Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | June 14, 2011

Robin’s Review: S2, E16 – Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Synopsis: It’s Valentines Day and the news that Cordelia and Xander are dating sneaks out. He realises that he actually does like her just as she dumps him to avoid being socially ostracised. Humiliated, he turns to Amy, who is practising witchcraft and asks her to cast a love spell. Meanwhile Giles tells Buffy about the horrific things Angel did to his victims on Valentines Day. The spell goes wrong and instead of Cordelia falling for him every other woman in Sunnydale does. Willow is driven to try and harm Xander and a jealous Amy turns Buffy into a rat. Harmony and other girls try to hurt Cordelia and so Xander grabs her and flees to Buffy’s house.

The Good: This was a very good story and is actually more complicated than a brief synopsis would lead you to believe.

The main purpose of the story is to get Cordelia and Xander together as a proper out-in-the-open couple and it succeeds. Xander stays true to his passive-aggressive attitude toward Cordelia even as he admits he has real feelings for her. He dressed up all nice and bought her a necklace for Valentines Day to make it clear that he was serious. Cordelia is genuinely torn over what to do but chooses popularity over him. The scene where we learn that she is still wearing the necklace (even though she dumped him) was a clever use of the prop Xander needed to complete his spell. The final scene where she realises that she wants him more than her vacuous friends was touching and sweet and true to her character, it wasn’t an easy sacrifice to make.

Along the way the writers didn’t forget the other relationships and the details were very solid. Xander reminded Buffy verbally of his interest in her which underlined the restraint he showed once she came onto him (see Best Moment). Willow’s long-held affection for Xander made her experience acutely painful and Oz’ loyal punch to Xander’s face was a nice touch. We also got reminders of the ongoing tension between Giles and Jenny and the Angel-Spike-Drusilla triangle. Angel’s presence in the shadows was solid once more and the use of Drusilla to protect Xander was clever.

The Bad: Nothing as such but I have a lot to say in ‘The Unknown.’

The Unknown: The ‘Unknown’ is a section of my reviews that is extremely useful on occasions like this. ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ sounds like a comedy episode and in many ways it is. Xander’s love spell goes wrong and suddenly we get every woman in Sunnydale falling hopelessly in love with him. We get the slow montage of sex machine Xander being admired by every girl in school, we get Jenny and Joyce and the lunch lady all fighting over him and even the evil Angelus is foiled by Drusilla’s claim that Xander is the man for her. It all sounds hilarious but I don’t think it was.

The script and direction make it instantly clear that Xander’s spell has worked, just on the wrong target. As soon as Buffy hits on Xander we know something has gone wrong. Then when Amy instantly joins in Xander too is in the know. The chance for scenes of comedy where Xander slowly realises the truth was gone fairly quickly. It’s only a couple of scenes later that Giles has to give Xander a stern dressing down for his actions. This was half way through the episode and soon after Buffy and Amy are doing each other harm.

What follows has moments of being serious and having a very dark tone. Giles scolding feels as harsh as any parental admonishment. The violence though is even worse. The writers took the power of love seriously and the threats to Cordelia and Xander’s well being are so serious that they flee for their lives. The sight of Willow holding an axe, in tears and threatening to kill them both is hard to fit into a comedy episode.

Unfortunately the writers never picked a direction and stuck with it. As Cordelia and Xander run away we get Buffy’s mom hitting on Xander. It’s a scene that screams comedy but it comes at a moment when things are turning very serious. Similarly the threat of Angel is turned into a bit of a joke when Drusilla steps in to secure Xander’s life.

Another problem with the armed gang of women is that they fall all over one another to hurt Xander and Cordelia but never do more than scratch them. The ability of the mob to be constantly outwitted by the two people they are trying to catch makes it difficult to take them seriously just at the moment when they have become a threat. The whole C plot of Buffy being turned into a rat was pure silliness. The sure knowledge that nothing bad would actually happen to her underlined the fake nature of the threat to everyone.

The episode was always trapped between these two different tones. The writers admirably chose to show us the real consequences of powerful love but they couldn’t let go of the obvious comic potential which it presented. The result is an episode which achieves its goals but made a bit of a mess getting there.

Best Moment: The one moment which captures something perfectly came right after the spell had been cast. Xander is annoyed that the spell seems to have had no effect on Cordelia and heads to the library to seek comfort from his friends. Suddenly Buffy seems interested in him for the first time. He can’t believe his luck when she says “It’s funny how you can see someone everyday and not really see them.” Amy then arrives and drags him out to the hallway. He is keen to get this chat over with and keeps glancing back through the window at the obviously lustful Buffy. Suddenly Amy asks him out which gets his attention. She adds that it’s funny how “you can see someone everyday…” He realises what has happened and takes one mournful look back at Buffy as the truth sinks in.

The Bottom Line: This was very enjoyable and at times exploited both the concept and the ongoing arcs really well. Ultimately though as a single episode it failed to pick a direction and ended up losing out on both the comedy and the tragedy of Xander’s miscast spell.

67/100

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Responses

  1. I recently re-watched this episode and can agree about the tone. I did, however, still really enjoy it, some of the dialogue is really great, and because I have been watching Angel lately, it’s so weird to see Cordelia be so easily influenced by the vacuous Harmony (who plays this character so well!) who for some reason, is still alive by Season 5 of Angel. But I digress.
    Awesome review!
    I just came across your blog and it’s great! Looking forward to more reviews!
    Cheers.


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