Buffy the Vampire Slayer 5x01 Review: Look at Them, the Children of the Night. What Ridiculous Stage Makeup They Have!
“Buffy vs. Dracula”
Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by David Solomon
Buffy is lying awake in bed next to a sleeping Riley. She gets up and heads out for an energetic, acrobatic bout of vampire slaying. Which she seems to quite enjoy. Then she goes home and gets back in bed. He’s still asleep, and he curls up around her.
Season five opening credits! Anya is in them too now.
The gang (minus Giles, unsurprisingly) is all at the beach, and Buffy makes Riley regret teasing her for her football throwing skills, and then Riley tackles her. They seem to be quite enjoying themselves. Xander, Anya, Willow, and Tara, meanwhile, prefer a more laid back approach to beach-going. Xander’s having a hard time getting a fire going in the firepit so they can cook burgers, so Willow helps out with magic! And then a big thunderstorm starts out of nowhere.
At a spooky castle that looks nothing like anything we’ve ever seen in Sunnydale, with the storm still raging, some guys unload a large crate of what seems to be dirt from the back of a truck. While they’re in the middle of doing a crappy job, a clawed hand bursts from inside the crate and slashes one of their throats open, and then breaks free of the crate entirely. We don’t get a good look at the stowaway, though.
At Giles’s flat, Willow is getting Giles set up with a fancy PowerBook G3 and a scanner. He seems to have changed his stance on computers slightly since “I Robot, You Jane.” Back then, he seemed indignant at the prospect of scanning ancient texts, but now he thinks it’s a necessary measure to protect the information in the books, because most of them have no duplicates. Willow doesn’t appreciate the prospect of busywork, but he guilts her into staying and helping. He swears Willow to secrecy, then tells her he’s going back to England, which is why he’s so keen to archive all this stuff. He doesn’t see himself as very necessary anymore. Willow finds this rather upsetting, which, yeah! Don’t leave, Giles!
Buffy is having dinner with her mom, who seems keen to keep her around. Buffy has to go patrolling, but she too thinks she and Joyce should try to spend more time together during her sophomore year. On patrol, she’s still having quite a good time. Then a cloud of mist condenses into a dude with pale skin and dark eye makeup. Buffy slays the vamp she’s fighting, then starts to leave, only to notice the shadowy guy watching her, who is also wearing a long black cape. He introduces himself. He’s Dracula. Buffy goes kinda fangirl about it, and she’s super flattered that he knows who she is, not just as the Slayer, but as Buffy Summers. He tells her that her power comes from darkness, but she’s more interested in fighting now. He keeps turning to mist when she lunges at him, which is rude.
Willow and Xander are walking through the cemetery, and Willow is trying to deal with Giles’s secret. She wants Xander’s help, but without actually telling him. They catch up to Buffy just when she’s trying to get a shot at Dracula and he keeps going misty. He wants them to leave, Xander mocks his accent, and then he turns into a bat and flies away.
At Giles’s flat, the three of them are excitedly telling the story of the Dracula encounter. Willow is officially helping out with the fangirling, and Riley isn’t very pleased with Buffy’s attitude. Tara’s a bit annoyed too. Anya tells them about the time she and Dracula used to hang out. Giles is enjoying the stories, and Willow tries rather unsubtly to make him feel included and necessary. In order to defeat Dracula, they’ll need to figure out what’s true about him and what’s fictional. They split up to tackle the research. Riley promises to meet Buffy in the morning with doughnuts.
Xander is walking Anya home, and she’s still reminiscing about Dracula, to his chagrin. Dracula is following them on the adjacent rooftops, in the form of a wolf. Once Anya heads off to her apartment, Dracula keeps following Xander. Then he materializes in front of him. Instead of reacting to Xander’s lame attempts at bravado, he uses mind control to make Xander his new mind puppet. The result is that Xander starts acting in a manner reminiscent of Mr. Collins when in the presence of Lady Catherine. How embarrassing for him.
Riley goes to Spike’s crypt. Spike emerges from the shadows with a crossbow. Riley wants information about Dracula, and he’ll pay for it. Spike isn’t a fan of Dracula. He owes Spike money and is a poncy famous git. Dracula being such an attention whore is why so many people (besides the Slayer) know how to kill vampires. And his special powers are some kind of Gypsy magic. Still, despite the scorn Spike feels for Dracula, he doesn’t think Riley stands a chance. He should go home and let Buffy handle him. They end up squaring off angrily, and Riley’s height means he wins that stare-off.
Dracula gets into Buffy’s bedroom by turning into mist, coming through the cracked window, and materializing again. He seems to think he and Buffy are kindred spirits, which she doesn’t like. He tells her to pull her hair away from her neck, and she does. This mind control is extremely irritating. He’s not even sexy. He’s creepy and over-the-top. He sits on her bed and strokes the scar on her neck. The scar from Angel’s bite. Dracula thinks the scar is from someone unworthy, and he can just SHUT UP RIGHT NOW. Buffy isn’t enjoying talking about Angel’s bite with Dracula, but his mind whammy is rather strong. He bites her, and she just sits there, seemingly torn between enjoyment and fear. Ugh, I freaking hate Dracula.
The next morning, Buffy wakes up. She checks her neck in the mirror and sees two little red dots on the edges of Angel’s bite scar. She puts a scarf over it. At Giles’s flat, Riley tries to tempt her with a doughnut, but Xander snatches it. He’s acting twitchy and weird and very pro-Dracula, but nobody seems to notice. Wow. Seems like the best places to look for Dracula are the biggest mansions. Willow gives them a breakdown of what she’s learned about Dracula’s M.O. He likes to forge a connection with his victims, and he uses mind control to help that along. Giles adds that this always ends with Dracula turning the victim into a vampire...once she wants it. Buffy’s trying to downplay how much Dracula affects her, but this bit catches her attention. Xander is being weirder and weirder, culminating in grabbing a spider and eating it. Buffy leaves, despite warnings from Riley and the others that she shouldn’t go unprepared.
Riley follows her and stops her in the courtyard. He insists she take off her scarf, having figured out she’s under Dracula’s thrall. She protests, but he pulls it off and sees the fresh bite marks. The others step outside and see too. She sits down, her head in her hands. She’s definitely under a certain amount of thrall. As is Xander, who grabs a bug and eats it. Riley is now trying not to show how insecure he feels. He thinks Buffy is drawn to Dracula because he’s like Angel. Buffy assures him that’s not true.
The new plan is that Giles and Riley will take point on the fight against Dracula, and Buffy will lie low. Willow asks how Dracula even got into Buffy’s room in the first place, and then we cut to Buffy’s house, where Joyce is explaining how she invited him in because he seemed normal. Um. Joyce? What is your definition of normal? Also she clearly hasn’t realized that Willow and Tara are a couple, because she dispenses some dating advice.
It’s sunset. ...The same sunset, in fact, that I’ve seen three times now. Wow, seriously?
Giles and Riley set out to check places Dracula might be. Meanwhile, at Xander’s basement, Xander is pacing, Anya is complaining, and Buffy is sitting quietly. Then Xander shuts Anya in the closet under the stairs and barricades the door, then informs Buffy that it’s time for her appointment with Dracula.
They arrive at the castle and head inside. Dracula dismisses Xander. Buffy whips out a stake, but then she puts it down when he tells her to. She’s suddenly worried she may have underestimated the strength of his thrall. Crap.
Giles and Riley find the castle, the existence of which baffles them a little. They head inside. A sexy vamp lady is lurking in the shadows. Riley runs into Xander, who won’t let him get near Dracula. Riley punches him in the face, and he drops. Hahaha. Giles falls into a cellar or something. The three brides of Dracula are in there, and they’re quite pleased with Giles’s company. One of them is pleased enough to rip his shirt open and straddle him.
Buffy is determined not to let Dracula get near her again, but the thrall is still working on her. He keeps talking like this is what she wants, and like she’s separate from her friends. Dangit, he’s like a campy, over-the-top version of Kilgrave. Controlling her and then insisting that she wants it. He slits his wrist open with a fingernail and offers it to her. She doesn’t want to drink it because she thinks it’ll make her a vampire, but she’s not close to death, so that won’t be a problem. He repeats the line from her dream in “Restless” (“You think you know. Who you are, what’s to come. You haven’t even begun.). She still looks really disturbed, but she pulls his wrist to her and tastes his blood. When she does, she sees flashes of the First Slayer and herself fighting. Then she pulls away and punches him across the room. Thrall broken, it seems. It’s kind of like how it was with the Master. He couldn’t control her once she came back to life, and now Dracula can’t control her after she’s tasted his blood. She starts beating him up, but he’s not a bad fighter.
Riley finds Giles and helps him get away from the three brides. Because he was so keen to leave.
Buffy is still fighting Dracula. She brandishes a torch at him and he mists out and reforms at the top of the stairs farther away. She drops the torch and books it over to where he’s materializing, grabbing the stake on the way. She stakes him and he collapses and dusts. She walks down the stairs. Riley and Giles catch up with her, and then Xander comes running in. He does not appreciate being made Dracula’s manservant, and he’s officially tired of getting crapped on. Giles is very sheepish about how things went with the brides, and Riley is not above mocking him for it.
After they leave, Dracula’s dust starts to rise up and turn back into Dracula, but Buffy stakes him again the second he’s back. She’s seen his movies. She knows the tricks. He starts to come back again, but she points out that she’s still there, and he stops.
The next day at Giles’s flat, Buffy is there because Giles has something to tell her. And she is wearing the most hideous top.
She has something to tell him too. He lets her go first. She wants him to start training her again. She’s been hunting vampires every night ever since the spell in “Primeval.” She wants to understand her power better, and for that, she needs Giles’s help and guidance. He’s perfectly willing to do that, and the news that he’s needed, by her, is extremely welcome.
Buffy’s at home, but she’s about to head out for a movie date with Riley. She heads to her room, and an unfamiliar girl is standing in there. Joyce calls from her own room that Buffy should take her sister with her to the movie. Buffy and the girl both protest loudly, with a simultaneous, multi-syllabled “Mom?!” Wait...what?
I do not like “Buffy vs. Dracula,” but I get the impression that I’m kind of the exception there. My main complaint is against Dracula himself. Why did they have to go the super campy route? Why couldn’t he have been formidable and actually sexy, like he is in Van Helsing? (Yes, I’m also aware that I’m in the minority about Van Helsing, but I won’t apologize for liking that movie.) The whole thrall thing is incredibly frustrating, too, and even though I can come up with an explanation for why it suddenly stopped working on Buffy, I’m not sure that was a very strong move on the writers’ part. It could have been clearer. At least he was only in this one episode. A different take on Dracula could have made him worthy of more screentime than that, but instead he ends up a tacky one-shot villain. I do like the idea that Buffy wants to know more about her power and start training with Giles again, but I think they could’ve come up with a less annoying way of bringing her to that conclusion. The one thing I do like is the unexpected arrival of Dawn. The way Buffy and Joyce act like that’s not unusual at all is just brilliant, because we the viewers are left alone in our confusion. Ciao! I’m gonna go watch Van Helsing now.
I’m fascinated by the change in Buffy’s attitude about slaying. At first, she only did it grudgingly. Then, she accepted that it was a thing she needed to do, and support from the Scoobies made that easier. She briefly played with the idea that it might be something she actually enjoys while fighting side-by-side with Faith, but then seemed to decide that it was wrong to enjoy it. Now she’s spent every night of the entire summer hunting demons, and clearly she’s not entirely comfortable with how much she enjoys it, or she would’ve told someone already. By the end of the episode, she’s ready to embrace that, which she proves by telling Giles and asking him to help her gain a better understanding of her nature as a Slayer. I think Dracula was full of crap, though. You can’t swoop in with the mind control and then act like your target’s desperate desire for you is coming from them. So I don’t think he was necessarily correct about there being this darkness inside Buffy. I just think she’s not the kind of person who is comfortable acknowledging her own power or seeking more power, but now she thinks she’s ready for it.
Xander got a really raw deal in this episode. I’m not sure I believe that he’s weak-willed enough to just get his mind plowed over by Dracula with a single command. I think the episode could have been improved if we’d seen Dracula really have to struggle at first to get Xander under his control, and Xander fighting against that control the whole time.
Willow spends as much of the episode attracted to Dracula as Buffy, which lends credence to my theory that she isn’t a lesbian so much as she’s pansexual. For her, it’s not about gender. She fell for “Malcolm” in “I Robot, You Jane” without ever seeing him; her attraction to him was purely based on apparent mental compatibility. She had a lifelong crush on Xander and apparently had a crush on Giles for a while during high school, and was deeply in love with Oz. Now, she’s been with Tara for several months, but she’s not immune to attractive males. I think part of her interest in Dracula is from his thrall, but not all of it. I doubt the thrall would work without something to latch onto.
Riley doesn’t appear to be affiliated with the military anymore. There hasn’t been an indicator yet of what he’s doing with his life now. Does he even know? In terms of his relationship with Buffy, he’s showing signs of insecurity and fear of being inadequate. He’s making a much stronger connection between vampire bites and sexuality than Buffy seems willing to acknowledge, and he’s letting that get to him, because if Buffy has a bite fetish, then it’s not exactly one he’s equipped to satisfy.
Anya is in the credits now, but she didn’t really do anything we haven’t already seen her do. She continues to be pretty unapologetic about her demon days, and even though she usually thinks of the work she did in vengeance as necessary and right, she also doesn’t shy away from the “evil” label when it crops up.
Spike is still living in his crypt, and apparently he’s received regular unwelcome visitors in the form of demons who want him dead. Or maybe he’s just talking himself up. I kind of doubt many demons would care enough about him to actually go looking for him. He definitely still isn’t happy about not being able to attack humans, or that he’s at the mercy of the Scoobies. It doesn’t seem like he’s had much contact with the Scoobies over the summer.
What does Giles have going on back in England that would make him want to return home? Even though he isn’t as involved as he was during Buffy’s high school years, doesn’t he still enjoy living on the Hellmouth and puzzling out the threats it produces? Isn’t this still the best way to be front and center in the supernatural world? There isn’t a Hellmouth in England. Why would Giles want to be there? Thank goodness Buffy was able to give him a reason to stay, but without knowing he was planning to leave, she doesn’t realize that’s a possibility and she can’t address it.
“I’ve lived in Sunnydale a couple of years now, and you know what I’ve never noticed before?”
“A big, honkin’ castle.”
“Good show, Giles. At least you didn’t get knocked out for a change.”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.