Welcome to the Buffyverse. I have decided to begin my review of one of my all-time favorite TV Series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For a “plethora” of reasons, as we will discuss over the course of these posts; I think that BTVS is one of the sharpest, deepest, most entertaining television shows to come out of the 90s.
I am going to assume that as you read these posts, you have already seen the episodes (probably multiple times) being discussed. I will be highlighting certain plot points if I feel they are relevant to other episodes, the overall story arch, or are just wildly. I will then offer thoughts and comments; I will try to avoid just doing episode after episode of plot summary. In addition, if you are a big Buffy fan and can’t get enough, please go check out a great blog regarding the Buffyverse and its associated podcast the “Watchercast”. I have listened to a number of episodes of the “Watchercast” and found it fantastic.
Without further ado, episode one; the beginning of a series that set to prove that things are not always what they seem, and that stereotypes need to be broken. This rings true even in the opening minutes of episode one when we watch a cute schoolgirl breaking into the high school with the young guy. Cue the ominous, impending doom music. Add some dark “you’re going to die” lighting and wait for the schoolgirl to get axed. Then, Darla turns out to be the vampire and the rebel without a clue gets his neck munched on. This sets the tone for the rest of the series in that what you think the plot will zig, it often zags.
We spend the majority of this episode being introduced to the characters. I will reserve the introduction of Buffy to the very end, so let’s start talking about some of the others in the cast of characters as they appear in this episode, focusing mostly on the heroes at this point.
Joyce Summers, the mom who wants to help so badly that she can’t keep out of her own way. I picture Joyce spending every evening after dinner reading parenting self-help books and in her first scene, as she drops Buffy off at school, I would imagine when she is trying to encourage her about the new school, she is probably quoting from memory straight out of one of those books; everything except the part about not getting kicked out, that was probably improvised. Joyce is an amazing woman, moving to a new town, starting a new job and raising a teenage daughter as a single mom, all of those things would be very difficult on their own, I can’t imagine trying to do all of them at once. Through the course of the rest of the episode, we start to get a clear sense that the relationship between Buffy and her mother is tumultuous. Joyce only knows half of everything that goes on with Buffy. She doesn’t know anything about the Slayer, she only sees her daughter going out at night, grades slipping, etc. Buffy, is a poor communicator, a character flaw that we will see continually over the course of this series and that only makes the relationship between her and her mother more strained.
Immediately after we meet Joyce, Xander makes his first appearance. From word “go” it is obvious that Xander has a crush on Buffy. In this first episode we don’t get a truly accurate picture of who Xander is in my opinion. This first episode kind of made Xander look nervous, like he was trying way to hard to be cool. I think some of this could be attributed to trying to impress the new girl; I think it also was just part of Nick Brandon really feeling out the character. Instantly we are introduced to Xander’s counterpart Willow.
Willow, is a character who probably has the largest story arch over the course of the series. The Willow we see in episode one is a pale comparison to the woman we see at the end of the series. It is fascinating to watch this gradual change occur over the course of 7 years. While it is a dramatic change, It always feels very natural as you watch it progress on screen. But let’s not get caught up in the future just yet. The Willow we meet here is insecure, shy, and pretty geeky. No wonder I liked her so much.
Giles, the Librarian/ Watcher sent by the Council to watch and train Buffy. Giles has that vibe about him where he is excited to be on the front lines. I get the sense that he has spent so much time in his books that he wants to finally be involved in all of these events instead of reading about them and he is very puzzled when Buffy doesn’t share is enthusiasm for being the Slayer. I think that he is a victim of being book smart but not having any real world knowledge when it comes to being a slayer in this episode. A great example is one of the first exchanges they have as Giles becomes frustrated with Buffy’s lack of focus…
Giles and Buffy in the library as he tries to convince her to face her destiny.
Giles: He trains her. He prepares her.
Buffy: prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead. Prepare me.
Cordelia Chase, the beautiful Charisma Carpenter. Cordelia was a really fun character, we all knew Cordelia at our school. The cheerleader, the rich girl, the snob, the bitch, maybe a combination of one or more of those characteristics. The nature of Cordelia’s character allows her to have some of the best lines in the show for example, in this episode Buffy attacks Cordelia by mistake when hunting a vampire. After Buffy leaves to continue searching Cordelia turns to her friends, scoffs and says, “excuse me I have to call everyone I have ever met right now.” I think that Cordelia has a difficult time with Buffy. She wants Buffy to become part of her clique, one of the “it” girls, but she realizes early on that there is something about Buffy that is not quite right and being Cordelia she is always willing to point that out verbally.
Buffy’s life is made up of dualities most of which center around her being the slayer and being in high school. Often times the show draws correlations between the two trying to illustrate that being in high school can sometimes be just like being the slayer. One example of this involves Cordelia and Giles. In Buffy’s first conversation with Cordelia she tells her that in order to survive in this school you have to be able to identify the losers. Later at the Bronze, Giles tells Buffy that the Slayer needs to be able to identify vampires on site. This is one example of how the show draws a connection between the two lives that Buffy is living.
I think that it is good to stop here with a brief discussion of the heroes. The characters are much deeper and complex than I have discussed here but I wanted to give a quick overview of the roster. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Angel, he plays more of a role in the next episode so I am saving my introduction on him until then. I realize that here we are talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I have not talked much at all about the vampires. That is actually in keeping with the show itself. You will find that much of the series does not center on monsters or vampires at all but around the characters that I have just briefly discussed. I will spend a little time in the next post for S1E2 “The Harvest”. We will talk about the Master and his role in season 1.
Random things about this episode that I found amusing…
Principle Bob Flutie, the educator who wants to make a difference. In his first meeting with Buffy, Flutie is apparently sitting down with her to go over her “Record” that infamous document that contains every test score and every disciplinary action we have ever received. I still don’t think these things actually exist but it was fun to see the show poke fun at a student’s record as Flutie begins to tear Buffy’s record up and then decides it might better be left in tact and tries to tape it all back together.
What’s with the lockable cage in library? I don’t think that I have ever seen a high school library that had a cage in the front that looks like a prison cell.
In this first season we see some interesting wardrobe choices, from Willows Bowling ball pin on her shirt to Buffy’s chunky jewelry and bizarre nail polish. I personally was glad to see some of these things tone down a little bit over the series. I think in some instances it was a distraction, mostly because I noticed it at all. For a guy to notice things like jewelry and nail polish, you know it was standing out pretty bad.
Xander: “not much goes on in a one-starbucks town like sunnydale.”