2.16: Cupid's Revenge
As for the focus this time, I'm more sympathetic toward Xander than most, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to be that forgiving. We’re definitely going to talk about how stupid he is. And we can have fun with it, because it’s genuinely hilarious even when it’s maddening. But first we’re going to talk about some Buffyverse worldbuilding and the philosophy of magic, since that’s the best equivalent I’ve got to going off about werewolves last time.
Let’s start with this supposed love spell, and the return of Amy. The audience learns that she has continued to study magic after being freed from her mother, and also that she sucks at it. Even the homework spell makes no sense. When the teacher goes to grade the papers, isn’t she going to notice that there isn’t one from Amy? Does the spell make her decide to let Amy off the hook because she’s embarrassed that she apparently lost a student’s homework?
(Admittedly, I love it that in Sunnydale you can threaten to tattle on a witch for cheating in school with magic, and it’s just assumed that the teacher will believe that this very normal thing has happened and dish out consequences for breaking the rules. With magic.)
Amy thinks that she’s a very clever witch who can make two people fall in love. Amy might have ultimately failed because clever witches don’t think they can do that. “Love spell” may be Buffyverse Wiccan shorthand for “spell that makes someone think they’re in love,” but in that case, where does pure intent come in? Answer: Amy likes to pretend she knows what she’s doing, and also that she respects the power of magic, when in actuality she’s incompetent and self-interested. I headcanon she has a very limited arsenal of tricks she can reliably cast, and everything else she attempts is basically an experiment.
Does the spell even require Xander's bare chest, or does Amy just want to humiliate him?
A long, silent beat. Then - Xander's shaky voice.
Great. Really. Good spell… Can I put my shirt on now?
One of those go-to tricks is clearly turning people into rats. Really a rather frighteningly powerful move (note Giles wonders where she learned it), but in ordinary circumstances she probably considers it a last resort.
I’m interested in what happens to people who have been transformed into animals. Buffy spends half the episode as a rat and doesn’t seem to retain any sense of self, let alone her Slayer powers. Later on, though, we’ll see Amy herself spend about two years as a rat, and then come out of it relatively unscathed. Rats in the real world live for around three years, so if she was aging proportionally, she’d probably be an old woman when she returned to human form. Maybe we can use this to identify animals who are actually people under curses.
As for the centerpiece “love” spell, I have to wonder what kind of alternate disasters were waiting if it had gone off correctly and Xander had proceeded with his plan to break up with Cordy after it took effect on her. None of the enchanted women took it well when Xander rejected them, and an enchanted heartbroken Cordelia Chase would be, well, terrifying.
If we’re trying to identify what went wrong, though, I think there’s a pretty big hint when we see Xander sitting in a female symbol during the ritual. Would a spell that targets one specific person really put that much focus on the person’s gender? The only thing tying it to Cordy is the necklace, which one can readily believe works as protection against the magic rather than targeting it. See, I’m already a better witch than Amy. (I do wonder what happened to that necklace, though. Was it consumed by the counterspell?) Sexual orientation also doesn’t seem relevant, so those guys in the hallway were probably just envious or incredulous. Too bad, or we could have used it as a hint about Willow’s future.
All in all, it's no use digging into plot holes for any reason but personal entertainment. As the werewolves were limited by budget, worldbuilding is limited by nobody really caring that much. I love worldbuilding, but still, fair enough - all the supernatural stuff in Buffy is essentially just a backdrop for the characters and timeless themes.
So, while Xander’s moronic petulance is at an all-time high in this episode, I feel like it also, paradoxically, shows a hidden maturity to him. He doesn’t convince himself that he’s in love and he doesn’t set his goals on sex, which are the two mistakes teenagers in the real world are most likely to fall into. He knows he’s not ready for anything serious; he just wants to be validated, to know that his feelings matter as much as Buffy’s, or Willow’s, or Giles’ do.
Unfortunately, he's still Xander, which means he makes jokes about lapdancing and the audience stops caring about his feelings. His friends don't - Buffy's easy forgiveness of him ("thanks for not raping me after you accidentally put me under a love spell") has often been pointed out, and that's fair, but I think the other characters see his crudeness as a kind of self-deprecation, reminding them that he sees himself as a loser. And maybe they're right.
Plus, he does exercise some chivalry in this episode. The Valentine's Day gift scene was pretty touching, and he didn't hesitate to jump into the mob and rescue Cordy by carrying her away in his arms. Whether or not she should have taken him back at the end, I get why she did. Of all the turning points we see Cordy going through, over both series, her "you're a sheep" speech to Harmony might be the most overlooked. She's not just choosing Xander over the Cordettes; she's choosing authenticity over popularity. It's kind of awesome.
Sidebar, I love that speech even more with this cut line. It could have become a new slang insult to tell people that sweaters are made from their woolly coats.
I'm not a sheep.
You're a sheep. Sweaters are made from your wooly coat.
Willow and Oz: I am so very happy to report that my beta couple is doing great. Willow is thrilled just to watch her boyfriend on the stage, and Oz has a correct reaction to hearing her cry over Xander all night, i.e., punching him in the face. I don't know why I should be particularly happy about this since I know where everything is going to end up, but we've got to enjoy the moment, right?
Saved this from the shooting script because I have no idea what Ben was or what kind of joke or reference was supposed to be happening here. Maybe that's why it was cut.
(theme from "BEN")
"…Ben, the two of us need look no more… we both found what we were looking for-"
Buffy Is the Title: I’m surprised by how openly Buffy and Xander talk about Cordelia. Buffy doesn’t conceal her dislike for her, and says Xander could find someone better. Plus, Xander tells Buffy outright that he’s still into her, basically implying that he’d drop Cordy for her sake if he thought he had a chance. And Buffy doesn’t even call him out! I kind of like the scene just because it's unexpected, but I wish their friendship could develop without Xander's crush.
Speaking of which, though, I'm intrigued by Buffy's line while she's under the spell, “You make me feel this way and then reject me?” This is essentially the battle cry of the unrequited lover, an attempt to transfer the blame for one's own feelings onto someone else. Maybe Buffy's memory of how she felt, how the irrational seemed to make sense at the time, gives her sympathy for Xander an extra boost.
Of course there's not much else to say about Buffy in this episode because she spends half of it as a rat, resulting in some very boring rat-cam scenes and also the following exchange, which I didn't realize was a rat reference when I read it. Maybe that's why it was cut.
Déjà vu much? Here's another good reason not to date you. People are always trying to kill me when I'm with you! So - what do we do now? Wait for Buffy to come?
I… wouldn't hold my breath.
One more maddeningly slow development in Buffy's life is keeping Slayer matters secret from her mother, who looks dumber every time something supernatural happens around her. Buffy is wondering if she should start to worry that Mom is getting so good at repression. Yes, she should. Seriously, your daughter opens up an anonymous black box of roses with a note that just says, "Soon," and you don't suspect anything?
Spike and Dru and Angelus: It's kind of neat that the vamp trio gets a chance to just be funny for one episode. Angelus's "Works in theory" moment was so effective in the Xander-is-having-a-nonstop-crazy-night context. No new plot points, but some good building on top of what's already been established about the three of them.
I would love to see the AU where Drusilla manages to sire Xander in this scene. Nicholas Brendan is surprisingly good at playing evil, and just imagine how Spike's world would turn upside down until Angelus had enough and decided to kill Dru's pet.
Giles and Jenny: Of all the actresses playing lovesick loonies, Robia La Morte had my favorite performance. She made it funny and cute instead of the somewhat embarrassing displays from Buffy and Willow, or the mortifying backrub from Joyce. She also retained enough of her own character to show how much she and Giles care for each other and how the only thing holding them back now is her painful history. I can't believe how little of her we have left.
Giles and Buffy are still doing well, too. I mean, the script describes them as "anything but happy Valentine's puppies," but at least they're in it together.
Giles and Objects: Yup, two categories for Giles again.
XANDER, WILLOW AND BUFFY are all in English class with MISS BEAKMAN, a tough old dame. The bell rings and students start to rise.
The bunch comes up by AMY, daughter of the cheerleading trophy.
KATIE'S quite attractive, and clearly smitten.
That last one is the third girl after Buffy and Amy who showed interest in Xander; apparently she had a name and was singled out from the mob a few times. The script provides further evidence that she is indeed quite attractive through this addition:
She holds up a little slip of paper, but he takes off. A beat later and he appears in the frame, takes the paper and leaves again.
In the script, the spell took effect a little more gradually.
Xander moves off, chagrined. Cordelia turns to Harmony.
What is his deal?
I know. Did he cut his hair or something? He looked half-way decent for a change.
Off Cordy. Confused by Harmony's comment.
Last little bit of script today is a dry cleaning joke. Those don't generally seem very funny but somehow they keep getting used.
Now she gets out of bed. We see now that she's WEARING HIS BUTTON DOWN SHIRT. She moves toward him.
That's… dry clean only.
- The lunch lady joining the mob of women chasing Xander was a nice touch. We'll see her again next year in my favorite episode.
- I don't care if it's a contrived joke; characters barricading a door that opens out from the barricade is funny and the second time is even funnier.
- In Xander’s room I spotted: an Etch-a-sketch, an Elvis bust, a ukelele(?), a piggy bank, a guitar, an X-Men poster, two clocks that said it was 10pm, a car poster, a teddy bear, a basketball hoop, and a Widespread Panic poster. That last one is the only thing that didn't seem to fit his character, but they're in the school too, the band must have had some kind of deal with WB.