The great thing about Buffy is that there are no real throwaway episodes. The one shots ““ like this week’s episode, “˜The Witch’ ““ almost always end up tying back into the overarching plots and themes the show tries to explore. They’re referenced, the characters return, or we find out one tiny bit of information, like a Troll King’s Hammer, becomes vitally important later on. There is a care with the storyline in this world that is really quite novel. Looking back on it, everything feels so carefully put together and gives the impression that the creators had a plan that was intricately crafted across the seven seasons.
Season 1’s first one-shot is “˜The Witch’. We find Buffy settling in to school at Sunnydale and trying to clutch to the remains of a normal teenage life. It’s a tension often explored in the show ““ Buffy’s desire to just be part of the crowd–and somehow it never gets old. This week, Buffy tries out for the cheerleading squad, because she used to be both the Slayer and a cheerleader at her old school in LA. I think that this is the last big shout out to the movie the show does, kissing it goodbye and putting it to bed.
Buffy, Xander, and Willow head to the Sunnydale cheerleading tryouts against Giles’s protests. Buffy and all the cheerleaders are in positively demure cheerleading outfits. I think I’m so used to the midriff baring, crotch flashing outfits we see in movies like Bring It On that anything else looks like fashion straight out of Little House on the Prairie. Seriously, I had a hard time getting over it during the rewatch. (Oh my god, look how long her skirt is! Is that a long sleeved sweater?!)
After we get some meta-humor from Cordelia, who is also going out for the squad (“˜Who does she think she is, a Laker Girl?’*) and marvel at the one of the only form revealing outfits Willow will wear until later seasons, we meet one of the new characters, Amy, yet another cheerleading hopeful. While the potentials are waiting for their turn, Amber, the current try-outer, starts smoking. Literally, because this is the Hellmouth. And then she bursts into flame. Buffy douses the fire with a school-spirit flag while everyone watches agog.
The Scooby Gang quickly rule out spontaneous combustion, because all cases of spontaneous combustion are associated with rage (just go with it). Suspicious!
The next afternoon, Amy flubs up her audition by cartwheeling into Cordelia during a group exercise. Cordelia threatens her ominously in the locker room. Not that she needed to ““ former Laker Girl Cordelia gets a slot on the squad while Buffy and Amy are the first and second alternates. Amy freaks out ““ this is a girl who trains 6 hours a day with her mother, former head cheerleader and home coming queen ““ and storms off.
Another day, another crisis ““ Cordelia is stumbling around school, ignoring opportunities to insult Xander, trying to open lockers that don’t belong to her, and nearly crashing a car during Driver’s Ed. When Cordelia stumbles out onto the street, Buffy knocks her out of the way before a truck hits her and sees that Cordelia’s eyes have gone totally white ““ she’s blind.
Which means that there’s a witch at the school. Apparently there are no cases of spontaneous blindness, rage related or not.
Process of elimination leads us to Amy, the only girl in the school who wants to be a cheerleader so bad they’d turn to witchcraft to get it. During chemistry class, the gang rigs up an experiment to verify if Amy is a witch using a concoction made from eye of newt (they’re dissecting frogs) and bits of Amy’s hair that Buffy snatches. But another cheerleader goes down before class is over ““ this one has her mouth sealed shut.
Buffy’s now on the team and she’s certainly a target. Amy goes home to her cowering and timid mother, bitching about how she’s 1) not on the team and 2) Buffy and her friends are sneaking around stealing bits of her hair. No matter –Amy snatched Buffy’s bracelet during class and uses it to put a “˜blood-stone vengeance’ spell on our girl.
A blood-stone vengeance spell robs Buffy of her coordination (Slayer or otherwise), her strength, and apparently makes her fond of The Village People. She acts drunk and loopy all day and causes enough problems that she gets thrown back off the squad. Not that this saves her ““ she gets progressively weaker under the spell. Giles sets Xander and Willow off to keep an eye on Amy while he takes Buffy out to her house to do a little investigating.
Catherine, Amy’s mother, is home alone, eating brownies and watching tv when Giles basically forces his way in. Even through her fever, Buffy knows that there’s something wrong with this picture ““ Catherine seems afraid of Amy, she’s eating brownies, she doesn’t seem to care about cheerleading ““ this isn’t Catherine, it’s Amy. Real Catherine decided Amy was wasting her youth and her youthful body and relieved her of the burden of it. Now Amy is Catherine and Catherine is Amy and it’s a lot less confusing than you might think.
Amy-Catherine shows Giles where Catherine-Amy has been casting her spells and keeping her black cat in a trunk, and Giles is pretty sure he can reverse all of the spells. They take all of the ingredients, Amy-Catherine, and Sick-Buffy back to the school to figure out how to break the spell.
Catherine-Amy is enjoying the fruits of her labors, cheering on the squad during a basketball game. While on top of the cheerleader pyramid ““ I’m sure there’s some technical term for this move that I did not recall from my many watches of Bring It On ““ Catherine-Amy is momentarily thrown off her game by the effects of Giles’s counterspell and comes tumbling down. She has worked too hard to let some teenagers screw up her body-snatching spell. (I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s thinking something cartoonish like that.) Catherine-Amy storms off the court, handily dispatches Willow and Xander when they try to distract her, and grabs a handy fire axe for a weapon. She means business. Axe-wielding business.
In the chemistry lab, Giles is working hard on breaking Catherine-Amy’s spell while Sick-Buffy gets sicker and Amy-Catherine cowers nervously. Catherine-Amy smashes through the door and is about to take her axe to Buffy’s helpless figure when Giles finishes his counterspell. Catherine-Amy and Amy-Catherine are transported back into their own bodies, Buffy is feeling better, and Giles gets knocked unconscious by Catherine for all his troubles.
A few punches exchanged, some witty comments wittied, and Catherine summons up one effect-laden spell designed to send Buffy somewhere where she can’t cause any more trouble. But the Slayer deflects the spell with a mirror, where it bounces back on Catherine, and she’s seen no more.
Some days later, Amy-Amy and Buffy walk past the statuette of Catherine in the school’s trophy case, while talking about what might have happened to her. And the statue’s eyes follow them past”¦
A minor episode, in the grand scheme of things, which few classic lines and plenty of exposition, but trust, everything in here becomes important later.