“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” had already long established itself as a groundbreaking TV classic before “The Wish” aired as the ninth episode of the third season, debuting in December 1998.
But “The Wish” was among the episodes of the series that helped distinguish “Buffy” as more than that show with an unlikely name.
During the first season, viewers of Joss Whedon’s series about a teenage girl who reluctantly becomes the foe of vampires, demons and other monsters were treated to imaginative and funny but somewhat conventional “monster of the week” episodes. “Prophecy Girl,” the final episode of the first season, elevated the show as Buffy put an end to the Master with the help of her friends.
In “The Wish,” written by Marti Noxon, “Buffy” returns to elements from that first season but gives them an alternate reality twist.
The unlikely couple of Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) and Xander (Nicholas Brendon) has just ended when Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Xander kissed in a moment of crisis. Cordelia, who often transcended her petty attitudes with heroism, gives into those baser instincts here and unknowingly falls in with new student Anya (Emma Caulfield), a vengeance demon who entices her into making a wish. That wish happens to be that Buffy had never come to Sunnydale.
The result? Sunnydale is controlled by vampires. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and a small group of non-super-powered demon fighters try to take on the vampires, but they’re outgunned by the Master and his minions, including vampiric versions of Xander and Willow.
The plot is nicely twisty – we think Cordelia will be key to reversing the alternate reality but, surprise, she gets killed – and full of foreshadowing, intentional or otherwise, of what’s to come: Vampire Willow returns in a later episode, of course, and Willow herself makes some momentous moves of her own as the series continues.
The Master (Mark Metcalf of “Animal House” fame) is lip-smackingly fun here.
It’s fun to spot the connections between “Buffy” and the cheerleading movie “Bring it On.” Here, Nicole Bilderback, one of the snooty cheerleaders in the movie, is a Cordelia/Harmony hanger-on.
Larry Bagby III, who’s made appearances as classmate Larry, gets to be one of the good guys in GIles’ Buffy-less Scooby Gang.
Caulfield returns as Anya, of course, later in the series. And we loved her.