Finally the Me, Myself & Buffy adventure continues…
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Yaële Simkovitch discusses Buffy episode by episode.
My name is Yaële and I’m a Buffy Maniac.
I’ve been one for over 23 years and during this whole time Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been a constant source of joy but also thought.
It’s made me think about the world, about television, about what it means to be human, to be a woman, to be in love, to be in pain, about ethics, about personal responsibility, about great screenwriting, and the necessity of humour and pathos. It’s also made me reflect on who I am and who I want to become.
And now I want to share some of those thoughts with you.
This is Me, Myself & Buffy.
0:00:00 – Introduction
0:02:00 – The Episode
0:05:13 – The Joy
0:09:21 – The Pain
0:13:40 – The Brain
0:15:32 – The Ridiculous
0:21:37 – The People
0:31:12 – The Symbolic
0:40:00 – The Revolution
0:48:19 – The Craft
1:04:00 – The Quotes
1:09:21 – The Thoughts
1:12:45 – The Song
1:18:37 – The End
1:19:48 – The Future
Opening Music: Distant Memory by Tomasz Chrostowski
Royalty Free Music from HookSounds
The Song: Ballad for Dead Friends by Dashboard Prophets:
Write to us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is an unedited copy of my notes…
This Episode is the second part of the pilot
It originally aired on the same night on March 10th 1997
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by John T. Kretchmer (who directed one of my favorite episode of season 2, School Hard).
Previously on Btvs: Buffy, a retired vampire slayer of 16 showed up at Sunnydale High only to discover that she is not that retired. Her new watcher, conveniently hired as the school librarian, tells her the charming little California town her mom moved her to is actually a hot spot for demonic activity. In the course of trying to get a social life she stumbles into her slayer duties to rescue her new friends from vampires. In a moment of cockiness she gets attacked from behind by a big vamp who throws her inside a grave and goes after her neck as three fateful words appear on the screen: To Be Continued.
In this episode:
Buffy breaks free of Luke and manages to rescue Willow and Xander but Jesse is captured.
The next morning Giles brings the newbies up to speed with basic vampire and Slayer lore, as they figure out what to do next. Buffy and Xander go to rescue Jesse. Giles and Willow research “The Harvest.” Despite some help from the handsome-in-an-annoying-way-stranger to find the right way to Jesse, Buffy and Xander arrive too late, he has been turned and tries to lead them into a trap. Figuring out that the fate of the world rests in them stopping this Harvest from happening that night, Buffy (despite being grounded by her mom) with the help of Willow, Xander & Giles go confront the bad guys at The Bronze where they have taken the crowd hostage so that Luke can feed on them and magically give The Master enough strength to free himself from his inter-dimensional prison. Buffy is awesome and kills Luke, Jesse gets accidentally killed by Xander’s stake and they save the world, while no one notices.
The next day Cordelia has rewritten the night in her head showing the length the human brain will go to not face reality. Giles tells the newly formed gang that this is only the beginning and that the fate of the world may depend on them… They walk away bantering as he sighs and says “The World is doomed”.
That first library scene is so so great. Every line is gold.
Willow & Giles are particularly funny and charming.
Love that she’s wearing sunglasses on her head while inspecting the crypt.
Rare outfit that I love from season 1
Buffy telling Xander about beheading a varsity player:
“You’re not loving this story.
-No actually I find it oddly comforting.”
Giles reacting to Willow finding accounts of a rash of murders with “Great!”.
Not all the fighting quite works for me yet but I love when she jumps down to meet Luke, and kills a vamp with a pool queue without looking at him. I especially like the thump sound that vamp makes off camera, though he should technically be dust by then so not make any thump.
That cool look she gives the last vamps at the end of the fight, the last shot of the season 1 opening credits.
Buffy is hard on herself as Giles points out, but she can’t help herself:
“You’re the one that told me that I wasn’t prepared enough. Understatement!
I thought I was on top of everything, and then that monster, Luke, came out of nowhere…
God! I am so mentally challenged!”
Which is why her mother’s misunderstanding of her is so heartbreaking.
The worst part is that she only lets herself be frustrated for a second before sneaking out.
Her mother is not a concrete obstacle, just an emotional one, which basically means that at 16 she’s completely on her own.
The real forever death of Jesse is actually incredibly sad, and mundane and tragic. That he gets pushed on Xander’s stakes feels like a crazy metaphor for Xander’s karma. Jesse says terrible thing about his human self which are all a reflection of Xander.
“Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn’t get a date with anyone in the sighted community! Look at me. I’m a new man!”
Yet being a dick gets immediately punished. Xander may be a loser but he tends to get it done one way or another.
The entire set up is smart: “The world is older than you know” It used to belong to demons, vampires are half breeds and they all wish for the humans to disappear. It creates a complex and interesting basis for the mythology. It’s a more interesting version than demons just being “bad guys”.
There is a lot here that is clever. From the characters, brainstorming and figuring out what’s going on and what to do, but also from a storytelling point of view. Whedon is being clever in how he introduces things in order to show all the facets of his show.
It also knows how to give some emotional stakes to the characters.
Not a fan of the music and the fights yet. Though I like some of the shots.
I have a hard time taking that lair seriously.
Jumping over the gate is a bit much. It’s very Bionic Woman, which doesn’t seem like Buffy’s usual power style.
Angel is really over the top « Actually I thought it was gonna be a little sooner »
I really don’t like the lair scenes. Even though the Master can be funny. I think it looks terrible. I’m sure many people love it. My favorite line is “You got something in your eye” which feels so comedic that it makes the seriousness of the rest of the scenes fall especially flat for me.
I get that it’s there to create a contrast with how Buffy talks. It’s apparent when she interrupts Luke during the Harvest ritual but it doesn’t quite gel for me.
The way Buffy defeats Luke also works better on paper than on screen.
And I have an actual negative bodily reaction to Buffy’s fake laugh when Xander says “heads up”.
Let’s talk more about Buffy and what we learn about her.
Buffy’s protector instinct kicked in the moment she saw Willow leave with that vampire. She has entirely forgotten her unwillingness to be the Slayer. The moment someone is in danger she feels responsible.
« Jesse is my responsibility, I let him get taken. »
« I’m gonna find him »
She actually has a hero complex. Which is pretty good for a superhero, but is it her nature or an effect of her powers?
We also learn a lot about our characters in how they react, the choices they make.
Willow and Xander are immediately willing to help out. We also learn of their skills. Willow is a computer whiz, Xander has courage if not always sense. Giles is not above being sarcastic.
Buffy has also an impact on them: Willow stands up to Cordelia, which she couldn’t do in Part I, and Xander gets serious after being sarcastic for the first half of the story.
Some great relationships get established here.
Buffy loses her snark when Angel gives her a sad look, she is also wearing the cross he gave her.
Xander establishes his trust : « It’s cool Buffy is a super-hero »
Buffy establishes that Giles will be called Giles. And he calls Buffy by her first name as well which is not an obvious choice.
The Team is built Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander !
The other characters are labeled pretty strictly in this episode, which will make their eventual evolution all the more tasty.
Jesse, I feel, gets especially poorly treated: he was only the sacrificial lamb of Whedon’s desire to shock viewers. Willow’s reaction to his death is very small.
Joyce is the clueless mom who keeps being super shaming.
She’s trying though: “The tapes all say I should get used to saying it : No”
Cordelia is still very much a mean girl cliché but such a perfect one, she delivers another Joss HS line :
« Excuse me? Who gave you permission to exist? Do I horn in to your private conversation? No. Why? Because you’re boring.”
She gossips meanly about Buffy, she agrees to dance with Jesse when he turns rough, she is rude to everyone BUT she is a class A screamer.
Vampires, demons, magic are the vestiges of ancient time.
The most overt symbolic scene is the toy trunk that is actually a secret slayer stash.
The forces of darkness are the collective, generational trauma of our world?
Jesse says as a vampire he feels connected. I can’t help but think it means rooted in historical oppression. Whedon doesn’t dislike the past. There is an entire through line in his Avenger movies about the dignity of the past, through Captain America. But he does question societal structures, he was always uncomfortable with social inequality, even though he was at the time still naive about the breadth of systemic oppression.
Buffy’s use of random objects and tricks to fight is symbolic of her revolutionary approach to old problems. Tree branch + Pool queue.
Buffy loses consciousness almost under Luke’s grip but in the crucial moment finds extra strength, wakes up and head butts Luke: this is a metaphor for her general sense of resourcefulness.
What Cordelia says at the end makes her the representation of normalcy.
The original Agnostic statement of the show is at the top of the episode: christianity = popular mythology.
Hard to list everything:
– Buffy’s agency
– The specific writing: as in the actual words and phrases are very sophisticated.
– The constant weaving of banter and existential pathos.
This created a style ! This did not exist! Not in that way!
Xena, Loïs & Clark & Babylon 5 all had some of this DNA but not to this extent.
Other nerdy shows were funny but not as sharp. And the existential stuff felt more epic/ distanced: safer. This is hitting right at home: This shit can happen to anyone.
Those first scenes in the library do a lot of housekeeping.
We learn about the original vampire lore, and we find out more about the Slayer.
Xander expresses disbelief, Buffy jokes explain that it’s a natural reaction, but won’t change the reality.
Willow also mentions the police which Buffy easily dismisses, this is important for later. They cannot rely on human law & order or weapons: « they’d only come with guns »
In general this episode does an excellent job at giving all the information necessary to understand the basic rules of the universe:
*How vampires came to be, the slayer, how to kill a vampire, that vampires are not the people whose body they inhabit.
*How they problem solve: by committee.
They debrief what happened and think out loud to figure out the next move, which is generally research, then they go on the field. Regroup back at base, where more research has been done. They formulate a plan. Then they try to implement the plan but have to improvise a bunch.
How to Exposition:
Slayer hunts vampires, Buffy is the Slayer
Here’s what we know.
“ 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.”
Giles is the master Expositioner… Why he had to be British???? So he wouldn’t sound ridiculous saying all of this.
Whedon loves to connect scenes with a word. It’s a common screenwriting technique but he really revels in using it. For example the 2nd and 3rd scenes from act 1 are linked with the word Slayer. The Master says it. Then cuts to Xander reacting to the same word during the exposition of Giles.
1. Crypt: Buffy is struggling under Luke, his hand gets burned by her Angel cross
2. Cemetery: Buffy saves Willow and Xander, but Jesse has been taken
1. Library exposition: Giles and Buffy explain the original vampire lore to Xander & Willow
2. Lair: Luke and Darla bring Jesse to The Master, they hypothesise about the Slayer
3. Library Exposition 2: Giles explains the Slayer lore – they start debriefing what happened – they need to see city plans to figure out where the vampires went – Willow has an idea
4. Lair 2: They discuss the Slayer
5. Library Exposition 3: Willow hacks into the city plans. Buffy figures out where the vamps went, she decides to go rescue Jesse
6. School grounds: Buffy gets stopped by Fluttie who tells her she can’t leave the school grounds. He locks the gate. She jumps over it.
7. SH corridor – Willow and Xander reckon with the new weirdness in their lives.
8. Crypt – Angel tells her his name and more about The Harvest. He tells her not to put herself in danger, she breaks down the door. She is kind to him when she realises the « friend » comment hit home, he tells her where to go.
ONCE SHE’S OUT OF SIGHT HE WISHES HER GOOD LUCK UNDER HIS BREATH
1. Under the crypt – Buffy explores, finds rats, is surprised by Xander. He convinced her to let him stay
2. Library – Giles finds out about The Harvest in his books: it’s tonight
3. Computer lab – Willow quietly researches while Cordelia is being a bitch around Harmony and others. Willow speaks up and makes Cordy destroy their work by suggesting she presses the deliver key.
4. Underground – Buffy and Xander find Jesse chained in a tunnel. She frees him. They get chased. Jesse leads them to a room without a door. Xander asks what : What do we do ?
JESSE WITH VAMP FACE : I GOT AN IDEA, YOU CAN DIE!
1. Underground (continued) – They manage to get rid of Jesse and escape through a hatch in the ceiling. Go through a vent like space. End up in the daylight. A vamp grabs Buffy’s leg. Xander pulls her out.
2. Lair – The Master is disappointed that the Slayer escaped but glad he’ll get to kill her. The Master blinds his minion « you got something in your eye »
3. Library – Willow surprises Giles worried about Buffy. Willow found out about a rash of murder before the earthquake in 1937. It’s all coming together.
4. Lair – The ritual that makes Luke the Vessel
5. Library – Buffy & Xander return to announce Jesse has been turned. Giles EXPOSITIONs the Harvest they decide to go to the Bronze. Buffy says she needs to go home for supplies first/ The sun sets
6. Buffy gets grounded while getting the supplies, she sneaks out through the window.
7. Cordelia and her clique at the Bronze, she accepts to dance with Jesse.
8 SONG BLARES: DARLA ALL SMILES & VAMPIRE GANG APPROACH THE BRONZE IN SLOW MOTION
1. Darla, Luke etc. Get inside against the bouncers will / Stop music, Luke goes on stage, announces everybody’s imminent death, Cordelia sees Jesse’s vamp face. Luke feeds on bouncer. / The Master starts getting stronger.
2. The Core 4 arrive at the Bronze: the door is locked: Buffy send the others to the back, to find her own way in, gives them instructions to stay out of the fight.
3. W, X & Giles try to get through the back door: Giles tells Xander to remember Jesse’s dead.
4. The Master screams for more, Luke is feeding on some random girl, Darla brings him Cordelia to Jesse’s disappointment.
5. Buffy gets in through the roof confronts Luke while the others liberate the hostages. /Willow throws holy water in Darla’s face to protect Giles/ Xander saves Cordelia and inadvertently kills Jesse/ Buffy defeats Luke by tricking him / Makes the rest of the vamps run with a look / Angel is outside and impressed “ She did it”
6. The Core 4 alone in The Bronze: Nothing will ever be the same.
7. Morning: Cordelia tells her version of events. Core 4 debriefs about people being willing to forget and the next issue they might face: the kids banter, Giles rolls his eyes: THE EARTH IS DOOMED
I always bitch about the pilot because I tend to bitch about pilots that are double episodes. But the reality is that those episodes establish an incredible amount of things: exposition about the universe and its mythology, characterisation, tone, and an actual plot.
But I still think that structurally the pilot is flawed, because the protagonist’s drive is not completely drawn out in the story. She spends most of Part I claiming she’s retired, but never truly addresses it after that. It makes her protesting feel a little too heavy handed in part I. You could say she was seeking normalcy in Part I and then realised she would have to give up on that to do the right thing. Which she sort of does by running against her mom’s orders. But she never really addresses that either. The point doesn’t quite land. I believe it is because at this point Buffy the person doesn’t completely exist for Joss. At this point she is still an inverted trope to him; an « Exercice de style » or stylistic exercise. She’s an archetype not a person. And maybe that’s a good thing, maybe the fact that he didn’t completely know who she was, allowed him to discover her organically. And I believe it gave space for the character to become what she became, through his growing investment in her journey, which I believe has a heavy dose of personal identification on Joss’ part. I’ll get back to that later. But it also gave him the opportunity to be inspired by what Sarah Michelle Gellar gave to the character: as a performer AND a person.
« This world is older than any of you know. And contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise »
« I need to sit down. You are sitting down. Oh good for me.»
« Waiting for the animals to die out. And the Old ones to return »
« The Slayer hunts vampires, Buffy is the Slayer, don’t tell anyone, well I think that’s all the vampire information you need. »
“Does anybody mind if I pass out?”
« They can fly? They can drive »
“Let’s take an enormous intuitive leap shall we? And say they went underground.
« I suppose we could go to the building commission. We So don’t have time »
« So all the city plans are just open to the public?
-Oh, well in a way. I sort of stumbled on to them when I accidentally decrypted the city council’s security system.
– Someone’s been naughty »
« I’m so mentally challenged »
« Xander what are you doing ?
– Something stupid I followed you. »
“ why do we have to devise these programs. Isn’t it what nerds are for? »
« I am not ok on an epic scale »
“It’s cool Buffy’s a superhero.”
« They said I was the bait. Oh great now you tell us. »
« You’re Like a shadow to me now »
« It’s all coming together. I rather wished it weren’t »
« Tonight I shall walk the earth. And the stars themselves will hide »
« I don’t like vampires. I’m gonna take a stand and say they’re not good »
« So Giles? Got anything that could make this day any worse?
– How about the end of the world?
– Knew I could count on you.»
“I don’t get one?”
“Tonight will be history at its end! Yours is a glorious sacrifice! Degradation most holy. (no one in the crowd stirs) What? No volunteers?!”
It took me 3 years to record this second episode.
Before introducing the song I have to say: Cordelia: “I love this song” is always a reminder of how different music trends were in California and Paris at that time.
Ballad for dead friends by Dashboard Prophets
Darla is too easily frightened in this episode, it is distracting when you know who she actually is.
Xander’s statement about vampires is to stay true to a fault.
Xander’s relationship to Cordelia truly starts here. This is the first time he saves her life. Even though she will conveniently forget.
Last scene is mirrored in the last episode.