Episode title: Prophecy Girl
Original air date: June 2, 1997
“I may be dead, but I’m still pretty – which is more than I can say for you.” – Buffy
So here we are at the end of season one after what only seems like a few weeks, with the original half season order this show was given when it originally commissioned as a late season replacement. This would of course be corrected with the following seasons which would all receive full 22 episode seasons. Perhaps because of the shortness of this season, this episode doesn’t have the feeling of a season finale as Buffy this week prepares to face the Master in a fight which she had been prophesised to die in.
The first episode of the show to be both directed and written by Joss Whedon, it’s a hit and miss finale to what has been outside of perhaps a couple of episodes a great first season and one which had more great episodes that I originally remembered it having.
Opening to Buffy being concerned about the sudden increase in vampire activity, as well as a random earthquake which we see the master revelling in from his sewer lair where he currently remains still trapped. Elsewhere Xander is trying to find a way to ask Buffy to the dance, still harbouring feelings for her and probably no doubt hoping that she too isn’t also a shape shifting praying mantis. More awkwardly though he chooses to practice his lines with Willow who he still doesn’t know has feelings for him. Needless to say it feels like a real hodge podge of ideas we get this week, many of which serving to setup plotlines and events which will be important later, but for now seem like filler to pad out the main plotline of Buffy facing off against the master. Frustratingly this also means that the angst rating is high for this one, especially when we have to deal with Xander sulking off to listen to country music when rejected by Buffy.
The lead up to the big showdown between Buffy and the Master is really were the strength of this episode lies, as the prophecy foretells that she will die in their battle and leading Buffy to quit being the slayer and even attempting to leave town with her mother in an attempt to try and escape the fate which she is destined for. This was especially interesting to see especially when Buffy has throughout the season been shown to largely be a fearless character and only showing a vulnerability when it came to her personal life while never showing any fear when it came to her slayer duties, so to see her rattled by the prospect of facing the master really brought an interesting angle to the episode, especially with the scenes involving her talking about prom with her mother.
When she finally gets herself back on track we do get the iconic image of the season with Buffy in her prom dress / leather coat combo and welding a crossbow as she heads for her showdown with the master. A showdown which ultimately proves I felt to be anticlimactic with the master basically using his hypnosis powers to charm Buffy, enabling him to drink her blood and finally free himself before dumping her unceremonisly into a pool of water giving us the first of the Buffy deaths and forever screwing up the slayer bloodline. Perhaps if the season had been longer this showdown with the Master would have felt like it had more significance, but then I don’t think many of the fans were honestly expecting him to die in the first season. The flip side of this of course being that when their final rooftop showdown happens its over so quick, if he had been more of a major villain like those who Buffy faced in the following seasons I would have felt more cheated.
What the episode does do right is to finally bring together the first incarnation of the Scoobie’s whose players had been scattered throughout the season occasionally helping out the core group of Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander, however by the end of the episode we have the great group shot as Jenny and Angel stand with the group and more randomly Cordelia who suddenly joins the group, after her boyfriend is killed along with the A.V club by vampires, though her sudden appearance in the finale really comes out of nowhere, more so when she really has no reason to be at the school at that given moment. It’s during the finale that Giles also finally gets to break away from the books and give us the first glimpses of his more dangerous side as he battles the snake creatures which bursts out of the centre of the library which it would seem is directly above the hellmouth.
While certainly not one of my favourite episodes, its importance is only realised when we look to the episodes ahead and what is put in motion with this episode. Perhaps if this episode wasn’t written as potential conclusion for the series if it wasn’t picked up it would have worked better, much like if the Master had been given more episodes to be developed as a character, though his influence on both this series and Angel would continue to be felt by him making random appearances in both and ensure that his character wasn’t wasted by this solely appearing in this season.
An interesting first season which certainly lays the foundations for what is to come in the seasons ahead, but I doubt anyone at the end of this episode would have been able to tell or how these characters would grow. If anything though this episode proved that prophecy or not Buffy was always going to walk her own path as she more than proves here.