This is *not* a good town. How many of us have-have lost someone who-who just disappeared… or-or got skinned or suffered ‘neck rupture’? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out? I-I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but, silence is this town’s disease. For too long we-we’ve been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn’t our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters, and the witches and the Slayers.
In the spectacular later half of the third season, it’s okay to admit that some great episodes are a little less great than others. I like “Gingerbread” quite a bit, but after coming off “The Wish” and “Amends,” it doesn’t shine as brightly in real time as it did in my memory. Still, as I always say, one less-shiny Buffy episode is worth a half-season of The Walking Dead. Perhaps I don’t say that all the time, but I’m sure I’m about to start.
On the story synopsis side, this is the episode in which the Hansel and Gretel demon makes Joyce start a reactionary, right wing-concerned parents organization dedicated to snuffing out the witches and Slayers in Sunnydale. We get to meet Willow’s mother, who generally ignores her daughter except for the times she’s trying to burn her alive. Giles gets knocked out again and someone points out how much it happens. And this is also the one where Amy Turns Into a Rat. Plus, guest spots from Snyder and the Mayor!
It occurs to me weekly, generally about the time I sum up the plot for an episode, that sometimes it’s hard to believe this is a Serious Show about Important Stuff.
The plot of “Gingerbread” pulls from folklore like other successful one-offs – “Hush” with The Gentlemen and “Killed by Death.” The folklore provides the episodes with depth and resonance, which are often lacking in other one-shots – “Bad Eggs” or “Teacher’s Pet” might have themes that tie them into other stories, but they’re generally empty exercises. Most Western children are probably familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel, so they can do the writer’s job of filling in the horror of the backstory – cannibalistic witches, fear of parental abandonment and betrayal, children being lost and uncared for.
There are some interesting interactions between Buffy and Joyce with that backstory in mind. Joyce has been struggling with accepting Buffy’s role as the Slayer and tries to bond with her daughter by tagging along on patrol. But Joyce has always been selectively myopic – she never really processed what it means for Buffy to be the Slayer. The two little (fake) dead children deeply affect her – Buffy is the one who has to do the comforting. The role reversal is stark. Buffy hugs her, tells Joyce it will be all right, Buffy will protect her and the town and bring justice to the children. It happens again later on, as Joyce gets spun up about the evil in Sunnydale. Buffy takes control. She’ll save the world again. And then get up and do it all over tomorrow. These are comforts that parents offer to their children, not the other way around.
It is also interesting to note that one of the few times a non-supernatural person is honest about reality in Sunnydale, it’s while Joyce is under demonic-dead-children influence. No one really talks about the weirdness in that little town. Everyone just accepts the PCP-gas-leak-crazed-biker-gang stories because that’s how you get through the night. When the Mayor gives his patronizing speech at the fake-wake, talking about how great and special Sunnydale is, Joyce calls him a liar. I quoted her in the lead-in to this recap – this one of the very few times someone says, “What’s with all the neck ruptures?”
A similar tip-off happens a bit earlier in the episode. When the Male Witch Who Never Shows Up Again is being bullied in the hallway, the roving gang of teenage males isn’t intimidated into leaving until Buffy shows up and looks at them. There’s a tacit acknowledgement that she’s no one to be trifled with that isn’t often commented on by the other students. The interaction is very brief, but this seems to be part of the build up to what happens both at “Prom” and in “Graduation Day,” episodes in which the students are unwilling to say aloud but recognize what, if not who, Buffy is.
The day is saved, of course, by Buffy, whose “Did I get it? Did I get it?” remains one of my favorite slayings of the whole series. Amy turns herself into a rat and Willow isn’t enough of a witch to turn her back – which has implications that run all the way into the comics. MOO is disbanded, the town puts its blinders back on, and Joyce – well, Joyce walks a fine line of trying to mother a superhero. I suppose she probably just has to ignore certain aspects of Buffy’s life or she’d go crazy with worry.
I love Buffy so much that I’m willing to overlook certain logical inconsistencies in “Gingerbread.” Like, for instance, just two episodes ago, Oz tracked a faint whiff of Willow’s personal scent several miles to where she was imprisoned in the basement of a partially burned-down warehouse. Yet in “Gingerbread,” he has no idea where Willow is when she’s a couple of rooms away and on fire. One might argue that the smell of the smoke would cover up the personal scent factor, but then one would have to accept that Oz would smell the smoke and ignore this important, neon-colored clue.
Or, in a school that has at least one fully functional computer lab, I don’t question that Giles chooses to drag a circa-1998 computer monitor, hard drive, and accessories down to his library, where he then has to figure out how to set it up, plug it into the internet, and decipher what the dial-up password is to get on the internet, all so he can be caught cursing at it when the Scoobies show up in an underhanded attempt to prove that books are better than computers. I mean, why didn’t he just tell them to meet him in the computer lab? Who set up the computer? Were newspapers from the 1600s already archived on the Internet in 1998? Weren’t there more pressing things to digitize? And isn’t it too bad that Jenny Calendar is already dead, because she’d be super at this researching gig? (In case we’d forgotten about Jenny and her expertise at computers, Willow’s mother obligingly makes a cyber-coven joke.)
When you watch this stuff a lot, you notice the little things.