Monday, May 4, 2009

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season One, Episode 5: Never Kill a Boy on the First Date

Written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali; Directed by David Semel

This was the episode everyone knew would come along sooner or later – Buffy goes on a date and it all goes horribly, awfully, vamptastically wrong. In this case the lucky guy is the nerdy Owen, and disaster strikes when Buffy has to go to a funeral home to save Giles and prevent an evil prophecy from coming true, and Owen follows her.

Overall this episode was pretty average for Season one; better than the atrocious Teacher’s Pet, but not nearly as pleasing as later episodes. It is the first episode that hints at the darker, more serious tone the show gradually embraces. Disappointingly the main plot was not one of Buffy’s original, revolutionary ideas; the idea of a date gone wrong is an age-old plot for teen-TV shows, leaving the rest of this episode fairly predictable. However, it was executed in a humourous way, which keeps the audience engaged. Also, the sub-plot, which centered around an evil prophecy concerning ‘The Anointed One’ (a vampire who has the potential to bring eternal damnation to all of humanity) was a little monotonous; I found myself wanting more ‘Buffy’s date goes wrong’ scenes and fewer scenes with the Master dictating ancient prophecies from a Bible-like tome.

In terms of the writing; this episode had some of the wittiest one-liners from the season. The dialogue between Buffy and Giles is particularly funny; the writers were able to take advantage of the characters’ opposing personalities and show the ignorance of American culture when idealizing and interpreting the behaviour of people from other countries (in this case, Giles from England).
The character of Owen was written poorly, causing him to become a one-dimensional character, which is probably the reason why he never appeared in another episode. It was clear from the beginning that the writers were using this character as a vehicle through which they could put Buffy in a ‘disastrous date’ scenario; any attempts to personify him fell short.

This episode was the first to really showcase the postmodern allusions and humour that Buffy became known for. Lines such as ‘Clark Kent had a job. I just want to go on a date’ allude to popular culture of the time, and allow the audience to respond to the show on a more personal level. Buffy was one of the first shows to pop these postmodern tidbits into its script, and while the audience responded well to this technique; it does run the risk of dating the show. This can be seen in later episodes as some of the allusions do not resonate as well with a 2009 audience as they did with a 1997 audience.

Personally, I thought the strongest element of this episode was Buffy’s complete understanding of the importance of her destiny. In previous episodes Buffy had tried to divide her time between being the Slayer and being a normal teenage girl, but in this episode she realizes that her destiny has to come first; when she refuses to be the Slayer she puts innocent people at risk. The conversation between Buffy and Giles in the final scene of the episode dictates two main themes that run through the whole series – responsibility and sacrifice. Buffy must sacrifice her emotions and desires in order to protect others. By choosing her social life over her Slayer duties, Buffy puts Giles’ life at risk; she cannot even go out on a date without it possibly having life threatening consequences for those around her. It is through this event that we, as viewers finally ‘get’ the enormity of Buffy’s destiny. As much as she wants to be a normal teenager, she has responsibilities that she can’t ignore; if she does, she risks losing the people close to her. Whedon makes a point of stating that there is no rulebook on how to be the perfect teenager, Watcher or Slayer; everyone feels alone and confused sometimes, it’s an inevitable part of life. As he says through Giles ‘we just have to feel our way as we go along’.

Overall, I thought this episode was pretty average fare for Season One. It had some touching character moments and terrific writing; but was lacking in the action department and had a fairly disappointing plot.