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Day: February 13, 2013

The Big Damn Buffy Rewatch s01e01, “Welcome To The Hellmouth” or

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Starting over with a new blog is kind of like moving to a new town full of scary vampires. Sure, you get to bring all your stuff, but you leave other stuff behind. You’re afraid you’ll lose touch with the friends you had at your old blog. You’re afraid you might go from being May Queen (whatever the fuck that is, it must be a California thing) to just hanging out in a library with a hot, bespectacled librarian and a bunch of Medieval weaponry.

Wait, is that really a bad change?

I forgot where I was going with this, but the point is, there’s no time like the present to start my Big Damn Buffy Rewatch. I was going to make season by season posts, taking notes as I watched each episode, and highlighting some important points I wanted to discuss, but them my list got super long, so it’s just going to work better to break it down episode by episode, like my 50 Shades recaps. However, it’s not going to suck nearly as much for me. There are going to be some themes I’m looking at in each episode:

  1. Sex is the real villain of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer universe.
  2. Giles is totally in love with Buffy.
  3. Joyce is a fucking terrible parent.
  4. Willow’s magic is utterly useless (this one won’t be an issue until season 2, when she gets a chance to become a witch)
  5. Xander is a textbook Nice Guy.
  6. The show isn’t as feminist as people claim.
  7. All the monsters look like wieners.
  8. If ambivalence to possible danger were an Olympic sport, Team Sunnydale would take the gold.
And because there are other things I’ll want to discuss, I’ll maybe throw in a random 9-10. Because I like round numbers.

So, let’s start with episode 1 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Welcome to The Hellmouth.”

The episode opens with some pictures of a graveyard and ominous narration about how in every generation, a slayer is born. She is the chosen one, she’ll stand alone against the vampires, blah blah, stuff Donald Sutherland covered in the movie. Then we cut to a guy and a girl breaking into Sunnydale high. The guy says he’s a former student (even though he looks younger than most of the extras cast as students in season one), and he wants to romance his gal on the roof of the gym. But she’s afraid, in an suspenseful, I-heard-a-noise-and-I’m-pretty-sure-we’re-not-main-characters kind of way. Ex-student guy teases her and makes a show of checking to see if anyone is there, and when the coast is proved clear, BAM! The girl he was wanting to bone turns into a vampire and devours him. Not only is it a pretty cool twist on the helpless female horror movie victim trope, it is also, in the very first scene of the series, setting up one of the most problematic and common themes in this show: my number 1, “sex is the real villain.” This guy was just trying to get laid, and the punishment for acting on his libidinous intent is death.

Isn’t this a little harsh? Couldn’t he just get gonorrhea instead?

Our introduction to our titular (heh heh) heroine comes as she’s having some really fucking grim dreams, featuring shots from episodes to come. This prophetic dream device will be used multiple times in the series, but it kind of peters out around the fourth season. The first time I saw this episode the scene didn’t strike me as odd, but now it seems kind of awkwardly long. Buffy’s mom wakes her with the warning that she’ll be late for her first day of school, and we see that Buffy’s room is full of packing crates, indicating that they’ve recently moved.

Cut to Sunnydale High. Buffy’s mom drops her off in front of the school with a cheerful pep talk that includes a reminder to not get kicked out. While in terms of storytelling this is just a way to clue in the audience that Buffy has been kicked out of school before (presumably because of what she did back when she was Kristy Swanson), that’s not really the bar for behavior you should be setting with your teen, Joyce (3).

“As long as you’re out of the house between eight AM and three PM, I’m happy. I need that time to set my hot rollers.”

A teenage boy on a skateboard careens down the sidewalk, carelessly mowing down bystanders, until he sees Buffy and, blinded by sexual longing, crashes into a railing. This will be my favorite thing he does in the entire series, because upon rewatch, I fucking hate him.

Eat railing, d-bag. This is a downpayment for all the ways you’re going to annoy me this season.

A wild ginger appears! She seems to be wearing a school uniform when no one else is, and she stops to talk to Gravity McGee about math, giving us our introduction to Xander and Willow, the characters who will eventually become Buffy’s best friends. Upon entering the school, they are joined by Jessie, the third member of their group, and Xander and Jessie immediately start talking about Buffy as though she is an object to jerk off to/onto. Ah, high school.

In the principal’s office, Principal Flutie rips up Buffy’s transcript and pronounces her slate clean. Until he notices the part where she burned down the gym at her old school. Buffy tries to explain, as Flutie attempts to tape her records back together, that the gym she burned down was full of vampires. But of course, she can’t say vampires, because being the slayer is a secret and no one would believe her, anyway. So she settles on the gym being full of asbestos.

Wait, so how did it burn down if it was full of asbestos? You’re bad at lying, Buffy.

After meeting with the principal, Buffy fails to yield to oncoming foot traffic and her bag is spilled by one of the forty-year-old background students. Seeing his opening, Xander rushes to her rescue. Not because she needs help, but because this is a good opportunity to approach her and flirt with her. His opening line to her is, “Can I have you?” a Freudian slip when he meant to say, “Can I help you?” This, and his previous objectification of her, establishes that throughout the series, Xander will be textbook Nice Guy (5), but we’re expected to sympathize with his plight, because he’s goofy and also Joss Whedon’s avatar. Buffy drops her wooden stake, giving Xander the first clue that there’s something not quite right about her.

In her first class of the day, Buffy (blonde, dressed in light colors) meets Cordelia (brunette, dressed in dark colors), a girl who appears friendly and welcoming when she shares her textbook. Cordelia suggests Buffy get a textbook from the library, and shows her the way. As they walk, Cordelia expresses a fondness for shoes and the importance of knowing which nail polish, actor, and Starbucks drinks are the coolest. She then mocks poor Willow’s clothing and lectures Buffy on weeding out losers. So, she’s our mean girl, a walking stereotype of teenage girldom obsessed with everything that is superficial and shallow. While this character does eventually arc and become pretty damn interesting, it’s disappointing that it was set up so obviously, with the girl-on-girl hate and the dark vs. light/good-girl vs. bad-girl vibe. I’m slotting this scene under my number 6.


In the library, Buffy meets Mr. Giles, the librarian, whose enthusiasm about vampires and whose habit of leaving suspicious newspaper articles laying around scares her right off.

In fairness to Giles, this is actually just one of the Sunnydale High textbooks.

Then we cut to the locker room, and one of the best jokes of the entire series: a girl mocking Buffy’s “weird” name walks past another girl, who says, “Hey, Aphrodisia.” So, the girl making fun of Buffy’s name has a “weird” name herself.

You know how a joke isn’t funny if it has to be explained? Yeah, well, fuck off, because that one is brilliant and it took me about a hundred times watching this episode to catch it.

The two obnoxious valley girls give us some exposition about Buffy’s past before they find the corpse of the guy who died before the credits. He was stuffed into a locker. This will be only one of many corpses found stuffed in places over the course of the series. It seems almost quaint now.

Screaming? What, are you new here?

Buffy approaches Willow in the courtyard, and after an awkward discussion of social rules at Sunnydale, Buffy asks Willow if she can help her with schoolwork. Willow suggests they hang out in the library, because she’s obviously got a crush on the “cool” new librarian. Or maybe she has a crush on all the old books he brought with him. It’s hard to tell with season one Willow. She fills Buffy in on the Giles situation. He’s a former curator for “a British museum,” possibly the British museum. Why is no one but Buffy questioning his sudden career change from museum curator to high school librarian? Given the fact that she knows he has a passion for vampires, and he just suddenly started working there, Buffy is suspicious.

Jessie and Xander show up to make Buffy feel uncomfortable as the object of their attraction (5) despite her clear verbal and nonverbal signals of disinterest.

Memo to Nice Guys: This is not the expression we use when we’re interested in you sexually.

Cordelia also drops by the bench to inform Buffy (around constant, unwanted, sexually-tilted remarks from Jessie) that a dead body was found in the locker room, so gym is cancelled. Hopefully the sexual harassment seminar is still on, because if ever a school needed one…

Buffy asks if there were any marks on the corpse, then takes off to play CSI: Hellmouth in the locker room. The scene neatly sets up Buffy’s super strength (she breaks a locked door to get inside), but one has to wonder why an apparent murder victim would be left unattended in a high school. Sure, the door was locked, but where are the police? The crime scene tape? Someone just threw a blanket over the body and took a lunch break, I guess, because Buffy is able to get in and get a good look at the clear vampire teeth impression in the dead dude’s neck.

I guess we can rule out suicide?

Back at the library, Buffy angrily confronts Giles to tell him that while he clearly expected vampires, she didn’t, and she doesn’t want anything to do with them. Buffy knows that this guy is obviously the new Donald Sutherland sent to watch over her. Their argument sets up some basic rules for the series: to become a vampire, you have to exchange blood with a vampire. Into every generation, a slayer is born. Buffy can’t get out of her duties, going so far as to suggest Giles take over her slaying, since she wants to retire. But Giles argues that a watcher doesn’t fight vampires with the slayer, he just “prepares her.” To which Buffy responds:

“Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead. Prepare me.”

And then Giles looks like this:

The exact moment Rupert Giles realizes he should have just stayed in England with the lady from the coffee commercials.

So, basically, Buffy’s new watcher has come into this whole thing expecting that his slayer is going to be totally psyched and committed to the job, and whoops, she’s all, “Go fuck yourself.”
Oh ho! But who doth lurk behind the bookshelves like some kind of creepy eavesdropper?

I’m going to give Xander this one, though. Because if I had just accidentally overheard an intense argument about vampires and secrets that endanger people, I wouldn’t be psyched to broadcast my newfound knowledge of said dangerous secrets, either.

Giles follows Buffy into the crowded school hallway, where he tells her that stuff in Sunnydale is getting worse, and something horrible is going to happen. Buffy should really get used to this kind of thing from him, because as I’m rewatching this series, I’m noticing that Giles never has good news. But this isn’t what concerns me most right now. What concerns me is this:

Hey, other Sunnydale students in the hall? Other Sunnydale teachers? Here’s a male faculty member standing way too close to a female student, using creepily intense body language and having an urgent and hushed conversation. Does, uh… does anybody want to check that out? Remember, no one in the school (except Xander, now) knows that Buffy is the slayer and Giles is her watcher. So imagine this scene from an outsider perspective. Shouldn’t this raise a few red flags? No, because this is Sunnydale, a town that is super good at ignoring the fact that it’s populated mostly by things that like to eat people. See my #8, because this town ignores regular danger as well as supernatural danger.
The whole “evil is going to rise” story doesn’t wash with Buffy, because this is her first time on a Hellmouth. She asks:

“Oh come on. This is Sunnydale. How bad an evil can there be here?”


Oh my god, is that Mick Fleetwood? THE HORROR!

So, here we have the Hellmouth. I know it looks like an R.E.M. video set, but this is really the best it’s going to be for the entire series. Just wait until season seven, when the Uruk-Hai move in. Anyway, there’s a lot of activity with torches and stuff, and a big pool of blood with a vampire in front of it. He’s praying, saying “The sleeper will wake,” and “the world will bleed,” and he caps it off with an enthusiastic “Amen!” while Mick Fleetwood mills around in the background.
We cut to Buffy standing in front of her mirror, trying to decide between a black dress and something floral that I’m pretty sure my mom bought me to wear for Easter one year. Spoiler alert, she got it at Sears. Anyway, Buffy talks to herself while holding up the two dresses, saying:

“Hi! I’m an enormous slut. Hello. Would you like a copy of The Watchtower?”

Because those are the only options. She can either be a total slut, or an uptight religious person. So not down with the slut reference, Buff. You’re better than that. (6)

Joyce comes in and asks Buffy if she’s going out, and advises her to be careful. Then she starts in with some nervous mom blather about the parenting books she’s read, how her positive energy is flowing and she’s going to get the gallery started, and how they’re going to make living in this new town work. And then she subtly blames Buffy for the upheaval in their lives by saying:

“You’re a good girl, Buffy. You just fell in with the wrong crowd. But that is all behind us now.”

So, you know. You’re the reason I’m a divorcee living in Sunnydale, but I trust that you’re not going to screw things up again. That’s a positive message, Joyce. (3)

Buffy heads out into a strange town full of dark alleys (parenting books not cover that, Joyce?) where she meets a twelve-year-old who sounds oddly like David Boreanaz:

That awkward moment when your vampire male lead looks younger than he will in any of the flashbacks to two hundred years ago that he’ll ever have in the series.

Buffy and Angel’s meet-cute is that she takes him down while he’s following her through a shady part of town. He’s been looking for the slayer, and tells her he wants the same thing she wants, to kill all the vampires in the world. When she argues that she doesn’t want any part of being a slayer, he tells her she’s “standing at the mouth of hell” and warns that she can’t ignore what’s coming. Specifically, he mentions “The Harvest,” which is the title of episode two, so Angel has Netflix, too. I feel a kinship with him.

Angel gives Buffy a silver cross necklace (she dreamt about that at the very beginning of the episode) and tells her that he’s “a friend.” But not necessarily her friend. His characterization in this scene is weirdly reminiscent of his characterization as Angelus in season two.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because it’s time to go to The Bronze!

Throughout the series, this shady-looking warehouse nightclub is host to all the kids in Sunnydale. I’m curious as to how this place legally exists. They clearly serve alcohol, but kids under the age of eighteen are all over the place in there. I realize this is a very real-world concern about a fictional place in a town that has vampires and demons and stuff, but getting mundane details correct is super important to suspension of disbelief and audience investment.
A long-haired band on stage reminds us all why music will never be as good as it was in the 90’s, and Buffy finds Willow, who is waiting alone at the bar in the hopes that Xander will show up. She explains that they’re not together, though it’s clear that she would like to be, as she counts their brief boyfriend/girlfriend relationship in kindergarten as dating. Buffy encourages Willow to be less shy around guys, and Willow thinks this is some great advice.
Willow trusts Buffy’s relationship advice, because Willow hasn’t seen season 6 yet.

Can I just say that if anyone on this show should have been playing a vampire, it should have been Alyson Hannigan? In fact, I’m not sure that she isn’t a vampire in real life. She has looked exactly the same since My Stepmother Is An Alien.
Buffy notices Giles wandering aimlessly up on the catwalk-style second floor and excuses herself from her conversation with Willow. Which is really probably the best thing that could happen to Willow, because, as we will see, Buffy really has no idea what she’s doing when it comes to dating, either. But Willow doesn’t know this, so she repeats Buffy’s advice to “seize the moment.”
Upstairs, Buffy and Giles have a slayer/watcher tiff, the first of many, in which Buffy feels Giles is cramping her style by being too uptight about this whole vampire slaying deal, and Giles finds everything about people under the age of thirty confusing and obnoxious. Buffy tells him about the tall, dark and annoying guy she met, who warned her about the Harvest. She also says she “really didn’t like him,” which pretty much cements him as the romantic lead, in case you were wondering.
The thing that pisses me off the most about this scene is that Buffy is portrayed as shallowly fixating on the messenger, rather than the message. She doesn’t care about any ominous supernatural goings on, she’s most concerned with the guy who told her about them. And this episode is absolutely filled with men telling Buffy ominous things she reacts to flippantly. I understand that it’s part of her denying her destiny, but since she ultimately accepts her role as slayer, albeit reluctantly, it’s almost like the message here is, “Do as you’re told, little girl. The menfolk know best.”
Oh, hi there, inappropriate teacher/student proximity, it’s been a few scenes since we saw you last:
Hey you two, leave some room for the Holy Spirit.

Giles mentions Buffy’s prophetic nightmares – which she hasn’t told him about – and we cut to Cordelia, bitching about how her mom’s Epstein-Barr diagnosis isn’t cool enough. I love this moment with Cordelia, because it sets up immediately what she’s all about. Say what you must about Cordelia Chase, but she is one open book, friends.
Jessie shows up, and Cordelia refers to him as her “stalker.” Since Jessie is supposed to be a sympathetic character, when he gets way too close to Cordelia and asks her to dance, we’re supposed to be on his side and think, “What a total bitch this girl is, she won’t even dance with him.” But he’s already come on to her once already that day and been rebuffed. Chances are, he’s been relentless in his pursuit of her, based on her “stalker” comment. So, I’m really not digging on Jessie here.
“Uh, hey, I was wondering, uh, would you, uh, like some unwanted advances for the second time today?”

Giles gives Buffy a speech about how a slayer should be tuned into the presence of vampires, no matter what is going on, and Buffy immediately points one out. The guy’s clothing is out of fashion, she reasons, so he’s stuck in a vampire time warp situation. Giles isn’t keen on this method of vamp detection, but I like it a lot better than the menstrual cramp alert Buffy had in the movie.
Unfortunately, Willow picks the vampire as the guy to try out the whole “seize the moment” thing on, and Buffy hurries to her rescue when she sees Willow leaving the club with him. In a darkened backstage area, Buffy almost accidentally stakes Cordelia.
There’s really no coming back from this.

Not actually murdering Cordelia is going to be a mistake Buffy regrets for the rest of high school, because this is the moment that cements her as a total social outcast. As Cordelia begins immediately spreading the rumor about her near impalement, Giles congratulates Buffy on making such quick work of the vampire. Except, Buffy hasn’t found the vampire yet, and Willow is still in danger. Though Giles insists he should tag along, Buffy tells him she can handle one vampire on her own. Meanwhile, Jessie, fresh off his rejection by Cordelia, is talking with an adorable blonde, and… wait… isn’t that the adorable blonde who turned out to be a vampire before the opening credits? Yup, it’s Darla, and she’s easily charming Jessie.
Every season of Buffy has one big villain. In season one, it’s this guy, who makes his entrance via badly scaled green screen:
“Hey, does this pool of blood make me look oddly tiny?”
This is The Master, easily the scariest looking, if not the scariest overall, Buffy “Big Bad.” He’s been raised from the dead by his vampire followers, who will stage “The Harvest” to give him strength and help free him from his Hellmouth prison. His vampire minion tells him that they’ve sent out for food. Since they’re vampires, it’s a safe bet they’re not getting Chinese take-out. Cut to Willow and the vampire she left with, taking a shortcut through one of Sunnydale’s many scenic cemeteries.
Buffy is still outside The Bronze looking for Willow and hoping that the only friend she’s made in her new town hasn’t just been eaten, when she finds Xander. She tells him Willow left with a guy, and Xander’s response is, “Talking about Willow, right?” Because Willow is so super undesirable. Which, you know, Xander, you’re not doing so hot with the dating, yourself. He tells Buffy that he knows that she thinks she’s a slayer – but he doesn’t really believe her until she tells him that Willow is about to be totally dead.
Back at the cemetery, Willow is starting to suspect that something is up with this dude, and they’re not really going to get ice cream, when he goads her into going into a crypt with him. When she tries to run, her way is blocked by Darla, who has a badly bleeding Jessie trailing along behind her. Willow stands up to Darla, who reveals her vampire face, but Buffy gets there before she can do any real eating. Because on this show, vampires will talk about eating more than they ever actually do it. Like they’re all heroines in a chicklit novel or something.
Buffy puts the beat down on the vampires. She stakes the male one, who bursts into a cloud of ash, which will become the series staple with a few notable exceptions. Then she takes on Darla, who can’t fathom how a human is handing her gift-wrapped ass to her. But then this guy shows up:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer recycles minor character actors like Doctor Who does. This guy shows up a couple times in season 2, and every time, I’m like, “Hey! It’s This Guy!” Anyway, This Guy is pretty rad. He’s the vampire who was praying to raise The Master, and he is not having any of the slayer’s shenanigans. He tells Darla to get lost, and starts beating the fuck out of Buffy. He’s pretty proud of himself, for a big dude beating up a little girl. Willow and Xander try to carry Jessie out of the cemetery, but they’re surrounded by vampires. Back at the library, Giles has finally figured out what The Harvest is, while This Guy neatly narrates it for us as he continues to wail on Buffy. Basically, if The Harvest happens, it will be very bad for people, and very good for vampires. So, conflict! And things look very bad for Buffy, who is now in a sepulcher with a vampire on top of her when the “To Be Continued” card pops up on the screen.
As far as story telling goes, this show didn’t really misstep here. It starts with believable personal conflict, introduces the characters competently (even if the introduction of Cordelia was trite and anti-feminist), and gives the heroine a call to action, before ending on a hook that makes the audience excited for the next installment. If you’re looking for a masterclass in first chapter construction, this is really a good example.