Saturday, 19 March 2011
Buffy: 3.11 ‘Gingerbread’
Cordelia trying to wake up Giles in a typically Cordelia manner.
Writer: Jane Espenson, Thania St John
Director: James Whitmore Jr
What's the sitch?
While out on patrol Buffy is surprised by an impromptu visit from her mom who then goes and stumbles across the bodies of two little children, a boy and girl aged about eight, apparently murdered by witches in a ritualistic manner. Traumatised and angry, Joyce, together with some other mothers including Willow’s, forms MOO – Mothers Opposed to the Occult. And before you can say ‘Salem Witch Trials’ school lockers are being searched for anything possibly witchy and Giles is having his books confiscated from the library. Fear and persecution is sweeping through Sunnydale. Soon Willow and Amy are outed as witches, and together with Buffy, they are taken by the clearly crazed MOO-ers to be burned at the stake. As it turns out there is (as per usual) a nasty demon behind the whole thing. The two ‘dead’ children are in fact a single demon who has been playing this trick throughout the ages, stirring up fear and paranoia in communities, which it then feeds upon. We know it best as Hansel and Gretel, the little brother and sister who caused the death of an innocent old woman centuries ago, with the story being retold rather differently in the subsequent famous Grimm’s fairytale.
What's the sitch beneath the sitch?
Gingerbread is a riff on an old theme: how fear and paranoia can so easily spread and how we need simple scapegoats to blame for our failings as a society. The Salem Witch Trials is perhaps this episode’s most obvious touchstone with Arthur Miller’s McCarthy era parable The Crucible being a major inspiration. But the theme here goes wider. It also goes to the knee jerk tabloid reaction that feeds our modern culture of fear – be it paedophiles behind every tree, or how kids wearing black and listening to the likes of Marylyn Manson is gonna warp their fragile little minds. It’s also about how parents don’t listen and don’t understand their fast growing and changing offspring. Witness Willow’s mom, clearly a very clever lady, but who only ever talks at her daughter, not to her. She doesn’t listen to Willow and as a result knows almost nothing about who her daughter really is. This episode also taps in to that fear that swept the US years ago around the alleged widespread occult/satanic abuse of children, something for which no real evidence has ever been found.
Who's giving us the wiggins this week?
Creepy dead kids aka a giant hairy demon, and the crazed mothers of MOO.
Why it rocks
The concept. It’s a solid concept, which is mostly well handled and the themes are clear and relatable.
A fairytale. Buffy once again delves in to the realm of traditional fairytales and puts its own inimitable twist to the old story of Hansel and Gretel by making the children the evildoers and the witch the innocent victim. Now, I love fairytales – especially when given a new spin. I love the themes, the iconography, and the intrinsic relationship with modern horror that fairytales have. So this one was an easy sell for me.
The great Jane Espenson. She co-wrote Gingerbread and though it's not her best work she has a gift for writing great dialogue and fun character stuff.
MOO. How can you not love an action group with that acronym?
The final ten minutes. The rest of the show is pretty good but the final ten minutes is inspired as Buffy, Willow and Amy are about to be burned alive at the stake, Xander and Oz infiltrate the air ducts to try and get to them to save them, while Giles and Cordy are trying a more direct approach with magic and a fire hose.
Amy the rat. Poor Amy turns herself in to a rat to escape the fire…and stays a rat for the next three years being looked after in a cage by Willow.
Buffy ‘stakes’ the demon. Using the giant stake she’s tied to, Buffy breaks it and more by luck than judgement skewers the advancing demon through the neck. Unfortunately she’s bent double and can’t see what she’s done, hence her eager cries of, “Did I get it? Did I get it?” Heh.
Why it sucks
Joyce doesn’t seem to question that ‘dead’ children are telling her what to do.
Any school would naturally be rather concerned if they found the sorts of books in their library that Giles keeps in Sunnydale High’s. In the real world he’d probably get fired on the spot.
Amy changes herself in to a rat to escape the burning. And she stays a rat for two more seasons despite Willow’s ongoing attempts to change her back. However back in season two’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, Amy changed Buffy in to a rat but Giles managed to change Buffy back at episode’s end. So shouldn’t Willow have just asked Giles for help in turning Amy back?
Why on earth would the residents of Sunnydale hold a witch burning indoors? I know they’ve gone loopy, but still…
The whole finale with the failed heroics of Xander and Oz as they fall through the ceiling and then Buffy ‘staking’ the demon.
Dialogue to die for
Buffy (seeing a witch symbol on Willow’s notebook): "What is this?"
Willow: "A doodle. I do doodle. You too. You do doodle, too."
Buffy: "My mom had said some things to me about being the slayer. That it's fruitless. No fruit for Buffy."
Buffy: "I'm like the kid in the story, the boy that stuck his finger in the duck."
Angel: "Dike.” (Buffy looks at him, shocked) “It's another word for dam."
Buffy: "Oh, OK, that story makes a lot more sense now."
Giles: “There is a fringe theory, held by a few folklorists, that some regional stories have actual, very literal antecedents.”
Buffy: “And in some language that's English?”
Oz: “Fairy tales are real.”
Giles: (struggles to his feet after Cordelia has slapped him awake) “We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel.”
Cordelia (confused): “Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened *before* I hit you.”
And another thing
Parents don’t come out of this episode very well, which is something of a running theme in Buffy. The mothers are close-minded paranoids and the fathers pretty much absent (another running theme in Buffy). Only Giles acquits himself well in the parent role…but that will be put rather severely to the test in the next episode.
How many stakes?
Don’t burn these witches. 3 (out of 5)