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GINGERBREAD (ep #3.11)

(a.k.a. Paranoia Will Destroy Ya)

Written by: Jane Espenson
Story by: Thania St. John & Jane Espenson
Directed by: James Whitmore Jr.
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris
Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg
Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase
David Boreanaz as Angel
Seth Green as Oz
Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles
Guest Starring: Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers
Elizabeth Anne Allen as Amy Madison
Harry Groener as Mayor Richard Wilkins III
Jordan Baker as Sheila Rosenberg
Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder
Co-Starring: Lindsay Taylor as Little Girl (Gretel)
Shawn Pyfrom as Little Boy (Hansel)
Blake Swendson as Michael
Grant Garrison as Roy
Roger Morrissey as Demon
Daniel Tamm as Mooster

Plot Summary

Hansel and Gretel caused Buffy's and Willow's mothers to try to burn them at the stake.

Plot Details

Joyce somehow got the notion that it would be a good idea to surprise Buffy with snacks while Buffy was out patrolling. Despite Joyce's interference, Buffy still managed to stake her vampire. Joyce, however, found the bodies of two young children in a playground and was very upset. The police arrived and did the usual investigation, including photographing a symbol on the victims' hands. Buffy tried to assure her mother that she would make things right, but her mother was not buying it.

The next day, a very upset Buffy discussed the murders with Giles. When he suggested that the children might be the victims of a cult ritual, (that is, killed by humans) she wanted to waive the rule against slayers killing humans. Giles was not inclined to do so.

Buffy's mother surprised her at school. She explained to a very embarrassed Buffy that she had called everyone she knew to hold a candlelight vigil for the children at city hall. Buffy did not think that this would be a good idea as she would prefer a less conspicuous means to find the perpetrators.

Many people showed up to the vigil, including Willow's mother (Sheila), who was not even seen at her bedside when Willow was in a coma. There was also a very awkward reunion between Joyce and Giles. Mayor Wilkins spoke about how Sunnydale was a good town and that a murder like this would never happen again. Joyce then spoke about how Sunnydale was not a good town and that the adults needed to take it back from evil, including slayers.

That night, Willow, Amy, and a third witch (Michael) performed some ritual that involved a bunch of candles, various occulty looking props, and the symbol that was on the children's hands.

At school, Giles told Buffy that he believed that witches might be involved in the murders and that he needed a book that Willow borrowed. Buffy went to find her and found the symbol written on the children's hands in Willow's notebook. Willow said that it was just a doodle until the police started to raid lockers, when she said that it was for a protection spell for Buffy.

Meanwhile, police officers were confiscating all of Giles's books that he needed for research. Snyder made a point to stop by and gloat. He particularly enjoyed pointing out the fact that Buffy's mother was the leader of the organization that called for the confiscation of the books.

Willow returned home to find her mother looking through some of her witch stuff. They had a confrontation in which her mother thought that Willow dabbling in witchcraft was a cry for attention while Willow went from defending witchcraft to sarcasm.

Buffy returned home to confront her mother, who did not want to hear anything she said. After Buffy stormed off, the two children appeared and assured Joyce that she was making things better by going after the "bad people."

Somebody remembered that they were contractually obligated to put David Boreanaz in every episode this season, so Angel met Buffy at the spot where the children's bodies were found. Buffy wondered why these deaths attracted more attention than the many other deaths in Sunnydale. Angel stated the obvious, that children were the victims.

Giles was so desperate that he even tried looking for information on a computer. Xander and Oz entered to say that Giles's books were in City Hall, but were out of reach. Buffy entered and asked if anyone knew anything about the children, like their names. Oz contacted Willow and had her look online for information about the children. She found cases in 1949 and 1899 of the same two kids murdered, with no information about the children in either instance. Stories went back every 50 years to 1649.

Giles guessed that the children were Hansel and Gretel, who were really a demon that feeds off of paranoia. Michael burst into the library and said that people, including his father, were after him to put him on trial in City Hall.

Buffy and Giles went to try to talk to Joyce. Instead, they were chloroformed at the instigation of Hansel and Gretel. Meanwhile, Oz and Xander went to rescue Willow. However, they were too late. Sheila and three mean-looking people had already came for her.

In City Hall, Buffy, Willow, and Amy were tied to stakes planted in a pile of books, presumably Giles's. Meanwhile, Cordelia had her black clothes and scented candles confiscated, so she went to Buffy's house to get her to stop the craziness. Instead, she found an unconscious Giles. She woke him up and they went to his apartment for supplies.

Joyce started to burn the books underneath the three women. Amy got the bright idea to change herself into a rat so she could escape. Buffy was upset that Amy did not change her and Willow into rats first, but Willow got the idea to threaten to change the mob into rats, or fish. This started to make the mob nervous, but Hansel and Gretel appeared and shamed them into staying.

Giles and Cordelia arrived at city hall and managed to get into the room where Buffy and Willow were being burned. Cordelia held off the mob with a fire hose and put out the fires while Giles spoke an incantation that caused Hansel and Gretel to appear in their true form, a tall, ugly demon.

The ugly demon was not particularly persuasive, so the mob fled. Buffy leaned over and impaled it with her stake. Meanwhile, Oz and Xander tried to enter the room through ventilation ducts, just after everything was settled.

Apparenlty, Sheila Rosenberg forgot, or pretended to forget, everything that happened except for the fact that Willow was dating a musician. Willow and Buffy tried to cast a spell to turn Amy back into a human, but it failed. Buffy suggested getting a "wheel thingy."

The Good

This could have been a good episode. It addressed interesting and important themes like the tendency to demonize those who are different and do not conform, the belief that portraying or discussing something encourages people to do that thing, and the destructiveness of mass paranoia and censorship. It is unfortunate that the final product was so terrible.

I have to give this episode some credit for largely sparing Michael, who was a seemingly obvious redshirt, and instead trying to burn three characters that we have seen before. However, the character we have seen only twice before is the one who remained a rat at the end of the episode.

The Bad

In order to become involved in a film or a book or a television show, the viewer/reader have to believe in it. This is especially important in fantasy fiction where the world depicted is very different from our own. Buffy is a great show because it normally does a great job in getting viewers to believe that it could be true. (Not in our world, I am not delusional, although even my computer's grammar check insisted that I drop the "not" for some reason, probably because it created a double negative rather than because it disagreed with the statement.) This happens mostly because of the excellent work of the writers, cast, and crew. In this episode, they failed.

I have found that doing a close study of an episode for a review is different from normal watching. I sometimes notice things that I have not noticed before. When I watched this episode before, I had assumed that Joyce was under a spell that caused her to behave as she did in this episode. When closely studying this episode, I was surprised to find that there was no mention of a spell. Instead, she behaved based on natural paranoia and fear. Therefore, I found it even more frustrating to see her act so out of character.

Joyce is not stupid enough to think that it was a good idea to surprise Buffy while she was out patrolling. Joyce does not seem to have the charisma or the leadership potential to lead an organization like MOO. Joyce would not try to burn her daughter at the stake and would not be so casual about it. After all, in "Ted," she defended Buffy despite witnessing her attack Ted and shove him down the stairs to his presumed death. Just about the only thing Joyce did that would be in character was to forget most of the episode, assuming she did so.

Sheila Rosenberg is one of the worst character ever to appear on Buffy. I do not mean worst as in most evil or one who commits the greatest sins. I mean worst in terms of acting irrationally, being one-dimensional, and not acting like a real person. She is a walking parody of the academic who writes articles and books on real world phenomena that she completely misunderstands. She holds ridiculous opinions. She is completely out of touch with daily life. Granted that she is probably an anthropologist or a sociologist and I am a social psychologist, but I have been in academia and I have never met anyone who even remotely resembles Sheila Rosenberg. Buffy is too good a show to have a character that poorly drawn.

Overall Rank: 143

Action: 4

Buffy fought a vampire during the teaser

Cordelia held off a lynch mob with a fire hose

Comedy: 2

There were a few funny lines, as would be expected in any episode written by Jane Espenson.

Xander and Oz fell into the lynching room just when it was too late for them to do any good.

Drama: 3

Several of the characters were persecuted by a mob under the influence of Hansel and Gretel.

Romance: 0

Character Development: 4

Xander is feeling guilty about his "illicit smoochies" and is paranoid that everyone else is judging him.

Sheila Rosenberg is a one-dimensional parody of a politically-correct academic completely out of touch with the real world and with the fact that she is out of touch with the real world.

Cordelia holds a grudge against most of the characters, but she is still smart enough to go to Buffy for help when there is trouble.

Principal Snyder takes great pleasure in turning Giles into "desperate librarian."

Importance: 0

Most Valuable Player: Cordelia

Giles came up with the incantation to get Hansel and Gretel to reveal their true form, and Buffy killed it. However, Cordelia gets her first MVP for waking Giles out of a coma, supplying the hairpin he needed to break into the lynching room, keeping the crowd back with a fire hose, and putting out the fire that threatened Buffy and Willow.

Sherlock Holmes Award: Giles

Giles figured out that Hansel and Gretel had "very literal antecedents" ("fairy tales are real") and were probably a demon who fed off paranoia. Buffy gets credit for figuring out that nobody seemed to know the children's names or anything else about them, and Willow found the sites that indicated that Hansel and Gretel have struck before.

Goat of the Week: Amy Madison

Amy has shown that she has the power to turn people into rats. Therefore, why did she not turn the mob into rats, at least until she could free herself, Willow, and Buffy? Instead she turned herself into a rat, which left her no way to turn back. Granted, she, unlike the writers, probably remembered that Giles knew how to turn people back, but she still took a big risk. Joyce also gets blame for her actions, but the Joyce we saw in this episode did not resemble the Joyce we saw in any other episode, so I cannot really blame her.

Random Commentary

I admit that evidence linking the quality of the mother-child bond and adult personality is more theoretical than empirical, but I doubt that Willow could possibly be as well-adjusted as she is if her mother was nearly as neglectful as she was portrayed in this episode. Willow's shyness and lack of confidence more closely resembles someone whose parent is sometimes there for her but cannot be depended upon to be there 100% of the time.


I hate to admit this, but Principal Snyder had a good point when he asked why some of Giles's books are appropriate for a school library.

Chloroform does not work nearly as quickly on ordinary humans as it did in this episode. Why did it work so quickly on Buffy?

The Buffy Guide made a good point. Why did Willow not simply go to Giles for the spell to turn Amy back into a human?

Memorable Dialogue

"Willow, you cut off your hair. That's a new look." Sheila Rosenberg
"Yeah, it's just a sudden whim I had, in August." Willow

"There's a rumor going around, Mr. Giles." Sheila Rosenberg
"Rumor, about us? About what?" Giles
"About witches." Sheila Rosenberg

"Mr. Mayor, you're dead wrong. This is not a good town. How many of us have lost someone who just disappeared or got skinned or suffered neck rupture? And how many of use have been too afraid to speak out? I was supposed to lead us in a moment of silence, but silence is this town's disease. For too long, we've been plagued by unnatural evils. This isn't our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and the witches and the slayers. I say it's time for the grownups to take Sunnydale back. I say we start by finding the people who did this and making them pay." Joyce

"If you're gonna hang with them, expect badness, 'cause that's what you get when you hang with freaks and losers. Believe me, I know. That was a pointed comment about me hanging with you guys." Cordelia
"Yeah, I got that one." Buffy

"Hey, is Willow around?" Buffy
"How can I convince you people that it's over? You assume because I'm here, she's here, that I somehow mysteriously know where she is." Xander
"Those her books?" Buffy
"Yeah, she's in the bathroom, but he fact that I know that doesn't change that I have a genuine complaint here. Look, I'm getting sick of the judgment, the innuendoes. Is a man not innocent until proven guilty?" Xander
"You are guilty. You got illicit smoochies. Gonna have to pay the price." Buffy

"A doodle, I do doodle. You, too, you do doodle too." Willow

"It's Nazi Germany, and I got Playboys in my locker." Xander

"This is a glorious day for principals everywhere. No pathetic whining about students' rights, just a long row of lockers and a man with a key." Principal Snyder

"This is intolerable. Snyder has interfered before, but I won't take this from that twisted little homunculus." Giles
"I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning." Principal Snyder

"Just how is Blood Rites and Sacrifices appropriate material for a public school library? Chess club branching out?" Principal Snyder

"Just remember, lift a finger to me, and you'll have to answer to MOO." Principal Snyder
"Answer to MOO? Did that sentence just make some sense that I'm not in on?" Buffy
"Mothers Opposed to the Occult, a powerful new group." Snyder
"And who came up with that lame name?" Buffy
"That would be the founder. I believe you call her Mom." Snyder

"The last time we had a conversation over three minutes it was about he patriarchal bias of The Mr. Rogers Show." Willow
"Well, with King Friday lording it over all the lesser puppets..." Sheila Rosenberg

"Mom, I'm not acting out. I'm a witch. I can make pencils float, and I can summon the four elements—OK, two, but four soon—and I'm dating a musician." Willow
"Oh, Willow..." Sheila Rosenberg
"I worship Beelzebub. I do his biddings. Do you see any goats around? No, because I sacrificed them." Willow
"Willow, please..." Sheila Rosenberg
"All bow before Satan." Willow
"I'm not listening to this." Sheila Rosenberg
"Prince of Night, I summon you. Come fill me with your black, naughty evil." Willow

"Is Sunnydale any better than when I first came here? OK, so I battle evil, but I don't really win. The bad keeps coming back and getting stronger. I'm like that kid in the story, they boy that stuck his finger in the duck." Buffy
"Dike, it's another word for dam." Angel
"OK, that story makes a lot more sense now." Buffy

"Session interrupted? Who said you could interrupt you stupid, useless fad! No, I said fad, and I'll say it again." Giles

"'Frisky Watcher's Chat Room,' Giles!" Xander

"There is a fringe theory held by few folklorists that some regional stories have actual, very literal antecedents." Giles
"And in some language that's English?" Buffy
"Fairy tales are real." Oz

"Things are way out of control, Giles: first, the thing at school, and then my mom confiscates all of my black clothes and scented candles. I came over here to tell Buffy to stop this craziness and found you all unconscious, again. How many times have you been knocked out anyway? I swear, one of these times, you're going to wake up in a coma." Cordelia
"Wake up in a ...? Never mind, we need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel." Giles
"Now, let's be clear. The brain damage happened before I hit you." Cordelia

"What's with the grim[m]? We're here to join you guys. Really, why should you guys have all the fun? We want to be part of the hate." Xander
"Just so we're clear, you guys know you're nuts, right?" Oz

Characters in Peril


Police and Guns

Strictly the Caucasian Persuasion

Giles Unconscious

Unusual Pairings

Spoiler Questions

Highlight the space after each question to find the answer. It is strongly recommended that you do not do so if you have not seen episodes through the episode indicated.

This page was last modified on November 14, 2012