Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Welcome to the Hellmouth (Part 1)

Warrior Woman Wednesday

It's her first day at a new school, and Buffy Summers gets her new friends caught up in a world of supernatural dangers. The vampire slayer is forced to come out of retirement and pick up a stake in order to protect Sunnydale from the monsters that go bump in the night. 

This review was originally posted on September 5th as part of Pilot Season.

Created as a response to the horror trope wherein the helpless blonde girl gets murdered, Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, was intended to subvert the audience's expectations of her and fight back the darkness to save the world.

Cordelia Chase, played masterfully by Charisma Carpenter, is a fascinating creature; she's clearly smart, spouting a clever barb every time she opens her mouth, but she can turn on the charm, befriending Buffy in a matter of seconds, and quickly turn into the villain of the piece, lashing out at Willow (Alyson Hannigan) without provocation or hesitation. Cordelia is, at once, everything that Buffy wants to be and everything that she's loathe to become, and she's a pleasure to watch every moment she graces the screen with her presence.

It's incredibly atypical for a teen-oriented show to have one of its main characters styled so poorly, but to dress Willow Rosenberg in any other way would be so against character that I'm glad Whedon managed it. This depiction of the unpopular nerdy girl is so true to life for someone of her social stature, and it's refreshing that a show like this would allow that kind of fashion.

The soundtrack to this episode is played, perhaps, at too high a volume, and somewhat ill-fitting to the situations depicted. The mood is often off-set by strings that are somewhat too obvious, chords that are too juvenile, and it's clear that they had yet to find the modern-Gothic sense of style that this series so rightfully deserves.

Willow strikes me as the kind of girl who wouldn't have gone to a nightclub alone; had Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Jesse (Eric Balfour) convinced her to go out with them, then, yes, I imagine she would have gone, but not alone. And, even after a pep talk with Buffy, I can't suspend my disbelief enough that this same girl would follow a strange boy into the night.

Angel's David Boreanaz and Darla's Julie Benz, in this early outing, cannot deliver lines to save their lives, and Hannigan appears to be struggling for breath during most of her dialogue, constantly pausing mid-sentence to gather a mouthful of air. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Buffy with more unwarranted awkwardness than the reserved confidence she should have, and Anthony Stewart Head plays Giles a bit more green than he might later down the road. Nicholas Brendon (as Xander) is written and acted in such a real way that I can't imagine anyone else could have played that role.

Charles Martin Smith directs the first foray into Sunnydale and manages fairly well, with only minor missteps. The shot of Buffy as she hangs upside down above the alleyway, while interesting on paper, makes absolutely no sense on screen, and the choreography might have us believe that flipping is the fastest mode of travel.

Whedon knows the ins and outs of each of his characters, and writes them so clearly in his script that no one needs much introduction. He's so apt in the creation of his universe that the viewer can be introduced to a new character, a new concept, and immediately accept it as real. The dialogue is fun without being ridiculous, each character has the right balance of genius and idiocy, and nothing is black and white. Every word in the script it deliberate, and it all fits so perfectly that to take anything out would cause the entire structure to collapse.

This episode foreshadows the coming battle between Buffy and the Master (Mark Metcalf) while also putting into play the love triangle between Buffy, Xander and Willow, as well as the relentlessness with which Jesse will hound Cordelia.

The review of "the Harvest (Part 2)" can be read here.


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