“The Witch” is memorable for two important introductions: the monster of the week template and witchcraft, both of which become key elements of the show.
This Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 Episode 3 recap for the episode titled “The Witch” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“The Witch” is a bit of a change of pace from the first two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest” both felt borderline oppressively dark, but there is a palpable lightness to “The Witch”, even as it deals with some heavy topics. We see for the first time the monster of the week structure that the show will utilize fairly regularly, especially in the first few seasons of the show, and it reminds viewers that Buffy will be dealing with other supernatural bad eggs other than just your run-of-the-mill vampire.
In “The Witch”, Buffy is dead-set on pursuing her ultimate goal in life: being normal. To that end, she decides to try out for the cheerleading squad. (Weirdly, Sunnydale has adopted a vintage cheerleading uniform that for some reason incorporates woolen sweaters despite being in famously sweltering Southern California.)
Only one problem — cheerleaders seem to have a target on their back at good old Sunnydale High. One is the victim of spontaneous hand combustion while in the middle of a routine, one has her mouth literally removed from her face, and our vicious queen Cordelia goes blind during a driving lesson gone terribly wrong.
Since this is Sunnydale, obviously witches are involved. And our prime suspect is Amy. Mostly because she’s the only character that’s been introduced this episode and given any substantial screen time, but also because she has a tendency to ramble about how much she wants to be on the cheerleading squad and how much it meant to her mother, who is supposedly better than her at pretty much everything (more on that later).
Every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes an attempt to link the supernatural happenings in Sunnydale to real-life issues, and one of the overarching themes of this episode is parental pressure.
Buffy’s mom is shown to be caring but alternately distracted and insensitively judgmental. She tries to get Buffy to join yearbook club, which is what she did when she was in high school and gets weirdly offended when Buffy doesn’t seem like she’s interested. I think the writers were slightly unsure of what to do with Joyce at this point — Buffy, as a teenager, obviously needs a parent on the show, but she spends so little of her life in the home sphere that scenes with Joyce occasionally feel like an afterthought. Despite this, Kristine Sutherland brings as much charm and warmth to the role as anyone could hope for, and the show will get better at developing this key relationship as time goes on.
Compare this to Amy’s mom, who is literally re-living her glory days through her daughter. When Amy doesn’t perform well enough, her mother casts a Freaky Friday spell that allows them to switch places, which seems kind of silly and light but is actually pretty horrifying. It’s a total violation of bodily autonomy. Amy’s mother makes a monstrous decision here; she sees Amy as wasting her youth, so she takes it away from her. The body swap is often played for laughs, used to emphasize how different parents and teens are until they are able to come together as they step into each other’s shoes and learn more about one another. But in “The Witch”, the actual implications of this swap are given a much darker tone, as the malicious intentions of Amy’s mother become horrifyingly clear, and we see how terrified and powerless Amy has become.
The show at this point is still working on getting the tone quite right, and this episode exhibits a more obvious imbalance between light and dark than the first two, which were largely focused on world-building. As it stands, “The Witch” is memorable for two important introductions: the monster of the week template and witchcraft, both of which become key elements of the show.
Best Moment: Honestly I love the scene at the end where Giles is doing his first incantation and he’s all humble and shy about it even though he’s a total manwitch.