Most of us include some similar guidelines in syllabi these days, but here are some detailed guidelines to ensure student messages get readings and responses.
Thanks, Prof. Leddy.
In honor of the “Faith & Pop Culture” honors seminar I’m co-teaching with a colleague from the history department in about five minutes, the BtVS re-watch continues:
Sometimes I forget that there are still people who have never seen Buffy (what?!), so I guess I should state that I’m not going to avoid “spoilers” for these or future episodes or seasons. I’m trying to recall how I responded to the series when I first saw it, but that’s really impossible.
In “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/”The Harvest,” Giles twice points out almost gleefully that the location of Sunnydale over “boca del infierno” means Buffy will battle more “forces of darkness” than just vampires. “Witch” demonstrates vividly how personal many of these metaphorical “personal demons” will be.
Also, by repeating some of the same thematic tropes as the pilot, it serves as a kind of second pilot, for those who somehow failed to catch the premier: Buffy again attempts to be “normal” by joining the cheerleading squad, which Giles views as a “cult.” At the tryouts, Buffy saves the unfortunate flaming Amber by more or less normal quick thinking and action.
The Buffy/Willow/Xander team is fully formed now, with Willow describing them as “the slayerettes” and Xander boasting that he laughs “in the face of danger. Then I hide until it goes away.” Buffy tries to argue that they should not get involved.
Joyce is “distracted,” but perceptively notes that if Amy’s mother can train with her six hours a day, she “doesn’t have enough to do.” There’s parental involvement, and then there’s over-involvement/identification.
Xander’s infatuation with Buffy is giving her an ID bracelet engraved with something romantic which Buffy completely ignores, while Xander continues oblivious to Willow’s interest in him, telling her that she’s his “guy friend that knows about girl stuff!” Willow is not amused.
When Cordelia is eliminated from cheering by a blindness spell, Giles asks, “Why would someone want to harm Cordelia?” and a glimpse of dark Willow is revealed again when Willow answers, “Maybe because they met her? Did I say that?”
In the science lab, Willow has no trouble removing the frog’s eye to serve as “eye of newt”—is this a continuity error with the scene in season two in which she says she has “frog fear”? But I love that scene! For a first draft, season one remains remarkably good.
Attempting to save Buffy from the witch’s spell, Giles reveals unexpected spell-casting skills of his own, but is knocked out—again! He claims it is “my first casting,” but we will discover in season 2 that it is definitely not.
Buffy asks Joyce:
Do you ever wish you were sixteen again?
Joyce: Oh, that’s a frightful notion!
We will, of course, see sixteen-year-old Joyce in season 3 “Band Candy”
And we leave Amy’s mother trapped in her own cheerleading trophy—the Dante-esque idea of hell as getting what you wished for, forever, without change.
B 1.4 “Teacher’s Pet”
“Teacher’s Pet” literalizes another metaphorical high school student fantasy to show its true monstrosity. It opens with the series’ first fantasy/daydream sequence: Xander the vampire-slayer/rock star, a concept that will be worked out in greater detail in season 4’s “Superstar.” We’re in science class again, with the same Dr. Gregory who was quite pleasant in “Witch”—and now he’s the first really sympathetic adult/teacher in Buffy’s life, other than her mother and Giles. He shortly dies a horribly death.
At the Bronze, the band plays another foreshadowy song:
Xander tries to impress Blayne & other guys with his “girlfriends” Buffy and Willow, but is completely upstaged by Angel. More gender ambiguity for Xander, who appreciates Angel’s “buff”ness (also probably a pun on Angel’s connection to Buffy). Angel gives Buffy another gift—his leather jacket, traditional h.s. symbol of coupledom, and reveals that he’s been wounded by “fork guy.” This seems kind of random and we are wondering who’s the monster?
At school the next day, Giles’s comments on Southern California weather definitely resonated with me in 1997:
Miss French (of course!) arrives to substitute for the missing Dr. Gregory and reduces Xander to even greater blithering idiocy. The fact that she doesn’t seem to notice is proof that she’s not natural. Or not a real teacher, perhaps.
Buffy patrols the park. Isn’t it surprising that Sunnydale has so many homeless people? Shouldn’t they have all been turned into vampires by now? Future episodes won’t make this mistake. It turns out that the fork-handed vampire’s primary purpose in this episode, other than reminding us that Buffy slays vampires, is to reveal how scary Miss French really is.
In contrast with her predatory seductions, Principal Flutie mouths touchy-feely platitudes—but without any actual touching, “because there’s no touching at this school. We’re sensitive to wrong touching.” Does that explain why Miss French invites the boys to her home for extra credit projects, causing Xander’s rock-star fantasy to flashback briefly, counteracted by the revelation that his middle name is “LaVelle.”
Willow’s computer hacking is overlooked by Giles who “wasn’t here, didn’t see you, couldn’t have stopped it.” In addition to being a sexual predator, “Miss French” also turns out to be an identity thief. The claw-vamp is used as a blood-hound—something else we’ll see again.
Like “Witch,” this episode ends with a glimpse of something remaining, a hint that this threat could return.
…or “keep stealing from Shakespeare and you can’t go wrong.” I’m not alone in encouraging my literature students to think about how contemporary pop culture has portrayed the texts and historical events of the past. Io9’s “The Shakespearean Heroes Science Fiction Should Steal From” notes a number of parallel character types, e.g.:
The war criminal repents.
I always thought Gaius Baltar was doing some kind of Macbeth riff, until he turned into a robe-wearing cult leader in Battlestar Galactica‘s final season. You have Baltar responsible for crimes that make killing King Duncan seem like a misdemeanor, and the whole time the ghost of Caprica Six is whispering in his ear about how he’s destined for greatness, like a virtual Lady Macbeth….
The column also considers characters from Star Wars, Heroes, Star Trek, and Dollhouse. Since Joss Whedon is a well-known Shakespeare geek, no surprise if he steals from the master (not from the Master).
As we embark on another school year, English majors who are juniors and seniors (or their parents) are asking this question with greater urgency, while incoming students may be questioning their choices.
Just a moment to point out (again) the encouraging guidance of For English Majors, whose most recent post notes one of the human elements in business productivity and leadership that a literary education may provide:
Fortunately for all of us who claim to be human beings, motivation is more complicated than that and can’t be cranked into high gear for groups of people using formulas provided by “experts.” The secrets to fathoming motivation live many places. One of them is within the pages of great books. So if you’re reading some, consider that you may, indeed, be preparing yourself to be in business leadership.
Add the additional detailed advice of Jobs for English Majors. A recent post focuses on new directions in editorial careers:
Gone are the former staples of story meetings at which editors debated only amongst themselves which stories to include in the magazine. These days, research using services like Google Trends — which provides insights into what users are searching for and thus, which stories are likely to capture the attention of Web surfers — fill up an increasing amount of every editor’s day.
An English major thinking about a future in professional writing/editing will have to add technical skills beyond word-processing to his or her resume.
The “teaser” for this episode starts RIGHT where episode 1 left off, with vampire Luke menacing Buffy. He’s repelled by the cross she received from the mysterious-tall-dark-handsome-Byronic-pale stranger, and Buffy leaps out of the coffin in a trice, saves Willow and Xander (but not Jesse)—yes, my memory is correct that this episode originally aired the same night as “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” as the second part of a two-hour series premiere. Obviously it’s been split up somewhat awkwardly for franchise reruns.
After the credits, Giles explains how everything works and Xander and Willow are fully drawn into the demon-fighting act. I love this:
WILLOW: [dazed] Oh…I need to sit down…
BUFFY: You are sitting down.
WILLOW: Oh. Good for me.
Meanwhile, below the high school, Darla presents Jesse to the Master with schoolgirl enthusiasm, like a demonic cheerleader. We’ll never see this side of Darla again, fortunately. The Master refers to himself, sarcastically, as “your faithful dog,” initiating a long series of vampire/dog metaphors. I’m not sure what that means; it’s just something I’ve noticed.
Giles exposits the history of vampires and slayers:
GILES: For as long as there have been vampires, there’s been the Slayer. One girl in all the world, a Chosen One.
BUFFY: He loves doing this part.
GILES: All right. The Slayer hunts vampires, Buffy is a Slayer, don’t tell anyone. Well, I think that’s all the vampire information you need.
I’m going out on a limb to speculate that the above indicates something about the ability of the good guys to be concise when appropriate, rather than prose on and on in classic evil overlord style. Xander and Willow want to help. Buffy tells Xander “I’m the Slayer, and you’re not” (note SNL Chevy Chase reference she’s too young to know) and begins his long history of feeling useless after being told to stay “fray-adjacent” (“The Zeppo”). Giles accepts Willow’s computer skills with a comment on his “Britishness” which is echoed when Principal Flutie mocks Buffy’s excuse that Giles sent her on an errand off campus: “Well, maybe that’s how they do things in Britain, they’ve got that royal family and all kinds of problems…”
Angel materializes in the crypt—not literally, but suddenly he’s just there. How could Buffy not notice him when she came in? Never mind! At least this time he’s willing to give his name. And some specific helpful advice. Xander, too, turns up after all. Motif: Buffy says she can/must do it alone, but friends always turn out to be helpful.
Let’s take it as a given that the season 1 vampire make-up is a work-in-progress at best. Nevertheless, the discovery that Jesse has become a vampire is, for me, the second real moment of horror, worse than Buffy finding herself in a coffin next to a skeleton and about to be bitten by Luke, because as briefly as we knew him, we know Jesse as a real person, Xander’s friend, rejected by Cordelia, and the contrast with his vampiric self is thus shockingly frightful:
JESSE: Sorry? I feel good, Xander! I feel strong! I’m connected, man, to everything! I, I can hear the worms in the earth!
XANDER: That’s a plus.
JESSE: I know what the Master wants. I’ll serve his purpose. That means you die. And I feed.
BUFFY: Xander, the cross!
XANDER: Jesse, man. We’re buds, don’t you remember?
JESSE: You’re like a shadow to me now.
Giles has discovered the Master’s plan: “How about the end of the world?”
Start counting apocalypses now!
But of course this leads to the quintessential scene between Buffy and her mother, in which Joyce tries to put her foot down and exercise proper parental discipline by grounding Buffy. If Buffy were any other teen, she’d be absolutely right:
BUFFY: This is really, really important.
JOYCE: I know. If you don’t go out it’ll be the end of the world. Everything is life or death when you’re a sixteen-year-old girl.
BUFFY: Look, I don’t have time to talk about this…
In the Bronze, Cordelia tells her friends that last night Jesse was following her around “like a little puppy dog.” Now he’s a vampire and he really is “prowling” for her.
When the vampires attack, Giles is knocked out–for the first of many times.
Luke’s grandiose evil monologue is impossible to take seriously. It’s the kind of thing that gives evil a bad name. The Master is also given to grandiose monologues, but has a slight edge of self-aware irony
Again, even though Buffy slays Luke and a number of other vampires, without Xander, Willow and Giles, the plan would not have succeeded. And Xander (with a little help) dusts Jesse.
The closing scene, I’m sure, cemented my almost instant devotion to the series when I first watched it in 1997: in which Buffy, Willow and Xander act casual about their recent experience and react with apparent unconcern to Giles’s eager recitation of the gruesome terrors that may arise from the hellmouth, leading him to push his glasses up on his nose and mutter, “The earth is doomed.” (And as we now know, this scene will be bookended by a parallel scene near the end of episode 7.22 “Chosen.”)
It seems to me possible that “Welcome to the Hellmouth”/”The Harvest” contain the seeds of just about every motif we’ll see in the next seven seasons of the show. Which is just brilliant.
Once More, with Commentary: Joss Whedon says he (and David Greenwalt) thought people would object to the whole “This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their… their Hell.” mythology speech by Giles. But not so much.
[And really, you know—I figured it was a TV show about a fictional world in which vampires were real. Why couldn’t they have a fictional mythology too? Don’t tell me all mythologies are by definition fictional. But probably the reason they didn’t get a truckload of angry mail from extreme right-wingers was that in 1997, hardly anyone knew the show existed except TV critics and it’s small but significant audience. Later, that would change.]
[On this run-through, I notice both Giles and the Master talking about demon/vampire souls. Thought vampires didn’t have souls in the Buffyverse, but obviously this element of the mythos was evolving. I guess it works well enough to say their souls are different from human souls.] Joss does mention that the writers picked and chose the rules for vampires from a variety of vampire lore sources, everything from Dracula to The Lost Boys. [Better than making them up out of whole cloth, IMO.]
Speaking of series motifs, Joss notes that Willow defending Buffy in the computer lab [and I would say also, taking revenge on Cordy by means of her superior computer knowledge] is “the beginning of Willow’s real empowerment. The experience she’s gone through, almost being killed by a vampire, gives her just a little bit of an edge…[we] see the effect that her friendship with Buffy is already having on her.”
Also in this scene, Cordy’s “Do I horn in on your private discussions? No. Why? Because you’re boring.”
Joss says he once used that line himself and “thought it was funny at the time, but the person I said it to was really upset.” And thus “the thing that’s really important about this show is that we are all Willow and all Cordelia, and Buffy and Xander. We’re all cruel, heroic, everything.” Unlike the usual high school show that emphasizes groups or cliques, “categories are fluid, changing.”
Joss says he saw Buffy’s trunk as a metaphor for adolescence: normal girl stuff on top, the elements of her secret life/identity are “what lies beneath.”
At least two things prompted this Buffy re-watch:
1. A challenge from fellow bloggers Nikki Faith and Peter Waldron.
2. A project I hope to be working on, to be named later.
And since today is August 11, I’ll dedicate this project to St. Clare, patron saint of [quality] television.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered March 10, 1997 on the WB with “Welcome to the Hellmouth.” I was living in the LA area at the time. In fact, I’d been living there in 1992 when the original movie came out. Since I viewed SoCal and Los Angeles in particular with some skepticism, I bought the movie tickets on the title alone—Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Hysterical! I was so there! Five years later, when I heard there would be a TV show based on Buffy, I knew I’d at least check it out.
I feel as if I’ve told this story to many friends, students, and fellow Whedon fans since I started getting serious about a show with a wacky name: Generally, I do not watch horror movies. I don’t like being scared. I am not a fan of vampires. But I immediately bought the idea that a little blond cheerleader chick would be “the one girl in all the world” who could slay them. I am a big fan of irony, especially irony on the side of the good guys.
So as I watch “Welcome to the Hellmouth” this time, I’m trying to recall something of what it was like to see it for the first time 12 years ago. For one thing, I probably had no idea what the episode title was. TV Guide didn’t give that kind of info, and the vast array of internet sites dedicated to BtVS information did not exist. Even if they had existed, I didn’t know about them, because I was still ignorant of online fandom.
Since I was not a horror movie fan, the opening scene in which the threat turns out to be the little blonde—vampire!—completely suckered me. Brilliant! Now the opening credits. I can’t help noting that Nicholas Brendon looks much more suave in the credits than Xander will turn out to be. And the dialogue in the first few scenes is definitely Jossian, but seems to be trying a bit too hard. Back in 1997, though, it must have hit my and many other ears like “What!” and “More please!” because it was unlike anything else, except possibly Clueless (1995)*
This pseudo-valley-girl talk is most overpowering in the locker-room scene with “Neg!” “Pos!” “Negly!” but then “Aura” screams and forgets about talking. Yay. By the time Cordelia interrupts Buffy’s “downward mobility” as she is getting to know Willow, Xander, & Jesse, the dialogue starts to snap and we get a run of classic Whedonisms:
Xander–“What’s the sitch”
Cordelia–“Don’t you have an elsewhere to be?” and “Morbid much?”
It’s here that Jesse offers Cordelia a shoulder to lean on, “or even nibble on”—foreshadowing!—but I had no idea at the time, and in fact I’ve never noticed that line before.
Giles explains the hellmouth
Buffy–“Can you vague that up for me?”
Luke’s inverted incantation in the Master’s destroyed church—“Amen!”—the first of many religious parodies or inversions. As Buffy will say later: “Note to self: religion freaky.” (Much more to be said about this, because like most things, it’s much more complicated than that.)
Buffy trying on dresses for the Bronze: “Hi, I’m an enormous slut…Would you like a copy of the Watchtower?” I know I laughed out loud when I first saw this and it still makes me laugh because it perfectly captures how a new kid tries to find the right outfit but nothing works.
Buffy is stalked by a mysterious stranger—again, back in 1997 I had NO clue who this might be—and pulls her first really remarkable slayer stunt on—oh my! who is this tall-dark-and-handsome laid-out-flat on the sidewalk guy? Did I know Angel was a vampire? I cannot recall. Looking at him now, so pale he almost sparkles in the dark (sorry), that Byronic outfit (kudos to the costume dept.), telling Buffy “I don’t bite,” giving her a cross in a box…how could he be anything else? Once we get to the Bronze, in a nice parallel, Jesse is Cordelia’s “stalker”…and meets Darla, who finally tells us her name.
Ooh, thanks to subtitles, I discover that the band at the Bronze is adding yet another layer of subtext to this episode by singing:
What’s inside of me?
I just wanna believe
If my life can have a purpose?
Can you hear me? Can you see me?
Well everyone wants to find the circle
The line of truth that has no end
Because so many lives have the feeling of empty
Buffy has told Giles she doesn’t care about her calling as the Slayer, but in the Bronze, she finds she does care about Willow. Abstractions don’t mean much to her, but the concrete, the personal definitely does. The fight with the two vampires who took Willow and Jesse is already classic Buffy, but she doesn’t know enough yet, and neither do we:
BUFFY: Are you sure? Now, this in not gonna be pretty. We’re talking violence, strong language, adult content… (Thomas attacks, she dusts him) See what happens when you roughhouse?
DARLA: He was young and stupid!
BUFFY: Xander, go!
DARLA: Don’t go far!
(fight) BUFFY: You know, I just wanted to start over. Be like everybody else. Have some friends, y’know, maybe a dog… But, no, you had to come here, you couldn’t go suck on some other town.
DARLA: Who are you?
BUFFY: Don’t you know?
(Luke grabs her by the neck from behind.)
LUKE: I don’t care! (He throws her across the room.)
Part 1 ends with Buffy in a coffin, menaced by the gruesome Luke, TO BE CONTINUED.
And, once more, with commentary. I know I’ve listened to Joss Whedon’s commentary on these two episodes before, but you can always pick up something new. For example: Joss confirms that Buffy’s nightmares in the scene just after the credits are made up mostly of clips from coming episodes because of budget constraints. But of course this worked out great, since the point is that her nightmares are prophetic!
I don’t think I’ve seen this exact quote anywhere before—Joss on Xander, Buffy, and Willow: “The idea of this band of kind of outcasts being the heart of the show and sort of creating their own little family is very much, you know, the mission statement. To me, high school is so much, I think, for almost everyone, that band of, you know, of we few people that nobody really understands exist on a level that they don’t. Your friends seem so terribly real to you and everybody else seems to fake and strange.”
The Library was originally conceived as a labyrinth, but it was too expensive and hard to light, so this is what they got. Wouldn’t that have been a show—Buffy the Vampire Slayer + Jorge Luis Borges?
On Giles and Joyce as adults who are not the enemy, though sometimes clueless: “We didn’t feel like demonizing and alienating the grownups.”
“The idea that Buffy would fall in love with a vampire seemed like a bit of cliche, but it was too good to pass up.” Now, of course, it IS a cliche. Vampire Diaries, anyone?
Joss on the difficulty of putting Buffy in peril: she is the superpowered “hero,” so is rarely in real physical danger, but more and more she will be in emotional peril. And the emotion of it really becomes the appeal, of course. If I just wanted to see vampires get staked and/or burst into flames, I could be watching John Carpenter’s Vampires or Blade. Not tonight.
ETA: Joss identifies the band at the Bronze as Sprung Monkey.
*Another thing I noticed in comparing the Clueless preview to BtVS is the way Clueless satirizes the overuse of mobile phones, which were still primarily toys or tools for the rich and powerful in 1995. No BtVS character is shown using a cell phone until season 3, when a vampire from LA brings one to town. In season 7, the Buffy gives one to Dawn.)
August 11 is the feast day of St. Clare of Assissi, admirable in so many ways for an example of service, self-sacrifice and austerity. Less well-known, however, is the fact that since 1958, the pope declared her the patron saint of television:
On Christmas night, 1252, the nun received the grace of seeing from her cell the Church’s celebration of Christ’s birth.Cardinal Bertone dubbed it “an experience of mystical television,” Vatican Radio reported.
St. Clare has been the patroness of Slayage: the Online International Journal of Buffy Studies—because Joss Whedon = quality television. And until April this year, she patronized a promising TV critic’s blog, Thank Heavens for St Clare.
Really, though, you don’t need a saint to figure out what’s quality television. You just need to use your discernment and change the channel as needed. That sounds like a license to channel surf. No. All right, maybe. I can tell in two to ten seconds that no one needs to watch Wipeout. Actually, I can tell just from the title. But a drama with a developing narrative arc will take some watching—maybe an entire episode, maybe two or three. Or six or seven. Not unlike the need to read a few chapters rather than just a page or two of a good book before deciding whether it’s really worthwhile.
Preparing for a new semester of reading both written and visual texts, then. And speaking of quality television, check out Mockingbird’s comments on the “lost” episodes of Dollhouse.