We open the series with the slow panning of dimly lit modern high school hallways, the film style is reminiscent of typical horror scenes and it immediately sucks the watching audience into the mindset of expecting bump-in-the-night creatures to appear at any given moment.
Enter ditz blonde girl and somewhat grimy looking guy, breaking a window and entering the school. The implications are obvious, she’s innocent and sweet and he’s pushing for more despite her obvious hesitance. After a couple of minutes tick by and we confirm there isn’t a soul around to hear or see them the big reveal comes: sweet little blonde girl is a vampire, hunting the man that thinks he is the one doing the hunting.
I comment on this small relatively insignificant scene because I think it sets an important president for the whole of the show: not everything is as it seems. If seemingly harmless Darla can be a big bad vampire, why can’t bubbly personality, pastel wearing, super blonde Buffy be a super-hero style vampire killing machine? Altering the audience’s basic perception of the show at the very beginning puts us outside of the typical horror-movie box and into something shiny and new. This opening speaks volumes about what is in store for the audience – not just through out the rest of the episode, but through the entire series itself.
In this opening episode of Buffy we also get to meet our basic cast (later to be called the Scoobies). I’d like to touch briefly on each important character and what it is we learn about them as they’re introduced to us.
BUFFY SUMMERS – Obviously Buffy is the heroine of this piece, comments from both her mother and her new principal imply that Buffy has had a troubled past (what’s that, you burned down a school building?!) and further insight implies to the audience that this trouble has come from her unwanted role as the Slayer. Despite all that Buffy seems like a pretty normal teenage girl – she’s into fashion and cute boys and popular trends, she cares more about how she looks than her homework and above all else she wants to avoid the weird freaky incidents that are bound to happen to a Vampire Slayer. All Buffy really seems to want is a normal life, free of the complications that her duty as the Slayer bring down on her.
XANDER HARRIS – First introduced as a somewhat geeky guy cruising along on a skateboard (followed by a painful and embarrassing wipe out), Xander seems sweet but perhaps a bit simple and pretty easy to over-look. His spazzy antics in Buffy’s presence mark him as the first guy in the series to show romantic interest in Buffy. Beyond all of that we don’t much get a look into Xander’s personality (in this episode, anyway).
WILLOW ROSENBERG – Willow is very clearly, from the moment we see her in that hideous green home-school reject dress (one of many trademark fashion atrocities to come), a nerd-factor character. This point is further implied by Xander’s asking Willow for help with his math homework. We also see shy, somewhat awkward Willow being tormented by beautiful, popular Cordelia. Willow’s passive nature is shown right out the gate when she doesn’t defend herself against Cordelia’s nasty remarks. Willow is also shown as a character who wants to change and grow out of her role as an awkward, shy teenage nerd in the scene at the bronze where she seizes Buffy’s “Life is short” motto and decides to get out of her box and chat up a guy she’s never seen before (who turns out to be a vampire, of course). As a whole, this first episode is actually an excellent portrayal of Willow perhaps more so than any other character in the show, including Buffy.
RUPERT GILES – We know very little about him other than the fact that he is a “watcher” (Don’t worry, you won’t have to scratch your heads over what that means for too much longer!), that he’s British, and that he is the librarian – and obviously he knows Buffy’s secret though the how and the why of that is not yet explained.
ANGEL – Drag in the big heartfelt sigh for hunky dark and brooding mysterious stranger Angel. While his name isn’t given in the first episode I’m going to go ahead and give it away because really, why not? We learn next to nothing about Angel himself, though his brief appearance in the episode is definitely enough to make us wonder after him.
CORDELIA CHASE – Though her role is obviously smaller and slightly less important than the roles of Willow, Xander, Giles, and Angel – Cordelia is a hard to forget character that makes her big entrance in the only way she knows how. She is obviously the Queen of Mean (hell, she’s the Queen of Everything in Sunnydale) and she’s not afraid to use her power to smite any person that so much as looks at her the wrong way. All classic good looks and high class style Cordelia offers contrast to our ultra-nice scooby gang while giving us some amusing comic relief at the right moments (Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met. Right now.).
Whedon gets right down to business in this episode, introducing us to Season One’s Big Bad – The Master. We don’t learn a whole lot about him except for the fact that he’s creepy, can float out of a pool of blood, and oh.. the fruit punch mouth (hard to miss that). This episode leaves off with Buffy and the entire gang in serious mortal peril – compelling you to move on and watch the next episode as soon as humanly possible.
Also, just a quick note about a smaller detail in the show that I enjoy – Buffy screams in fright when she sees the skeleton in the crypt where she battles the big tough vampire known as Luke. I really like that the show starts off at a point where Buffy, though she is the Slayer and is aware of the creepy-crawlies of the world, is still afraid of the scary and gross things that us normal folks are typically afraid of. I think it makes her character a lot easier to understand and relate to and it really helps the audience to appreciate her character as she changes and grows through the series.