Episode title: Welcome To The Hellmouth / The Harvest
Original air date: January 3, 1998
“A Slayer hunts vampires; Buffy is a Slayer; don’t tell anyone. Well, I think that’s all the vampire information you need.” – Giles
There is something strangely comforting in hearing the opening monologue of these early episodes, much like its late 90’s rock soundtrack and timelessly awesome Nerf Herder opening, as we’re essentially told everything we need to know such as Buffy is the chosen one which is born into every generation and who will save us from the vampire and monsters as she defends us against the darkness. With this in place it allows us to jump straight into things without spending half the episode establishing the origin story and what it is that Buffy does and why she does it. It should be noted that I will be attempting to avoid major spoilers for those not familiar with the series and for that reason will approach each episode as watching for the first time and so not to give away too much about what lies ahead.
Despite being two separate episodes for some reason here in the UK they decided to show them as one feature length pilot and since that was how the show was introduced it’s how I continue to view them now. Right from the start the episode throws us off guard as despite seemingly going down the traditional route of having a pair of teenagers breaking into the school only for Whedon to pull the first of numerous role reversals as rather than the guy turning out to be a crazed psychopath or a vampire, it’s actually the girl who turns out to be the vampire as Darla has the honour of being the first vampire of the series. Even the vampire design is far from the stereotypical pointy teeth look, as Whedon’s vampires switch from human form to a more primal form making them reminiscent of those seen in “The Lost Boys”.
Set a few months after the ending of the original film, (not that it really matters here but nice to see Whedon acknowledging it on the timeline) Buffy and her mother Joyce are introduced moving to the town of Sunnydale, while her actions in the film which saw her burn down the school gym and now have her branded as troublemaker and already marking her on the radar of school Principle Flutie. He shouldn’t worry about her repeating such actions (well for the moment at least) as Buffy now considers herself retired and just wants to a normal life free of her slaying duties. Not the best choice really when you’ve just moved to a town built on a Hellmouth, let alone the fact that the powerful vampire the Master has been awoken and whose minions are currently plotting to release him from his inter dimensional prison through an event known as “The Harvest”.
Initially finding herself in the no man’s land in these opening episodes between living a normal life and being part of the popular kids led by queen bee Cordelia or joining up with the social misfits comprised of Xander, Willow and Jesse. Interestingly Buffy shows little preconceived ideas about either group, even if she clearly belongs more with Cordelia’s crowd as seen by the rapid fire question and answer session that Cordelia holds to vet her potential to join her select group. Ultimately she will end up with the supposed misfits after her attempts to cover for her slaying duties finds her being branded a weirdo, but even despite this she is still happy to be part of this group who will come to be known as the Scoobies. I have to wonder if because of how closely the group setup represents Scooby Doo’s group that they kill off / turn into a vamp Jessie to try and put some distance between the two groups.
These opening episodes also introduce the equally key character of Giles, Buffy’s watcher who hides his true profession by working as the school librarian. We also are introduced to Angel who at this point is just the attractive mysterious stranger who wants to help Buffy. Both these characters will come to play a key part in the Buffy universe and it’s kind of fun to go back to the start of the series knowing this and seeing how they both started out, much like so many of the key characters as this is a series were characters truly grew as it progressed.
While “Welcome to the Hellmouth” might forgo the more traditional “Pilot” title it is clear that the writers were still working out Buffy’s character as in these opening episodes she demonstrates some almost Superman like skills including most memorably doing a standing jump over the school fences. These powers are significantly toned down for the episodes which followed and instead focused more on her heightened strength and fighting abilities. What is present are the sharp pop culture infused humour and wisecracks dished out by Buffy. Reshoots would also tone down her character so that she would become more vulnerable and less angry. As with most series opening these two episodes suffer from some pacing issues, mainly due to having to set the scene, introduce all the key characters and still find a viable threat for Buffy to face which comes in the form of Luke the head minion of the master. Luke is one of the more forgettable villains, mainly because the only things he has going for him, other than the fact he is a vessel to transfer power back to the master is his towering size and the fact that he can’t seemingly tell the difference between a lightbulb and sunlight.
It was far from being one my favourite episodes, much like when I first watched it. I found myself once again left with mixed feelings, like the sight of Buffy doing that unnecessary flip onto the pool table. Thankfully I stuck with the series and for those experiencing the series for the first time I would urge you to do the same as it gets so much better from this point. However as an establishing episode it does the job and perfectly introduces characters who are just as memorable as they were when the show first aired.
Next Episode: The Witch