Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Season 1


I Robot,You Jane

The Puppet Show


Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Prophecy Girl


The Metaphysics of "Angel"

Warning: this page contains info about episodes up through season 4 BtVS/season 3 AtS. If you're in danger of being spoiled, proceed with caution.

The metaphysics of Angel: In 1753, 26-year old Liam of Galway was vamped by Darla. At that point his human soul was gone, and the demon Angelus was born. As Angel explains, "When you become a vampire the demon takes your body, but it doesn't get your soul. That's gone." In 1898, Angelus fed on a Gypsy girl. The elders of the Romany gypsies conjured "the perfect punishment" for Angelus. They "cursed" him--restored his human soul. This, in effect, means that Liam's human soul now "possesses" his own vamped body--creating Angel the souled vampire.

The invitation to vampires: The Three manage to get their hands in Buffy's front door before she shuts it, even though she did not invite them. Perhaps Buffy's invite to Angel seconds before left some mystical energy in place, just enough for the Three to break the barrier a bit.

Evil in "Angel"

The Three are "warrior vampires"--minions of the Master who fight his fiercest battles. They are unusually strong, even for vampires, and wear uniforms to indicate their warrior status. The Master sends the Three against Buffy hoping to defeat her once and for all. When they fail, they are required to give up their lives in penance. The Master allows Darla, his favorite vamp offspring, to do the honors. As swift, sure killers with specific targets, The Three are examples of evil-as-corruption.

Darla appears to the vampire she sired nearly a century after she rejected him and his "filthy soul". She reminds Angel of the kills they made in Budapest prior to his curse. When that fails to arouse him, Darla goes for the throat--literally--biting Buffy's mother and thrusting her, unconscious and bleeding, into Angel's arms. "Aren't you hungry for something warm after all this time?" she taunts. He struggles against temptation and succeeds, but Buffy finds him there and misunderstands.

Unanswered question: Does Darla already know about the happiness clause of the gypsy curse when she tries to lure Angel back into the Master's fold, even though Angel doesn't? She seems certain that she can turn him when she tells the Master her plan. Darla watched her most vicious progeny mope around soulfully for one hundred years and then join the Slayer in fighting evil. It's certainly possible she looked into the events that lead to the restoration of his soul in hopes of counteracting them.

The history of the Master and Darla and the Master and Angelus

Moral ambiguity in "Angel"

Angel: In the Bronze, after Buffy has tracked him down, Angel admits to wanting to feed from Joyce, although he restrained himself. He also admits to wanting to kill Buffy. It's clear Angel struggles with the demon within. But how much of his identity is demon and how much is human soul? This question is made evident when Angel tells Buffy about the days before he regained his soul. The vampire who saved her from the Three confesses killing the gypsy girl, and then tells her that "I" killed "[my family]...their friends...and their friend's children." Who is the "I" doing the talking?

Ethical Quandaries in "Angel"

Kiss or kill?

Buffy realizes that she is in love with a vampire, and ponders what to do. On the one hand, Buffy says (reflecting Xander's somewhat self-serving letter-of-the-law argument), she simply should get over her feelings so she can kill him:

Xander's argument from duty: "Angel's a vampire. You're a Slayer. I think it's obvious what you have to do." This is similar to Faith's argument in Revelations: "Vampire. Slayer. Dead vampire." If taken as an absolute moral principle, the contingencies of a particular situation (e.g., that Angel has a soul) do not matter. However, killing Angel goes against a different principle which states that slayers should not kill those who have souls, a principle Buffy will later embrace as her moral line.

Buffy and Willow both argue that Angel hasn't ever hurt Buffy--he has in fact tried to help her. She finds it hard to kill someone who she has reason to think is good and that she feels for.

Darla ends the dilemma by making it appear as if Angel attacked Joyce, so that Buffy goes after him. Fortunately, Angel gets an opportunity to tell Buffy the truth and prove his good intentions by killing Darla to save Buffy's life. In the end, Buffy and Angel decide it would be wrong for them to pursue a relationship, despite their feelings for each other. He is still a vampire, older and immortal, she is still a slayer, with a duty that comes first.

I Robot, You Jane

The Metaphysics of "I Robot, You Jane"

Moloch the Corrupter is a giant horned demon whose face resembles a bull.

Demon spirts: As Giles explains, in the dark ages the spirits of demons were sometimes trapped in books, where they were powerless. The demon can be released by reading the book aloud, even if the reader does not know what they are doing. This is similar to what happens when Willow scans the book into the computer. Moloch is released and is "in the computer" in the form of electronic "information" that can move across phone lines and can effect other computers.

The ritual to get Moloch into the book: Thelonius forms a circle with his fellows and reads,

Per potere de cuesto circolo de Kayless... Per potere de cuesto circolo de Kayless, ti commando! Viene! Ti commando! Viene! VIENE!
Translation: By the power of the circle of Kayless... By the power of the circle of Kayless, I command you! Come! I command you! Come! COME!

Moloch bursts into tiny particles. The particles fall into the book. As this happens, an ancient script appears. When the pages are filled, Thelonius closes the book.

Techno-pagans are experts on the supernatural who share knowledge amongst themselves over the internet. Jenny Calendar isn't a practicing witch, but she does dabble in spells. She knows the names of different demons and "casts bones" to reveal hidden truths and foretell the future.

Ritual to get Moloch off the Internet: Ms. Calendar forms the circle of Kayless "inside" the computer by setting up a network link with her techno-pagan group. Giles reads the spell, and Ms. Calendar types it into the computer to her group.

By the power of the divine, by the essence of the word, I command you... By the power of the circle of Kayless, I command you... Demon, come! I command you! Demon, COME!

In the library, wind blows and the computer monitor is disabled. For some reason that is unexplained, this does not put Moloch back in the book. The only difference in the rituals was that the second was also done on the computer. Moloch is trapped in his robot body. Buffy sends him packing from that with high voltage electricity, but it is unclear that the demon spirit is not still on the Earthly plane, somewhere.

Good and Evil in "I Robot, You Jane"

Moloch is called the corruptor for a reason. He is the personification (demonification?) of evil-as-corruption. Moloch charms his victims into believing he is their friend, uses them to do his bidding, then finally kills them. His bidding is to bring about more corruption. Moloch calculates very carefully how he will destroy what is innocent and youthful, one victim at a time. He is not a powerful demon, at least not in his computer-bound state. He must work through impressionable minions. As Xander points out, Moloch used Dave to kill Buffy, he didn't attack Buffy himself.

Unanswered question: Moloch pays special attention to Willow because, he claims, she took him out of the book that held him. He says he wants to repay her. But is there more going on here than that? Earlier, Xander asks Buffy what Moloch could want with Willow. "Let's never find out," she replies. But perhaps Moloch senses that Willow has a hidden power she herself is not yet aware of, one he could corrupt for his own evil purposes.

Fritz and Dave are not so much evil as lost and impressionable. They have a very human need to feel wanted, loved, and to have a place they fit in. To get this, they are willing to be lead. It is significant, therefore, when Dave finally finds the strength and self-confidence to realize the price for this is too high.

Best kills: When the Moloch-robot has Buffy cornered in the computer factory and threatens to crush her, she looks around briefly, turns to him and says, "take your best shot". He throws a punch, which she ducks, and his metal fist slams right into an electricity box. Lights out for the demon robot.

Willow power: If BtVS limited the powerful-woman action to Buffy alone, it would send a bad message about the strength of the ordinary female. But Willow is no shrinking violet. She's intelligent, resourceful, and possesses fighting skills of her own--what is now called "Willow power" in her honor. Examples of Willow power

Ethical dilemmas in "I Robot, You Jane"

Should Willow find romance on the internet?

People meet on the 'Net, they talk, they get together, have dinner, a show, horrible ax murder.

Xander and Buffy debate Willow's sudden interest in Malcolm, someone she is corresponding with on the internet. As Xander points out, "Malcolm" could be anyone, claiming to be a high school boy, including someone whose aim is to do Willow harm. Buffy thinks that they are overreacting. Nevertheless, she points out to Willow that she might be disappointed when she finally meets her friend. Willow denies that this will happen, responding that she and Malcolm really care for each other. Eventually, Willow gets more than she bargained for.

Dave's dilemma: Kill Buffy and receive the knowledge and power Moloch promises, or prevent her from being killed? Dave, following Moloch's orders, sends Buffy into the girls' locker room where she will be electrocuted in the shower. At the last minute, though, he runs into warn her of the danger and is killed for it.

Giles' and Ms. Calendar's debate over the value of computer technology

This debate shows how and why technology can be both good and evil, not just for how it is used, but by its very nature.

Giles: Information on computers is de-contextualized: Books trigger the five senses, especially smell, which binds memories more securely in the brain. Getting information from a computer does not associate that information with the sensual experience of the medium (computers aren't smelly). Hence, information gained by a computer will not last as long in memory as information gained by a book.

Ms. Calendar: Information on computers is more easily accessed, and therefore more democratic. A book must be in a specific place. The information in books can therefore be guarded and used only by those in power.


  1. Computers can be used to communicate at a distance, thereby making a society in which human interaction is all but obsolete (this is a "slippery slope fallacy"--a highly unlikely outcome).
  2. Computers can be used to manipulate people. By this Giles means that information can be presented in a biased way. Since computers get information to more people than books, as Ms. Calendar points out, it has a greater potential for manipulating more people.
  3. "...[M]usty old books have a great deal more to say than any of your fabulous web pages.". Simply false, since, in theory, anyway, web pages can contain the same information as books. Except without the smelliness, of course.

The Puppet Show

Good and Evil in and the Metaphysics of "The Puppet Show"

Sid the ventriloquist's dummy is an example of a human spirit possessing an inanimate object. Sid used to be a human being, a demon slayer. He was cursed by a "really mean demon", and, in his words, "the next thing I know I'm not me anymore. I'm sitting on some guy's knee, with his hand up my shirt." Somehow, Sid's curse will be lifted after he has eliminated the brotherhood of seven demons. Why this trigger will release the curse is not explained. However, Sid makes it plain that when the curse is lifted, he will be dead. His spirit will leave the puppet body but have no human body to return to ("dust and bones, kid").

Marc, the magician in the talent show, is a member of a brotherhood of seven preternaturally strong demons who take the form of young humans. Every seven years these demons must replenish their mutating cells by extracting human vital organs (e.g., the brain and heart). Otherwise they revert back to their original ghoulish form. They can only die if all the healthy human organs they took are destroyed while in use. Xander chops Marc's head off with the the guillotine Marc meant to use to steal Giles' brain. Then Sid stabs the demon's heart. Poetic justice for the ghoul.

Demon vs. human nature

It's kind of simple in the broad scope: Human are mortal animals that strive for light and harmony. Demons are immortal monsters that thrive on darkness and chaos (joss, Jan 31 1998).

Giles says, "A demon is a creature of evil, pure and very simple. A person driven to kill is... it's more complex." But there are some pretty complex exceptions to pure unadulterated evil demon behavior.

More Joss on human vs. demon nature

Ethical Quandaries in "The Puppet Show"

Choosing between two evils: Buffy and the gang must find the demon killing kids at Sunnydale High for their organs, even though it means risking the wrath of the new and very suspicious Principal Snyder, who already knows they ditched their afternoon classes the day before and got in fight (probably referring to the battle with Moloch).


The Metaphysics of "Nightmares"

Altered realities: Billy's coma makes people's own recurring nightmares into reality, a reality that is undone, but not forgotten, when Billy wakes up.

Astral projection is a phenomenon in which a person's spirit leaves the body and travels to other places while the person is sleeping, or in Billy's case, is in a coma (see also Willow in WAY, Cordelia in "Birthday"). Since the individual is not dead, we can presume that at least part of their spirit remains in their body, or that the "thread" which somehow connects body and spirit has not been broken. In Nightmares, Billy Palmer's "astral body" has left his actual body and is traveling around Sunnydale. The Hellmouth gives Billy's astral body a physical form, since Buffy can touch him. The mystic energy of the Hellmouth also allows Billy's astral travel to bring the dreams of those he comes in contact with to life. It is interesting that Billy keeps apologizing to those he effects, implying that he is not in control of what is happening.

Undoing the nightmare world: When Billy removes the mask off the ugly man, he is psychologically facing the source of his real-life trauma. The action also brings an end to the astral travel caused by his trauma.

Precognition: The episode begins with a psychic dream in which Buffy attempts to stake the Master and is overcome by his mental powers, which allows him to subdue and bite her. Except for the stake (and Buffy's physical appearance), this is very much like how she dies in Prophecy Girl.

Vampires and crosses: The Master demonstrates the idea of overcoming fear to the Anointed One by clutching a large cross until his hand starts to smoke. His dialogue in no way associates his fear or the crosses' power with the Christian religion:

"This symbol, these two planks of wood, it confounds me. Suffuses me with mortal dread...."

Good, Evil, and Moral Ambiguity in"Nightmares"

Billy cannot face the reality of a trusted adult giving him a traumatic beating, and so instead runs from "the ugly man"--a nightmare made flesh who is now attacking people other than himself.

The little league coach: The real evil is the man who put Billy in a coma in the first place, his baseball coach. The Ugly Man is a manifestation of this real-life human monster, who blamed Billy for losing the game when he failed to catch a fly ball in the final inning and beat him senseless.

The nightmares: Everyone in the gang faces insecurities in this episode. Giles worries about his ability to properly protect and train the Slayer; Buffy endures the pain of having her "father" tell her that her parent's divorce was her fault. She is also buried alive by the Master. Xander has a horrific childhood phobia come to life. Willow's nightmare is the most telling, however. In her operatic nightmare, she finds herself onstage at a performance of Madame Butterfly--with her in the title role. She can't sing to save her life and everyone looks at her with expectation and disappointment. Who is the real Willow, the shy girl who can't get a date and worries about what other people think of her, or the confident woman who dates werewolves and witches that we will later come to know? The Madame Butterfly dream revisited.

The good of Xander

Out of Mind, Out of Sight

The Metaphysics of "Out of Mind, Out of Sight"

Interestingly enough, Marcie Ross's invisibility is discovered by Giles to have a physical cause whose effects have been amplified by the mystical energy of the Hellmouth. Specifically, one interpretation of quantum physics states that the very process of observing something will change the thing observed. This ordinarily only means that humans observing the behavior of subatomic particles will effect their position or velocity. But on the Hellmouth, not observing the human-sized Marcie Ross made her disappear (see also Xander's invisibility in Fear, Itself).

Vampires and breathing

Evil and Moral ambiguity in "Out of Mind, Out of Sight"

Marcie, trapped by rage into a repeating cycle of vengeance, uses the invisibility caused by constantly being passed over by others to attack the one person she was most hurt by--Cordelia. Is Marcie evil? Her willingness to kill Giles, Xander, and Willow, and her delight at the thought of "Infiltration and Assassination" at the school for invisible people would seem to indicate that she is.

But was this inevitable? Could she have been helped? Buffy dismisses her as a "raving looney", and after Buffy subdues her, Marcie is quickly whisked off by government (?) agents who intend to use her invisibility as a weapon. But just because a teen-age girl has mystic power (e.g., invisibility) doesn't mean you can turn her into an assassin. Marcie's rage at being overlooked and snubbed is what sent her over the edge. As Buffy says, "This isn't this great power that she can control. It's something that was done to her. That we did to her." Even if the invisibility can't be undone, it would seem the anger could be.

While bitca Harmony's behavior towards people outside her clique is classic arrogance and pride, it is also a sign of her weakness and impressionability. As Cordelia points out in BBB, she's a sheep, a follower, who only does things she believes the "cool" people will approve of. Harmony's rebirth

The hermetically insensitive Cordelia


Prophecy Girl

The Metaphysics of "Prophecy Girl"

Opening and closing the Hellmouth: It's unclear how the Master tried to open the Hellmouth the first time, but he got stuck. When he frees himself, the Hellmouth opens as when a cork is removed. It then appears to close up upon the Master's death, although it is not clear how this happened.

Slayer Blood: Only a few ounces of Slayer blood gave the Master the power he needed to "unstick" himself from his mystical prison. This is evidence that slayer blood is more powerful than the average person's (see also Graduation). Did the Master need the blood of a slayer to rise? No. In The Harvest, he could have broken free using the blood of many non-slayer victims. This is probably how he got out in The Wish.

The Hellmouth Beast is a multi-headed tentacled monster who waits on the other side of the portal between our reality and the demon dimension. It captures victims in its tentacles, and with the sharp teeth it possess in its many mouths, presumably takes a chomp. It is the first of many beasts to follow who would get out if the Hellmouth were permanently opened (see The Zeppo).

Written prophecy transpired: Ms. Calendar tells Giles that a monk, brother Luca from Cortona, has been sending out global mailings about the end of the world and the Anointed One. He says of the Anointed One: Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf, the lion and the fatling together, and the little child to lead them." Giles and Ms. Calendar infer from this that the Anointed One is a child.

Slayer lore: Written prophecies in volumes such as The Tiberius Manifesto and the Pergamum Codex concern "the role of the Slayer in the end years". It is not clear whether all these volumes refer to Buffy, and what "the end years" refers to. It might indicate that Buffy was not actually destined to defeat the Master (thus ushering in hell on Earth), or that those who wrote the prophecies assumed these were the end years because Buffy was destined to die.

Buffy's death is a clear example of fatalism. Buffy is fated to die, and even given the exercise of her free will, it still comes about. The prophecy:

"Ho korias phanaytie toutay... tay nuktee."
"The Master shall rise, and the Slayer... [shall die]."

The Pergamum Codex, which prophesied Buffy's death, is highly reliable, but Giles nevertheless cross-checks it against all his other volumes. Buffy is killed by the Master in Prophecy Girl and again in the alternative history of The Wish. The Master "walks the earth" in both histories as well.

Slayer strength: After Xander revives Buffy, Xander and Angel are concerned that she might be feeling weak. But Buffy says "No, I feel strong. I feel different," in a way which implies more than "No, I'm fine." The source and the duration of this extra strength is unknown, although it came in handy in vanquishing the Master. She confidently leads her male lieutenants (Xander and Angel) back into battle for some world save-age. Joan of Arc would have been proud.

Vampires and breathing

Evil in "Prophecy Girl"

The Master knows that the prophecy doesn't tell everything. Nevertheless, he is surprised when Buffy is revived and defeats him. The reason isn't hard to understand, though. He was so enraptured by his freedom after all that time that he forgot all about sucking Buffy dry and he let her fall into the puddle, so she only drowned.

Ethical Quandaries in "Prophecy Girl"

Was Giles wrong for not telling Buffy right away about the prophecy that she was going to die?

Buffy finds out by overhearing a conversation between Giles and Angel. She is angry at Giles for not telling her. Giles' intentions were good. He hoped to prevent it from even happening so that telling her she was going to die--and her death itself--would not be necessary. Did that make not telling her the right thing to do, though?

Attempt to save the world and die or hope someone else will?

Buffy, a sixteen year old girl who is naturally adverse to dying, decides to turn away from her duties as slayer. As Giles points out, however, she is the only slayer, and therefore may be the only one who can stop the Master from rising. Buffy does not accept her duty until it is made personal. A frightened Willow tells her about finding the body of Kevin, Cordelia's boyfriend, and some other schoolmates, killed by vampires on school property. Resolved now to do her duty, Buffy prevents Giles from taking it on for her and goes down into the Master's lair with only a cross-bow (led by the Anointed One). There the Master puts the whammy on her, bites her, and leaves her to drown.

Fan thoughts on Buffy's choice to face the Master:

In Prophesy Girl, when she finally realized that she was going to die, and accepted it and went on, even tho she must have felt that it was something larger than herself that was pushing her forward... just remember her saying good-bye to Willow in Willow's bedroom... those few words said it all (Avarice, Dec 1 23:59 1998).

It was the end of buffy's innocence it could never be as simple as pure again her death haunts her future (Angle man. Dec 1 23:53 1998).

Is Buffy an existential character?

Pictures are copyright © 1997 The WB Television Network

Screen shots credits
Translations are by Alexander Thompson
This page last modified 7/21/08

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