Sunday, March 29, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1, Episode 2 - The Harvest

Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by John T. Kretchmer

The Harvest’ is a continuation of the first Buffy episode, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’. I wouldn’t say that I like The Harvest more or less than its predecessor; viewed separately, both episodes seem to be lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, but viewed together, they make a truly remarkable pilot, with just the right mixture of character introduction/development, action, drama and comedy.

In this episode Buffy and the Scoobies learn that it is the night of ‘The Harvest’, the one night in six hundred years when the Master has the power to rise and wreak havoc on all of mankind. In order to do so, he needs a ‘vessel’ (our super-strong Luke) to drink for him, thereby enabling him with the strength to break free of his shackles. Buffy and Co. must stop this happening in order to save the world.

One thing I thought this episode lacked was character development. There was a huge amount of action, with the impending apocalypse and all, and as a result, the audience wasn’t given the opportunity to develop an understanding of the main characters, something which is quite unusual for the second episode of a new show. However, that being said, the previous episode had a satisfying amount of character development, but was lacking a little in the action department; so on a whole, the two episodes balance each other out.

There was more comedy in this episode than in 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'. As is the case in many Buffy episodes, comedy is used as a means through which the audience can examine a more serious issue. In this episode, we have Buffy and her mother, Joyce, bickering about whether Buffy should go out or not. Joyce states that it won’t be the ‘end of the world’ if Buffy doesn’t go out. The irony within this conversation is that the audience is aware of Buffy’s importance and knows that it really will be the end of the world if she doesn’t go out. The lies that Buffy has to tell her mother in order to keep her true identity hidden are indicative of the deceit she has to put everyone under (with the exception of Giles, Xander and Willow). In 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' we learn that Buffy doesn’t enjoy being the Slayer and therefore struggles to accept the duties that come with the title, however in 'The Harvest' we gain a better understanding of why she doesn’t want to accept her identity; it is Buffy’s belief that she is too young to shoulder such a large burden without being given a choice. The dialogue between Buffy and Joyce reveals the solitude and extreme danger that are fundamental aspects of a Slayer’s life, a life Buffy doesn’t want to surrender to at the age of sixteen.

An example of the intricacies of the writing can be seen at the end of the episode, when Giles states ‘The world is doomed’ as Buffy, Xander and Willow walk away, discussing how best to get kicked out of school. Towards the end of 'Chosen' (S. 7, ep. 22) Giles repeats this sentence as Buffy, Xander and Willow are walking towards the apocalypse in a very similar fashion. Whedon’s ability to revisit the origins of his show, to make allusions to the opening episodes in the finale is part of what makes Buffy so poignant and enduring. It is his passion to create a show that lives in the minds of viewers that makes the writing some of the best on television.

'The Harvest' and 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' are in my opinion, two the best episodes of this seven year saga. They create likeable characters that everybody can relate to in some way as well as redefining the traditional ideas surrounding women and power, and above all they convey a strong mission statement that the show consistently remains true to, allowing it to become one of the more groundbreaking shows on television at the time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Animals really are more astute than humans.

So I'm aware that this isn't a review of a TV show, book or movie; but it is a review/musing/rant on the idiocy (or maybe reality is a kinder word) of human nature.

This morning I was waiting for my train (trying to jot down some ideas for a review of Buffy ep. 2 The Harvest, might I add) and everyone was silent; not talking not sniffing, not even looking at one another.

This in itself isn't really an oddity, as of the 50+ people on the station every morning, I have never seen one stranger talk to another without being accused of acting craaaazy. No, the funny thing was what happened a few minutes later.

A herd of kookaburras started laughing. At us.

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, they could have been laughing at a fellow kookaburra, but somehow I think not. I mean, imagine seeing a horde of animals who are all more or less the same, all sitting together in a contained area, all making a conscious effort not to communicate with one another.

Pretty funny, huh?

And the worst thing is, humans don't even think twice about doing it. If you said 'Good morning' to a random person on the station you would be considered perfectly, without-a-doubt crazy. What we have is a plague of miscommunication and disenchantment. Isn't it a little scary that kookaburras realise how stupid we look when we sit at a station, pretending that no-one else exists and staring steadfastly at the train tracks, yet we believe that this behaviour is aloof and trendy?
Now, I'm not saying that I'm any better, I might be the first to smirk if a perfect stranger threw me a 'Good Morning!' while I was settling into my favourite seat in the last carriage. All I'm saying is, maybe the kookaburras are right. Maybe we should communicate with each other a bit more. At the very least it will give other species one less reason to laugh.

Just some food for thought.
End rant.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1, Episode 1 - Welcome to the Hellmouth

DISCLAIMER: I am reviewing Buffy the Vampire Slayer on an episodic basis, not on the show as a whole. However, I'm writing this with the assumption that readers have seen all 7 seasons of Buffy, and there will therefore be some spoilers!!

Written by Joss Whedon; Directed by Charles Martin Smith

I unfortunately can’t approach this from a fresh-faced, first viewing perspective, as I lost my Buffy virginity many years ago. However, whilst watching this episode with the advantage of knowing what will happen with the show in the next seven years, I found the introduction to this epic show surprising yet somewhat comfortable, inasmuch as the central characters we see in ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth are in some ways very different to their future selves in ‘Chosen’ (S7, ep.22), but in others, they remain all too familiar. It is a testament to the writers that they have managed to maintain the core substance of each character, whilst adapting their ideologies in order to keep up to date with the changing values of popular culture.

For a pilot, ‘Welcome to the Hellmouth’ sets up the premise of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ especially well, putting forward a strong mission statement, and letting the viewers know that this is a show that will not be tied down to one genre, rather it will incorporate elements of drama comedy and horror. This episode centers around Buffy moving to Sunnydale to escape her Slayer past, only to realise that there is potentially more evil there than she had faced before, that the town may in fact be ‘a centre of mystical energy’ as her watcher/librarian Rupert Giles states.

One of the best things about this episode, and about the show as a whole, is the unique approach Whedon has taken in creating his hero, Buffy. She is a slight, blonde, teenage girl, the type that normally gets killed off first in horror movies. Whedon wanted to subvert this idea; instead of the blonde girl getting lured into an alley and killed by a vampire, he has created a character that lures vampires into alleys to kill them. His blonde teenager has the power to fight back against her oppressors, an idea which made Buffy original and innovative for its time, as well as putting forth an idea for future shows (shows such as Charmed and Alias may not have been created if Whedon hadn’t instigated this idea).
The language is one of the drawbacks of this episode; Whedon tends to use slang that is specific to Californian teenagers, therefore making it slightly inaccessible for some viewers. However, Whedon and his team of writers quickly realised that the public were not responding to this language, and removed most of it from later episodes. This indicates that Whedon was responsive to the demands of his viewers even at the beginning of the show, something that helped Buffy succeed.

This episode looks at the traditional portrayal of vampires throughout history. An example is Giles, the high-school librarian/watcher, who is almost always seen exclusively in the library. He wears tweedy suits and wire-rimmed glasses, and spends his time pulling out mammoth, leather-bound volumes entitled “Vampyr” and blurting out ancient prophecies. Alongside him we have Luke, the ancient vampire who spends his days carrying out rituals that have a suspiciously religious ring to them; ‘on the third day of the newest light would come the Harvest’ and resurrecting the god-like character that is The Master. These characters serve to support the historical myths and ideologies surrounding vampires, ideologies which Whedon promptly subverts with the introduction of characters such as the sassy Darla; a vampire who cares more about eating cute boys in a Catholic schoolgirl getup than upholding the traditional vamp value system, the moronic yet kindhearted Xander; who assumed Buffy was going to build a ‘really little fence’ with her stake, and even Buffy herself; who is more keen to don a cheerleading outfit and pom poms than battle the forces of darkness. Through subverting the traditional vampire archetype, as well as dismissing the stereotypical idea of what a vampire slayer is (there’s no Bon Jovi running around with a spear in this show) Whedon is able to leave his viewers with a very real feeling of ‘What will happen next?’ From the first scene of the pilot, (where a seemingly innocent blonde girl morphs into a fanged monster) to the last scene in ‘Chosen’, where the ‘Welcome to Sunnydale’ sign falls into the bottomless pit of rubble that was previously a Hellmouth, Buffy fans are aware that nothing is as it seems.

In the world of Buffy and the Scooby gang, evil vampire lords can be resurrected in underground churches, your boyfriend might want to kill you after you sleep with him, the Mayor of town might want to eat your graduating class when he turns into a giant snake, your college professor might create a Frankenstein-y monster who is hell bent on dissecting people to see how they ‘work’; a God from the underworld might want to use your little sister’s blood to cause an apocalypse, your best friend might try to kill you before killing the world, and the Source of all Evil might decide to end the world once and for all.
However it’s also a place where friendships are often more effective than superpowers when fighting evil, a place where people make mistakes and have to deal with the consequences – be they supernatural or all too natural – in order to find redemption, and above all it is a place where ordinary teenagers choose to sacrifice everything in order to ward off the forces of evil and maintain the existence of humanity – whilst passing chemistry, of course.