In my years of TV watching, there have been tons of well-regarded shows that have eluded my gaze. Thanks to the magic of Netflix and other online streaming sites, I now have an opportunity to watch these shows and share my thoughts on them. It may be a classic to you, but It’s New To Me!
Early on in the second season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, it became evident that Joss Whedon and his team of writers and directors were gaining confidence in their material once it became clear that the show was gaining an audience and was less likely to be yanked from the airwaves. Just six episodes in, the show seems to be confidently settling into its niche and slowly letting its main story and central characters develop while offering its viewers some absurd yet substantial fun. The episodes featured in today’s entry are no different. Both of them are mostly self-contained stories that provide small yet significant moments that make Buffy and her supporting cast even more endearing to me.
The first of these episodes, “Reptile Boy,” once again puts a fun horror-tinged spin on a familiar trope found in most hour-long teen dramas. The episode deals with Buffy accompanying Cordelia to a fraternity party at the local college that turns out to be a cult that sacrifices high school girls to a grotesque serpentine monster named Machida in exchange for wealth and prosperity. Buffy’s motivation for attending the party mostly stems from a conversation she has with Angel early on in the episode in which he tells her that their budding relationship can never work due to their massive age difference and the fact that he’s…you know, a vampire. Like most sixteen year old girls, she desires to be seen as mature and sophisticated by older guys, but when she arrives at the party, she is confused and repulsed by the crass and brutish behavior of most of the people there but is quickly charmed by one fraternity member who appears sensitive and mature. That is, of course, until he reveals himself as a member of the reptile blood cult and chains Buffy and Cordelia up in the basement next to another unfortunate girl and sics Machida on them.
Luckily, Willow and Giles’ investigation of the disappearance of some girls from a nearby prep school puts the Scooby Gang and Angel on the trail of the frat house. Xander crashes the party in order to extricate Buffy but is caught and humiliated by the frat boys, who put him in a dress and pelt him with beer cans. Willow, Giles, and Angel show up at the frat house right when Buffy escapes from her chains and kills Machida. The frat members are arrested and are given life sentences for their murderous activities, and Buffy apologizes to her friends and to Giles for shunning them in order to try to be more “mature.” Giles responds by admitting that he’s been pushing her too hard and promises to go easier on her training in the future. Angel, relieved that Buffy was not harmed, approaches her at the Bronze and asks her if she’d like to go get some coffee sometime, and Buffy happily accepts.
“Reptile Boy” continues the trend of introducing a cool-looking monster that is defeated all too quickly and easily by the end, but I did like how Machida was the source of all the wealthy members of the Delta Zeta Kappa fraternity’s wealth and power. I was especially amused by the report in the final scene of past fraternity members experiencing financial ruin due to the demise of their snake god. If the show aired in this current era, I’m sure several TV political pundits would decry the show and Whedon for being anti-capitalist (and as we all know from the money that The Avengers brought in, that’s definitely not the case). Watching this show for the first time in 2013 constantly reminds me of how different the overall climate was in the late nineties, but not in a way that dates the show to the point where it seems irrelevant. Overall, “Reptile Boy” was an enjoyable episode that poked some relatively good-natured fun at a culture that I hold a fair amount of disdain for while continuing to explore Buffy’s insecurity as a teenage girl and dichotomy between her personal life and the career of sorts that has been pretty much forced upon her. 4 out of 5 Bloody Bracelets.
Despite their cute little makeup scene at the end of “Reptile Boy,” Buffy still feels insecure about the vast age difference between herself and Angel, which leads to a rather unwise costume choice in the next episode, “Halloween.” She also faces some possible competition for Angel’s affections when Cordelia starts to openly flirt with him, unaware that he is in fact a vampire. At school, Buffy and her friends anticipate a nice quiet Halloween, which is described by Giles as a night when the real monsters stay relatively quiet, but are then hand-picked by Principal Snyder to accompany the neighborhood kids as they trick or treat. When they visit the local costume shop, Buffy eyes a lovely 18th Century-style dress to wear as part of her costume, mostly because it is closer to the period in which Angel was her age. She is persuaded to buy the dress by the shop’s owner, Ethan Rayne, whom we later see is involved in some shady magic when he consults a bust of the Roman god Janus. We are then taken to the vampire’s hidden lair, where Drusilla prophecies that something will weaken the Slayer and make her vulnerable to an attack, which of course interests Spike, who is still looking to gain an advantage over Buffy.
Halloween quickly turns from innocent fun to mass hysteria when the kids start turning into the things they are dressed up as and attack the innocent residents of Sunnydale. This phenomenon also affects the Scoobies. Buffy literally becomes a prissy, easily frightened 18th-Century nobleman, Xander becomes a badass Army private with a working rifle, and Willow, who decided to cover up her original revealing costume with an It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - style ghost costume, becomes an actual ghost who is able to phase through walls. Willow is the only one of the three who retains awareness of who she really is and is able to corral the bewildered Xander and Buffy to Buffy’s house, where Joyce is conveniently absent, in order to regroup and try to figure out how to put things back to normal. Cordelia meets up with them, dressed as a cat but not transformed like the others. Angel shows up and is confused when Buffy does not recognize him. Willow leaves the house and arrives at the library to consult Giles. They deduce that the shop owner must be behind the strange goings-on since Cordelia did not get her costume at the shop and is the only one unaffected. When they arrive at the shop, we find out that Giles and Ethan know each other. Giles sends Willow back to Buffy’s house and attempts to persuade Ethan to reverse the spell.
Willow returns to the house just as Spike and his minions break in to kill the Slayer. Luckily, Giles finds out that the Janus bust is the source of the spell and shatters it, which brings everyone back to normal and snaps Buffy back to reality in time to defeat Spike, who retreats to fight another day. Later on, Buffy admits to Angel that she was trying to impress him with her choice of costume, and Angel tells her that he hated those kind of girls back in his day, and they engage in their first official makeout session. The next day, Giles returns to Ethan’s shop to find it abandoned, with a note addressed to him from Ethan stating that he will return.
“Halloween” is one of my favorite episodes of Buffy so far, mostly because it involves nearly all of the show’s main and supporting cast and gives all of them something to do. I enjoyed how each of the Scoobies’ costume reflected something of their own personal anxieties. Willow’s costume of course communicated her lack of confidence in her own appearance, while Xander’s outfit reflected his own bruised male ego from earlier in the episode when Buffy saved him from getting pounded by a larger bully. Xander gets some redemption by the end of the episode when he, in his soldier persona, beats up the bully, who had been transformed into a pirate, while Willow once again catches the eye of Oz after shedding her ghost costume, although she still doesn’t notice his admiration. Mostly, I enjoyed how this episode added another layer to Giles, who up until now has been the least-developed character on the show. His backstory with Ethan, who appears to be a less noble purveyor of the mystic arts, will hopefully be further explored as the season progresses. At the center of it is another tussle with Spike, who looks to be a constant threat for at least this season. Even though the main plot is lifted somewhat from the 1983 film Halloween III: The Season of the Witch, I would call this the first great episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, mostly because it features everything I’ve come to love about the show. “Halloween” earns 5 out of 5 Demon Children.