Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “The Wish” (December 9, 1998)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
Cordelia can trace her problems to one event: Buffy’s arrival. When a wish takes Buffy away, Sunnydale becomes a nightmare landscape drenched in darkness and the lusty rule of the Master, Xander and Willow. Can we get the old nightmare back, please?
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
Angel: David Boreanaz
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Oz: Seth Green
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
We open with Buffy defeating a walking octopus-like demon in the park with the help of Xander and Willow. Afterwards, Buffy learns that Xander and Willow are still making no progress towards reconciling with Cordelia and Oz, their significant others. (Cordy and Oz caught Xander and Willow kissing last episode, shortly before Cordy was impaled on a spike and sent to the hospital.
At Cordelia’s place, the spurned beauty queen burns mementos and photographs while listening to Xander leave message after pathetic message on her machine.
Cordelia returns to school next day dressed to the nines, but her old gang of popular girls tease her and shut her out—as Xander Harris’s “cast-off,” she’s fallen far.
Willow, meanwhile, tries to reconcile with Oz again, and he tells her again to give him time. “I’m sorry this is hard for you,” he says. “But I told you what I need. So I can’t help thinking the reason you want to talk about this is to feel better about yourself. That’s not my problem.”
After crude insults from popular girls and boorish jocks, Cordelia manages to make a friend, a lovely newcomer who shares Cordy’s haute bourgeoisie fashion sense. The newcomer is tired of hanging out with idiots.
At the Bronze, Xander, Willow and Buffy hang out and try to look happy in front of Cordelia. Xander’s tired of sulking, and worse, it appears his friendship with Willow is ruined. With Willow determined to get Oz back, she feel she should have even less contact with Xander than before.
Buffy follows Cordelia out into the alley out of concern. Cordelia is clutching her wound, still in some pain, but she brushes off Buffy’s attempt at comfort, especially after getting knocked back into a pile of garbage when a vampire attacks Buffy. Cordy’s had it with these people.
Next scene, Cordy talks to her new friend. She never would have gone for Xander if Buffy, semi-popular, hadn’t made Xander seem somewhat cool. “I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale.” The newcomer, now revealed as the demon Ananka, says, “done.”
And so it is. Cordelia looks around, the newcomer gone, and people instantly begin kowtowing to her as Ms. Popular again. The popular clique is dazzled by her “very daring” dress; she casually blows off a nervous request for a date from the same jock who insulted her in the previous reality. This is a great reality, Cordelia realizes. The newcomer was a genie of sorts.
Except that class is cancelled tomorrow because of the “weekly memorial,” and at the end of the day, everyone rushes home with an hour to spare before city curfew. And the other girls are confused as to how Cody would wear “this come-bite-me” outfit, and they take her suggestion of going to the Bronze as a sick joke. And the parking lot is a barren field of blowing papers; no students drive here. “Get in before the sun sets,” advises the custodian.
Out into the night Cordelia wanders, to be set upon immediately by, of all people, Xander and Willow, looking pasty and vampiric. Xander wears a leather jacket, Willow a blood-red leather teddy thing that makes her look like a member of the Hellfire Club. Cordelia mentions Buffy, and Xander has heard of the name. Willow and Xander purr at one another before attacking Cordelia. But at the last minute, a van pulls up. It’s the White Hats, Xander curses, and the van opens to find Giles, Oz and a couple of others, pushing back the vampires, scooping up Cordelia, and driving away.
Willow and Xander repair to the Bronze, which is in this reality a sexy vampire rave joint, where the Master holds sway and tosses Willow a quivering ingenue. The Plant, the Master’s next big thing, begins operation in twenty-four hours. If Cordelia mentioned the slayer, she may call her, the Master suggests. Find her, and kill her.
Back at the library, Cordelia pleads with Giles, who does not know her, to call Buffy. “You’re her watcher!” Giles doesn’t know where Cordelia got this information, but he’s moved by her insistence that the world has changed because of a wish she made, and should be better than this. Giles goes to look up Cordelia’s medallion, but can’t save Cordelia: Xander and Willow break in and viciously kill her together before Giles’ eyes.
Later, while Giles pleads on the phone with the Cleveland Watcher that the slayer is very much needed at the Hellmouth, Willow gets a special treat from the master: playing with “the puppy,” an imprisoned good vampire- - Angel. She straddles Angel’s chest and tortures him with matches while Xander looks on.
Giles traces the medallion to Ananka, a demon devoted to spurned women. She grants wishes, which backs up Cordelia’s last words. On the way to his home, he passes a vampire van loading up wit victims. Giles rescues the mortals but is about to die himself when he is saved by a violent young woman with a nasty scar on her lip: the slayer he ordered. “Wanta tell me what I’m doing here?” Buffy asks.
Buffy rejects Giles’ theory that there’s a demon who can change the world back to what it’s supposed to be. For one thing, the books say to destroy the demon’s “heart of power,” which Giles cannot identify, and in any event, Buffy doesn’t believe there’s a better place to restore. She’s more interested in hunting the Master, and when Giles directs her to the Bronze, Buffy leaves.
Buffy finds the Bronze empty, except for Angel, who recognizes Buffy. “I was supposed to wait for you. You never came.” Buffy lets the vampire out of his cell in exchange for help hunting the Master, who’s now out at the factory beginning a new mass-vampire-production operation.
Buffy and Angel go into the factory as the first innocent victim is killed and Oz watches from a cage with the other prisoners. Buffy takes a crossbow shot at the Master and catches Xander in the shoulder, setting off a battle. Angel opens several cages, (“Uh-oh,” Willow coos, “Puppy got out.”) letting victims run free, as vampires close in on them. Xander slays Angel, and is in turn impaled by Buffy. Oz and another white hat force Willow back on a broken shaft and watch her turn to dust, while the Master and Buffy toss people aside as they make a beeline for one another.
Back at home, Giles summons Ananka, who is furious that a man would bring her. As they scuffle, Ananka asks, “what makes you think the other reality is better?” “It has to be,” Giles says. He tears away her medallion and prepares to crush it with a heavy bowl.
The Master overpowers Buffy easily, and snaps her neck.
Giles crushes the medallion, and as Buffy begins to fall, the world snaps back.
And Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come, and nothing happens. And she wishes a lot of other things, and nothing happens there, either. She wanders off, as Xander, Willow and Buffy talk on a bench behind her.
• As Buffy: The Vampire Slayer episodes go, this is one of the creepiest. Even the humor is pared back a little, traded for a few cynical witticisms that hurt a little more than they amuse.
• The alternate reality Cordelia triggers is a nightmare landscape of Sunnydale under siege, complete with new rules and new heroes, including the ill-matched White Hats, Giles’ band of vampire-slaying merry men (including werewolf Oz.) Were this a comic book, I’d expect a return at some time to this reality. (Days of Future Past was originally a one-shot X-Men alternate reality, but fans liked the grimness of it so much that the characters managed to go back several times.)
• The single most memorable moment is, of course, the final battle at the end, when EVERYONE gets iced in slow motion. Think Gallipoli.
• Interesting to see what incredibly evil villains Xander and Willow become in the alternate reality Cordy triggers, which suggests to me that her subconscious affected the molding of the reality itself. (And why not? It was born of her wish.) Willow is another Dru, a cooing, sadistic sex kitten, whereas Xander is a violent punk.
• I've often criticized Buffy for being a bit narcissistic, but this episode gave me a good slap for that disrespect: according to this, Buffy is the one thing that’s kept Sunnydale from becoming complete Hell. For her part, Buffy is an interestingly different character when she does appear. Apparently she has failed to find the kind of mentor she needs (the Watcher in Cleveland apparently never sees her,) and Buffy arrives in Sunnydale as a slouchy warrior so Clint Eastwood-like she should be chewing on a cigar. She’s got a nasty scar on her lip and a nastily cynical disposition; there’s little hope for this Buffy. She’s overconfident, too: she underesti9mates the situation in Sunnydale, rejecting Giles’ offer of backup and walking into a battle with the Master she cannot win.
• Kudos, though, to the subplot of the show: the slow, slow recovery of Oz and Cordelia after their betrayal by Willow and Xander. Like Lancelot and Guinevere, Xander and Willow have profited nothing by their affair, and have even ruined their own relationship. Oz has been such a likeable character all along that there’s a sickening feel to Willow’s pleading with him, and Cordelia’s suffering has only begun—she gave up a lot to be with Xander, and didn’t deserve to be treated this way. No-one is getting out of this aftermath easily or quickly.
* Last thought about the alternate reality: shouldn’t everyone carry massive crosses like Giles does?
On catch-all remedies
“You’d be surprised how many things that’ll kill.”
(Buffy, suggesting they stake the demon Ananka, even though she’s not a vampire.)
On getting on with it
“I’m gonna grab hold of that crazy little thing called life and make it do its crazy heal-y thing.”
(Xander, tired of moping around. The good times nevertheless fail to roll.)