1.02. The Harvest
The second part of the two-parter is weaker than “Welcome to the Hellmouth”. It has many of the typical weaknesses of season 1 that are much more obvious here that in the pilot. The actors aren't completely comfortable in their roles yet (apart from Alyson), background music is very cheesy, some lines (like Angel's "Good luck!" or Master's "Nooooo!") are overdramatic, and the ending is too upbeat (and worse, it's like they're trying too hard to make it upbeat and funny) - especially considering that Xander and Willow have just lost a close friend. Still, it has some really good moments.
It also has several first times. The first apocalypse stopped by the Scoobies. The first time in the show that the word "Hellmouth" is used - we learn from Giles that it was (in Spanish) the original name of the town of Sunnydale. We see people making rationalizations about a vampire attack they have witnessed for the first time in the show (in a similar way that it happened in the movie). The fight at the Bronze is the first fight in which all four of the Scoobies take part. And maybe the most interesting thing in the episode, the first time in the show that we see and get to compare a person as a human and then after they become a vampire.
Some of the good in this episode: We get to see that Buffy using her brains rather than just brawn to defeat enemies - first figuring out where the vampire nest is, and later defeating a physically stronger opponent, Luke, by tricking him into thinking that a lamp is sunlight just long enough for him to be distracted and allow her to dust him.
We also get to see Xander being brave and following Buffy into the fight despite his lack of experience and superpowers. Earlier on when Buffy didn't want to allow him to go into the fight with her, he felt that as a slight against his masculinity. (Xander's insecurity in his ability to help Buffy in fight, due to his lack of superpowers, is something that will still haunt him even in later seasons - see "Hell's Bells".)
This episode established some of the basic vampire mythology early on - or rather, the Watcher's Council's take on it. It's the first time that the Old Ones are mentioned and that it's explained that before humans, there was no paradise on Earth, there was hell. According to Giles, a vampire is just a human body
(the spirit is not mentioned) infected by the demon - a stance that we'll later see reiterated in "Lie to Me". This theory has been completely debunked by later seasons of BtVS and AtS, but even this early, we get a big hint that it's just an explanation suitable to the Watchers' official ideology but that the truth is a lot more complicated. Vampire Jesse can pretend that he's still human so well as to fool his best friend; he talks like Jesse, has all of Jesse's memories, still thinks of himself as Jesse, and still wants Cordelia. But he's changed: he feels stronger, liberated (similar to what Spike said in "Fool for Love" - that becoming a vampire made him feel alive for the first time), "connected to everything", feels superior to Xander, and despises his old human self as a loser. In other words, he is
Jesse - an evil version of Jesse, stripped of human morality and inhibitions and indulging in his violent desires. His lust for Cordelia has turned into bloodlust - the first hint we get in the series of the sexual overtones of vampire biting. It's also worth noticing that Cordelia, who used to mock Jesse a loser she wouldn't look twice at, is immediately attracted to the new, more confident and aggressive Jesse. While Giles tells Xander - trying to make it easier for him to dust Jesse - that he should remember that it's not his friend anymore, but a "demon who killed him", Xander doesn't seem to really believe him, probably because he has actually talked to Vampire!Jesse - he still thinks that there is some Jesse left in there. Which may be understood in the sense that there is still some humanity in him left - and Xander might have hit the mark there, since Jesse replies by taunting him to "put me out of my misery". Sarcastic - or maybe not entirely.
Xander is saved from having to actually make the decision to dust his friend, which may be a cop-out, but I like the irony of Jesse's death being an accident caused by a random club-goer.
Some other observations about the mythology of the show
Giles' belief that that a Slayer should be able to spot a vampire (as he said in the pilot) is further proven wrong: Buffy fails to realize that Jesse has become a vampire until he goes into vampface.
Despite his exceptional strength (which hasn't been explained), Luke has never killed a Slayer - he says he always wanted to. Killing a Slayer, even just one, is something that is regarded as a special feat among vampires. But if most Slayers die very young, as we're told later in the series, then surely there must have been quite a few vampires who can boast that they killed one Slayer at least?
We learn that Sunnydale vampires live in the sewers -and Buffy implies that they are feeding from rats. So it's not just souled Angel living as a bum on the streets?
Things that don’t work in retrospect:
Some serious inconsistencies with the later mythology regarding the use of the word "soul". Giles says that first vampires were "a human form possessed, infected by the demon's soul". Huh? And then later we see the Master performing the ritual of making Luke his 'vessel' with the words "My blood to your blood, my soul to your soul"?!?! They obviously hadn't decided at this point yet that vampires normally don't
And there's another instance of amazingly inconsistent powers
with Buffy effortlessly leaping over the very high schoolyard fence.
Darla's portrayal here doesn't quite add up to her later characterization. She doesn't come off as a very strong character and is shown trembling in fear in front of the Master. Her backstory in AtS explains her loyalty to the Master, but she is later portrayed as much tougher and more assertive vampire.
Angel continues with his cheeky attitude, but it’s just not working - maybe it was David Boreanaz's acting, but he seemed to be trying too hard, it didn't come off as natural the way it did with James Marsters. It was a good idea they changed his persona to a broody one, which he was more convincing at playing. We learn his name and get the first bit of insight into his life and personality when we find out that he probably doesn't have any friends, based on his reaction when Buffy sarcastically asks him if he knew what it was like to have friends. This was also the first moment she was nicer to him, realizing that she's really hurt him. Angel claiming that she can’t go fighting with Buffy because he’s afraid is very odd and seemed to be a lie even back then. He was probably afraid that Darla might see and recognize him, and he didn't want Buffy to know he was a vampire.
Willow repaying Cordelia's uber-bitchiness ("Excuse me, who gave you permission to exist?") by tricking her into deleting the computer program she’s had to do for the computer class - the first time we see Willow's vindictive streak, but here you just have to love it, as Cordelia really deserved it.
Joyce telling Buffy that she can't go out and "it's not the end of the world". Joyce is right that teenagers all feel that "everything is life and death", except that in Buffy's case it is literally true, which may be why it's so easy to relate to Buffy and her friends: their lives and fights with monsters are metaphorical representations what teenagers go through, and we can identify with her because our parents and most adults never took our problems seriously.
Giles: You have no idea where they took Jesse?
Buffy: I looked around, but soon's they got clear of the graveyard,
they could have just, voom!
Xander: They can fly?
Buffy: They can drive.
Cordelia: Senior boys are the only way to go. Guys from our grade,
forget about it, they're children. Y'know? Like Jesse. Did
you see him last night, following me around like a little puppy dog.
You just wanna put him to sleep. But senior boys, hmm,
they have mystery. They have... What's the word I'm searching for? Cars!
Giles: Well, then help me. I've been researching this Harvest affair.
It seems to be some sort of preordained massacre. Rivers of blood, Hell
on Earth, quite charmless. I'm a bit fuzzy, however, on the details. It
may be that you can wrest some information from that dread machine.
Everyone stares at him. He looks back at them all.
Giles: That was a bit, um, British, wasn't it?
Creepiest (in a funny way) line:
Jesse: I, I can hear the worms in the earth!
Xander: That's a plus.
Creepiest moment, not in a funny way:
The Master poking an eye of one of his minions with his long fingernails. At least we don't actually get to see it this time...
Buffy saves Cordelia's life (I bet that Cordy would have preferred a male hero to her damsel in distress)...
It's interesting that Cordelia, after having one of her extremely shallow and vain speeches, says that she adores the song by the band at the Bronze (the Dashboard Prophets) that contains lyrics about "fighting the good fight
". Another of their songs, "Ballad for Dead Friends
" is also very appropriate for the scene of the vampires attack at the Bronze.
Xander's Hawaiian shirt with little mushrooms... a horror comedy of its own.
Buffy, on the other hand, displays good fashion sense in the episode, I love her brown leather jacket.
Recurring characters introduced:
: Jesse, Luke. One of the things that hurts the episode is the upbeat ending and lack of any mention of Jesse's death, not just here but later in the show as well. It's one of the things that add up to the feeling that the show wasn't as serious in season 1 and that continuity didn't matter that much as it would later on.