Welcome to the Hellmouth

Can I just say that I’m super excited to be doing this project?

The very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer opens with a couple of (apparent) young people breaking into Sunnydale High. It is set up as if the cocky, bad-boy character is suspicious and might take advantage of the situation, but is quickly flipped around when the seemingly timid female character reveals herself to be a vampire. This open has always been interesting to me. Power, particularly female power, is a theme throughout Buffy and in a strange way, it’s Darla (whoops! remember my spoiler disclaimer?) who is claiming the power in this scene. You know, by violently murdering a dude.

And then we’re introduced to Buffy herself and the other important characters. (Hey, remember that one time Xander was a skater? Yeah me too.) Sarah Michelle Gellar has bangs, the 90s are beautiful, Willow is perfect, and nothing hurts. As proof of this, Xander AND Buffy, on separate occasions, actually say “What’s the sitch?” without any irony whatsoever. And we find out (assuming we have not seen the movie) that Buffy burned down her ex-school’s gymnasium because it was filled with vampires. IT HAS ALWAYS DRIVEN ME NUTS HOW PRINCIPAL FLUTIE TAPES HER TRANSCRIPT BACK TOGETHER. The ripped sides go TOGETHER dude, agghhh.

I also find it interesting how Buffy immediately hits it off with Cordelia. We know from later episodes that Buffy was very Cordelia-ish before becoming the Slayer, and it shows during their interactions. However, she also has a lot of compassion, which causes her to distance herself from Cordelia (once she sees how she treats unpopular kids) and start befriending Willow, Xander, and Jesse (who are often on the receiving end of Cordelia’s insults) instead. I think it’s likely that this compassion stems from the reality of being a Slayer, since there definitely seemed to be a change in Buffy after she was chosen, though I wonder how much of it is carried over from Buffy’s personality before she was chosen. I don’t think it’s ever something we’re shown outright and it’s probably a mix of the two.

Oh, and we meet Daddy Giles! Who I will consistently refer to as Daddy Giles, by the way. I always found it weird how Giles isn’t just like, “Yo, dawg, I’m your new Watcher” and instead is all creepy about a book called Vampyres. I know it’s probably just so he can explain what a Watcher is out loud, but still.

This leads us to seeing Buffy’s first act of super strength and her reluctance to accept her role as the Sunnydale Slayer. Giles doesn’t understand this reluctance, but I find it kind of awesome. It’s more realistic to me that Buffy doesn’t WANT this power and would rather be a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She clearly hoped that this move from L.A. would allow her to leave slaying behind. But Sunnydale is not an average town. It’s sunny and bright and ordinary on the surface, which only hides it’s darker interior: the hellmouth and everything that is drawn to it.

We learn Buffy’s philosophy:

Life is short. Not original, I’ll grant you, but it’s true, you know? Why waste time being all shy and worried about some guy and if he’s gonna laugh at you? Seize the moment ’cause tomorrow you might be dead.

I think I’ll try to come back to this philosophy from time to time, because I do think it comes up more than once throughout the series to explain some of Buffy’s actions.

So we meet Angel who glowers and creeps a lot, Giles continues to be creepy at the Bronze, and Willow gets lured away by a vampire. (I adore how Buffy identifies him as a vamp based on his outfit, by the way.)

Is it ever explained why the Master appears out of a pool of blood? I always believed he’d been stuck down there for however long but what was with the ritual thing Luke did? Confusing.

So there’s a big fight and a CLIFFHANGER and we sort of find out what the Harvest is. What I really like about the first two episodes is that it sets the stage for Buffy’s themetic conflict throughout the series: her role as the Slayer, and the concept of choice. It’s obvious that she cannot deny this role, especially in a town like Sunnydale, unless she wants to sit back and let the bodies pile up. Her idyllic image of herself living a normal, vampire-free life is pretty much destroyed right here and now, but (and this is something I expect to discuss quite a bit) I can’t help but wonder how much of that is because of her destiny, and how much of it is because of who Buffy is. We already know that she’s compassionate, determined, mindful of others’ feelings, and willing to do the right thing…it’s hard to know if these things are emphasized/created because of her responsibilities as the Slayer or if they were parts of her all along, but I tend to think it’s more of the latter.

– J


About Joelle

My name is Joelle. I'm a freelance writer/editor based out of Nashville, TN. I enjoy coffee, getting lost in books, old lady names, and dogs. All the dogs.

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