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.

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