"Well. This is just... neat!"
Which leads to some character exploration that's pretty interesting, if a bit obvious. As with "Nightmares," the fantasies that manifest themselves are rooted in character. In Buffy's case, this is spelled out by the narrative, as she attempts to remake herself in the image of the kind of girl she presumes Angel must have been attracted to in his youth. In Xander's case, his soldier persona addresses his issues with masculinity, leading up to a confrontation with Larry, after which he says "It's strange, but beating up that pirate gave me a weird sense of closure." And of course, Willow has two costumes, representing her conflicting urges to break out of her shell and to retreat further into it.
This episode also notably introduces Ethan, an antagonist who proves formidable, if a bit whimsical. But his whimsy is for good reason: he worships the gods of chaos. And his connection to Giles is certainly surprising (well, it would be surprising, if I didn't already know about it), and it furthers the development of Giles as a character. At this point, Giles is probably the character who's developed and changed most since the pilot (with the possible exception of Buffy herself). And here, we get a brief hint of even more to come, which is plenty exciting.
I don't think the episode really uses Spike particularly well as a villain, although his reaction to and reveling in the chaos that goes on around him does well in establishing him as a character. His motivation here is a little hazy, though. He seems eager to take the opportunity to take out a weakened, non-Slayer Buffy, but isn't he only interested in Buffy because he wants the satisfaction of taking out another Slayer?
Also kind of problematic is Buffy herself, if only for the reason that Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn't do a particularly good job playing the 18th-century noblewoman. Among other problems, she seems to suffer from Princess Leia syndrome: an inability to decide whether she wants to commit to her poor impression of an English accent, resulting in stilted American with a weird aftertaste of an English cadence. Gellar plays Buffy at a consistently excellent level, but her attempts to branch out, as we see here, aren't as consistent.
So overall, Halloween has a few problems, but not enough to keep it from being a really fun episode, and a breath of fresh air after the two previous episodes. And we even get a little bit more Oz.
- This episode features the first appearance of Larry, a minor character we'll see again.
- It's interesting that Oz keeps seeing Willow, but thus far it's only ever been while she's in costume: In Inca Mummy Girl as an eskimo, and here as a rocker babe" (as the script calls it). Also, he bumps into her while she's wearing her ghost costume, and they even speak to one another, but he doesn't know it's her.
- I wonder if Ethan's message, "be seeing you," is an intentional reference to the Prisoner. The typeface of the shop logo certainly seems reminiscent of the design aesthetic of The Village. If it is a reference, I have no idea what it might signify. If anything.