Even if you aren’t marathoning Buffy, I highly highly highly recommend watching Season 2 Episode 6, Not only it is a fantastic episode, but it also has some interesting commentary on feminine personalities and power.
The plot is that it’s Halloween (the title kind of gave that one away) and Buffy finds an old drawing of Darla, Angel’s old girlfriend. Buffy wants to be like that and dresses up as a beautiful princess for Halloween. Willow gets brave and dresses like a hooker (or something), but chickens out and gets a ghost costume. Xander dresses as an army guy. The fun starts when the characters begin to turn into their costumes.
I like the contrast Joss Whedon gives to the female leads. Firstly, Buffy becomes helpless as she tries to become ultra feminine in seeking a man. She needs to be protected and gets very close to being killed. Buffy loses all of the strength she possessed as the Slayer. She cannot act as a rational and calm woman. She gains every weakness typically associated with women. In being the princess, she can no longer take care of herself and becomes dependent on the rest of the Scoobies. This is the danger of repressing the strong side for the ultimate girly girl.
Willow is the opposite in this episode. She is the shy, nerdy girl who for a moment works up the courage to be a badass chick. Willow covers up her Halloween look, but when she becomes a ghost everyone can see it. She takes control of the situation in the same way she takes control of her sexual identity in that outfit. The female character that expresses herself in a powerful manner like that is the strong one able to keep the rest safe. Cordelia also dresses in a slutty cat costume (but doesn’t turn into a cat). The difference is that Cordelia dressed in that manner with the sole purpose to look good for boys. Willow just wants to be different. Because it is not for the attention of males, it is Willow embracing another part of herself. In realizing her potential in that manner, Joss Whedon and the writers make her the hero of the day.
Finally, on an interesting side note, this is the first episode to see Xander as a manly, and I think attractive, character. We see the weak female because of her femininity, a strong female because of her sexuality. Yet we also see Xander becoming strong only when he takes on a male stereotype of power. It seems a little contradictory. Or is Xander already a strong character who is challenges gender norms who finally gets an episode as the stereotype?