FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Prophecy Girl
Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Master remains trapped beneath Sunnydale in an old, abandoned church but he still has sights set on meeting the Slayer. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel are slowly moving towards a romantic relationship, while Angel has given Giles the Pergamum Codex, an ancient text detailing key prophecies about the Slayer.
Well, here we are at the end of Season One - my, doesn't time fly? First of all, I must apologise for the week long lateness in this edition of the great Buffy Rewatch - last week was my birthday and I was doing things like getting drunk and opening my presents (big shout out to my little brother who bought me a TARDIS-shaped teapot - yes it is as awesome as it sounds). However, I am back and ready to both rock and roll for the finale of the first season, Prophecy Girl, an episode which sets many things in motion, ties up a couple of loose ends (mainly, a Master-shaped one) and most importantly, it's pretty damn good.
Joss Whedon has frequently noted that Buffy was under constant threat of cancellation and so each finale was designed as an episode in which the main storylines of each season could be wrapped up with some form of closure for the characters whilst leaving it open for future developments. Prophecy Girl is one of the best examples and is a classic episode in terms of Whedon's determination to break all the cliches and produce one kickass show. Let's face it, most horror-themed shows would have taken the blonde in the prom dress and killed her off in the cold open. In Buffy, she gets to win (we'll ignore the impracticality of fighting in a floor-length dress). And that is the show in a nutshell.
The episode opens with Xander comically rehearsing his 'asking Buffy to the dance speech' with an adoring Willow, Buffy slays three vampires while Cordelia makes out with a guy in a car and Giles discovers something in the Pergamum Codex. And then... Earthquake. Earthquakes in Buffy, as we shall see in future episodes, are a Very Bad Thing and usually connected with the end of the world. And so it is here, as this earthquake finds the Master set free with some grandiose speeches followed by an excellently dry one-liner as he guesses where the quake is on the Richter scale. Apart from their brief encounter in Nightmares, an episode we'll refer back to shortly, Buffy and the Master haven't met and so the entire season has been building to this confrontation but it takes us a while to get there.
What is perhaps my favourite aspect of this episode is the way in which it builds to this confrontation, not just in apocalyptic signs such as a cat giving birth to snakes, but in the relationships between the characters, carrying far more dramatic weight than any tap running with blood. The scene in which Buffy overhears that she is fated to die the next day is one of the more heartbreaking scenes in a series full of them. Sure it's no "your shirt..." or "Mom? Mom... Mommy?" but it's up there.
It is one of the many moments in which Sarah Michelle Gellar knocks it out of the park with a mixture of anger and fragility that comes to define Buffy through her central conflict; having a normal life or doing her duty. Also, credit must go to Anthony Head for this scene too; his paternal feelings towards Buffy smashed to pieces by the sense of helplessness that she reinforces. Both characters have to face up to the fears that they discovered in Nightmares (told you we'd come back) and Giles and Buffy must deal with her impending death. There's a wonderful dynamic between the two of them and this is properly explored here for perhaps the first time.
Likewise, it's a momentous episode for the other members of the Scooby Gang; Cordelia is forced to face up to the bloody reality of life in Sunnydale and all the horrors that come with it whilst Willow also gets a wake-up call when the pair discover dead bodies in the AV room. However, this episode is particularly important for Xander in his capacity as the male best friend; he's the one member of the Scooby Gang who charges after Buffy and then he is the person who saves her life.
Episodes where Xander is the outright hero are few and far between and he here is, crucially, because he is alive and therefore able to administer CPR to the drowned Buffy. This also makes him responsible for rewriting Slayer history as bringing Buffy back to life means that she'll still be around when the new Slayer is called. The Xander-Angel rivalry has always been one of my favourite aspects of the first few seasons and it's great to go back to their first big moment together, particularly as their conversation provides one of the more humourous scenes; "You were looking at my neck!"
With that, there is little left to discuss but the final showdown between the Master and Buffy, a wonderful deconstruction of the dynamics of various genres, action and horror mostly. There's the pithy one-liners and then the Master's great put-down; 'ah yes, the feeble banter portion of the fight". Of course, death doesn't stop her and she returns in a blaze of Nerf Herder glory and kicks the crap out of him and sends the surprisingly-not-terrible-special-effects tentacle creature back into the Hellmouth which we now know is smack-bang beneath the library. It's the kind of battle that suits the big finale and though it will pale compared to the Buffy-Angel swordfight next season or Buffy versus Glory in season 5, it's still dramatic enough to hold your attention.
I didn't intend this post to be quite so long, but I'd forgotten just how good a finale Prophecy Girl is; I haven't even mentioned the excellent music for this episode - the theme makes a key appearance and then there's a gorgeous piano arrangement of it for the post-battle reflection scene. The final scene, in many ways, encapsulates Buffy like no other moment in the first series did. The humour is there, the drama, the conflict and the sense of family that you get from watching the gang defeat the Big Bad for the first time. Now we're on to Season Two which contains both some soaring highs and some crashing lows. It also happens to be my favourite season so I'm a tad giddy about revisiting it.
And Buffy? I know you've heard it before, but your dress really is very pretty.
Quote of the Day:
Buffy - "We saved the world. I say we party."
You can read Becky's review of the previous episode, Out of Mind, Out of Sight, here.