I’ve watched the series so many times now I can easily pick the stock footage and the episode footage out of the voice over sequence, which episodes they had already filmed from looking at the title credits, and how padded SMG’s bra was in the first season. (The answer: a lot.)
When Buffy premiered, the 1st and 2nd episodes were shown back to back ““ “˜Welcome to the Hellmouth’ and “˜The Harvest’ are really just two halves of one episode, though it’s never been really billed as a two parter. By the time the credits roll on “˜The Harvest’, Whedon’s done a solid job of setting up a lot of the relationships and themes he’s going to go back to over and over again. So many shows have pulled from the Buffy template that it’s almost impossible to remember a time when there weren’t shows like it around. Without Buffy, you’d have no Supernatural, no Vampire Diaries, no True Blood, no Twilight, no female Starbuck ““ hell, you wouldn’t even have had a Diablo Cody and her stylized take on how teens talk to each other.
Let’s take their slant on vampire lore ““ Harvest picks up exactly where Hellmouth leaves off, with Buffy in a Peril of Pauline situation, trapped in an open crypt while Luke (played by everyone’s favorite heavy, Brian Thompson, who we’ll see again as The Judge in season 2) comes in for the kill. But he’s repulsed ““ burned ““ when he touches the cross necklace Buffy’s carrying. The cross is an old school vampire lore, like being destroyed by sunlight or casting no reflection. As Buffy runs off to save Willow, Xander and Jessie from the rest of the vampires, we see the vamps she fight turn into dust as she stakes them ““ that’s new school.
The next day, as Giles does one of his many lecture-while-shelving-books turns around the library, he and Buffy try to clue Xander and Willow into the realities of the new world order. Vampires are real, Buffy’s the Slayer, don’t tell anyone about that part. The cops can’t save you, Willow, because all they’ll bring to the fight are guns.
Across the course of the series, it’s interesting to see how guns are used. In most action movies, the gun is a matter of course. It’s a very masculine weapon ““ much has been made of the connection between phallic imagery and the guns male action stars use, particularly in the hyper-manly movies from the 80s, but there’s no real place for them here. This is both a logical storytelling choice ““ the action sequences would be pretty unimpressive if all Buffy needed to do was carry around a rifle and safely dispatch baddies from a distance ““ but there’s a deeper symbolism as well. Guns represent both masculinity and modernity and the Slayer and her foes are more than this. They were around at the beginning of the world and their fight is a timeless one. It needs to be personal, it needs to be physical. It’s about the blood, sweat and tears the Slayer puts into her fight, the humanity she both needs and has to sacrifice to stand against the monsters. It is both her body and the elements that are her best weapons ““ sunlight, fire, wood.
People who rely on guns in this series are inevitably weak and unsuited for her world. They try to use modern logic and modern weapons to fight primeval forces. They come up short every time. We won’t get to the initiative until season 4, but they’re the prime example of it. This is why Riley won’t fit into her world and why Warren reaches for a gun after Buffy has unmanned him at every turn. When Giles is least himself, in “˜Band Candy’, he’s got a gun in his hand.
We dispense early on with the notion that the Slayer will ever use a gun*. But that’s not to say that all manner of modern technology is off the table in the Slayer universe:
Buffy: I looked around, but as soon as they got clear of the graveyard, they could just “¦vooomm.
Xander: They can fly?!
Buffy: They can drive.
And Willow’s geekiness is one of her defining traits: as the Scooby Gang discusses where the vamps might have taken Jessie, she offers to hack into the town records to find blueprints of the town’s underground tunnels. In these first two episodes, we’re hit repeatedly over the head with everyone’s defining roles: Willow will hack something in a computer, Giles will carry around large, old books that are distinctly out of place in a high school library, Xander is comic relief with the good heart, and Buffy will pummel the crap out of things. (Spirit, Knowledge, Heart, Strength)
The Sunnydale vampires are surprisingly uneducated about their own boogeyman. None of the vampires Buffy fought seemed to know who she was ““ something that will be glossed over when we get deeper into Darla’s backstory ““ Darla and Luke just complain about a girl who seemed to come out of nowhere and beat them back. It takes the Master to name her. Which is problematic for him, because he’s got this big deal Harvest thing going on, and the Slayer might be a total wet blanket on his bloodletting party. Like, bummer, you know?
Buffy does her hero’s duty and breaks out of Sunnydale High to go rescue Jessie. She insists on going it alone, because she’s the Slayer, but Xander insists on tagging along for the ride after pulling a bit of wounded ego bullshit (“I get it. I’m less than a man.”)
Angel pops up again to provide a bit of exposition, some clues about the Harvest and directions to the lair. I like first season Angel, with his velvet jackets and his Byronic moping about. I would totally dig him if I were a 15 year old girl too. With his helpful hints, Buffy and Xander are able to find Jessie ““ not they end up really wanting to. He’s already been turned, and Whedon gets to revisit his Pike-Benny break up dialog from the Buffy movie all over again with Xander and Jessie. Which is ok ““ I liked it in the movie and it’s good in the tv show, and I find it interesting to see which parts of the movie Whedon revisits in the show. It’s played as broad comedy in the movie (David Arquette is in the Benny/Jessie role), but the show always takes the temptation of becoming a vampire seriously. There’s plenty of funny bits and funny episodes over the course of the series, but it’s a drama at its heart.
Right, where was I? So everyone who matters is now clued into the existence of vampires and the Scooby Gang is off on its first investigation ““ what’s the Harvest, who’s the Master, what fresh hell are they walking into?
Willow digs up information on the Harvest and the Master on the Internet that ends up being completely reliable and accurate; the Master has been trapped under Sunnydale since the great earthquake of sometime before now, and the Harvest is a ritual slaughter of victims to transmit strength through his conduit (Luke) back to where the Master is trapped. If he rises from his prison, all hell will break loose.
Luke, Darla, Jessie and the rest of the Master’s lackeys take over the one place in Sunnydale with a ready supply of bodies and terrible escape opportunities, The Bronze. I don’t know what Buffy would have done if the Hellmouth had been over a reasonably sized city with more than one club in it, like Cleveland ““ she storms the Bronze so much over the course of the series you’d think she’s be on a permanent “˜No Admittance’ list.
With the Scoobies at her back, Buffy sneaks into the Bronze to stave off her first apocalypse, dramatically vaulting herself into the fray. There are stakings and beheadings and merry quips, but the best exchange of the evening is saved for the confrontation between Buffy and Luke. As he blusters about the Master and how he’s going to kill our Slayer, she reminds him that sunlight kills vampires and smashes out a window behind the stage they’re both standing on. Luke turns towards the light and starts screaming ““ without realizing that it’s still the middle of the night, the sun’s not up, and that window doesn’t even go to the outside, it’s just a bright spotlight shining through it. While Luke is drama-queening his non-immolation, Buffy stakes him.
And that’s our girl in a nutshell; she may have the world’s oldest moster-killing profession, but she’s gonna take out the mosters her way ““ with cleverness, with style, and with her friends. And not a single person is gonna thank her for it the next day.
Watch the pilot (non-aired) episode on You-tube with a totally different Willow!
* Notable exception coming in season 2, with the Judge, but we’ll take on that when we get there.