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Who you are? The Watcher, sniveling, tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer and her kin? I think not. I know who you are, Rupert, and I know what you’re capable of… But they don’t, do they? They have no idea where you come from.

I have fond memories of “Halloween” – the Buffy episode, though I am also a fan of the Halloween movies and any holiday where people hand out free candy. It has all the hallmarks of a great BTVS showing: a riff on the Buffy-Angel romance, Spike, Snyder, and Willow dressed slutty. What could be bad about it? That blue button up shirt Angel wears to his date is pretty horrible, but honestly, that might be my only complaint about the whole thing. Halloween actually kicks off a string of very good season two stories; “Lie to Me” is next week, and then we have “The Dark Age,” “What’s my Line” 1 and 2, and “Ted” before the streak comes to a screeching halt with “Bad Eggs.”

“Halloween” is deadsville for the supernatural set. They’re the metaphysical equivalent of hipsters, unwilling to partake in anything that’s gone mainstream. Buffy should be enjoying the down time – she’s even set up a date with Angel (they’re on again after last week’s “kissing you makes me want to die” thing). But a spot of unscheduled slayage makes her late and messes up her hair, and Cordelia takes advantage of the confusion to offer Angel some of her cappuccino. And that’s not a euphemism!

TNMAS, Buffy still gets screwed on her mini-vacation when Snyder waylays her:

Buffy: Principal Snyder!

Snyder: Halloween must be a big night for you. Tossing eggs, keying cars, bobbing for apples, one pathetic cry for help after another. Well, not this year, Missy.

Buffy: Gosh, I’d love to sign up, but I recently developed carpal tunnel syndrome and can tragically no longer hold a flashlight.

No dice, Buffster. The Scoobies are enlisted in the underprivileged children candy escort, Buffy messed up her shot with Angel, and they have to find costumes. There’s only one thing that will cheer the gang up at this point, and that’s breaking into Giles’s secret files to do background research on Angel’s past. There’s a little pit stop to humiliate Xander by defending him from the school bully, in all violation of dude code, along the way:

Willow: True. It’s too bad we can’t sneak a look at the Watcher diaries and read up on Angel. I’m sure it’s full of fun facts to know and tell.
Buffy: Yeah, it’s too bad. That is private stuff.
Willow: Also, Giles keeps them in his office. In his personal files.
Buffy: Most importantly, it would be wrong.

The girls scuttle off to do their breaking and entering, which is foiled by Giles’s presence in the library. You know, where we never, ever find him. Buffy distracts him by inanely prattling along at a high speed while Willow does the actual thievery. We do find out that Giles’ hobbies include cross referencing and stuffing his own shirts. We also find out that this trick will work on Giles every. Single. Time. It’s worth it, tricking Giles, because we get to find out that ladies in the 1700s dressed differently than ladies of today! I suppose if I were a teenaged girl, I might also find this to be a major revelation, but Willow and Buffy are pretty smart. You’d think they’d already know this. It’s not entirely clear who the woman in Giles’s book is supposed to be; I always assumed it was a drawing of Darla, Angel’s sire, but Buffy already met her and doesn’t seem to recognize her. It could alternatively be Drusilla, but Buffy doesn’t recognize her in next week’s episode, either.  All this not-knowing is making Buffy – pretty, thin, athletic Buffy – feel incredibly insecure about her relationship with Angel.

So it’s no surprise when Buffy gravitates to the frilliest, girliest, frou-frouest costume in the costume shop. She’ll give Angel his 1700s. And a really terrible accent. And maybe some Gone with the Wind jokes? But that comes later. Right now, we’re in the costume shop with Buffy as she rents her big hoop skirt from Ethan Raines (hey, Ethan!), Xander picks up a cheap plastic gun for his manly army man outfit, and Willow rents Charlie Brown’s sheet.

It should be no surprise to anyone who has been watching this show and/or reading these recaps that a writer with such an interest in undermining ideals of masculinity and femininity sticks two of the main characters in hyper-genderized costumes for “˜come as you aren’t night.’ Both outfits draw a line under Buffy and Xander’s spheres of anxiety. We’ve seen over and over again Xander’s attempts to conform to/live up to a very damaging ideal of manliness, something he never quite shakes. Buffy repeatedly complains that she just wants to be a “normal girl,” this thing that the big froufy dress represents: pretty, popular, devoid of responsibility. Willow… well, Willow is the odd duck out here. Her anxieties have nothing to do with “being a girl.” Her shyness and inability to assert herself are her major failings at this point. She wants to be unseen in her ghost costume, a shapeless lump that drifts along without anything bad coming of it.

At some warehouse down by the docks, Spike is reviewing tape of the Slayer dusting a vampire. Spike isn’t like the other vampires we’ve met – or will meet. He’s planning, he’s studying her. There’s grudging admiration in his voice as he exclaims over her fighting style. Drusilla isn’t impressed, but she’s also barely in this world. She drifts around in her pretty party dress with her doll and mutters about the vision she had about everything inside turning out. Mostly she wants to know if Spike loves all of her. “Eyeballs to entrails,” he tells her. Those kids! They’re so cute together.

Dru’s prediction comes true toot-sweet. Barely into the Halloween rounds, anyone wearing a costume from Ethan’s shop becomes their costume. That means that adorable little moppet in the monster mask is now a demon, Xander gets to be his idealized manly-army alter-ego, Buffy becomes a fainting damsel in distress, and Willow is a ghost. A ghost in a slutty outfit. Cordelia gets to be a bitch, but she’s a bitch every day. Now she’s just a bitch in a catsuit.

The downsides to their choices are immediately apparent. Buffy doesn’t remember who she is, must less how to fight, and promptly faints at the first sign of danger. Xander’s got a live gun, but Willow won’t let him shoot at the transformed kids. Since Buffy is out of the leadership role – she spends a lot of time cowering and hiding behind people, which I can’t help but think SMG was loving the hell out of – Willow has to take control. She does it quite seamlessly, too. There’s no hesitation. Once Willow understands that her friends are out of commission, she barks orders, gets them to safety, explains the situation, and runs off to get help from Giles, leaving Soldier Xander to guard the homefront. Her inside is pretty bad-ass:

Xander: We must have some kind of amnesia.
Buffy: I don’t know what that is, but I’m certain I don’t have it. I bathe quite often!
Xander: How do you explain this?
Buffy: I don’t! I was brought up a proper lady. I-I wasn’t meant to understand things. I’m just meant to look pretty, and then someone nice will marry me, possibly a Baron.
Xander: This ain’t no tea party, princess. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to fight!
Buffy: Fight these low creatures? I’d sooner die.

Spike is reveling in the chaos Ethan’s spell has created. He despises orders and rules – he’s not much for tradition, you see – so this is his kind of party. When he overhears that Buffy has freaked out and run away from her friends and that her Slayer-powers are taking a nap, he knows this is his opportunity. And he was just going to stay in and watch episodes of Passions with Dru! This is so much better. Spike gathers up an army of transformed monsters and goes off in search of Froufy Buffy.

Janus, our two-faced trickster god for the evening.

At the library, Willow fills Giles in on what’s going on and the two of them quickly connect the dots to Ethan’s costume shop. There’s a shift behind Giles’s eyes; Ethan isn’t a stranger. He sends Willow back to check on the Scoobies, but once we get to the costume shop, we see that he had an ulterior motive. Once upon a time, meek, easily knocked out Giles was someone Ethan calls “The Ripper.” From the glimpse we get of him, beating information out of Ethan until the spell’s secret is given up, Ripper wasn’t a great guy. His insides are coming out, too. This is our first glimpse past the tweed and I think when Giles starts becoming more than “that older guy” in the show. But this revelation begs the question: why does Giles get knocked out so much? Dude clearly knows a thing or two about fighting.

On the streets of Sunnydale, the gang (including Angel) tracks Buffy down and rescues her from a pirate. No, really. But Spike is hot on their heels, so they’re off trying to find shelter in one of the many warehouses around the docks. Xander even picks Buffy up and carries her to safety, and I refuse to believe there isn’t some part of him that is just loving this.

All efforts come to naught when Spike and his gang bust through the Scoobies’ hastily erected barricades. He’s got his hand on the Slayer’s neck and another notch already carved in his belt when Giles breaks the spell from across town. Everyone is back to their old selves instantly. Buffy is her old ass-kicking self, Xander is just Xander, Spike’s army is a lot of scared and confused kids, and Spike himself is forced to run back to cry in Dru’s skirts.

Afterwards, Angel assures Buffy he much prefers modern women who can take care of themselves right before a much-deserved make out session in her bedroom.

WOW: No WOW this week! Isn’t it ironic, that an episode about people dressing up in silly costumes includes some of the best-dressed moments in the second season? Like rain on your wedding day. Or a free ride when you’ve already paid.

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