Welcome to Salem 1692.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Episode 11 descended into pure chaos when the adults persecuted people of witchcraft. No one was safe from the effects of MOO! (Side-note: I'm going to laugh A LOT when using the acronym for Mothers Opposed to the Occult.)
Witches, slayers, and intellectuals who love to read were all in danger in this spell-binding Monster of the Week adventure.
Why was it so good? Let's find out by rewatching "Gingerbread."
Based on my personal rewatch list, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3 Episode 11 is one of my favorites. Even if you think it's executed pretty well or not, there's a lot to unpack in regards to the actions of the Sunnydale townsfolk.
One of the key influences that stand out is the theme of witch-hunts and the trials in Salem, Massachusetts.
Accusations and paranoia played on people's inherent fears of the unknown to drive them into doing unthinkable actions. Dozens of people were hung, drowned, and imprisoned for suspicion of being affiliated with the occult.
In a majority of the cases, a lot of the accusations were based on political moves to claim land/fortunes or eliminate the competition. And, that's not even including all the witch-hunts that have happened for centuries now.
What can I say, I love history. The subject was one of my best courses in school.
(If any of that sounds exciting, you should totally binge all three seasons of Salem! It's a great little gem about witchcraft. Plus, you can watch Salem online here via TV Fanatic whenever you're ready.)
At its core, Sunnydale is no exception to the frenzy.
With all the missing people and the rise in supernatural activities, the town is a hot-bed for the occult. The fact that Sunnydale is also on a Hellmouth doesn't help either. The demon manipulated all the fears that were built up for so many years.
Just think about how a non-supernatural (and non-woke) Sunnydale resident might have felt during these weekly adventures.
Giles: There is a fringe theory held by a few folklorists that some regional stories have actual very literal antecedents.
Buffy: And in some language that's English?
Oz: Fairy tales are real.
Buffy: Hans and Gre- Hansel and Gretel?
Xander: Wait, Hansel and Gretel? Bread crumbs, ovens, gingerbread house?
Giles: Of course, it makes sense now.
Buffy: Yeah, it's all falling into place. Of course that place is nowhere near this place.
Giles: Some demons thrive by fostering hatred and, uh, persecution amongst the mortal animals. Not by destroying men but by watching men destroy each other. Now, they feed us our darkest fear and turn peaceful communities into vigilantes.
Buffy: Hansel and Gretel run home to tell everyone about the mean old witch.
Giles: And then she and, probably, dozens of others are persecuted by a righteous mob. It's happened all throughout history, happened in Salem, not surprisingly.
They've probably known someone who has died/gone missing, been involved in one of the strange town activities, and they may have made excuses to keep their sanity in check.
Sunnydale isn't the safe place they thought it would be. But, they've made due and lived their lives in blissful ignorance. The adults were probably scared and pissed off too.
Thanks to Hansel & Gretel, the group unleashed all their inner frustrations at anyone who was different, regardless if they were the cause or not.
"Gingerbread" is a great example of fear-based mob mentality.
Even though the Scoobies were in the 90s, the town regressed quickly to the same persecution seen during the Salem witch trials. If you posed a problem for "the well-being of society," you became an issue that needed to go.
And that could range from banning products, persecution, or even death.
Giles lost all his occult books, Cordelia lost her black makeup, a guy wearing makeup was attacked, student lockers were searched, and people were taken away for questioning, to say the least. Buffy, who literally protected people, was targeted because she was different.
The adults could blame they were under a demonic influence, but a lot of their worries stemmed from a real place.
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 us 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.Joyce
In the case of the parents, we also focused heavily on the mother/daughter relationship.
I enjoyed whenever we explored Buffy's complicated family relationship because the conflict showcased how her real life was affected by her Slayer responsibilities. Regardless of Joyce being Buffy's biggest cheerleader, she also served as the biggest proponent when things got rough.
We can ignore Buffy's dad because he's terrible. (Seriously, he abandons Buffy and Dawn later on in the series. The absolute worst!)
Of course, Joyce would choose the worst night to tag along with Buffy on her slayer patrols. Finding those dead children only preyed on every worst fear she had in her mind.
And I think that's why Hansel & Gretel gravitated so much towards Joyce. She had the biggest fear since she knew the daily life-threatening fights that Buffy got into. Joyce was a fountain of parental worry.
MOO was the security blanket to create a world she wished she had for her child.
As compared to Joyce's overprotecting, Willow's parental reality looked grim.
Sure, as a kid we'd all love to have parents who would give us the space to do whatever we wanted. However, Sheila barely paid any attention to her daughter, so much so she didn't notice a haircut from months back.
(And, she called her daughter's best friend "Bunny." Sheila didn't listen.)
As a character, Willow's mother frustrates me because she's so dismissive of her daughter.
When Willow finally reaches out to Sheila about her life and her fascination with the occult, her mother brushes it off like it's nothing. Willow clearly wanted Sheila to listen, but she got zilch in return, except being grounded.
Sheila focused more on academics than learning anything about her daughter. She'd rather analyze her than parent her.
Willow sneaking out every night for Scooby activities makes a lot of sense now. No one was checking, and that's really sad if you think about it.
Willow: I worship Beelzebub. I do his biddings. Do you see any goats around? No, because I sacrificed them.
Sheila: Willow, please.
Willow: All bow before Satan!
Sheila: I'm not listening to this.
Willow: Prince of Night, I summon you. Come fill me with your black, naughty evil.
Sheila: That's enough! Is that clear? Now, you will go to your room and stay there until I say otherwise. And, we're gonna make some changes. I don't want you hanging out with those friends of yours. It's clear where this little obsession came from. You will not speak to Bunny Summers again.
The Monster of the Week initially being witches worked for the plot until they revealed Willow as one of the coven members.
We've seen Willow throughout three seasons now, and being a murderous witch didn't fit her character's personality. The mark and the connection to witchcraft came off as an obvious red-herring. Especially when Amy appeared in the lunch scene.
Willow only ever wanted to use her magical abilities for good, so her involvement had to have fit the same motivation. (As of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, at least.)
Amy, Willow, and Michael's coven played the role of the innocent villagers in this production of Sunnydale's The Crucible.
Except, you know, the three of them WERE actual witches ... and they weren't evil. So, that theme was interestingly flipped on its head.
Thanks to "Gingerbread," there are at least two popular Buffy gags that emerged. (If you have any favorites I missed, share them in the comments!)
The first being Buffy vanquishing Hansel & Gretel with the witch's stake.
In the early days of rewatching, I bursted out laughing whenever Buffy says, "Did I get it?" and you see the demon hanging from the wood. It's subtle cheeky moments like this that showcase the pure comedy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
How could you not smile at that punchline?
Amy: All right! You wanna fry a witch! I'll give you a witch! Goddess Hecate, work thy will...
Amy Madison: Before thee let the unclean thing crawl!
[Amy transforms into a rat]
The second has to be Amy turning into the rat.
Sure, we lost the character of Amy for several seasons, but we got a wealth of rat-related jokes and moments until she returned. Every time she popped up along the way, it gave us fans a wink and nod to know that the show didn't forget about Amy.
Plus, Willow and Buffy's response to the mob after Amy transformed was the perfect cherry on the witchy sundae.
What did you think of "Gingerbread"? When do you think Amy's curse could've been reversed earlier? The Cordelia and Giles scene was the gift that kept on giving, right?
Want to join us in rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer? We'll be posting new rewatch posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Come back here and share your thoughts of the episode in the comments.
Justin Carreiro is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.