Not gonna lie, most of my notes for this episode were just peoples’ names with exclamation points behind them. But aside from how awesome it is to actually see Oz doing more than just playing his bass, I did want to talk about a couple interesting thematic elements to this episode.
The first idea is the idea that Buffy doesn’t see herself as desirable–and while the show implies romantically, I think there’s evidence later in the series that she just all-around doesn’t think she’s someone people want in their lives. We’ll probably come back to this, particularly at the end of this season and the start of the next, but I think it’s interesting that Buffy’s need to be seen as something desirable and wanted is what blinds her to the danger of Ethan Rayne. She thinks people won’t want her around because she’s dangerous, she’s someone who puts her friends in danger, not to mention her family and her lovers.
The second thematic element is the implied idea that people turn into their masks, both literally in the episode, and figuratively through the series. It’s a little bit of a stretch in some places, especially since at this point I don’t think there was a multi-season arc planned out, but as the show goes on, Willow, who tries to hide her sexuality (represented here by her costume) comes out and is unashamed of her bi or homosexuality (more on why I think Willow is bi later). Xander becomes a foot soldier for the Slayers much like he acts here, competent, able to fight, and unquestioning of Buffy’s orders (I’m thinking specifically of S7 here, although I haven’t seen that season in a while). Buffy herself goes from being something unique and special (the Slayer) to someone who, while not common, is definitely not the only girl in the world like her. We get hints of this later this season and then again next season with Faith. And this is mirrored in S7 again, when she goes from one of two Slayers to one of thousands of Slayers. Again, I don’t think this was necessarily on purpose, but it’s interesting to note how it spun out similarly in the end.
I did also want to mention that there’s a lovely moment (I think the third or fourth one this season so far) where Xander and Cordelia check each other out while Xander is the Soldier and Cordelia has just arrived. I like that they set up this romance as something mutual, since I remembered it as kind of continuously awkwardly one-sided until somewhere in S3. Which, to be fair, it still might be.
I’m a little disappointed that Spike wasn’t more involved in this episode. It seems like he’s really just there to remind the audience of his existence before the actual main story line starts (which, since, as I recall, Spike was meant to be a single-episode character, kind of makes sense). I’m also a little disappointed we don’t get more of a reaction to Giles hearing Ethan’s name when Willow mentions the costume shops. It always feels like it should be a moment of mutual recognition–Willow realizing that it’s the shop owner who’s responsible, and Giles realizing Ethan is Ethan Rayne.
We do, however, get a lovely hint that Giles might be more than he appears during his fight with Ethan. I love that the stoic Giles really gets to just whale on Ethan here and take out his frustration. It’s a lovely indicator that under the surface Giles is less Placid British Dude and might run a little hotter than he’d like you to think. Giles hiding things he thinks the people around him don’t need to know kind of starts to be a theme with him. Usually he’s doing it to protect Buffy (as he did in the first season, when he hid the fact that the prophecy said she’d die), but as we see later on, this isn’t always the case.
Overall, it’s a fairly typical standalone episode for this season. It’s got plot elements that don’t specifically relate to the main story line, but that can be related back to events that happen in the future; it’s got good character development, it takes time and introduces a couple new characters (Larry, Ethan, and Oz, although this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Oz) as well as exploring established characters in new ways (particularly Giles, but this is seen with the Scooby Gang as well). It’s a standout episode because it focuses on comedy in what will otherwise be a fairly dark season, especially coming off the low-stakes season 1, where everything is fixed in a single episode and there don’t seem to be many lasting consequences to the gang’s adventures. I still like “Halloween.” It’s fun and silly, and gave Sarah Michelle Gellar, Tony Head, and Nicholas Brendan some fun things to play with instead of keeping them locked in their respective boxes. Willow’s character development in this episode is the one that feels most important–Joss is giving her confidence here, something which allows her to grow into the person Buffy will need at the end of the show. But the episode plays with a fun idea, and nothing about this episode is too serious. It’s what Ian at The Passion of the Nerd calls a “candy episode,” something fun and sugary to watch that’s not particularly good for you but that you love anyway. That’s a perfect assessment of this episode. It’s fluffy, delicious candy.