Monday 3 February 2014

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season One

As I've mentioned before, I have spent the last seventeen years inexcusably ignorant of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, despite being a nerdy teenager at the time it was originally aired. I saw a few episodes, and listened to my friends rave about it, but it was never a show I went out of my way to watch. Even when I'd been introduced to Joss Whedon's other work: Firefly, Dollhouse, Doctor Horrible and The Avengers, Buffy didn't really appeal. I've never been a big fan of vampires. Yet slowly I was won over, and eventually borrowed the boxset from my best friend. I wasn't convinced right away, but I've learned from experience that Joss Whedon's series tend to start grabbing my attention from round about the third episode: in this case, the episode with the witch cheerleader, who turns out to be the cheerleader's mother who's done a body-swap with her daughter, trying to relive her glory days. 

I confess, I'm not a huge fan of the "chosen one" trope, and am still a bit confused about how and why Buffy is the designated Slayer: what is so special about her, that no one else can do the job? Several other characters have been able to effectively wield a pointy stick. Is she naturally abnormally strong, abnormally skilled? She is an awesome fighter, sure enough, but it's clear that she does a lot of rigorous physical training to get that way. When we first meet Buffy, new student at a new school, she is already well aware of her destiny before she ever met Giles, or any other "Watcher" to tell her what she needs to be doing. How did she discover this? What would happen if someone else wanted to battle vampires, without being a "chosen one?" Who chose Buffy and how did they let her know? These are the things that irritate my brain, but for the most part I just put this aside and enjoy the show. And by this point, yes I am enjoying it very much. There is an overriding story arc about one particularly powerful vampire known as The Master (no, he is not nor has he ever been  a Time Lord) and among the monster-of-the-week stories, series one builds up towards a prophesied confrontation between the newly-restored Master and the Slayer.

But for me, at least in series one, it's not the vampire-slaying stories that interest me so much as how the 
events affect the characters. Buffy, her classmates Willow and Xander and their school librarian by day, Watcher by night, Rupert Giles, make an excellent team. I like Buffy a lot more than I expected: she is very human, flawed, yet likable, tough but vulnerable. She is, in short, a sixteen-year-old girl, but one with a huge responsibility. Willow is simply adorable, and her unrequited love for Xander is rather heartrending, because he sees her as just a friend, someone who's been there so long he's kind of forgotten she's a girl. I see parallels to Ron and Hermione in their friendship, possibly because I'm reading
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the same time as watching Buffy. But I think Willow can do much better than Xander.*

Xander is far too interested in Buffy, and at times displays unattractive signs of "nice guy syndrome,"
but Buffy has eyes only for Angel - who, as a vampire, is her sworn enemy. Oh, teenage romance woes, how I don't miss you! I knew about the Buffy/Angel love story from the start, and did not relish it, yet it was well done. Yes, Angel can be a bit brooding and introspective, but at least he doesn't sparkle. This is more than the standard teen romance between a human girl and an Interchangeable Magical Boyfriend Creature, because Buffy's purpose is to destroy ALL the vampires, adding a deeper level of conflict. It's not the greatest love story of all time, but it's moving and handled well.

I often enjoy the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes more than the vampires themselves: let's face it, The Master is an incredibly cheesy villain, and I found him rather irritating - an over-acting Voldemort. Still, the final episode's confrontation was very satisfying; it was an emotional roller-coaster of an episode. After spending eleven episodes getting to know Buffy, experiencing her highs and lows, her vampire-slaying and her longing for a normal life, who could fail to be affected by her overhearing the terrible prophesy. "I'm sixteen years old. I don't want to die." 

Favourite episodes:

3. "The Witch" - the one with the body-switching cheerleader mom. Episode 3: the one where I started really getting into the series.
6. "The Pack." - The one where Xander and some school bullies get possessed by hyenas and the bullies eat the school principal. This series suddenly took a very dark turn.
8. "I Robot, You Jane." - The one where Willow uploads a demon onto the internet. Hilariously dated, so bad it's good.
9. "The Puppet Show." ARRGH VENTRILOQUIST DUMMY NO! In which Joss Whedon takes a classic horror trope and turns it on its head, playing with all our expectations. Not for the last time.
10. "Nightmares." In which everyone's worst fears and nightmares come to life. I cried.
11. "Out of Mind, Out of Sight." The one with the invisible girl. 

*Interesting that I'm having these thoughts right now. The internet tells me today that J. K. Rowling now wishes she'd paired Harry and Hermione together, that Ron and Hermione wouldn't actually have been good for each other. Perhaps my comparison is not so mad after all...


  1. #9, my first episode of Buffy as a small person, was quite possibly where my long-time and nausea-inducingly strong phobia of ventriloquist dummies comes from. I can't even see one without wanting to throw up, run away, or both. The way they move, the way their jaws go up and down, the whole shebang. Even writing about it has just brought on a physical shudder of horror. Aaaaand that's why I haven't rewatched any of Buffy yet, despite having loved the rest of it (the Buffy vs Dracula episode was a particular favourite) and my sister having ALL THE BUFFY.

    1. Yeah, I kinda screamed and whimpered through the beginning of that episode, but I did like the plot twist. Say what you like about Joss Whedon, but at least he's not predictable. At least in this point in the series there are several episode that are stand-alones and can be skipped, and this is one of them. Ventriloquists' dummies are horrible (also nutcracker dolls; again, it's the jaw that moves when the rest of the head is still. Yeurk.)

      I just finished season two this evening, and haven't seen the Buffy vs Dracula episode yet, but I look forward to it. I've a vague awareness of a couple of plot points of the series but am mostly ignorant.


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