Jan 7 2013 2:00pm

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Rewatch: Attack of the Big Honkin’ Dracula

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

Season five awakens in Riley’s arms, and for a change we aren’t being treated to the beginning of one of Buffy’s prophetic dreams. She goes out a-slayin’ and is mighty damned efficient as she takes down this week’s first disposable vamp. She’s also, perhaps, a little aroused. Everything seems cheery as she climbs back into bed and gives Riley a big old snuggle.

Next day, the bubbly good mood continues: there’s beach time, and energetic frolicking with the week’s disposable football. We haven’t seen the Sunnydale beach in awhile; it’s nice to know it’s still there. As WillTara and XandAnya prove themselves less than keen on the athletics, Willow uses magic to start a campfire.

Poof! Fire! And then double-poof—downpour!

“It wasn’t me!” Willow cries, and it’s true. Over the summer, a certain undead someone has been having a castle delivered, brick by brick, to a reasonably priced residential development property, with view, just across town. The structure’s built now, and the rain is a celebratory atmospheric flourish as workmen deliver the piece de resistance. . . a big box full of dirt.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

The box’s contents, much like the late and not recently lamented Mr. Trick, have a hankering for the taste of underpaid labor. The box guys get the chomp.

And where is Giles? Willow’s helping him set up a new computer, with an eye to scanning tomes. (Do they not remember what happened in “I Robot, You Jane”?) She gently objects to what looks, to her, like an enormous piles of make-work. After swearing her to secrecy, Giles says he’s going back to England; Buffy doesn’t need a Watcher anymore, and he’s tired of the slacker lifestyle. Willow argues that they need him and he poo-poohs this too.

Then we check in with Joyce, who’s had Buffy at home all summer and, apparently, loved every minute of it. No going to England for her—she’s gonna be around forever! Oh, Joyce—thank goodness we can get safely attached to you without worrying that you’re gonna take it into your head to move across the Atlantic. Mother and daughter are having a nice quiet dinner, talking over how it’ll be even quieter at Chez Slay when Buffy goes back to the dorm and agreeing they should make a regular dinner date. In a sense, what we are seeing here is Buffy’s last meaningful moment as an only child.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

But we don’t know that, and neither does she, plus she’s got that kill-something itch to scratch, so off she goes to the graveyard, dressed in a pair of tight leather pants that look like something from Faith’s wardrobe. (Sarah Michelle Gellar’s stunt double, I will note, looks especially amazing in them.)

Fight, fight, poof. Another would-be biter is dust, and then Buffy gets an ovation from history’s famousest vamp.

Squee, it’s Dracula! Buffy and he have a little exchange about whether either of them knows what a Slayer is. They’re both pretty sure they do. “Your power is rooted in darkness,” Drac tells Buffy. Maybe he’d say more, but Willow and Xander show up, saving the Dark Master(bater) from a sad descent into being Transylvania’s answer to Basil Exposition.

Drac is definitely a four’s a crowd guy. He’s really looking for one on one Buffy time, and when Xander starts mocking him, he turns to a bat and flaps off.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

At the subsequent debrief at Casa Giles, the trio is just a tad starstruck. There’s talk of Drac’s penetrating eyes. Tara is momentarily jealous, and it turns out Anya remembers the guy fondly from her demon days.

This does nothing to endear the Unholy Prince(bater) with Xander. He and Anya have a little envy-fueled scrap and then, two seconds later, he runs into Drac again. He’s all ready to take him on, mano a vampo—not a great idea, Xander, actually—but Drac whips out his mind whammy and instead of making with the fisticuffs, Xander is suddenly all, “Yes Master” guy. 

Or, as he will eloquently put it later, butt monkey.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

It turns out Drac is three for three on making the romantic partners of Scoobydale nervous: Riley is unsettled enough by his arrival that he goes to ask Spike for intel. While he’s finding out that Drac’s keen on the finer things in unlife, like special dirt and bugeaters, the vamp himself is having a leisurely waft through Buffy’s bedroom window.

“I have yearned for a creature whose darkness rivals my own,” he says. Yeah, that’s the way to a girl’s neck.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

Oh! Actually it is. It’s only thanks to Drac’s rigorous portion control—not to mention his ardent desire to play with his food—that Buffy survives the night.

There’s another Scooby meeting the next day. Xander’s hyper, babbly, and mixing spiders with jelly doughnut. Buffy’s hiding her neck wound. Willow is trying to convince Giles that he’s profoundly indispensible.

Riley discovers the neck wounds: “You’re under the thrall of the dark prince!” Somehow this turns into a whole big thing about how it’s all about Angel, and how Buffy has a thing for broody immortals. Some of which is kinda true.

They swing into action. WillTara gently and sweetly remind Joyce to stop inviting vampires into the darn house already. Giles and Riley go looking for Dracula, and Xander is left to guard Buffy, which turns out just as Drac has planned:

“I’m supposed to take you to the Master now. It’s this whole deal where I get to be immortal. You cool with that?” Xander says.

Buffy’s totally on board.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

Unfortunately for Drac, who has never been much for due diligence, the castle he had shipped to California was apparently the Hilarious House of Frightenstein, because as soon as the Scoobies cross its threshold, comedy breaks out all over the place. Riley is inexplicably transformed into Mister Wit, Giles falls into the fondling basement, and even Drac’s attempt to get Buffy to buy into his whole “eat you and change you to a creature of darkness and embark on a bloody reign of terror” agenda is fraught with giggle-worthy lines and adorable attempts, on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s attempt, to resist.

With all these chuckles abounding, it’s little surprise that it all falls apart for the Dark Bater when he gives Buffy a taste of his blood. This, to his surprise, nullifies the mental hold he has on her. Fighting happens. Dracula gets staked.

Drac’s toast? Really? Wow. Good going, Buffy!

In the wake of the dusting, the former spider-eating man-bitch, a.k.a. Xander, makes his big declaration: “I’m sick of being the guy who eats insects and gets the funny syphilis!”

It’s a hilarious little monologue, but it’s also an important step on Xander’s journey, as we’ll see soon enough.

And wait! Drac’s not toast! He reconstitutes and gets staked again.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

“I’m still standing right here!” Buffy tells him, as he tries to become solid a third time. I laughed. I hope you did too.

Once the gang is clear of Comedy Castle, things take a little turn toward the serious. Giles is gearing himself up to tell Buffy he’s off to England when she asks him to begin training her again. The fact that Drac knew more about her power than she did disturbed her, as did his observation that she’s been hunting for the fun of it ever since they did the enjoining spell. She wants to know more, to up her game. Can she be better, stronger, faster?

Of course Giles agrees—who wouldn’t?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

“Buffy vs. Dracula” is a delightfully weird episode. It is my absolute favorite Riley story, thanks to the three things he says to Giles: there’s the “big honking castle” utterance, as a warm-up, but “No more chick pit for you,” and “You were gonna nuzzle ’em to death?” pretty much justifies the existence on this earth of Marc Blucas and his fictional alter ego.

I also like the comfortable and established BuffRiley relationship we see here.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

Vampires have been steadily losing stature as a credible threat in the Buffyverse. The Master, in S1, lived up to the idea of Big Bad: he killed Buffy, after all. Nobody doubted the menace of Angelus. Now in S5 we’ve reached the point where Spike has been chipped by mere mortals and history’s most notorious fanged one gets dispatched, twice, in a throwaway episode that’s largely played for laughs.

“Buffy Vs. Dracula” essentially confirms that if Buffy’s going to continue defeating world-shattering threats, they’re going to have to be generated by something bigger than vamp-kind.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

It’s interesting that despite the yucks, it’s meeting Dracula that kicks her into deciding to make an intense recommitment to her calling. As a younger teen, Buffy always did her duty but also tried to escape the bonus work, when she could, to make room for fun and boys and downtime. She tried to convince Kendra there was more to life than training. Now, though she’s far from turning into a workaholic, you can’t deny she’s looking to focus more on her career.

I love this development, this evidence of seriousness, and I always wished more had been made of it: that an explicit line had been drawn between Buffy’s decision to buckle down, here in S5, and the events of “Chosen.”

But a lot of things do happen between Dracula and the collapse of the Hellmouth, I admit, to distract Buffy from a quiet life of study, staking and martial arts practice, and one biggie hits the screen at the very end of the episode, when Joyce asks her to take Dawn along with her on a Rileydate.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy vs. Dracula

In stereo, we get the chorus of sisterly dismay: “Mom!”

Next: Dawn of the... Dawn?

A.M. Dellamonica has so much fiction up here on! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales.

Now you can read her novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

First time through on this series I missed the beginning of this season and was oh so confused when I jumped back in and Buffy had a sister. I figured she was adopted as a survivor of one of the episodes I missed by Buffy's mom and I felt like a total idiot when her origin was revealed.

I think her appearance was also a big turning point for everyone's perception of Xander. Before it was easier to think, "Of course he's ok with being in Buffy's shadow, wouldn't anyone be?" But after little sis started whining about it, it really showed the contrasting reactions to being overshadowed and made Xander look even better by comparison.
2. wiredog
the only part of this episode I like was the way it introduced Dawn. It was, IMHO, the best possible way to do that. And for weeks we're all wondering "wtf"?

The whole Dracula subplot was highly unmemorable. William the Bloody struck me as being a much more credible threat than old Drac was. In fact, Drac here seemed to be the same Drac as in the movie, without the benefit of Pee Wee Herman.
3. Dr. Thanatos
2 favorite things in this episode (other than the appearance of Imaginary Sister)"

Spike complaining about big media hog Drac who let everyone know about the mirror and invitation thing and

"Von, Too, Tree! I count Tree victims!!!"
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
I love this episode, it is so much fun.

And actually, there is a lot of ambiguity about whether or not Dawn is present at this time. Joyce says the house will be quiter, which IMPLIES emptiness, but she could just mean quiter without B&D arguing.
Alyx Dellamonica
5. AMDellamonica
Good point, Aeryl--though there's no sign of Dawn at that dinner, that's hardly conclusive.

TBGH--that's true. Dawn's giving voice to something Xander bears with gracefully.
6. Gardner Dozois
I agree with Wiredog. The ONLY thing I liked about this episode was the way it introduced Dawn, which I still think is a mind-blowingly audacious thing to do, especially as nobody on the show said anything about WTF, Buffy has a SISTER? has ALWAYS HAD a sister? until a couple of episodes later.

Otherwise, a totally throwaway episode that wasted the character of Dracula by making him a silly joke, and tried too hard to be funny. It's my least-favorite episode of the entire season, and a weak start to what would turn out to be a strong season, much like Season Two.
Emma Rosloff
7. emmarosloff
Upon rewatching this episode, I have to disagree with those who don't like it -- it's pretty darn good. I laughed a lot; a few belly laughs and a lot of snickering. And I think Dracula holds up as a villain. He gets a little goofy in the end when they start dueling to the death, but up until that point he really is captivating. Buffy's on fire with her own power until he knocks her down a few pegs, drawing her in with the mysery of her origins.

I think they handled Dracula just right. If they'd tried to turn him into a serious villain I would've had trouble getting on board -- I know that the legend has harrowing roots in reality and the story itself is quite scary, but Dracula (like Spike) has sort of become less of a threatening image in ours minds and more of a campy one. This is playing into that, but it's also playing into the vampire canon Joss is borrowing so heavily from. How could he resist throwing Dracula into the mix? One episode is all we need.

I loved how funny this episode was, echoing some of the comedy gold in earlier seasons. By the time we get to the end of 5, and then 6 and 7... I feel like we've left most of that comedy far behind us. You almost forget that the show could be so funny.

This is like a departure -- one last laugh. That's part of what bugged me about Dawn, too. She kills the fun. Literally, this episode ends with her and things only go downhill from here. She's the death knell of all that pure, comedic fun.

From here on out, Buffy is burdened with Dawn, protecting the innocence she symbolically represents. I've never been a fan of characters who have to be put up with for what they symbolize rather than who they are. That was my biggest problem with Dawn, I think.

To backtrack a little, I really loved the beginning of this episode. It was like a breath of fresh air -- how often do we get to see Buffy and the Scoobies just relaxing like normal people? Willow's commentary about their collective lazing while Buffy's out slaying footballs was hilarious -- "I think we've settled on why we're the sidekicks", and Xander's great line about not even having the culinary grace of a caveman.

Riley definitely shines in this episode for all the abovementioned reasons, and Spike, too, when he's griping about how "his story gets out and everyone knows how to kill us now!" I love that Spike's first thought is that Dracula has come to Sunnydale in search of him; he's still clinging to the remnants of his reputation as William the Bloody, which is fading fast. It's almost like he's in forced retirement, which is really funny to think about. How many vamps get to sit around and watch Passions in their own, personal crypts after 100+ years of bloody romping?

Really, everyone in this episode gets a funny line or two in there and a chance to shine not merely as good dramatic actors, but good comedic ones, too. Comedy is often harder to pull off, and I find myself admiring them as an ensemble in this episode, how well they play off each other and carry their often ridiculous lines.

My favorite has to be Xander's about the insects and "the funny syphilis." It just epitomizes his experience, up to now.
Emma Rosloff
8. emmarosloff
Okay, I also loved Joyce lamenting about how hard it is to date in front of Willow and Tara. "It just makes you want to give up on men altogether, you know?" And the knowing look they give each other. Priceless.
9. Dianthus
This ep had some great comedic moments (as mentioned above), but it's never been a favorite of mine. In a way, bringing in Dracula seemed like more of a stunt than introducing Dawn.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
@9 Well, in many ways it was a stunt. The actor who played Dracula was also starring in a WB TV movie as Dracula, so this was a promotional tie in with that.

@8 I think that is when they came out to Joyce, because in the next episode Dawn makes a comment about how they are out. Unless the spell did it.
12. Dianthus
@10. Well, there you are, then. I don't think I even knew about the TV movie thing. I certainly didn't watch it. Fail? I think so.
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
One of the things I noticed as season 5 went on was that the spell that created Dawn didn't just affect Buffy. Ostensibly, Dawn was retconned into Buffy's life so the Slayer could protect her -- but after Dawn appeared, Willow suddenly became a talented magician, and both Giles and Xander finally get focused. I always figured it was the binding spell from the end of season 4 that made the monks' protection spell affect all four of them, not just Buffy.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
14. Dianthus
krad, I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I'll say it again. Everything that affects Buffy affects the others b/c they represent different aspects of her. That's why in s6 everyone is affected (or infected) by Buffy's depression.
Think of the old Fox sitcom Herman's Head. Four of the actors in the show represented different aspects of the titular character and 'lived' in his head. That's how it was explained to me, and suddenly certain things started making more sense.
Chris Nelly
15. Aeryl

Buffy's heart's unsettled, Xander(heart) has a bad relationship.

Buffy's depressed, Willow(spirit) does dark things.

Buffy's feeling intellectually overwhelmed, Giles(mind) can't get out of his rut.

It's no mistake that Xander is as drawn to demons as Buffy is(esp as she's a little bit demon herself). It's no mistake that when Buffy is at odds with Willow, she's "Going Through The Motions".

They are definitely characters in their own right, with their own motivations and agency, but their actions in most episodes say something about Buffy.

Dianthus, I brough this site up in an earlier thread, but you should check out Unpaid Sophistry. He analyzes every episode, using Joss' philosophical ideas and beliefs, episode commentary by the writers, and fan commentary, and he always uses that lens(that each character represents a part of Buffy) to analyze every one. It is a really fun, indepth and challenging analyses.
Emma Rosloff
16. emmarosloff
@Aeryl: Really cool, in-depth blog. Neat to see the philisophical parallels laid bare, among other things, and the episodes put into context with writer/actor/fan commentary over the years.
Constance Sublette
17. Zorra
This is an excellent episode and I like it less after each re-watch, and I disliked it the first time.

Part of it is Xander again being exactly as he put it, made to be everyone's butt monkey. And that is exactly it -- he made to be that, by the choices of the writers, and made to do it far too much, despite the real weight pulling and constant loyalty to his friends, and actual kindnesses in the face of disdain, as with Cordelia. He's the focus of the spells that make him eat bugs and all the rest of the icky things he's made to do throughout the previous four seasons. Why it is it always him? He was the one who didn't like Big Dracula right off the start line. When others become be-spelled and behave against their better wishes and better sense, not only do they put it behind themselves (until season 6), but everyone else drops it too. Only Xander. It's too much.

And then we end with -- DAWN? and Immagoin' WTF?????

Thus I quit watching for years.

I did come back, finally, and am glad I did -- indeed I've owned the whole series boxed set for years now. But still ....


Love, C.
18. Dianthus
Thanks for the link, I'll go have a look. I was reading analyses of the eps on The Soulful Spike message board, but I haven't been there in ages. It was 'Spring Summers' who introduced me (and others) to the idea that the other characters were reflections of Buffy.
Alyx Dellamonica
19. AMDellamonica
Krad--I really like this interpretation of things, where the binding spell has that holdover effect.
20. Evan H.
This was actually the first episode of Buffy I ever watched (though I've since gone back and watched the whole series multiple times). It's odd, now that I understand it, to remember my first viewing of the scene at the end, having no idea why this rather mundane bit of interplay between Buffy and her sister was interesting enough to close the episode.
Alyx Dellamonica
21. AMDellamonica
That would be an odd place to come in, Evan. I bet it didn't take you long to catch up, though!
22. Lee Parry
One thing that bothered me about this episode (which is a rather minor superficial one, all things considered) is that Dracula wasn't 'Buffyfied' -- namely, that he was pretty much the stereotypical Dracula archetype that we've all seen a million times before. But Buffy vamps don't really work like that, do they? Why didn't Drac 'vamp out' like every other vampire in the Buffyverse? I was really looking forward to a Whedon take on the Dark Prince, but we mostly got what everyone expects when they hear the word 'Dracula'.

Oh well. A solid episode, nonetheless, with some great Xander moments.

(By the by -- really enjoying this blow-by-blow analysis of Buffy! It's inspired me to commence my annual viewing of both BtVS and Angel)

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