Spoilers… do I really need to say?
The first post from my Buffy re-watch adventure, not a blow-by-blow account exactly, but some random reflections and thoughts…
So here I am watching Welcome to the Hellmouth. Of course it is often noted that Joss Whedon wanted to turn around the stereotype of the helpless blonde girl who is killed in the opening scene of a horror movie, by having a young woman who would be strong and fight back.
What always struck me is that in the opening scene of this first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that the stereotype is turned around in a different way.
We see a nervous young blonde woman who looks like she is about to become the victim of a predatory guy, who has brought her into the school to make out in the dead of night. Surprise, it’s actually
the blond girl who is dangerous and predatory. She is a vampire and the creepy guy is soon to become the “extreme dead guy in the locker”. So the first monster, the first “bad guy”, the first vampire – that we see on screen in the show is the seemingly innocent blonde girl who turns out to be Darla, an old and powerful vampire.
Next we are introduced to Buffy herself, who is having a prophetic dream, but when she wakes she is certainly not expecting there to be vampires on campus, and is more nervous about her first day at a new school, while Buffy’s Mum worries that her daughter could get kicked out of school.
As Buffy gets through her first day she meets her soon to be friends as we are introduced to them. Many will become central to the overall story arc, not just of this first season of Buffy, but of six more seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and the later comics. Willow, Xander and Giles of course are there. And not forgetting Jesse. Jesse, who? Oh poor Jesse. Cordelia, who would kill to live in LA; that close to that many shoes. As she will do. And Angel, looking so young and stylish in his very bright white shirt and velvety black coat.
At first only Giles, Angel and Buffy are aware of Buffy’s powers as the slayer. Giles shocks Buffy by his knowledge that she is the slayer when he presents her with the heavy Vampyr volume. The book itself doesn’t get seen much on the show again, but it’s believed to be the “slayer handbook” which is mentioned later by Kendra and Giles, and crops up again in the Buffy comics where it becomes blank and can be used to rewrite the rules of magic.
Buffy is clear to downplay to her new friends the idea that she is in any way “big news”, even in a “one Starbucks town” like Sunnydale, which, contrary to it’s cheery name – as it turns out – stands on the mouth of hell. But after the discovery of a dead boy in Aura’s locker Buffy confronts Giles in the library, and asks “aren’t you just going ooohh?” In one of the first of many scenes in which we and the characters might safely assume that no other Sunnydale students ever go into the school library, leaving Buffy and Giles free to have a lengthy conversation about Buffy’s supernatural calling, Xander is actually in the library and overhears the whole thing. So Xander learns that Buffy is the “Chosen One, one girl in all the world with the strength and skill to fight the vampires.”
Although Giles warns of signs of impending doom Buffy is reluctant to accept her destiny; “How bad an evil can there be here?” she asks, and cut to a scene of an underground cave in which gloomy people are busy carrying around large candlesticks, clearly up to no good. A hulking male figure with a “vamp” face speaks dramatically, “the sleeper will awake and the world will bleed…”
Meanwhile Buffy is still trying hard to fit in, choosing what to wear to go out to the Bronze while her mother Joyce discusses settling into the new area. It comes across in this episode how much Buffy wants a normal life, she is looking for new friends who can provide stability. Buffy was kicked out of her old school for burning down the gym which as she explained to Principal Flutie was full of “vampir… asbestos”, hinting at Buffy’s prior life covered by the 1992 movie. Though Buffy is flattered by popular Cordelia’s attempts to befriend her, Buffy turns to Willow who she has seen mocked by Cordelia, leading Cordelia to note Buffy’s “downward mobility”.
On the way to the Bronze, Buffy gets stalked by Angel and we get to see Buffy’s acrobatic ability as she knocks him down. He thought she would be taller, he quips; he seems to know who she is. Despite being annoying – Buffy tells Giles later – “I really didn’t like him” – Angel seems to have made an impression.
When Buffy finds Willow at the bar we find out how long Willow and Xander go back, that he stole her Barbie when they were five. Buffy tells Willow her philosophy. Regrettably Willow takes Buffy’s advice to “seize the moment” and heads off with a boy whose clothes are “carbon dated” and turns out to be a vampire, Thomas.
realising her new friend Willow is in danger is the push Buffy needs to embrace her duties as a slayer
Giles is disappointed that Buffy didn’t “hone” when noticing that carbon dated-outfitted vampire, but realising her new friend Willow is in danger is the push Buffy needs to embrace her duties as a slayer. While she has done her best to ignore Giles and Angel’s calls to arms to slay and kill, it’s her having made a connection with Willow that has put Willow into danger, and Willow represents the stability that Buffy needs in her new life, Buffy doesn’t hesitate to act to save her.
Buffy soon catches up with Willow who Thomas has led to the cemetery and into a crypt. She also finds Jesse, who also left the Bronze with a vampire, Darla. Buffy impressively dusts Thomas, and fights Darla who is shocked by her strength. Buffy characteristically quips confidently while slaying. But then another vampire turns up, the one who had been prophesying about the sleeper earlier, yep, he is no fun. He makes more ominous prophecies and knocks Buffy into a crypt.
For a moment it is quiet, she looks around, then he leaps down into the crypt at her. Oh my god, how the hell is she going to get out of this, what a cliff hanger! I actually really worried when I first saw this, I thought Buffy was done for, but then I remembered I had recently watched an episode set four years later so…
“To be continued” comes up in the familiar font which we know and love.
So what’s to love in Welcome to the Hellmouth?
- The amount of female agency going on: Buffy passes the Bechdel test early on, it’s hardly worth mentioning how easily. So why is it that now in 2017 so many TV shows and movies just don’t manage to do that and continue to represent a world where women don’t really do anything?
- The dialogue. It’s the best, “Gee, can you vague that up for me?”
- Slayer fighting talk established from the get go, “having a secret identity in this town is a job of work”.
What’s to love to hate? Not much, but in the interest of balance:
- Giles being so very British and tweedy and talking about drinking Bovril, ‘cos that’s what we are all like right?
- Sometimes the dialogue is a bit overly much, “The chat on the caff is that she got kicked out…” “Nay!” “Nay, poss!”, ok, Aphrodeshia and Aura, what with the who now?!
Ah, who am I kidding I love all that about it too…
Text ©Angela S