[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Marti Noxon | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 02/10/1998]
“I know it’s not love. It’s obsession — selfish, banal obsession.” – Giles
In the build-up to “Surprise” [2×13] we witnessed a tremendous amount of subtext that was prepping both characters and viewer alike for the big changes ahead. With “Surprise” [2×13] and “Innocence” [2×14], we saw that shift occur — a shift that has moved the season from being in build-up/warning mode into more of a reactive/reflective mode. Where the earlier episodes frequently put forth cautionary tales, the final leg of the season showcases the fiery consequences of getting swept up and blinded by adolescent — immature — love. “Phases” [2×15] tackled the more physical, sexual angle of this while “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”, henceforth referred to simply as “Bewitched”, inspects the emotional side of it.
As the Giles quote at the top very explicitly states, “Bewitched” has one thing, and one thing only, on its mind: the obsessive, emotional component of adolescent love. True to its theme, one might even say that it’s a bit obsessive and direct in its presentation of it. This approach results in an episode with notably less sophistication and nuance than its predecessor, but it also has the benefit of driving its point home that much more succinctly.
Xander and his backfired love spell are this theme’s primary conduit. Let’s first think about why the spell didn’t work as Xander intended it to. Remember, in “Phases” [2×15], when Willow said of Xander that “He’s so busy looking around at everything he doesn’t have, he doesn’t even realize what he does have”? This is both true and the key to understanding the love spell here in “Bewitched”.
When Amy recites, “Let my cries bind the heart of Xander’s beloved. May she neither rest nor sleep until she submits to his will only,” we can extrapolate that Xander’s “beloved” is definitely not Cordelia by recalling the nature of their relationship thus far. (As an aside: the wording of the incantation reads like a recipe for domestic violence!) Worded like that, if there’s any one person that would meet the spell’s criteria for Xander, it would easily be Buffy. As Willow so astutely observed, Xander actually thinks of (and certainly dreams of) most women being his “beloved”, not just Buffy. It’s a case of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. Even though he’s finally stumbled into in a relationship, Xander simply can’t stop thinking about other girls.
(It’s particularly interesting that Xander ends up having the mob of obsessed women overwhelm him in… wait for it… Buffy’s house! This is a fun nod to the fact that Xander, too, has been and can be a bit obsessive over Buffy, and that he ultimately holds her to a ridiculous standard that is different from everyone else. The fact Amy’s spell is broken while Xander is at Buffy’s house should serve as a subconscious hint that he will need to shatter the pedestal he places her on — something that doesn’t fully happen until “Entropy” [6×18], I’d say.)
So why isn’t Cordelia affected by the spell if most other women seem to be? I think it’s because Xander, ultimately, will always be closer to hating Cordelia than loving her — they are not remotely right for each other and she is certainly not his beloved. This is also why, of all the current couples in the show, theirs will be the first to permanently implode on its own. Despite the fact that their relationship seems more solid than ever at the end of the episode, it’s really in no better shape, at least from Xander’s perspective, and I don’t think it would be from Cordelia’s either if she knew his underlying motive for doing the spell: vengeance. The one positive thing Cordelia gains from this experience is that she should not let herself be defined by what her so-called friends think of her and that, mistake or not, we should always be in control of our choices in life.
Since this is a series that is ultimately about Buffy, Xander’s experience in failing to control or understand love and encountering a torrent of consequences because of it directly parallels Buffy’s own experience with Angel. Buffy’s blind love for Angel, of course, blew up in her face, and the result of that — Angelus — is now obsessed with her in a way that’s remarkably similar to what Amy’s love spell has done to the women of Sunnydale towards Xander. In both cases, the consequences are the result of their very adolescent understanding of love. Buffy will come face-to-face with this in the very next episode: “Passion” [2×17].
“Do you have any idea how serious this is? People under a love spell, Xander, are deadly. They lose all capacity for reason.” – Giles
Giles plays an important role for Buffy in being her guide at slaying evil things, but he’s also important to her as the only resident adult in the core group. By keeping Jenny at a distance so as not to further hurt or distract Buffy — his charge — Giles shows a level of maturity and sacrifice that befits the label of ‘adult’. This is a real sacrifice for Giles, and it provides a great example to Buffy of what having control over one’s desires actually looks like. Giles places his duty to and care of Buffy above his growing love for Jenny because the success of ‘the mission’ — their mutual higher calling — supersedes it.
The villains of Season 2 are, thankfully, tied thematically into all of this, what with Angelus being obsessive over Buffy and Spike being obsessive over Drusilla. The interplay between Spike, Drusilla, and Angelus is so much fun! I have to concede that I’m always pleased to see the big villains being villainous to each other — you don’t see that all the time in fiction. It’s fun seeing Angelus try to one-up Spike in their respective affections for Drusilla, although Angelus mostly does it just to hurt Spike, who is starting to feel like he’s losing her all over again and that there’s little he can do about it. “Angel always knows what speaks to a girl’s heart”, Drusilla almost sings as the camera pans down to a girl’s limp heart that Angelus has literally ripped out. (That’s a double metaphor, kids!)
Cordelia dumping Xander on Valentine’s Day is also, one might say, heartless (pardon the pun… or maybe don’t)! Xander admits that all they’ve really shown for each other is “teen lust”, but that it’s possible it could develop into something more. What this tells me is that Xander doesn’t have the slightest clue what they’re doing and, if anything, seems to be getting bored with their current arrangement. But Cordelia isn’t sure she needs or even wants to actually get to know Xander better, particularly if the cost is letting go of her groupies. The fact she keeps wearing the necklace he gave her even after dumping him — that locker scene where she takes it off is quite touching — does at least show that there is some genuine affection there that goes beyond Xander’s lips. Although under a spell, Harmony wasn’t entirely wrong in saying, “Only a sick pup would let Xander get away, no matter what her friends said!” Cordelia’s motives for ditching Xander were of the worst kind, even more so considering that she actually has come to care about him.
As for how Xander handles the insanity caused by the spell, well, let’s just say he didn’t do anything he’d really regret. To Xander’s credit, he quickly realizes what has happened and spends the rest of the episode fleeing from girl mania while simultaneously restraining himself from taking sexual advantage of them. I have to give Xander props for doing the right thing here, even though he was clearly quite tempted at times, particularly by Buffy. While Xander comes across as a little crude towards girls at times — albeit not at pre-“Phases” [2×15] Larry levels — when push comes to shove he won’t take advantage of girls who are in a “drugged” state, which is sadly more than a lot of (usually college-aged) guys can say. Buffy’s right when she tells Xander that “there might just be hope for you yet.”
One neat aspect of the spell is its reach. It’s so cool that Drusilla is also drawn in by it! Remember what she represented back in “Surprise” [2×13]? Yep, Buffy’s metaphorical lust, which Angelus had earlier delivered a dead heart to, is now coming after Xander too! And she wants to make him into a vampire so they can be together forever. Talk about obsessed! The fact that Drusilla and even Joyce were impacted implies that, at least on some level, Xander finds them alluring. Combine his comment about linoleum in “Innocence” [2×14] with his dreams in “Restless” [4×22], and there’s some real merit to this.
I really enjoyed most of “Bewitched”, but I don’t think I find its more one-note humor quite as hilarious as others seem to. If anything, I actually find “Phases” [2×15] to be the funnier episode of the two thanks to its more nuanced humor. The primary issue with “Bewitched”, though, is how it indulges in its own excesses a little too often. That may play well with the theme of obsession, but it results in a heavy-handed impression at times. This is no more evident than in the school hallways the day after Cordelia dumps Xander. There are simply too many kids at the school either rubbing it into Xander verbally, talking about it behind his back, or laughing at him, all at once. This is overkill. There are simply too many people in the school that either wouldn’t know about something like this or wouldn’t care. The scene oversells itself and comes across looking silly.
Repetition and padding are other issues “Bewitched” struggles to overcome. After the spell is cast, we see Xander jumping from scene to scene trying to avoid the same situation again and again. These situations are, for the most part, reasonably amusing, but it gets a little repetitive after a while. The entire BuffyRat sequence doesn’t do anything for me either. Outside of the first season, I rarely feel like Buffy gets lazy enough to pad episodes, but those BuffyRat segments really push my tolerance to the limit, and then a bit over it.
“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” is a fun episode with a sharp focus on both theme and character, but between its repetitive nature, occasional heavy-handedness, and the lazy BuffyRat segments, it’s just not an episode that is quite as polished and sophisticated as it could have been. The core of “Bewitched” is solid, but the surface has got scratch marks all over it.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Christophe Beck puts together a fresh score for “Bewitched”, and it’s a good one.
+ Buffy half-jokingly asking Xander if Cordelia even knows what ‘having a heart’ is. Hah!
+ Spike getting all poetic about lungs.
+ Willow’s giddy self-realization that she’s become a groupie. Haha.
+ Buffy’s Valentine’s Day shirt while stuck at home: “Hug Me”. Awwww!
+ Giles tells Buffy, “better safe than sorry.” Buffy admits, “it’s a little late for both.” Ouch.
+ Xander’s slo-mo walk down the hallway with all the girls flipping out over him. Quite fun.
+ Xander’s hilariously poor attempt to prevent girls from entering the library by moving a desk in front of two-way doors. Haha!
+ Oz punching Xander in the face. A part of me feels like Xander kind of deserved it even thought he didn’t act on Willow’s spelled advances.
+ The lunch lady chasing after Xander! I’m quite happy this happened.
+ Xander simply giving up once Joyce starts hitting on him too.
+ Neat spell effects.
+ Oz trying to deal with a suddenly nude Buffy in the school basement.
* Although we don’t see her much, Amy has clearly taken to some of her mother’s dark mojo. This doesn’t bode well for her future, as we’ll find out in “Gingerbread” [3×11] and then “Smashed” [6×09].
* Buffy mentioning that she should probably be concerned over her mom’s ability to repress things. This will become a pointed statement come “Becoming Pt. 2” [2×22].