Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What’s My Line (Parts 1 and 2)

Buffy has been complaining about not being able to be a normal girl right from the start, and that is reinforced again here. There is a “career week” at school, but she doesn’t see much of a future for herself. She is profiled as a possible candidate for law enforcement, which she shrugs off as “polyester, doughnuts and brutality”. If media reports are anything to go by, that seems about right. But Buffy’s woe-is-me act has been wearing a bit thin for a while, particularly in comparison with Xander. He is not gifted academically or… well, in any way, so his future is looking particularly unpromising in comparison to his best friend Willow, whose world is her oyster, and yet Xander doesn’t spend his whole life complaining like Buffy does.

So it’s time she had a lesson about the merits of counting blessings in life, and that’s what happens here, without ramming that message down our throats. The writing in Buffy nearly always leaves some dot-joining to the viewers. Let’s join them by looking at the character of Kendra. Her arrival makes it immediately obvious just how much Buffy has going for her in life, because here is somebody who truly does have nothing other than her calling. Kendra’s life is about being the “Vumpire Slayer”, to the exclusion of everything else. She is shocked and puzzled that Buffy has a group of friends whom she has confided in, helping and supporting her. She is amazed what a normal life Buffy has, even to the extent that she has a boyfriend. Heck, Kendra doesn’t even have the luxury of parental support. She is just a “She-Giles” who fights. Suddenly, Buffy’s life isn’t looking so restricted by her Slayer duties.

Kendra gets character development too. Let’s get the elephant out of the room first of all, and acknowledge that her accent is horrendous, but at least it’s a vehicle for comedy:

“You tink he might help us?”
“I tink we might make him.”

Other than that, she’s brilliant, because she starts out as a walking cliché of a superhero girl who has only one side to her character, and that is fighting the bad guys. Then she goes all deferential when she has to speak to a teenage boy, so she’s a walking, talking, male fantasy fulfilment in every way, right down to the skimpy outfit. All of that would have been horrendous, but for the fact that she changes. She learns from Buffy and her group of friends, and goes from being a blinkered killer of all “vumpires” to a hero who uses her brains and empathy, helping Buffy to rescue the “monster” she had previously been trying to kill. Along the way, Buffy teaches her about the value of instinct and experience, which are more important than theoretical knowledge and brute force. Kendra arrives, learns about shades of grey, and then leaves. Dodgy accent or not, she needs to come back soon.

All the main teenage characters get a hefty chunk of character development during this two-parter. It represents the beginning of two relationships. Xander and Cordelia having a blazing row and then kissing is very amusing, and if you’ve been paying attention we have been building up to this moment for a while. It’s far from being a left-field development. Meanwhile, Willow and Oz are on the road to becoming the cutest couple ever.

“You have the sweetest smile I’ve ever seen.”

Being a tangential part of the Scooby gang does get Oz shot immediately, though, in a very rare example of a villain having a gun in the world of Buffy. It’s always a shock when that happens, as it feels like such a genre clash. Much more in the realms of fantasy is the maggot guy, which was an idea that was far from perfect in the execution, but still managed to sear itself into my memory since the first time I saw it, helped by the sinister performance of Kelly Connell.

There was so much packed into these two episodes. I haven’t even mentioned Drusilla torturing Angel, her return to strength, the debut of Willy the Snitch, or Jonathan popping up to play a peripheral role again as collateral damage in Buffy’s world. I’ll leave all that aside in favour of a more important issue: what’s with Willow’s frog fear? It’s a question for us to ponder, but don’t warn the tadpoles…   RP

The view from the Sunnydale Press…

“Welcome to planet Pocket Protector!”

This show is so weird because, 20+ episodes in, I still can’t say it’s good, nor can I really say it’s bad either, but I can say it’s loads of fun!  The chemistry of the cast is truly amazing.  The comedy is solid too.  The stories are not actually bad but they are totally cheesy.  But that combination is enough of a win that I keep coming back for more.  What’s wrong with me?!

This episode has an odd title because it’s really about Buffy coming to terms with her future, or lack thereof.  What’s My Line seems to be a reference to “what is my career, my future” and that’s a very valid question that most teenagers face.  I see my own son struggling to figure out who he will be in the future.  I was the same back in my youth!  Buffy may be a vampire slayer, a very fictional being, but she’s dealing with a very real problem facing every 16 year old out there.  While the options don’t seem great, when you know your future is predetermined, Xander’s prison guard and Cordelia’s motivational speaker seems very alluring but that’s because Buffy has no choices.  Her future is set; she cannot have a “normal life”.  But that may not be the burden she thinks it is.

This story has Spike hire a number of assassins to kill Buffy so that he can cure Drusilla by killing Spike and doesn’t want Buffy to interfere.  Of course it’s ridiculous!  Why would he wait until now to get on the Dark Web and hire assassins?  Wouldn’t he have planned that ages ago?  Like, she’s defeated the Chosen one once (before Spike killed him), so why wait until now to go for the big guns?  Clearly it wasn’t about money!  Also, let’s go to a church and hold a cross and basically run wild in a place no vampire should be comfortable because why not?  The first assassin who is easily dispatched with a slit throat, courtesy of an ice skate.  The only assassin worth anything was the lord of the maggots!  That dude was genuinely freaky and watching him form was strange and wonderful.  The school shooter was a bit unexpected, but this was the 90’s.  It’s not until we meet Kendra that things become interesting.  We are lead to believe she’s another assassin… color me amazed that episode one ended with the revelation that she was another vampire slayer.

The mystery deepens because Kendra’s position as a slayer came about because Buffy died at the end of season 1.  This nuance is clever and plays with continuity in a good way.  The question for Xander,  “what is it with you and bug people”, is also a nice homage to the season one episode Teachers Pet.  It’s nice that the series is building on its own past.  This is a good sign for the future of the series.  I have over 5 seasons to go and I want more meat with the stories.  While I wait, I’m happy with the sides!

As “sides” go, the characters continue to amaze me with their lines and antics.  I was 100% certain that Xander and Cordelia would kiss, and was idiotically overjoyed by it.  I was 100% certain that Oz and Willow would get together and they are a delightful pair.  I was 100% certain that Buffy would teach Kendra that “emotions give me powers” and loved that revelation!   What I didn’t see coming was Kendra teaching Buffy that her role as Vampire Slayer is not a job, it’s an identity and Buffy gains strength in that realization.  A job is something we do to live.  An identity is who we are.  Many people have jobs; not everyone knows their identity, and that was a powerful moment in the episode.  And maybe it will change who Buffy is for the future if the series continues to build on itself.

“Don’t warn the tadpoles!”  As usual, I can’t end without mentioning some of the great quotes.  Kendra’s disappointment with the way Buffy treats her “job” is met with the witty, “No wonder you died!”  Xander’s comment about Buffy working at the DMV because of her attitude was classic too.  I did think the school taking Willow behind a dark curtain where someone suggests she “try the canape” was corny, but that’s the scope of this show.  Speaking of corny, Buffy is determined to rescue Angel and leaves Kendra to go for Giles and company, but Buffy was being lead to the church, she wasn’t actually told where it was.  So how did Kendra know how to find Buffy?  There were a number of possible churches throughout Sunnydale (I think they said 43).  That would be a heck of a guess!

Like I said, the show somehow straddles the line being continuity-aware and unaware at the same time.  It recognizes the past, but forgets things that happened in the same episode!  I know, readers must be thinking that, as a fan of Doctor Who, I should be used to continuity being tossed out the window.  Yeah, I guess.  And with the comedy, that makes this Doctor Who meets Bill and Ted, I suppose.   ML

Read next in the Junkyard… Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ted

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on junkyard.blog. Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com. Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Television and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Buffy the Vampire Slayer: What’s My Line (Parts 1 and 2)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    If we’re already contemplating for one 2-parter how Buffy’s life may unfold after her mission as the Slayer is one day finally concluded, it may enhance the scope of the series. As opposed to Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who, Buffy could not qualify as a boundless franchise and may in that regard tax the mind as to how we view all these cherished characters in their aftermaths. Consequently, it can be all the more interesting to reflect on how a show like Buffy had impacted the sci-fi & fantasy universe when more limited shows of the genre were getting a lot more footholds.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 2 people

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