Buffy The Vampire Slayer is returning… in some form. Whether it is the (second) reboot of the premise or a spin-off remains to be seen. However one thing is certain; no matter what path it takes, it has a lot to live up to. The Joss Whedon TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as the titular slayer, is one of the most beloved shows of all time.
So while we wait for news on what the new Buffy The Slayer might bring, we’ve decided to revisit the classic show, looking at the very best of each season, starting with the first. The twelve episode run is slightly light-hearted in tone, compared to later years, rebooting the much aligned movie into a successful TV franchise. Joss Whedon introduced us to Buffy as she arrives in Sunnydale, a California town that just happens to sit on a Hellmouth. This was our first look at popular characters Xander, Willow, Cordelia and Giles, vampire with a soul Angel, his former sire Darla and one of the best (if slightly hokey) villains in the show’s history, vampire king The Master.
The second season would cement Buffy The Vampire Slayer as one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but all the magic that made it so great is present here; Joss Whedon’s quippy, post-modern dialogue, a cool blend of comedy and horror, delightful performances from the main cast and plenty of great twists and turns, particularly when it came to the truth behind love interest Angel and Buffy’s surprise fate when she faced the Master in the season finale.
So let’s kick things off with the five best episodes of the season and the worst one, which is a difficult pick even at this stage…
Welcome To The Hellmouth
The pilot episode is not the strongest episode in the series but it’s a solid and fun introduction to the show and the characters we will come to love over the course of the seven seasons. The opening is a delightful twist on the classic heroine, the blond school girl lured into the empty school by the school jock only to be revealed as the monster; Darla’s vampire face is a cool, subversive moment and set the show apart from the genre it inhabited.
It is packed full of great moments; Buffy turning on stalker Angel really shows her skills in action and he makes a brilliant, moody introduction – not quite a villain but note quite a good guy either. The introduction of the Master, rising from his pool of blood is deeply unsettling and there is a terrific set up in vampires Luke and Darla (sadly the payoff in the following episode ‘The Harvest’ isn’t quite as strong. What could have made it better? Joss Whedon toyed with the idea of having Eric Balfour’s Jessie in the titles, setting him up as a potential slayerette before killing him off next episode. It’s a trick he would cruelly play with the audience years later with Tara in season six…
This isn’t always an obvious choice when it comes to best season one episodes, but there is something delightfully dark about ‘The Pack’ that rises above the rest (pardon the pack pun). For the most part, it’s a fun tale of possessed kids; the use of hyenas make for a nasty but largely inconsequential tale. Xander becoming a bully, and a cruel one at that, is an interesting little detour though.
But then ‘The Pack’ does something so unexpected, that you can’t quite believe what happened. The possessed teenagers, minus Xander thankfully, find themselves hauled up before Principal Flutie… and then eat him. Its rather insidious twist and shows just how far Buffy The Vampire Slayer will go. It also sets up the idea of Sunnydale High principals being eaten too…
What’s the worst thing a vampire slayer could do? Fall in love with a vampire. In this mid-season one episode, Joss Whedon shows that all romance s doomed in his shows as he sets up one of the most tragic relationships in television history. After escaping a trio of deadly vampires sent by the Master, Buffy and Angel find themselves succumbing to their feelings and share their first kiss. Angel transforming into a vampire is perhaps the most unexpected, and cruellest thing that could have happened though season two would take concept to a whole other level.
It is certainly a head-spinner of an episode, throwing recurring villain Darla into the mix as his sire as Buffy is forced to decide whether to kill the man she has started to fall for. Darla is written out of the series far too quickly (though Angel killing her has a certain sense of poetic justice), but thankfully their relationship would be explored more fully in spin-off series Angel.
This is one of the most vivid, evocative episodes of season one outside of the finale, filled with many memorable scenes as the residents of Sunnydale succumb to living nightmares. It’s a great way to explore the fears of the core cast, most notably in Giles and Buffy herself as she finds herself transformed into a vampire, the very monster she hunts on a nightly basis. Xander finds himself tormented by a terrifying clown from a childhood birthday party and Willow finds herself dragged on stage in front of a huge crowd.
‘Nightmares’ is also a great example of how Buffy The Vampire Slayer explored issues faced by many young people in a fantastical but thought-provoking manner. The little boy at the heart of the mystery, is haunted by a brutish figure with a clubbed hand, representing the coach that bullied and beat him. The energies of the Hellmouth just amplifies it until everyone faces their own nightmares. And in doing so, we learn just a little bit more about each character.
The end to season one is also its strongest entry of this debut run, as the Master makes his ascent to power. ‘Prophecy Girl’ is packed full of atmosphere and dread; the blood running from the taps and the school room full of brutally murdered children discovered by Willow are harrowing enough. But it is when the Anointed One leads Buffy to the Master and he kills her that the episode really plays its hand an turns the premise on its head.
At its heart it is about Buffy wanting to have a normal life, wear a pretty dress and go to a school dance. But prophecies of her death and her destiny to fight the vampire king threaten to crush all that. You can feel her pain as she realises too late that she has been led into a trap. Her resurrection might be questionable (though it’s rather poetic that it is Xander rather than Angel that is able to resurrect her with a kiss of life) but the final showdown is rather fun and caps off the season in style.
And the worst episode? That’s surprisingly hard because while none of the episodes in season one reach the heights of season two and three’s finest, there isn’t an episode that is truly bad either. Each story has moments that are hugely entertaining, while setting up future events and characters.
As I noted above this isn’t a bad episode. It’s the first to coin the phrase ‘scooby gang’ in terms of Buffy an her friends and there are some delightfully macabre moments, particularly the fate of Amy’s Witch mother, who finds herself trapped in the cheerleader statue forever. But Buffy’s desire to become a cheerleader adds a certain sense of shallowness and the villain is probably the least memorable in a gallery of rogues for season one.
What are your favourites from Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s debut season? Let us know in the comments below…