Episode title: Witch
Original air date: January 17, 1998
“I laugh in the face of danger – then I hide until it goes away.” – Xander
Seemingly keen to not fall into the cycle of find vampire, turn to dust, repeat; the show changes things up this week by having a none vampire threat, something the show did well by ensuring that the enemies that Buffy faced were varied to say the least.
Buffy determined to maintain some form of normal high school life outside of her slayer duties this week tries out for the cheerleader squad. However when one cheerleader spontaneously combusts and Cordelia is struck down by mysterious blindness, leaving Buffy determined to find who is responsible for these mysterious events. Ok so perhaps the title gives this one away as in case you haven’t guessed already a witch is responsible for these events. This being said the search for said witch still makes for a fun episode as the group try to track her down.
Already at this point in the series we can see the Scooby’s group forming which will play such a central role in the series, even if at present it consists of Buffy, Xander and Willow with Giles trying to keep them on the right path while generally being a constant font of mythology knowledge, while also showing himself as in possession of quite a varied skill set as we start to see here when he gets to engage in a bit of spellcasting of his own. True neither Xander or Willow have any powers, with Willows current powers being more related to her computer skills though she does get to cast her first spell here, even if its played off as more of a test to see if someone is a witch rather than anything as impressive as we will see in later seasons. Xander meanwhile brings boundless enthusiasm and a strange willingness to put himself in dangerous positions. Considering how over powered certain members of the Scooby’s would become in later seasons, there is upon rewatching this episode part of me which wanted to see how they would have fared if they had remained as they are now, a fate which would only befall Xander even if he does much later become the general of the Slayer army in the comic series “The Long Road Home” which followed the final season.
While on the subject of Xander, it is in this episode that we see the first signs of his obsession with Buffy as he buys her a bracelet passing it off as good luck gift. His affections are not shared by Buffy as she remarks that he’s not like other boys but like one of the girls, which is kind of a crushing put down and one which only made the more confusing to how truthful this answer is seeing how it’s given during a time Buffy is under the influence of a curse.
While not the strongest episode it does however set a lot of key pieces of the Buffy Universe in place, while establishing further longer running plot lines, while the main plot provides its share of fun twists and surprises throughout. It’s just a shame that they cut out the scene in which Giles recommends using a dunking stool to tell if Amy is a witch or not.
Next Episode: Teacher’s Pet