Witch is my favorite episode of S1. As the first non-pilot episode (Welcome to the Hellmouth and Harvest both count as pilots in my opinion), and it definitely feels less . . . pushy. It’s a chance for the writers to start relaxing into the rhythm of the show without being mired in exposition-ville.
The relationships between Buffy, Willow, and Xander start to solidify and take on a natural quality, and the Slayerettes (later to be renamed the Scoobies) – or more importantly, the idea that Buffy will stop worrying about putting her friends in danger and count on Willow and Xander as allies in the slayage business – become a thing.
I like the Joyce-Buffy interactions, too. It’s important that the audience appreciate Joyce’s efforts to be a good mother. If she were too good at it or too bad at it, we wouldn’t identify with her or care about her.
One of the key themes of the show is that in the modern age, the slayer cannot necessarily be isolated from the world. Superheros are cool, but if all they do is open super cans of whoop-ass on their foes, they get boring. Buffy is worthy of seven seasons because she’s a slayer with family and friends, not to mention a desire to be more than just a slayer. She’s not a traditional chosen one. If the characters in her world aren’t intriguing, she becomes less intriguing.
A few other observations.
Throughout the first three seasons, Cordelia repeatedly demonstrates that she’s smarter than people give her credit for. In this episode, she uses the term hyperbole correctly, but nobody notices because she’s also being a bitch at the same time.
Also, Elizabeth Anne Allen (Amy) does a lovely job of switching between Amy and her mother. Her facial expressions, vocal inflections, and posture change. It may not be evident when watching the episode for the first time, but on repeat viewings, you can actually tell when Amy’s mother is controlling Amy’s body and when Amy is in there. (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Eliza Dushku have an opportunity to show off their skills in this area in S4, although the winner of the award for transforming into another character will forever go to Enver Gjokaj as Victor in Dollhouse.)
Finally, I like the fact that Buffy leaps into action and puts Amber out when the girl catches fire during their cheerleading tryouts. Buffy doesn’t do this because she has superpowers or because she’s the chosen one. She does this because she’s Buffy and she cares about people. She sits with Amber after putting the fire out and reassures her that she’s going to be okay. Screenwriting guru Blake Snyder would call this a “save the cat” moment, and it works. We don’t just like Buffy because her name is in the title of the show. She would be a hero even if she weren’t a superhero.
Finally, Buffy uses more than just super strength to defeat Amy’s mom. The mirror trick takes smarts.