Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | October 29, 2011

Robin’s Review: S3, E9 – The Wish

Synopsis: Cordelia returns from her injury and tries to reclaim her former popularity. Harmony and that crowd mock her though and only new girl Anya is willing to hang out with her. Cordelia turns her anger on Buffy for bringing Xander into her life. She wishes that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale and Anya grants the wish, revealing herself to be a demon. Cordelia now lives in a town dominated by the Master. She is killed by Willow and Xander who are now both vampires. Giles, Oz and a few others still fight on and spurred by Cordelia’s words Giles calls Buffy in Cleveland. She arrives and with help from the tortured Angel heads off to defeat the Master.

The Good: This is a wonderfully memorable episode with a deeply satisfying conclusion. The story is built on two concepts which interlink in a brilliant way.

The first is just the fallout from Willow and Xander hooking up. Oz is being wise and zen and keeping to himself. Whereas Cordelia is deeply hurt and angry. She turns that anger on Buffy which in a twisted way makes perfect sense. Without Buffy’s involvement in her life Cordelia would never have had to interact with Xander as much as she did. It also fit with Cordelia’s emotional state that confronting Xander would have been too painful but to lash out at Buffy came easily to her.

The second concept is the idea that is the foundation of the whole show. That Buffy is an admirable super hero who stands guard over the mouth of hell so that the rest of humanity can rest easy. Buffy cannot do it alone though and with the guidance of Giles and the support of Willow and Xander, she stays sane and happy and able to fight on. The dystopia that Cordelia unleashes underlines this concept with a real flourish of imagination. It’s such a clever melding of these two concepts because if Cordelia had wished for just pain to be inflicted on Xander the story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

Television shows are ideally set up for dystopian fantasies. The reliable structure of a world with its regular characters and scenarios being turned upside down is always going to be intriguing. The execution of the dystopian Sunnydale though was about as good as you could imagine. It began with hints of what had happened to the human population with a “Winter Brunch” being scheduled, bright clothes frowned upon and a parking lot with no cars in it. Soon we realise that no human can come out after dark because the vampires reign supreme.

In a way this episode is a wonderful companion to Season One by showing us exactly how horrible life would have been if the Master had risen. Xander and Willow are dead and their faces are now used by demons intent on evil. Angel is suffering even more than when he was on his hobo exile and Giles oversees a parade of misery and death. Even Buffy, once she arrives, is stern, bitter and negative. She is like a joyless Faith, living only to kill before she is killed.

In a twist that underlines the reality of this new world Cordelia is killed by Xander and Willow. Even though this is her episode, she is murdered half way through the story. It demonstrates the folly of her wish but it also has a more direct metaphor. In the real world Xander and Willow wounded her emotionally and physically in a way that devastated her. How could things get any worse? How about if they literally teamed up to end her life? It’s a beautifully symbolic moment.

Much of the power of the episode comes with the first viewing. You can never recapture the intrigue of working out what has happened to the world. However the ending is still emotional to this day. The wonderful slow motion fight scene shows us Xander, Angel, Willow and then Buffy all dying. As Giles battles with Anyanka his certainty that there must be a better world than this is moving. Again it all hits the central emotional pull of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. These people all work together to save the world and without each other things really would be a nightmare. Purely from a structural point of view, not many episodes will ever end as satisfyingly as this one does: Buffy and the gang are ok, the world is restored and even Cordelia is on her way to being healed. Not by a demon’s power but just by living and moving on and realising that things really could be worse.

There were a few details worth pointing out too. In “Prophecy Girl” it was written that the Master would rise and the Slayer would die. The writers neatly fulfil that prophecy even in this alternate reality. You have to love the Master whose camp delivery is as entertaining as ever. He has several good lines, the best (and campest) of them being when he points out that his mass production device drains blood out of humans while they are still alive – “For the freshness!” The transformation of Willow into a leather clad bondage-style vampire was an impressive idea. All the little details of life in the new Sunnydale were well placed. The “Winter Brunch” is a sad replacement for whatever ball would normally have been held and dead humans must be incinerated to avoid any of them rising again. It was interesting (back in the real world) to see Harmony tormenting Cordelia (and picking on poor Jonathan). Yes it makes sense that now she is Queen Bee she wouldn’t want to let Cordelia back in as a rival. But more than that Cordelia kind of deserves a little payback after she dismissed Harmony and went with Xander (216). I was pleased to see Cordelia favouring her wound throughout the episode.

The Bad: The only poor moment here was the opening one where Buffy is apparently attacked mid-picnic by a demon who looks like he was friends with some of the fish-men from “Go Fish” (220). After killing him she just goes back to lunch with Willow and Xander. There was no sense that they should hurry to cover up the body from being discovered or that they were shaken or hurt by this surprise attack in the middle of the day. It would have been better all round to just leave the demon out of it.

The Unknown: In an episode that was already full of ideas I don’t seriously think any of these characters would have added much. However it does make you wonder what happened to Luke, Darla and Jesse in this universe.

It is interesting that at no point do Willow and Xander seem to think they could actually start a relationship themselves. That certainly puts their actions, during the cheating, in a certain context.

Best Moment: The final slow motion battle cut against Giles fighting Anyanka was brilliantly executed.

The Bottom Line: The fact that I can still get emotional about the ideas in this episode is amazing. What’s more amazing in a way is that those emotions are directed at a concept rather than a character. The concept is that a gang of good people can make the world a better place. The fact that Giles inherently believes that that is possible, despite the misery he lives in, is very touching. In a way this episode sums up the whole success of Buffy as a show. People who are somehow moved by the idea of real goodness triumphing are drawn to the show and in many cases remain so affected years later.

85/100

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