"I wish Buffy Summers had never come to Sunnydale."
The Wish opens where the sad montage of Lover's Walk left off--Buffy, Xander and Willow lamenting their failed relationships. But while they still have one another, poor Cordelia is left all alone in her fancy bedroom setting pictures of Xander on fire and making scarily huge flames.
After getting all the sad out of her system, Cordelia puts on a bad-to-the-bone sexy outfit to wear to school on Monday, only it is a maroon leather knee-length skirt with a matching maroon leather jacket and maroon top with maroon lipstick and looks like the regrettable part of the 90s.
She's confronted by her friends, clad in pastel, who suggest she may want to turn to dorky Jonathan as a rebound. A random beefcake jock guy refers to her as "Xander Harris's cast-off." Queen Cordelia has been dethroned.
The only person on Team Cordelia is the new girl in town, Anya, who appreciates Cordelia's fashion sense and newfound hatred of men. They take to The Bronze to wear more terrible outfits together and make Xander feel like crap. Happily, it works.
Buffy sees right through Cordelia's act and decides to check up on her in the alleyway. At this exact moment, a vampire shows up and shoves Cordelia into a trash heap, just in time for Harmony and co. to come out of The Bronze and LOL at her expense.
Cordelia realizes that her fall from grace began the moment Buffy Summers showed up at Sunnydale High--the vampires, the peril, the terrible dating decisions. She confides in her new BFF that she wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale, at which point Anya's face gets all gross and she says "Done!" in a Satan voice. Whoops!
And here we begin the episode proper, everything up to this point serving as an excuse for a "what-if?" parallel universe fan fiction-esque episode. Anya is a vengeance demon who specializes in granting the wishes of scorned women, and per Cordelia's request de-Buffifies Sunnydale.
At first, Cordelia is A-OK with a Buffy-less Sunnydale High. Her old friends still worship her as queen, and hunky beefcake guy begs to take her out. But why is everybody dressed for a funeral, and why is there a town curfew? Why do they act like she's just suggested a murder-suicide pact when she wears a bright-colored dress and asks to go to The Bronze?
Turns out that despite sitting atop a Hellmouth for all of eternity, Sunnydale took a quick turn for the worse over the past three years without Buffy. Everything closes before sundown, the town center looks a little nuclear fallout-ish, and there are leaves everywhere. Worst of all, Harmony informs Cordelia that Willow and that geeky Xander guy are both dead.
Cordelia seems to accept Xander's death quickly and is more concerned that she's not allowed to have a car in a world without Buffy. But once the sun goes down, she finds both Xander and Willow in the street...only they're now vampires.
I take it that vampire Willow has many fans--so many, in fact, that she'll get her very own episode later in the season (Doppelgangland). And maybe I just don't get the appeal of vampires, but watching Alyson Hannigan be "bad" inspires more secondhand embarrassment than anything. Like, she whimpers like a puppy and licks Xander's face, and it is terrible.
Giles turns up in a blue van to rescue Cordelia. Apparently in Buffy's absence, Giles assembled a different set of Scoobies that includes himself, a random girl, oaf Larry and Oz. So in this alternate universe, vampires take over Sunnydale in three years and not only does nobody move to another city, but the only four people to take an interest in stopping them include roid rage Larry and a mute slacker?
For a fun fanfic romp, the tone of this episode is awfully bleak, from the grey color palette to the terrible slasher film dialogue; Larry says of a passed-out Cordelia, "She'd rather look good than feel alive." On the other hand, Xander and Willow have some fun going to The Bronze, which has been taken over by Nine Inch Nails fans and a traveling circus troupe. Humans dangle from the rafters in cages. And no Dingoes Ate My Baby :(
Xander and Willow head backstage to find none other than The Master, the villain from Season 1! Xander tells him that Cordelia mentioned bringing Buffy to Sunnydale, which makes The Master all nervous like.
Cordelia comes to in the library, and gives Giles a sad face when she insists that he's supposed to be Buffy's Watcher. But before he can give us some exposition on his failed Watcher hopes and dreams, Xander and Willow show up and kill Cordelia. Bet you weren't expecting to see that!
Xander and Willow debauch, and so on and so forth. Willow gets her rocks off torturing a chained Angel with matches. And Xander likes to watch.
Giles may not be Buffy's Watcher, but he's still Giles. He leaves a message for Buffy (who is in Cleveland, of course) and repairs to his books, where he finds a picture of the locket that Anya used to grant the wish. Long story short, Buffy turns up in Sunnydale with a big scary scar on her face and a chip on her shoulder.
Before we get to the slam bang finish of the episode, let me just say that The Wish does a quick and dirty job of reinforcing the importance of Buffy to Sunnydale and vice versa. First of all, it revives the long-absent idea that vampires are actually dangerous and it's important for a Slayer to exist. It goes without saying that Sunnydale without Buffy is no good on a level of basic health and safety, but by showing us what would have happened without her, we also understand the positive effect of Giles and the Scoobies on Buffy. Without them, she's surly, nihilistic, and wears ugly cargo pants. The invention of a parallel universe is kind of a cheap way of accomplishing this--proving what the series is by showing us what it is not--but it works awfully well.
So yeah, the slam bang finish. Buffy like so totally does not even have time for Giles, so she heads to kill The Master in hopes of catching the next flight back to Cleveland. She runs into Angel, and doesn't even find him dreamy. He tells her that The Master is at the grand opening of his new blood factory, at which a state of the art machine punctures a human and drains them alive. This is some icky stuff. For a somewhat goofy fan favorite, it ranks up there with the creepiest.
In the ensuing slow-mo fight scene, Xander stakes Angel, Buffy stakes Xander, Oz stakes Willow, and in the final chilling moment, The Master snaps Buffy's neck. We see all of our favorite characters annihilated one by one, plus Xander.
Luckily, Giles is still hard at work, and manages to summon Anya thru a magic spell. Just before he smashes her locket and undoes all of the wishes she granted (just go with it), they have this deeply meaningful exchange:
Anya: How do you know the other world is any better than this?
Giles: Because it has to be.
Sure enough, we cut back to Sunnydale High, where Cordelia joyfully wishes terrible things upon all of the Scoobies, with Anya powerless to grant any of them. Our Scoobies gab on the quad to jangly 90s alt, none the wiser.
Besides justifying the importance of Buffy and the Scoobies, this episode does the work of fan fiction, taking people we already know well into a foreign scenario to deepen their characterization. If Willow were a vampire, would she lick Xander's face? Without Giles, would Buffy be an unfeeling killing machine? Somehow, the reactions of these characters to their new predicament seem totally believable. A treat for the more fannish fans on Whedonesque, but also a clever way of wrapping up some of the angst from Lover's Walk--no matter what, a world in which the Scoobies are together is better, just because it has to be.