June 25, 2022

Buffy 3.11, Gingerbread: Never Again

Posted in TV tagged , , , , , at 1:08 pm by Jenn

Who had Joyce pegged as a community activist?

Summary: Buffy’s out on patrol when she comes across something surprising: Joyce. She’s brought her daughter a snack and hopes to stick around to see what Buffy’s slaying life is like. Well, Joyce, it’s violent and scary. She gets to see that herself when a vampire attacks. Buffy fights him while Joyce tries to call out helpful information. She’s disturbed to recognize the vampire as someone from her bank. As Buffy chases the vampire, Joyce wanders over to a nearby playground and finds the bodies of two children. They have a symbol drawn on their hands.

The police arrive and begin an investigation. They tell Joyce and Buffy they can go home, but Joyce isn’t going to forget about this any time soon. Buffy promises to find whatever killed the kids. Joyce probably won’t get any consolation from that, since finding whatever was responsible won’t bring the kids back or let Joyce unsee what she saw.

The next day, Buffy tells Giles how horrible it was to see the kids and have her mother so shaken. She draws the symbol from the kids’ hands (it looks like…I’m going to say a triangle with a mustache), which makes Giles think they’re looking at a sacrifice by an occult group. In other words, the killer might be a human, not a monster. That’s even more disturbing to Buffy. She asks if Giles can find her a loophole in the rule against Slayers killing people. Giles thinks she’s making this personal because Joyce is involved. Buffy is fine admitting that she is.

At lunch, Xander and Oz interact for what I’m guessing is the first time since the whole Oz-and-Cordelia-caught-Xander-and-Willow-together thing and since Willow and Oz got back together. The two of them sit with Willow, which would be an awkward grouping if Amy wasn’t also there. They start to discuss Buffy’s upcoming birthday but stop when she arrives. She tells them about the kids and how Joyce joined her on patrol. Willow’s more surprised about Joyce wanting to hang out with Buffy than she is about the murders.

Joyce arrives and Buffy assures her that Giles is looking into things and she’s going to step up patrolling. Joyce interprets the news about a possible occult sacrifice as an accusation against witches. Willow almost chokes. Joyce wants the teens to know that witchcraft like this isn’t cool – anyone who would kill two children like this is a monster.

As Buffy takes Joyce away from the group, Xander laments that they ran into this setback just when Joyce was starting to come around on Buffy being the Slayer. Willow says she’s glad her mother doesn’t care about her extracurricular activities…or her curricular activities, for that matter. Buffy tries to get Joyce to postpone a supernatural-related conversation until later, since she likes to keep her slaying life separate from her school life. Joyce just wants to do something helpful. She’s called everyone she knows in town, and they’re going to have a vigil that night and try to get some action. The mayor will even be there!

Buffy gently tells Joyce that the Scoobies like to keep the number of people aware of weird stuff pretty small. Joyce says there probably won’t be that big of a turnout. Cut to that night and the quite big turnout. Willow’s surprised to see her mother, Sheila, there. She’s so clueless about Willow’s life that she thinks Buffy’s name is Bunny, and she’s just now noticing Willow’s haircut, which she’s had all season. Giles joins the two pairs of mothers and daughters, a little awkward with Joyce, whom he last saw in “Band Candy.”

Sheila addresses the rumor circulating that witches killed the kids. “How strange,” Giles says casually. Willow acts like it’s a completely ridiculous idea. Sheila’s an academic who wrote a paper about the rise of mysticism among teens, and she says it’s pretty common. Mayor Wilkins addresses the crowd, saying he appreciates how many townspeople are disturbed by the kids’ murders. He’s pledging to end whatever horror has visited Sunnydale: “Never again.”

Joyce speaks next, telling Mayor Wilkins that there have been too many disappearances and strange deaths in Sunnydale to call it a good town. They can’t keep looking the other way. They’ve been “plagued by unnatural evils” for too long. The town now belongs to “the monsters and the witches and the Slayers.” It’s time for the townspeople to take back Sunnydale, starting by finding whoever killed the kids and making them pay. Buffy’s face: “Oh, crap.”

That night, three witches perform a ritual together with a skull and something that bubbles. One is a Sunnydale student named Michael. The other two are Amy and Willow. They’re seated around the same symbol as the one found on the kids’ hands.

At school the next day, some jerk bullies Michael for being goth and a known witch. He’s with a group of similarly thinking guys, and a crowd is watching, including Cordelia. Amy stands up for Michael, but it’s Buffy who scares the guy off simply by showing up. Cordelia tells Buffy she’s going to be busy if she keeps babysitting Michael and Amy. Everyone knows witches killed the kids, and Buffy’s only going to get “badness” if she hangs out with witches, because that’s what you get when you hang out with losers and freaks. You know, like Cordelia did with the Scoobies.

Buffy yells after her that witches aren’t responsible, but Giles tells her they might be. His research about the symbol keeps directing him to European covens. He asks her to get a book that Willow borrowed on the subject. She heads to the lounge, where Willow left her bag with Xander when she went to use the bathroom. Xander tries desperately to convince Buffy that they’re just hanging out as friends, and there’s nothing going on between them. He’s tired of everyone judging him – isn’t he innocent until proven guilty? Buffy reminds him that he is guilty. He “got illicit smoochies.”

Xander laments that everyone expects him to mess up again. Oz is always so quiet around him. Buffy’s like, “That’s…Oz.” Xander thinks he’s being more “verbal nonverbal.” Buffy goes into Willow’s bag and is stunned to find a drawing of the symbol. Willow arrives and dismisses it as a doodle: “I do doodle. You, too. You do doodle, too.” She acknowledges that it’s a witch symbol, and Buffy tells her it was on the kids’ hands.

Before Willow can react, there’s a commotion near the lockers. Some cops have arrived to conduct a search. “Aw, man, it’s Nazi Germany and I’ve got Playboys in my locker!” Xander exclaims. Snyder revels in being allowed to violate his students’ privacy like this. Oz and Amy tell Buffy and Willow that three kids have already been taken away. The cops are looking for witch-related things, and Amy’s been busted. Willow worries because she also has stuff in her locker.

As Cordelia objects over the cops touching her $45 imported hairspray, Willow promises Buffy that the symbol is harmless. She used it for a protection spell for Buffy for her birthday. But she has bigger problems now, as the cops have reached her locker and found things she’ll need to explain. Buffy takes her notebook with the symbol in it so the cops don’t see that, too.

She heads to the library, which the cops are raiding for occult material. Giles can’t do anything to stop them. Buffy tells him the symbol is for protection, so it doesn’t make sense that it would be used in a ritual sacrifice. Giles can’t explain it without doing more research, which Buffy notes will be difficult, since all they have left is “a dictionary and My Friend Flicka.”

Giles complains about Snyder overstepping, calling him “a twisted little homunculus” just as Snyder comes in. “I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning,” Snyder says. Giles orders him and the cops out, but Snyder isn’t intimidated. He’d like to know how Giles’ occult collection is appropriate for a library in a public school. He welcomes Giles to fight the confiscation of his books, but he’ll have to answer to MOO. That would be the new group Mothers Opposed to the Occult, founded by Joyce.

Things just get worse for Willow when she gets home – Sheila has found her Wicca stuff and wants to have a chat. She knows it’s typical of Willow’s age group to be interested in this stuff, so she’s not concerned about it. Willow tells Sheila that she can actually do stuff, but Sheila thinks she’s delusional. Willow notes that her mother doesn’t spend enough time with her to know what her life is really like. The last time they had a meaningful conversation, it was about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and its slant toward the patriarchy. “Well, with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets…” Sheila says.

She thinks Willow’s crying out for attention and discipline, so she’s grounded. Willow can’t believe this is her mother’s reaction to Willow’s first ever act of rebellion. She announces that she’s an actual witch – she can make pencils float and summon two of the four elements. Also, she’s dating a musician. To Sheila, that’s the most objectionable.

“I worship Beelzebub!” Willow continues. “I do his biddings! Do you see any goats around? No, because I sacrificed them.” Sheila doesn’t want to listen to more of this but Willow isn’t done: “All bow before Satan. Prince of Night, I summon you. Come fill me with your black, naughty evil!” Sheila snaps at her to be quiet and sends her to her room. From now on, Willow’s done with the Scoobies, who are obviously a bad influence. She’s not allowed to speak to Bunny Summers again.

At MOO headquarters, AKA the Summerses’ house, Joyce tells Buffy the same thing about Willow. Buffy realizes that Joyce ordered the locker search and the raid on the library. Joyce promises that after the “offensive material” has been removed, Giles will get his stuff back. Buffy tells her they need that “offensive material” to figure out who or what killed the kids. Joyce doesn’t like the idea of those books being in a place where anyone can walk in, read them, and get bad ideas.

Buffy begs Joyce to let her handle this, since it’s what she does. Joyce isn’t sure she’s good at it, since Sunnydale is still a hotbed of supernatural evil. Buffy doesn’t have a plan; she just reacts to things. Of course her slaying is fruitless. Buffy says she may not have a plan or lapel buttons like MOO, but now she doesn’t have the books she needs to at least try to protect people. She heads out on a “pointless” patrol to “react” to vampires. As a parting shot, she criticizes the MOO acronym.

After she leaves, Joyce says she’s just trying to make things better. The two dead kids are suddenly in the room with her. They assure her that she’s doing a good thing. There are bad people out there, and the kids won’t be able to sleep until the humans hurt them the way they hurt the kids.

Buffy heads to the playground where the kids were found. People have set up a little memorial with candles and pictures. Angel joins her there, having heard about the murders since everyone in town is talking about them, even to him. People in Sunnydale don’t usually react to deaths like this – and there are a lot of deaths to react to – but are probably worked up because the victims were kids.

Buffy confides that she’s not sure Joyce is wrong about how successful she is as a Slayer. Badness keeps coming back and getting stronger, “like the boy that stuck his finger in the duck.” (Angel corrects that it’s dike, AKA a dam, which makes a lot more sense to Buffy.) He urges her to keep fighting, just as she told him on Christmas. They don’t fight to win – they do it because there are things worth fighting for, like the kids and their parents. That makes a lightbulb go off in Buffy’s head.

Giles is really struggling without his books, since his only other option for research is the computer and he’s not good at using that “stupid, useless fad.” Xander and Oz arrive with the news that they found his books, but they’re locked up in City Hall, so they can’t actually get to them. Xander teases that Giles is in a “frisky Watchers’ chat room.”

Buffy arrives and asks what they know about the kids. What school did they go to? Who were their parents? What are their names? No one can answer those questions – people have only been talking about their deaths. How did anyone even get pictures of the kids if no one knows who they are or where they came from? Oz takes over computer navigation for Giles, since Willow’s on house arrest and isn’t even allowed to come to the phone. Oz sends her a message so she can do a search from home.

That search turns up a story about two children who were found dead in Omaha in 1949. The Scoobies are stunned to see that they’re the same kids as the ones in the park. They were also found in Utah in 1899. No articles mention their names or any details about them. Willow finds the same stories every 50 years going all the way back to 1649. The original kids were named Greta and Hans.

Sheila catches Willow on her computer and takes it from her so she can’t chat with her “cyber-coven.” Joyce and MOO have convinced Sheila that Willow isn’t delusional after all. Now Sheila is going to let Willow go with love. She locks Willow in her room with no way of communicating with the Scoobies.

Giles tells the others that there’s a fringe theory that some regional stories have roots in real occurrences. Oz translates: “Fairy tales are real.” Buffy realizes that Hans and Greta are most likely Hansel and Gretel. Giles explains that some demons like to sow chaos in communities. They show people their darkest fears and let them turn on each other. For example, Hansel and Gretel go home and tell everyone about the witch who tried to kill them in her gingerbread house. Then vigilantes go after the witch and anyone else like her. That’s basically what happened during the Salem witch trials.

Buffy wants to go talk to Joyce so she can defuse everything. But Michael runs in just then, reporting that he was attacked by his father and some of his friends. Suspected witches are being dragged out of their homes and put on trial at City Hall. Buffy tells Michael to hide in the library while she and Giles go find Joyce, and Oz and Xander go get Willow. It’s too late, though – Sheila and some MOO members are ready to take Willow to City Hall. And when Giles and Buffy arrive at her house, Joyce and some MOO members chloroform them. As she passes out, Buffy sees the kids telling Joyce to stop the bad people and make them go away forever.

Xander and Oz get to Willow’s house as the “trial” starts at City Hall. It’s not so much a trial as it is a combination book-burning/witch-burning. Buffy (who’s still unconscious), Willow, and Amy have been tied to stakes so they can receive the “cure” for their occult leanings.

Back at the Summerses’, Cordelia slaps Giles awake and tells him that people are going overboard with the witch hunt. Her mom took all her black clothes and scented candles. She came over to talk to Buffy but found Giles unconscious yet again. She wonders how many times he’s been knocked out: “I swear, one of these times, you’re gonna wake up in a coma.” Giles tells her they need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel. “Now, let’s be clear – the brain damage happened before I hit you,” Cordelia says.

Xander and Oz race to City Hall and pretend they want to join up with the MOO vigilantes. The man they encounter don’t believe them. “Just so we’re clear, you guys know you’re nuts, right?” Oz asks before he and Xander run away. Buffy wakes up and tries to talk Joyce out of, you know, setting her daughter on fire. Sheila hands Joyce a torch and they agree to keep in touch once this is over.

Joyce lights the books on fire. Amy decides that since the crowd wants to burn a witch, she’ll give them one to burn. She does a spell to turn herself into a rat and escapes. “She couldn’t do us first?” Buffy asks. Willow tells the crowd that she’ll use her powers next if they don’t back off. Not that she has the power to do anything except float pencils. Buffy plays along, warning that Willow will turn people into either rats or fish. One of the vigilantes decides they should go. The kids appear and remind the adults that they promised to kill the bad girls.

Giles heads for City Hall, trying to remember an incantation that will make the demons appearing as Hansel and Gretel take their true form. He hopes that’ll take away their influence over everyone. He has Cordelia mix up the ingredients he needs, including a toad stone, which, much to her dismay, doesn’t get its name because it looks like a toad but because it used to be inside one.

Xander and Oz hear Willow calling for help and climb into a ventilation shaft so they can get to the room she and Buffy are in. Buffy tells Joyce that since dead people are talking to her, she should realize that something’s wrong here. She begs her mother not to do this. Joyce tells her that she “toyed with unnatural forces” and needs to be punished.

Giles and Cordelia arrive and he uses one of her hair pins to pick the lock on the door to the room where the burning is happening. “You really were the little youthful offender, weren’t you?” she comments. “You must just look back on that and cringe.” The fire has spread and Buffy and Willow are running out of time. Fortunately, Giles is in time to save the day.

He sends Cordelia to grab a fire hose while he does the spell to make the demons unveil themselves. Hilariously, Cordelia gets a little too into spraying people with the hose and forgets that she’s supposed to put out the fire. As Xander and Oz crawl through the vent shaft in the ceiling, Giles finishes his incantation and throws Cordelia’s mixture at the kids’ feet. They hug each other, then meld together to form one giant demon. “I think I liked the two little ones more than the one big one,” Cordelia says.

Most of the crowd runs away as the demon tries to convince them that they still need to kill Buffy and Willow. Buffy notes that he doesn’t have as much influence when he doesn’t look like a cute little kid. She leans over, breaking the post she’s tied to, and stakes the demon through the neck as he rushes her. She can’t see what happened, so she asks if she got it. Just then, Xander and Oz fall through the ceiling. “We’re here to save you,” Oz says.

Things return to normal and Sheila starts ignoring Willow again, to the point where Willow feels comfortable doing a spell with Buffy in her room. Sheila is basically pretending nothing ever happened, though she does remember that Willow’s dating a musician. The girls make another attempt at their so-far-unsuccessful spell, but this try doesn’t work, either. Poor Amy will remain a rat for the foreseeable future.

Thoughts: This seems to be a polarizing episode but I like it. The last act (starting with the “trial”) is some of my favorite stuff in the series. That said, it’s disturbing how timely this episode is in 2022, with parents falling all over themselves to shield their kids from anything they consider offensive, and calls for “inappropriate” books to be banned.

I love how Buffy just has to show her face to chase off Michael’s bully. Finally, people know who she is!

It’s kind of an easy laugh but still funny that Sheila’s more okay with Willow practicing witchcraft than she is with her dating a musician.

I wish we knew what the aftermath of all this was like for Joyce. She tried to kill her daughter! I assume she tries to block everything out like Sheila does.

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