This was one of my favorite early episodes of Buffy. I love how the show takes a concept that could have been just an opportunity for a comedy episode full of wacky hilarity – people being transformed into their Halloween costumes – and makes it into story full of revealing character moments. I think this is why it is one of my favorite episodes up to this point in the show.
The choice of Halloween costumes is very telling of the characters’ issues with their own identity. Everybody is trying to be someone they’re not. Well, except for Cordelia. Buffy and Xander have issues with trying to fit into traditional gender roles. Buffy literally trying to make herself into someone else, into a weaker, conventionally feminine girl because of what she thinks a man would like more. Then she gets a case of “Be careful what you wish for” when she’s transformed into the worst case of stereotypical helpless screaming damsel who can’t defend herself and expects men to save her. Xander, as s Soldier!Xander, he gets to do what he can’t in real life – be a traditionally masculine hero, beat up Pirate!Larry, and save Damsel!Buffy. but is the one who actually had a clue what was going on and stepped up to tell him what to do and not to do – such as, not to shoot the “demons” who were actually still little children.
Willow is still too insecure and afraid of people seeing her: she covers herself in sheets so Xander can’t see her new sexy look. But she’s the only one out of people transformed in their costumes who retains her own personality. She even gets to be the one to take charge, since Buffy and Xander aren’t themselves – prompting Cordelia to say “Who died and made her the boss?”
But it’s Giles, who doesn’t dress up as anything, that we learn most about in the episode. Giles’ stuffy librarian persona, we learn, is really a costume; but when you wear a costume long enough, it becomes you – “the outside becomes the inside” as Drusilla puts it. And what is fantastic is the way that Giles wasn’t wearing a costume when he took on his new character of “Ripper” – the other side of himself. He was just in his regular, old clothes. So…is the librarian get-up Giles’ real costume? Has he been acting/hiding his true self this whole time? Dun dun dun.
Spike continues to be clever! (and a fan of observing Buffy)
“She’s tricky. Baby likes to play. .. That’s what’s called resourceful.” He’s appreciative because I think they’re a lot alike in this aspect. He can admire it because he values it in himself.
Spike and Drusilla continue to be made of win. Dru says something like, “Do you love my insides as much as my outsides?” and Spike responds affectionately with “From eyeballs to entrails.” They’re just so different than normal vampires with the love they have for one another. I love them so much.
And can I just point out how smart Spike is? He’s sending his minions out to test out Buffy’s skill and recording it (oh, the 90s…). Not that he’s already done that but he wants to see everything she is capable of. He has an odd kind of respect for her as one would have for their enemy who one knows is brilliant. I love how he doesn’t underestimate her. Both he and Giles (in past episodes) make a point to say how she likes to play with the vampires she slays, which is rather telling about Buffy – that both her ally and enemy see this. It seems as if Buffy, as much as she resists her role as the Slayer, also enjoys some aspects of it (however unconsciously). I know these long, drawn out fight scenes between Buffy and random vampires are meant to be part of the action the show offers but they also show how Buffy learns and practices how to be a better Slayer. Plus, Spike doesn’t begrudge Buffy her “playing” as Giles seemed to. Why should he? He’s doing the same exact thing in that he’s playing with her.
I know we don’t know too much about Spike right now but I would think he would prefer to beat Buffy on equal footing if that makes any sense. She’s literally not herself right now. She has no idea who he is or who she is for that matter. She doesn’t understand the significance of this man (ahem, vampire) wanting to kill her is. Spike just seems the type to want to show Buffy, “Hey, I’m stronger. I beat you.” And her amnesia would seem to take a bit of that victory away from him.
Finally, Cordelia’s interactions with Buffy. Cordelia is an extremely feminine character but her femininity isn’t associated with weakness. She’s more irritated than at all crippled by fear like Buffy as the noblewoman is. She shows no fear, following Xander as he goes to check things out or remaining alert when they’re being hunted. I like this commentary on femininity.