Buffy The Vampire Slayer Episode Guide

Season 1, episode 3

The Witch

Written by Dana Reston
Directed by Stephen Gragg
Original air date: March 17, 1997
Episode #: 4V03

Cast:
Buffy Summers: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Xander Harris: Nicholas Brendon
Willow Rosenberg: Alyson Hannigan
Rupert Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Cordelia Chase: Charisma Carpenter
Amy Madison: Elizabeth Anne Allen
Joyce Summers: Kristine Sutherland

Buffy wants to join the cheerleaders. On the audition, she meets Amy, a quiet girl. Amber Grove, a very talented girl, catches fire when auditioning. Buffy goes to the rescue, knocks the girl to the ground, and stops the fire. Afterwards, Amy tells Buffy that her mother was a cheerleading star, and wants Amy to become the same, even though Amy doesn't. Unfortunately, Amy is the third alternate, which means she's on the team if something happens to three girls on the team. And something does happen to them. Because of a Bloodstone Vengeance spell Cordelia goes blind, Lishanne's mouth gets sealed, and Buffy starts acting weird during practice.

Giles thinks Amy is a witch, but the only way to prove it is to pour a certain potion on her, which makes her skin turn blue if she's indeed a witch. Buffy, Xander and Willow decide to test this during chemistry class, and Giles was proven right: Amy is a witch.
After the second incident, which caused Lishanne's mouth to be shut, Amy reacts with horror. Buffy doubts whether Amy realizes what she's doing. When Amy comes home, she finds her mother watching tv. She asks her mother to write her a history report. Then Amy goes off casting a spell on Buffy.

Buffy grows weaker every minute. According to Giles, the only way to stop her from dying is to get Amy's spell book. Willow and Xander keep an eye on Amy, while Buffy and Giles go to Amy's house. They discover that the woman on at home was not Amy's mother, but Amy herself. Her mother switched their bodies, so she could join the cheerleading team once again to relive her glory days. Giles finds the book, and they hurry back to school. Giles chants a spell to reverse the spell on Buffy, but Amy's mother (in Amy's body) notices it and plans to kill Buffy. Just as she's about to get her, the transformation is complete and Amy is back in her own body. Her mother goes berserk, and starts to cast a spell on Buffy. Buffy reflects it with a mirror, which sends it back to Amy's mother. She disappears, and gets stuck in a trophy she won, which is displayed at school.

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Taking the boys to cotillion was not exactly a pleasure, a privilege or a chore. It was a combination of all these things with a large dash of tension added for spice. Four boys from our neighborhood attended this glorified dancing school which was designed to introduce adolescents into the niceties of interaction between the sexes. As these boys were emerging from their childhood world in which the sexes didn't mingle, this situation was fraught with emotion. The parents cooperated in providing transportation and we got a chauffeur's view of some of the elements involved.

The tension was worse going, of course. The conversation among the boys centered on who would get stuck with whom on the dance floor. Most of it was about the witch. The witch was a girl who seemed just like the others to the observing parents except perhaps a little more shy than most. Of course, she was taller than the boys, but as the other girls were also, that couldn't be it. Her hair was straggly, and she was pale, but who wouldn't be in such a situation? Whatever qualities were involved which invited the focus, the focus was there.

"I hope I don't get stuck with the witch," George would say.

"I'm not going to," Joe would say. "I'm going to ask the nearest girl to dance, and then I won't have to worry!" My son would say, "But what if she asks you when it's ladies' choice?"

And so it went, all the way to the party. Coming back was even worse. The tension was reduced only to be replaced with the hilarious excitement that comes from relief. Then they kidded each other about how near they had been to seduction or, if one of them had actually danced with the witch, the entire conversation would deal with that event. Parent chauffeurs tend not to be as detached as salaried ones, and the parents were often concerned about this scapegoat. They would commiserate with the boys saying, "Have you no feeling for the girl at all?" Such remonstrations were in vain, of course, the boys had feeling only for their own insecurity. In practice it was not as bad as it sounded in the car. The by-play was subtle on the dance floor, although some scuttling reached the surface at times. The girl was alone, and frightened, and ill at ease. So was everyone to some degree. It just showed more here.

The second year, although the same cast was playing, was entirely different. The boys talked about their conquests rather than about the witch. The situation no longer threatened them for they were growing up. They could now look down on the girls physically, and that helped greatly. My son still reviews those years with pain. They were miserable ones in his life when he had comrades rather friends, yearnings rather than achievements, needs rather than satisfactions. Growing pains hurt not only us but others as well.

Today he is kind. Still highly selective of those to whom he relates, he none-the-less hurts no one. It takes many things to make a boy a man - cows full of milk, mountains of scuffled shoes, handsful of patience and understanding, but most of all love - love that can make a distinction between you and what you do. We all have witches in our lives, but I hope there is One who understands mine as I understand my son.

Given her popularity at Halloween, in kid and YA culture (The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter), and in productions of Macbeth, the witch has been surprisingly scarce in the horror movie.1 Certainly, she makes far fewer appearances than vampire, zombie, werebeast, mad slasher, or lab-made monster.

The most discussed horror film of 2016 makes some amends by casting the traditional witch as its villain. As of this writing, The Witch has an overwhelmingly positive reputation among critics at Rotten Tomatoes-- and barely 60% approval among general audiences. Why has this film cast a spell on some, while leaving others feeling burnt?

Certainly, a film for an audience that occupies the Venn overlap among horror fans, history buffs, and festival hipsters will not appeal to everyone. The period dialect alone will alienate some viewers. Ultimately, however, I believe The Witch leads its audience to a place where not everyone wants to or even can follow.

The story takes place in the early 1600s. An isolated New England family, two of whose children have entered adolescence, experience social, psychological, religious, and supernatural malignancies. We're drawn into a worldview and world long dead. The actors speak period English, and affirm the characters' beliefs with beguiling sincerity. The mise en scène has been skillfully created, and blends natural detail with nightmarish apparitions. The imagery has been drawn from actual historic sources, testimony imagined, elicited, and coerced regarding the doings of witches. Once we accept the situation, The Witch slowly destroys the characters' understanding of their world, as it asks us to question ours.

Although the film features literal witches, the plagues that beset the family start long before the first supernatural visitation, and may suggest different social and psychological evils to different viewers. Brother Caleb, for example (and, just possibly, father William) take a little too much interest in eldest daughter Thomasin's burgeoning sexuality. After the disappearance of the family's youngest, the members of the family wonder if Thomasin has signed a pact with Satan. We know she hasn't-- but, given the choices she faces, we start to wonder if maybe that isn't her best option.

The film has been cast perfectly, a fact made more remarkable by the number of young people, and the challenges of period dialect. Teenage Anya Taylor-Joy stands out as doubting Thomasin. And while the rest of the family rightly have been lauded by critics for their emotionally-resonant performances, Bathsheba Garnett feels disturbingly real in her few appearances. (I am also somewhat curious how on earth Eggers directed young Harvey Scrimshaw in the scene where he relives his film-mother's erotic dreams about Jesus. That had to be a difficult one to fly to an adolescent boy).

The film moves slowly, and grows increasingly tense and disturbing. Writer/director Sam Eggers and his crew make excellent and restrained use of (mainly, at least) physical effects, and the soundscape definitely adds to the film's disturbing atmosphere. The Witch prefers to gradually invade its viewers' minds, making only minimal use of gore and jump-scares. It then ends with a conclusion that has become a topic of some controversy.

I actually like the ending. The film draws much of its power by taking early colonial American beliefs about witchcraft at their word. Yes, a less literal script might have been more effective but, given its premise, there were few other ways the film could finish.

But many viewers will find the conclusion, both literal and ambivalent, disappointing. The matinee group with whom I shared the theatre were less enthusiastic than most critics have been, and two women actually stalked afterwards through the lobby loudly telling complete strangers not to see The Witch, and assuring the bewildered teenage concession clerks that the film "isn't their fault."

The Witch will provoke such reactions.


Written and directed by Sam Eggers

Cast

Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin
Ralph Ineson as William
Kate Dickie as Katherine
Harvey Scrimshaw as Caleb
Ellie Grainger as Mercy
Lucas Dawson as Jonas
Bathsheba Garnett as the Old Witch
Sarah Stephens as the Young Witch
Julian Richings as Governor
Wahab Chaudhry as Black Phillip
Some Old Goat as Black Phillip

1. The silent era gave us Häxan aka The Witches aka Witchcraft Through the Ages. Hammer Studios briefly tapped the genre in the 1960s, while the YA crowd had The Craft in the 1990s. The Blair Witch Project seems like it should count, though its central monster (apart from nausea-inducing camerawork) acts more like a malignant spirit.

Part of the problem lies in determining which films qualify. Do Satanic cult flicks, such as Rosemary's Baby count as witch movies? I also wonder about the various incarnations of Carrie and Ringu, movies depicting the popular concept of a witch in all but name.

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