Overalls. Not a great style, really, but dang, I miss the convenience of all those pockets.
Let’s talk about Harmony before we jump into the deep end with the more thinky, philosophical things I noticed. Harmony seems to have just been thrown in there as someone for Cordelia to exposit plot elements to–basically, she’s there so Cordelia can tell her all about how crazed Buffy is, thereby telling the audience. I have to wonder what was so captivating about her to audiences that she eventually crossed over to Angel and became a series regular? In my opinion, she’s every stereotype Cordelia pretends to be, but for real. There’s no underlying intelligence, here, no caring heart masked by years of being the popular rich girl. Harmony is just a really ditzy blonde girl who lucked into popularity. Maybe it’s that simplicity that people liked? Or maybe Joss just liked her and decided to keep bringing her back, despite what people thought?
Cordelia and Harmony’s conversation also gives Willow her first chance to stand up for something–not herself, but she steps up and defends Buffy, even though she knows Cordelia isn’t going to respond well, and even though Buffy wouldn’t have known or minded Cordelia trash talking her. It’s our first bit of Willow development, and I have to say, I’m impressed that it happens this quickly, but also not surprised, because Willow has to start growing as a character or we have no reason to like her for the rest of the show. That doesn’t make the moment less important, though. I think, in-universe, the sudden change comes because of who Buffy is. Willow sees someone who isn’t cowed by Cordelia, who stands up for what’s right, who is willing to fight off literal demons for people she’s barely met, and suddenly standing up to Cordelia doesn’t seem so tough.
Xander also develops a defining character trait in this episode–his loyalty to his friends. He’s so concerned about Jesse that he goes after Buffy despite knowing there’s nothing he can do. I think, though, that Xander also has this curiosity about the new, supernatural world he’s been introduced to. It’s like meeting a new person, and all you want to do is facebook stalk them, or finding a really good book and being unable to stop reading, but it’s different from that, too. Xander knows he could get hurt. He’s poking at unhealed wounds, picking at scabs. This vampire thing is new, and scary, and it hurts, but Xander also can’t leave it alone. I think that in these early seasons, at least, Xander’s curiosity and inability to leave things be is something Willow doesn’t have. Without Xander’s need to know what’s happening, Willow would have died. Or if Buffy still had saved her, Willow probably would have been content to rationalize and forget, like most other humans in Sunnydale. Up until this point, Willow’s made blending in and being forgettable her priority–hardly anyone seems to know her except Xander and Jesse, and Cordelia only pays attention to her to mock her or be cruel. Sure, Willow likes the library, but Giles and Buffy wouldn’t feel the need to pull in a civilian when she seems perfectly content to not be pulled. Xander is the one who goes after Buffy, who insists they need to help, who forces his own involvement in the planning. Xander’s the catalyst, here. Willow might become the more powerful, more important one later, but right now, Xander is the one who pushes and acts. It’s a little disappointing that this dynamic eventually falls away, but this first season is great for Xander lovers.
I noticed particularly in this episode that vampires feeding is often presented in a very sexualized way. I don’t find that particularly odd, since from the very beginning vampires have been meant to symbolize debauchery, sexuality, and all the vices and sins we repress and shame in public, but it’s interesting watching adult bodied vampires acting seductively and sexually toward teenagers of both sexes. The homoeroticism isn’t particularly overt, but it’s there, particularly with Jesse and Xander. There’s also an interesting sexual overtone to the interactions between male vampires and female vampires. Most notably in this episode Jesse’s attempts to bite Cordelia come off to my modern eyes and ears as . . . well, for lack of a better word, rapey. Cordelia is clearly not giving consent, has said no to him multiple times both before and after he became a vampire, and does not want him straddling her, holding her down, trying to put his mouth on her. I can’t tell if that was deliberate, if Joss was drawing definite parallels between vampirism and sexual predators, or if it was just a convenient way to inject a little familiarity into the situation. I feel like I’m going to have to watch how other vampires Joss has go on rampages act and react to their victims, and vice versa. I can’t remember if this is a running theme or not. (Wow, it’s been a long time since I watched this show.)
Angel’s place still seems mostly to be mysterious, which is fine, but it’s driving me nuts that Buffy isn’t more concerned by this dude randomly showing up near places where there are vampires. He hasn’t really been showing her much emotion, either. He just shows up, makes some cryptic remarks, and looks at her with his puppy dog eyes before she leaves. Call me crazy, but I feel like if some guy started showing up before I had to do something unpleasant, I’d be suspicious. But Buffy seems to just . . . not accept his presence, but find it normal. I’m going to keep blaming that on Joss not knowing what he was doing with Angel yet, since I can’t think of any other explanations for it.
I also love Buffy and Joyce’s relationship. They’re both trying so hard, but Buffy’s got a secret and it’s weighing on both of them. I love that Joyce listens to self help tapes about how to raise teenagers. That’s such a great character beat for her. It was a perfect way to show that she’s concerned about being a good parent without clobbering us over the head with it. Joyce is one of my favorite TV parents of all time, and this is part of why. She’s being a mom, and a believable mom. A lot of that comes down to Kristine Sutherland’s performance. She rides the line between smothering and distant so well. She cares, she wants to be involved, but she knows she has to let Buffy come to her. It’s a really great performance on the whole and I love that it starts from the first couple of episodes.