Mon
Jun 11 2012 2:00pm
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Wish Upon a Demon

I’m devoted to so many of the SF subgenres—I like everything from a hair-raising horror novel to a rollicking space opera—but alternate history holds a special place in my heart. That warping of real world events, the mix and match of history’s big names, the reimagining of our shared past and above all, the eerie, brain-melting delight of starting to feel, at least momentarily, as if the alternate reality is more creditable than the world I live in... as a reader and a writer, that’s a storytelling high I never tire of.

So I think it says something that the Buffyverse is so real to me that I have exactly this kind of love for “The Wish.” This little glimpse of a Sunnydale that, thankfully, never was reveals it to be a dreadful and sorrow-filled place, but even so its existence gives me a thrill.

Sorrow-filled is as good a state as any to describe Cordelia as she returns to school after her near death by rebar in “Lovers Walk.” There’s a build to her appearance, first: Xander, Willow and Buffy battle a disposable but not dustable demon. There’s nostalgia in this scene, because it reminds us of the kids they were a couple years ago. It is nice to see the three of them hanging out and fighting together. But it’s sad, too, because they’re all dumped and bummed, and (except for Buffy, arguably) they have only themselves to blame.

Fast forward to Monday: Willow does some ineffective groveling at the feet of Oz and receives a typical dose of lycanthropic “I see through you” for her pains. Then poor Cordy shows up at school, looking like a million bucks, pretending she hasn’t a care in a world. Harmony et. al immediately take the opportunity to break the illusion. They trot out Jonathan as a possible successor to Xander, none too subtly reminding her that she bucked the laws of their pack when she took the latter on as a boyfriend.

(As I watched, this makes me wonder—who in their right mind would tell Harmony, or anyone, what had happened? But then I thought it through and remembered that Oz had no reason to keep quiet. Then I thought: who does Oz talk to?)

Random irrelevant thoughts aside, what matters is that Cordelia is, all unawares, beaming out the equivalent of a Batsignal for the patron saint of scorned women. Who knew there even was one? But there is, at least in the Buffyverse, and as with all these rewatch first appearances, it’s delightfully weird to see Anyanka turn up, lurking in Harmony’s shadow. It’s even weirder to see her on a mission to utterly destroy Xander Harris. (Hi, Emma Caulfield! There’s so much in store for you! And here we are with no idea you’ll even be on the show again!)

Anya introduces herself, praises Cordy’s fashion sense, disses Harmony and then proceeds straight to the fishing for vengeance possibilities. You never could fault her work ethic. “Don’t you wish . . .?” She just dangles the bait right out there. 

At first, Cordy isn’t biting, not until she finds herself on the edge of a Buffy/vampire battle (this vampire, like the demon earlier, has nothing to do with the plot beyond being an excuse for a fight scene). Cordy is thrown into garbage. Unlike Penny from Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog, she notices. So do her alleged friends.

Next day, as she’s processing that fun event with Anya, she utters the fateful words: “I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale.”

And you know, for about a nanosecond it all looks good. The upside of a Buffy-free California is immediately apparent. Cordelia Chase is once again the queen of Sunnydale High. Everybody wants to be her brunch buddy.

But the town itself is all tattered and post-apocalyptic, and since she’s not actually dumb, it doesn’t take Cordy long to decide that the scary veiny good fairy has offered her a raw deal. The clothing’s bad, she can’t drive and then, oh yeah, the town’s overrun by vampires, chief among them Willow and Xander.  

(Is anyone else sad that we never got a separate VampXander episode, a boy version of “Dopplegangland”?)

The big fun of the alternate timeline, naturally, is seeing where our favorite characters could have ended up had things been different. So there’s Xandillow. Pale complexions, leather gear, bloodlust and all, our former fave Scoobies are now the treasured pets of a risen Master, who has the Hellmouth firmly under his camptastic boot. There’s nary a sign of previous treasured pet Darla, which makes me think Angel got to her in his failed attempt to be a solo do-gooder.

Cordelia finds herself offended that even in this reality, Xander and Willow are a romantic item. She finds herself even more offended that they’re, you know, trying to eat her. Fortunately, she gets a reprieve in when Giles, Oz, and Dead Gay Larry (I know, he isn’t actually dead yet in either reality, but he’s been DGL on all the posting boards since Graduation, and that’s starting to be ages ago) show up.

Sadly for Cordy, she’s already spilled to Xander her Holmes-like deduction that things were better in the Buffy version of Sunnydale civic history. Since the Master has big plans and isn’t looking to see a Slayer messing in his affairs, he sends them back to finish the job. Xander and Willow do just that, executing Cordy while Giles watches. Some great wish, Anya! Thanks!

By way of response, Giles calls Buffy’s watcher and begs for aid. She’s all hard and scarred and doesn’t play well with others.  As for her alternate comes-with-soul one true love, the Master has given Willow permission to torture him with matches. Apparently killing Cordelia isn’t its own reward.

Buffy makes straight for the Bronze, where she springs Angel in mid-mope and they learn the Master’s scheme involves running an industrial exsanguination operation on the remnants of the city’s warm-blooded population. A big fight breaks out—The Slayer, Angel and Oz/Larry on one hand are pitted against Xandillow and all the Master’s other minions.

Back at his utterly cool apartment, meanwhile, Giles is doing what he does best—using his enormous brain to make sense of Cordelia’s last words, figuring out that Anyanka’s behind it all and that her power center is vulnerable. He summons her, gets some stuffing kicked out of him and then threatens to unmake Cordelia’s questionable vengeance by smashing Anya’s necklace.

“How do you know the other world’s any better than this one?” Anya demands.

“Because it has to be,” he says. And the proof is in the beautifully directed intercut combat scene, where we see a series of heart-stopping images of our beloved Scoobies as they unknowingly destroy each other: Angel, getting dusted by a Xander who doesn’t even know he’s making an alternate self’s dreams come true, Buffy driving a stake into Xander without so much as a backward glance. We see Larry and Oz teaming up to skewer VampWillow.

And then, finally, Buffy once again loses to the Master. This makes me wonder about the date—is this all occurring a few years ago, on the scheduled “Buffy will face the Master and die” day? Is Kendra next, with Faith waiting in the wings, and where’s the Mayor now?

But we’ll never know, because Giles puts it all right with a big tinkly smash of magic gem, and Anya’s left choking and flailing in disbelief as Cordy wishes for Willow to be covered in money hair.

 

Next up: the Ghost of Robia LaPast


A.M. Dellamonica’s  alternate history novella about Joan of Arc, “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic,” was short-listed for the 2005 Sidewise Award. Here at Tor.com, she has two other stories you can read: “The Cage,” and “Among the Silvering Herd.”

28 comments
Constance Sublette
1. Zorra
I always see this episode as a pairing with the first episode(2) of Season 6, "Bargaining," Parts 1 & 2, Buffy ressurection.

So much for the rest of the series is set up in "Wish Upon a Demon."
Has there ever been another series that so successfully builds upon its own so early set-ups in the run, so long before they even imagine there will be seven seasons? This is the great accomplishment of Buffy, or so it seems to me -- and that it kept me, at least, fascinated, from almost the start (not until quite late in season 1 for me), to the end.
Aeryl
2. Aeryl
(Is anyone else sad that we never got a separate VampXander episode, a boy version of “Dopplegangland”?)

An answer in two parts, No, because as much as I enjoy Xander as a character(he was Sokka before there was a Sokka), seeing his creepy entitled Nice Guy attitude unleashed in a creature with no conscious, would not have offered the opportunity for juxtaposition(and foreshadowing!) that VampWillow did, in addition to making him untolerable. And because we already an EvilXander episode, "The Pack".
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
Zorra--I have to agree. The screenwriters planted so many seeds along the way that grew into unexpected and thrilling storylines. Even the fact that we ever saw Anya again was a jolt!

Aeryl, I see your point. The little bit of VampXander we did see in "The Wish" wasn't, perhaps, the basis of an episode unto itself.
Ilan Lerman
4. Ilan
Terrific episode overall. I was always quite shocked by Cordelia's sudden demise and considered it a brave piece of storytelling to kill the main POV character halfway through. It enhances the apocalyptic, desperate atmosphere. And on a rewatch this episode has so much more resonance with the first appearance of Anya, and Willow adopting a dark, sadistic persona (presaging her Dark Willow days to come.)

Maybe I've not been paying attention, but did you miss out Lover's Walk?
Jack Flynn
5. JackofMidworld
I love "what-if" episodes, whether it's comic books (like Superman's Red Son or the Marvel's 1602) or tv shows (David Boreanaz gets to do it again in and episode of "Bones") . My wife (love her to death) doesn't dislike them but just doesn't see what gets me so excited about them, so I'm glad that I'm not the only one who gets such a mad kick out of it.
Aeryl
6. Gardner Dozois
A pretty good episode, although not my favorite of the season. It had never before occurred to me to wonder what the Mayor thought in this reality about the Master taking over his city; you can't imagine he would like it, and in fact would probably try to do something about it.

I think we did skip over "Lover's Walk," which is too bad, as it's one of the funniest of the season's episodes.
john mullen
7. johntheirishmongol
Alt episodes are usually fun, no matter what form they come in. The first I remember was in Mirror, Mirror and you do get some different takes on the world. This one was fun, because there were no ramifications. At the end of the day, you were right back at the beginning of the day.

I really thought Willow was the one who most of the fun in this episode. Getting all gothed up and dark was a good look for her and a nice stretch for her acting. And one of my fave characters in Anya..who knew how much of a key she was going to be the rest of the way of the series.
Alyx Dellamonica
8. AMDellamonica
Hmmm. I wrote a column for Lovers Walk. I'll check with the site team.
Alyx Dellamonica
9. AMDellamonica
Update on the Lovers Walk sitch, folks--it did get eaten by either my data golems or Tor's. I am reconstructing it even now from a back-up and it'll go up soon.
James Kemp
10. kempo13
I figured Oz would have told his band that he had broken up with Willow and they would have dragged the story out of them. Then Devon would have told Harmony. Then Harmony tells the whole school.
Aeryl
14. Dr. Thanatos
I loves me the stories where the actors get to play against character. Buffy as the Princess-in-need-of-a-rescue; Emo Angel; not-bubbly-but-bored-now Willow. Pity they couldn't make a loquacious Oz, a sensible-down-to-earth Anya, or a Dawn with objective existence...
Aeryl
16. Gardner Dozois
Getting a loquacious Oz would have been as simple as having the scriptwriter write him that way; the actor certainly could have handled it.

Playing against type is one reason why I would have liked to see them play Giles darker in his Ripper persona, the kind of character he'd spend the rest of his life struggling against. The soccer holighan they show him as having been was just not bad enough to be a stark enough contrast, in spite of the shoplifting, implied beer blowouts, and screwing stray ladies on the hoods of police cars.
Aeryl
17. Dr. Thanatos
I was trying to think of out-of-character Spike or Mayor, but I'm drawing a blank on what that would look like. Their personalities are so overwhelmingly fun that I just can't picture them any other way and still be them (and William the Bloody Awful Poet doesn't count since that was flashback...)
Aeryl
18. Gardner Dozois
They played Spike so many different ways in the course of the series, and even in the course of a season, that it's hard to tell what an "out-of-character" Spike would be like. Evil menace, comic relief, passionate stalker of Buffy to kill her, passionate stalker of Buffy to get her to love him, Big Brother to Dawn, reluctant good guy...As the actor himself said, he never knew when he showed up for work in the morning which Spike they'd be wanting him to play that particular day.
Jack Flynn
19. JackofMidworld
Gardern's on point with Spike's different character portrayals, and Spike's one of my favorite characters just because, if you compare "Season 5 Angel" Spike with "Season 2 Buffy" Spike, he's had the most natural growth of pretty much anybody.

And I would totally see the Mayor just biding his time with the Master, getting in a couple of sacrifices here, a couple of demonic side-quests there, and then the Master'd wake up one morning to find out he only rules Sunnydale-After-Dark and that there's a whole new Mayor in town...
Aeryl
20. Gardner Dozois
Since the Master's goal is to turn all the humans in Sunnydale into Bottles O' BloodTM, and since the Mayor, as far as he probably would know, is human, you'd think that they'd come into direct conflict sooner or later, if only to keep the Master from trying to bottle him.

You also have to wonder what everybody ELSE in the country thinks about the Sunnydale bottling factory? Has the Master taken over the whole country, let alone the whole world, with just him and his four or five vampire assistants? If not, then what do they think about all this in Washington? Are they planning on sending in Seal strike-forces and SWAT teams, or perhaps dropping a surgical tactical nuclear bomb on the town? Or do they not know anything about it, in which case the Master has not conquered the world, just one small town in California. (There's some evidence that he hasn't conquered the world in that the alternate Buffy, in Cinncinatti or Cleveland or wherever it was, hasn't heard anything about him.)

Apocalypses in BUFFY and ANGEL were always so LOCALIZED. You got the feeling that the Apocalypse could be going on in Sunnydale while in Boston or Philadelphia or Paris it would be just an ordinary day, business as usual. For instance, on ANGEL, the sun disappears from the sky in Los Angeles--but apparently everywhere ELSE, things are perfectly normal.
Aeryl
21. Dr. Thanatos
Gardner,

Your point about apocalypses (apocalypsi?) being local phenomena is well taken. In the "authorized" graphic novel continuation of Angel, LA is sealed off from the rest of the world by a barrier and is ruled by demons. It always struck me that the Buffyverse set things up that the demons and vamps were small-time; only What's-his-name from the end of Season 2 was going to Destroy The World (accept no substitutes!)---everyone else was on the same page with the Demonic Duffuses ("hey, let's take over the town").

She saved the world. A lot.

Sounds good, but it doesn't quite correlate with what actually happened...
Aeryl
22. Gardner Dozois
SHE SAVED SUNNYDALE. A LOT. That would be more like it

Other than the demon at the end of Season Two, who was going to suck the world into Hell, and Glory, who was going to collapse all the dimensions into each other, and Willow, who was going to destroy the whole Earth, most of the Apocalypses on both shows were localized. Even the series-ending Apocalypse on ANGEL didn't seem to have much effect anywhere else.

As I've said before, the first move for any would-be world-conquering demon seems to be to take over The Bronze. "Once we have The Bronze, the rest of the world will be easy!"
Aeryl
23. General Vagueness
What's money hair?
Aeryl
24. General Vagueness
Gardner Dozois, I seem to remember 3-5 other parties that wanted to open the Hellmouth, and considering what was supposed to happen if the First succeeded in the last season, I'd call it an apocalyptic event.
Aeryl, there's also the one where he gets split in two based on personality.
Possibly one of my favorite things about Buffy is the mention here that comes up in the last episode.
Aeryl
25. Gardner Dozois
But in this very episode we get to see a world in which the Master succeeded in opening the Hellmouth, and, as I pointed out above, except for localized Sunnydale effects, nothing much seems to have really changed. Certainly the world wasn't destroyed, and it's dubious that it was even conquered, since they haven't even heard of the event in Cleveland.
Aeryl
27. Gardner Dozois
Of the three real world-threatening BUFFY apocalypses I can think of, the world-sucking demon from Season Two, Glory, and Bad Willow, Buffy can really take credit for saving the world only twice--Buffy didn't keep Willow from destroying the world, Xander did. (Xander also ought to get at least half of the credit for defeating the Master, since if he hadn't brought Buffy back to life, the Master would have succeeded; and the Hellmouth-opening in "The Zeppo" would have succeeded if Xander hadn't kept the bomb from blowing up the Scobies above who were in the midst of trying to stop it.)

Even the Mayor's apotheosis doesn't seem to me like a true world-ending Apocalypse, although it would have been bad news for Sunnydale. How many people could even a giant snake demon eat, afterall? Certainly not everybody in the world. And Adam's plan for wiping out the human race and replacing it with another was so silly that it probably wouldn't have had any real chance of suceeding, even if Buffy hadn't been there to foil it; what, he's going to take over the WHOLE REST OF THE WORLD, billions and billions of people, with the, at best, few hundred human/demon hybrids he can come up with from the inhabitants of the caverns of the Inititive? Buffy villains tend to be very short-sighted. No global vision at all.
Jack Flynn
28. JackofMidworld
Maybe it's my old World of Darkness thought processing
(which I may have mentioned in an older post) but I always just figured that, like when you were playing Werewolf and your Garou ate somebody, people just couldn't take it so they forgot it or rationalized it. The human race is pretty darn good at forgetting what we don't like, more so now than when Buffy was on tv.
Alyx Dellamonica
29. AMDellamonica
Scoring the apocalypse: big, bigger, biggest, and actually-world ending! It's a scale! But is it linear or exponential?
Aeryl
30. Gardner Dozois
You could also score it by how many miles beyond the Sunnydale town limits the effects of the Apocalypse would actually spread.

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