15:01 – 30:00
The last time you and I met to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we had made it through the teaser and Act I of this important first episode. We were introduced to many characters, including: Buffy Summers and her mother, Joyce; Xander Harris; Willow Rosenberg; Jesse McNally; Principal Bob Flutie; Cordelia Chase; and, librarian Rupert Giles.
We’ve also learned a few things about Buffy. She transferred to Sunnydale from Los Angeles, where she was kicked out of school, possibly for burning down the school gymnasium. She carries a wooden stake in her handbag. She doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with vampires, all but running out of the library when Giles drops the VAMPYR book in front of her.
We also learned that “the scene” in Sunnydale is at a club called the Bronze, located in the bad part of town, and that Willow Rosenberg is the person to see if you need academic help. At this point, we’ve met all the members of the original incarnation of the Scoobies, but they are not yet united in cause.
At the 15-minute mark, Xander had just returned the wooden stake she dropped in the hallway outside of Principal Flutie’s office door to Buffy, who claimed it was an L.A. trend in self-defense. Which sounds plausible.
Xander and Jesse trip over each other as they both attempt to find out more about Buffy. Xander says that in a “one-Starbuck” town like Sunnydale, she was pretty big news. After a few moments of awkwardly witty banter, Cordelia shows up to “save” Buffy. But, her real reason for being in the scene is to inform the other characters that gym was cancelled because of the “extreme dead guy” discovered in one of the gym lockers (oh yeah, that happened in Part 1, also).
This has Buffy’s Slayer-sense tingling. She asks Cordy how the guy died, if there were any marks on him. Cordelia seems taken aback by Buffy’s questions, and you get the impression that these two aren’t going to be besties afterall.
Buffy says, “I gotta book. I’ll see you guys later,” and then leaves.
Buffy Summers may be a reluctant Slayer, but she can’t deny her nature. Back inside the high school, Buffy finds the doors to the girls locker room locked. She demonstrates her super-strength by forcing the doors open. The body of the guy is still in the locker room, with no police or coroner people around. No one, in fact, around. Don’t ask why. This is Sunnydale.
Buffy notices the bite marks on his neck. “Oh, great,” she says.
The following scene begins as Buffy barges back into the library. She demands to know “what’s the sitch?” from Giles, the librarian. He’s heard about the dead person, of course. No one does anything with the body, but everyone knows about it. Buffy says the guy has holes in his neck and all his blood was drained.
Giles says he was afraid something like this would happen. Buffy says she wasn’t. She was afraid of being behind in her classes, and of making new friends. She didn’t think there would be vampires on her new campus. And, she insists, she doesn’t care.
Giles asks if the boy will rise again. She says he won’t. When Giles asks how she knows, she says making a vampire is “like a whole big sucking thing,” where the vampire and victim have to suck each other’s blood. I’m not sure how she could tell this hadn’t happened. I’m chalking it up to Slayer-sense again. Moreover, there’s no way that Giles, as a Watcher, wouldn’t have already known this. This was strictly for the viewer, and to begin building our vampire rules.
Vampire Rule #1:
a vampire is created by a complicated “whole big sucking thing” in which bodily fluids are exchanged; most people attacked by a vampire are just outright killed.
Buffy seems in a hurry to leave the library again. Giles stops her by asking her if she thinks her presence here in Sunnydale is just a coincidence. The dead boy is just the beginning.
Buffy says, “Why can’t you people leave me alone?”
“Because you’re the Slayer,” Giles responds. He begins to recite something similar to the show’s preamble, worded a bit differently. He begins, “Into each generation a Slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One, one born with the strength and skill to hunt—”
Buffy interrupts. “With the strength and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil blah, blah, blah . . . I’ve heard it, okay?”
Buffy doesn’t intend to be the Slayer in Sunnydale. She’s left that part of her life behind, in L.A. Giles believes that Sunnydale is a center of mystical energy, where things not found elsewhere tend to gravitate, including not just vampires, but zombies, werewolves, incubi, succubi, everything you’ve ever been afraid was under your bed at night. He stacks four books into Buffy’s arms.
Buffy says, “First of all, I’m a Vampire Slayer. And secondly, I’m retired.” She goes on to suggest that Giles kill the vampires himself.
Giles says that the Slayer slays. He’s just a Watcher. He doesn’t have the same skill set. His job is to train the Slayer. The Watcher prepares her.
Buffy says, “Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead! Prepare me.”
The two look at each other for a moment. The look of realization on Giles’ face suggests that he hasn’t thought of Buffy—the Slayer—as “just a girl” before this moment. Anthony Head is acting his tail off in this scene. He gives the character of Rupert Giles a humanity suggested by the script, but not explicit. In the hands of a lesser actor, Giles might have come across more as the Great Santini, with his speeches about duty and responsibility.
Buffy storms out of the library. Giles follows after saying “damn” to himself.
Guess who was back in the stacks, eavesdropping on the entire conversation about dead boys, vampires, Slayers and Watchers? It was Xander, of course. He was sent to “where the books live” by his best friend Willow to get a book on trigonometry. This was back during the very first Xander & Willow scene in the series.
Xander says, “What?”
Giles catches up to Buffy in the hall. He tells her, as discreetly as he can in a high school hallway, that the supernatural occurrences have been building for years. That’s the reason why she—the Slayer—was drawn here now. Something is going to happen soon. A crucial mystical upheaval. Very soon. Days. Possibly less.
“Oh, come on!” Buffy says, “This is Sunnydale! How bad an evil can there be here?”
We know a cue when we hear one. We cut to an exterior shot of Sunnydale High, but the camera sinks down through the ground to a subterranean chamber that appears to be a ruined church. Candles are everywhere. Vampires with torches are milling about purposefully. What looks like a priest. A burly character in full vamp-face is chanting, “The Sleeper will wake.” At the end he adds “and the world will bleed. Amen!”
Ominous. We fade to black, and into our third act.
By the way, the chanting gymrat vampire is Luke (Brian Thompson), although he hasn’t been named yet. The actor has appeared in a lot of things I’ve watched, including Terminator, Cobra, Joe Dirt, Star Trek: TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise and The X-Files. Lots of action movie roles, of course. You’ve seen him around, too.
Act III begins in Buffy’s bedroom, at night this time. Buffy is trying to choose an outfit to wear out to her first night at the Bronze, which is “the” place in Sunnydale for teenagers to hang out. Riverdale has Pops; Twin Peaks has the Double R Diner; Sunnydale has the Bronze.
Joyce Summers comes into the room to talk. When she finds out that Buffy is going out, she tells her to be careful. Seems like permissive parenting, but I guess this is the Left Coast.
If this offended any of you who live on the USA’s West Coast, I apologize. I was a permissive parent myself, and I live in the ultra-conservative Bible Belt. If my use of “Bible Belt” offended any of my fellow Southerners, would it make a difference if I said it was something you could win in a wrestling match?
But, I digress—
During this tender mother and daughter conversation, we learn that Joyce is opening a new gallery in Sunnydale, and she thinks they may have found a space already. Art gallery, I think it’s safe to assume. Shooting gallery seems unlikely.
It also becomes clear that Joyce doesn’t know that Buffy is the Slayer. She doesn’t really know what happened with Buffy back in L.A. She thinks Buffy just fell in with the wrong crowd. She knows that Buffy is a good girl. You know how mothers are.
Where is Buffy’s father? That hasn’t been addressed yet. It’s one of those story questions that we’re going to leave hanging for a moment.
Joyce comes across as a genuinely pleasant woman, concerned about her “problem” daughter. Not so concerned that she enforces curfews or needs to know where her only child (more on that in a few seasons) is located at every hour of the day. Or night, it seems.
Buffy is walking alone to the Bronze. The streets are poorly lit. She’s arriving at the bad part of town, obviously. Her Slayer-sense kicks in and she’s aware of the shadowy figure that’s tailing her. She turns down an even darker, even seedier alley. The alley is garbage-strewn, with deeper pockets of shadows, wooden pallets leaning up against dumpsters (an OSHA violation: just sayin’). A horror movie cat yowls and darts away. Buffy notices something overhead. The shadowy guy following Buffy comes into the alley, but doesn’t see her anywhere. Buffy is executing an incredible handstand on a horizontal pipe high above the alley. When the figure passes beneath her, she swings down and knocks the guy to the pavement. She stands above him with a foot on his chest.
Buffy doesn’t learn his name until later, but I can’t go on calling him “the guy.” This is Angel (David Boreanaz), of course. Boreanaz would later star in his own spinoff series, Angel (5 seasons). Then the long-running Bones (12 seasons), which I’ve still never watched. Since 2017 he’s starred on SEAL Team (now in Season 4), which I’ve also never watched. Boreanaz has had a nice acting career, and it all started right here (unless you count his one guest spot on Married with Children in 1993).
Buffy, foot on Angel’s chest, wants to know why he was following her.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Angel says. “Don’t worry. I don’t bite.”
Buffy backs off and allows Angel to get up. She still looks ready to kick ass if necessary. Angel goes on to say he thought she’d be taller, with bigger muscles. He rubs his neck and admits that she’s pretty spry, though.
Buffy asks what he wants, and Angel answers that he wants the same thing she does: “To kill them. To kill them all.”
Buffy insists that she just wants to be left alone.
Angel says, “Do you really think that’s an option anymore? You’re standing at the Mouth of Hell. And it’s about to open.” Not Hellmouth. Not yet. It sounds like Angel and Giles got together in an off-screen team-up. Their messages to Buffy are almost identical. I get it: Buffy is initially refusing the call to action. It’s a Hero’s Journey thing.
Buffy looks at him, wide-eyed. Angel reaches into his jacket and produces a small box. He tosses it to Buffy, telling her that she has to be ready.
“What for?” Buffy asks.
“For the Harvest,” Angel says.
Angel—let’s just call him Mysterious Guy until he tells Buffy his name—tells Buffy that he’s a friend. She says that maybe she doesn’t want a friend, which he counters with “I didn’t say I was yours.” You know, witty late-20th-century banter.
After he leaves, Buffy opens the box, which contains a large silver crucifix and chain. Pretty impressive gift for a first stalking.
Vampire Rule #2:
Vampires really don’t like crucifixes.
We finally arrive for our first establishing shot of the Bronze. Same night, just a few minutes after Buffy meets Angel for the first time. It’s an industrial setting. The club itself seems to be housed in a large warehouse with corrugated aluminum walls. There’s a bouncer at the door taking money for a cover charge, but he isn’t stamping hands or anything that I noticed.
The place is busy. Buffy arrives, now wearing the silver crucifix around her neck. That Mysterious Guy is one smooth operator. The dancefloor is packed with young people and a band I’ve never heard of called Sprung Monkey is playing loudly, but not so loudly that you can’t hold a conversation. You know, just like in real life.
Buffy runs into Willow at the bar. Willow seems a bit despondent because she thought Xander said he would be there. Buffy asks if Willow and Xander are dating. Willow says they’re just friends, but they used to date. They had to break up because Xander stole her Barbie; they were five years old. Willow admits that she doesn’t have an active dating life. Like Xander, she is also awkward around the opposite sex. Maybe it’s a universal affliction.
Willow admires Buffy’s outgoing personality. Buffy shares her personal philosophy with Willow: Life is short. “Why waste time being all shy and worrying about some guy, and if he’s gonna laugh at you. Seize the moment, ’cause tomorrow you might be dead.”
After sharing this mind-nugget, Buffy sees Giles on that dangerous-looking second level of the club. She excuses herself to Willow and says she’ll be back in a minute.
Buffy climbs the stairs to the second floor. She goes up to the librarian.
“So, you like to party with the students,” she says. “Isn’t that kinda skeevy?”
Which were my thoughts exactly. It seems that the Bronze isn’t supposed to be exclusively a club for teenagers. And yet, everyone else here is much younger than Giles. Where are Sunnydale’s thirty-somethings? Is the life expectancy in Sunnydale so short that the town is like Logan’s Run, where there’s no one older than thirty?
Giles sounds extra-British when he says, “I’d much rather be at home with a cup of Bovril and a good book.”
I always assumed Bovril was a type of tea. I guess I was subconsciously profiling my cousins in the UK. Turns out that Bovril is a meat extract paste that is used as a stew flavoring or even spread on toast like Vegemite or Nutella. It can also be diluted with water or milk to make it into a drink. Giles would have preferred to be at home with a cup of soup.
Giles points out that the Bronze is the perfect breeding ground for vampire activity (another reason to allow teenagers to party there), and he thought she may show up. He needs to tell her some things. Buffy tells Giles that “his friend” told her about the Harvest coming. Giles doesn’t know who she’s referring to. She describes her Mysterious Guy as dark, and gorgeous in an annoying way. She also repeats his “Mouth of Hell” comment.
Giles comments on all the people in the club who are unaware of the danger that surrounds them. “Lucky them,” Buffy says.
“Or perhaps you’re right,” Giles continues. “Perhaps there is no trouble coming. The signs could be wrong. It’s not as though you’ve been having the nightmares.”
You will recall, of course, that Buffy’s first scene in this episode had her waking from a nightmare.
We’ve arrived at our 30-minute mark, here in the middle of Act III. Join me next time on 15-Minute Hellmouth for Part 3, the final part of “Welcome to the Hellmouth.”