Breaking Down The 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' Pilot, Foreshadow By Foreshadow

- Buffy the Vampire Slayer -
Breaking Down The 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' Pilot, Foreshadow By Foreshadow

On March 10, 1997, a naive Slayer asked in the pilot episode of a brand new WB show, "Come on, this is Sunnydale. How bad an evil can there be here?" Over the next six years, Buffy Summers got the answer to that: her new Hellmouth town was full of evil (some supernatural, some high school students).

But before any of that wickedness came into crystal-clear focus, there was the eerie Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiere, which set the tone for the entire series. “Welcome to the Hellmouth” launched the Scooby Gang, introduced the ever-brooding Angel, and led to a seven season run and a spinoff series.

I combed through the official first episode — not the unaired pilot — to rediscover all the gems that writer and show creator Joss Whedon used to foreshadow what was to come for good old Buff.

And you'd be amazed at how much was set-up in the 43 minute pilot.

Welcome To The Hellmouth, Indeed

In case you couldn’t already tell from the cold open, casualties are a dime a dozen in Sunnydale. Giles wasn’t wrong when he said, “Everything you’ve ever dreaded was under your bed but told yourself couldn’t be by the light of day, they’re all real.” During the course of Buffy’s run, the Scooby Gang faced vampires, gods, werewolves, witches, and all the ghouls that go bump in the night.

If you wanted an introduction to the Hellmouth that is Sunnydale, well, you sure got your fill by the end of the pilot episode, which introduced us to just about every kind of evil there is, including late ‘90s fashion.

And in no uncertain terms, the Sunnydale monsters would not be pretty. These vamps are nowhere near Edward Cullen-quality in the skin department, sparkling like diamonds under the sun they do not.

Darla's Arc Begins

The pilot kicks off with the platinum blonde Darla leading a boy, played by a young Carmine Giovinazzo pre-CSI: NY, to his untimely demise on the grounds of Sunnydale High. This, of course, is just the beginning of Darla’s soon-to-be long-ass list of crimes against humanity.

In the first season in particular, we see Darla go to great lengths to help The Master ascend and rule over Sunnydale. She even bites Buffy’s mom and frames Angel in order to tear him and Buffy apart (we know how that ends, though, *stake through heart gesture*).

Darla can’t quit Buffy, though, and we see her again in flashbacks as we learn more of her ravenous escapades through Europe with Angel/Angelus and reformed British poet Spike.

Ultimately, this young woman who opens the series sees the show through to its spinoff, appearing in each season of Angel. From high school vampire to martyr mother of Angel’s son, Darla’s arc is one of the more impressive in the Buffy universe.

The Seeds Of The Scooby Gang Are Planted

Buffy, Willow, and Xander, become the core trio of the Scooby Gang throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Reading up on monsters in the library, joining Buffy on stakeouts, fighting off demons, and providing moral support via witty repartee, Buffy meets her best friends on Day 1 at Sunnydale High. Sorry, Cordelia, you weren’t “cool enough” to make the cut.

Willow starts off as shy and unsure of herself, but Buffy instills confidence in her at The Bronze, when she encourages Willow to “seize the moment, because tomorrow you might be dead.”

When Willow follows her advice, it’s at this point where we get the first breadcrumb that these two young women will form a lasting, trusting, and fulfilling bond, before Alyson Hannigan has to go to band camp when she’s cast in American Pie.

The Scooby Gang love triangle is also established in the first episode; its arc extending all the way to Season 3. In the pilot, Xander first sees Buffy when he’s skateboarding into school and instantly develops a crush on her.

We learn, however, that Xander and Willow have been best friends since they were five, and Willow’s thinly veiled crush on Xander is apparent even in this first episode (she’s crushed when he comes by saying he was looking for her… for help on his math homework).

Willow and Xander’s deep friendship extends throughout the show, culminating when he talks her down from her witchy tyranny as “Dark Willow” in Season 6. He tells her, “The first day of kindergarten, you cried because you broke the yellow crayon, and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You've come pretty far. Ending the world, not a terrific notion. But the thing is, yeah, I love you. I love crayon-breaky Willow, and I love scary-veiny Willow. So if I'm going out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world, well, then start with me. I've earned that.”

Ah, now that's friendship.

The Inklings Of Xander And Cordelia’s Relationship Start To Bubble

Cordelia is the unequivocal Queen Bee of Sunnydale High when the show starts, even offering to take Buffy under her wing when she passes the “coolness” test of being from Los Angeles, nixing vamp nail polish, and loving James Spader. She warns Buffy to be aware of how to spot the losers of the school (i.e., Xander and Willow), but… you can tell by Cordelia and Xander’s back-and-forth retorts that there’s something between them. In order to loathe someone that much, you must deep down love them a little, right?

Right. Xander and Cordelia end up getting together in Season 2, which breaks Willow’s heart. Little does she know that a season later, she and Xander would have their own dalliance, but that’s neither here nor there.

Cordelia’s Desire To Move To Los Angeles Is Established

The pilot also lays the groundwork for Cordelia’s eventual move to Los Angeles. Sunnydale is just too boring. “We don’t have a whole lot of town here,” she tells Buffy early on in the episode, then says just how much she would “kill to live in L.A.,” and be “that close to that many shoes.”

She gets her wish in the end: Cordelia becomes a main character on Buffy spinoff Angel, which is set in, where else, Los Angeles.

The Giles x Buffy Groundwork Is Laid

After the school learns of the boy who was found dead in a locker, Buffy realizes she can’t run and confides in Giles, her mentor, her librarian, her Watcher, which goes on to become a trademark throughout the series.

Giles cares for her, trains her, and prepares her for what’s to come, but never shies away from revealing the cold hard truths of what she will face. Buffy bemoans, “I was afraid I was going to be behind in all my classes, that I wouldn’t make any friends, that I would have last month’s hair. I didn’t think there would be vampires on campus.”

Well, that’s what happens when you live on a Hellmouth.

We Meet Angel, Who Certainly Becomes More Than Just “A Friend”

When Angel meets Buffy, he knows she’s the Slayer, and jokes that she’s smaller than he imagined, but spry. Buffy has to ask this stranger who he is, to which he slyly replies: “A friend.”

As we all come to find out, this vampire with a soul grows into much more than just a friend in the series, and goes on to become one of the great loves of Buffy’s life. All great lovers, even in the vampire world, start out as just “friends,” apparently.

Buffy is intrigued by Angel, and tells Giles that “This guy… dark, gorgeous, in an annoying sort of way,” told her about The Harvest. Much like Cordelia and Xander’s banter, and all of that high school repartee that revolves around faux-insults and aloofness that masks general interest and affection, Buffy and Angel’s storyline is one for the books, even if it’s as predictable as the varsity captain falling for the nerd once they take their glasses off.

Also of note in the pilot? Angel gives Buffy his silver cross necklace for protection, which ends up saving her life later on in "The Harvest" (the second episode of the premiere) when she’s attacked by Luke. As one does with a piece of jewelry from a high school boyfriend, Buffy wears the necklace throughout the following seasons of the show. The symbolic gift from Episode 1 has significance for so, so many more.

Buffy’s Struggle To Be The Chosen One Starts In The Pilot

Repelled by her calling, Buffy is clear from the get-go how much the strength, powers, and responsibilities of being a Slayer take its toll. When Giles tries to train her in the pilot, she claims even he can’t prepare her for how lonely the road is going to be, and the price and sacrifice she’ll have to pay for “getting kicked out of school? For losing all of my friends? For having to spend all of my time fighting for my life and never getting to tell anyone because I might endanger them? Go ahead. Prepare me,” Buffy says.

In the Season 1 finale, Buffy faces the Master alone and sacrifices herself. She’s revived, naturally (how else would we have gotten the rest of the series), but again and again, she swallows the bitter pill that “the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.” But we know that eventually, Buffy does get some relief.

The burden that is placed on Buffy’s shoulders in the pilot culminates in the series finale when all the potential Slayers of the world embrace their inner power, and Buffy no longer has to carry the weight of kicking vampire ass all by herself.

“Welcome to the Hellmouth” invited us into a world where the dangers of high school are alive and real, from facing your fears of talking to boys and making new friends to fending off monsters, with fangs or otherwise.

Seasons 1 through 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer are streaming on Hulu.

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