Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 Review and Core Episodes Guide
Before vampires sparkled, fought over a doppelganger and drank synthetic blood, they feared a young high school blonde: the Slayer. Premiering in the spring of 1997, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was Joss Whedon’s (Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers) second stab at an original idea: an ass-kicking teenage vampire slayer with the massive responsibility to save the world – every week. Picking up from events in the feature movie with the same title, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge, Ringer) moves to Sunnydale, California with her divorced mother and sets out to “seize the moment, ‘cause tomorrow you might be dead.” But her true calling, well, calls – in the form of a brainy librarian and his stack of mystical books. “Something’s coming, something is going to happen here,” Giles (Anthony Stewart Head, Manchild, Little Britain) warns her as mysterious deaths begin happening around town and in her high school. With her new friends, shy, brainiac Willow (Alyson Hannigan, American Pie, How I Met Your Mother) and sarcastic, socially awkward Xander (Nicholas Brendon, Private Practice, Criminal Minds), Buffy takes on the role of protector (and monster hunter) with new purpose.
With a short, 12-episode serial run for its first season, the show seemed to know exactly what it wanted to do from the very first scene: subvert horror conventions and create an unlikely heroine that had depth, character and intelligence. A soft-spoken, quivering blond (school girl outfit and all) asks her tough, jock boyfriend if it’s safe to be at the high school at night. Dark shadows dance across his face and the horror music swells – only to reveal her vampiric face. She is not the helpless female but rather the aggressor; a killer. And the handsome jock? Well, he’s …food. Welcome to the Hellmouth.
This is the world of Sunnydale – warm sunlight hiding the terrors that come out at night; where a young girl in a short skirt takes a shortcut through a graveyard in order to kill the monsters that threaten her town. With its low-budget special effects and occasional bad line-delivery, the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to give teenage angst a means to express itself through metaphors of supernatural monsters, witches, and creepy, creepy puppets.
The pilot (a two-part episode) introduced Buffy, her two new friends, her frenemy, Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter, Angel, Veronica Mars), her trusted, father-figure Watcher, Giles, and a love interest with a dark secret (David Boreanaz, Angel, Bones). The vampire demon that would terrorize her for the better part of twelve episodes is aptly named The Master (Mark Metcalf, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Jag), a grotesque creature with refined taste and a deep desire to walk the earth once again.
Witch (Episode 3) examined the pressure a parent puts upon her child while reliving a youth that’s long gone. Teacher’s Pet (Episode 4) introduced the ‘hot teacher’ and Xander’s feelings of being ‘eaten alive’ by a strong, sexy woman. Never Kill a Boy on a First Date (Episode 5) explored Buffy’s choice between duty and fun; saving the world while still wanting to be a teenage girl. It also showcased Giles’ important presence in her life as he explained, “I don’t have an instruction manual. We feel our way as we go along. And, I must say, as a slayer, you’re doing pretty well.” Bullies and peer pressure manifested itself in The Pack (Episode 6), that showed how easily one can go along with the crowd – and with the help of an old, tribal spell. Also, for all those times one wished their Principal would disappear, the possessed students in this episode eat him. Literally. Issues with authority, much?
And what would high school be without that mysterious, brooding guy who makes you feel “like the lights dim everywhere else.” Angel (Episode 7), examined forbidden love, and having feelings for someone who might not be right for you (“you’re, like, 224 years older than I am!”). Before online dating became popular there was I Robot…You, Jane (Episode 8), where Willow lost her mind dating a demon lost in cyberspace. The dangers of being in “a society where human interaction is obsolete” are explored as Fritz, the intense computer guy prophesizes, “The printed page is obsolete. Information isn’t bound up anymore. It’s an entity. The only reality is virtual.”
Puppets are the stuff of nightmares in The Puppet Show (Episode 9), where a school talent show becomes punishment for Buffy and her friends. An unlikely demon and a really hilarious twist made it a fun take on the frailty – and strength – of the human body. “Our nightmares are coming true,” Giles says in an episode that blurs the lines between reality and fear. Penned by Joss Whedon, Nightmares (Episode 10), explored the deep-seated fears of the characters; loss, abuse, abandonment, guilt and becoming the thing you fear the most. Hilarious fears mix with the truly terrifying as the episode takes on a surreal quality.
High school can make one feel invisible, and in Sunnydale, it takes on a literal meaning. Out of Mind, Out of Sight (Episode 11), examined issues of self-esteem and the feeling of being completely alone. In the season finale, Prophecy Girl (Episode 12), an old prophecy states that Buffy will die fighting The Master and she whimpers, “I’m sixteen. I don’t want to die.” Eventually arming herself with courage, weapons and a pretty dress she defeats him (after dying for a few seconds). Ending on a note of empowerment, responsibility and acceptance, the Slayer allows herself to be a teenager accepting that she always has a choice, “We saved the world. I say we party.”
The first season of this bizarre, genre-bending show saw Buffy struggle with her nightmares, high school and her duty to save the world. Finding strength in her ability to get herself out of dangerous situations with intelligence, style and sassy one-liners, Buffy quips, “it’s all part of the glamorous world of vampire slayage.”
BUFFY SEASON 1 – CORE MYTHOLOGY EPISODES
Seriable recommends experiencing the entire first season of Buffy. However, for those of you who want to dive in at the deep end, we believe the following episodes to be the most crucial to understanding the BtVS Season 1 arc character/story arcs:
- Episode 1 – “Welcome to the Hellmouth”: This is where Buffy and all the main characters are introduced as well as the mythology surrounding her special gift and the Hellmouth.
- Episode 5 – “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date”: Giles and Buffy’s growing mentor/mentee, father/daughter relationship which becomes stronger in future seasons.
- Episode 7 – “Angel”: This episode reveals Angel’s true character, his mythology and Darla’s connection to him which plays an important role when his character gets his own spin-off in a later season
- Episode 8 – “I Robot…You Jane”: This episode casually introduced Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher at Sunnydale High, who becomes involved with the gang’s mission to save the world – and plays an important role in a future season
- Episode 12 – “Prophecy Girl”: The events in this episode strengthen and complete the first season’s arc as well as foreshadow what may come in future seasons because of a key shift in Buffy’s mythology.