Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Buffy Rewatch: Week 1
**To leave comments with spoilers, go here.
Welcome to the Buffy Rewatch!!! Cue opening music:
[Creepy Vincent Price organ, werewolf, screechy guitar]: Nar... nar nar nar... [screamy sound with picture from The Witch]
OK, enough of that. I know some people thought that theme song was cheesy. I, on the other hand, LOVED it. Not as much as the Angel theme song, but the Buffy one fits the show perfectly.
This is my first time rewatching the first season of Buffy since 2002, when I was working on the second edition of my Bite Me book. That was a LONG time ago. I didn’t have kids back then, and I was still in my 20s. Ah... Those were the days. Bite Me was first released in 1998 with just the first two seasons in it, and then again in 2002 with the first six (and finally the complete “Chosen” edition came out in 2007 with all of the seasons). The books were all well reviewed, but I received one criticism over and over again: I was too harsh on Joyce, Buffy’s mother. I remember watching the show and finding her very ineffectual. She was too caught up in her own life and not noticing the immense trials and pain her daughter was going through. It’s not like she had three children, she just had one. She wasn’t taking into consideration that her daughter was dealing with losing her father after he’d run off and left them (more on that in future episodes, for those watching for the first time), and there are many scenes where she simply refuses to listen to Buffy. Now, I’m going to stand behind some of my thoughts in those upcoming scenes, but I have to admit, I watched these first few episodes very differently this time. Now I watch her as a calm, collected mother, who’s dealing with a daughter who, for all she knows, is a troublemaker who burned down her school’s gym. Her husband has just left her for someone else, and she’s alone and trying to make a go of it in a new town, with a new job, and desperately holding on to the hope that her daughter won’t eff this one up. She tries to stay calm with Buffy, but it usually backfires.
In “The Witch,” there’s a scene where Buffy trounces into the kitchen and talks about her tryouts, while her mom is too busy trying to open some crates to even pay attention to her. When Buffy asks her, “Mom, what am I trying out for?” Joyce pauses, closes her eyes, and admits she has no idea. I remember watching that and, while not condemning Joyce, thinking it was too bad that she couldn’t pay more attention to her daughter. But now I find I do the same things, that I’m busily working overtime every evening while my six-year-old is trying to talk to me, saying things like, “That’s great, honey, but Mommy REALLY needs to get this thing done quickly and then I’ll have LOTS of time to talk to you tomorrow!” and tomorrow never seems to come. Parents beat themselves up and are filled with guilt, and Joyce does that, too. In the scene at the end of The Witch, when Joyce comes into Buffy’s room and says she’s decided she simply doesn’t understand Buffy and isn’t meant to, I used to think that was a cop-out... it’s clear what’s wrong with Buffy, why can’t she see it? I thought. But now I can see why Joyce thinks that.
Maybe Buffy is a great parenting tool – by watching the show from Buffy’s perspective, you understand why she’s frustrated with Joyce all the time, and you can see what Joyce SHOULD have done in the scene. At the same time, watch it from Joyce’s perspective and you’ll see how confusing Buffy can be to her. Perhaps parents and children should all be watching this show together! But in any case, I’ve wronged you, Joyce. And for that, I’m truly sorry.
Watching these first episodes again, I'm immediately in love with the show all over again. I've created an army of Buffy converts over the years -- my DVDs (and before that, VHS tapes) are well worn and well loved -- but with each one I usually hand out the same caveat, and I'll say it to the new viewers here now: get through season 1. At times it'll seem a little monster-of-the-week, but the seeds of the series are there, and once you get into the gorgeous storyline of season 2 you'll be swept away. I defy anyone to get to the Surprise/Innocence combo and stop watching.
That said, if you're REwatching it, as I am, watching season 1 is an absolute joy. The dialogue is still crisp and sharp, the ensemble cast is wonderful (there are a few hiccups in the beginning but they get past them quickly), the relationships between characters are evident from the beginning.
I started this blog in 2006, when Buffy had been off the air for three years and Lost was heading into its third season. Which means... I've never gotten to blog on a Buffy episode! So this rewatch is as exciting for me as anyone else who will be guest commentating over the next year. I've decided I'm going to format my commentary the same way I did my weekly Lost observations, but on the weeks where I'm not the primary commentator (which will be only six weeks over the year!) I'll offer a quick take and let the guest commentator take over. You'll see below that I'll put the spoilery bits after each episode (and render them invisible to anyone who doesn't want to look at them). So if this is your first time watching the show, don't highlight those sections and you'll remain spoiler-free.
So, onto my observations for the first three episodes! Some of this might double what I said in my book, but since I haven’t reread my book, I can’t remember what I wrote there.
1.1 Welcome to the Hellmouth
• The very opening, where the innocent girl in the school uniform turns out to be the vicious monster. Right from the first seconds of the series, Joss subverts our expectations of what we’ve come to know about monster shows, and he’ll keep right on doing it throughout the series.
• Xander lines: Saying the library is “where the books live.” “Xander... is me... hi.” “The only thing I can think is that you’re building a really little fence.”
• The principal. Oh my GOD I loved Ken Lerner as Principal Flutie. When he begins taping up her records again after dramatically ripping them up, it always makes me laugh.
• ♥♥♥ Willow ♥♥♥ She’s always been my favourite character, and season 1 Willow is the version of her that you just want to reach out and hug and protect from the baddies. I adored her when I first saw her (I was also the kid in high school with clothes I picked out with my mom... a fact pointed out by the Cordys of my school) and I still adore her. I think once you’re the picked-on person, you’re always going to be.
• When Buffy walked into the library, I felt like I was home again.
• Giles. This first episode is just filled with the love I have for so many characters. I still think when he’s handing Buffy the books, her question about ordering the Time/Life series (and his stuttering response) is one of the best moments of season 1.
• Again, subverting our expectations, Giles attempts to give the big speech, and Buffy cuts him off and he realizes this Slayer isn’t going to be an easy one to deal with.
• Cordy lines: “I don’t mean to interrupt your downward mobility...” “Don’t you have an elsewhere to be?” “WHAT is your childhood TRAUMA?” “Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met RIGHT NOW.”
• Buffy: “Isn’t that bizarre? Aren’t you just going... ooh?”
• Giles: “But you didn’t... hone.”
• Buffy: “Live in the now! You look like DeBarge!!”
• On the DVD opening page, there’s a picture of Buffy leaning forward, and she’s all boobs and stake (this was the season where Buffy actually had boobs... before she went and lost pounds she really didn’t need to lose). That was the original cover of my first book before it was redesigned. Ack.
• Charisma is 27 in the first season, playing the 16-year-old Cordy.
• I was looking in the background at the Bronze at all of the posters of indie bands and it occurred to me that probably 99.9% of the bands on the wall no longer exist.
Did You Notice?:
• I had totally forgotten about that annoying WB announcer voice that does the whole “Into each generation” bit. Don’t worry, for those watching the first time: Giles will eventually take over that line.
• Darla is SO young! For the newbies, you’re probably saying, “Hey, check out Rita!”
• For the most part, the pop culture references stand up. But lines like, “James Spader NEEDS to call me” will cause you to wince.
• When Buffy is walking through the alley, the guy who scares her is totally the dude from Bones!!
• When Cordelia pulls out her cellphone to call everyone she’s ever met, it’s the size of a car battery.
• The Master rising seemed pretty anticlimactic. BtVS was never big in the way of special FX. Even worse than Lost, sadly.
• When I was rewatching season 1 in 2002, my husband and I noticed that the prosthetics used in the mouths of the vampires got better as the seasons went on. In season 1, they can all barely talk. For years my husband and I will occasionally do our impressions of the vampires with giant chompers. “He wash young and shtupid! You’re shtrong... I’m shtronger! You think you can shtop us, Shlayer??”
Spoilery observations (only read this is this is a rewatch for you) Read below by highlighting the white section to magically make the words appear:
• Angel telling Buffy that he thought she’d be taller is a bit of an oops... we’ll find out in Becoming that he’s been following her around for ages, and knows exactly how tall she is.
• Throughout much of season 1 and 2, Willow will be the damsel in distress, and yet she’ll be the one who will eventually save them all.
• Buffy lying in the coffin foreshadows the beginning of season 6.
1.2 The Harvest
• “Written by Joss Whedon.” Four of my favourite words in the English language. When placed together like that, of course.
• “They can fly?” “They can drive.”
• “God! I am so mentally challenged!!”
• Giles calling the computer “that dread machine” and then pausing to say, “That was a bit... British, wasn’t it?” LOL!!
• The pool cue scene, where Buffy stakes the vamp without even looking, is CLASSIC. I actually backed it up and watched it twice.
Did You Notice?:
• I love Giles spinning the globe while he’s talking. He’s nothing if not dramatic.
• Buffy can leap over a fence in a single bound... something she can’t quite do later. Her super-hero-ness will continue to change throughout the series, and it’ll never be completely clear what she can and can’t do.
• Seriously, Buffy... you talk about bad clothing choices on other people and you’re not going to say a WORD about Angel’s purple velvet outfit? Really?? Speaking of DeBarge...
• Harmony! (Cordy’s blond friend in the computer class will become a bigger character in episodes to come.) The trick that Willow pulls on Cordy is something that could only be done on mid-90s IBMs. Cordy could just hit the Undo button now.
• Why does the doorman ask for the vampire’s IDs? No one in the Bronze is of age!
• “Don’t go Wild Bunch on me.” Joss Whedon is a big fan of Peckinpah’s ultraviolent Western, and will actually create two characters in a season 2 episode that are based on the characters in the movie... to fairly disastrous results (oh Bad Eggs... how you mar season 2...)
• In the two-part pilot you could see who was comfortable in their role already, and who still needed some work (within the next episode or two they’ll all have settled into their character roles). I always cringe at the scene where Cordy is holding court at the Bronze talking about the difference between juniors and seniors. She’s comfortable giving out the zingers, but in this scene she’s stilted. Darla’s not comfortable yet, Angel’s smarmy in a way he’s not by mid-season... but the Scoobies, for the most part, are just right.
Spoilery observations (only read this is this is a rewatch for you):
• I found Darla a little inconsistent in this episode with what we’ll later know about her. When we see her backstory with Angel, she’s rude and completely blasé around the Master, and controls every situation she’s in. She announces she’s gallivanting off with Angel and rubs the Master’s face in it, leaving him behind without a care. But here she’s worshiping him and cowering before him, completely different than the Darla she used to be. This, of course, can easily be chalked up to early episode problems that exist in every show, where a particular character wasn’t very completely drawn yet.
• Xander’s insecurities of being less than a man (something that will come up several times in the series) are something he finally comes to terms with and explains in season 7’s “Potential.”
• Giles, Xander, Buffy, and Willow all walk along the pathway where Angel will chase (and eventually kill) Jenny in Passion.
• At the end of the episode, Giles stands alone and says, “The earth is doomed.” This scene will be mirrored in the series finale, when the group all begins talking about menial things right before a big battle, and Giles repeats, “The earth is definitely doomed.”
1.3 The Witch
• Giles, in one of his classic lines: “That’s the thrill of living on the hellmouth. There’s a veritable cornucopia of fiends and devils and ghouls to engage. [everyone stares at him] Pardon me for finding the glass half-full.”
• Followed by one of the classic Xander lines: “I laugh in the face of danger... then I hide until it goes away.”
• Willow retorting, “Maybe because they met her?” after someone asks why a person wouldn’t like Cordelia... then following it with, “Did I say that?”
• The actress who plays Catherine is amazing. When she’s “Amy” she has her daughter’s facial expressions and gestures, and as the mother she seems to be mimicking the performance of Elizabeth Anne Allen.
• Giles getting jumped by the black cat and then saying, “Nice... kitty?”
• Right from the beginning of Giles’s relationship with Buffy, he becomes personally involved and is more caught up in her safety than being caught out as a Watcher.
Did You Notice?:
• Buffy wanting to have a life is an ongoing theme in the show, and the key to what makes it interesting. Another take on the mythology would simply set it up the way it’s supposed to be – girl gives up her life for mankind and the British man is her Watcher. But instead, Joss opens his mythology with the first Slayer who refused to play along, and instead only fills in the blanks piecemeal as you go along to see the person Buffy was expected to be.
• Cordy’s line, “Who does she think she is, a Laker girl??” was an inside joke; before appearing on Buffy, Charisma was a Laker girl.
• Willow mentions that she and Amy would stuff themselves with brownies. At the time I didn’t think anything of that line, but now I wonder... was this a suggestion that Amy had an eating disorder?
• Willow asks, “Do you actually ride a broom?” and later she’ll become rather hostile to people who makes stereotypical assumptions about witches.
Spoilery observations (only read this is this is a rewatch for you):
• Amy seems very sweet here, but after she ends up in the body of a rat for a few years, she won’t be such a nice gal. (Not to mention what she does in the season 8 comic!!)
• Cordy as the baddie in the locker room is SO weird after you’ve watched Angel and come to love her so much in that series.
• This is Willow’s first foray into witchcraft... knowing the witch she will become, it’s wild to watch her in the beginning, mixing the ingredients together and feeling tentative about what she’s doing.
• That axe is the same colour as a certain scythe that we’ll see in season 7.
• Watch for a scene in the following season where Oz is staring at the cheerleading trophy and comments on how the eyes follow you.
UPDATE: Someone just made the excellent comment below that there should be a separate forum where people don't feel bad about posting spoilers, where they can talk about the episodes openly. So what I'm going to do each week is post-date the rewatch post to go live at 8pm, but the spoilery comment post will appear at 7:59, so it'll appear underneath. So for all those out there who are rewatching and want to talk a lot about how these opening episodes affected later ones, please click to the next post and you can leave comments there.
1.4 Teacher's Pet
1.5 Never Kill a Boy on a First Date
1.6 The Pack
Guest commentator: David Lavery