Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2, Episode 16 Review – “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”

Written By: Marti Noxon
Directed By: James A. Contner
Broadcast Date: 10 February 1998
Summary: As Valentine’s Day approaches… Xander tries to improve his love life through witchcraft, and finds himself with too much of a good thing

Main cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
(L-R) Alyson Hannigan, David Boreanaz, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Charisma Carpenter

One of the most uneven episodes of the show to date, with the first and second halves feeling like they were jammed together, prevents the tension built up in the start from following through the remaining runtime. Despite some bright spots regarding Xander and Cordelia’s relationship, and Angelus’s torment of Buffy, this gave the vibes of a filler episode that didn’t want to impact on the narrative arc of the season.

This literally is an episode of two halves – the first, which felt like the stronger, concerning Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) being toyed with by a soulless Angelus (David Boreanaz) on Valentine’s Day, is a reminder of how much the latter has regressed from the character we saw in the first half of the season. Being sent roses with the ominous note “Soon…” right to her front door, and having to get the truth of how Angelus has tormented his obsessions on Valentine’s Days past from her mentor Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), was really starting to get to the Slayer. Unlike the majority of plans recurring villains have on this show in virtually every episode, Angelus’s plan for Buffy felt like it would lead to something, and that the show would head down a darker route, which it has been pointing towards all season, compared to its first. There was also starting to be a lot of tension between Angelus and presumed season antagonist Spike (James Marsters), which definitely would be an interesting dynamic, should the show go down the route of vampire vs. vampire. Unfortunately, nothing at all comes of either – maybe the writers just wanted to tease the audience – but in a disappointing twist, Angelus and Drusilla (Juliet Landau) are reduced to mere extras in what descended into a more comedic episode. I can’t help but feel slightly hard done by following this solid opening fifteen minutes, and the way the two halves don’t fit together tonally is the biggest weakness of this episode.

In the background of Angelus’s torment of Buffy was the continued on-off relationship between the unlikely pairing of Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). In this episode, Cordelia finally makes a decision between her heart and her popularity, and she chooses the latter. I have really been enjoying how much Cordelia’s character has been fleshed out in this second season, compared to her shallow persona in the first, so much so that this decision didn’t feel disappointing; I liked the reveal that she was still wearing a necklace Xander gave to her on Valentine’s Day, and Charisma Carpenter sells the character’s internal struggle well. After teetering on the edge for a while, this is the last straw that sends Xander to his darker side, one that has been teased since the show’s beginning. He blackmails fellow student Amy (Elizabeth Anne Allen, making a welcome appearance to the show) into helping him with his plan after discovering she has started to perform magic. I hope that we see her character again – as the show is mainly set in a school, it makes sense to see fellow students on a regular basis. Her role in this episode consists of her being forced to cast a love spell on Cordelia, and then falling victim to the effects. At the very least she was able to assist Giles in reversing the spell, but I would like to see more from this character than being a means to an end.

The casting of the love spell feels like the kind of step Xander has been threatening to do for a while, owing to his general attitudes towards women. His constant jealousy towards Angel and Buffy’s affection towards him and seeming to lead Willow (Alyson Hannigan) on for ages before telling her he isn’t interested in her in the first season hinted at a darker side. Even though Cordelia made a decision in this episode that would have angered and upset the more sane person, the way he seems to take glee in wanting to “put her [Cordelia] through the same hell” and blackmailing Amy to get her to do what he wants, takes it too far, and Giles rightfully chastises Xander once the spell takes effect, in a rare moment of anger for him. The extreme effect of the spell seems to click something in Xander’s brain, and he actually does not allow the likes of Buffy to give him affection. Upon the spell ending, Buffy (and presumably every other woman affected) remembered their actions, and she thanked him for not taking advantage of her when he could have done. It was interesting to see Xander develop this episode, and at the close he got his girl, but I hope that this will mean he has a more respectful outlook towards his female friends.

I spoke at the top of my review about how the first half of this episode feels stronger in its narrative and tone than the second. When the full effects of Xander’s spell impact on the female population of Sunnydale, the episode descends into chaos – it really feels like a completely different episode than at its start. I can’t help feeling that recent episodes have done the mass hysteria/possession better. The female characters do not get good treatment here, but it is nothing to do with Xander’s spell. Buffy, having spent the first half worrying about what Angelus will do to mess with her head on Valentine’s Day, ends up getting turned into a rat by Amy in a argument caused by both women’s obsession with Xander. The slapstick continues when the Buffy-rat goes into the school’s basement, gets chased by a black cat, almost bites the cheese on a mouse trap, and finally, when Amy reverses the spell, ends up human but naked in the presence of Oz (Seth Green), with only some handily placed crates to protect her modesty. Willow gets an even worse treatment; the writers dragged out the storyline of her unrequited love for Xander but she is shown wielding an axe in a spell-fueled jealous rage, and at the end of the episode, is written out with a line from Buffy about how Xander has a lot of making up to do. It is disappointing that the writers could not think of a way to include Willow in the final scene, and I can only hope that this event doesn’t just get forgotten about in future episodes.

“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” has a strange shift in tone at around the halfway mark, one which doesn’t really benefit the episode. The first half is arguably more interesting and contains stronger dialogue and tension, but the pay-off never really arrives. The second half, despite some interesting character choices with Xander, becomes a bit too chaotic and silly to feel like the same episode, almost as though writers were intending this to be filler to not let the overaching narrative develop too far.

Episode Rating: 6/10

Angelus steps up his torment of Buffy and her friends in the next episode, but can Jenny Calendar restore his soul in time? Stay tuned for my review of Episode 17 – “Passion”!

If you enjoyed reading my review of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, please like this post and subscribe to get email notifications when new posts are published – so you won’t miss an episode review. If you have any recommendations of shows you think I will enjoy and want me to review, or have seen this episode recently also, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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