Oh, this episode. I have watched season 1 many, many times in my life. I watch Buffy with people so every time I rewatch it with someone, plus whenever I rewatch it for projects of various kinds (this isn’t the first although hopefully it’ll be the first I finish), not to mention the 3 or 4 times I saw it myself before I had seen through Buffy in it’s entirety. This episode has had me in tears every single time. Really. Every single time. This is arguably a little pathetic but hey, we’re not here to talk about that. Let’s just dive in.
I am certainly frustrated with Xander in the opening scene of this episode but, to be honest, I am almost as frustrated with Willow. Look, I think it’s great that she’ll later stand up to him and be mature and all but come on. She is not just allowing him to test this out on her because she cares about him. She is being extremely emotionally masochistic here. She’s allowing him to test it out on her so that she can sit there, looking mooney and wistful and imagining he’s talking to her and not Buffy. Which isn’t exactly an awesome emotional choice for her to be making. Xander is certainly being an asshole in this episode but neither of them are behaving maturely perse in this scene.
Then we’ll move into Buffy in her element, so to speak. I really love the crazy high drama of this scene. I mean, really for Buffy it’s just another night but you can see the vampire’s eyes widen and he realizes he’s going to die and Buffy is apparently remarkably quiet with her kill so that Cordelia’s make-out session is only slightly disturbed so good for her. Now, I think the line in this scene is “Giles will be so proud.” But for some reason, the line I always hear is “Giles would be so proud” which sounds way more ominous and creepy and like he’s dead. It always throws me, even though I’m almost sure that’s not what she says.
As Buffy comes into the poor library and eyes the damage from the Master’s earthquake, I find myself wondering how many times they had to mess with and rebuild this set. And also, in the universe itself, how many times does that library get rebuilt before graduation? I mean, honestly. Also, that Buffy’s phrase is “Wow, the damage looks fairly structural.” Wait, what? How in the world would Buffy know that? Why in the world would Buffy say that? I know Buffy is an extremely intelligent girl and she has many things she knows from her uncommon extracuriculars but I don’t think that structural damage is high on the list. Anyway, Giles is distant because he’s so terrified and trying to figure out a way to change prophecy. What makes the weirdly accessible Kodex so damn certain anyway? What’s the point in having prophecies if some are mutable and some aren’t? Was it like levels of prophets? These ones saw like 12 different time lines and guessed which one was more likely, these ones saw the actual future. I think about these things, okay?
Xander finally gets up his nerve, brings Buffy over to a bench, kicks some random off of it and sits her down. It’s time to finally ask. Yes, they’re both straightforward but I am always so bothered by the fact that Buffy acts as if she had absolutely no idea. Buffy is not a stupid girl and Xander is not a remotely subtle boy. I think it’s dishonest on her part to make it seem like she’s totally stunned because I can literally see no possibility of that being the case. Whatever, at least she is really honest with him about the fact that she doesn’t feel that way. He responds really badly, she feels shitty about it. No doubt, it is certainly not one of his shining moments.
Jenny comes in, demanding information from Giles. For some reason, she is inhumanly pale in this scene. Like I don’t know if it’s the light or what but she is like glistening white and I can’t figure out why. The end is pretty seriously nigh, guys (which is one of my favorite phrases) and also eyes facing inwards is SO NOT OKAY. Her monk has been sending out global mailings. What does that even mean? Is he posting on message boards? Sending messages to everyone on every list? Does it mean anything at all? Either way, she’ll do as Giles asks because he looks so hurt and frantic. Daddy Giles. 😦
Meanwhile, Cordelia and Willow are being a little more friendly than usual. Now I am not a computer nerd so I don’t know but I guess I don’t entirely buy that Willow’s expert as a computer hacker would also make her an expert at setting up sound systems. I presume that’s the connection we’re supposed to be drawing (since we’ve never seen any sign of her having a proficiency for sound systems before) but it just seems like a plot point to me. WHATEVER. She will go in to comfort Xander, as I’m sure she knew she would end up doing. Realistically I think one of the reasons that Willow was so okay with Xander using her for practice is because she always knew he never stood a chance in hell. He’s a dick about it and asks her to the dance and she maturely says fuck off. He goes home to listen to country music. The music of pain. I love that line so much.
Meanwhile Buffy wanders down the completely darkened hall, completely darkened bathroom. JUST PAY A POWER BILL, GUYS. As she goes to wash her hands, unfortunately the sink is full of blood, which is just never what you want to see. Her joy at hearing Angel is pretty quickly overshadowed. Really, guys. You should be careful what you say and when. I think that SMG nails every moment of this really crucial scene. Her quavering “Do you think it’ll hurt?” pretty much destroys me every time. She’s just a kid. She’s just a kid and she’s not ready to die a horrible death for the nonspecific “world.” She doesn’t want to be the next in a long line of sacrificial girls, heading off to meet their fate. She is angry, she is heartbroken, she is terrified. It’s too much to ask. There’s something so incredibly cold about all of it which, of course, as Joelle said, we’ll see more of as we learn more about the council.
So she says she quits and goes home. I think realistically though, she knows that’s never going to happen. She doesn’t think she’ll make it through this, and deep down she knows that she will go in. When Joyce comes in to be mom and to give her an unbelievably gorgeous dress. Granted the gorgeous dress really matches a little overly well with the whole “sacrificial lamb” idea but whatever. It’s a good Joyce scene and in a way the whole drama of it really works in the way that a lot of Buffy in high school works. Lines like “everything is life or death when you’re a teenage girl” are true. The fact that for Buffy all of these metaphorical perils are actually flesh and blood ones just make them sort-of clever. The idea of mom not understanding and the daughter feeling removed and in some ways older than her poor mom who is just trying to help but doesn’t get it… those are legit things. Although Buffy’s “You had your whole life in front of you” sounds a little suicidal and if I were Joyce, my ears would have pricked up a bit. But no one is perfect. On a personal note, it’s interesting to me that she’s never heard (and apparently never asked) how her parents met before. That’s a story from my parents that I know by heart. Not because they offered but because I started asking at a pretty young age and have just kind of kept pushing them for details.
Anyway. More heartbreak is coming. As Willow and Cordelia come to the school and have a sweet little talk (I’m really fond of Willow/Cordelia), not noticing that the cartoons on the tv are partially obscured by a bloody handprint. Now I’ll let it go for the sake of the plot and the fact that this whole scene plays out really well but this is not the first time that Willow has had people she knows die horribly or have it happen in a room she’s in every day. I’m just saying. Oh well. This is the time it hits. When Buffy comes to see her (looking stunningly beautiful) and she explains, you know what she’s going to do. She knew what she was going to do when she walked into the room. Because, as Giles will later say, “She’s a hero, you see.” Oh, the tears.
Daddy Giles, I love you. I love that you would try to go on your own, that you would do anything you could to protect Buffy, even though you can’t. You can’t fight her battles and on some level you know that. Also, you’re about to get another head injury. I’m glad that she doesn’t have any clever words here. The show is so full of quips and puns and gallows humor but, when it really counts, when the words need to mean something, there’s just nothing to say. It’s another perfect small touch.
Xander, terrified probably in no small part because the last things he said to Buffy were pretty horrible, heads off to save her. Now in some ways, this is stupid because obviously Xander is no superhero and will probably just die with her and maybe it’s some nonsense that he thinks he can save her and he still has these hero fantasies in his head. But if he hadn’t gone, she would have died and that would have been the end of that. Honestly, this is one of the scenes where I understand why Xander doesn’t like Angel and why he somewhat continues to hold a grudge against him. From Xander’s perspective, it doesn’t look like Angel is going to do a damn thing and he treats him like shit for insisting on it. Maybe he’s just toying with him but why the hell do that now? There’s not a lot of time for it and I think it’s a kind-of shitty thing to do.
Meanwhile, Giles and Willow and Jenny try to work out where the Master is going to rise. “Where has there been a concentration of incidents?” Oh, I don’t know. How about the one place where almost EVERY SINGLE BAD THING HAPPENS? Oh well, they’re under the gun, we won’t hold it against them. Quick back to Xander and Angel, having what I think is the clumsiest moment of this entire episode. The “don’t check out my neck” always seems incredibly dumb and out of place to me. There’s really no levity needed here and also it’s not really funny.
Buffy comes down and the Master tells her that without her coming, he could never have left (a particularly cruel twist in the whole prophecy thing). He mocks her witty banter, he toys with her for a minute and then the moment is there and there’s absolutely nothing she can do. The thrall has hit (I’d like to understand more about the thrall, incidentally. Why do some vampires have it and some don’t? Is it a present after a certain number of years? Cause only the super old ones seem to have it) and her eyes are huge and terrified and she knows she’s dying for nothing, which is pretty much the cruelest possible way to die. The whole scene is filmed very classically in some ways. Reminiscent of like original Nosforatu and such. I love it. So, not to put too dramatic a point on it, the lamb is sacrificed and thrown aside to drown. It is at this exact moment that I am always distracted by how much I don’t like her shoes. It frustrates me that I am always distracted by that but this is a place of sharing.
Down rush Xander and Angel to save the day. Angel panting as if he just ran a marathon and telling Xander it has to be him because he has no breath…. yeah, okay. It’s hilarious every time. CPR is miraculously successful and she takes a giant gulp of air, before choking out water. I have never drowned but my understanding is that’s not really how it works. Up she jumps, reborn, pure as snow somehow… Also, just curious, how does this affect future prophecies? It’s never really mentioned again. Is she out of the prophecy loop now? Did the prophecies not prophesy that she wouldn’t be staying dead? Look, there’s a lot about the rules of prophecy I want to know, okay?
Off they go. Awesome Buffy theme pounding in the background, her boobs look amazing in that dress, she slays left and right while Angel and Xander just kind-of try to keep up. Meanwhile, Cordy saves Willow and Jenny and they go crashing into the school. Rush into the library! Barricade the doors! What could possibly be wrong with this scenario? When we get to it in season 2, I will point out how it is undoubtedly established that THESE DOORS OPEN BOTH WAYS. Anyway, finally it’s time. The music is playing. There is much screaming, there is much distress. It seems like maybe they’re holding them back until… the giant puppet hellmouth comes out. I LOVE HIM. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. He’s kind of like a rubber prop from Alien or something. All adorable with his flailing and chomping. His chomping always sounds like panting to me, making me feel like he’s just a really ugly and misunderstood puppy.
Buffy is on the roof, interrupting the Master’s dramatic celebration. She then has to say that she flunked the written, which may be my most hated line in the whole season. One badly choreographed fight scene later, she sends him crashing ass first through the giant skylight, somehow managing to get him to land on a stake through the heart. It’s impressive, really. And there he is. Just some bones. Some really, hilariously fake looking bones.
Then we have the scene where they try to figure out what to do. I mean, what do you do? I love that Buffy starts crying here. There’s something really legitimate and touching about just having that kind of overwhelming rush of emotion. I mean, you know. It’s been a really weird day.
Final note: No. The Master isn’t going to go anywhere. But someone could totally, you know…. come in there? Especially considering that the bones have to be gotten rid of in a certain way and there’s a vague possibility of him rising and… oh, never mind. Just go to the dance. We’ll see you next year.