Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"

At the heart of “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” is a theme that will become, as I noted earlier, prominent in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, can or will Buffy be a normal girl who can try out for cheerleader and date the broody, quiet, reclusive, and mysterious Owen, er, Angel, or will she face up to her duties and responsibilities as a Slayer? “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” raises questions about whether our Buffster can do both (“I can do both” Buffy says in the episode).

Owen, of course, represents, as we will see in future seasons of Buffy, the kind of guy Buffy likes—dark, brooding, romantic. His obsession with death, however, an obsession that pushes him, a normal person unlike Buffy the vampire slayer (and the Scoobies who know the score), to follow Buffy into the dangerous and evil darkness that encircles Sunnydale. This, as Buffy realizes at the end of the episode, may and probably will get Owen killed. So she breaks up with Owen (using the “lets just be friends” strategy).

Buffy’s neglect of her slayer responsibilities, as Buffy again recognizes at the end of the episode, also almost get Giles killed. Actions or a lack of action has consequences in the Buffyverse. For the moment Buffy gives up Owen and accepts her slayer responsibilities. As we will see, however, this is not the end of Buffy’s struggle over whether she will just be a normal girl or a slayer.

“Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” follows a pattern that characterizes Buffy and a lot of the other TV shows and films of Joss Whedon (Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), Whedon, after all, is one of the few auteurs amidst metteur-en-scenes like J.J. Abrams. There is, in this episode, what some people call the “monster of the week”, in this case the monster of the week is the bubba bad ass (the first of many) Andrew Borba (Geoff Mead) and the members of the Order of Aurelius. But this “monster of the week” picture is complicated by the fact that are also arcs in the episode, in this case the big bad Master arc. In “Never Kill a Boy on the First Date” the Master arc is given greater complexity with the introduction of the prophecy boy (not the prophecy man we first think it will be), the “anointed one” (Andrew Ferchland). All of this sets up, as we will see, the arc that will find fruition in the season finale, “Prophecy Girl”. Buffy, in other words, has memory, themes, and novelistic like arcs.

Religion: I love the Master’s use of religious language: “As it is written, so shall it be” and “Here endeth the lesson”. Borba uses religious tinged language again and again in his speeches, a religious language tinged with prophecy and apocalypticism, two central themes of Buffy.

Acting: Mark Metcalf (The Master) is fantastic. He has got the drama and the humour down.

Mise-en-scene: Note the attention to detail. The inside of Xander’s school locker has Xander posters in it.

Cinematography: I love the transition from Giles telling Buffy he needs to consult his books to the Master putting down, opening, and reading from a book. Note the blue hues particularly when the vamps attack the bus and in the funeral home scenes.

Clothes: Note the significant number of red and blue colours in the clothes. Red and blue are important colours in the Buffy visualverse. Note how Angel goes from Old World velvet to new world Marlon Brando and James Dean.

Humour: There is tons of it. Love it when Buffy tells the vamp in the teaser that she is fighting with that he is history (“I’m Buffy and you’re history”) as she kills him. I love Giles’s critique of Buffy’s technique just after Buffy kills the vamp. Funny stuff.

Character: Character traits continue to be revealed in this episode. Angel is jealous of Owen. Angel likes Buffy. The best friend relationship between Willow and Buffy continues to grow as the Buffy uses Willow as a sounding board for clothes she might wear on her date with Owen. For Buffy Xander remains one of the “girls”, someone she can ask about clothes and lipstick she might wear on her date with Owen. Xander’s jealousy of anyone Buffy fancies continues. Xander is overprotective of Buffy as a result. The battle between Buffy and Cordy heats up as the two battle over Owen. Cordy tries to pick up Angel before learning that he too is there to see the Buffster. Giles old worldness continues to be emphasized (his old world car and his old world and “British” use of the word “chap”).

Dusting: Vamps can be killed by fire. We learned previously on Buffy that they can be staked, beheaded, injured with holy water, and held back by the Christian cross.

Language: Love the term “owenosity”. Note how Giles’s serious “tonight we go into battle” speech is undercut by the “perhaps I miscalculated” transition from library to graveyard. Drama to comedy. Love it when Borba refers to Willow, Xander, and Owen as “pork and beans”.

Shakespeare: Is Giles’s “I’ll see you anon.” a reference to Macbeth?

Popular Culture: The reference to Clark Kent and secret identities. Buffy is supposed to, at least according to Watcher lore, keep her slayer identity secret.

Trivial pursuit: Buffy uses the phrase “bite me” for the first time. Cordy uses the phrase “well, umm” again. She used it in the first episode. Cordy uses, for the first time, the phrase “hello salty goodness” in reference to Angel. She will use it again in an episode of Angel (“Spin the Bottle”). Giles’s bag makes its first appearance. Giles’s old world Citroën makes an appearance. The writers of this episode, Rob DesHotel and Dean Batali, would go on to work on That 70s Show.

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