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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

As the new season builds up speed, we take a look at how the opening episodes started out of the gate.

By Frederick C. Szebin     October 11, 2000

Now this is how to run a television show! Last season was the best of the series, building mystery upon mystery, thrill upon thrill, throwing lots of curve balls and changing the character's lives forever. Last May, I thought the show should have ended on that high point of destroying the nasty government lab, but they added one last twist with Buffy fighting a spiritual battle with the very first Slayer for nothing more than the lives of her friends. That fight with the prehistoric slayer has opened a new consciousness in our favorite slayer, with which we see here struggle at the beginning of her fifth season. Her psychological make up is constantly in flux, as with any ordinary college-aged young lady, but this young lady also has to look deep into her heart and find out what she is becoming.

The season opener was a playful introduction to the new Buffy as she faced the baddest of the bad, old Dracula himself. As the episode unraveled, the Dark Prince tries to take the slayer as his bride, while Xander plays a giggly little bug eater under Drac's spell. Hard to judge after only one episode how Dracula, if he returns, will work out as a major villain. He has a lot to live up to, not only in his own legend but also as a follow-up to last year's chunky lab experiment. 'Buffy vs. Dracula' was a nice introduction to the new season, but Buffy's curiosity of her true nature was the best part of the show, as was the last shot of new cast member, the cute as a button Michelle Trachtenberg (Inspector Gadget), as a person who apparently shares the Buffster's mother. Can't wait to see where this is going.

A little hint of that occurred at the end of the second episode, which was nicely written as a diary by Dawn, Buffy's new 14-year-old sister. She has a crush on Xander, and she very much resents Buffy's overbearing big sister attitude. A slip of the tongue (telling a vampire to come right in) endangers the family stead, and Buffy must trash the new vampire club and rescue her meddlesome little sis' at the same time. The key to this episode is that club, led by none other than Harmony, vapid former socialite and Spike babe who has gathered her own 'minions,' but is not a very strong leader.

So far, this seems to be a season of change. Some are interesting and promise future fun (adding Dawn to the mix; Buffy's discovering that this Slayer thing goes deeper than even Giles knew; Giles' taking over the local magic shop), while others just seem to be filler. The writing remains the most important component of the show (Sarah Michelle Gellar's hefted bust notwithstanding). It is fast and jokey, almost a contemporary, dark version of the kind of patter that William Powell and Myrna Loy or Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy used to whip out. Still, I offer a respectful warning to Mr. Whedon and his writing gremlins not to let the show fall into self-spoofery. Sometimes it is a little too glib, a little to self-effacing for its own good, but only in a line or two. At five years, Buffy hasn't started to sag. Too many wonder bras.

At the same time, the writers aren't paying as much attention to the devilish details as they used to: Buffy's little power play with Dracula was a little convenient, and where the hell has Dawn been all this time? Unless I missed something over the years, Buffy didn't have a sister until now. Right? In that case, the writers took a cheap out in handling her introduction; in effect, she doesn't have one. In one scene Buffy's wondering 'Who the hell...?' and in the next episode everybody is saying, 'Hi, Dawn!' It's kind of the way soap operas handle infants: a huge story line is spent to show a character pregnant, then giving birth, and the baby exists for all of maybe six weeks until one day the little thing is around 18 years old with no explanation other than to have her take part in the show's sexual shenanigans.

Should we just shrug and let it go? Chuckle and say, 'Hey, cute one, Joss. Chucklechuckle' The previous episode ended with Buffy simply shrugging off Dracula's mesmerism in time to kick his Romanian butt all over the room. Maybe that could have slid by with us long-time viewers saying, 'Oh, that's her Slayer control kicking in.' Or, 'That is some of the worst writing since last season's Xena.' Touchy point for us fans, who are ready to accept anything Buffy can throw at us and let plot holes lie. Unfortunately, that now makes two in two episodes...

Buffy's new episodes have had a surprise in every plot, but they seem to favor of wide swatches of its fine humor-horror amalgam at the expense of clarity. That's a dangerous curve to take. Suspension of disbelief ain't a bottomless well. A series, particularly something as broad as Buffy, has to keep more than half an eye on the whys and hows of the plot before we old fans simply tire out and switch over to the Sci Fi Channel.

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