Thursday, 6 September 2012

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1.5 & 1.6 - 'Never Kill a Boy on the First Date' & 'The Pack'

Thursday, 6 September 2012
Buffy: See, this is a school; and we have students, and they check out books, and then they learn things.
Giles: I was beginning to suspect that was a myth.

Like most superheroes, Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) leads a double-life: smart-talking schoolgirl by day, cold-blooded vampire slayer by night. "NEVER KILL A BOY ON THE FIRST DATE" addressed the issues that might arise from such a binary lifestyle, but never provided enough emotional weight to make us care. Here, Buffy is flattered by the attention of poetry-loving hunk Owen (Christopher Wiehl), but their attempts to go on a date are thwarted by Buffy's responsibilities dispatching Sunnydale's undead—who are currently trying to raise the "Anointed One" by diktat of The Master (Mark Metcalf), a being prophesied to lead the Slayer into Hell...

The episode's a largely corny experience, with Buffy trying to lead a normal life away from Giles (Anthony Head) and her obligations, yearning to live and love like a normal 16-year-old girl. We've seen variations on this theme a million times before, and David Semel's script doesn't offer anything new. It might have worked if Owen was a character you felt a real connection to and wanted to see him get together with Buffy, but he was quite a weird creation: sensitive and handsome is fine, but he was also an halfwit. In later scenes, Owen intruded on Buffy and the gang's slaying activities at a spooky funeral home, and his joy at joining them to walk around dark corridors was frankly bizarre, capped by the weirdness of him failing to register being attacked by a revived corpse with fangs. Quite what Buffy saw in this dolt, I'll never know. She seems to crave Emily Dickinson admirers.

Still, it was good to see a return of The Master in his underground lair, and the twist that the Anointed One was actually a young boy (Andrew J. Ferchland) who escaped the heroes' notice was nicely done. I just wish this episode had written Owen better, and it didn't help that the low-budget is beginning to show with repetition action choreography (another Buffy/vampire confrontation with a large object separating them—in this instance an autopsy table), while the wilfully ambiguous appearances of Angel are becoming tedious.

Xander: We just saw the zebras mating. Thank you. Very exciting.
Willow: It was like the Heimlich, with stripes

School cliques are sort of like packs in the animal kingdom, aren't they? That's the basis of this Goosebumps-y episode, where Xander and a bolshie gang of hitherto strangers get possessed by the spirits of hyenas while on a field trip to the local zoo. Soon, uncool Xander's mixing with the popular kids; swaggering down hallways in slow-motion, and defiling his friendship with smitten Willow by calling her "pasty-faced" in front of laughing onlookers. As usual, it's up to Buffy and Giles to explain Xander's uncharacteristic behaviour, calling on assistance from a zookeeper who may know more than he's letting on.

As stupid as it sounds, "THE PACK" wasn't dispiriting to sit through. It helped that the hyena-possessed kids were scarier than any vampire we've encountered on the show so far, and genuinely unnerving in a few instances (such as when they were awoken from sleeping al fresco, or when they ganged up on Principal Flutie in his office). The show's budget didn't stretch to anything beyond a ridiculous stuffed hyena head with glowing eyes (wisely glimpsed only briefly), but the creepiness was maintained with growling audio and the predacious behaviour of the actors. Brendon even made a decent bad guy, especially when he was ranting at Willow to let him out of a locked book cage. The theme of bullying and pack behaviour also worked well for a show that often equates the supernatural with the schooling experience. Add to all that, there was a twist with the zookeeper that, while painfully obvious in retrospect, somehow worked on me. A forgettable and ridiculous episode, no question, but it had its moments.

written by Rob Des Hotel & Dean Batali (1.5) & Matt Kiene & Joe Reinkemeyer (1.6) / directed by David Semel (1.5) & Bruce Seth Green (1.6) / 31 March & 7 April 1997 / The WB