Friday, June 27, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Seasons 1-7 – review (TV series)

Directed by: various

First aired: 1997

Contains spoilers

How do I review Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Of course I knew I’d have to look at it one day and (having upgraded the VHS versions to DVD, courtesy of Zombiepunk, as a present for my lovely wife who is the huge Buffy fan) I thought it was about time. The review is unusual, however, for several reasons. Firstly I have not re-watched the series fully prior to review (as a general rule I would (re)watch the film/programme and then write the review), I am reviewing all 7 seasons in one go and I do not propose to do a full plot summary. Indeed, I only really intend to concentrate on the main vampire characters and mention the Slayers. This is a toe dip into the Buffyverse and no more.

The series followed on from the motion picture (or at least the original script thereof) with Sarah Michelle Gellar taking over the Buffy Summers role that had been played by Kristy Swanson. Following the events in the film Buffy and her mom move from LA to Sunnydale, which just so happens to be a Hellmouth and thus attracts every sort of creepy nasty you can think of. Through the series we watched Buffy grow, attending high school and college, and one of the main themes of the show was clearly the trials of growing up – with the monsters synonymous with the trials faced by teenagers. Buffy had her friends around her, known as the Scooby gang – after Scooby-Doo – but, of course, she was something special. The Slayer; blessed (or cursed) with the ability to battle demons, devils and vampires.

It is the vampires that we are most concerned with here and I guess we should begin with The Master (Mark Metcalf) – as he was the big bad, as the main baddy was known in the show, of the first season. He was unusual in many respects as he never showed a human face – looking not dissimilar to the ubervampires of season 7. He was the leader of a vampire cult called the Order of Aurelius. He had the same main weaknesses as the other vampires, a wooden stake to the heart, decapitation and sunlight could kill, holy items would burn and he needed an invitation to enter a domicile. His age granted him strength, speed, stamina and resistance higher than other vampires and he displayed an ability to use hypnosis (not a common trait in the series). When Buffy killed him he turned to a skeletal form unlike most vampires who ‘dust’.

The obvious vampire to look at is Angel (David Boreanaz) who is the good guy vampire. The vampires in Buffy are the dead reanimated by a blood demon (we get to see their true, non-hybrid, form in an episode of this character’s spin off series, Angel) and the dead have no soul. Angelus, as he was known, was cursed by gypsies and the curse restored his soul – and thus gave him guilt. In many respects his base model was Louis from the Ann Rice novels. When Angel reaches a moment of perfect happiness – in this case sleeping with Buffy – he looses his soul. This led to a storyline of heartbreak for Buffy, fighting the man who changed post sleeping with her. When his soul was finally restored (plus having returned from Hell because Buffy was forced to kill him) he had to leave her, and take up his own series, to allow her a ‘normal’ life.

Angel’s vampiric sire was Darla (Julie Benz), whose role in the series was minor but who proved a fascinating character none the less. She did return occasionally through the series, however, in flashbacks that fleshed out the main vampires’ story and, in many respects, these flashbacks were some of the more interesting vampiric parts of the series. Darla returned from the dead in Angel. For many a year Angel and Darla cut a bloody swathe with two of the best vampire characters in the series.

Drusilla (Juliet Landau) is a fantastic character. As a human she was driven insane by Angelus – by killing everyone in the convent in which she was to take holy vows and committing carnal acts with Darla – before he turned her. This madness was displayed through some incredibly poetic dialogue and she has minor psychic abilities. She is displayed as rather sadistic and, like the Master, seems to be able to hypnotise. In the series she kills the Slayer named Kendra (Bianca Lawson). She was the sire of simply the best vampire character in the series, Spike (James Marsters).

Spike – or William the Bloody – was a vampire with a Billy Idol look, a love of the sex pistols and a great turn of dialogue – a very different character to his human, wimpy poetic self. Indeed, his base model could be seen to be the brat prince Lestat and like Lestat he actually turned his own mother. It was clear that the writers of Buffy realised they had hit gold with the character and had a chip implanted in his head that stopped him attacking humans, leaving him a barely restrained good guy (with amoral/immoral instincts). Later he restored his own soul to win over Buffy whom he was in love with and had also attempted to rape. In the past he had killed two Slayers.

It should be noted that Dracula does appear in the show, but it is a gimmick appearance in a comedy episode – this episode is actually featured on TV during Night Watch. However it is worth mentioning the ubervampires or Turok-Han. Stronger and more resilient than modern vampires they are described as being to vampires as Neanderthals are to humans. They appear in the final season of Buffy as the First Evil attempts to release a horde of them onto earth.

Of course, ranged against the vampires were not one but three Slayers… ish… A new Slayer was called when a Slayer died and, as Buffy dies for a few moments at the end of season 1, a Slayer named Kendra is called. To be honest I do not know what was going on with that accent and the character only appeared in three episodes before being killed by Drusilla. The next Slayer to be called was Faith (Eliza Dushku). Faith in many respects was a mirror of Buffy, becoming a villain within the series. She does, in the end, make good.

Buffy does not always fight vampires, however, and I have to say that one of my favourite episodes was the fourth season episode Hush in which the voices of the residents of Sunnydale are stolen and a group of demons known as the Gentlemen float around town collecting seven human hearts. The episode really captured a vein of horror too often missing in TV.

The show did lots right; it had a mixture of pathos and humour with excellent dialogue and characters we came to love. However not all was right in the world. There are some weaker episodes and some too angsty moments. There was also the Scrappy-Doo of the Scooby gang – Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg). Originally a ball of energy that was the key to another dimension, she was given human form and implanted into Sunnydale reality as Buffy’s sister, so the Slayer would protect her. Unfortunately the character was a drag – a problem with the character not the performance I hasten to add – and the writers seemed to recognise this when a newly evil Willow (Alyson Hannigan) offers to turn her back into a ball of energy “Wanna go back? End the pain? You'll be happier. I'll be happier. We'll all be a lot happier without listening to the constant whining,”

But the occasional weak moment (and character) aside Buffy proved an excellent series and one that, it cannot be denied, invigorated mainstream interest in the vampire genre. How to score, however? The score I give this will never be right, always too low for the hardcore fan and too high for others. The fair score, for me, however (for the seven seasons as a whole) is 7.5 out of 10.

Finally I have to apologise if I have missed a favourite character – I know I’ve missed most of the Scoobies – or you feel I should have mentioned the Watchers Council, or one of the main threads or underlying symbolisms. This was designed as a taste only. I must also acknowledge friend of the blog, Mateo, who was the person who pointed out the similes between Angel/Spike and Louis/Lestat.

The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

I love this series and was actually thinking about doing some episode reviews of it myself.

I'll let you know when/if I ever do.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Ryne

I think you should... let me know when, though I'll probably spot them as I tend to visit your blog regularly

Anonymous said...

I might also point to the similarities between the uber-vampires and Nosferatu.

Though I cannot remember the mythology behind the uber-vampires... I do remember it being mentioned that the reason for The Master staying in vamp form all the time was that he was extremely old and that the human form fades away over time... maybe this is true of the uber-vampires as well.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo - good to hear from you.

In Angel, Darla mentions something about the master having grown past the weakness of human features (from memory) and so that sounds about right.

The uber-vampires could be a further development along those lines - if they were ever human, we simply don't know.

There is a very Nosferatu-esque look though

Unknown said...

The uber-vamps were supposed to be a tribute to the "grr argh" guy at the end of the credits.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that Jessica