Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Season One, Episode Eleven


The ultimate makeover candidate.

Out of Mind, Out of Sight: The Review

At a glance.

Out of Mind, Out of Sight has one underlying problem: it is an episode of The X-Files. Apart from that, it ought to be have been called, The Education of Cordelia Chase, for it is Cordelia who is the true subject of the episode, the protagonist, as the episode itself is kind enough to point out to the viewers in its literary analysis.

Until this episode, while not invisible, Cordelia has been little more than an extra, who was used as an emblem of all that was "in", hip, cool—everything that Buffy had been and was no more. She has been the embodiment of the perfect illusion of life and success that Sunnydale has created for itself, a world apart. Cordelia was thoughtless, though not stupid, cruel but not heartless. Her complete egocentricity was perturbed only by the addition of Buffy to her universe, an event that brought a glimpse of reality, a reality in which Cordelia was not immune from harm. Having never suffered anything worse than boredom and inconvenience, she was incapable of sympathy, and being unsympathetic, she was unwittingly cruel. When Buffy saved Cordelia in The Harvest, she broke open the chrysalis in which Cordelia had been encased, but it is in Out of Mind, Out of Sight that Cordelia finally emerges as a fully developed person.

State of mind.

Cordelia's model of the universe, in which she is the star, runs smoothly enough, until it has to account for eccentric interlopers from the fringe, such as Buffy, who comes shooting into the first scene like a rogue sun. Interlopers Cordelia usually ignores: they come and go. Occasionally, Cordelia will capture one into an orbit around her: she attempted that with Buffy in WttH, and the effort was more than she could handle. Into an idyllic chat about Spring and May Queens, Buffy comes hurtling, spilling the contents of her bag, the tools of the Slayer's trade, at Cordy's feet. Cordelia is so not interested in the objects themselves, only in the interruption of her idyll. Cordy remembers that Buffy brandished a stake at her in the Bronze, but the fact that Buffy saved her life in the self same club she has dismissed from memory.

One might be tempted to dismiss Cordelia herself as an airhead. Her academic accomplishments have gone without saying, as it were. She was able in The Harvest to write a computer program, despite her disinterest in the subject, but her lack of primary computer skills left her open to Willow's prank. The episode addresses Cordy's intellect with a surprising technique: she expresses and defends an unconventional opinion. The discussion of The Merchant of Venice demonstrates Cordelia's abilities to read and understand the text, but it also displays her inability to interpret it from any frame of reference other than her own. Her criticism of Shylock's self-involvement is supportable, but it is a product of her self-involvement, which she then displays anecdotally, not seeing the irony in her comparison. Her imagination is too narrow, but her intellect is robust. Ms. Miller compliments her, and Cordelia seeks out assistance on her paper. It isn't that she has no ideas, but several conflicting ones. Simplification is what she seeks, and her view of life is simple: Cordelia has advantages, and she must, therefore, deserve them.

Buffy, the episode suggests, was the Cordelia of Hemery High, that "alternate universe" in which Buffy was popular. The natural conclusion for the viewers to draw from the comparison is that Buffy herself, before she became weird, was as shallow and self-centered, perhaps as thoughtlessly cruel, as Cordelia. Buffy was the Hemery equivalent of the May Queen, the "good" kind of moron, as Xander puts it. There she experienced the common human feeling of alienation, despite her popularity, but it was only at Sunnydale High that Buffy's true isolation began. She does not share the childhood experiences of Willow, Xander, and Cordelia. She is a pariah, or marches to a different drummer, to say the least. She has a secret that she can share with few, and she has a life expectancy of months. Marcie, knowing Buffy's secret and her oddness, thought that Buffy would understand Marcie's situation, explaining why she spared Buffy in the overhead nest. To some extent, Buffy does identify with Marcie, and she is even willing to put herself among those who ignored her, despite that Buffy did not attend Sunnydale High the previous year.

It comes as a major shock, even with the preparation that has been made, when Cordelia barges into the "creepy" library and demands sanctuary. Cordelia has been noticing things, while she was pretending that they did not interest her. Cordelia must have some notion already formed about the essential strangeness of Sunnydale, for she doesn't even blink when told that Marcie is invisible. She is more shocked that Marcie wore Laura Ashley. Thankfully, this softening of Cordelia is only on the edges. She remains frank: even as she is asking for help, she speaks her mind about the Scoobies. "Buffy, I, uh, I, I know we've had our differences, with you being so weird and all, and hanging out with these total losers..." In response to Giles' observation that he can't recall seeing her in the library before, she replies, "Oh, no, I have a life." Her character has been expanded, but her personality is unaltered, remaining refreshingly candid.

That Cordelia is the real invisible girl in the episode is spelled out by Marcie herself, who, in the course of her indictment of Cordelia and her friends, explains that Cordy is transparent in her egotistical belief that she can charm her way out of anything. Marcie can see right through her. In the end, Marcie is not the main character in an episode that deals with invisibility, but rather it is her nemesis who receives all the attention.

In Sum

Undoubtedly, the weakest portion of the episode comes from its reliance upon elements that have been borrowed overtly and without modification from The X-Files, namely, the Quantum Physical explanation for Marcie's invisibility and the FBI's knowledge of the effect. This aspect of the episode is unavoidable, to be sure, for BtVS is parodic by nature, and the natural source of material for parody in X-Files must be the conflicting idiosyncrasies of that show's leading characters. Out of Mind, Out of Sight, however, cannot afford to spend any significant amount of its time on creating a parody of those characters, if it is to focus on the unfolding of Cordelia's character. Agents Doyle and Manetti, of necessity therefore, bear a greater resemblance to Friday and Gannon than to S and M. It is a better parody of the oeuvre of Jack Webb than that of Chris Carter. The episode's failing, then, is its very lack of satire upon those elements that it can import. Those are merely accessed and used; no comment is made about them. The incompatibility of the science fiction and fantasy genres of the respective shows further confounds the attempt to utilize the imported matter effectively.

As a stealthy episode about the gradual introduction of Cordelia to the reality in which she lives, Out of Mind, Out of Sight is a success. It takes account of all that has occurred to and around Cordelia since WttH, and it makes a good case that she has been positively affected by Buffy's arrival and subsequent activities. It strengthens the idea that Buffy has improved things in subtle, unforeseen ways, simply by her presence. The almost exponential growth in Cordelia's knowledge, which has deepened her appreciation of others, is the greatest success that Buffy has achieved in Sunnydale.

Horace LaBadie


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