maggie2: (Default)
[personal profile] maggie2
I forgot that I'd intended to post the first two together, since it's a two-part opener.

Standard disclaimer: I'll often speak of foreshadowing, but that doesn't mean I'm at all committing to the idea that there was some fixed design from the word go -- it's a short hand for talking about the resonances that end up in the text as it unspools.

Standard spoiler warning: The notes are written for folks who have seen all of BtVS and AtVS.  If they become relevant I'll spoil through the comics as well.  Basically -- if you are a spoiler-phobe and haven't seen or read it all, read further at your own risk.

The Harvest, in Which the Scoobies Sign On as Slayer Sidekicks, Xander Bravely Helps Buffy While Angel Lurks Non-Commitedly, and Buffy Slays the Vessel, Saving the Day (and Cordelia).
Xander/Buffy/Angel (continuation).  We continue the early triangle.  Angel is too afraid to accompany Buffy underground to confront the master, but Xander, who has been told that he isn’t capable of providing real help in the war against vampires, comes along anyway.  At the end of the episode, Xander has gone into the Bronze to rescue people.  Angel is lurking outside for the sole purpose of commenting that she saved the day despite his expectations to the contrary.  Angel may be dark and mysterious, but Xander is the one with the cojones.   Buffy's inability to see past the surface is mirrored in Cordelia's remark about Jessie.  She observes that Jessie follows her around like a puppy dog, while seniors are worth her time because they are 'mysterious'.   In a nutshell that's why Angel is more attractive to Buffy than Xander, despite the fact that Xander is the one who actually shows real guts.  It's not an accident that Cordelia finally does succumb to Jessie's charms after he's been vamped, and become 'mysterious' himself.  Xander gets this, as we'll learn in The Pack.  Buffy may have other reasons for preferring Angel (see below), but Xander's not obviously wrong about this. 
Angel.  In his encounter with Buffy he continues to be all about the seduction, though we do get our first real moment with him.  Buffy asks him if he has friends, and we get a poignant look from him that tells us (and Buffy) that he doesn’t.   It registers with Buffy personally as well.  Insofar as she feels like she is alone, she has a kindred spirit in Angel, who is also alone.  But is Buffy alone?  She insists that the job of fighting vampires falls to her, and that Xander should not come along.  Yet Xander comes along anyway.  In the final confrontation, Willow and Giles are along to do what they can.  Buffy really isn’t alone – but we’re going to want to track her feeling that she is alone.  Cause it’s that sense of isolation that also plays a role in making Angel seem attractive to her.
Strudel interjects:  It's worth adding that Angel's first remark in this episode is demeaning:  he'd figured she would have discovered the entryway to the tunnels sooner than she did.  That could be construed as a back-handed compliment, but when we take into consideration the context (with Jesse captured, time may be of the essence), the jab is hardly innocent.  In other words, it's something Angelus may have said, were he looking to undermine the Slayer's confidence just before battle.  To give him credit, though, he does admit that he's afraid.  The frankness of that admission is something we won't see too often from Angel.  But yes, aside from his cryptic advice, he is utterly useless in this episode. 
Buffy Alone.  The Harvest shows more of why Buffy constructs herself as alone.  To do her mission she must defy her principal and her mother.   Cordelia, who thus far is presented as 100% shallow, stands in for the social elite and (willfully) fails to recognize Buffy as a savior and instead continues to diss her.  This is a painful blow for Buffy, the cheerleader, who we’ll encounter in the next episode.  Still, the construction notwithstanding, Buffy has the Scoobies.  We’ll want to understand better why that never completely registers with  her.
Strudel adds:  This is a coming-of-age story, and the first thing you have to do when you come of age is realize you have to rely on yourself.  Giles and Angel will, to some degree, serve as protective figures for Buffy for a time, but this episode shows how the traditional protectors are already absent for Buffy.
POV.  That set-up with Jessie shifting from Xander-status to Angel-status reflects the geeky male POV, as does the set-up of Xander as the ‘true’ hero in contrast to Angel who is thus far not heroic at all, but intriguing and mysterious.   It’s going to take a while for Joss to figure out that this is not the right POV for a show about a feminist heroine.  But it does seem like it was the first draft.  In this episode we have Buffy needing Xander’s strength to save her twice (to shut a door Buffy somehow can’t manage herself and to pull her free from the grasp of vampires).  That’s not going to happen much more going forward, but Xander is repeatedly presented as the deserving rival for Buffy's affections -- the one who throws himself in to help, while Angel is only rarely actually helpful.
Strudel demurs:  I think you've got an interesting angle here, what with the male creator of the girl-power-driven concept.  But I'd like to hear you argue this a bit more to see if it's really a POV for the early series here, or just a component of a dense and intricate package. 
My take, as a male viewer, was that Xander was in over his head when he went into the tunnel, and that however much it might LOOK like he was the one rescuing Buffy by pulling her out of the manhole (manhole?  do we have a gendered commentary there?), on closer inspection he was actually endangering her.  She takes the traditional male-heroic role of letting the women and children (Xander, in this case) escape first while she risks being caught.  Yes, he pulls her out, but he's only in that position because she put him there to protect him.  I'd say Joss has got his POV figured out and he's deliberately using this scene to serve notice that this is a reversal of the traditional gender roles we've seen countless times.  Xander does get to keep his dignity somewhat by giving that helping hand at the end, but, really, there was no question for me who the hero was here.  After all, that scene comes after a sequence of Xander and Buffy in the tunnel, where she is the experienced demon hunter, and he, clearly, is the bumbling, nervous tourist, who draws what little comfort he can from Buffy' recounting a story of decapitating a vampire with an Exact-O knife. 
Maggie replies:  The door bothered me more.  But the real point isn't so much that Xander was somehow more heroic; but rather that we are set up for the male POV story of the geeky guy who ends up with the super cool girl, who was initially attracted to the suave mysterious guy who turns out to be not all that.  I'm not sure we were heading for that story, but there are a good number of male Xander fans who assumed we were and still are disappointed that it didn't end up playing out that way.  Xander was never going to be Buffy's equal fight-wise, but he's often brave and sometimes actually helpful in the early years -- and that's enough to set him up as the guy who is 'supposed' to get the girl.  That geeky guy POV story does get undercut by the fact that Xander remains 100% oblivious to the charms of deserving geeky girl Willow.

As for the question of whether the triangle was ever intended to play out in the straight-forward deserving Geek boy gets the girl sort of way, of course I don't know.  But I do think there's plenty of text for the fanboys who believe that's the story that was getting set up and who are still miffed that they never got their pay-off.  Whether Joss always intended to scorn them, or ended up dropping that line doesn't much matter to me.  It's a credit to the text that it goes in a different direction.
Buffy the hero.  We get a few more layers to Buffy’s heroic identity.  In formulating the plan to take on Luke at the Bronze, Buffy intuitively steps into the role as leader, and the others follow her without question.  And her dusting of Luke gives us the first hint of her resourcefulness (“dawn doesn’t come for another nine hours moron”).  The power shot that ends the credits this season and next come from this episode when she confronts Luke.  Buffy is still relatively weak, not able to take Luke on directly.  But that’s not enough to keep her from claiming the day.
Strudel adds:  Buffy's resourcefulness is a hugely important trait for her tactically, turning her into an especially formidable Slayer.  We'll see her side-by-side with other Slayers as the series progresses, and none of them match her on this scale.  You would think that she might be tempted to over-estimate her strength as she uses clever devices and tricks to overcome strong opponents, but she seems generally able to keep a firm grip on what her limitations are:  another factor that helps her survive her teenage years.
The mythology.  We get our first exposition dump from Giles in the library.  In the wake of Jessie’s vamping we get the first take on vampire mythology: they are the demons who kill their human hosts, with nothing of the human remaining.  Giles stresses this going into the Bronze with Xander, presumably as a way of strengthening Xander’s resolve to kill Jessie if necessary.   But Jessie himself shows why this is complicated.  He’s enough himself to be able to fool Buffy and Xander when they first encounter them.  And he’s enough himself for Xander to correctly predict where he and the other vamps will be that night.  And he’s enough himself to still want Cordy.  The difference is that he no longer cares about Xander and is willing to kill him.  And he’s much  more self-assured and thus is able to get the dance with Cordy he never could have gotten as a human.  Becoming a vamp shifts Jessie from Xander-like status with the girls to Angel-like status with the girls, but does that really mean he's Not!Jessie?  
Willow.  She seems so innocent.  But in this episode we discover that she’s happy to break the law as a hacker, that she’s happy to sabotage her enemies (telling Cordelia to save her file by pressing ‘deliver’), and that she’s capable of fighting vampires (she saves Giles by dumping holy water on Darla).   From the beginning, "sweet" Willow is shown to be a mask for something more resourceful and more ruthless.
Strudel nods:  I admire your restraint in not adding, once again, "nothing is as it seems." 
Maggie adds:  In this case it's less a case of nothing being what it seems as being "look how you don't see because the surface appearance prevents you from really noticing what's going on here."  I think I like that trope even better than standard-issue "nothing is as it seems."
Our villain.  We get more time with the Master and Luke.  Not much to say except that the show starts with cardboard bwahaha villains.   Things get more complicated in season two. 

With the intro of Buffy and the vampire/slayer mythology out of the way, the season next moves on to The Witch which retrospectively sets up Willow’s role in the series.


(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-17 09:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Just a short comment:

I am absolutely thrilled that You are giving us a breakdown of BtVS - with all Your intelligent commentary, Your insight and a wonderful discussion between Your brother and You (please say "hi" to Your cool brother ;-)).

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 05:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks norwie! Bro is very cool -- too bad he's so darned busy!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-17 10:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm really disappointed Jesse never gets mentioned again -in this episode it's obvious how much Xander cares for him and next episode it's like he never even existed. BtVS is filled with flaws like that, and I don't wanna sound like a bitter Xander fan but usually the wasted opportunities and dropped storylines are Xander's.

About Xander/Buffy/Angel: I agree that during S1 Joss was emphasizing Xander's heroism and Angel's cowardice, but I'm not sure the direction was for Buffy to be with Xander in the end. I remember Joss' commentary in Prophecy Girl about Xander being the logical choice –being human, alive, Buffy's age, yet her heart chose Angel- vampire, dead, centuries old. And love isn't about being logical.

Though personally, even when Angel started to be heroic in S2, I found Xander more appealing. Snarky, funny, underdog characters are more interesting than gloomy, big shot characters –and Spike takes Xander's role in the later seasons, except this underdog does get the girl in the end.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 05:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't think they planned on getting Buffy with Xander any time soon. Her detour through Angel land was going to be a long one. I just think they were setting up to have Xander pick up the post-Becoming pieces. Or at least, I think folks who expected something like that have a basis in the actual story for thinking it'd work that way.

It is a pity about Jessie!

The Friend whose name we dare not speak.

Date: 2010-08-18 07:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What also really bugs me about Jesse's fate is Willow's reaction....

At least Xander has anger that he couldn't be saved (although, he remains unconvinced that Jesse isn't still there and can be 'rescued') but Willow only gives us a "well, at least you guys are okay". And that would be that.

Some friend.

Re: The Friend whose name we dare not speak.

Date: 2010-08-18 08:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Willow's reaction is completely inhuman. LOL

There's this comment in The Pack in which Willow says that she and Xander weren't really that close before. I can see Xander and Jesse being the best friends while Willow being the third wheel, and it's obviously shifts later on when Buffy comes to the picture, Buffy and Willow are the best friends and Xander is the third wheel.

Re: Willow and Jesse's relationship.

Date: 2010-08-18 09:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, I can absolutely see that. In fact, it would be very much like me (for differing reasons) - I basically wouldn't have friends for a few years there (puberty was a real bitca) if they didn't basically make themselves a pain in the arse by not going away. They really did the work while I was being anti-social (alas, I've fallen back into that pattern now, too).

I can see Willow as so painfully shy that she wasn't willing to get close to anyone, leaving Xander to really push their friendship (maybe because he recognized that sense of isolation he saw - considering his home life... I'm guessing there wasn't a lot of friends coming over to his place). I can also see Jesse as more being Willow's friend by osmosis because she's Xander's friend.

Very much like how both Cordelia and Anya became a Scooby confidant because they were Xander's girlfriend, rather than because they were friends of Buffy in their own right. Tara, too, in fact, though I think that changed in S6 and she became more of a Buffy-friend, herself.

Re: The Friend whose name we dare not speak.

Date: 2010-08-18 07:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The actual comment Willow makes is (from the transcript):

Willow: I've known him my whole life, Buffy. (tears in her eyes) Well, we haven't always been close, but
he's never... (exhales)

I've always read this as meaning that they weren't close necessarily when they were much younger--like between when Xander stole her Barbie and a few years after that. I never got the impression that Willow and Xander weren't best buds in the years leading up to Buffy's arrival.

Re: The Friend whose name we dare not speak.

Date: 2010-08-18 07:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Perhaps you're right. But I can see Xaner being closer to Jesse, them being boys and having more in common than Xander and Willow. You can clearly see how Willow becomes closer to Buffy than Xander as seasons go. It's easier to be friends with a girl than a guy -there are touchy subjects you can't talk to with a boy. Same with Xander, he's in such need of a guy friend, but poor thing has Buffy's curse with her boyfriends. Everytime he befriends a guy he either dies or leaves. :(

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 12:10 am (UTC)
ext_15284: a wreath of lightning against a dark, stormy sky (xander)
From: [identity profile]
The original pilot had a lot of flirtation and mutual attraction between Xander and Buffy; it's interesting that Joss chose to make the interest one-sided from his direction only in the actual aired episode. Maybe he was trying to play down the love-triangle aspect? Or because Angel was added into the plot at a late stage, Joss then realised he'd have to be careful Buffy didn't come across as deliberately stringing along two guys at the same time, which would make her unsympathetic to a lot of the audience.

dawn doesn’t come for another nine hours moron

*Makes valiant effort to avoid smutty and spoilery innuendo about Xander's lovemaking skills, or lack thereof.*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 05:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
ha ha with the innuendo! She could also have said, Dawn doesn't come for another four seasons moron.

Who knows what Joss's intention was for the B/A/X triangle, beyond the undeniable fact that it's part of the story. When we get to early season 2, we get evidence that Buffy's at least a teeny bit into Xander. Interesting that whatever scruples they might have had about Buffy stringing along multiple guys (uh, people) seems to have collapsed in season 8.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 09:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*Interesting that whatever scruples they might have had about Buffy stringing along multiple guys (uh, people) seems to have collapsed in season 8.*

I wonder if this had any real thought behind it, or if I'm reading too much into it... I thought that Buffy's shifting interest was a nod to the fact that even though she isn't "one Slayer in all the world" anymore that was never her actual problem.

She always said that being the Slayer isolated her from her friends. But now, she isn't alone as the Slayer (I don't count Faith, because their relationship was too prickly to counter any feelings of Buffy's being apart from others), but she's still not a part of a greater whole, either.

I took her relationships as a nod to the fact that she still feels isolated from everyone else around her, slyly telling us that it was never about her Slayerhood at all. It is HER, not the Calling, that has her so cut off from people around her.

(See, I could be seeing slyness in places it isn't.)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 07:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
To be fair, it's not at all clear that Buffy is supposed to be sympathetic to the audience in season 8, the way she clearly is in season 1.

I also think that it's unclear whether Buffy has been stringing anyone along--she may have been mean to Satsu, but she was pretty honest with her, and Xander rejected her pretty cold. But I guess there is definitely the sense that with Satsu, Angel, Xander, and (probably) Spike all as potential romantic partners within a short period of time the writers are making less effort to make her seem particularly monogamous.

... While Angel Lurks Non-Commitedly ...

Date: 2010-08-18 07:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm so glad to see you writing up your thoughts on an episode by episode basis. It's really interesting to see what leaps out at everyone, and what draws someone's interest that just glided by me unexamined.

Angel's characterization (if you've read my review - you'll know) drives me crazy in these beginning episodes! How's about actually sharing some relevant information in a way that doesn't require unraveling verbal puzzles, you putz!

And, I always feel the need to apologize for being judgey, I'm sorry to say but David's acting doesn't help me buy his character... AT ALL.

Re: ... While Angel Lurks Non-Commitedly ...

Date: 2010-08-19 03:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There is so much there that I never fail to learn something when someone else writes up their reactions.

Agree about DB's acting skills. But I like Angel's uselessness, because that's part of my whole Bangel gets subverted schtick.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 07:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I really like your observations on Jesse switching from Xander-status to Angel-status. Angel is very obviously coded as a vamp in these episodes, isn't he? And Cordelia/Jesse is interesting (though probably incidental) in that Cordy herself will, at various times, fall for Xander and Angel.

Your observation about the Xander POV is something I've though about before. I think in your American History thread I went on a tangent about The Zeppo, and how that marks the end of the era in which Xander's POV is prioritized second only to Buffy's, and his POV is more explicitly external to the main story. (Some Xander fans don't like the episode, probably for related reasons--I think King of Cretins has gone on about how The Zeppo 'falsely' portrays Xander as useless in order to set up the ending, but I think it's more complicated than that.) Later seasons have Xander as frequent observer but not the story centre. In season eight, where the X/B/A triangle has resurfaced, Xander's POV on Buffy is not emphasized--Xander POV scenes are more about Renee and later Dawn than about Buffy. (Turbulence, I think, remains in Buffy's POV throughout.)

Buffy & Luke: the scene where Buffy beats Luke is also a bit of the show's genre commentary. Crappy horror movies (and Luke is essentially a character from a crappy horror movie) are crappy, and it wouldn't be that unusual for it to be, really, dawn after like two hours of night. Luke lives in these bad movies, and so falls for Buffy's ploy--and the audience does too, because we're conditioned to groan and roll our eyes but accept ludicrous plotting like that. Buffy the character uses her genre to her advantage, on the meta-level. (One of the ironies, of course, is that Joss' plotting isn't significantly better than the horror movies he's mocking. But I think that's largely incidental.)

Willow: Note also that while Willow was already hacking, her revenge on Cordelia follows Willow speaking up to defend Buffy. We saw in WttH that she basically remains silent and runs away when Cordelia is mean to her. For Willow to speak up is a big change for her, and reflects how quickly Buffy is influencing her. And this ties into what I mentioned last week: Buffy is a model for Willow, and this leads to both good and bad, since Willow has, at this point, locked up a lot of potential for both and Buffy's presence helps release it. Her revenge on Cordelia also (someone else has made this observation before) has particular resonance for season six: "delete." Willow deletes whatever is in her way come season six: Tara's and Buffy's memories, all magic items in the house, Warren, and, nearly, the world. ("I'll make it go away!")

(Incidentally, it has always bothered me unreasonably that Cordelia presses the delete key that is on the period on the numpad. Why not just press the other delete key? The period probably would just, if the numlock is on, type a period. I don't know why this bugs me, but it does.)

Jesse: Incidentally, I almost take Jesse as non-canon for the show from "Witch" to "Chosen" (and season eight), he's so quickly forgotten by Xander and Willow. He shapes our view of the mythology, and Xander's hatred of vampires, but is otherwise never mentioned. There's a sense in season one fairly often that while Joss et al. had high ambitions, they also didn't quite anticipate the show would be good enough later that emotional continuity early on would be very important.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-19 03:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Guh -- your Buffy/Luke observation is great. And the delete pick-up. I have no words. I have no idea why you bother to read my words -- you are tremendously insightful! I'm kind of hoping bro decides he's too busy. btw -- send me your e-mail address so I can hook you up to the google docs.

I'll have to see if I can spin Jesse's disappearance from the text in any kind of interesting way -- but it's almost for sure just a dangling thread.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-18 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You know, the Xander thing is something I only picked up on rewatches. I never got the impression on my first watch-thru that Xander/Buffy would ever be a thing or that Xander was being set up as a hero. But then, I was going in heavily spoilered to the EPIC B/A relationship and all, so I suppose I wasn't looking at Buffy/Xander.

However, on rewatches, I did notice how very Nice Guy the set-up is. We get a lot of Xander's POV on Buffy, on the Buffy/Angel relationship, on his frustration over Buffy not noticing him in a romantic way. In contrast, we get very little of, say, Willow's POV on Xander and his obsession with Buffy. I know authorial intent is a tricksy thing, and I hate drawing conclusions about what the audience is "supposed" to take away from something, but I sure do get the impression that the beginning is set up in a way such that the audience is intended to root for Xander.

Which is, I think, playing into Joss' nerd guy bias where in a series about a female hero, he still gravitates toward the nerdy guy POV. It takes him a while to break from that, but it's in effect for much of S1.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-19 03:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I didn't pick up on it either. The main reason I stress it is because when I did rewatches of the early seasons I wanted to prove the Bander crowds wrong, and that lasted for about two minutes. The evidence is just overwhelming when you watch with that question in mind.

Your last sentence is my take on what happened. There are still pings on it in season two and season three -- probably for continuity. If I had to guess, I'd say that the story line got dropped when they decided to turn Angel into a hero of his own series. Mid-season 2. But even in early season 2 it feels like the X/C B/A is a mismatch that's supposed to eventually get reswapped. (I'll try to stress this as I go forward, but there's a lot of Cordelia - Buffy mirroring, so the set up for that switch seems plausible to me).
Edited Date: 2010-08-19 03:12 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-22 09:35 pm (UTC)
shapinglight: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shapinglight
My favourite thing about this ep is the little scene where Buffy and Xander are running around in the dark, the vampires find them, and they can see them because of their glowing eyes. When I re-watched season 1 after many years, I was so pleased to discover that an effect I'd used over and over in fanfic because I thought it was cool was actually canon.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-08-23 03:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Very cool! When we get to School Hard, I will make a big deal about how Spike's purring is canon! It is nice when things like that actually do have some basis...