Episode Title: Gingerbread
Original Air Date: January 12, 1999
“Aw, man, it’s Nazi Germany, and I’ve got Playboys in my locker!” – Xander
Until point Buffy’s mum Joyce has largely been a background for the most part, there to play the supportive ear and occasional get drawn into the week’s events with her dalliance with Giles in “Bad Candy” clearly still an awkward memory here it would seem. This week though while engaging in alittle mother daughter slaying she stumbles across two young children who appear to have been sacrificed by witches. Now fuelled with a vigilante spirit she sets up MOO (Mothers Against The Occult) to save Sunnydale from the supernatural in particular witches which she believes are to blame for the death of these two children, while Buffy sets out to find out who the real culprit is.
Playing almost like a test run for David Greenwalt’s “Grimm” aka Buffy without the jokes, as the tale of “Hansel and Gretel” here gets reworked for this episode (kinda) with the murder of the two children serving as the catalyst for the whirlwind of misguided vigilante justice and witch hunting which soon sweeps through the town as the result of Joyce and the other members of MOO. This of course is very bad news for the Scoobies resident witch in training Willow who suddenly finds herself public enemy number one despite only being able to throw pencils and control two of the four elements, though sadly never revealed which ones.
Perhaps because of how overwhelming nice she is Joyce has always been the best hidden threat of the show much like when Giles shows his darker side and here we have another example as under the guise of trying to be a good parent she manages to insight the whole of Sunnydale into becoming a frenzied 16th century style mob of witch hunters even going as far as by the finale to hold their own witch burning. Bizarrely I was during this scene that I had the random thought that we really don’t see enough Witch trials these days.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hysteria of the episode, which see’s Giles library being raided and stripped of any of his books on the Occult seriously damaging his researching abilities when it comes finding out who is really behind the murder of the two children, while Principle Snyder unsurprisingly takes great glee in enforcing the new rules. What this episode really gives us is much more of an insight to Willows witchy activities which until now have only been hinted about while we also get to meet her coven which of course wasn’t just thrown together for the sake of this episode as seen by her performing a ceremony with Amy who finally reappears from wherever she’s been hiding for this episode only by the end to have turned into a rat, a state she is set to remain in for some time. We also have the only Warlock of the whole series with Michael, a weird looking goth kid whose drafted in seemingly to make up the numbers of this coven and to give the jocks someone to beat up in this episode, especially when he is never appears on the show again outside being mentioned in the episode “Concequences”.
Outside of the accusations and attempted witch burnings Xander finally tries to reconnect with Oz, who it’s hard to tell if he was every really bothered by Xander and Willows affair seeing how unfazed he seems leaving Xander to essentially try and make more of this scene than we get, though the pair teaming up for an ill advised rescue using the school vents is fantastic especially when they suddenly fall through the ceiling. Elsewhere Cordelia continues to seem lost in the series since leaving the Scoobies and her apperence here is really to solely to bash Buffy and tie a few scenes together.
Seeing how Joyce is such a key part of this episode it only makes it all the more sad that she never got a character collection (much like Anya and Tara) while this episode itself could safely be considered one of the more underrated episodes on the show.
Next Episode: Helpless