The Witch S1 E3

Buffy and the Art of Story Podcast CoverThis episode of Buffy and the Art of Story covers The Witch, Season 1, Episode 3.

Buffy and the Art of Story is for anyone who wants to learn more about plot, characterization, and other story elements by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Every discussion is spoiler-free, except at the end (with plenty of warning).

Story Elements in The Witch

In this podcast episode we’ll look at how Buffy handles:

  • Opening Conflict
  • Story Spark (a/k/a Inciting Incident)
  • The first major plot turn at the one-quarter mark
  • The Midpoint
  • The twist at the three-quarter point
  • The Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Continuing character arcs

We’ll also talk about some highlights from the Buffy Season 1 DVD commentaries by Joss Whedon.

The 7 Season Plan

Buffy and the Art of Story plans to cover every episode of Buffy in order and spoiler-free — except at the end so I can talk about foreshadowing, but I’ll give you plenty of warning.

Down the road there’ll be a Patreon account where you’ll be able to get a free story structure template. As a patron, you’ll also get access to bonus episodes.

Those episodes will include Buffy-adjacent stories (such as key Angel episodes). Also films or TV episodes that are intriguing from a story, theme, or character perspective.

Requests will be welcome.

Next Up: Teacher’s Pet, S1 E4

More On Story Structure

The plot points in Buffy and the Art of Story are outlined in detail, and with additional examples, in Super Simple Story Structure: A Quick Guide To Plotting And Writing Your Novel. Workbook, ebook, and audiobook editions are available.

Episode Transcript For The Witch

Hello and welcome to Buffy and the Art of Story. If you love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and you love creating stories or just taking them apart to see how they work, you are in the right place.

I am Lisa M. Lilly, author of suspense, mysteries and supernatural thrillers and founder of

Each week I’ll talk about one episode of Buffy in order, covering plot turns and other story elements. The discussion will be spoiler-free except at the very end and I’ll give you plenty of warning.

This Week: The Witch

Today we’re talking about Season 1, Episode 3: The Witch. This is a standalone episode. So we’ll cover all the key plot turns. We’ll also talk about subplots and how this early episode sets expectations for this series by expanding the Buffy universe beyond vampires. That was hinted at in the pilot, but it’s made explicit now.

Okay, let’s dive into The Hellmouth.

Opening Conflict in The Witch

In the first scene, we have Giles giving Buffy a speech about her sacred duty and how she is now enslaving herself to this cult. We then get a shot of Buffy in a cheerleading uniform.

This is another great way to get across the exposition through conflict, which was done so well in the pilot. And it sets up, for audience members who have not seen the pilot, exactly what is going on in the show.

Remember, when this came out a lot of people might jump into a series in the middle or at least certainly in the first season or two. So, if you hadn’t started a series at the beginning you could wait for reruns. But you were more likely to just start with a later episode.

So it was important to set up exactly what was going on and that was done well here. I videotaped a lot of episodes once I got to like the show. But I don’t think that I saw it in the order it aired until years later when I got the DVD sets.

More Than Exposition

This opening conflict does exactly what it should do beyond the exposition, which is to grab the audience member right away.

Our opening conflict can really be about anything. It’s something to simply draw the reader in. But it’s ideal if it hints at what the main conflict is going to be for the story.

And here we get that because our main plot will involve somebody getting cheerleaders out of the way. It’s not whether Buffy becomes a cheerleader or not.

The personal conflict here turns out to not be so much about that and to more be about Amy and her mother. And Amy’s desire to be a cheerleader or not and how Buffy’s life echoes that.

Buffy also says she wants to do something normal. And for her that is becoming a cheerleader again, which she was at her old school. At least we assume so because she already has a cheerleading uniform.

We get a hint of the main plot conflict when we see the cheerleading tryouts. This also cues us as an audience that this will be a centerpiece of the story.

We meet Amy for the first time and she says that she hates these tryouts. At the same time, she speaks about her mom with a lot of admiration and seems grateful for her, how much her mom coaches her, spending this, like, I think it’s three hours a day, and talking about professional cheerleading coaches.

The Inciting Incident in The Witch

At about four and a half minutes into the episode, we get the story spark or the inciting incident that sets off our episode arc. And here it is literally a spark because the cheerleader’s hands burst into flames.

So that is what sets off what is going to be our main plot conflict.

In a movie, often this inciting incident happens about 10 minutes into a 120 minute movie, so about 10% through. And that is what we see here because the episode is 43 or 44 minutes and this comes about four and a half minutes in.

Quick Wits

Buffy uses, I think it’s a school banner, she grabs it off the wall and runs down the bleachers and smothers the flames.

I really like this because we have this added moment where Buffy is using her wits. Anybody could have done what Buffy did here — it didn’t take any special powers other than quick thinking and you know, maybe the ability to run up and down the bleachers. Which perhaps not everyone could do, but it doesn’t take a Slayer to do that. So I like that we start out with Buffy being quick-witted and acting fast and being smart.

The Villain

This also sets up immediately in our third episode that we will have phenomenon, or evil, or villains other than vampires.

In the pilot, we got a hint of that because we got Giles talking more than once about being on the Hellmouth and all these kinds of villains. But here it’s explicit. This isn’t about vampires.

And in the interview on the DVD, Joss says this. He makes the point that this is the first episode written with a non-vampire villain and he says it was a “statement of principle”.

I think that I said last time that there were no special features on the DVD for The Witch. And that was because, for whatever reason, this interview doesn’t appear on the DVD that contains The Witch episode. It appears on the next DVD.

Okay, so after our story spark we go to opening credits. And we see Xander and Willow and Buffy and Giles in the library in a classic scene.

I’m pretty sure this is the first time they called themselves The Slayerettes. That confirms that Willow and Xander are going to continue to help Buffy, and they have this conversation with her.

Initially everyone suspects, or at least considers, that Amber, the cheerleader whose hands burnt up, maybe did something to herself that this happened. There’s talk about spontaneous combustion. There isn’t any understanding that this is necessarily about cheerleaders.

Subplot: Buffy and Joyce

Fairly quickly after that, we get a subplot for the episode which is the relationship between Buffy and Joyce.

Joyce is unpacking something for the gallery, which is very busy. She’s doing an opening and she’s a bit distracted as Buffy is talking to her. And Buffy is telling Joyce about how Amy’s mom coaches her for hours every day.

And Joyce is kind of half listening. Buffy’s going on about this. You know, what Buffy is really saying indirectly is: “I really wish you were that involved, were that interested in something I’m doing. Like, would you do that for me?”

Joyce doesn’t pick up on that and instead she’s answering the literal words about Amy’s Mom spending three hours a day coaching. She says, “You know, sounds like she doesn’t have enough to do.”

This is such a powerful scene because when we write dialogue, often it is stronger if a character is speaking around their feelings or trying to get across something in an indirect way.

Because that shows the characters vulnerability. If you feel vulnerable, if you feel afraid that the other person will reject you or not care about what you’re saying, it feels safer to bring up something in a roundabout way — which is what Buffy does — or by talking about a similar situation with someone else.

We’ll see this subplot with Joyce continue.

In later scenes, Joyce will push Buffy to get involved in the yearbook because that’s what Joyce did. And Buffy is not interested in that and they get into an argument which escalates. Joyce says something, and Buffy says, “Well, I’m not you, I’m into my own thing.”

And Joyce says “Well your own thing got you kicked out of school and we had to move here just to find some place that would take you.”

Not Like The Pilot

So this is a very different tone than in our pilot, where Joyce kind of kiddingly said, “Buffy, try not to get kicked out of school,”

Here she is really expressing – certainly there’s anger there but also worry. She is worried about Buffy and she is very strongly criticizing Buffy, which really upsets Buffy. It’s a difficult moment for the two of them.

This subplot will ultimately resolve toward the end of the episode. It’s a nice example of a subplot that echoes our main plot, which is the conflict between Amy and her mom, even though we have this outward manifestation of it.

So her [Amy’s] mom is the villain who is causing all these terrible things to happen. That is our external conflict. But the real conflict is Amy’s mom wanting to control Amy’s life.

Or more accurately, wanting to live through Amy and we really see this with Joyce and Buffy.

Except that Joyce doesn’t want to live through Buffy. She is concerned about her daughter and she’s trying to get Buffy to be like her because she perceives it as something that maybe would be safer or better for Buffy. Versus Amy and her mom, where the mom’s concern is not really with Amy, it’s with herself.

So I love this reflection between the subplot and the main plot. It’s really nice when you have that kind of connection there.

Misdirection: The Red Herring in The Witch

Right before we get to the one quarter turn in the story, which remember, the one quarter turn, a quarter through the story, spins it in a new direction, but generally comes from outside the protagonist.

Right before we get there we have Cordelia. She’s threatening Amy in the locker room after Amy makes a mistake in the tryouts that potentially could look like Cordelia’s mistake and Cordelia threatens her.

It’s a creepy scene because for some reason the locker room is dark and no one else is there and momentarily we think that Cordelia could be the villain.

This turns out to be a misdirect.

So it’s one of those red herrings we get where we’re not sure who did it.

One Quarter Turn

In this episode our one quarter turn comes around 14 minutes through, so 14, 15 minutes. So it might be a tiny bit beyond the 1/4 point. But it happens when Amy is the second alternate for the team and Buffy is the alternate.

Cordelia makes the squad. And we see someone, we still don’t know who, casting a spell so we know now it’s probably not Cordelia because she made the cheerleading team.

This takes the story in a new direction in a couple ways.

Yeah, we know Cordelia is not the villain. But that was a very sort of quick misdirect that we move on from. We also know that this is not personally about Amber. In the beginning it could have been something focusing on Amber, someone targeting her now. We know based on what we see in the spell-casting that it is someone targeting cheerleaders.

And Cordelia is the next target.

Buffy Saves Cordelia

She loses her sight gradually and it takes place in a driver’s ed scene, which personally I related to. I had to take drivers ed in high school. Because I was about a year younger than everyone they put me at the very end.

And I remember my driver’s ed teacher being so irritated that he had to actually teach me to drive, because everyone else is parents let them drive and practice before they had driver’s ed. It just reminded me.

I thought the actor who played the driver’s ed teacher did such a good job of being irritated. Because while Cordelia, presumably she knows how to drive, she is disoriented because she can’t see very well.

And he’s so irked that she can’t find the gear shift and isn’t moving fast enough. Anyway, total side thing that has really not much to do with Buffy other than I love that scene.

So Buffy once again saves Cordelia.

This is the second time she has saved Cordelia’s life. But we see in that very creepy scene Cordelia with no pupils to her eyes.

So now Giles, this tells Giles that this is about witchcraft. And Buffy is the one who makes the connection to cheerleading and they make a plan to figure out who it is. So we can see that all the scenes and steps from the one quarter point on arise out of that turn at the one quarter point that is driving the story now as the protagonist reacts to it.

The Midpoint Commitment in The Witch

All of these scenes lead us up to the Midpoint. The Midpoint is where typically either the protagonist makes a commitment, throws caution to the wind, dedicates herself to the quest or suffers a significant reversal, or both.

And here we have both, which also happened in our pilot and was very powerful.

Here it’s a little bit more understated. Buffy and Willow make this formula in their chemistry class. And Buffy is the one who goes and talks to Amy and pretends to drop something and gets a little bit of her hair.

And comes she back, spills this formula on Amy, and because it turns blue, we know that Amy is the one who cast a spell recently.

So I see this as Buffy committing and throwing caution to the wind because she is exposing herself. This is the first time that she may come face-to-face with the villain of this piece and she becomes vulnerable by doing that.

The Midpoint: Reversal

There was also a reversal here.

I didn’t see it when I previously watched the episodes, partly because I wasn’t watching for that, and I missed the actual moment. Even on first watch for the podcast, I was thinking, “Okay. There’s not really a reversal. We have a spell that was just cast. So we have another cheerleader who now has no mouth, which I found really disturbing. But that’s not really a reversal for our protagonist in the sense that that spell was cast before Buffy approached Amy, before she spilled the formula on her and exposed herself.

So I thought, “Okay. I don’t think there’s a reversal here.”

But this time through I caught it. It is when Amy — and we find out later, it’s Amy’s mom in Amy’s body — Amy steals Buffy’s bracelet, which she then can use for a spell. So there is a reversal. There’s a commitment and there’s an immediate reversal because that’s what allows Amy to steal the bracelet.

These two things, Buffy’s commitment and the reversal, now drive the story forward because Buffy and her friends are focused on getting Amy and Amy is focused on stopping Buffy.

Also Buffy is now on the cheerleading squad. So she is an obstacle in Amy’s way.

We get a scene where Amy comes home and yells at her mom to do her homework. And the mom is clearly scared of her. I try to think back to the first time I saw this and whether I suspected the mom had done a body-switching spell. I don’t think that I did.

Misleading The Reader

I think that I believed that Amy was lying to everyone about her mother for some reason. She didn’t want people to know that she basically was running things at home. So I probably thought Amy was the one in charge here either way.

This is another example of dramatic irony because as the audience we now know something that the characters don’t know.

Although in a way this fits into leading the reader to one conclusion or the watcher to one conclusion because we’ve revealed (we think) that Amy is the witch. So this sort of fits with that narrative that Amy’s the one in charge, Amy’s the witch.

She’s controlling her mom.

Buffy Under A Spell

Buffy wakes up kind of loopy because a spell was done to her, and we get a furthering of the Joyce and Buffy subplot.

Joyce apologizes for the things she said. And I like that Joyce does this, that she reflected and she is trying to show Buffy how she feels and that she’s sorry. And Buffy, partly because she’s in this great mood as a result of the spell, is all fine with it.

She says, “You know, I did get kicked out of school.”

At practice she throws another cheerleader too hard. So now Amy is on the cheerleading squad and Buffy is very very sick. So notice all of this comes from that Midpoint commitment where Buffy took this action to reveal Amy as the witch.

Giles figures out — it’s a vengeance spell and they need the witch’s book to reverse.

We see a nice resonance between Buffy and Amy that Buffy recognizes. Because she says this isn’t Amy’s fault and that it can be really hard when a parent puts so much pressure on you.

So Buffy has sympathy for Amy. And this again goes to in this episode we are not just seeing a villain that’s not a vampire. We are seeing a Slayer who, for most of the episode, is not using her Slayer strength or Slayer powers.

She’s using her humanity and her sympathy for Amy. I think this is what allows her to figure things out and her compassion for Amy.

So Giles and Buffy go to Amy’s house, thinking to confront her mother and enlist the mother’s help in stopping Amy, while Willow and Xander are going to keep an eye on Amy at the game that night because the cheerleading squad is cheering.

Three Quarter Twist in The Witch

Which brings us to our three quarter twist in the story, which happens three quarters of the way through, where we now have a twist that comes out of that Midpoint.

So it grows organically from it, but yet again turns our story in a different direction.

And this happens at the house when Buffy realizes that they are talking to who they think is Amy’s mom, but that it’s really Amy in her mom’s body. And this is what I mean about that power of Buffy. Here is her power to understand, to empathize, and to pay attention and put things together.

So now we have to stop Amy’s mom, reverse all these spells, including the one trapping Amy in her mom’s body. From the three-quarter point on we drive very quickly toward the climax.

We’re in the science lab.

Giles is working on the spell and as he is casting it, he’s building up, he’s calling on the powers and Amy — Amy’s mom, but I’m just going to call her Amy — Amy is at the top of the pyramid and she stumbles. And she falls and she runs out of the gym.

This, when everyone is in the same room in the science lab, brings us to the climax. And this is also interesting because at first as we lead up to it, Buffy is completely weakened.

She’s lying on the table. She really can’t do anything. Amy raises an axe and at that moment Giles’ spell finally kicks in completely and everything’s reversed.

So Amy is now Amy again, and she’s going to drop the axe and Buffy is recovered and is herself so she can now fight and we are at the climax.

The Climax

So while Giles is instrumental — Buffy couldn’t have won without Giles — Buffy is also the one who fights the final fight. She is still our protagonist and she does resolve this conflict.

This is an example of use of a villain who can be a match for Buffy despite her mystical strength and her training. Because a physical fight against someone who cast spells, like how much can Buffy do against that?

So it forces her, though she is fighting physically, to also use her wits. She flips down this reflective surface. I guess it’s a mirror. I’ve never quite figured out what that is, or why it’s in the science lab. So if anyone has figured that out, please email me or tweet me and let me know.

Whatever it is, she flips it down and the spell that Amy’s mom sent her way, somewhere along the line she says or tells Amy, ”You know, you’ll never get out where I’m sending you, you know, you’ll never get back.”

That spell is reflected back and hits Amy’s mom.

I should probably use her name. It’s Catherine. She’s Catherine the Great as a cheerleader — So, Catherine.

Reflecting The Spell

I think this choice — and this is just me guessing — I think this choice to have Buffy reflect the spell back — one, it makes sense in the story because Buffy can’t really physically overcome someone with the powers that Catherine has. But I also think it was just too dark, particularly at the time for network TV. Too dark to have Buffy kill Amy’s mother.

Certainly we don’t want to see Amy do it. We can’t have Giles do it. Like, it’s just, it just feels wrong.

Also Buffy is the Slayer. And we will see as the series developes, she doesn’t kill humans. Even humans who are doing something terrible and who might be beyond the reach of the normal justice, the human justice system.

The idea of this is she is a hero.

I don’t think the show wanted her to be killing anybody, but particularly someone’s mom. So this is a nice way to do it because it is only reflecting back at Catherine the spell she put out there.

So she is her own destruction and it’s poetic justice and it feels more, it feels more okay.

If the show were done now, I don’t know — there is obviously much more of a trend toward dark heroes and darkness in shows and you could do quite a bit more. I personally think or would hope that Buffy, still, the choice would be to not have her kill Amy’s mom.

That’s our Climax.

Falling Action

And now we have our falling action, which is a lovely scene to start with Amy telling Willow about her dad being back and how they’re baking brownies. And she’s complaining about it, but she really thinks it’s great.

Resolving the Subplot

We also see Buffy and her mom reconcile in a really nice scene that resolves the subplot between them and echoes or encompasses the theme of the episode.

Joyce comes to talk to Buffy and says she’s really been thinking about this and she feels like she just can’t understand Buffy because Joyce is not 16. And Buffy asks her mom, “Would you want to be 16 again?”

And Joyce says, “Oh, no, not even if it would help me understand you, go through all that again — forget it.”

Buffy says, “I love you,” and hugs her mom.

And Joyce says “I don’t get it.”

I like this because it shows that these two are doing okay despite their conflicts. That Joyce doesn’t need Buffy to be a copy of her, something Buffy complained about before.

Better Understanding

And Buffy has also seen that as much as maybe at times she feels Joyce is too wrapped up in her work or maybe doesn’t pay enough attention to Buffy, she has seen a downside of a mom who’s so involved in her daughter’s life and really doesn’t have anything else.

So Buffy now is more okay with the idea that her mom is a person who is juggling a lot of things and who is sometimes going to be absorbed in work and not able to focus on Buffy in the moment as much as Buffy might like. But we do see Joyce coming back more than once to try to make things right with Buffy.

So whether you think Joyce has the right balance, whether she should pay more attention to Buffy, we’ll certainly talk about that more in later episodes, about their relationship, which I think is one of the more interesting, or one of the many interesting ones in the show.

For this episode, I think we’re supposed to feel, and I did feel watching it, that they have come to a good place where they can both let the other person be who she is and appreciate the good.

Character Development: Cordelia

Cordelia comments on Buffy and Amy being bumped back to alternates.

I like this because we did have — I didn’t talk about it much — but we did have a nice Cordelia not-so-much arc, but a nice sense of this growing connection between Cordelia, Buffy, Willow, and Xander. Because she does talk to them in that initial tryout scene. Which you might not necessarily expect because we know Cordelia is very popular.

She views at least Xander and Willow as being way beneath her on the social scale, but she did like Buffy.

So we see Cordelia kind of chatting with them a little bit. And now at the end again, she’s there to taunt Buffy and Amy about being alternates. But there is still this ongoing connection, this sense that we’re probably going to keep seeing Cordelia.

Which we know because she’s in the credits but still, I like that.

Final Scene

Then we have our final scene with the cheerleading statue.

We saw that early on when Amy was talking about how great her mother was and telling Willow about it. And now we see this statue of Catherine the Great in there or I think it’s just a trophy. We realize she’s in there because we see the eyes moving. And I think we hear her kind of vocalizing.

That scene still makes my throat tighten up.

Commentary on Misdirection

A few things from this episode. One is the use of misdirection.

I’m not sure it’s done super well here with Cordelia in the locker room. The moment works as a misdirect because if we re-watch it knowing Cordelia is not the villain, it still works because Cordelia is really set on being a cheerleader. She does not let anyone get in her way.

So I believe she would say those things to Amy even if the writers were not trying to make us think, at least a little bit, for a short time, that Cordelia is the villain.

That really is the key to whether misdirection is playing fair with the reader, or whether your reader is going to come back and feel cheated.

Deciphering The Body Switch

So let’s talk about the Amy and Amy’s mom switch. This is what I am not quite sure was entirely playing fair with the audience.

I don’t know how much it matters because the heart of this episode is the emotional conflict between Amy and her mom and, to a lesser extent, Buffy and Joyce. But let’s look at these scenes.

In the first scene where we meet Amy she’s saying she hates tryouts. But she also is saying good things about her mom.

At least she appears to be admiring her mom both when she’s talking about coaching and in the next scene when we see her admiring the trophy in the hall.

So, is that Amy or is that her mom?

Because I believe at some point Amy says her mom switched months ago. And the timeline of this episode does not seem to be months-long. It seems perhaps a week or so, unless I’m missing something.

So it seems like this would have to be Amy’s mom the whole time, that we never see the real Amy in the first three quarters of the episode.

Yet, we really get her anxiety and her feeling that she doesn’t really like cheerleading. She doesn’t really want to do it. And Willow says to her, “You know, you don’t have to do this just because your mom does it.” And she kind of gets mad and runs away in a way that seems like Amy, not like her mom.

The Trophy

Now there are a couple things when she’s admiring that trophy.

She says how her dad ran off with Miss Trailer Trash and something about how he was always no good. And the language sounds more like what her mother would say. But it also sounds like someone who grew up hearing her mom say that.

When Amy finds out she’s the second alternate she says ”How much more can I do?”

And at another point she says something like “I just can’t get my body to move like hers… (her mom’s) …no matter how much I practice.” And again this sounds more like Amy.

It’s not until we get that scene where Amy goes home and yells at her mom to do her homework — or maybe the scene with Amy in the chemistry lab when Buffy figures out she’s the witch — that she could be the mom.

But when she goes home and yells at who we think is her mother to do the homework, yeah, that’s clearly the body switch. And after that it’s pretty clear who is who.

But I just I have those questions about the early scenes.

I feel like it’s part of why this episode doesn’t rank up there as a favorite. It’s often towards the bottom of the list if people rank, you know, best Buffy episodes. I mean, that’s also because it doesn’t contribute to the season arc very much other than some characterization issues and maybe because people were not quite ready in the first go-round for a villain that wasn’t a vampire.

But I do think part of it is that that misdirect is a little bit shaky.

Through Lines in Character Conflicts

We do have some through lines for the season or series arc. And this won’t have spoilers. But we set up even more of this Willow, Xander, Buffy triangle.

We’ve already seen Xander’s attracted to Buffy.

We already have a sense that Willow is interested in Xander and it is so quickly and concisely summed up in the scene at the tryouts when Xander gives Buffy a bracelet. This happens before the credits.

Buffy says, “What’s this?”

Willow looks at it and her brow furrows and she says, “What’s that?”

And right there we’ve got it.

It’s Xander giving Buffy this bracelet. He’s attracted to her. Buffy doesn’t realize it. Willow is interested in Xander, who is not paying attention to her.

Later, we get Xander talking with Willow about how he wants to ask Buffy out. He calls Willow his guy friend who knows about girl stuff, completely oblivious to how Willow feels. Then we have that reversed and come back when Buffy, under the influence of the spell, is saying how wonderful Xander is and he’s not like other boys.

And he’s very excited about this until she says he’s just like one of the girls.

So we get definitely that set up with some humor and very quickly that there are these feelings and this triangle set up. So that isn’t really a subplot because it’s going to continue. But it is a through line for the series.

Building In Character Through Lines

And it’s one of those things that you can build into your stories. Whether, let’s say, you have a novel series that is the kind of character conflict that you can set up that will bring readers back to the next book. And you can also do it if you were telling a story that goes in installments, much like this season of Buffy where you do have a bigger story arc and you also have smaller stories within it.

So if you have a five-book series and you really need to read them in order because there is an overarching five-book arc, you still may want to set up these kinds of character interactions and conflicts. Because along with the main plot people will come back to find out what happens to these characters that they care about.

DVD Commentary and The Witch

A couple more things from the DVD interview with Joss Whedon. I watched it after I watched The Witch and wrote up my notes. But he too made the point that the story is about mothers and daughters. Because he said they got a lot of flak from watchers about the negative portrayal of witches.

And his answer basically was, “It’s not really about witches. It’s about mothers and daughters.”

He also said it was about cheerleaders because they are the great icon of popularity. And that’s why Buffy was one at her last school and wants to be one again. But she discovers it’s more complicated on the Hellmouth.

That I found interesting because it’s been quite some time since I was in high school, so I don’t know if this is still true of cheerleaders.

But certainly it was for quite a long time.

And I think that is interesting that Joss specifically chose that as sort of the symbol of Buffy’s being the girl that she used to be. That is all I have for this episode other than one thing I want to talk about in the spoilers.

So I hope you will stay around for that. It is about Amy.

Next Time on Buffy and the Art of Story

If you do not want to hear the spoilers, thank you so much for listening to this point, and I hope you will come back next week when I’ll talk about Teacher’s Pet, another standalone episode.

We will cover all the plot points. And we’ll talk about the use of point of view because a fair amount of the story is in Xander’s point of view, and whether and how that works. Also about metaphor in that particular episode and Buffy generally.

In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter @LisaMLilly. You can check out my articles on writing and marketing at

You can also find my books on writing, including on story structure, at either or

Spoilers: Amy and Witchcraft

All right, we’re going into the spoilers.

Amy, Amy, Amy. I love this introduction to Amy.

So maybe that’s part of why I always enjoy this episode a little more than some people I’ve talked to because I find her such an interesting character for the series.

Amy’s Backstory

I suppose in a way this is Amy’s backstory. But it has its own conflict and resolution. And we have the echoing of it in the Joyce/Buffy subplot. So I think that it does work very well on its own but it’s also an interesting intro to Amy.

We see her in, I don’t think it’s this season, it might not even be until Season 3, but she gradually gets more into witchcraft in Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered. We see her casting spells to do better in school and that is, in itself, a little unsettling because she is doing it for her own personal gain.

And one of the characters comments, “She’s the last person who should be messing with witchcraft.” And maybe that’s true, maybe that’s not.

She could use witchcraft for good, but she also was doing it for herself. Then she helps Xander cast a spell that goes terribly wrong. And we see her doing something really evil when she turns Buffy into a rat. Well, she is under the influence of her own spell when doing that, so you could argue it’s not Amy being herself.

It is pretty key that that’s what she does. And Buffy could have gotten stuck there.

Of course later in Gingerbread we will see Amy getting stuck that way as a rat.

Amy is also really interesting in the later seasons, in Season 6. Because I’m always intrigued by what seemed to me to be some inconsistencies. Because she is so much more advanced as a witch when she becomes human again after having been a rat for so long. It’s unclear how that happened.

But we’ll talk about that more when we get to Gingerbread.

I do have a couple other things, minor things, on spoilers. I said there was, I think I said there was only one, but I have a couple.

Spoilers: Giles Backstory

One is Giles. In this episode, he says that this is his first spell and he seems very nervous about it. Then in Season 2 The Dark Age we find out he did a lot of spell-casting when he was young.

So that makes me think that they had not yet, did not yet know that backstory for Giles. And I talked about this in the pilot. I think I might have thought Dark Ages was coming in Season 1, but I talked about the same thing about Giles.

We see him not really being a fighter.

Being, you know, very hesitant about that. And yet with his past that we learn about in the Dark Age, it seems pretty clear he also knows how to fight.

And we see some of that in the Halloween episode as well. So this is a neat glimpse into maybe originally Giles didn’t have quite so many layers. And I imagine they weren’t planning that far ahead because they had no idea if Buffy would be picked up.

I’m pretty sure it was a midseason replacement, which is why it would get only 13 episodes. Or, you know, that was just, ”Okay, we’ll give you 13 and we’ll see what happens.”

So they probably didn’t have all of this worked out yet. I found that kind of an interesting look and it’s an inconsistency that gets retconned.

Spoilers: Joyce and Buffy Backstory

Later, when Joyce apologizes to Buffy for her comments about Buffy getting in trouble, and Buffy is under the influence of the spell, she says something about being a Vampire Slayer. And Joyce says, ”Are you feeling all right?”

I always wonder, did Joss have in his mind this idea that Buffy’s backstory included her parents having her committed when she came home talking about fighting vampires?

Because in Season 6 Normal Again, Buffy will say that that happened.

Here and there there are things that could fit that the finale of Season 2. Buffy says something like, “I am not crazy.”

And here we have Joyce saying, you know, “Are you feeling all right?” At the time, on first watch, I took it as physically, like, “Buffy, are you physically feeling all right?”

Like she’s thinking Buffy has a fever. Which Buffy actually kind of seems like she might have a high fever and be sort of rambling.

But after Normal Again, I think, “Oh is this Joyce is actually worried. She  says, “Oh no, she’s talking about vampires again.” Like there’s something wrong with her mentally. She’s having a psychotic break. But probably, that was not in anyone’s mind yet because for one thing, Joyce’s reaction then seems really mild.

If you had had your daughter in an institution or in a psychiatric ward for a few weeks just a year or so ago because she was talking about vampires, I think the reaction would be a lot stronger here. But I just wanted to flag it because I thought that was interesting.

So that is it for this week. Thank you again for listening and I’ll see you next week for Teacher’s Pet.

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