Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | November 17, 2010

Robin’s Review: S1, E02 – The Harvest

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – 102 – Harvest

Synopsis: Buffy fights off Luke and saves Xander and Willow from being taken. Willow helps Buffy work out where the vampires are hiding and she heads back alone to the mausoleum. Angel warns her to be careful and Xander leaves school to join her. Jessie has been turned into a vampire and leads them into a trap from which they narrowly escape. Giles learns what the harvest is as the Master will attempt to break free and open the hell mouth. Joyce tells Buffy she can’t go out but she does and heads to the Bronze. While she fights Luke, Giles and Willow help people escape. Xander tries to reason with Jessie but ends up killing him. Buffy kills Luke foiling the Master’s escape plan.

The Good: Another excellent instalment setting up the Buffy universe, its characters, its dangers and its possibilities.

I really enjoyed the detail work. At every stage that you might have a question, it was answered and it all fit within an appropriate emotional context. Having just escaped from an attack by vampires Willow is completely shaken and Xander asks all the obvious questions about how vampires can possibly exist. Giles explains the origins of vampires and demons which shows the writers have thought it all through and explains the haughty and quasi-master race air which Luke and company treat humans with. Willow even suggests they call the police which is exactly what nice people would think to do.

We are also shown elements of the everyday world which have to interact with this secret battle. Buffy can’t just leave school grounds when she feels like it; Principal Flutie stops her and calls her mom. You can see where Buffy gets her morals and good behaviour from because Joyce won’t let this delinquent behaviour slide and tries to discipline her. Buffy is a slayer and has been for a while, so naturally she has a weapons chest full of holy water and stakes. It was also good to see Xander (understandably) want a list of all the different ways that vampires could be killed. Again it was good logic, making Xander seem real and supplying the audience with the necessary mythology. Later when the vampires storm the Bronze they drag the bouncer inside and lock all the doors, so there can be no question of anyone reaching the authorities.

All these moments of logic help build the sense that this is a real world, with all the rules and dangers you would expect. We also get to see the consequences of a vampire touching sunlight and being burnt by holy water to help demonstrate the constraints placed on them in their struggle to kill off humans. By seeing Jessie turn we also get a graphic demonstration of what may happen to characters we get to know. It was interesting that Jessie maintained his desire for Cordelia even after death. Certainly vestiges of his original personality remained and he showed off an individual identity with selfish desires. In other words, vampires aren’t mindless animals, they have their own unique personalities meaning some may be pious like Luke while others may be more petty.

But this episode was by no means a collection of bland logical developments. There were several terrific lines of dialogue which enriched the story. More trademark humour came out when Buffy explained that all the vampires needed to do was get out of the grave yard and “phooom.” Xander incredulously asks if they can fly to which Buffy replies “They can drive.” Later when she meets the mysterious Angel she mockingly asks if he has any friends and when he doesn’t reply she gently says “That wasn’t meant to be a stumper.” Instead of being mere banter between the two she managed to strike a nerve and expose something of his character (see Best Moment for one more good line).

Once more the characters were believable and enjoyable to watch. Xander and Willow begin to find their roles as Buffy’s sidekicks and Giles as the parent of the group. The Master begins to take shape as a villain, eloquent but deadly as he pokes one of his followers eyes out for failing him. Cordelia plays queen bitch with conviction once more and twice holds court in impressive fashion. I will miss Luke, who brought a certain dignity and seriousness to proceedings and almost makes me laugh with his “What? No volunteers?” question. The approach of his gang to the Bronze was nicely filmed, the slow motion and the music building up the tension.

In the end Giles lays out the whole concept of Buffy really nicely. Everyone who witnessed the demons has rationalised or forgotten what really happened and there are plenty more weird and wonderful creatures living around the Hellmouth. So now these four unlikely friends must stand together and save the world. The ideal super hero story.

The Bad: There were extenuating circumstances, but Jessie’s death wasn’t adequately mourned. I’m sure it wasn’t something which Xander and Willow had quite processed yet, nor an emotion the producers wanted to showcase in the first story. But to lose a friend in such a shocking way should have caused a big reaction. We don’t get a sense of what explanation was given to his family or school mates and the full tragedy of those lies. I have little real complaint on this occasion but in a show where death will feature heavily the writing needs to keep an eye on how it is dealt with.

The fight scenes are somewhat rudimentarily filmed at this point. Not the actual blows themselves, more the cuts to the victims being crashed into walls. The cuts are obvious and inadequate at times but that’s a small complaint at this stage.

The Unknown: Who is Angel and what’s his story?

Best Moment: Outside the Bronze Xander makes reference to Jessie as if he is still Jessie. Giles feels the need to step in and sternly says “Listen to me. Jessie is dead. You have to remember that when you see him, you’re not looking at your friend, you are looking at the thing that killed him.” It’s such a good line because it intimately communicates the tragedy and the drama of what a vampire is and represents. A line like that begins to open your mind to the dramatic possibilities of such a concept as well as reminding the characters of their situation.

The Bottom Line: A fine pilot story from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show which in everything (including its title) tells you exactly what it is. Mixing jokes and characterisation into a pretty thorough explanation of a world with demons in it, this is an impressive display all round and a very clever concept for a TV show.

67/100

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