Welcome to the Hellmouth. You guys, I can’t tell you how happy I am that Lucy Snowe and I will be rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with you. We’ll be trading off the recapping duties to share in the joy, but I won the rock-paper-scissors off, so I get to kick off this party.
First, let me blow your mind a little as I point out that episode 1 of B:TVS aired on March 10, 1997, almost 14 years ago. 14 years. I saw someone comment on IO9 the other day that, like, maybe Buffy was like, groundbreaking or something once, but they just find the show boring and irrelevant now. And to that commenter I have to say: you’ll get yours, buddy. You’ll get yours.
Wait, what I am supposed to be doing here? Oh, yeah. Let’s talk about the show.
Teenage high school supernatural romance shows were Not a Thing back in 1997, so the early episodes all open with a message to ground the viewer in the premise of the show. Over close-ups of Sunnydale Cemetery, we hear these words intoned:
In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.
So as we start the rewatch, the first thing I do is mime sticking my fingers down my throat: I hate the voice over intro so much. So much. It’ll be gone sometime in season 2, but Generic Male Announcer Voice letting me know that “˜Into every generation a slayer is born”¦” really bugs the every living bejezus out of me. There is so much about the show that remains fresh and relevant, but the voice over, like so many of the outfits, carbon-date the show terribly.
The show starts out playing with one of the horror movie tropes it’ll toy with over it’s seven season run. Of the two kids breaking into Sunnydale High, it’s the boy we’re supposed to be afraid of ““ he’s the one we’ve been taught is up to no good. But it’s the skinny blonde in the Catholic school uniform, the one asking if they’re alone, startling around at sounds who is the real predator. As soon as the boy confirms they’re all alone, the blonde’s beautiful face twists and contorts into something monstrous ““ say hello to Darla. She’s a vampire and you’re gonna be seeing a lot of her. Her boyfriend? Well, he’s toast.
Buffy is asleep at home, in a room strewn with half-unpacked moving boxes and clothes she hasn’t put away. She’s having bad dreams ““ cemeteries and monsters, Shiva, a cave underground, and shadowy figures. She startles awake and we hear her mother calling to her offscreen ““ “You don’t want to be late for your first day of school!’
So, here’s Buffy. She’s blonde (but will get blonder), thin (and will get thinner), pretty ““ she’s the cheerleader stereotype, the blonde that gets killed when she wanders down a dark alley in a horror movie. And she’s the Slayer. We know that the move was her fault because her mother reminds her of it as she’s dropping Buffy off at school.
Just in time for Xander Harris to see her. Everyone on the show is introduced in broad strokes ““ he is our slightly cool, slightly clutchy, awkward teenage boy, in this case shown skateboarding to school and slamming himself into a bar when he gets distracted by the hot new girl getting out of her mother’s car. Xander will never put a foot on a skateboard again. Hey, there’s two people behind him coming to school on rollerblades! Oh, the late 90s. Let’s only revisit you in celluloid form.
If Sunnydale High School looks familiar to you, it might be because you’ve seen it in Beverly Hills 90210 1 and 2, She’s All That, Medium, The Hot Chick, Bring It On, Wild Things 3, or Less Than Zero. I don’t want to call Torrance High School (Sunnydale’s real name) easy, but it gets around, if you know what I mean.
We get some more exposition about Buffy’s past as she’s welcomed to the school by Principal Flootie in his office, as he symbolically tears up her permanent record while giving the “˜clean slate’ speech. And then he actually reads the thing and begins taping it back together. Burning down your last high school’s gymnasium does seem to mark you as a bad seed, even if the gym was full of vampi — I mean, asbestos.
Buffy manages to crash right into Xander (Sports bra and a silk shirt?! Who is dressing the extras?) on her way out of Flootie’s office, spilling introductions and the contents of her backpack, including a stake, which Xander picks up after Buffy walks away.
Cordelia (Green velvet pants!) does something uncharacteristically generous in her introduction, sharing her textbook with Buffy in class. Cordelia is our other pretty cheerleader, dark haired and bitchy to Buffy’s blonde earnestness. She already knows everything there is to know about Buffy, at least everything that’s important, like Buffy having lived in LA before moving to the backwater burb of Sunnydale. She’s sure they’ll be the best of friends and be pushing around the high school nerd squad in no time at all. They can talk about it later at The Bronze, the one and only hangout out in this one-horse town.
Anthony Stewart Head was known in the United States for being the hot neighbor in a series of Taster’s Choice commercials. When he first popped on screen when I watched the show originally, I actually yelled out “˜It’s the Taster’s Choice guy’. I’m so sorry, Mr. Head. I’m now aware that you’re a talented actor and singer, and you once played Frankenfurter, but I mostly appreciated how older-guy hot you were for a long time. Here, he’s Mr. Giles, the new school librarian lurking ominously in the empty library. Buffy just wants some textbooks, but he knows what she’s really after, and slams a different book on the counter between them ““ Vampyres. It’s the same book that was in her dreams last night ““ she backs away protesting and then fleas the library.
The first episode of the show is knocking out the character introductions quickly ““ we meet Willow next, when Buffy asks to eat lunch with her in order to finagle some tutoring. Willow is nervous and flustered and acutely aware of her place in the high school social structure, which is at the bottom. Buffy could be part of Cordelia’s popular crowd, but she seems uninterested or unconcerned about it. I’m revealing no spoilers by saying these two girls will be best friends, and this first meeting is sweet and genuine. The girls are joined quickly by Jesse and Xander. We’re lead to believe through the easy banter that develops that this will be our new coresome, but the laws of teenage-tv mandate an uneven three-some, so one of these things will not be like the others by the end of the episode.
Lunch is interrupted by the news that a body has been found in the girl’s locker room, stuffed in a locker, something that Buffy is disturbingly interested in. She’s not like the other girls, no matter how hard she tries, and she can’t kick her instincts. When she breaks into the crime scene to investigate herself, she’s disappointed to find two small bite marks on the corpse’s neck.
Buffy storms off to the library to confront Giles, convinced he’s setting her up for something. She did not sign up for this. She wanted a normal life, with normal problems
(“It’s my first day! I was afraid I was going to have last month’s hair!”), not creeping around graveyards and fighting for her life all the time. Giles tries to convince her there’s a Big Picture reason she’s in Sunnydale, at this particular time, but she won’t hear it. But Xander does. He’s listening in the stacks. Why is Xander voluntarily in the stacks? This mystery will never be solved.
Somewhere underground, a vampire is praying.
Dead body in a locker or not, Buffy is going to try and have an average teenage experience, and we next see her trying to pick the outfit she’ll wear to the Bronze. Buffy settles on office-casual after rejecting slut and little house on the prairie as her sartorial choices. Her mother gets in another (well meant) dig at their new life in Sunnydale before Buffy sets out of the night.
Look, girls, let’s talk about this next scene a bit, ok? I know a certain vampire book-and-movie series is trying to convince you that being stalked through dark alleys is super romantic and means a guy is really into you, but should you ever find yourself in a similar, please call the cops, or handle it like Buffy does; hide from your stalker by performing a handstand on an overhead pipe and knock your stalker to the ground after he walks under you. And don’t let him up until he can convince you he’s not going to hurt you. But don’t trust him too much. Guys who stalk you are pretty suspect.
This is how you do it, teenage icons.
The kick you down, take no crap, suspicious approach to your presence is how we meet Angel. He seems to know who Buffy is and drops a warning about “˜The Harvest’, as well as a gift of a silver cross necklace.
At the Bronze, Buffy is awkward and alone, new girl in a new town, who spares a few minutes to talk to Willow again and drop some dating advice, until Giles’s sore-thumb appearance draws her away. While Giles alternately bitches about Buffy shirking her slaying duties and tries to teach her how to mystically hone in on vampires, Buffy swiftly picks one out of the crowd based on his outfit, which was last current a decade ago. This is our girl. She’s going to do things her way.
Carbon-dated vampire singles Willow out and gets her out of the Bronze, while Buffy loses their trail after accidentally mistaking Cordelia for a vampire and attempting to stake her. (“Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met, right now.”)
Out on the street, Buffy frantically looks for Willow and only finds Xander, who thinks she’s a crackpot who thinks she’s a superhero. Except that she really is a superhero and Willow will really end up dead if Xander doesn’t help her out. They run off towards the cemetery.
Willow has allowed herself to get talked into poking around one of the family crypts by her date, though she seems to be uncomfortable enough to try and leave. But Darla is suddenly there, blocking the way. And she’s brought Jesse too ““ who is bleeding from the neck. “I got hungry,” Darla says with a shrug and a laugh. Willow starts screaming when Darla’s face vamps out.
But suddenly Buffy and Xander are in the doorway. Buffy can’t seem to turn around without running into someone who knows who she is, but these two vampires haven’t a clue. They don’t even make a wild guess ““ she’s their boogeyman, and no one has bothered to tell them about her. Buffy dusts Willow’s non-date without effort and gets down to the business of trading blows with Darla, giving Xander and the others a chance to get away. It looks like she’s going to take Darla out too when she’s grabbed from behind and pitched into a wall.
It’s the praying vampire from before, angry at Darla for screwing up the hunt for the Master’s food. Luke sends Darla off to fix the situation while he fixes Buffy.
Luke is no lightweight. Buffy lands a couple of good blows but she seems to be outmatch, and Luke tosses her into an open coffin. As she frantically listens for him, Luke leaps into the coffin, fangs bared, and darts in for the killing blow”¦
And that’s it! The first episode ends on cliffhanger. (Spoiler alert: she gets away. There’s seven seasons of this, guys.)
Time for some Buffy fun!
Snapshot in time: Cordelia gives Buffy a coolness quiz. How would you do? I know you’re cool, caused you lived in LA, so you can skip the written, but answer the following questions:
- Vamp nail polish?
- James Spader?
- John Tesh?