Today is a good day for a Buffy marathon. If you’re a reader from the old days, you know I’m a huge fan of the series. It’s one I revisit regularly, and I find it an excellent antidote to depression. It can be funny, uplifting, heartbreaking, and occasionally terrifying – frequently in the same episode.
I came to the show late, after resisting the importuning of one friend in particular. I hit on it in 2006 while spending some time off my feet trying to heal an ankle and foot injury that I had ignored for too long. I can’t count how many times I’ve rewatched all or part of the series in the intervening years, but I always find something new to appreciate.
This year’s rewatch started last week, and I’m almost through the second season. If you haven’t watched the series, I highly recommend it, and today I feel like writing about it. This will be pretty much spoiler-free.
First thing I’ll say is this: watch Season 1. Watch all of it, even though the production values aren’t great, some of the acting is sketchy, and there are some really bad and dated episodes. The thing about Buffy is even the bad episodes have something to offer in terms of character development and clever dialogue. David Boreanaz, in particular, is heinous in his first appearance, but he must have had a truly inspired acting coach, because his improvement was as rapid as it was marked. He really came into his own in Season 2.
The two-part pilot “Welcome to the Hellmouth/The Harvest” introduces (or re-introduces, if you saw the movie) us to a slayer who really doesn’t want any more to do with the vampires who caused her so much trouble in Los Angeles. She and her mother have moved to the small town of Sunnydale for a new start after she was expelled from her old high school. She’s not expecting the school librarian to be her new Watcher, and she doesn’t know that they’ve jumped out of the proverbial frying pan into a Hellmouth, a mystical place that draws not only vampires but all manner of demons. So much for the normal life she craves.
Most of the Season 1 episodes are “monster of the week”, with the monsters serving as metaphors for the struggles of high school life, but one in particular sticks with me, “The Puppet Show”. Back in the day when I most decidedly did not watch Buffy, I would sometimes see it on in reruns, and for some reason it was always this episode. I half-watched it several times and dismissed it as silly, but in context of the show it is about as serious as one can be when the primary guest character is a talking ventriloquist’s dummy. It’s the first time the series overtly takes a hard look at the life of a demon hunter and the near-inevitable tragedy it entails.
“Prophecy Girl”, the season finale, carries through that theme and sets up character and plot threads that will echo all the way through the following six seasons.
Season 2 takes a darker turn from the beginning, as Buffy struggles with some well-earned PTSD. In the process, she almost succeeds in alienating the friends who are her essential support system. “School Hard”, which introduces vampires Spike and Drusilla, demonstrates just how important her friends and family are. There are a few more “monster of the week” episodes and a fun Halloween romp, but the show settles down and gets serious with “Lie to Me”. If you’ve made it this far, you’re not likely to give up. The “Surprise/Innocence” two-parter is brilliant – and contains one of my favorite ass-kicking scenes. I defy anyone to get through “Passion” without chills and tears. It leads inevitably to the events of “Becoming” Parts 1 and 2, and that’s where I am right now.
Buffy does the hard work even when she doesn’t want to. She protects the weak and defenseless and asks nothing in return. She loves her family and her friends. She’s willing to look past her preconceptions and learn new things. She’s a leader and a team builder, and she recognizes (most of the time) that she can’t go it alone. She may wish that her lot had fallen on someone else, but she’s committed and serious about her mission. She’s a role model for all of us who try to change the world in the midst of living our regular, messy lives.