure about her desirability. This is tied in with her general discontent with being the Slayer, of course. As she tells Angel, “But who am I kidding? Dates are things normal girls have.” She goes on to say that normal girls think about nail polish and facials while she thinks about ambush tactics and beheading. I think she’s forgetting here that Angel is a 200-year-old vampire with a soul, fighting against evil – so, very much interested in ambush tactics and beheading and less interested in nail polish. Again, though, this is about Buffy’s insecurity, which has little to do with what Angel’s actually looking for in a girlfriend.
Next, at school, Snyder forces Buffy and the gang to volunteer to go Trick or Treating with kids. Oh, Snyder. I love that he also makes costumes mandatory. He really just wants to have fun with his constant bullying of high-schoolers. We also find out that nothing supernatural or sinister happens on Halloween, a fact I’ve always loved (even if it doesn’t always turn out to be true.)
Xander’s insecurity is shown next, when Larry (yay Larry! hi I missed you) asks him if Buffy is single and/or interested in him. Larry calls Buffy “fast” which upsets Xander. He tries to do “something damn manly” by making the argument
physical. Larry easily takes control of the situation and is about to punch him when Buffy intervenes. Xander’s pride is wounded. He’s not romantically involved with the girl he likes, he’s not physically fit enough to win a fight, and on top of that, he can’t even get that weird pride thing some guys get from being beaten up AND he was rescued by a girl. Yeah, Xander’s “less than a man” complex is still in full swing here. And he’s a jerk about it.
We immediately switch gears into Buffy’s insecurity as she tells Willow all about her failed date with Angel. Willow assures her that Cordelia isn’t Angel’s type, but Buffy is unconvinced, so Willow suggests (somewhat accidentally) that they check out the Watcher’s diaries for details about Angel’s past. The way they distract Giles to sneak into the library is charming and wonderful.
Buffy and Willow find a drawing of…a lady that knew Angel? I always found it weird how vague this was. No name, just a date and a drawing – is that all there is about her? Why? Who bothered to write that down? Also, is this supposed to be Drusilla? Maybe Darla? So many questions. Regardless, this makes Buffy feel even more insecure, and Willow’s hasty comments about the woman’s “weird tiny waist” don’t comfort her. Instead, she fantasizes about what it would be like to be a noblewoman. I’m with Willow on this one: being able to vote is better than getting all dolled up for the delight of men. However, this is still about Buffy’s own insecurities, with herself as a girl and herself as the Slayer. She is equating having the luxury to focus on girly things with the luxury to be “normal,” i.e. not a Slayer.
Also in this scene, Buffy and Willow tell Cordelia that Angel is a vampire. She doesn’t believe them, but she looks really pretty.
Then they are in a costume shop. Willow wants to go as a ghost (a costume that will completely cover/disguise her) but Buffy encourages her to branch out and be “sexy and wild.” Maybe somewhat predictably, all three Scoobies pick costumes that speak to their insecurities: Willow as the ghost, Xander as an army man, and Buffy as a princessy noblewoman.
Meanwhile, Drusilla has a vision about Halloween making Buffy weak so Spike decides to cause mayhem. Ethan Rayne then does his mojo in the costume shop. Etc, etc.
On Halloween, Buffy’s all dolled up in her princess costume, excited to show Angel later that day. She managed to convince Willow to dress as…um…well, in an outfit that may have been sexy in 1998. By the time Xander arrives, though, she’s in her ghost costume, too insecure to be all midriff-y and alluring or whatever.
So then we have some Trick or Treating fun. Ethan finishes his spell and then shit goes down. Little kids turn into demons, Willow collapses and steps out of her body, Xander becomes capable and strong in the face of chaos and Buffy becomes utterly useless. I have to say, this episode was the first and only time I found Xander Harris attractive.
I don’t have much in the way of analysis about the actual switched-ness of this episode. It’s entertaining to see the characters we know so well acting completely out-of-character. Also, Willow walking through things and startling Giles is always fun. It’s interesting to me that Willow’s the only one who retains her memories. I guess “ghost costume” means she’s still Willow, but as a ghost. It doesn’t really make sense why Xander isn’t still Xander, but a Marine (or whatever). Still, I suppose the episode needed one of the Scoobies to be “themselves” and figure it out. Plus, then we get lines like: “She’s not Buffy.” “Who’s Buffy?” “Oh, this is fun.” Also, it makes sense with regard to the resolution, which I’ll get to in a minute.
Although adding comedic value, Buffy’s mannerisms and speech have always kind of grated on me in this episode. I don’t know if it’s due to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s acting, or the writing (that’s not how an 18th-century woman would necessarily speak, for one thing; for another, her lines are so straightforward [“I’m not meant to understand things!”] that it’s annoying), but yeah. Irritating. Anyway. There’s a lot of hijinks in the meantime, which I thoroughly enjoy watching, but to keep this review less than a novel’s length, I’m going to go ahead and skip ahead.
Giles and Willow figure out that Ethan’s costume shop must be responsible for the mayhem, and Giles goes to confront Ethan. This is the first inkling we get that Giles is kind of a total badass, which I love. So the spell is reversed in the nick of time, and Buffy isn’t eaten by Spike and instead pulls off her wig and kicks his ass. Yay!
To sum up the resolution to the Scoobies’ insecurities:
Xander: It’s interesting to note that he’s very self-confident as Army Xander, such that when Princess Buffy accuses him of being feeble for taking orders from Willow, he doesn’t care. Regular Xander definitely would have been annoyed by the suggestion that a woman has more power than him (as he was in the beginning of the episode) but Army Xander is like meh, whatever, I’ve got some barricading to do. Basically, what makes Army Xander more manly than Regular Xander is the security he has in his masculinity. I don’t know for sure if this confidence rubs off on Xander (either right away or later on) but it’s interesting anyway.
Buffy: At the very end of the episode, she’s told by Angel that he never liked noblewomen anyway and finds her much more interesting. Which I guess she needed to hear. Anyway, her abilities as a Slayer saved the day yet again, so that probably helped her confidence some. Besides which, as an 18th-century girl, she was terrified by vampy Angel, so a relationship with him in that state literally wasn’t possible. He likes Slayer Buffy, and that seems to appease her (for now).
Willow: As I mentioned, there’s another reason Willow had to retain her memories as a ghost. By doing so, she gets over her insecurity of being visible/sexy/noticed. Once Giles breaks Ethan’s spell and she’s back in her ghost costume, she makes the choice to take it off, throw it away, and walk home in her sexy outfit. Yay, Willow! Also, we get another cute Oz “who IS that girl?” moment. Can they just be dating already?
Oh, and lest I forget, the episode ends on this glorious shot of Giles after reading an ominous message written by Ethan. Bless this episode.