Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | November 13, 2011

Robin’s Review: S3, E11 – Gingerbread

Synopsis: Joyce joins Buffy out slaying and is horrified to discover two dead children. She rouses the town to anger over their murder and blames the occult. “Mother’s Opposed to the Occult” is formed and they begin banning books and searching children’s lockers. Buffy realises that no one knows who the children were and the gang realise that this same incident has played out every fifty years. They are too late though and MOO arrive to burn Willow, Amy and Buffy at the stake.

The Good: There were parts of this that were good. The ongoing character stuff was solid with another awkward Giles-Joyce confrontation, the escalation of Willow’s exploration of witchcraft and Xander struggling to behave appropriately around Oz.

Joyce’s impassioned speech about Sunnydale being a bad town definitely struck a chord of reality. Seeing Willow’s distant mother was interesting too. Some of the comedy worked ok with Xander accusing Giles of visiting the “frisky Watcher’s chat room” and Oz hilariously telling a bunch of MOO heavies “You guys know you’re nuts right?”

The Bad: Otherwise this was a mish mash of tones that really didn’t work. Exactly one season ago in “Ted” (211) we saw a story where the supernatural and the natural did not go well together. In that episode the very real idea that Buffy might one day kill a human sat uncomfortably with the sillier aspects of a robot that could live out the frustrated desire of a dead scientist. I felt the same problem came into play here.

When Joyce rallies the parents of Sunnydale to wake up and smell the hellmouth she was treading into water that the show just can’t swim in. Why does no one make a fuss about their missing children? Why do the police cover up the clearly supernatural violence they must witness each week? Why do people who have suffered tragedy continue to live in this place? Why would a school library need a hundred volumes on demons? Oh and while I’m at it, you know that Clark Kent guy; he looks a helluva lot like Super-Man you know!

The idea of the residents of Sunnydale collectively standing up to the demons in their town sounds like a logical idea in theory but in practise it doesn’t work. The conceit of the Buffy world is that people will deny, ignore, forget or just not understand the supernatural and so it’s best if the Watcher’s Council or a gypsy tribe and a few others are the only ones who really know what is lurking in the shadows.

The more the story escalated the more we as viewers were being asked to accept. How were those parents going to rationalise what they did? How were they going to forget what they heard and saw? Earlier in the episode we saw that the students at school all know that Buffy is pretty strong. Now apparently most of their parents have a good idea that she is a Slayer and certainly that that Amy girl disappeared into thin air.

Even if you ignore the problems which this story created I think it is telling that we got no concluding scene with Joyce. The writers knew that it would be too difficult to show her coming to terms with trying to kill her own daughter. That is a silent admission that this plot wasn’t well thought through.

It left Buffy herself in an awkward position. When Joyce questioned her role as a slayer she went to Angel for a moment of introspection on her calling. That was nice and all but you kind of wanted Buffy to yell at her naive mother. We live on a hellmouth! Don’t you understand how dangerous real demons are and that only I can fight them? I have saved the world twice now etc. There was so much that wasn’t said and from a viewers perspective we saw what this world would look like without Buffy only two episodes ago and it wasn’t pretty.

As with “Ted” the episode began to nosedive as soon as it was revealed that this was just another “Monster of the Week” and not a serious issue between mother and daughter. Once we see that Hansel and Gretel are controlling Joyce’s agenda all the intrigue evaporated. The writers seemed to then steer hard toward comedy which at times made things worse. It felt like they were vamping hard to cover up for how silly the story had become. So we got Cordelia holding her nose at it all and acknowledging that Giles has been knocked out far too many times recently. We got Oz and Xander falling through the ceiling and Buffy dispatching the demon with pathetic ease. The final insult then came as we see that Amy is stuck in the form of a rat. Willow can’t turn her back into a girl and so Buffy suggests they get her a hamster wheel. Great! A girls life has been ruined and it’s funny time.

The Unknown: So is Amy actually stuck as a rat now?

Best Moment: I thought Oz asking if the adults knew they were nuts was really funny. It suited Oz’ no nonsense personality and it summed up the madness going on in an unexpectedly appropriate way.

The Bottom Line: This was a bad episode of television. It’s not something I have often said about Buffy. It wasn’t just lacking in tension the way many one-off monster episodes do. It actually undermined the foundations of what makes the show work and then apologetically tried to laugh the whole thing off. That felt cowardly and didn’t suit the gang of brave people the show is built around.

40/100

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