Friday, 4 May 2012

Buffy Season One

Welcome to the Hellmouth written by Joss Whedon and directed by Charles Martin Smith

What’s it about: Buffy Summers thinks she can move to Sunnydale and escape her past…boy is she mistaken!

The Chosen One: ‘What is your childhood trauma?’ When Buffy was on the air the popular media feeling was that Sarah Michelle Gellar was a fantastic lead (if you read magazines like SFX they literally fawned over her) and a very powerful actress. I have heard arguments since that express opinions that are quite to the contrary. My personal feeling is that Gellar was a good fit for the show (sorry Emma!) and brought a great deal of youthful enthusiasm and innocent charm to role. Hang on…aren’t I describing Alyson Hannigan? Well yes she had both of those attributes too but I could not favour one actress over the other because throughout the run they both managed to break my heart on several occasions and scare the pants off me. She was being introduced to the show as a Clueless style airhead so Whedon could subvert that role and prove that there were deeper things happening beneath the surface (he achieved this with Cordelia rather well too). That dizzy, spunky stereotype works for me because I know that darker things are to come. To experience Buffy trying to fit in at school, get excited about cheerleading, avoid the bullies, etc is quite a refreshing place to start. Buffy knows full well what is expected of her by Giles but she doesn’t want anything to do with being a Slayer because that was what caused all her issues before. She was supposed to be starting afresh here. Buffy’s a reluctant hero but as soon as she realises that vampirism isn’t restricted to LA she agrees to look into things with a heavy sigh. As Russell T Davies later learnt it really helps to give your lead a strong mother character to bounce off and Kristine Sutherland (whilst sometimes playing the most blind woman on television) never gives a less than stellar performance in her entire run. Whedon plays with the audience in the final scene where Buffy finally steps up the plate and rescues Willow. She’s all backchat and wit and its very funny but cuts through the tension so suddenly Luke emerges as a bigger badass vampire the like of which Buffy has seen before and the way he tosses her about like a rag doll is really nasty. The way we are made to feel completely safe in Buffy’s presence (he’s achieved that in 45 minutes!) and then have that snatched away suddenly in the terrific cliffhanger is very Joss Whedon.

Ripper: ‘You’re like a textbook with arms!’ Giles is like the glue that holds all of the regulars together and he’s another fine character where you can see that real effort has gone into making him work. A stuffy British librarian is probably not the role sought by every actor but Anthony Head embraces it and plays it absolutely straight and conversely he is very funny when bouncing off of this quirky teenage characters. There’s such a massive cultural contrast between him and Buffy that you can see immediately this is going to be a fun relationship to watch develop. He’d much rather be at home with a cup of Bovril and good book than watching over sweaty teenagers but since Buffy is unwilling to take up her role that’s the cards life has dealt him.

Witchy Willow: ‘Am I the single dullest person alive?’ She’s as cute as a puppy and about as easy to kick! Poor Willow is the subject of all the cool kids hate and she meekly accepts it without complaint. How can you not feel for somebody like that? If you were bullied at school you might see a lot of yourself in Willow; having a small group of close friends you can count on, trying to stay as invisible as possible and doing your best to get through school with something to show for it. Of course by introducing Willow this detrimentally it means that Whedon can spend the next couple of seasons building her up into someone far more assured and womanly. It’s probably the greatest character arc the show has to offer over the seven years and she is certainly the character that most consistently surprises. Willow thinks that boys these days are more interested in girls who can talk which proves she hasn’t been dating for quite some time. Naively she gets led off by a vampire like a lamb to the slaughter.

Gorgeous Geek: (Checks the age of Nicholas Brendon before he writes this section…) I have a confession to make. I fancy the ass off Nicholas Brendon and love his fabulously geeky and totally useless character. I say this now because this might be reason enough on the odd occasion to give him a pass in the early years when he is characterised sloppily. You can keep your Angel with his smouldering looks and stares off camera (why the hell do people do that…are they thinking really profound thoughts?) and I’ll keep my Xander who trips over his own feet, quotes science fiction like a true nerd and has the most gorgeous eyes of any man on television. There I said it. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Brendon has exactly the same hairstyle/figure/expressions as my husband when I first met him thirteen years ago. No sir. Let’s move on. Throughout the first season he has the screaming hots for Buffy and tries to do anything to get a date (ironically enough my other half found this thread really annoying!).

Caustic Cordy: How can you not love somebody who is as apparently vacuous and bitchy as Cordelia? She’s the sort of person who gives you ‘the cool test’ before accepting you as a friend, who feels the need to push her opinions onto others and who has to call all of her friends (right away) when somebody does something humiliating. She’s not very nice… but at this point we have Buffy, Xander and Willow who are all super nice so it’s very refreshing to meet somebody this horrid. Sometimes…just sometimes I wish I had Cordy’s air of absolute superiority (‘Hey Cordelia!’ ‘Oh please…’).

Puppy Dog Eyes: Please don’t shoot my down in flames but my biggest issue with the first three seasons is Angel. I find David Boreanaz such a non-entity as an actor (does his face move at all?) and the character humourless and surplus to requirement. To show how much I appreciate his usual efforts my favourite Angel moments are when he turns bad in season two, when he dies and finally when he leaves. He just hangs around trying to look cute but instead looking for all the world like an expressionless statue. Considering there is so much excellent character work in the pilot I can skip over one misfire but it’s a misfire that would continue for three years in this show and (unbelievably) five years of his own show. Boreanaz has proven that he can go on to bigger and better things and is a joy in the much more charismatic role of Seeley Booth in Bones but this is some very humble beginnings. A completely forgettable character.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Everything you’ve ever dreaded was under your bed but told yourself they couldn’t be by the light of day…they’re all real’ – there’s a line to get you excited as you start a show.
‘We used to go out but we broke up…’ ‘How come?’ ‘He stole my Barbie.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Nay!’ ‘Pos!’ – or no and yes to you and me. Some of the teen-talk in the early years leaves plenty to be desired…

The Good:
  • Like The X-Files its weird to head back to the opening episode of Buffy and remember a time when things such as creepy high schools and metaphors for adolescence through fantasy didn’t exist.
  • You cannot watch Welcome to the Hellmouth without commenting on the fantastic direction of the piece. At this point in its run Buffy clearly had a less than impressive budget so to pull off the atmosphere they needed to hook in the audience it was going to take the work of a strong director and lighting engineer to give the piece mood. The camera never stops moving in the opening scenes as the director pulls of the age old trick of making something mundane (a High School setting) creepy and malevolent and simple images such as the empty halls and are made so much more menacing by the clever use of the lens.
  • One of the smartest tricks up Joss Whedon’s sleeves and one of the reasons that his writing is so clever is his use of subversion. It’s all there in the opening scene. A high school jock drags an innocent girl into a dark, creepy school and wants to play around with her. She’s terrified, both of him and the atmosphere and is scared that they aren’t alone. He’s sure that they are and suddenly, brilliantly, she turns into a vampire and kills him. When I watch new television shows I usually give the pilot a free pass but there has to be something in it that is different from all the rest, that makes you go ‘okay...’ with a nod of the head and a smile. It can be a character that’s distinctive or an actor or an idea or even just a single moment. Welcome to the Hellmouth grabbed hold of me in the first scene with this clever subversion, completely fooling me and making me laugh within minutes. I knew this was going to be good.
  • In its later years the make up on Buffy is a triumph but in its early days it had a few ropey moments (the Oz cuddly werewolf is infamously bad) but I have to give them credit for going for such a subtle but menacing look for the vampires. It’s not too much that it obscures the actors face or makes a mockery of the show but it’s enough to scare the living wits out of you. Bravo. The Master is somewhere between Nostferatu and He-Man’s Skeletor in his look and Mark Metcalf gives a supremely chilling turn in the role, underplaying the menace.
  • Isn’t Mr Flutie really lovable? He’s such a dope that he tears up Buffy’s old school report to make the point that she is having a clean slate and then has to tape it back together again to file it away! Note to writers everywhere – introducing characters with humour warms you to them.
  • ‘To each generation a Slayer is born. One girl in all the world, a chosen one, one born with the strength and skill to hunt the vampires.’ If Joss Whedon was looking to emancipate women in fantasy then that is a fantastic place to start. It’s a killer premise because there are so few television shows that have such a strong female lead and to plant all of this responsibility and mythology into a ditzy schoolgirl called Buffy…well its either the work of any absolute nutter or an absolute genius. It turned out that it was the latter but you can understand why people were sceptical to approach the show. It only takes you five minutes once you have committed to watching even the first episode to see that Joss Whedon knew exactly what he was doing with this outrageous premise. Buffy absolutely loves the ominous ‘something is coming…’ prophecies of the future and it all starts in the first episode.
  • Although it does smack of trying a little too hard of being ‘the cool place to hang out’ there is undeniably a great vibe to the Bronze scenes with its live music and vampires prowling. It would maintain a fixture on this show for the seven years and be the setting for some real heartache and great action.
The Bad: How wonderfully cheap is the dream that Buffy has? Fortunately it is a prophecy dream so it consists of scenes that will be part of future episodes rather than anything that was specially filmed for this one! Had I known that one of the ‘regulars’ (can I call them that at this stage?) was going to die I would have guessed Jesse simply because he is the one character that isn’t given any background or screen time. Whedon couldn’t think of a better way of Xander finding out than he was in the library getting a book out and overheard? Beyond Spike and Angel-gone-bad Brian Thompson’s Luke is probably the most frightening vampire the show would produce. Don’t get me wrong there are some outstanding monsters but as the show goes on the vampires become more generic and forgettable.

Moment to Watch Out For: So many great moments here but I have to cite the cliffhanger that plays its audiences nerves like a fine instrument. I particularly love the silent moment just before we cut to the credits where Buffy thinks she might get away and suddenly Luke leaps into the crypt with her. My heart genuinely skipped a beat! ‘Amen…’

Fashion Statement: ‘Its dared?’ ‘Its carbon dated!’ To be fair to the bullies (hopefully I’ll never use that statement again) Willow leaves herself wide open for attack by wearing that hideous outfit with the check pinny and the thick white tights! She looks like Nora bleedin’ Batty! Angel’s gigantic collar looks like he has just stepped out of the seventies…but that’s fine because maybe he has.

Result: Considering its horrendous premise (cheerleader turned super hero) and tiny budget this is one of the most engaging pilots I have ever seen. Where it doesn’t have the money to splash on blockbusting effects it pours its energy into all the right places – getting the characters right, clever, funny dialogue and plenty of atmosphere. Joss Whedon’s script is bursting with a great cast of characters who brought to life with a great deal of humour and skill by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon and Anthony Stewart Head. By the end of the episode I felt I already knew these people rather well and that I wanted to get to know them even better. I have never really delved into the world of vampires before (The Lost Boys aside) and was impressed with how the show managed to walk a fine line between being very funny and very scary without one ever being a detriment to the other or the subject matter. Already Buffy feels as though it is building up an impressive mythology and that there will plenty more supernatural happenings for this likable bunch to investigate. It should have been awful, the film certainly is but Joss Whedon was given a second chance to get this right and he pours everything he has into making sure this pilot impacts. To his everlasting credit, he succeeded. More please: 9/10

The Harvest written by Joss Whedon and directed by John T. Kretchmer

What’s it about: Vampires on a night out…

The Chosen One: Whilst the first episode was almost entirely about Buffy its interesting that focus shifts very quickly to Xander and Willow in the second episode as we experience their reactions to the life changing revelations. Buffy is used to taking on this gig solo so when Xander offers to help out she is pretty sharp to slap him down and remind him of his place. There’s a lovely moment where Joyce tries to ground Buffy and says that she understands that not going on might mean ‘the end of the world…’ Playing about with familiar scenes of domesticity like that is Buffy’s raison d’etre. Even at this point I was wondering if Joyce could be kept in the dark for too long or if she was going approach Lois Lane levels of self denial but its an undeniably fun dynamic at this point. I’m not sure if Sarah Michelle Gellar is entirely confident with looking like a tough bitch at this point because she bunches her fists together into a cute king fun pose that isn’t convincing anybody.

Ripper: Giles is all exposition but he does it with such class, stepping around a spinning globe like some mad history teacher. Anthony Head is also very funny and I love his rubbish ‘see you inside then!’ as they are about to storm the Bronze and rescue everybody. He doesn’t quite cut it as an American hero…but that doesn’t stop him trying!

Witchy Willow: ‘I’m not anxious to go in a dark place full of monsters but I do want to help…’ There’s something rather wonderful about Willow being as scared as she is about vampires. Buffy is a show that would go on to not take this threat terribly seriously in later years but at this point it is a massive deal that we are dealing with the walking dead. With somebody as meek as Willow around the threat feels very real because she is clearly completely unprepared to handle herself. Oh how things will change… Willow is also a complete geek who accidentally stumbled on the City Council’s database and encrypted the security system – I think she is going to be a useful person to have around. Buffy’s presence in Willow’s life is already making her more confident as she interrupts Cordelia when she is slagging off her friend to all and sundry. Its something she never would have considered in the past.

Gorgeous Geek: ‘We’re having a talk with Vampires in it…’ Every show needs a Xander, somebody to stand up and say ‘you guys know this is completely ridiculous, right?’ Its fine for a writer to completely buy into a whacky idea but we need some kind of sign that they are aware of just how kooky their fertile imaginations are! He realises the enormity of what he and Willow now know and everybody else thinks it is just a normal day. It’s a show that will take time to deal with the death of a character like Jesse because he meant something to Xander. The focus is on this dark force claiming innocent people and that’s something the show would tap a rich vein of drama from. For the show (and especially Xander) to move on from this he had to be the one to kill his vamped-up friend.
Caustic Cordy: ‘Excuse me? Who gave you permission to exist?’ Is there anybody who doesn’t know somebody like Cordelia as she rabbits on about herself and her take on everything in the Bronze? Interestingly all Jesse had to do to impress Cordelia was to believe in himself.

The Master: What a fabulous performance from Mark Metcalf. What I especially like is how he really lays it on thick with his ‘innocent victim’ act and then suddenly, viciously turns the scene around with an act of violence or a threat. It’s a role that could so easily have sunk the show (an age old vampire skulking about in the sewers, impotent and full of his own self importance) but with an actor this strong in the part he becomes a much more interesting prospect. It makes me sad that the first series is only 12 episodes long. Imagine another half a season with this deliciously hissable villain? He’s the sort of bad guy that murders his own soldiers if they fail him which kind of gives you an idea of how merciless he will be with the heroes when he catches up with them.

Puppy Dog Eyes: There’s a little tragedy behind Angel’s eyes when Buffy asks him what it is like to have a friend that suggests there might be a little more to this character after all. He’s still lingering in the background offering not very helpful hints and warnings which is really annoying. Plus he seriously needs to deal with that outfit.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘For untold aeons demons walk the Earth. They made it their home. Their hell…’ – we don’t really explore this much later on which is a shame because the idea of the Earth being overrun with demons before the human race took possession of the planet is a potent one. It might have even been worth visiting at some point.
‘Yesterday my life was like uh-oh pop quiz and today its like rain of toads…’
‘So Giles have you got anything that could make this day even worse?’ ‘How about the end of the world?’
‘The Earth is doomed…’

The Good:
  • ‘The books tell that the last human who left this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. He was a human form possessed, infected by the demons’ soul. He bit another and another and so they walked the Earth…’ Nice to see Whedon give an explanation for the vampirism that swept the planet rather than just asking us to accept the fact that they exist.
  • They were clearly able to spend a bit of money on the set for the Master’s lair because it would be revisited throughout the season. It’s a wonderfully creepy, gothic location, set on different levels with pools of water and candelabras lighting different areas evocatively.
  • Exposition is a tough thing to get across without sounding like you are trying to educate your audience. Whedon works wonders in the early scenes by cutting between the heroes and the villains and each continuing the others explanations. We learn an awful lot about the premise of the show here but injected with humour and character it is achieved effortlessly. 
  • Willow shows such warm affection towards Xander that you can see the potential in the Buffy/Xander/Willow love triangle already. They are all really likable characters so it only seems fair to add the unfortunate element of hormones to make sure that things don’t get too safe between them. You can pretty much guarantee that when one of them gets their hearts broken (its inevitable) that it will break your heart.
  • Some of the imagery – eyes in the darkness, arms reaching around from doors, a hand scratching at the sunlight – is subtle but very menacing. The slowly setting sun also works a treat, darkness is definitely something to fear on this show.
  • There’s a moment in The Harvest when you know Buffy has found its feet already. Its when Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles all file out of the library as a team to go and sort this messy vampire problem out. Skip forward six years to Once More With Feeling during ‘Walk Through the Fire’ and this exact same scene plays out (minus Buffy, plus Anya) in The Magic Box. Its filmed in exactly the same way with exactly the same degree of confidence. Two episodes in and this team has gelled and the format of the show is already in place…one that would go on to power the next seven years of storytelling. Bravo.
  • As the vampire gang emerge from the darkness in slow motion to the sound of an electric guitar I realised with some glee that Joss Whedon had completely pulled this off. I was sold on the idea of vampires living underneath a sunny American town and striking out at night to feed. The way Darla almost skips towards to the Bronze with a huge smile on her face is an affirmation from the show that it has aimed high and hit the jackpot.
  • It’s a show that isn’t afraid to indulge in the gay angle that vampirism always attracts too. In the past there has been a focus on lesbianism in vampire tales but Whedon shifts this to a more contemporary homo-erotic tone. When Luke drinks the Master’s blood there is almost a sexual thrill to his actions and he strokes the head of the big burly bouncer to drink in his fear before draining his life.
  • ‘Nothing will ever be the same again’ says Xander as we cut to the next day and everybody is at school and happy as though nothing has happened. And there is our show. One in which our little band of heroes tackle the forces of darkness so that everybody else can lead their lives normally.
The Bad: It was only when Buffy started listing the many, many ways that Vampires could be killed that I realise what rubbish monsters they actually are! Crosses, garlic, stake through the heart, fire, beheading, sunlight and holy water…why not add in falling down some stairs too! The director cannot really disguise the fact that he doesn’t have a whole lot of sewer to shoot in and so Buffy and Xander’s attempted rescue of Jesse is a little stilted by the fact that really isn’t anywhere to run (saying that there is a fearsome shot of glowing Vampire eyes coming out of the darkness). What a shame that Luke had to die. Brian Thompson brought something savage to the show that wouldn’t be seen again.

Moment to Watch Out For: The finale is gloriously theatrical but pulled off so well because (like all good theatre) the lighting and the performances are so good. It proves again that you don’t need a big budget to make an impact. The vampire threat feels more real here than at practically any other point in the show.

Result: One thing that Buffy exudes even from this early stage is confidence. I personally think it is vital to the shows success. It reminds me of the first few episodes of Doctor Who way back in the sixties in that they were also introducing an audience to some pretty crazy notions but achieved that with such conviction and class that you are prepared to go with it because it is so beguilingly self-assured. The Harvest works so well because it knows exactly where it needs to get to and what it needs to tell its audience to set the series up and it manages it with plenty of humour, scares and entertainment. These characters are so instantly vivid the 45 minutes absolutely flies by because spending time with them is a joy. The Master proves to be a fantastic villain who can camp it up wildly but also turn very scary in and instant and Luke and Darla continue to impress. Massive kudos to the director too who turns the lack of funds to his advantage and stages some very vivid set pieces; the finale in the Bronze is especially powerful because of his use of lighting. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the first season of Buffy considering how old it is now but the opening episodes have proven to be a delight, deftly setting up the series and providing a rollicking good time. Let’s hope they can keep this up: 9/10

The Witch written by Dana Reston and directed by Stephen Cragg

What’s it about: There’s a witch trying out for the cheerleading squad…

The Chosen One: ‘You were chosen to destroy vampires not wave pompoms at people!’ Seeing Buffy standing there in her cheerleading outfit as Giles berates her for not taking her role as the Slayer seriously I was astonished. I had truly forgotten how bubblegum Buffy is in the first season considering the funless speech maker she would become later. Whilst that later, more responsible role gave Sarah Michelle Gellar more to sink her teeth into this is much looser and more fun to watch. You have to feel sorry for her when Joyce says that Buffy isn’t in trouble ‘yet’ as though she expecting her to fail. You can see that Buffy’s mum is in for a whole world of shock when (and if) she finally discovers the truth. She tries to reach out and spend more time with her mum but Joyce is just too busy to focus on cheerleading. Perhaps that didn’t help back in Los Angeles either. Its really great that Joyce isn’t especially good at this parenting lark because it is so easy to portray parents as Godlike oracles who know how to deal with everything (stand up the Kents in Smallville) but this way we get to understand Joyce as well as Buffy as they both feel their way through her adolescence. Buffy has learnt a valuable lesson from Amy to not follow in your mothers footsteps because that way only leads to painful evaluation and comparison. Its strange for them to portray Buffy as being so weak this early in the series run…I would have thought they would have waited until she had established herself before trying to suggest she might die. It doesn’t really have any emotional resonance at this point. Joyce has been trying to understand Buffy but thinks there is a biological imperative whereby that doesn’t work because she isn’t sixteen…and she admits that she wouldn’t go through those teenage years again even if it helped her to understand Buffy.

Ripper: ‘Pardon me for finding the glass half full…’ At this stage Giles is madly excited about the fiends, devils and ghouls that might come pouring out of the Hellmouth. He literally has a hard on for demonic forces in this episode!

Witchy Willow: Hacking into the schools computer becomes a real specialty of Willow’s although I’m pleased they didn’t focus on this angle forever. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of sticking an actress of Alyson Hannigan’s calibre in front of a computer screen.

Gorgeous Geek: ‘I laugh in the face of danger! And then I hide until it goes away…’ Xander is so desperate to go with Buffy he has to buy her good luck bracelets and pretend that they are dating. Compounding that he completely misses the fact that Willow has the hots for him and goes to the lengths of calling her his ‘guy who knows about girls.’ I was caught myself in a embarrassing love triangle like this in my younger days and trust me its even more awkward when its gay guy who fancies straight guy, straight guy who fancies girl and girl who fancies gay guy so a lot of this material resonates because I was utterly obsessed with him whilst I couldn’t for the life of me see that she liked me… Let’s see how this develops because if it ends as badly as mine did we could be in for some supreme fireworks!

Caustic Cordy: Another fine episode for Cordy who is seen trying desperately to get on the cheerleading squad and threatening her nearest rivals in the locker room. She’s very much the school bully at this point and hard to like (although Charisma Carpenter has a good stab at forcing you to like her all the same) especially if you were the subject of such intimidation at school but its fascinating to see how dark they let her character go so early in the run so they can redeem her later.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Why would somebody want to harm Cordelia?’ ‘Maybe because they met her?’
‘I know I’ll miss the intellectual thrill of spelling out words with my arms…’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Oh grow up!’ is the very sophisticated examination that Buffy foists upon Amy’s mother.

The Good:
  • I thought the opening pyrotechnic cheerleading act was impressively realised with the swelling dance music and the giddily fast athletics…everything was moving at such a pace it wouldn’t have made sense if she hadn’t have caught on fire! I think the unnatural speed of this gymnast was giving my television friction burns! Again its Buffy surprising its audience because this is an incredibly hokey premise (revenge of the jealous cheerleader) but with a sympathetic director who wants to capitalise on the horror of such an idea it actually pulls off some effective tension.
  • Amy makes an instant impression because of (what appears to be) her deft characterisation. Her is a woman who is in total awe of her mother and hero worships her to such an extent that she is trying to live up to the legacy she left behind in Sunnydale High. I don’t pretend to be an expert on American schools but I can imagine there is an emphasis of trying to be the best of the best and if your mother was the High School prom Queen, most renowned cheerleader and a total hottie it must be an awful lot to live up to. Its so well portrayed by Elizabeth Anne Allen that you never for a second suspect the foul play at the heart of the episode. Even the little details like the fact that her mom padlocks the fridge and eats nothing but broth rings true when you hear some of the diet extremes celebrities go to in order to keep thin in the States and consider how their fans would torture themselves in similar ways to remain body perfect. Cleverly the episode makes you believe that Amy is so obsessed to duplicate her mums success at High School that she has turned to the black arts and enjoys torturing the woman at home, punishing her for her easy walk through childhood.
  • Again I have to point out the direction which is working wonders with the limited budget. The camera never stops moving with dramatic zooms around the creepiest witch nest in suburbia and weaving its way around the school locker room to suggest there is somebody sneaking up on Amy (there is, its Cordelia). I also love the way the director frames scenes with plenty of background action suggesting a lot of energy in what could have been some less energetic dialogue scenes. The van that threatens to knock the blind Cordelia down is very menacing shot in the foreground.
  • What is the difference between a non sequitur and misdirection? One tends to suggest that the theories stated have no relevance to the topic in question whereas the other is a playful game between the writer and the audience, leading you up one path when the truth is up another. I would say that The Witch is definitely an example of the latter since the Scoobies are clearly on the right path throughout but they don’t have all the information to make the right call. Firstly its finding who to point the finger at and once we have settled on Amy the episode plays about with the idea that she doesn’t know that she is casting spells on people. Everything comes very sharply into focus when the episode reveals is twist.
  • The Shining parody (‘Heeeeere’s Amy!’) with Amy’s mum cutting through the school door with an axe to try and stop Giles from casting her out of her daughters body isn’t exactly subtle but it’s a great deal of fun.

The Bad: There’s a fire in the gym and Buffy isn’t blamed for it? ‘We can reverse all the spells as long as we can get our hands on Amy’s spell book…’ – way to simplify the conclusion, guys. That last shot of Amy’s mums eyes wiggling inside the statue is truly awful and utterly unrepresentative of this episodes tone. It’s the only thing I remembered about this piece when I stuck the DVD to watch it again which is really unfortunate.

Moment to Watch Out For: Amy’s mum is living inside Amy’s body. Its such an obvious ploy and there has been hints throughout and yet I still didn’t get it when I first watched it. Because there is no indication that this might be the case you are lead to believe that Amy is hero worshipping her mum when she in fact is her mum bigging herself up. The terrible way she (apparently) treats her mum is not jealousy but actually her taking out her frustration on Amy trapped in her mums body. I love it when a plot coheres as clearly as this making sense of all the loose ends. It’s a trick that Jonathan Creek often pulls off really well and its done with as much class here.

Fashion Statement: The opening cheerleading scenes are such a blatantly sexist and voyeuristic appeal to the baser nature of man with camera angles between girls legs, revealing stomachs and concentrating on a whole lot of ass as they do somersaults towards the camera. I can’t say I approve of such hedonism but if this was a bunch of guys working out I would be in my element so lets chalk this one down to ‘not for me…but enjoy!’ Xander pretends that scantily clad girls in a revealing posture is a spiritual experience but then most hormonal boys do.

Result: I’d like to be able to fully endorse a Buffy premise (that will come later…) but this is another ‘I can’t believe they managed to pull that off’ review. The Witch is about as irrelevant as an episode of Buffy comes (despite the introduction of Amy) but its still great fun with top notch dialogue and a great deal of energy and charisma. Paradoxically the thing that makes this work is the fact that it takes itself so seriously and that is no mean feat in what is a very funny episode. The witchcraft angle is done with absolute conviction and no small amount of atmosphere and the effects of hands igniting and mouthless faces are dramatically highlighted. Whilst you might be laughing at the very idea of ‘the witches of cheerleading’ bask in the fact that the show sticks two massive fingers in your face by actually pulling it off. What’s more there are some very clever things going on with the construction of this script which leads the audience to all kinds of wrong conclusions before snapping into focus with the devastatingly smart twist about the identity of the witch. Sarah Michelle Gellar seems to enjoy playing this vacuous airhead version of Buffy which is fine because it is just as fun to watch and the continuing love triangle involving her, Xander and Willow is bubbling under very nicely. All told I was really impressed by this. I had not so good memories of it so I walked into it not expecting a great deal but I found this to be another witty, engaging and very watchable episode of Buffy. I look forward to re-evaluating the rest of season one now in the wake of this underrated piece: 8/10

Teachers Pet written by David Greenwalt and directed by Bruce Seth Green

What’s it about: A giant Praying Mantis that is planting her eggs into horny schoolboys. Well you did ask!

The Chosen One: How nice to meet a teacher that really believes in Buffy. How awful that he is decapitated before the end of the pre credits sequence!

Gorgeous Geek: Xander dreams of being a high fluting superhero who can toss a stake at a Vampire one minute and rock down with an electric guitar the next but I actually find him far more sexy as the bumbling, drooling moron we normally hang out with. What is it with people imagining themselves to be something far more overtly charismatic and capable than they are…its exactly the same sort of dream I had in my childhood but I cannot think of a single person I have attracted into my life that has wanted that sort of heighten version of me. They’re happy with the flawed, lowly, bumbling Joe! I love Xander’s utterly speechless reaction to the approaching fox that is Ms French (great music here too) and how this scene plays out like a nature documentary with the weaker male impotent in the horny huntress’ gaze whilst the alpha male steps in and leads her away! Poor Xander, you wonder if at this point if he will ever be able to catch the eye of a girl.

Caustic Cordy: ‘One minute you’re in your normal life and then who’s in the fridge?’ Of all the people to discover a dead body in the freezer it has to be Cordelia who claims that she is utterly traumatised by the event (hardly – she’s the toughest broad on this show!) but then takes advantage of all the attention she can exploit from such a nasty experience. When tragedy strikes you have to look on the bright side and Cordy has lost seven lbs since she found the body! You just have to love this girl.

Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel is still hanging around the Bronze searching for a character but at least Xander thinks he is buff! How embarrassing for David Boreanaz to be given so little to do but trade cryptic clues about giant Praying Manti!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t be sorry. Be Smart’ – that is actually good advice in practically any given situation.

The Good:
  • One of the lovely things that Buffy taps into in its early years is the embarrassing things that teenagers say and do when they are growing up to appear as if they have practically lived their entire life already! Its not clever and its not smart to pretend that you have slept with more people than you have (especially when as is the case here at this age it’s the round total of none) and yet for some reason practically everybody I knew when I was growing up tried it on (including me). In fact I still know some people that do it now!
  • Its about time that we got to see Principal Flutie again and he turns up here and reminds us why there is such a high level of depression in the States! Crisis counselling just because Buffy clapped eyes on a body? He’s still cute as a button but he’s running such a nurturing school he’s going to churn out a bunch of pant wetting cry babies. What this school needs is a tiny Nazi-esque dwarf who hates all children in charge!
 The Bad:
  • Note to David Greenwalt – if you are going to write an episode about a giant Praying Mantis then go for a more subtle route than having the substitute teacher turn up and obsess about the creatures and take personal insult if they are criticised in any way. There’s no point of this episode where you are in any doubt as to the nature of Ms French and in stark contrast to The Witch where they had fun convincing you that Amy was the culprit and then knocking you for six with the truth Teacher’s Pet plays out in precisely the way that you imagine. No surprises means you can write the rest of the episode from about ten minutes in and that’s never a good sign. Plus being so many steps ahead of the regulars makes them look unbelievably dumb and slow to catch up.
  • Wouldn’t you think of somewhere a little more discreet to hide the headless body of the teacher that you have replaced than the canteen fridge? And haven’t we already had bodies turning up unexpectedly out of school equipment? When a show starts recycling elements when its episode count hasn’t reach two figures you have to ask if the show is going to become a little repetitive. Miss French twists her head 180 degrees in the middle of an exam with no fear of being exposed if just one of the students looks up…this is some really sloppy writing.
  • The scene where Buffy has to try and explain to Xander that the woman he has a massive crush on is a big bug (wow just writing it that sounds stupid) and he thinks its because she is jealous that he has feelings for someone else is excruciating to watch. I’m surprised the actors didn’t revolt at such appalling characterisation (‘She’s not an insect! She’s a woman!’).
  • Its nice to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer doing its bit for the promotion of paedophilia! I know technically Xander is a consenting adult at 17 but he is portrayed as a bumbling schoolboy trying to dress as an adult when he visits Miss French’s house. She is bursting from a very sexy black dress and offering him martinis to get him drunk and numb his resistance when she drags him off and has her wicked way with him. There’s no part of this that doesn’t feel really uncomfortable to watch because of its implications. Later in its life Buffy would stick a full on attempted rape scene and that felt shockingly out of place during the most adult period this show ever had (season six was almost entirely serious in its handling of its themes) but to try slide something this tasteless in the most juvenile era of the show (it never gets any more kiddie friendly than series one) is a really bad mistake. If this had been played with a middle aged male teacher attempting to bed one of the female characters I wonder if this material would have been considered acceptable?
  • The climax sees Giles, Willow and Buffy wandering around suburbia trying to guess where Miss French lives and it’s a good indication of how pointless this episode ultimately is. Having to shoehorn in the completely unnecessary subplot about the clawed vampire to lead us to the She Mantis’ lair is another sign of an ill thought out script.
Moment to Watch Out For: Needless to say Buffy the Vampire Slayer does not have the resources at this point to pull of a giant Praying Mantis but they go for broke anyway and clearly unhappy with the results turn the lights down really low so we can barely see the finished result. However you can see enough to plummet what is already an embarrassing farce into something that is almost irredeemable. This is a costume classic Doctor Who would have considered unacceptable. Watching Sarah Michelle Gellar get to grips with this monstrosity is one of the low points of the series.

Fashion Statement: Its very sweet to see the costume department trying to dress up a clearly very young looking Sarah Michelle Gellar in the first scene to look more mature. Compared to her look now where she is more mature (say her stylish look in the recently cancelled Ringer) it looks like a very funny attempt at a kid to look like a grown up!

Foreboding: With luck the creators of this show didn’t think the She Mantis was a brilliant success and so we never met another of her kind. Although the ending with the slowly cracking egg in the supplies cupboard seems to suggest otherwise.

Result: Another dreadful premise but this time there isn’t enough boldness or invention to make it work and so Teacher’s Pet is the sort of episode I wouldn’t want to show to a non-fan of this show in fear of confirming every suspicion they might have about it. This is a tale about a mutant Praying Mantis substitute teacher that is attracting school boys to her lair to have her wicked way with them and then eating them. I realise that Buffy needs to branch out from vampires and prove itself to be a little more eclectic but this is so b movie I don’t know why they didn’t just call it the The Evil Paedophile Mantis of Death! David Greenwalt’s first script offers no surprises, some really excruciating characterisation of Xander and an uncomfortably lurid sexual angle that feels completely out of place. Its monster is so hideously embarrassing the director attempts to hide it in darkness but the damage has already been done with the clumsy script. In the climax when you see Nicholas Brendon staring uncomprehendingly at the paper mache monster wobbling its insects eggs you’ll see the face of an actor wondering what the hell he has got himself into. Fortunately there would be few episodes of Buffy that sink to this level of ineptitude and it’s a shame that this should spoil the shows otherwise sterling opening run: 3/10

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali and directed by David Semel

What’s it about: Buffy the Vampire Slayer just wants to go on a date…

The Chosen One: ‘Buffy while the mere fact that you want to check out a book would be grounds for a national holiday I think we focus on the problem at hand…’ Once again the focus is on Buffy trying to resist her calling and lead a normal life and whilst it is fun to see her so wound up over something as simple as a date its such a shame that they couldn’t find somebody with a little more personality than Owen for her to fall for. More than Welcome to the Hellmouth and even more than The Witch Buffy is being presented as an irresponsible airhead, Clueless style, and once again its actually cuter than it is annoying which is mostly down to Gellar. During the climax when Buffy kicks the crap out of the vampire of the week and roasts him alive we get to see a tiny fraction of the fire that would burn in Buffy’s chest in later seasons.

Ripper: Giles is examining Buffy on her technique which he rates poorly because she spends too much time and energy (and wit) on each kill when it should just be plunge and move on. Giles thinks that Emily Dickenson is quite a good poet for an American.

Caustic Cordy: ‘Hello salty goodness!’ When she has her sights set on a guy Cordelia is vicious and she practically trips up Buffy in the canteen so she loses her dinner all over the floor in front of Owen! Her egomania knows no bounds (that’s why we love her) and when Owen asks who else is going to the Bronze her only response could be ‘besides me?’ When she sees Buffy clinging onto Owen on the dance floor she wonders if there should be laws against that sort of thing and then flings herself at him and suggests that it is really kind that he is willing to give up his time for a special needs girl like Buffy. She’s so utterly vile I love her!

Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel has endured years of torment as a vampire with a soul and yet somehow his lowest ebb seems to come here when he can barely get the words ‘you’re here on a date?’ out. Somehow he is even more pathetic than usual.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ll just jump in my time machine, go back to the 12th Century and ask the vampires to postpone their ancient prophecy for a few days while you take in dinner and a show!’ ‘Okay at this point you’re abusing sarcasm!’
‘Clark Kent has a job! I just want to go on a date!’

The Good:
  • Firstly can I say how wonderful it is to see Mark Metcalf back as the Master. He was one of many highlights in the pilot episode and his vanishing act has not been to the series advantage since. The way he cheekily includes an admonishment to the prophecy he is reading out because one of his minions has been out feeding without permission is very funny. Secondly he kicks off the Anointed One plot which sounds like the grumblings of an arc to me and the sooner Buffy starts laying down long term storytelling plans the better in my eyes. Thirdly its fun to start speculating just who the Master’s greatest warrior might be and before the end of the episode you might just have been hoodwinked by his true identity.
  • The ‘tonight we go into battle!’ gag where we cut to Buffy and Giles sitting bored in the graveyard made me chuckle. Is it my imagination or is this a real graveyard that they are using in the first season? The lighting and atmosphere is certainly very different to subsequent seasons when I know they are in a studio.
  • I really like the sequence with the bus crash because it is the scariest thing we have seen since the first two episodes. It has a creepy, hallucinatory quality especially when the driver fumbles his way over to what appears to be a dead body but turns out to be a vampire who kills him and menaces those on the bus.
  • With one date Buffy manages to make Xander, Angel and Cordelia jealous which goes to show how well defined these characters are already. Without words we can see with each of these characters how much this dance is affecting them.
  • The final twist that the kid is the Anointed One makes more of an impact than much of the episode itself. It made me want to go back and watch the bus scene again and see how I had been fooled. More moments like this please Buffy, you’re very good at pulling rabbits out of hats like this.
 The Bad:
  • I cannot imagine a more wet suitor for Buffy than Owen the poetry reading puppy who walks glumly around the school corridors in his fluffy jumpers. What were was the director thinking casting Christopher Wiehl as even a potential date for Buffy? I actually think a little less of the character as a result and it makes me warm to Angel a little more (which really annoys me). Big soulful eyes, no charisma or personality, a dearth of humour…maybe he reminds me of Angel but at least in the right light David Boreanaz is imminently lickable. This guy is the walking embodiment of vanilla ice cream (Willow describes him as ‘solitary and mysterious’ which basically means completely without a personality) and to see Buffy fawning over somebody this bland leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Watch the way he holds Cordelia when they are supposed to be having a sexy dance at the Bronze – it looks like he is giving his grandmother a cuddle! What kind of boy takes a girl out on a first date and starts harping on about how obsessed he is by poetry and how morbid it is? What kind of girl (beyond the Goths and Emos) would find that attractive? He dances like a shat himself too. Owen is such a numpty that when a man with fangs tries to bite him he declares him a sissy! Throughout the climax I was longing for him to be murdered horribly but this time my dreams were unfulfilled. Shame. ‘Like walk down town at three in the morning and pick a fight. How about tonight?’ Is this guy for real?
Moment to Watch Out For: When Buffy has to let Owen go at the end in case he winds up getting killed Giles chooses that moment to give her a placatory speech about his past. It’s a very sweet moment between them and the first chance to see the touching relationship that is going to grow on these foundations. Gellar and Head have terrific chemistry and I can’t wait to see where they take us.

Result: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date is Buffy honing its skills but it hasn’t quite got the formula right yet. There are some wonderful moments from Giles, Cordelia continues to impress (at this point its easy to see how much Joss Whedon is investing in the character especially when you know how much she is going to change), clever moments of subversion (the terrifying faces at the window of the funeral home turn out to be…Xander and Willow!) and even a twist that really rips the carpet from beneath you (the identity of the Anointed One). Unfortunately this is all extraneous material tacked onto the far less engaging ‘Buffy tries to go on a date’ plot which might have worked if the guy she moons over wasn’t been the most tedious bore I have ever clapped my eyes on. It is impossible to care about the main plot because Owen is a construct of such yawning banality (and the actor doesn’t bring anything to the role) you want him to die so the show can get on with something more interesting. The action that centres around the funeral home lacks a lot of punch and the fact that Owen escapes the episode unscathed is a major disappointment. Its one of those Buffy episodes that feels as though it should be better than it is but a lot of this is dragged down by a poor casting choice: 5/10

The Pack written by Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer and directed by Bruce Seth Green

What’s it about: Xander has turned into the school bully…

The Chosen One: So many series one episodes reference the Buffy/Xander/Willow love triangle but The Pack is pretty much the only episode of the year (aside from Prophecy Girl) that embodies the drama of the relationships between the three of them. Buffy is very handy with a fire extinguisher!

Ripper: I wonder if Giles is comfortable as being described as ‘the expert on weird?’ His assertion that testosterone turns all men into morons sounds like it comes from personal experience. I chuckled when it appeared that Giles had found a fellow bookworm in the zookeeper to talk mythology too when actually he was feeding him all the information he needs to complete the ritual and draw the hyenas into himself. Clever stuff. Figuring all this out a little too late nearly costs Giles his life. He’ll have to be a little more on the ball in the future.

Witchy Willow: Willow fancies Xander so much that she even knows his blood pressure! This is so exploitable in dramatic terms (plus the fact that Willow is as cute as a button) and I’m glad that The Pack finally begins to pay off this invisible character thread. Xander telling Willow that he only ever hung out with her because she helped him out with his math is crushing for her and works because it isn’t uncommon (as Giles points out) for kids to move on and make new friends and hurt the old ones on the way. When Willow talks Xander in the cage and he appears to be getting through to her she proves to be far more savvy than that and knows that he is just saying what she wants to hear. Its painful to watch because you know that deep within here this is exactly how she would like Xander to feel about her.

Gorgeous Geek: Bestill my beating heart Nicholas Brendon is on fine form in this episode as he is shoehorned into the very insidious role of a school bully. Astonishingly it’s a role that suits his style of performance really well and he completely sells his presence as the leader of the pack. There’s none of those geeky quirks that make him so appealing and he exudes confidence. Needless to say if I didn't already fancy the ass off of Nicholas Brendon this would have sealed the deal for me! 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Xander’s taken to teasing the less fortunate?’ ‘A-huh’ ‘And there’s a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanour?’ ‘Yes’ ‘And otherwise all of his spare time is spent longing about with indolence?’ ‘Its bad, isn’t it?’ ‘Its devastating. He’s turned into a sixteen year old boy. Of course you’ll have to kill him.’

The Good:
  • Now this is a story with a premise I can buy into. Not so much that the kids are possessed by a bunch of hyenas (that’s par for the course for Buffy at the moment) but as a metaphor for bullying and how invasive and terrifying it can be its one of the strongest ideas in the first season. It really helps that Xander’s four stooges were despicable already (listen to the blonde hair girl who is giggling like a hyena before she is possessed) and that even Buffy is not able to escape their insulting charms. In the first scene alone you can see some real bullying tactics, flying at somebody’s face, belittling their efforts, getting people to do things they wouldn’t normally and to lie for them. The scene where they hold Lance close to the hyena pit enjoying his fear reminds me strongly of some of the scenes I saw at school when I was growing up. It’s the sort of thing schools like to pretend doesn’t happen at their establishment and nothing gets done. There’s one moment during the dodge ball game which was especially uncomfortable as Xander’s pack turn on Lance and all attack her at once and the teacher literally gets off on the savagery of their assailment. There’s a difference between engendering sporting spirit and countenancing bullying.
  • The possession scene is really well done when it comes which is very impressive because (considering what we have seen so far with mutant preying manti) it could have been ridiculous. The lighting drenches the pen in shadows, there is a breathtaking ariel shot that swoops down on the possessed kids and the way they turn as one to laugh at Lance tells you everything you need to know about what has just happened. Very nicely done.
  • Poor, pathetic, loveable Principal Flutie. He was such a dopey character and one that you couldn’t help but like despite the fact that he represents everything about America that the rest of world shakes their head at. Buffy was marking itself out as a different kind of show already by killing off a semi regular character so soon into its run (Angel tried a similar thing with Doyle in its opening stretch but that wasn’t quite as successful because he was not only one of the leads but also the most appealing on as far as I was concerned. After he was killed I had no reason to watch anymore) but making that character Flutie and making his death so ridiculous and yet so scary was a stroke of genius. Anybody can be shot or stabbed but to write out a character being cannibalised by a bunch of school kids possessed by hyenas…that takes real bravery! The reason why this death is referenced for years to come is because it worked so well here and its fine to remind your audience of your past successes. It’s the complete defiance of authority that makes this scene so effective – Flutie is attempting admonish the kids for their sick behaviour and they close in on him, scratch his face, enjoy turning the tables and making him scared. Its when you realise that he is helpless as they surround and approach him hungrily that give this death its frisson. It is insane that the character gets eaten but its filmed so well you wont question it at all. Cutting to the image of real hyenas tearing apart a corpse tells us everything we need to know about the fate of our lovable principal.
  • Move over Babe, that is the cutest pig I have ever seen! I was almost as horrified by his death as I was by Mr Flutie’s!
  • The song that plays after they have had their fill of raw bacon is superb, a really catchy rock number. Something you can always count on in these early Buffy episodes (and something that was sadly lost in its latter years on the whole) was that the soundtrack would be excellent.
  • I love a neat conclusion so the zookeeper being possessed by the hyena and knocked into their cage and eaten by them ties everything up in a satisfyingly violent fashion.
The Bad: The leap that Buffy makes from Xander being a school bully to being possessed by hyenas just because Giles says something similar to the zookeeper is typically sketchy BTVS logic at this point in the show.

Moment to Watch Out For: There’s a double whammy climax with two scenes that will make your skin crawl. The first is Willow alone in the library as the hyenas prowl about the windows whispering her name on the breeze. The second sees them attacking a random car in the street, smashing the window and dragging out a kid to eat. Given what has already happened to Principal Flutie this is pretty creepy material. It’s the first time we’ve had a proper chase around the school after hours which would go on to become the norm in the first three years and that is worth a cheer. Making Willow think that she has managed to evade them and waiting in the darkness to catch her when she tries to escape always makes me jump!

Result: There is a reason that films about kids terrorising adults keep being made (Eden Lake) because it’s a genuinely frightening concept. There seems to be a nervous feeling that has crept into our consciousness that we have bred a race of little terrors and stories of lustful, angry, violent children coming together to terrorise people really taps into that. The Pack works for similar reasons although the emphasis is more on bullying which is such a formidable issue to tackle and one that so many children (and adults) can buy into. Watching the five of them walk around and make peoples lives hell is one thing, having the them kill Principal Flutie is another and that is the point where they go from being school bullies to something much more scary. It’s a great episode for Nicholas Brendon who gets to throw off all of Xander’s social awkwardness and exude confidence and the way it taps into the Buffy/Xander/Willow love triangle with such devastating results makes this one of the most satisfying episodes of the first year. I remember after watching the pilot of Buffy I was pretty disappointed with everything that followed until The Pack came along. Again it flaunted an outrageous premise but the difference between this and the episodes preceding it was its dark tone and uncompromising direction from Bruce Seth Green. It’s a memorable episode for all the right reasons and remains imminently watchable and relevant all these years later: 9/10

Angel written by David Greenwalt and directed by Scott Brazil

What’s it about: The truth about Angel is revealed…

The Chosen One: Joyce meeting Angel is the first time the two sides of her life collide and its is as gloriously awkward as we all hoped! Joyce has a look on her face that suggests she knows exactly what sort of studying that Buffy is getting up to as though she has been there herself at her age. Buffy having Angel stay in her bedroom is asking for trouble but considering the two are mad about each other its hardly surprising. As soon as Angel plays its hand (his vampiric tendencies) it becomes clear what Buffy’s role is in their relationship (irritatingly pointed out by Xander who is trying to exploit the situation to his advantage) – she is his executioner. It doesn’t matter how much they try and convince you otherwise this storyline was always going to end with Buffy killing Angel. It was just a matter of time.

Ripper: Giles knows what is going on all the time because he can be found in the library from midnight until dawn researching the horrors of the night. Its lovely to be able to watch Buffy training with Giles (although I do wonder how he would explain it away if somebody chose that moment to borrow a book) as he focuses her skills and has her try out all kinds of weapons. Its training that would come in handy as Buffy (as Giles says) doesn’t know who or what she will be fighting in the future.

Gorgeous Geek: I cannot dance in any way, shape or form and even I was embarrassed watching Xander shake his booty on the strobe lit dance floor at the beginning of the episode! He tries to chivalrously offer his house as a safe place for Buffy to stay whilst the Three are out looking for her but completely forgetting that as a protector he is about as useful as a condom in the Vatican. Jealousy is not an attractive characteristic and the writers need to give Xander new focus if he isn’t going to become stale. There’s only so long he can offer disapproving comments on Buffy and Angel’s relationship like a parent who has lost control.

Caustic Cordy: For a moment it sounds as though Cordy has overheard Xander decrying the fact that Buffy is in love with a vampire when she is just appalled that somebody is wearing the same outfit as her. Thank goodness for her vanity! Although the idea of introducing her into the Scoobies is so tempting I’m surprised they managed to hold off as long as this.

Puppy Dog Eyes: ‘For a hundred years you have not had a moments peace because you will not accept who you are…’ Buffy desperately need to give this character a little more depth because in 6 episodes all it has managed to amass is the repeated joke that he turns up with a dire warning and then melts back into the shadows. That’s not much for David Boreanaz to cling on to and the result has been a very forgettable character (unless you go in for those brooding types which I’m not). Even I have to admit there is something very steamy about the scene where Buffy stands there bandaging a shirtless Angel and they can barely take their eyes off each other. If you could have sex with a look then that would be the one! Its been a long time since anybody has been in a position to let him know if he can snore and he’s slept in a lot worser places than Buffy’s bedroom floor – the emphasis is on him living a lonely, miserable existence. Under other circumstances a man who watches you from the shadows and hangs about in your bedroom closet watching your mother clean your room could be really creepy. When he says he is older than her he has a gift for the understatement. The fact that he used to be a vicious, violent animal before he came to America leaves the character open to further painful examination and consequences from his past coming back to haunt him. Darla is like a seductive representation of his darker side try to bring him back into the fold. Angel might hide in the shadows whispering threats to Buffy (its his favourite thing to do after all) but the truth is that he wants her to kill him to end his torment. He admits that he killed his family, his friends and his friends children. We better hope that he never loses that soul.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I am weary and their deaths will bring me little joy…’ MULTIPLE DUSTINGS ‘…sometimes a little is enough.’  The Master continues to be a delightful villain especially when his cohorts keep letting him down!
‘I’m supposed to help her with the War of Independence. My family sort of goes back to those days.’
‘For a hundred years I offered ugly death to everyone I met…and I did it with a song in my heart.’
‘You love someone who hates us. You’re sick.’

The Good:
  • Buffy being terrorised by the Three in her own home is far more threatening than her being attacked on the streets or in the graveyard. Plus it brings the threat much closer to Joyce and threatens to expose her. That house would see take some battering over the years to the point where in season seven they are joking about how many times the lounge has been renovated!
  • Much of Buffy season one has felt like children’s television (or certainly teenage television – appealing to no-one than the Saved by the Bell brigade) but the first scene between Angel and Darla in his hovel is exquisitely performed and scripted and feels like it is aiming somewhat higher. This is the tone that Buffy would adopt full time in the future. They talk of their long history together and you get a vivid sense of how far back this vampire menace has spread and how long they have managed to conceal themselves in the shadows. Its really evocative stuff.
  • I’m so used to seeing Julie Benz playing the butter-wouldn’t-melt Rita in Dexter (it’s a fantastic role which she has embodied completely – she pulls off the innocent victim with rare accuracy and over four seasons empowers herself) that to head back to a point before that role where she was dressing up as schoolgirls and baring vampire fangs is a real shock. She really gets her teeth into this role (groan) and relishes the chance to throw off her femininity and embody a truly evil character. She’s really impressive and a world away from the performances that Gellar, Hannigan and the others are giving at this point. When Darla pulls out two guns and approaches Buffy with strobe lit menace I had goosebumps at how cool this villainess was. The lighting and effects work in this scene is absolutely top notch. What a shame we would never see Darla again (on this show at least).
  • Darla appearing in the doorway behind Joyce is genuinely frightening. There is something far more insidious about being attacked through your loved ones and suddenly Buffy is presenting a whole new world of scary. Buffy coming home and finding Joyce bloody in Angel’s arms was inevitable and you have to feel for the guy as he is tossed through a window and told to piss off.
  • The episode is expertly structured to allow us to get as close as possible to both Buffy and Angel and for them to get as close to each other before ripping them apart and forcing them to acknowledge their roles and try and kill each other. The closing scene is a beautifully mature moment between Buffy and Angel who have been through a very trying time and managed to come out the other side as better people. It’s a very adult moment and a sure sign of a show that has come of age through this episode. The cross burnt into Angel’s chest reminds us that their feelings are only ever going to cause them pain.

The Bad: Colin might have seemed like a great idea at the time (it certainly packed a dramatic punch at the end of Never Kill a Boy on a First Date) but the fallout is less than impressive with the kid skimming stones in the Master’s lair and looking for all the world like a twinkie on a day trip. As the embodiment of evil he fails to pass muster because the kid is giving a lacklustre performance and the director isn’t even trying to make him scary. When ‘the Three’ were walking through the streets in slow motion and chain mail looking for all the world like they mean business I had flashbacks of the Terminator. I guess that’s not an encouraging sign when a 90s show gives me nostalgia for the 80s! Joyce is beyond lame for thinking that she slipped and cut herself on a barbecue fork! That woman is seriously in denial!

Moment to Watch Out For: Buffy kissing Angel and his face changing revelation is a great, great moment that puts the series on a whole new footing. She’s a slayer, he’s a vampire and they are in love with each other. Shakespeare perfected the star crossed lovers tale back in the day but this is a gripping extension of Romeo and Juliet. This cannot end well for either character but this not going to stop them trying.

Result: This is a completely different kind of episode of Buffy. So far each episode has had a crazy premise and the characters have been roped in to bring them to life. This time the focus is entirely on character with no insane supernatural theme getting in the way. Later in the shows life the latter would completely swamp the former but here is an extremely refreshing dip into high drama and the first episode that I can completely endorse to somebody who is not a Buffy fan. I’ve made no secret that I am not the biggest fan of Angel but this really is in a difference league to what we have already seen – David Boreanaz might be a vacuous actor whose subtleties of performance might be construed as borderm but this is still a rock solid setting up of his character and a griping piece of television in its own right. His first transformation into a vampire is another great shock that season one pulls out of the bag and it forces Buffy out of her ditzy airhead persona into somebody dealing with very mature, complex feelings. Darla is a phenomenal villain and she is literally wasted here and the Master continues to get all the best scenes. In its early years Buffy drip feeds you moments of nectar with the villains rather than exploiting them to the full which is a crying shame because they are such good characters and they deserve more screen time. This is far more sinister than the Buffy movie could ever have been – suddenly the TV series is a phenomenon in its own right. Angel is sexy, dark and delicious: 9/10

I Robot, You Jane written by Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden and directed by Stephen Posey

What’s it about: Willow has an online boyfriend…

The Chosen One: When Buffy realises that Willow has a boy-crush and a potential boyfriend she is like a dog leaping at its master for sausages! Her ‘he might be a circus freak…he’s probably a circus freak!’ made me laugh out loud for the first time this season. Gellar can be really funny when she lets her hair down. She’s delighted when she has knowledge about something geeky and enters this reputation destroying territory in order to help her friend. Buffy scoffs Giles’ suggestion that she tails Dave in dark glasses and an overcoat and can you guess what she is doing in the next scene?

Ripper & Ms Calendar: ‘Soon you will join us in the 20th Century! With three whole years to spare!’ Giles has a phobia of computers taking away the ability to read a good book (I wonder if he owns a Kindle now?) and isn’t afraid to hide it. He calls them ‘idiot boxes’ and has a look on his face like he has just chewed on a lemon. The second he and Ms Calendar cross swords there is instant sexual chemistry there to be exploited. It’s the rarest of things – a romance between two secondary characters that doesn’t suck (and isn’t twee) despite them both being extremely likable. Giles feels as though his case has been made when Fritz starts talking reverently about being ‘jacked in’ online but there’s Ms Calendar there to make this cyber-Nazi look as ridiculous as he sounds. He doesn’t adhere to the idea that because something is new, its better and she doesn’t think that information should be held in a single repository where nobody can get at it. You can see the problem – they’re both right. Jenny is revealed to be a technopagan and doesn’t even raise an eyebrow at the idea of a demon corrupting the internet. Great because she is a very engaging character so now she is in on the secret lets hope we see an awful lot more of her.  I completely understand what Giles is saying about books smelling musty and rich, the aroma of knowledge. But ultimately I still have a Kindle because it means that my flat isn’t overrun with novels (it was threatening to become a library and my husband was on the verge of a nervous breakdown!) and I can still absorb the knowledge of so many writers.

Witchy Willow: I honestly do not get all the hate about this episode. For a start it pushes the glorious Alison Hannigan into the limelight for the first time and she is such a fine actress she takes the quirky script and runs with it. Willow has been the most neglected of the Scoobies so far (something that would be rectified to the nth degree by the end of the show where she is arguably the series most important character) and once again it is easy to why she was so appealing because we all love someone who is put down upon finding their confidence and standing up for themselves and that all begins here for Willow. Its lovely to see Willow (who is so wrapped up in Malcolm) completely fail to generate any interest in Xander’s incredible plans in the evening (he’s planning on being incredibly witty and make fun of everybody that wont talk to him!). Could it be that Willow is getting over him? 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘To read makes our speaking English good!’ – may I suggest that Xander does not go into espionage? Its lovely to see somebody point out the strange fact that Buffy and co are always frequenting the library.

The Good:
  • The Moloch make up is excellent and far more intricate than anything we have yet seen on this show including the vampires. This is the kind of make up job that would be lauded forever more had it turned up in classic Doctor Who. The effect of him dissolving into words that pour into a book are pretty impressive too! Even at this point we are used to Giles giving us a potted history of the latest demon to rear its ugly head from out of the Hellmouth so its refreshing to actually experience that history for once.
  • Whilst it almost threatens to tip over into ‘evil giant preying mantis’ premise territory there is something rather ingenious about giving supernatural horror a contemporary spin by having Willow scan Moloch from the pages of a book into the computer. I’ve seen loads of TV series that have touted an out of control artificial intelligence menace (indeed I recently watched The X-Files Ghost in the Machine) but at least I Robot, You Jane gives you a reason why technology has suddenly become dangerous. It might be scientifically stupid but its imaginative enough to make me happy. The POV shot from inside the screen of the computer watching Buffy and pulling up her records is really creepy and almost justifies this age old ‘evil AI’ premise being dragged out again.
  • There’s a really interesting discussion between Buffy and Xander about the dangers of internet dating and the possibility that people might not be who they claim to be. Its easy to be whatever you want behind a screen and a thousand miles away…speaking as somebody whose mother was well into internet dating for about five years the reality of who she met and the claims made online (usually with the use of ten year old pictures) were a world apart.
  • I love the random moments at the beginning of scenes that shows that Malcolm is affecting everybody’s lives and not just Willows! The guy with the carbon dated laptop has lost his paper, a kid has been force fed penicillin even though he’s allergic and the Pope is blaming a computer error for the current financial discrepancies!
  • Its so easy to forget when things get all adult and fractured in this show what an effective unit Buffy, Willow and Xander were as teenagers. The last scene is the perfect representation of that as they sit their and laugh about their ailing love lives. Buffy has fallen for a vampire, Xander a preying mantis and Willow a robot! They really are made for each other!
The Bad:
  • I’m not sure I am that keen on the overly melodramatic re-affirming of the shows premise at the beginning of every episode in the second half of season one. It makes the show feel far more campy and ridiculous than it actually is. Mind you I’m not entirely certain I liked the ever extending ‘previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s…’ later in the series. If people can’t be bothered to watch every week don’t punish the rest of us with never-ending reprieves!
  • Why do people in American TV shows always slam their lockers but never actually lock them? I know I’m being petty but it’s a common sight that really bugs me! Stop making a statement, protect your property!
  • I guess we had to see a robot eventually given the (ridiculous) title and whilst the design is really fun mechanical version of the Moloch demon (again Doctor Who fans would be decrying this as one of the best ever robots if it featured on that show) there’s only one tone a show can adopt when you have a cheerleader cum demon fighter engaging in hand to hand combat with a demon trapped in a robot – b movie camp!
Moment to Watch Out For: Malcolm writing out Dave’s suicide note before he kills him is very, very scary. Its not just the idea that his death will be given completely the wrong emphasis and punish the parents, it’s the way that Malcolm wants him to know that he is going to kill him. Brrr… That he is found hanging from the ceiling with the note pinned to his chest is both very funny and really disturbing. And that’s not an easy mix to pull off.

Notes: One of several Buffy/DS9 crossovers; this episode was directed by Steve Posey who also handled the excellent Treachery, Faith and the Great River and Chimera for season seven of the Trek spin off. Another notable crossover is Jane Espenson (who becomes one of Buffy’s most celebrated writers) scripted the gorgeous season four episode Accession.

Result: Held in notoriety as one of the worst Buffy episodes of all time…this isn’t even the worst episode of the first season! I Robot, You Jane (like most Buffy this year) has a crazy ass premise that if you were told about it in conversation it would probably convince you to not bother with the show. There is often a gulf between an idea and its presentation and this is great example of a script that is bubbling with great lines and fun characterisation and a director who is determined to give the story a serious tone. The idea of a demon trapped in the internet is well realised as Malcolm insidiously slips into peoples minds and starts creating his own brand of killers. For the first half an hour this is as good as Buffy has been in its debut season but once Malcolm downloads himself into a robot body things go slightly off the rails into an awkward climax. Still for the most part this is a highly engaging cyber thriller with a great new element added to the show (Jenny Calendar) and lots of funny (he’s probably a circus freak!’) and scary (Dave’s murder dressed up as a suicide) moments. Enjoyable: 7/10

The Puppet Show written by Dean Batali & Rob Des Hotel and directed by Ellen S. Pressman

What’s it about: A killer that removes the victims heart?

The Chosen One: There’s a lovely feeling in The Puppet Show of all the character elements coming together to make a really effective team. After lots of episodes that have given the focus to a single regular with varying results (Buffy in Angel, Willow in I Robot, You Jane and Xander in Teacher’s Pet) it is lovely to see an ensemble show like this that highlights the strengths of all of the regulars. Once you add in a witty script with great lines for everyone (‘can I still wear a wire?’) you have a winning Buffy formula before the plot is even considered. Thank goodness Buffy is on hand with her irrational fear of Sid the Dummy making me look a little less like a cry baby than I otherwise would! Although she does come across rather like a crazy person with her constant cries of ‘it was the dummy!’

Ripper: ‘How did he ever get that gig?’ Its very interesting to be watching The X-Files and Buffy side by side because just this morning I watched the abysmal episode Fire which hung most of its respect on its ability to characterise the English well. It sucked. It strikes me as interesting to hop across to Buffy and to marvel in the delight that is Rupert Giles – another English character in an American show – and how they got it so right here. All the things I complained about in the X-Files episode is in evidence; Giles is pompous, stuffy and stereotyped to a degree but there is the added humour, the feeling that the show is never once looking down on the character (quite the opposite in fact) and the added charms of Anthony Stewart Head who absolutely nails the part of an Englishman abroad. He’s just wonderful and whilst the show has neglected him a little that would shortly be rectified as we move into season two. Giles is given the unfortunate position of taking control of the talent show which he loathes but gets his revenge on Buffy, Willow and Xander when they are forced to take part. His trick with Cordelia and hair made me howl…its amazing how often I’ve used that one! I think this episode proves that Giles is much more comfortable surrounded by his musty old books than being forced to interact with the kids but also that he is great fun to watch when pushed out of his comfort zone. Of course Giles is going to be the one the demon is after…his brain outwits that of a computer!

Witchy Willow: One final laugh as Willow dashes off stage during the credits.

Gorgeous Geek: You’re just waiting for Xander to get his comeuppance when he starts abusing Sid by bashing his head on the desk and when that moment comes – he vanishes when his back is turned – I laughed my head off! I might have known he’d be a chair jumper and Giles and Willow’s feet scampering terrors are almost as funny. If I were Xander I would remind Giles that I was the one responsible for saving his head from being sliced open like a boiled egg every time he looked down at me!

Caustic Cordy: Nothing could have prepared me (or Giles) for the aural delights of Cordy singing ‘The Greatest Love of All.’ Probably the most spine chilling moment of the series to date. When murder is afoot naturally Cordelia is the one who suffers the most and Emily just happened to be her best friend (so much so that she cannot even remember her name properly). 

Mr Snidey:My predecessor Mr Flutie may have gone in for all that touchy feely relating nonsense. But he was eaten. You’re in my world now…’ Never has a Principal been more aptly named! Snyder is delightful character played by the ever impressive (stealing the show in practically every episode he appears in as he had a wont to do in Deep Space Nine) Armin Shimmerman. Never replace like with like because that always leads to comparisons so whereas Principal Flutie went for the cotton wool approach and wanted to protect the children under his care Snyder hates every single one of them and walks into Buffy’s life with her cards already marked. Whilst that makes Flutie more likable he had no long term worth whereas Snyder is a much more fun character and adversary for Buffy and friends to try and avoid as much as possible. How she makes it all the way to graduation with this evil imp dogging her every footsteps in beyond me! Snyder is literally the geeky little boy who never had any friends who grew up and managed to scrape a position in power and enjoys wrecking horrible vengeance on the next generation for daring to enjoy themselves. He’s the guy you love to hate. There are moments in this episode where he is portrayed as something far more sinister than the school Principal and seen hiding in the shadows. For a moment I wondered if he was responsible for all this (after all the POV shots of the demon are at about his height!).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A dramatic scene is the easiest way to get through the talent show because it doesn’t require an actual talent!’ – way to go Willow! Exposing actors as talentless!
‘Once you go wood nothing’s as good!’
‘You’re strong. Athletic. Limber. Ummm…nubile.’
‘I don’t get it. What is it? Avant-garde?

The Good:
  • Let’s be honest about this…ventriloquists dummies are creepy! Its something about the eyes that do it for me, the way they seem to wander of their own accord. Or it might be because they are an approximation of the human form being controlled by another and something far more psychological is going on in my old brain box. Either way centring an episode around an apparently possessed vents dummy is a pretty good way to get me clutching a cushion before the credits begin! Did any of you see the movie Dead Silence? Absolutely ridiculous from start to finish with signposted moments of tension where all sound in the room bled away as the creature attacked and a travesty of a twist ending that had to be seen to be believed…but it had the freakiest ventriloquists doll you have ever seen! Despite my critical faculties screaming at me I was still cuddling my hubby like a big baby! Even worse…the conclusion featured a gallery of hundreds of vents dolls all coming to life at once! Brr! I really like how the POV shots are trying to convince us that Sid is the killer from the off. Whilst the show has had some great episodes in the interim (The Pack, Angel) The Puppet Show is the first episode since The Witch that has tried to trick the audience into looking one way whilst brutally murdering people in other direction. The shot of Sid at the window when Buffy turns her lights out means I wont sleep for a week. Nice one. He also does a freaky full on Exorcist twist in class and stares at Buffy with those glassy eyes.
  • Its easy to laugh but I love the twist that the dummy and Buffy have been hunting each other down and thinking that the other is the demon! Only on this show! Then to learn that a former demon slayer has been trapped in the body of a vents doll for years…well you could take the piss but why bother when this is all such giddy fun?
  • The brain that falls to the floor wobbling like a horrid veiny blamange! Could this be any more over the top? I love it! We haven’t seen such fabulous brain slopping since Doctor Who’s The Brain of Morbius in the seventies!

The Bad: It does seem strange that nobody seems to be paying the slightest bit of attention to the fact that Morgan is having a nervous breakdown right in front of their eyes. All everyone cares about is the damn puppet!

Moment to Watch Out For: The shots of Sid trying to stab Buffy with a carving knife are hands down the funniest scenes of the entire first year! How on Earth they thought they could get away with something this outrageous boggles the mind! Mind you the closing scene where the curtain comes up over the carnage, demon and dummy corpses with Snyder’s bemused reaction is damn funny too.

Result: A really quirky, laugh-a-minute episode that manages to stay the right side of farcical. Personally I think it is very irresponsible for Buffy to be handling such an idea as evil ventriloquists dummies (or even potential evil ventriloquist dummies!) because they are one a very few things that seriously give me the wiggins! What might have come across as a really dopey idea is handled terrifically by the director and Sid is given all the best lines so he is great fun to be around. Well I say that Sid is given all the best lines but actually he shares them with Snyder and Armin Shimmerman makes an instant impression as the evil midget Nazi Principal from hell. With a script that is pulling off some clever sleight of hand (nicely done considering the theme), indulging in plenty of fun interplay by bringing all the regulars together into a sunny ensemble and with plenty of visual distractions you have an excellent standalone Buffy episode that isn’t trying to say anything deep but give you a damn good time. This is definitely Buffy going for the entertainment jugular rather than trying to be a serious adult drama (it finds that tone in its later years and kind of forgets about the fun) but when the results are as watchable as this I cannot say that I give a damn. Infinitely preferable to bilge like Teacher’s Pet and a sign of Buffy’s growing confidence: 8/10

Nightmares written by David Greenwalt and directed by Bruce Seth Green

What’s it about: Peoples nightmares are coming to life…

The Chosen One: Buffy’s dad seems a hugely important part of her life in this episode but actually it is quite a narrative dead end that is barely mentioned after Nightmares and would be completely ignored in future seasons where his presence should have been mandatory. It might have been better had he simply gone AWOL from the beginning of the series to avoid any messy questions later. Buffy does mention that she was a ‘a complete mess’ after her mum and dad split up which would go on to be the basis of the phenomenal season six episode Normal Again. Joyce tries to do the both parents adore you speech but Buffy is quietly mortified and skidaddles as quickly as possible. It is nice to see that Buffy has other emotional issue besides her relationship with Angel though – season one has done a marvellous job of presenting us with this airhead character and with each episode adding layers until come the climax she is a much more sophisticated individual than initially presented. Strangely the one fear that does get referenced again after this episode is the one that feels most irrelevant and that’s Buffy’s inability to complete the test that she hasn’t studied for. Her lack of faith in her academic ability is large part of her journey in season four. Its nice to see Hank and Giles meet and shake hands (even if it is only a nightmare version of her dad) because this is the point where he takes over parental responsibility from her real dad so it is (kind of) a passing the torch moment. The moment when Buffy’s fears all come true and her father tells her that she was the reason that he and her mother split up is horrible. Speaking as somebody who comes from a broken home it would be devastating to hear something like that. It’s a watershed moment for Sarah Michelle Gellar who underplays the scene and broke my heart.

Ripper: Giles’ biggest fear is that he cannot read which is tied into his character but not terribly original. The scene where he discovers Buffy’s grave is much more affecting.

Gorgeous Geek: Xander is getting to the stage now where he finds any supernatural problem nonchalant and imminently solvable. He should remember last week when he leapt up on a desk at the thought of psycho Sid the Dummy. I cheered the moment when he turned around and punched his childhood fear in the face – if only we could all be so bold.

Caustic Cordy: Cordelia’s hideously knotted hair is worth a chuckle (although it is hardly the funniest gag surrounding the character in the shows debut season) but I a starting to wonder how much longer this character can continue to exist on the periphery of events behaving in such a shallow way. Fortunately Out of Sight, Out of Mind is the very next episode.

The Good:
  • I’m one of those freakish people that thinks that spiders are extremely cute, especially big hairy ones like tarantulas but even I have to admit the thought of a mini army of them crawling up my arms and over my face would be discomforting. For somebody like my husband who is absolutely terrified of the titchiest money spider this is his worst nightmare and I understand that there are quite a lot of people about like that. So Wendell’s eight legged nightmare coming to life is probably a good place to start.
  • On the other hand I’m not one of those freakish people that finds clowns amusing – they absolutely terrifying me! And the one that Xander is pursued by clutching a carving knife is a particularly memorable example of why they are not to be trusted with kiddiewinks! Brrr…

The Bad:
  • The opening scenes seem to suggest a face off between Buffy and the Master (and about time) but pull back to reveal that it is all a dream. What I don’t understand is how Buffy can have such a vivid nightmare about the Master and his lair when she hasn’t even met him. She had similarly revealing dreams in Welcome to the Hellmouth that prophesised the dangers she would face over the season and would go on to experience similar dreams of future developments in Restless and the early episodes of season seven. Is this gift ever explained? Or is pre-cognition simply a gift of all the Slayers?
  • At this point I want more than having Mark Metcalf as the Master stuck underground commenting on the action. He is such a vivid character and deserves a chance to get a decent slice of the action rather than just skulking about barking threats. When he appears above ground and buries Buffy alive it only goes to show the sort of joys we could be experiencing with his above ground and active.
  • Why do we care about the random character who heads down into the basement for a cigarette? Her attack is pretty graphic but considering this is not somebody we have met before and wont meet again its pretty hard to work up a sweat about her fate. Had it been Willow or Xander it would have made a massive difference. The same goes for ‘random cool guy’ who struts around in leathers and shades boasting about how he is going to ‘take this mother down!’ and then gets assaulted by his mother with kisses. This really is just too subtle.
  • By the time we get to the point where Buffy is fighting the metaphorical representation of the school football coach in the gym I was starting to lose the will to live. I was so disconnected from events that barely made sense that this was a far cry from the (mostly) engaging show I have been watching to this point. ‘Who is he?’ ‘He’s the ugly man!’
  • The ending where the coach just happens to turn up and drop the nickname ‘lucky 19’ is really awkwardly and scripted. If he hadn’t happened to visit at that point would this have been an unresolved plot?
Moment to Watch Out For: Willow’s stage fright is bourne out in what is the best sequence of the episode because it is entirely disconnected to the rest of the narrative.

Fashion Statement: Xander nude in the classroom. Bonus point for the episode. Xander wearing least sexy underwear on the planet. Bonus point deducted.

Orchestra: I love the creepy fairytale music when Xander follows the trail of chocolate bars to their giggling source.

Foreboding: Giles talks about a musical comedy version of this episode. He should learn to keep his mouth shut!

Result: Nightmares is oddly distant and tries to get inside the characters heads and reveal something new about them but none of the Scoobies fears are especially relevant after this episode so it feels quite irrelevant. Its slow paced and mostly humourless too so it feels like it is drags to double the running time. Compared to last weeks idiosyncratic high jinks, this is bland stuff. The Puppet Show played with the fact that we thought we were steps ahead of the regulars when in fact we had been led up the garden path but in Nightmares we genuinely are streets ahead and it’s a crushing bore waiting for them to catch up (Willow realises what is going on at a whim over halfway through the episode). Its not just the set up that’s at fault though, the overall premise of the kid who was bullied by his coach doesn’t really hold much weight either and left me wondering what this whole episode was really supposed to be about. Its not all bad though; some of the nightmares are effective (especially the spiders and the clown), Xander walks into class naked (for me this is a good thing despite the gammy underwear) and the performances are all good (if a little subdued). Ultimately though this one just didn’t capture me like a lot of the other season one episodes: 5/10

Out of Mind, Out of Sight written by Ashley Gable & Thomas A. Swyden and directed by Reza Badiyi

What’s it about: Marcie Ross, the girl that nobody took any notice of…

The Chosen One: Buffy has the reputation of hanging out with the creepy librarian in the library and finds herself having to explain why all manner of weapons come spilling out of her bag in the school corridors! Such is the life of a vampire slayer! I think it was very healthy for a show to be putting out the message that even somebody as gorgeous as Buffy (if Sarah Michelle Gellar was at my school she would have been the most popular kid on looks alone) can be picked on and whilst she can take care of herself she is still bothered by the way she is ostracized so completely. She’s even reminded by the two friends she does have that she is a the new girl and they have a ton of shared history that she knows nothing about. In her old school rode high on popularity so it is a massive come down to transfer to a school where she is a nobody. Poor Buffy has to watch Cordelia being pawed and preened by her friends as she tries on her dress for the May Queen competition, a position that she would have found herself in just one year earlier.

Caustic Cordy: Thus begins the rehabilitation of Cordelia who has to this point been a one note (if devastatingly funny at times) school bully who comments wryly on all the strange things that happen to converge around Buffy and her friends. Oh and how all these supernatural episodes affect her social life! This is a girl that can talk about herself for hours on end and cut people off if they try and get a word in edgeways and yet at the same time point the finger at Shakespeare’s Shylock and call him self involved! The joy of Charisma Carpenter’s performance is that she can take hold of this frightening ego maniac and make her entirely plausible by injecting a great deal of humour (and the odd moment of scathing venom) into her. We laugh at Cordelia because everybody is aware of how narcissistic she is except her. She’s not above bribery in order to secure the role of May Queen and makes chocolates with a ‘C’ on them (how conceited is that?) so people associate her with something sweet! After Mitch is beaten up Cordelia is appalled – how are her May Queen pictures going to look if he is all black and blue? Despite the fact that Cordelia is under the mistaken impression that Buffy (with her weapons and troublesome lifestyle) is in a gang she has no compunction about asking her for help despite the fact she has spent most of the last year humiliating her. Its during the scene where she bats away Buffy’s caustic comments about being popular with a superbly delivered treatise on the disadvantages of it that I realised Cordelia could genuinely be integrated into the Scoobies and become an actual character rather than just walk on comic relief. Unfortunately we still have quite a way to go as proven when she gets caught thanking Buffy and co for their help at the end of the episode and brushes it off as helping out the school social leper colony with fashion tips!

Puppy Dog Eyes: ‘A vampire in love with a slayer. Its rather poetic in a maudlin sort of way.’ Angel makes a token re-appearance and has his first scene with Giles. I honestly thought that he appeared more than he does in season one but he’s been completely AWOL since Angel. Whilst this merely serves to remind us that he exists it’s a lovely little moment between them before the relationship between librarian and vampire gets a lot more tenebrous.

Mr Snidey: ‘There are no dead students here! This week.’ Fortunately Snyder can be easily distracted by the use of the words sue the school.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘People who think their problems are so huge craze me. Like this time I sort of run over this girl on her bike. It was the most traumatising event of my life and she’s trying to make it about her leg! Like my pain meant nothing!’ – Cordelia at her self involved best.
‘You think I’m never lonely because I’m so cute and popular? I can be surrounded by people and completely alone. It’s not like any of them really know me. I don’t even know if they like me half the time. People just want to be in the popular zone. Sometimes when I talk everyone is so busy agreeing with me they don’t hear a word I say’ – an extraordinary moment of honesty from Cordelia and her best scene yet.
‘I’m fulfilling your fondest wish. I’m going to give you a face you’ll never forget’ – Marcie’s punishment for Cordelia is cruel and apt.

The Good:
  • It’s the first appearance of Harmony! Who would go on to become one of the most fabulous cringe making Buffy villains! She’s practically ignored at this stage so its barely worth a mention but her mere presence makes me smile (especially when I think of ‘Slayer! At last we’ve met!’ ‘We’ve met Harmony you halfwit!’).
  • Marcie’s psychotic anger manifests itself in some pretty frightening ways. This is in a whole different league to a ventriloquists dummy with a knife or a monstrous representation of a bullying school coach. Firstly she beats up Cordelia’s boyfriend with a baseball bat which is really rather nasty (and I love how the director gets us involved by having a well chosen POV shot of the bat swinging towards the camera before the title music) and then she attempts asphyxiate Ms Miller with a plastic bag. Whilst both of these dangers come with a supernatural element (Marcie is invisible after all) these are real world, easily imitated horrors that the show (at this point) usually avoids. It’s as flagrant as Darla and the pair of pistols was in Angel. This is the episode that ends with Cordelia strapped to a chair whilst Marcie hacks at her face with a knife.
  • The flashbacks are very nicely done because I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t been in Marcie’s position of being on the periphery of being popular at some point in their lives. By making the viewer the least popular kid in school (we watch these moments unfold through Marcie’s eyes) it offers a harsh reminder of how hard you had to try during those difficult formative years to get along with people you wouldn’t have the time of day for now. They also help to make Marcie a sympathetic character despite her actions as we watch her slowly slip away, ignored even by the teachers at the school when she has something to contribute.
The Bad:
  • Because the episode ultimately boils down to the rivalry (and an inkling of a friendship) between Buffy and Cordelia that means the rest of the Scoobies are surplus to requirements during the climax. The solution? Lock them in a cupboard and gas them!

Moment to Watch Out For: The last scene is very funny with Marcie packed off to a government facility where she is about to undergo training for assassination and infiltration! It’s a shame that more wasn’t made of this (and the amusing men in black that hang around) but I guess we have a similar sort of organisation to come when we reach season four’s the Initiative.

Orchestra: Is it my imagination or is the music getting better week on week? In the last episode we had the creepy nursery theme for Xander and his childhood clown and this week there’s an atmospheric, breathy score for the scenes involving Marcie’s ghostly lair. Come season two the music would be one of the best things about the show and we are definitely getting there.

Notes: Considering his central character is invisible director Reza Badiyi manages to give Marcie a real sense of threat. Its another Buffy/DS9 crossover and if you thought this was a well assembled piece you might also want to check out Civil Defense and Past Tense Part I which were also directed by Badiyi and stonking good episodes too!

Result: It didn’t surprise me to see Joss Whedon’s credit on the storyline because Out of Mind, Out of Sight seems to represent everything he is trying say about High School life in one simple but effective supernatural metaphor. This is another serious episode but it works much better than Nightmares because it has a very serious point to make about appreciating those around you and not getting too self absorbed. It’s the first chance to get up close and personal with Cordelia too whose characterisation to this point has been pretty facile and Charisma Carpenter proves that she can slip into the life of a Scooby with effortless ease. What impressed me was how quickly she could turn the tables and turn a self admiring antagonist into a believable victim. The flashbacks show that she is entirely guilty of causing Marcie’s condition and just at the point that we condemn her she comes out with that incredible speech about the curse of being popular. Buffy aside, Cordy has been on the most fulfilling character journey so far and that is mostly down to this episode. There is an angry tone to this piece that is channelled through Marcie but seems to stand for all the kids out there that are being put through the same torture. Because it is so serious it isn’t quite top drawer Buffy (the best episodes mix horror and humour to great effect) but there is a lot to admire in a piece as unflinchingly admonishing as this and for once the threat feels very real: 8/10

Prophecy Girl written and directed by Joss Whedon

What’s it about: Is Buffy going to die…

The Chosen One: ‘Giles I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die…’ Its end of season territory (already?) and so its time to look back and see how these characters have fared in the first year and bring some character arcs to a climax. Everybody forgets that despite her calling Buffy is a young lady with hopes and dreams of her own and being told (however inadvertently) that she is prophesised to die is a frightening revelation. Her instant reaction is to quit the job and walk away from the fight which is terrifically realistic (and I admire any show where the heroes are allowed to run scared before doing the right thing) if not altogether noble. Just when Buffy is at an all time low you can count on mom to come to the rescue and Joyce reveals the beautiful dress that she has bought her for the dance. Buffy walks into a situation that she knows is going to lead to her death and that is the mark of a true heroine. Despite the melodramatic tone there is something joyful about her return from the dead and her newfound confidence and she swats the Master away like a fly. Once you’ve been killed what else is there to fear?

Ripper: Thanks to Angel Giles is the first person to learn of Buffy’s impending death and (as revealed in Nightmares) it scares him to death. Disaster seems to keep bringing Giles and Ms Calendar together and I think they should toss away the pretence and get it on. The chemistry between them is instant and lovely to watch and I hope we see a lot more of her in season two because she brings out the personal side of Giles that we don’t get to see very often. When faced with Buffy’s blazing anger at the prophecy he has been keeping from her he cannot argue against her dismissal of his help as nothing more than book reading and helpful hints. Proving the hero that he has always been Giles decides to take on the Master himself but Buffy steps in to stop him and they enjoy a little father/daughter banter (‘do as you’re told for once!’). When she gave him a bunch of fives I howled with laughter! I love these two together.

Witchy Willow: The thing Willow wants more than anything in the whole world is for Xander to ask her to dance which is why she turns him down. She wont go with him watching him wish he was with Buffy. I’m glad they are putting this antagonism between the regulars to rest before it gets old but I’m pleased that we get this explosive combustion of emotions before all three of them find partners in the next season.

Gorgeous Geek: ‘You either feel a thing or you don’t…’ Xander has had enough of pussy footing around Buffy being thought of as her best friend, her brother and everything other than a potential boyfriend and so goes for the plunge…and practices asking her out on Willow! Mind you if the real thing is as poetic and deeply moving as his rehearsal (‘will you date me?’) he’s bound to be onto a winner! Unfortunately he cannot see what is patently obvious – that Willow is loving every second  of his practice sessions and deeply in love with him. I wouldn’t be that age again if you paid me…hormones are just too confusing! When it comes to the real thing I was begging Xander not to do it knowing that he was walking headlong into a world of hurt. It’s a beautifully played scene by both Nicholas Brendon and Sarah Michelle Gellar and if Xander hasn’t interested you that much in the first series this should seriously pull at the heartstrings. There’s nothing more pathetic than watching a hopeful man have his heart crushed. He’s much impressive when it comes to soliciting Angel’s help in finding Buffy and I actually gasped when he pulled a cross on him. This is going to be an interesting rivalry to follow (‘I wasn’t looking at your neck!’).

Caustic Cordy: Rather wonderfully Cordelia’s idea of being really grateful to Willow for hooking up her sound system is talking to her publicly. Man I’m gonna miss this girl when she leaves!

Puppy Dog Eyes: Angel stakes vampires like a big girls blouse! Go and watch him dusting in the finale, he has a touch of delicacy about his stabbing!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When I walked into that room it wasn’t our world anymore. They made it there’s. And they had fun.’

The Good:
  • Slow motion fight sequences, apocalyptic earthquakes, sets being destroyed, the Master preparing for his ascension…and that’s all before the title music! We are definitely in finale territory!
  • I don’t want the Master to go! He’s such an excellent baddie! Watch him as he revels in the carnage his ground shaking pre-emptive strike is causing like a little boy in a sweet shop and than realising how melodramatic he has been turns to the little brat and judges the scale of the quake! Mark Metcalf make me laugh so much and it is a genuine tragedy that we didn’t get to enjoy more time with this bitingly funny character. He’s so awesome that when he fulfils all of his ambitions, kills Buffy and tosses her into an underground lake he does it with the parting line ‘by the way, I like the dress…’
  • Willow stepping into the room full of bloody corpses is a real coming of age moment for the character. She’s been on the periphery of much of the horror this season and safe behind a computer screen doing research but now she has walked into a much darker, brutal world. I love it when Joss Whedon plays these little tricks on us. He did it in the very first scene of the show with innocent Darla turning out to be a bloodsucking fiend and it’s a statement of how well the show is doing the show is doing that the next time he pulls this trick off it features Cordelia and Willow thinking walking in on a teenage massacre. This would have been wildly out of place at the beginning of the year but Buffy has slowly introduced darker themes and imagery and this just about caps it off. Her speech to Buffy about the world getting darker is very creepy.
  • The most visually impressive set piece on offer here is the gang of vampires strolling through the mist swathed field towards Willow and Ms Calendar. We’ve never seen so many of them attacking together and for once they come across as a genuinely formidable force. There is something cocksure and creepy about their slow advance – its exactly the same device used currently in The Walking Dead for when the zombies attack en masse. Not quite the stuff of nightmares then, but pretty flesh crawling anyway.
  • Buffy dies in this episode. Let’s take a step back and consider what a powerful twist that is. Not every writer would take the opportunity to murder his central character in what should have been her ultimate moment of heroism. It says something about the cruel jokes that Joss Whedon likes to play with his audience that Buffy is killed and still manages to save the day. It’s a trick so staggeringly dramatic they did again (and bested this) in a later season finale. Mind you I’m pleased that they don’t go on about it in season two quite as much as they do in season six (even if the latter is the more realistic approach).
  • Self admitting Buffy fan Russell T Davies must have stolen the scene where Cordelia drives straight through the school main doors in car for the Doctor Who episode School Reunion. Always steal from the best, I say!

The Bad:
  • Its not really fair to point and laugh at the effects of the time but the dustings get so much better in later years that comparison is inevitable. During the first season they look a little like somebody doing a sneeze from underneath the ground!
  • The whole Colin subplot turned out to be a complete waste of time. Whether this wasn’t properly thought through or whether he was meant to get more screen time and didn’t because the actor wasn’t up to scratch I couldn’t tell you. Ultimately all the prophecy and doom mongering and he was good for was to escort Buffy down into the Master’s lair. Something that she was prepared for anyway. Can someone say anti-climax? It bugs me even more that a character as fun to be around like the Master is killed off and an irritating non entity like Colin is kept around to bridge the gap between the seasons. How very annoying.
  •  After all his scheming and plotting and maiming and murdering all the Master gets to do is stand atop the world and shout about the things he is going to do! Poor guy doesn’t even get to kill anybody! He so should have survived (and then we could have caught up with him later running the same sort of scheme that he did in The Wish). This show would learn from this mistake not to get rid of their best villains although some people might say that that is to the detriment of the characters who would spread into subsequent seasons and have to develop into something else in order to be kept on. If the Master had survived would he have wound up being Buffy’s love interest in season six? N the plus side his death looks pretty spectacular and it does get rid of the crap monster.
  • Everything is going swimmingly in the finale until Buffy wakes up and then its dreadful b movie monsters and camp ‘Buffy saves the day’ music! I honestly wouldn’t have bothered with the Hellmouth creature if that was the best that they could manage. Its not nice to criticise peoples hard work but this is so desperately feeble (the gawping, smiling mouths remind me of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors only not that convincing) that its hard to think up anything positive to say. Buffy usually avoids stereotypes so the shot of Cordelia screaming ‘somebody help me!’ and then cutting to Buffy swaggering down the street to her theme tune is so New Adventures of Superman its pretty painful.

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘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!’ In an episode packed with memorable confrontations my favourite has to be Buffy versus Giles when she discovers that she is going to die. She literally explodes with anger, tossing books at her mentor and pushing away her lover. Gellar absolutely sells this moment and proves that Whedon doesn’t need a massive budget to make this feel important because he has strong enough actors to do that for him.

Fashion Statement: Do you know what? I wasn’t that keen on the dress.

Result: Prophecy Girl brings to a head a lot of the themes and arcs that have run through the first season in dramatic style. There simply isn’t the money to make this an entirely believable apocalypse (that would come later) so it is fortunate that Joss Whedon has other weapons that he can deploy in his finale. Namely a vivid love triangle, formidable actors, characters that we have learnt to care a great deal about and a authentic sense of foreboding. Sarah Michelle Gellar gives her best performance to date and aces the many dramatic confrontations the episodes offers her and Anthony Head took my breath away with his understated heroism too. Buffy has been moving into darker territory of late and the image of the high school massacre burns into your mind as a reminder that anything could happen on this show. I couldn’t see how Prophecy Girl could live up to its title and murder the Slayer but Joss Whedon called my bluff and provided a great twist when Buffy was killed. This isn’t just for shock value though, it leads to some startling developments in the next season. Unfortunately this isn’t a perfect climax to the season; the Hellmouth creature is laughably bad and the Colin’s involvement in the season still baffles me if this is where it was heading. It feels as though this season is over before it has even begun and it pleases me to see that season two is double the length. Season one has seen Buffy traverse adolescence and it has emerged in the finale as a much more mature show. Not perfect but very, very good: 9/10


Unknown said...

"Self admitting Buffy fan Russell T Davies must have stolen the scene where Cordelia drives straight through the school main doors in car for the Doctor Who episode School Reunion."
Well, he probably thought 'If I can get Anthony Steward Head, what else can I get from that show?'

AndrewBuckley said...

Well, Russell T Davies didn't actually write School Reunion... Ok. Ok. I know he heavily rewrote all the scripts, so maybe he did nick that scene. Season 1 Buffy was great; can't believe it's so long ago now!

Guy said...

Ok so I've started to watch Buffy this morning for the first time. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the pilot as much I did.