Season Two, Episode Six

The truth of masks.

Halloween: The Review

Model behavior

Halloween is a mold-breaking episode for the characters of BtVS. Buffy, Xander, Willow, and Giles all are given opportunities to express aspects of their personalities that have heretofore been recessive. The transformations help to develop the characters by revealing traits that have been suppressed by internal conflicts. Giles in particular, while exempt from the "Halloween effect", exhibits the most interesting change.

The theme of the episode, that every person functions through social masks by which certain features of the personality are presented to the outside world, while other features are covered, is a fruitful one. Symbolical social pretense on the Dorian Gray model has been a favorite subject in literature. Fin de siecle literature offers not only Wilde's cautionary tale but its logical reverse, Max Beerbohm's Lord George Hell, The Happy Hypocrite. Halloween is a pretext for an exchange of masks. Typically, the masquerader will exchange the mundane for the fancy, the child will become either fearsome or heroic.

It is especially interesting that the roles of the characters are shifting even before the accursed costumes work their magical effects. Buffy begins as heroic self, the Slayer, and then tries to shift into the teenaged girl, but her "real" life impinges on her "normal" life, as the straw in her hair attests. She wants, at least for a few hours, to be Cordelia, who has been playing the vamp for Angel in Buffy's absence. Xander consciously puts on his "macho" mask when he is challenged by Larry. Presenting himself first as Buffy's friend, which establishes a baseline for the character, he then changes to the wistful admirer, and, when his manhood is impugned, he becomes the traditional "stand up guy", who must do something "damn manly" when his manhood is called into question. All of this occurs in the few seconds in front of the soda machine. (Larry is Cro-Mag, but not Neanderthal.) Then Buffy, the leader of the pack, the countertype of the hero, steps in and changes the situation again. The stereotypical situation, in which the dominate male would step in and say, "Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" becomes a comic reversal of fortune for both Xander and Larry. Once again, Buffy's "real" life affects her "normal" life and the lives of her friends. Xander's injured pride becomes the setup for his later choice of costumes. Willow as the observer, is a seemingly aloof critic. She's in love with Xander, but she can view his humiliation with detachment. She disguises her true feelings with apparently mature decorum. Buffy's desire to become Angel's "type" (obviously a "cordelia") becomes the motive for Buffy's own Halloween adventures.

Next, Buffy and Willow turn into teenage gal pal conspirators. The viewers can believe wholeheartedly that these two are best friends, as Buffy leads Willow into the Watchergate theft. Buffy's improvised diversions hit the few points that she thinks define Giles, his academic preoccupations, his Watcher's status, and, finally as a last ditch effort, his interest in Jenny Calendar. Willow's diffident compliance shows that there is another, wilder, girl under the demure surface.

Buffy's admiration for the "lady" of the drawing in the Diary is ironic. Given the date, 1755, the lady is probably either Darla or one of Angel's victims (Anne, his father's maid?). (Willow is wrong, by the way, when she says that Angel was still human. He was turned by Darla in 1753.) The humorous commentary on fashionable anorexia that the scene in the girls' bathroom provides is a bit arch, but funny, nonetheless. The same dialogue could have been written about any of the women in any issue of any popular magazine on the news stands. Thus, does the "type", a kind of 18th Century porcelain doll, become fixed in Buffy's mind for later evocation. Cordelia's arrival puts an end to Buffy's escape into the past, as the living doll replaces the semi-historical one that Buffy has imagined. Cordelia, being herself superficial, has taken Angel at face value, and she can't believe that he is a vampire.

Reserved plots.

Principal Snyder plays into the hands of the plot that is lurking in wait for the gang. Without this necessary piece of business, the impressment of the students as trick-or-treat chaperones, none of the Scoobies would have visited Ethan's shop.

Xander, no doubt in reaction to his earlier inability to take charge, has decided to be Army Guy, a Nick Fury wannabe on the cheap. His fatigues were Army surplus, while only his toy M-16 was rented from Ethan, and this combination seems to have given Xander an infusion of real Army knowledge, along with a never ending supply of ammunition. As Army Guy, he becomes an effective combatant, and in contrast to his earlier self, who would have been pummeled, he knocks out Larry, who has been turned into a pirate.

Willow wears two costumes, the outer one of which, a ghost's shroud, was purchased in Ethan's shop. This covers the costume that Buffy had chosen for her, a revealing leather mini-skirt, bare midriff little number that truly frightens Willow, even to the extent that she hides it under the Boo costume. What it would reveal, evidently, is too close to her inner self. The ghost is Willow as she is in every day life, passing through unnoticed.

Buffy, on the other hand, has rented Ethan's ball gown in order to play the type for Angel. The role reversal is complete, up to the wig, which conceals her blonde hair.

Ripper/The Watcher.

Ethan Rayne comes out of nowhere, a stray cat dragging in a lost piece of the past and dropping it at Giles' feet. His worship of Chaos is evidently manifested in an hatred for children, the victims of his scheme. Whether he knows in advance that Giles is in Sunnydale is debatable. He doesn't seem surprised to see him, but there isn't any evidence that he had a particular interest in Giles or the Slayer. Drusilla's swoon and Spike's ignorance indicate that Ethan was a free agent. (Neither had Mayor Wilkins heard of him, we learn later in Band Candy.) Ethan has his own agenda, and the Hellmouth is sufficient as the primary reason for his presence. Ethan is amoral, cowardly, and despicable. The reaction that he elicits from Giles is the most effective comment on Ethan's character that one could desire. It is also an epoch in the development of Giles as a character.

For the first time, The Watcher emerges in full as Giles seeks to extract the information from Ethan that will permit him to annul the curse. Giles has been concealing both the extent of his conditioning as a Watcher and the degree to which, at times, he has deviated from the set path. At some time in his past, he was Ripper, evidently a "rip", reprobate, with degenerate friends such as Ethan. Equally extreme is the The Watcher, who is cold, methodical, and even capable of murder in the course of his duty. Giles, as he has been shown to the viewers previously, is neither the one nor the other, but rather a genteel, prim, although focused man, whose intellect has steered him on a path away from both brutal sensualism and heartless regimentation. Clearly, he has never dealt with Buffy in the manner that a Watcher might be expected to do, ruthlessly. The fact that she is a young girl, whose destiny has truncated her hopes and childhood, has been impressed upon him by Buffy herself, and this understanding has muted his sense of obligation to the abstractions of Watcher and Slayer relations. Giles has in him The Watcher and Ripper, but he is more than the sum of their traits, more than the mutual nullification which their combination in him would imply.

Lasting effects.

The actual events of the episode are less interesting than the characterizations that they illustrate. Costume Buffy is appropriately irritating in her lack of any redeeming traits: she is a list of negatives in comparison to the Buffy that the viewers have come to know. Costume Buffy has no self-reliance, no initiative, no wit, no courage, no personality, in fact. That this is Buffy's notion of the type who would appeal to Angel is rather naive, but history was never Buffy's subject (She spends too much time passing notes. viz., Lie to Me.) Costume Buffy is mainly baggage whom the transformed Xander and Willow must drag about and protect, and, like the impedimenta of an army, she is the target of attack.

Buffy decides that it is "good to be me", "little old 20th Century me." As a conclusion, that is hardly worth the episode. No, it is Willow and Giles who are the major beneficiaries of the episode. They undergo redefinition in ways that are credible and promising.

The image of Giles is forever altered by the events of Halloween. He is no longer merely a comic foil for Buffy's unruly exuberance. The hint of Ripper and the manifestation of the stern, even deadly, Watcher give Giles a potential that he did not previously possess. He is both dangerous and mysterious. That he has hidden much from Buffy and the gang is obvious. That some of it is obviously discreditable is also obvious.

Xander is used to giving and receiving orders as Army Guy, but the real change in his behavior is evident in his effectiveness and poise. Xander has always been brave enough, but he has never been able to put that bravery to good use, hampered as he was by a want of skill and confidence in that skill. Army Guy has the training that makes him a useful, contributing member of the team.

Willow finally emerges from cover and gets noticed. She is self-possessed and takes charge, not conscious of her exposure until Giles calls it to her attention. Willow is comfortable with herself and enjoys the experience, as her decision to remain uncovered after the spell is broken attests. (The extravagant entrance into the library is evidence that she is having some fun. She chooses the method that will produce the greatest astonishment.) The attraction that she has on Oz is diagnostic of the change in her that has carried over into her normal life.

In Sum.

One must take note of the fun that is had with Cordelia, who chooses of her own accord the cat costume and lives up to it. Interestingly, in the heat of the battle, she is not the 20th Century version of the 18th Century porcelain doll that captivated Buffy. Cordelia is catty and self-centered and obsessed with marrying well and looking picture perfect, but she has a 20th Century self-confidence and strength that the mutated Buffy lacks.

Halloween, for all of its simplicity of plot, is a very well-written and thoughtful episode, indicative of the best qualities of the show.

Horace LaBadie

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