[Review by Mike Marinaro]
[Writer: Jane Espenson | Director: David Grossman | Aired: 02/11/2003]
I’ve always somewhat enjoyed “First Date,” but it wasn’t until I took a closer look at it that I fully realized why. It’s an episode that gets one thing wrong (i.e. Xander’s date) and almost everything else right. “First Date” also serves up some solid setup for the next three episodes and has some ancillary material that is largely interesting to watch. On top of all that, there’s quite a lot of solid humor along with the always awesome quirky Buffy on display. So without further ado, let’s jump into specifics!
The most pronounced and important piece of setup in “First Date” revolves around the obvious difference of opinion between Buffy and Giles over Buffy’s decision to remove Spike’s chip. The conversation between them is absolutely crucial and very much informs the huge situation that pops up in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17]. This is some excellent dialog representing two different points of view. I can completely buy Giles’ argument too — a new chip might, indeed, prevent the First from manipulating him further if the previous one was malfunctioning when it did it before. Giles has an excellent point. Buffy’s rebuttle is true, but not exactly comforting. She tells Giles, “He can be a good man, Giles. I feel it. But he’s never gonna get there if we don’t give him the chance.”
Another important angle of this conversation is Giles’ concern for Buffy over her feelings for Spike. He believes those feelings are clouding her judgement, and that continuing relations with Spike will only lead her to more pain. He says, “Buffy, I want more for you. Your feelings for him are coloring your judgement. I can hear it in your voice. And that way lies a future filled with pain. I don’t want that for you. … It doesn’t matter if you’re not physical with each other anymore. There’s a connection. You rely on him, he relies on you. That’s what’s affecting your judgment.” I greatly sympathize with Giles’ point and genuinely think his concern is valid. I think Buffy’s response is equally valid though. She tells him that “You think I’m losing sight of the big picture, but I’m not. When Spike had that chip, it was like having him in a muzzle. It was wrong. You can’t beat evil by doing evil.” I think this scene is spot-on.
Another aspect of “First Date” I really appreciate is Buffy’s date with Principal Wood. First of all, there’s the absolutely wonderful Buffyesque self-referential conversation between Buffy, Willow, and Xander about their dates. Then there’s Buffy’s growing excitement over the possibility of having a shot with a “normal” guy. Then there’s the pre-date fight, and it all gets wrapped up with an absolutely lovely dinner sequence between Buffy and Wood. I was absolutely thrilled to see Buffy all dressed up and out in the town for a pleasant evening for a change! Good for her! In a nutshell, I really loved this aspect of the episode. My only sadness is that nothing happened between them after the reality of the situation was revealed.
As for the date itself I, like Buffy, find Wood’s backstory incredibly fascinating. He got that position and got Buffy in her position for very strategic reasons. Speaking of which, I felt Buffy’s bit of pain when she realized she didn’t get hired for her counseling skills, as it does take away a little of bit of authenticity of both her job as counselor and Wood’s interest in her. I really like how Buffy’s eyes lit up when she heard that Wood’s mother was a slayer. It’s almost as if that opens up a possibility for her to be able to do the same someday — something that she never thought could happen before. With that said, the fact Wood’s mom got killed when he was four doesn’t bode too well for the idea. Then again, Buffy seems to find ways to continue to stay alive, so anything’s possible and I’m glad the idea for it was thrown out there. Personally, if written well, I’d love to see Buffy as a mother and a slayer 5-10 years down the road.
Spike’s calm acceptance of Buffy going on a date is worth thinking about. He clearly still loves her, but his “eyes are clear” and wants Buffy to be happy over anything else. When Buffy suggested that Spike also try to go on a date of his own, I can’t help but feel that the comment was a little short-sided. I mean, really, who’s Spike, of all people, going to go on a date with, with his situation, backstory, and, oh yeah, vampirism? I feel a little sorry for Spike, I think largely because he’s in a very hopeless situation romantically at the moment — it’s either Buffy or no one at this place and time. The situation is played for some of its inherent awkwardness when Buffy, Spike, and Wood are all in the car together going to save Xander. I just love how uncomfortable everyone is.
At the end of the episode, though, Spike offers to leave town for everyone’s safety and that he’s not that useful to her. Buffy says she doesn’t need Spike here just for his fighting abilities. I think this is the moment Spike realizes that Buffy’s relying on his growing confidence in himself as much as he is her. Spike does some light probing to suss out what the entire situation is, and Buffy’s response is pretty much “I don’t know.” It is clear, however, that she still feels close and very connected to him. If they ever get physical again, it will definitely take some time. But there’s no denying they’ve still got a strong emotional connection.
The one major aspect of “First Date” that really didn’t work for me was Xander’s date. Although some amusement was definitely gained from Xander going on yet another demon date, which is somewhat fitting to revisit in S7, it doesn’t change the fact that it was executed very poorly. The ‘actress’ playing the demon can’t act worth a grain of salt and sticks out like a throbbing thumb. It makes me a little sad that Xander’s even wasting his time on such an obviously not-for-him type of girl/demon anyway. So, I appreciate the comedy here, but this aspect of “First Date” ultimately doesn’t work all that well for me.
The end of the episode has several important moments. One is Giles’ outburst over the sillyness he sees around him. Everyone’s joking around about their crappy dates while they’re facing a known dangerous threat that’s gathering its forces. This is very much in line with Giles’ personality, and I think his comments have a real effect on Buffy judging by what happens in “Get it Done” [7×15]. Second is the entire end scene with the First coming to Wood as his dead mother. This is very effective, as the First gives Wood the one thing he wants more than anything else, and he bites. Now we’ve got the added tension of Wood wanting to kill Spike at any given moment moving forward.
“First Date” is certainly flawed and it struggles in places with becoming a little too inconsequential. Yet it’s also funny, interesting, and sports some pretty neat setup. After watching it I generally have a smile on my face with the fun dread and excitement in the back of my mind that things are about to happen. The season begins to pick up some steam again from this point on. So… Onward! To the end!
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ Buffy’s response to Giles’ outrage at her decision to remove Spike’s chip: chipper and confident.
+ Buffy’s concerned yet perky attitude towards Principal Wood’s recent shifty behavior.
+ Buffy snooping around Wood’s office for evil things.
+ Andrew reading an instruction manual for using a microwave; the First mocking him for it.
+ Andrew making the point that a lot of Buffy’s inner circle are murderers. True, although cicumstances like, ya know, a lack of a soul aren’t really taken into consideration by him.
+ The reference to Dawn spilling pizza sauce on Buffy’s shirt (see “Conversations with Dead People” [7×07] )!
+ Buffy looking — admittedly overly thin — absolutely stunning still.
+ Anya being openly jealous of Xander’s date.
+ Giles’ flash cards!
+ Bad-### Principal Wood taking out a couple vamps!
+ Andrew allowing himself to be wired while talking to the First.
+ The First appearing as Jonathan and creeping everyone out.
+ The cut on Amanda’s head being remembered.
– Although I liked Giles’ little intro chat about watchfullness, it still doesn’t change the fact that the writers played games with us in making us think he was the First. Writers: it didn’t work, move on.
– How did Xander get off a message to Willow while being tied to an ancient device and having his blood pouring out? I guess he could have had it set to send at a certain time automatically in case this happened, but I somehow doubt it.
– The whole Seal of Danzalthar really needs to be explained better. Are there Ubervamps lined up to get out of the seal the moment it ever opens? If so, why didn’t more than one come out in “Never Leave Me” [7×09]? This is just a bit sloppy.
* Spike getting beat up badly by a random demon. This hints at the frustration Buffy will express in “Get it Done” [7×15] over his lack of intensity in a fight.
* Andrew stepping up and taking the concept of redemption more seriously. This hints at a big upcoming moment for him, which happens in “Storyteller” [7×16].
* Giles’ persistent disdain over a chipless Spike becomes a big issue in “Lies My Parents Told Me” [7×17].