Episode Title: The Wish
Original Air Date: December 8, 1998
“Okay, the entire world sucks because some dead ditz made a wish? I just want to be clear.” – Larry
Despite the Xander / Willow secret romance coming to an abrupt end in the previous episode this week the gang are still dealing with the fallout what with Oz still not speaking to Willow while Cordelia has separated herself from the Scoobies completly in an attempt to reclaim her former life. Sadly things are hardly going well for her as she is humiliated and abandoned by her former group. Of course this being Sunnydale means that things can always get worse which they do when Cordelia unwittingly has her wish that Buffy never came to Sunnydale granted by the vengeance demon Anyanka.
Another one of creator Joss Wheldon’s favourite episodes while also the only one on the list he didn’t do any writing for, but it’s easy to see why as it really brings so much to the series while giving us a fun look at an alternative version of Sunnydale without Buffy. At the same time this episode is especially noteworthy for gives us the first appearance of the fan favourite (certainly for myself) Anya who enters the series here as her demon form Anyanka.
Opening to Buffy battling some Cthulhu style monster (Sadly Buffy Vs. Cthulhu has yet to happen) it also poses the group the issue of how to deal with a monster they kill in broad daylight as Buffy, Xander and Willow are left having to bury the recently slayed monster while lamenting the state of their various relationships with neither Willow or Xander being able to contact their partners, while even Faith seems to have disappeared as Buffy notes that she’s been able to contact her fellow slayer figuring she prefers to be alone . Out of these break up’s Cordelia is however the only one we actually following trying to deal with Xander’s betrayal as she questionably holds a boyfriend bonfire for her pictures (this being a time before digital photos) of Xander highlighting how much she actually did care about him.
While we generally see Cordelia as being the self-assured princess, especially during her time in the Buffy-verse, here we get to see a softer and more vulnerable side to her as she continues to try and get her life back on track, despite her former group being keen to brand her as “Xander’s Cast off” and even offering to set her up with Jonathan who I never realised until this recent rewatch just how much he actually appeared in the series especially when he presence was only more acknowledged in he later seasons.
Once Cordelia gets her wish granted it’s a much darker vision of Sunnydale we are soon given, with the master now still alive and his followers leaving the Sunnydale residents living under a curfew were they hurry to be home by sundown and the local student population has been halfed as seen by the almost empty classroom Cordelia finds herself in while the teacher bolts for the door while advising the student not to turn up the next day due to the monthly memorial service. At the same time this is a universe were Xander and Willow have replaced Luke and Darla are the masters most trusted followers and no doubt explaining their absence here. At the same time Giles and Oz are members of a small underground resistance the “White Hats” which are struggling to battle the vampire who now pretty essentially own Sunnydale, with Angel reduced to a tortured plaything for the vampire Willow.
The real exciting moment of the episode though is the introduction of the alt-universe Buffy, who without the Scoobies is a hardened and cold slayer who cares little about anything other than slaying vampires while seemingly residing in Cleveland until she is called for by Buffy, though why he left it so long is never really explained. Still Sarah Michelle Gellar once more shows some great range as she flips the Buffy character making her now much closer to Faith than her more regular feminine styling. All these things markers of the things which her connection to the Scoobies bring to her character, with no friends to care for our about her leaving her now a solitary and battle hardened figure.
The climax of the episode is really what makes this episode so memorable with the Master unveiling his plans to modernise blood draining with his machine which drains the victim of all their blood in a scene as equally chilling as it was when this death was seen in the classic Vincent Price starring horror “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”. The ensuring fight scene at the factory being easily one of the best in the series, while it seems almost like an attempt to rehash the season 1 finale for a much more satisfying payoff with its use of slow motion and dramatic score even if in this reality Buffy’s showdown with the Master doesn’t end to well for her either. Its also a battle which sees the death of several major characters which really was quite jaw dropping back when the episode first aired and even on repeat viewing still holds up well knowing how this battle will play out while the new vampire dusting effects which show the vampire skeletons only make the kills all the more effective.
It’s actually these unexpected deaths I especially like about this episode as normally alt. universe episodes don’t kill off characters and it leaves you wondering who will actually survive this episode left alone if reality will be restored. Of course by the end of the episode everything is back to normal except for Anya who is left mortal and without her vengeance powers and arguably setting her on the path to being all the more memorable as the result of this powers drain but at this point its hard to really see just how key a character she will become in the seasons ahead.
Alt. Universe episodes are usually a lot of fun and this episode is no exception, while more surprising is just how often they actually returned to this alternative version of Sunnydale in future episode, meaning we get to enjoy more of Willow in a leather corset. Something to really savour much like these early days for her character before the writers / Allison Hannigan screwed the character up.
Next Episode: Amends