Holiday-themed episodes of TV shows are always a lot of fun. Halloween-themed episodes? Even better. Yes, I’m biased since it’s my favourite holiday, but supernatural/fantasy/horror TV shows in particular lend themselves well to Halloween episodes. It’s interesting to see how the writers fit the spookiest time of year into the pre-existing lore of the show’s universe and general tone. Whether comedic, scary, or a balance of both, Halloween episodes usually end up being some of my favourites.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer executes this very well. There’s three Halloween episodes across seven seasons, all very different stories but with some similar themes. One of the best pieces of Buffy lore for me is that vampires and demons don’t come out on Halloween; as Buffy puts it, it’s “like, dead for the undead”. Giles begins to explain the occult reasoning behind it but cuts himself off when he realises it probably isn’t interesting to Buffy. Realistically, it’s a nifty subversion to avoid the cliché—plus vamps deserve a night off every once in a while. Bloodsucking is thirsty work!
Without further ado, here’s my two cents on each of the three Buffy Halloween episodes, from worst to best. Here goes!
3. All the Way (S6E6)
The last Halloween episode isn’t bad, it’s just average considering it’s an episode of Buffy. This is a show of high standards, okay? Plus, comparing it to two above-par episodes naturally makes it look a little worse than it actually is.
Only two Scooby Gang members wear Halloween costumes, but they’re pretty great ones; Giles’ wizard cloak suits him perfectly, Xander’s pirate costume is a classic, and I especially love Anya rollerblading around the Magic Box as a Charlie’s Angel. Willow getting mad at bad representation of witches, then awww-ing at a little girl dressed as a witch is hilarious and adorable. One of my favourite Giles scenes is in this episode too—him revealing to Buffy that he removes his glasses so he doesn’t have to see what they’re doing after Xander and Anya start kissing. I just love that they gave a canon reason for Anthony Head’s prop-fiddling.
Foreshadowing and set-up in this episode is in excess as well: Buffy misinterpreting Spike’s reference to “rough and tumble” as talking about sex so soon before they end up hooking up, Willow erasing Tara’s memory which will soon lead to the events of ‘Tabula Rasa’, Xander wearing an eyepatch as part of his pirate costume, etc… Xander and Anya finally announce their engagement as well, which is so typical of Buffy to drop that in a Halloween episode.
Subverting the expectation that the creepy old guy living on his own is the bad guy by having the young vampire kill him is pretty neat. The final fight between Buffy, Spike, Giles, Dawn, and the vampires at the end is satisfying as well. I love the bit right beforehand when Buffy is confronting them all coming out of their parked cars in the woods and asks, “Hey, didn’t anyone come here to just make out?” We get to see Giles actually stake vamps for a change too! Spike gets crossbow privileges, and reprimands his fellow vampire for not taking the day off on Halloween (which is kinda funny considering he ran rampage on Halloween himself back in Season 2). Oh, and Buffy decapitates a vampire with a car door. Slaying doesn’t get much better than that.
To me, ‘All the Way’ doesn’t really feel like a Halloween episode, more like an episode that happens to be set at Halloween. There’s too much context from Season 6 in general that takes away from the self-contained nature of a holiday episode.
The main antagonists are just a bunch of douchebag vampire frat boys, which was kind of lame. Dawn having to stake the boy she had a crush on was actually pretty sad, so it puts a dampener on things. In general, it doesn’t have that fun spark that the other Halloween episodes do—bearing in mind this is in Season 6, a notoriously depressing season, but that underlying melancholy drags the mood of the episode down. I mean, it includes a brutal Willow/Tara fight and ends on Willow putting a forgetting spell on Tara, which is really messed up.
Also, it’s quite a Dawn-centric episode, a divisive character who’s disliked more often than not in the fandom. It’s easy to feel sympathy with her here, but she’s still annoying and reckless.
All-in-all, the episode isn’t too bad—despite the overhanging sad tone, there are still some valuable moments.
2. Halloween (S2E6)
It’s a close call between this and ‘Fear, Itself’. As the original Halloween episode, it really set the tone!
‘Halloween’ marks the first appearance of Ethan Rayne, aka my favourite recurring character. His chaos, style, presence, and dynamic with Giles especially are all so compelling and delightful to watch. Thanks to Ethan, we get hints of Giles’ edgy alter ego, Ripper; we find out their full background as ex-friends (or just exes, let’s be real) two episodes later.
Season 2 focuses on the theme of dual identities, and ‘Halloween’ showcases this through the central characters being turned into something else via their costumes. Buffy represents weak vs powerful as a Slayer-turned-stereotypical-18th-century-woman who can’t fight. Xander embodies both ends of the masculinity spectrum by transforming into an uber capable super-soldier from his usual emasculated self. Willow struggles with being shy but wanting to be sexy, as she conceals her mini-skirt and crop-top with a sheet ghost, but then ends up in her original outfit anyway by turning incorporeal. (Extra points for Oz’s second appearance showing interest in Willow.)
Each character has to balance their insecurities and inner strength as part of the journey towards growing up and reaching their full potential. What I also love is that Cordelia bought her costume from a different shop so she doesn’t turn into anything different—it reflects her self-confidence and how she always stays true to herself.
In terms of secondary antagonists, Spike and Drusilla are wonderfully creepy as always. We get a demonstration of Spike’s intelligence when he gets a vampire to film Buffy in combat and reviews the footage so he’s better prepared for fighting her. That’s the cunning of a two-time Slayer killer, right there.
I know it’s the point of his narrative in the episode, but I’m not a fan of Xander’s toxic masculinity. Although his annoyance at Buffy for rescuing him from his bully, Larry, is an interesting commentary on masculinity, it’s irritating seeing him save the damsels in distress when he gets turned into a soldier. Buffy is based on gender role subversion, so it kind of defeats the purpose of the show. On the flipside, Buffy being weak and pathetic is comedic because we know she’s not actually like that, but it’s still uncomfortable seeing her that vulnerable. I absolutely hate that Larry attempts to sexually assault Buffy in her weakened state, and Xander saves her from it… male saviour complex much?
The competition between Buffy and Cordelia over Angel is also frustrating (though it is very much in character—”when it comes to dating, I’m the Slayer” is an excellent line from Cordy). Buffy’s internalised misogyny also doesn’t end there. A desire to be a normal girl by presenting as something you’re not is relatable from a teenage girl, I suppose, but it’s quite unbearable watching herself present as weak simply to please a man. Even worse is Angel’s “you’re not like other girls” speech at the end of the episode which rubs me up the wrong way big time.
‘Halloween’ really is a great episode; it’s a cool concept, has humorous scenes, and is super fun to watch. General amusing Halloween shenanigans are aplenty here, which I love.
1. Fear, Itself (S4E4)
I love this episode. Even though ‘Halloween’ is so top-tier, this one just stands out for me.
So many! First of all, we get the whole gang in Halloween costumes again: Anya in a bunny costume because of her hilarious phobia, Xander as James Bond in case they get turned into their costumes again, Willow as Joan of Arc and Oz as God because of their “close relationship”, and Buffy as Little Red Riding Hood so she can store weapons in the basket. Giles being super hyped about Halloween is so wholesome—him turning on the Frankenstein’s monster puppet and enthusing, “Look, look! It’s alive! See how he shakes?” warms my heart every time.
There are some wonderfully funny moments in ‘Fear, Itself’; although it’s brief, the couple having a tiff while one is dressed as a lobster and the other as a present is an example of silly yet effective comedy. Obviously the tiny fear demon is a standout monster—Giles reading “actual size” as the closing joke is brilliant. Despite the humorous aspect, the episode is genuinely scary at times. Frat boys accidentally (or purposefully) casting a dangerous spell is usually a gimmicky premise, but this one works well—the rooms, corridors, doors, and windows moving around or disappearing makes for a spooky labyrinth- or haunted house-type setting, and the Halloween decorations coming to life is freaky too.
Worst fears coming to life poses a real threat to our protagonists and also foreshadows certain events. Buffy fears being abandoned following her encounter with Parker, and in general is terrified of dying alone surrounded by evil creatures (which is pretty dark—the scene with her in the basement is probably the creepiest part of the episode). Because of being the only friend who isn’t at college, Xander worries about Buffy and Willow moving on without him, so he turns invisible and unhearable. Growing concerns about her magic skills plateauing causes Willow’s guidance spell to backfire on her; she also shouts “Oz, don’t leave me!” after her boyfriend runs off, foreshadowing their breakup. Oz himself prematurely wolfs out, confronting his repulsion at being a werewolf and his fear of losing control. It’s all intense stuff.
Bonus points for Giles with a chainsaw!
The only ones I have are nitpicks, really. The argument between the group, especially Buffy and Willow, is really frustrating to watch—but then again, it’s intentional for setting the tone. Right after it happens, the house starts attacking them individually, feasting on their insecurities. Oh, also Giles wearing a sombrero and poncho hasn’t aged well.
‘Fear, Itself’ is the perfect episode to watch on Halloween, with elements of both comedy and creepiness, and a great concept to boot.
Despite there being only three Halloween episodes in Buffy, each one made an impact in one way or another. Let me know what your favourite is in the comments!