While watching this episode, I found myself remembering why so many people don’t really get into the first season of Buffy. This is an incredibly slight episode. There are things going on, absolutely. There is a great camp factor to it that I really appreciate. But I’m not sure it has the same depth as even the opening couple.
Joelle nailed it as far as the preoccupation bit goes. That definitely does seem to be the theme throughout this episode but interestingly it’s not what I focused on. This is the episode where our characters realize that Buffy could die. Joss has put her in danger since more or less the opening scenes of the show. I think it’s safe to say that Buffy has had moments of being afraid but this is the first in what will end up being an endless string of much more heartbreaking realizations that will break our characters down, because Joss seems to take glee in destroying what we love.
I mentioned in the last entry how Giles is still excited about what he’s coming up against. Now, I think this is a character problem, to be honest. Knowing what we know about Giles and his history, he should certainly be aware that magic is deadly dangerous and that people you love can be killed. We won’t really see any evidence of that side of things until season 2, unfortunately. Right now he comes across as a man who has never actually encountered truly dangerous things and still has the excitement without the grounding realization of just how dangerous they are. It’s kind-of like what Wesley will be later, except less annoying. I have a suspicion his character arc wasn’t really planned yet at this point.
Buffy wants to be a cheerleader, which is totally natural. In ways she probably hasn’t even begun to comprehend yet, her entire life (however long or short it may be) is going to be defined by death and violence and general abnormality. For her to want to find some sort-of ground to stand on that is familiar and away from those things is totally reasonable. For Giles to not truly comprehend that is also reasonable. It seems to me that the bond between Giles and Buffy is formed very quickly but at this point they still don’t actually know each other that well. We are never told what information he was given before coming to be her Watcher but certainly the impression is not much. Still, this will be another example of Buffy trying to do something normal and safe that will basically blow up in her face.
One of the things I was most struck by in this episode was how nice Buffy is. Maybe that sounds dumb but honestly, in these beginning episodes she is super nice. I think one of the things you will see as the show progresses is that she loses some of that kindness. She’s still compassionate (sometimes to a fault) but in these opening episodes she is just really sweet. She is trying really hard to make friends with Amy, she’s warm, she’s encouraging, she’s quick to smile and offer comfort. This goes back to some of what Joelle was saying in the first episode; how much of her came as part of being the Slayer and how much was just part of her? Is this a new thing for her, to be so nice to people? I mean, if she was Cordelia-esque at her old school, is this her attempt to turn over a new leaf? I guess I’ve never been convinced that Buffy wasthatmuch like Cordelia. I think she was popular and I think she was shallow but Cordelia is more than shallow. I guess I don’t feel like Buffy started off as a cruel person. Cordelia’s arc is super interesting because she really does seem to start out as this cruel and self-absorbed person and will eventually (primarily in Angel) become a much different individual. I don’t see Buffy as having started out that way, which I don’t know if that’s fair or not.
Anyway. I love to see the forming of the Scoobies. I think that Buffy’s reticence is super understandable, since she absolutely does know more of the danger they’ll be facing but it’s also clear that some part of her wants to have a team, wants to have people she can count on. Which is why it’s super touching that they really quickly move into those positions.
I love the themes of parents in this episode. There are several different looks at that theme. There’s Amy and her mother which is absolutely terrifying. There’s Buffy and Joyce, which I think is frustrating but also one of the things I really love about Joyce. It’s such an understandable loss of temper, which she immediately recognizes and feels terrible for. Of course she’s frustrated by what happened with her daughter and of course she’s scared it’ll happen again and lashing out is a not unreasonable (although obviously not right) response to that. There is also a strong parent theme between Giles and Buffy. Here we have the first truly Daddy Giles. He wants to protect her, he is willing to sacrifice to do that. The bond is pretty definitely formed at this point. The generational differences and lack of understanding, whether it’s Joyce wanting Buffy to be on yearbook staff or Giles totally not understanding why she would want to do cheerleading or Amy’s mother taking an obviously very extreme route are thematically strong and interesting, even if the episode itself is perhaps a bit weak.
Something interesting about this episode and parent issues that I noticed this time through is how, when Buffy realizes Amy is out of control, her first response is that they need to go talk to her mother. For one thing, and maybe this was just me, the idea of going to someone’s parents when I was in high school seemed really not okay. It was just one of those things you did not do. Perhaps it’s supposed to illustrate how Buffy does have a decent relationship with her mom in spite of everything? Or maybe it’s just a plot device so they can figure out what is really going on. Who knows.
So yes. Big fight, Giles being incredibly awesome with his spell casting (getting hurt to save Buffy 😦 ) and Buffy kicking people across rooms. The day is saved but she still almost died and I do think that will continue to resonate stronger and stronger as the show goes on and they face more danger.
Last but not least, I love this final Joyce/Buffy conversation. I like that she’s humble enough to come in and admit that she just doesn’t know what she’s doing and she loves her but that doesn’t mean she understands her. I like that Buffy is self-aware enough to recognize how great it is that her mother is okay with herself as she is and doesn’t want to relive some imaginary glory days. I think it’s a great ending to a fairly mediocre episode.
I’m going to try this out for a while. Joelle and I were talking about how these things are so long and there was talk about trying to focus on just one or two things but there is always so much I want to say. So, I’m going to attempt this at the end and see if having a place to toss these questions and comments helps me focus on something specific within the actual post. Let me know if it works or if I should go back to a more stream of consciousness approach.
High school cheerleaders are not typically that impressive… are they?
Why didn’t Willow know that Amy had lost a lot of weight? There’s always a lot of talk about how small of a town/school Sunnydale is and apparently it’s small enough that they heard in advance that someone was transferring in. They are not just coming back from summer vacation or anything so surely she’s seen her?
I love the cauldron. I love it so much. I wish there had been more cauldrons in Buffy. Also, I want to know what the substance was in the cauldron, like in reality.
I wonder how long ago it was that Amy’s mom switched their bodies? The whole conversation with Buffy and the hero worship of the mother has always seemed super strange to me. Like it must take a lot of practice to talk about yourself as your mother, especially from someone that egocentric and Amy herself slips up really quickly.
Why doesn’t the truck driver SEE Cordelia? I mean, we don’t even get a shot of him playing with a radio or something. Also, why doesn’t the driving instructor have a brake pedal? I never took driver’s ed at a school so maybe it’s different, but at my driving school the instructor always had one?
“Heat ingredients and apply to witch” is one of my favorite lines from first season. It’s totally stupid but it makes me giggle like an insane person every time.
I feel like it would have been much more subtle to grab one of her hairs and say she thought it wasn’t attached. I mean, that happens all the time.
No matter how distracted Buffy may be, I have never been able to believe that she was just totally unaware that Xander liked her, which has always been something I disliked in Buffy. It just seemed really disingenuous to me. He is not subtle and Buffy is not lacking in insight. Maybe for one episode but the idea that she would later be totally shocked he asked her to the dance… no.
Why did she want to banish Buffy to the cheerleading statue? Or was it just supposed to be to some sort of hell and hell has a sense of humor? I mean, it makes perfect sense as irony for her to end up in the statue to her obsession (that would be irony, right?) but not for Buffy or Amy to be.