Located on a “Hellmouth,” everyday is like Halloween in Sunnydale, California. Creating a specific Halloween episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is bordering on redundancy. Since the appearance of a monster or a demon is an everyday occurrence in this fictional California town, Buffy and pals utilize the holiday to explore their own psyches instead.
When you subtract the uncanny from All Hallows Eve, you have a date in which people “come as they aren’t.” BUFFY, throughout its seven seasons always rejoiced in its characters duel identities. In fact, individuals choose the paths of light and dark as if wearing reversible jackets. In Sunnydale, the only disguise that has any real power is to play against how others perceive you.
In many ways these character examinations are much more relevant to our modern experience of the holiday. Once a ritual to ward off the dead or provide bountiful harvests, most people experience Halloween today as a time for little more than costumed revelry. With ghosts and ghoulies out of the picture the lone threat that remains is that, under the guise of anonymity, one might be capable of fulfilling desires best kept in check. If nothing else, there is a collective agreement that November 1st comes with a universal “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
In the second season episode entitled HALLOWEEN, many of the show’s strongest characters inadvertently experience parts of themselves previously unexplored thanks to a bit of that old black magic and the appearance of a worshiper of chaos named Ethan Rayne (ROBIN SACHS). Tellingly, Rayne chants to a sculpture with two opposing faces to kick start the mayhem. He also provides our chums, and the better part of the town, with costumes that have the power to transform the wearer into what they have disguised themselves as. Like many premises on B.T.V.S. this seems like the stuff of high fantasy, until you realize that this exact phenomenon occurs to a degree in every town every year on Halloween. Let’s be honest, nobody dresses as a sexy French maid to scare off the dead or grow corn. (Well, except for maybe Aunt John, but that is another story).
Fighting machine Buffy’s (SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR) costume of choice is a powder-puff 18th century aristocrat (mostly in hopes to appear more feminine in the eyes of vampire love interest Angel (DAVID BOREANAZ)). Xander (NICHOLAS BRENDON) who has recently been protected by Buffy dons a military uniform as a way to appear more masculine and aggressive. Willow (ALYSON HANNIGAN) the groups’ thoughtful wallflower toys with the idea of masquerading as a vixen, but in the last minute reverts to her old standby costume, a personality (and sexuality) free ghost.
Unfortunately many of the town’s other inhabitants have chosen much more threatening guises. When Ethan’s spell takes effect, demonoids, werewolves and other assorted beasts begin to roam looking to cause harm. In order to survive the night our three heroes, with the help of unaffected friends Cordelia (CHARISMA CARPENTER) and Angel, must reverse the spell and return to their former selves. Xander and Willow’s new personas come to be quite useful. It’s only Buffy the slayer’s new identity that is a hindrance.
Although unaffected by the night’s magic, Giles (ANTHONY STEWART HEAD), Buffy’s bookish seemingly meek guardian or “watcher” reveals the most profound “other self”. We get glimpses of his previous darker existence through Rayne who turns out to be an old adversary and once friend. When push comes to shove the gloves are off and Giles, by his own free will, is able to transform into what we have perceived to believe thus far as his exact polar opposite. Ultimately the intellectual librarian alone saves the day with sheer force.
By night’s end, Xander has gained retribution for an earlier humiliation and Willow has learned to embrace parts of her persona usually avoided. Buffy who was beginning to think that her all-action, no glamour world of constant slay-age was a turn off to Angel finds that the very parts of herself she has been trying to shake off are the ones that he is most smitten with.
In a way this particular Halloween does turn out to be just like any other day in the Buffyverse. Monsters may roam, vampires may stalk, but the most fascinating thing is always taking place within the minds of its layered-like-gobstoppers primary characters. Characters that battle for self realization as much as saving the world.
Buffy, Xander and Willow now joined by Willow’s werewolf boyfriend OZ (SETH GREEN), experience yet another revelatory Halloween evening in the series’ fourth season. While attending a fraternity party all of the groups hidden fears come to startling life, thanks to the awakening of a demon. Trapped, separated and left to their own devices, the gang must confront that which has been gnawing on the back of their minds. Oz worries that his lycanthropic nature will be harmful to Willow; Willow worries that she’s dabbling in magic beyond her control; Xander battles his perceived irrelevance in the group; and Buffy comes face to face with her fear of abandonment. Primarily a traditional haunted house tale, scares are perfectly offset by comedic turns provided by Watcher Giles and Xander’s new love interest, the hilariously literal ex-vengeance demon Anya (EMMA CAULFIELD). By episode’s end we learn that all involved are the ones actually providing power to the demon who, when finally revealed, is not half as threatening as their minds would have them believe.
Together both FEAR ITSELF and HALLOWEEN provide a great night of entertainment for those looking to get into the spirit of Halloween. Even those less familiar with the show will find themselves quickly wrapped up in these spirited holiday romps. The combination of scares, laughs and character examination can be found throughout the series’ seven-year run but, with everybody’s favorite day as a backdrop, Buffy’s lantern shines all the brighter.