The resolution to the previous episode’s cliffhanger is very weak, but to be fair it was originally intended only to follow an advertisement break, with the two episodes shown back to back on first broadcast. A bigger problem is how Luke and the Master make such a thing later in the episode of Luke having been defeated in a fight for the first time since the 19th Century, but if he scarpers when he sees a cross he has certainly had quite a run of good luck. That aside, the episode does a good job of ramping up the threat level and establishing the roles of the main characters.
The stakes are raised in two ways, one straightforward and one less so. The obvious way is the attack on the Bronze, which shows that vampires can be a threat that openly attacks rather than keeping to the shadows. Less obvious, and more effective, is the death of Jesse.
Originally, Joss Whedon wanted him to be in the opening title sequence, which would have added to the surprise of his death; an idea worth keeping in mind, perhaps… But even without that, it still works very effectively in showing that nobody is safe. Jesse was given just as much screen time as any of the regular characters apart from Buffy in the first episode, so it does feel like losing one of the main characters straight away. It also shows the nature of conversion to a vampire, where memories are retained but the personality changes. Xander clearly hopes that something of his friend remains, and there’s a great moment where Giles has to get serious with him about that:
“Now you listen to me, Jesse is dead. You have to remember that when you see him, you’re not looking at your friend. You’re looking at the thing that killed him.”
Of course Xander was always going to end up being the one who had to dust his friend, but Whedon refrains from irreparably damaging one of his main characters with a guilt complex immediately, by having Jesse accidentally pushed into the stake Xander is holding.
The battles are, of course, generally the least interesting thing about Buffy (although the deaths by pool cue and cymbal are both fun), and this episode is all about establishing what roles the main characters will perform. With Willow, that’s immediately clear. She’s the clever computer hacker who will help Giles research the monsters. Xander’s role is less clear at this stage and beyond his loyalty to Buffy (which already starts to become clear here) his purpose in the group will remain hazy. If anything, this is about establishing that vagueness of a person on the team who brings no special skills or knowledge. Angel appears to be somebody who is going to pop up occasionally and give advice, so he is immediately irritating, but not as irritating as Cordelia, who is just nasty to everyone. Harmony puts in her first appearance in this episode, and is immediately an excellent sidekick for Cordelia. At least Willow gets her own back. Those were the days, when the internet was in its infancy, and computers in schools were mysterious things, where the students weren’t sure what all the buttons on the keyboard were for.
Now, I need to copy in Mike’s review below for you to read. How do I do that? Oh yes. Deliver. RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
After a reasonably good cliffhanger, Buffy defeats Luke with a conveniently placed silver cross and the 2-part story continues. I’m not bothered by the way the episode picks up and really wonder if this needed to be a two part story. Ironically, when making that aforementioned B5 comparison, the pilot episode, The Gathering, is also a two part story and it also has a fairly average cliffhanger. (I still love it, but it’s not Z’Ha’Dum!) So this will be very interesting to see what other parallels I draw as I move deeper into the series.
In The Harvest, we are going to solidify the characters. Giles is busy reiterating stories about the Slayer. It’s like he found the tin and he enjoyed reading the description on the side. Oh, good god, I just realized: he’s not Mr. Miyagi! He’s Deckard Cain! “Stay a while and listen. One girl in every generation is chosen to be the Slayer, who is going to whoop the vampires back to their coffins! Never forget…” Willow is not just a nerd, but a hacker and clearly loyal as she stands up to Cordelia to defend Buffy, but when Cordelia is rude to her, she gets her own revenge. I don’t know how common it was in the late 90’s but this felt like one of those early TV moments where the “nerd” proves to be the one to look up to. Cordelia doesn’t know how to save her computer program and Willow says simply: “deliver”. Cordelia sees the “DEL” key and assumes it’s “deliver” and her homework is gone! Kudos, Willow! In some ways, this sets the stage for some of the comedy in the episode and it really ramped that up during the second half. But that still leaves some things to be desired…
When Buffy realizes she has to get to the night club to save the world, her mom grounds her and she actually stays in her room. Here again, logical TV storytelling takes a backseat. It’s not like she was just arrested or knocked out. I realize that she gets out of her room quickly by climbing out the window, but this girl can beat vampires! Can’t she tell her mom no? Another thing is that Buffy has very inconvenient strength. She can send a person flying through the air but her strength wanes when she needs to pry open a vent! She can leap over a fence backwards (which was so ridiculous, I cringed!) but can’t close a door and needs Xander’s help! I will say the scene with the school gate was cringe-worthy, but I had to laugh when goofy Bob, school principle, catches Buffy leaving school grounds. Buffy says Giles sent her to get a book, which Bob doesn’t accept. He says that “Britain has the royal family and all sorts of problems” as if this explains the issue with letting Buffy leave school grounds. And if that school gate isn’t enough of a thorn in my side, Xander says he followed Buffy when he shows up in the tunnels with her, but… how did he get out of the school if Bob locked the gate?? Did he also jump backwards over them?
As if that’s not enough garlic in your veins, the whole story focuses on Luke and Darla trying to help the Master escape his inviso-bubble in the basement. To do this, on one magical night, Luke can consume enough blood that he can help the Master become strong. (Do what, now?) Needless to say, tonight is the night! This leads to a stage performance where the entire school stands awestruck and watches Luke grab one person after the other to drink their blood. Bunch of Thals! Not one of them thinks to fight back? The group doesn’t decide to bum-rush Luke?? It’s the setup of a teenagers dream though: Buffy gets to be all cool in front of the whole school! Fun times. Yet I can’t deny I liked the episode. In fact, even with the silliness of the final confrontation, there are some truly outstanding moments that made up for a lot. Jesse has Xander pinned convinced Xander won’t plunge the stake into his heart, but he doesn’t count on someone running by and bumping him into it! It caught me so off-guard that I roared with laughter! Then to beat Luke, Buffy makes a comment about sunlight, breaks a window and watches Luke struggle against the light for a moment before he realizes it’s not the sun. She says, “Sunrise… is in about nine hours, moron,” then plunges the stake into him. Yeah, the comedy worked ridiculously well and ended up remedying the weaker parts of the episode nicely.
I was reminded of something too. When the Master is in the basement, he says “…and the stars themselves will hide!” This had a hint of Dr. Griffin in the 1933 movie The Invisible Man where Claude Rains says “Even the moon’s frightened of me, frightened to death!” That layer of madness makes for a creepy villain. I confess, I hope he’ll be back because, while he was defeated, he was not destroyed and that inevitably means he’ll be back! Our favorite teen will fight him again, I’m sure of it. Oh, and on that note, I meant to do it with episode 1, but forgot to: Sarah Michelle Gellar was 19 at the time of this series so, while strictly speaking I was right that she was not 16, she wasn’t that far off. And I can see why everyone likes her.
I did not expect much from this two part story and it does let me down in some ways, but it also sets the stage for a compelling world. I am looking forward to seeing where it goes. Perhaps with the first story resolved and the stage set, we’ll get into the real stories now. I hope the next one casts a spell on me! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Witch