Posted by: thebuffyrewatch | September 10, 2012

Robin’s Review: S5, E01 – Buffy vs Dracula

Synopsis: Buffy can’t sleep and spends her nights hunting vampires. Giles thinks he is no longer needed and tells Willow he plans to return to England. Dracula approaches Buffy in the grave yard and says he came all this way to see her. The next night he visits her in her room and feeds on her. Dracula turns Xander into his minion while Riley and Giles go searching for him. They find his conspicuous castle but are detained while he and Buffy spend some time alone.

The Good: Buffy season premieres are usually strong episodes focussed on her identity and emotional state. This is both a continuity and a change from that formula. In one sense it is yet another confirmation of the premise of the show. Buffy is the vampire slayer and will continue to slay them no matter how alluring they are. She also still relies on her friends and Watcher to help her fight the good fight.

However the differences are what stand out. Buffy is no longer sure of her identity in quite the same way. She is now aware of the darkness inside and wants to better understand her own power. She is also less relationally alone than she has been. Season Four began with a story about Buffy’s isolation. Season Five begins with her in bed with Riley and ends with Dawn invading her room. She also asks Giles to once again become a fully involved part of her life as the Slayer. It seems like her relationship to those around her is going to be key to this new phase of her life.

I thought the episode worked well overall. Dracula was weaved into the mythology of the show in a fairly seamless way. We’ve already met vampires who had evolved new aspects to their physiology (The Master, Kakistos from 303) so why not the most famous vampire of them all? The castle, the sisters and the transformations were all dealt with by the characters in a way which both made Dracula just another villain while also maintaining his mystique.

What seemed to work particularly well was that Dracula could continue with the questions raised by the First Slayer in “Restless” (last episode). One of the first things he asks if whether Buffy really knows what a Slayer is. He follows up by calling her a killer and telling her that her power is rooted in darkness, both things which came up in her dream. He actually repeats what Tara said to her in the dream “You think you know what you are. What’s to come. You haven’t even begun.”

I also liked the use of Angel’s bite marks (from 322) to remind us of her previous brush with darkness. The same sexual and intimate imagery was used in his attempts to seduce her and we got a lot of close-ups of their faces during those moments. It communicated that deeper connection that Slayers and Vampires share while also reminding us that as with the Master (who also got Buffy in his thrall) she is capable of overcoming such power.

Giles’ decision to move back to England felt mature and sad. Willow’s overcompensation in response was sweet and Buffy’s desire to re-involve him in her life worked nicely. Riley’s jealousy and feelings of impotence around Dracula were interesting. He and Spike actually had a surprisingly tense discussion about the situation. Last season Riley and Buffy seemed to have endless conferences about their relationship and they look set to continue. Willow also reminds us of her growing powers of magic as she seems to bring on a storm in response to helping Xander get a fire going.

The Bad: I wasn’t impressed with Xander challenging Dracula to a fist fight. As with his tussle with Harmony (407), he should know better than to fight a demon.

The Unknown: The attempts at comedy were mixed. Xander’s “Dark master…bater” was fun but his jittery routine never really clicked. Giles enjoying time with the sisters also felt a bit silly. I did enjoy Riley punching Xander out with little effort though. I bring these points up just because I still don’t think the producers have captured the magic they were once able to when they could mix comedy with serious drama in a brilliant way.

The appearance of Dawn was of course a bizarre and show-changing moment. My own Buffy fandom was strong enough that I knew she was coming. So I will never know how confused I would have been if I had watched this without that knowledge. Needless to say we need to know who or what she is.

I assume Dracula survived all Buffy’s attempts to kill him. That seemed the logical way to end the story. It felt a bit much to have Buffy stand over his resuscitating smoke cloud mocking him when you’d think she would be freaked out by his ability to survive a staking. It also sounded odd for Joyce to explain why she let him into the house when we saw him misting into Buffy’s window.

Best Moment: I thought the Spike-Riley scene captured a sense of what was hard to pin down about Riley last season. He and Spike are both neutered when it comes to getting what they want. In Riley’s case he wants to be the strong man and protector and yet he can’t do that. Buffy will always be stronger than him and understand her enemies in a way he can’t. To see two men frustrated by Buffy’s pre-eminence somehow clicked within a show where she is the chosen one.

The Bottom Line: I thought this established a theme for the season (or rather continued one from “Restless”) in an interesting and enjoyable way.

68/100

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