This episode still feels like a really good pilot, just as the first time I saw it, despite some really cheesy fights scenes, effects (particularly the vamp dusting) and low-budget production values that look quite bad compared to the later seasons of the show.
The opening scene with Darla and her victim is excellent, and the misdirect really well done. Whedon said he wanted to subvert the conventions of the horror genre, by making a show about a tiny blonde teenage girl - typically a helpless victim of monsters in horror – as a hero who is fighting and killing monsters. But the first scene of the show is another type of subversion – the seemingly scared tiny little blonde “schoolgirl” is the monster, rather than the “bad boy” she hooked up with. The contrast between the sunny world of “Sunnydale” and the "Hellmouth” underneath is very effective. It’s interesting to learn from the start that Sunnydale vampires have not just their own hierarchy and rules, but even a sort of religion (Luke prays and even says “Amen”). Of course, this is very season 1, and we will see something completely different in season 2 with younger and more rebellious vampires.
It's funny to see everyone as they were at the beginning of the show and compare them to the people they would become in later seasons. At this point, they're closer to stereotypes: Giles is particularly stuffy (and has a bad haircut - sorry, it had to be said), Xander is being really geeky and awkward/trying too hard in conversation (and not making a great first impression on Buffy), Willow is nerdy, shy and insecure to a painful level. AH still pulls it off. I've seen the original unaired pilot - the one that Joss considers so awful that he doesn't want anyone to see it (tough luck, Joss...) - and rightfully so, because that version was really awful... But one of the things that stood out is just how lame and bland the actress who was originally cast as Willow, Riff Regan, was. It really makes you appreciate just much charm, personality and genuine emotion Alyson Hannigan brought to the role. Cordelia is funny in her bitchiness from the start and has several memorable lines (“What’s your childhood trauma?”)
Buffy is instantly likable with her passionate, straightforward personality and no-nonsense, wisecracking attitude. It's a little sad to see this bubbly teenage Buffy that hasn't yet been worn down by years of responsibility, trauma and loss. But while I really like the early Buffy, I just love the hardened, emotionally damaged and closed Buffy of the later seasons. Buffy later said she was a lot like Cordelia in the Hemery High - I wonder how much this was really the case: she might have been as shallow, but from the first moment she obviously dislikes the way Cordelia is putting down the "geeks" and "losers" like Willow.
One negative thing I have to say about her in the episode is that she gets bit too wrapped up in wisecracking instead of dusting Darla, just in time for Luke to attack. When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk!
Besides Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, and Cordelia, several recurring characters are introduced here: Darla, Angel (not a regular in season 1), Principal Flutie, the Master. I barely remembered Flutie except for his gruesome end - he was overshadowed by the much more fun and love-to-hate great antagonist Snyder - but he's pretty good here, as a principal that likes to be seen as friendly to the pupils but isn't really that friendly.
Angel is the only character whose introduction doesn't quite match his later personality. He first appears as a mysterious guy (we don’t even learn his name in the episode) stalking Buffy and lurking in the shadows (OK, not much difference there), but he's cheeky and wisecracking. (Among other things, he says he thought Buffy would be taller - but as we later learn, he already knew what she looked like. Maybe he just wanted to annoy her.) For those who have read season 8 (#36 comes to mind), how funny is it that he calls Buffy "ma'am" in his very first line? The very next thing he says is that he doesn't bite. (Liar, liar, pants on fire...:p) I like the moment before Buffy knocks him to the ground – it's shot in such a way that it looks like someone is hanging from above like a bat, you’d expect it to be a vampire before you see it's Buffy. Having seen/read all 8 seasons, it's ironic that Buffy at first assumes that Angel is a friend of Giles' - but at this point they are both mysterious and creepy older men who offer her unwanted cryptic advice about her calling. Buffy is very hostile to Angel at this point, which brings me to my first regular feature (which is going to be very useful in later seasons)…
Buffy protesting too much: After describing Angel as “dark, gorgeous in an annoying sort of way”, Buffy emphatically says that she really doesn’t like him. It looks like Whedon was going for B/A as a belligerent sexual tension at the beginning, before it turned (halfway through season 1) into a very different dynamic. Of course, Whedon would later find a better vehicle for BST (amped to the 10th degree) with Buffy/Spike.
Buffy: Mr. Flutie...
Principal Flutie: All the kids here are free to call me Bob.
Flutie: But they don't.
Willow (about her really awful outfit): My mom picked it for me.
- Yes, we get that she is a nerd, but this was a bit too much.
Foreshadowing (?): Cordelia says she'd kill to live in LA.
Buffy’s Seize the Moment speech to Willow (“, 'cause tomorrow you might be dead”), apart from obviously foreshadowing Buffy's first “death” in the season finale, also makes one think of Faith in season 3.
The first thing Giles does when he meets Buffy is show her a book about vampires. This is the same book that he will eventually leave her in his will, to show her that she is still the Slayer.
I wonder what happened to Jesse and Luke in the Wishverse, without Buffy coming to town. I assume that Jesse was vamped there as well and managed to sire either Xander or Willow or both, or turned one of them and then Xander sired Willow or the other way round. Willow probably didn’t go with the guy who turned out to be a vampire since she here did it prompred by Buffy's speech. But what happened with Luke?
Things that don't really work in retrospect: Darla asking Buffy who she is. She knows about Slayers, she should guess.
Amazingly inconsistent strength: Luke is much stronger than Buffy. I don't remember if there was an explanation why he is so strong. But if some vampires (other than Turok-Han) are that much stronger than a Slayer, how can the Slayers be stronger than vampires, as we later get told (e.g. Angel in AtS "Sanctuary" says that Buffy is stronger than him)? Or are the differences between individual vampires that big? What exactly determines the strength of a vampire? Do they become stronger with age? But that doesn't seem to be the case with most vampires whose 'age' we know (Angel, Spike, Darla, Drusilla). Spike is one of the "younger" vampires out there, but his fights with Buffy were always evenly matched and he came close to killing her a couple of times. I've seen people claim that Buffy is "much stronger" than Spike, based on the Thor Hammer thing in season 5 (Buffy being able to lift it with one hand), which is one of the stupidest moments in the show and makes absolutely no sense in the context of the everything else on the show, like the aforementioned B/S fights.
Other observations: I’m not sure if Cordelia’s coolness test really makes sense for the time period, was James Spader really that popular in the late 90s, or is it an 80s reference that Joss had to sneak in? Anyway, Buffy apparently likes him, so does this give us our first idea about her taste in men? Spader is mostly known for playing jerks, kinky characters, or morally ambiguous guys with a lot of issues... ;)
Our first glimpse of Buffy in the show is of her having a prophetic Slayer dream (which includes many scenes from season 1 episodes, including a shot of the Master.
Giles deliveres the speech that will become a part of the credits for the next couple of seasons ("Into each generation, a Slayer is born...")
Giles tells Buffy that a Slayer should have the ability to spot a vampire. But she had met one earlier (Angel) and had no idea what he was.
Brian Thompson, who played Luke, will later return as The Judge. He’s a pretty scary guy so I’m not surprised that they couldn’t resist casting him for a second villain role!
Is it me or is both Buffy’s and Joyce's hair darker blonde than later in the show?
All in all, a solid pilot. Not great and not yet on the level the show would be in the next seasons (but the majority of season 1 isn't), but a good introduction to the show and the characters. It was certainly good enough to draw me to the show when I first saw it - especially after the really bad 1992 movie which I saw on TV some time before I ever even heard that there was a TV series - even though I certainly didn't expect the show to be a great drama and one of my all-time favorites. I was just pleasantly surprised by it and thought it was a smart, fun, witty and a bit campy show that had enough self-aware irony to keep it from being cheesy.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
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