\m/15-Minute Hellmouth\m/: Buffy the Vampire Slayer DeepWatch: Season 1, Episode 1: “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (airdate: Monday, March 10, 1997): Part 3 of 3

30:01 – The End

We were in the middle of Act III of “Welcome to the Hellmouth” when we were here last time. Buffy had her meet-cute with some mysterious guy that we know is Angel. And, we were here for the first Buffy scene set in the Bronze.

At the Bronze, Buffy Summers runs into Willow Rosenberg, who is waiting, hoping that Xander Harris will show up. While she and Willow are discussing Willow’s love life—or lack thereof—Buffy notices Rupert Giles on the club’s weird second floor. Giles is the librarian at Sunnydale High School who told Buffy that he’s supposed to be her Watcher, which is the guy who’s supposed to train her . . .and, uh, watch her . . . and remind her of things like duty and sacrifice. Buffy launches into Giles about the mysterious guy, thinking he was a friend of the librarian. No, Giles doesn’t know her stalker, but he seems intrigued about the things Mysterious Guy said to Buffy in that alley, things about the “Harvest” and the “Mouth of Hell.”

The funny thing is that Giles and Angel are both reminding Buffy that she’s the Slayer, and she’s here because of that mystical convergence that may or may not be the Mouth of Hell. It’s her job. But, Buffy wants to be a normal sixteen-year-old high school girl. She doesn’t want to be the Slayer.

Meanwhile, down on the club dancefloor, Jesse McNally asks Cordelia Chase to dance. Cordelia, in turn, is mean to Jesse. She is a Mean Girl: It’s her defining characteristic so far. We don’t see Jesse as often as we do Xander and Willow, but we know he’s in their circle of friends.

On the balcony overlooking the dancefloor, Giles is still trying to convince Buffy to embrace her duties as the Slayer, and accept him as her Watcher. He says there’s still a lot that she doesn’t know about vampires, and about her own powers. He says the Slayer should be able to pick out the vampires from the humans even before they go all knuckle-faced.

Buffy immediately points out one club patron she can tell is a vampire because his clothes are out of style. While she and Giles are watching, Buffy sees that Willow has taken her “life is short: seize the moment” philosophy conversation to heart, and she approaches the guy Buffy just indicated was a vampire and leaves the club with him.

Buffy heads downstairs to save Willow from the vampire. She breaks off a chair leg to use as a stake. I wonder what she did with the stake Xander returned to her. She almost attacks Cordelia as she comes out of the restroom. She grabs her by the throat and pushes her against the wall. That may qualify as an attack. I think her social life at Sunnydale has been effectively limited now.

Buffy tells Giles she couldn’t find the vampire and Willow. Giles offers to come with her to hunt for them, but Buffy tells him she can handle one vampire. As the camera pans, we see that Scooby friend Jesse is chatting up the female vampire we saw in the teaser. She introduces herself to Jesse as Darla (Julie Benz). She tells Jesse that she has family in area, who he will probably meet soon.

We cut to the Master’s subterranean lair. The Master is making his grand entrance, rising from the pool of blood as Luke the bodybuilding vampire looks on. The Master looks more like Nosferatu than the vampires we’ve been seeing so far. He has pointed ears, pale flesh and red eyes. His fingernails are long and pointed as well. As he rises from the pool, none of the blood clings to his visible skin or leather clothing.The Master steps out of the pool and offers his hand to Luke, who reverently takes it.

“Master,” Luke says, as we go into our final act break.

Act IV begins as we are formally introduced to the Master, who is played to the hilt by actor Mark Metcalf. You may be familiar with Metcalf’s work as Douglas C. Neidermeyer in 1978’s Animal House. He was the ROTC cadet officer who got hit in the helmet with a golf ball. Or, you may know him from a couple of Twisted Sister videos in the mid-’80s—these were “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” if I’m not mistaken. He also played the Maestro in two episodes of Seinfeld.

No? Nothing? The Master is the only other Metcalf role I know about. I think Metcalf is terrific as the Master. The Master is a bit of a ham, and there is always a broad, theatrical flair about his performance in this series. With all the makeup and prothetics, his acting needed to be a bit overboard, bordering on cartoonish, with that booming “I’m acting here” voice. Mark Metcalf nails it.

The Master says he still feels weak. Luke assures him that he will be restored with the Harvest. Luke says he is also sending servants to bring him some food. The Master asks for something young.

Aboveground, on some dimly-lit street next to the cemetery, Willow walks on the sidewalk with Vampire Boy. Willow is babbling nervously. The vampire says he knows a shortcut to the ice-cream bar through the cemetery. He grabs her hand and leads her on.

Outside the Bronze, looking for Willow and her potential killer, Buffy runs into Xander. Buffy tells Xander that Willow left with a guy. She asks Xander where does he think he would take her.

Xander says he just hopes the guy’s not a vampire, because then Buffy might have to slay him. Buffy wonders aloud if there’s anyone in this town who doesn’t know she’s the Slayer. Xander starts to tell her why he knows she “thinks” she’s the Slayer, but Buffy doesn’t have the time. She tells Xander they have to find Willow or there’s going to be one more dead body in the morning.

In the graveyard, Willow and Vampire Boy are beside a mausoleum. He asks her if she’s ever been inside one of these. She says, “No. Thank you.”

He grabs her by the hair and pushes her inside the mausoleum. Willow trips and stops against the stone coffin.

“I think I’m gonna go,” Willow says. But, she can’t leave because Darla is there, blocking the exit. Darla asks Vampire Boy if Willow was the best he could do; she’s hardly enough to share. Vamp Boy asks why she didn’t bring her own, and she says she did.

Jesse stumbles into the mausoleum. Some of his blood has already been drained, and he’s feeling woozy. Jesse collapses and Willow breaks his fall. Willow tells him they have to get out of there. Darla tells her that she’s going nowhere until they’ve fed. She morphs into her white raisin vamp-face.

Buffy and Xander enter the mausoleum. Buffy makes with the snappy repartee, surprised that Darla doesn’t already know she’s the Slayer. It seems everyone else does. Buffy jams the broken chair leg into Vampire Boy’s chest without looking, dusting him.

Hey, that qualifies as a vampire rule.

Vampire Rule #3:

When killed (preferably by beheading or a wooden stake through the heart), vampires instantly turn into ashes. In Buffy lingo, they are “dusted.”

Buffy and Darla begin sparring. There’s a lot of punching and blocking and kicking. Which leads to another vampire rule—

Vampire Rule #4:

All vampires are created instantly knowing advanced martial arts moves and gymnastics.

Buffy has Darla down on the floor of the mausoleum, defeated, when buff vampire Luke grabs Buffy by the neck from behind. He tosses the Slayer casually aside and lifts Darla to her feet. He berates Darla for dallying with this child. He sends Darla after the others and says he’ll see if he can handle “the little girl.” It seems that neither Luke nor Darla know that Buffy is the Slayer.

Darla exits the scene, and Buffy discovers that Luke is a more formidable foe than Darla. Her attacks do not seem to faze him. He sends her flying again with a backhand fist.

Willow, Xander and Jesse are running through the cemetery, when they are stopped by a group of vampires.

Back in the mausoleum, Buffy and Luke are still at it. Luke slides the stone lid off of a tomb. Luke then begins quoting some sort of scripture about the race of man covering Earth like a plague of boils, and on the third day of the newest light would come the Harvest, and the blood of men will flow as wine.

We cut to a shot of The Master sitting upon his intricately carved throne.

While Luke intones, we intercut shots of Giles looking through some ancient tome in the library. The implication is that he’s reading up on the Harvest.

Luke: “When the Master will walk among them once more.”

Cut to Xander, Willow and Jesse surrounded by vampires, which includes Darla now.

Luke: “The Earth will belong to the Old Ones.”

And, we’re back with Buffy and Luke. Very close to Buffy’s face, Luke says, “And Hell itself will come to town.”

Luke lifts Buffy by the throat and throws her into the open coffin. She lands next to a skeleton. Buffy lets out a quick scream, then slowly starts to get up. Suddenly, Luke jumps on top of Buffy, fangs out.

“Amen,” he says. And we get a—

To Be Continued . . .

That’s how the first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends. On a cliffhanger. And a couple of minutes to spare, clocking in at barely 43 minutes before the end credits.

As I mentioned before, this episode and the next, “The Harvest,” aired on the same night in 1997, so the viewers didn’t have to wait a week to get the resolution to this setup. Because of the cliffhanger, you may not consider this episode to be a complete four-act “story,” but I think it accomplishes everything it set out to do. The purpose of “Welcome to the Hellmouth” was to introduce both Buffy Summers and the Master to the world of Sunnydale.

Buffy met all the characters who would form the main cast going forward for the near-future. We met Buffy’s real family in her mother, Joyce. Then, she and we meet her new found family at the same time, which includes Willow, Xander, Giles, Mysterious Guy (Angel), and (sometimes) Cordelia. The found family will morph over the seasons, and Angel and Cordy will leave for their own series, but Willow, Xander and Giles remain at the core.

I like the concept of the found family. I realize that it’s become a common television trope. I’ve been catching up on The Blacklist (watching Season 7 now) and one of the FBI agents made the comment about their task force being a family. It’s a common story theme, in books and graphic novels as well as film. It’s one that resonates with me as well.

We’ve seen what will be our most common sets going forward: various school hallways, generic classrooms, the Library, Buffy’s house and bedroom, the Bronze, and the cemetery. This season, the Master’s Lair is another frequent set.

In addition to physical locations, Whedon is doing some other tremendous worldbuilding by defining some of the rules of the world, including which parts of vampire lore will be canon and what sorts of powers the Slayer possesses. Plus, Sunnydale seems to be built upon something known as a Hellmouth, and some big mystical shindig called the Harvest is coming up, when the Master should rise and kill everyone in the world. This is our first apocalypse in the series. Prophesies and a various apocalypses will be a recurring theme in the show.

But, Buffy just wants to be a normal girl. We know she can’t be, but this is a nice way to establish Buffy’s character motivation. Sure, she’ll slay the occasional vampire, but she wants to have the true high school experience. These sometimes-opposing facets of her personality immediately give the character a bit more depth. In my memory, the movie version of Buffy was much more shallow, more a Valley Girl archetype. Whedon wisely chose to take a different tack on television. Buffy has moments where she seems somewhat shallow and flighty, but she takes her role as Slayer seriously.

During this DeepWatch, I’m giving each episode and season a score. I have created a spreadsheet and everything.

Episode 1.1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth” gets the following 15-Minute Hellmouth score:

3-and-a-Half Stars

Join me next time when we’ll start talking about Episode 1.2 “The Harvest”

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