Buffy 1×12: Prophecy Girl

[Review by Mike Marinaro]

[Writer: Joss Whedon | Director: Joss Whedon | Aired: 06/02/1997]

This is a really good – yet not quite great – conclusion in what amounts to a pretty uneven season. “Prophecy Girl” is smart in the way that it hones in on the core themes of the series so far, and then amplifies the drama surrounding them. Several really powerful scenes build to the episode’s climax, but that climax then fails to live up to its dramatic setup. I’m not sure what happened, but “Prophecy Girl” very noticeably weakens during its last act with a jarring shift towards the comical.

“Prophecy Girl” still has the trappings of a Season 1 episode, yet it feels distinctly different all the same. Whedon’s directing debut is just so far above anything else in the season. From the performances he gets out of the cast (especially Gellar) to how he frames the characters to how he is able to capture a sense of ambiance otherwise missing from the season, this is an important step in the right direction that signals the show’s about to step up its game.

The sloppy ending, which I’ll talk about soon, is such a distracting oddity. “Prophecy Girl” is so deliberate in its tone and direction until then. Take the lovely opening scene, for example, where Buffy is fighting an ordinary vampire, yet it is anything but ordinary in how it is directed. Whedon’s touch behind the camera makes its presence known. All in slow-motion, Buffy is knocked on her back, gets back up, sees the “monster” grinning at her with anticipation, pulls out her hidden stake, sees the monster lose his smirk, and then gloriously smirks back at him. The slow-motion then fades away into real time, and Buffy dispatches the vampire with ease. This is a beautiful callback (and not the only one in “Prophecy Girl”) to the central concept behind the show, about the girl victim not turning out to be as helpless as her attacker thought – ‘subversion’ is the victor once again.

Despite doing a conceptual callback to start things off, what “Prophecy Girl” really cares about is sacrifice. This has been a recurring theme throughout the season, with both “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01] and “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” [1×05] touching on the issue the most directly. While Buffy has seen some of the smaller costs of having to give up on the life she wants for herself, this is the first time the extent of her devotion is fiercely tested. There’s this wonderfully subtle beat, shortly before the emotional explosion in the library, where we see Buffy grabbing a stake out of her locker while a few students, likely in route to a sporting practice, casually stroll by her in a playful mood. For just a moment, Buffy tilts her head in a sigh, and then walks in the opposite direction towards the serious peril that awaits her. This is both a literal and figurative nod to the sacrifices Buffy is making every day for the unknowing people around her. This resonates with me so much precisely because it sets up just how hard the terrible news that follows hits her. Not only does Buffy not get to indulge in very much fun, but what’s her reward for that sacrifice? Death.

Buffy overhears the awful prophecy from afar, where Giles says to Angel that Buffy is prophesized to imminently “face the Master. And she will die.” The fact that we know she does die, albeit only briefly (for now), makes this entire scene that much more potent. Gellar plays Buffy’s reaction to this news with a tremendous amount of realism that still touches me today. We see an initial burst of laughter followed by a pang of concern, a burst of anger, and then some tears. It adds up to being a very tender moment, and the first hard-hitting emotional beat of the show that really sticks. This entire scene is a complete success on every level I can think of.

In response to this haunting news, Buffy tries to evade her fate – she’s just not ready or willing to accept death this easily or early, no matter the cause. This is also a subtle callback to “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01], where we see that she wants no part in being the Slayer. When she tears off the cross Angel gave to her, also in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01], and throws it on the ground, we witness a clear symbolic moment. The cross, of course, is a symbol of sacrifice. This moment is a rejection of the sacrifice asked of her, which only happens because she had never fully embraced it in the first place. Throughout this season her role as the Slayer is internalized as a huge annoyance – a distraction from what she wants her life to be. This reaction is, of course, a thematic echo of her desire to remain a child and continue to evade the onset of adolescence. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that the cross is also a symbol of salvation, which becomes particularly relevant a bit later in the episode.

Buffy tries not only to avoid this situation but to actively run from it, telling her mom to leave town for the weekend with her (side note: there are some interesting parallels to Buffy’s reaction to impending death here and Anya’s journey of the same throughout the series). This leads to a wonderful conversation with Joyce (about a school dance), and an analogy about how facing a bad situation can lead to unexpected and rewarding outcomes. And, hey, at least Buffy gets a pretty white dress out of it!

After talking with her mom and learning about vampires encroaching further onto school grounds (from a frightened Willow), Buffy finally accepts the purpose her role serves in this world, even if she doesn’t like it. Buffy is beginning to realize (but still has a long ways to go) that being the Slayer isn’t the distraction — it’s those ever-present risky personal temptations that are the real distractions. These temptations are given form throughout the season thanks to the Hellmouth and those that live there. Amy’s mom, Owen, Marcie, the Master, and others all emerge as the true distractions, or villains, to Buffy’s successful transition into adolescence. Of course, as Buffy begins to grow up, the distractions also grow up, but that’s a discussion for Season 2. 😉

With only an adamant and noble Giles, who understands the stakes well, in the way, Buffy punches him out and picks up her cross, thus signifying her acceptance of what that symbol means. This is an important moment as she tells Giles “that’s not how it goes. I’m the Slayer,” which shows us that she’s now beginning to take ownership of this incredible burden. This doesn’t mean she will suddenly stop trying to have that ‘normal life’ – that takes a couple more years – but it does mean that Buffy at least understands the grave importance of her calling. My only quibble with this acceptance is the brevity in which it happens within the context of this episode, but it’s a defining moment nonetheless.

When Buffy enters the Master’s lair, some relevant words are exchanged. The Master tells her that she isn’t the “hunter,” but rather the (sacrificial) “lamb.” While this statement is partially true, particularly in this precise moment, what’s so amazing about Buffy is that, in reality, she’s both. Buffy will come to sacrifice a lot in the years to come, but she will also become a much stronger fighter as well. The Master’s statement can also be read as relating to the controlling nature of the Watcher’s Council – Buffy’s a “lamb” to them as well. This is why it’s such a triumph when Buffy redefines what being the Slayer means throughout the series, and eventually upends its very definition in the series finale, “Chosen” [7×22]. The connection between the hunted and the lamb is particularly relevant when looking ahead to Season 5’s exploration of the Slayer’s nature, and what Buffy learns from it. I’m reminded of the thrilling season opening ‘hunt’ in “Buffy vs. Dracula” [5×01]. These experiences are all stepping stones to the series’ thrilling endgame.

The reality of the situation in the here and now, though, is a Buffy who still gets frozen in place by the Master’s paralyzing gaze, as prophesized by her nightmares in earlier episodes. It’s here where the Master breaks the bad news to her: it’s her blood that allows him to go free! This is a brutal moment for Buffy in which we see a lone tear stream down her face right before she gets bitten. This bite is shot in a way that has quite the sexual subtext. This is likely purposeful, and represents the death knell of Buffy the child. This forceful violation of her innocence plays as a setup for where the show’s heading next season (see “Innocence” [2×14]). After this moment, Buffy has metaphorically stepped on that long, hard road to adulthood. It’ll take her until “The Gift” [5×22] before she makes it there, but at least she’s now on the path. What is the name of this road, you might ask? It’s called adolescence. No matter how often Buffy may want to look back, life will force her forward, as it always does, and will in the Season 2 opener, “When She Was Bad” [2×01]. Gosh, these prophecies sure are manipulative little things, aren’t they?

The sacrificial theme of “Prophecy Girl” and how it relates to Buffy’s growth is the very best of what the episode has to offer, but there are also a few other positives that warrant discussion. Xander asking Buffy out to a dance has been a long time coming for the season, and the entire scene is written and performed just marvelously – it’s all so achingly real. I can totally understand Xander’s nervousness, as it’s really tough for some people to put themselves out there like that. As a detached viewer, I have to admit that Xander’s complete obliviousness to Buffy’s disinterest in him throughout the season was a little aggravating, but things look mighty different when I put myself in his shoes. Despite all the clues and hints from Buffy, Xander was crushing hard and needed the finality that Buffy gives him here. Rejection is never easy though, and I even feel bad for Buffy having to be the agent of rejection for Xander. At least she was as gentle and honest about it as she probably could have been.

Another scene I appreciated was Willow’s consolation of Xander, which ends up being yet another rejection to him. I found it fantastic that Willow stood up for herself and didn’t settle for being Xander’s castoff date, despite being absolutely wild about him. She tells him, “You think that’s my idea of hijinks?” It’s a great moment for Willow, and a not-so great one for Xander. The one thing in the world that’s always there for Xander, though, is country music: “the music of pain.”

For all there is to applaud in “Prophecy Girl,” it’s unfortunately got some notable flaws as well. For starters, there’s the scene where Willow and Cordelia find some dead boys they know at the school. While the scene itself is actually pretty creepy and does a good job at relaying the feeling that the demons are invading the places in the characters’ world they view as safe, I would have liked a lot more build-up to this moment in previous episodes. A moment like this could have resonated a lot more strongly if this had been a slow burn kind of deal.

What’s far more problematic, though, is Willow’s reaction in front of Buffy in response to this. I think the scene is very well acted, and is important in that it’s the final straw for Buffy to recognize what she must do, but I just don’t buy it at all. There have been so many deaths of people Willow’s known at school throughout the season, all to no tears or even a fleeting comment afterwards. So many characters have showed up for an episode only to get killed off and never mentioned again. There was even Jesse, who apparently warranted no mention after his death. Why is it that Willow is only now so affected by the death of her classmates? It just doesn’t add up, and results in the scene feeling a little manipulative. This is the kind of scene that could have resonated quite a bit had there been foundation built for it throughout the season.

If I had to isolate the single biggest problem in “Prophecy Girl,” though, it would have to be how it all falls apart after Buffy gets resuscitated. I really don’t know what happened here, but the writing, editing, tone, and directing all abruptly change for the worse. Most of “Prophecy Girl” is meticulously directed and has a wonderful dramatic heft to it. Yet in the last act it jarringly races towards the comical, which is tonally dissonant with what just came before, and is not the blended ‘laughs in the drama’ the show will become known for. There are girls screaming, terrible effects, a cheesy and out-of-place use of the theme song, confusion over why Buffy feels suddenly “strong,” and then the overly comical and easy second fight with the Master (“comical” as in I felt the dialogue was kind of funny, but grossly out of place). It’s just a shame to see so much effort go awry at the end.

With all that said, I did enjoy the very final scene. Buffy is both physically and emotionally scarred, although it’s the latter that will haunt her over the summer and into the Season 2 premiere, “When She Was Bad” [2×01]. The earlier dramatic tone seems to be restored for this final moment, and all is well again. As Buffy somewhat somberly says, “we saved the world. I say we party!”

“Prophecy Girl” aims really high and almost gets there, but it’s missing the necessary buildings blocks to fully resonate. Also, the complete collapse of the episode’s measured tone in its final act does a disservice to what was shaping up to be a really coherent episode. I still feel this is a substantive, entertaining, and memorable finale, but it’s definitely not quite all it could have been. Despite its mistakes, it’s still one of the best episodes of the season.


Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)

+ Xander practicing asking Buffy out on a very receptive Willow.
+ The Master getting all excited over the earthquake.
+ Buffy trying to postpone going to biology class by using a panicked Giles (over the prophecy).
+ Xander living up to his statement and actually listening to country music.
+ All the commotion over Buffy’s dress. It’s a basic dress, but I really like it.
+ Buffy just looks so bad-### with the leather coat (from Angel), white dress (from Joyce), cross (from Angel), and crossbow (from Giles) combo. Bad-### and super pretty, simultaneously!
+ The music is the best of the season. Still, that’s not saying much.
+ Xander freaking out over thinking Angel was looking at his neck.
+ The Master giving into Buffy’s desire for a quick conclusion to their confrontation.
+ In the final moments Buffy says “I’m hungry. Is anybody else hungry? I’m really, really hungry.” Slaying seems to do that to Buffy, as Faith will come to point out… among other things. 🙂

– When the Anointed One shows Buffy the Master’s lair, why doesn’t she just kill him? Why let him go?
– The “she’s dead” moment from Angel at the end of the act, followed immediately by “no, she’s not dead.” This is a bit anticlimactic of a beat considering the immediate reversal.
– Cordelia of all people showing up at the right moment, and then crashing through the doors of the school. It stretches convenience and credibility a bit too much.


* Xander says “Guess a guy’s gotta be undead to make time with you.” This alludes to Xander’s persistent jealously and intense dislike of Angel.




69 thoughts on “Buffy 1×12: Prophecy Girl”

  1. [Note: MrB posted this comment on April 11, 2007.]

    Xander’s “Music of Pain” line is important because it is one of the best examples of how the show treats its’ pop references. Most other shows may have used the line as a cheap shot, but they would not have followed it up with the “I fall to pieces” scene – which was pitch-perfect.

    That shows respect and intelligence for the audience and the reference.

    Another example of how the show got it right – even at the beginning.


  2. [Note: Nix posted this comment on May 28, 2007.]

    The `bite time’ of Buffyverse vampires is a notable inconsistency across the entire series. Frequently (e.g. in Becoming Pt. 1) vampires are shown to be able to kill people through blood loss or bring them near to death in about one second of sucking (surely not long enough for normal blood flow to bring enough blood there, even allowing for dramatic license). But at other times (e.g. in Bargaining Pt. 2) lengthy periods of all-out sucking fail to bring death.

    I’m assuming that the effect of a vampire bite is Whatever The Writer Damn Well Wants, and need have no relation to bite time at all.


  3. [Note: Austin posted this comment on September 7, 2007.]

    It annoys me to no end about how inaccurately CPR is portrayed in the movies today. They act like it is a magical switch that turns someones life back on, after only a few seconds of administering it. While Buffy may have many qualities that set it apart from the rest of TV, accurate portrayal of administering CPR is not one of them.

    A couple of points:

    – CPR is not supposed to revive people, it is simply a stop-gap measure to buy time and minimize brain damage while EMTs are on the way with equiptment that is much more effective at reviving victims

    – The proper ratio of chest compressions to breaths is 30:2, for some reason, TV seems to focus on the breathing rather than the compressions (ok, there is the “kissing” factor) when in reality the compressions are the most important factor and the breaths can even be skipped without significant impact because the chest is moving up and down which draws in a little air.

    If you are lucky enough to revive a person via CPR, they will not wake up and immediately be ready to save the world. Ok Buffy has advanced healing powers but even these do not work that quickly.

    – A 911 operator would never tell someone to stop administering CPR and just wait for the EMTs after only a few seconds. Admitedly, Buffy did tell her the body was cold, indicating that it was probably far too late, however you should never stop until a doctor pronounces the victim dead.

    – On the plus side, they did mention that Buffy cracked a rib, which is to be expected if you administer CPR for any significant length of time, I myself did not know that this would happen until two years after I became a Lifeguard and I was in a refresher CPR course, I am glad that I never had to administer it before that because I probably would have stopped going when that happened.

    Anyways, thats my rant on CPR… just remember, never give up!


  4. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on October 6, 2007.]

    Although the monster shot is poorly executed, I don´t seem to care. I´m so wrapped in the emotions, with the characters that I don´t even mind the rest. My favourite scenes are the “I Quit” speech, so beautiful. And when Xander goes to Angel`s place. Talk about tension!

    Great review once again, Mike. I can´t wait to start a new season.


  5. [Note: Andrew posted this comment on December 29, 2007.]

    This episode annoys me intensely. Not because it’s badly scripted, shot, or acted (it scores very well on all of those points, and is very watchable), but because it cheats on the whole prophecy things.

    First off, we have this prophecy that says Buffy is going to die. That’s it. It doesn’t say she won’t defeat the Master while she’s doing it, but she is going to die. To firm up matters further, we have Giles’ (and he’s never wrong about this sort of thing anywhere else) assurance that this particular prophecy is infallible. It WILL happen.

    And she doesn’t. Really, she doesn’t. Xander (who doesn’t now and never will have any magical or other-worldly abilities) brings her round with CPR (the accuracy of which doesn’t bother me greatly, I’m afraid- but that rant made interesting reading anyway, so cheers). Thus, she was never dead. Close to death, perhaps, but not, quite emphatically not, dead.

    And no attempt is made to explain this. You cannot, you just cannot, introduce a prophecy and simply have it not come true with no word of explanation. That’s not playing the game.

    The ideal way for this episode to work, of course, would have been to have the prophecy amniguously-worded, so that it could have been interpreted differently initially to the way in which things actually turned out. Failing that, having Buffy actually ressurected by some suitably magical means, would, if convincingly supported, have worked OK.

    One other thing. Why do all the vampires attacking the library just disappear when the Master is killed?


  6. [Note: Nix posted this comment on January 12, 2008.]

    Andrew, consider that ‘death’ in ancient myths, prophecies, and so on need not be brain-death. In most human cultures that don’t have modern medicine, ‘heart stopped’ meant ‘death’: but with modern medicine a lot of these ‘dead’ people can be kept alive or brought back. (Doing it with just CPR is a stretch, but maybe the prophecy interpreted ‘not breathing’ as ‘death’, in which case getting the water out of her airway would suffice.)


  7. [Note: Andrew posted this comment on January 20, 2008.]

    I see what you’re saying, but I still regard it as a cheat. Telling the viewers that Buffy is going to die conjures up a certain idea in their minds, and part of that imagine is permeancy. People who die are dead. Period. Having the whole thing then NOT be permanent is cheating.
    And while your explanation is plausible (I should point out that even brain-dead is not “dead”- people have recovered from states of zero brain activity. The only sure confirmation of death is bodily decomposure.), it isn’t proffered by the show. If Giles had convincingly explained this at the end of the episode (or even in When She Was Bad) I might have had some sympathy.


  8. [Note: Nix posted this comment on January 20, 2008.]

    People who die are dead, period? Major characters? On episodic TV? The reason why “Passion” is so damn shocking is because it *subverts* the typical oh-let’s-bring-her-back-to-life of virtually every other series.

    (“The Gift” does what “Prophecy Girl” does, only much, much better. You’ve got a hell of a treat coming up in season 5.)


  9. [Note: Anne posted this comment on January 22, 2008.]

    This is why I think Buffy felt stronger after Xander revived her: When she first confronted The Master, she knew that someone had prophecied or foreseen or whatever that she was going to die, so she felt that the outcome of that encounter had already been predetermined, and while she put on a tough face, she truly didn’t think she could change it. After she drowned (or almost drowned, however you want to interpret it), and the prophecy no longer applied, she felt as if her destiny was in her own hands, not predetermined or foreseen, and that empowered her, gave her confidence and strength. So I think it was mostly a psychological thing.


  10. [Note: Bill posted this comment on February 9, 2008.]

    This episode was excellent, right up until the point where Buffy dies. The haphazard explanation, or actual lack of one, given for her death is the start of the bad. The scene with them walking and the theme song playing is so cheesy that I cringe every time it comes on, especially when Buffy utters the “Look, a bad guy” line. A great episode that is knocked down quite a few pegs by the very bad ending.

    Also, for me it is important to note that this is the last ep where I consider Buffy to be hot, at all. After this she went the idiotic Hollywood route and lost a ton of weight and became a stick figure. Oh, how I loved the days when SMG/Buffy had some meat on her bones and the rack to go with that meat. Much better than the stick that occupied the next six seasons.


  11. [Note: Matt posted this comment on July 28, 2008.]

    You have to consider the fact that this is a fantasy world and that magic/prophecies/etc might have different definitions of what it is to die. Maybe it means when a soul leaves the body and for all the viewing audience knows, that might happen when a person flat-lines like Buffy probably did in this episode. For all intents and purposes, Buffy died just like people who die on the operating table for just a few seconds have died.


  12. [Note: buffybot posted this comment on April 26, 2009.]

    this is the first eppisode of buffy i saw when was eight and it engrossed me more than any other memories of tv.


  13. [Note: Xanderific posted this comment on May 1, 2009.]

    Hey Buffybot i couldnt agree with you more this episode touched more than my soul but my heart
    Buffy is the reason why my life still goes strong today!!


  14. [Note: Mush posted this comment on July 29, 2009.]

    One little bit in this episode just absolutely gets me – when Buffy is talking with Angel and Giles about her death and she asks ‘Will it hurt’? Oh man, how her voice hitches a little just pulls at the heartstrings.


  15. [Note: Emily posted this comment on November 22, 2009.]

    Did anyone ever notice how Giles asks, “How do I know that I can trust you?” What a foreshadowing, considering that he really shouldn’t have.


  16. [Note: jcmmnx posted this comment on April 8, 2010.]

    This episode is great up to the point of the Master telling Buffy she is the key for him leaving his underground prison. That was a great reveal, but I thought the rest of it was a little flat with the lame 3 headed monster and the Master dying way too easy. Overall I thought Nightmares was the best season 1 episode. Thankfully for season two Spike and Dru show up and Angel makes for a far better villian than a sappy good vamp.


  17. [Note: Maggie posted this comment on July 31, 2010.]

    I feel weird that I’m the only one who wasn’t annoyed by the cheesy monster thing or the unrealistic CPR. The only part of this episode that I really couldn’t stand is- like Bill said- when she’s walking with the theme song playing, and ESPECIALLY when she goes “Oh look a bad guy” *grimace*


  18. [Note: Selene posted this comment on September 5, 2010.]

    @Emily, I completely agree with you about that comment. He really couldn’t trust her after all is said and done, even though she demanded he tell her everything.

    I’ve always loved the scene with Willow: “I’m not okay. I knew those guys. I go to that room every day.

    And when I walked in there, it… it wasn’t our world anymore. They made

    it theirs. And they had fun.” Alyson Hannigan’s delivery brought tears to my eyes.

    Also got a kick out of Cordelia driving her car through the school. Who hasn’t wanted to do that at some point or another?


  19. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on September 9, 2010.]

    I watched the show periodically when it was live. Now I’m rewatching from start to finish via Netflix — amazing stuff, modern technology! (Giles didn’t know what he was missing.) Just finished Season 1, obviously.

    One thing that struck me was how well the show taps into symbolism. Not just verbally. But visually. Buffy’s white prom dress is brilliant, emphasizing her virginal innocence. The maiden who is sacrificed to appease the gods. OK demons. But Buffy is not little girl innocent. She is sexually ready with cleavage innocent. Because of course this is a vampire show. And the camerawork emphasizes both the innocence and the sexuality, Buffy tilting her head back awaiting the Master’s kiss/bite, her lips parted expectantly. It’s a rapturous, sexual moment — in addition to being terrifying and awful. Like first sex, no?

    And of course the dress is also a great prop for a series of jokes. The show knows how to take the symbolism seriously, but also when to back off and play with it.

    At any rate, a moving episode. I’m with most others here, the “death” was a cheat. Yes you can take the sex metaphor further, recall that “to die” meant having an “orgasm” in Shakespeare’s time, and read Buffy’s swoon as being orgasmic. Thus she cheated the prophecy by “dying” sexually rather than dying literally. That would I think be a valid reading and quite clever … if the audience were Shakespeare scholars. As they are not, well no it’s too much of a stretch.

    Looking forward to seeing The Annoying One hoisted and roasted in another three episodes.


  20. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on September 9, 2010.]

    Following up …

    It’s possible to think of the Xander rejection scene, and the series’ repeated comments that you’ve gotta be undead to boink Buffy, as referring to her sexual attraction to The Master (as well as Angel of course). Buffy has no sexual interest in Xander the man but she swoons, “dies,” and is transformed (into something stronger and tougher) from the kiss of The Master the undead.

    Also, one can treat “I flunked the written” as implying “I passed the oral” — the kiss from the Master being the oral.

    The point being not that mine is *the* correct interpretation of Buffy’s death, or that there is a correct interpretation at all. It’s about how the show plays with its allusions, oh so very effectively.


  21. [Note: Jaded Menhir posted this comment on October 1, 2010.]

    @John Roberts – Boy, does it sound like you are ever so repressed and more than a bit creepy. While Buffy’s dress can mark a virginal element, I feel her drowning and rebirth represents more of a baptism rite. The rest of your conjecture sparks as being more from your own sordid desires than anything Whedon intended to convey.


  22. [Note: John Roberts posted this comment on October 5, 2010.]

    Joss piles all the sexual imagery on Buffy. When somebody gets stranded nude, it’s Buffy. When somebody confesses to listening to I Touch Myself, it’s Buffy. When somebody does that thing with the mouth that boys like, it’s Buffy. When somebody is sucking on a lolly a la Lo-Li-Ta, it’s Buffy. When somebody gets dirty talked by a puppet, it’s Buffy. When somebody gets stalked in her bedroom, it’s Buffy. When somebody does the sexy dance, it’s Buffy. When somebody talks about a guy looking up her skirt, it’s Buffy. When somebody gets her butt patted by a horndog in gym class, it’s Buffy. The poor girl is surrounded by creepy, repressed, and sordid.

    Meanwhile, Willow and Cordy get the wholesome treatment.

    Not sure what to make of that yet. Only early in Season 3.


  23. [Note: Miscellaneopolan posted this comment on December 15, 2010.]

    Those are terrific comments, John Roberts! Coming at the show from a symbolic standpoint adds a ton of layers. And while I think that Buffy’s drowning did have a baptism element to it, to deny all the sexual imagery seems pretty short-sighted. The white dress, the penetration of the Master’s bite: it’s all there. Symbolically, the sex in Prophecy Girl is depicted as monstrous and scary because that’s how the characters, young and unspoiled as they are, see it. As they become more experienced sexually the sexual imagery starts to level out.

    Not that it ever goes away. If you’re done with Season 3 I’d love to hear your comments on the depiction of Faith, cause there’s plenty of material.


  24. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on December 22, 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.


  25. [Note: MrB posted this comment on December 22, 2010.]

    Great review – again.

    I have always been a fan of this episode, much more than you have. But you have shown me the light. Your points about the last act are indisputable. It didn’t suck, but it changed a lot in tone when it should have just kept on going.

    Now I understand a bit better. I was blinded by my love of the first three acts, and just giving the last one a pass. Now I know that it could have been much better, and it wouldn’t have taken much to do it.

    It would have been easy to deal with the cheesy Hellmouth Monster by just doing it all in reactions shots – kind of like Psycho. Or just dump that whole idea and deal with a more menacing Master and have him DO SOMETHING for once.

    Only about ten minutes or less of this episode is trouble. The rest is *almost* perfect. And it could have been better without a lot of work or a lot of money.

    If you can convince me of PG’s problems, you’ve done a great job here, Mike.


  26. [Note: buffyholic posted this comment on December 23, 2010.]

    Great review, Mike. The whole monster in the library is cheesy but the characters suck me in completely and I enjoyed how you connected this episode and this Buffy to later seasons.


  27. [Note: Stake posted this comment on December 23, 2010.]

    Great review, it’s such a great episode until the very end with: “I have no breath” and “Look a bad guy!”


  28. [Note: G1000 posted this comment on December 23, 2010.]

    Nice work. There’s some really powerful stuff in this episode, but overall I didn’t think it worked very well. Certainly it’s not even close to the quality of any of the other season finales.


  29. [Note: fray-adjacent posted this comment on December 23, 2010.]

    Like MrB, the first three quarters of the episode stand so far above the rest of season 1 that I tend to conveniently ignore the silliness of the last act. At least they recover the earlier tone at the end for Buffy’s somber “I say we party” moment.

    Another excellent review!


  30. [Note: Lily posted this comment on January 28, 2011.]

    As always, your reviews are always spot on and I love reading them, I was just wondering if anybody knew how Xander knew where Angel lived and how to find him


  31. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on February 5, 2011.]

    Well, it was nice to get some closure with the Xander/Buffy relationship. Even though he may still carry somewhat of a torch for her throughout (in a different way, I believe) he knows it will never happen at this point. I thought Buffy handled it extremely well. It’s just funny that Xander doesn’t see that what Buffy did to him is what he is doing to Willow.

    This episode has one of my favorite all time Buffy speeches “I’m 16 years old — I don’t want to die!” (Brilliant all around scene). Who can not sympathize with that? While Buffy has accepted her duty, this is truly the first time that she has thought about the fact that she could really die. OF course she does die multiple times throughout the show. Death is her gift. In this episode, she does what she must (very heroically) but doesn’t particularly like it. While in S5, she embraces her role and what she must do to save the world. Great, great character development. Two season finales where Buffy dies but it is amazing the vast differences in terms of the growth of her character.

    SMG really does a fantastic acting job in this episode. The scene with her mother was great too. Where she is talking about how lucky her mother was for having her whole life ahead of her.

    That is a particularly gruesome scene in the RV room. Kind of reminds me of the Anya slaughter from Selfless (which Willow also finds). It was kind of nice to see one of the Schoobies so torn up by witnessing something so horrible. They get so desensitized to it later in the series (understandably so — they have scene a lot). Think of Willow’s reaction to finding this scene versus Selfless. Great difference considering the events that lead up to both.

    This is also the only episode where I like the Anointed One. The shot of Buffy walking hand in hand with this kid in her dress with a crossbow on her way to face the Master — Excellent!

    Xander’s feelings about vampires are put on full display in this episode when he goes to confront Angel (Stop looking at my neck – LOL) and this feeling is carried out consistently throughout the whole series. Nice bit of continuity. I do hate how apathetic Angel seems to be in this scene though. He seems to be saying “Well, what do you want me to do about it”? Very un-Angel like.

    Cordelia driving through the school to the library is a great scene too. Man, the damage repair costs alone for that school must be through the roof! I don’t even know how the school managed to continue to be even before it got blown up!

    I love the Buffy theme music playing as Buffy strides off with Xander and Angel for the final showdown with the Master. It displays the theme of the show fantastically…female empowerment. The music with Buffy walking confidently with Xander and Angel trailing behind. Nice shot.

    I also liked the piano version of the theme playing at the end. Well integrated. Props to ASH in that scene too. The way he looks at Buffy with such obvious pride and affection when he says that he should have known that death wouldn’t stop her brings a tear to my eye.

    Overall this episode is pretty close to a P for me.


  32. [Note: CoyoteBuffyFan posted this comment on February 5, 2011.]

    @MikeJer — In your pros you mention Buffy saying that she is really, really hungry. Yes, slaying does make her hungry, as we learn later with her and Faith, but there is more to the statement than that. In the episode, Joyce talks about how little Buffy has eaten recently (in fact that is how they can afford the dress!). Buffy is stressed out with the burden of saving the world on her shoulders and depressed about the fact she is likely going to die. I think her stating that she is hungry has a lot to do with the burden being lifted along with the fact that the world hasn’t ended so life goes on (i.e. time to nourish). That’s my thoughts anyway.


  33. [Note: Wveth posted this comment on March 15, 2011.]

    John Roberts, your connection of “written” to “oral” is absolutely the funniest thing I have read on this website. I practically fell out of my chair with that one. Bra. Vo.


  34. [Note: Servena posted this comment on August 9, 2011.]

    I was really happy that Jenny Calendar showed up again. I like it when the tentacle is dragging Willow across the room and Jenny is just holding on to her, screaming for Giles.


  35. [Note: Lelio posted this comment on October 8, 2011.]


    Buffy did, in fact, die. Sure, it was nothing like The Gift but she was dead for a few minutes.

    Otherwise, there would have been no second slayer.


  36. [Note: R Martin posted this comment on October 9, 2011.]

    Having Buffy die serves a coupel of things first it allows a second slayer to be introduced to keep the show “breathing”. Second it provides the show with the first real emotional episode much like Innocence in the second season. The drama is ratcheted up a notch and the actors give it they’re all. It goes from being a slightly flimsy show to serious entertainment. I was a fan of Buffy before this but i vividly remember watching it and for me it was my real hook episode. Season 1 is quite poor is retrospect. The witch episode and the praying mantis episode being quite obvious. But Whedon did make twh show dark and funny with something intresting happening each episode from around the pack. I like season 1 because of the shortness of it and how it is fresh it also has more of a horror feel to it with the episodes being quite gruesome compared to later efforts which becoem more juvenile and for chicks. This is akin to the series Angel would eventually become. All in All decent review.


  37. [Note: Alex posted this comment on October 11, 2011.]

    R Martin, Did you really just say that Season 1 is more gruesome and that the later seasons are ‘juvenile’ and ‘for chicks’?

    Do you really think so? I would have thought most people felt very differently.


  38. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 14, 2011.]

    Well what can be said about this season final. All the emotions of the past 11 episodes come to a head in this episode. Its a turbulent time for Buffy, she dies, some comes back and she kills The Master. This is a stella ending to kick start season two.

    Vampires are encroaching into the safe places, the places the gang call their own. They’ve taken over and this is the defining moment that Buffy chooses to accept what is destined for her. She faces The Master. What i find very quintessential of Buffy is that when she goes she doesn’t tell Xander or WIllow. She never burdens them or asks them to help. She protects them. The chemistry and the emotions within this episode are tentative to say the least.

    The scenes shared with Buffy and Giles are some of the most extraordinary of the season. Her reaction to the prophecy was well written and Sarah Michelle Gellar ran through the emotions with ease allowing us to resonate with her.

    Its the reactions and the cohesive pulling together of the gang that give this episode the power it has to be one of the best of the season. Xander’s hatred of Angel is set aside because he loves Buffy, he wants to save her and in the end its him who serves as Buffy’s white knight with Angel serving his purpose as guide dog.

    I agree with you Mike when you discuss Buffy being both the lamb and the hunter. Also the analogy of sacrifice being the prominent factor. The foreshadowing of season 5 and the proclamation that death is Buffy’s gift is set up form this point.

    The ending of the show feels a little rushed and contrived. It screamed to be a two parter. The pace throughout the rest of the episode kept me entertained and the moments between the characters not to mention the number of poignant and notable scenes kept this episode within the high ranking.

    On a final note i loved that Cordelia drove through the school! Such a Cordy thing to do!


  39. [Note: JustJenna posted this comment on March 7, 2012.]


    Spot on observation about the “I’m hungry” comments from Buffy and her earlier conversation with her mother. Very insightful and I totally didn’t catch that.

    I love how 15 years after this show debuted, it still has such a strong and smart following.

    Awesome review!


  40. [Note: JustJenna posted this comment on March 7, 2012.]

    Also, I wish there was a like button or a way to directly reply to reader comments… a reply tree of some sort. It would make it a lot easier to have a conversation about specific topics addressed in the comments.

    Just a suggestion. 😛


  41. [Note: MikeJer posted this comment on March 7, 2012.]

    It’s a good suggestion, Jenna. I may eventually implement some sort of reply functionality, but it would likely still play by the rules of the current system. Anything more than that would be more work than it’d be worth at this time.


  42. [Note: Kyle posted this comment on June 11, 2012.]

    I think the problem with the final act was that they tried to load on too much action. The writers were probably trying to make the last scene seem more climactic but it ended up rebounding on them causing the ending to collapse. That’s the problem with action, it lacks drama, and since drama is what this show really has going for it, the action kind of overwhelmed it. Buffy also has action going for it as well, however, it only goes well in short intense bursts; the action in this episode drags on way too long.


  43. [Note: Rob W. posted this comment on August 18, 2012.]

    The scene where the Anointed leaves Buffy in the tunnel reminds me of the old Mean Joe Green Pepsi commercial. As the kid walks away, I half-expect Buffy to call back, “Hey, Kid!”

    Maybe she could throw him the leather jacket and/or shoot him with the crossbow.


  44. [Note: anonymous posted this comment on September 30, 2012.]

    Hey just wanted to point out something interesting I noticed on a rewatch. One prophecy said that the Annointed One would lead Buffy into Hell and she wouldn’t know him (as he’s a kid, in this case). But Buffy clearly says on school grounds that she knows who the kid asking for help is. That should have warned them that maybe their prophecy wasn’t going to work out entirely, with Buffy dying and all. Maybe I’m finding correlations in thin air, but I thought it was cool 🙂


  45. [Note: Karla posted this comment on October 16, 2012.]

    What is the song at the beggining when Xander and Willow are talking in the Bronze? I have looked for a listing of the song name but can not find it


  46. [Note: Gemma posted this comment on December 5, 2012.]

    This episode sets the timeline of Buffy being known as The Slayer instead of just a slayer because she is from this moment on, Buffy is cut off from the Slayer line. I still like that in season 7, the episode Potential…i think Buffy states that her death could make them the next slayer when in actual fact its Faith’s death that would activate the next slayer….whether its slip of the tongue or the writers made a mistake…I still love it! Guess it doesn’t matter what with the events of Chosen and all!


  47. [Note: Summer posted this comment on December 13, 2012.]

    I love reading your reviews MikeJer. I used to re-watch this earlier episodes obsessively when I was younger to the point where I could practically recite every line but now that I’m older and doing a rewatch I am getting so much more out of it, especially with your reviews and the discussion in the comments. It’s wonderful! I like all the talk about sacrifice and loss of innocence. I think we sort of see this to a lesser extent with the Scoobies in the episode. Xander loses all hopes that he and Buffy could be a thing and sort of sacrifices his pride when he acknowledges that if he’s going to help Buffy he needs Angel’s help. Willow has seen a lot of death but a space she felt to be her own (which I thought was a bit of a stretch because Willow liked computers but never talked about AV Club) was violated (I always think of the bloody hand print on the TV playing the cartoon). Cordelia is then completely initiated into the Hellmouth part of Sunnydale and begins the trend to sacrificing her popularity to help/become a Scoobie. Giles realizes that he will never have all the answers or ability to protect Buffy how he wants. So a lot of sacrifice and loss. Really strong episode but I agree it falls apart in the end. It just ends so quickly. I feel like it wanted to be two hours but they didn’t have that kind of time. I also love how that white dress didn’t seem to get stained at all!


  48. [Note: Less newt posted this comment on November 3, 2013.]

    Mike, this review is fantastic.

    I have also always been bothered by the pacing of this episode. Watching it tonight, I had a thought and wanted to toss it out and see what you think. You highlighted Buffy’s brilliantly filmed opening fight sequence. Slow-motion falling, apparent doubt, standing up, role reversal, pause. Then into normal speed (which feels like high gear): two kicks and a staking in record time.

    Maybe Joss was trying to do the same thing with the structure of the episode, and it just didn’t work as well.


  49. [Note: Monica posted this comment on November 3, 2013.]

    I love this episode. I understand your issues with the final scenes, but mine only lies with the corny use of the intro. I just felt that they could have represented Buffy’s new-found strength in a better way then just showing a sped-up version of her walking and that thumping alternative-rock theme.

    About her resurgence of strength, I actually don’t think it was as random or sudden as you make it seem. Before she drowned, she came in knowing she was gonna die. She knew it was simply fate and there was no getting around it and simply did what she had to do. When she was revived, she understood that fate was met and now whatever prophecy held her down before has been fulfilled and is completely inconsequential. Her power was in her own hands and she, mixed with her extreme adrenaline, had the ability to overpower the Master.


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


    @Monica: I find that interpretation believable, but there’s still nothing particularly tangible provided by the episode itself. Buffy feels different and stronger, and there are several interpretations that can fit that vague description, but nothing concrete. I just found it presented a bit sloppily is all. 🙂


  51. [Note: Boscalyn posted this comment on September 13, 2014.]

    When she tears off the cross Angel gave to her, also in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” [1×01], and throws it on the ground, we witness a clear symbolic moment. The cross, of course, is a symbol of sacrifice. This moment is a rejection of the sacrifice asked of her, which only happens because she had never fully embraced it in the first place.

    The cross isn’t just symbolically relevant for Buffy, though. Vampires are repelled by the cross, but not the Star of David or statues of the Buddha or some girl’s hijab. So we can safely assume that the cross doesn’t assume its power from its status as a religious icon.

    Vampires are, at their core, inherently selfish creatures– people who drain the life force of others so that they themselves can go on living. As Adam says in Who Are You: “You fear death. Being immortal, you fear it more than those to whom it comes naturally.” As such, what scares them about them about the cross is not its religious connotations, but its use as a symbol of sacrifice.

    The other symbolic association of the cross is torture– the crucifix was a torture device, after all. In some ways, vampirism is a lot like crucifixion– a torturous limbo that leaves the victim in a cruel parody of life that can only be ended by death.

    The three vampires seen with crosses are Angel, vamp!Willow, and Spike. Angel carries his cross around as a reminder of the life he refuses in the fight against evil; this is in line with the first meaning. Vampire Willow uses this cross to torture Angel; this fits with the second definition. And Spike cradles the cross in “Beneath You” as a form of self-mutilation that will eventually set him on the path of self sacrifice in “Chosen;” this fits with both.


  52. [Note: Rob W posted this comment on September 18, 2014.]

    It’s pretty hard for me to imagine that someone who would use the phrase “for chicks” would have anything insightful to say about BtVS, or really about much of anything aside from, say, rolling coal.


  53. [Note: Luvtennis posted this comment on February 25, 2015.]


    I think you miss some things here. First, Buffy’s near death is huge. We learn unprecedented in slayer history. So why is she special? Because she sacrifices herself out of love, not duty, like all those other slayers. And in return love brings her back – it is crucial that it is a non-romantic love that does it. Friendship, the most selfless type of love. That’s why Angel is so helpless. At this point he has no understanding of real love. That comes MUCH later.

    Buffy’s almost comic dismissal of the Mayor and the other vamps demonstrates the depth of her change. Of her specialness. The lives of the other slayers have all been tragic. Buffy’s life is comic in the deepest sense of the word. Her love makes for the happy ending. She saves the world by showing that nothing can stop us when we share our power and use it for love. No need to work
    thru the Christ symbolism. Right down to the scene at Gethsemane.

    And one thing to consider, Kendra and Faith exist to show us why Buffy is the one. She fights out of love.

    Finally, it should be re breed that Joss intended thus to serve as a series finale. That’s why the change in tone is so abrupt. He had to show his viewers that Buffy’s fight would achieve the happy ending. In this it is the antithesis of Angel.

    I also find it interesting that all three girls die and are reborn. Buffy literally. Willow at the end of season 2 and Cordy after her two comas (season 1 and season 3). In each instance, they return altered. More connected to their power.

    Great stuff.


  54. [Note: MissMuffet730 posted this comment on May 21, 2015.]

    I completely agree that Buffy as a show is filled with sexual symbolism, and to deny that is failing to peel back the layers of this complex show. Vampires are sexual villians. The use of their mouth to kill reminds me of la petit mort. John Roberts is creepy and repressed but rather an astute observer of the undertones of this complex show. Not all things need to be said in order to be seen and heard.


  55. [Note: Jewel posted this comment on September 15, 2015.]

    If we view Buffy’s death and reanimation as a metaphor for loss of innocence and naivety (sexual awakening), perhaps her easy defeat of the Master is symbolic of the aftermath. In other words, the Master was something that had terrified Buffy all season, something she dreaded and tried to escape, yet he had a hypnotic thrall over her that she couldn’t resist when confronted with him face to face. However, once the act was over, it was no longer scary, nor did it seem like such a big thing after all. I know that analysis doesn’t make up for a lacking climax when you’re doing a TV show, but it’s just a thought.

    Anyway, despite the technical flaws, I truly love this episode. It’s by far the best of S1.

    One little nitpicky thing, though, since no one else brought it up: Cordelia’s complete 180. Just last episode she was still embarrassed to be seen associating with Buffy & Co. Here, she goes right up to Willow, right in front of the same jerkwad boyfriend who had berated her for talking to those “losers.” Just a little abrupt, that’s all.


  56. [Note: RG posted this comment on January 5, 2016.]

    I think one of the things that gets missed about Willow’s stunned “It wasn’t our world anymore, they made it theirs” reaction is the part immediately afterwards: “And they had fun.” The pain and bitterness of that last part emphasizes what the real change is. Willow was starting to realize that the evil out there wasn’t just monsters out to kill, eat, survive, make the cheerleading squad, whatever. We fear those, and rightly so, but they all seem somewhat neutral in their motivations. Their actions are abhorrent, but we can at least understand why a praying mantis lady wants to reproduce or a vampire wants to feed and live forever or even an invisible girl or psychotic zookeeper wants to be noticed or feel powerful. They’re driven by needs and impulses and selfish desires. These are very human motivations taken to evil extremes. But Willow seems to be seeing clearly for the first time the actual malevolence behind some kinds of evil. With the possible exception of the hyena-possessed kids killing Principal Flutie (and Willow didn’t actually witness that) most of the horrors Willow has seen thus far lacked any particular agency other than basic impulses. Vampires drink blood. Demons murder kids to maintain their earthly existence. A vampire king wants to escape his prison. A witch uses her powers to relive her youth. Here, though, I think we are meant to understand that Willow realizes the vampires who killed those guys in the school weren’t simply feeding to survive. They laid out a scene, with the innocuous horror of a children’s cartoon as a backdrop of sorts. That is, they took pleasure in their atrocities. They took particular care to do a set piece as a taunt to the normal world that would discover the bodies.

    The main problem is that Joss didn’t do enough visually. We don’t see everything Willow sees. Even so, the slow focus on the cartoon with that bloody handprint a punctuation does an excellent job of juxtaposition. We see a room of dead kids, yadda yadda, the season is coming to its climax and Buffy will finally have to face the Master. Willow, on the other hand, sees a room where she goes to relax every day filled with jaunty music and guys arranged as if they were still alive to watch — a mockery of normalcy. She realizes that the vampires arranged the scene, that the guys wouldn’t be sitting up on the couch after being murdered and drained unless someone took care to put them in that position. And that smacks of pure malice, taking pleasure in the effect their actions would have.

    I realize some of this is reading between the lines, but I don’t think it takes too much extrapolation to make the connection between the arranged tableaux and Willow’s bitter emphasis on the fun the vampires had invading her world and making it theirs. Looking through the window in the door, it looked like a normal scene that Willow would expect to find (assuming one missed the bloody handprint on the TV.) Walking into the room, on the other hand, made the normal horrify and the horror a mocking recreation of the normal. These are themes that will come to resonate in later seasons, but Willow hasn’t yet reached that point in her journey.


  57. [Note: ppaula posted this comment on July 9, 2016.]

    I think one of the minos cons of this episode is the sloppy character work particularly with Angel. I just don’t buy that he wouldn’t have done anything if Xander hadn’t come or forced him to. It is very sad that in order to emphasize Xander’s “heroic” act they have to make Angel so passive. It especifically makes no sense as earlier in the episode he mentions he wouldn’t be able to live if anything happened to Buffy. Other than that, I thought it was a great episode, not one of the best as many consoder but it really sets the tone for what the series was in the next seasons


  58. [Note: Samm posted this comment on July 9, 2016.]

    Agree with that, it has always bothered me that Angel was going to do nothing to save Buffy. And then not give CPR, definitely a fault.


  59. [Note: NightLady posted this comment on July 11, 2016.]

    Actually he never said that he couldn’t live if Buffy died, this is what he said:

    You think I want anything to happen to you? Do you think I could
    stand it?

    And anyway they are just that: words. As a fact Buffy died later (s5) and on that occasion too Angel did nothing to prevent it and went on with his life just well.

    That said, Angel being passive and indifferent is not sloppy character work and it was not to make Xander appear heroic, that’s just the writers telling their story and portraying their character as he was meant to be: manipulative and liar. We have a whole season (and more) of that, starting from the moment Angel stalked Buffy (and we later see that he even spied on her while she was in her bathroom) and going on with him babbling about wanting to help while doing absolutely nothing, except trying to seduce Buffy. His unconcerned attitude in this scene is actually coherent with everything we have been shown till now and is a blatant proof that his convenient declaration of love just before having sex with Buffy was only a lie. Like saying that he had fallen in love with her when she wasn’t yet a slayer, or like hiding his true identity or like leaving out that HE was the vampire who killed his family.

    Angel was meant to be the metaphor of the bad boyfriend and if you want to see bad writing maybe you should look much later, when a bunch of teenagers thought that stalker Angel was ‘hot’ and that Angel and Buffy’s love story was soooo romantic and the writers retconned everything to make more money from it with a spin-off. Just to be clear, I don’t really thing they retconned anything or that any of it can be called bad writing, I believe they have been very good in showing something that too often happens in the real world: people laying their admiration on the wrong ones. Their ‘mistake’, if one was made, is to have done it so subtly and cleverly that a lot of fans can’t see it and after all these years and after all the evidence that Angel is no good guy, they still lay their admiration on him. Yet another proof, if we ever needed it, of the fact that our world runs backwards.


  60. [Note: B posted this comment on September 5, 2016.]

    I think the abrupt shift in tone resulted from The WB interfering. It doesn’t bother me though. Sarah Michelle Gellar gave an amazing performance and when she quits I feel it. She deserved an Emmy for her work as Buffy. Too bad she hasn’t been able to find a role that plays up her strengths as an actress since.


  61. [Note: revenge demon posted this comment on September 6, 2016.]

    not only sarah but buffy in general deserved many awards… emmy did them wrong big time.. sarah was great in cruel intenions and the air i breathe…


  62. [Note: Sirena posted this comment on September 6, 2016.]

    Hi ppaula,

    Angel does not attempt CPR on Buffy because he has no breath. I’m sure if that weren’t the case that he would’ve tried to resuscitate her.


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