So, I’ve finished my re-rewatch (!) of season 1. I expected it to go faster, but there were a lot of distractions – from unexpected work, to the fact that, well, it was hot summer weather and most days were being spent on a beach, and a lot of nights out in the city. My impressions were mostly the same as the last time, which is no surprise since the last rewatch was just over a year ago. I took notes of the few things I didn’t notice before or didn’t include in my previous reviews, but most of it were fun minor things, from fashion choices to various details to mistakes you only notice after you’ve watched the show a few times.
You can check my previously posted reviews and ratings (out of 5 stars):
1.01. Welcome to the Hellmouth (3.5)
1.02. The Harvest (2.5)
1.03. Witch (3)
1.04. Teacher’s Pet (1.5)
1.05. Never Kill a Boy on the First Date (3)
1.06. The Pack (3.5)
1.07. Angel (4)
1.08. I, Robot, You Jane (2)*
1.09. The Puppet Show (3)
1.10. Nightmares (4)
1.11. Out of Mind, Out of Sight (4)
1.12 Prophecy Girl (4.5)
Season 1 overview (3.21)*revised rating
It’s the weakest season of BtVS, but it’s still pretty good on its own and better than many people give it credit for. The two-part pilot is pretty strong, except for the very unsatisfying ending to The Harvest, with the lighthearted upbeat scene that’s completely out of place since Xander has just lost out of his best friends. I still think that failing to ever reference the Jesse storyline and how it affected Xander was one of the show’s biggest failings. The good news is that the comic season 9 has recently had a Jesse reference, with
Xander telling someone in a similar situation about the time he had to stake his best friend
– which is one of the best things the otherwise unimpressive season 9 has done so far. Although it’s worth mentioning that Xander never actually brought himself to do it and stake Jesse – he was spared that moment of decision since someone accidentally pushed Jesse onto his stake. We’ll never know if Xander actually would’ve been able to go through with it on his own.
There is a lot of cheesiness early on, and if someone saw episodes like Teacher’s Pet, they might have decided that BtVS is just a crappy, silly show and moved on. But the show gets notably better midway, with The Pack and Angel, and ends strongly with Nightmares, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, and the show’s first great episode, the season finale Prophecy Girl. Sarah Michelle Gellar is really amazing in that episode, particularly in the very emotional scene in the library right after Buffy learns that she’s supposed to face the Master and die. (“I quit!... Giles, I’m 16 years old. I don’t wanna die.”) (Such a difference to The Gift, when she… well, I wouldn’t go as far to say she wants to die, but she doesn’t exactly not want to die.) I don’t think I’ve noticed before that Joyce even more explicitly, and unwittingly, inspires Buffy to fight the destiny when she says: “Is it written somewhere that you can’t go (to the school dance)?”
One of the things I somehow used to miss before is a bit of personal info about Giles (there isn't a lot of that in the show), that he has a friend who went insane while researching the praying mantises from Teacher’s Pet, and that he calls to a lunatic asylum for advice. I wonder how common it is for Watchers to go insane.
It’s almost painful to see how downtrodden and without confidence and self-belief Willow is these early episodes – she often seems like she really feels she should get someone’s permission to exist, as Cordelia would say (“Excuse me? Who gave you permission to exist?”) This kind of inferiority complex doesn’t happen just because you’re bullied at school, it has to stem from the relationship with the parents; when we see her mother in season 3 and learn how much Willow’s parents actually ignore her (while at the same time being very strict about following the rules), it explains a lot. There’s a very telling moment in Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest, when Giles asks “Buffy?” as someone is entering the library, and Willow answers– “It’s just me”. She slowly starts gaining more confidence, but at first she seems only able to stand up to people when they speak ill of Buffy, as if she doesn’t feel she has the right to protest when someone is disparaging and insulting her personally. An early sign of non-superpowered badassery happens in The Harvest, when Willow fights at the Bronze and actually confronts Darla to save Giles. She also shows hidden strengths in I Robot, You Jane, The Pack and Prophecy Girl – but the biggest growth comes not in her fighting the vampires or confronting Moloch, but in rejecting Xander’s offer to be his substitute date for the dance after Buffy turned him down, because it’s the first time she actually stands up for herself.
When Buffy mentions Giles to Willow in the pilot, Willow starts gushing about how cool and great he is, which, together with the fact she has a photo of herself and Giles in her locker door, gives credence to her revelation in season 4 that she used to have crush on him. Speaking of little details you notice only after seeing the episode a few times: Props on Willow’s locker door include a big logo of Nerf Herder, the band that provided the theme song for the show. Buffy’s locker door has a picture of Michelangelo’s David, a big picture of a smiley and a red rose. The funniest detail is that the “text” in Marcie’s textbook under the headline “Chapter 1: Assassination and Infiltration – Case Example 1: Radical Cult Leader as Intended Target” actually consists of the lyrics to “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles, written as prose. I usually don’t notice mistakes in the show (such as boom mikes in the shot) but I notice this time that in Angel you can see the reflection of Darla’s face on the bookshelf. Then there's Buffy's school file in I Robot, You Jane, which not only gives a different birth date than the one later displayed on her gravestone in Nightmares and The Gift, but lists her as a senior.
Anti-smoking moments abound (this seems to have been a thing in the 90s, think of The X-Files). In Nightmares, a girl goes to the boiler room to smoke, and gets attacked by the Ugly Man – with the camera zooming on the poster “Smoking kills”. Fortunately, there’s also some subversion in the same episode with Snyder’s line “There are three things I I find it funny that the poster Buffy was using for target practice in Angel, when she was planning to kill Angel, was one with a hot, cool-looking dark-haired guy who smokes and an incription “Smoking sucks”. That must be the worst anti-smoking poster ever – the message one is likely to get seems more like “Smoking makes you cool, look at this guy!”
Last year when I rewatched season 1, I was surprised to recognize Marcie Ross as Clea Duvall. This time, when I watched The Pack, I thought “Hey, that’s August from Once Upon a Time!” Eion Bailey played Kyle, one of the group of bullies.
Some of the lines worth a mention:
“For I am the king of cretins - all the lesser cretins bow before me!” – Xander in Witch (This line is, incidentally, the source of the username of one of the prominent members of Buffyforums.)
“Can you vague it up for me?” “You’re like a textbook with legs” – Buffy snarking at Giles
“What’s your childhood trauma?” – Cordelia to Buffy
“Excuse you.” – Cordelia when she Buffy when they bump into each other.
“Well, I know that I'll miss thee intellectual thrill of spelling words with my arms." - Amy on cheerleading
“He’s gone binary on us.” – Buffy about Moloch the Destroyer in I, Robot, You Jane.
Buffy even uses the term “pop culture reference”:
Buffy: My spider sense is tingling.
Giles: Your… spider sense?
Buffy: Pop culture reference, sorry.
Something I haven’t noticed before is that Giles used the term “Slayerettes” as a nickname for the non-Buffy Scoobies. The term “Fang Gang” is also used – but it’s Buffy referring to the Three (the vampires sent by the Master to kill her in Angel.) Buffy makes up a couple of ironic nicknames for herself: “That’s me, Destructo Girl”, “What am I, Knowledge Girl?” Buffy also ironically asks if she should make “I’m a Slayer, ask me how” buttons. I wonder if there was ever such a button either as official or fanmade merchandise? :-)
Xander’s and Angel’s “You were totally checking my neck!” conversation in Prophecy Girl wasn’t the only subtextual/funny slashy moment in season 1: it almost made me laugh to see how much the scene with Luke kneeling and sucking the Master’s blood from his hand in The Harvest looked like a blow job – even Joss commented on it in his DVD commentary. :-)
Speaking of things that sound suspiciously like double entendres… Giles lectures Buffy about slaying: “You’re wasting too much time and energy. You should plunge and move on, plunge and move on…” Sounds like something Faith might say. ;-) Slaying really does seem phallic, what with the sharp stakes and penetration, which is an inversion since Slayers are women. Until Buffy gets hot for certain vampires and lets them penetrate her in a different way – inversion of an inversion?
It’s incredible how thin David Boreanaz was back then. SMG looked great with a more natural hair color than the uber-blondeness of seasons 2 and 3, and had a fuller figure compared to how thin she became in later seasons – pretty much the opposite of Nicholas Brendon. Only Alyson Hannigan remained the same, except for her ever-changing hairstyles. During Xander's first shirtless scene, I was thinking that he's way too buff for a 16-year old geek... Not surprising, since the actor was 26 at the time. I wonder if a lot of fandom animosity towards Xander and anger at his immature behavior wouldn’t be there if he had been played by a skinny, pimply teenager; it's easy of forget just how young he’s supposed to be. Although all the actors are older than their character's age, as it's usually the case on teen shows, I think Brendon and Charisma Carpenter (both 26) are less convincing as 16-year olds than SMG (20 at the time) and Alyson Hannigan (who looked much younger than 23.
What particularly strikes me while watching season 1 is that and Buffy she seems much more mature than the Buffy we see in the current comics, which is largely because of Georges Jeanty’s habit of drawing her as a child-woman, but also to the current writing which makes her look like a pale shadow of Buffy, without her strength and spunk. Season 1 can switch between being a bubbly, ditzy-looking teenager one moment and being remarkably mature the next moment.
Fashion watch: They were sure trying to attract male viewers with those really short skirts and long boots Buffy is wearing in every episode. Her outfits certainly changed a lot throughout the seasons, whether it was the decision of Joss and co. or just SMG insisting on wearing less revealing clothes. But, to be fair, though I don't know Californian schools, I don't find those outfits outrageous as some fans do, since I remember how a lot of girls (me included) used to dress in my high school. It's still funny that she's always wearing those very short skirts and nothing underneath while Willow wears sweaters and tights. Makes you wonder, what season and what temperature is it supposed to be? However, Buffy’s outfits while slaying are practical - we don't get the ridiculous sight of her slaying in skirts and high heels, which tends to happen with many action heroines.
Xander and Willow tend to wear shirts with weird designs, such as Willow’s duck shirt, Xander’s shirt with mushrooms and Xander’s hypopothamus shirt. At one point, Willow wears a Scooby-Doo T-shirt. Buffy herself has a couple of T-shirt with what looks like cartoon drawings of women with 1950s hairstyles . Amy goes from standard valley girl clothes to a hippy look, with a baggy shirt with a peace sigh, by the end of Witch, when she’s free of her mother’s influence; she’ll switch to a Goth look by season 3.
Altered states: Buffy and Cordelia under Catherine’s spell in Witch; Catherine swapping her body with her daughter Amy in the same episode (the first body swap in the show – the second one will lead to a much better storyline in season 4); Xander possessed by the hyena in The Pack; Buffy hypnotized by the Master in Prophecy Girl.
Noncon/dubcon/sexual assault: 2 so far – and both involve Xander, but the first time as a victim and the second one as the perpetuator: the Insect Lady trying to “mate” with Xander (and having “mated” with others; Hyena!Xander’s attempted rape of Buffy. Some even consider the Master biting Buffy as a metaphorical sexual assault, but I will stick just to non-metaphorical ones (or else we’d have to count every vampire attack as sexual assault).
Sunnydale High body count: 10 students (Jesse [The Harvest], Dave and Fritz [I, Robot, You Jane], Emily and Morgan [The Puppet Show], Kevin and 4 other students [Prophecy Girl]; 1 teacher (Dr Gregory, the likeable biology teacher killed by the Insect Lady); 1 former student (the Extreme Dead Guy in the locker in the pilot). Out of these, Dave’s death was listed as suicide, and Jesse is probably listed under missing persons.
Giles gets knocked out: 3 times - Witch, Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, Prophecy Girl
Buffy figures it all out: The Harvest, Witch, Teacher's Pet, The Pack (where she’s sure that something’s wrong with Xander long before Giles recognizes it), Nightmares. The only time Giles figures it out is in Out of Mind, Out of Sight.I’ve noticed before that Buffy is most often the one that figures out the mystery or the solution, despite the commonly held view that Giles and Willow are supposed to be the clever ones (which even the characters in the show hold, see The Puppet Show where knowing the square root or other is regarded as the ultimate proof of intelligence); in fact, Giles mostly just provides knowledge and exposition.
Cordelia in distress: Welcome to the Hellmouth (saved by Buffy), The Harvest (saved by Xander), Witch (saved by Buffy), Out of Mind, Out of Sight (saved by Buffy again). It’s only in Prophecy Girl that Cordy gets to be the savior for once – saving Jenny and Willow by driving them in her car to the library. She and Willow do scream a lot in that episode, but they also kick ass when they need to. Bets Cordelia moment from season 1 is when she bites the vampire’s hand, saying: “Let’s see how you like it!”
Bands at the Bronze: Dashboard Prophets in Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest, and Velvet Chain in Never Kill a Boy on the First Date.
The opening voiceover (“In every generation, a Slayer is born…”) made its debut in Angel, spoken by an unknown, cheesy-sounding male voice. I liked it much better when it was replaced with Giles’ voice in season 2, and even better than that when it was scrapped altogether. The picture quality isn’t that great early on, and those early episode are incredibly dark – literally. As the show got metaphorically darker as it went on, it also got literally lighter.
Finally, some musings on the show’s portrayal of high school. I’ve recently discussed it with penny_lane_42 how realistic, or not, is the portrayal of high school life on BtVS. As someone who’s not an American and didn’t go to a US school, there are a lot of things in BtVS Sunnydale High that are completely alien to me, or that I only know about from US teen shows/movies, so I can’t really judge how accurate it is. We didn’t have the US school sports culture, since there are no organized competitive school sports (just physical exercise classes where you get to play basketball or volleyball or something) or official popularity contests (Homecoming Queen etc.) and all those school dances: there’s just the prom, after graduation, and that’s all; and the idea that everyone has to have a date at prom is also something alien to me. There are also other differences related to the school system. A line like "We had four classes with her last summer" is a weird one for me to hear; in my school, we didn't pick and choose different classes to go to; you're in a class, which comprises about 35-40 students, and you have all the classes that this class has. (The only difference between the classes is, however, in the foreign language classes you get to attend.) I also wonder if the school principals really interact with students so much in US high schools; ours were barely ever seen. On the other hand, class has one teacher assigned to them as the "head of the class" (a rough translation) who interacts with students the most, talks on their behalf with the other teachers, deals with things like student conduct, absences and students that are failing classes – something that US schools don’t seem to have.
However, there are lots of things in BtVS portrayal of high school that are universal and do resonate a lot and make me think of my high school experience. The bullying, for starters; the way that certain students form cliques, and groups of students who bully others, like those in The Pack. Someone like Cordelia is also instantly recognizable (even though she's an exaggerated version, a lot of things she says are way OTT), the "cool" people ("popular" would be a misleading word - in fact, most people hate them, but they act like they're in charge) who are usually rich, dress up in expensive clothes and are considered sexy (partly due to looking older than their years - this is something that teenagers find appealing) and who have their cliques of friends/sycophants, and spend a lot of time mocking other people. There are also people like Willow, who could be called "nerds", though it's not the same stereotype - e.g. we don't have the cliche that liking SF or comics makes you a nerd - but people who are bookish, shy and tend to dress conservatively, like their parents are choosing their clothes (which they might be); boys who cover their insecurity with jokes and try to act the role of the class clown, since they don't think they can be the hot manly men; students that nobody notices (the "invisible" ones); and there are those that are considered crazy, weird or freaky due to their personality or attitude. When people assign a certain role to you, it's generally hard to get rid of it. And though there aren't any official popularity contest, you always knew that there was an unofficial hierarchy, such as, who are considered the hottest girls, or hottest boys. On my first week of high school (that's when we were 15-16), the boys in my class even had a vote between themselves for the Hottest Girl in Class, and one of them (the "class clown" boy) announced the results to the class during the break. There was a lot of competitiveness and jealousy between girls - things like Cordelia being jealous of Buffy and frustrated when boys would be more into Buffy (as in Never Kill a Boy on the First Date) because a "weirdo" isn't supposed to challenge and best her in hotness stakes, is something that mirrors my "relationship" with the Cordelia of my class, though in our cases it lasted much longer and was much worse and never got better.
Finally, here's a couple of songs used in BtVS season 1. See you next when I re-rewatch the first 11 episodes of season 2.
Dashboard Prophets - "Ballad for Dead Friends" (from The Harvest)