Directed by: Stephen Cragg
Written by: Dana Reston
Air Date: March 17, 1997

We all wish we could relive our youth, to go back in time to the “halcyon” days of our childhood, experience our high school lives again and recapture what made them so great. This nostalgia is common and the psychological aspect of parents living “through their children” is often times spoken of. So this episode, “Witch” presents us with the supernatural take on it, and it is also our first “monster of the week” moment. This episode presents us with Amy, a dejected and formerly-fat student (since Willow so nonchalantly informs us that she’s “lost a lot of weight”) who has dreams of being a cheerleader, like her mother. This is all well and good, until suddenly there are people on fire. Ah-ha! says the audience, the witchcraft the episode’s title spoke of!

The episode does have its solid moments, namely any instance of Giles being on screen. The first episode after the premiere is also the first episode Joss Whedon didn’t write, so its shocking that these characters are immediately more likable than they were to start with. His (Giles’) ranting at Buffy about joining the cheer leading squad is comical, if not only because of how well played up it is. And this marks the first time the show utilizes a trick it does well throughout its run; having a character mention how normal everything is or will be, then having a quick cut to something mischievous and/or evil. Here we’re treated to the introduction of a witch (complete with corny bubbling cauldron and – later on – a black cat which, while not named, was likely given the moniker “Cliche”). and right after this? A girl trying out for the squad spontaneously combusts.

From here it is a mad dash to solve riddles, discover clues, and stop the witch who is out to… get Amy on the cheerleading squad. See, turns out that Amy’s mom is a slave driver as far as getting her daughter on the cheer squad is concerned… only! Turns out Amy’s mom switched bodies with her daughter so she can “live through her daughter” – this is what drives this episode forward and, as far as an initial mystery for these kids to solve goes, its fine. The twist is also not immediately noticeable, I’m sure but it DOES suffer upon second (or nineteenth) viewings, with all the hints being thrown in your face from the get go. While disappointing, it doesn’t hurt an episode like this, especially since they figure out the witch is Amy (or at least someone in Amy’s body) pretty quick and doesn’t let the viewer struggle to remain interested in a narrative no longer with any kind of payoff.

Some things don’t work, though, and some things really seem odd. One thing in particular? The awful 90’s music for the cheerleading sections. It, again, dates the show horribly and is cringe-worthy listening to this junk. I get that its for pep and boosting of school spirit and all that, but that doesn’t mean it does anything but grate upon the ears of the viewer. Also? Repeatedly we’re shown how creepy Xander is right off the bat. This show entertains the idea that Xander has a thing for Buffy at first (this is excellently squashed by the end of the first season, thankfully) but his point-blank staring at a chick (he’s literally a foot away from her) and his giving Buffy an ID bracelet that says “Yours Forever” is weird and creepy. Stalkerish, somewhat and it doesn’t mesh 100% with his character as it develops. Hm. One thing that does mesh? Xander is such a whiner.

Otherwise there’s tons of fun to be had in this episode. Giles seems excited about the prospects of future monsters to face, Willow maintains being cute throughout, either with her pen chewing or he battle-ready charging into the lab with a baseball bat, ready to beat upon Amy with no prejudice (speaking of Amy and Willow, how about that punch? Amy knocked her lights out!). Seeing Giles’ beat up old jalopy for the first time is also a treat and a source of jokes and humor from the characters for years to come. And the action, while downplayed this time around is pretty damn solid. Buffy getting tossed across the room, “Amy” using a fire axe to great effect (an old horror trope — thank god they had the smarts not to use a variation on the old “Here’s Johny!” line!). Plus, we get to see Cordelia run around in skimpy, tight clothing for a decent chunk of the episode. Charisma Carpenter showing a midrif? Never going to complain about that.

Speaking of Cordelia, she correctly utters the word “hyperbole” in a sentence. Again, the veil of stuck-up bitch begins to pull away, showcasing a character I can actually tolerate and enjoy.

Effects are decent (particularly the “Matrix” inspired no-mouth spell), dialogue is snappy-ish – still a shadow of its later self – and the characters are getting into the groove, a bit. We get to spend our first decent amount of time in the Summer’s house, we get the first utilization of Buffy’s powers for comedic purposes (her mom can’t open that crate with a crowbar, but Buffy uses one hand to lift the lid with no problem), and we don’t have any mention of Angel or the Master, showing that this program is about more than simple sex and big bads. Its about the characters and getting to know their troubles, their problems, and their lives. Even if this episode does feature an extended sequence where Cordelia fucks up a drivers ed exam (because she’s been blinded… by magic!) that takes way too much time, and even if this episode showcases the worst musical moment in the entire run of the series (Buffy singing “Macho Man” – it is simply painful to watch, and I feel bad for SMG, having to read and act out certain parts of this episode’s script)… even with these things, the show starts to make progress into the right direction. It goes uphill from here, too.

Well, aside from the fact that the next episode is “Teacher’s Pet”

Episode Rating: 81

Death Count: 6
Annoying Scream Count: 4

Additional Notes:
-Buffy’s mom is the greatest mom in TV history. She comes off as both understanding and critical, both when the time and situation calls for it. This love for her daughter serves them both very well.

-This episode contradicts some later stuff, particularly about Giles. He says he’s never cast magic before, but kinda owns this shit when he’s in the middle of it all. Later, his days as “Ripper” become more clear, so I wonder if he’s “covering” here or its just bad continuity
-Any time Amy or her mom use magic, they go all nasty, bad-ass Sith Lord on everyone. Its boss.
-The guy in the UPS truck that almost flattens Cordelia… was never going to stop. What was his deal? He just went full steam ahead and would have squashed a girl to death. And he doesn’t stop
after he’s past her, either. He just keeps on going. What can Brown do for you? Kill your ass.
-Amy and her mom present a drama that the show attempts to parallel, somewhat, between Buffy and her mom. Buffy’s stuff takes second and possibly third seat to Amy’s stuff. It gets better, though, in Season 2
-Amy comes back later and is much, much more interesting
-Best line? Xander: “I laugh in the face of danger! …then I hide until it goes away.”
-Second best line? When the class is dissecting frogs, a girl almost off screen exclaims, sarcastically: “Isn’t this exciting?” and Buffy responds, in an equally sarcastic tone: “Oh yeah.” Why is this here? And why have I never noticed it before?