[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon, Ashley Gable, and Thomas A. Swyden | Director: Reza Badiyi | Aired: 05/19/1997]
Unlike “Nightmares” [1×10], “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” tells a coherent story. It’s not the deepest story you’ll ever see on Buffy, and it has a metaphor that is a little too transparent (pun intended) in places, but it largely succeeds at what it sets out to do and develops a character in the process. While it succeeds in offering up something worthwhile, it still struggles in terms of those ever important details such as pacing, subtlety, and depth. I was really digging this one until around the midway point, which is where it started losing steam. Speaking of details, how about I give you some to chew on?
What would happen to a person so ignored that they literally disappeared? It’s as if the collective indifference around them wished it to happen, and it did. “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” explores this concept and does a decent job at bringing in a couple characters, namely Cordelia and Buffy, along for the ride. A classroom scene early on sets up the events to come quite nicely. Cordelia offers a little rant about how “the outcasts of society” simply need to get over themselves, while Willow gives an obviously self-conscious rebuttal where she suggests that getting angry over being ignored and looked down on is justified. These two very different responses reflect back on Willow’s and Cordelia’s respective personalities, and what we will come to see from them when presented with obstacles in the future. One of Willow’s biggest character flaws is that she has horrible coping mechanisms for pain and loss. Although “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” doesn’t explore this any further, it is telling how much more Willow appears to relate to Marcie than to Cordelia.
Even more pressing about this classroom discussion is that it sets up the conversation of whether or not we will feel sorry for Marcie. If so, does that empathy extend to revenge on those that ignored her? How does anger and vengeance work out for Marcie, and what lesson does that offer to everyone else? The only problem I have with this whole setup is that the conclusion somewhat undercuts it by revealing that Marcie has gone completely bonkers, thereby nullifying some of these difficult questions and making it impossible to have much sympathy for her plight. A more nuanced Marcie would have gone a long way to lifting the episode out of mediocrity.
At least “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” leaves its mark on the characters. There’s an interesting scene where Xander and Willow share an inside joke with each other, leaving Buffy feeling out of the loop. Xander even unknowingly criticizes Buffy for having enjoyed school coronation events and dances in the past. I really appreciate the attention drawn to Buffy’s sense of loneliness and loss here. Marcie is another good warning for Buffy of what indulging in her justified loneliness can do. Like Amy’s mom in “Witch” [1×03], acting like a child outside of childhood can have devastating consequences. Sometimes life forces you to grow up fast; what you do with that situation can define you.
Each character responds to the isolation Marcie represents in a different way. Marcie, herself, tries to quell the feeling with vengeance, Cordelia by surrounding herself with other people so she feels popular and wanted, and Buffy by sacrificing her own desires to make a difference, even if those around her fail to notice it. Where Willow seems to relate to Marcie, it’s clear that Buffy relates more to Cordelia. After all, what is Buffy’s “family and friends,” as Spike will soon say, but a support network to keep away the loneliness inside? Buffy is far more giving than Cordelia though, which is exemplified when she smiles at seeing Cordelia getting all dolled up for the coronation. It says great things about Buffy that she’s capable of showing such happiness for someone getting that which she so badly wants, yet can no longer have.
One great joy of “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” is that Cordelia is finally given some much needed depth. After Buffy pokes fun at her superficiality, Cordelia drops her defensiveness for a moment and says, “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 a popular zone. Sometimes when I talk, everyone’s so busy agreeing with me, they don’t hear a word I say.” At the end of the episode, Cordelia even genuinely thanks Buffy and the gang for their help, which proves that Cordelia can be self-aware and capable of showing gratitude. This is the perfect grace note for what turns out to be the first step towards a better — yet always tumultuous — relationship between Cordelia and the Scoobies, and is clearly a creative breakthrough for the writing staff in how they will treat the character going forward.
Not to get lost in the action, Angel pays Giles a visit and gets a moment of reflection (easy pun #2!) of his own, informing Giles that having no reflection is an overrated pleasure. This hints at the fact that despite his romantic aura, he’s actually a pretty lonely creature that feels perpetually damned. It was great to see Angel and Giles have a moment to bond a little, particularly in light of events to come. Oh resonance, how I love thee.
While the first half of “Out of Mind, Out of Sight” does a pretty nice job at using its plot to draw parallels to the characters, things begin to slide downhill soon afterward. With the exception of a scene or two, the last half of the episode is drearily paced, repetitive, and fairly boring. It’s actually quite a shame, because it’s like Whedon came up with a great concept, but the actual script comes up short in giving it justice. The writers didn’t quite seem able to add in that extra layer of emotion, depth, and complexity.
Marcie’s plight is certainly somewhat fascinating, but it’s just not very emotionally stimulating. This all comes back to wanting Marcie’s motivations to be fleshed out a bit beyond ‘I was ignored, woe me, psycho time!‘ The episode just writes her off as a lunatic who gets wisped away by a couple convenient FBI guys in an overly goofy conclusion. This is all a bit of a shame, because it almost comes together for me.
I’ve got notable qualms with “Out of Mind, Out of Sight,” but it definitely does enough right in terms of theme and character to be a worthwhile effort. I really loved seeing Cordelia actually become a real character (rather than a walking, talking cliché), and taking that first step toward integrating with the Scoobies. I also appreciated how Marcie’s situation is, at least early on, used as a point of reflection for Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia. In light of this, we end up with one of Season 1’s better outings.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ I like how Cordelia, while very superficial, is not also a complete idiot (thanks to this episode, of course). She shows concern for how she does in school, and appears to be decently read.
+ Xander’s quip about protecting the girls’ locker room if he had the power of invisibility reminds me of the Trio in “Gone” [6×11].
+ Willow rocking the Scooby Doo shirt. Scoobies indeed.
– The hand-raising scene is a little overwrought. I get the point, but it is too unrealistic – what with all the other students conveniently raising their hands — to work as intended.