I’ve been Joss Whedon’s b*tch since 1992.
Yes, I have been a die-hard fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) since its original movie form. I’m telling you, if you want a good time, there is nothing better than Paul Ruebens’ death scene. It is nothing like the TV incarnation, but Whedon didn’t have control of the project. That being said, it is still a movie that I can quote top to bottom. And yes, I can do the cheerleading routine at the beginning. But, Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry are for a different time. Today, we will be discussing a show that reinvented the wheel – a show that’s driving factor was strong women, and keeping it campy so it could punch you in the gut 10 seconds later. Today, dear readers…
We talk the real Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Buffy came to TV in 1997; I was the only person I knew who really could have cared. I was in band practice when it would air, so every week I would videotape it and watch it ravenously the second I got home. At first I was reticent; there was more gravitas in this version than the film. It was darker than anyone would expect a show called Buffy would be. What I quickly realized was that this is what Buffy was always supposed to be – a metaphor for figuring out life’s big problems for the first time in a young person’s life.
Whedon brought the everyday trials of growing into adulthood to life (quite literally) by making the monsters in our head tangible creatures to battle. By solving a crisis once a week, the group of ragtag followers – Willow, the computer nerd and eventual Wicca goddess; Xander, the heart; Giles, the brains and father figure – along with countless others, would face something within themselves in the process. They would realize a variety of things – whether that aptitude test they took really didn’t mean sh%t, or that the person they thought would be there forever would vanish sooner than they thought.
I am a hardcore believer in the idea that Buffy has something for everyone, and everyone can fall in love with the show. Maybe not Buffy herself, but there are so many characters, storylines, surprises and twists that I challenge anyone not to at least appreciate the storytelling. Over the years, I have learned through trial and error that each person you introduce BTVS to is a different case. One episode won’t hook one person as it would another. So being put to task, I can only tell you a few of my favorite “introductory” episodes, and why I choose them for something as important as Buffy immersion.
Season One: “Prophecy Girl” – The Season 1 finale is a very good welcome to the BTVS world, as it covers a lot of what happened in Season 1 and also prepares you for the weight, tongue-in-cheek humor and pace of the show. Season 1 had its problems; the production quality isn’t what it becomes even by Season 2, let alone Season 7, and the “Monster of the Week” format was used very heavily, which might put people off initially. But what “Prophecy Girl” gives you is a solid framework for what the show is, and will become.
QUOTE OF THE EPISODE: “I may be dead, but I’m still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you.” – Buffy Summers
Season Two: “Passion” – I believe “Passion” to be one of the best written episodes of the entire series, and since it happens early on in the run of the show I find it to be the most effective to hook someone into the “Scooby Gang” that is the show’s core cast of characters. The horrific nature of the episode’s arc combined with the real-life implications of teenagers dealing with the consequences of their actions is told with a note-perfect precision that lifts the show from your basic angsty, sci-fi teen drama into something much deeper, that cuts straight to the bone. Like when wine has a sharp, unexpected bite to the end of it, and it leaves you looking forward to the next sip.
QOTE: “If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d truly be dead.” – Angelus
Season Three: “Choices” – This season definitely focused on the concept of never trusting “The Man.” The Mayor, played by Harry Groener, is well on his way to becoming what he deems an all-powerful demon. As the season baddie, The Mayor cements the archetype of Buffy’s greatest adversaries – that being a terrifying homicidal streak with a witty personality that makes them strangely likable. He is scary, but also paternal and affable. This episode not only clearly demonstrates both sides of a traditional “Buffy” villain, but also shows you the conflict of those caught in the crossfire.
QOTE: “So Faith was like, “I’m gonna beat you up,” and I’m all, “I’m not afraid of you.” And then she had the knife, which was less fun.” – Willow Rosenberg
Season Four: “Hush” – This episode was the only episode to win an Emmy for its writing, and is famous for having no one speak for 90% of the episode. The Season 4 show introduced the villains simply known as “The Gentlemen,” which are easily defined as unfiltered nightmare fuel, stealing the entire town of Sunnydale’s ability to speak in order to harvest human hearts. I told you. Nightmare Fuel. Every actor in this episode shows their mettle by effectively recreating a silent film, only without the help of slides telling you what is being said. The episode speaks to something carnal inside us, the inability to alert someone, or fight back. To be completely helpless. Bwuh, I just got a chill thinking about it.
QOTE: “Bunch of wanna blessed be’s. Nowadays every girl with a henna tattoo and a spice rack thinks she’s a sister to the dark ones.” – Willow Rosenberg
Season Five: “Fool For Love” – Okay, I’m about to get REAL real with ya’ll. You are lucky this is the first time I’ve brought up Spike in this article. Actually, I’m quite proud of myself I have lasted this long. I could wax poetic for days about my peroxide-headed Adonis, but I will try to stay on topic here. This episode has him not only explaining how he is the only vampire to have killed two slayers, but the show itself is another testament to the “Buffy” storytelling and mythos. Every character has a past, and Spike is no different. But the episode’s seamless weaving of past to present, combined with the palpable tension between him and the show’s title character, is more than enough to give you chills.
QOTE: “Death is on your heels, baby. And sooner or later, it’s gonna catch you. And part of you wants it. Not only to stop the fear and uncertainty, but because you’re just a little bit in love with it.” – Spike
Season Six: “Once More, With Feeling” – The Musical Episode. There is everything from some rather impressive counterpoint sung by the entire Scooby Gang in “Walk Through The Fire,” to 19-second songs about getting mustard out of clothes. I rest my case.
QOTE: “Life’s not a song. Life isn’t bliss. Life is just this…It’s living.” – Spike
Season Seven: “Conversations With Dead People” – Although there are references to past episodes in this, you don’t need to be well-versed in Buffy history to follow or enjoy this episode. Set all on the same night, several members of the Scooby Gang have encounters with individuals who uncover many unknown facts about the future, as well as those around them. An immensely enjoyable character piece, this episode returns the show to its roots of balancing humor and catharsis, something that was lost in the darkness that was season six. Personally, it is an episode that both makes me smile, and makes my hair stand on end.
QOTE: “I mean, I was afraid to talk to you in high school, and now we’re, like, mortal enemies. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we became nemeses?” – Holden Webster
It pains me to break this show down into specific episodes like this, as I am a completest and really hate starting something anywhere but at episode 1. But I have learned the hard way that for a total Buffy noob, it is difficult to get started with the grainy, slightly cornier-than-usual delivery of Season 1. And that’s ok. Just as with Christoper Eccleston’s season of Doctor Who, some people cannot look past the production value, which makes sense given that television is a visual medium. If you don’t have a love for it already, Season 1 of Buffy may be a little hard to swallow. But with the beauty of Netflix and other streaming sites, you can start wherever you are inspired to, then go back and fill in the blanks.
In parting, I will say this. I’m not going to go into what you expect a BTVS column to say. Yes, it took huge leaps forward for strong female characters on TV. Yes, it featured the first same-sex kiss on US television. The fact that it was so radically popular it survived time changes, CHANNEL changes, and even lived on in graphic novel form. I’m not even going to get into the “Team Spike” and “Team Angel” debacle, because frankly, that’s for another article or twelve. I could write you love notes to every character, even the ones I despised, (Dawn, I’m looking at you,) give you an article a day, and still not be satisfied. So let’s just start with something general, and you can come along with me on the journey once you’re hooked.
Until next time, Scoobies…
…You really didn’t think you’d get out of this without another Spike picture, did you?