First aired:10th March 1997
Sarah Michelle Gellar – Buffy Summers
Nicholas Brendan – Xander Harris
Alyson Hannigan – Willow Rosenberg
Anthony Stewart Head – Rupert Giles
Charisma Carpenter – Corelia Chase
Julie Benz – Darla
Christine Sutherland – Joyce Summers
David Boreanaz – Angel
Eric Balfour – Jesse
Brian Thompson – Luke
Mark Metcalf – The Master
Ken Lerner – Principal Bob Flutie
Synopsis: Sunnydale California. A teenage couple are breaking into a school. The guy is interested in an illicit hook-up, too late realizing all that the girl wanted was dinner and he was the dinner. She chages into a vampire and quickly kills him.
Elsewhere, a young woman (Buffy Summers) dreams vividly of monsters before her first day at her new school. Somewhere else, three friends (slacker Xander, loveable nerd Willow and nondescript Jesse) are talking about the new girls, shortly before Xander bumps into her, with Xander left holding her stake. Buffy meets with Bob Flutie, principal of Sunnydale High School, who welcomes her to the school, making sure she knows that he’s watching her.
In history class, Buffy meets Cordelia, the local queen bee, who is kind and friendly to Buffy inviting her to the Bronze, a local night club, but treats Willow with barely human contempt, before directing Buffy to the library. In the library Buffy meets Mr Giles, who presents her with an old book emblazoned with the word Vampyr. Buffy runs out of the library and later catches up to Willow, asking for her help with catching up, they is joined by Jesse and Xander and then Cordelia comes over and points out that there was a dead body found in the locker room. Buffy sneaks into the crime scene and examines the body, finding teeth marks on a body drained of blood. She runs to the library and argues with Giles pointing out that she is a retired slayer and wants nothing to do with the fight that Giles wants her back in.Unbeknownst to both of them Xander was there and heard the whole thing. Under the school, a nest of vampires wait beside a pool of blood, from it arises a bat-faced vampire, who is trapped there, but hungers for some fresh blood.
At home, Buffy talks with her mum before heading out to the Bronze, on the way encountering a mysterious man, who follows her until she turns the tables. The charming stalker banters with her before handing her a silver cross necklace before leaving. Buffy arrives at the club and meets Willow, the two talk and bond, with Buffy convincing Willow to be more bold and take more risks. Buffy then sees Giles and tells him of her encounter with the charming stranger, before seeing Willow leave with a man whose clothes are so dated that he must be a vampire. Buffy follows, but the pair are gone and she only succeeds in nearly staking Cordelia by accident.
As Buffy leaves the club, Jesse has arrived and is talking to the teenager from the opening, who identifies herself as Darla. Buffy bumps into Xander and the two chase after Willow and her undead date. Willow is only now realising that she is in danger, only to find herself with Darla and the bleeding Jesse as well as another vampire. Just before the feast can begin, Buffy arrives and slays one of the vampires, giving Willow, Xander and Jesse time to run before she is attacked by a huge vampire called Luke. Buffy is able to escape and gets Willow and Xander out of there, but Jesse is gone, taken to see the vampire Master. Back at school in the library, Giles explains that demons once ruled the world and that they want it back. Before they left, they fed on a human, birthing the first vampire. They are opposed by the Slayer, one girl, unto each generation, who can battle them. Also pointed out is that the whole town rests on a Hellmout, a nexus of magic and evil that draws creatures to it.
The risen vampire Master plots to have this Slayer brough to him as Buffy learns were the vampires might be. Buffy tries to head there, but it’s during the school day and this thwarted by the principal, well at least temporarily. Xander and Willow struggle with their new reality as Buffy meets with her charming stalker, who identifies himself as Angel. After a brief exchange Buffy goes underground, soon followed by Xander. The pair find Jesse, who leads them into a dead-end, after revealing he has been turned into a vampire. Buffy gets herself and Xander to safety, barely. At the library, Giles explains that the Master has been stuck in one place for half a century and there is a ritual to free him, obviously it’s tonight. Buffy heads home for supplies and is read the riot act by her mother, who after being forced to move to get her into another school is not going to let Buffy ruin this new chance and grounds her. Well clearly Buffy sneaks out anyway and heads to the Bronze, where all the players are gathering, the vampires, Giles, Xander and Willow. As Willow sees Darla off with a face full of holy water and Xander stakes Jesse, Buffy battles Luke and the other vampires, the ritual is over and, the Master trapped once more and much of his army turned to dust.
With little to no fanfare the next day, the team head back into school, the rest of the populace have no real idea of what happened and even those present have edited it to make it more explicible. This newly forged group are ready to see whatever comes next to this town and the Hellmouth it sits over.
Notes: It’s not unfair to say that this show has left it’s mark on television. It’s theme of mixing the relatable struggles of teen life with supernatural chicanery was used to great effect and many tv shows and movies would not have been made as they were without it. History owes a lot to Buffy and it’s creator Joss Whedon. But I am not talking about it’s history, or even it’s cultural legacy, others with more time, skill and insight have done that, so I am only going to look at this episode itself. So letsget to it.
There are a tremendous lot of positives here. Whilst I have little time for the 1997 vintage of Eric Balfourv or any version of Julie Benz and the ubiquitous Brian Thompson, the rest of the cast are very good in the role. Gellar and Hannigan have an easy chemistry as friends who just met, but will always be the best of friends. The thankless job of playing the focal point of the love triangle goes to Nicholas Brendan, who makes what could be an annoying character quite likeable. Anthony Head plays 3 or 4 different US viewed stereotypes of englishmen well enough and Charisma Carpenter is brilliant as that bitchy girl we have all met, so there’s little wrong with the core cast. The guest stars in Mark Metcalf and David Boreanaz is a bit more of a mixed bag. Boreanaz isn’t anywhere near locking in on his character, playing him half creepy and half charming, without really landing either of them. At this point, several other actors could have done a better job, but he doesn’t drag the show unlike Benz and Balfour, who just about get the dialogue out without being nauseating. Mark Metcalf on the other hand is having an absolute ball. He plays camp and menacing in equal measure, all quiet and understating one second and the other shows teethmarks in the scenery. The cast do well with the premise, but a lot of the heavy work is done by the script, which is full of quippy one-liners and pop-culture references. There’s drama mixed in with the funny, giving a bit of a more naturalistic tone in dialogue. No one you know talks like any of the characters, but none of it feels wrong either. When it’s more banter like, it comes off as cute rather than annoying, which would have taken you out of the story.
Angel: “They really don’t like me stopping by.”
Buffy: “Why’s that?”
Angel: “They really don’t like me.”
It’s funny stuff, but never in a way that removes the spectre of death from the show. One of the three new friends is dead by the halfway mark and no one gets away clean. High school as hell is a great metaphor, sadly this show suffers the same faults of any other show set in school, no one here is school aged. The youngest of the cast playing either 15/16 is Gellar who at that point was 20 and she was the youngest. The discordance between being told the characters are 15/16 and not a single one of them looking that young is something that the show really can’t get away from. Darla is not a school girl, more the mid-20’s girl (being generous) dressing that way for her boyfriend’s fantasy.
So even with all the positives, it wasn’t a perfect show then and to be honest 21 years hasn’t been exactly kind to it. The effects show their age and pacing is a little wonky in places. This is how pilots should be I suppose. The premise and characters are introduced, an initial conflict is resolved and the status quo is established and this story does that fairly well, it has to be said. Joss Whedon went on to make Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly after this and made Serenity and two Avengers movies and the sparks that led to those bonfires are just about visible here. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of the best TV shos of the late 90’s/early 00’s era, but that level of quality is a far cry from this opening.
Does it work? Yes, school is hell and no one else understands what it’s like, mixed with horror and kicking ass. There’s little wrong here.
Does much need fixing? Apart from recasting actors who either are or lookteenaged? Not really.
Does it stand up? Have to be honest, no. This show started rough and took a long time to get it’s sea-legs.
Do I want to watch the next one? Not from this, no.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, it is a lot of fun.
Overall: 3 out of 5. A solid, if not fantastic show to watch.