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Let’s Rewatch Buffy’s ‘Halloween’ Episode From 25 Years Ago

Photo: 20th Century Fox

This year marks the 25th anniversary of “Halloween,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s first Halloween episode. A lot has happened in the past two decades in and out of the Buffy fandom. Like, a lot a lot. But I imprinted on this show like a baby duck, and I’m always drawn back to it, especially during Halloween. Halloween episodes are one of the best things America has come up with along with Mountain Dew Baja Blast and Tinker v. Des Moines, but the Buffy episodes are special. It’s one thing to make one spooky episode of a sitcom. It’s another to make a spooky Halloween episode of a show that’s spooky year-round.

In Buffy’s world, Halloween is a non-holiday for demons, vampires, and the forces of darkness. They think it’s tacky. (If the show were on today, a vampire would have definitely made a “My culture is not a costume” joke, and it definitely would not have landed well on social media.) Yet every other season, Buffy and the gang got into some shit on October 31. The first year, recurring villain and chaos magician Ethan Rayne used the god Janus (BFF of the Criterion Collection) to turn people into their Halloween costumes. Willow, dressed as a ghost, died. Xander, dressed as an Army guy, got military know-how that would come in and out of his head as the plot demanded. And Buffy, dressed as a “ye olde” hottie in an attempt to appeal to her ancient vampire boyfriend, became a weak and vapid Revolutionary War–era socialite. Sunnydale is thrown into chaos, and its protector suddenly has cottage cheese for brains. Even worse, she’s a brunette. How will our heroes get out of this one? It’s silly, goofy fun.

Compared with later Halloween offerings, “Halloween” is innocent. Nobody that important to the main cast has died, certain Cousin Oliver characters haven’t arrived, and nobody has post-traumatic stress disorder yet. Angel’s curse hasn’t even been broken! One of the things I enjoy most about rewatching shows is the sense of dramatic irony. I know what’s going to happen to these sweet summer children, yet they have no idea. Presumably this is way theatergoers felt watching the great tragedies in ancient Greece. When Spike squares off against Buffy, I can think to myself, Oh you little dummy — you don’t even know that’s the love of your life yet.

But an even bigger dummy than Baby Spike is Baby Bethy, watching this show in 1997 and thinking, What a good, feminist show that I’d love to be in the writers’ room of. Ironically, Buffy shaped my ethical worldview in such a way that now it’s hard to watch Buffy. The most important thing the show taught me is that you need to be able to change your values based on new information. The ultimate test: learning vampires exist. Do you bury your head in the sand, try to game the system, or join the Scooby Gang?

So what do we do now that we know about Joss Whedon’s alleged harassment and abusive behavior on set? I keep going back to what Sarah Michelle Gellar wrote on Instagram: “While I am proud to have my name associated with Buffy Summers, I don’t want to be forever associated with the name Joss Whedon.” We can still celebrate Buffy while remembering that a TV show is a collaborative effort, and any attempt at auteur theory erases the hard work of dozens of people. “Halloween” is a great episode for Charisma Carpenter, one of the first actors to call out Whedon. Her character, Cordelia, is one of the only Scoobies to be unaffected by Ethan’s spell, so the plot rests on her and Willow’s shoulders. Cordy in “Halloween” is funny, incisive, and unapologetically horny. Isn’t that how we should all be on this sluttiest of holidays?

Welcome to Vulture’s “TV Club,” where we select an unforgettable premiere, finale, or popular episode of a beloved series to rewatch. Our latest selection comes from writer Bethy Squires, who will be screening “Halloween,” from season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on Vulture’s Twitter on October 31 at 7 p.m. ET. Join us to catch their live commentary.

Let’s Rewatch Buffy’s ‘Halloween’ Episode From 25 Years Ago