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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.


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