Janes (a True Stan) and Nerdy Spice (a New Fan) are watching all of Buffy together and comparing notes.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Welcome to the Hellmouth”
In this episode we meet Buffy Summers, a Normal Teenaged Girl with Flippy Hair and Barrettes who has just moved to Sunnydale–because she burned down the gym at her last school and got kicked out. Unfortunately, Sunnydale is majorly infested with vampires. Which is coincidentally why Buffy got kicked out, because she’s actually a vampire slayer, which her clueless mother hasn’t figured out even though Buffy basically gives it away in every conversation (more on that later). Buffy meets Xander, a lovestruck skateboarding dweeb; Willow, an eager nerd who has an inexplicable crush on Xander; Jesse, Xander’s creepy gross friend; Cordelia, the mean and popular jerk; and Giles, the librarian. Only it turns out Giles already totally knows about how Buffy is the One Girl In A Generation with the skill and strength to fight vampires.
Buffy tries to act like a normal kid for a hot second, but then when a dead body is found in a locker, she realizes she can’t. Unfortunately, her realization is overheard by Xander, who is completely incapable of having chill. Anyway, then she meets a guy named Angel, who says he’s a friend and warns her that she’s standing on a hellmouth and “the harvest is coming.” But Buffy, intent on normalcy, goes to meet Cordelia at the club, the Bronze, where Creepy Giles shows up and distracts Buffy just in time for Willow to brilliantly decide to follow a strange man out of the club in the middle of the night and straight into the cemetery, according to Buffy’s advice to “seize the day.”
Unfortunately, the man is actually a vampire who’s looking to reap Willow for that harvest Angel mentioned. For her contribution to the harvest, another vampire, Darla, picks up Jesse, who, frankly, I’d be happy to see drained of all his blood. Underground, a creepy man with a very pasty face is waiting for his food. Unfortunately for them, Buffy shows up (with a fairly useless Xander in tow) before they can eat Willow. She does pretty well against Darla but then this other vampire guy, Luke, pops out and throws her into a sarcophagus, just as vampires surround Willow and Xander and Jesse as they try to escape. Yikes! The episode ends with Luke leaning over Buffy, ready to eat her, and a big “TO BE CONTINUED” card. Hee! They really leaned in to this.
Notes from a New Fan:
- So I totally already knew that “Into every generation a Slayer is born,” but I had NO IDEA the voiceover was so… high-pitched. What?! So funny!
- I knew I was going to dislike Xander because he’s known as a “Nice Guy,” but I didn’t realize how much I would hate him so fast. Like literally the moment he showed up on screen my visceral reaction to everything he did was, “Shut up Xander.”
- Shut up Xander.
- I like Cordelia way better than I thought I would. She has great boundaries with creepy guys! All the other women on this show could really learn from her–even badass Buffy! I love when Jesse creeps on her and she just says no and isn’t afraid to be “rude” about it. (I don’t love how the show casts this as something only a really not-nice person would do, but, hey… it’s the 90s.) [Cordelia’s sweeping rejection of Jesse is supposed to be further evidence of her meanness, but he’s legit just sexually harassing her. #TeamCordelia. –Janes]
- Giles is CREEPY AF. He stands behind Buffy at this club and whispers in her ear about how the other people in the club have no idea what’s going on, which first of all, step about three feet away from Buffy’s butt, OK Giles? And second of all, this seems oddly similar to a later scene, very popular in fanvideos, where Spike basically does the exact same thing, except with more, umm, thrusting. So it’s definitely creepy. Dislike.
- The parts with the vampires underground intoning that “The sleeper will wake” and arguing about who will bring sacrifices to whom, is HILARIOUS. It’s just so, like, “Oh, is this scenery? Excuse me while I GNAW IT TO BITS.” Super low production values and ridiculous dialogue. But that’s what sci-fi and fantasy was back then! And Buffy looked at that genre and decided to make it intelligent within its constraints. Pretty fucking cool, actually. Even as you’re laughing hysterically at its cheesiness.
- Angel’s voice is so surprisingly… nasal. I expected him to be kind of throaty, like Ryan Gosling. NOPE.
- Buffy’s lip liner and nail polish are just So Very Nineties. But I love that she goes to the club in an Oxford buttondown, like, what?! Do you think this is a job interview? And the weirdest part is that she’s trying on perfectly normal clubbing clothes at home in an earlier scene, unclear why she eventually decides to dress like a paralegal when she finally leaves. [And like, slacks:
- Buffy tells Giles he needs a personality because he wants to be at home with a book. Um, rude!
- I wonder if the whole thing where Buffy has to be able to sense vampires with her psychic Slayer powers is going to continue, or if it was just one of those throwaway things people put into pilots and then forget about when it doesn’t really fit with the show.
- Cordelia’s version of “What’s your damage” is “What is your childhood trauma?” Classy.
- I think my favorite part of this episode was thinking about how Willow and Xander must see Buffy: this totally normal girl, maybe a little vapid even, who shows up at school, befriends them, and then casually saves them from a few vampires. How bad-ass is that? Now that I’ve written it, I’m afraid that “Buffy is a badass” is a very cliched reason to like this show. But also a good one. Right?
Notes from a True Stan:
- OMG I always forget about how embarrassing the little explainer at the beginning is, right down to that raspy-voiced narrator, who sounds like he narrated every single WB promo for all of the 90s. [What? I love it! The best part is that narrator’s voice is like octaves above most male announcers’ voices. –Nerdy Spice]
- The teaser is a perfect thesis statement for the show. It traffics in every cheesy horror trope, from the apparently helpless blonde girl to the “Did you hear a noise?”, and then turns it on its head. It’s like a mini-Cabin in the Woods.
- They are such babies!!
- Willow’s “Sears” outfit is actually cute! It looks like something that Blair Waldorf might wear (she was weirdly obsessed with white tights), except nothing fits correctly.
- Giles is such a big creep at the beginning! I know the world is in peril, but seriously, maybe you could get out of this teenage girl’s personal space for a hot second. [YES! I didn’t even catch this one! –Nerdy Spice]
- But in all seriousness, it was really clever to give Buffy a friendly patriarchal force to rebel against. Giles isn’t a villain (at least not after his creepiness in these first couple of episodes), and he’s not trying to oppress her, but he represents all of the stuffy traditions that the uber-modern Buffy rejects for herself. It’s what makes this show an actual conversation about feminism, rather than just a girl-power, “blonde girl fights bad men” kind of show.
- You know who else is a big creep at the beginning? Angel. Sure, the age difference is always problematic, but here he’s like the epitome of the dark, brooding, cryptic love interest. Way too of an Edward at this point.
- There’s a lot more satire of California New Age-y culture than I remember. Principal Flutie’s “we’re a different kind of school,” Joyce talking about “the dangers of over-nurturing,” the kids’ names–Aphrodesia, Aura, and Blue.
- The tonal shifts are pretty wild in these first couple of episodes, like when “Aura” finds a dead guy in her locker right after using hilarious “hip” 90s slang like “N’est! Pas!” (I was a kid in the 90s, and I don’t remember us speaking French quite as much.) This is obviously the point of the show, but I feel like these tonal shifts are much smoother as the show progresses.
- Seriously, how did Giles not know Xander was in the library?? He was like, three feet away from him in the stacks.
- Buffy identifying a vampire through fashion is such a Legally Blonde perm moment. Yay, 90s girly feminism!
- The fight choreography got so much better later on. Buffy and Darla don’t even look like they’re touching each other, and then Luke just sort of throws Buffy around.
- Whenever I rewatch the first season (which isn’t often, actually), I always wonder whether I would have kept watching if the pilot was the first episode I ever saw. I started watching in the fifth season, when the writers had calmed down on the camp and generally tightened things up. I think the answer might be–no? But that would have been a shame, even if the show hadn’t gotten a lot better in later seasons. The first season still has subversive themes, witty dialogue, and–it’s just fun.
Season 1, Episode 2 “The Harvest”
Buffy barely gets out of her scrape with Luke, thanks to the cross necklace that Angel gave her. She saves Willow and Xander from the vampires, but Darla runs off with Jesse and brings him to the Master. The Master finds out about Buffy’s super-strength from Luke, and keeps Jesse around as bait. The gang has trouble finding where the vampires live, so Willow hacks into the town’s mainframe (because all smart, nerdy teenagers are also expert hackers, I guess). Buffy goes down to the sewers to save Jesse, and Xander, big dumb idiot that he is, secretly tags along because he feels like “less than a man,” and doesn’t even bother to bring a weapon. Useless.
Anyway, they find Jesse, but it turns out that he’s been turned into a vampire and has led them straight into a trap, which they escape through a convenient sewer grate. RIP Jesse, I guess. There’s only room for one manbaby in this town.
Angel warns Buffy that she needs to stop the “Harvest.” Giles finds out through his ever-trusty “research” that the Master will appoint a vessel, Luke, to eat a bunch of humans and give the Master the strength to break out of that weird forcefield that surrounds his cave and open the Hellmouth. Luke, Darla, and co. go to the Bronze, but Buffy is late because she gets grounded. By the time she gets there, Luke has already killed a few people and is holding everyone else hostage. Buffy gets in right in time to save Cordelia, and gets into an epic fight with Luke. But this time, she’s on her game. The second he starts to gain the upper hand, she tricks him by breaking the window and pretending that the sun has risen, then she stakes him. Credit shot!
By the end of the two-hour pilot, the Scooby Gang has formed. Buffy is our girly, resourceful hero, Giles does research, Willow contributes with her hacking skills, and Xander is useless. We finish off with Giles explaining that the Hellmouth will conveniently draw lots of different types of nasties to Sunnydale, the kids being glib, and Giles delivering the iconic line “The Earth is doomed.”
Notes from a New Fan:
- I feel like all these vampires would have more success in their lives if they didn’t spend so long leaning over their prey with their mouths open. Just bite down already! Stop giving people a chance to fight back!
- Janes tells me that Buffy is going to be way better at fighting later. Which is good because it doesn’t seem like it was that hard for this vampire to almost get the better of her. [Yeah, I can never decide whether it’s an actual inconsistency or whether she just learns to “hone.” Maybe a little bit of both? We’ll see what you think! -Janes]
- Giles remains very creepy. He leans super duper way too close into Willow while she’s busy hacking and tells her to “wrest information from that dread machine.”
- Omg it drives me so nuts that Xander comes uninvited on Buffy’s Slayer mission. WHAT IS HE THINKING? “I have a penis, so probably this woman who has a literally once-in-a-generation superpower needs my help?” Shut up, Xander. And he complains to her about how her superpower makes him feel “inadequate” and “less than a man”? YOU ARE A MAN. SHE IS A SLAYER. UGHHHH.
- AND, he turns on his flashlight in the vampire tunnel. What is actually wrong with this guy?
- Also (yeah I’m still on Xander) he complains that he’s going to help by “standing around like an idiot,” which literally would be so much better than what he actually does.
- The Angel/Buffy banter is… not exactly Pacey/Joey level. Partly because every time David Boreanaz makes a joke it falls like a ruined souffle. [Aw. Yeah. I love David Boreanaz, but he is such a beautiful blank slate. -Janes]
- How random is it that Cordelia and her friend are taking a programming class? In 1997? And Willow tricking them by telling them the “Del” button means “Deliver,” for “Save,” is a pretty solid 1997 computer joke.
- This show is so DARK. And I don’t mean that it’s bleak, it’s like I literally don’t know what I’m seeing sometimes. It’s like that one episode of Game of Thrones.
- At one point, Buffy is trying to shut a really heavy door but then she can only do it with Xander’s help. WHAT? Isn’t she once-in-a-generation level strong? How is Xander going to help with anything?
- This guy all the vampires call “The Master” is REALLY ugly. Do you think he got to be the big boss because he had the jankiest nostrils? Or is it more like his nostrils got jankier because he was the big boss?
- I think Buffy’s mom basically articulates the genius of this show: “Everything is life-or-death when you’re a sixteen-year-old girl.” And the show pairs actual life-or-death things with Buffy’s coming-of-age in (what I expect to be) a sensitive way.
- On the other hand Buffy’s mom also says, “The tapes all say I should get used to saying no.” And when you’re telling your teenager that you’re parenting her via an audiocassette… you’re in big trouble.
- I love Buffy’s bad-ass leather jacket. She’s so Veronica Mars (or rather, I suppose Veronica is so Buffy).
Notes from a True Stan:
- On this rewatch, I’m more confused than ever about this show’s relationship with religion. Giles literally calls religion “popular mythology,” and yet crosses still repel vampires. What does a cross mean if Jesus isn’t real? And Luke put on his best creepy evangelist voice to speechify about “demons walking the earth” and finished off with an “amen.” So, is the Master supposed to be their Jesus? I wonder whether this actually means anything, or whether Joss just kept the cross thing because he’s consciously trafficking in all of the cheesy vampire tropes.
- Speaking of which, I love when Buffy says the vampires could have just zoomed away, and then Xander asks, “They can fly?” Buffy: “They can drive.” Hee!
- “I’m inadequate, that’s fine. I’m less than a man.” UGH. Xander is the WORST.
- That being said, I love that the show resists the usual arc for a character like Xander–he says he feels inadequate, and then he’s given the opportunity to be really useful and unexpectedly saves the day. But that never happens. Instead, he just sort of tags along, stupidly flashes his flashlight, and is generally useless. Then, even when he gets his moment–killing vampire-Jesse–he does it totally by accident. Sad as it is, daring to write a completely useless white man who never gets to be anything but useless is kind of revolutionary. He’s like a gender-flipped Kate Austen.
- Uh, yeah, remember when Buffy could sort of fly? Her powers in the first season are wildly inconsistent. The jumping-over-the-gate moment is very Jessica Jones, and literally never happens again. [Oh really?! I’m kind of disappointed! -Nerdy Spice]
- AND Buffy says that garlic repels vampires?? That is definitely never a thing after this episode.
- Actually, I just remembered it comes up like twice more in the series, but we never find out what garlic actually does to vampires–they just sort of hang it when they’re doing those uninvitation spells. How have I never thought about this?
- It’s kind of hilarious how little Willow cares that Jesse is dead. (I mean, same.) And, in keeping with our theme, they never mention Jesse after this episode, even though they’ve supposedly been friends their whole lives.
- I feel like the vamp nails are emblematic of the tonal issues they were still hammering out this season. Right around the time those nails go the way of garlic and Jesse, the show starts to strikes the right balance between camp and seriousness.
- A lot of things change after this pilot–the tone, bits of mythology, Buffy’s degree of blondeness–but they already have a pretty great handle on the characters. Buffy wins her first big fight with her resourcefulness and adaptability as much as her super-strength, which is key to the show’s feminist argument. Willow is insecure, Xander is useless, Giles is a friendly form of the patriarchy. Even Angel, who is basically a cipher, admits to his cowardice, which ends up being the defining obstacle that he needs to overcome, both in Buffy and Angel. The show may not have sprung fully formed from Joss’ head, Athena-style, but the characters did.
Season 1, Episode 3 “The Witch”
Buffy decides to really lean into the Normal Teenager thing by trying out for the cheerleading squad. Unfortunately, during the tryouts, one girl’s hands burst into flames. Then another collapses during chem lab with her mouth sewn shut, and Cordelia’s car goes out of control during her driving test. There be magic afoot!
One shy girl named Amy, clearly under her overbearing mother’s thumb and pretty clearly not head cheerleader material, sort of befriends Buffy. But Buffy–with her new teammates, Willow and Xander–soon start to suspect that Amy might be casting spells to get herself on the squad and get her mom off her back. So she gets some hair off Amy’s brush–only unfortunately, she’s completely obvious about it, and before you know it, Buffy too is under a spell that turns her weirdly perky, and then causes her to throw the head cheerleader into the wall. Giles uses his Watcher wisdom to divine that Buffy is under a Bloodstone Vengeance Spell (I mean, duh, that was obvious) and is going to die in a few hours if they don’t break the spell.
So they decide to break into Amy’s house to get her spellbook–only it turns out that Amy is not Amy, but her mother in Amy’s body! She did a body-switching spell! That actually surprised me. Once Buffy figures this out, Amy (in her mom’s body) tells her everything and brings them to the attic where they find a bunch of cheerleader voodoo dolls. Giles finds the spellbook and brings a nearly unconscious Buffy to the chem lab to get some eye of newt to break the spell (just go with it).
Unfortunately, Amy’s-mom-in-Amy’s-body is also at the high school cheering at a football game. Also unfortunately, she totally knows when her daughter starts messing with her magic, and shows up at the chem lab just as Giles is trying to cure Buffy by yelling “RELEASE” at the top of his lungs (yeah, I don’t know). They have a big fight, and, of course, just as Amy’s mom is about to win, Buffy pops up and announces that she feels better–great moment. Then she wins the fight by turning Amy’s mom’s curse back on her (we learn later that she’s been trapped inside a trophy in the school trophy case).
Then, five minutes later, Xander shows up and tackles Amy thinking that she’s the evil witch. It’s actually kind of funny. Much as I love to rage at all of his scenes. There’s also a subplot where Xander tries to ask Buffy out, and doesn’t succeed. It is annoying, as I’m guessing all Xander’s subplots are going to be.
Notes from a New Fan:
- Ahhh, the Monstrous Mom Living Through Her Daughter trope. Some things really are best left in the 90s. [Yeah, remember when that mom hired a hitman to get her daughter on the cheerleading squad back in the 90s, and all of pop culture decided that cheerleading was like, a magic portal to feminine evil? So glad that’s a thing of the past. -Janes]
- Unlike Buffy’s perky half-back, which is so cute.
- Xander decides to “be a man” and ask Buffy out. Gender essentialism aside, he at least gets to the point faster than most Nice Guys on TV.
- Xander insists on taking Buffy to a “safe house” so she won’t be attacked by the cheerleading witch? Shut up, Xander. She is A G.D. SLAYER.
- He also creeps on the cheerleaders, crooning, “Ooh, stretchy.” GROSS. SHUT UP XANDER.
- Buffy is still SO BAD at being stealth. A toddler could have caught on to her taking the strand of hair out of Amy’s backpack! And then she tells her mom that she can’t understand “being a vampire slayer…” and then corrects herself to “it’s a long story.”
- I love how ill-equipped Buffy’s mom is for all of this. You can tell she’s spent years just being like, “Welp, teenagers are weird,” so when Buffy legit says shit like “I’m a vampire slayer,” she’s just as confused as when Buffy talks about cheerleading or whatever.
- How far apart in age do you think Amy and her mom are in real life? Maybe 15 years?
- I love how Amy’s mom can choke Xander from afar with her magic, but she needs a fire extinguisher axe to get in a locked door.
- Willow’s smile when Buffy calls Xander “one of the girls” is just a little too wide. Hee.
Notes from a True Stan:
- A bubbling cauldron! A black cat! Is this the campiest Buffy episode of all time, or does “Bad Eggs” edge it out?
- But seriously, what kind of magic is Amy’s mom doing?? It bears no resemblance to the magic that we see later on. [But her eyes get black just like Evil Willow, which I’m familiar with from How I Met Your Mother! -Nerdy Spice]
- I still don’t understand how Buffy doesn’t make the cheerleading squad outright. We see her do crazy gymnastics stuff all the time! Are there really that many high school girls who are better at gymnastics and more coordinated than a Slayer?
- Knowing that Amy is actually Amy’s mom the whole time makes her lines about her mother so much funnier. “[My mom] put herself through cosmetology school,” she says wondrously. “Bought me everything I ever wanted, and never once gained a single pound.” Hee.
- It’s cute that Buffy wants to spend more quality time with her mom! It’s funny that Joss didn’t want to write Buffy’s parents, because Joyce is such a well-written mom. So attentive, but so oblivious and bad at communicating with her daughter that she could almost pass as neglectful.
- Wait a minute, Xander went to all the trouble to check out witchy books from the library to look at “semi-nude engravings”?? It was 1997! The internet was a thing by then!
- Okay, are we really supposed to believe that Buffy doesn’t know that Xander likes her? He gave her a bracelet that says, “Yours Always”! He’s almost as bad at hiding his crush as Buffy is at hiding her secret identity. [I think maybe she’s pretending not to know so she can reject him without rejecting him? -Nerdy Spice]
- It’s pretty big of Buffy to empathize with Amy becoming a witch to “survive her mother” when she’s about to die in two hours.
- Okay, I feel sorry for Amy and everything, but they really don’t have time to listen to a long story about your childhood trauma right now! Jeez.
- A mirror blocks the spell? It’s that easy? Too bad they didn’t get that memo in season six.
- Love the scene where Xander grabs Amy after the whole battle is over! Once again, the show is aware of his uselessness.
- This episode is pretty cheesy, not to mention a little sexist, but I actually love the ending. What a horrifying punishment!