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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a drama about a young girl who inherits the powers to fight the demons that threaten the Earth. She lives in Sunnydale, California which happens to be the Hellmouth and must learn to master her powers while also trying to have some semblance of a normal life. The WB 1997 - 2001. UPN 2002-03.

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Episode 1 - When She Was Bad

7 February 2013

Synopsis: Buffy returns after spending the summer with her Dad and seems distant. She trains with great intensity, mocks Angel, teases Xander and is silent with Joyce. Meanwhile the Anointed One gathers vampires to try and resurrect the Master. They begin to gather those who were closest to him when he died and trick Buffy into leaving Giles and Willow unprotected.  Buffy is ready to train

The Good: This was a really strong episode. So many shows fail to adequately deal with the consequences of their major storylines. So many ignore the psychological effects that trauma and violence would have on people too. Buffy was not only killed by the Master, she was scared by him. He made her feel vulnerable and helpless. He made her think about how short her life might be in a way she had never had to consider before.

So this episode was an extended therapy session for her as she dealt with those feelings. Although that was spelt out by episodes end it was handled with great skill throughout. The conversation between her parents was absolutely perfect in getting across what had happened. Buffy spent the holidays away from Sunnydale and that actually led to her brooding and turning the trauma over in her head rather than dealing with it. Even better though was that the conversation between Joyce and Hank made it clear that since becoming the Slayer Buffy has changed dramatically as a person. Her parents don't understand the growing distance and silence and they never can.

Buffy also spent the summer thinking about Angel and takes our her frustrations on both him and Xander in a very cruel way. At the Bronze she leads Xander on with intimate dancing right in front of both Willow and Angel. I particularly liked Xander's reaction to that as he couldn't fully enjoy the moment, knowing full well that he hadn't really won her over. It was left to Cordelia to point out to Buffy what a bitch she was being which continued the process of integrating Cordelia into the world of the slayerettes nicely.

I liked that the Anointed One was smart enough to trick Buffy and get to those he needed to. In the end Xander and Willow offered Buffy unspoken forgiveness for her behaviour, recognising that what she had been through was traumatic enough to justify a little acting out. It was a very pleasant and mature moment which I think was more enjoyable than seeing her have to actually apologise and be verbally forgiven.

Willow and Xander almost kiss in a very well written opening scene where a summer of no Buffy seems to have finally turned Xander's head enough that he, at least for a moment, considers Willow as potentially something more than a friend. It was a nice moment and despite still clearly wanting Buffy, one had to assume that Xander will move on sooner rather than later.

The episode was paced well with a necessary dose of action to break up the character interplay. We also got some nice banter between Giles and Principal Snyder and some trademark humour from Cordelia.

I think what impressed me most about the episode though was the acting from Sarah Michelle Gellar. I commented throughout season one on what a good choice she was for the role of Buffy and that was on full display here. There are two aspects to her performance which struck me here. The first was her ability to handle the humour and light heartedness of the show. When she returns from her break and saves Willow and Xander from a vampire she smiles and asks "Miss me?" She does such a good job of balancing those silly superhero lines with how serious her calling really is. The second aspect is that in playing the bitch here you could imagine Gellar playing the Cordelia role fairly well. I think that is what makes Buffy such a strong female lead. She could use her looks and charm and power to get more from life than she does. But instead she steadfastly sticks to doing the right thing. It's that morality that makes her a hero, rather than the powers and Gellar plays it perfectly.

The Bad: If Angel wants Buffy to trust him then maybe he should consider knocking before climbing in her window. That was creepy. The music which played to indicate all was well once more at the episode's end was a little too cheesy.

The Unknown: We still don't know much about the Anointed One and it's difficult to ask a young child to play a convincing villain.

I wouldn't blame anyone who thought the "produce placement" of having the band Cibo Matto on the show was unnecessarily distracting. I didn't have a problem with it as their slow songs played into the plot nicely.

Best Moment: Lots to choose from here but Buffy's sexual dancing with Xander was a very effective scene for showing off what kind of person she could be without her moral code.

The Bottom Line: An excellent character episode which dealt with the trauma of season one's finale with great skill.

 

Cordia's Second Look
When She Was Bad

Season 2, Episode 1
Original airing: September 15, 1997

My Rating: 68

The Good: Buffy really grows as a three-dimensional character in this episode. My common complaint is that characters often ignore and quickly move on from horrifying and traumatic experiences in the Buffy-verse (102, 103, 105, 106, 112). But this episode spends it's entire 40 minutes dealing with the trauma Buffy suffered from dying at the end of the last season. She acts out against her family and friends, hurting them as she's hurting inside. This episode showcases a darker side of Buffy which might be part of the reason she's the Slayer in the first place. She has to have a strong, dark core to her soul to kill vampires and demons every night. But one of Buffy's greatest strengths is that she doesn't let that darkness overwhelm her life. Normally, she controls it and focuses on being genuinely good. It's a bit unsettling to see Buffy hurting her closest friends and torturing a vampire. But it's all part of who she is as a person. At the end of the episode, she begins to consciously deal with her issues by smashing the Master's skeleton and allowing herself to draw comfort from her friends.

The Bad: There are several dropped threads in this episode which may come up again, but felt abandoned and overshadowed by the story. The major one being Willow and Xander's almost kiss. Xander has been obsessing over Buffy and Willow has been obsessing over Xander the entire show. So having them almost kiss in a way that seemed familiar to them and then not talk about it was stressful for me as a viewer. It's especially painful to see Willow's later attempt to distract Xander into the same kind of moment. It feels like this should have been more of a subplot and it was instead used to open the show, then conveniently ignored.

The Anointed One also seems a bit wasted in this episode. Angel describes him as someone other vampires will do anything for. We do see vampires sacrificing themselves to do his bidding and to help him escape Buffy, but it seems wasted that he isn't bent on seizing power for himself. All he's focused on is resurrecting the Master. It would be nice to understand more of his motivation.

Favorite Moment: Buffy reveals how much she's hiding her pain when she tries to tell Angel she's missed him, but he's already left her bedroom. It's an extremely vulnerable moment for her made all the more painful because he didn't wait to hear it.

The Bottom Line: This is a very good episode dealing with a situation that desperately needed to be dealt handled. Buffy's vulnerability and good qualities are heightened by her trip into the darkside and it appears she'll come out of it all as a better person and a much more interesting television character.

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