Buffy 1×01: Welcome to the Hellmouth

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Charles Martin Smith | Aired: 03/10/1997]

[Introduction]

Welcome to my analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Without reservation I will say that this is easily my favorite television show, and I hope that you’ll feel my love for it even when I put it under the microscope. For this critic, the elements that are the most exciting in television are great characterization, rich and relatable themes, and strong emotional resonance. It’s these very elements that will be the focus of my evaluation of each episode and season to come. It so happens that they are also what Buffy is the best out there at accomplishing.

You’ve probably noticed that ‘great plots’ aren’t on that list. This is because, in my opinion, plot should be used primarily to service the characters, and not the other way around. As long as a plot serves that end, I won’t care all that much if it’s not all that strong. Inventive and/or structurally daring plots are neat – and will be recognized when they occur – but are ultimately emotionally hollow if they don’t service the characters and themes. This doesn’t mean I will ignore plot problems, but rather that they won’t weigh as heavily as the other elements in my evaluation.

Throughout these reviews I will undoubtedly have some opinions that you don’t agree with. It is my hope that despite this, the arguments I put forth will derive from an accurate reading or interpretation of the text of the show, and will be very clearly reasoned. Even if you don’t agree with me, I genuinely hope that you at least understand where I’m coming from, and how I reached those conclusions. With all that necessary setup out of the way, let’s get this party started!

 


[Art via Metaphor]

In Buffy‘s early seasons the phrase ‘high school is hell’ is thrown around a lot to describe what Buffy is about. It’s important to take a moment to ask what that means, exactly. I believe that it is alluding to the reality that high school takes place at the end of childhood, and the beginning of adolescence (I’m aware that this can vary a bit per location). The point is that it takes place during a transitional phase in life – a phase where internally, and sometimes even externally, a battle is being waged to shape who you are going to become as an adult.

Buffy is a show that uses the supernatural as metaphor for this very natural journey. When the show looks at the traumas of growing up, it’s rendered with vampires, demons, and various hellish monsters. While these creatures certainly serve as enemies Buffy must defeat within the plot of the show, the subtext is always that she does this to grow up – the monsters are obstacles, or fears, standing in her way of becoming an adult, and the bigger the evil (i.e. the Big Bad), the bigger the obstacle. That is why the Hellmouth itself can be thought of as an obstacle generator. Only when the Hellmouth is closed will Buffy finally be fully self-aware; only then will she finally be an adult. This makes each episode, and each season, a path to that end.

It’s with this framework that we can begin understanding what makes Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a special show, and is something to keep in mind when watching every single episode.

 


[Review]

Series premieres are a tough cookie, much like (but in most ways less tricky than) series finales. While “Welcome to the Hellmouth” is not the very best series premiere I’ve ever seen, it is still pretty darn good, and certainly better than most out there. The key things the episode does right (in no order) are (1) establish a set of likeable characters with some depth and/or the growth potential, (2) establish its own voice with very fun, snappy dialogue, (3) set up some thematic underpinnings that will fuel the show as a whole for a long time to come, but also more immediately in this inaugural season, and (4) set up the basic framework under which the entire series tells its stories.

Season 1 fits into this paradigm by introducing us to a girl who is still very much a child. Buffy Summers, our beautiful, quirky, good-hearted lead character, is frightened of growing up, and is trying her best to flee the responsibilities and horrors (of adolescence) that await her. Her subconscious keeps warning that she can’t outrun the inevitable in the form of prophetic nightmares, but no matter how much she wants to avoid it, trouble keeps finding her.

When Buffy meets Giles (the librarian at her new school), nearly the very first thing he does is slam a Vampyr book down in front of her. Buffy’s reaction is telling: fearful and fleeing. Later on, Giles even begins lecturing her about responsibility and duty. These are not things that Buffy, the child, wants to hear. She wants to be taken care of, have some fun, and for life to be relatively simple, and being the Slayer feels like an affront to those desires. Beyond the obvious, what does being called as the Slayer represent? It represents being called to grow up and not remain an eternal child (as some people actually do). With this in mind, Season 1 chronicles Buffy’s final days as a child, with the tumultuous winds of adolescence threatening her with increasing frequency throughout the season, and striking the final blow in “Prophecy Girl” [1×12].

No matter how much Buffy wants to stay away from all this slayer stuff, she can’t help but get pulled right back in when she investigates a death on campus. Buffy’s an inherently good person that can’t turn a blind eye when she’s capable of helping people. But that’s not the whole truth, because a part of her is a little enticed by this world and her own power — it makes her different; special; unique. Giles even calls her on this alleged contradiction later, in the library (“then why are you here?”).

The scenes between Buffy and Giles provide a foundation for “Welcome to the Hellmouth.” This is the most evident in their scene on the balcony at the Bronze. After Giles prods her a bit, Buffy admits an envy of the crowd’s ignorance below – they are unaware of the danger that surrounds them. It’s interesting that Buffy is perched above said crowd, thus symbolizing that she also feels superior to them (in both strength and knowledge), even if she doesn’t say it. Being the Slayer leads to an isolation that makes her feel special, which is at odds with her desire for connection. This is why she is envious of the crowd – connection seems simpler for them. But Buffy hasn’t figured any of this out yet, and it will be an internal struggle years in the making to do so (see “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07]). Giles is right when he says there is “so much you don’t know about them [vampires], about your own powers.” Buffy has a lot to learn in the coming years, and a lot of growing up to do.

Let’s rewind back to the very first scene of the episode (and the series), because it introduces us to the subversive nature of the show. One would expect – based on both conditioning and the way the characters are acting – that the blond girl is about to be the victim of the ‘bad boy’ who has lured her into the school for mischief. Instead, the girl turns out to be the 400 year-old vampire Darla, who takes him out. The expectation has been subverted, and it won’t be the last time. This scene is a very representative moment of the show, and is a wonderful taste of how it is going to do things on its own terms.

Buffy as a character is defined by subversion. Joss Whedon initially designed her to upend the trope of the helpless blond girl getting slaughtered in horror movies. We see this play out when Giles tells her, amusingly, to “hone” her senses to locate a vampire in the crowd – something that is and will be effective for her down the road. Instead of tapping into some buried supernatural instinct, though, she immediately spots a vampire using a personal instinct instead: recognizing outdated clothing. This conversation gives us a hint of what will make Buffy a unique slayer: she doesn’t generally submit, but rather subverts! She does this using her power – both external and internal – in new and unexpected ways, but almost always for the better.

All this talk about subversion nicely leads us to the villains of the piece. The Master and his followers – while admittedly pretty corny – very much represent ‘the old.’ You see, this group of vampires – the Order of Aurelius – is trying to instigate the return of the old ones. While they wait for their moment, they live below ground and only go up to feed or make more of their kind. Buffy, as a character and as a show, relish reexamining and questioning the validity of the outdated and the old in the myriad of forms they might appear. This is why Buffy will defeat the Master in “Prophecy Girl” [1×12], and why Spike will gloriously scorch the Anointed One in “School Hard” [2×03] with a proclamation about less ritual and more fun. Down the road, we also see how this theme ties into the patriarchal nature of the Watcher’s Council and the extent of Giles’ involvement in it. All the seeds are planted right here, in “Welcome to the Hellmouth.”

For me a show is only as good as its characters. This is an area where a lot of other quality shows often end up falling short. Without being able to understand and identify with anyone, it’s difficult to emotionally invest in anything that’s happening. Fortunately, we all know that the core characters of Buffy will evolve into tremendously complex and well-developed adults. What we see here in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” are mere children; children that are completely innocent and ignorant of both the horrors and wonders that lie ahead of them. Although Buffy is quickly established as a three-dimensional character, what about the supporting cast? Well, they sadly don’t get the same treatment that Buffy does, but they are still drawn well enough to keep things interesting. The best thing “Welcome to the Hellmouth” does for them is plant the seeds of future growth. I admit that if that growth had never been capitalized on, it would leave the episode hanging. Thankfully this is not the case!

The introductions to the characters aren’t exactly mind-blowing, but they’re at least entertaining. Take the first conversation between Xander and Willow, which smoothly establishes several interesting characteristics about both of them. We find out that Xander has the hots for Buffy, seems like a decent friend to Willow, but is also bumbling and a little selfish. Willow’s both smart and adorable, yet also unassertive, naïve, and a little too easily influenced by others. The dialogue between the characters – while not quite fully refined yet – is snappy, playful, and fun. Jesse is… there, until he’s not. In all, we get a good amount of background information in a very brief scene. Well done.

Buffy first meets Xander right after meeting Principal Flutie, and it’s telling that his first words to her are “can I have you?” This little statement speaks to early-series Xander quite succinctly, setting up his hopeless romantic pursuit of Buffy throughout Season 1. Giles, by himself, comes off as a little one-dimensional in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” with a stuffy British stereotype being his defining characteristic. In the early going it’s his interaction with Buffy that keeps him relevant.

Cordelia, even more so than Giles, starts off very one-dimensional, but is connected to Buffy in ways that aren’t initially obvious. Shortly after they meet, Cordelia tells Buffy, “If you stick by me and my kind, you’ll be accepted in no time.” What’s really being said here is that if Buffy wants to “be accepted,” she’ll have to embrace her superficial past. Unfortunately for Cordelia, being the Slayer makes Buffy an outsider, something that pulls her towards more noble and mature pursuits. This, by necessity, alienates her from the popular crowd, and is why Buffy disregards Cordelia’s warning about Willow, befriending her anyway. The takeaway here is that Cordelia is used to show us what Buffy used to be like, and what she can again become if she chooses to be too vain and self-serving. The frequent sacrifices required of the Slayer make going that route highly unlikely though. What all this means is that Cordelia’s in a unique position to give us insight into Buffy that no one else can. Cordelia’s not much of character at this point, but she’ll have increasing value as the show grows.

It’s important to take a moment to say that all the actors do a fabulous job with their roles here (outside of David Boreanaz). Sarah Michelle Gellar is particularly comfortable, largely carrying the episode with an effortless performance and tremendous screen presence. Gellar is a very talented face actor, able to convey genuine emotional depth with her eyes and lips. A few instances aside, Gellar will always have my full attention when she’s on screen, from “Welcome to the Hellmouth” all the way to “Chosen” [7×22].

The plot of “Welcome to the Hellmouth” isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but there’s an aspect to it that I find quite fresh: it ditches the traditional origin story; Buffy enters the show already knowing that she’s the Slayer! I think this is a really clever twist on the conventional genre pilot episode. Normally there’s a big deal made about the lead character finding out they, or those around them, have supernatural powers. On Buffy, though, our introduction is essentially the second chapter of Buffy’s story. It’s not only unusual, but I think it is one big reason why “Welcome to the Hellmouth” is allowed to breathe a bit — why it’s able to explore the character of Buffy with more depth than you’d expect from a premiere. This is not to say doing it this way is always better, as there’s a certain energy that is gained from showing a character’s origin story, but for the kind of show Buffy ends up being, picking character depth over plot energy works quite well.

Unfortunately, as solid as “Welcome to the Hellmouth” is, it isn’t without flaws. The music (score) is just terrible – it’s corny, overly synthesized, and trying way too hard to be surprising and suspenseful, making it neither surprising nor suspenseful in the process. The production values are mediocre at best, the villains are extremely one-note and trite (which becomes a bigger problem in “The Harvest” [1×02]), and all the characters not named Buffy, Willow, and Xander are not given very much depth.

Despite these flaws, which take the episode down a peg, it gets the most important things right. At the end of the day the plot takes a back seat in “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” which is precisely why it works. It launches this wonderful show on the right foot by being fun, having decent thematic relevance, putting its lead character under the microscope, and giving the other core characters some foundation. Funny, likeable characters will take you a long way, and that is certainly true here. This is a very good start to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let the journey begin!

 


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ The first character we see and hear in the entire series is Darla! How funny is that?
+ Principal Flutie ripping up Buffy’s report card only to hilariously tape it back together again, one piece at a time.
+ The library set is quite charming.
+ Buffy and Willow’s brown bag lunch conversation is both useful for introduction purposes, but also quite cute and fun.
+ Buffy breaking into the locker room with brute strength. As she’ll say in “Anne” [3×01]: “Oh, I just suck at undercover.”
+ Xander’s confusion (“what!?”) at learning about Buffy’s world is very much representative of the fact that he is lagging behind her in maturity, and will always be struggling to catch up with her until very late in the show.
+ Buffy’s frustration with the available clothing options for her first appearance at the Bronze.
+ Buffy pinning Cordelia to a wall, thus establishing their rocky friendship to come.
+ Buffy being so calm and casual walking around several vampires at the end of the episode.

– The locker room scream scene features a great scream, but some cringe-worthy dialogue that is dissonant with how people talk after this episode.
– David Boreanaz really can’t act very well at this point; kudos to him for actually improving.
– For someone as shy and bookworm-y as Willow, it doesn’t feel all that realistic for Willow to even want to be at the Bronze. Wouldn’t she rather be at home reading, watching a show, or using the computer (which, to least to me, still sounds like more fun than any kind of club)?
– It’s a shame how pathetic Darla comes across here in light of what’s to come.
– Luke’s exposition-heavy speechifying gets old really fast, but is more of a problem in “The Harvest” [1×02].
– A pretty lame cliffhanger ending. As if the corny Luke is really going to kill the lead character in the first episode! Ha!


Foreshadowing

* Buffy’s prophetic dream! This dream not only has actual clips from most Season 1 episodes, but is also indicative of a series-wide ability that Buffy will come to rely on.
* Cordelia says “I’d kill to live in L.A.!” Well, after Season 3, she moves there and ends up helping Angel “kill” things to make a living.
* The gift Angel gives Buffy – a cross – is a hint of his vampirism (which shows up in “Angel” [1×07]), will later become a symbol of their upcoming relationship and romance (making an important appearance in “Innocence” [2×14]), and is a persistent representation of her sacrificial burden.
* Buffy’s advice to “seize the moment, ‘cause tomorrow you might be dead” – while understandable at this point — is given to an all-too easily influenced Willow who ends up getting herself into trouble. More importantly, it’s this very advice that causes Buffy to pull the trigger on her relationship with Angel in “Surprise” [2×13], thereby setting off a chain of events that will forever change her life.


[Score]

85/100

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78 thoughts on “Buffy 1×01: Welcome to the Hellmouth”

  1. [Note: Jamie Oliver posted this comment on July 29, 2006.]

    Although by no means a perfect episode. It is a strong start and is rarely dull. Characterisation is perfect from the start apart from Darla but she develops later in the season. It is great to see someone review this series properly rather than some of the poor reviews on other sites. Well done.

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  2. [Note: Amy posted this comment on August 3, 2006.]

    About the music, are you talking the background music or the Bronze music? Because, to be honest, I really liked the Bronze music from this season. I was even hoping I could find a list of it somewhere.

    Anyway, I have to say I love the way this episode was set up, especially with our introduction to Darla. At first you think she’s the typical soon-to-be-dead schoolgirl afraid of monsters, and then you discover she’s the monster. Just the first example in a long line of Joss’s infamous genre benders.

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  3. [Note: bjarmson posted this comment on November 4, 2006.]

    It’s by no means a fully mature episode of Buffy, but there are a lot of things to like about it. The acting by all the principals (including Principal Flutie) is very good right from the start. The dialogue is far above what is found on even good shows.
    A few throw-away moments define just how good this show would become. In the girls locker room scene two girls are dicussing the new girl, Buffy, and one says, “What kind of a name is Buffy anyway?” Then says “Hi Aphrodesia” to another girl, and mentions something her friend Blue said. Later Cordelia mentions her name, Aura. Absolutely hilarious dialogue, that on most shows would be banal filler (is Joss “The Man” or what). A second moment is the first get together of the Scoobies in the schoolyard. Xander starts babbling on about how he and Buffy are old friends (they met in the hallway earlier), and Jesse (his best line) says “is it me or are you babbling,” to which Xander replies, “it’s you.” Also Buffy’s meeting with Principal Flutie and her interactions with her mother are subtle, funny, and flawlessly acted. Altogether about as good as it could probably get for a first show on a miniscule budget.

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  4. [Note: ali posted this comment on February 18, 2007.]

    I love the pilot. I think that for a first episode the pilot did a very good job. The charcters were introduced very well, each one of them got a specfic role and characteristic that remain constant through the show.
    Dont get me wrong the charecters evolve alot thourgh the show but they still kept their uniqe charectaristic.
    The main theme of the show was also well intreduced and brought up a very powerfull issues such as frindship, sacrifice good versus evil, responsibilty and more. The pilot stresses that not everything we see is what it is, darla is actually the predator and buffy the blonde tiny girl is the protector, the hero.

    The pilot greatest succses is that it made me care for the charecters and wanting to discover more about them and that’s the biggest succses of any pilot. This is defentlly the best pilot of the best tv show i ever see!!.

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  5. [Note: Tranquillity posted this comment on April 22, 2007.]

    Interesting that you mention the music as, on my most recent re-veiwing of season one i found the background music downright bizarre! It is just so cheesy how almost every episode in season one ends with ‘feel-good’ ‘everything’s ok’ music – Thank goodness this particular feature dissapeared after a short while!

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  6. [Note: Latoya posted this comment on May 1, 2007.]

    I loved how Xander reacted to Buffy. He was skate boarding, easily making his way through the crowd and then spots her walking. He keeps his eyes completely fixed on her with a love/lust at first sight thing. And then goes right into the school railings. And the Freudian slip when he bumps into her later. He meant to say “Can I help you?” and insteand says “Can I have you?”.

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  7. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on October 3, 2007.]

    I love this episode. For a pilot, this is very entertaining. We meet the characters (they are so cute here!) and we immediately fall in love with them and the show. The dialogue is amazing. I had a lot of fun rewatching this one again. Buffy and Willow are the cutest.

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  8. [Note: XenaGuy posted this comment on March 23, 2008.]

    Hmmm … I didn’t “copy my comment in case of failure”, and it got lost …

    Basically, I included this quote … “The acting by all the principals (including Principal Flutie) is very good right from the start.”

    I agree with all except Nick Brendon, who I think started the series with as much polish as your typical high-school actor in an amateur play.

    Example: “You dropped your-r-r-r … stake?” That delivery dropped me right out of the story. His improvement in the first two seasons was noticeable, and by Season 2’s end, he was quite respectable. This is not a knock on Nick, I’m a fan. But, face it, compared to the rest of the cast, he was a novice actor when the show was cast.

    Otherwise, I loved the pilot, the Darla twist was one I didn’t see coming at all, and the main characters grabbed me from the beginning scene.

    I didn’t care for The Master’s presence though, I normally don’t like SuperVillians that are relatively powerless. It’s like, why kowtow to him? What can he do if you tell him to take a hike?

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  9. [Note: Ray posted this comment on July 27, 2008.]

    When I first started watching Buffy (on a formal basis) I decided to watch it from the beginning and to be honest, this episode wasn’t disappointing at all. Sprung Monkey’s performance at the Bronze both rocked and was very fitting (“Oh, I just wanna believe, can you hear me, can you see me, what’s inside of me, oh, I just want to believe, if my life it has a purpose, help me to believe”).

    Pilot episodes usually aren’t the strongest of many series’, being because they have the difficult job of drawing in the viewers, setting the atmosphere, introducing the characters and the premise of the show while still being entertaining and not overloading.

    As far as the cons go, I actually thought the beginning dream sequence with the angel’s statue, cemetery, books, cross, and the Master (the Master isn’t really that scary but he’s hilarious) was actually pretty cool. I can see why you feel they’re hokey, but I hope we can at least agree that it’s not as hokey as, say, the Knights of Byzantium :-p…

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  10. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 27, 2008.]

    As you’ll notice in my review of “Spiral,” I don’t let the Knights off the hook in the slightest. 🙂

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  11. [Note: PV2H posted this comment on March 14, 2009.]

    Another one of my favorite quotes, after Buffy kicks Darla’s butt:
    “You know, I just wanted to start over. Move to a new town, make some new friends, maybe a dog. But no, you had to come here. You couldn’t go suck on some other town.” LOL

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  12. [Note: Ursus posted this comment on March 14, 2009.]

    Isn’t it weird that the “Jesse” character is supposed to have been Willow and Xander’s best friend for years- but when he turns into a vamp he gets dispatched without any remorse, and is never mentioned again?

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  13. [Note: Sam posted this comment on May 3, 2009.]

    I agree with the B+ grade on this. I think it’s a very good start to the series, with good portions of snappy dialogue and good character development.

    One of the things that always cracks me up about this episode, though? Take a look at the first picture. It’s a cap of the scene where Buffy corners Angel in the dark alley on her way to the Bronze on the night after her first day at school. Yet you can clearly see that the “alley” is actually a warehouse–because one of the gates is open and it’s daylight outside! It’s another one of the charming examples of the shoestring budget of the first season. Another good example is in “Nightmares” when Buffy is taking the test in the classroom and she doesn’t know any of the questions. Look at the wall behind the students–it’s another warehouse room. Classrooms don’t look like that. 🙂

    Anyway, I’m glad the show was renewed and given bigger budgets so they could avoid stuff like that.

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  14. [Note: Kate posted this comment on August 4, 2009.]

    noone can really insult this episode. In theory, without this episode, we wouldn’t have any others. In theory, because of course they could have another start episode….whatever.

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  15. [Note: Smallprint84 posted this comment on March 2, 2010.]

    Hey did you realize that the boy Darla killed in the teaser (when they brake inside the school) is Carmine Giovinazzo!!! (who is now a great actor in CSI-NY as Danny Messer). So cool, one of his very first roles. BtVS has been such a great career dive for many actors.

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  16. [Note: AttackedWithHummus posted this comment on March 22, 2010.]

    To add on to the Angel-is-a-vampie foreshadowing, he also says (after Buffy knocks him down) “I don’t bite,” another hint.

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  17. [Note: AttackedWithHummus posted this comment on March 28, 2010.]

    I only knew about his being a vampire when I started watching because I didn’t watch when it was first on (and after season 1 Angel was just a known vampire in the general pop-culture-verse) so I could never come at it from an unknowing perspective. I only want to give credit for some good foreshadowing in the first few episodes. Plus, you have to appreciate the awesomeness of the reveal in “Angel” (1×07).

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  18. [Note: pigface posted this comment on March 31, 2010.]

    Of course 🙂 Love the way how we got the hints in little perfect doses and then… wow! shocking. Even I was shocked.

    (Im a huge fan of Buffy series. Lately I started Angel too… OMG ^^ I adore Joss Whedon!!!)

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  19. [Note: Lizzie posted this comment on July 22, 2010.]

    This is the only show where the characters feel like real people. The dialog is so realistic and witty, that it overshadows any plot flaw that season 1 had.

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  20. [Note: Adda posted this comment on July 28, 2010.]

    Great reviews! Love reding them! But I Have som more foreshadowing for you: In the first scene in the Bronze, Buffy says to Giles: “I didn’t say I’d never slay another vampire. It’s not like I have these fluffy bunny feelings for them”, something to hint to her relationship with Angel, end even at some degree with Spike!

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  21. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 28, 2010.]

    ADMIN NOTE: This episode review has been completely rewritten. In light of this, references to the old review have been edited out of the the above comments.

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  22. [Note: DarthMarion posted this comment on August 28, 2010.]

    Great rereview!

    You killed me with the description of the Bronze scene and the parallel with CWDP, you made my day!

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  23. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on August 29, 2010.]

    mike, great job. This re-review is amazing and I love how you´re picking on things from later seasons. This is the amazing thing about rewatching: we´re always finding and adding new layers.

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  24. [Note: Topdeck posted this comment on August 31, 2010.]

    Great rewrite, this is much better than the original review. I think in the quotes section though you’re missing Buffy’s punchline when she and Willow are talking about boys –

    WILLOW: I think boys are more interested in a girl who can talk

    BUFFY: You really haven’t been dating lately.

    Great work, keep it up.

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  25. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on September 10, 2010.]

    I recall watching this 14 years ago. I hadn’t seen the movie. I immediately thought “Clueless with vampires.” Not a bad first guess — Clueless turned out to have some depth and character development underneath its blonde Valley Girl exterior, and Clueless was also lovingly executed.

    It quickly became apparent to me that the Clueless take wasn’t quite right in that Clueless was all about Alicia, and BvTS despite its name was an ensemble show. Also, the show exhibited enough of its taste for blood, sex, and ritual to establish that it might have borrowed some of its sprightly tone from Clueless (or maybe Clueless borrowed from BvTS the movie, whatever) but that it was heading into very different territory. In Clueless, social commentary and conventional love were the story’s heart. With BvTS, those two items were the tease, with the real subject being the dark wet primal painful stuff.

    As commented elsewhere, the turn-the-tables opening of the apparently weak and helpless Darla on the tall strong handsome brave man set the perfect tone. This series was going to subvert our expectations. I also remember being surprised at the physicality — the violence was a bit more than I expected with Buffy banging hard off the walls, and tossed into the vault.

    This show was the first chapter of The Hobbit. An introductory passage to a tale that would ultimately become far darker, deeper, and murkier than the author himself expected.

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  26. [Note: Michael Carruthers posted this comment on September 16, 2010.]

    Great site you have here — I’m currently re-watching Bufy, far and away my favourite show, from the beginning, and I’ll come here to read your reviews after I’ve watched the episodes…

    Great review here. You pretty much explained everything I liked about the episode. The reason this episode is so much better than the mediocre one following is the focus on the characters and setting up mission statements for the series. Watching the characters interact for the first time is so nostalgic for a long-time fan of the series. Better than any amount of silly rituals!

    This episode kept it to a minimum and was better for it. The scenes involving the Order of Aurelius, while not exactly good, didn’t stand out as being terrible like they do in the following episode.

    I also love Buffy’s “oh, great” when she realises the guy in the locker was killed by a vamp 🙂 For some reason I just find that really funny.

    Again, really good observations here, especially with regard to the early signs of character development (Buffy caring/not caring etc).

    My rating: 85/100. Pretty close

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  27. [Note: Sam L posted this comment on October 14, 2010.]

    Hey Mike. Thanks for starting the grade tweaking process. I have to say that I’m thrilled with the 88 score, as it’s exactly how I feel, too. It’s a terrific start to the series, despite the uselessness of the Jesse character.

    Favorite line — I just wanted to start over. You know, make some new friends, maybe get a dog, but no. You had to come here, you couldn’t go suck on some other town.

    NOTE: This is right after she beats up Darla, so I guess your point about “The Freshman” is stronger than I originally thought.

    Anyway, kudos. I miss being on the board. 🙂

    Like

  28. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on February 4, 2011.]

    This episode gets a P from me. In and of itself, is it one of the best Buffy episodes? No. But it is the first episode (other pilot excluded) of the best show ever put on TV. I watch this series over and over from Episode 1 to Episode 144. When I get back to Welcome to the Hellmouth I get excited knowing I have the whole series to watch all over again. So is it a false “P” that I’d give this episode. Yes but it still gets it from me.

    I love being introduced to the Scoobies all fresh faced and immature. Knowing what they mature into makes me all tingly. They are all still the same as they are at the end of the series. Just shows the brilliance of the writing. They managed to have the characters mature in a meaningful way. They keep the personality traits that make them who they are while still having them grow. Much like real people. It’s just so great and this episode reminds me of it every time.

    I loved Buffy’s begrudging acceptance of her slayer duty — kicked into gear when her new friend Willow is in trouble. Even then Buffy was a loyal person.

    I don’t think that Whedon went overboard with the Giles as stuffy librarian. I think that is who he is at the beginning of the series. While we know now about his troubled past, I think that by the time he is Buffy’s watcher he is just that – a stuffy British watcher. I think the dynamics with the Scoobies caused him to be a looser Giles.

    The only real complaint that I have about the show is the way that Angel acts. It just doesn’t seem in character (not to mention the bad acting by David — who really does get much better later on). I love when Buffy says to Giles “I really didn’t like that guy”. LOL

    Like

  29. [Note: luv2hike posted this comment on March 8, 2011.]

    Just found your site. Buffy fan for years and am in process of rewatching the entire series on DVD (again) with my wife. We just started season 6 after starting with the Pilot several months ago. It gets better, deeper, and more entertaining with each viewing.

    Your reviews from what I’ve read (just hit & miss samples of each season so far) are amazing. You have a keen eye and seem to grasp the beautiful morality allegory that is BtVS to perfection. Thanks!

    Like

  30. [Note: Moses posted this comment on March 26, 2011.]

    Dude, I love this site. I have been a hardcore Buffy fan since I watched this episode when it first aired.

    You are “Right On” with staying that Buffy has captured our hearts because of the “core characters” and “ strong thematics”. This is what makes Joss and the gang master storyteller compared to the hacks dominating television today. There are not many shows I would re-watch.

    What I love about this pilot is the setup for the whole Buffyverse mythos. What I identify most with the show is Buffy’s internal tension of being “The Chosen One”, and yet, just wanting to be a normal sixteen year old girl. Now, I’m neither a Slayer, nor a sixteen year girl, but I can understand how it’s feels to be an outcast (Geeky, Latino, Christian) in school and just wanting to be a normal kid. Buffy has helped me deal with, and accept my outcast-ness. And in accepting this I have found my own particular “Chosen One” status in life that is not so very different than Buffy’s.

    The show has lasted the test of time because people are able to identify with one or more of the characters. The more I watch the series, the less I care about the Supernatural threats, and the more I care about the characters. I can’t help it. I’m obsessed!! I have started to re-watch the whole show and it only gets better.

    One thing I missed was being able to interact with others who watched the show when it originally aired. So I’m so overjoyed to find this site and be able to read older post, and to interact with others as I re-watch the series. Thank you so much for such a professional site.

    And now back to watching Mamacita Buffy kick Evil’s ASS!!

    Like

  31. [Note: josh posted this comment on August 5, 2011.]

    Random crazy thought: when Giles says he picked the “calendar”, do you think that’s foreshadowing? Too much of a stretch?

    Like

  32. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 7, 2011.]

    This is one of my favourite episodes. I rank as third in my top ten. The reason for this is purely because of its brilliance. What an opener!

    One of the things i love about this episode is that as an audience we aren’t patronised. We aren’t given a dumb down explanation as whats going on and what a vampire is instead we are allowed the respect of being able to follow the plot and the situation with some impressive and witty dialogue – something the show is praised for. This waste no time take on things allows to meet and get to know not only Buffy but her core best buds!

    The scenes with Giles in the library and in the bronze are amazing to watch, they allow us to see Buffy’s desire to be normal to not ‘hone’ her skills and be a regular girl. Her speech to Giles regarding his role to prepare her for her battles and whats to come is shout out for what she will internally battle with throughout many of the seasons; her want for a separation of Buffy-buffy and Slayer -Buffy a foreshadow to the season 5 episode The Replacement.

    The episode provides character fluency and interconnectivity, introducing us in turn to each pivotal character, each.

    There is humour and plot. The show knows what it is, A superhero sci fi drama with a huge curve ball that subverts all other shows. Its the small attractive blonde who with help from the scoobys saves the day.

    I love this episode so much i’m not going to mention the low points. Its an amazing pilot and always will be.

    Like

  33. [Note: Rob posted this comment on January 14, 2012.]

    I can’t see how I’ll ever get tired of going back to this episode. The main joy in it for me is watching all these first interactions, knowing what develops in the following years, both on BtVS and Angel. I especially love the first scenes with Giles, and surprisingly, with Cordelia. So much changes for these characters and yet you see elements of their personalities that will persist through the series.

    Like

  34. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on March 26, 2012.]

    I never tire of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it doesn’t seem a thing thats possible! I’ve been watching a few new shows that have started recently and looking retrospectively at their pilots i can’t help but compare them to Welcome to the Hellmouth. Verdict? They pale in comparison!

    The writing alone, ‘Who are you?” “Lets call me a friend”….”Didn’t say i was yours’. Genius! The chemistry between the actors and the fluency of the characters never gets old.

    The moments when all the core characters meet and interact and enable the audience to resonate with them instantly is something i love going back to. The innocence and the magic and the possibilities that lie within the script and the subtle moments are a joy to relive.

    Like

  35. [Note: Pineappler posted this comment on March 26, 2012.]

    I agree whole-heartedly with Gemma. It is easy to dislike season 1 of Buffy because it pales in comparison with the rest of the show. When I watch other shows, however, I realize that season one of Buffy is still an outstanding show with great acting and some awesome writing.

    Like

  36. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on March 30, 2012.]

    Antoinette; I too took note of that fact. It never really bugged me because i didn’t feel like i had the chance to get to know Jesse with him not having much screen time and limited interaction with Buffy.

    However i did do a little pondering and have come up with one or two suggestions to account for this. Firstly Xander and Willow were recently hit with the news that Vampires are real plus they aren’t going to go grieve for ever especially after Xander reached some kind of closure having staked Jesse. Xander’s attitude to vampires is another point i want to mention, his hatred for Angel and Spike when the two are on the side of good may stem from Jesse’s death. His statement in The Harvest that he hates vampires. i’m going to take a stand and say they are not good could be a form of foreshadowing with regards to Spike and Angel when they have souls; he still hates them, or treats them with contempt Xander never forgets what they really are especially in season six and seven. Plus there is the small fact that the writing is responsible. Whenever Xander and WIllow discuss times in their lives that are BB(Before Buffy) Jesse is never mentioned although it is possible they only met him in high school where as the two of them have known each other before that. My main issue if i were to have one would be season 3 and The WIsh; This is my favourite episode or at least one of them for many reasons i won’t go into but looking retrospectively the writers never mentioned Jesse and he didn’t appear in the episode. I do think though that it is easy to imagine that Jesse was killed by a vampire and just not turned. Great Buffy-verse irony if it had been Vampire Xander!!

    I do know that Joss wanted the character to return for the season seven episode conversations with dead people but the actor couldn’t; similarly with Amber Benson.

    Like

  37. [Note: Antoinette posted this comment on March 30, 2012.]

    Thanks Gemma!!! thats great to know that the joss wanted him back and just didnt forget about the character! also another thing i noticed in the this episode is in the scene at the bronze when giles is talking to buffy above everybody or on the balcony and he is hovering over her. it reminds me of spike and buffy in dead things on the balcony. they both (giles and spike) even tell her to look down at everybody. obviously it isnt the same thing and probably doesnt have a significance but i just watched this episode a couple of days ago and that was the first thing that popped in my mind. lol :))

    Like

  38. [Note: keekey posted this comment on March 30, 2012.]

    Hi Antoinette, That’s a really interesting observation about the balcony scene with Buffy/Giles in this episode and the Buffy/Spike scene in Dead Things! I do wonder whether there writers intended to draw that parallel since Buffy increasingly turns to Spike in Season 6 after Giles departure (and continues to rely on Spike, even against Giles’ advice, in Season 7). I just watched the two scenes back-to-back out of curiosity and there are definitely a lot of similar elements. Plus, it’s funny that in the Buffy/Giles scene, Giles is warning Buffy about being wary of vampires, how they look normal until they reveal their true demonic faces, and Buffy says she’s not going to develop any “fluffy bunny feelings about them.”

    Like

  39. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on June 10, 2012.]

    I know this is the first episode and its main importance is to establish the characters, which is done very well, but the plot seemed a little overcrowded. The writers seemed so caught up in the characters that they forgot about the plot and once they realized they had a plot they were like “oh yeah! We have a plot! I forgot about that! Let’s just shove it in the audience’s faces right at the end of the episode and turn it into a cliffhanger!” I don’t know; maybe I’m over-exaggerating, which I probably am, but I almost think they should have made this episode into a feature-length episode so they could develop the plot and the characters smoothly and simultaneously. And come on! A cliffhanger on the first episode? Really?!

    Like

  40. [Note: morriganna posted this comment on June 12, 2012.]

    Favorite moment – when Angel rushes to hold dead Buffy and crouches over her, panting from exertion, only to tell Xander that HE has to do CPR because “I have no breath”. Um, yeeeaaahhh…And I guess the whole “vampires can speak thing” is just a complicated form of telepathy, and they move their mouths out of habit. 🙂

    Other than than, a funny and lively introduction to the Buffyverse that does a great job of setting the tone for the first season. And while it’s not, as other have noted, the best season, it did a great job of establishing the characters. It’s so much fun to come back to the innocence and lightness of S1 after the sturm und drang of S6-7. (Not that I’m knocking them – well, not S6). The show wouldn’t have been nearly as resonant if the characters hadn’t grown so much over the course of the series, and they had to start out as kids to get there.

    Thanks muchly for the insightful reviews. Enjoying reading them as I’m rewatching the series. Again. Always fun to see what other people notice that I’ve missed.

    Like

  41. [Note: Oz posted this comment on July 14, 2012.]

    Hello all,this will be my first review I write in this website,and I plan to share my personal view on every episode.I’ve been a Buffy fan since a WHILE back lol..my other favs are Charmed,Supernatural,and Angel…so I’m very well rehearsed in supernatural shows lol.I personally like this episode,because its the first.It shows all the characters at their youngest..Buffy looks so young and Willow too…We can immediately see a good side in Buffy,instead of trying to fit in and be popular and hang around Cordelia,she see’s Cordelia as somewhat shallow and cruel,and decides to be friendly to an obviously not as popular girl,Willow..it shows a compassion in Buffy,and the way she makes sacrifices in her life to help others.Personally,the vamp makeup SUCKS..Darla is VERY pathetic at first..and very simple here.My favorite scene is the establishment of the relationship between Buffy and Giles.They start here by pushing each other’s buttons,and they will never stop…

    Like

  42. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on July 14, 2012.]

    Oz, welcome to the site and thanks for the comment.

    But let me use this opportunity to advise you to not simply post your own “review” in these comments; this is not the place for that. These comments are intended, primarily, as a place to engage my review at the top of the page: what is it you agree or disagree with in the review, and why? And if you feel I missed something in the review, then this is the place to add to the discussion.

    The last thing I want is for people to post their own miniature reviews that appear to ignore the analysis I’ve put forth — that would defeat the entire purpose of the site.

    So as you continue commenting, Oz, please keep the review you’re writing about in mind before posting. If you’d like to just talk about the show freely, I recommend joining the forums and picking up the discussion there. If you really want to “review” every episode, I suggest you create a site all of your own. 🙂

    Like

  43. [Note: Rob W. posted this comment on August 11, 2012.]

    Coming round to the beginning again I’d like to express my gratitude for this site, especially to MikeJer for putting it together and for the excellent reviews, but also for the community that’s assembled here over the years. One thing I especially like about your reviews is how well they measure up to your original goal:

    “My goal with these reviews is to provide a focus on the characters rather than the plot”

    I do get tempted at times to step back out of the story and think critically about how the plot is being put together, about the writing and direction, etc. Mostly I’d rather not. I enjoy it so much more when I can suspend all that and take the characters and their interactions at face value.

    Also this is excellent:

    “Buffy as a character and as a show are all about subverting the outdated and the old.”

    I remember reading that last year and being struck by it then as well, but haven’t given the idea the subsequent attention it deserves. I’ll keep my eye out for it as we go forward.

    Alas, Giles! A tragic figure.

    Like

  44. [Note: Rob W. posted this comment on August 11, 2012.]

    Re: breathing vampires

    morriganna’s obviously knows the score here, but for newbies, I suggest accepting early on that the vampire breathing thing is going to be inconsistent throughout the series. Vampires not only speak and breathe hard after extertion, but also sing and smoke cigarettes. One of them even gets tortured by having his head held repeatedly under water (by another vampire, no less!).

    Better to get into the habit of being amused by this (as morriganna demonstrates) rather than annoyed or distracted.

    Like

  45. [Note: nitramneek posted this comment on October 12, 2012.]

    Congratulations on your improved Critically Touched v3.0. I like the new look and “feel” of this site. The sidebar is an excellent addition as well as navigational points throughout the page. Again, good job! Excellent review, I agree with your opinion and observations throughout the episode. Your take on Xander’s first meeting with Buffy is spot on, although I think you missed something in Willow’s first meeting with our Slayer. Her very first word I believe is prophetic in retrospect to her character for the rest of the series. “Why, I mean hi…”. Why is something Willow will be asking of herself, in my opinion, for the run of the show. Why do you want me as a friend?, why am I such a looser?, why can’t I be more powerful?(Willow’s studies in witchcraft), who am I?(“She’s so evil and skanky, and I think she”s kinda gay”), why can”t I be an equal?(“I”m not just your sidekick”), why can”t I dress like a grownup? Questions we all ask ourselves in those formative years. Of course Willow’s solution is found in the episode Restless, where in her dream, much to flapper Buffy’s envy, she dons a costume to hide from her insecurities in the play that is life. In the episode the play is “Death of a Salesman”, in “reel” life she constantly has to “sell” her “persona” to her friends and the rest of the world in the guise of her friendship with the Slayer, her relationship with Oz, a guitarist in a band, her everything’s OK and I can do it attitude, and becoming a powerful witch. The “death” of Willow’s persona of course comes in the episode Grave where she breaks down in the arms of her best friend Xander Harris. I may be barking up the wrong tree(“fire bad, tree pretty”) but this is just my opinion and observation. In the words of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, “I’m just jammin’ up here, you can all go away if you want to”. again Mike success to your new site and your hard work.

    Like

  46. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on October 16, 2012.]

    Thanks for the comment!As for Willow, I agree that those words hint at her insecurities, but I’m not sure I’d be willing to go as far as to read into the “why” quite as far as you have. It’s generic enough that it can apply to all the characters, and isn’t necessarily specific to Willow.

    Like

  47. [Note: Andy C. posted this comment on July 14, 2013.]

    One of my favourite moments of this episode is when Giles says “but you didn’t… hone.”

    Ha. Gets me every time. Thanks for the review.

    Like

  48. [Note: T.G. posted this comment on October 19, 2013.]

    I think this is the best series opener I’ve ever seen personally. Its so cute and fun that I find myself interested the moment it starts till the end. I didn’t care for the master or his followers, but as important as they were, The great introduction to the characters made me not care so much. All in all its a wonderful episode!

    Like

  49. [Note: none posted this comment on October 20, 2013.]

    The Pilot was good but personally I would prefer to start from the moment when Buffy discovered she was a slayer. it would give really great development. i just can’t imagine that buffy from angel’s flashback talking about clothes and with Chupa Chups (or something, i have no idea how to name it), it would be really interesting.
    but one the other hand, it’s good that it’s not a cliche

    Like

  50. [Note: Nebula Nox posted this comment on November 3, 2013.]

    I really liked the fact that she already knows she’s a slayer. The discovery of being chosen has been done to death in so many stories – and so often is all there is to some of these stories – that I find it lovely and bold of Whedon to skip over it.

    Like

  51. [Note: Nix posted this comment on May 31, 2014.]

    Ah yes, breathing vampires. I choose to interpret this as a metaphor: “breath” as a metaphor for “life”. They breathe in a physical sense, yes — but they are not *alive*, and as such (on a metaphorical level) cannot restore life to others. (You might think CPR is a purely physical process, but in that specific instance we have actual proof that she was metaphysically dead, so the CPR had to metaphysically bring her back to life again… which only the living can do.)

    Like

  52. [Note: to-the-library posted this comment on June 28, 2014.]

    Agreed – Angel here seems totally out of character, especially when we learn in his backstory how she gave him a purpose after he was living in the gutters, etc. Kind of weird to act like a smartass when formally meeting the person you’re supposedly already in love with! And he’s wearing what looks like a velvet jacket?!

    But it is fun to see the actors and characters here at the beginning, where the magic starts. They’re such babies! And babes 😉

    Like

  53. [Note: to-the-library posted this comment on June 28, 2014.]

    This is my first time re-watching the show (I only watched it for the first time 6 months ago) and I love how I can now see that, as you said, the seeds are planted here for series-long themes and developments. Something that I noted in this episode was the perfect expression on Giles’ face during Buffy’s “prepare me” speech. At first he seems stuffy in this episode, but it is right in that moment that he looks at her differently, as if realizing that she is a serious force to be reckoned with, not some protege to be tutored. Right there we are set up with her rebellion against authority (especially with the Watchers Council later), as well as her seriousness and strength despite her young age.

    “Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? Losing all my friends? Having to spend all my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because it might ‘endanger’ them? Go ahead. Prepare me.”

    Love it!

    Also, I watched the unaired pilot today on Youtube and it is a great comparison, though a bit strange.

    Like

  54. [Note: Riderofapcoalypse posted this comment on August 25, 2014.]

    Hello all, great site. Wish I found it a long time ago.

    After re-watching ep 1, s1, for my own reviews I’m doing (Ytube), on the hole this episode was a decent pilot. Admittedly I starting watching during season 5 and went back to watch from season 1 (non live). In my opinion, (and a friend I got to watch the show whom warmed up to it as the show progressed), we both had no idea how Buffy season 1 wasn’t pulled after a few episodes.

    Re-watching now I can say it was a decent pilot, keeping in mind that Buffy was new and brought a great many newer themes/ideas/things to the table.

    My Wins for me in the pilot were:
    -Luke. Now that’s a badass that made me want to watch more to see him do stuff. With how badass he was from the way he would deliver his lines, to how easily he dealt with Buffy, it made me believe that the main character in Buffy could die in the first episode if I didn’t know better.
    -The Master. A villain who wasn’t just a monster. He could deliver his lines and easily entertain me. Granted there is a decent amount of story/dialogue which didn’t make sense to me revolving around the Master, but the big bad still entertained me with the way he delivered.
    -Giles. The guy was the most consistent actor whom was able to perform quite well in his role. Mad respect for Giles.

    My Fails for me in the pilot were:
    -Angel. Angelus becomes my favorite male character later on, but everything about this character made me drunkenly yell at my tv to get the F off my screen when he was first introduced. From Angel’s wardrobe, to his delivery, I’m surprised more than anything that he wasn’t killed off or re-casted. (watching Buffy/Angel drunk is fun btw).
    -The oversell of Buffy’s strength. Not for anything and I know this is a small thing, but what’s with Buffy abilities to rip open locked doors and leap tall fences in a single bound? I’m sorry but with the strength her character showed, and with the theme of the girl kicking down doors, how could she not just ‘this is sparta’ kick vamp’s chests/heads in? For me, after watching Buffy’s display of power, I think she should of had no trouble at all against Darla.

    I give this pilot about a 6/10. A near, bare pass.
    -And ya, my two cents.
    -As I mentioned above, if anyone is interest in my Ytube reviews, just say something and I’ll give you the link.
    -Thanks for having this wonderful platform for Buffy/Angel fans to converse with MikeJer.

    Riderofapcoalypse

    Like

  55. [Note: Jewel posted this comment on August 18, 2015.]

    I came across these reviews on my last ‘Buffy’ re-watch 2 years ago but just lurked in the shadows, basically. Having decided re-watch yet again, I figure I might as well leave my two cents this time. The reviews seem slightly different, by the way, MikeJer. Have you updated again lately or is it just me?

    Anyway, I’m more or less with you on your view of the pilot. I’ve always appreciated your focus on characterization because that’s what I hold above all other attributes of a series too. In that aspect, BtVS is leaps and bounds above most other shows, and it all gets off to a sensational start right here. Not a perfect pilot, by any means, but persistently enthralling, nonetheless.

    I look at shows like ‘Breaking Bad,’ considered one of the greatest of all time. In all honesty, it has far fewer flaws than BtVS, and quite probably the best damn pilot I have ever seen, yet I would return to good old ‘Buffy’ a hundred times before watching BB again.

    Like

  56. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on August 20, 2015.]

    All the Season 1 & 2 reviews have been rewritten over the last few years. It’s likely that is what you’re noticing. 🙂

    Like

  57. [Note: Andy B posted this comment on November 28, 2015.]

    I just want to say thank you! I’ve love Buffy since it was first on and I’ve re-watched many times. I decided to look for opinions on an episode by episode basis and this was this first site and you’re offering an in depth review of each episode and I appreciate it so much! I agree with the B+ for the pilot, it has many pilot problems but still manages to be really strong and gives us a strong sense of character. Thank you again!

    Like

  58. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 13, 2016.]

    Feel like you guys are being a bit harsh on Boreanez. Sure it’s not his best work but considering he’d only had a few acting jobs at this point I don’t think he’s as bad as you guys are letting on.

    Like

  59. [Note: LouisLittForEmperor posted this comment on January 16, 2016.]

    Kind of amusing to have Buffy saying that James Spader needs to call her here and then have him play Ultron in one of Whedon’s later escapades. I think the Avengers mention in The Freshman needs no introduction.

    Like

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