In the first week of the Buffy Rewatch, we discuss "Welcome to the Hellmouth", "The Harvest", and "Witch."
This quote from Joss Whedon (in his DVD commentary for "Welcome to the Hellmouth") really sums up the approach that he and the writers use in the first few seasons of BUFFY. A horror movie as a metaphor for high school - or is it high school as a metaphor for a horror movie?
The first few episodes of any TV show are about establishing the premise of the show, introducing the characters to the viewers (and often to each other), and letting the audience know how the show's makers are going to tell their stories. I think we can discuss the first three episodes of BUFFY in this context: "Welcome to the Hellmouth" and "The Harvest" function as a two-part pilot, and "Witch" is the first episode that functions like a regular episode of the series.
Rewatching "Welcome to the Hellmouth", I remain impressed by how well it introduces the characters, and their distinct voices and relationships. Placing the main character in a new environment is a classic setup for a pilot, and it works well here. The principal characters - Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, Cordelia - are all sharply drawn. Whedon's gift with dialogue is evident in their first lines, really. I'm so glad that the show introduces Jesse for the sole purpose of killing him an episode later. That's enough Eric Balfour for me.
One scene in "Welcome to the Hellmouth" really stands out for me: the scene with Giles and Buffy in the library, where Giles talks about the Watcher's role of preparing the Slayer. Buffy replies: "Prepares me for what? For getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead. Prepare me." That scene right there (and Head and Gellar's terrific performances) completely sells me on the series again. But something I hadn't realized before helps explain why that scene is so powerful.
Because BUFFY was a midseason replacement, the entire first season was shot before the pilot aired. In his DVD commentary, Joss talks about reshooting that scene after the entire first season was shot. And I think Gellar's performance in that scene is informed by the journey that Buffy eventually goes on throughout the rest of the season. Tonally, the scene just feels more mature than most of the rest of "Welcome to the Hellmouth." It's a great sign of things to come for the show.
"The Harvest" is a good conclusion for the pilot - Jesse's death lets us know that there are real stakes for these characters. (Holy shit, you guys, no pun intended.) And there's a great scene between Buffy and her mom Joyce. This is one of the central conflicts through the show's early seasons: Buffy trying to keep her Slayer duties from Joyce, while also trying to be a good daughter and not causing Joyce to worry. This is a popular topic of discussion among the queer theory readings of the show, not that I feel particularly well equipped to discuss it in those terms. (But if YOU do, feel free to talk about it in the comments!)
"Witch", meanwhile, gives us our first look at what a regular episode of the series might be like. It also, for me, helps explain why the concept of the Hellmouth as introduced in the pilot is important - the Hellmouth allows the writers to introduce all types of supernatural activity, not just vampires. If the show had just been about vampires, it wouldn't have become the legendary series it became. "Witch" is a solid episode, enhanced by the nice mother/daughter scenes and the unexpected reveal of Amy's mother having taken over Amy's body. Wanting to fit it, wanting to relive lost youth, wanting to connect with your mother - these are some rich themes. And for an early episode, "Witch" does a good job of dealing with them. (Though maybe because I'm thinking of how great the series becomes, I'm underestimating how well "Witch" tells its story.)
Xander has a great scene at the end of "Witch", which highlights Nicholas Brendon's great timing and line delivery. After Amy is back to herself (but before he knows she's innocent), Xander grabs her:
Xander: I got her! I got her! Cut her head off!
Buffy: Xander, what are you doing?
Xander: ... Saving you?
Buffy: Get your hands off her.
Xander: But she's evil.
It doesn't come across in text, but trust me: Brendon delivers those three lines hilariously.
While rewatching these episodes, I kept thinking of the amazing journeys these characters take over the course of the series. Compare where they are now to where they'll be at the end of season 7. I feel very protective of them - especially Buffy and Willow - and I can't wait to go on these journeys with them again.
"Welcome to the Hellmouth": B+
"The Harvest": B
What did everyone else think?