Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by John Kretchmer
We pick up right where we left off! Buffy is about to be bitten by Luke, but at the last moment, the cross gifted to her by Shadowy Mystery Guy slides out from wherever she was stashing it and burns him! She is able to flee. She runs out of the mausoleum in time to save Xander and Willow from the vampires attacking them, but Jesse has already been taken. I'm sure he'll be fine.
Exposition time! And now, Xander and Willow are invited. We have our core group! I like that Giles isn't trying to exclude the non-Slayers. The exposition cuts back and forth between the good guys in the library and the bad guys in the cavern beneath it, the dialogue overlapping nicely. Willow reveals that she isn't just an unusually nerdy damsel in distress: she's a computer genius! Xander thinks he has attained Co-Adventurer status, but Buffy is skeptical because, unlike her, he doesn't have a +12 strength bonus.
Okay, pause for a sec. Is it just because I watch five thousand BBC shows and grew up with the Harry Potter audiobooks on a constant loop, or does it make no sense that three teenagers (one of whom is extremely smart) wouldn't understand Giles when he tells Willow, "Then help me. I've been researching this Harvest affair. It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre: rivers of blood, hell on earth. Quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details. It may be that you can wrest some information from that dread machine." Then they just stare at him like he's an alien. Huh???
Buffy continues to be hilariously bad at coming up with convincing cover stories for why she's not behaving like a normal high school student. Luckily, she's good enough at back-flipping over fences to compensate for it.
Oh hey, it's Shadowy Mystery Guy! This time he's lurking in the mausoleum. Banter ensues, and we learn his name. Angel! I'm gonna have to side with Buffy on this: he's being unnecessarily cryptic. Why is he being unnecessarily cryptic? Nice little vulnerable moment when she asks if he knows what it's like to have a friend. (No, he doesn't. *wibble* Sorry, it's too hard pretending I'm not a huge Angel fangirl at this point. I just really want to hug him.) In an interesting reversal from the first episode, rather than telling her she has to get more involved in Plot A, now he's telling her she needs to pull it back a bit. Could it be that he's more invested in her well-being than he's letting on?
Buffy goes down into the creepy utility tunnel, where she runs into Xander, who is determined to help rescue his buddy Jesse, even though he is a Level 1 human adventurer with very low character stats and zero useful inventory. What he doesn't realize is that he's turning this into an escort quest for Buffy, and escort quests are just the worst.
Cut to Willow in Plot B. Cordelia continues to be quite the bully, but Willow's friendship with Buffy is already making her bolder. She's willing to risk the ire of the Mean Girls by tricking them into losing all their progress in their programming class. Nice.
Meanwhile, in Plot A, it turns out that when Luke said Jesse would be bait, he didn't mean live bait. Jesse is a vampire! Dang, I was so sure he'd make it through all seven seasons. Now Buffy and Xander must escape the obvious trap they've walked into. Fortunately for them, electrical tunnels apparently have ventilation shafts that happen to be just the right size for rapid crawling.
Master Bat-face reveals himself to have a playful but dangerous sense of humor, which makes him much more interesting to watch. Giles, too, is becoming more interesting. He's fumbly and awkward and hilarious. He and Willow are developing a nice rapport.
After a brief, sinister ritual, Luke is all set to bite a bunch of people vicariously for the Master, which will free him from the Ominous Church/Cavern Set and cause a chain reaction of badness! When he's not being funny on purpose, the Master spends most of his time being funny by posturing melodramatically. (Also, I didn't talk about the random puddle of blood the Master rises out of in the first episode, and which is still there. I discussed this with my flatmate, and her theory is that the proximity of this cavern to the Hellmouth has caused the creepy side effect of a wellspring of blood. I like this theory. It has a bit of a Biblical plague vibe to it.)
Buffy and Xander come back to the library sans Jesse. Xander is very upset. More exposition from Giles. We learn about the permanent source of Plot A in this series: the Hellmouth, which is a very convenient explanation for why the apocalypse always seems to start up in a small town in California.
For some reason, Buffy has to go home to gear up before they thwart the Harvest. That would've been a helpful moment for Giles to point out that he has an entire cabinet full of weapons and other supplies right there in the library, but he just lets her go. (Maybe he only stocked that cabinet with weapons and supplies after this episode?) As a consequence of this detour, Buffy's mom has an opportunity to ground her for her apparent delinquent behavior, but this really only delays her for about five seconds. As soon as her mom shuts her door, she resumes grabbing supplies and jumps out the window.
Cordelia is very foolishly trying to push Plot B high school melodrama in what is clearly the lead-in to Plot A mayhem. Vampire Jesse succeeds in coercing a dance out of her where human Jesse was soundly rejected in the previous episode. (This may be the first instance of a pattern in which vampire guys are automatically cooler and sexier than human guys, even though they are irredeemably evil and therefore not good boyfriend material. I'm sure it won't be a problem ever.)
The rest of the vampires arrive, and the Harvest begins, starting with the Bronze's huge black bouncer. I used to think he was a weird choice for the first victim (not to mention that it's the Black Guy Dies First trope), but I suppose it's useful to see how outmatched any ordinary human would be against a vampire, even if the human has enormous muscles. Giles, Willow, and Xander arrive, and Giles firmly informs Xander that now that Jesse is a vampire, he's no longer his best friend. This is a crucial piece of the show's vampire lore.
Cordelia is horrified to find herself the next victim of Plot A, but before Luke can bite her, Buffy arrives to save the day. Cordelia skedaddles at the first possible moment, and Luke and Buffy fight. Buffy is better prepared for him this time, but he is still a formidable opponent. Giles, Xander, and Willow work on getting the rest of his would-be victims out of the Bronze, but the other vampires, particularly Vamp Jesse and Darla, are making this difficult. Willow throws a considerable amount of holy water on Darla's face, which is hilarious, and Xander accidentally stakes Vamp Jesse (even though the stake was clearly pointing at roughly his collar bone, and the dude who knocked into him didn't even do it hard enough for the stake to break the skin, let alone get through ribs).
Luke reveals himself to be absurdly gullible, and Buffy stakes him. The Harvest has failed, and the world is saved. Cut to Angel walking out of a neighboring building in time to see the surviving vampires fleeing for their lives. He is very impressed with Buffy's efforts. It would appear that all the mild insults in his banter earlier were covering up a certain amount of admiration.
The next day at school, Cordelia has already forgotten that she was almost a giant fanged dude's dinner, and we are introduced to the idea that people in this town are extremely good at selective memory and rationalization. This irks me slightly. On the one hand, I realize that a huge part of the fun of urban fantasy is the underlying suggestion that all of this might actually be happening in our own world. In order to maintain that tantalizing idea, the general public in the fictional version of the modern world must be ignorant so that it more closely resembles the real world general public. On the other hand, it seems a bit lazy not to actually deal with the broader sociopolitical implications of a glaringly high mortality rate due to strange causes in such a small setting. Supernatural gets away with having an ignorant public because the weird deaths are spread out across the entire continental United States. Grimm gets away with it because normal people physically cannot perceive the supernatural beings, the main characters are the police, and the deaths usually resemble ordinary homicide closely enough not to raise too many questions. In the Buffyverse, though, it's just...willful ignorance? Okay...
I think "Welcome to the Hellmouth" was a slightly stronger episode than this one. This one has plot holes and other issues, which I will get into in the next section. However, it is a good second half to the story the first episode sets up. This is the episode where the core Scoobies become a united group. In the first episode, Buffy mostly had individual scenes with each of the other characters, but now they're all together in the library, working on Plot A. These four people already feel like a very strong unit. This group will be Buffy's one haven where Plot A and Plot B can safely coexist, and she can now pursue Plot A without feeling completely isolated.
I've seen the writer's commentary for this episode before, and I remember Joss talking about how they didn't have the bodies of the people who "died because Buffy got grounded" lying on the floor of the Bronze in that final wide shot because it would've ruined the triumph of the moment. I disagree. I think erasing those bodies like it's a video game and those people were meaningless NPC casualties lessens the impact of human death on this show. This was a bittersweet victory, illustrating the seriousness of Buffy's role as the Slayer. Erasing the collateral damage sets a dangerous precedent for the series. (And on a nit-pickier note, Buffy getting grounded delayed her for all of ten seconds. She arrived at the Bronze at the SAME TIME as the rest of the Scoobies. The bouncer and the blonde girl died because the Scoobies didn't figure out the key information about the Harvest in time to make it to the Bronze before sundown, not because Buffy got grounded.)
Now, the Buffyverse is still by far the most responsible piece of vampire fiction I've encountered when it comes to human death (True Blood fans, please feel free to comment about how that show handles these things, because I only ever got to the second episode of it). In The Vampire Diaries, humans die in nearly every episode, but the main characters only care if the people they know are the ones in danger. Half the time, they're actually the ones doing the killing. Twilight has an even more infuriating version of this problem: the "good" vampires have known about the operations of the evil vampires for countless years, and yet they have done nothing to thwart them. You can't play the "live and let live" game when the other guys AREN'T FREAKING LETTING PEOPLE LIVE. But this isn't the place for ranting about Twilight's problems, so I'll stop there.
The other significant problem isn't specifically with this episode, but this episode is the source, and there probably won't be any other good places to talk about it (also it's sort of related to the first problem). Jesse. After this episode, he is never mentioned again. This is a problem for two reasons. The first is that, to all appearances, Jesse has been friends with Xander and Willow for as long as they've been friends with each other. Sure, maybe Joss was going for a more lighthearted tone in season one, but when the lighthearted tone comes at the expense of not grieving a character this closely connected to two main characters, it feels a bit ghoulish. I would've been happy with a small, personal memorial scene at the beginning of episode 3 with only Willow and Xander present (something sweet and unofficial with lots of inside jokes), followed by the occasional mention of his name and somber exchange of glances. Do his parents even know he died? Will they just think he's missing forever? There are so many unanswered questions! Maybe his face could have shown up on milk cartons in subsequent episodes. Grieving Jesse would not have been difficult to do while still maintaining the show's tone.
The second reason it's a problem that Jesse never gets mentioned again is that he was the first vampire Xander staked. Xander's introduction to the supernatural world involved being forced to turn his best friend (and the only male friend he ever seems to have in the entire series) to dust. This should have had a noticeable lasting impact on him. It could have been the thing that made his issues with Angel seem legitimate and sympathetic, as opposed to being thinly disguised jealousy that eventually turns into stubborn pettiness.
Buffy is done trying to resist Plot A for the time being, partly because it is still fused with the aspects of Plot B that she cares about: a friend of hers is in danger, which automatically takes top priority. After everything that happened at her old school, she is perfectly willing to invite her new friends to join her in Plot A, just as long as they stay safe. Plot A is probably a safer place for them to be than Selective Memory Land, actually, but now it's clear that Buffy can still have friends and fight monsters. Academics will still be a struggle.
Willow is not just a static (if adorable) character anymore. She has survived a vampire attack, and it has put things into perspective for her. When Buffy met her, she had accepted her place in the school's pecking order. Cordelia and Harmony were at the top, and she was inevitably going to be picked on. But now she's met creatures that are actually above her on the food chain, so the Mean Girls don't scare her anymore. That's fantastic. Also I really enjoy her scenes with Giles. She has a clear place in this group.
Xander really wants to be part of Buffy's fight against evil, especially because his friend is one of the victims. As I already hinted at above, I think his is one of the weakest stories in this episode, and that is entirely due to his failure to be affected by Jesse's death as soon as he's dust. There was a great setup for this to be something he takes time to deal with, when he kicks the copier in the library and has a minor meltdown. But that's the most emotion we get out of him on the subject.
Giles's personality shines through a lot more in this one. He continues to be the primary exposition dispenser, but we learn of his hatred for computers and get to enjoy a lot more of his fumbling for words whenever these ridiculous teenagers throw him off-balance. We also catch our first glimpses of the fact that Giles is a huge geek for Plot A stuff. He likes being exposition guy to an almost irreverent degree, which is incredibly charming and makes the exposition itself a lot more fun. Xander is the only member of the core group he hasn't personally connected with yet. I'll be on the lookout for when that happens (wait, does that happen?).
Cordelia is both mean and superficial, but she is at least genre-savvy enough to get the heck out of there when the fanged monster's attention is no longer focused on her. Now that I think about it, I wonder if she actually forgot about almost getting killed by a vampire, or if she just decided that since she did in fact emerge unscathed, it wasn't something that was worth risking her social status for, so she just pretended to go along with the popular theories about rival gangs.
Angel has a name now! Oh well. Calling him Shadowy Mystery Guy was fun while it lasted. We learn a little bit more about him (such as that he's never really had a friend), but mostly leave with more questions about him, which was nicely done. The chemistry between Buffy and Angel is already growing, too. *cue shipper-y giddiness*
"Um, well, in-in a way. I sort of...stumbled onto them, when I accidentally decrypted the city council's security system."
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.