FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Welcome to the Hellmouth
"Into every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer."
And so opens Welcome to the Hellmouth, the very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show by an experienced writer but first-time show-runner, starring no one you'd really heard of and based on a 1992 film that pretty much flopped. It shouldn't have worked, but Buffy has gone on to become a cult classic and as for that show-runner? Well, Mr Joss Whedon has just directed the third highest grossing movie in history. Not bad for a little supernatural show on a smaller network. It also happens to be my favourite television show as it was the first time I'd ever got sucked in by a show's mythos, fell in love with the characters and admired the dialogue so much that it not only completely altered my speech for a while, but I still regularly pinch phrases for every day witticisms.
It is therefore my pleasure and my privilege to embark upon this rewatch, starting with Welcome to the Hellmouth and continuing every Thursday (because Buffy used to air on a Thursday - BBC2, after The Simpsons and Fresh Prince of Bel Air) until we get to the series finale, Chosen. We're in for the long haul then, but it's totally going to be worth it and so, without much further ado (topical Whedon joke), let's begin.
Welcome to the Hellmouth opens with a nice, standard horror trope; a really really ridiculously good looking couple are doing what they shouldn't be in school after dark. The guy's all predatory whilst the girl is blonde, coy and practically has 'victim' stamped across her forehead. In actual fact, there's something else ridgey and nasty across her forehead as she, Darla (Julie Benz) turns out to be a vampire, killing the boy in a surprise attack.
Immediately establishing its own take on the vampire, the facial transformation becomes a key part of the series and the make-up, now iconic, is part Lost Boys (a Whedon influence) and part Klingon. An excellent cold open, this scene pretty much set the template for this entire series; Buffy was going to be about subverting genre tropes as we see not only the blonde turn out to be the killer in this situation, but then another blonde, Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) herself, turn out to be a superhero.
After the now-iconic credits, we're introduced to Buffy, as she makes her way to school for the first time. Navigating the social landscape proves difficult as she is immediately commandeered by Queen Bee Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter) though finds herself more in tune with the geeky Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Jesse (Eric Balfour). She also meets her Watcher, Rupert Giles (Anthony Steward Head) for the first time though rejects him and her role as the Slayer, stating she has left her slaying days behind her in LA. After Darla's victim is found in a locker, Buffy investigates and confronts Giles about it, still refusing to face up to her responsibilities and only be 'extra-curricular' about it all.
The character of Buffy really hits the ground running in this episode and we learn a lot about her without the narrative ever resorting to excessive exposition, most of which is established in that excellent second scene between her and Giles. He declares his role as a Watcher is to train her and prepare her, to which she responds: "Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead! Prepare me." And thus, we're given the most important insight into Buffy's world, her two lives, the pressures she faces and the reluctance with which she does so.
Another aspect of her character that starts to emerge is her loyalty to her friends; although she has only known them for a day, Buffy rushes off to save Willow when she leaves The Bronze with a vampire and puts her life on the line to keep her, Xander and Jesse safe against Darla. We also meet Angel (David Boreanaz) for the first time, currently playing the role of tall, dark, gorgeous 'in an annoying sort of way' stranger with cryptic clues about The Harvest, which has something to do with the mysterious vampires we keep cutting away to in their attractively candle-lit lair.
The dialogue is already quotable and sparkling with the series' trademark wit with the cast rising to the challenge. Carpenter's Cordelia gets some of the best zingers and a personal favourite of mine: "don't you have an elsewhere to be?". I'll be picking out one quote that stands out each episode which is already proving to be a tough decision in Welcome to the Hellmouth alone as there are so many great lines. The comedy is obviously there, but the charm also lies in the smaller, character-driven moments like Buffy's earlier example of 'Prepare me' and Willow's comment that Buffy can't 'legally' be friends with both her and Cordelia.
The final showdown in the mausoleum also sets the template for fight scenes to come; Buffy gets quippy and kicks some ass, though this one ends on a cliffhanger as candle-lit layer vampire has appeared from nowhere and appears to be winning the fight. Does he succeed? Well, twelve more episodes of this season and another six seasons beyond that says no but that just means this trip back into the past is only just beginning...
Quote of the Week:
Buffy: "This is not gonna be pretty. We're talking violence, strong language, adult content..."
Let's Get Trivial: Torrance High School is used as Sunnydale High for the first three seasons. It also appears as the school in Beverley Hills 90210, She's All That (starring SMG's future husband, Freddie Prinze Jr) and its spoof, Not Another Teen Movie.
Demonology 101: The 'Vampyr' book that Giles make such a big fuss about? Rarely seen again and then only in the background of certain episodes.
Sunnydale Who's Who: Amongst others, Ryan Reynolds auditioned and for the role of Xander. A mistake you might say, but he's not done badly since.