Jan 23 2012 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In Every Generation, There is a Chosen One

Here’s a little something to blow everyone’s minds: this being 2012, March 10th will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiere on the now-dead WB Television Network. What’s more, the BtVS film, starring Kristy Swanson, hit screens in 1992, five years earlier. By my reckoning, friends and fandom, that makes the Slayer franchise just about old enough to gamble.

This calls for some partying, don’t you think? And also, perhaps inevitably, a rewatch.

When I contemplated looking at all of BtVS again, not quite a decade since “Chosen” brought down the curtain on Sunnydale, California, I decided not to dive right into “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvest.” First, I thought, I’d take a quick glance at the original film. Remember this?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (version 1.0) was a weird mix of action, girl power and broad, occasionally dumb, comedy. I saw it in the theater, for some reason, and enjoyed it more than it perhaps deserved. Kristy Swanson made a good Buffy, I thought, vulnerable and tough by turns. Rutger Hauer delivered good villain cheese, as he always does, and Donald Sutherland as Merrick was a perfectly adequate Watcher. This first Buffy’s growth into the Slayer role—despite the silly gags that undermined the powerful underlying story and Joss Whedon’s crackling dialog—had moments that were truly engaging.

Still, we all know it couldn’t hold a candle to the series, right?

“Welcome to the Hellmouth” throws a tentative storyline back to the original film, without locking itself into its canon. Buffy has been kicked out of school... the one, we’re left to assume, that we saw in the movie. She and a much more attentive version of her mom have ditched dad and moved to a new town. The fate of her previous Watcher is left murky—we are left to remember Merrick, and his death, without dwelling on it.

It’s an elegant compromise in its way, acknowleging that something came before without making too much of the link. It also saves audiences familiar with the basic Buffyverse infrastructure from having to sit through a rerun of Buffy’s origin story.

Like all series pilots, the two-part BtVS opener is all about setting the stage and getting us up close and personal with the cast. To that end, it spends a lot of time just showcasing the players, introducing us to Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander and Joyce. We get to know Sunnydale, which is as much a character as any of the human (or inhuman) participants in the show. We get a first day at school, complete with an exciting bonus Hellmouth. And finally, as a bonus, there’s a glance by a few people who become more important: Angel, Cordelia, Darla and the year’s big bad, the Master.

Most of all, we get Sarah Michelle Gellar, taking on the Chosen Role as if it were the part she was born to play. Through her, we see that the only thing more complicated than being a superhero might be being a teen superhero, with no legal independence, no driver’s license, and a randomly applied curfew. The secret ID and super-life are tough, excruciatingly so—and this is a theme the show never leaves behind. If Spiderman’s thematic catchphrase is “with great power comes great responsibility,” Buffy’s might go on to elaborate: “And a fair amount of of kvetching from the rest of the team.”

Spidey, of course, has no team. Buffy, by contrast, grows to be the head of a formidable, evil-battling crew. She defers to Giles, especially in these early episodes, but she never follows her Watcher’s orders without question, as her predecessors apparently did. When bucks have to stop, it’s Buffy making the hard choices—and taking the brunt of the fallout.

A prolonged battle isn’t something she wants. Buffy arrives in Sunnydale, in fact, nursing the hope that her destiny hasn’t followed her. When it turns out she’s relocated to a mystical war zone, she takes up the fight both as a soldier and a budding officer: she starts making tactical decisions and giving orders right away. She takes responsibility for the others and because they’re not an actual army, they take the opportunity to second-guess her. I remember a lot of those judgments as being rather cruel—we’ll see how they look this time around.

As I rewatched this opening two-parter, this was what really struck me: how far Buffy comes, over the course of seven seasons, as a leader. In the film, she’s all but alone. In Sunnydale, she immediately starts creating a support base that expands steadily over time. In the series finale, she deploys these resources brilliantly, changing the rules of the Slayer game. She alters not just her own situation, but the fundamental balance of power in the ongoing Buffyverse struggle between good and evil.

She’s never perfect, and she doesn’t get it all right. She pays bitterly for every mistake. BtVS was a terrific journey, and I remember that I loved tuning in every week, for all those years, to watch it play out.

So... fifteen years later. It’s time to go there again, don’t you think?


Next Monday: The highs and lows of Season 1!

A.M. Dellamonica has a short story up here on — an urban fantasy about a baby werewolf, “The Cage” which made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer on index | next ›
1. teel77
Excellent - more Buffy retrospective please! I will be here next Monday to read your thoughts.

For those of us who just can't get enough, this a link to a site where a Buffyverse newbie is blogging every single episode (one per day). As some who knows what's coming it can be quite entertaining...
john mullen
2. johntheirishmongol
I had seen the movie and enjoyed it, but wasn't all that impressed with Kristy Swanson, especially the cheerleader part of her role. I thought Alicia Silverstone would have been better casting. SMG was definately great cast, as were all the original scoobies. Maybe the smartest casting was Giles, who got the job on the strength of a series of Folger commercials.

BTVS came in as a summer replacement, and, having a teen daughter, I watched it but then realized that it was a lot smarter and better written than I had expected. I think it is in the top 5 shows ever. I hope you will be covering it episode by episode and not just by season.
3. JCHicks
It's hard to believe it has been fifteen years. My first exposure to Buffy was when I came home on a break from college and my younger sister all but tied me to the couch and forced me to watch "School Hard." I was hooked in the first five minutes, and Buffy is still one of my all-time favorite television shows.
4. Dr. Thanatos
I'm a big fan ; just finished rewatching the first two seasons with intent to watch the others over upcoming months.

I agree the film was a bit cheezy; I prefer to think of it as the Star Trek I of Buffy...

The pilot was interesting to re-watch because many of the things taken for granted later, like Willow's innate goofiness, just weren't there yet; watching the changes take place and seeing that they were introduced gradually and with reason made much more sense in re-watch. Also the initial presentation of the vamps as overly serious dudes, not the fun guys we got to know later like the world"].

Looking forward to this revisit!
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
5. tnh
There are scores of things that are interesting about Buffy, but I think the one that edges out all the others is that it keeps fermenting in your head after the episode is over. I must know half a dozen people who never had the slightest urge to write fanfic before Buffy, and were startled to find fill-in and add-on stories popping up in their heads.

I don't think it was just my social circle that experienced that effect. I take the current explosion of novels about vampires and other supernatural creatures, and paranormals as a category, as evidence that Buffy (and Angel) are still fermenting and reprocessing in fans' imaginations. There's no help for it. We live in a post-Buffy universe.
6. nikobee
I'd like to play along. Are you doing one season per week?
Ilan Lerman
7. Ilan
So glad you are doing this. I started rewatching Buffy (and Angel) in November last year and am currently up to the start of season 6. It has been long enough since I saw the original broadcasts that watching again has been almost like coming at it fresh. I've only seen most of the episodes one time, so I've even forgotten some of the twists and turns.

There has been quite a lot written about Buffy, but it will be great to see how it affects you as you take the journey through again.
8. PatriciaSage
Count me as another vote for episode by episode! Like Dr. Thanatos, I only found Buffy in my 40's, and I still love it. Would love to see you go thru it again.
9. Mouette
Oh, man. It's been probably 2-4 years since I sat down and watched them all... such wonderful memories. Maybe I'll need to rewatch with Tor, or just enjoy reading the articles.

I do second the vote for a more episode-by-episode rewatch, particularly with more details - maybe an overview of what happened in the episode, and then thoughts on that episode, doing a few episodes a week? I don't know, I just feel that something like a Buffy rewatch deserves a more comprehensive approach.
10. Mouette
Oh, man. It's been probably 2-4 years since I sat down and watched them all... such wonderful memories. Maybe I'll need to rewatch with Tor, or just enjoy reading the articles.

I do second the vote for a more episode-by-episode rewatch, particularly with more details - maybe an overview of what happened in the episode, and then thoughts on that episode, doing a few episodes a week? I don't know, I just feel that something like a Buffy rewatch deserves a more comprehensive approach.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
11. tnh
Dr. Thanatos: Hearing Spike say "From now on, there will be a lot less chanting and a lot more fun" was like feeling the weather break: big sigh of relief, and a sense of wary yet giddy anticipation. We weren't disappointed, either.

The other moment I remember where the show crystallized for me was that long, slow, appreciative shot of the hyena pack doing a power walk across the school lunch area. It was fun to watch, but it was also a startlingly self-confident piece of original storytelling. No one does exposition faster or better than Joss Whedon.
12. wiredog
One thing that impressed me about the pilot was having a character who was apparently a lead, with a spot in the opening credits, being killed.

Loved that show. The first 2 seasons were the best thing on TV in the 90's. After she graduated high school it took a while to come back together. Although "Hush" was awesome, as was "Once More, With Feeling".
Alyx Dellamonica
13. AMDellamonica
No! I am not doing it season by season. However, I'm not doing every single episode, either.

There will be four posts on S1 - this, one on the original Scoobies, one on Buffy and Angel and one on the season finale.

My current plan for S2 comes to about a dozen essays... and that's as far as I've gotten. (In my own rewatching, I've only just made it to the end of Hallowe'en.)

There are a few key episodes I've seen many times, and recently--"Once More With Feeling", "Hush," and "Dopplegangland" among them. As for the rest, it's been years... and like Ilan, I'm finding it very fresh and enjoyable.
Cassandra Cookson
14. cass
A Buffy rewatch-oh, yes! What other show did the Hero's Journey so well and with a female as the Hero? I think that's why I didn't like Angel as much even with its connections to the Buffy universe, it was too much like all the other male hero/detective shows out there.

Ian Tregillis
15. ITregillis
Hooray! Very excited about this. (15 years? How is that possible?)

Buffy was definitely one of the all-time great television shows. I still miss the excitement of tuning in every week. I haven't had that experience since Buffy went off the air.
16. jerec84
I happened to just start watching this show for the first time ever not so long ago. Just finished season 1 yesterday, and I've managed to avoid spoilers all these years so I'm in for a good ride. Excellent show, based on those first 12 episodes. Looking forward to the rest.
17. Dr. Thanatos

Boy, do you have some fun coming up.
18. Lsana
I remember well, one Tuesday night when I was feeling depressed, wandering over to my best friend's dorm for a hug, and having her sit me down in front of the TV with the words, "You need some Buffy. Buffy will make you feel better." And oh, boy was she right...

I look back on the first three seasons as some of the best TV out there. I don't think it really worked once they left high school; there were individual good episodes, but the whole theme of "high school is both literally and figuratively Hell" was lost and never really replaced with anything. Oh, and what they did to Spike was inexcusable.
19. Dr. Thanatos

Oh, I don't know. A lot of the Spoik stuff had it's humorous moments which I will not spoilerize at this time; overall, I would agree that there's no Spoik like Season 2 Spoik...
Chris Hawks
20. SaltManZ
Any chance you'll be covering the official Whedon-helmed Season Eight comic book? I nabbed all 8 trades for my wife for Valentine's Day, and it looks quite interesting.
21. Philster
As I recall, it first aired on Monday nights. When MNF was done for the season, I had nothing I was really interested in watching those nights and then came this show. I remembered the movie...cute...figured I'd give it a shot. I'm glad I truly was the most well-written show of its time if not of all-time.
If there's a rerun of Buffy on and there are some other shows I like a lot as well, the tv gets tuned to Buffy with no hesitation, even if one of the others shows that's on is airing an episode I haven't seen yet. And I have all 7 seasons on DVD anyway...but I'll still tune in
Alyx Dellamonica
22. AMDellamonica
I agree, iTregellis--nothing's quite come up to that mark.

(I can't help thinking that Buffy and Angel did several things to Spike, Lsana. And I'll definitely talk about that transition from High School Hell to sorta Grownup Life when we get to S4.)
Alyx Dellamonica
23. AMDellamonica
SaltmanZ--that's an interesting idea! I'll check with Stubby and the Tor powers-that-be after we all get to "Chosen."
24. JohnnyMac
I love this idea! I was hooked by Buffy from Episode 1 and it kept me hooked to the end of its seven year run. I tend to agree with Lsana above @18 that the first three years, with their unifying theme of 'High School is Hell' providing a dramatic coherence, are the best but there was plenty of gold in the later seasons as well.

Miss Alyx, I look forward to your future posts with great anticipation.
Michael Green
25. greenazoth
I think I'm one of the few who loved every season pretty much the same -- though four probably had some of the least satisfying episodes ("Beer Bad," anyone?). "Hush" (and Tara!) kind of made up for a lot, though.

In a related insanity, I also mostly dug the evolution of Spike's character. Indeed, my favorite thing about the show has to be the commitment to change -- to the idea that people can and will surprise you.
26. Marika
I've never posted ANYTHING before, but I'm reading all the comments of other Buffy fans and thinking, "I'm not alone." You have no idea of the ridicule I'm subjected to from friends and family when I talk about how well written the show was.. how clever the dialogue. (My husband flings certain of the demons in my face as evidence of just how "silly" the show was.) So...good. I'm going to follow this blog with interest.
Alyx Dellamonica
26. AMDellamonica
Good point, Greenazoth. (I remember "Beer Bad" fondly, actually--I wonder if it will hold up?)
Jack Flynn
27. JackofMidworld
The first time I tried to watch Buffy, I walked into the room towards the end of an episode in Season 2 (trying not to be too spoiler-ific, it involved The Judge, Angelus, & Buffy on an escalator with a weapon 'not forged by any man') and I was totally turned off by it. Those ten minutes, taken totally out of context of the rest of show, seemed campy and, well, dumb.

I didn't try again until the Season 6 premiere. Now, since then, I've heard a lot of complaints about the later seasons. IMHO, to whitewash what Buffy went through and have her "get over it" in an episode or two would have cheapened the whole point of it happening in the first place. Sure, it would have easier to take that route and get back to Monster of the Week and a single Big Bad, but by having her work through it in a longer, more "realistic" fashion (quotes because, yeah, it wasn't a realistic thing to have to get over), the writers showed a lot of courage and taught me that Buffy was well thought-out, daring, and deeper than most of what else was on television at the time.

I got so hooked that I picked up the first season and started at the very beginning and, when I rewatched the Judge versus Buffy, I didn't even realize that I was watching the same show that I'd caught a glimpse years before.

Definitely looking forward to the rewatch!!
Michael Green
28. greenazoth
My dislike of "Beer Bad" is probably because the moral was approached too . . . broadly? There are things to love about it, though (there isn't a single episode that doesn't have something to recommend it), and it does rather baldly showcase another good thing about the show -- there was almost always a point.

Anyway, I'm very much looking forward to your take on the show!
Ian Tregillis
29. ITregillis
Marika @ 26: Nope, definitely not alone. Sorry to hear your friends and family won't give it a chance. It's their loss.
Steven Halter
30. stevenhalter
Grr, Argh can now once again be Yay! I've just seen another episode. How time flies.
Constance Sublette
31. Zorra
It all seems so much longer ago because -- 9/11, which changed it all, at least for my partner in crime and me.

We both saw the movie theater first Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and we both liked it a lot. Why we saw it all I cannot recall -- it wasn't like the sort of films we usually went to, at least the one we watched together. But then we both saw and loved Beetlejuice and Heathers (that one doesn't hold up well, I think, having just re-watched it).

I turn my head a little and see the complete boxed set of Buffy, all 7 seasons ....

Love, C.
32. DragonRose
So excited for this! I started watching the series for the first time a couple of weeks ago and am now a few episodes into season 5 of buffy and season 2 of angel, will angel be part of the re-watch?
Alyx Dellamonica
33. AMDellamonica
DragonRose... I don't know about Angel. It'll probably take me much of this year to do seven seasons of Buffy, so I and @tordotcom have lots of time to think about it!!
34. Mouette
Mmm. That first, iconic scene, the opening with Darla and her playtoy. How it set the stage and theme for the whole damn series with one brilliant scene that flipped tropes end over end. Remember it: a high school hallway late at night, a cute cheerleader and her boytoy breaking the school rules? Of course they're going to get attacked by a monster. (Who will probably eat/assault the chick, after which her boytoy will kill it).

Not in Buffy, though, because in Buffy? The cute cheerleader *is* the monster.

So much genius.
Willliam Seward
35. lastromantic49
Love the show! For some reason I missed the original series run, though I did catch the "Angel" series. Just in the last year I've been getting the series on DVD and am up to season 5. I also re-watched the original movie a couple of weeks ago. As others have said, the season far surpasses the movie, although it remains good quirky fun! A true high point was "Hush". I found it incredibly creepy! Thanks for the essays.
36. JohnnyMac
Mouette @34, yes!

That scene in episode 1 was what hooked me on the show. I had seen the movie (mildly enjoyed it) and tuned into the TV series mostly out of curiosity. I was watching that scene and thinking to myself "Any moment now cocky teen thug boy will reveal himself to be ...A VAMPIRE!". And then, of course, I was startled when the petite blonde turns out to be the vamp (in both senses of the term) and lays the Terminal Hickey on the bad boy.

One of the main reasons I watched every episode of Buffy was that you never knew what could happen next.
37. Booksprite
Definitely a rewatch date! Hard to believe 15 years have gone by. Here's a suggestion: Buffy-Angel rewatches could include the series crossover episodes. Some of the best work by SMG was in I Will Remember You, and many episodes were begun on BtVS and concluded on Angel.

Whatever decisions are made, this will be a great retrospective.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment