1.12: Origin Story
...And all that is just to say, this is the review in which I originally began to expand my mental checklist for what I intended to cover for each episode. Some features, such as the character sections and the moniker "Brother Luca's Global Mailings" were born here, and I've tried to reorder the paragraphs so that it makes more sense to read for the first time, but my efforts may have made it worse.
Xander and Bus Stations: To some degree I feel like it's not fair to judge Xander in this episode. It's the first season, he's a kid, and he didn't do any lasting harm. But damn, he's just too symbolic for his own good. There was a letter in Season 8 once that talked about Xander deserving Buffy's love just like every nice guy dreaming about his hot best friend does, and I think that mentality is still in play - maybe it's a minority within this particular fandom, but the real world parallel is too common to leave it alone. At this point in the show, Xander's already been a great friend to Buffy, and we know he'll keep it up for many years, but how does that justify him asking her for more? He's shown that he's conscious of Willow's feelings toward him, so if there's anyone who should understand that romantic reciprocation can't be deliberately induced, he's the guy. I'm uneasy saying this about anyone, even someone fictional, but I've identified his problem and it's this: he needs less self-confidence.
I'm not totally insensate to his pain when Buffy rejects him, but I feel her side so, so much more. She's completely classy, honest, and sympathetic about it, and he still insults her and walks away. This is one aspect of the unrequited crush problem that Xander can't relate to, since Willow has never asked him out: to be put on the spot by someone who you don't want to date, hurt, or lose is a horrible feeling. A lesser woman would have dodged it by accepting and then letting the date fall apart in an awkward mess. Xander has no idea what she's just done for his sake.
However, he does protect Willow during the earthquake and he doesn't do a terrible job with his go-out-with-me speech. Oh, and he helps save the world. He's also got a knack for finding the humor in his pain. (Country music is funny.) See, I'm not anti-Xander. I feel real affection for him.
I feel more for Willow, of course, because her rejection of him when he wants her as his band-aid date wasn't just an act of sensitivity. It was powerful. If she'd been my friend in real life I might not have been sure that she'd have it in her.
One more thing that interests me about the Xander/Buffy subplot is that it doesn't directly tie in with the rest of the episode. You kind of expect them to reunite at the climax, him with an apology on his lips, her saying something that reaffirms their friendship. Instead you have to guess at the moments when each of them are thinking about it - Xander seeking out Angel, Buffy listening to her mom talk about the wrong person asking her to the prom. And indeed Xander's crush doesn't truly see a resolution until (holy crap) near the end of Season 8. This episode isn't a period at the end of that character arc, it's ellipses.
Cordelia and Boyfriends: Hey, Cordy's with a boy. Let's see what happens to him. His name's Kevin. Cordy thinks he's so sweet, and, actually, he doesn't do anything completely repellant. Maybe that's his mistake, although I'm pretty sure he'd be doomed either way.
The scene where Cordy bonds with Willow over men being annoying might be the first time I love her. She seriously likes this guy, and not just because he's popular and a promising investment for her future. She's happy about being with him, she's aware of the effect he's having on her, and it's making her nicer. You can see some actual esteem for Willow shining through - not to mention the way Cordy cries out Kevin's name and drops to her knees rather than screaming and running from the carnage in the AV room. It's sad to watch, but that massacre is an amazingly effective scene even by the standards of later seasons. Later there's a sign that Cordy was grieving for Kevin - sitting where they used to park.
(How the hell did they not see the bloody handprint before opening the door? It's right on top of the pig cartoon!)
Willow and My Feelings: Willow's scene with Buffy following the massacre is every bit as good. "I'm trying to think how to say it. To explain it so you'll understand." There's no judgment there and no resentment, but Willow does have something to say here and battle-hardened Buffy isn't really getting it. Willow's not the same person she was that morning. She's seen evil and experienced the reality of what just a few vampires can take from her. It's not just the lives of her friends; it's her entire world. She can't just let them continue, but she can't necessarily do anything about it either - and Buffy can. Willow's not telling her what she has to do, but Buffy hears it anyway.
Note another key line from Buffy near the climax - "I feel strong. I feel different." Every character experiences a change in "Prophecy Girl"; every one of them is a different person by the end of it.
Giles and Objects: If it's not universally agreed already that Tony Head is the best actor in the show, let's at least start counting votes. Giles is amazing in this episode. As soon as he shows up with his new best friend the Pergamum Codex, he learns about Buffy's fate and from then on we're just watching him deal with it. His fear when he sees her, his air of distraction, his overtired reactions are all the subtle signs of a stoic man losing it. It just drives home the point that this is really, really important to him - and personal. Just a few episodes ago, Buffy's death was his nightmare, and now it's coming true again.
Jenny is fantastic too. (Yay for a rewatch giving me heightened Jenny appreciation!) I love the way she and Giles are drawn to each other during a mystical catastrophe, not in a mystical way but because they're both intelligent enough to recognize it in each other and they know they need help from capable people. (And trusted ones - interesting how blunt Giles is about that, after the Moloch incident.) He snaps at her and she helps anyway.
I wish Willow had been more welcoming toward her. There's a teensy part of me that ships them. But their friendship is one more thing that changes by the end of the episode, isn't it?
So, I gather there are three basic ways to deal with a prophecy that you or a loved one is going to die, as demonstrated by these characters:
- Angel: Denial. The prophecy doesn't really say that. You're reading it wrong.
- Giles: Denial. The prophecy definitely says that, but maybe there's a way around it.
- Buffy: Denial. Who cares what the prophecy says? No fight, no death. Get it?
This is an important, possibly vital, scene for the development of all three of them, but this time around, it's Buffy's style of denial that interested me the most. Had to wonder - would it work? If she just didn't show up for her death, would the Master still kill her somehow? I get the feeling that he wouldn't. He'd break free of his prison, go on a murder spree, and probably get started on the Age of Vampires, but Buffy would live on for the present. She'd still technically be the Slayer, so no new one would be called, but as long as she wasn't living up to it, she'd be safe.
Of course, there's nothing in the Codex that doesn't come to pass, so how does she get around that? Simple - if she didn't fight the Master, the prophecy in the Codex would not have been written. Yup, this is how I manage to believe in both free will and destiny. Once you've made your choice, the past is written to accommodate it and your destiny is formed. It needs some backward thinking but hey, what are prophecies for?
Buffy seems to unconsciously follow that philosophy. Certainly she makes her choice believing that she has a choice: after the moment of denial, she still seems to fear her impending death, but when she does step up to the sacrifice, it's not because she's accepted the inevitable. It's an act of courage, an understanding that her life is worth giving up for the lives of others. Once she made that decision, the prophecy popped into existence somewhere on the far end of the time stream.
Giles, relying on intellect rather than a heroic moral compass, isn't going to take it on faith that he or Buffy can rework anything that already exists. He is, however, familiar with the kind of twisty logic that lets Buffy die and fulfill the book but also live on. Without trying to guess the specifics on how that kind of happy ending could actually occur, he senses that there's a possibility for it and he goes back to the books to figure it out. He and Buffy are both right, in their ways, but he's not a lot of help sitting there with all his books.
More than either of them, Angel's being shaped by his dialogue in this scene, and he's the one who says the least. He'll spend the rest of his eight-season TV presence facing accusations of being a destiny hound, and this is the first strong piece of evidence for it. His denial is the feeblest kind out of the three: the thing in front of my face is not real. On the other hand, even he gets to be a little bit right. Giles kinda is reading the prophecy wrong, and it's kinda not that simple. Angel's convinced of the truth for all the wrong reasons. He's got a Giles mind and a Buffy heart, so while he knows rationally that the facts aren't lying, he also knows it's impossible that Buffy will die. He can't conceive of the journey ending so soon, and he knows that Buffy isn't a slave to fate even if he doesn't believe the same of himself.
My interpretation of Angel in this scene is that he's panicking. It looks different on him than it does on others, but he's caught up in the conflict of an unresolvable problem and it's making him stupid. Until Xander's intervention, he's set on trying to logic his way out of it - as far as I remember, the last time we see him take this approach. Can we assume he learned something from this first brush with prophecy?
Giles certainly did. His plan to take Buffy's place in the fight may have come to nothing, but it was the right thing to do. I'm so touched by the way he humbled himself after their confrontation. He openly admits that she was right, and he's genuinely frustrated when she has her change of heart and won't let him die for her. He even says "I don't care what the books say." As if his life alone isn't enough, here's his identity, too.
Whatever the rest of them go through, though, this is Buffy's story above all. I know each season officially has a theme, but I don't know what they are, so I made up my own. Season One's theme is accepting your destiny - not yielding to the pressure of outside influences, but knowing that who you are is worth being and what you can do is worth doing. Forever after, Buffy can be proud of being the Slayer. She did what nobody else could have done, and she did it because she wanted to.
Giles and Objects, Part 2: I saw some image of Giles recently, and I'm not even sure what it was, but I had a thought like "Man, I love Giles with a sword." And then I realized I'd had that kind of thought before. "Man, I love Giles with a banana." "Man, I love Giles with a computer." Apparently I just love Giles with objects. So I'm going to share that love with you.
Which is when the hail of pebbles starts.
The first few get Buffy's attention, tiny hard pellets hitting the ground around her. She stands as more start coming down.
People -- including Buffy -- all run for cover as the real shower starts. Buffy stands under the archway, watching the hail come down.
Walking away, not near Buffy. He hears:
Check it out! It's raining
Xander looks back over his shoulder.
And turns and goes.
Not a terribly pointy scene, but Xander's reaction actually did make me kinda grin.
There's nothing here that we don't get somewhere else, sooner or later, but I would have liked to see it, especially Angel's trace of fear regarding the Master. And "He doesn't like you anymore" provides such a tantalizing hint about their history. Also, just the idea of a scene which doesn't consist of anything beyond "the Anointed One stops by to threaten Angel" makes me wonder. Is Angel enough of a danger to Team Master that they want to get him out of the way before the big event?
Well, how can we help her?
I'm sorry to bring this up but
we've also got an apocalypse to
Do you mind?
How come she's in the club?
Hey, once the Master gets free, the
Hellmouth opens. The demons come
to party and everybody dies. We
have to prepare. Rupert, you know
This kind of thing happens in the series a few times, doesn't it? That is, the conflict between "save the world" and "save our friend". Makes me think of Buffy's prioritization of Dawn in "The Gift", but in mini.
How big is a Hellmouth, anyway?
I don't know. Hellmouth-sized.
Aww, you guys.
Xander pulls out a stake and his cross. He tosses the cross to Angel --
Ooh! Ow! Hot!
-- who baubles it and tosses it back. Xander tosses him the stake instead.
Doofy but cute.
I don't know about the rest of you,
but I'd really like to get out of
this library. I hate it here.
Changed in the aired version to "I don't like libraries much anymore" (or something like that? it was really hard to hear), but either way, kind of a funny sentiment. That didn't last long.
- Holy crap, the country music Xander chooses is "I Fall to Pieces". Gross!
- Angel's "I like your dress" isn't in the shooting script. Good addition!
- Why did the vampires want to be at the library for the opening of the Hellmouth? Do they derive some kind of energy from their proximity to it? Is it a Hellmouth shower? Are all the best sales on opening day?