[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 02/23/1999]
Here represents another Whedon-written success. This episode is everything we’ve come to expect from BtVS. Willow’s self-confidence is the focus and it manages to be hilarious, witty, fun, exciting, and fascinating. There’s significant character development and foreshadowing going on and the entertaining Vampire Willow is the reason why it all gets forced out. Plot threads from the season are also seamlessly woven into the story along with development for a reappearing Anya now stuck in a younger body and forced to live as a human again. This is simply wonderful television.
Early on Buffy is talking about how if things had turned out differently for her she might be just like Faith is now. Willow responds, “some people just don’t have that in them.” This is ultimately a correct statement. Some people just don’t have an evil bone in them and Buffy, for all her issues, is fundamentally a person who will not do evil.
Ever since the S2 episode “Halloween” [2×06] Willow has been slowly gaining and retaining confidence boosts. The problem is that these boosts have been confined within her circle of friends. To the outside world, as iconified by Percy here, she is still weak and accomodating. Her natural growth of confidence just isn’t fast enough. All of this explodes to the surface when Buffy calls her “old reliable.” She acts out by breaking her routine and turning to black magic. Willow herself fully realizes her perceived problem through Vampire Willow’s influence on everyone around her.
Willow says about herself, “She bothered me. She’s so weak and accommodating. She’s always letting people walk all over her, and then she gets cranky with her friends for no reason. I just couldn’t let her live.” And with that statement she actually has killed off her innocent persona. Percy’s newfound respect for her is a confirmation to her that having power makes you important in the eyes of other people. Although her change won’t be instant, she takes action to rid herself of this persona as early as “Choices” [3×19] when she volunteers for a dangerous mission, proactively uses her magic in the field, and then stands up to Faith at knife-point.
By the time Tara comes into the picture (“Hush” [4×10] ) Willow’s built a new personality for herself where she is confident in the outside world. The problem is that most of this confidence stems from the power she gets when using black magic. In “Wrecked” [6×10] she says, “if you could be … you know, plain old Willow or super Willow, who would you be? … I mean, Buffy, who was I? Just, some girl. Tara didn’t even know that girl.” That just highlights how much of a turning point this episode actually is for her.
If someone had for some reason been reading this review up to this point without seeing the episode, they’d probably be under the impression that this was a serious episode. All of the huge issues that are going on with Willow are expertly wrapped up in a genuinely fun package. Nothing exemplifies this fact more than the scene in the library where Willow walks in when Buffy, Xander, and Giles all thought she was a vampire. Xander runs up to her and sticks a cross in her face, hilariously shakes it a bunch, and then sticks it in her face again. Buffy and Xander then run up to hug her as she asks Giles what the heck is going on. Then Giles runs up and hugs her! After getting a hilariously worried face she poses a question to the group, “Say, you all didn’t happen to do a bunch of drugs, did ya?” There are really too many hilarious scenes to even count in this one including Anya’s chat with D’Hoffryn, her failure to get beer, Wesley’s boyish fright, and the outfit exchange with Vampire Willow.
When seeing this episode for the first time I had a genuine good time but didn’t think the episode held any lasting importance to the series. Upon review I realize that this has a ton of lasting importance involving Willow’s character. All of this wonderful development and foreshadowing is cleverly camoflauged by Whedon as a hilarious throw-away episode. Whedon is a genius (I’m curious how many times I’ll end up saying this by series end). Enough said.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ D’Hoffryn is amusing from his very first appearance.
+ Snyder mentioning “last year’s debacle with the swim team.”
+ Faith playing the spy. Also, I find the father/daughter relationship between her and the Mayor weird, touching, amusing, and most of all, fascinating.
+ Willow saying the words, “magic is dangerous, Anya, i-it’s, it’s not to be toyed with.” When you know what’s to come, that line is hilarious coming from her.
+ Vampire Willow beating up Percy. Very fun.
+ Buffy and Xander’s initial reaction to Vampire Willow.
+ Both Willows’ interacting with each other. Serious fun.
+ Willow not only putting on the leather outfit but bothering to put the fuzzy outfit she had onto Vampire Willow.
+ Buffy’s highly entertaining plan to have Willow ‘send’ vamps outside one by one for them to kill.
+ Willow noticing her breasts when in Vampire Willow’s outfit. “Gosh, look at those.”
+ Cordelia chatting with Vampire Willow about the “ethics of boyfriend stealing.”
+ Wesley being terrified but Cordelia warming up to him anyway. “Yes…uhh…yes.”
+ Vampire Willow dying the moment she gets sent back to her reality.
– Vampire Willow is trying to strangle Willow. With vampire strength there’s no way Willow would have lasted that long.
* In the beginning of the episode Willow mentions how the magic she’s using to float the pencil is all about emotional control. When the topic of Faith comes up she loses control and the magic becomes erratic and violent. This happens again and again in upcoming seasons and to much more severe degrees.
* Willow says, referring to Vampire Willow, “I’m so evil and… skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.” Angel then starts to correct Buffy when she says that a vampire’s personality is nothing like the person they originally were. In the course of the series we never see Willow become outright ‘skanky,’ but she does become evil (S6) and she does become gay (S4).