While on the nightly patrol, Buffy not only encounters a vampire, but also her mother, who is looking for some quality time and a chance to "share" in the slaying experience. As Buffy kills the vampire, Joyce discovers the bodies of two children, dead in the park. The police arrive and after some questioning Buffy and Joyce are free to leave. Joyce is really disturbed by the murders.
At school the next day, Buffy confronts Giles about the situation, desperate to find out what kind of creature would do this. She draws the symbol that was found on the hands of the two children. He says it's probably related to the occult. Buffy can't quite get herself to believe "someone with a soul" could've done this and becomes all the more eager to find those responsible. Willow and Amy sit with Xander and Oz (who exchange a few awkward words) at lunch. Buffy joins them and fills them in on the murders. Joyce shows up at school and informs Buffy that she has spread the word about the murders to all her friends and that there will be a vigil at City Hall that night.
Many concerned parents attend the vigil, including Willow's mother and the Mayor. The Mayor says a few words to the crowd before handing the mic over to Mrs. Summers. She gives a speech about how Sunnydale has got to take back their city from the monsters, and witches, and Slayers.
Later, Michael (a warlock), Amy, and Willow (both witches) are shown performing a protection spell in a circle that surrounds the symbol Buffy found on the children's hands.Michael is shoved up against his locker the next day by another student, who threatens both him and Amy. Buffy makes a brief appearance next to Amy and gives Roy a seemingly innocent smile; he notices her and thinks better of going any further. Cordelia, having witnessed the whole incident, remarks to Buffy about the outcome of getting involved with losers, believing herself to be the prime example of the misfortune that can befall someone. Buffy goes to find Willow, who has a book Giles needs for researching the symbol.
However, when she finds the book, Buffy also finds the witch symbol in one of Willow's notebooks. Before Willow can explain, a search of all the school lockers begins in order to find any material that may be witch-related, with students found with anything questionable being taken away. Willow tells Buffy that the symbol is harmless and that she was not doing anything wrong, just making a protection spell for Buffy's upcoming birthday. Amy and Willow are taken to Principal Snyder's office for questioning. Also, all of Giles' books are confiscated by the police, which leaves the Slayer and Watcher without their resources.
Buffy goes home where she finds out her mom, the new founder of MOO (Mothers Opposed to the Occult) does not want Buffy to see Willow anymore, and is the one responsible for the raid on the lockers. The two argue, and Buffy leaves to patrol, insulted by her mother, who claims her Slaying is not doing Sunnydale any good. The ghosts of the two children appear to Joyce and tell her she has to hurt the "bad girls".Willow goes home, where her mother calmly tells her she's grounded. Willow flips out, unable to control her anger towards the fact that her mother does not believe that she's a witch.
Buffy meets up with Angel at the park and they talk. He convinces her to keep fighting. He also unintentionally gives her the idea that they do not know anything about the two kids; although pictures of the living children have been provided, there has been no reference to their parents or even any names provided. Buffy heads back to the library to find Giles yelling at a computer, while Xander and Oz were unable to retrieve any books from City Hall. After hooking up with Willow over the net, the Scooby Gang find out that the two children died hundreds of years ago. A demon returns disguised as them every fifty years to persuade a town to kill what they call "bad girls" (witches). They are an example that fairy tales are true; in real life, the children inspired the tale of Hansel and Gretel.
Amy, Willow, and Buffy are then taken by force to City Hall, where they are tied to wooden posts atop piles of books for a combined book-/witch-burning. As Buffy regains consciousness, her mother lights the books on fire, sentencing the three girls to death by burning at the stake. Amy, however, avoids her fate by casting her famous "rat" spell and scurrying. Cordelia finds Giles unconscious at the Summers' home and wakes him in time for them to head off and save the others. Xander and Oz find Willow's room in shambles.
Giles practices a German incantation while Cordelia prepares a concoction to force the demon to show its true form. Oz and Xander climb through the air vents in hope of saving their friends. Giles and Cordelia break into the room, which is now partially on fire with the parents watching. Cordelia uses a fire hose to put out the fire, while Giles casts the revealing spell at the children. As the demon (now in its true, ugly form) goes for Buffy, she breaks the stake she was tied to and stakes the creature. Everyone is safe, and the demon is dead.The next day, none of the parents remember much of anything regarding the recent events and everything is back to normal... except Amy is still a rat. Buffy and Willow try performing the reversal spell to restore her to human form, but it doesn't work. Buffy suggests getting Amy "one of those wheel thingies".
- Abandoned Playground: Except there's a couple of dead bodies on it.
- Absentee Actor: Where's Faith when Buffy needs her?
- Absence of Evidence: Willow tries to convince her mother she's a bad witch. "Do you see any goats around? No, because I sacrificed them!"
- Adult Fear: Exploited by the demon, whose raison d'etre is to scare the adults with this into becoming an ugly mob.
- Adults Are Useless: Subverted; now that they actually take an interest, it becomes a case of Adults Are Harmful.
- Accidental Misnaming: Sheila re Willow's friend — Bunny the Vampire Slayer.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted; Xander and Oz fit into the vents, but have no idea where they're going and only reach the rest of the cast after the demon is already dead. "We're here to rescue you..."
- All Myths Are True: Whereupon Xander suggests buying some magic beans.
- Anti-Climax: After the demon's true form is revealed, Buffy kills it by accident when she snaps the stake she's tied to. Of course since this demon's main mode of operation was via illusions and manipulations, it likely didn't have much in the way of battle skills.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:Willow: Mom, I'm not acting out. I'm a witch! I-I can make pencils float. And I can summon the four elements. Okay, two, but four soon. (her mother doesn't react) A-and I'm dating a musician.
Sheila: (disgusted now) Oh, Willow!
- After ranting at her own mother over MOO's actions and then stalking off, Buffy can't resist popping back to snark, "Oh, and great acronym!"
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: We hear what is supposedly the testimony of the first person to encounter Hansel and Gretel (it makes sense in context). The German in it is... let's say, erratic.Ich, eine Geistlicher von nahe die Schwarz Wälder, tat finden das körper von das kinder meine selbst. eine wurde von die junge, die anderen von und mädchen. darauf meine eigene erforschen ich lernte... ("I, a male female priest from vicinity them Black Forests, made to find the one bodies of the childs myselves. One became from the girlboy, the others from and girl. Thereupon my own to perform research I learned...")
- Bait-and-Switch: The symbol on the dead boy's hand is later seen during the ritual performed by Willow, Amy and Michael. The symbol turns out to be part of a protective spell. The demon uses the symbol just to get people riled up against witches.
- Baleful Polymorph: After seeing Amy turn herself into a rat, Willow and Buffy try to frighten the mob into letting them go.Buffy: Yes! You will all be turned into vermin. And some of you will be fish! Yeah, you in the back will be fish!
- Beauty Equals Goodness: Exploited by the demon. The two murdered children are very cute and angelic looking. Once its true form is revealed, the ruse does not convince anyone.
- Bench Breaker: Buffy is bound to a stake so tightly she can't snap the ropes even with her Super Strength. When the demon charges her, she breaks the stake and leans forward, impaling it on the tip.
- Big Damn Heroes: Buffy and Willow are exchanging Famous Last Words when Giles and Cordelia burst in to save them. Averted with Xander and Oz, who only arrive after it's all over.
- Black Eyes of Evil: Amy before she transforms.
- Book Burning: Giles' Tome of Eldritch Lore are confiscated and used for the pyre to Burn the Witch!.
- Brainwashed and Crazy: The demon influences the minds of humans ignorant or hostile to the supernatural, turning the hostility Up to Eleven.
- Brick Joke: Willow says she can make pencils float. Later when she tries to scare the mob into releasing them, Buffy snaps at her, "What are you gonna do, float a pencil at 'em?" This becomes a Chekhov's Gag in "Choices" when Willow levitates a pencil to stake a vampire.
- Broken Aesop: The moral of the episode is deeply confused. Most of it appears to be a libertarian satire about knee-jerk attempts to aggressively suppress "darkness" in youth culture in response to isolated horrible events, but then in the end it takes the very paternalistic approach of "The Masquerade must be maintained because if humans in general learn about magic they'll start persecuting good or neutral magic-users along with the evil ones".
- Buffy Speak: As expected, there's Willow's magnificent line that Jane Espenson says she is very proud of on the Special Features."It's a doodle. I doodle. You too. You do doodle too."
- Bully Hunter: When a group of Jerk Jocks pick on Michael because he's a warlock Amy tries to intervene. When they start on her Buffy steps in, all smiles. At the very least she's known to have burnt down the gym at her previous school, nearly killed Cordelia, has a known history of violence and been arrested for murder on more than one occasion, so the group quickly scampers.
- Burn the Witch!: As you do when there's a literal Witch Hunt.
- Call-Back: To "The Wish" with Buffy wondering if she's making any difference in Sunnydale. In turn Angel reminds her of what she said in "Amends", of the need to keep fighting regardless of the prospects of victory.
- Children Are Innocent: The demon uses this to get the parents of Sunnydale to kill witches and anyone who protects them, including their own children.
- Creepy Children: The demon's form.
- Continuity Nod: Amy uses the same spell that she used to turn Buffy into a rat in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".
- Death of a Child: The plot is kicked off by the discovery of two children's corpses. It later turns out they were illusions created by the monster of the week to stir dissent among the people of Sunnydale.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?:
- Concerned parents blame a murder on some trend among youth, and lash out against that trend.
- More disturbingly, as Willow lampshades, a specific minority being targeted for their non-standard practices, especially the "killing of children", which is a lot like the "blood libel" of the Middle Ages. No wonder she's so scared.
- Michael, the Ambiguously Gay warlock boy who wears dark lipstick and eyeliner gets beaten by his father and his friends.
- Don't Explain the JokeCordelia: 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. (goes to leave, then turns back to Buffy) That was a pointed comment about me hanging with you guys.
- Elephant in the Living Room: Joyce's speech to MOO."This is not a good town. How many of us have, have lost someone who, who just disappeared? Or, or got skinned? Or suffered neck rupture? And how many of us have been too afraid to speak out?"
- Emergency Transformation: Amy turns herself into a rat to escape the pyre. It's several years before Willow develops the skill to turn her back into a human.
- Eureka Moment: Angel assures Buffy that people like the dead kids and their parents are worth fighting for. Buffy then realises the dead children had no parents, and their names have never been mentioned.
- Evil Makeover: In a Red Herring, Amy has dyed her hair black.
- Expo Label: The bottle used to knock out Buffy, helpfully labeled (in uppercase bold letters, with nothing else on the label) "CHLOROFORM".
- Failed Attempt at Drama: A Running Gag whenever Willow tries to act like a Wicked Witch.
Willow: You've seen what we can do! Another step and you will all feel my power!Buffy: (muttering) What are you gonna do, float a pencil at 'em?Willow: It's a really big power!
- When her mother downplays her practicing magic, Willow tries to show how rebellious she is by calling on the Prince of Darkness to fill her with "black, naughty evil!"
- Buffy and Willow are tied to stakes. After Amy escapes with her magic...
Buffy: Maybe we should get her one of those wheel thingies?
- At the end of the episode, Buffy and Willow do a spell to turn Amy back into a human. There's a puff of colored smoke...and nothing happens.
- Fake Defector: Confronted by MOO guards outside City Hall where Buffy, Willow and Amy are being held, Xander and Oz try to convince them they've come to "join the hate". It doesn't work (but they do inadvertently help Giles by drawing their pursuers away from the door).
- Fantastic Racism: Subtly invoked when Joyce, leading a community action group called Mothers Opposed to the Occult, gives a speech ending with, "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." She's justified, of course, in hating the monsters - but her inclusion of witches and Slayers in the category of 'unnatural evils' also condemns her own daughter and her best friend. It's reminiscent of people who don't overtly attack homosexuality, but treat it as if its inherently adult and corrupt and allied with deviant/evil sexual activity for example people who talk about 'paedophiles and homosexuals' in the same breath as if they are fellow travellers.
- Felony Misdemeanor: A Running Gag with Willow in this episode.
- Fire-Forged Friends: Co-operating to save Willow ends the awkwardness between Xander and Oz.
- Buffy is shocked to hear her mother talking about the town belonging to "the monsters and the witches and the Slayers" showing how she'll eventually be lumped in with those categories.
- The reminder that Slayers are not supposed to kill people.
- Willow's ability to float pencils.
- Michael, the Ambiguously Gay warlock. Witchcraft/Magic will be used as a metaphor for homosexuality from Season 4 onwards.
- A Friend in Need: When Willow is taken to Snyder's office for having magic items in her locker, Oz goes with her without being asked.
- Despite no longer being a member of the Scooby Gang, Cordelia wakes up Giles and helps him rescue Buffy.
- Fun with Acronyms: Mothers Opposed to the Occult, or MOO. You can guess what their beef is.
- Glamour Failure: Giles reveals the demon with his incantation.Demon: Protect us! Kill the bad girls!
Buffy: You know what? Not as convincing in that outfit.
- Gratuitous German: The newspaper article the gang looks up, and the incantation by Giles.
- Goth/Emo Teen: Michael
- Hairpin Lockpick: Giles borrows one of Cordelia's hairpins to pick a lock.
- Hate Plague: The demon causes one against witches, though the exact mechanics of how some are affected while others don't is touched upon - it's implied that people who have an intimate knowledge of the supernatural (IE: the main cast) are rendered immune, because a glamour like that logically would be contradictory to those who know what's going on.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Begins with Buffy's mom finding two young children after what looks like a magical rite. She responds by organizing the other parents in Sunnydale into an organization to go after witches (and Slayers, and everything related to occultism). The episode ends with them all trying to burn their own children at the stake.
- Historical In-Joke: Apparently "Hansel" and "Gretel" were responsible for the Salem witch trials.
- Hopeless War: Buffy takes a hit when her own mother points out that her efforts are fruitless — she keeps killing vampires to no effect. "No fruit for Buffy." Angel reminds her of what she said in the previous episode, that it's important to keep fighting regardless.
- Hollywood Fire: Even though the 'witches' are being burnt indoors, the room doesn't fill with smoke.
- Hollywood Torches: But no pitchforks.
- Hypocritical Humor: When Sheila dismisses Willow's witchcraft as an age-appropriate fantasy, Willow fumes that she's not an age group. Then when she's grounded, Willow objects that as a teenager she's supposed to act up.
- I See Dead People: Joyce just appears to have been caught up in a moral panic until The Reveal that the two murdered children are telling her what to do.Buffy: Mom, dead people are talking to you. Do the math!
- I Believe That You Believe It: Sheila's response to her daughter saying she really can do magic.
- I Love the Smell of X in the Morning: Giles fumes helplessly as the police confiscate his Tome of Eldritch Lore. Snyder struts in wearing a big smirk. "I love the smell of desperate librarian in the morning."
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice
- Improvised Weapon: Cordelia knocks down MOO with a fire hose, though she has to be told to spray the flames as well. Buffy and her big stake.
- Instant Sedation: Joyce knocks out Buffy with chloroform.
- Ironic Echo Cut: Buffy asking her mother to calm down after she finds the dead children. Cut to Buffy telling Giles, "Don't tell me to calm down!"
- It Gets Easier: After knocking out Buffy, Joyce says to the Hansel & Gretel kids, "You were right. It was easy." They reply, "I told you." / "It gets even easier." This is not good.
- It Has Only Just Begun: Giles vs. Snyder.
- It's What I Do: Buffy to mom re the Slaying.
- It's Personal: The fact that Joyce finds the dead children makes Buffy eager to slay those responsible.
- I Work Alone
- Buffy's not enthusiastic about her mother offering to help, describing Slaying as "an alone thing".
- Also riffed on with Angel: "People are talking...they're even talking to me!"
- Loophole Abuse: Willow isn't allowed to use the phone, so the Scoobies contact her via the internet.
- Magical Incantation / In the Hood: The witch coven, shown to have Amy, Michael and finally (gasp) Willow!
- The Masquerade: Buffy is flummoxed when her mother invites half of Sunnydale for a meeting over the deaths. Joyce assures her there won't be many turning up.
- Meddling Parents: Joyce turns up with a thermos and snacks while Buffy is patrolling. She just wants to support her daughter at work. Then she decides to rally the other parents in defiance of Sunnydale Syndrome after finding the bodies of the two children.
- Mood Dissonance: As they're about to burn their daughters alive, Joyce casually discusses getting together for lunch with Sheila.
- Monster of the Aesop
- Moral Guardians: What the people of Sunnydale become as a result of a demon's influence.
- More Than Mind Control
- A Nazi by Any Other Name: Principal Snyder, of course.Xander: Aw, man, it's Nazi Germany, and I've got Playboys in my locker!
Snyder: (smugly) 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.
- New Media Are Evil: Inverted when Giles has to resort to the internet because all his books have been confiscated.
- No Ontological Inertia/Reset Button: By the next episode the library seems to have recovered from all the burned and confiscated books. Maybe A Witch Did It?
- Oh, Crap!: The Mayor gives Joyce a very wary look when she warns of dark forces in Sunnydale, before she lays the blame for the dead children at the feet of the witches in the town.
- Additionally, from the same speech, Joyce makes it clear that she wants to rid the town of vampires, witches, and Slayers. Considering that Joyce knows that there are only two Slayers in the world (both of whom she knows as her very own daughter and her daughter's friend), Buffy, Willow, and Giles are horrified at her statement.
- Oblivious Guilt Slinging:
- Xander as a Running Gag, as he's convinced that everyone thinks he's still carrying on with Willow.
- Willow has a sudden coughing fit when Joyce starts blaming witches for the crime.
- Out-of-Character Moment: When Joyce arrives at Buffys nightshift scene, Buffy doesnt try to send Joyce home despite the potential danger.
- Parental Neglect: Willow's mother Sheila, to the point of not noticing a new haircut for four months.
- Parental Betrayal:
- Buffy is almost burned at the stake by her own mother. In the next episode, her father-substitute betrays her as well. In "Bad Girls" she starts acting out accordingly.
- Likewise, Amy and Willow's delve into witchcraft is (at least in part) a response to their own parental issues, which also leads them down a dark path in Season 6.
- Porn Stash: While Snyder and the police are checking everybody's lockers, Willow is worried because she has witch stuff in hers. Xander, on the other hand, is indignant because he has Playboy magazines in his.
- Put On A Wheel-Thingy: Amy turns herself into a rat and stays that way for 3 years.
- Ransacked Room: Oz and Xander find Willow's room ransacked and empty after she's dragged off by a MOO lynch mob.
- Red Herring: Willow, Amy and Michael are shown performing a ritual that uses the symbol of the episode. 5-10 minutes later Willow explains that its only a protection spell.
- Regularly Scheduled Evil: The demons installation is introduced to the public every 50 years or so.
- The Resenter: Buffy wakes up tied to a stake above a pyre.Buffy: (imploringly) Mom, you don't want this!Joyce: Since when does it matter what I want? I wanted a normal, happy daughter. Instead I got a Slayer.
- Reveal Shot: Buffy leans forward to stake the demon, but she's still tied to the stake so she cries out, "Did I get it? Did I get it?" She did.
- Right Behind Me: Another Running Gag. Xander starts talking about Buffy's birthday gift, only for Willow to shush him because Buffy has turned up. Buffy then talks about her mother wigging out, only for Joyce appear. Giles is fuming about that "twisted little homunculus" confiscating his books, when Speak of the Devil; Snyder turns up for some Evil Gloating. Willow is griping about her absentee mother at the MOO meeting.Willow: (to Buffy re Joyce) At least your mom's making an effort. My mom's probably...standing right in front of me right this second.
- Running Gag: Giles' tendency to get a Tap on the Head is lampshaded by Cordelia.
- Sarcasm Failure
Cordelia: I swear, one of these times, you're gonna wake up in a coma.Giles: Wake up in a—?! Oh, never mind.
- Xander finds the "fairy tales are real" concept hilarious until Michael rushes in, having just been attacked. "Officially not funny."
- Then there's this:
- Sarcasm Mode: Buffy finds out her mother was behind the raid on the school."Okay, maybe I don't have a plan. Lord knows I don't have lapel buttons, and maybe next time that the world is getting sucked into Hell, I won't be able to stop it because the Anti-Hell-Sucking Book isn't on the approved reading list!"
- Salem Is Witch Country: According to Giles, the Salem Trials was caused by the malign influence and it threatens to do the same thing to Sunnydale.
- Scare Chord: Sheila telling her daughter she intends to "let you go with love".
- Sublime Rhyme: Buffy finds the magical mark sketched in Willow's book and demands an explanation. Willow babbles, "A doodle. I do doodle. You, too. You do doodle, too."
- Sunnydale Syndrome: "Silence is this town's disease."
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Xander accidentally invokes this even though he's telling the truth.Oz: I haven't seen you [Willow] all day. Where you been?Xander: Not with me. No sir. Ask anyone.
Joyce: Oh, well, it's, it's not just me, but thank you. Well, it's, uh, it's been a while.
- Giles meets Joyce and both are feeling awkward after the events of "Band Candy":
Giles: (uneasy) Right. Not since, um... Not since... Not for a while.
Sheila: There's a rumor going around, Mr. Giles.
Giles: (suddenly worried) R-rumor, about us?
- Think of the Children!: The demon that feeds on and propagates this by getting people to burn anyone unusual in sacrifice to it, often their own children for extra irony.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill Muggles: When Giles first assumes the children were killed in a ritual sacrifice, Buffy is shocked at the idea that humans with souls could do this, and asks if they can put aside the "don't kill humans" rule for once.
- Too Much Information: Toadstones.
- Twisted Echo Cut: From Sheila telling Willow she's not allowed to see Buffy again, to Joyce telling Buffy she's not allowed to talk to her Heterosexual Life-Partner.
- Wait Here: Buffy tells her mother to stay while she runs down the vampire. She goes to sit on a park bench at the playground and finds the dead children.
- Weirdness Censor: Averted and highlighted in the beginning. Buffy's mother gives an organising speech about all the strange murders that Sunnydale's population tends to ignore, school administration confiscates witchcraft-related materials from students' lockers and School Library.
Willow: She's doing that selective memory thing your mom used to be so good at.
- Played straight at the end of the episode:
Buffy: She forgot everything?
Willow: (ruefully) No. She remembered the part where I said I was dating a musician.
- Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: Buffy finds out about MOO and asks, "Who came up with that lame name?" Snyder smirks and says, "That would be the founder. I believe you call her Mom."
- Witch Hunt: Both literally and metphorically.
- With My Hands Tied: Buffy kills the demon by snapping the stake she's tied to and bending forward so the demon gets Impaled with Extreme Prejudice.
- Why We Can't Have Nice Things: Buffy grabs some paper to draw the mark she saw on the dead boy's hand. As it's a valuable parchment from the 12th Century, Giles quickly removes it and hands Buffy a notebook.
- You Are Grounded: Willow, much to her annoyance as it's the first time she's done something bad (that her parents noticed).
- You Have to Believe Me!: Willow gets frantic after Buffy finds the sign she's been looking for in her notebook and the police start searching lockers.Willow: The-the symbol is harmless. I used it to make a protection spell for you, for your birthday. With Michael and Amy. Only, now it's broken, because you know about it, so happy birthday, and please, you have to believe me!
- You Can Panic Now