Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of Boxset Binge – the series of posts where I review a whole season after watching the episodes in quick succession. Today I am giving my thoughts on a show that has influenced a lot of Young Adult TV series, particularly in the realms of fantasy and horror, with its premise. Several people have recommended that I watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I finally took their advice. So get your crosses ready and strap in your wooden stakes; here are my thoughts on the first siz episodes of this iconic 90s series.
*Warning: This review contains some spoilers*
Episode 1 – “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (8)
A very good opening episode, where it feels like a lot happens. I must praise Joss Whedon on his ambition; he could have easily started small and then grow as the audiences started to know the characters and the premise. But it feels like all of the major players are thrown together and in at the deep end, as the recurring villain is introduced. The Master is certainly a formidable foe for Buffy in the first season, not least because he has an army behind him. Major players, primary antagonist, some mythology; there is a lot for the viewers here and as a result it could feel a bit stuffed, but ultimately succeeds due to the breezy dialogue and 90s fun factor.
Episode 2 – “The Harvest” (7)
A two part episode with high stakes is certainly a great way to preview the action-packed show that Buffy the Vampire Slayer will become. Starting from the cliffhanger in the previous episode, Buffy and Xander (who has eyes only for her from day one, to their friend Willow’s dismay) hunt down the vampires who have captured their friend Jesse, only to discover that he has been transformed into one. Even though he was being teased in Episode 1 as a major player in the series, it starts a trend of various characters who appear in only one or two episodes who are doomed. There is a cool bar scene to end the episode, though it doesn’t quite match up with the potential danger of The Master escaping and destroying the world. Overall, it doesn’t feel stuffed, which is better than the debut episode, but it doesn’t quite live up to the high standards set by it.
Episode 3 – “Witch” (6.5)
The first monster-of-the-week episode, this has some good moments but feels like a massive decrease in intensity after the two-parter – a potential weakness of starting the series with episodes where the world is in danger. It is quite fun to include more flavours of high school life such as cheerleading, not least for the horrified look on the face of poor Giles (Buffy’s mentor). Darker themes helped to keep this episode from completely being meaningless, with the concept of an overbearing and pushy parent something which I am sure a lot of the audience can relate to. A non-obvious twist also helped to keep the episode moving along nicely. I hope to see the daughter character again in the future as she has quite a lot of potential with her roots in witchcraft, but I’m not sure with so many of these one-off characters already.
Episode 4 – “Teacher’s Pet” (6)
Potentially the weakest episode of the first season, “Teacher’s Pet” relies too heavily on sexual innuendos in the dialogue and not enough effort is put on a by-the-numbers plot. You can work out within the first couple of minutes who the antagonist of the episode will be and, unlike “Witch”, no plot twists are thrown our way in order to keep the narrative interesting. I do feel sorry for Xander though, not having the courage to really ask Buffy out, and likewise for Willow for her feelings for Xander. Now that the main narrative with The Master has been put on the backburner, it is good to see the other main characters fleshed out a lot more.
Episode 5 – “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” (6.5)
I was close to giving up on saying much positive about this episode, until a solemn chat at the close of the episode between Buffy and Giles. He talks to her about his background and his father forcing him to have responsibilities at such a young age, so that it has shaped how he has treated Buffy up to this point. It was so wonderfully done, with great acting between the two. Other than that, there are some fun moments with an exasperated Buffy bemoaning the potential death of a guy on their first date, and some more plot development regarding The Master that didn’t need to be included in there. The one off character of Owen, the guy Buffy goes on a date with, is quite unlikeable and I almost hoped that he would be killed by a vampire, whereas David Boreanaz continues to smoulder as the mysterious Angel, with whom Buffy has tons of chemistry with. But most of this episode has already faded into the background for me.
Episode 6 – “The Pack” (8)
A genuinely unsettling episode and potentially the most successful of the first half of the season. There was some good acting, particularly by Nicholas Brendon as Xander and some horrifying moments, most notably when a pig designated to be the school mascot was eaten and Buffy was nearly raped by a Hyena possessed Xander. For the former, you don’t see anything but the terrified pig in the cage surrounded by hungry predators, but the imagination helps to fill in the blanks. I should have guessed that the writers of this episode will try and escalate the disturbing scenes further, but I never guessed that the possessed teens would kill and eat the dim but kindly Principal. Throughout that scene I believed that Buffy would walk in and save him, but no one came. People have died on the show before, but this was the first death to make me realise that no one is safe in this world, even in the school. Other than this, the mythology of the episode felt much different, if a bit under-explained and the ending was a bit too sudden, but overall I was really gripped by “The Pack”.
So those were my thoughts on the first six episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Honestly, I can see why its premise continues to influence Young Adult shows in 2019: it is simultaneously scary, exciting, funny and relatable to the teenage market. I am really looking forward to watching the remaining six episodes of the first season and see whether I want to continue, but it’s looking very positive.
If you have any suggestions of shows you want me to feature in a future edition of Boxset Binge, put those in the comments section below, or drop me a message on the site’s Twitter account.