I wish dating was like slaying. You know, simple, direct, stake to the heart, no muss, no fuss.
Last week we checked in on Willow’s love life and the week before we visited the horrorshow of Buffy’s relationship, so of course it’s time to check in on our other Scooby couple, Cordelia and Xander. There’s a lot to love in this episode and a surprising amount of foreshadowing that’s hidden in the small print ““ Spike’s human past as an unsuccessful poet (“It doesn’t have to be. What rhymes with lungs?”), Willow’s streak of hidden aggression (axe!), Amy’s rat transformation spell, and Xander’s mucking around with magic, causing chaos (“Once More with Feeling”). This is also the episode that introduces the phrase “The Big Bad.”
Xander is accompanying Buffy on one of her slaying stakeouts, mostly so he can get her advice on girlie matters. Valentine’s Day is coming up and Xander plans on giving Cordelia a heart locket to commemorate their”¦ love? Buffy asks if Cordy knows what a heart is, ha ha ha, because, well, it’s Cordelia.
TNMAS, Cordy is getting the cold shoulder from her friends for her public relationship with sub-social-strata Xander. Harmony has obvious smelled weakness in the alpha and is whipping the other wolves up to ostracize Cordelia and take over the head bitch role. Cordelia is flummoxed. She decides to handle it in the worst way possible.
Instead having “the talk” over the phone or at school or something, Cordy waits until the Valentine’s Day Dance at the Bronze (Willow’s boyfriend is in the band!), when she’s all dressed up and Xander is all dressed up, and he’s given her his present, to dump a break-up on him. This is absolutely believable teenaged behavior.
Unfortunately, in another turn of believable teenaged behavior, Harmony and the Stooges don’t welcome her back with open arms. Cordelia will have to grovel.
Xander is blind-sided by the break. He seeks Buffy out to talk about his feelings, but she doesn’t have time for him. She’s apologetic about it, but for Valentine’s Day, Angelus dropped off some long-stemmed roses and a note that reads “Soon.” It’s really too bad that Xander has had his heart broken, but it’ll be worse if Angelus, you know, literally breaks his heart. Buffy sics Giles on the history books to find out what might be coming. This leaves Xander Scoobie-less, since Willow is still pissed off that Xander would rather be with Cordelia than her.
And then he has an idea. Like many of his ideas, it is fundamentally terrible. His thought process goes like this:
- Cordelia broke up with him.
- His manliness is wounded.
- Amy is a witch.
- He saw Amy using her witch powers to get out of writing term papers.
- Ergo, he will blackmail Amy into casting a love spell on Cordelia, so that he can humiliate and dump her.
Some of these things come to pass. Using the necklace he gave Cordy, Amy casts a love spell. TNMAS, Xander notices that everyone seems to be looking at him, except the one person he really wants to ““ Cordelia is acting as bitchy as ever. The love spell worked ““ just not in the way he wanted to. It’ll take a bit for Xander’s brain to click over to this realization, but the necklace seems to have protected Cordy from the effects of the spell, while all the other women that comes into contact with him are affected. (Larry, the only out gay character, doesn’t make an appearance this episode, so we have to assume it is a female-only spell.)
Everything goes poorly from here on out.
Buffy comes onto him, pulling out the old trench-coat with nothing underneath trick. Amy suggests they spend more time together to get the spell “right.” Willow hides in his bed, in one of his shirts, offering up her virginity. Jenny paws at him in the library. Even Joyce gets in on it.
On paper, this sounds swell, and Xander enjoys the initial attention. But the reason that love spells are incredibly dangers becomes readily apparent ““ infatuation becomes anger which becomes violence, and Xander isn’t even the one that gets the worst of it. Sure, Oz pops him for making Willow cry, but an Amy-Buffy showdown ends up with Buffy transformed into a rat, and Harmony and the Stooges attack Cordelia for having the audacity to dump Xander and hurt his precious, precious feelings.
Luckily, Xander happens to be passing by when Cordy is getting beat down. He’s able to pull her out from under the crush of girls and flee. Their escape route is blocked by a competing gang of girls, headed by Willow and an axe, who are much more interested in killing Xander to keep him from loving anyone else. The Harmony mob and the Willow mob clash and in the ensuing confusion, Xander and Cordelia make a break for it.
They head towards Buffy’s house, apparently wandering through a time portal along the way, since it was brightly sunny when they left the school and it’s night when they arrive. Joyce is home, which is OK, because she’s a mom and not, you know, a lady. Or so Xander thinks ““ Cordelia has to throw Joyce out of her own house. The pair then tries to hide in Buffy’s room, where they’ll have a view of the street, and that also backfires, since Angel has been lurking outside of the window. Angel grabs Xander and drags him out of the house.
Like everyone else in town, Dru has been whammied by Amy’s spell, so she’s around to keep Angelus from disemboweling Xander on the front lawn. She offers eternal life but before the deed can be done, the mob catches up with Xander.
This love spell is just the worst.
There’s not many places left to hide, and the basement of Buffy’s house is unable to withstand the onslaught of every mobile female in the greater Sunnydale area. Cordelia and Xander fall under the weight of their attackers, just as Giles and Amy break the spell, leaving all the women in town blinking in confusion. Cordelia offers a quick excuse: “Gee, that was the best scavenger hunt ever!”
Flimsy excuses and plausible deniability are widely embraced in Sunnydale.
TNMAS, Cordelia remembers what a BAMF she is and socks it right to Harmony.
You’re a sheep. All you ever do is what everyone else does just so you can say you did it first. And here I am, scrambling for your approval, when I’m way cooler than you are ’cause I’m not a sheep. I do what I wanna do, and I wear what I wanna wear. And you know what? I’ll date whoever the hell I wanna date. No matter how lame he is.
With that, Cordelia turns her back on popularity and embraces the Scooby lifestyle publicly, striding off with Xander. Ain’t love grand?
Bonus Content: Two treats this week! First we feature the return of Worst Outfit of the Week after a spate of adequately styled episodes. I refuse to believe that Cordelia picked out this horrendous tailored manshirt for herself. Maybe it was some sort of sartorial punishment leveled by her parents for scratching the car.
And secondly, let’s listen to Sammy Davis Jr. cover Sinatra’s “Bewitched,” the song this episode is named after.