I’m of two minds on “Special Halloween Episodes.” On one hand, I love Halloween and I especially love seeing characters in shows that I like get silly over the holiday. On the other, I’m old and cranky and have seen enough “tee-hee, those guys are in costume!” episodes to last me a lifetime. Also, the episodes where wacky, weird stuff happens that’s totally out of continuity? Sorry, but you’ve just lost a viewer. If you’re going to pull the Halloween tag, you’d better make it stick.
3) Let start things off on a lighter note – “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” is classic Halloween animation at its finest. That thrill of being someone, something else and then getting free candy that you could eat as much as you want? That right there is enough to propel Halloween into the greatest of all holidays in a kid’s mind. What really makes “Great Pumpkin” stick is that Charles Schultz captures that childhood joy; without all the baggage that adults have foisted onto it over the last few decades. And lest things tip over into the sickly-sweet, there’s always Charlie Brown’s frequent lamentation of “I got a rock;” a phrase that has shown up in nearly every Halloween-themed anything in the past 20 years. And the fact that I dressed my son up in a sheet with a couple of holes in it and considered it a costume…well, let’s just say it wasn’t lazy parenting as much as it was an homage to a beloved Halloween special of my youth.
2) Not unsurprisingly, “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” is always near and dear to my heart when October rolls around. In the second season, the Scooby Gang found themselves trapped as manifestations of their costumes. Two seasons later, the gang again find themselves trapped, except this time in a frat house possessed by a manifesting fear demon (wonderfully, we start off with Xander dressed up as a secret agent/head waiter “just in case” the costume thing happens again). Season Four was uneven at best, but “Fear, Itself” was one of the bright spots. Anya’s fear of bunnies? Discovered when she deadpans to Xander “Bunnies frighten me.” Giles’ maturation from staid librarian/Watcher to something a bit more independent? I can’t be the only one that cheered a little when, instead of finding a more subtle way to find a way into the frat house, Giles sawed through the wall with a chainsaw. And as each of the Scoobies are faced with their own worst fears, we get juicy insights into what makes all of them tick. The “jokey” ending belied the seriousness of the episode (“They’re all going to leave you, you know.”), but a lot of what was good about Season Four (and beyond) has roots in this episode.
1) Simple fact is, no one does Halloween like the Whedon-verse. And the “Angel” Season Three episode, “Billy,” is no exception. Except that it isn’t overly Halloweeny. There are no decorative streamers. There are no gory monsters or clattering skeletons. There’s nary a costume in sight. So why does this ep get my number one spot? Wes and Fred.
This was the episode where Wes finally admitted that he had romantic stylings on our poor Winifred; which, for any Whedonite, is a flashing warning sign that horrible things are about to happen. And horrible things do happen. The titular character (who Angel had busted out of Hell in a previous ep, natch) is able to “infect” the males around him with the worst kind of misogyny; the kind where they feel justified in belittling and physical harming the women around them. Watching Wes come under Billy’s thrall, watching that formerly sweet passion turn rancid, is one of the most genuinely horrifying things I’ve seen done to Wes (who is no stranger to having horrible things done to him). The scene at the end between Wes and Fred, when we’re realizing just what has been lost, is heartbreaking, haunting, and genuinely gives me chills. It might not be the most in-your-face Halloween episode; but I find that to be part of its charm. It proves that you don’t need a gallon of blood to make something terrifying; just have a man betray his deepest intentions and watch him turn into the person he swore he’d never become.