This is the first episode following the pilot, and no vampires, none. Not even Angel (boo). Indeed, the "big bad" of the episode is not a monster but a parent, the very person who is supposed to cherish and protect her children. Let's proceed.
The episode starts with a greatly agitated Giles, outraged that Buffy, chosen to vanquish vampires, choses to engage in something as banal as cheerleading. Buffy points out that Giles can't stop her, especially as she wants to do something normal and...safe. Famous last words.
Giles may not approve of Buffy trying out for the squad, but Willow and Xander willingly accompany her to the gym. Xander awkwardly offers Buffy an I.D. bracelet that's inscribed "Yours always". He quickly claims all the bracelets had the same inscription.
As the tryouts begin, Willow greets Amy, who is clearly anxious about the audition. As they watch, the first would-be cheerleader breaks out into flames. Buffy quickly douses her. The girl had been talented, but no way she would be on the squad now. By the way, the use of a body double for Amber, the girl on fire, is pretty obvious.
The team gathers in the library to discuss what happened. Deciding vampires are not involved, Willow decides to hack the school systems and Xander will ask around about the charred cheerleader.
Buffy goes home to find her mother preoccupied with her first deliveries for the gallery she will be opening. Joyce can't even remember what Buffy is trying out for. Upon being reminded, Joyce remarks Buffy quit cheerleading right before she started getting into trouble. Buffy mentions that Amy's mother trains with Amy hours everyday. Joyce comments that Amy's mom clearly doesn't have much to do.
Back at school the next day, the auditions have resumed, and Buffy, Cordelia, and Amy are in the first group performance audition. Amy starts out strong, but eventually misses a few moves and crashes into Cordelia.
Buffy catches up to Amy in front of the trophy case. Amy tells Buffy about her mother, the former head cheerleader who took her squad to the tri-county tournament. Mom was the Homecoming Queen who married the Homecoming King. But sadly, her high school days were her best years, and the King left his family for "Miss Trailer Trash". Buffy tries to encourage Amy, but Amy clearly is under a lot of pressure by her mother.
Cordelia threatens Amy in the locker room.
The list is posted. Cordelia has made the team, but Buffy and Amy are alternatives. They explain to Xander that being an alternative means they are only on the team if one of the cheerleaders on the team drops out.
We then watch a witch intone a spell. We can see she is casting a spell on Cordelia.
Buffy's at home, and her mother is clearly trying to reconnect. When Joyce suggests Buffy join the yearbook staff, Buffy tells her its not her thing. Joyce gets angry, telling Buffy that Buffy's "thing" got her kicked out of school, requiring them to move to Sunnydale as it was the only decent school that would take her. Buffy is hurt and leaves.
As Xander tries to gather his courage to ask Buffy out, Buffy notes that Cordelia doesn't seem right. She follows Cordelia who gets in the driver's seat in driver's ed. (Why are other students in the car?) Anyway, Cordelia loses control. When she gets out of the car, she wanders into the road. Buffy saves her from an on-coming truck. But Cordelia can't see anything - her eyes are covered up by a murky film.
Giles declares witchcraft is involved. Amy is the first suspect. Giles is surprised that someone with power would be willing to use it to become a cheerleader, but Buffy points out the pressure that Amy's under from her mother to be a cheerleader. They decide to use a test to determine whether Amy really is the witch.
Xander, Willow, and Buffy decide to try the test during chemistry class. The test is positive - Amy's a witch. But at the same time, one of the other cheerleaders in class suddenly loses her mouth. Everyone is shocked, even Amy. Perhaps she doesn't know what she's doing?
Amy is walking home. Entering her surprisingly nice home, she seems to change. She mocks her mother for watching television all day. She orders her mother to write her history report, then notes that Buffy stole her hair. She dangles the bracelet that Xander had given Buffy.
The next morning, Buffy wakes up in an extremely good mood. She's singing and bouncy. When Joyce tries to apologize for her words yesterday, Buffy waves it away. She tells her mother that it's hard for people to understand about the whole vampire slayer thing. She somehow escapes without revealing too much more and her mother's just confused.
At cheerleading practice, Buffy is still verbose - loud and clumsy. She finally flips a girl too far. She's kicked off the team, and Amy's made a cheerleader. Xander and Willow get Buffy out of practice and take her to the library.
Giles diagnoses Buffy as afflicted with a Bloodstone Vengeance. Apparently it makes you feel exceedingly drunk, then shuts your immune system down. Whoever cast the spell wants Buffy dead. Giles and Buffy will go to Amy's house to talk to her mother, while Xander and Willow will keep an eye on Amy.
Giles's car is a piece of crap. I don't believe it's the same one he drives later. Giles confronts Catherine, Amy's mother, but Buffy, clearly dying, realizes the woman is really Amy, that Amy and her mother have switched places. This apparently occurred a couple of months ago. Amy-Catherine shows Giles the attic where her mother works her spells. He finds what he needs and the three go to school.
Catherine-Amy is cheering with the rest of the squad, very ecstatic, with Xander and Willow looking on. Giles, Amy-Catherine, and Buffy are in the chemistry lab. Giles starts spells. As the spell starts working, Catherine-Amy realizes what is going on, and, furious, heads to the lab. Xander and Willow try to delay her, but Catherine-Amy uses her magic to fend them off.
Chaos seems to ensue when Catherine-Amy arrives. The two are switched into their proper bodies, and Catherine is furous at her daughter, berating her for causing her nothing but trouble. She then starts to cast what looks like a particularly nasty spell. Buffy interferes, and somehow blocks the spell, reflecting it back on Catherine. With that, Catherine is gone.
Buffy's back at her home. Joyce acknowledges that she just doesn't understand Buffy and has no clue what she's thinking. It's a biological imperative that she can't understand her sixteen year old daughter. Buffy asks Joyce if she'd ever want to be sixteen again. Joyce says no, not even to understand Buffy. Buffy is pleased and declares she loves her mother. Who continues to be confused.
Buffy and Amy are talking in the halls. Amy is describing her life with her newly returned father; she's clearly very happy. No one has seen Catherine since the spell. They're confident they will never have to worry about her again.
We see the trophy from the cheerleading championship. It then becomes clear that Catherine is stuck inside the trophy.
My thoughts watching this: Instead of monstrous vampires outside the house, this episode focuses on the monsters inside the home. Catherine took everything from her daughter - her body, her dreams, her autonomy. Contrast her with Joyce, also disappointed in her daughter, but who struggles to understand and accept Buffy as she is.
We also get to see Xander's unrequited attraction for Buffy and his bumbling attempts to connect. In the background is Willow, the good friend, who clearly has some unrequited feelings herself. It's sweet.
The characterization of Catherine-as-Amy seems off to me. At one point, Amy describes how great her mother is to help her train for the auditions. But later she tells Buffy about the pressure she's under from her mother. And why did this great former cheerleader who's been in Amy's body for months have such a hard time with auditions? Surely she should have gotten used to Amy's body in that amount of time.
That said, this episode builds in the promise introduced in the pilot, further developing a world where the bad guy might be a neighbor, not just a monster. The relationships building among the characters is also progressing. Already, the personalities of the characters are pretty well-established. A great chapter.
What we learned about Buffy: Buffy's parents are divorced, something hinted at before, but now made clear.
Xander: Oooh, where was I?
Willow: You were pretending that seeing scantily-clad girls in revealing postures was a spiritual experience.
Xander: What do you mean, pretending?
Willow: That girl's on fire!
Cordelia: Enough with the hyperbole!
Giles: Well, that is the thrill of living on the hellmouth - one has a veritable cornucopia of fiends, devils and ghouls to engage...Pardon me for finding the glass half full.
Xander: I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide til it goes away.
Willow: Average student - got detention once for smoking - regular smoking, with a cigarette. Not being smoky.
Buffy: Mom, I accepted that you've had sex. I'm not ready to accept that you've had Farrah hair.
Joyce: This is Gidget hair. Don't they teach you anything in history?
Giles: Why would someone want to harm Cordelia?
Willow: Maybe because...they met her. Did I say that?
Xander [upon Willow announcing that Xander has checked out a number of books on witchcraft]: All right, all right. It's not what you think.
Willow: You like to look at the semi-nude engravings?
Xander: Oh. Well, then, it is what you think.
Giles: I think all the spells were reversed. Of course, it's my first casting. I may have got it wrong.
Buffy: You saved me. You were a god.
Giles: One doesn't want to be immodest, but I am not unsatisfied.
Buffy: Giles, stop being so proper. You're in America. Brag.
Cordelia: Hey, I'm really sorry you guys got bumped back to alternate. Hold it - wait - no, I'm not.
Amy: Well, I know I'll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling words out with my arms.
Cordelia: Ooh, these grapes are sour.
Buffyverse fan alert: Sarah Michelle Geller's comedy, The Crazy Ones, has been cancelled. Meanwhile, Alyson Hannigan has just finished her run in How I Met Your Mother and is set to co-star in More Time with Family.