I have super conflicting feelings over this episode. I want to hate it, because I feel like it really mishandles and just flat-out doesn’t use a lot of the show’s best assets, but on the other hand, it also really expands on Cordelia and gives her depth and emotion that sets us up for her role in season two.
For one thing, we get to see Cordelia being smart again–her interactions in class might be a shallow interpretation of Merchant of Venice, but they’re still a valid interpretation, and she can back herself up. She’s also not wrong about Shylock being more concerned with vengeance than with justice. Cordelia also ruminates on being alone in a crowd, and reveals to Buffy that she often feels lonely, but she works to keep her popular status because at least then she’s always got people around her, even if they don’t understand her. I’m underselling it, here, but her development in this episode is really well played.
We also get some fun interaction between Angel and Giles, which is great, but also feels like a missed opportunity, because after the events of S2 Giles never really trusts Angel again, and the way they interact in this episode is just so great. Angel also establishes that he can do things the humans can’t because he’s a vampire. He doesn’t have to breathe, he can only be killed by a few specific things, so he can do things for them like walking into a basement full of gas fumes and turn off the valve with his superhuman strength.
The problem, though, is that all of this is B-story, or even C-story. The main story this episode is about Buffy finding and trying to stop the invisible girl who is terrorizing the school because Cordelia never paid attention to her.
So, now we get to the things I dislike about this episode. First off, the only motivation we’re given for Marcy Ross’ vengeance kick is that Cordelia was never nice to her, and this one time she didn’t get called on in class. I’m guessing the implication is supposed to be that it wasn’t just Cordelia who didn’t pay attention to her, and that’s backed up later when they’re discussing her yearbook with Giles, but the evidence I get from this episode is that Marcy deliberately tries to make friends with the popular crowd despite knowing that they don’t like her and aren’t going to pay attention to her. She also get super pissed that her English teacher won’t call on her in class but calls on other people sitting around her. And because of that she runs around the school playing her flute, pushing people down stairs and beating them over the head with baseball bats? For that I crawled into my closet and cried for a couple hours, then got over myself. I grant you, I have always been fairly even-keeled, but I struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life and I never went on a rampage.
My problem with Marcy is that despite logic dictating that she take a different tack, Marcy keeps trying to insert herself into Cordelia’s life. Marcy fixates on Cordelia in a way that isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but that we just haven’t been given enough back story and information to fully buy into. Maybe for people who have different experiences as the girl no one notices this episode resonates differently. My case was probably also helped by the fact that I went to a tiny private high school, not to public school. But for my money, Marcy just didn’t try. She didn’t try to be seen because she only wanted to be seen by one person–Cordelia. She wanted to be popular, not to have friends. She wanted to be noticed as someone to look up to, not noticed as someone who is loved. Her eventual fixation on Cordelia’s face makes sense in that context, because that’s what people notice about Cordy, isn’t it? How pretty she is? But I still just don’t buy it. If I turned invisible I would instantly be trying to find a way to get back. I don’t want to be forever unnoticed, and I don’t want to mope around for months planning my revenge.
But again, this could just be my own background meaning that I don’t buy it because I don’t experience life that way. I had hobbies other than hating the popular girls at school and playing depressing music on my flute. I had books and I had Broadway musicals, and probably most importantly, I had friends. Actual friends, not people who ignored me while I tried to talk to them. Sure for a while I only had one or two friends, but I still had them.
I think I’m going to have to write this one off to first-season syndrome and move on.