Mon
Apr 9 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: BeSingled, BeCoupled, BeXandered

The string of BtVS episodes that follow Angel’s loss of his soul—the second half of S2, in other words—are all about love. Last week we looked at “Phases,” wherein Willow and Oz move out of their un-holding pattern of chaste dating and into one of the coziest and longest-lastingest romances on the show. And now we’re up to Valentine’s day 1998, and the next evolution in the fractious Xandelia relationship.

The trouble begins when Harmony and the other sheep start ripping Cordy a new one for hanging with Xander. Or maybe it begins when she buys in.

It was inevitable, given their respective roles within the Sunnydale student population, that Cordy’s social stock would plummet once her fling with Xander came to light. He’s pretty, all right, but there’s that huge class gulf, not to mention his intermittent tendency to be dorky. Later in the series run, we get more concrete proof that Xander’s a genuine nerd—his Babylon 5 memorabilia and working knowledge of the Klingon language come up. But even now, despite his looks, wit and conspicuous bravery under fire, he’s one of the picked on. Not chosen, you might say.

Xander’s also not scholastically inclined, which cuts him a cosmic break in this episode: he’s gloating over an expected mediocre grade on his American Lit paper when he sees Amy working some magic on their teacher, Mrs. Beakman.

One way or another, the boy apparently has to go if Cordy wants to remain queen bee of the Sunnydale High hive.

The thing about Cordy—and Charisma Carpenter was always great at getting this across—is she’s too smart for the role she’s chosen to play in the day to day drama that is high school. She wants the perks of being at the top of the pecking order, but she knows deep down that Scoobying is more important. Buffy has saved her life more than once, and she’s drawn to the gang for reasons that probably run the gamut from hard-headed self-preservation to a real sense of moral obligation.

(Plus, also, lust for Xander.)

In TV romance, the timing on these things is always as bad as it can possibly be, and so all Cordy’s caring what others think insecurities come to a head as Xander decides to up his romantic game for Valentine’s Day. He’s purchased the necklace, rehearsed the speech, and got Buffy to pick out some clothes for him. He’s working himself up to make a play for the role of honest-to-Hellmouth official boyfriend to Ms. Chase.

Angelus is getting serious at the same time. He loooooves Valentine’s Day. Hearts, flowers, puppies, stalking... it’s his favorite! Even as Giles is warning Buffy that things could get uglier than ever before, he’s out ripping the still-beating heart from a store clerk as a present for Dru, and trying to decide who to kill next and how. It’s all very gleeful, in that macabre and delicious Boreanaz way.

Spike suggests ripping Buffy’s lungs out. Angelus opines that this lacks poetry.

“Doesn’t have to,” Spike says. “What rhymes with lungs?”

(My list: bungs, dungs, hungs, rungs, tongues. Should’ve gone with spleen, Spike.)

Later, at the Bronze, Cordy gets another slice of steaming ostracism pie from Harmony and crew. Xander carpes the diem and trots out his speech, which is genuinely affecting. The heart part of Cordy is all, “Wow.” The mouth part dumps him all the same.

Next day, everyone’s laughing at Xander. Not one person is all, “Wow, you dated up for awhile, go you!” Little surprise that he grabs Amy, cutting straight to the blackmail, and demands a love spell.

Love spells always go wrong. That’s what they’re for, right? Xander’s idea is to make Cordy want him again, the better to dump her back. The effect is to make every woman (on Earth?) except Cordelia fall in deep, obsessive love with him. So first Buffy evinces her first real glimmer of interest in Xander, and he dares to hope he’s come out ahead. Then Amy turns up, quoting from the same pick-up manual, because she’s into him too. Oh, damn.

All too soon this leads to yet another SunnyDale High patented Walk of ... well, the only one ashamed in this particular walk is Xander himself. The straight girls and female staff are all lusting and the straight boys are all jealous. (The gay kids? On a field trip, maybe.) He confesses to Giles—fortunately for him, Jenny turns up and starts groping, so there’s no awkward ’why don’t you believe me?’ phase to this conversation.

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” is so funny it’s hard to mock it. This episode offers an endless cascade of fannish delights. Buffy’s attempt to striptease Xander into submission, a sort of reprise of her “When She Was Bad” sexy dance? It’s golden. The scene is only topped by Xander’s proving himself a gentleman when he rejects her. Then there’s the moment when Amy piles in and turns the Slayer into a rodent. Which is no small trick for a newbie. It also has the handy story-serving side effect of ensuring that Buffy doesn’t dismember one of her dearest friends right then and there.

Oz? He gets to be a loyal and protective boyfriend, smack Xander in the kisser and, as a bonus, chases a naked rat Buffy into the basement.

Giles gets to say “wittering on,” which I find charming.

In time, the rejected women of Sunnydale start getting pretty upset that Xander’s not into or perhaps just servicing them, and their rage finds its focus in Cordelia. Axe-wielding Willow heads up the mob. Joyce sings age-inappropriate back-up, and even Dru gets in on the action. Dru saves Xander from Angelus, and the mob saves Xander from Dru. Cordelia pulls him out of the mosh and they retreat to the very basement where they first kissed while Giles tries to get Amy to fix Buffy and undo the love spell. Whew! It wasn’t even a two-parter.

A few weeks ago some of you took issue with Buffy’s seduction attempt, noting that given her relative sexual inexperience, it’s an awfully confident gambit. It’s a good point. Overall, though, Marti Noxon’s script for this episode is watertight. The only thing I noticed on rewatch was that Willow’s axe seems to get taken away at several points during the the wacky chase hijinks... and yet, it also seems to keep coming back to her.

The spell breaks and the action ends with a wonderful Xander-Buffy wrapup scene. And then there’s the moment when Cordy finds the strength to silence Harmony and the other lambs, to not only accept that Xander is what she wants, but that she herself is something more than an empty-headed mannequin.

Next: Brace yourselves, folks, because we’ve made it to “Passion.” Grrr. Arrr.


A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on Tor.com — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. She also has a second story up here called “Among the Silvering Herd.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
36 comments
Dr. Thanatos
1. Dr. Thanatos
best line:

Dru: "A heart. How sweet! Wherever did you find it?"

Angel: "I found it in a quaint little shopgirl on Main Street"

Loved this episode!
Mouette
2. Mouette
I need to rewatch this one, yes I do. My favorite Cordy moments - and I'm not necessarily a Cordy fan - are when she gets back on her feet and remembers that she's a strong-willed, strong-personalitied woman, dammit. (See: the Bitch is Back ghosty episode in Angel). She has insecurities and weaknesses, but she always gets back to the top of her game.

And Xander shows one of his redeeming qualities in saying no to love-spelled Buffy. This saves him from my growling for "Kick his ass." Sort of. Kind of. Somewhat. Maybe. I'm conflicted on Xander. A lot of the time - a *lot* of the time - he is awesome, sweet, and funny. He rocks to the nines all through seasons six and seven. But sometimes, especially in roughly seasons two-fourish, he does Things. Like provoking Faith's Angel-slaying attempt in early S3, and not telling Buffy about that whole minor little soul possibility. These various Things anger and frustate me and make me snarly. In short, he is sometimes wonderful and sometimes a dumbass.

I guess that makes him a realistic teenage boy :P
Dr. Thanatos
3. Gardner Dozois
Pretty much said most of what I wanted to say about this episode earlier. I'm the one who complained about Buffy's straightforward, no-nonsense seduction technique (this seems to be a thing with Slayers; note Faith's successful attempt to "seduce"--if you can even call it seduction--Xander later on), which still seems the approach a sexually experienced and sexually confident woman would use rather than something the shy, insecure virgin she's supposed to be at this point would do. On the other hand, the "sexy dance" she does in "When She Was Bad" doesn't seem in character for Virgin Buffy either, being pretty steamy. Perhaps Sarah Michelle Geller is just more sexually confident than the character she's playing, and that comes through when they tell her that they want Buffy to act seductive.

They have to work hard to make Xander credible as a nerd, and it's to the actor's credit that he pulls it off so well most of the time. He's actually too handsome, buff, and muscular to be a nerd, as becomes apparent even to Cordy when he takes his shirt off in the stupid "Fish People" episode (another example of a time when he directly saves Buffy from being killed, come to think of it). Still think that him having been Soldier Boy, and having all his memories, would make him less easy for bullies to push around, since he'd have all those martial arts skills to draw on.

Cordy keeps remembering that she's a powerful, strong-willed woman, and then forgetting it, and then remembering it, and then forgetting again, and goes right on like that out of BUFFY and into ANGEL.

Angelius is darkly funny throughout this whole episode. It's clear that while Spike may be Evil, Angelius is batshit crazy. Spike would like him to just get straightforwardly on with the practical matter at hand, killing the Slayer (which it's obvious he could have done at any time; if he can sneak unnoticed into her room at night while she's sleeping to leave her a note, he could have just as easily ripped her throat out instead), but oh no, Angelius has to dick around with all this poetic teasing and stalking and taunting nonsense instead. Must be exasperating to poor Spike. Later, Angelius is full of crazed enthusiasm about destroying the world, and Spike is like, "Ah, hold on, wait a second, aren't we IN the world you're destroying?"
Dr. Thanatos
4. Gardner Dozois
As for Willow's ax, maybe it's like Thor's hammer, and she can call it to her hand.
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
I do feel as though Willow rates an ax she can just summon. Of course, Dark Willow doesn't need an ax.

Angelus and Dru are definitely both major flavors in the batshit crazy ice cream van. The chocolate and strawberry, perhaps.
Dr. Thanatos
6. hohmeisw
It's great that Cordelia moves past the high school hierarchy, but the getting back with Xander is creepy in retrospect. He tried to brainwash her into love, so he could be cruel.
David Thomson
7. ZetaStriker
Hohmeisw has the right of it. I was always shocked that an attempt to subvert her will and turn her into a mindless love slave was viewed as "sweet", when even if he had intended it to get them back together - which he didn't - it wouldn't been tantamount to rape. Ironically, doing it in the hopes of hurting was actually less creepy, in hindsight. XD
Alyx Dellamonica
8. AMDellamonica
I won't defend him (notice how we always end up talking Xander in these threads?) because it is a crappy and a creepy thing to do, motives despite. Love spells are always, if you think of them, a big pile of Ewwww!

His refusal to jump on what Buffy was offering, though, makes me think that if the spell had worked as he initially planned, Xander would not have done the wrong thing by Cordy either.
Dr. Thanatos
9. Barbara J Webb
@Gardner

I'm suspicious that almost any girl growing up in the world of Soap Operas, movies, and Cosmo magazine can pull off the kind of sexy seduction that Buffy does. As a former shy, virginal teenager, I promise it's utterly possibly to pretend to that level of confidence. Because it's drilled into us at an early age that that exact tactic is how you be sexy.
Constance Sublette
10. Zorra
My favorite tough Cordelia was her diatribe at the vamp on the night of Slayer Fest / Homecoming, when she was all messed up and that vamp thought he was going to take her out. Instead she scared him. Even Buffy was deeply impressed -- and they weren't what you would call friends even a little bit by then.

Love, C.
Alyx Dellamonica
11. AMDellamonica
I can't imagine pulling it off now, let alone at sixteen, Barbara--but your point is excellent. The models are definitely there.
Dr. Thanatos
12. Gardner Dozois
To see a clumsy and not terribly effective version of someone trying to follow pop culture seduction models without actual experience, though, one only need to look as far as the equally shy and virginal Willow's awkward attempt to get Oz to finally have sex with her, some episodes down the line. If it is just following social models, obviously Buffy is a lot better at it than Willow is.

(This scene did make me wonder at the time if Oz was actually gay--he kept coming up with noble-sounding excuses why he couldn't get down to it with Willow.)
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
This is a really good episode. Occasionally, Xander would go off and do something really stupid and getting a love potion certainly falls into that category. Why doesn't it work on Cordy? Maybe because she really is in love with him already and doesn't need a potion. It is funny and scary with all those women chasing them. I did think this was one of Cordy's best episodes, one that humanized her and made her much more likable. She did a great job of showing her conflict, and then showed strength at the end.

I have to agree that Oz was very atypical of a teen boy. What is a more likely scenario for that case is that the girl gets into seduction mode, they start, and then girl gets scared and backs off (at least that's how I remember it in my wayback machine).
john mullen
14. johntheirishmongol
This is a really good episode. Occasionally, Xander would go off and do something really stupid and getting a love potion certainly falls into that category. Why doesn't it work on Cordy? Maybe because she really is in love with him already and doesn't need a potion. It is funny and scary with all those women chasing them. I did think this was one of Cordy's best episodes, one that humanized her and made her much more likable. She did a great job of showing her conflict, and then showed strength at the end.

I have to agree that Oz was very atypical of a teen boy. What is a more likely scenario for that case is that the girl gets into seduction mode, they start, and then girl gets scared and backs off (at least that's how I remember it in my wayback machine).
Ilan Lerman
16. Ilan
This is still one of my favourite episodes. Xander's slo-mo walk of shame down the hall set to music is such a fantastic scene. The atmosphere throughout is a great ratcheting up of tension to hysterical proprtions by the end.

This is also a classic early example of a main character using magic after their love-life has gone awry, and then that magic going horribly, embarrasingly wrong. I love that Joyce tries to come on to him, but still comes across in a motherly way. Makes it all the more cringe-worthy.

Also love the little reminiscing Xander does in Season 7 when he recalls the events of this episode through rose-tinted glasses.
Dr. Thanatos
17. Dr. Thanatos
My favorite response to the love-spell was Jennie; the way she just slowly started with "you've been working out?" and Giles' response to it. Rolling on Floor Laughing My Forgiven Angelus Off...
Alyx Dellamonica
18. AMDellamonica
Oz does seem like someone who should be bisexual.

The momly Joyce seduction was definitely creepy!
Dr. Thanatos
19. Gardner Dozois
After the third or so time he refuses to get busy with her because he wants their first time to be "perfect," you have to wonder about him a bit; it begins to sound like an excuse. To show how long he stalls her off, they don't actually get down to it until toward the end of the Mayor arc in the next season.
Alyx Dellamonica
20. AMDellamonica
I suppose a lot of girls do fantasize about the sweet boy who's not in a rush...
Dr. Thanatos
21. Gardner Dozois
Probably true. I did know a girl who kept wondering why her boyfriend wouldn't have sex with her, though, until he ultimately revealed that he was gay, and didn't want to. That's what I thought of with Oz when I watched that scene.
Alyx Dellamonica
22. AMDellamonica
Well, sure. Having been told by all the world that any boy will do it with an available doughnut, it's demoralizing to be the girl whose guy don't wanna.
Michael Green
23. greenazoth
I rather appreciated Oz's cooth. It was a clearly deliberate subversion of the trope, which I applaud. They should have done even more of that kind of thing.

Really, if we reverse the genders in the situation, suddenly nobody wonders about the girl's sexuality.

The decision when and whether to have sex is so complicated and particular that many writers simply throw up their hands in despair and resort to the standard model -- boys wanna, girls don't. Blah.

Anyway, the ep itself was a hoot -- as long as one isn't too badly skeeved by the larger implications. I hope someone eventually does a "love spell" story on TV that deals with the fact that it's the worst possible kind of rape -- one that subverts the possibility of choice entirely.
Dr. Thanatos
24. euphbass
I hope someone eventually does a "love spell" story on TV that deals with the fact that it's the worst possible kind of rape -- one that subverts the possibility of choice entirely.

The film The Craft did go there, when the protagonist places a love spell on the boy she fancies and it all goes horribly wrong. You don't often see that though.
Michael Green
25. greenazoth
Oh, hey --I forgot that was in The Craft -- I do remember liking that movie though.

On the larger issue, as Alyx points out, "love spells always go wrong" in stories -- my problem is that they generally go wrong for the, um, wrong reasons (man, that was almost Xander awkward).

Generally, I think they go awry because of dramatic necessity -- not because it's an unforgivable sin to warp the mind of another sentient being. Perhaps I'm overthinking the distinction.
Alyx Dellamonica
26. AMDellamonica
Greenazoth, I'd argue that what Warren tried to pull in later seasons touches on using mind control as rape. For what it's worth. And there's a Stephen King story, in... I'm not remembering, except that strawberry ice cream cones were involved, where the woman out and out calls the guy on mind-rape.
Dr. Thanatos
27. Gardner Dozois
The love spell used in HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE didn't work out too well, either. Ultimately came back to bite the caster in BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE. And there were several CHARMED episodes involving love spells, all of which went wrong in one way or the other. I'd be hard-pressed, in fact, to think of an example where the love-spell DIDN'T go wrong, where it worked out exactly as the one who cast it wanted, and he or she is happy with the results, with no reprecussions occuring.
Michael Green
28. greenazoth
I can't believe I forgot the Warren incident -- it was pretty much exactly what I wanted. I'm going to have to rewatch the series myself, it seems.
Alyx Dellamonica
29. AMDellamonica
Warren was busy buying "The audience is okay with me getting flayed" cards at that point.
Dr. Thanatos
30. Aeryl
Doesn’t have to,” Spike says. “What rhymes with lungs?”

(My list: bungs, dungs, hungs, rungs, tongues. Should’ve gone with spleen, Spike.)

You really should know by now, Spike is terrible at selecting compatible rhyme schemes.
Alyx Dellamonica
31. AMDellamonica
He's a bloody awful poet, even if at this point we don't yet know it.
Dr. Thanatos
32. Gardner Dozois
It would be interesting to see if the poetry he wrote as Spike was any better than the poetry he wrote as William. After all, he's had a lot more, er, UNlife experience since then.
Alyx Dellamonica
33. AMDellamonica
That would make a cool tie-in book, actually, if you could get some poet fans to somehow put it together.
Michael Green
34. greenazoth
Someone would have to compose "The Wanton Folly of Me Mum," and nobody wants that.
Dr. Thanatos
35. McJulie
if the spell had worked as he initially planned, Xander would not have done the wrong thing by Cordy either

I don't know if it's to Xander's credit or not, but he makes it pretty clear that his intention is to make Cordelia burn with passion so that he can be the one to break up with her. It's pure revenge.

Also, I assume that the reason the spell doesn't work on Cordy is because the personal object (the locket) which is intended to focus the spell on her, instead provides protection for her. Presumably because Amy is young in the black arts and not very skilled yet.
Dr. Thanatos
36. NullNix
McJulie, I suspect the reason it doesn't work -- more specifically, the reason it fails by rebounding -- is that Xander's motive is polluted: as you said, he's only doing it for revenge, not love. Amy even warns him about the danger of undertaking this for the wrong reasons, and, lo and behold, when he does it anyway the result is disaster. Not just predictable disaster -- *predicted* disaster.
Alyx Dellamonica
37. AMDellamonica
He makes it clear, McJulie, but I guess I choose to believe that when crunch time came, he'd cut Cordy a break. Xander's ability to be mean mostly doesn't run very deep.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment