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.”