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Monday, December 26, 2011


[Updated April 29, 2013]
Halloween is one of my favorites, though I can say that about most of the remaining episodes in S2. There are lots of classic moments here, the best (for me) probably being when Willow walks through the wall into the library and Giles’ reaction, though I could be talked into “eyeballs to entrails”. Naturally I think we’re learning something important about Buffy in addition to being entertained, so let’s talk about that.
Halloween tells us in no uncertain terms that the world, Buffy’s world, is changing:
“Drusilla:  Don't worry. Everything's switching. Outside to inside. (breathes at Spike's neck) It makes her weak.
Spike:  Really? Did my pet have a vision?
Spike:  Come on, talk to Daddy. This thing that makes the Slayer weak? When is it?
Drusilla:  Tomorrow.
Spike:  Tomorrow's Halloween. Nothing happens on Halloween.
Drusilla:  Someone's come to change it all. Someone new.”
We then get a flash cut to Ethan invoking the god Janus. The Roman god Janus looks forward and backward – note that Ethan’s statue has faces on both sides – which is why the month of January marks the transition from one year to another. In metaphor, he looks backward to Buffy’s adolescence and forward to her adulthood, the first major step towards which she will take in the very next episode. All Buffy fans would agree that S1 began with a very light tone, and we’ve seen this continue so far in S2. Similarly, all fans agree that it becomes a much darker, more adult show over time. JMHO, but I see Halloween as marking the impending tonal shift.
Janus also represents, as Giles explains, division of self. Who is it who’s “divided”? All the SG: Buffy is both Slayer and helpless girl; Willow is both shy and sexy; Xander both a victim (of Larry) and a hero (as soldier); Giles both a tweedy librarian and Ripper. The costumes reveal a fantasy self for each of them, but that fantasy builds off a real substrate. Note that Cordelia doesn’t change either in her costume or her personality. Cordy is as Cordy does.
Xander gets to live out his fantasy in his costume. His “manly” side protects Buffy from the evil pirate/would-be rapist Larry, just as we saw in his dream at the beginning of Teacher’s Pet. Willow wants to see herself as sexy and in charge, so she is. Giles, even if he’s not wearing a costume, reveals to us a side we’ve never seen before. And Ethan tells us that the Giles we’ve seen up till now was himself wearing a costume: “Ethan:  Oh, and we all know that you are the champion of innocents and all things pure and good, Rupert. It's quite a little act you've got going here, old man. Giles:  It's no act. It's who I am. Ethan:  Who you are? The Watcher, sniveling, tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer and her kin? I think not. I know who you are, Rupert, and I know what you're capable of. (considers) But they don't, do they?”
Yes indeed, the world is changing.
I mentioned Buffy’s “division of self” in my post on NKABOTFD. As I see it here, Buffy is, in essence, fantasizing whether she can give up the hard road to her destiny and be “just a girl”. Her human side feels inadequate after her date with Angel “misfires… due to unscheduled slayage”. She overreacts by imagining herself as a helpless girl, one whom she thinks Angel would find attractive. Of course, we learn that Angel isn’t attracted to such girls at all; most likely, the picture Buffy saw in the Watcher’s Diary was of one of Angel’s victims. Or possibly – and maybe this is worse – Darla. [See note 2 below.]
Speaking of whom, there are some pretty unattractive consequences if Buffy gives up on her destiny like that. By suppressing her Slayer side, Buffy creates the conditions in which Spike can roam free and make her his near-victim. Only when Giles, acting as her mind/superego/parent, breaks the spell, leaving her just one direction to go, does she resume control and send Spike fleeing. She’s moving forward from this point on.
Trivia notes: (1) Buffy’s reference to “the stuff dreams are made of” comes from The Tempest, Act IV, sc. i. It’s a line also used famously in The Maltese Falcon. (2) The timeline for Angel given in Halloween is consistent with Angel and Reptile Boy but not later episodes. Based on later chronology, Angel was a vampire in 1775 and had been for some time. In that case the woman shown in the Watcher’s Diary could have been a victim. The other possibility is that the book Buffy and Willow were reading was not about Angel himself, since no one related to Angel could have appeared in the Watcher’s Diaries while Angel was still human; there’d have been no way to know about him. If the woman was not related to Angel as a vampire, then she could have been another vampire such as Darla. Joss has admitted, in response to questions about this issue, that he sucks at math. (3) Buffy’s use of the phrase “friendly advice” when Willow first shows her ghost costume is probably a joking reference to Casper the Friendly Ghost. She later even refers to Willow as “Casper”. (4) Buffy has apparently never seen The Godfather; otherwise she’d have been more suspicious when Ethan offered to make her a deal she couldn’t refuse. (5) Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, referenced by Cordelia, was a circus performer for P. T. Barnum. (6) The Buffyism “slayage” was adopted as the name for the online Journal of Whedon Studies.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for yet another great take! I've always wondered why Xander was the only one allowed to keep some of his qualities and concrete knowledge - what do you think? Obvs his are maybe the most usefull but somehow I don't find that explanation all that satisfying ^^

    I guess what's always generally rubbed me the wrong way about this, is my ever stronger growing dislike for Xanders struggle to be a 'real man'. As you said it's all about the gang becoming the version of themselves they always wanted to/could be - additionally I think it can also be read to be about them performing their gender properly. Buffy was (and still is)a very unusual female character in that she unites traditionally thought of as 'feminine' and 'masculine' qualities - as in she is both vulnerable, emotionally intelligent and kind, as well as confident, smart and hella strong. Here she becomes the ultimate version of 'feminity' and is promptly utterly useless - so what I'd like to take from that is that Buffy - and maybe all of us - need both a healthy dose of 'feminine' and '
    masculine' qualities .

    Xander on the contrary becomes what he always wanted to be - the manliest man a man could ever hope to be: a soldier. But unlike Buffys girly princess, Xander is instead shown as being useful and he even gets to keep some of his acquired knowledge - unlike Buffy.
    What has always puzzled and angered me about this I guess is that a) I just personally dislike uber-masculine macho masculinity just as much as uber feminity (if maybe not a little bit more and b) that appart from that being my personal preference, I feel that this also what Buffy is often about, as in: smashing antiquated ideas about what women and men should be like (ie: destroying the patriarchal watchers council)

    Exceeeeept where Xander is concerned - while I always felt his hunt to be the ultimate man, made him often unsympathetic, cruel, unkind, petty and controling (especially of Buffy and her sexuality), this was never explicitly treated as a problem within the series.

    And yeah generally I just find it somewhat illogical, that while what Buffy and Willow take from the experience is simply a new idea of who they want to/could be, what Xander gets from it is extensive weapons, what???