Buffy Reflections: Season 2

I certainly didn’t expect to be writing the next one of these so soon, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Buffy it’s that the show is watchable as anything. We finished up the season in a five episode marathon a couple of days ago, and not for one second did I want to take a breather.

Becoming a Buffy fan is every stereotype of the Whedon experience distilled to its purest. The dialogue is playful. The characters are lovable. The stories are earnest. Things are, occasionally, silly. But most importantly it hurts. Whedon’s reputation for ripping out the hearts of his viewers wasn’t earned for nothing, after all. Two of his greatest strengths as a storyteller are his ability to deeply endear audiences with his characters coupled with a willingness to use that attachment to create pain.

He won’t just kill Giles’ love interest Jenny Calendar, he’ll put her corpse in his bed. And why stop at turning Angel evil the moment he and Buffy consummate their relationship? In their first post-coital scene, the newly soulless vampire mocks Buffy’s inexperience while she—at her most vulnerable—gradually breaks down in tears, unable to understand why the person she loves most in the world is suddenly acting like their relationship is meaningless, and that she’s to blame.

The only reason it works so well is because 90% of the series is more or less lighthearted. Sure, students at Sunnydale have a higher mortality rate than deep sea fishermen, but that’s almost part of the fun. It’s all banter and fighting and friendship until the darkness hits, which is why it hits so fucking hard.

The trajectory of this season was fantastic, and a great sign of things to come. The vampire leadership shifting from the Anointed One to the scene-stealing Spike and Drusilla to Angel felt natural, as did the relationships that continued to develop amongst the core cast. Everything progressed naturally, with even the episodes that appeared to stand alone including scenes that built the overall narrative.

There were still some unintentionally dumb stories, but watched with a roomful of funny people, those are wonderful. The highlight this time around was “Go Fish,” featuring an idiotic message about steroids and a swim team coach with some of the least believable motivations ever devised. Great stuff.

But for the vast majority of episodes this season, I didn’t need any sense of irony to deem them great. Bring on Season 3.

Buffy Reflections: Season 1

This has been a long time coming. Of all the shows I’ve known I needed to watch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was always near the top of the list. From the subject matter to the clearly rabid devotion it inspired in its fanbase to the fact that it’s the longest running thing that Joss Whedon ever created, there was never a doubt that it would fit in perfectly with the rest of the media I take such delight in geeking out over every day. The only thing that’s been holding me back is that, once again, it’s the longest running thing Joss Whedon ever created. 144 episodes over seven seasons, to be precise—Not something to dive into lightly.

But it just so happens that I have friends who like Buffy. A lot. One has seen every episode something like four times. Last year they spent several months going through the whole series and, luckily for me, they have every intention of repeating the feat, only this time I’m along for the ride. We began around a couple of weeks ago, and have managed at least an episode on most days. It’s pretty addictive. As we make our way through the show, I’m going to post reflections on each season chronicling my long overdue indoctrination into Whedon’s first phenomenon.

I’d heard very few encouraging things about the first season (which is probably part of the reason I never took the initiative to start it on my own). By most accounts it was a rocky start that barely reflected what the show would eventually become, and at only twelve episodes there were some who advised just skipping it all together and starting with season two. Not an approach I ever really like to take. Even if it wasn’t great stuff, I was willing to do a bit of slogging if it would earn me a more complete perspective on the series and even a slightly greater appreciation for what would follow.

Imagine how great it felt, then, to find that I genuinely liked nearly every episode. Even the one about the evil hyenas (oh who am I kidding? Especially the one about the evil hyenas). Sure, it’s obvious that the show is finding its footing, testing the waters, working out what it wants to be. And of course the production values aren’t anything to write home about, but they’ve got that endearing, low-budget earnestness that can be plenty effective if you’re willing to meet it halfway.

But what really matters are the characters, and they’re wonderful. Buffy is Whedon’s prototypical badass, pretty, clever action-girl. Willow is so adorable it hurts. Giles is probably my favorite—so gloriously British. Xander…well a lot of the time he’s not annoying.

I’m sure they’ll all gain new dimensions as the show goes on, and the already really solid writing will just get sharper.

Happy to say I’m already a Buffy fan, with the knowledge that the best, of course, is still yet to come.