Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) is one of my favourite television shows. My friend has recently discovered the show through LoveFilm and this…not reminded me of the show but made me decide to re-watch. Not that I really need to. I started watching when it aired (here in the UK) back in 1997/8. I was hooked from the off. The fact that my Mum didn’t like the idea of me watching a show all about vampires and demons probably aided to my enjoyment. I’m such a rebel. I watched until it ended, fairly impressive considering the mess that was made with showing times on the TV. (This was back in the days before online catch-up.) But, back to the show, I was thinking about what made me fall in love with the show. I know I usually pick out five things but I have more than that for this show. Of course.
(Also, it’s worth pointing out that I’m referencing the whole series so spoilers abound. There was a recent article about how spoilers don’t affect peoples enjoyment of something… I don’t know if I agree but I’m covering my bases with a big spoiler warning upfront.)
Everyone knows of Buffy Summers. The Slayer. She carries the shows name after all. She’s the hero, Joss Whedon’s eponymous blonde and the reason the show exists: the blonde who always gets killed first in a horror film – but not in this case. But speak to fans of the show and Buffy is rarely listed as a favourite character. She pulls the show along but some of the best episodes have her on the periphery.
Then there’s Rupert Giles. The Watcher. All it really means is that he is the father figure of the group. The source of exposition. The grounding of the show in the belief that family is what you make it. His character development may not be as obvious as some of the other characters *cough* Willow *cough* but throughout the show we learnt more about his background (who doesn’t love Ripper?) and his involvement with the “kids” clearly shapes his personality. And there’s also his tendency to get knocked unconscious.
Willow Rosenberg. The spirit of the group (4.22 “Restless”). The character arc that Willow goes through is one that few people could’ve predicted. Computer nerd – girl about college – good witch – evil destroy-the-world witch – earth “goddess”. That’s quite a story. Add in the varied relationships and you’ve got a thoroughly fascinating character. Plus, no-one cries and breaks your heart like Alyson Hannigan.
Xander Harris. The heart of the group (4.22 “Restless”). One of my favourite characters. He is the Cary Grant ‘everyman’ character. He has no special powers, he doesn’t develop any special powers but he is a loyal soul who saves the world (6.22 “Grave”). Xander has great lines and is always great support. His character arc may be a little unfocused when you really think about it but there’s no doubting his development from 1.1. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” to 7.22 “Chosen”.
So those are the four main Scoobies. Other main characters from the show moved around from Cordelia in S1, Angel in S2, Oz in S3, Spike, Anya and Riley in S4, Dawn in S5, Tara (just) in S6. Then there are the great guest stars. My personal favourites (chronologically) including Principal Snyder, Jonathan, Ethan Rayne, the Mayor, Faith, Wesley Wyndam-Price, Andrew.
Each character is treated differently and allows the show to feel more well-rounded. Shows with too many characters can sometimes end up ignoring the development of some of the characters but, generally speaking, Buffy allows growth by giving each character a distinctive voice.
This is what Whedon is known for. That and killing off beloved characters (more on that later). I don’t know anyone that can speak like these characters. They are full of wit, pop culture references and fun. There’s no real point ‘dissecting’ the dialogue, I’m just going to include some great moments:
Giles: The Earth is doomed.
Xander: For I am Xander, King of Cretins. May all lesser cretins bow before me.
Xander: I laugh in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away.
Xander: That’s okay. I don’t wanna go. I’m just gonna go home, lie down and listen to country music. The music of pain.
Buffy: We saved the world. I say we party!
Cordelia: Buffy. You’re really campaigning for bitch-of-the-year, aren’t you?
Buffy: As defending champion, you nervous?
Willow: That’s what it was! I mean, why else would she be acting like such a b-i-t-c-h?
Giles: Willow, I think we’re all a little too old to be spelling things out.
Xander: A bitca?
Cordelia: Well, does looking at guns make you wanna have sex?
Xander: I’m seventeen. Looking at linoleum makes me wanna have sex.
Oz: Sometimes when I’m sitting in class… You know, I’m not thinking about class, ’cause that would never happen. I think about kissing you. And it’s like everything stops. It’s like, it’s like freeze frame. Willow kissage.
Willow: Great. I’ll give Xander a call. What’s his number? Oh, yeah, 1- 800-I’m-Dating-A-Skanky-Ho.
Cordelia: How about because you’re a tiny, impotent Nazi with a bug up his butt the size of an emu?
Buffy: Sums it up.
Spike: We like to talk big. Vampires do. ‘I’m going to destroy the world.’ That’s just tough guy talk. Strutting around with your friends over a pint of blood. The truth is, I like this world. You’ve got… dog racing, Manchester United. And you’ve got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs. It’s all right here. But then someone comes along with a vision. With a real… passion for destruction. Angel could pull it off. Goodbye, Piccadilly. Farewell, Leicester Bloody Square. You know what I’m saying?
Giles: Unbelievable. ‘Do you like my mask? Isn’t it pretty? It raises the dead!’ Americans.
Xander: And they say young people don’t learn anything in high school nowadays, but, um, I’ve learned to be afraid.
Snyder: Whoa, Summers! You drive like a spaz!
Willow: A doodle. I do doodle. You too. You do doodle, too.
Wesley: My. She is cheeky, isn’t she?
Faith: Uh, first word: jail; second word: bait.
Buffy: You had sex with Giles! You had sex with Giles!
Joyce: It was the candy. We were teenagers.
Buffy: On the hood of a police car!?
Joyce: I’ll be downstairs. You feel better.
Anya: Look, I know you find me attractive. I’ve seen you looking at my breasts.
Xander: Nothing personal, but when a guy does that, it just means his eyes are open.
Xander: Here’s your coffee. Brewed from the finest Colombian lighter fluid.
Xander: Aren’t you supposed to be drinking tea anyway?
Giles: Tea is soothing. I wish to be tense.
Xander: Okay, but your destroying a perfectly good cultural stereotype here.
Buffy: And what are we if not women up to a challenge?
Willow: Exactly. I mean, did we not put the ‘grr’ in ‘girl’?
Spike: I love syphilis more than you.
Buffy: There’s no problem that cannot be solved by chocolate.
Willow: I think I’m gonna barf.
Buffy: Except that.
Xander: And was there a lesson in all this? Huh? What did we learn about beer?
Xander: Good. Just as long as that’s clear.
Giles: I have a friend who’s coming to town, and I’d like us to be alone.
Anya: Oh, you mean an orgasm friend?
Giles: Yes, that’s exactly the most appalling thing you could’ve said.
Buffy: That probably would’ve sounded more convincing if I wasn’t wearing my yummy sushi pyjamas.
Spike:You know why I really hate you, Summers?
Faith in Buffy: ‘Cause I’m a stuck-up tight-ass with no sense of fun?
Spike: Well, yeah, that covers a lot of it.
FiB: ‘Cause I can do anything I want, and instead I choose to pout and whine and feel the burden of Slayerness? I mean, I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have anything. Anyone. Even you, Spike. I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckled and your eyes rolled up. I’ve got muscles you’ve never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you popped like warm champagne, and you would beg me to hurt you just a little bit more. And you know why I don’t?(pauses) Because it’s wrong.
Spike: Oh, Pacey! You blind idiot. Can’t you see she doesn’t love you?
Spike (to Buffy): Uh … I do remember what I said. The promise. To protect her. If I had done that … even if I didn’t make it … you wouldn’t have had to jump. But I want you to know I did save you. Not when it counted, of course, but … after that. Every night after that. I’d see it all again … do something different. Faster or more clever, you know? Dozens of times, lots of different ways … Every night I’d save you.
Spike: Oh, listen to Mary Poppins. He’s got his crust all stiff and upper with that Nancy-boy accent. You English men are always so… bloody hell! [counting them on his fingers.] Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks. Oh god… I’m English.
Giles: Welcome to the Nancy tribe.
Spike: ‘Made with care for Randy’. Randy Giles? Why not just call me ‘Horny Giles,’ or ‘Desperate for a Shag Giles’? I knew there was a reason I hated you!
Buffy/Joan: A vampire with a soul? Oh, my God! How lame is that?
Andrew: Think your little witch buddy’s gonna stop with us? You saw her! She’s a truck-driving magic mama! And we’ve got maybe seconds before Darth Rosenberg grinds everybody into Jawa burgers! And not one of you bunch has the midi-clorians to stop her!
Nancy: Is there anyone here that hasn’t slept together? (Xander and Spike exchange looks.)
Anya: All I’m saying is soulless Spike would have had me upside down and half-way to happyland by now.
Spike: Who you gonna call? (Buffy looks askance at him.)
Spike: God, that phrase is never gonna be usable again, is it?
Buffy: Doubt it.
Giles: Now wait a minute—you think I’m evil… if I bring a group of girls on a camping trip and don’t touch them?
Spike: You listen to me. I’ve been alive a bit longer than you, and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine, and done things I prefer you didn’t. Don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood… which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain. So I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred-plus years, and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of. You… Hey, look at me. I’m not asking you for anything. When I say I love you, it’s not because I want you, or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are. What you do. How you try. I’ve seen your kindness, and your strength. I’ve seen the best and the worst of you, and I understand, with perfect clarity, exactly what you are. You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the One, Buffy.
Buffy: I don’t want to be the One.
Spike: I don’t want to be this good-looking and athletic. We all have crosses to bear.
Buffy: (about Spike) It’s different. He’s different. He has a soul now… What?
Angel: That’s great! Everybody’s got a soul now.
Buffy: He’ll make a difference.
Angel: You know, I started it. The whole having-a-soul. Before it was… all the cool new thing.
Buffy: Oh my god, are you twelve?
Angel: I’m getting the brush-off for Captain Peroxide. It doesn’t necessarily bring out the champion in me.
Buffy: You’re not getting the brush off. Are you just gonna come here and go all Dawson on me every time I have a boyfriend?
Angel: A-ha! (points) Boyfriend!
Giles: The Earth is definitely doomed.
(Ok so ‘some’ great moments… I may have got carried away. But the show did have 144 episodes.)
The Twists, Shocks and Deaths
Every season had big moments. Be they shocking deaths or twists in the expected storyline.
- Jesse was killed. There was no emotional connection but it was still unexpected.
- Angel revealed to be a vampire. Less shocking now, but at the time I think it was a pretty big deal.
- Buffy died. The hero of the show died. Sure she came back but no-one expected her to die.
- “Introduction” to Ripper. Giles wasn’t always a tweed-wearing librarian.
- Kendra the Vampire Slayer. OK, not great but having an additional Slayer had repercussions for later on.
- Angel became Angelus. The stereotype of ‘he changed’ after sex. But to a supernatural extreme.
- Oz is a werewolf. Deadly around the full moon, teeny otherwise.
- Jenny Calendar’s death. Long running characters can be killed off. Especially if they are in a happy place.
- Angelus is “cured” to become Angel and Buffy kills him to save the world. Harsh.
- Willow and Xander start their affair.
- Faith kills an “innocent”. A turn of events for the rest of the season, even into Seasons 4 and 7.
- Buffy stabs Faith.
- Angel drinks Buffy’s blood.
- Angel leaves.
- Spike is “housebroken” with the chip in his head.
- Oz cheats on Willow and leaves.
- Willow falls in love with Tara.
- Dawn. ‘Nuff said.
- Spike falls in love with Buffy.
- Riley leaves. But, did anyone really mind?
- Joyce dies. A human death. No supernatural cause and no way of preventing it.
- Buffy dies.
- Buffy is resurrected. From Heaven.
- Giles leaves.
- Buffy and Spike kiss. Then begin their unhealthy “relationship”. (I’m still more for Buffy and Spike than Buffy and Angel but we can all agree it wasn’t healthy.)
- Xander ditches Anya at the altar.
- Anya becomes a vengeance demon again.
- Anya and Spike sleep together and hurt both Xander and Buffy.
- Tara is shot by Warren.
- Willow kills Warren.
- Giles returns.
- Willow tries to destroy the world.
- Spike gets his soul.
- Anya causes multiple deaths and Buffy tries to kill her.
- Andrew kills Jonathan. This broke my heart a little bit. It took me a long time to forgive Andrew.
- Principal Wood is the son of Nikki Wood, the Slayer Spike killed in New York in the 70s.
- Faith returns. Reformed.
- Willow turns all the potential slayers into Slayers.
- Anya dies.
- Spike “dies”. The announcement of his involvement in Angel Season 5 was one of the worst kept secrets ever.
Every fan has favourite episodes. The episodes that can show the extreme strengths of the show, especially when compared to some of the much weaker episodes – 2.11 “Ted” anyone?
You’ve got the musical one (6.7 “Once More, With Feeling”); the silent one (4.10 “Hush”); the heartbreaking-no-background-music-death one (5.16 “The Body”); the amnesia one (6.8 “Tabula Rasa”); the dream one (4.22 “Restless”). Those are just the generic descriptions of some of the best episodes. What are my favourites? Why, I’m glad you asked. But don’t ask me to order them. I like chronology:
3.13 “The Zeppo”
3.21+22 “Graduation Day”
5.7 “Fool for Love”
5.16 “The Body”
5.22 “The Gift”
6.7 “Once More, With Feeling”
6.8 “Tabula Rasa”
“Rewards” for Faithful Viewers
Throughout the show there are moments that are foreshadowed or aspects that aren’t referenced until much later on.
There’s the foreshadowing through dreams, mostly Buffy’s and ranging from 1.1 “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, 2.13 “Surprise”, 3.22 “Graduation Day” to 4.22 “Restless” with other prophetic dreams throughout.
Fun foreshadowing that probably wasn’t intended – my favourite being the references to ‘railroad spikes’ first by Xander in 1.3 “The Witch”, then as the source of Spike’s nickname in 2.3 “School Hard”, finally to the “truth” behind William the Bloody in 5.7 “Fool for Love”.
Buffy’s callback in 7.6 “Selfless” to Xander’s lie in 2.22 “Becoming, Part Two” about Willow’s message. It took five years but they called back to it. Joyce in 2.22 “Becoming, Part Two” remembering her earlier meeting with Spike in 2.3 “School Hard”.
There are also lots of other little fun bits like a vampire in S5 that talks to Riley – we saw her as a human in 3.16 “Doppelgangland” when she was presumably turned by Vamp-Willow.
A lot of the early costumes are hilarious. Mostly accessories wise – massive plastic rings, block heels, bright pastel nail varnish. There’s also the tendency for Buffy to wear trousers that are too short. Maybe that was a fashion of the 90s? I don’t remember. Here’s some particular greats, for various reasons:
When the show started they had various bands playing at The Bronze. Bands I’ve never heard of and only know the names of now because of Buffy and the soundtracks (yep, I’m that kind of fan). Their music has become synonymous to me for some of the scenes in early episodes. Especially with Four Star Mary standing in for Dingoes Ate my Baby. Later on, they had Michelle Branch as a guest artist. She has been mocked on The Gilmore Girls and appeared on Charmed and One Tree Hill so she’s kind of made her way around. But in the UK she’s not well known at all. She performed ‘Goodbye to You’ at the end of 6.8 “Tabula Rasa” and the song makes the scene all the more heartbreaking. Ask anyone. And Aimee Mann appeared in 7.8 “Sleeper” performing ‘This is How it Goes’ and ‘Pavlov’s Bell’. The show introduced me to those two artists and, mocked as I may be for Branch, I love them both – mostly Mann though.
Then there’s the score of the show. Some of the most effective score pieces are from 4.10 “Hush” (where music is so important to the atmosphere), 4.22 “Restless” (scoring those bizarre dreams), 5.22 “The Gift” (to background Buffy’s last words to Dawn) and 7.22 “Chosen” (for Buffy’s final battle and final showdown).
And let’s not forget Sarah McLachlan – 2.22 “Becoming, Part Two” and 6.22 “Grave” just wouldn’t be the same without ‘Full of Grace’ and ‘Prayer of St. Francis’ respectively.
The Influence on TV
I found an article online months/years ago (I’m not sure) about the influence Buffy had on TV shows – it may be clutching at straws a little bit but it makes for fascinating reading. But, I can’t find it anymore. Weird this being the internet but it’s not there anymore!
I know there were references to:
- flashbacks. The first flashbacks in Buffy started with 2.21 “Becoming, Part One”. Flashbacks are/were commonly used in Lost, Revenge, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries (vampire shows love a flashback), One Tree Hill, and more!
- episodes where the lead takes a back-seat. The best Buffy example is probably 3.13 “The Zeppo”. This episode was cited by Russell T. Davies as inspiration for the Doctor Who episode “Love & Monsters” where the Doctor makes brief appearances – other Doctor Who episodes have done similar. (Don’t forget the brilliance of “Blink”.)
- experimental episodes. So this is referencing the silent 4.10 “Hush”, the dream-heavy 4.22 “Restless”, the background music-less 5.16 “The Body” and the musical 6.7 “Once More, With Feeling”. The earlier examples maybe aren’t so easily spotted but what show HASN’T had a musical episode? (And no, Glee, Smash and Nashville do not count.) There was Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, and others. (Ok, technically Buffy wasn’t the first TV show to have a musical episode but the popularity of the episode has led to its description as ‘influential’ on other musical episodes.)
- long running story arcs. I’m sure that other shows had long-running stories (so please don’t confirm which ones) but I’m pretty sure that the success of Buffy‘s arcs lead to further shows basing entire seasons around one story. This mostly refers to more science-fiction based shows because dramas never had ‘monster of the week’ episodes anyway. Lost was a show that was based entirely on long-running stories.
I’m really sorry, I can’t remember the other points! But those are probably the main ones, right?
This was a super long and geeky post so thank you for reading, if you made it through, and please share your thoughts!
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