Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 1

Welcome to the Hellmouth

The Harvest

The Witch

Teacher's Pet

Never Kill a Boy on the First Date

The Pack

Welcome to the Hellmouth

The Metaphysics of "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 7 BtVS/season 1 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

Vampire Slayers: For as long as there have been vampires, there have been vampire slayers. Vampire slayers are young human girls (15 or 16 is a typical age to be called) who are endowed with supernatural strength and fighting skills. There can be only one slayer at any given time, and a new slayer is only "called" (her powers made manifest) when the previous Slayer dies. The Slayer's duty is to protect humanity from vampires and other demons who stalk the Earth. Buffy is the latest of the slayers, called in 1996 (BtVS movie, B1).

Watchers are adults who train and prepare a slayer for her duties. Typically, there is a single watcher assigned to a slayer. Early on, the watchers formed a Council for governing their activities, and by extension, the activities of the Slayer. The early history of the first watchers and the first slayers are explored in later episodes.

What is the Hellmouth?

"Sunnydale's got too many demons and not enough retail outlets" -- Glory

Giles calls Sunnydale a "center of mystical energy" or a "mystical convergence". By this he means that supernatural energy is concentrated more strongly here than elsewhere, due to the proximity of the Hellmouth, a point where the wall between our world and hell ("the demon dimension(s)") is thinner than usual. Its exact location is right under the Sunnydale High School library, which explains the unusual preponderance of supernatural activity at the high school. Vampires like the Master and demons like the Sisterhood of Jhe and the Vahrall have tried to take advantage of the Hellmouth to open a passageway to hell.

Several times on the show dialogue has implied there may be more than one hellmouth:

In the ep "The Wish" Giles told Buffy's watcher that Sunnydale was on a hellmouth. I think this is extremely significant because he used the word "a" not "the." It's entirely possible that at any given time on the world there could be several hellmouths. It might be that hellmouths are revolving things that occur do to the accumulation of various mystical forces. Because of this hellmouths could change locations or be shut down only to tear open a small tear in some other portion of the globe (Dhark, Mar 18 22:11 1999).

The cycles of the Hellmouth

Psychic dreams: Buffy's nightmare is the first example we see of her psychic dreams. In her nightmare are images of places and creatures she hasn't yet seen and events that have not yet happened, but which will happen--the Master's lair, the vampires coming to attack the library, the demon Moloch, and Giles' Vampyr book.

Unanswered question: Do all slayers have psychic powers, or does Buffy have a unique gift? In the Bronze, Giles assumes that Buffy has been having nightmares about the upcoming Harvest. He already knows she is capable of psychic dreams. He may know this because slayers are endowed naturally with this power, or he may know this because Buffy's previous Watcher kept a record of Buffy's psychic dreams and Giles was informed of it before he took up his watcher duties in Sunnydale.

Evil in "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

Darla is a cat-like predator, 400 years old, and the favorite of her sire, the Master. The Master sends Darla and the younger Thomas (vamped in the 1980's?) to get him some food because he is trapped behind a mystical barrier. The vamps go after Jesse and Willow, and Darla finds it hard not to take a bite herself.

Good and Moral Ambiguity in "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

Fifteen-year old Buffy Summers of Hemery High in Los Angeles was called to be the next Slayer, but when the Watcher Merrick found her, she had no inkling of what she was or the power that she had. While the Slayer Kendra was trained from an early age for her calling, Buffy led a normal (in "Helpless", she even admits shallow) life until the day this news was sprung on her. Merrick took this Prom Princess/Fiesta Queen/cheerleader out to the graveyard where she encountered and killed her first vampire. Her power forced her to reluctantly admit to the truth of her calling, and Merrick began her training.

But Buffy still resisted the meaningful and self-sacrificing life of a slayer. Then one night during a patrol, the local master vampire, Lothos, set his hyno-eyes on Buffy and killed Merrick. Lothos then set out to kill Buffy at the school dance. When his vampire minions broke into the gym, Buffy defended the shallow classmates who had begun to shun her and staked Lothos. Now she's moved to Sunnydale, home of the big brewin' evil, but she's still a girl who longs for the ordinary in her extraordinary life.

Ethical Quandaries in "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

Should Buffy take up slayer duties in Sunnydale? Justifed self interest vs. duty

Giles argues that it's Buffy's duty. She, out of all the girls in the world at present, has the strength and skill to hunt vampires. She is the Chosen One.

Buffy is not sure she can accept the negative consequences of being a slayer. Slaying has gotten her kicked out of school, caused her to lose all of her friends, and compelled her to constantly fight for her life. Furthermore, she has been unable to explain any of this to anyone because she has to keep it a secret.

Giles responds that the Slayer is needed more than ever, because supernatural events at the Hellmouth are on the increase and will soon culminate in a crisis (the Harvest).

Philosophies Represented in "Welcome to the Hellmouth"

Buffy's "seize the day" philosophy: Life is too short to worry about what others think of you. Seize the moment, because tomorrow you might be dead. Buffy's philosophy of life is the sort that would have resonance with a slayer, considering what short lives they typically lead. And it was directly applicable to her decision about whether or not to sleep with Angel in Surprise, as Willow pointed out.

The Harvest

The Metaphysics of "The Harvest"

Demon Origins: Buffyverse mythology traces the origin of demons back to a time before recorded human history, when the world was not controlled by human beings, but by the "Old Ones"--super-powerful and bloodthirsty beings (relative to us, anyway). We are not told exactly how they lost their claim to the Earthly reality, but humans are clearly in charge of it now (The Harvest, The Prodigal). In BtVS, demons are often depicted as wanting to take back the present world of animals and humans for themselves, or to bring Earth and/or humans into the demon dimensions (Innocence, Becoming pt. 2, The Zeppo, Doomed).

  The Master's mystic prison: Sixty years ago ("three score years", 1937), the Master, an old, powerful vampire, came to the Hellmouth to open a door to hell and bring the demons back to our reality. In the process of trying to open the dimensional portal, he got himself stuck and caused an earthquake that swallowed half of Sunnydale. He is now trapped (like a cork in a bottle) between dimensions in the ruins of an old church that collapsed into the ground with him. The ritual he must have performed to open the Hellmouth backfired on him specifically--he cannot escape, but he can physically touch others who are not trapped.

The Harvest is an event which comes one night in a century. The Master draws mystical power at a distance from one of his minions ("the Vessel") while it feeds on human blood. This will give the Master enough power to break free of the portal. The Vessel is bestowed with a mystical link to the Master in a special ritual. If the Master fails to get the energy he needs from the Harvest, he cannot use this method to free himself for another century.

The ritual to create the Vessel: Luke kneels before the Master, who offers him his hand. Luke takes it and kisses it. Then the Master turns his hand over, palm up. Luke sinks his fangs into his wrist and drinks briefly.

Master: My blood is your blood. My soul is your soul.
Luke: My body is your instrument.

The Master draws a three-pointed star on Luke's forehead with the blood from his wrist.

Master: On this... most hallowed night... we are as one. Luke is the Vessel! Every soul he takes will feed me. And their souls will grant me the strength to free myself. Tonight I shall walk the Earth, and the stars themselves will hide!

It's not clear that the last few sentences are part of the ritual. The Master just likes lots of pomp and preening.

Written prophecy transpired: Giles says that The Harvest was "pre-ordained". Does this mean that the Master was destined to get himself stuck in the Hellmouth portal, and destined to get out? Or is the The Harvest simply a predictable centennial event used by the Master for his own purposes? The Harvest took place, as predicted. It just didn't end as the Master thought it would. He did not escape his mystical prison. But Buffy didn't kill him, either. (Note: the Rise of the Master didn't go as predicted in the alternative history of The Wish, either). Buffy did kill Vessel-boy, though, briefly fooling him into thinking that the sun had risen so she could distract him long enough to stake him.

The origin of vampires: According to Giles' books, the creatures we know as "vampires" were created when a demon bit a human being and mixed their blood. The victim became "a human form possessed, infected by the demon's spirit "--essentially, a human-demon hybrid. This individual bit other humans, and so on, and so on, eventually creating an entire demonic race known as the Vampire.

Vampires and their human predecessors:

"Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn't get a date with anyone in the sighted community! Look at me. I'm a new man!"

In the episode Angel, Giles says,

"A vampire ...may have the movements, the memories, even the personality of the person that it took over, but it's still a demon at the core..."

Many of the vampires we will get to know in the Buffyverse seem almost exactly like their human predecessors, except with blood-lust and no pulse. Others seem strikingly different, but in ways that are an extrapolation of the human we once knew. The mix of similarities and differences between vampires and their human predecessors raises a perplexing metaphysical quandary about "who" a vampire is--is it still the same "person" as we knew before, or is that person gone completely, replaced by an uncanny evil doppelganger who took over their body at death?

Jesse was an awkward young man with a dry sense of humor, probably not unlike Xander. He had enough self-confidence to persistantly pursue Cordelia, but each time she gave him the brusque brush-off, he backed off until he had the courage to fumble through another lame come-on again. VampJesse, on the other hand, is full of self-confidence. He approaches Cordelia directly, doesn't take no for an answer on the dance floor, and later knocks her to the ground in anticipation of feeding on her. Certainly not the old Jesse with some blood lust. But a completely new man? Or a perversion of old Jesse with his potential as a stalker fully realized?

Vampires and sunlight: Vampires will combust in about a minute in full sunlight. Filtered light, however, does not hurt them. Angel is standing in shadowy light while waiting for Buffy in the mausoleum.

Good and Ethical Quandaries in "The Harvest"

Killing vampires who used to be friends

In his first rash act of many, Xander joins Buffy along the path to the Master's lair to rescue Jesse. They soon discover that Jesse has been turned into a vampire. At first, Xander does not understand the implications of this for his former friend. Giles sets Xander straight on this issue:

Giles' last statement,"you're looking at the thing that killed him," is odd because vampJesse is obviously not the Master or Darla or whichever vamp actually turned Jesse into a vampire. Perhaps Giles' statement implies that the demon spirit born into Jesse's body actually did the "killing" or banishment of the human soul from the body.

Xander is still hesitant about killing vampJesse, though. This is the first case of the emotional quandary raised by the fact that vampires look, talk and often act like their human predecessors (other examples of this dilemma Angelus, VampWillow).

In the end, Xander wields the instrument of vampJesse's demise when he threatens him with a stake in order to save Cordelia, and a passerby pushes him and the stake into Jesse.

Feminism in "The Harvest"

The Witch

The Metaphysics of "The Witch"

The metaphysics of witches and natural witches

Transpossession spell: Catherine Madison "switched bodies" with her daughter Amy--in other words, used a spell to effect the transmigration of her spirit to her daughter's body and vice versa. Amy does not recall this event, only that she woke up in her mother's bed and in her mother's body.

Debilitating enemies spells: Catherine uses doll surrogates (a voodoo spell?) to debilitate her enemies. For example, when she blinds a doll representing Cordelia, the real Cordelia is blinded. During this ritual, she says,

Give me the power. Give me the dark. I call on you, the laughing gods. Let your blackness crawl beneath my skin. Accept thy sacrifice...of Cordelia. Feed on her.

The spell to detect a witch: Giles finds a spell which requires a lock of the witch's hair, quicksilver (mercury), aqua fortis (nitric acid), and eye of newt. In the science lab, Willow puts a frog's eye and the chemicals in a beaker that sits above a Bunsen burner. Buffy steals some of Catherine-in-Amy's-body's-hair off of her brush. Willow adds the hair, mixes the ingredients, and pours some of the liquid into a test-tube. Buffy spills it on Catherine/Amy's arm. Since she had cast a spell in the previous forty-eight hours, her skin turns blue.

The bloodstone vengeance spell: This spell hits the body hard, eradicating the immune system and causing the enemy's death in a matter of hours. Catherine places this spell on Buffy using her charm bracelet, intending to kill her for her interference.

Reversing the spells: Giles and Amy use Dr. Gregory's chemistry equipment and Catherine's spell book. The spell involves another potion which includes eye of newt. Giles mixes the ingredients and recites the spell:

The center is dark. Centrum est obscurus. The darkness breathes. Tenebrae respiratis. The listener hears. Hear me! ...Unlock the gate. Let the darkness shine. Cover us with holy fear. Show me... Corsheth and Gilail! The gate is closed! Receive the dark! Be sated! Release the unworthy! Release! Release! RELEASE!

There is a flash of light and the spells are all broken. The identity of "Corsheth and Gilail" is not clear. They may be demons, or they may be some sort of gods.

Catherine's spell to put Buffy in the trophy: This spell calls upon a mystical power named Corsheth:

I shall look upon my enemy! I shall look upon her and the dark place will have her soul! Corsheth, take her!

With this simple supplication, Catherine, her eyes pitch black, lifts up her hands and sends a bolt of energy towards Buffy.

Witch powers without spells: Catherine throws Willow, chokes Xander, knocks out Giles, makes an ax fly from Amy's hands to hers, and sends Buffy sailing, all without potions or words. Amy's Mojo of Ms. Beakman in BBB is another example.

Good and Evil in "The Witch"

Catherine Madison represents a very human kind of evil: vanity and envy. Catherine steals the body of her daughter Amy to relive her glory days as a youthful cheerleader. Her actions are a good example of the selfish use of magic, and the direct thwarting of it by people with good intentions. Catherine was willing to ruin her marraige and use her own daughter and others to get what she wanted. The irony is that Catherine Madison ends up exactly where she intended to put Amy (or Buffy)--poetic justice (and trapped as an eternal Barbie Doll like the voodoo surrogates she used on others as well).

Catherine ...saw herself as a victim: pregnant and married (probably right after high school), trapped by the responsibilities of motherhood, then abandoned by her husband and left alone to watch the wrinkles accumulate in the mirror as her clumsy daughter made a mockery of her glory years. Catherine had the power to shape the outside world into the fantasy inside her head-and all she had to do was violate Amy to do it. (Unfortunately, like many child abuse victims, Amy followed in her mother's footsteps.) (CJL, 10:00:02 03/13/02)

Undefeated evil? Catherine Madison wasn't killed, just trapped in the cheerleading trophy. There is additional evidence of this in Phases, when Oz notes that the trophy's eyes "seem to follow you wherever you go." Catherine's statue might have been destroyed in the bombing of the school in G2. However, a scene written for the episode "Doomed" but never shown indicates that Catherine is still trapped. The camera zooms in on the trophy as the gang walks through the debris of the burnt out high school:

It's a cheerleading trophy, black with smoke-damage. In fact--it's Amy's mother. Still entombed, her eyes dart desperately as Willow's foot comes crashing down on her. After Willow moves off, Amy's mom glares at her despite her impotence.

Ethical Quandaries in "The Witch"

Killing Humans: Giles points out that if they can't reverse the spells through magic, they will have to cut the witch's head off to reverse them. Buffy argues that killing Amy is not the solution because she is not really evil; she only resorted to witchcraft to please her mother's desire for her to become a cheerleader. Xander counters that it may be necessary in order to save Buffy from the Bloodstone vengeance spell, which will kill her in hours unless the spell is reversed.


Teacher's Pet

The Metaphysics of "Teacher's Pet"

The Praying Mantis: Giles' research reveals that the "she-Mantis" is a shape shifter who assumes the form of a beautiful woman and then lures male virgins back to her home. Buffy's evidence that Natalie French is a praying mantis: she can rotate her head 180 degrees, the "fork-guy" vampire was scared of her, and her fashion sense "screams predator".

Evil and Moral Ambiguity in "Teacher's Pet"

Faux Natalie French is the personification (bugification?) of predatory evil, right down to her justification for her deeds:

"The reason they live alone is because they're cannibals! ...[I]t's hardly their fault! It's the way nature designed them: noble, solitary and prolific."

She is also an example of evil as deception, using an alluring human disguise to seduce young virgin men to a grisly headless death. Xander doesn't question the motives of an adult coming on to a kid--until it's too late.

Undefeated evil: The eggs that Natalie French laid with the (virgin!?) science teacher, Dr. Gregory, were left behind in the science lab.

A female sexual predator might sound  feminist, especially given the misogyny of the male sexual predator, but Natalie French, the praying mantis, is an archetype of male fear of female sexual power, and one of the oldest excuses in the book (since Eve, at least!) for "keeping those nasty women barefoot and pregnant where they can't cause trouble." The quick-thinking, decisively-acting girl hero saves the helpless male victims (while her watcher seems to stumble around cluelessly). This sends a good message for positive female power, but not for the power of victims of sexual violence in general.

The hermetically insensitive Cordelia


Never Kill a Boy on the First Date

The Metaphysics of "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"

Written prophecy transpired: Aurelius was a prophetic vampire from the 12th century, and was founder of The Order of Aurelius, an old and venerated sect of vampires that the Master now leads. Aurelius wrote about the coming of the Anointed One. The Master reads:

"And there will be a time of crisis, of worlds hanging in the balance. And in this time shall come the Anointed, the Master's great warrior.... The Five will die, and from their ashes the Anointed shall rise. The Brethren of Aurelius shall meet him and usher him to his immortal destiny."

All of this comes to pass, except, as we know, the Anointed One's destiny was less than immortal. The words "immortal destiny" may simply refer to the fact that he was vamped, although we never see the child in game-face.

...the Slayer will not know him, will not stop him, and he will lead her into hell.

This also comes to pass, although calling the Master's lair "hell" is a bit strange. The Master is trapped in the portal between Earth and the demon dimensions, but the rest of his lair is just a cave on this Earthly plane.

Pre-destination? Giles tells Buffy that when he was ten years old, his father informed him that he was "destined" to be a Watcher, as his father and his grandmother had been. It is unclear what made this Giles' "destiny". His families wishes? Some "calling" by the Forces of Good? Whatever it was, Giles felt compelled by it enough to rebel against it.

The sire-ing of vampires: Do vampires have any kind of consciousness in the period after they are vamped and before they wake up a new vampire? vampAndrew Borba says, "they told me about you when I was sleeping," to Buffy just after he rises in the funeral home. He also talks about messages he is getting from an unnamed "he". It could be a possible psychic connection to someone telling him to go after the gang (perhaps the Master?); it could just be the loony personification of his own vampire appetite. It could also be the connection many vampires we've known seem to have to something very evil beyond themselves which they experience for the first time after siring.

Vampires, wood, and metal: Luke, the vessel from The Harvest says it best--"metal can't kill me." Slaying a Buffyverse vampire is mostly a matter of metaphysics, not physics. It doesn't matter how pointy a weapon is; metal, plastic--pointyness doesn't kill vampires, unless it takes off their head. The substance an object is made of is what's important. The mystical properties of wood--whether it is a number two pencil or a tree limb--being shoved through the heart are the magical ingredients for turning vamps to dust.

A wooden stake is the major item in the killing of vampires and it is made of trees ... I'd say that other religions can be named as well as Christian to kill/harm vampires ... Druids and then there are Wiccan. These religions are based on the natural (sunlight, earth, etc) (gazoo, Feb 22 20:01 2000).

So why does metal implode upon staking? When vamps are staked, everything disappears--their bodies, their clothes, the stake. And the zippers and other metal on their clothes (and the metal part of the shovel in the graveyard scene in SAR). But somehow, the ring on the finger of the vamp in the opening sequence remained.

Vampires and choking

Good and Evil in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"

Andrew Borba was insane before he was vamped, if his behavior in the airport van is any indication. This insanity carries over to the behavior of vampAndrew Borba (other cases: Drusilla, Zachary Kralik).

Undefeated evil: Buffy slays Andrew Borba, but since he isn't the Anointed One, she doesn't stop the Anointed One from getting to the Master.

The good of Giles

Moral Ambiguity in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"

Owenosity: The characteristic of being like, or just being, Owen. Although it can involve being book-wormy in a sexy kind of way (brooding is essential as well), it also means having a naive enjoyment of thrill-seeking that might quickly lead to death or injury if one hangs out with Buffy Summers. Buffy tends to like men who possess a certain amount of Owenosity. Examples:

Ethical Quandaries in "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date"

Slayer vs. Normal Girl: Buffy must decide between preventing a violent and disturbing prophecy (the rising of the Anointed One) and going on a date (her first since moving to Sunnydale). Giles points out that the prophecy must be stopped immediately. If the Brethren of Aurelius manage to bring the Anointed One to the Master, the Master will have a powerful ally.

Buffy struggles with how abnormal it makes her feel to have "no life."

Giles points out that a normal social life would interfere with her duties as a slayer.

Buffy counters that it is only one date, not an entire social life. This is a straw man argument, because one can infer she will go on other dates in the future. In the end, Buffy chooses her duty over her date, and eventually compromises with "office romances".


The Pack

The Metaphysics of "The Pack"

Possession: An ancient ritual allows the spirits of predatory animals, in this case hyenas, to enter the bodies of humans. Xander retains memories of the events that took place during the possession even after the spirit has left his body, implying that he was conscious during the possession. However, he presumably he had no control over what the spirit did. The other clear case of retaining memory while under possession is Buffy/James and Angelus/Grace. Xander and Buffy also remember being under the influence in Halloween, but this is not a clear case of possession by an outside spirit.

Animal Spirits: What is the difference between a human spirit and an animal spirit? Besides simply belonging to a different species, animal spirits do not have human rationality.

The Primals, a sect of animal worshipers, believed that humanity was a perversion of the more sacred animal state. They returned to that purer state of being by bringing the spirit of predatory animals into themselves. The result was human bodies reduced to animal instincts without rationality or conscience. It is hard to say if the awareness of one's humanity would remain or finally go away permanently the longer the possession occurred.

The ritual that possesses and de-possesses the Pack: The ritual, as Giles learns in Sherman Jeffries' work on the occult, involves performing a predatory act (e.g., the zookeeper attacking Willow, the mean kids teasing a weaker student) within a sacred circle in the presence of the predators. It's unclear if a genuine reverse transpossession back to the hyenas ever happens. The zookeeper basically performs the same ritual, attacking Willow, so that the hyena spirit leaves the students and enters him.

Evil and Ethical Quandaries in "The Pack"

The pack are predators. There is no evidence that they attack Principal Flutie or any of their other victims because of who they represent (e.g., authority figures, symbols of innocence). They attack them because they show weakness and distraction. The mother with the baby in her back pack came upon the pack when they were full. They would have attacked her, perhaps, if she had shown paralyzed fear of them, rather than regaining her senses and walking away.

Were the Pack responsible for their actions?

What about the time when he and a bunch of other "hyena" kids ate the School pig and the principal-before-Snyder? It was implied that after becoming human he remembered the things he did as a "hyena" (BornYesterday, 25 Feb 1999 22:36)

Xander wasn't responsible for the actions committed while under the influence of the hyena spirit. The mere fact that Xander remembers the hyena acts does not mean he did them himself in any way. He was possessed.

The zookeeper wanted the hyena spirit's power for himself, and would have killed Willow to perform the "predatory act" necessary to get it. Buffy threw him into the hyena cage. She tried to save him, but he had already been captured by the hyenas. Poetic justice, seeing as he wanted to become one of these vicious killers.

Moral Ambiguity in "The Pack"

Giles' initial explanation for Xander's cruel behavior? "Testosterone is the great equalizer, Buffy. It turns all men into morons." Just because a statement or action comes from a member of the sex being belittled doesn't mean it isn't unfair sexism (Cordelia is a good example of someone who tends to put down her own sex). Of course, Giles might be over-generalizing based on his own teen-aged years.

Pictures are copyright © 1997 The WB Television Network
Screen shots credits
This page last modified 06/25/08

Questions? Comments?