The penultimate episode of the season dealt with themes of exclusion and being an outcast in the vicious society that is high school. It began with a focus on Buffy as an outcast, which is precipitated daily by Cordelia and her iron hold over the student body. In reference to the time that Buffy attacked her (1×01), Cordelia states that she doesn’t “know why the school accepts mentals.” Buffy also feels like an outcast when she’s with her own friends; she doesn’t understand Willow and Xander’s references to middle school versions of their peers, and she isn’t popular in Sunnydale like she was in L.A.
When the episode begins, it seems as though the focus will be on Buffy’s position in the social hierarchy. Instead, it becomes more so about the nature of an outcast in itself. Cordelia admits to feeling like an outcast among the student body; despite being surrounded by hordes of people at any given moment, none of them truly know her and they only ever nod and agree with her. The “big bad” of the episode is Marcie Ross. After being perceived as invisible at Sunnydale High School for months and even years, she becomes invisible (things like this can happen at the Hellmouth). Willow and Xander find “proof” that she is a social reject when they noticed that the only thing written in her yearbook is “have a great summer,” over and over again. They explain to Giles that this is the ultimate sign; people only ever write “have a great summer” when they have absolutely nothing to say. Now, as an invisible outcast, Marcie has made it her goal to destroy Cordelia’s life – she starts with her boyfriend, then moves onto her best friend, and then Cordelia herself.
The focus on this episode of the lonesome outcast poses as an interesting parallel to the archetypal woman accused of witchcraft in medieval Europe. Our classic convention (which we have begun to complicate in class by scrutinizing the historical records) is an older woman who didn’t fit societal norms; she was accused of witchcraft because she threatened the structure that society had worked to build. In this episode, Marcie was the outcast, not because she chose to be alone or had abnormal interests, but because she was constantly ignored by her peers despite her efforts to get their attention. This is different from our classic convention of the medieval European witch, and it is intriguing to put the two in conversation with one another.
On March 16, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Gingerbread House” (3×11) in class. There were many similarities between this episode and chapters we read from Briggs’s book Witches and Neighbors.
Kinship relations were strained as they were put to the ultimate test. When Buffy’s mother witnesses two murdered children in Sunnydale, she suggests that Sunnydale is in a chronic state plague by way of supernatural beings; she blames the witches, monsters, and even slayers for “taking over the town.” In her initial speech in front of the mourning community, Mrs. Summers states that we should “find the person who did this, and [make] them pay.” Because a large number of community members already believe witches to be responsible for the murder of these children, they being finger-pointing almost instantly. The episode depicts just how quickly and effectively rumors and suspicions spread in close-knit communities. At Sunnydale High School, a football team picks on a goth-looking student, and they blame him for the tragedy. Mrs. Summers even orders a raid at the school, and Principal Snyder has all the lockers searched as he scoffs at students’ rights. Because she feels that it is her duty to punish those who have done misdeeds, she assumes the role of a vigilante, as many others in the community are pretending to be as well as they attempt to eradicate the supernatural from Sunnydale. This envisioned elevated position of authority in regards to weeding out members of their own community is similar to witch hunting parties from medieval European witch trials. Giles even mockingly refers to them as “marauders,” as they believe that they are doing good and helping the community heal, when in reality, they are dealing with something far more dangerous than they can imagine.
The chapter that we read from Briggs’s book entitled “Love and Hatred” discussed the complicated role of kinship in witch accusations. Mrs. Summers and Mrs. Rosenberg are willing to burn both of their daughters at the stake for the good of the community. The suspicion and fear of the mystical “other” reaches its threshold, and the both of them are demonically influenced by “Hansel and Gretel” to eradicate their daughters. This is related to Briggs’s assertion that kinship networks in medieval Europe aren’t what we expect from them today. Contemporarily, we expect family to be loving and trusting, but in medieval Europe, kinship networks were much more strained. There were tensions between husbands and wives, as well as between parents and children as this was not a time of romance and familial love. Briggs asserts that accusations from within the household were very much possible (even likely!), and we see this illustrated in this episode of Buffy.
“The Puppet Show” follows Sid, a demon hunter cursed to be a puppet until he kills the last of the Brotherhood of Seven (demons that harvest hearts and brains, like the one wrecking havoc at Sunnydale). After many strange murders surround the events of Sunnydale’s Talent Show, the demon-killer is revealed to be Marc, the unsuccessful magician. In the final moments of the episode, Sid performs his last kill, and is finally allowed to die poetically in Buffy’s arms.
Prior to the murderous incidents, the new principal, Principal Snyder, voices suspicion to Giles of something wrong with the current state of Sunnydale. He cites the spontaneous cheerleader combustion and one too many suicides recently as his evidence for believing this. His prime suspects in the “weirdness” are Buffy, Xander, and Willow; he accuses them of being up to something, and forces them to get involved in the talent show. He then promptly states his goal to make Sunnydale safer and more disciplined, or, in his words, “orderly, clean, and quiet.” The accusation (given the little evidence of actual involvement) of Buffy and Co. is analogous to those faced by the victims of medieval European witch hunts.
I found the second part of the premiere of Buffy to be significantly better than the first. While we haven’t begun discussing witches (and the persecution of those accused of “witchcraft”) yet in class, I made some connections between this episode and my knowledge. Early in the episode, Giles reveals that vampires are actually demons who happened to drink blood to sustain their claim on the planet. This connection between vampires and demons as one in the same is something new, considering my pop culture vampire knowledge comes mainly from The Twilight Saga and occasional episodes of Supernatural that feature vampires. Regardless, this association between the two is similar to the connection between Hell/the Devil and the women accused of witchcraft in medieval Europe. There are still differences though; witches were not themselves accused of being demons, yet they were supposedly pawns of Satan himself and sought to perform his bidding. Later in the episode, as Xander and Buffy are en route to confront vampires, Buffy mentions that vampires can be defeated by means of a cross, beheading, fire, or sunlight. Similarly, when witches were thought to be among the common people in some of the early American colonial towns, the community (often composed of devout Christians) believed that in order to rid the world of the “witch,” she would have to be burned at the stake. The similarity lies in the fact that these supernatural beings must be exterminated by greater means than those which would kill a mortal human – and these are often very gruesome, yet very recognizable.
Just like with the first episode, I enjoyed the alternating between Buffy’s life as the slayer and her life as an ordinary teenage girl. When choosing to follow Buffy into the vampire’s cove, Xander states, “It’s either this or Chem class,” and this is particularly telling of the existence of the two incredibly different lives that the main characters lead. Also, as Buffy was attempting to leave the house to save Jesse from the vampires, her mother assumed that she was planning to hang out with friends or party. She claimed that the “world wouldn’t end” if Buffy didn’t go out, but little did she know that it really might. I find it surprising that Buffy has managed to keep her entire other life a secret from her mother, and I wonder if she will eventually disclose the fact that she’s the slayer to the woman who raised her and cares deeply for her wellbeing.
The next episode is called “Witch,” so I’m excited to see what connections I’ll see!