Here’s a combination that’s emblematic of the whole Buffyverse: a fresh grave and SAT prep. Giles is grilling Buffy. It seems like just minutes ago she was taking make-up exams for her junior year material, but now they’re waiting on a disposable vamp who, predictably, shows, growls, attacks and then goes poof. School and slayage, business as usual on the Hellmouth.
Buffy’s feeling especially all work and no play because, now that Joyce knows where she’s spending her nights, she’s overprogramming what might otherwise have been downtime. Also, Mom’s emphatically not down with her superheroic spawn getting a driver’s license. Driving’s a responsibility, you know. So... does she think Buffy’s not good with responsibility?
Feeding demons is a responsibility too. While all this parenting is in progress, City Hall is developing an evil diversionary tactic. The Mayor and Mister Trick are putting the finishing touches on a dinner party for someone named Lurconis. They just need the right entree and they’re good to go.
Next day, the Scoobies are coupled up and contemplating the big exam. Oz has done it all before, and Cordy surprises the group by mentioning that she tests well. They’re clearly choosing to remember her dumb episodes more clearly than her smart ones. (This may seem unfair, but I’d argue it’s the way of families: your ten most brilliant actions are as nothing to the time you accidentally set Aunt Trudy on fire. And that’s even if they do agree she was kind of asking for it. You just never live that stuff down.)
Then Principal Snyder turns up. SATs be damned—he redirects the gang’s studious energy into fundraising for the band. Nothing but 100% market penetration will do, the memo from the school board tells him. Get this stuff into every adult within the city limits! Apparently it goes on to add, “and you should eat the stuff too, Snyder.”
The candy is the delicious magical handiwork of Ethan Rayne, a.k.a. Robin Sachs, Giles’s childhood bad boy bud (or, if you prefer, obvious slash interest). It regresses the adults of Sunnydale back to their irresponsible teens. The immaturity starts as an encroaching phenom: first the teachers of Sunnydale High start to flake, just a little. Thoughts the proper Mrs. Bartrum has no doubt been keeping to herself forever, about Snyder being a pinhead and Willow’s name being silly and treelike, start to escape her so-prim lips.
There’s a little stretch where the adults try to maintain a mature facade, to hide the fact that they’ve caught a terminal case of the stupids, but no. Then they boogie on the Bronze, which is apparently the only place in town with a liquor license, at least until next year when they open up UC Sunnydale and create a campus drinkin’ district for Xander to briefly find employment.
In other news, Angel is all but absent from this episode—no loss there—and with a city crawling with middle-aged men who’ve got teenaged love on their minds, we seriously don’t want to know who Faith’s up to.
A big part of the fun in “Band Candy” is Snyder tagging along with the gang, clinging like a creepy, unpopular burr to the Scoobies as they try to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. Armin Shimmerman must have had so much fun discovering his inner teen. It’s his character’s golden moment—he gives me the shivers.
We all went to school with guys who acted like that, right? Just like that? And did we suspect they’d end up authority figures, in the school system?
Even bigger fun, though, is Giles and Joyce on their shoplifting, cop-baiting, public snorkeling rampage through the post-apocalyptic district of the city... and then, later, Buffy trying to chaperone them. All while also trying to figure out what’s up—Lurconis is expecting the Mayor to serve up a brace of infant sashimi, it turns out—and stop the slaughter in time.
Luckily for the babies, the deductive effort required to work out the bad guys’ plan mostly involves beating on Ethan, who’s always willing to ’fess up to avoid pain. Even Joyce and Giles manage to overcome their raging teen hormones when they hear what’s at stake, and pitch in to save the wee ’bairns. Battle is joined, and nobody crucial dies. Clearly it’s not sweeps week or anything.
Jane Espenson wrote some of the best non-Joss Buffy scripts and this one of hers rocks my world. “Band Candy” is great comic entertainment, and like most of my favorite comedies it has, at its heart, a core of serious matter. It’s a meditation on what it means to be an adult, on the theme of responsibility and what happens when everyone just lets it all drop. The meat of the question is given voice by Buffy’s mom when she says she feels “like getting married and having a kid was just a dream, and now things are back like they’re supposed to be.”
Joyce has, in other words, backslid from that place where her focus is largely external—raising the daughter, keeping the mortgage paid and the fridge full—and back to a self-centered view of the universe.
“Band Candy” may be stretching its point to some extent. Even kids who aren’t the Slayer manage to show up for work and school and successfully mind younger children now and then. The adults in Sunnydale, when they become youthified, take a total break from all their responsibilities. They aren’t normal teens trying on adult roles, but teens in full-bore party mode, on total vacation from jobs, families, nursing stations. It’s little wonder that the Scoobies are horrified by what they see.
And that’s hilarious: Willow’s expression of consternation, when she recognizes her doctor, is priceless. Nobody looks appalled quite like Alyson Hannigan looks appalled.
Anyway, it’s a joke, and we’re supposed to buy into the rampant teen behavior, and for the most part it’s chuckleworthy enough that I shouldn’t peck at it.
But here’s my other small complaint: somewhere along the line, Joyce antes up her car keys. And I am a little disappointed by Buffy’s bad driving. It’s funny, sure. I see that it’s a good idea, plot-wise, for her to be dependent on others for transport. I see that it looks good onscreen to make the Slayer run, sometimes in slo-mo, to every other confrontation with evil. Why, even next week, in “Revelations,” she’s foot-racing Faith and her ten-minute lead to Chez Angel.
(Wouldn’t it be funny if she sometimes had to take a cab? Here’s a transport receipt, Watcher’s Council! Process that!)
Anyway. Buffy’s taken the class, and she’s got super-reflexes. Someone who can, while blindfolded, bounce a ball off a wall and hit her Watcher in the bean should be able to handle the family roadster.
And speaking of Ripper the Joyce-boinking Watcher, one of the things that is cool about this episode is that the adults don’t forget who they are—they just cease to care. Giles remembers that Buffy’s his Slayer, and when they find Ethan at the candy factory, he tries ordering Buffy around. As with most BtVS role reversals, it’s deftly managed and nothing but fun to see.
“Band Candy” represents the first time the Mayor engages in overt evil scheming, and his plan of the week gets shot down in flames. It doesn’t seem to cost him anything; at this early point in the season, one might even be persuaded he’s not all that big a threat.
We all know better, of course, but things have only just begun to heat up.
Next week: Angel Interventions and adventures in Britishness.
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.”