Near the start of this finale episode we get some actual vampire slaying and it feels like a rare treat, because the first season has strayed far from who Buffy is and what she does. You can kind of see the problem here, because the more vampires Buffy faces, the more it’s going to seem ordinary, and the writers are going to have to find a way to keep raising the stakes. By the end of this episode, the most powerful vampire in existence has been destroyed, so it will be interesting to see how Joss Whedon avoids everything feeling like an anticlimax when the series returns.
Not that it was a foregone conclusion that Buffy would return at all. This was a mid-season replacement, and for all anyone knew it could have been 12 episodes and done. Consequently there is a tidy finality to the way this ends. Xander pining after Buffy gets resolved in the only way it could, and it’s a pretty bleak moment but at least it’s over and done with. Then Xander asks Willow to the dance as a consolation prize and she’s having none of that, so it feels like she is finding the maturity and strength to move on as well. I think the Willow we knew at the start of the season would not have been able to resist being the second choice for the night, but these characters have grown over the course of the 12 episodes, and Prophecy Girl is about showing how they can find their inner strength and determination. That happens with each and every main character.
Xander finds the strength to ask Buffy out at last, but more importantly than that he still goes to save her after being rejected. He has been the surprising hero of the first season, despite being the only one with no special skills. We have already seen him save Giles’ life, and now it’s Buffy’s turn to be saved by Xander, who also finds the courage to stand up to Angel. Willow is perhaps the most neglected member of the “club” (which she amusingly resents Jenny Calendar joining), but we see her emotionally maturing with her rejection of Xander, and also she has to find a way to move beyond the horror of seeing some of her friends killed, which momentarily sends her retreating to her bedroom. Then we have Giles, who has to marshal a team and confide in Jenny, whose involvement he never wanted, and we can see how he is on a path from being the one who hides away among his books to the one who gets out and fights, or at least that’s his intention. Most surprisingly, we see Cordelia’s transition to a member of the gang, following on from her involvement last week, and she looks like she is going to be able to take the self-preserving bitchiness that was explained to us last week as a coping mechanism, and channel that into a strength of character that prevents her falling apart like Willow momentarily does, despite having lost her boyfriend. Cordelia coming to Willow’s rescue works very well as a surprise twist, but is also consistent with her recent character development. Where she goes from here, and how she reconciles fighting evil with being the popular girl in school, must surely be something that will need exploring in the next season.
Finally we have Buffy, of course, who has to face her own death. This brings to a close a lingering doubt that has been bubbling under the surface of some of the first season stories. Buffy has often been an unwilling hero, who craved a normal life. We’ve seen her trying to fit in at a new school, trying to have some kind of normality in her life, even trying to be one of the cheerleaders. We have seen how she resents her calling, realising that it’s ruining her school record, upsetting her mother, and preventing her from enjoying many of the usual rites of passage of teenage life. That reaches a crisis point here when she threatens to quit, before embracing her calling. I think we have to see a very different Buffy from now on, who understands that there is no hiding from her destiny but there might also just be a way to cheat it as well. After all, she does manage to have her cake and eat it in the end. She might be soaking wet and dishevelled, but she still gets to go to the dance with her friends. Of course, we might also see a very different Buffy because she has been bitten by the Master and feels “strong” and “different”…
… and that might have been it, and these 12 episodes would probably have soon been forgotten if they stood in isolation. In retrospect the potential here is obvious, and a minority of the episodes were excellent pieces of television, but this was hardly a series that arrived with fully-formed greatness. Luckily it didn’t need to be, because this hasty mid-season replacement on a tight budget did well in the ratings and quickly built a strong fan base. Bringing it back for a full season was a no-brainer, and for Joss Whedon that presented a very different opportunity… RP
The view from the Sunnydale Press…
Prophecy Girl is the first episode that felt like it took itself seriously. It didn’t start off that way though and I did laugh when the Master creates an earthquake, turns to his child friend and says, “What do you think? 5.1?” I laughed and thought I was in for another comedy episode like all the rest. Imagine my surprise when it turned serious? And there’s a lot to unpack in the final episode of season 1.
First off, the silliness may have abated but there are some typical oversights that I come to expect in this series. When Buffy is thrown at the start of the episode, she lands on her back, rolls over and prepares to fight the vampire that threw her. She then reaches into the back of her shirt where she has a stake, to fight the … wait… a stake was in the back of her shirt? Held where, in her bra strap? How did it stay up there? And when she landed, didn’t it break or, worse, go through her heart?? And speaking of the kid who was the chosen one, or the anointed one, or whatever… what was he chosen for? To be an escort to bring Buffy into the disused train terminal? He literally escorts her down to the Master and then … goes home?!?! The big build up was to have him chaperone Buffy down the dangerous stairs. You know, because 16 years old kids need that sort of help! And dare I even get into CPR Xander performs on Buffy? I mean, he has a crush on Buffy and is totally justified in touching her in ways I’m guessing he only dreamed of, yet he decides to perform CPR on the throat. Good luck surviving that! Maybe that should be a class in this school. Based on the number of deaths this school has had in just 12 episodes, that sounds like a good idea. (I’ll email Principal Quark!)
However, if we can accept these mostly minor things, this episode really gave me hope that we were going to get a better season 2. Continuity and character development might all be in the cards, but that wasn’t all. For one, Ms. Calendar is back. (I punched the air!) Cordelia is allowed to drive through the school; that’s gotta be something special. No, I jest but the fact that she’s being brought into the fold is actually a good sign, because we may see her character arc actually mean something. Or even be an arc; I’d accept that! (And by the way, that scene was actually scary!) Willow, who goes through a traumatic experience tells Buffy “I’m not ok”. I didn’t see that coming either. I expected all the main cast to always bounce back and take everything in stride. “Calm may work for Locutus of Borg!” (I still love some of the quotes in this show!) And speaking of bouncing back, Buffy actually does get defeated – talk about something I truly didn’t expect. Well… defeated for a time before we get one of those Tarantino-esque “hero walks”! Hey, I don’t complain about hero walks… they are fun to watch.
For those of you following my journey on my first pass through the Buffy-verse (is that a thing?), you’ll recall I mentioned that the show has actually addressed real life concerns in the middle of all this fantasy. Xander has to face rejection which is well acted and played without any comedy. Meanwhile, Buffy has to face knowing that her friend likes her as more than a friend. Will this impact season two or will the events of this episode dull those memories. I also credit the dialogue when Xander comments that he’d have to be undead for Buffy to notice him because it was raw and real. Well done, Whedon. I don’t see Straczynski’s level of writing yet, but I expect there’s still plenty of time. I was even surprised to see a Lovecraftian monstrosity, complete with tentacles and gibbering mouths! Sadly, the conveniently broken table that forms a stake was a bit too obvious.
Perhaps the biggest take away from this series wasn’t the vampires, the characters or the continuity but the really important life lessons that would one day lead us here, to the Junkyard. Willow summed it up best: “Nerds are in!” I may resemble that remark, but that is what drives us to look at our favorite shows and see them as more than just “entertainment”. It gives us a chance to look at who we are, what we enjoy, what life is all about, and maybe to learn that keeping a stake up your shirt is a bad idea. Nerds? Yeah, I’ll own it but I sure have fun being one. And we’re going to apply that nerd-dom to season 2 next week! ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When She Was Bad