In the second episode of the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy’s new group of friends bands together to stop the mouth of hell from opening up. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
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You know, I think I remember why I never gave this show a chance: I don’t like vampires. In general, I’ve never been too interested by the mythology that surrounds them, and it certainly doesn’t help that a certain “saga” of books pretty much ruined everything ever. But let’s say I never read those books; I still haven’t been terribly fascinated by them. I’m hoping that this is going to change that by at least making things a little more silly than I expect. I suppose that’s what’s so weird about vampires: they’re always played with this hyper-serious eroticism, and it rarely strays from that. At this point, a lot of the witty humor comes from those around the vampires, but even that is a welcome change for me. Vampires are inherently absurd to me, and I like that there’s a slight acknowledgment in the writing that this is goddamn ridiculous.
I like the premise of the show so far, and I’m getting a lot of hints towards things that will continue being more awesome, but I’m still in that period where I’m like I DON’T KNOW Y’ALL GIVE ME MORE TIME. I need to get to know Buffy better, and I’m slow to declare my love. Well, only sometimes, but I don’t need to rush into another relationship after Battlestar Galactica, okay? STOP PRESSURING ME!
Given that, I’m keeping an open mind about this show; I can’t say I liked “The Harvest” more than the pilot, but it’s interesting to me. Whedon sets up what will probably be this season’s mythological arc (The Master, who I still maintain should be John Simm), and wraps up most of the storylines introduced in the first episode. Things are…awkward? I think this is the first show I’ve watched where I don’t think the acting is really all that solid, except for Charisma Carpenter. And that’s weird to me, because I got the tiniest hint of her character doing something different and evolving, and then it’s taken away from me. I have no clue why I am drawn to her at all because her personality is so grating at first! She’s rude, dismissive, and mouths off a billion shitty and problematic things to those around her, but to me, it feels like a show. It’s a performance, but I can’t figure out why. Plus, her interaction with Buffy changes almost immediately after the girl saves her life. If you look back at the scene of the morning after the attack, she’s still gossiping about Buffy being weird, but it doesn’t sound cruel. It sounds…almost like she respects her?
But now I’ve jumped all the way to the end. WOOPS. It happens! I don’t find this show particularly creepy yet, even if it’s steeped in fantasy and horror tropes. The thing is, I sort of don’t care about that. The show doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be this terrifying, supernatural thing, and I’m perfectly fine with that. That’s not to say that it can’t be; I think the set of the tunnels underneath Sunnydale was used extremely well and utilized darkness and claustrophobia properly. Since I’m coming off of Battlestar Galactica, which was unbelievably intense and serious, it’s nice that this is campy and silly and over-the-top. That tonal change is appealing to me.
Whedon doesn’t accept that a campy storyline can’t have some realism in it, though, and there are two important plot points that prove this. First of all, Giles immediately has to deal with the fact that Xander and Willow now know Buffy is a slayer, there are vampires, and more people will be killed because of this. I can’t express just how much I love that this is so early into the show. These characters are now available to have intricate involvement in the plot that isn’t them wondering what the hell Buffy is up to; thankfully, Giles doesn’t seem like he wants to drag the process out longer than it has to be:
“A Slayer hunts vampires; Buffy is a Slayer; don’t tell anyone. Well, I think that’s all the vampire information you need.”
I MEAN RIGHT. Oh god I love you Giles I LOVE YOU.
I also picked up on Xander’s little temper tantrum regarding feeling useless because Buffy asked him to let her do things on her own. It’s kind of a brilliant moment because…look, this shit came out in 1997. And it had a young women basically telling a man who’s bigger than her to sit the hell down and let her take of shit her own way. That’s…kind of cool? And I don’t want to either overstate or underestimate the influence of this sort of thing, especially when you retroactively look at this sort of stuff. But even in 2011, that’s kind of a big deal? Which is an unfortunate thing to state, since not much has changed in fourteen years.
The other thing that not only made me laugh, but I recognized as a great addition to the story was having Buffy’s mother refuse to let her out of the house. I am hoping that this show is not going to ignore the fact that Buffy is just sixteen years old, and this seems like a good sign of it. Earlier, Principal Flutie already tried to prevent Buffy from leaving campus, and now Buffy’s mother is putting up restrictions on her behavior. The problem that Buffy faces, then, is how she is going to attempt to stay in Sunnydale without burning down the gym again. Will there come a day when she has to tell her mother what’s going on, or will it remain a secret over all seven seasons? Thankfully, Whedon’s already provided Buffy with three alibis in the form of Giles, Xander, and Willow; however, how long can that last? How much will Buffy try to integrate into high school life? These are things I sort of want to know! Like…will she join a sports team to try to deflect any suspicious attention to her? Or will that actually be a disaster?
At this point, this is the stuff I’m looking for. I know that I’m going to just let the story develop from here, but I’m paying attention to all the details that stand out as being unusual for an American drama for teens or as a fantasy show. Again, that doesn’t mean Whedon doesn’t use familiar tropes or patterns. I think the portrayal of the vampires is pretty hokey and tired, to be quite honest. There’s nothing in the way Luke, Darla, and the Master act that seems all that much different from nearly every vampire representation that I’ve seen.
However, I was totally shocked that Jesse was made a vampire in the second episode of the whole show. Of course, I’d assumed that when the Master wanted to use him as bait, it would be in Jesse’s human form. So as he led them through the tunnels, I figured that if he was leading them to a trap, it was because he’d made a bargain with the Master to spare his life. But really, how ridiculous is that assumption? Why would the Master turn away a fresh body??? So yes, I did gasp loudly when Xander turned to see that Jesse’s face had changed.
But purely from an emotional standpoint, it’s Whedon’s first statement that this show isn’t going to be safe about certain things. Why should I have expected everyone to get off scot-free after their very first experience with vampires? Instead, I find it more realistic that one of the human characters would lose their life, unprepared to deal with a vampire.
At the same time, I do have one huge complaint about how “The Harvest” ends. As soon as Luke started sucking the bouncer’s blood, I was ECSTATIC. Because there were like 50 fucking witnesses!!! Oh god, and Xander killed Jesse when someone pushed him onto the stake he held, and THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN THE BEGINNING OF A SCI-FI/FANTASY BOOK. It’s always a secret that has to be kept so no one ever knows this underground society exists. But Luke just ate a dude on stage in front of a ton of other people. THIS IS SO EXCITING.
And then we see Cordelia the next morning, explaining to another girl how a “gang” of some sort bust into the Bronze. And the entire plot is written off because people are more likely to rely on denial than being honest with themselves. All fifty people???? I’m sorry, I can’t believe that. Look how many people there were! Not one of them thought it was weird that a guy sucked blood out of another guys’ next? Did the police just not get involved at all? Perhaps Whedon didn’t want to out do himself so early on, but I was kind of disappointed with this dismissive explanation for it all. It felt like a bit of a cop-out.
Still, I’m excited to see where this goes. And if Giles is telling the truth, that means there will be other creatures around that aren’t vampires??? UM YES PLEASE THAT WOULD BE AWESOME. thank you very much.