Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Buffy Rewatch (Season 1)
Over at Nick at Night they are doing a year-long re-watch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer—all seven seasons in one year. In the posts here at NonModern, there will not be a lot of recap and review, (go to Nick at Night for that) but there will be a closer examination of the theological and philosophical aspects of the episodes.
Season one is typically first season-y. It has not quite developed the look and feel of the golden age Buffy to come and it has a certain “monster of the week” feel. Sometimes the special effects and makeup of this season let the story down. Towards the end of the season, one gets a distinct early “Doctor Who” feel. That is especially true when one considers that this is highly intelligent conceptual storytelling packaged in a very cheap production. That will thankfully be remedied in seasons to come. Taken in thematic rather than broadcast order:
Episodes 1 & 2: Initial World Building
The whole of the first season is an exercise in establishing the Buffy-verse, but here in the opening two-parter we establish the explanation for why so much happens to this one teen-age girl in this one town. This sort of set up would have helped Jessica Fletcher too. Maybe Cabot Cove was built on a Hell Mouth or murder?
Episode 3: Magic
“Witch” shows us how the series is going to handle magic. You have two ways to go when it comes to magic in fantasy: mechanical or ceremonial. The first is a magic that works like science that we haven’t explained yet, the second taps into supernatural power and channels it. The magic of the Buffy-verse is the later. This will become more important to issues of faith and philosophy when it is used for both good and evil later in the series.
Episode 6: Bullies
Xander receives leap-years of character development in “The Pack” exploring the joys of bullying and being bullied. Here we see the huge capacity this show has to explore important real-life issues in a thought provoking yet entertaining way.
Episode 8: Relationships & Dating
Willow’s episode “I Robot, You Jane” does a good job of exploring issues of identity and trust, if in a slightly dated way. The cheese level is high, but the ideas here are interesting regardless. We also get the first foray into Buffy-verse demonology, although the subject will undergo a huge amount of evolution before Buffy and Angel come to an end. Basically, the series chooses to couch their sci-fi and fantasy into terminology that speaks a religious language. There are few “monsters” in the Buffy-verse. Most things that go bump in the night are demon based, including vampires. That being said, there are no angel counterparts to the demons and the show is ultimately Agnostic, not theistic; more Lovecraft than Bible.
Episodes 4, 9, 10 & 11: Lesser Monsters of the High School Experience
A string of adventures this season involve largely “throw away” scares. “Nightmares” does so quite literally. It is a mess of a concept, but a personal favorite. “The Puppet Show” and “Teachers Pet” are entertaining but forgettable. Forgettable is more than just an adjective in “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” but describes the episode quite well.
Episode 7: Every Hero Has an Achilles
One of the amazing things about Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a show is that decisions the characters make have consequences; not just during that episode but for the remainder of the series. Buffy’s weakness is revealed to be that she tends to fall for the wrong sort of guy. This will be explored much further in season two, but here we discover that the guy she has a crush on is a vampire. To make matters much more grey, he is not an evil vampire which is just a body inhabited by a demon—he has been cursed and has a soul. He is a very good picture of the old “flesh vs. spirit” battle.
Episodes 5 & 12: Prophecy and Apocalypse
At the end of season one, we see our first Apocalypse. (Spoiler! Season one is not the last season, so you know how it goes.) With the cheap production values and the walking through corridors and tunnels this is where you see the most Doctor Who vibe. The monsters at the end are less Lovecraft and more… cringe-worthy. What is important here is the way the series sets up its take on prophecy. Things are foretold, but no one is sure exactly what the prophecies mean until they happen. This will continue to be an important feature of the Buffy-verse, and it is a closer understanding of Biblical prophecy than most religious prophecy one sees in stories. (Or reality for that matter.)
Here is a trailer that someone put together for the season. It is pretty well done and hopefully the people who own the material that was used will see it as a good promotion of their story. If not, it will be removed.