LadyGhosts of TV Past

Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 12, Prophecy Girl

“The signs?! Read me the signs! Tell me my fortune! You’re so useful sitting here with all of your books! You’re really a lot of help!”

And so, friends, we come to the end of the first season of Buffy; The Vampire Slayer. Luckily, it is no longer 1997 any more and we can pop the next season’s DVD in the player when we’re done, but at the time, there was some real concern the show wasn’t going to get picked up for another season. That it did is one of the great moments in TV history ““ the best of Buffy is yet to come for us rewatchers. This isn’t a show that blew its promise in the first season and couldn’t figure out what to do with the rest of its run (*coughHeroscough*).

We check in with Xander first this episode, as it’s only fitting, because Xander ““ or more specifically his affection for Buffy ““ is critical to the plot of Prophecy Girl. He’s practicing his “˜date me’ pitch on Willow, who is giving him big puppy dog eyes. She’s so cute and earnest and smart and she has bitchin red hair, and one (me) can not figure out how Xander did not see what a great catch he had right in front of him. But he doesn’t. It’s Buffy-this and Buffy-that, though Buffy herself is not in attendance. She’s got her regular nighttime gig to take care of.



And what a fantastic scene it is. Buffy and a vampire facing down in a field near the high school ““ the scene is just shot beautifully. Gorgeous slow-motion, great camera angles ““ the from behind shot of Buffy sliding a stake out from under her shirt makes me feel all tingly. This girl is a BAMF.

She’s serene as she does her job; Giles is a mess. He’s pouring over the book of prophecies Angel dug up for him in the last episode and the news isn’t good. There’s something troubling in the text. To emphasize, the ground shakes and Sunnydale trembles. The last time there was an earthquake in Sunnydale the Master was cast underground. Another quake can’t be a good sign.

Giles isn’t the only one who knows this. The Master looks as gleeful as a monstrously deformed vampire can look, giddy with the promise of his coming freedom.

TNMAS, Buffy reports in on her patrol to a distracted and short tempered Giles. She’s talking and he’s not paying attention ““ not until she mentions going off to face her doom. Biology, you know? Regular teenager stuff. Giles is both alarmed and relieved.

Strolling through the courtyard after bio seems as good a time as any for Xander to initiate a “˜are we just friends’ talk with Buffy. He asks her on a date, Buffy is shocked and demurs, and Xander forces her hesitations.

Xander: Well, Willow's not looking to date you. Or if she is, 

she's playing it pretty close to the chest.

Har, har, rewatch! Willow’s a lesbian!

There are either romantic feelings or there’s not; unfortunately for him, there’s not. I’d be more generous about Xander’s reaction of “˜guess a guy has to be undead to make time with you’ because he is obviously truly into Buffy and crushed when she doesn’t return the feeling, but 1) Xander tried to sexually assault Buffy in The Pack and 2) we can all agree it was Way Harsh Tai of him to say that.

Jenny Calender puts in a late night appearance in Giles’ office with some clippings she’s found off the internet. A cat that gave birth to a litter of snakes, boiling lakes, a baby that was born with his eyes facing inwards ““ Jenny’s a Cyber Wiccan and all, but I hope she thought to check Snopes before trusting everything she finds on the internet. I once read a web page about the appropriate way to initiate sex with a dolphin and I still don’t know if it was a joke or not. Anyway, Jenny thinks this is end times type stuff and gets irritated as Giles refuses to tell her anything.

“I helped you cast that demon out of the internet. I think that merits some trust.”

Xander is still crushed over Buffy’s rejection of him, so he’s playing wall ball in an empty classroom and trying to convince Willow to go to the dance with him instead. If you’ve missed the massive crush Willow’s been nursing all season, you all miss how boneheadedly cruel this is on Xander’s part. And Willow isn’t dumb ““ she won’t go to the dance so that she can spend the night watching him pine over her. Willow walks away. Xander can’t see past his own butthurt long enough to feel bad about being such a jerk to his best friend.

Buffy tries to wash her hands in a sink spewing blood. Jenny Calender is right; this is end time shit, here. Like a good Slayer, she scampers along to tell her Watcher about the Bible stuff that just happened in the girl’s locker room and is stopped short by Angel and Giles arguing in Giles’ office.

Giles:  Listen. Some prophecies are, are a bit dodgy. They’re, they’re mutable. Buffy herself has, has thwarted them time and time again, but this is the Codex. There is nothing in it that does not come to pass.

Angel:  Then you’re reading it wrong.

Giles:  I wish to God I were! But it’s very plain! Tomorrow night Buffywill face the Master, and she will die.

For my money, this is one of the best scenes of the entire first season. I mentioned last week that I think SMG is an ok comedic actress, but she really shines when she’s called on to showcase Buffy’s fears. Her desperation, the sense of impending doom, the fact that Buffy is just a kid, a 16 year old kid called upon to sacrifice her life ““ oof, its like getting punched in the gut. I can’t embed the video of the scene, but it’s available on Hulu here.

She reacts to overhearing the prophecy with hysterical laughter, and then tears, and then finally anger. Angel and Giles try to calm her down but she cuts right to the chase. It’s not their lives on the line. It’s never their lives. Giles hides behind his books and Angel behind his immortality. She’s the girl on the front lines. She’s the girl from a long line of women warriors who have never lived past 26.  Buffy throws down her cross necklace and her responsibilities as the Slayer and storms out.

At home, Joyce tries to find out what’s wrong with her daughter. She doesn’t know about the Slayer stuff but she’s not entirely dumb. They talk about dances and possibilities and the future; Buffy says it must be nice to have your whole life in front of you. Remember this sad smile. We’re going to see it in another light at the end of season 7.  Joyce gives her a pristine white dress, a princess dress, for Buffy to wear to the big dance. She doesn’t know she’s given her daughter the clothes she’ll die in. Mothers, stop buying your daughters white dresses. It never ends well.

While Buffy is dealing with the news of her death, the Master’s minions made a nighttime stop by the school, slaughtering the members of the A/V club. Cordelia and Willow find the bodies and this is Willow’s breaking point. She’s had a rough year, finding out about the existence of the supernatural and accidentally dating an ancient demon she met on the intertubes. This hits her hard. Buffy tries to comfort her, wearing the white dress her mother gave her, and she knows, as she sits with Willow, that her duties aren’t finished. Buffy reassures Willow, accepts a compliment on her dress with a tiny smile, and sets out to meet the Master head on.

Giles is packing up a bag of weapons while he gives Jenny the lowdown on what’s going on. Apparently, he’s taken Buffy’s accusations to heart. He won’t let a young girl go to certain doom while he hides behind his books. This is one of the first glimpses of the Ripper we get, the fighter behind the scholar, but the gesture ends up remaining a gesture; Buffy shows up to sock him on his glass jaw. This is her battle. She was just stopping in to make sure no one else got hurt trying to fight it for her.

There’s a lot that happens from this point out. Buffy leaves the library and sees the Anointed One waiting for her. He’s pretending to be a lost child, but she doesn’t want to bother with the pretense. Taking his hand, she lets him lead her to the Master’s lair. Xander and Willow find out about the prophecy and Xander rushes off to recruit Angel to help Buffy. Jenny and Willow make for the Bronze in case the Master sends his forces to slaughter the kids at the Prom but don’t make it very far; the vampires aren’t headed for the Prom, they’re headed for the school.

Buffy is confused and out of sorts in the Master’s lair. He seems to be everywhere and nowhere, as evil dudes often are, and whispers the truth of the Prophecy; she’s the one who will set him free. If she had quit, if she had just stayed away, the Master would have remained trapped. It’s her blood that gives him the power to destroy the mystical barrier that kept him underground. She’s crying; he drains her and leaves her face down in a pool of water. “˜Love your dress,’ the Master hisses on his way out. What a catty bitch.

Jenny and Willow are saved from the vampires by the timely appearance of Cordelia and her handy sedan. In a tight spot, Cordy drives her car through the school to the library and (relative) (un)safety. Cordelia Chase ““ BAMF, take 2. The women don’t find much shelter there ““ the apocalypse is upon them. The Hellmouth under the library is opening, freeing a three headed, tentacle horror and the vampires are getting past the jury-rigged barricades. Things look grim.

Underground, Angel and Xander have no trouble getting into the Master’s lair. All the evil things are out celebrating. And there’s Buffy, dead, cast aside. The boys rush to revive her with CPR, but Angel is no help here. He’s dead. Vampires don’t grant life, they take it. Xander breaths into her lungs and Angel compresses her chest and the Slayer comes back to life with a coughing sputter.

The girl that died was scared and unsure of herself. This new Buffy is different, centered. She feels.. strong. And she knows what to do. Buffy leads the boys off to find the Master, following him through the line of their connection.

Following him all the way to the roof of the school. The Master has been observing the Hellmouth through the skylight over the library, cackling his little cackle and clapping his twisted hands. This is the moment of his triumph and Buffy is ruining it by refusing to stay dead. She’s never been very good at doing what other people tell her to do. When they fight again and the Master has her by the throat, she isn’t beaten. She grabs him in return and throws him through the skylight, impaling him on a piece of broken furniture. Prophecies never tell the whole story.

The Scooby Gang gathers in the library to take stock. The Master is so old his body doesn’t dust like a regular vamp’s ““ his skeleton lies over the closed Hellmouth. The rest of the vampires are gone and the eldritch beast has returned underground. Everything is ok for now. Buffy is ok for now.

On their way out, Angel mentions how much he likes her dress. “˜Yeah, yeah’, she replies.

By [E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at

She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

8 replies on “Ladyghosts of TV Past: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 12, Prophecy Girl”

I wouldn’t say she’s a bad actress, but she’s limited. But it’s tv, so its not like they were casting Meryl Streep, you know? I’m actually struck by how good she is at certain emotions — this breakdown she has in this episode, how raw and vulnerable she is after ‘Surprise’. Seasons 6 and 7 need to her be either dead inside or steely resolve and I think she got a lot of flack for her acting then, but it was good. It was so good it was getting people upset.

(I think 6&7 were unfairly maligned as seasons go. I didn’t like them much on first airing, but I really find they resonate with me now that I’ve had some time and rewatched them. 6 is actually a very strong arc and has a lot of dark, dark stuff in it.)

I am new to Persephone and thus did not know of your lovely recaps. As someone (check the name) who rewatches the entire series once a year, I still found your retelling exciting! I adore SMG in her terrified anger. Especially here. While the men in her life blather and flounder she voices her frustrations in ways I never even thought of at that age. Granted, I was not the vampire slayer ;)

Looking forward to reading more!

I found myself paying a lot more attention to her fear and uncertainty in this watch through — I think it resonated more strongly with me this time. (And I, like you, have watched the entire series multiple times.) I think partly its because my daughter is a teenager now and the enormity of what Buffy takes on at 15 is just really striking.

And this last episode is just good. Everything about it is so strong — a real glimpse into the kind of storytelling we’re going to get next season.

Happy to have you aboard! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show!

I neglected to mention it in my recap because I’m going to do a complete season 1 discussion in two weeks, but killing off the main character like they did was really kind of ballsy. I can’t think of many other shows that go that far. (I mean, she comes back, but still..)

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